Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FAR Manor, 2058: Augering In

Vision the Third, finally.

Intro
Vision the First
Vision the Second

This is perhaps the worst-case scenario, or maybe it’s only as bad as I want to imagine: Drastic climate change. Energy production plunges. Nuclear war in the Middle East: India vs. Pakistan; Israel vs. Iran. American citizens quietly starving in front of their TVs… at least until the power went out. Starving Americans then rioting in every city and most towns. The war of all against all was the end of the beginning.

Overseas, things were worse — especially in countries with large or dense populations. A desperate Chinese government rounded up millions of citizens, packed them into every ship they had, rigged with makeshift sails, and sent them across the ocean. Many ships were lost in storms or simply came apart under loads they were never designed to handle; those that reached the Americas were full of unarmed starvelings, too weak to fight but facing defenders little better-off. Some survived, and spread across the rapidly-depopulating countryside.

Nuclear winter blunted global warming for a few years, but by 2032 Greenland’s ice was all but gone — and much of the Antarctic ice melted away as well. Sea levels rose over 100 feet, changing everything. Planet Georgia, and much of the mid-section of America, endured near-desert conditions — until weather patterns shifted and brought rain, rain, and more rain. In 2058, FAR Manor’s climate resembled the equatorial rain forests of 2000; north of the Appalachians, however, the desert stretched to the Ohio Valley, cutting off most land travel between north and south. Hurricanes, the monster spawn of beastly-hot summers, brought rain and devastation to rain forest and desert alike.

A new civilization came together around the Great Lakes, New England, and the maritime provinces. Perhaps a few million people survived the first half of the century, but humanity is now on the rebound. A greatly enlarged Hudson’s Bay is a new frontier. A few stubborn souls clung to existence in the south, some of them old and some new…

“Revered Grandmother?” the Weaver woman spoke through the door. “It is time.”

Time to bury her husband, in other words. She wiped her eyes once more, then struggled to her feet. She knew better than to ask for help — that would fill her hut with Weavers wanting the honor of helping the Revered Grandmother. Her knees popped — the constant humidity was not kind to them — and she steadied herself with a cane.

Miracle of miracles, there was no rain today — in fact, the sky was almost clear. “An auspicious sign,” Mother Weaver said. “The heavens open to receive the honored soul of Revered Grandfather Teacher.” One of the Weavers broke into song, and the others joined in. Like the Weavers themselves, their talk was a thorough mix of English, Spanish, and Chinese — she had long considered it impenetrable, but in the last few years she had started to catch on (and was startled to find that even into her 90s, she could still learn a thing or two) — and the song was simultaneously one of lament for the loss of their Teacher and one of joy for the soul entering Heaven. The cadence was simple enough, but the tune itself seemed to shift just as she thought she’d caught on. Some things about this new way of life she would never grasp in what time God had remaining for her. One phrase, “here between fire and flood,” she recognized as their name for the place where they lived, what her husband called “Planet Georgia” to his dying day. South winds from the Gulf, miles closer than before, brought rain this far, but only a little farther, into the mountains. Not far north of here, places once called Tennessee and Kentucky were called only Desert.

As the song ended, the Weavers joined hands, including Revered Grandmother in the line. They walked a narrow path, still joined, to the clearing where her husband — their Revered Grandfather Teacher — lay in state in a great basket of woven kudzu. Mother Weaver led them around the body in a circle, where she took the hand of the last Weaver in line. They remained quiet, some looking expectantly at her until she realized that the eldest was to speak first. A whim took her, and she began to sing — solo at first, but the Weavers soon joined her. Of course they knew the song; she had taught it to them:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see…


The grief overtook her, and the other Weavers continued the song as they could. It ended as he had, quick and ragged, and that seemed right somehow for this occasion. An unbidden smile came as she thought of how he would have rolled his eyes and reminded them that the ending was the most important part of the song. Mother Weaver then led the people in another song, whose tune was one she recognized — but the lyrics were some he had likely made up at some time. He rarely sang things like that around her… she bowed her head so the Weavers wouldn’t see her stifling a laugh. It was so like him, to take an innocent song and turn the lyrics into something bawdy. Perhaps he had achieved some sort of immortality on this side of Heaven: the Weavers would keep the part of him that he’d given…

They began another one of their own songs, one that she didn’t know, and her mind began to wander. They had managed to send their children and grandchildren to the Great Lakes, where he had family to sponsor them. Then they survived the desert time, back before the rains came back to stay, although the old house had burned to the ground in one of the constant forest fires. Soon after, the green came and with it came the Weavers. He had found one on a walk, left behind with a broken leg, fending off three wild dogs. He shot two of the dogs before the third ran for it, then set and splinted the leg and carried him (he was old, but the other was little larger than a child) to their camp of woven mud-faced huts.

Soon after that, they started finding kudzu baskets full of fruits and vegetables, and the occasional dressed game, left at their door overnight. The gifts had arrived at a providential time; one or the other of them had been too sick to both take care of and feed themselves. Eventually, they slowly learned to speak to each other, and then he began to teach them how to use the leavings of civilization to improve their lives. Kudzu had been a nuisance in their old lives; to the Weavers, it was Life itself: the roots and leaves were food, and they used the vines to make everything from baskets and mats to furniture and even shelters. When they weren’t looking for food or sleeping, they were singing and weaving baskets — thus had they started calling the hunter-gatherers “Weavers,” and they had taken the name for themselves.

Mother Weaver said something, and six men lined up on either side of the body. They gently lifted the basket, raising him over their shoulders, and carried him past the house. Near the old roadside, where a flagpole once stood flying the banner of a nation now all but forgotten, they stopped at a hole and lowered him in. Mother Weaver then touched her elbow and led her to the graveside. Again that expectant pause; she looked around and then down at the body.

“We… we come to honor the life of the man you knew as Revered Grandfather Teacher, and I knew as my husband. Today he would have been 100 years old. There were times, especially before the rain, that we never thought to live as long as we have. But God has blessed us: He sent the rain and brought us new friends. He became your Teacher: and what has he taught you?”

“He has taught us to control our numbers, that we may not strip the land of its bounty.”

“He has taught us to keep the old roads clear, that we may easily move from place to place in search of game, and to leave a message to others that this land is settled.”

“He has taught us to respect the leavings of the old civilization, and to use them properly.”

“He has taught us to read the stories and books of the old civilization.”

“He has taught us how our waste can be used to nourish the earth.”

They continued around the circle, each Weaver naming a teaching and tossing a handful of dirt onto the basket. After the last Weaver honored the Teacher thus, two of the men took up shovels, old spades undoubtedly salvaged from a long-abandoned garage, and filled the grave. They finished by pushing a great kudzu root into the mound and watering it. Again, she had to stifle a laugh: planting kudzu on someone’s grave would have been a great insult in the old days. Now, it was simply a matter of repaying the debt: kudzu nourished the Weavers in life; the Weavers (and their Teacher) would nourish the kudzu in death.

Mother Weaver and a few of the elders led her back to her house. “It is not right,” Mother Weaver said, “for Revered Grandmother to be left alone. We shall choose a young woman to stay with you, so that you are cared for and lack for nothing. It does not repay our debt to your husband, but we do this gladly to honor his memory.”

“Will any of your women be content to stay in one place like this?”

“Any of us will be honored to share your life, Revered Grandmother,” another woman said. “Revered Grandfather Teacher tells us that in due time, the land between fire and flood will cool and become as it was in your youth. Perhaps by living with you, our people can learn to live in houses so that we will know how when the time comes.”

She was startled: even now, when the End seemed to have come, she could still find reasons to live — and serve. “I will teach you what I can,” she said.

2 comments:

  1. That was a sober installment, the latest of your visions ... Is there more to come or did the great kudzu burial put a capper on this narrative? Bleak to be sure, but potentially prescient as well. I do appreciate seeing your innate sense of humor coming out in these, despite the grim prognoses. That's what makes it uniquely yours, FAR.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi IVG.

    This is the last of the "FAR Manor: 2058" visions. I have a couple of ideas kicking around for stories in the "Happy Landings" world, but they're set in more urban locales. I'll start posting them as I finish them.

    By the way... I've found it's not exactly easy to write a story about your own funeral.

    I also appreciate you reading and commenting!

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome, and they don't have to be complimentary. I delete spam on sight, but that's pretty much it for moderation. Long off-topic rants or unconstructive flamage are also candidates for deletion but I haven’t seen any of that so far.

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