fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty Two. {fiction}

Frank continued, “We could circle way to the west, before even getting near Silver, then make our way south so that we come into Silver from the southwest, then angle east towards the Maker compound. There’s no one at all living in that direction from Silver according to the Monks and from our own observations. The Slavers are probably used to people coming directly from the south, along highway 90, or from the north, from Pinos Altos or the monastery.”

Nodding to Ching Shih and Tochuku, he added, “We scoped things out pretty well on our first trip, and I know my way around Silver perfectly, having grown up there. I think we could do it.”

“Frank, I remember you said something about the Uvies — the people living at the university. Didn’t the Monks say they were into trading, not hostile?” I asked. My exhilarating, if brief, time with the Forest People caused my earlier fears to drift father into the background of my thoughts and feelings. I found myself much more attuned to the rich opportunities to be had in our relationships with other groups.

“Yeah, that’s true. What are you thinking?”

“I’d sure like to try out my book scanner. They have a whole university library there, assuming it’s still intact. Tochuku said each scanner could hold dozens of books. Then they could be downloaded onto one of his hard drives, so we could get more. It could basically quadruple our library easily.”

“I would bring my scanner too, of course. And, yes, a hard drive, so we could download them right there, and scan more,” added Tochuku, jumping on another angle from which to sell the trip.

“Yeah,” Frank said, “We could ask the Monks about how to go about approaching the Uvies.”

“It’s already mid-September. We could literally have our first snowstorm in another couple of weeks,” said Hallie.

“All the more reason to go soon,” said Tochuku, sensibly enough.

“I would go if you will,” said Ching Shih, lifting her chin at Frank, speaking for the first time on the matter.

“If Lakshmi’s going, I’m going,” said Victorio, putting his arm around me with a humorous flourish.

“I don’t need you to protect me!” I said, turning to him in mock offense.

“Protect you?” he returned, “I just don’t want to miss out on a trip before the long winter. I’ll probably need you to protect me, Rabbit Girl!” using my childhood nickname.

Our joking appeared to break the spell of the impasse.

Now that several of us, including our hotshot security team, had agreed to go, the rest let the matter drop, or at least discontinued its debate. Several people glowered discontentedly — mostly Hallie, Olga and Patricio. Jeanne looked worried, whether for Frank’s safety or Hallie’s distress I had no way of knowing. Beto seemed to keep a studied neutrality opinion-wise, while being warmly attentive to Hallie.

Nodding his head to Victorio and me, Frank continued with the practical matters, “We’ve gotta rest up for a few days, no matter what. We could be ready to go in a week for sure. The weather has been a little warm for this time of year. I doubt it’ll snow any time soon.”

After indulging in an early bedtime and a leisurely rousing from bed the next morning, Victorio and I worked doubly hard in getting in the last of the harvest with the others before we left again. The riches of the season were ours for the taking, but we still had to gather them from the forest, glean them from the garden, cut and dry it all too.

The shelves of all the pantries had been filled nearly to bursting, not to mention the still significant original stores of flour, grains and beans. We certainly weren’t going to go hungry this winter, but we never knew what the next year would bring. We couldn’t take any of our current abundance for granted.

I felt acutely the luxury we claimed for ourselves by taking these trips at this time of year, and hoped to make up for it some by working extra hard before we left again.

Before the week was out, Frank, Victorio, Ching Shih, Tochuku and I were packed and ready to head off. The trip would take us at least two weeks, and three was much more likely. Jeanne eyed the sky somberly as she hugged us all in turns, whispering wifely exhortations for caution in Frank’s ear before he swung himself onto his horse.

Grandpa Joe squeezed me extra-long, an odd look of resignation on his face that caused my guts to tighten and raised the hair on my arms.

He did the same with Victorio, except instead of avoiding Victorio’s eyes as he had mine, the two kinsmen beheld each other’s gaze silently for several unwavering seconds during which I saw a whole conversation pass between them, ending with what seemed to be a slight nod of agreement from Victorio.

Grandpa Joe had spoken neither for or against this trip, but apparently he had some inkling about it he wasn’t sharing, at least not explicitly.

My moment of foreboding soon passed as we made our way through the early fall forest, settling in to the rhythmic plodding of the horses. The deciduous trees had begun to turn colorful in earnest, and their leaves would carpet the forest floor soon after our return from Silver.

Squawking flocks of sandhill cranes and various geese and ducks sang their own way to their winter homes, flowing in ribbon-like V-formations far above us in the cloudless, turquoise sky. Fall was the time to travel if you really needed to get somewhere before spring. Winter was not.

We followed the West Fork at first, its flow much tamer now that the late summer rains had passed. As usual, we hunted, fished and gathered as the opportunity arose. We wanted to save most of the provisions we brought from home for trade.

We had brought one extra horse just to carry two large panniers loaded with Kate’s cheese, jerked meats, dried wild berries and other foods that we thought the town-dwellers might especially appreciate. We veered southward before we passed near the Forest People’s home, respecting their wishes to be free of visitors while they finished their preparations for winter.

A few days into our trip, we sat around the evening’s campfire, a crescent moon lighting the sky, already brilliant with a sparkling treasure trove of stars. Victorio and I sat cross-legged on our sleeping mat, leaned comfortably against each other, drowsily watching the flames. Frank, Ching Shih and Tochuku had arranged themselves in similarly comfortable manner.

“Tochuku, how did you end up getting into computers and other technology?” I asked. I had been living with the Cavers for months now, and had gotten to know most of the others pretty well, but I knew hardly a thing about him. He was so immersed in his own work that the rest of us saw little of him except at meals, meetings and working in the garden.

He looked at me, thinking a moment before speaking.

“I was living with my family in a small village in the rural area outside of Abuja. We had a one-room school that I attended, and I loved learning. My parents were very strict about my sisters and me attending school, but I didn’t need to be pushed. I always preferred school work to working in the fields any day.” Ching Shih grinned while Frank, Victorio and I hooted with laughter at this revelation.

Tochuku always combined his gardening day with meeting days so as to keep his focus on his technical work as much as possible. Every single time he worked in the garden or kitchen, he said, “You know, this is really not the best use of my abilities.”

And every single time someone reminded him that everyone had to help provide food, which was more essential to our survival than electricity, and whatever else he was up to. It had become a standing joke among us, and I suspected that Tochuku kept making that statement just to keep the joke going.

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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