The shockwave passed. The earth was still over their heads. Myra crept up the stairs, but couldn’t lift the outside door. With the help of her compatriots, they sweated and groaned, and finally pushed aside the limbs and branches that had fallen and blocked their exit. The view was breath taking.
The trees–most all of them–were horizontal. The house had one wall standing, with the front door still firmly closed. The chickens and coops were gone, as was the pasture shelter. This they saw in the flashes of lightning that illuminated the barrens. The wind picked up and the driving rain began in earnest. The tribe retreated to the relative warmth and safety of the root cellar, catching sleep if they could. The thoughts of those kept awake were filled with plans of tomorrow. It would be a new beginning, but even they in the rural outpost in the barrens had no idea of the new world that awaited them on the other side of tomorrow.
The next few days were miserable for the band of vagabonds holed up below ground. The winds howled and the rain beat down so fiercely that they could not leave their shelter. The radio no longer picked up the faraway waves of StanCity. The afternoon of the second day, the seepage in the root cellar became rivulets and then rivers. The vagabond children were the most vocal of their discomfort, but many grans, gramps, unks and aunties make for a resilient community.
Muskrat returned to the cellar with good news on the morning of the fourth day. The winds had stopped and a gentle warm rain had taken the place of the seemingly unending downpours of the last few days. The vagabonds crept forth, muscles cramped, damp musky bodies welcoming the warm cleansing rain. The children scattered, eagerly exploring the new adventure full of terrain.
Several vagabonds set about scavenging supplies, and Tom and Muskrat built a shelter of sticks and branches enclosing a space around the wood cookstove–the only thing left behind the firmly shut door of the remaining one wall of the homestead shelter. It took a while to drain the wood stove of its accumulated deluge, and even longer to find wood dry enough to burn. Soon a delightful smell wafted across the barrens, drawing the scavengers home for their first hot meal in days.
They shared the news. A huge frothing lake had taken the place of Job’s Creek in the valley. Algernon estimated that it covered dozens of acres. It must have been released from the dam in StanCity. Floating in the lake were the carcasses of trees and animals, and lots of junk and garbage.. They were thankful for the gentle rise that lifted their homestead from the low valley in which they lived.
The ten other homesteads within an hour’s walk on this side of the rising waters had evacuated to StanCity, as the uniformed men had suggested. The vagabonds deftly hid in the woods when the chugging covered truck had pulled up to collect them–no easy feat for two dozen people, including several children. They had left a note saying they had already evacuated, and the uniformed men–wage slaves in uniform–didn’t care much anyway; they wanted to return to the perceived safety of StanCity before the storm hit.
Most of the vagabonds did not have legal papers, nor LifeStock. They were all Zeroes. That was the reason they found themselves in the barrens, living a life in community. Being a good Stanizen was not a choice that everyone could make. For many, it was a soul-sucking endeavor, made possible only by massive consumption of Cleertm and the hypnotic comforting allure of the Screenztm. For others, no amount of numbing could make their soul imprisonment endurable. These misfits ended up in Kamp Kommunity, where they often committed suicide, or were committed to Mental Clarity Rehab Centers. A lucky few figured out how to slip out of this constraining culture. The barrens held its attraction for many vagabonds.
The urbarrens were once a highly desired place for Stanizens to consume. Before the Disaster, there were still a few ruins of McMansions still standing in the landscape, palaces in which whole communities could take shelter. After oil peaked and the climate changed, StanCity absorbed most everyone from the barrens. Without petroleum-fueled and wage-slave-maintained fertilizers and irrigation, the verdant square lawns browned and dried, leaving mostly stunted scrub on the subsoil (the topsoil had been scraped off and sold to other people whose topsoil had been scraped off and sold). It was a lonely barren place, and that was the attraction for the vagabonds–misfits, escaped slaves, nomads of no reason. All of the attention and resources of StanCity were focused on the Great Mall and the city itself. It could survive no other way.
That’s why the vagabonds were startled to hear on the radio that StanCity was sending out its evacuation force almost a week ago now. They kept vigilant until the intended round-up had passed over them. They would take their chances with the storm that had raged across the globe for weeks, gathering energy as it dispossessed human biomass and left utter destruction in its wake. Dying in the storm was preferable to being rounded up into Kamps in StanCity. And they had survived.
The vagabonds had prepared for their fate as best they could. They brought their books and most sacred objects to the root cellar, as well as blankets and water. They prepared their innards as well. It is hard to face inevitable doom with a cheerful heart, hard to reassure your children, but they felt they had no choice but to rely on themselves.
They were spared, and were thankful. They had submitted to allah, utterly, and were blessed enough to be reborn. The cramped days in the root cellar were bearable because they were thankful for this breath, and this one, and nothing but thankfulness came from their hearts and mouths. “Well,” said Myra with a smirk, “it rained like we had hoped.”
It had not rained the entire growing season the previous year, and snowed only one light dusting during the winter. The barrens had been cracked and hard as concrete. The vagabonds’ tended gardens benefited from the soil that had been enriched with composted materials, and enlivened by the diverted wash water. The vagabonds had dug swales years before in time of abundant rain, and their gardens yielded enough for their sustenance, but they knew the deserted barrens would suck the water from their gardens eventually. They had prayed for rain–sang, chanted, danced, envisioned, hoped, and had faith. Their prayers had been answered, although not exactly as they had expected.
Tom had decided to make a scouting trip around the barrens, and eventually to StanCity, if he could get that far. His curiosity was insatiable. During the week he was gone, the other vagabonds set about their work. They rebuilt their community house into the hillside, using blown-over trees for the walls, and filling in the cracks with mud–both abundant resources at the moment. After the community center was completed, they began planting the seeds they had saved from the previous year–fruit, nut and nitrogen-fixing trees; vines that produced fruit, shade, and fibers; food plants of all kinds, and bountiful blossoms to attract bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, and other pollinators. Their beehives and occupants had been scattered to the four winds.
Bucky found several chickens in trees whose canopies barely stretched above the rising waters. They had no feathers, and most starved before the vagabonds dared attempt to rescue them by rafting out in the swirling debris of what used to be a tranquil creek, trickling between beaver ponds that filled the valley.
The vagabonds dropped their hand tools and came running when the newly-found community bell clanged. They knew Tom had returned and none wanted to miss the story. Tom was busying his mouth with the savory stew and sourdough Myra and Beatrix had made. By the time everyone was assembled, he was finishing his pie and tipping his qahve to his grinning mouth. “You’re not even going to believe me!” he exclaimed to the attentive crowd.
He had made his way first to the remnant of what was once the village of Panther Creek. So much had changed in this place since the Disaster. It had been deluged by the flood, and no structures or people were accounted for. Tom picked his way along the ridge-top finding a few dead and bloated cows, and seeing quite a few buzzards, but not much else. Very few trees were left standing. “And when I got to Ashton Crossing, you’ll never believe what I saw. The Screenztm have melded into a Bubbletm!”
The Screenztm were one of the things the vagabonds abhorred about StanCity. The large plastic solar collectors flickered constantly. It was hard to think your own thoughts with the Screenztm’ constant distraction. “There must have been a lot of plastic blowing around in that storm,” observed Tom. The Screenztm had a self-perpetuating mechanism that absorbed plastic debris and remade it into more solar-collecting flickering Screenztm, widening their scope, and apparently, cutting off Stanizens from the outside world. “The Bubbletm completely encompasses Ashton Crossing, and stretches into StanCity. There are miles of Bubbletm. It was incredible.”
Tom had skirted the edge of the Bubbletm until he had reached the secret trap door to the pyramid–the Great Mall. He had found the trap door years before when he worked in the paper mines deep in the Great Mall. It was a convenient entrance–and exit. He found his shiny silver jumpsuit on the peg where he had last put it, just before he had removed himself from the Great Mall for what he presumed to be his final farewell. The suit was dusty, and fit him quite loosely, but it would work. He found his way through the maze of horizontal and vertical hallways and trapdoors. He had spent a lot of time down here wandering around aimlessly during his last few years of captivity, his last-ditched effort to live the life of a good Stanizen.
He found a WC and took advantage of it to disguise himself in good hygiene. He hadn’t seen his reflection in years, and was amazed at what he saw–thinner on top and more gray, yes. And with the long scar on his forehead from tumbling down the ridge after too much qahve during the Feast of Enough. No wonder his suit fit him loosely. He could see the hollows of his cheeks, brought about by years of just enough food and hard work that had leaned his body and strengthened his soul. Tom could not ever remember seeing so much color in his cheeks, or so much spirit in his eyes. He looked alive. That could not be disguised. He wandered the city with a clipboard and a concerned look of befuddlement. His disguise worked, and he was not troubled by the uniformed men. Tom could not believe the Screenztm. They completely blotted out the sun and the sky. Only the flickering light of the Screenztm filled the city below.
StanCity had swelled in size, reaching out to the seven points, which had originally been designed as service entrances, but were functioning now as edge city burbs. People were everywhere–clean and pasty white, chattering constantly without saying anything. They moved in a uniform seamless mechanized movement. Tom discovered that StanCity had almost–almost!–blown away, but had been held in place by the electromagnetic forces of the Screenztm. The old disused fossil fuel power plant had blown up and away, being outside the Bubble, and the dam that held Sugar Creek had given way and drained Lake Stan–thus the lake that now lay in the valley in the barrens.
Anyone outside the Bubbletm was considered deceased. StanCity would no longer be sending anyone outside the Bubbletm. They declared StanCity complete and whole, in and of itself, and nothing else existed outside the Bubbletm anymore. It was all they knew. “We can’t be the only ones,” Muskrat insisted. Certainly, there would be other communities that had managed to weather the weather. At least now they could welcome visitors without apprehension. They would see no more uniformed men. Ever. They rejoiced.
The vagabonds had survived so long in the barrens for many reasons. They discovered manual skills, they shared freely, they enjoyed feeling deeply with each other. None were specialists, but the general interests and related skills led to a base of knowledge that supported their endeavors and lives together. They built structures of materials at hand, and composted them when they were no longer useful in form. They used alchemy on their bodily wastes, and found rich soil, which they fed to the gardens, which fed them. They grew so much food that their lands resembled Paradise itself. They found they almost always had enough. Their children and their elders were valued and integrated into the fabric of daily life. They all learned, all the time. Art was their passion and their lives were the canvas. Daily life was the medium. It all worked so well, unless uniformed men intervened.
There had been a few skirmishes over the years. Once the uniformed men had come and stolen their entire potato crop, saying it was needed to feed Chipztm to Stanizens, as well as the cider they pressed. Throughout the long, lean winter that followed, they vowed it would not happen again and planned accordingly. The following year at harvest, the uniformed men were ambushed by catapults as they attempted to ford Job’s Creek. The vagabonds let them have it--rocks and rotten pumpkins (it had been a wet fall) bombarded them as wildly painted naked vagabonds yelled and beat drums. The uniformed men believed they were surrounded by a mighty military force and hastily fled.
A few years later, the uniformed men returned, following the scent of Maricle. The vagabonds had scattered its seeds widely throughout the valley and it grew like the weed it was. It had become the sacred plant of their community. The seeds were high in protein and could be pressed for oil. The fibrous stalks were used for paper, cloth, and to light fires. It was edible and its flowers made a nice addition to any smoking mix. It was called Maricle because the plant truly was a miracle, a gift given by god to their community. It was incredibly useful for food, fuel, and fiber, and it also opened their minds, helping them to create new worlds before they were even realized as possibilities.
StanCity had designated Maricle a noxious weed, undesirable, a pest. It had sent uniformed men to eradicate it. The vagabonds stepped between their holy sacred gardens and the uniformed men. They would not sacrifice this gift of god to the stupidity of the Stanizens. The uniformed men were prepared to fight. By the time the smoke and dust cleared, the Maricle patches stood their ground and the uniformed men retreated in their highly efficient biofuel machines. One vagabond lay still upon the earth, her baby strapped to her chest, suckling. It was a dreadful time. The hatred of the uniformed men became intense and better fortifications of their land became necessary. They were never bothered again by the uniformed men (until the evacuation), and baby Rose grew up with as many mothers and fathers as would fit in their community.
It was a busy spring, as the vagabonds had a lot of work to do rebuilding their orchards and gardens, rewilding the barrens. They were blessed during the heat of summer to be visited by a traveling blacksmith. She taught her craft to any who showed interest. The vagabonds had collected quite a bit of junk metal that had floated down from StanCity after the Sugar Creek dam had burst. The raging river had cut a path through a landfill that was abandoned centuries ago. A lot of valuable salvage was unearthed. They forged axe and shovel blades, flails, wheels, and a few pots and pans, all of which made the labors of the vagabonds to be accomplished quicker and more easily.
The blacksmith, a petite young woman with bulky arms, was born in StanCity, back when it was the capital of a different empire. Avanel had been traveling for years, sometimes in groups and sometimes alone, helping out where she could, forming bonds, forging metal, and sharing skills. She had been far up north when the storm cycled through, and came back in hopes of finding her family in the urbarrens near StanCity, but without luck. Avanel knew if they were alive, they were most likely to be in deep hiding, or if they were unlucky, Kamp Kommunity.
Avanel told their astonished ears that the ran and flooding up north had been worse than that on the barrens. The water got so high that it changed the course of the Mighty Mahzip River so that instead of flowing 100 miles west of the Vagabonds, it was now flowing 15 miles west. This solved an ongoing question the Vagabonds had been working on, namely of why the flood that filled their valley had not flowed away. It had gone down a lot from the initial torrent, but it was now more a chain of lakes connected by sloughs than the tranquil wading creek of its past.
Avanel also reported the appearance of Bubblestm elsewhere in the landscape. There were a few rural outposts scattered here and there, but not many. The Bubblestm were sealed, and enormous. It was both invigorating and frightening to think that so many people were forced to lead a life of constrained, constricted, and boundless unjoy, numbed and distracted, stuck in the rut of utter routine, not knowing there was life outside the Bubbletm. Only a few would be determined and fortunate enough both to find the trap doors and not be accosted by the uniformed men.
The gardens of the vagabonds enjoyed the frequent rains and bountiful sunshine of the season. The previously flooded lands sprouted up sugar maples, roses, brambleberries, and grasses. The valley had never looked so abundant.
The vagabonds gathered in the harvest without worry of a visit by the uniformed men. A stretch of dry weather in late summer enabled them to dry their produce for winter, as well as flail grains and blow the chaff to the wind. Corn, amaranth, oats, barley, rye, and lambs quarters provided enough grains for bread and porridge. They gathered rose hips, brambleberries, and sea buckthorn berries to fight off scurvy. They observed the Long Feast of More Than Plenty during the days of the leaves turning. Migrant fowl, mostly geese and ducks, made it a habit to spend time resting in the lakes and sloughs. Their feathers made for many soft pillows and beds, their downy breasts provided warm insulated clothing for many children and elders, and the vagabonds thoroughly stuffed themselves with meat.
By the time cold weather settled on the barrens, the vagabonds were nestled into huts, firewood stacked around them, root cellars stuffed to bursting. It was an incredible comfort, being safe and secure, and passing the time with loved ones, telling stories, reading books, and working with their hands.
It felt as though they were living in Paradise, and they were.
-- to my community with love,
our hearts our heading us in the right places,