Imagine 2200, Fix’s climate fiction contest, recognizes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. Read the 2022 collection here.
The Northwest Connector took you across the Georgia state line and into the Panhandle. Cora was headed to Crawfordville, the county seat of Wakulla County. She didn’t know where the other folks were headed. There were only a few of them anyways, and they all sat near the back. The driver had left the air conditioner on, and cool air played across her forehead. The people behind her chatted away. She didn’t know what they were talking, but they were Black like her. Haitians probably.
The other buses weren’t like this little church one; they were the long Greyhound kind. It made sense: keep the big buses for the people willing to dig Naples out of the Everglades or pump seawater out of Miami. As far as Cora was concerned, there was no point going south of Gainesville until the rest of the state got itself together.
A woman holding a clipboard was talking to the driver. They both stood outside the bus. The driver turned away from her to climb the first step. His finger punched the air in front of his eyes.
“Six passengers,” Cora said.
“Heading out in 10 minutes,” the driver said, as if she hadn’t said anything. “If any of you need to go to the bathroom, this your last chance. The roads there ain’t nothing but bumpy.”
A tall, heavyset woman stood after he said this, smoothing her T-shirt over her stomach. She started toward the door with a shuffled gait that told Cora she was wearing mules or house slippers. Those wouldn’t last a week in Florida; the coral rock would rip them right off her feet. The packing list recommended hiking boots. Long, lightweight pants. Sunscreen. A long-sleeved lightweight shirt, visors, hats. Cora had all that, even though growing up she had never paid attention to those precautions. It was always hot in northern Florida, and she was already Black. What was supposed to happen to her? A tan?
She’d packed the shirt the program had given her too, the same one the woman was wearing as she followed the bus driver into the depot. Florida Re-Wilder, the front said. A Better Second Chance, the back read. Cora’s shirt was balled up inside her purse next to her wallet, keys, and the check, which they said she could exchange for goods at the Encampment Site. Cora unhooked her sunglasses from her tank top. The world was briefly, blessedly pink. She closed her eyes.
The door creaked open. Feet shuffled to the back, and there was a burst of laughter as the woman sat again. The driver cleared his throat over the intercom.
“Good morning. Today is Tuesday, July 18. You are on the Northwest Connector,” he said. “We crossing over Georgia into Florida territory. I got six passengers and three stops to make. Estimated travel time is 16 hours. If you gotta go …” Here, he laughed uproariously at the thought and pulled out of the lot.
Tray would be waiting for Cora in Crawfordville. He had left seven months ago, as soon as the government announced the Heritage Resettlement Plan. With proof of family ownership to a plot of land, you were permitted to return to Florida to clear it and take up residence. He had also signed them up for the Rewilding Project, an additional FEMA subsidy that was available to those who committed to replanting native flora. Cora had signed the paperwork last fall but dragged her feet on relocating until she got a flurry of panicked emails from Tray. Her application was set to expire. Cora still wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to Crawfordville. It wouldn’t be the same without Nanny. Or the house. Or the rest of the Charles family.
Nanny Charles’s house had been the smallest one on Charles Lane. The two-bedroom bungalow with a narrow front porch was the place where their grandmother and great uncles had grown up. Their own mother had been born just down the road in the house their grandparents built. As children, Cora and Tray spent every summer on Charles Lane, running in and out of the houses of aunts and uncles who chastised or praised them according to whim. They chased cousins into and out of the Woods and invited church friends over for lemonade on Nanny’s front porch. But that was decades ago, when Florida was still home and not a federally funded heritage and rewilding project.
Cora and Tray had been sitting across from each other in their Georgia apartment (two bedrooms, no central air) when he first told Cora he wanted to go back. The Rewilding brochure rested on the table between them.
“You sign up for Rewilding, they give you everything you need,” he said. “As long as you pick what used to grow there. They got all kinds of saplings and shrubs you can choose. Remember that big tree that Nanny had out front? I think it was a pine.”
“It was an oak,” Cora said. Tray could never remember what actually happened, but he was king of telling you what didn’t. “Where are you gonna live? Nanny’s house is long gone.”
This was true. They had watched the flooding on the news. Whatever remained of the houses on Charles Lane was likely floating somewhere in the Gulf.
“They give you one of those silver-bullet-looking campers to sleep in.” Tray was leafing through the application packet. “Until you build your own house.”
“What about the bathroom?” Cora said.
“We peed in the Woods all the time.” Tray’s smile made Cora pause. He looked just like their daddy with that big, goofy grin.
“It won’t be like before,” she said. She had to persist. He was the dreamer of the two. “Everybody’s gone. The Woods are probably gone, too. You’ll be by yourself.”
Tray shook his head twice, no, no. He had always been the more optimistic twin, the one who could always find a way out of the Woods, even when they had long lost sight of Nanny’s house.
“You might as well come. You hate the hospital anyway.” Tray said. “And Nanny taught you to garden. You can help me get started.” He tapped another page in the Rewilding booklet, his finger hovering over a picture of a sturdy tree. “I was thinking about starting a little orange grove. Remember how we used to make orange juice every morning?”
Cora turned the catalog toward her. In each square was a native tree, and below it, care instructions. She spoke to him but kept her eyes on the page.
“The man at the center said they were looking for part-time help. Maybe tomorrow —”
“It says here they’ll let you plant as far as the seashore,” Tray said. “Seagrasses. That’s wild, right?”
Cora could hardly rest, the way the bus kept jolting her. All that FEMA money to pump out the water and no one one thought to throw a dollar or two at road maintenance? By the time the bus pulled up to the Encampment she was already mad at herself for coming down. But it was too late. The hospital wouldn’t take her back, not after the way she left.
A hot July sun held steady over the Encampment. People hustled back and forth between open tent flaps. Green Re-Wilder shirts were everywhere. A man on a tractor drove by with a trailer full of slender trees. Burlap covered the root balls. He was followed by two pickup trucks carrying barrels.
“That’s drinking water,” a voice to her right said.
Cora turned to see a short, sunburned Asian woman wearing a straw hat.
“I’m looking for Tray Charles,” Cora said.
“I know,” the woman said. “I’m Janine. Let me show you the showers.”
“That’s alright. Tray’s picking me up,” Cora said.
Janine picked up Cora’s duffel bag. “He’s working at the nursery today. He said he’d meet you back home. I’m supposed to get you showered up and bring you over. Is this all you brought?”
“Yes,” Cora said. “The rest is in storage.”
The two women began walking down the dirt path between the tents. Janine pointed to a shipping container on the left.
“The showers are in there. Single stalls. They work on five-minute timers.”
“Oh,” Cora said, surprised.
Janine laughed. “It takes some getting used to. Once you’re done, I’ll show you the rest of the Encampment.”
“I have to exchange my check too,” Cora said.
“Don’t worry about that,” Janine said. “Tray says he’s got you all set up for the next month at least.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. Is it far to Crawfordville?”
“About an hour in the good truck,” Janine said.
“The good truck?”
Two hours later, Cora was right back where she didn’t want to be: in another vehicle. Her luggage was crammed in the flatbed of Janine’s truck, alongside a cage of squabbling chickens, two Florida avocado trees, and a grill. The roads heading out to Crawfordville were just as pitted as the ones to the Encampment, and her right hand clutched the door handle.
“You can also grab onto the little hold up there,” Janine pointed above Cora’s door.
Cora couldn’t get her hand to let loose if she tried. “I’m good,” she said.
“You see this nice grass alongside the highway?” Janine said. “I’m the one who found it in a seed library in Raleigh. It’s native to the area, and it grows like a weed. Look at how tall it is already. There was nothing out here two years ago.”
“That’s nice,” Cora said, politely. Is this what Tray and this lady talked about? Native grasses? Good Lord. She should have come months ago.
“And if you look over there,” Janine pointed out of her window, “we got jackrabbits now. Isn’t that incredible?”
Cora didn’t see anything but some smears of gray darting through the grass.
“It’s something,” she said to be polite.
Although the old neighborhood was gone, Cora could tell by the roll of the land that they were getting close to Charles Lane. The ditches that lined the road were partially filled with debris. Tree branches stuck out at haphazard angles, and a white porcelain sink had collapsed on a tree trunk. The sunlight struck the faucet as they drove past, and Cora winced at the glare.
“Almost there,” Janine said.
The truck turned off the main road and began to trundle down the dirt path that Cora had seen from the backseat of her parents’ car all throughout her childhood, Nanny’s house blossoming at the end of the road like a flower.
A silver camper shined ahead, and a semicircle of raised planter beds stood just before it. Cora knew without being told that these were the same vegetables that always grew at Nanny’s: kale, collard greens, bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes. The camper door swung open, and Tray’s frame filled the open doorway.
“Well, if it ain’t Sis,” he said.
Cora found herself smiling even though her back ached. There was old, daydreaming Tray with his unruly eyebrows and ashy knees.
He opened the truck’s door to collect her in a bear hug. She could smell his heavy, sweet sweat. “Janine, have I ever told you how much I love my sister?”
“About once a day,” Janine said.
“You two see each other that often?” Cora was surprised. The Encampment wasn’t that easy to get to, and Tray didn’t even have a car.
“’Course we do,” Tray said.
Cora frowned, still not understanding.
Tray left Cora’s side to kiss Janine on the cheek. “Told you I was the smart one. Now why are we out here if there’s iced tea in there?”
The next two weeks passed in a blur. There was so much to do. Tray had started an orange grove at the edge of the property. He spent most of the day out there, fussing over the young trees while Cora kept up the area around the camper. She swept the ground, watered the plants, cleared brush, fed the chickens, and set vegetables on the grill to cook. As a child, these activities would have left her charged up for a good play session in the Woods. Thirty years later was a different story. Calluses sprouted on her hands. Her calves ached. Her shoulders stooped. At lunch, she found she was too tired to talk. Chewing took all the energy she could muster. Tray, however, prattled away. How did the man have so much energy? He’d been a ghost the whole time they were up in Georgia. She had been the one pushing him to get out of bed, go outside. Now she couldn’t get him to turn off.
She must have been staring at him.
“What?” Tray said.
“Nothing,” Cora stuffed another piece of green pepper in her mouth. “You were saying something about quarterly grow allotments?”
“Right,” Tray said. “If we exchange your check for grow allotments, we can take the orange grove all the way down to where Aunt Doreen and Uncle Frank used to live.”
“I guess,” Cora said. She didn’t see why Tray wanted to keep expanding the orange grove. It was just the three of them. They couldn’t drink that much orange juice.
By the third week, Cora had begun to create a rhythm of her own. Janine spent most days at the Encampment, but she would sometimes take Tray with her to help on projects. On those days, Cora did both sets of chores. Once she was done, she dragged a chair from the camper and faced it west to where the Woods once grew. She and Tray had spent countless hours of their childhoods out there. The trees were thin, with brown trunks that spiraled into green crowns in the summer, red ones in the winter; the trees in the Woods grew close together, and their branches tangled overhead. Cora remembered darting in and out of the spots of sunlight that shivered along the ground, running after Tray or running away from him. The Woods held their exploratory shrieks, their curse words, even the tiny treasures that they had stolen from their cousins and buried underground for safekeeping. Cora had once twisted her leg on a fallen log in the Woods. Tray half-dragged her to the mouth of the forest and shouted for help, his voice keening over the sound of the radio playing in Nanny’s kitchen window. What he meant to shout was “Help!” What he yelled was “Cora!” until his grandmother’s head popped into the window frame to tell him to hush that noise.
“Hey, there,” Janine called.
Cora turned to see the truck pull up just past the camper. The flatbed was filled with medium-size trees with dark green leaves and familiar white blossoms.
“Somebody order orange juice?” Tray said.
“They gave you your allotment early?” Cora asked.
“Sure did,” Tray said. “And we can take you down on Saturday to get yours. I already put a hold on the rest of the orange trees.”
Janine let down the back of the truck bed, and a wave of exhaustion hit Cora. Hours of digging and planting lay ahead.
Later that night, she grabbed a flashlight and took her sleeping bag outside to spread it out where she thought the front porch had once been. She could hear Janine and Tray talking softly through the open window. What would Nanny think of all this? Rewilding, the Heritage plan? “Call it what you want,” Nanny would likely say, “just keep on doing it together.”
“But an orange grove?” Cora said aloud, and then hushed. She didn’t want Tray to hear.
They spent the rest of the week on the trees. By the time Saturday rolled around, Cora didn’t want to see another shovel or bag of soil. Her whole body protested as Tray shook her awake, and she fell asleep again in the truck as they drove to the Encampment. A pothole finally jarred her awake, and she opened her eyes to see the tents unfolding before them.
A church bus like the one she had arrived in was parked at the entrance. People clambered out, blinking in the sunlight, bags in hand. A man with a clipboard waved his hands in a big “X” over his head. The crowd began to shuffle toward him. Janine pulled off to the side to park.
“The grow allotment is in the back,” she told Cora.
“Got it,” Cora said. “I’ll meet y’all at Dry Goods in an hour.”
“See if they got any tangerines too,” Tray said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
They kept the grow allotment humid. Cora could feel water beading up on her forehead as she walked between the rows of trees in the tent. Leaves of all sizes brushed her shoulders. She stroked a tree branch, and the leaves tickled her palm.
“Flowering dogwood,” the white-haired woman from the help desk said.
“Right,” Cora said.
The woman was repotting a small plant. “I’m Joy. If you need anything, give a holler,” she said.
“I’m supposed to be looking for orange trees,” Cora said.
“We have a lot of nice native trees here,” Joy said. “Not just oranges. Where are you planting?”
“My brother and I are out in Crawfordville. On our grandmother’s land.”
“Ah, there used to be some nice sourwood trees up there.”
“I don’t know those,” Cora said.
“Oh, you’d know them if you saw them,” Joy said. “They grew wild out there. They get about this wide and grow about this tall.”
Her hands moved in a delicate ballet as she spoke. Cora nodded politely. She didn’t know what this lady was talking about, and she hoped these orange trees wouldn’t use up the whole allotment. She wanted to get a little shrub for herself, something cute and hopeful.
“A few came in the other day,” Joy continued, rounding the table and walking past Cora. “They put them right … ah, here they are.”
The small tree looked like nothing special to Cora, but then she saw the shape of the leaf and realized that she knew this tree. These were the trees from the Woods — her woods. All summer long the leaves were a deep, dark green, and when Cora and her family came back to Crawfordville for Thanksgiving they were a rich riot of orange and red.
“Nice, aren’t they?” Joy said.
All Cora could do was nod.
“People always want a tree that does, like a fruit tree,” Joy said. “But a good tree just knows how to be. Let me show you the oranges.”
Cora left the tent with a potted jade. The rest of her grow allotment would be ready for pickup next Saturday.
“How many did you get?” Tray said. They were standing outside of Dry Goods. “You probably had enough for another 40.”
“Enough,” Cora said. “What did y’all pick up?”
Tray lifted the duffel bags onto his shoulder. “Rice, beans. The usual.”
Janine came out of the Medical Tent with a small tote. “Everyone good?”
The whole ride back Tray chatted about his plan for the grove. Cora hadn’t heard him so excited about anything in years.
“Why oranges?” she asked when he finally paused to take a breath.
“Everybody likes orange juice,” he said.
“Everybody doesn’t like orange juice,” Cora said. “Besides, don’t you want to add something else to the mix?”
“I was thinking that too,” he said. “Tangerines. Or maybe —”
“What about sourwood?”
“What’s that?” Janine asked.
“Those were the trees that grew behind the house,” Cora said. “The lady in the tent told me the name; I never knew what they were called.”
Tray laughed. “What are we going to do with sourwood trees? Climb them?”
“Maybe,” Cora shrugged, stung.
He stopped laughing. “We too old for that kind of stuff. You said yourself the Woods is gone. Ain’t nothing but what we make now.”
“It’s not like that,” Cora said.
“What’s it like then?”
Cora was quiet. Janine turned down the lane. The now-familiar camper and planter beds waited for them at the end.
“Is that what you got at the allotment?” Tray asked.
The kale looked dehydrated to Cora. The leaves were curling up and over. As soon as the sun passed its peak, she’d have to douse them good.
They didn’t talk much at dinner. Tray was upset, Cora could tell. He bolted down his food and then stalked off to the orange grove. Janine finally spoke.
“I’m sure the sourwood trees will be nice,” she said. “He’ll probably feel differently once he sees them.”
Cora nodded and stood. “I’ll go check on him.”
The sky was a soft blue, with the summer sun slowly setting. Cora could see Tray at the end of one long row of trees. He was squatting and poking at the dirt with a stick. He didn’t look up. Cora knelt beside him. The soil, she noted, was a deep, rich brown.
“Oranges were the first thing I grew that survived,” he said. “It seemed like a sign.”
Tray looked down the lane, “Now it seems silly, all these trees. Waking up early every day worrying over them.”
“I hear you,” Cora said. “But it’s good to wake up and worry over something. It means you care enough to get it right.”
“You were always worried about me,” Tray said.
“Up there? Sure. I thought about you every time I left the house. Worried if you’d still be there when I got back.”
Tray smiled. “Where was I gonna go? We didn’t have no people in Georgia.”
Cora said, “I didn’t know, that’s the part that worried me.”
The twins were quiet for a moment. The wind rustled the tiny leaves in the trees, and Cora thought about Nanny splashing dishwater on her petunias.
“You think Nanny would have liked Janine?” Tray asked.
“I think she would have liked all of this,” Cora said, waving her hand at the furrows of soil. “She would have said we were doing good by the family. Even with fifty-eleven orange trees.”
Tray laughed. “I don’t even think she drank orange juice like that.”
Cora rubbed his shoulder, “Well, lucky for us we do, because we’re going to have a whole lot of it soon enough.”
“They say when the sourwoods would be ready for pickup?”
“Next Sunday,” Cora said.
“Good,” Tray said. “That gives us enough time to get the soil ready.”
Read more from Imagine 2200:
Morayo Faleyimu (she/her) is a writer of short and long-form fiction. A native Floridian, she currently works as a professional development writer in New Jersey. Her story “Morton’s Salt” was published in the Scarlet Leaf Review in November 2019.
Grace J. Kim (she/her) is a Korean-Canadian illustrator based in the New York City area. Her drawings depict characters in everyday moments and are related to current events, and always add a serene and utopian touch in the hope that she can share moments of peacefulness with viewers. She has collaborated with clients including Apple, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NBC, Buzzfeed News, and more.