Before his flight to Earth, they had warned Jonathan about the “gangs.” Even at the Stamford Station where his shuttle had docked, even on the bullet train that spirited him north past brick apartment buildings and houses with gables and turrets, manicured lawns, circular drives, bay windows, even past the shorefront homes of South Norwalk with sailboats parked on the sand or tethered to metal docks fashioned to look as though they were made out of peeling wood, made to look as though they had been there forever, past the kayaks and the fountains and the parks populated by poplars and willow trees, they warned him about the gangs. The admonitions were grave and ominous every time they issued from someone’s mouth, but the closer he came to the frontier, the grimmer the admonition. Their crimes, their violence, their predilections grew more and more specific, the anecdotes spawning increasingly specific limbs until Jonathan was made to believe that he could discern the very contours of the lusus naturae waiting for him in New Haven. People who knew people he knew offered their numbers and their contacts, so that once Jonathan arrived, he could pass word of his safe landing. The land was red and burning where he was headed, and if he were not careful, he’d burn too.

He had thanked each and every Cassandra, noted that he would heed their advice, but inwardly, he was grinning. He was shaking his head and grinning. Among the things they didn’t know was the sheer strength of Jonathan’s thirst for shadow country, the fact that he had wanted to build something ever since the first dreams of returning to Earth had entered his head, that he had spent nearly every waking moment dissecting his plan, putting it back together, testing the foundation and the buttresses and the supports, making sure the electricity worked and that the plumbing was done with a strong enough piping. And gangs. The invariably white folk who cautioned Jonathan against youthful bravado, against infantile nonchalance, knew that gangs existed, which is to say they knew as much as anybody did about gangs, which is to say they knew nothing.

They said gang, and he knew they meant Black. They said thugs, and he knew they meant the n-word.

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