archives, fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Four. {fiction}


Mama had said, “That’s where the songs start, and the way back to Grandma’s house. She’s not there anymore, but the house is.”

She had pointed to Cooke’s Peak directly to the north, “If we were to walk from here, we would keep the Floridas on our right go towards Cooke’s Peak. After going under the underpass, we’d turn a little west and have Cooke’s Peak on our right. It’s easier to stay on the road than to go all the way to the Cooke’s Range, you just have to keep Cooke’s Peak in view for the first few days.”

When I was little and my mom pointed out Cooke’s Peak to me one time as we drove by, I thought she said Crooked Peak because it was hooked over, not straight. So she called it that in the song.

City of Sun behind you, Crooked Peak in front,
Florida’s rocky flowers, slow the rising sun
Clap your hand’s together, now you’ve walked Day One! 

Mama sang this to me at bedtime every night, and sometimes we’d sing it while cooking or washing dishes or weeding the garden together.

Singing, Mama’s face softened and her hands moved more like fish in a brisk stream instead of like small flickering machines, in the wash-water or garden soil. I felt lighter and happier too, maybe just because she was, or maybe because some part of me sensed the hope she still had for the betterment of my own lot. She never said, “If anything happens to me, follow the song lines,” but I just sensed she would want that.

I’m sure she never meant for me to go alone without her. Maybe she had it in her mind for us both to go together when I was old enough, fast enough, and strong enough, to make that journey. I’ll never know now what was in her head then, just that after what happened to Sylvia, the place in the song, Grandma Sita’s house, was the only one in which I could imagine feeling good again, maybe even safe.

I knew the song by heart. I knew Mama had carefully composed it to describe the way to Grandma Sita’s house by using easily identifiable landmarks so that each stanza was a gentle day’s walk. As sad as I was that she would not make this journey with me, I still felt confidence in her and in myself.

I only slept a few hours, wanting to keep to the stanza-a-day plan, so up I got, four hours into daylight.

Deming city in front, Crooked Peak beyond
Pecan grove, as the sun sets down, will keep you safe and sound
Rest well now, two days are gone!

It was easy going for me and Burl, with no sign of anyone else on the road or off, though I kept my ear cocked sharply for any sounds nevertheless. I hadn’t been this far down this road for years, since before we were rounded up by Darian and his men. I still felt a burning sensation of the compound at my back, and often glanced around, fearing that Darian might have gotten a clue about me and come looking again.

But before I knew it, the pecan grove materialized on my left just as the sun sat down on top of it, pressing its late afternoon rays between the thick branches. Deming lay directly ahead, the first few buildings just in view.

Sneaking through the city, don’t get caught,
Under the overpass, no turning left or right
Safely past, rest in the fields ahead.

Unlike before the virus, towns and cities were a danger, not a place of safety. They were filled with the self-appointed lords and their sad servants, just the rulers and the ruled. Not so different than at the compound, except we had plenty to eat, and plenty of clean well-water to drink and bath in.

Why more people didn’t try to escape the towns was beyond me, but I guess maybe it was all many of the residents knew. I didn’t want to take a huge detour all the way around Deming, so I’d have to be very careful.

Up a hill I climbed, scoping out the whole town in one glance. Some sections of the town were pretty well-kept-up, and then there were whole swaths of burned-out and tumbled-down brick and frame buildings.

I guessed that the petty tyrants lounged in the nicer areas, keeping them up. The burned and broken areas had probably been destroyed during the panicked rampages immediately following the sweep of the virus. So that’s where I would go. I noted one destroyed street that wound from the south end of town to the north, bisected by the freeway overpass. I headed for the southern, nearest, end.

Burl had never been particularly vocal, but he seemed quieter than usual, and more watchful, huge brown eyes sweeping left then right with his head as he lumbered along. Maybe it was because he had never seen a town before. Crows circles low to the west, possibly having found kill remains left by the coyotes I had heard shrilling excitedly that direction just before dawn.

A dry, steady breeze, common in the spring here, fluttered my unbound hair like a black flag along my right ear and absorbing the sparse morning dew before the sun had fully risen. I chewed roasted pecans for my breakfast, washed down with precious water.

As we made our way closer to Deming, I kept a sharp eye out for any sign of movement. Even though we were going through an area least likely to be occupied, it didn’t mean there couldn’t be someone rummaging around in the debris. We picked our way along the crumbled remnants of a street entering the edge of town, looking left, looking right, looking left again each step of the way.

Bombed, burnt and weather-battered homes lined the streets, the smoky tang sometimes punctuated by the smell of long rotted flesh. I didn’t see one window that had survived, just empty frames. A front door swung in the breeze, held to its frame by one nearly disintegrated hinge, the dingy remains of sage green paint hung in thin strips, also fluttering in the wind.

We came across a large house that had crumbled eastward, right into the street. As we picked our way through the boards and glass shards, I glanced over to what had been the interior. Probably the living room, since a rotted couch sat in it. Then I saw some whitish looking sticks laying together, looking weirdly familiar, so I peered a little closer trying to figure out what they were.

I spotted a skull a couple of feet away from the sticks and was shocked nearly out of my shoes. The skeleton lay across decomposing carpeting in a jumble of bony disarray, but the skull was unmistakably human. The person must have rotted completely before the house fell, since it had not attracted carnivorous scavengers. My heart thumped in my throat, racing with adrenaline, and I picked up my pace.

I noticed a water spigot at the base of the front wall of the next house we passed. I had regained my wits enough to take advantage of it. I felt grateful that it still produced water. Crouching next to the battered brick façade, I turned the stiff knob and let the water run in a cool stream for several long seconds to clear the pipes before filling each of my water bags in turn. Water is life, they say, so I was glad we had it.

Soon we came to a large cross street, lined east to west with what had been businesses.

Halfway through, I thought, feeling a little more confident, that we would get out of town without incident.

Across the street, we came to an area with much larger buildings — mostly brick, and more intact. The only sounds were the occasional skittering of some small animal or another but no people.

I had just spotted the shift from the business district back to residential buildings ahead of us when I felt the solid sensation of a gun pressed against my left temple. Burl startled, eyes wide, too late for both of us. He had never been trained for security detail after all. My knees went soft and my breath stopped.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.


Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.


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