Harriet's Backstory, Scene 1
One of my main characters, Harriet Johnson, is loosely based on a well-known historical figure, Harriet Tubman, mixed with a few traits of a dear friend of mine. My character Harriet is a dreamer, and not quite as brave as her namesake, but she grows as the Divided series progresses. While two other characters receive top-billing in Books 1 and 2, Harriet is the star of Book 3, Betrayed.
To acquaint myself with my main characters, I write backstory scenes. This particular scene is set in Harriet's home in Kink, in the city of Queenstown in the nation of the Federated Republic of America. Harriet's city is divided into four different areas - Ivory, Almond, Havana and Kink. Check out my earlier blog posts or my website for the backdrop to the series. Let's meet my Harriet, shall we?
Harriet, twelve years before Divided begins
It was almost midnight and Harriet couldn't sleep. She crept out of bed, avoiding the floor board that squeaked so she wouldn’t wake her parents.
It had been an exciting evening. A secret church meeting at her home had turned into a celebration when Tio snuck in their backdoor and delivered the news. Rich was alive and well. Living at Underground headquarters, or HQ as the adults called it. Though there was no sign of his wife Mary or son Michael, who was about her age and whom Harriet had only heard about in passing, her parents rejoiced at the good news. And prayed for Mary and Michael to be safe.
It wasn’t the first time someone had gone missing, disappearing into thin air with no warning. At least this time an Ivory Underground member and Patrols insider had leaked word of Rich’s imminent arrest for treason to his direct report in Ivory. Mr. Stewart had, in turn, sprinted to the shoe factory where Rich worked and pulled him off the line before Patrols arrived.
Harriet bowed her head and prayed for Mary and Michael, wondering what had happened to them. No public execution had occurred, according to their Ivory sources. Ivory Patrols hadn’t arrested anyone else, either. Usually arrests like this came in waves. A group arrested and executed, then nothing in that same area for a few years. Maybe longer, if other Underground operatives evaded detection. The last series of executions in Kink had happened before she was born and Harriet was a whole six years old now. The Underground in Kink was strong and growing stronger every day. Her mother worried they were due in Kink.
She yawned as she dragged her feet to the bathroom for a drink of water from the sink. After gulping a few mouthfuls, Harriet realized not everyone was asleep. Hushed voices filtered to her down the darkened hallway and Harriet recognized the distinct songlike Havana speech patterns of their friend Tio.
Tio and her father were best friends and led the Underground within their respective areas, working together to train recruits in the headquarters underground outside the city. Harriet had never been into the tunnels her father used to sneak out of the city and to the headquarters, but she had overheard lots. She couldn’t wait to go herself when she was old enough. But her mother had told her that would be years away.
Harriet had pestered her Mom until Ruth started teaching her the written code language used by the Underground messengers. They had to be careful, though. Being friends with someone from another area was the worst level of illegal activity - both people could be executed for it. Executed for just being friends! Harriet only had one real friend, her cousin Alma May. Boys didn’t count, but maybe she had a few of those to call friends. But they were all Kink. Harriet had never met a kid from another area and she couldn’t wait to.
Harriet couldn’t imagine the punishment for being a leader in the Underground. What was worse than death? But that’s what her mother had told her would happen if they were caught, a “fate worse than death.” Harriet had visions of being strung up by her toes, but that looked silly more than scary.
So she kept her mouth shut about everything that happened at her house. All the meetings. Tio, Ms. Chen or Mr. Stewart coming and going between areas in the dark of night via the tunnels under the city. Young Kink men and women learning hand-to-hand combat, which looked like it hurt. Harriet wasn't excited for that part of being an operative.
Then there was the church that met each week at a different time on a different day in a different location. Sometimes they met at her house. Sometimes somewhere else. They always disguised the meetings as a celebration meal for someone’s birthday or anniversary. Led by her father, they prayed and sang quiet songs to God and encouraged each other.
Harriet understood little, except for the praying. Her Grandma Thompson had taught her about that. It was like having a conversation with God. She liked talking to God and decided to talk to Him while she crept down the hallway toward the living room where her father and Tio spoke in low tones.
She knelt by the doorway, hiding her slight frame in the shadows.
“… must know by now. I’m worried about this other family. Are you sure they are committed?” Tio asked.
“They’ve been hesitant these last two weeks. Then didn’t show up tonight.” Her father sighed and she heard rustling, as if he moved papers around.
Harriet wrinkled her forehead. They never used paper for anything except her schoolwork. Why was paper in there? Were they looking at her math test? Harriet flushed. She hoped not. She hadn’t done very well.
“Maybe no more meetings for a few weeks. Lay low. Tell the others to do the same.”
“That’s wise advice. And I know when to take wise advice. Tio, what would I do without your friendship?”
Harriet heard hands clap on backs and knew the meeting was over. She crept away, but not before hearing the rest.
“No, Harrison, it’s you I cannot do without. Please, take care of yourself. Ruth and Harriet deserve a husband and father in the home. Don’t take unnecessary risks. If we’ve learned anything from what happened to Rich, it’s that every day is a precious gift.”
Harriet didn’t understand what they were talking about and wondered if there was trouble in Kink. She’d noticed her friend Dez’s family hadn't attended events for a few weeks. But surely that was just because his sister was sick, right? That didn’t have anything to do them informing Kink Patrols? She wouldn’t believe that about her friend or his family.
Harriet tucked herself under the covers again, feeling tired now. All these things were beyond her understanding. Maybe Daddy would explain what he’d said in the morning. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a rich dreamland where walls between areas didn’t exist and little girls were free to roam the city and be friends with whomever they wanted, like Ms. Chen’s daughter Rose.