It was a bit cramped on the drive up to Preston. Kaila, resolute in her decision not to be in the way, had parked herself at the back of the group’s mini-bus alongside their pile of picketing signs, and had been intermittently scribbling in her travel notebook which Phoebe had bought for her in Berlin.
“This is an experience you’re going to want to never forget,” Phoebe had said with conviction as she shoved the notebook into Kaila’s hands. “I know you’re not into any touchy-feely crap. That’s fine. Write about whatever you want to. Write about what you’ll ask your dad when you see him.”
That was exactly what she was doing. She had divided the page in front of her into two sections: questions she was going to ask her father, and things she was going to tell him. She had plenty of questions: What he’d been like as a kid? What was the most exciting story he’d ever covered? Where had he been all these years? She even had questions to ask him down the road, like what exactly had happened between him and her mother to cause him to leave so suddenly. In the column for what she would tell about herself though, Kaila hadn’t been able to come up with anything. What had she done that her father would find impressive? She had been captain of the debate team for a year. Would he like that? Or would that simply remind him of her grandfather? Eamon Arthur and Jeffrey Oliver had been perpetually hostile to each other according to her mother. How could she show him any pictures from her childhood: her equestrian tournaments, her piano recitals, her graduation photos, when in each picture her grandfather stood behind her, his hand firmly resting on her shoulder?
“Hey, what’s that?” Oliver’s voice broke through Kaila’s thoughts.
She slammed the notebook shut. “What’s what?”
Oliver motioned with a smile, and to Kaila’s mortification she saw that Mr. Snuggles, her stuffed elephant, had somehow wound up with half his bum sticking out of her backpack.
She lunged to zip her backpack up. “Oh, that’s nothing, it’s stupid.”
She saw that the exchange had caught Sophie’s attention, who now stood up and turned around. “What’s the fuss about, Oliver?”
“Oh, I just noticed a stuffed animal in Kaila’s backpack. Thought I’d take a look.”
Heads were turning around the bus. Kaila could feel her face burning. Great. This was worse than a school bus ride at summer camp. Now they’d all think that she was lame, just some little kid on her first trip beyond her backyard.
Cameron, who was sitting on the seat in front of her, bent forward and snatched Mr. Snuffles. “Aaw, it’s an elephant!”
Kaila thought about telling him to give it back, but that would just make the situation even more juvenile.
Cameron handed Mr. Snuffles off to Oliver, who looked at it with a smile. “Sophie, pass back Mr. Foxworth!”
Some sort of beanbag plush started flying through the air from hand to hand, moving toward the back of the bus. Oliver caught the toy in his free hand, then offered it to Kaila. It was a small, faded fox plush with bright red fur and a rather worn down nose. “This is Mr. Foxworth. He was Sophie’s when she was younger. She used to take him everywhere when we were kids.”
“I stopped for a while when I thought I was ‘too cool’ for that sort of stuff,” Sophie chuckled as she approached them. “Then Oliver found him in a box of our old things when we were cleaning out our aunt’s house, and he sort of became No Frackin’ Way’s official mascot. He rides at the front of our bus now, right on the dashboard.” She took Mr. Snuffles from Oliver with a smile. “What’s his name?”
“Mr. Snuffles,” Kaila murmured.
“Aaw, cute!” Suddenly Sophie’s eyes lit with excitement. “We should have Mr. Snuffles sit up front with Mr. Foxworth! They’ll be traveling buddies! Mia, grab your phone! We’ve got to get a picture of this!” Sophie snatched Mr. Foxworth from Kaila’s hands and scrambled back towards the front of the bus.
“Sophie, didn’t you forget something?” Oliver called. Sophie was already posing the two plushies on an open seat, but looked up with chagrin.
“Oh, right. Is that OK, Kaila?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” Kaila had to smile a bit at how the event had unfolded. This was a bit of a strange group, but they certainly were friendly. She was glad she had found some traveling companions instead of hoofing it on her own.
Oliver returned to his seat, and Kaila opened her notebook once more. She wasn’t going to have a perfect life to show her father, but she’d share her best. Maybe she’d start out with baby pictures. Everyone loved those. If Mr. Snuffles proved as popular with Jeffrey Oliver as he had with No Frackin’ Way, those pictures were sure to be a hit.
The rest of the ride passed by peacefully. The English countryside they passed through was beautiful, with rolling hills covered in soft green grass all around them. They passed farm animals from time to time as well: sheep, cows, even some horses. Kaila took pictures on her phone and regretted having not brought a higher quality camera along for her trip. She hadn’t seen this much wide open space since her family’s trip to Yosemite six years ago. She really ought to get out more.
Around the fourth hour of their journey the group found themselves in front of County Hall. The massive red brick building stood imposingly before them, stretching for quite a distance in either direction. Dozens of windows lined the walls, dressed in gray brick, and a black fence with gilded ironwork separated the building from the passerby on the sidewalk where they stood. Kaila noted the row of chimney stacks lining the roof. This building had been there for a while.
Sophie was as straightforward as always. “Alright, guys, pass out the signs. Harrison, Mia, you hand out flyers. Here, Oliver, you take the petition.”
Oliver cleared his throat. “Now remember, guys, a lot of these people have probably already heard about Cuadrilla and the fracking application for Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton.”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be reminded again.” Sophie interjected.
“Yes, definitely, but let’s be patient with them, OK? We want them on our side, so we have to take things at their pace.”
“And call them to action!”
“Yes, call them to action, but politely, alright?”
“Don’t let anyone get you down!”
Everyone nodded. It was clear that they were used to the simultaneous directions of their highly contrastive leaders.
Kaila took out a hair tie from her backpack and twisted it around the side of her t-shirt to make it fit better. Usually such a garish shade of yellow wouldn’t be her thing, but it did seem to fit the group’s flamboyant nature. Taking up her picket sign, which said, “Leave Lancashire Lovely”, Kaila spotted an older man walking down the street toward them. Deciding to be proactive, she walked toward the man with a smile. “Hello, sir, have you heard about-”
To Kaila’s surprise, the man glared at her, shouted, “Lay off, will ya!” and backtracked up the street, where he waited to cross at the light at the corner.
“Some people just don’t want to have anything to do with us,” Harrison commented, his sign slung against his shoulder. “Don’t let it get to you.”
“Oh, I won’t. I’m just not used to someone being so rude.”
“It could be worse. One time I had a lady throw her takeout at me. Chow mein and teriyaki chicken.”
“People don’t like to be bothered. Telling them what’s wrong in the world makes some people angry. They think we’re blaming them for a mess they didn’t cause, so they lash out.”
“If there was nothing to feel guilty for though, why would they be angry? Their response just shows their responsibility in the matter,” Kaila argued.
“Well, think about if this was happening in your own backyard. What about what’s happening now in Porter Ranch with that gas leak?”
“What? That has nothing to do with me!”
“See? That’s how that man probably felt. It’s not easy to convince people to get involved in protecting their environment, but groups like No Frackin’ Way exist to make volunteering to help as easy and accessible as possible, like with you. If you hadn’t met Oliver and Sophie, would you be here today?”
“No… I guess not. Not here in front of County Hall at least.”
“When you build a community of people who support each other in their efforts, that’s when you change the world. You can’t do much on your own, but when your voice touches others and they join their voices with yours, that’s something powerful.”
“Wow. That was pretty poetic, Harrison.”
“Thanks, I try. Oh, and speaking of trying…” Harrison motioned to a woman who was walking her dog down the street.
Kaila nodded. “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” She turned around and called, “Excuse me, miss…”
They had been protesting for a few hours now. It was moving toward evening, but Sophie and Oliver wanted to maintain a firm presence in front of County Hall, so Kaila was sent with Rose, the quiet blonde girl she’d met that first day in Hyde Park, to get sandwiches for everyone. As they were walking back, their arms laden with deli goods, they could see a large sign on County Hall that read “Lancashire County Council” which had a large, red flower in the lower right corner.
“Hey, Rose?” Kaila asked.
“Yeah?” Rose meekly.
“What’s that flower on the Lancashire County Council sign? I’ve seen it a couple times around town,”
Rose smiled. “That’s the Red Rose of Lancaster, the emblem of Lancashire since 1485,”
“1485? Jeez, America hadn’t even been “discovered” yet!”
Rose laughed. “The whole state of California is less than 200 years old. You’re not going to find anything in your hometown as old as in mine!”
“Wait, Preston’s your hometown?”
“Pretty much. I grew up in Goosnargh, but that’s only six miles from here.”
“So when No Frackin’ Way came to your neighborhood, that’s when you joined them?”
Rose shook her head. “No, I was actually going to UCL, University College London, when No Frackin’ Way visited our campus. I had heard a bit about what was happening up in Lancashire, but although I wasn’t happy about it, I didn’t think there was anything I could really do to change things. Seeing the group talk about the change all of us students could bring though, and hearing Oliver speak…” Rose’s cheeks flushed. “It really made me believe in myself, that I could help stop fracking from taking over Lancashire’s countryside. I decided to take some time off from my education and come on the road with them for a while.”
“Wow.” Rose had used her time away from college to engage in a trip around England voicing social protest. Kaila had spent her free time trying out all of Lay’s experimental chip flavors.
The girls were silent for a moment.
“Do you think you’ll be able to stop Cuadrilla from fracking in Lancashire?”
Rose’s face grew solemn. “I’m not sure. It was a great victory for us when Lancashire County Council voted against fracking. They understood the local people’s wishes, that we didn’t want our peaceful towns being torn apart by oil trucks rolling through, didn’t want to be kept up at all hours from the sound of their drilling, didn’t want our landscape ruined by oil wells and bulldozers. England’s a small country. If we let Cuadrilla frack in parts of our countryside, who’s to say that they’ll stop there? Who’s to say the applications for drilling new oil wells will stop? England is setting a precedent with this decision for all their future decisions involving fracking. It should have been left up to the local government to decide if they wanted that sort of industrialization brought here.”
Rose hadn’t said more than a dozen words to Kaila in the few days since they’d met. Kaila was a bit surprised to hear the girl so vocal, but she was enjoying it. Something in her peripheral vision suddenly distracted her though. Her eyes scanned the other side of the street.
“Kaila? What’s wrong?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. Someone who was walking by… I thought for a second I knew them, but I think I was just spacing out. Go on.”
As they rounded the corner to rejoin the group, they saw that another group had joined the protest in front of County Hall. However, from the tone of the newcomers, it didn’t sound like they were friendly.
“You have no business being here!” A big man with a picket sign of his own reading “Fracking = Jobs” was clearly angry with them.
Sophie met his gaze evenly. “We’re simply here sharing our opinions, same as you.”
“Yes, well it’s not your livelihood on the line, now is it?” A woman snapped, arms wrapped around herself in defiance. “You may think that it’s all well and good to keep Lancashire’s land natural and unspoiled so that whenever you’re in the area for holiday it’s as beautiful as ever, but we’re the ones who live here day to day! My husband needs work! I’d take a job myself if I could find any. If Cuadrilla starts fracking in the area, it will bring plenty of jobs, and we need that!”
Kaila’s group was silent for a minute. It was hard to give a reply without sounding callous.
“Why don’t you all just pack up and go back where you came from?” another woman demanded. “You don’t belong here, speaking to what you don’t know!”
“Now sir, that’s unfair and untrue,” Oliver replied. “No Frackin’ Way does not take what we do lightly. We come here from all over the country, some from other countries even, because we’ve done the research, we know that fracking’s unsafe, and we want to encourage communities to find ways to go without it, even if that’s difficult. We belong because we’ve got just as much of a stake in the earth’s welfare as you do.”
“Rose Martin?” An older man’s voice rose as he stepped to the front. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in London doing your college studies?”
“Mr. Cooper!” Rose exclaimed with surprise. “I took some time off to join in protesting.”
“Why would you do something like that? You should be on our side of this argument, dear! Hasn’t your parents’ bakery been struggling for years now? Bringing new industry into the area could revitalize their business!”
“You’re right, it could,” Rose’s voice faltered a little. It was clear she was uncomfortable talking in front of so many people. “We – we don’t want that sort of business though, Mr. Cooper. What would the point of reviving business be if in the process we lost the town we loved? Fracking would change Lancashire. Even if the process is handled responsibly, the industry would bring changes, making towns like Goosnargh and Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood into places we’d no longer recognize. I don’t want that,”
“You don’t even live here anymore!” The angry man cried. “You moved off to the biggest city in England, so who are you to talk about preserving the countryside?”
Rose cringed, but Oliver put a hand on her shoulder reassuringly.
“There’s no need to be disrespectful. Rose isn’t alone in her opinions. The County Council also voted against fracking in accordance to what they believed the desires of the community to be.”
“Well they weren’t our desires!” screamed the lady who’d spoken first.
“Maybe that’s ‘cause you don’t have your priorities straight!” Mia yelled.
That set both groups off. Soon, almost all the people present were speaking at once. The big man moved closer to Oliver, looking like he wanted to punch him. Sophie stepped in between, blocking his path. Kaila’s muscles were tensed. She crouched, lowering her center of gravity, ready to fight back if that’s what it came to.
“Enough!” an unfamiliar voice shouted.
Everyone turned to see a woman standing in the doorway to County Hall.
She looked very officious, and Kaila could tell she wasn’t going to put up with any nonsense. “I believe I can tell what has transpired here thus far,” the woman began. “Be assured I have no interest in the details. All of you are free to share your opinions about fracking, be they for or against the current official decision, but I will not tolerate any fighting on these premises. Do I make myself clear?”
There was nodding and mumbled acknowledgment from the two groups.
“If I see any further altercations, I will call the authorities without hesitation. Goodnight.” With that, the woman strode back into County Hall, leaving an awkward silence in her wake.
The incident had drawn the attention of people walking by. Some had stopped and were watching to see what would happen next.
Oliver was the first to speak. “We both want to speak to the public, but it doesn’t have to be in the same place. We can move around the corner if that’s what you would prefer,”
The pro fracking members were amenable to this suggestion. No Frackin’ Way picked up their things to move down the street.
“We should have told them to move,” Sophie grumbled. “We were there long before they were.”
“Better that we have their respect if not their support,” Oliver answered.
They carried on their protest for several more hours. By the end of the night, Kaila’s feet were killing her. She had talked to a few people, even seen some of them sign Oliver’s petition. She wondered if she’d really been much help, since she had to redirect them to other members to get most of their questions answered, but at the end of the night she’d been invited to join everyone at one of the local pubs for a drink, and by the time she’d collapsed on the bed in her spartan yet comfortable hotel room, she felt a sort of satisfaction in having seen this all through.
Kicking off her shoes, Kaila groaned as she massaged her feet. It was late, but maybe she’d hop in the shower before falling asleep. She missed her bathtub at home with its jets. That reminded her: she should send a quick email home. Her mother would want to hear from her, even if it would simply be a few vague lines about the made-up day she’d had with Phoebe. Kaila opened her computer to get to her email.
A notification popped up in the corner of her screen. Kaila gave it a glance, then froze as her eyes read the message. November Skies had posted again! Kaila immediately clicked the link. The internet connection was abysmal here. She drummed her fingers on the keyboard as the page began to load. At last the article appeared before her. Kaila’s heart dropped into her stomach. She had only read the title, but there was a word there that told her all she needed to know.
He had moved on. She had missed him.