fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty Seven. {fiction}

The next morning, we held a celebratory breakfast that also served as a community meeting.

I knew a little bit about what had happened from talking to Victorio the night before, and surely those who lived with Ching Shih and Noah did too. But we all needed to hear the whole story from the start, together. Clearly it had been a successful expedition, and that was largely why they had taken as long as they did to return.

To the amusement of all, Noah, the one who had most vehemently opposed the idea of exposing ourselves to the other group, was the most enthusiastic of the three. Even Olga and Patricio dropped their parental fears and smiled at his exuberance.

I picked up my pen and started writing in my notebook as Noah began.

“Okay, yeah, well, you know that we’re pretty happy with the way it came out, but at first it seemed like a disaster. We got to the meadow where we were supposed to meet them, the evening before the full moon, and saw no sign of them. The next morning we were cooking breakfast when Ching Shih jumps up from the log she was sitting on like she’d been stung by a bee.

Victorio and I looked at her, then realized it wasn’t a bee because she was looking all around, into the trees. They had us surrounded…”

Victorio said, “We all backed up towards the fire, facing the trees. I had a fork in my hand, Noah had nothing and, well, Ching Shih had her hands, the best weapon we had between us at that moment…”

“Then the people in the trees came out, into the meadow. There were about twenty of them, mostly young men,” continued Ching Shih, “they had bows with arrows, one had an atlatl, others had large sticks.”

“One stepped forward, a middle-aged woman,” Noah continued, “she said, ‘don’t be scared, we’re not here to hurt you,’ and I said, ‘that’s kind of hard to believe!’” Laughter all around the table. “Well, it turned out they were just being cautious, because they knew we knew where they were and were scared for their families, which makes sense.”

“They had scoured the forest just before dawn to make sure there wasn’t anyone else with us, but they still didn’t know whether we were armed and what we were going to do if only a couple people showed up. So we did the right thing by not bringing others with us. We’d have had a full-on battle on our hands instead of a friendly discussion,” said Victorio.

“The woman, Barbara, held out her hand to shake each of ours, very formally and with great dignity. She apologized for scaring us and asked us our names. Then, at a nod of her head, the others put down their weapons and came into the campsite. They each told us their names, and shook our hands,” said Ching Shih.

Noah continued, “After we had told them a bit of our story, that some of our group knew each other before the virus, and some we met in the aftermath, they told us how they came together. Turns out they had been living in the villages of Gila and Cliff when the virus came.

After the die-off had finally stopped, they got together to figure out what to do next. They decided they would all be safer if they lived near each other, in Gila proper, since Cliff was right on the highway. There was plenty of water, and they already had farms with crops that would need to be harvested soon.

Some of them already had large stocks of dried goods in cellars, since they also figured something catastrophic was going to come down sooner than later.

They did okay for a while — through the fall, winter and next spring. They figured that people in Silver City were living on the food stored in the grocery stores and houses, and probably harvested what they could from the gardens and fruit trees there.

Problem was, the food in Silver was used up eventually. No matter how hard people there tried to grow enough that summer, they just couldn’t. There were lots of people in Silver who knew about the farms in the village of Gila. Some knew that they’d starve to death unless they could grow more food, and lots of them had guns.

The folks in Gila had guns too, but there were more Silver City-ans. They had already gotten people re-settled together in homes, most people sharing with others who weren’t family members since so many families had just one or two survivors, if any.

Barbara said that the invaders had given them a chance to leave peacefully, and the ones willing to leave packed up horse carts full of tents, clothing and other supplies. They were allowed to bring some food with them, but not much. After they left, some turned back to do battle with the invaders. They don’t know what happened to them.”

Noah fell silent, staring into space as if captivated by the vision of it all.

Ching Shih picked up the story, “They first went to Turkey Creek hot springs to camp. It was far off the road, and of course had water. They stayed there for two years, hunting and gathering. Some died of the flu each year, and a couple babies were born. Then some of them worried that the others, from Gila, would come there too eventually.

Plus it was too rocky to garden and they wanted to grow their own food as well as hunting and gathering. They hiked for part of one summer, looking for the right place. Finally, they found the place they are at now, near the west fork of the Gila River. They say they are doing pretty well there, and want to build more permanent homes.”

Noah jumped in, “That is where I come in! I checked out the soil there, and it’s the perfect mix of sand and clay for adobe or cob buildings, like a lot of places here. One day I dug a big basin into the center of an arroyo, hauled some buckets of water from the spring, threw in some cut grass, and started building them their first cob hut.

Pretty soon everyone wanted to help, including the kids, and next thing you know, we’re in full production making cob loaves and stacking them into walls.

Normally we’d build a stem wall from rock first, but for this first one, for demonstration purposes, I used a kind of flat stone slab, about as big as a living room, as the base. We had to dig a deep trench around the rock so water wouldn’t accumulate at the base of the wall. It was all I could do to keep up with instructing them all on how to make, place and trim the loaves, so that it was built right.”

“Okay, we get the idea about the building, Noah, you don’t have to tell us all about how to build a cob house,” said Hallie in a teasing tone.

Noah made a rude gesture towards his sister before finishing his story.

“That’s why we took so long to come back. I just couldn’t leave them until I knew they had the hang of it. One guy there,” Noah blushed and hesitated at this point, then resumed, “one guy, Juan Carlos, worked for a construction company building adobe houses. He knows a lot about building, though he never used cob before. He’s taken over as the ‘site foreman’…”

Victorio whispered into my ear, “It wasn’t just the building that made Noah want to stay…”

It turned out that Barbara was the most respected older person in the group, a natural leader, and mother to a couple of the younger adults. She and some of the other de facto leaders spoke at length with Victorio and the others about how the two groups might help each other. Their group was about three times larger than ours.

Ching Shih said, “They were bothered by the fact we wouldn’t tell them where we lived, but we told them that we had promised all of you we would not, as a condition of our visit, but maybe we could another time. They seemed to understand our fear, but didn’t like that it was unbalanced this way that we could come to them but not them to us. We agreed to meet again in a month, and that we would bring more of you.”

Turning to Kate, she added, “One of the things they want are some goats.”

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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