Author Archives: dianamayor

The Last Days of Woolaburra

Of all the Dome festivals, the Autumnal Processional was surely the gloomiest for Maire.  Elegant and well-oiled, the rotund young men and women who were unattached paraded down the Grand Esplanade, mincing and bobbing and ogling  each other for the Winter Pairing under the approving eyes and cheers of their families.   Maire, unattractively underweight, and still unattached at twenty, had given up on the whole humiliating spectacle.  She had never once been beckoned by any of the portly young gentlemen of clans high or low and had never experienced the giddy roar of public approval that was the right of every fetchingly dimpled and amply rounded girl who bobbed in acceptance of a young man’s beckon.

“It is an unpleasant set of circumstances when family connections detract from one’s status,” her mother hissed between her teeth as they sat at the sidelines.  “The discomfort is even more poignant when one’s family fails through lack of their own efforts.  It is not a difficult thing to eat sufficiently.”

“I try, Mother.  Really I do.”  Maire had been through this many times before.  She had to put up with poorly concealed public scorn and disgust at her gaunt appearance as well as endless nagging at home.  It didn’t help that her little brother was already adorably chubby.  His round little body already held bulk enough to last through even the longest winter sleep.

“Nor should one think of discomfitting the family in our Vault this winter.  It is most unpleasant to be disturbed in the Sleep.  If one can’t sleep and- you know you can’t, then let other people sleep in peace.”  Her mother turned away and gave a little cheer as her niece bobbed tentatively in the direction of a youth of the Latimers, not quite as round as Maire’s cousin but of status high enough to make up for any lack of girth.

Maire sighed.  In another week, the Dome families would take to the comfort of their beds in the cozy dark Vaults for the Winter Sleep.  Maire  had never been able to gain enough weight to stay  asleep through the winter and so had to spend the long dreary months alone and above ground, scavenging for food.  The courtesies of the Dome prevented anyone from openly calling her a freak or waster of resources to her face, but she knew that plenty of malicious gossip went on behind her back.  She heard it herself later that week at the Feast of the Nightcap as nutmeats and sweetmeats and berry trifles were being packed away by the crowd composing themselves for the long night.

Maire had just helped herself to a walnut pate when she heard a newly beckoned Althorpe girl say, “Well, I think it is a waste.  It doesn’t do her any good and every bite she takes is food wasted that could go into the stomach of somebody who could put it to good use.”

Maire flushed and pretended not to notice.  One more day and they’d all be down in the Vaults and she’d have the Dome to herself until the Rites of Spring.  It wasn’t so bad, really, being alone.  The Dome was somewhat  cold in the winter, but it was the quiet she minded most.  Except for the twittering sparrows, scavenging like her, there wasn’t a sound.  Even the ardils hibernated in leaf nests high in the great nut trees that brushed the top of the Dome.

Sometimes she climbed to the top and touched the chill nacre of the Dome ceiling, one hand holding onto the slender branch that rose and fell beneath her as she shifted her weight.  She loved the feeling of being high up in the Dome.  Once she got thirty or forty feet above the ground she could see past the encroaching ice that covered the lower sides of the Dome.  This year the ice rose even higher than the year before.  Once up above the ice she could see for miles and miles, a vast snowscape of one white hillock after another. At times she imagined that she saw solitary figures trudging through the snow but how could that be?  Who could survive outside the Dome in winter? This year winter seemed to come on in a hurry and hard, with the translucent Dome wall frosting over early.  Maire shivered and climbed back down.

Two weeks later she was amusing herself bobbing and weaving down the Grand Esplanade, waving to an imaginary crowd when she heard an odd slamming noise and felt the air pressure change around her. She scrambled up the nearest tree to look around but saw nothing amiss in any direction.  Then she smelled smoke.   Maire climbed down and went to investigate.   A small fire was burning right in the middle of the Portcullis Plaza and a man stood beside it, stripping off layers of clothing.  He was as skinny as she was and decidedly a stranger.

She approached him in indecision and waited till he had pulled his parka off. He jumped in surprise when he saw her.

She crossed her arms and looked away.  “An uncomfortable situation has arisen.  A person may not be addressed without acknowledgement of family and rank.  Here is a person without reference to either!”

He sat down and extended his feet to the fire.  “Hey kid.  You gave me a start.  Never been in a Dome before where there was anybody awake in the winter.  What’s the deal?”

Maire looked at him in confusion.  His speech was unusual and hard to follow.  She tried again.  “A person low in the hierarchy can scarcely be spoken to.  How much more so when one does not appear to hold any rank whatsoever!”

“I hear what you’re saying, kid, but I can’t say I understand what you’re talking about.  What’s your name?  Mine’s Vance.”  He held out his hand.

Maire looked at the hand warily, uncertain as to its purpose.   Had he given her his family or personal name?  What honorific was she to use?  “One is of the Creightons having been given the personal name Maire.”   She bobbed a general bob, noncommittal as to rank or station.

“What you doing awake in winter, Maire?  Your kind hibernate all winter.  I figured to have this place to myself while I repaired my kayak.  Taking a risk, though, with the ice so high on your Dome.  Don’t want to be in here when the whole thing comes crashing down.”

“The speech of the one known as Vance is difficult to comprehend.  What is meant by a kayak and why should it come crashing down?”

“A kayak is my boat.  Whale upset me out in the sound.  That’s why I had to shed my clothes and warm up.  But I wasn’t saying the kayak would come crashing down.  I was talking about your Dome.  You know you’re about the only one left, you here at Woolaburra and the Dome over at Kilgore?  Raumati and Paraparaumu both collapsed last winter.”

She still didn’t understand him.   “The Dome is not a thing that comes crashing down, like a tree branch.  The Dome doesn’t move.”

Vance gestured to a nearby bench and she sat.  “You know there were other Domes, right?  You don’t?  What do they teach you?”

Maire gestured an elegant flick of the wrist.  “One learns what is to be learned.  Deportment and grace.  Proper gastronomy and courteous speech.  The rankings of clans and families.”

“And how the Dome was built and how to care for it?  No, that’s stupid of me to ask. Great Bear!  If you Domers were still being taught that, you wouldn’t have neglected the ice wall so long.  I’ll show you.  C’mon!”

Vance stood up and when Maire didn’t respond, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her.  “Sorry, kid, this is something you got to see for yourself.  Your life is on the line, you know?”

He dragged Maire through the Portcullis door and into the Lock.  “Ever been in here before?”  He gestured at the suits hanging on hooks and the racks of long handled tools.  “Know what these are for?”

Maire shook her head.  “We don’t come out here.  It’s cold and uncomfortable.  It would not be a thing to do that reflected decorum.”

“Well, those are outside suits and the tools are, were used to clean the ice off the Dome.  Your people used to do it first thing every Spring.  To keep the ice from building up like it is now and crushing your Dome.”

“Go outside?  I don’t think anyone would want to do such an unfashionable not to say uncomfortable thing.  I’ve never heard of anyone going outside.  Even in summer it’s chill outside and there are great beasts.”

“I know there are beasts.  I’ve seen them.   Last year I saw a bear swimming across the open water of the sound, three miles from shore.  Scared me silly.  But what I’m trying to tell you is your people used to go outside and care for your Dome.  It’s something that had to be done to protect the Dome.  Now they don’t even know how to do it or how important it is.”

“The Dome does not need protecting.  The Dome protects us.”  Maire was getting irritated with this outside man saying nonsense things about the Dome.

“ Listen to me.  You have to have seen the ice creeping up your Dome wall.  Is it higher than it used to be?”  Vance took her by the hand again, an unseemly thing.

“Yes, it’s higher.  What of it?  Every year the ice advances and retreats with summer and winter, and every winter it is a little higher but this has not harmed the Dome.  This is proof in itself that the Dome cannot be harmed.  The Dome is everything.”

“Well, in the old days your people cleaned the ice off every year to keep it from building up to a point where it was so thick that it would be dangerous. If they don’t like being uncomfortable it’s no wonder they just let it go.  Scraping ice isn’t lazy man’s work.  Sorry to say it.  It’s beyond the point where anything can be done about it now; looks to be about four feet thick, I’d say.  No, your Dome is going to come crashing down soon.  Maybe this winter, maybe not till next or the year after.  Hard to say with these kinds of things.”

Vance led the way out of the Lock back to the little fire he had kindled.  He sat down to fillet a couple of fish he had brought with him.  He looked up at her and smiled.  “Mmmm, grilled fish.  Care for some?”

Maire shook her head and shuddered.  She had seen the edge of the ocean from her perch high up in the nut trees and had heard it said that there were things that swam in it.  To eat them seemed so gross and uncivilized.  Besides, her mind was whirling with the crazy things this outside man had said against her Dome.   That her Dome could fall and that her people had gotten too soft and lazy to take care of it!  She fell back on what she said before.

“”Your assertions are fantastic and plainly wrong.  A tree can fall; the Dome does not.  If a tree falls, a sapling takes it place.  Thus there will always be trees.  The Dome cannot fall.  The Dome has always existed.  It will always be there to protect us.  This should be obvious to anyone with eyes.”

Vance popped a piece of fish into his mouth and chewed.  After he minute he said, “You should come with me.  You seem like a nice kid.  No point in sitting around here by yourself and waiting for the end.  You don’t want to die, do you?”

She raised her hands to cover her ears.  “These words are not the words of a courteous gentleman. No person of rank and distinction speaks of death.”

“Not talking about it won’t keep it from happening.  Great Bear, kid, I’m telling you, there’s a rich life out there on the water, following the coast line.  All the fish you can eat, seal too.  Endless freedom, fresh air, new sights.   There’s a whole string of friendly villages along the coast!  Aren’t you bored being cooped up in here? Wouldn’t you like to see new things?”

These words stung Maire.  She was bored!  She had never realized it before this minute. Suddenly the thought of one more long dreary winter alone in the Dome, one more summer season filled with the empty, vain babbling of the self-centered Domers seemed unendurable.  But to go outside!  To give up the easy, sophisticated life of the Dome!  She temporized.

“Perhaps I’d like to go with you someday.  I would like to see new things.  But I don’t know how to live that life. So not just yet. Couldn’t you come back and get me when things get dangerous?  Everything is fine here now.  Perhaps later.”

Vance got up and brushed himself off.  He held his boots over the fire until he was sure they were dry.  He smiled again at the girl and shook his head.  “Can’t say I’ll be back.  I’m taking a risk every time I visit your Dome.  I trade a bit with Kilgore but their ice isn’t as far gone as yours.  Look, you won’t get any warning.  Everything will seem fine until the Dome comes crashing down and everyone inside will die under the impact and the weight of the ice.  It will be too late then.  So if you don’t want to come, it’s goodbye.   Seems a shame.  I think you are one of the few Domers who could make it outside. So it was nice meeting you, kid, and I hope it’s quick and painless for you when it happens.”   Vance pulled his boots on and then a sweater.  He took up his parka and hesitated.  He looked at her with a sad smile.  “So goodbye, then.”

At that moment Maire knew he was telling the truth and that somewhere in the back of her mind she had always known the encroaching ice meant doom for her people.  “Don’t go!  Wait!”

Vance smiled again.  He had an easy, winning smile and the laugh lines etched deep in his face told that he was a kindly person.  Maire felt drawn to him.

“I don’t know how to live on the outside!  I don’t know where to begin!”

Vance went back to the Lock and came out with a suit.  “Put this on.  We’ll go to the nearest Village and everyone there will help teach you. C’mon, no dawdling.  There’s no time to waste.  Any minute could be the last for your Dome.”  Vance helped Maire suit up and walked beside her, encouraging her as they entered the Lock and stood before the outer door.  He pushed the door open and they stepped outside.

Ä blast of wind hit Maire and knocked her sideways.  Even in the protective suit, the knowledge of the cold communicated itself to her body.  She looked inquiringly at Vance.  He took her hand.

“The cold?  Lean into it.   You have it into you to make it.   You’ll do fine.   You’re free now, Maire!  Glorious Freedom!  Let’s go find out what lays ahead.”

They went together into the storm.

Silver Survivor

Remigio switched tiles and grumbled; now the mosaic looked worse than before.  He stood up and backed away, taking in the whole work.  The geometric design spanned the patio which swept the entire width of his unfinished stone house, overlooking the cliff and the misty green valley below.   His neck ached and he kicked at the dusty tiles.  Something wasn’t quite right with the execution of his design that looked so lovely in his head.  He bent back down to reconfigure the central double swirl and lost himself in the problem until his concentration was broken by a faraway chorus of voices.  He wiped the sweat from his neck and went to the balustrade.  Winding their way along the meandering valley road was a troupe of youngsters.  They wore the kimonos and baggy knee pants affected by the Ninth Generation.

“Humph.”  He watched as they got closer and then leaned over the balustrade and called down, “Haro!  Haro! Haro!”

The kids looked up and waved, smiling.  Still singing, they climbed the network of terraces Remigio had carved out of the cliff face long ago to house his almonds, figs and grapes.

The children emerged one by one through the stone arch marking the entrance to his patio.  None looked to be even thirty.

“In what may we be of service, O Silver Survivor?  We throw ourselves at your feet.”

Living alone for so long, Remigio had not gotten into the habits of the excessive politeness of today’s youth.  Slightly embarrassed by his gruffness, he motioned towards his unfinished house, slinging his long silver braid over his back, unwilling to draw attention to his status.

“It’s my house.  I could use some help lifting the lintel.  You on your way to do your Love Labor?  You can start here.”

“With pleasure, eldest brother.”  At that the girls started patting him as though he were a child or rare beast.  He swallowed a rude grumble and led them to the doorway of the house where a long carved stone lintel lay.

One of the youth said with a hand flourish and a slight bow, “I am Ezekiel.  And this is Jontel, and that is Germania, and there you see Devai and H’sieh H’sieh.  We are all your children and at your command.”

“Remigio.”  Then he remembered to add, “At your service, equally.  Can we get a good grip on the lintel, on either side here, stepping up on the stone platform there to lift it into place?”

The lintel went up in one smooth movement.  Set in place, the doorway was magnificent, the broad beckoning approach to his house that he had been envisioning these many years.  His irritation melted away.  At least one thing went right today.

“Thank you.  And you must forgive me my rudeness, my generation never had the social graces yours has developed.  And I’ve been struggling with a whopper of a problem.  I can’t get the mosaic design to come out right.  Started this thirty years ago and still can’t get a true balance.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” they all chimed in and bowed, and then crowded around to study the incomplete double spiral.

Germania coughed politely into her hand and said, “My eyes must be faulty this day.  This does not appear to be a Fibonacci progression.  No doubt the morning mist obscures my poor perception.”

“No, not precisely.  I was trying to work out a double swirl-you see there and there? Two mirror images spiraling out laterally.  I had to depart from the Fibonacci progression to make it work but something’s amiss.”

“Such an approach no doubt springs from true wisdom.  But forgive me, my youthful ignorance prevents me from seeing the orthodoxy in such a departure.”  Devai wrung his hands in an exaggerated gesture of misery.

Jontel cleared his throat and said, “Our Eldest brother is of the time of the Scrolls and knows better than we do the saying, ‘Nothing out of harmony can ever truly succeed.’  Therefore we would never even think of lecturing a Silver Survivor on the principles of beauty and truth.  We must humbly apologize for even appearing to coming close to such a suggestion.  Time and the years which we have not yet attained will instruct us that this is not in totality a departure from the Laws.  Is it not said that Wisdom is proved righteous by its works?  Forgive us.”

The kids all softly assented.

Remigio felt the rebuke like a slap across the face.  For children to accuse him of disharmony!  He bowed twice and thanked them for their labor and kind expressions of friendship.   He watched them depart, singing ‘In Praise of the Beloved Cattle’.

‘What’s wrong with this world, anyway,’ he grumbled. ‘Children lecturing me on orthodoxy all the while singing a song that borders on idolatry.  Most likely they’re drinking milk and eating cheese too.  Why not almond milk, I’d like to know.  There’s no diet deficiency to justify animal products.  And all this silliness over decorating and parading cattle.  That’s it.”  Remigio threw down the chisel and wiped his hands.  “I’m going to see the Chieftain.”

Remigio arrived at the city three days later, dusty and grateful for the Travelers Station.  He bathed, washed his clothes and rested before heading to the Center.  A handful of people waited outside on the vine sheltered benches.  All were recent generations.  At the sight of his silver hair, they all bowed and yielded the first place by the door to him.  Late in the day he was ushered in to the Chieftain’s room.  There were five serving as Chieftain today; all survivors, of course.  Three he knew; he bowed to Karl and Jared and Ontelijewo and politely inquired the names of the other two. Pak Lin and Hirosori bowed in return.

“Our dearest brother, what brings you to the city?”  Jared smiled broadly.  All composed themselves to listen.

It was a pleasure to talk to other survivors.  One could be direct and to the point.  None of the elaborate formalities invented by the generations were expected among the peers.

“Something funny is going on with these kids nowadays.  Can it really be that nobody cares that people are drinking milk?  Animal products?  Is that really harmonious?”

Jared nodded sympathetically.  “It does take some getting used to, doesn’t it?”

“Then why doesn’t the Chieftain say anything, do anything about it?  Have you all just abandoned your responsibilities completely?  Because that’s what it’s been looking like from my end.”

Ontelijewo rested one hand on Remigio’s hand.  “Brother, some decisions are complex and distressing.  We must not exceed.  The Chieftain has been discussing  this since the Eighth Generation and as distasteful as it may seem to us, nothing was written in the Scrolls expressly forbidding drinking milk.”

“How about this?  ‘You must not exploit any animal for your own selfish advantage?’  That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?” Remigio turned purple.

“But brother, the Eighth and Ninth Generations aver that they do not in any way exploit cattle.  They love them and treat them gently, like children.  They have furnished proofs that the cattle are treated with utmost respect and walk about at liberty.  They give the milk of their own free will, loving the young people equally in return.”

Remigio banged the table with his fist, visibly startling the members of the Chieftaincy.  “But that’s the point!  Have you been blind?  Have you seen their festivals?  They adorn the cattle in garlands, weave ribbons around their horns and parade them, singing to them!  Where is the rationality in that?  Do you want to see a wholesale return to superstition?”

Jared shook his head sorrowfully.  “Brother Remigio, we beg that you do not let your excessive zeal for the Scrolls lead you into a disharmonious interpretation.  The children must be allowed their individual freedom of expression.  As long as no principle is violated, we must all allow each other to pursue harmony and unity in our own ways.  Go home, meditate on the matter.  You will see it differently, then.”

“So that’s that.”  Remigio stood, gave a stiff cursory bow to the Chieftain body and left most discourteously.  As he walked home, his right shoulder kept jerking, a sign of defiance and anger that had taken him three hundred years to extinguish.  And these kids had brought it all back.

A day’s journey homeward brought him to his sister Maura’s orchard.  As he turned in the lane, he could hear her singing to her bees.  She recognized him from afar and ran to meet him, kissing him on the cheek.  She led him to cool bower under the vines and poured mead for him.

“What’s troubling you, Remigito?  I have not seen your face like this for many, many years.”

“Things are falling apart, Maura.  The unity is gone.  Kids aren’t like they used to be, now they’re into weird, scary things and the Chieftain doesn’t care.”  He told her about the cattle and the singing and the parading.  “They eat animal products nowadays.  Would we have attained this age if we did such things? They’re going to poison the whole world with disharmony.”

“Disharmony is a grave thing.  But Remigio, I miss the point.  Bees are animals.  You have never refused honey and you are drinking mead with pleasure right now.  How is this any different than milk?”

Remigio flushed and pushed the mead away.  “It is different, somehow.  I don’t know.  I can feel it.  I haven’t been this angry in centuries.  You see what these kids are doing to me? Anger can make you die!”

Maura pulled her chair close by Remigio’s and took his hand.  She stroked his face and said, “You must calm your heart.  Yes, your anger puts you in grave danger at this moment.  The carbon dioxide canopy which protects us from gamma rays and free radicals, and yes our diet have extended our lives tremendously.  But no less important is the peace and unity we practice.  Brother, what has happened to your peace?  There must be more to it than these silly children.  Have you been meditating?”

Remigio jerked away.  “Nobody meditates more than I do.  Which is why I’m so concerned.  I can’t believe you’d be so indifferent to something so flagrantly wrong.  Things have gotten much worse than I realized.  I have spent too much time alone.”

Maura nodded sadly.  “In this observation I find agreement.  Do not go.  At least do not go angry.”

“I’m not angry.  I’m concerned.”  Remigio stalked away and turned homewards.

He went over it again and again in his mind, checking to make sure that he was in the right.  Hadn’t he adopted the Principles even before the Crash, even before the Scrolls were written down?  Who sacrificed his personal life, never even remarrying so that he could work whole souled for the Harmony?  Who led the clean up afterwards?  Who risked everything to decommission the weapons of war?  Had they ever asked him to sit on the Chieftaincy?  Who deserved it more than he?  And not even once had he ever complained or asserted himself or did the smallest disharmonious gesture in the face of the ongoing lack of appreciation.  Let’s face it, it was and is an insult.  There’s no other way to look at it.  Really, he had been blinding himself to the snub all these many years.

“Hard work and selflessness.  Pah!”

Remigio took his time getting home, stopping to talk to everyone he met.  Some agreed, some shied away.  He had to open people’s eyes to what was going on and he never imagined that it would be so difficult.  How complacency blinds people!  When he got home, he found Jared waiting for him, sitting in the shade of a fig tree and peeling almonds.

“At last, my brother!”  Jared stood up and dusted himself off, smiling and bowing.

“So the Chieftain comes to my humble home.”  Remigio was wary.  This could be a good sign or a bad one.

“No, not at all.  My rotation is over for the year.  Come, you know that.  I just stopped by because the Body felt that, well since I was familiar with the matter I would be the best one to talk to you.”  He threw his arm around Remigio’s shoulders.  “Stopped by Maura’s for some mead?  Haven’t had any in years.  Isn’t it delicious!”

“Oh.  Now you’re spying on me.”

“Not that either.  People talk.  I would say that I’ve been worried about you.”

“I wish you’d be worried instead about the disintegration of the community.  Jared, I had nothing to complain about the Chieftain for ages.  You used to do well managing things.  But since the population has grown, with each generation, you’ve lost it.  You’re out of touch and you’re making a mess of things.”

Jared nodded. “Well, thank you for sharing your honest thoughts with me.  That’s a start at least.  But have you considered that the things you’ve been saying and doing might be more dangerous to the Harmony than a small thing like food?”

“That’s just the sort of thing I’d expect you to say.  Divert attention away from your incompetence to blame me for trying to correct the situation.  You want to cover things up, make everything look nice on the surface when it isn’t.  You’re opening my eyes Jared.  You’re right, the problem isn’t what the kids are doing.  The real problem is the Chieftain.”

Jared got up and walked over to the unfinished mosaic and seemed to change the subject.  “This is quite a project.  How long have you been working on it?”

Remigio, disconcerted at the abruptness of the conversation change, said, “Thirty years and more.  Why?”

“This is an unfamiliar geometry.  It doesn’t seem organic.  What is it?”

“Now you’re accusing me of heresy?  Perverted science?  I would never embrace unlawful mathematics.  This is merely a novel exploration of the Golden Ratio, not a departure.  Call it an expansion if you will.  Don’t worry, it isn’t anything that would lead to a machine.”

Jared flinched at the obscenity.  “I wonder if so much time trying to alter the Universal Algorithm might have affected you.  Pushed you out of alignment.”  Jared reached out and took Remigio by the arm.  “We’re not immortal, you know.   Survivors have died.  You know that every single one that did was out of alignment with the Harmony. No human can long survive as a single unit.   I’m worried about you, Remigio.”

“And I’m worried about you, Jared.  Open your eyes.  Pull out of that corrupt Chieftaincy.  Stand up for what is right.  Help me clean up this mess.  Don’t you see where this is heading?  People abandoning the Principles?  Don’t you remember the Carbon Age?  The Earth befouled with petrochemicals?  The whole human race sick in body and mind, endocrine disruption, epidemics of abnormal children being born?  Don’t think just because the oil ran out that people can’t return to ancient evils.  Where there’s a will there’s a way.  And all of this failure will be laid at the Chieftain’s door.  ”

“I’m sorry.  Here I have to say good bye.”  Jared bowed regretfully and left.

That night, Remigio couldn’t sleep.  His mind surged and raced, possibilities and ideas flaring up one after another.   It wasn’t so much that he ought to do something.  He kept seeing what he ought to do and how to do it.  He knew!  And only he had the knowledge to do it.  ‘This is how I know I’m on the right track,’ he thought.   His mind was hurtling through time and space, seeing things long forgotten, putting odds and ends together in bursts of enlightenment.  When dawn came, he packed a shoulder bag full of dried fruits and nuts and set off on a journey.

Every step brought him renewed energy, as though some powerful drug was racing through his body.  He skirted the Inhabited land and crossed over into the Forbidden Forest.  He found the great river, the river of the Three Nuclear Power Plants, the land that may not be inhabited for ten thousand years.

“And here too we were wrong,” said Remigio as he build a small boat.  “Look at the oaks, the hemlocks, soaring to sixty feet, a hundred.’  Eagles screamed, otters and muskrats played in abundance.  A herd of elk forded the river near Berwick.  The old concrete relic was vine covered and inert.  “This is good land.  We’ll settle here after I’ve done what I’ve come to do.”

He drifted downriver past Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom, ancient abodes of evil, until he came to the Proving Grounds.  He pulled up to a rusty dock and let the boat drift away.  He wouldn’t need it.  He spent that day and night and the next day climbing over the wreckage of machinery, choked with vines and pierced with locust and sumac. He prodded and pulled and then he found it.  It was just as he remembered it, untouched by time.

“Beautiful,” he breathed and ran his hand appreciatively over the massive titanium ovoid.  Gold and silver bands ran its length.  “I remember it was so beautiful that I couldn’t bear to destroy it, if I even knew how”.  This had to be a prototype, a one of a kind in weaponry.  Somewhere there was an access panel.  He patted every segment of the gold banding until one gave.   A hiss, and then the ovoid split apart, revealing a seat.  “Unbelievable.  We really knew how to build things in those days.  Incredible things.”

Remigio climbed in and the ovoid closed.  The display hummed to life.  He felt the power of the machine, the thrum thrilled him.  He touched a control and the ovoid lifted ever so slightly off the ground.

“I remember, I remember. It hovered, not flew.  The point was to keep below radar.  What an eternity of time ago that was.  And still it can suit my purpose.  What it must have cost to build this!  Gold and silver, the platinum circuitry.  But they didn’t care back then.  Money and energy meant nothing when it came to the military.”

Remigio guided the ovoid back to the river and flew upriver, through the headwaters of the Forbidden Forest, until he came to the Inhabited Land.  Here he dawdled, and at every home and settlement he stopped and let the crowds gather.

“Is that a –“?  And they’d stop themselves, reluctant to utter the word.

“No, of course not.  Look, it doesn’t have any moving parts.  It’s a work of art, that’s all.  How does it float?  That’s just air displacement.  Perfectly natural, I assure you.”

Those that displayed real curiosity, that didn’t draw their children away in abrupt horror, he fed more information.

“Can you imagine what they’d say about this at the City?  Of course, when have they ever shown any imagination?  Did you ever think of it, ten thousand people, teachers, counselors, administrators, living off your labor, controlling your lives? How free you’d be if there were no City.”

“but the Body-“ someone would say.

“We’re the Body.  You’re the Body.  The Body will never perish.”  If there was a survivor or a First Gen in the crowd, he’d ask questions.  “Did you know the City has a name?”

Someone would remember.   “It’s Wark.”

“And what does Wark mean?  It means City of War.  What did you learn about cities in school?”

Everyone knew this one.  “Cities are evil.”

“And so they are.  Especially ones dedicated to War.”

At one place only did someone call him on this.  John Harris, a survivor he knew well, called out, “It doesn’t have anything to do with War.  Wark means dairy farm in old English.”   And the foolish crowd followed John as he turned his back on Remigio and went away.  But in other places he drew interest, awe, admiration.  By the time he reached the plain outside City the crowd that followed him numbered in the hundreds.  Some came out of curiosity, others carrying a grievance.

“The City.  Look at it.”  Remigio addressed the crowd.  “No walls, bars or doors.  Such arrogant overconfidence.  They have you so subjugated that they take you completely for granted.  Well, I’m about to set you free. I will restore orthodoxy, enforce the Principles and end all the nonsense.  Watch me.”

Remigio climbed back into the ovoid and closed the hatch.  He centered himself comfortably in the seat and slowly, luxuriously, opened a port.  He smiled at the blinking button.  “You’ve been waiting a long, long time for this.  And come to think of it, so have I.”  He pressed his thumb square down on the button with all the ceremony and deliberation he could muster.

For a long minute, nothing at all happened.  Perhaps for a moment Remigio might have feared that the device had outlived its usefulness.  But he was soon reassured as the entire body of the ovoid began to hum and crackle.  Static electricity built up on its hull and the crowd gathered round to gape at the glowing wonder.  The sky suddenly darkened and the ovoid, now a gigantic electric field, pulled lightning out of the sky and exploded in a deafening roar.  Everything within a hundred meters was obliterated.

It took several days for the site to cool enough for the Chieftaincy to approach for an inspection.  Not a trace could be found of the crowd, the ovoid or Remigio.  They sent for Jared.  It was well known that he had been a Navy Pilot back in the day.

“I heard the descriptions of the craft from those that saw it on his way here.  Sounds to me like one of the Suicide Attack Modules they started building in the last days, the days of desperation. I heard talk that we were going to be sent out in them.  But it never got that far, and I hightailed it out of there first chance I got.  Barely made it into the Harmony before the Crash. Poor Remigio.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Quiet

Cathy idly watched her frosty breath condense on the tarp covering her dugout and snuggled deeper into the huddle of blankets.  Vastly pleased with herself, she wriggled in comfort.

‘I don’t have to do nothin’,’ she thought.  Nothing to do but lay here and daydream.  No farm work.  No worry and no being robbed and shot neither.  It seemed an ideal situation.   In the little log and dirt dugout she had hastily built were neatly stacked boxes of her home canned vegetables, three bushel baskets of apples and potatoes and cabbage and a sack of shell beans.  There was room for a toilet bucket and a demijohn of water.  She had everything she needed and there was nothing to do but enjoy herself thinking.

 

She tried to pinpoint when it had all started.  Not with the bank holiday, things still held pretty good back then.  It was most likely when Leo Grundlach, the township supervisor, came walking up the state road as she waited by the mailbox.  She could see the Wallers, down the road near the bend, waiting, too.  Mail had come every Monday for weeks now and if there was to be any, she didn’t want to miss it.  She was a little antsy with Leo coming up because she was also trying to listen back to the house, to hear if the power came on.  Generally they didn’t have it on more than an hour or two, and she didn’t want to miss even a minute, there was so much to do.

 

“Hey, Leo,” she said politely.

 

“How do,” he said with a look on his face like this was going to be something she didn’t want to hear.  She liked Leo.  A polite and respectful man, he was quick to promise anything you needed even though you’d never see it.  A consummate crook and politician, he lent distinction to their little hamlet.  “Waiting for the mail, I see.”

 

“Umm hmm.” Cathy was never one to waste words and besides, she could see he was wanting to talk.

 

“We’re going to have to make a change with the taxes, Cathy.  Until they get the bank thing straightened out, the township is going to take taxes in kind.  A cord of wood from every household, deliverable by the end of the month.”

 

“Leo, that’s not fair.  You know you commandeered my gasoline two weeks ago for the snow plow.  What am I to run the chainsaw on?”

 

“I know, I know. I don’t expect a woman your age to go at it with an ax.  We’ll make an exception for you and let you pay in potatoes.  I remember you saying back at the end of summer you had a bumper crop.  I’ll send Paul and Johnny over to pick ‘em up this afternoon.”

 

Cathy thought quick and bit her lip.  The township didn’t hesitate to condemn and take any property with unpaid taxes.  And with Conyngham’s over across the way growing only hay and field corn, which you can’t really eat, hers was the only farm in the township growing real food.  Other than her farm and Conyngham’s, and a scattering of houses, it was just miles of forest and the abandoned coal mine.  So they’d seize her property in a hot minute if they could find any excuse.

 

“That’s fine, Leo.  When are we going to get any gasoline in?  I can’t run my tractor on air and there’s a crop to put in come spring.”

 

Leo nodded his head.  “That’s true.  I put in a request over to the county seat last week.  You’ll get your gasoline back when it comes in and we’ll be getting another shipment of emergency food relief.   We don’t expect you to feed us all on what you grow.  Why, you wouldn’t have any left for your farmstand, would you?”

 

Cathy gave up on the mail and walked slowly back the lane, paused at the house and veered over to the barn.  The barn cats, skinnier than ever, came out crying.  It had been a long time since she had any catfood for them, but at least they kept the barn polished free of mice.  She pulled back the tarp covering her potatoes; 7 bushel left, not counting the seed potatoes for spring planting.  She had understood clearly what Leo didn’t say.  He didn’t expect to get any food relief, there wouldn’t be any gasoline and he expected her to feed them all.

 

Time for action.  She moved half of the potatoes and the apples to the old root cellar by the spring.  Somebody would remember the root cellar before long, and they’d come for it, but not just yet.  They’d be happy with what they got today for as long as it lasted.  What would Leo being doing with the potatoes?  Certainly not passing them out to the neighbors.  No, he’d be feeding his family and Paul his son, the constable and Johnny his son in law, the code officer.  His power base would have to be fed and four bushels of potatoes wouldn’t last long.  They’d be back for more.

 

But that wasn’t the day things went haywire.  No, things still seemed normal, just every day a little worse than the day before, the way it had been going for years.  It must have been late in January when she heard shouting across the way.  She pulled back the curtain to watch and listen.  It was Larry Bonsell, the other township supervisor, along with four, maybe five of the fire department boys.  Larry was fire chief and he was shouting at Leo.  Paul came running up quick, his hand on his holster.  Johnny came out of Leo’s house, followed by Suzy, Leo’s daughter and the kids.

 

‘Fire department hasn’t been getting their share of the goods, looks like,’ Cathy thought.

 

There was pushing and cursing and then Paul ran the fire department boys off at gunpoint.  ‘Well, at least they got gasoline,’ she said meditatively, as the fire truck pulled away, screeching.  It wasn’t no hour till it came roaring back and the boys jumped off the truck, every one with a hunting rifle cocked and loaded and without stopping they shot Paul and Leo. Leo went down, surprised like, blood oozing from the side of his head.  Paul just crumpled.  Suzy started screaming and Larry swiveled and trained his gun on her.  Johnny quick threw his hands up as the kids started to cry.  Everything seemed to stand still for an instant, Leo’s dapper body on the ground and the firemen and family staring in disbelief.  Then Larry barked an order and the boys marched Johnny and the rest of Leo’s family off down the road.  And from then on things weren’t normal no more.

 

‘That’s when I knew,’ Cathy thought.  ‘That’s when I come up here on the mountain to build the dugout.’  She had always had a way of knowing, seemed like, more than other people.  It wasn’t something to be talked about, but it was there.  Was it something she noticed first the summer she had told Carl, her husband, that she wanted raspberries planted along the fence at the bottom of the property?

 

“No, raspberries are a world of work, you have to order the canes and get them in by fall and even if they take there’s thorns,” he said, protesting.

 

Then winter set in and a long, cold one it was, and pneumonia that spring.  By May, when she was out and about, here there was a row of raspberries growing fine and fancy along the lower fence with young raspberries big as thimbles.  She ran to hug Carl but he didn’t know nothing about it.  He was as surprised as she was to see them.

 

‘But that wasn’t necessarily anything extraordinary, was it?  That could just have been the work of birds, dropping raspberry seeds as they perched on the fence.  That’s the natural rewards you reap from being in harmony with nature, right?  Let the birds eat your spilled grain, and they’ll do for you?  But how to explain the oak tree?  Last year she suddenly knew the oak tree was coming down, and she got Carl to move the tractor quick and it wasn’t no half hour till CRACK and then BOOM and the old monster came crashing down.  That could have a scientific explanation too, couldn’t it?  Like maybe subsonic cracking noises she had picked up on?’  She was always real good to listen and pay attention the way most people never do.  That’s how she knew the day before Carl had his heart attack.  Tiny details of listening.  Of course, by then the ambulance service had gone out of business so there wasn’t nothing could be done.

 

“I wish I could have taken physics in high school,” she said aloud.  If she could only understand time.  Time kept nagging at her.  The thin wisps, the whisperings of the future that sometimes drifted across her vision.  What was that?  “I’m not stupid, I ought to be able to figure it out if I just think it through.” Somebody said once, somebody like Lao T’se, that from two facts or from three the whole universe can be deduced.  Just marshall the facts.  Think it through.  She whistled and whirls of her frosty breath drifted across the dugout.

 

Everything has an explanation.  What seems supernatural is very natural if you just understand the science behind it.  So what was time?  What does time do?   It scours away the past, for one thing.  Her evil stepfather, no trace of him or his evil remained. Fifty years ago the good and beautiful forest roundabout was a barren moonscape of black coal waste and stripping holes.  How quickly the earth healed itself once the mining was abandoned. The good, the permanent is polished by time.  Is time a cleansing agent?  Does it exist to right the universe?  And what about her time sense?  It couldn’t just be her, other people had to have it too.  Maybe they just don’t pay attention to it.

 

‘Or maybe they do, and just can’t bear it.’  Do they sense the Big Quiet coming?  Does it unnerve them?  Maybe they have known all along.  Maybe like a spool of thread unwinding, the last bit of thread leaving the spool with nothing to follow, they feel their unconnectedness to the future?  That would mean they are sensing their own death.  That would explain the drugs and the frenetic attachment to devices, music, tv, anything to blot out the sensing.  Cathy could certainly feel the Big Quiet coming, a long time now.  Last time she was in town, the noise, the traffic, the commotion of people all seemed as wispy and unreal as an afterimage.  It was the Big Quiet that kept bearing down on her.  ‘But I don’t feel unconnected.  I don’t feel my death coming.’   Strange.  What did it mean?

 

And now Leo and Paul were gone, and the young fire department guys were trying to run things.  But guts and a gun don’t give you the skill to govern, to get people to do what you want, to keep them in line.  Other people had guns too and were hungry.  Cathy could hear gunfire now and then from the comfort of her dugout, bursts of shots ricocheting across the valley, followed by other bursts.  Some days it was just a single shot, a more ominous sound, like an execution.  Was this how the Big Quiet was coming?  Shot by shot until they were all gone?  Every man’s hand against his brother?  Or was something more to follow?

 

She would have been content to lay there and work it all out but she heard a faint voice yelling in the distance.

 

“Mom!  Mom!  Where are you?”

 

Reluctantly, Cathy wiggled out of the dugout and trudged down the mountain.   Her daughter kept calling but she didn’t answer till she was in sight of the back field.  She didn’t want to give her dugout away.

 

“There you are!  Mom, you’re a mess!   Where have you been?  What’s going on?”

 

Sandy, her elegant city daughter, was a mess too.  Beside Clyde, her husband, she had brought friends, Benny and Anita and their two children.  They had enough gas to get a hundred miles on the road, and had walked the last thirty.  They were hungry and after hugs Cathy went to work cooking onions and apples, fried potatoes and cabbage.  While they ate, Cathy heated water and they all had a good wash.  Gathering around the woodstove, they brought each other up to date.

 

Sandy said things were terrible in the city.  Cathy said the same was true, here, too.  She told them she had been hiding in the woods.

 

“We’ll be getting a knock on the door soon.  They’ll see the smoke from the chimney and know I’m back in my house.  I’m the only one has any food except for anybody who’s gotten a deer.  But I imagine they’ve been too busy shooting each other to do much hunting.  None of you has any guns, do you?  Good.  That will save our lives.”

 

The knock came right then and Cathy politely let Tim Miller and the Peters boy in.  Both had rifles and looked angry and scared.

 

“How’s your mother, Timmy?  You remember Sandy from school?  This is her husband and friends come to help me farm.  Without gasoline for my tractor I’m going to need all the hands I can get.  Care to come in for a bite?   We don’t have much but you’re welcome to share.  Pull up a chair.”

 

The young men looked at each other doubtfully.  Hunger won out and they sat down and ravenously piled into the potatoes.  The children stood in silence, staring at the guns propped up against their chairs.  Time ticked slow until they were done eating.  The Peters boy spoke first.  He wiped his mouth on his hand and said, “We got to search for weapons.  All firearms are confiscated.”

 

“Sure, help yourself.”  Cathy showed them through the house and asked if they’d like to search the barn. They said yes and went on out.

 

“That was scary,” said Sandy.

 

“It’s not over yet.  They’re going to argue about coming back in and demanding food.  Tim will wind up shooting the other boy.  Or maybe the other way around.  We’ll have to bury the body.”

 

“How do you know that?”  Benny asked in amazement.

 

“My mother just knows these things.  Keep the kids away from the windows.” Sandy angled herself so she could see out but be out of the direct line of fire.

 

A shot rang out.  Another minute and Tim knocked on the door.  “ I got two little kids and they don’t have nothing to eat.”  He was red faced and apologetic.  “I’m sorry, but Ronnie Peters wanted to kill you and take your food.”

 

“Yes, I know, Timmy.  You’re welcome to everything we have. Of course the children have to eat.  It will be lean times for us all till we can get the seed in the ground next month.”  Cathy urged the basket of potatoes into his hands. “Thanks for looking out for us, Timmy.  Who ever thought it would come to this?”

 

Tim agreed and left.

 

“So that’s what passes for order these days?  That kid is running things now?” Clyde seemed dumbfounded.

 

“For the next day or two until somebody takes him out.  Listen, you can control interactions with people if you initiate it and set the tone like I just did, so remember and jump in quick to start down the track you want.  Or let me do it. Main thing is, we’ll be safe now.  And they know they need us at least until we get the crop in.  But there’s something else we need to talk about.  There’s a big change coming.  Can you feel it?”

 

Sandy nodded.  “You been telling us for years.  And it’s here now.”

 

“No, not this.  Something more.  This is ending, something new is about to begin.”

 

“I felt it since the end of October.”  Clyde shivered.  “Something about death, death everywhere.”

 

“Everybody feels that in October. That’s most likely our genetic memory of the last die-off.  El Dia de los Muertos.  The Day of the Dead.  There’s a reason why the whole world commemorates last of October, first of November.  A watery cataclysm that swept an ancient civilization away.  It’s in the folk stories of people all around the world.”  Anita nodded solemnly.

 

Cathy agreed.  “This is like that.  We’re on the cusp of it.  And here’s what we have to do.  There are laws of the universe, laws as unyielding as gravity.  Stay in harmony with the laws.  Don’t resort to violence, to threat, to anger.  Stay peaceful, work the land.  Stay connected, in harmony.  Listen carefully.  Listen and obey.  Our salvation will come from waiting quietly in our place. We will all get through this.”

 

Sandy said, “My mother has a way of being right about these things.”

 

“Well, what choice do we have, anyway?”  Clyde looked to Benny and then Anita for agreement.

 

And then as if to make a liar out of Cathy, the next day the old world struck back.  Three trucks pulled up in front of Leo’s old house, now Tim Miller’s headquarters, and a bunch of National Guard jumped out.  A lieutenant went on in to talk to Tim and when they came out the lieutenant got on a loudspeaker and called for everyone to report for duty in fifteen minutes.

 

“We’re here to collect your state and federal taxes.  All taxes have been transmuted to labor hours at a uniform flat rate.  Go get your shovels and report to the Allen mine within one hour.  You will receive your labor assignments there.  Dismissed.”

 

“Tim, they want us to work digging coal?   Will they be feeding us?  Joe is as weak as a kitten and I’m not much better.”  Betty Waller had gotten rail thin and Joe looked like he could barely stand up let alone work.

 

Tim shrugged.  “Orders is orders.  Who’s to tell them no?”  He nodded towards the heavily armed men.  He went into the garage and came out with a shovel.

 

“Women and kids, too.”  The Lieutenant ordered him back into the house to fetch his family.   Tim looked like he’d like to say something but didn’t dare.

 

“Let’s go.”  Cathy led her family back to the barn to collect the tools.  “Tell you the truth, I didn’t see this coming and I don’t know why.  Just when you figure it’s over, it gets another little gasp of life.  But don’t resist the evil day.  Yield and let it roll over you.”

 

There were only about twenty people left to make the walk back the old dirt road to the mine.  Half were kids.  They were put to work breaking the scattered boulders of coal strewn about and shoveling the bits onto the trucks.  By nightfall they were all staggering and were sent home with orders to report at daybreak.  Exhausted and filthy, Cathy trudged up the mountain to her secret stash to fetch some food.  When she reached the dugout,  wispy filaments began drifting across her vision, whispering, whispering.  There was something about the stillness of the place, perhaps the magneticity of the rocks that made this spot a special place where the future leached through like light seeping under a closed door.  She listened until it dissipated in the moonlight.

 

She came back to the house with a sack of shell beans and a grim face.  The others cooked while she cleaned up.  After they ate she softly said, “Leave everything.  We’re going to wait till the moon sets and then we’re going to file out of here, quietly, quietly, one by one and head up the mountain.  I have a hideout up there.”

 

Clyde looked up, worried.  “They said they’d shoot anybody who didn’t report tomorrow.  I believe them.  We can’t hide forever.  There’s only one more truck to fill and then they’ll be gone.”

 

Cathy shook her head.  “We have to hide tomorrow.  The rock face is going to fall.  Not a soul is going to make it out of there alive.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know if they’re going to try to dynamite or if it’s just a fault in the rock face.  But nobody who goes there tomorrow is coming back.”

 

Terrified and with sore and aching muscles, Cathy led them up the mountain, stumbling over roots and through briars in frigid darkness until they reached the dugout.

 

“Ah, Mom, it’s just a hole in the mud,” Sandy cried with dismay.

 

“It is, but it will keep us safe and warm.  Now squeeze down through that hole. You first. We’ll all have to sit, there isn’t room to lie down.”  And after they were all in, with the branches pulled back into place to cover the opening, she began to talk quietly.

 

“The way I figure it, at least what I always heard, was that time is a property of the universe.  Which means that when the universe was formed, so was time.  All of it.  I know, I know, it keeps on expanding.  But the future exists no less than the present.  Think of the universe as a house and the future as a room that you haven’t gone into yet.  You know it’s there, the structure is there, but you’re not in it yet.  You can’t see what’s in that room.  And what you will do in that room hasn’t been decided; it’s up to you.  But you can figure out a lot about the room even before you’ve gone in by looking and listening.  So listen.  Listen with your whole mind.  Listen now in the dark with no distractions. Prepare for what you will face when you walk through that door.”

 

The kids had nodded off to sleep and Anita was yawning when Benny said, “Something’s coming.  I feel it.  It’s dark and falling.”

 

Clyde said maybe.

 

“Is that the rock fall?  All I feel is silence.”  Sandy was a doer, not a worrier, not a listener.

 

“The silence I call the Big Quiet.  I hear it too.  Can you feel the subharmonics of that rock shear?  The rock is groaning.  You can feel it through the ground beneath us.”

 

“So that’s not the future, just the ground?”

 

“It’s both.  The one is the other. The future sends out foregleams just like the sun before dawn. It’s a sort of a shock wave, but it’s a low frequency wave.  Something you feel more than you actually technically hear.    Only now, just at this moment do I understand how we’ll deal with natural disasters in this new earth.  We’ll feel them, hear them coming before they get here, in the peaceful Big Quiet.  It’s something that can be learned.  And there will be no racket, no distractions. Did you hear that? It’s getting louder.  Listen!”  And indeed, the crackles of the rock face were almost audible.  You didn’t actually hear them with your ears, but someplace deep in your head.

 

They went to sleep one by one after that and worn out, slept late into the morning in cozy dark of the hole.  Getting on towards noon, they were awakened by a roar and a long rumble and then the ground around them shook.

 

“Now,” said Cathy, “We can all go home.”