fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Fifty Six. {fiction}

 

The night before we made it home, it snowed. Not much, just enough to melt on my hair and trickle down my neck, making it harder to stay warm, much less sleep.

Victorio pulled our sleeping tarp over our heads, causing my breath to echo inside the close covering.

It had been nearly three weeks since we had left, and we knew the others would be worried about us. Sure enough, as we rounded the last bend, all of us off our horses and leading them, Gary came bursting out of the door of his and Tochuku’s cave.

Ignoring the rest of us, he went first to Ching Shih, whose eyes lit up. Gary hugged her tightly. She seemed simultaneously pleased and embarrassed by this display.

Once Gary had ascertained Ching Shih’s health and well-being, he turned to the rest of us. His face fell, eyes wide with fear.

“Where’s Tochuku? What happened to him?” he asked in a low voice.

“It’s all good, man,” said Victorio, “he just decided to stay with the other scientists at the university.”

Relief spread across Gary’s face.

“I guess you’re the last, lone, science geek,” teased Frank.

Ignoring the jibe, Gary said, “Well I’m sure glad you’re back. I’m going to round up the others while you take the horses inside the hill. We’ve all been worried about you, especially Jeanne,” he added pointedly to Frank, “and I’ve got something I need to tell everybody anyway.”

Once inside the bowl of the hill, we were greeted with hugs, sighs of relief, and a scolding from Jeanne and Hallie about taking so long to get back. Food and drinks were brought outside since it was midday and still warm enough to eat at our picnic tables there.

Gary continued to look anxious, but I couldn’t imagine why. I knew he liked being roommates with Tochuku, but I didn’t think they were so close that he’d have a problem with him staying in town for the winter.

Questions were raining down on us returned travelers, which we were trying to answer, Frank, Victorio and I all talking over one another, when Gary interrupted us.

“Listen, listen, I have something to tell you!” he looked on the verge of tears. We turned to stare. He was not behaving like himself at all.

“Go on, we’re listening now,” encouraged Grandpa Joe.

Gary took a deep breath before continuing, voice shaking.

“We’ve been contacted. Just now. Just before these guys showed up. Someone finally answered my call on the radio.”

We all stared at him, stunned.

“Well…” stammered Yazmin, “what did they say?”

“We talked for about 20 minutes. It was some guy up near Denver.”

The rest of us stood transfixed while Gary paced back and forth while he spoke.

“Well, you know how we’ve always figured that after the virus hit, that people all over the world did what we’re doing, trying to recover, get back to as normal as they could? And that we lost about 90% of the world’s population?”

I couldn’t imagine what he might say next, but I wished he’d just get to it.

“More happened after the virus. I mean, people started shooting each other, especially in the cities, so of course we lost a lot more people that way, maybe another 10 or 20 percent of what was left. But we also figured that. You know, another, 150-200 million or so?

“But that’s not what happened. And there aren’t, you know, 650 million people on the planet. After the virus came through, about three years later, climate change kicked in big time. He says the Atlantic current shut down. Since then there have been hurricanes constantly along the coasts, tornadoes have gotten many times worse throughout the midwestern US.

For hundreds of miles inland from the coasts, they’ve been scoured. The Midwest is unlivable. It’s literally impossible to grow food there. Their Great Lakes region is in the midst of a five-year-long winter. Then there are the places that haven’t gotten any precipitation to speak of since then, to the west of us. We’re living in one of the two only habitable areas on the continent, in a transition zone between the extremes.

Here, and in an area east of the Mississippi river that is far enough south to still get some summer, and far enough from the coasts to miss the hurricanes, and far enough west to miss the tornadoes. We’re in a zone between the places that have gotten a lot hotter and drier and the places that have gotten a lot wetter and colder.

The zone we’re in goes from just south of here, to just east of El Paso, north to around Denver, then west, across Utah, south across mid-Arizona and then east to here. He says that this same thing has happened all over the world. People were reeling so badly after the virus that when the weather change hit, they just couldn’t get out fast enough, or adjust.

Humanity is just a fraction of what it was after the virus had killed most people anyway. We don’t have about 650 million people on the planet now. We have about half that. Or a third. That’s as little as in the year 1,000 or earlier. Back in the dark ages. We’re almost all that’s left.” Gary fell silent as we pondered this stunning information.

“How could he know that?” asked Yazmin. “Who was he, how could he have that information?”

“NORAD,” said Gary, “North American Aerospace Defense Command. The facility in the mountain, with the nuclear weapons…”

The older people in the group inhaled sharply. Us younger people looked around in bafflement.

Frank explained, “The American and Canadian governments built a bunker, huge, inside a mountain. Partly to house our nuclear weapons, but also to provide shelter in case of some kind of disaster. Probably they collected people from that area after the virus.

They would have all kinds of technology, and energy sources. And communication with other such facilities that other governments set up all over the world. They would be able to communicate with each other about what’s been going on. They probably were able to keep some of the satellites up, at least for a while. They would definitely know.”

All this time we had thought there were people in pretty much all the places they had been before, just not so many, like us. Now it seemed otherwise.

“You didn’t tell them where we are, did you?” asked Yazmin.

“No, no, of course not,” said Gary, “I told him New Mexico. It’s a big state. We’re going to try talking again soon.”

As we ate lunch together, outside in the cool fall air, we chattered amongst ourselves about this news.

Later, as Victorio and I put away our gear and travel clothes, we talked some more with Grandpa Joe.

“What do you think about the news today?” Victorio asked his grandfather.

Joe sat staring hard at the wall opposite the couch he sat upon.

“You know, we’re starting all over, us humans. It has been predicted in many traditions, all over the world. We made a lot of mistakes. The question is, how can we avoid those mistakes from here on out? We’ve got to think through how to go from here.

Before the Taker culture came into being, there had been thousands of cultures that came, and also went, but none that were so destructive on a worldwide level. But there were countless cultures, all very different from each other, that got along fine. They kept the peace, most of the time, with their neighbors. They only killed what they needed to live.

They may have accidentally been responsible for the extinction of other beings but they weren’t trying to do that.

So it’s pretty simple. All the world’s religions and other spiritual traditions say much the same thing, though they sure as heck didn’t always follow their own sayings. They all say, basically, to live and let live. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Take care of one another.

We don’t know what these other folks are up to, here in the southwest, or in the rest of the world, but we’ve got to try our best to make things good right here in the Gila area. You helped make some progress by getting rid of those Slavers on your trip. Now let’s see if we can work together with the other groups, in a good way.” Joe got up from the couch and headed to the kitchen to make his evening tea.

After long hot showers and a short nap, we all had dinner at Jeanne and Frank’s house. The sun had set and the air chilled. I turned the knob for the hot water radiant heating at Grandpa Joe’s cave before we left for Jeanne’s. The men didn’t mind so much, but I hated to be cold, especially my feet.

By now, the others had also calmed down following Gary’s astonishing news. Now they wanted to hear about our trip. So we told them, in our usual, chaotic, forwards then backwards, then forwards again way that all these stories were told. Some were excited about the prospect of more contact, and collaboration with, the Monks, Makers and Uvies, and some were more nervous about it.

But it seemed inevitable that we would have some relationship with all these groups, along with the Forest People. Victorio and Beto never did make it out to the forest north and east of where we were, to see if there were other settlements, but they planned to do so in the spring.

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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