Sung Home: Chapter Eleven. {fiction}


I found the perfect spot for the family cemetery a little uphill from the garden. It was a beautiful site under a towering ancient alligator juniper with reasonably soft, loamy soil.

It took me two days to dig all five graves, including the dog’s, since my ankle was still a little sensitive. I didn’t make them a full six-feet deep, but only about four, just hoping that would be enough to allow them to continue rotting peacefully without being assaulted by bears. Life had been hard enough on them while they were alive, I’d rather they not suffer further insults in death.

I carried each one wrapped in blankets, and once they were lined up neatly in their respective final resting places, I shoveled the soil I had removed on top of them, starting at one end of the row and continuing to the end.

I had found birth certificates in a drawer by the desk, so I was able to figure out the names of the parents, Lionel and Melissa, and both children, Duane and Kirstin. Their last name was Gunderson. Using a Phillips-head screwdriver, I had crudely carved each name into scraps of two-by-four lumber and pounded each into the ground at the corresponding grave with a mallet.

I didn’t know the dog’s name, so I made one up: Hero. I figured that any dog that had to watch three family members die before being put down by the fourth deserved an honorable name.

The sun had nearly set as I placed the last shovelful of dirt atop the last grave, Hero’s. I stood for a long moment, imagining what their lives had been like before the virus. Lionel and Melissa maybe worked jobs at the schools, running a store or supervising a construction crew. The kids probably went to the small school in nearby San Lorenzo.

I figured that Mama had put them on my route because she must have known them, but I had no memory of them, and it was doubtful that anyone else alive did either. A fat tear slid down to my chin before stopping. I wiped my nose and turned towards the house, for one last soft night’s sleep on the couch.

The next morning, I finished washing the last dishes I had used. I lugged the satchel, densely packed with canned and dried foods, to Burl standing glumly by a post in the front where he was tied. Clearly he would have been perfectly happy to live there forever.

I packed a small canvas duffel bag I had found in the shed with tools I thought might come in handy — two hammers, flat-head and Phillip-head screwdrivers, a file, a foldable hacksaw, a sturdy gardening spade, and a small shovel. I even found a hand-powered drill and bits to match. The other tools required electricity, so there was no point in bringing any of those.

In another big bag, I packed other useful kitchen items — a couple of large metal mixing bowls, a ladle, some flatware, a set of four wooden soup bowls, a grater, serving spoons, and of course, the can opener. I also brought an assortment of kitchen knives, wrapped tightly in kitchen towels.

I had found a hefty length of medium-weight canvas fabric, along with heavy scissors, thread and needles, so I packed them too. A five-pound bag of salt was perhaps the biggest treasure. Not only could I season my food with it, but it would prove useful for jerking meat for winter use.

I rolled up a large blue tarp I had found in the shed, still in the package, and tucked it into one of the larger straps holding everything onto my trusty, living truck. Burl was not happy about the hefty load, but I promised him he wouldn’t have to carry me anymore.

My pants no longer hung like limp sacks on my hips and legs. I had filled out during our stay to almost the same weight as before we had left the compound. I felt refreshed and strong. Optimistic. We hadn’t had too much trouble along the way, and had made good progress. After enjoying our long break, I now felt a surging eagerness to be on our way.

On our way home.

Leave our friends now, say goodbye, more than halfway there!

Follow road that brought you here, farther north you go

Two-track winds, but don’t you fear, rest at the crossroads

The daytime weather had turned from cool to pleasantly warm since my retreat at the Gundersons’ house. We followed the same two-track that had taken us to the house, winding through the thickening woods. The piñon and juniper forest began to include more ponderosas and a greater variety of wild flowers, which swayed in the breeze and shined brightly in the clear sunlight.

Jays scolded us and the woodpeckers pecked industriously, high in the pines. A small brown lizard eyed us from the side of an oak tree, skittering suddenly up the trunk as we passed, tail whipping as it went. As overgrown as it had become, the ruts of the dirt tracks had been deepened by runoff, so were easy to see.

I ate lunch, then slept through the middle of the day, waking at mid-afternoon to continue our trek. The sun set somewhat later now, so I knew we could still make good progress by the day’s end.

The wind picked up an hour or so later, blowing in thick, dark clouds that settled low overhead. A short sprinkling prelude began, then the rain came in earnest, wind whipping the fat drops nearly horizontally into our faces. Sheltering on the lee side of a large cedar, I unrolled the tarp and wrapped it around Burl and I.

The rain rushed down, forming rivulets, then small streams, cutting pathways through the decaying forest floor detritus. The sun cut a hole in the clouds, even as the rain still rattled heavily onto the tarp. I spotted a shimmering rainbow, first slight, then brighter, on the horizon. We continued once the rain had spent itself, the air thick with moisture.

There was still a couple hours of daylight left when we came upon the dirt road crossing the one we had been following, as described by the song. I staked out Burl, then set about gathering greens to add to my jerky for dinner.

To the left at the crossroads, follow the track west

West at the sentinel stones, leaving track behind

Hear the Mimbres call again, take it gently up

The track that crossed the one we had been on proved very similar. Deeply rutted and easy to follow. As the song predicted, we came to a point where the track turned south just where a large cluster of enormous stones stood. Staying west, we wound our way through the stones for about a half an hour before I could hear the river in front of us.

We crossed a low, slightly boggy meadow before arriving at the banks of the Mimbres, rushing over the river rocks in its cheerfully brisk springtime manner, as if it was excited to get where it was going too.

Spring had fully sprung by this time, and tiny purple and yellow wildflowers nested in delicate freshly sprouted grass in the meadows and hillsides we passed. Brilliant red penstemons waved excitedly in the breeze. The rich, light smell of the spring flowers filled the air. Oftentimes I could see the paved road from the riverside path we walked.

It was late afternoon when I selected a pleasant campsite out of view of the road. I unburdened Burl just as the sun hesitated upon the western hill before sinking behind it.

Stay along the river, watch now, others may be near

Last full day on the Mimbres, fill your water bags

Two more days and you’re home, journey almost done

On the third day from the Gundersons’, I spotted a cluster of houses along the river, so we hiked up the ridge, staying behind the tree line for cover. A couple of houses had gardens and laundry hanging outside. Once I saw a man with a small child. The man was hammering on a shed, making repairs I assumed, while the curly-headed toddler looked on.

I hadn’t heard a sound that loud since I left the compound and it made me nervous, like it might alert someone to our presence, even though we weren’t making the sound. I stood watching the man hammer as if hypnotized by such a normal activity. Something one just does when at home.

Home. I wished I could walk up to one of these houses, knock on the door, and go in for a glass of tea, chatting with its inhabitant. Of course I didn’t dare. Loneliness ached in my chest like a wounded squirrel, chittering and anxious. It had been more than three weeks since I left the compound, and the only friends I had in the world.

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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