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Joe threw the flashlight’s hollow beam over the cabin’s walls. His heart thumped hard against his ribs, and he still felt hungry, though he’d eaten on the road—he felt weak. They had shown him he was weak. He circled the flashlight over the cypress ceiling, the weeks of dust on the mantle, the sweating floor. Through the open window, a lightning bug entered, softly buzzing. Joe’s knees buckled. He slumped down against the wall.

Nothing you can do, man.

The flashlight was heavy in his flaccid hand, and the light tunneled in the thigh of his waders, still outgassing their rubber fumes—not a speck of mud on them. They’d trained their guns on him and they’d won.

Alright. Nothing I can do, nothing I can do.

He’d let them back him down.

All around the lake, through the old circle roads barricaded with fallen trees, he’d picked his way. He saw what the storm had left: a gator flipped on its back, showing its pale belly. A wild boar with a shredded coat, hung by its tusks from a tree. Shards of bridges, whole houses floating on water.

Men with guns were stationed at the entrance to the twelve-mile bridge. A corn-fed black kid from Iowa had wrinkled his brow and nodded, listening, then shaken his head.

Nothing you can do, man.

But my daughter’s in there, Joe said.

You have to have faith—

Faith? He’d laughed, before looking harder: The uniform starched and shiny. The cross tattooed on the side of the soldier’s neck. You tell me what you have faith in. You believe in God? You trust in the goddamned government?

The boy just blinked.

They’d shoot you as soon as look at you, son, Joe said, and that was when the other soldier shouldered his rifle and he realized he had Vin’s 9mm in his belt—all among the Humvees, the click-clack of rifles brought to ready.

Joe clicked off his flashlight. The pain in his belly roared like a wood fire, and he let himself fall to his side on the rag rug. Pain traveled through his back, up into his chest. It licked the spaces between his ribs. The tree frogs singing twilight stopped abruptly. Breeze came through the window with its cargo of water, and he could almost feel his mother’s hands, soothing him to sleep.

A hard-bodied insect landed with a click. He pushed himself up off the floor. He picked up the flashlight, his bag from the counter, picked up the pistol.

A prequel to THE FLOATING WORLD, published in 

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