fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Two. {fiction}

He nodded, throwing his cooking gear into a saddle bag before leading his horse behind me.

I couldn’t speak the whole way back to my cave home and, wisely, he didn’t push the matter.

He did, however, stop for a moment with a puzzled frown when I turned from the path that would have taken us straight downstream to the cabin and turned up towards the butte instead. I repressed a smile at his confusion, despite my unhappiness with him.

“Tie your horse,” I said, pointing to a juniper.

I led him around the curve of the butte to the cave entrance. His eyes lit up in delight when he spotted the door, mouth twitching with a cautious grin. Once again though, I did not see surprise there.

I opened the door and gestured for him to go in before me, watching his reaction as we made our way down the stairs. Victorio paused to run one hand admiringly over the surface of the carved snake as he entered, then stopped a moment to scan the room with all its sandstone floral glory before sitting with me on one of the long bancos.

“Looks like Grandpa Joe’s carvings,” he said.

“You’re not surprised at this place,” I said gesturing around the room.

“No.” Forearms resting on his knees, he leaned forward, looking down at his feet.

“Then either you’ve been here before or there are others like this.”

“Yes. No. I mean… No, I haven’t been in this one before. I didn’t know exactly where it was. And yes, there are others.” He looked up at me, meeting my gaze.

I sat dumbfounded, the implication of this sealing my lips and freezing me to my seat.

After a long pause, I asked, “How? Who? Where?”

Victorio took a deep breath.

“Sita, my grandpa Joe, and others here believed that something bad was going to happen. Catastrophic. That civilization would collapse somehow. Most thought it would be climate change. Some thought nuclear war. A sculptor named Ra had built caves like this up north, near Taos, and others here picked up on the idea.

They knew that things could go really bad pretty quickly, and knew that right away a lot of people would be desperate. They figured people would find their way here and take our food and maybe kill us.”

“The houses in the village…” I began.

“Yes. Only a couple of families — what was left of them — stayed long enough for the raiders to get them. Kill them. Burn everything to the ground. Right after the virus passed through, the rest of us left alive packed up and got into the caves as quickly as we could. Before we left, I saw you come get your grandma Sita and bury her, when Grandpa was still sick. He was always grateful you did that.

Before the raiders burned her house down. Grandpa got sick but survived.”

I had never heard of anyone who had gotten the virus and not died.

“The raiders didn’t find you?”

“No. They didn’t look. I guess they figured everyone else in the village died or left to Silver City or Deming or something. The cliff dwellings, the ancient ones, wouldn’t hide anyone. No reason they would look for caves. Even I didn’t know about them until after the virus, because I lived in town with my folks and the cave builders kept them secret. But I was visiting Grandpa Joe when the virus came through.

I kept thinking my parents would come if they had survived but they never showed.”

“Who else made it?” I asked. My throat hollowed, eager and scared at the same time to hear the answer.

“Noah, his mom Jeanne, and his older sister Hallie made it. Ben, Beto, and the goat lady, Kate. Some of the Forest Service people, Devon, Frank, Gary and Yazmin. There’re a few people who were camping when the virus hit, whom we took in. Tochuku, Ching Shih, Olga and Patricio Nunez, and three kids whose grandpa died while camping with them — Zoe, Walter and Thomas.

With the three new babies, we have 22 people. Plus you. If you want.”

Dane, Liam and the other boy and two girls were gone. Inez, and Kate’s son and daughter in-law and all their kids were gone. It seemed silly to feel their loss so keenly, after seeing most of the people I knew die, but I did. They had been a part of this place too, part of my memory of this place, and the feeling of belonging.

Then there were all the households with no survivors at all. So many that I had never even met. Now there was just a handful of people to start over here. It was impossible to tell what was happening elsewhere, with other survivors.

After a dinner of some more of Victorio’s venison and some greens I had picked on the way home, I showered and then offered him a fresh towel so he could also wash up. As he bathed, I made up a bed for him on the banco bench, just below my own bed set up on its platform. I didn’t feel like showing him the big bedroom and the library, not yet.

As I lay there staring at the sandstone ceiling, listening to Victorio’s breath deepen into full sleep, I thought of those he had named as part of the community. I had hesitated when he first mentioned others, but now my heart pounded at the thought of seeing people I had known as a child, my grandmother’s familiar friends and their now grown children. They were the reason I made this journey.

Of course I would go meet them. Of course I would want to be part of their community. I felt thrilled and terrified. And a thick-throated fury heated my veins at the thought that they had been willing to let me die.

The next morning we walked upstream again towards where the others lived.

Victorio said, voice low and steady as if scared to set me off again, “We have a few babies, well, toddlers now, and a couple of older people who can’t do much. So we really need people who are strong enough to work. We spend a lot of time caring for the older ones and kids, and hunting, gathering, gardening and the like…” he said, as if trying again to explain why they had left me on my own so long.

I shrugged, not knowing what to say for a while. “I understand. I get it. Still, so many of them knew me…”

“Just for the record, I did tell them that you would be a huge help. How you as a little girl you would bring home rabbits and other game for Sita to cook, your knowledge of edible plants. Others argued for you too. But too many didn’t know you, just that you were a girl, not fully grown.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and glared at him.

“A girl? Not fully grown?”

“Hey!” he said raising his palms defensively, eyes wide at my outburst, “I said I stuck up for you. I knew you’d help!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, walking again. “You said it was people who didn’t know me.” Who was I to criticize their choice when I had left Robert and Emma and the others the way I did? Who knows what harsh reaction was triggered by my escape? Did I make things even worse for those I left behind? Probably.

We hiked a couple of miles or so before we came to the next cave, Victorio leading his dun mare to walk beside me. Apparently the one I found was farthest downstream, nearest to Sita’s incinerated house at the edge of the blackened, leveled village. According to Victorio, this was not a coincidence. The first cave built was Sita’s, waiting for me and my family.

Others picked up on the idea and worked together to formulate a plan for a system of caves. The entrances to each cave were separated by at least a quarter mile, for the purpose of security. They were all built into the curve of a hill on the left side of the river as it gradually gained in altitude upstream.

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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