fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty Two. {fiction}

“Well,” began Tochuku in his warm honey lilt, “we had a good trip…” Tochuku had never been the story-telling type, and Ching Shih wore a similarly taciturn demeanor.

Turning to Frank, Tochuku asked, “Frank, could you please tell it?” Frank laughed with the rest of us and began the story.

“We did just fine for the first couple of days, sticking to the lower trails so as not to be too visible. We saw some old camps, but not any people. Then Ching ‘Sharp Eyes’ Shih (laughter) spotted what looked like a yurt on a hillside across the valley.” Frank was the only one inclined to tease Ching Shih, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“She took Tochuku on ahead a bit, while I sneaked across the little valley, around the downwind side and up the hill, to scope things out. Turns out there was a whole cluster of yurts and tepees by the one we first saw, set around a broad meadow, and protected on the north side by a curving hillside. I counted an even dozen dwellings. Men, women, kids. All ages, it looked like. Plus a couple of dogs.

There was a tanning rack set up, a big fire pit in the center of the cluster, stuff like that. A little village. I marked the spot on our map so we could be sure to steer clear of it on our way back. And for future reference of course.”

“Daddy, what’s a yurt?” asked Ruby, arms around Frank’s neck.

“It’s like a big round tent. The Mongolian people, in Asia, used them a lot.”

Kate and I, standing side by side, exchanged a look.

“Daddy, who were those people?” asked Ruby.

“We don’t know, honey. Just people living like us…”

“Did they look like they had been there a while? Or did the camp seem sort of new?” asked Beto, tugging his sparse black chin hairs, the way he did when he was excited or nervous.

“Looked like they had been there at least a couple of years. Pretty well settled in. And, oh yeah, I did spot an area on the other side of the hill where it looked like a spring might be, lots of growth there. And a big garden plot nearby. Seemed like they were doing okay.”

“Can we go meet those people, mama?” young Walter asked his adoptive mother, Olga, who shushed him.

Frank continued, “We sort of paralleled Highway 15, but stayed way west of it so we wouldn’t run into anyone there. Kind of rough riding. Then we crossed Cherry Creek and Bear Creek, so we knew we were getting close. We got a good look at Pinos Altos from the ridge before dropping down into that canyon that goes west of it. Definitely people living there still. Saw smoke from fires, plenty of houses still standing.

So we cut a wide swath around that, being a lot more careful. We ended up on LS Mesa….” Frank paused to take a drink from his mug of tea.

Warming to the story enough to overcome his inhibition, Tochuku added, “Then Frank had the idea to visit the monks at the Benedictine Monastery! On the road from LS Mesa into Silver City. Ching Shih argued with him, but he said he had visited there before the virus, and thought they would be a good source of information if they were still there.

Then they decided,” nodding to Ching Shih and Frank, “that just Frank would go, that Ching Shih would stay with me and the horses, and Frank would go in by himself.” He finished resentfully, “Sometimes they treated me like a child.”

Ching Shih responded, “Tochuku, our job was to protect you! Protect. You. Get it?” She sat back in her seat, arms folded, determinedly making her face impassive again.

“I know, but where I come from, a man isn’t — how do you say it here? — babysat, by a woman while the other man goes to danger.”

“Then maybe you should show up for martial arts practice more often,” Ching Shih said shortly.

Raising his eyebrows at them momentarily, Frank picked up the thread, “In any case, I did go to the monastery,” seeing Jeanne’s hand rise to her mouth and eyes widen, “being very careful of course to scope out the place before making myself visible. I just saw a few monks and some other people outside, doing normal chores like cutting firewood, tending goats and working in the garden.

So I walked up and knocked on the front door!”

Gasps and astonished laughter broke out in the group, with exclamations of “Oh my god!” and “Noooooo!” along with head-shakings.

Frank laughed, eyes sparkling.

Olga, Hallie and Noah, who had completely opposed the trip to begin with, were not enjoying this part of the story as much as the others.

“You promised you wouldn’t allow yourself to be seen,” Olga’s crystal blue eyes glinted.

Noah glowered.

Taken aback, Frank flushed suddenly, “I said we wouldn’t allow anyone to follow us back. We never told any of them, not one, where we had come from. And we’re certain they didn’t follow us on the return trip. I circled back around to check that myself.”

“They made it back fine,” Beto pointed out, abandoning his pre-trip skepticism, then prodded Frank to continue saying, “C’mon! Get back to the story!”

Frank continued, “Wouldn’t you know it, my old friend, Brother Matthew, opened the door! We had gone to high school together, when we were both partiers…”

“What’s a partier, daddy?” asked Ruby. More laughter.

“Nothing honey, nothing… I went and got the other two and we spent a night there. We got a lot of good information there, I tell you. Smartest thing we did,” Frank added nodding emphatically.

Tochuku raised an eyebrow at Frank, who grinned and looked down for a second, then looked up again.

“Well, I mean, almost the smartest thing…”

“What? What was the smartest thing?” asked Beto.

All three of the travelers broke into wide grins.

“We’ll get to that,” said Tochuku.

“Anyway,” continued Frank, “Brother Matthew told us that right after the virus hit, there was a lot of panic in town. The stores were looted, of course. There were a lot of people who had mental breakdowns, and in a place with so many guns, that had some predictable results. On top of all the people killed by the virus, many were shot by people who were scared they weren’t going to survive.

A lot of killings happened in the grocery stores, which were stripped really fast. Neighbors who didn’t trust each other slaughtered one another. People broke into other people’s homes, sometimes shooting, sometimes getting shot. Most of the unbalanced people with guns killed each other or others killed them in self-defense. And, not surprisingly, I guess, there were a lot of suicides. It got pretty ugly. Again.”

Frank’s voice trailed off as he remembered the conversation. “More mass graves.”

I felt glad that Mama and I had left as soon after Seth and Daddy died as we did. People in the solar community had thought ahead more, so weren’t quite as crazy.

“The monks had been growing a lot of their own food before the virus, and they lived simply anyway,” Ching Shih picked up the thread of the story, “so they were in a better position than others right afterwards, though they said that they also lost most of their people to the virus.

Matthew said that people came there from town, some to find a safe place, others because they believed that God had brought the virus and they wanted to learn to live lives that would please God from then on. They gained enough people to keep caring for their gardens and goats.

We rested there a couple of days, and they fed us very well. We decided to leave the horses with the monks since they made us a lot more visible. Stealth would matter from that point on. The monks told us the best ways to go into town, and which to avoid,” Ching Shih glanced at Olga and Noah, “It’s more likely we would have been seen if they hadn’t advised us.

They said there are a couple of warlords with compounds — ‘Slavers’, they call them, like the one Lakshmi came from, with slaves held captive and forced to work. One on the north side of town, and one south.” Ching Shih paused thoughtfully before adding wistfully, “The monastery was very beautiful. It reminded me of the Buddhist monasteries a little bit. Simple, built of stone and brick, very peaceful.

I noticed a statue of Buddha in one part of the yard, among a flower garden. I asked Matthew about it and he said that it wasn’t only Catholics who had come there, but other Christian denominations and people from other religions and spiritual traditions of all kinds. He said he wanted them all to feel welcome, so now it is a place for people from all kinds of backgrounds.

There was even one room that was for Muslim worship. Their library has religious texts from many religions.”

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

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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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