William Hunter Duncan
Jackson leaned over the limestone wall looking down, standing on the bridge, watching the waters of Minnehaha creek roll over into an abyss. A powerful spotlight illuminated the basin below, glistening the waters above and below, seemingly electrifying the mist that rose perpetually above the brink. It was otherwise calm, and warm, most of the city asleep, the park open, no one else around. He rested his forearms on the concrete pilaster of the limestone bridge-wall, resting his chin on his hands, his back parallel to the creek. He had slipped a mushroom – just one – and the sound of the water and the light became one, and a song.
He followed the sidewalk off the bridge upstream, passing the Indian in bronze carrying the maiden on the mid-stream island, laughing to himself at the absurdity of it, the great man saving the helpless woman, though a child could have walked through the mid-August stream without difficulty, and really, he thought, the image wasn’t appropriate any day of the year. He reflected on the artwork in this beautiful park, particularly the bronze: the original settler with his disconcerting gaze; the flamboyant, jack-booted Aryan aristocrat, over-sized like Michelangelo’s David turned arrogant, oppressive, dilettante giant, with that strange, cryptic condemnation of the feminine, embossed in bronze on the backside of its foundation; and the death mask of the propped up Hiawatha, huge and peering sightless over the gorge.
He steered around, back downstream, standing in President Johnson’s footprints memorialized in concrete, next to the river rock WPA wall encircling much of the rim of the gorge. Walking along the wall, he stopped periodically to take a look at the falls, the forty foot drop into the roundish pool below, the cavern shaped like a broken vase, the mist of the falling waters rising, illuminated, the pool emerging as a creek, continuing toward the big river out of sight, the mighty Mississippi. He came to the stairs leading down to the pool and the creek, and descended, stopping half way, climbing over the rail and onto a foot path, illicit, no more wide than a typical deer path, which he followed without difficulty, lithe, young and bold. He came to a flat, smooth limestone ledge just above the waterline, stripping down and jumping in. Treading water, the water crashing, wiping the mist from his eyes, he watched the moon, a few days past full, rise in the east.
Then the lights, which had illuminated nearly everything in the gorge in a kind of bright ethereal twilight, went dark, the water of the pool seemed to be electrically charged, the dark city sky became filled with stars, and the sky was full of red and orange aurora undulating and wild, flickering, and the moon turned to blood.
Treading water, he closed his eyes. He opened them and nothing had changed, still the blood red moon and the crazy sky, and the stars, and no other light. It was very dark in the gorge, and a panic began to rise up in him.
“Get it together,” he said to himself, breathing quickly, and he closed his eyes again, and nothing had changed when he opened them. ‘It was just one shroom,’ he thought, as he swam back to his clothing. Climbing out, he shook off and flung the water from his bumpy skin, and put on his dry clothes, still wet. He tread the thin path in the thin light, and leapt the rail onto the stairs, climbing two at a time to the top, though his chest was constricted with an unknowing fear.
At the top, there was not any artificial light anywhere he could see. He walked onto the paver pathway, looking all around him, and up at the strange aurora and the moon, looking for an answer to this most unprecedented of hallucinations.
He closed his eyes again, shaking slightly. A cool breeze chilled his wet skin and he shivered, though the night was warm. “Stop. Calm Down. Think,” he said out loud, focusing on his breathing, trying to center and ground himself, repeating the words slowly. There seemed to be a charge in the air. His reason engaged, and a rational explanation surfaced, which he knew was possible but he did not want to believe.
He was interrupted in this reverie by the twin headlights of an automobile, moving way too fast on the parkway, lurching back and forth. The lights disappeared behind the large colonnade building housing the eatery Sea Salt, and he heard an ugly, violent crashing sound, crumpled steel and broken glass. He forgot the strange aurora and his confusion, and ran in that direction.
There was a roundabout, where Minnehaha Parkway and Minnehaha Boulevard merged, with a raised mound of soil at the center. The car, moving so fast, had lurched into the wrong lane heading toward the bridge over Hiawatha/55, and hit the central median on the left side, turning the car over and rollings it several times, before it came to a rest on its rims, in front of a quaint yellow with white trim replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house. All three passengers, two black men in front, and a white girl in back, appeared to be dead. Their faces were twisted and ghoulish, on the influence of the mushroom. The ground was littered with packs of cigarettes and broken and unbroken alcohol bottles, as if they had robbed a liquor store, and the air was full of the sting of various distilled alcohols. The trunk was open.
Jackson could hear a few people talking in the residential neighborhood on the other side of the park, but they were a long way away, and it was dark even with the aurora; their voices carried against the unusually quiet city night, and they seemed to be preoccupied with the sky, if they knew about the accident at all. There were no cars, In fact the roads seemed empty, and he couldn’t remember if he’d heard cars before the lights went out. He looked into the open trunk. There were two large black bags. He opened one, and then the other quickly. He had never seen so many guns, not even when he was a missionary’s kid in Africa. Elsewhere in the trunk he found a block of marijuana, and a block of cash. ‘Where were you going?’ he thought. Without thinking another thought, he hoisted each backpack onto a shoulder, followed the old railway across the creek where no one would see him, and made his way back into the gorge, further downstream where his canoe was. The moon still blood red, the sky still shimmering reds and orange, a strange subtle electricity in the air, and the city seemingly standing still all around him.
Shaun leapt up out of bed as if sprung, his wife Carolyn undisturbed, lying beside him. Both girls had been up all night wailing, inexplicably, without any apparent provocation, only babbling talk of bad dreams from Abigail, who was a tantrum thrower anyway. No one had slept until about 3 am. It had been like that three days now, and no one had really slept. The sky was bright enough, Shaun knew, the instant he opened his eyes, that he should already be at work. The CEO and CFO were scheduled to be in town the night before, and he had a meeting with them both at 10:30, a presentation he was giving about adding redundancy to their electrical back-up, at the Banks main computer server, of which Shaun was in charge. He wanted a greater capacity to firewall the Banks information, in the event of disruptions to the electrical grid. It wasn’t really even doomsday stuff, just common sense he thought, just a rational assessment of known probabilities. But even as the top manager in Tech Systems, he hadn’t had any success navigating bank bureaucracy. This was his chance to be both hero, and eliminate some future scapegoat potential, whenever that disruption would inevitably occur. He rushed straight into the shower without even looking at the clock. He turned the faucet knob, but nothing happened, just the sound of water escaping down the pipe. He climbed out and tried the sink. Same gurgling sound. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said aloud. He rushed into the bedroom, but stopped when he saw the digital clock was blank. He walked to the dresser, and picked up his smart phone. “No Service?”
Carolyn stirred. Shaun said, “Powers out, and I’m late.”
“What?” She leaned up on her elbow, her blond hair falling over her eyes, a naturally attractive woman, even when sleep deprived.
“Powers out. So is the phone. There’s no water either.” He was dressing as he said this, pausing slightly at the end of it, surprised at the strangeness of it. It was an otherwise beautiful late-August summer day, few clouds, moderate temperatures, a little breeze.
“There’s no phone service, or water?” Carolyn asked sharply, as she sat up straight and thought about the girls. She looked at him suddenly, wide eyed and awake, bounding out of bed grabbing some clothes, and rushing past him, stopping in the doorway and turning to him, as he buttoned his cuffs and looked at her quizzically.
“Don’t turn on any faucet again!” and she rushed down the hall and down the stairs.
“What?” He heard her downstairs as he continued dressing, and then he heard the back door open and close. He stopped, “She isn’t leaving?” and then rushed down the hall and the stairs, in his socks, his shirt still unbuttoned. In the dining room he kicked Isabel’s little “choo-choo”, stubbing his toe as he groaned and leaned on a chair. Through the open window he saw the van pulling out of the driveway, along the house. “Hey”, he shouted, as he heard the girls moving around upstairs, and raced to the front door, kicking choo-choo again and cursing, “god-dammit!” He made it to the front door and through the porch and storm door, across the landing and down the stairs, into the front yard, as Carolyn accelerated down the street.
“Today’s not a baby sitter day,” he said to himself, standing in his front yard half dressed. “And I have to meet with the CEO,” and he looked at his watch, “in 73 minutes.”
Shaun picked up both girls, neither of whom were cooperating. Isabel, at three, was simply on the move all the time, inspecting and picking up and chattering and singing to herself in her own tongue. Abigail, at five, had refused everything and anything. Luckily, they had kid car-seats in both vehicles, so they wouldn’t have to constantly be switching back and forth. He stuffed each girl into her respective seat, while Abigail screamed.
“Where are you taking us?” she bellowed, in a way that made Shaun flinch: ‘God, if the wrong person hears her say that, that way,’ he thought, and shook his head and put it out of his mind. Abigail was the one who had been the one most traumatized by his absences, and three years later, he and Carolyn were still dealing with the behavioral effects. What could Abigail have been told, in any way that she could possibly have understood, why Daddy was gone and Momma was so sad and angry? “Where’s momma,” she sobbed, in a slightly less accusatory complaint. If she had been told something heroic about his absences, she would not have believed it. Daddy was out of town on business, and we’re not sure when he’s coming back, was all she had been told.
“We’re going to my work today, remember?” he said, as he buckled them in awkwardly. For the ten thousandth time he wished Carolyn’s parents were still around. They had died within a month of each other, not too long after he walked out. It was one of the things that brought him back. For the ten thousandth time he was glad his parents lived 1200 miles away, in Florida where they belong, he thought absently.
“I don’t want to go,” Abigail spit, and she kicked and screamed violently. Isabel had stopped crying, and was sucking on her fingers bleary eyed, watching her sister. He pretended not to notice Abigail.
With both girls firmly buckled, he drove the Saab out of the driveway and toward downtown. Thinking so much about the CEO and CFO, and the girls, and Carolyn abandoning him, he hadn’t thought much about the power and water and the phone, though a half dozen times already he checked to see if his phone was working. Otherwise nothing seemed unusual, except the traffic lights were out. Traffic otherwise seemed typical. Though on I-35 he thought the traffic was light for this time of day.
He hadn’t thought to check the television, he thought, as he pulled into the parking ramp. Duh, no electrical, again. There was no attendant, and the gate was up. He pulled into his designated spot, near the elevators, noticing that the parking lot was not even half full, when it typically would be full. Gathering the girls, Abigail having settled down somewhat, he picked up Isabel and went to pick up Abigail, but she refused. He reached out his hand, and she took it reluctantly, but then planted her feet and wouldn’t move, on the verge of a tantrum.
He knelt down facing her, setting Isabel on his knee. The parking garage was cool, and uncharacteristically quiet. “I know you’re angry,” he said, calmly and measured, “and I know you don’t want to be here. But I’m trying to be a good dad, and I really need you to try too, to be a good daughter.” She fussed and fidgeted, but she was a good kid really, with an innate if immature sense of justice and reciprocity. “I’m trying to do better all the time,” he continued, more gently but firm, “and I really need you to treat this like an adventure, Ok?” She didn’t want to look at him now, knowing instinctively that what he was asking was just, but maybe she wouldn’t have to comply if she didn’t make eye-contact. He waited. “Can you look at me?”
She did, but wouldn’t hold his gaze. To do so would be too much like admitting she was acting like a brat.
“I tell you what, if you do good today, I promise to take you to the water park tonight, Ok?”
She resisted, but her favorite thing in the world was water, and her parents had been good about resisting her when she whined for the water park or the beach, and were good at knowing when to offer. She was trying to figure out a way of acknowledging yes, without actually saying anything.
“You’re okay then?” he asked. She nodded, but he asked again.
“Ok,” she said.
By the time Carolyn was at the grocery store, the parking lot was nearly full, when any other Wednesday mid-morning there might have been a dozen cars. It was never full, outside of holidays. She was thankful she had taught herself to use cash; she had $345 in her purse, and another $300 in a tin container under the dashboard, and she intended on using all of it, if she could. She had already run through a mental list, twice, and she wanted two carts. She didn’t know why exactly, she was reacting with such urgency, but she had been reading so much about the economy, peak resources, and it being 2012, when Shaun told her the power, phone and water were out, something in her shifted. She had been intending in a kind of passive way, to stock up for the winter. She hadn’t done it, and some how, irrationally, this felt like her last chance. She couldn’t explain it, and wasn’t really trying, preoccupied with her list.
There were a lot of people inside the store, though the mood was calm enough. She heard some speculation, various explanations from HAARP to EMP attacks to Alien occupation, but none of it very serious, and people were otherwise focused on accumulating the right product. She saw right away, she wasn’t the only one with two carts, and she wasn’t the only one who noticed. There was a shared, if dull and almost embarrassed sense of urgency.
By the time she was leaving the store with her $585.39 of groceries, there was a woman at a register screaming that all she had was a debit card. The parking lot was full, including the lanes between, with cars looking for spots. Two people, a slim black woman in business attire, and a scrawny working class guy who reeked of cigarette smoke, argued over her carts as she unloaded her groceries into the van. She gave one cart to each.
As she raced home to unload the groceries and retrieve more cash, all she could think was, I hope Shaun is home. And, I have to get to Sam’s Club.
Selene was looking out the window of her family’s twenty-seventh story apartment, in the Riverside Towers, watching the late morning sun. She was wearing the hijab of the Muslim devout, a green and gold thing she loved for its beauty, and hated for what it condemned her to. Neither of her Somali parents spoke much English. She excelled, idolizing the artist Dessa from the first time she heard her, emulating her ever since, rapping and singing whenever she found herself alone, silently when she wasn’t – though her parents had no knowledge of it.
Her father had been pacing through the apartment all morning, shouting that the infidels had cut off the power and were ready to invade, to send all Somali’s to FEMA death camps. He had wanted Selene to go through pharaonic circumcision, otherwise known as female circumcision, or more accurately, genital mutilation, the cutting off of the clitoris. Her mother, at risk of death, Selene thought, had pretended to comply. He had been threatening to check ever since. She was 14, and he had already pledged her to be married to a 47 year old Somali slum lord he owed in a botched kat exchange. She had a very clear notion, what her father would do to her, if he found out she was pregnant. She rapped a little verse, in the interior of her heart:
Mother knows, but she can’t say
If he saw, that she knew,
She wouldn’t see another day
And what am I to do,
Carryin’ as I am, this babe
Birds fly free, Oh
How I want to fly, away
She peered over the edge of the window, 27 stories down. ‘We all been told, don’ lean against the mesh,’ she thought, ‘old enough now, I could leap it.’ It was that, she thought, or run away. But where does a pregnant fourteen year old Somali girl run away to, in Minnesota?
“Father,” she asked, in Somali, “May I go outside?”
“Why do you want to go outside!” he shouted, insinuating. He hated women. He always had. He did not know why, nor did he care to wonder. They were less than, he imagined.
“It is a beautiful day and I want to go outside.” Inside the apartment, you might as well have been in Mogadishu. Her father had painted the walls concrete gray, to simulate the cinder block apartment he had grown up in. Few in the community cared for him, but he was an imperious man, and most Somalis kept a distance between him and his family.
“Very well,” he said surprisingly, distractedly. Had the elevators been working, he would have said no. She called out silently to the goddess Hathor, who she had read about at the library, and had started calling out to secretly. She walked into her room, stashing a few things under her dress. She went to her mother, who had been knitting silently, and kissed her on the forehead. Her mother looked at her and touched her face, smiling slightly, as if somehow she understood; and then she went quietly back to her knitting.
Selene climbed down the twenty-seven flights of stairs, which might have been a bit like descending into the bowels of hell. But she reached the bottom, and then she was out in the light and on the move, heading straight toward Riverside Ave, and the Seward co-op.
The place was already partially picked over by the time she got there at noon. Staff had bought in bulk and stashed it in the back, for when they got off work, and hardly anyone shopping left with less than two carts full. Weaving in and out deftly through the crowd and their carts, she bought a bag of apples, some granola bars, and some Izze to wash it down with, and a knapsack to carry it in. She wasn’t really worried about food. She had been reading about wild plants, and wilderness survival. She imagined walking the bike paths all the way to the Minnesota River Wildlife Refuge, living off the land, and having her baby in the wilderness.
“They didn’t show up.” Barry Watkins was the only other person in the conference room. The meeting was supposed to have begun. There weren’t very many people in the building, and Shaun had walked through it as in a lucid dream, or a movie, like those zombie flicks, he thought, where it’s all calm and peaceful but eerily so, and then the cannibals come out. Barry was one of the ubiquitous Skellard-Blicom Bank Vice Presidents on the Investment side, several pay-grades above Shaun, and in a different universe of bonus territory, though Shaun knew the true value to the company weighed heavily toward himself, of the two. Of just about any of the V.P.s, realistically, though reality was a thing the banks had amortized and securitized out of existence a long time ago, Shaun thought. The girls were hiding behind his legs.
“They didn’t show up to the meeting, or to the building, or the city?” Shaun asked.
“The building.” Barry was leaning against the conference table nonchalantly, very cool, so he thought. “We all had dinner last night at Oceanaire. After that as far as I know they went back to the Hilton, out by the airport. I’m pretty sure Dave caught a flight back to California.” Dave was the CFO.
“Didn’t see you at the dinner,” Barry added. He shivered in that smarmy way he thought was suave, a wealthy investment banker tilting toward 45, with the emotional capacity of a twelve year old. He had set himself against Shaun’s plan, actively arguing against Shaun if not the plan, at last night’s dinner, attempting in his way to claim it as his own. He wanted Carolyn too, but mostly because he hated Shaun irrationally. His attitude toward women, being primarily influenced by dominator porn.
“No, I wasn’t there,” said Shaun indifferently, not nearly as interested in Barry Watkins, as Barry Watkins was in him. He looked down at Abigail and Isabel, thinking of Carolyn, wherever she was, probably collecting supplies. He felt ridiculous suddenly, stupid and shallow, that he had brought the girls here. “Do we expect Shivington?” He said to Barry, referring to the CEO. “Do we know if he’s coming in?” And as soon as he said it, he thought Barry probably wasn’t capable of telling him the truth.
“I assume he’s holing up, like every body else with any sense,” and that last part was another rip on Shaun, though Barry couldn’t see the irony. There was something savage rising up in Barry, though he didn’t know it, and couldn’t have named it if he did. He was feeling a calm that was pathological, but he didn’t know that either.
Abigail clenched her father’s leg, closing her eyes and burying her face against him, whimpering. Isabel watched Barry, silent and wide eyed.
“Any idea what’s going on?” asked Shaun, though again he didn’t trust Barry, and was asking out of a kind of inertia.
“I don’t know. Nothings working. I’m assuming it had something to do with those lights.”
Barry laughed, posturing, cocky. “Like the stench of hell rose up into the sky and colored it red, the fucking moon as red as blood,” and there was a primal stir in his core. He was not the kind of man who could handle it, something more like a dog gone wild. “Stay up tonight. You’ll probably still see it, whatever it is. You’re going to want to stay up anyway, ’cause this city is about to go batshit crazy. 2012 apocalypse, baby!”
Shaun gave Barry a mild glare, which Barry was impervious to. “What are you going to do?” he asked Barry, not sure why, because he didn’t really care. Minnesota nice, he thought absently. He realized he was showing deference to Barry, despite that he thought Barry was basically an idiot.
“Same thing I did last night, get wasted and fuck.”
Shaun had never heard Barry speak this way, this loosely, and he presumed it was because of the girls, which disgusted him. “Well, you have fun with that. I’ll see ya,” he said derisively, and he steered the girls toward the door.
“I know where you live,” said Barry.
Something in the way he said it made a chill run from the top of Shaun’s head to his feet, and into the floor. “Excuse me?” He turned to face Barry.
“I mean, I know where you live. I’ll check in on you. See if you and the girls are doing o-k.” And he smiled, wickedly.
Shaun looked at him, shocked, but clear. “Really, don’t. In fact, I’m quite certain I don’t want you anywhere near my house. Got it?”
“Ok, Shauno,” said Barry, as he tossed a brass pen mount from hand to hand. “Un-der-stood.”
Carolyn was at the Sam’s Club south of I-494, in Richfield, cart full of useful necessities, back in the corner by the coolers, when the front door opened and a dozen men with very large guns walked casually through the door. The greeter, a young man in a wheelchair, was wheeled to the side. Most of the associates simply stared, as if they were watching HBO, until they realized they weren’t, and a few whimpered and cried out. No one screamed. The lead man leapt onto the first checkout, a moderately sized, wiry but athletic man with shoulder length brown hair in a ponytail, and thin facial hair, with an M-16 strapped to his back. He lifted a battery operated megaphone. “Attention Sam’s Club Shoppers,” in an exaggerated voice like commercial audio, “Sam’s Club is closing for the day. Please bring your purchases to the checkout.”
Audible groaning, and a few loud complaints reverberated to the front. The people at the checkout stood stunned, as half the men with guns started fanning out into the building, the others remaining to help corral. A woman near the first end-cap screamed.
“All right then,” he bellowed more curtly, “Bring your carts to the front right now, or we will shoot you where you stand,” and he fired three rounds into the corrugated steel ceiling.
Carolyn ducked her head, steering the carts into the back corner, furthest from the entrance. She paused, seeing the fire-alarm warning on a door to the outside, hoping there was no emergency power back-up; but more rounds were fired, and she slipped through the door without being heard, and no alarm went off.
Outside, she pulled the carts across the alley between Sam’s Club and the building next door, and hid behind a dumpster. Behind the buildings there was an asphalt expanse 60 ft wide, and then an eight foot chain link fence, beyond that an out-of-use railroad grade, rising ten feet above the parking lot. There was a box truck parked against the fence. She rushed across the sixty foot divide with her two carts and reached the box truck, just as a white truck and trailer emerged from the other side of Sam’s Club. There were four trucks in all, and they stopped, and backed up each to a loading dock.
Carolyn started flinging the contents of the carts – blocks of batteries, bulk cans of beans, a camp water filter, canisters of white fuel, etc – over the fence, into the tall grasses and weeds that grew unchecked all along the grade. She had several canisters of pickled things in glass that she tucked under the fence. She tucked herself under the fence, and began crawling through the weeds, in the opposite direction of Sam’s Club, looking for another breach in the fence, where she might cross back into the parking lot unobserved, and get back to her car safely.
Inside, the men rushed through the building, shouting commands, waving their guns. There were six customers on the floor with conceal-and-carry permits, packing, but six people with handguns unaware of each other, are no match for a team with shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. One man in the southwest corner, who had been listening to his mp3 player when the shots were fired, lost his life and ended another’s, the shots that allowed Carolyn to escape undetected. Otherwise, everyone was obedient, easily herded with the rest behind the till. There were almost 400 people total, and there were more pulling into the parking lot, more approaching the doors. The doors were locked, and two rolling displays were set in front to obscure the interior.
“Thank you, everyone, for your patience,” said ponytail, with a kind of literal, almost clipped southern cadence, though he was clearly yankee. “And don’t worry, we don’t want your things, unless you have guns, and then I recommend you hand them over. You do not want us to find them.
“Are there any born-again’s here? Raise your hand, please, if you are born again.” He, nor any of those with him, were displaying anything that might be associated with Christ, and only a few hands went up, tentatively. “Come on now, this is the Midwest, the suburbs. I know there are more of you than that.” A few more hands went up. “All right then, anyone else?” No one else gave notice. “Those of you who raised your hands, may grab your cart and continue shopping, if you like. Otherwise, just head over there by the Micheline Man, over there, and sit this out,” pointing to a card-board cutout of that companies brand image.
A man shouted, “I’m a Christian,” and he lifted his hand quickly, but slowed to a stop.
“Well then,” without the bull horn, “come right on up here, front and center.” The man slowly made his way forward, no longer sure, until he was standing at the foot of the checkout. Ponytail could have whispered to be heard, but he put the bull horn to his mouth and said, “I conclude, that because you responded after you had a true opportunity to declare your faith in Jesus Christ, that you are ashamed of your Lord and Savior, and unwilling to be a martyr in His name…or you are a liar. Therefor, you shall be martyred.” The man gasped, and an uncomprehending terror came into his eyes, and he tried to speak but no words came out, and two men grabbed him and hauled him away.
The back loading dock gates were opened, and a seeming village poured out. The fork lifts were soon in operation, and the trailers filled.
Two more men were pulled from the crowd. The three, so selected, were taken to the center of the north end caps, in front of a display of beef jerky. The three men, the martyr, and two effeminate-looking men, only one of whom was actually gay, were stood in a line, while their hands and feet were bound, their hands behind them. Followers of ponytail were climbing up the face of three of the four-tiered steel shelves, with ropes and pulleys, securing a dual pulley at the top of each. Both the martyr and the man who was not gay were weeping, the third was red-eyed and resolute, defiant. Ponytail stood in front of the gay man, addressing him in a way that he knew the man he thought was gay could hear. “You have reveled in your iniquity, and you have turned this great Nation of God into a den of wickedness, licentiousness and abomination. You have wallowed in your filth, and corrupted the children. You have claimed rights not fit for sodomizers, when the only thing such as you deserve, is death.
“In the interest of your salvation, I will offer you the chance to repent, though I cannot guarantee it will matter to the Lord of Hosts, and I can assure you, it will not save your life. Do you give your lives to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, that you shall not burn in eternal hellfire?”
“The only hell is the one you are attempting to make in this world, for anyone who doesn’t believe what you do,” said the gay man, and he stood proudly.
Ponytail went to the other two, and they both repented, knowing not what they were saying, clinging only to some last, thin hope. The nooses were set, and placed. “You’re in luck,” said Ponytail, gaily to the gay man, “we have a flag to mark you with,” and one of his followers handed him a rainbow flag. “This, see,” and shoved it in his face, dropping it at his feet. “I am the right hand of His vengeance,” he said, steel-eyed, and the gay man cried out such as few in that building had ever heard outside of military combat, and was restrained, as the flag was screwed to the top of his feet. Ponytail stepped back, gave the thumbs up, and all three men were hauled up, writhing, turning red and bulbous in the face, high enough for anyone in the first two-thirds of the building to see, and there was much weeping and wailing, and some gnashing of teeth.
Carolyn found a breach in the fence, several hundred yards down the railroad grade, and raced across the tar, running and walking back to her van. Thank god I’m parked in the way back, she thought, as she tried not to stand out, filthy as she was, having crawled through the weeds. There were others standing in the parking lot, talking, milling about. A crowd had gathered by the door, clearly unaware of what was going on inside, and somewhat irate.
She reached the van, climbed in, started it, and maneuvered out of the parking lot onto Mazona Avenue and over the tracks, her breath coming fast and her hands shaking on the wheel. Turning the van into a residential neighborhood, she followed the tracks until she thought she was where she needed to be, and turned the van around and parked on the railroad grade side, passenger doors facing the grade and the back of Sam’s Club on the other side. She crawled through the van to the back where she knew there was a tool set. She found a pliers, climbed through the back passenger door, and started to cut through the fence, obscured from view of the houses behind her. When the breach was wide enough to emit her, she climbed through with a cloth bag full of cloth bags.
Peering over the tracks, she could see the trucks behind Sam’s Club, but she didn’t believe anyone there could see her. She rolled over the tracks and crawled down the other side. Filling the bags, the sun high above her casting little shadow. She carried the bags one by one to the top of the grade, setting them inside the rails, until she had everything up top. She climbed back over the rails, and then carried the bags down to the fence, two at a time. She climbed through the fence, and hauled the bags through, filling the van and driving home.
Emergency response was needed everywhere, but emergency response had nowhere to go. It was a matter of driving around the city, looking for signs of trouble, without any way to contact backup, or even tell anyone where you were. Without that, a lot of officers and EMT’s were reluctant to go out. Besides, most of them had families. And neither jails nor hospitals were properly functioning anyway, to bring people to. The military would have been engaged, but they were in the same predicament everyone else was. Life had been reduced to a pre-industrial pace. The confusion was immense, and a lot of people simply retreated to whatever they knew as home. That meant work for some, but at most places, without computers or electricity, there wasn’t much to do. It meant bars for others, who were resolved to drink and party until the power came back on. For others, it was coffee shops. Many simply stayed home.
As the day went on, wherever it became clear there was a frenzy of buying, the frenzy intensified. By the mid-afternoon, small riots had begun in isolated locations, usually in the vicinity of a grocery, sporting goods store, liquor stores, gas station or pharmacy. No one could pull out cash, and the banks had already closed their doors. Some retailers were taking paper receipts, if they had a card swiper, but many didn’t.
And, it was 2012. Most people in America didn’t even know about the aurora yet, or the moon, and yet everybody was at least a little freaked out. Most people were just staying put wherever they were, because pretty quick everything outside one’s immediate neighborhood, the world, looked like one big void; to exit the neighborhood was to enter that void.
There was a perfectly rational explanation for the predicament, a risk that was well known prior to the event (though the extent of the consequences were somewhat unforeseen), which the government had made known but did not advertise, and utilities ignored, because no one was willing to bear the expense of protection, which was minimal, compared to what was happening. Regular people had access to the information, but few sought it out. There were many Cassandras. Almost the whole of the developed nations went from having access to the collected understanding of the species, to having almost none, in a moment.
The lights were on in some places, of course. There were generators. But not enough to maintain anything but a minimum baseline of electricity anywhere, certainly not enough to restore broad communications. There were solar panels, but they were rare, and isolated, and conspicuous. All the generators available were dependent on gas or diesel, which wasn’t moving at all. Pumping stations couldn’t pump. Important things like security would have been prioritized, if anyone had the power to prioritize anything on a grand scale.
If the nuclear facility operators showed up for work, it was only because they knew more than most what was at stake. Backup cooling systems were operating at both facilities on either side of the Twin Cities, but those systems had long passed their expected lifespans, and the system updates, which wouldn’t have solved anything really, hadn’t been delivered yet, more than a year after Fukushima.
Electrical inspectors were returning from the field to report that transistors were disabled everywhere, fused solid in many cases. By late afternoon, the utilities were faced with the worst case scenario imaginable, and a profound condemnation of their craft, and judgment.
Military reserves were gathering, mostly the gung-ho young guys without families, the guys who had already served in live combat. Guardsman were on the move, coordinating communications. All flights had been grounded, all day. The airport was a mess.
And in a few hours, a whole nation of people well trained by media to respond emotionally, full of the mytho-poetic imagery of apocalypse, were about to be faced with a night long aurora and a blood red moon, not a one of them having anything but an abstract reference for.
Shaun and Carolyn arrived home at about the same time. Both girls rushed to their mother, and she knelt down and hugged them both. “I have some things in the car,” she said to Shaun as she was holding the girls.
He walked to the back of the van, opened the trunk, saw nothing, opened the passenger side door and marveled. He picked up four of the bags and carried them to the back of the house, saying to Carolyn as he passed, “Nice work!” She breathed a sigh he didn’t see.
“You took the girls to work?”
“I had to meet the CEO this morning, remember.”
“We met a bad man today,” said Abigail. Carolyn looked at Abigail, and then Isabel, who nodded, and Carolyn hugged them both again, picking them up and carrying them into the house.
She played with them for awhile in their room, before she laid them down, telling them she needed to speak to daddy, and that they needed to sleep. Abigail fussed, but Carolyn was clear.
When she came back downstairs, Shaun was organizing what she’d brought home, on the dining room table. The table was full, and there was product around it on chairs and on the floor. She sat down on the arm of the heavy wooden recliner, in the adjacent living room.
“I haven’t opened the fridge. Whatever’s in there, were going to have to eat soon…This is amazing,” he said, smiling at her proudly.
“Shaun,” she replied in a tone that was full of exhaustion, and fear, “I was at Sam’s Club. Some men broke in and started shooting. They took the place over.”
“Some guy on a megaphone, said the store was closed, everybody had to go to the front. There were gunshots. I opened a fire escape door…” She tried to hold back tears, exhausted.
There are moments of reset, when everything you thought you knew about the world falls away. Shaun looked at his wife with a concern he had perhaps never known for her; she was like a woman he had never known.
“My god,” he said, “and you got out with all this?” He stood staring at the table for a moment as if dumbfounded. He went to her, and knelt before her in the dim light, offering her his hands. She took them. “Whatever I have done in the past, whatever I am, I am absolutely devoted to you, and our daughters.”
Carolyn looked at her husband. That he had slept with other women wasn’t so much the problem, it was the number of them, and the manner of it. He had disappeared. That was years ago. He had been faithful to her in every way since. There was not a person she knew who supported her taking him back. She had trusted her judgment then, and things had worked out well, she thought. ‘Would he have done what I did today? Is he capable of it?’ She asked herself. She decided that he was.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” she replied.
They held each other a long time.
Jackson awoke with a memory of a dream; the golden woman, The Lady having come to him again. He remembered two great dark holes, like the eyes of some ancient malevolent demon, sickly puss oozing out like furious tears, some kind of inhuman, corrosive substance. The Lady had instructed him to enter the right eye, and he did, and he remembered something small, glowing, radiating light…
The dream started to fade, as the reality of the previous day, and the one he was in, surged into his consciousness, demanding attention. It was actually a beautiful morning, quiet, the sun just above the horizon, and a hazy steam like fog lingering in pockets over the lily pad and algae around him, the early morning light making the water in between shimmer like quicksilver, wherever a breeze dipped down, beneath a hazy but otherwise cloudless blue sky. He was seeing this through a draping mosquito net hanging from a tree, a young cottonwood. He crawled out of the mosquito netting, and sat on the shore, reflecting.
He still had not heard a plane, or a jet. There were hardly any cars on the bridge behind him, none of that steady squealing hum of many tires moving fast over concrete. All he seemed able to hear were birds, and the occasional leaf or grass ruffling. From where he sat, he couldn’t see any buildings, or any road, and yet he was in the middle of a 3 million person metro area. He might as well have been back in the jungle, and he stopped briefly, wondering if everything of the last few months was a dream, and he was really still in Peru? He shook it off, looking at the lily pads and red dogwoods of his early youth, and smiled, somewhat conflicted, but grateful. “If there is a safer place to be in this city,” he said aloud, “I don’t know where it would be.”
He cooked himself a breakfast of eggs he purchased from a woman living by Lake Hiawatha, yesterday. He had been in town for three days, before the incident, gathering things. It was almost an accident, that he had been swimming in the pool below Minnehaha Falls, he realized now. He had the supplies he wanted, they were with the canoe. He had somewhat absently eaten a single mushroom, nothing he thought would prevent him in any way, from putting the canoe in the water and paddling his supplies home to his island. But he had left the canoe and his goods in his cache, and wandered up the creek, through the park instead, on some vague, ritual like mission. The bags of guns that were the result, were buried on the island, in a waterproof tool bin he had bought through Craigslist, early in the spring.
After breakfast, he set out in the canoe, taking a typically circuitous rout through the algae and lily pads, so as not to leave an obvious trail, and carried the canoe over an old railroad grade, dropping it in the Minnesota river. Just in case, he brought a hand gun. He had thought about bringing an AK-47, but he couldn’t look at the thing without remembering the places he’d lived where even the kids carried one. Besides, he didn’t know what kind of law was around, and he didn’t want to carry something that could so obviously lead to him locked in a cage. He couldn’t imagine a worse fate right now.
Paddling downriver toward the Mississippi, he came to two giant culverts, emerging from the bluff on the west side, and the dream came back to him, clear as when he dreamed it. He was surprised he hadn’t already put the two together. These were the culverts draining the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport, draining the holding ponds where propylene glycol, also known as airplane deicer, collects in the winter, and putrefies. When he had moved down here this spring, there were a few thousand gallons of that rank stuff pouring into the river every minute. Smell, a skunk in a pile of rotting eggs and onions.
He paddled the canoe tight to the edge of a boulder, among the slide of boulders extending from below the water line to the culverts, thirty feet above the water. Right away he noticed blood. Not much, but he secured the canoe and climbed onto the boulder field, and found another drop, and then another. They seemed to be leading in the direction of the culvert on the right, and the dream came back to him intensely. He climbed until he could see into the culvert.
The girl let out a little scream. She clamored on her hands backward, but stopped, and stood up and looked at him.
“Hello,” he said. He was still standing in the boulder field, not yet having reached the lip of the culvert, only his head and shoulders visible to her. She said nothing, so he said, “You’re bleeding.”
“I can help you.”
“Who are you?” she asked, quickly, suspiciously. She wasn’t accustomed to white men talking to her. She could see him better than he could see her, and she thought he looked wild, like a pirate or something. She wasn’t sure what to think.
He paused before answering. He couldn’t see her in detail; she sounded ethnic, young, and…bright? “Well, I’m not your father, I’m not your boyfriend, I’m not a policeman and I’m not a social worker. But I have a safe little place not far from here, and I have some first aid items to clean your wound, and we can rap it up.
“Otherwise,” he continued in a different tone, when she didn’t say anything right away, lying, “I don’t particularly care what happens to you. The world seems to be falling apart, and I have enough to be thinking about.” She still said nothing. “Really, my island might be a good place for you to be, because I have the sense you’re hiding, from something, or someone? And as far as I can tell, the power isn’t back on.”
Island? Selene was surprised to discover that she liked him, though she couldn’t say way, and didn’t betray it. She walked tentatively, out of the tunnel, into the light; he saw that she was Somali, probably only 13 or 14. “Are you going to try to hurt me,” she asked him directly.
“No. Are you going to try to hurt me?”
“Not unless you’re lying.”
Maxwell Jamal Hendershot III was staring at his baby brother Darius, who lay dead on their mother’s dining room table, the sun shining through a colored glass crucifix hanging in the window, onto the young man’s chest. Darius thought it was, like a sign from God, that Darius is in heaven. Their mother Ophelia was in the living room, with their sister Jalaliel, and aunt Chantrelle, inconsolable. He had moved them all here ten years before, thinking they might escape this kind of outcome.
One of his own, who had been looking for Darius, was the first onto the scene of the car crash, just before sunrise the previous day. Two bags of guns, or ten kilo of crystal meth was missing, he wasn’t sure which. Darius had clearly knocked off the liquor store across the Ford bridge in St Paul. Was that before or after the exchange with those cracker jesus crispy freaks? He didn’t know what for sure, but he was sure those heathen motherfuckers had both the guns and the meth, and by God, if he wasn’t going to exact some motherfucking vengeance! That cock sucking ponytail motherfucker.
He had been planning on calling the feds on that punkass, but it was too late for that now. And now maybe, the punkass has all those guns! He had thought he had been playin’ that cracker for a fool, takin’ the tweek from the white folk to sell to white folk, but now this. Not that he didn’t have plenty of guns left, and the rules seemed to have changed besides; he wasn’t sure what was stoppin’ him from rollin’ down on that hick seed in his redneck shithole town, with a whole army of bad-ass niggers. He shuddered, despite himself, at the idea of it.
‘Little baby brother Darius; I had high hopes for you, little man, and now I got to bury your beautiful self.’ He carried on. A tear began to fall, and he lay his head on Darius’ chest, a tear soaking into Darius’ shirt, the multi-colored cross falling on the back of Maxwell’s neck.
Late morning, and Shaun was tending to the tomato plants in the back yard, against the north fence. A man snuck up behind him, and put a hand on Shaun’s shoulder, at the same time pressing the tips of his middle and index finger firmly against Shaun’s neck, saying, “Where’s the gold?” Shaun wheeled to his right, took hold of the wrist of the shooting hand, taking the man to the ground and keeping him there, with his knee on his back
“Buried right there,” Shaun said, the man’s face in the grass. He let go and stood up, and the man climbed to his feet saying,
“Wallace. I was thinking about you,” said Shaun.
“I’m sure you were. And for the ten thousandth time, you are not ready to hear the secret of eternal life and everlasting bliss and happiness. Because you are a wanker.”
“On second thought, get the hell out of here.”
“Do you have any scotch?” Wallace lived on the other side of Minneapolis, and was sometimes inclined to ask stupid questions. He tended to just show up at odd times too, and yet Shaun was never surprised to see him. About fifteen years older than Shaun, Wallace had a house he had built almost entirely of used materials, and hemp, that he hardly had to heat at all, except by the sun. That, and a lot and a half connected to the lot and a half next door, that was equal parts garden, vineyard and orchard. Green houses and cellars and cisterns and hops. ‘He probably has his tribe of lesbian amazons watching the place right now,’ Shaun thought. A collective had moved in next door. The whole neighborhood had begun to change, after Wallace built his house. Shaun wouldn’t have been surprised at all if Wallace had a few years of food and supplies tucked away, just in case. He could certainly grow food year round. No one really knew what Wallace was, or what he did, to become what he was, whatever that was. He was a mystery.
“Who’s watching the house?” asked Shaun.
“No one you need to be thinking about,” there being few illusions between them about that.
Carolyn came out of the house with the girls. Wallace danced and the girls giggled, he picked up Isabel and threw her into the air a few times, and then did the airplane with Abigail, who stretched her arms out wide like her smile. He hugged Carolyn. The girls played on the swing set, while the adults sat at the picnic table. Shaun had returned with the bottle and three cups. It was a little early for scotch, but they hadn’t seen Wallace in a while, and the world did seem somehow to have come to an end.
“What have you heard?” asked Carolyn. She hadn’t slept well, again, though it wasn’t the girls this time. She kept waking up, crawling through the weeds, hunted, most of the night, though she felt more relaxed now, with Wallace here, and she inhaled deeply of her cup.
“First of all, I’m glad you and the girls are well. Quite the party out there.”
“Did you hear about that Sam’s Club in Richfield?” She asked.
“I was there.”
“You’re kidding me!”
“She snuck out the back when they came in, with about a years supply of food and necessities,” Shaun said, exaggerating a bit, he was so proud of her.
“Not really,” Carolyn corrected, softly, but accurately. “We have maybe enough food to last until the end of this year.”
“Did you hear what happened?” Wallace asked, referring to Sams Club.
“It seems they got away with four semi-trailers full of Walton family property…and hung three guys in the process, including a gay guy they made a spectacle of. They drilled a rainbow flag to his feet.” Wallace didn’t relish telling them this, but he didn’t want to sugar-coat the situation, either. “They did a similar thing in Cottage Grove, a few hours later. People think its that sheet-rocker guy in Tharsidial.”
Carolyn was stunned. “They got away with it?”
“It seems you can get away with just about anything right now. It didn’t take people very long to figure that out, obviously.” He was just as incredulous at the brazenness of it, as they were. “Clearly they don’t think the power is coming back.”
“How could they know?” asked Shaun.
“What is going on? asked Carolyn, not clear about it at all.
“I think it was the sun.” said Wallace. “Coronal mass ejection. A sunspot.”
“We got hit with solar wind in March.” said Shaun. “An X-class five. It messed with our servers a bit at the bank, but no big deal.”
“They’ve measured them as high as X45, which is to say, something like the difference between a dust devil and a class five hurricane. There’s also the Carrington event, in 1859. They saw a very similar phenomena in the sky, the red moon and aurora, as far south as the Caribbean. That was before satellites and electrification, of course. Long before the power grid.”
“So what are you saying?” asked Carolyn. “What actually happened?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I’m guessing the solar wind hit the earth a lot faster than they anticipated, an electrical charge surged through the earth and fried the transistors in the grid, maybe most if not all of them. They knew it was possible.”
“The ACE satellite is supposed to give utilities at least an hour’s notice,” said Shaun. “Time enough to shut down, so as not to pull the charge into the system. We knew about that X-5 at least a day ahead of time.”
“ACE is past it’s expiration date. And they always forget to remember, they measured a big X-class CME’s in 2005 that made the trip from sun to earth in less than 30 minutes.”
“I’ve actually been keeping tabs on the sun, on the SOHO website,” said Shaun. “I remember seeing the sunspot, but it didn’t look any more extraordinary than the one in March.” Wallace just shrugged his shoulders.
“So you said the transistors were fried,” Carolyn asked, not caring so much about what did it as what are the consequences. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Shaun interjected, “That the grid as we have known it is dead.”
“Right,” said Wallace.
Carolyn looked at them both. “Dead, as in, never coming back.”
Shaun looked at her squarely. “It means we may not have any access to any electricity or electrical means of communication, for a long time.”
Carolyn stood up with her cup, but she didn’t seem sure where she should go.
“I think you guys should consider moving to my neighborhood.” It was a line Wallace had been repeating for years. Normally, Shaun or Carolyn would say, “we like it over here,” but neither of them said anything. Carolyn walked over to Shaun and sat beside him, leaning her back against him, looking at the house. The girls continued to play, running around in circles laughing, on the other side of the swing set. Wallace continued, “Most of the stores I’ve seen don’t have anything in them, or they’re locked up, or broken into, or they’re open but they don’t have much for sale. I don’t think you can count anymore on anything but yourselves, and those physically closest to you, and maybe whoever you call out to, if anybody. Though I wouldn’t anticipate any god or man turning the municipal water back on, anytime soon.
“We actually have a few houses open next door, room for about twenty, twenty-five people. If you think of anybody else,” speaking directly to Carolyn, “specifically families with good kids, and at least one or two adults with some kind of skill or talent that might be conducive to building a community – let us know. I’ll defer it to you for now, for a few days. Otherwise, they will be filled.
“And, I was thinking,” and he was speaking to Shaun, “if no one is on it already, we might see about that Ford dam, and the turbines there. Electrical generation, you know.”
Col Roy Salko Anderson was staring through glass, at an empty tarmac radiating heat but otherwise without movement. He had slept two of the last 36 hours, and he recited the Lord’s Prayer, whispering, to bring him back to some semblance of calm. Behind him were nearly 36 hours of reports of tragedy. Half the couriers he sent were late in returning. He tapped a solemn rhythm on the back of a leather chair. He wanted a drink, but prudence suggested a nap. ‘Who will lead while I’m sleeping?’ he wondered. A not inconsiderable number of his staff had not yet shown up since the incident, which implied a considerably greater chaos than even the reports he was hearing. He was also an ordained Lutheran pastor, and the highest ranking officer of the Minnesota National Guard actually in the State. As a Lutheran, he was not particularly inclined toward the apocalyptic, and here he had found himself incontrovertibly with the makings of one, complete with a heavily armed militia of born-again Christian fanatics. The Governor was in an undisclosed location even unto the Colonel, having actually flown out of state prior to the event, as had a great many high profile politicians, to attend the national political conventions. The State Legislature, the Colonel had been told, had no quorum.
He had grounded all flights. He had cataloged all the fuel at the reserve station and the airport, and put it on lock down. He was contemplating confiscating all the remaining supply at the Koch refinery in Rosemount, so he could prioritize the hospitals and prisons. Which would effectively put an end to most economic exchange, but that already seemed a foregone conclusion. He had even entertained briefly, the idea of commandeering the old fort. A pleasant diversion, between sordid reports.
Lootings, riots, people were already dying in unusually high numbers, and it wasn’t even the second night. ‘I hope Minnesota Nice holds,’ he thought.
Ponytail was Edward James Mckintly, from Tharsidial, on the Mellicolt river between the Zumbrota and the Cannon. He had given his life to Christ in 1982, at a Peters Brothers Crusade, when he was ten. He was drywalling as a career by the time he was 16, running his own business out of Eagan by the time the government relaxed mortgage regulations, and the Fed started encouraging cheap credit. He was a multi-millionaire and semi-officially retired by the time the housing bubble popped. He returned to his hometown, which had been partially destroyed by the 2006 floods, and to return it to Christ, after resurrecting his ministry in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. Praise Jesus.
And if you don’t believe he met the Mary mother of Jesus in a dream, that night when he officially semi-officially retired, when she told him the bubble was going to pop before it popped, then you don’t get why he put all his money in gold and silver, and thereby made a few million more. And he started reading about Illuminati, and the Federal Reserve, and FEMA camps and Peak Oil and Climate Change and 2012, and the Jews and the fags influence in Hollywood and Government, and he took to reading Revelations every night to Understand! And he opened a coffee shop on the main corner in town, and began holding forth several nights a week, pedaling LSD cookies to the initiates, and by 2010 he was an Apostle and a Prophet.
By 2012, the population of Tharsidial, contrary to the typical small town story the last 70 years, tripled from the 2010 census, and it had doubled the two years before that. He had begun holding fourth instead in an old church he bought from the town for $1, and on nights he was holding forth, the number in the town might double. He had a way of turning his testimony into a congregational fervor reminiscent of an Ultimate Fighting Championship, and then he’d fill them with a righteous calm, bathing them in the terrible wonder of the Lord God on High, sending them home feeling more empowered and powerful than they’d ever felt before.
His mission work with veterans was extensive, thorough and effective. When the end came, they flocked to him because he had told them it was coming. His word had become gospel.
He had barricaded both ends of the town, which extended toward the hills on either side of the Mellicolt. The one highway through town was the two lane county road 45. There were feeder roads into the hills, but all were gravel. Both barricades, and every feeder road were protected by guards, with heavy machinery confiscated from the Cass Creek Armory the previous night. His instructions were, no one enters unless they have a useful skill, and a cache of food; they get to keep their food, but that would be all they could eat, until they had proven they were worth keeping around. There were perhaps this night and the next day for raids of consequence, he thought. He was on his way in fact, to the Koch refinery at Rosemount. They had 300,000 gallons of diesel, at the hub in town that had serviced all the local farms. He and his boys were going to see if they could pilfer a bit more.
He had also sent his two favorite demolition specialists to the Fort Snelling Army and Air National Guard station, to scuttle what they could. Because he had every intention of taking his people to St Paul next spring, to install themselves in the capital building, with himself at their lead.
His dreams were telling him: Now is the Time of Reckoning.
I am thy right hand, oh Lord, he called out, every day.
Jackson helped Selene out of the canoe, onto the island. They hadn’t talked at all along the way, as he had asked her to stay silent, unless she noticed anything unusual, and then only to speak in a light voice, or by pointing. She had never been on water in a craft in her life. She was afraid at first, but soon she felt freer than she had ever felt. The world seemed to open up to her in new ways, and she thought she recognized some of the plants she had read about in books.
On the island, he asked her to sit on a heavy wool blanket he had laid down, and he went to a bin, partially buried behind the mosquito netting, that he thought of as his formulary, where he kept his toiletries, first aid, herbals and smoke. He returned with a bottle of antiseptic, a tweezers, a knife, a guaze pad and wrap, and a clear tin of some kind of salve. Kneeling in front of her, he asked to see the wound.
She rolled on her right side, paused, looked at him and turned away as she pulled up her skirt, just above the wound, a small but ragged tear, a puncture with a loose flap of flesh, fairly deep, on the outside of her left thigh. Her legs were attractive, he thought, firm, shapely if still somewhat girlish, and unshaven. Most of the women he had known in his life did not shave their legs.
“This is going to hurt a little. Not much, but I have to use alcohol to clean it,” and he added, “I might have to dig around a bit.” She looked back at him. He poured the alcohol into the wound, and then he lifted the skin back, probing a little with gauze at the end of a tweezers. She cried out a little but she was brave. He poured fresh filtered water, rinsing the wound, and dried it off. He cleaned the skin, and covered the wound with a salve of beeswax and yarrow oil, covering that with gauze and wrapped her leg. Pulling the towel away he said, “you’re going to have a scar, but it should be okay. Just don’t jump in the lake or run around the island.”
“Thank you,” she said, as she sat up, covering her leg again. “Thank you for helping me.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, collecting his tools. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes. And thirsty. Do you have water I can drink?
“Here,” handing her a scotch bottle with a cork.
“I can’t drink alcohol.”
“It’s water.” He walked beyond the netting again and returned with some apples, a sack and a cook set. He gave her the fruit, and began setting up the cook set. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Fourteen. How old are you?”
“Nineteen. What is a fourteen year old Somali girl doing in a culvert under the airport on the bank of the Minnesota river?”
“I am not a girl, I am a woman,” and she reflexively reached for her belly.
Reluctantly, she said, “Yes, I am.”
“Someone does not approve?”
“My mother knows,” she said wistfully, looking at the water, across the lake. She lowered her head. “My father doesn’t.”
“Is that culvert a safer place for you and your baby than your father’s house?”
She looked at him, and then and there, she resolved to tell him everything. “He had pledged me to marry a 47 year old slum lord he owed a debt to.”
“So you ran away.”
“It felt like it was that,” she said with a measure of despair, “or jump out our 27th floor window.”
“You live in those towers at Cedar-Riverside?” She nodded her head. Twenty seventh floor, he thought, and no elevator, in what he imagined were the seediest, most derelict east-bloc like apartments in the city. Better than Somalia? He didn’t know. He looked at her and thought, the most beautiful women in the world are in east and west Africa, and in Persia. He thought she had something of all those.
“I think you made the right decision,” he said, and she smiled at him.
He cooked her a meal, potatoes, parsnips and burdock roasted in a dutch oven, in olive oil and spices, and tea, and he gave her some hardened honey. She slept awhile. When she awoke, he fed her a fish soup he had made from a pike he caught while she slept. She rapped for him while she ate, laughing,
Peaceful sleep, this island
is like a dream, and this feast
this soup, by this hand
I think I never want to leave
More tea, and they talked well into the night; she told him everything she knew about her people, and he told her about his childhood in Africa, and his coming of age in the Amazon. He told her what he knew about the aurora.
“How did you find me.” She asked.
“I dreamt about you, or your baby, I think.” He told her about The Lady.
She laid down inside the mosquito netting, while he stayed outside and smoked, and watched the sky. The aurora had softened, more blues and greens. The frogs and crickets were abundant, an ancient, undulating chorus.
Later, he climbed inside the mosquito netting and laid down beside her. She kissed him on the cheek. He did not reject her, and they kissed some more. To his surprise, she climbed on top of him. She pulled up her dress over her head, removing the hijab, her dark hair standing up and looping out in tight curls, and he undressed and they were naked together. She was noticeably pregnant. They kissed and she positioned herself over him. He entered her, but not easily, and she cried out. They came together eventually, her nipple at his lips. He tasted a drop of her milk; instinctively she put her hand behind his head, as she rose up and down, drawing him to her. He thought for a moment as they held each other that way, and then he suckled.
The aurora shimmered across a sky filled with many thousands of stars. You could normally see the Minneapolis downtown from this vantage point, on a bluff above the confluence, where the Minnesota river enters the Mississippi. Lit up and impressive, those towers in the middle of the continent. But they were gone from the night horizon, and the lack of light but the aurora, stars and waning moon, made the presence of these war planes that much more surreal, as if they had been set down in an empty wilderness by some giant hand.
Two men were moving from plane to plane, affixing magnetic charges to the underbelly of each, each charge dialed to the same frequency. They moved from the planes to the fueling vehicles, any vehicle they came across, and then moved to the fuel tanks, enormous steel containers holding as much as 50,000 gallons in each.
It took them some time, and as they were moving toward a line of parked military Hum-Vees, a shot rang out and one of the men went down, Spc. Ronald Meiznert from Long Prairie, whose father Ken would not have recognized the man he had become. Another shot, and the second man went to his knees, Spc. Brant Kludinc from Circle Pines, whose name would forever live in local infamy, for destroying the air capacity of the Fort Snelling Minnesota Air Guard, as well as much of their ground capacity, and nearly a half-million gallons of jet and diesel fuel.
The concussion could be felt, and the blast seen, at the Koch refinery in Rosemount 20 miles to the southeast, which had been pilfered of nearly 20,000 gallons of diesel and unleaded, earlier in the evening.
Every single building in the greater metro shook, and a people already traumatized by events tipped that much closer to madness. Most people had until this moment, assumed that after a few days, all power and media would be restored. But hour after hour, with little more than rumor and conjecture for news, anxiety climbed. Now it was clear, something terrible was wrong.
Jackson and Selene were nearly lifted off their island. A small tidal wave actually washed up onto their shore, as the fires burned.
“What is it?” asked Selene, shuddering.
“It looks like somebody blew up the airport,” and he gave thanks, for where they were.
It seemed like an excellent idea not to leave the island for awhile.
Few shuddered more in that moment than the immigrant communities. The Latino community had imagined, if things got bad in America for any reason, there was always the possibility of return. For the Somali and Hmong, there was no idea of return, only the awareness that they comprised a tiny ethnic island in a sea of whites.
Not that African Americans felt much more secure. Or white folk, really. It was a predicament all shared, no fuel or food to be had, no media to be consumed. And the melting pot was preparing to boil.
And so began a rash of suicides, and an exodus from the city, of anyone who thought they had a safer place to go, and the fuel and the vehicle to get there, and sometimes, with little fuel and less intention.
By the morning, the third morning after the incident, hardly anyone showed up for work, anywhere. Everyone was either on the move, or bunkering up. Restaurants had closed, most of them having been emptied of food, by ownership, staff, patrons or thieves. People were already dying in hospitals and nursing homes of neglect, and prisons were suddenly faced with the spectre of food shortages, coupled with sewage back-up. The global market had ceased to exist. Regional markets did not exist. There was no market to speak of, outside person to person barter; the stock market already seemed to some like an antique of a bygone era. About the only businesses that were open were bars, draining patrons of the last of their cash. No cash could be gotten; whatever cash was in circulation at 3:19 am Central Standard Time of the day of the incident, was the cash that existed in circulation. Many banks had been drained of their cash reserves by noon the first day, and hadn’t opened since. Not that not having any money prevented people from attempting to rob them. There were more bank robberies on the second day after the incident than there had been on any day in Minnesota history, though all the money removed, combined, did not match the take of even one moderately successful robbery, any time in the last ten years.
It began to be obvious to everyone, there wasn’t much in the way of law and order, and so increasingly, justice was being meted out by everyday people in everyday kinds of places, of necessity. And various people’s character flaws and defects were being exaggerated, as well as character everywhere being tested. A people who had spent a significant portion of their lives in front of a screen had nowhere to retreat. The weather had been beautiful, but hardly anyone noticed, except to note that it hadn’t rained.
Carolyn filled a plastic basin with water, from the valve at the base of the water heater. She wondered if there were people dying of dehydration, with a full tank of water in the basement. Water service had not resumed. She carried the water upstairs to the kitchen, where she filtered it into another container, using the camp filter she had come home with the day before.
“Have I told you how grateful I am that you ignored me,” Carolyn said to Shaun, who was sitting with Isabel at the kitchen table, eating breakfast, “when I told you to install a 40 gallon water heater instead of a sixty gallon.” Abigail was in the living room, singing. Both girls had awakened early, wailing when the house shook, but they seemed to have forgotten.
“Every day so far,” Shaun said. “I wish I would have bought the hundred gallon.”
He took Isabel’s spoon, piled it with cereal, and made the sound of an engine as he hovered the spoon in front of her mouth. Isabel giggled, tilting her head back, making a “vrrrr, vrrrr” sound and opened her mouth wide. She was a little old for this game, being able to feed herself, though they still liked playing it. Carolyn filled a water bottle, and put it inside a backpack sitting on the countertop. She hadn’t eaten much since Tuesday night, before the incident. She put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the bag, reminiscing how she had wanted to replace these old veneer countertops with Corian, and how little it mattered to her now. In a months time, she thought to herself, ‘if things keep up like this, I’ll be able to walk into half the houses in this city and claim whatever countertops I want,’ somewhat bitterly she realized, and banished the thought. Her cycle was beginning, and she felt a strange something, that she was bleeding at the same time the waning moon was blood red.
They had used approximately 7 gallons, the first two days. Shaun had actually clipped the copper line just above the meter and drained all the water out of the pipes. Some of that came from the boiler, which heated the house in the winter time, which they were draining to use for hygiene, keeping the girls clean, and themselves minimally so, and the dishes. Clothes washing was going to be a major problem if it didn’t rain soon. Shaun estimated they had maybe 100 gallons in the house, which would last them maybe two weeks, if they were good about it. He remembered hearing somewhere, the average American household used more than that a day, before. The situation didn’t leave Shaun or Carolyn’s mind for long, though they thought about it more than they talked about it. Both of them had been pondering their conversation with Wallace, Carolyn more than Shaun.
“Okay, I’m off.” She picked up her backpack. She was off to a community meeting, which had been called for ten o’clock this morning, at the Unitarian church on Wellesley and 42nd. Anyone who could was encouraged to attend; people had gone door to door the previous night. Everyone was concerned about break-ins. No one had even seen a police officer in at least a day. She and Shaun had agreed she would go, or rather, she had insisted. She was hoping to see some women she knew. Shaun agreed it would be better if he was around, with the girls, in case anyone untoward came around.
Natalie was at the back door, the neighbor on the north side, wife to Philip, and mother to 8 year old Eathan and 11 year old Jayme, a girl. “Hello,” she called out in a cheery voice that didn’t hide her strain.
“Come on in,” said Shaun. Carolyn had gone to the living room to say goodbye to Abigail. He stood and gave Natalie a hug as she entered.
“Another beautiful day!” Natalie said, though her manner was nervous. She was normally a cool-cat kind of woman, wide hipped and intensely liberal, always ready for an ideological fight. But her husband’s brother, who she loved dearly, was missing. He lived only ten blocks away, and Phil had not been able to find him.
“A beautiful day indeed,” said Shaun. “But the girls and I are going to do a rain dance in the back yard, while you’re gone, so don’t be surprised if you get soaking wet on the way home.”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” said Natalie, somewhat uncomfortably. She had a deep aversion to talking about any of the troubles, in front of children.
“Rain,” Isabel shouted, and threw her hands in the air.
“Daddy’s going to dance, dance dance dance, daddy’s going to dance!” sang Abigail, swinging back and forth in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. “Rain dance! Rain dance!”
Carolyn gave her a kiss, and Isabel too, and they let her go as if the world had not come to an end, and this day were like any other, except that Abigail hardly ever let her mother go anywhere without raising a fuss. They followed Carolyn and Natalie out to the sidewalk, and waved vigorously as the women walked across the street and around the corner. When they were out of sight, Shaun quickly did a silly dance to distract the girls, and they giggled and danced too.
Col. Anderson filled his pipe, and smoked, surveying the damage that had been done to his command. The wreckage was still burning. Of the dozen hundred thousand-gallon fuel tanks, half were sufficiently empty to explode. The rest punctured, and would have been a river of fire all the way to Pepin right now, thirty miles down the Mississippi, if not for the containment berm. The reservoir still burned.
The blast was such that most of the buildings from the airport to the end of the bluff, had sustained structural damage, and a cleft had even opened up on the south ridge. An old abandoned brick dormitory was collapsing into it, and the cleft stretched as far as the westbound lanes of Hwy 5, making them impassible. There was a white Subaru half submerged in it, trunk pointing to the sky.
All his planes were gone, and all the trucks to fuel them. He lost most of his motorized vehicles, and his men were scattered across the region, most of them unreachable. Worst of all, they had no idea who the men who did it were connected to, though it was clear by the identification found on the bodies, they were military, or had been. Word had come from Koch refinery too, that another 20,000 gallons had been taken at gunpoint, by a large team of very professional men. There was much mayhem throughout the metro, but Col Anderson could see the connection between the professionalism of that event, and the two Sam’s Club heists in Richfield and Cottage Grove, and he had become certain that the two saboteurs killed here had been of that same group. The killings that had taken place at the Sam’s Clubs, the manner of them, pointed to a particularly virulent bias, a killing capacity that he could think of no reference for in the history of North America. All signs pointed to Tharsidial. Such activity, he thought, had always been associated with the Rocky Mountain states of the far, high mountain west, and to some extent, in the central south. This seemed something new, such organization, such numbers. ‘This is more like the Balkans,’ he thought. Sophisticated weaponry combined with fanatical hatred, charismatic leadership and tight organization. In Minnesota. He almost couldn’t believe it.
He felt an ill omen about the town. He was from Northfield, and lived there with his wife. He was an adjunct professor of sorts at St Olaf as well as a minister, and an erstwhile member of the community – the center of the universe, many in the town liked to call it. He had done business with some of the farmers based in Tharsidial, though he was certain they were not mixed up in this. The town had been a hot-bed of radical end times Christianity since 2008, centering around that Mckintly fellow, and there were grumblings around the state, mostly among Liberals, about the perceived militancy. Mckintly was something like a fringe celebrity for the Right, passively supported on the grounds of individual and religious liberty. Clearly he was up to quite a bit more than anyone had anticipated, or was willing to admit.
And though Col Anderson the Lutheran minister himself was not inclined toward apocalyptic thinking, he was a Christian, and recent events had made him reconsider. He was well aware, anyway, of the apocalyptic imagery in the minds of his fellow Christians, and he was aware of the apocalyptic hysteria rife in Christian history. He was ordained, and knew the afflicting passages.
None of this chaos is what he had in mind for his pending retirement. He was planning on retiring at the end of this year, to the scholarly life, St Olaf and the center of the universe. He wanted to read again the great authors who had influenced him on his journey. He wanted to plant a bigger garden. He thought about his wife, who was at home with family, who he had not seen since the previous Sunday, who he hoped was safe, who he had been married to for 42 years. Who he was fighting the urge to abandon his post to go to.
But he was a military commander, and this is what he had been trained for. There was already a team dispatched, to learn what could be learned in Tharsidial (two men who would be stopping by his house in Northfield, with a note for his wife). All reserves in Minnesota would be contacted, he pledged, somehow, with the order to report. Their families would be provided for. Another team was on the way to Camp Ripley and the base there, with a request for more planes.
He thought of the Kings and Emperors he had read, and read of. Is this how tyrants are made? Christians killing Christians, again, he thought. Christians killing anyone, he lamented.
Maxwell Jamal Hendershot III was busy building an army. Because Maxwell Jamal Hendershot III was not just one bad ass motherfucker, he was worth about 42 million dollars. And not only that, he was very fond of cash, and gold. And not only that, he knew how to use a computer, and he liked to read, and he knew a thing or two more about the world than most. And not only that, with his momma harpin day and night about how the nigger ghetto is a ghetto ’cause it’s a food desert, and a place without a market for anything but sex and drugs, he got religion on economics too. That, and a close study of history says the man who controls the food controls the people, well dammit if he didn’t start warehouse’n food and critical supplies. There were vacant buildings all over the north side goin for cheap and beggin’ to be filled with somethin’ that wasn’t going to get him tossed in jail. And a vacant industrial space became a garden that employed some people and became a food-shelf, and made him look like a saint. So what if he flung a little meth at the dregs? And collected guns? It wasn’t like he needed to go lookin’ for it, brothers constantly comin’ up in here, hustlin’ this and that. God damn Constitution says, about the guns, and if a black man don’t have the sense the Constitution gave ‘im, the white man got to abide by it. An as long as he helped keep the worst of the nigger shit bags in check, and made a good face of it without commin off all flashly like some bitch pimp, then they were happy to let a few real houswives in the burbs be tweekin’, outside da ‘pin.
An’ if he flush the crazy tweek-baby born-agains with some serious hardware now and again, well all the better for relations wit da con’ set. And if 2012 ain’t real, well then, that’s some expensive wharehouse’n, but cheap in the scheme a things, and a great giveaway, for the image. But then, whose the baddest ass nigger motherfucker on the north side now? And if he knows the difference between a shit pile and compost, and he can tell you who the first treasury secretary was, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the only guy on the north side with a lot of food, cash, fuel, gold and guns. And if the cash doesn’t count for much anymore, that warehouse full of generators might. And that other one with all that fuel.
Life on the north side of Minneapolis, this third afternoon, was anything but calm, or safe. There was not a store in the neighborhood with anything left in it. No one had seen a police officer since the first day. That security vacuum was being filled slowly but surely, by Maxwell and his men.
His immediate family and community were safe, and they were being judicious about where those generators were going. Because you don’t get between a black man and his barbecue, and it’s Friday, and what do you mean the stores ain’t got no ribs? Somebody has ribs, and everybody is about to know who real soon. How come you got lights? Well, that generator came from Mr Hendershot. Pretty much everybody on the north side already knows about Mr Hendershot, and there were at least two known scumbags who as of yesterday, are no longer terrorizing the north side, so everybody is clear about what he is capable of.
He had more in mind than community building. There wasn’t much of anything he was doing, that he wasn’t also thinking about his brother Darius. There wasn’t any question in his mind who killed him. Punkass bitch ponytail motherfucker. And if he ever forgot about the core of his purpose, he remembered that cross on his brothers chest.
There were more people in the Wellesley Unitarian Church than there ever had been. There was a woman standing at the dais, facing the crowd, neatly dressed, with a three man security detail, two men on the dais and one in front, looking properly somber. The woman appeared to be speaking, but she could not be heard in the din; people were shouting, “When’s the water coming back on!?” and “Where are the police?” Minnesotans are not normally given to such outbursts, which only underscores the strain everyone was under. It seemed as if there had been no government at all for three days, and here was one of them, in flesh and blood.
“Please, Please,” she was shouting back, through a mega-phone, “I have only a little time, and there is a lot to be said. I have several more neighborhoods to speak to, and I have to get back to the Capital tonight.”
Few heard her. People were hysterical, shouting at each other as much as they were shouting toward the dais. It looked to Carolyn like the woman might be preparing to leave. She weaved her way toward the front, down the aisle, pushing and shoving as needed, reaching the dais exchanging a look with the main security guy, who was also holding a mega-phone. She pointed at it, he looked at her and smiled, handing it to her and even leading her to the stage. She was a little surprised to find herself there. The state official had stopped talking. Carolyn turned to the crowd and shouted into the mega-phone, a loud high pitched squeal of feedback making everybody wince, then, through the crackle, exploding, “Knock it off!”
The crowd went silent and every head turned toward her. She said, “I didn’t come here to hear you shout, I want to hear what this woman has to say.” There were murmurs of ascent, some applause, and people settled in to their seats. Carolyn left the dais, walking past the security guy, who gave her an approving nod as she handed back the mega-phone. She sat on the stairs off to the side.
“Thank you,” the woman said, projecting her voice without the megaphone, gesturing to the crowd and specifically to Carolyn. “As I said, my name is Kindred Shane, and I am a legislative staffer at the Capital building.” She was a small woman, slight, little more than a hundred pounds, standing erect, with clarity in her tone. “The Governor wants you to know…”
“I don’t give a good god damn what the governor wants,” shouted a man a few rows back, cutting her off. “I want to know when the power and water is coming back on!”
“It isn’t,” she said, and he heard that. His pallid face twisted up, his eyes squinting behind his glasses. If you had been counting out the seconds, the only sound you would have heard in that room would be the sound of counting in your head. It was somewhere between the sixth and seventh second, when a man said, “Isn’t?” and the room erupted.
Kindred stood silent, resolute. She caught a look from Carolyn that gave her strength. People began to settle down, order was restored.
“The event,” she said, “is believed to have been a solar storm, that sent an electrical current through the earth, damaging transistors across the grid. We have no idea at this point when electricity will be restored, or even if it can be.” There was a palpable sense of unbelief. “Xcel Energy is telling us the solar flare was larger than any previously recorded. It struck at 3:19 Wednesday morning, and it appears to be a global phenomenon. The electrical grid, they are saying, is dead. Whatever we rebuild, we are very nearly starting over.”
Not a person in that room had ever heard so much unvarnished truth from anyone in government, and had never supposed it even possible. Consequently, and due to the gravity of the truth, hardly a one believed her. It was simply too far removed from the mythologies that had sustained America. What Kindred Shane was saying could not be true, because this is America. This is just another politician who wants money, this is a political ploy, it’s a scheme to defraud the taxpayer, it’s a conspiracy, she’s an alien. This is just some kind of power play and someday, they would all find out the electricity could have been turned on all along. A few people started walking out.
There was a murmuring, a kind of dazed talk. Someone said, “That’s not possible.”
“It is possible, and it happened. That’s why there’s no water. With no electricity, the city can’t pump the water from the water treatment station, and the station can’t filter water. The police can’t go out at night because they can’t communicate with each other, and fuel supplies have stopped moving entirely.”
“What was the explosion?” an older woman asked.
“It appears some unknown group sabotaged the Air and Army National Guard station at the airport. All flights have been grounded since the incident, and will be grounded until further notice.”
“How do we know it wasn’t the Chinese and some EMP attack,” shouted a man from the back.
“Again, this appears to be a perfectly natural event,”
“Perfectly natural!” someone shouted, unstably.
The meeting was beginning to devolve. Kindred shouted, “It’s imperative for you to realize, everything is shut down everywhere, and you can’t count on federal, state or local governments right now, because government is only people, and everyone is…”
“What am I supposed to do with my mother?” The man was about three rows back, pear shaped, about fifty, with thin straight receding hair and thick rimmed glasses, Jeffery Monds, an accountant. “She needs dialysis every day, and everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been turned away!”
Kindred looked at him helplessly, “The sister of my best friend is…”
“She’s going to die!” he shouted. Kindred tried to respond, but he screeched over her, “Oh great. This is just great. What did you come down here for, to tell us we are all going to die?” He threw his hands up and scowled. All three security flinched imperceptibly. The man who had handed the mega-phone to Carolyn walked onto the dais and whispered something to Ms Shane, his back to the crowd. He walked back to his position.
Kindred stood there fiercely, defiant. Jeffrey Monds was making his way to the aisle, shouting that he paid his taxes, that he had never asked anything of government, “and now when you need them most…and wasn’t that just like government, all up into your business until it really matters, and then they’re hiding out covering their asses. And where’d all that money go, with all the potholes in the street, and no police?” Spittle could be seen flying from his mouth. He was right at that line when he might become intoxicated with his fervor, and the crowd seemed ripe for something symbiotic to happen between them. Such a mob had not been the intention at all, and security had begun to wonder if that was now unavoidable.
There was a brief lull, Jeffery Monds approaching the stage, the crowd anticipating, when Kindred Shane raised the megaphone in her hand and said calmly, “I’m dying.”
If there was a greater antivenin than this, it is hard to imagine. The heat in the room seemed to draw down, as the first cool breeze at the leading edge of a cold front.
“I’m dying,” she said again, without the megaphone, as a tear formed in her eye. “I found out a week ago that I have acute uterine cancer. The prognosis was six weeks. I was to begin chemo treatments next week.” There were more than one in that group who had been touched by death in their life. An emotion began to swell, and then everybody seemed to feel the great tragedy and sadness of the time. Several were crying.
“I don’t have anything to give you,” she said, “Except to say, to underscore how important it is for you to understand, to come together as a community. That for the foreseeable future, it is up to neighborhoods, communities of people and families, to protect each other.”
Security began to move toward her. She added, “We are working hard to restore communications, and I encourage you to work with the command at the Fort Snelling National Guard station, if you think you can help, or need it. Meanwhile, organize. Work together. Solve problems,” and security led her out through the back.
Carolyn was stunned. She had expected to hear – she didn’t know what she had expected to hear – but it certainly wasn’t, everything you have ever known has come to an end, life as you have known it is over. Buckle down, gear up, unite, in the face of what? Apocalypse? It was too much. Her mind raced to find some hole in the woman’s story. What did she call herself, Kindred? Some hole to tear down the story, so she could go back to believing the power would turn back on tomorrow.
But it felt true. There was something about the straightforwardness of the speech, that reminded her of her dash to the grocery and Sam’s Club. She remembered the other reason she had come then, and went outside.
In the back of the SUV, Michael Bradley, lead security among the three men, was seated next to Kindred Shane. “I didn’t know you were dying.” He said.
“We are all dying, Michael. Haven’t you heard?”
“Some of us prefer to think of it as living.”
“If you have some better idea about what I might have said to get us out of there without that having turned into a mob, I’d love to hear it.”
“Oh, it was great. Brilliant. It’s just, a lie has to be maintained.”
“Let’s just consider it a necessary if inconvenient fiction for the time being. And let’s hope there isn’t cause to make it prophecy.”
“There was that bit about the Governor, too.”
She looked at him, admiring his poise. “What hope is there if they don’t believe there is some leadership left.”
“And how long do you suppose before they’re at the Capital, demanding his attention.”
“Well, if there is any leadership left, that won’t be a problem, now will it?”
Carolyn had gathered five women, among them, Natalie her neighbor. They all had children at home, and skills she admired. All of them were intelligent, inquisitive, and active in pursuits of their own. Some owned businesses. Most of them had strong, present male partners. She had brought the women to the basement reading room of the church.
After an exchange of news and kindnesses, Carolyn said, “I brought you here today because Shawn and I had an interesting visit from a friend of ours, Wallace, the other day.”
“An interesting visit from a man named Wallace,” said Maggie in a flirtatious tone, implying that she was interested. She had two kids, Marlo and Missy, and an ex she hadn’t seen in two years. Her dark hair was piled in a chaotic, becoming way, and she had clear, mischievous eyes. She was a naturopath, a clothing designer, and a teller of fortunes. She was fond of men and known to go through them quickly, which is exactly what she wanted, though she said otherwise.
“I think he has a thing for lesbians,” said Carolyn.
“I can pretend,” the implications expanding. She fostered adventurousness.
Carolyn continued, “Wallace has a house in the Nokomis neighborhood that is entirely off the grid. He grows more food than he can eat. He grows food year round. The house next door is a collective of women, and their yard is a garden and orchard too. It’s a three lot garden between the two. They have cisterns, lots of water.”
“I know that place,” said Connie, who had irritated her neighbors during the housing boom, when she turned her front yard into a vegetable garden. “My husband and I drive by it every time we’re in the neighborhood. It’s amazing, the houses and the garden.”
“Apparently there are quite a few people in the neighborhood Wallace knows, nearby. They’ve built something of a community, and it turns out, they have three houses right next door that are open, or need occupants. Wallace has been trying to get us to move there for years. He said the houses are open, for up to six families. He said he would defer it to Shaun and me, but that we had to let him know in a few days.”
The women were somewhat unsure how to respond. None of them had really considered going anywhere, before this community meeting, or really saw the need. They had all believed the power was coming back soon, until about twenty minutes ago. Carolyn continued, “The Veterans hospital is nearby. Coldwater spring isn’t very far away. The river is close. So is Minnehaha creek. There’s also the Ford dam, and a power generator there.” She felt strange, talking to them this way, weirdly out of place. What was she saying? She almost didn’t continue. “He also said, if things got really bad, we might be able to retreat to the veteran’s home.”
Natalie did not even know about this, prior. They were all a bit overwhelmed; there was too much to think about, really. At the same time, they were all pragmatic women, with children. And the neighborhood they had chosen to raise their children in no longer seemed the safe place it was, without utilities, or fuel to run a vehicle. They all had time to reflect that the nearest water was the creek, more than ten blocks away, which was hardly running this time of year, and might not be at all in September.
“You mean, just pick up and move across town?” said Samantha, a radio producer for MPR who had never felt like a black woman in a white neighborhood, until these last three days. Her husband Chris especially was inclined to move. But where? This was somewhere compelling, and she wasn’t asking so much as she was entertaining the idea.
“I’m honored, that you asked,” said Helen, who was the oldest of the six women, whose three children were in their teens. She had homeschooled them all, and the twins at sixteen were already taking classes at the UofM. All the kids were home, thank God. “It sounds very nice. What kind of living arrangements are you talking about?” Helen was Midwestern mother as archetype, and she felt deeply estranged from her neighborhood just lately, the neighborhood she had loved. Many of the people she had considered friends had become strangely hostile, closed. The lack of communication disturbed her deeply.
“Wallace said one house is right across the street. It’s one of the first built in the neighborhood and the owners have taken excellent care of it – but they were vacationing in rural France. The house on the other side of that was just renovated and was for sale, and the third house is across the alley from the first. There’s an old woman there, and it’s a big house, and apparently she would love and needs the company.”
“And what about this collective?” asked Maggie.
“Wallace talks about them like they are gun-toting goddess amazonians. They apparently sit in what they call crows nests, in two of the houses, like snipers, protecting the gardens. They usually shoot with salt-shot, I guess, whatever that is, but they have some serious bullets too, apparently.”
“I’m in,” said Maggie, who thought she had been waiting for this invitation for a long time. Hellen looked at her surprised, and laughed.
“Well,” she said, “This is some day, isn’t it? What about you and Philip, Natalie?”
Natalie looked at Helen and Carolyn, somewhat stricken. “I don’t know. Philip’s brother is still missing. How would he know where we were? And what if the power comes back on? What if we move, and then all of a sudden everything is back to normal. That’s going to be somewhat awkward.”
They all stopped and reflected. That would be awkward.
“My husband is going to love the idea,” said Connie. “He’s been kicking himself since the housing bubble crashed, that we didn’t buy a house in the Nokomis neighborhood.” She sighed, “And my street at least, is going to be hopeless, if this continues.”
“Samantha?” asked Helen.
“Chris and I loved this neighborhood, until three days ago. I’ve liked it a little less every day since. If what that woman said was true, I think I like the idea of going somewhere, where the women are bad ass bitches,” and they all laughed.
“I don’t know,” said Helen. “Evan is partial to the neighborhood, and the kids all have friends here. But I think Evan might like the sound of an adventure. And the kids too, if they know you and all your kids are part of it,” and she gestured in a way that seemed to envelope them all in a kind of protective veil. “This is so strange, and yet it feels so right, somehow. I assume, since you brought this to us, you are moving, Carolyn?”
“We have maybe enough food in the house to last until New Years. We’ll be out of water soon. And I don’t think it’s going to be safe to travel much longer.”
“How long do we have then?” said Helen.
“I’ll go to see them, tomorrow maybe,” said Carolyn. “I want to make sure it’s ok, and that they’re going to be expecting me, or us. I’m going to tell them it will be all of us, but it doesn’t have to be. If you decide to go, we should all go at the same time, I think. We might leave sooner; but I’m willing to put it off, but not more than a week.”
They all agreed to consider it. And thereby, they forged a psychic bond, that would grow stronger, the longer artificial means of communication were unavailable, and circumstances grew more bleak.
Outside, the people were still gathered, talking anxiously, questioning, arguing, complaining, lamenting, and everyone was aware, though it was early yet, the day was drawing ever nearer to twilight.
That night, the Western hemisphere received something like a reprieve. Except that just about anything remaining of the electrical grid was destroyed, and most of the remaining satellites. At 12:22 am Saturday, CST, the earth was hit with another intense surge of energy from the sun, every hair on every terrestrial creature seemed to be suspended, the sky lit up with a soft orange aurora, and night was like day. Every American interpreted it in their own way. To a few, it was like a message of calm, and these people stopped and marveled at the strangeness and beauty of it, and in these a general feeling of well being grew.
Many others slipped further into the mirage of their personal morbidity, projecting violence.
Barry Watkins woke up naked, on the floor in front of the sliding glass door in the living room of his million dollar riverfront condo. The sun was shining intensely on him, the apartment was sweltering and it smelled bad, though he wasn’t aware of the heat or the stench. He was severely dehydrated, hung over, and he had a migraine.
After some difficulty, he got up off the floor. Looking out at the stone arch bridge curving elegantly across the Mississippi, he had the vague recollection that he had spent the last of his cash, and he made a mental note to get to a cash machine, or a bank, just as he had each of the last three mornings. He walked past his dining table into his kitchen, and saw a large pile of white powder on the marble bar top. He licked his finger, tasted the coke, built a line with his finger, and found a piece of paper already rolled up by the sink. He bent over preparing to inhale when he realized there was cocaine clinging to his stomach, and then he realized his stomach and the fronts of his legs were covered in feces. “Shit,” he said, and his nose started to bleed. He rushed into his bedroom and into the bath, and turned the faucet, but there wasn’t any water, and he remembered the faucets hadn’t worked for days, and he tried to remember if he had any water in the apartment. He walked out of the bathroom and stopped suddenly; there was a woman lying face up on his bed, naked.
He had the vague idea that he’d had sex the last four nights with four different women, and each encounter had been a little bit more like rape. He remembered this one now. He had come right out in the bar and said he wanted to rape her, and she had kind of liked the idea, which turned out to be a turn off, but he had raped her anyway. He walked across the room to the bed. She was obviously dead. ‘She’s a mess, and damn ugly,’ he thought. He wanted her out of his condo very badly then, and he reached for her as if to rouse her, putting his hand on her shoulder, and then a coldness came upon him, and something in him shifted, and he realized he was hungry.
But there was nothing in the kitchen to eat but vodka, so he drank that, and did a line of coke, and then another, and somewhere in the apartment were his meds.
None of the news of the world entered into the consciousness of Barry Watkins the last four days. Like a lot of people, he resolved that first day not to think about it, as soon as he left work. He had been drunk and ripped ever since. He had treated the last three nights like a vacation from reality, and like a lot of people this fourth day, he woke up out of money, out of food, out of water, and physically and psychologically ill.
He spent the next six hours in that condo with that corpse, his vodka, his cocaine and his fukitol pills.
After, he emerged from the building in his Lexus. He was going to visit Shaun. He thought about Carolyn. He had once approached her at a bank Christmas party, saying he wanted to stick it to her real hard. She had replied that if she had a knife, and she thought she could get away with it, she would have stuck him with it right there. He thought about what he was going to do to her. If they didn’t have any food, he thought he might probably have to eat the girls, but he intended on keeping Carolyn alive. He certainly wasn’t going to eat Shaun.
Shaun was clipping the tomatoes, talking to Phil over the fence, when he looked up and saw that Phil had a shocked look on his face. Shaun stood up, turned around, and it was Barry, in the driveway, but something was very wrong. He looked sick, like he hadn’t eaten or slept in awhile, and he walked a little like his bones were rigid. There appeared to be blood on his face. In fact, he looked like a zombie, like in the movies, and Shaun stopped briefly, wondering ‘why is Barry in my back yard acting like a zombie?’ And then followed the memory of the last things Barry had said to him.
“What’s going on Barry?”
“I brought a gun,” said Barry, and he reached painfully for his lower back.
As soon as Shaun heard him say the word gun, he was moving. But Barry had him cut off from the house, so he headed for the back of the garage. Barry had a hard time grabbing the gun in his waistband, he was so dehydrated and drunk and ripped, and he had such a difficult time aiming that he only grazed the skin on the back of Shaun’s arm, the bullet passing through the side door of Natalie’s minivan. He fired again but this one passed behind Shaun by three feet, lodging in Phil and Natalie’s garage. Shaun was up the compost bin and over the grape covered six-foot fence, into the neighbor’s back yard, by the time Barry fired a third shot wildly, that lodged harmlessly in a chimney three blocks away.
Barry turned back toward the house and the back door, smiling, thinking about Carolyn and what he was going to do, when his chest opened up, both his lungs burst, and pellets went in and then out the ventricles of his heart. He was lifted off the ground, and as he sailed backward, he saw Carolyn on the back step, the smoking barrel of a shotgun pointing at him; a shadow passed before his eyes, it was the horror that was his life, and his soul departed before his ruined body hit the ground.
The area around the Riverside Towers had become a vigorous place. There not being much vehicle traffic of any kind, the street had become like a meeting ground, and the stores were open if only to give people somewhere to be, perhaps more secluded. No one in the city had forgotten about the Somali community, but no one had stopped in either, to clue them in on what was really happening, except at the personal level, where Somali’s had established strong relationships outside the immediate Riverside community. No one from government, which had always been such a large part of community life, had been heard from. The red aurora were variously interpreted as nuclear, volcanic, meteor, or Allah. Plenty of people were terrified, others relieved. Redemption, these last thought, and they were at peace. Others were militant, sensing the lack of any police presence, arming up for strikes against the infidel, and general looting. One man had taken to shouting in the street, that the infidels had taken his daughter, that they were defiling her, that they are preparing to attack, to round up all Somalis and herd them into FEMA camps and gas them to death. Allah Akbar.
Most of the older Somali’s who had known war, were against such talk. Some of the young, especially those raised entirely in the juggernaut that is the consumer empire, had come to desire violence, naked aggression against non-Somali’s and whites. A few of them believing paradise would be their reward. Others just because.
This afternoon, on the fourth day after the incident, Mohammed el Suleym, Selene’s father, was standing in the grass between the towers and Cedar ave, waving his arms, shouting at a throng of Somali, who were mostly sitting in the grass, listening to him repeat his tale of FEMA camps and gas chambers, some of them listening, many of them not, some of them the young who had guns and were looking for sanction of any kind, for the violence they sought. Mohammed’s stature, his height, his imperiousness, his tone and his choice of scripture, were good enough.
Then a young man of 27, Omar Suleiman, stepped up behind Mohammed el Suleym and put a . .22 caliber bullet into Mohammed’s brain. And then Omar dropped the .22, unholstered a 9mm and stood there, a 9mm pistol in each hand, silently facing the crowd, a bleeding corpse at his feet.
A shock wave went through the crowd, much fright, but little condemnation. He had thought previously, a pistol fight might erupt, but he had seen the opportunity and he took it, knowing that no one in the community admired the man, and whatever happened to his daughter was as likely his doing as anything. Omar was counting on Allah.
No one fired at him, or attacked him, but they were expecting some kind of explanation.
“Somali’s,” he said in Somali. “My people. My name is Omar Suleiman, and this man, this Mohammed el Suleym, his talk of FEMA camps and infidels, will bring us nothing but ruin. Talk of killing the infidels, will bring us nothing but grief. Such talk is not of Allah. It is a lie. We are a small Island, among a sea of whites. Allah would not have us be annihilated. Whites will come. Blacks will come. Hmong will come. Attacking anyone, will only bring more violence upon us. We must be strong. We must fight as a community. We must be united!”
Many were with him. Others were not. None of them refused the food and water he offered, pilfered from various Cub Foods and Lunds grocery stores, none of which were in the Somali community. But he knew, there is no community to lead, if the community has no food.
Part of the food problem was, there were hardly any gardens. As one astute but largely ignored commentator had long stated, “There aren’t gardens in this metro of 3 million to feed 100,000 people half the year.” Sixty years ago, there was a staple garden in every yard. Now what gardens there were were mostly flowers. There was no shortage of sod. The gardens were so few, in some neighborhoods by this fourth day, you had to harvest early, or guard the vegetables 24 hours. The Hmong in St Paul had per capita the most garden space, but many of their community gardens were in places where an armed guard would as likely be shot as defend the veggies.
As it turned out, a lot of people didn’t have more than three days food in their house or apartment. Or they went two weeks with food and a day or two without much, and got caught on the wrong end of the cycle.
There were fish in the rivers and lakes. But it was August, and the waters were at peak toxicity, agricultural and yard care run-off primarily. The wild grapes and tubers would be ready soon, but there’s hardly enough of that to feed more than a handful, and that handful already knows exactly where the wild food is. There were already people taking deer, but hardly a one of those knew what to do with fresh meat, without electricity to freeze or dehydrate it, and deer taken were already going rancid, though there was plenty of sun to dehydrate it in the old way. The old ways remembered only by a handful of that aforementioned handful.
People were dying of dehydration already. The elderly living alone, mostly, there being no water pressure in municipal lines or electricity to run pumps for wells, and no air-conditioning. And well more than half the people were on pills of some kind, pharmacy’s being the first things hit by thieves. Pills to regulate cycles, or alleviate chronic symptoms, such as anti-social behavior. And there were an astonishing number of people who depended upon monitoring by the State. Many people without nearby relatives, or none, or none who cared, and some of these had taken to wandering the streets. Patients were found far from hospitals wearing nothing but a sanitary apron.
Good Samaritans began to multiply at care facilities. Most of them genuine, and as much help as they were a drain on the food supply.
Churches could give refuge, but not sustenance. People were coming together, but trust is a long thing engendering, and suspicion a ready and long tilled soil. For those with a long enough view, there was the spectre of winter with these conditions. The rest were content to delude themselves that the lights would be on tomorrow, or that Jesus would ride out of the clouds, fiery sword drawn, ready to smote the unbeliever; or aliens, or Allah, or love welling up from the core of the Earth enveloping all – any redeemer to lift us out of our predicament. That the four horseman themselves might arrive, was preferable to some than the silence.
For some, the silence and the aurora were the most beautiful things they had ever known. And for these especially, the fact that the pace had not just slowed down, it had stopped, was the most exhilarating thing they had ever felt. Despite the insecurity, literally anything now seemed possible, and they were cautiously and silently grateful. The world was something like a magic place again.
Such optimism was slow in fomenting, the blind kind much preferred, that someone somewhere was fixing the problem, and we would all go back to texting on smart phones and driving everywhere we go.
And it still hadn’t rained, and no one knew if it was projected to.
One of the things Edward James Mckintly loved about his hometown, Tharsidial, was the caves. He had spent a lot of time in those caves growing up, first helping the Crane family when it was a business, and then later when people stopped coming from the city in sufficient number to maintain it, he had the caves mostly to himself. That was still the time of the Red Menace, and he would imagine himself there alone, the world outside a nuclear wasteland. He would have a three year store of food, and after that he would climb out and go looking for a mate, to repopulate the world.
He was now storing enough food in those caves to feed him the rest of his life. Except now, there were hundreds of companions with him.
He had ordered that most of the food, weapons and supplies be moved to the caves. That work was still in progress. He was proud of it, and his people were happy. There were more than 500 people living in Tharsidial, up from 57 in the 2000 census. Most of them were young, and there wasn’t anyone older than 55 who hadn’t lived in the town a long time. Most were single, or paired but without kids, though there were about 30 kids under 12 running around. There were musicians and cooks and engineers, but the bulk of the men were military, many of them killers. Seventy percent of the town was male, and seventy percent of those had killed someone for their country, or otherwise. Every single one in town was passionate about Christ, with Mckintly as their prophet.
They were mostly ex-military, and didn’t notice so much that there weren’t any seeds, or materials to build infrastructure, and housing was tight, sometimes four families to a house, barracks otherwise, but there was plenty of food, and Mckintly hadn’t forgotten about alcohol, and there was music, and the health care was as good as anyone probably had, they thought, and were right about that. They even had an old theatre that someone had already hooked a diesel generator to. Tonight they were showing Full Metal Jacket, and UFC after that.
He already had them doing drills, on rounds of watch, and maneuvers, and working as spies. He had no intention of staying in Tharsidial. As soon as they could move in spring, he would have them on the move. He was even considering a run to the capital now. It was probably available. But he was counting on a big die-off.
After that, he planned to enter the city and cleanse it of it’s pagan, hedonistic and non-Christian elements.
The last four days, he thought to himself as he watched his followers move the food and supplies into the caves, had been the best days of his life.
Later that night, under the shimmering red aurora and the waning moon, they ate a large feast, and drank a sacrament that was laced with LSD, and he spoke to them a long time in his enthusiastic tone.
“Can you feel it?” he said. “The energy, the power, pouring out from that sky.” They all remembered the night before, the night like day, the electricity that seemed to suspend the hairs on their arms and legs. It was not so like that tonight, the land truly dark, the air warm and yet seemingly still alive.
“Holy, holy, holy are you, before God, here in Tharsidial, the select, the survivors, the people to repopulate the earth – to be the divine vengeance of our omniscient Creator, the vehicle of his divine wrath, the means of his Justice, to prepare the world for Jesus’ thousand-year rule.
“How long has this land lain in iniquity, the beast of the foul with his hands into everything, and few could tell the righteous from the wicked? What did even the Christian represent, but shopping and consumption, and service to banks and governments, sitting in their fancy houses, while an Illuminati of Jews and wealthy families dictated the course of America, espousing a doctrine of evolution, and sexual perversity, and contempt of God, an unholy doctrine which has lead the world to this,” and he gestured as if to all the world, “this reckoning.
“And all signs suggest, our reward,” he gestured to the caves, “our safety in this town, our excellent luck in our endeavors, that we are an active agent in that reckoning. God knows who is just. God knows who is righteous. Who but the just and the righteous should find themselves in such a place as this? While the world seethes and burns around them! None! None but the just! None but the righteous!” And they raved, and congratulated themselves, and they loved him, and they continued like this together for hours, reveling in their fury before the Lord.
The woman screamed, and Shaun was up and out of bed, downstairs and onto the front porch with the shotgun. There was a flash and a retort in the upper window of a two-story house three houses south, on the other side of the street. The street was otherwise very dark, with only the occasionally slight increase in illumination, a pulse of aurora. The moon remained red, waning.
“What happened?” It was Philip, calling through Shaun’s porch screen, from his driveway.
“Sheila Burns’ house. A shot fired on the second floor.” Phillip went back inside his house, and returned with a .308 rifle he had bought for a deer hunting trip in 1998, which he sighted and hadn’t shot since. Shaun was waiting for him by the maple tree on the boulevard.
“What do we do?” Asked Philip.
“You have any bullets in that thing?”
“Fully loaded,” Philip replied. He even had one in the chamber.
“Alright.” Shaun said, not at all sure anything was right. “I guess you can go and watch the front door from her car, there,” pointing at Sheila’s Lexus. Someone had siphoned the gas and it had been sitting there for two days. “I’ll go around to the back yard.”
“Are you sure about this?” asked Philip.
“I wouldn’t be if there were any police to call,” and he ran across the street, through the yard directly across and into the alley. Philip took his place behind the Lexus. Two others joined him, Carl Stouten and James Negrath, both carrying guns, neither looking very comfortable about it.
“What’s going on?” asked Carl, who was a dentist.
“There was a shot fired on the second floor,” explained Philip, as he winced from a pain in his knee. He was having trouble kneeling. “Shaun Baxter went around the back.”
“Alone!” said James, who was in Human Resources at a local Fortune 500. “Well maybe I should,” and he started to stand up when the front door of Sheila’s house burst open, and two black men came running out in opposite directions, wearing backpacks, firing nine-millimeters in the general direction of the Lexus. Philip fired a round of the .308 in the general direction of the guy on the right, sending the bullet through the window into the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom of the Matel family next door. Luckily, they had already fled the city. James fired his gun, an old lever action 30-30, but accidentally, into the rear tire Philip was awkwardly leaning against. Carl went to lean over the hood with his .38 revolver, as if to aim and shoot it, but he hit the sidewall with the butt of the gun in the process, losing his grip, the gun sliding across the hood and dropping next to the curb. Both interlopers disappearing into the night with their backpacks.
Shaun was in the alley when the shooting started. He crouched low, walking along a grape covered fence, when he turned the corner into Sheila’s back yard, colliding with a young man exiting the yard, both men’s guns falling away out of hand, a back pack opening up, and perfectly good apples bounding across the concrete into the alley.
Shaken but not incapacitated, Shaun grabbed the young man and wrestled him onto his stomach. It wasn’t difficult, as the kid wasn’t more than sixteen. “I didn’t do anything,” the kid was blubbering, and it sounded like he might cry. A few neighbors in their bedclothes came out. One went home for zipties, and when he returned Shaun secured the boy’s hands behind his back and propped him up on his butt, against the garage door.
Kneeling before the kid, Shaun looked him in the eyes and said, “You better hope she’s alright,” and he went inside.
Sheila Burns was fine, if pissed off and shaking, terrified. She said the boys, and they were all young men, had surprised her while she was sleeping. They had taped her hands and mouth, and then one of the men she described as one of the two thuggish ones, had fired a victory shot into the ceiling, and she pointed at the hole above the ceiling fan. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said, “they hadn’t even raped me yet, or taken anything.” The other two had thrown their exuberant friend against the wall, and then they all hastened about the house grabbing anything of value. She had heard the men in the kitchen and it sounded to her like the two thuggish ones were headed out the front, the “not-so thuggish one,” out the back.
They brought her outside to the garage, where the young man sat helplessly, crying silently, as the neighborhood crowd lingered, muttering amongst themselves. Sheila walked right up and kicked the boy in the ribs. She was 57, and a lawyer, and she got right up in his face.
“Were you going to rape me?” she sneered, infuriated. Shaun felt like she wanted to cut the kids head off.
“We weren’t going to rape you,” the kid cried, a little terrified himself. “I was just hungry,” he added, lamely.
“Bullshit,” Sheila spit. “You don’t look hungry,” and she pecked at him with her hands. “What were you doing with those boys?”
“I was just, they were,” he whimpered, “they were just going out, and I went with,” and he said it in such perfect, non-thuggish English, and so pathetically, some in the crowd were moved to think that he was basically a good kid. Sheila picked up an apple and rushed at him, “here you are you hungry little shit,” and she ground it into his teeth. Shaun grabbed her and pulled her away. She threw the apple at the boy but only hit him with the pulp, the apple exploding against the garage door. She broke down then and cried too. Philip, James and Carl ushered her inside.
They were, the neighborhood, in a bit of a predicament then, about the boy. There were no police to hand him to. If they kept him locked up, they’d have to feed him and take care of him. Everyone agreed that there had been an injustice, and that there needed to be justice, but no one was very clear about what that looked like. It was agreed, after some discussion in the alley, and mostly out of a general unwillingness of anyone to take responsibility for him, that they would let him go. They were going to keep his gun though. They secured a promise mostly through Shaun, that he would tell everyone he knew, that they had let him go.
“Alright,” said Shaun. “I’m going to cut your bonds, but if you do anything stupid I’m going to kick the shit out of you, you got it,” and he said it in a way that said he didn’t really think the kid was going to do anything, but that he meant it too. He cut the ties, and the kid, without saying anything embraced him, and Shaun embraced him back awkwardly, surprised. The kid let go as if a little surprised at himself, and looked at everybody, and then walked through the crowd and ran down the alley.
At home, sitting on their bed, Carolyn tending to the wound on Shaun’s arm, that had opened up again, Shaun said, “I don’t mean to minimize what you went through today, what happened with Barry, or even any of this insanity.”
She stopped him. “You got shot at.” She let go of his wound and leaned against his back. She had been relieved to hear about what happened at Sheila’s, if also unnerved by it. A strange happy end to a day in which she had killed a man.
“All that’s happened today,” he continued, reflecting, “and yet, I feel more alive than I remember feeling, since I was a kid.”
She paused briefly and her chest swelled. She shivered a little. “I know what you mean.”
They looked at each other, and then they were at each other like animals, not dependent upon but heightened in every way by the other. And each cried out, like they were reborn, like it was a new day.
Shaun and Carolyn drank coffee at the picnic table, having agreed beforehand they would indulge today, but they wouldn’t drink it again until it seemed appropriate. Coffee beans were not a necessity Carolyn had forgotten, specifically those beans vacuum packed by the pound, of which they had a relative abundance. They both felt without really saying, that it might be a long time before they saw coffee beans again. They did agree that the beans might constitute a kind of currency. They were conscious of every sip.
It was another beautiful, August day, warm and pleasant, casting a spell of calm, and Carolyn and Shaun held hands across the table. Abigail was singing as she swung back and forth, a song about butterflies, in rhythm to the creaking of the swing set. Little Isabel was by herself in the château, the playhouse stylized in Swiss alpine, or gingerbread Bavarian, a little miss cooking breakfast, calling through the window to Shaun and Carolyn, asking if they wanted eggs, peas or salad.
“I’ve been thinking about Malcolm, the CEO, and Harold, the CFO,” said Shaun.
“What about them?” She was already hostile to the idea he hadn’t verbalized yet. All was not bliss in the tranquil scene, and he had just ruined her coffee. If he hadn’t pulled his hands away from hers before he said it, she would have pulled hers away.
“They’re stuck in that Hilton.”
“You don’t know that.” She said dismissively. He looked surprised, like where else would they be, so she added almost ironically, “A CEO and a CFO. I’m sure they can take care of themselves.”
“If I was stuck in a hotel on either coast, I’m sure you’d want someone to help me.”
She scoffed at him. “So why does it have to be you?” She glared, “You think you’re the only one in this city who knows they’re here?”
“No,” he said, “but I still feel like I should try.”
“For what?” she said, increasingly exasperated, but trying not to let the kids see. “So you can get a promotion,” she mocked. “Are you still on the CEO track even now?” she said, disgusted. Even the scar hurts sometimes after the wound has healed. The phrase “CEO track” was a far more meaningful phrase between them than the words imply, or even her sentiments betray. It had come to symbolize not just his ambition, but all the corruption in the world of men that he had fallen prey to, the cold, cruel, callow narcissism that would put the whole world at risk for the basest of reasons. It was a cheap shot, against his genuine, if superficial desire to help another person. “You adopt him, you have to keep him,” softening the harshness of her tone if not the clarity of it. “If you bring them home everything they eat is food your daughters don’t.” She got up from the table, and went to check on breakfast at the château.
Leaning into the window with the fake arched shutters, confirming she wanted eggs, she turned back to the table. “You can drop me off at Wallace’s then.”
He acted like he hadn’t heard her. “What?”
“You can drop me off at Wallace’s on your babysitting errand.”
“Because we’re moving, and I have to let them know we’re coming.”
“What do you mean, we’re moving.”
She looked at him coldly. “The girls and I are moving. You can come if you want to.”
This was unprecedented. They had talked about it, but he hadn’t considered it seriously. “When did you decide this,” was all he could say.
“Just now.” And she smiled at Abigail singing, and took a sip of her coffee.
It was only four blocks to the freeway, and there was no one on the road. The entrance ramp was open, and the freeway empty. Shaun increased the speed to thirty, and then to fifty on the freeway, but anything faster seemed too fast, and they would burn less gas this way. They had a little less than two-thirds of a tank.
Little was said between them. Shaun was focused on driving, and Carolyn was thinking about the girls, who they had left with Philip and Natalie and their kids. They were surprisingly good about it, the girls, who had acted almost as if they didn’t know mom and dad were leaving. Shaun and Carolyn were perplexed by it, but thankful. Shaun took the 62E exit, and saw no vehicle from the peak of the exchange, nor anyone on 62. They did not see another vehicle until they approached the Portland ave bridge. A small truck with a camper was heading west on 62, and it slowed as the two vehicles passed, but it did not exit at Portland, and Shaun and Carolyn were both relieved. They exited at the Cedar Ave/77 bridge, and headed north on Cedar, following the Nokomis Parkway along the south side of the lake. There were a few people fishing on the south shore, but otherwise the park was desolate. They could see the downtown skyline across the lake, and the reflection of those towers on the water that was mostly unbroken, even this late in the morning.
“It’s so creepy,” said Carolyn, “like I’m in some kind of movie.” She was still angry, about him taking the van on his adventure, though she hadn’t said any more about it.
“We should have brought the fishing poles,” said Shaun, watching the fishermen who watched the progress of the van. He was trying to lighten the mood.
“I wouldn’t eat any fish out of any of the Minneapolis lakes. I surely wouldn’t feed it to the girls.”
Shaun thought, ‘you would if we were starving,’ but didn’t say anything. They turned into the neighborhood, and said nothing more until they came to Wallace’s house.
He parked the van but left it running. He wanted to get on the road right away. She sat next to him, making no movement toward the door.
Shaun filled the silence. “I’ll get back as soon as I can. If I’m not back by six o’clock, you should think about biking back, or finding a ride.”
“Listen to yourself.” Carolyn said. “You sound like some macho gunslinger in some stupid western. This is not a movie,” she emphasized.
“I know it’s not,” he said somewhat helplessly against her anger.
“Look at what you’re risking. There is no reason you can’t stay here, have a nice lunch, and then go back to the girls. Forget this,” and if she had left it here, he might have heard her, but she said, “this stupid errand.”
He felt weak. “I feel like, I just feel like I have to do this.” And then, like a child, “you didn’t ask permission when you went out for supplies that first morning.”
She looked at him agape, and then somewhat dazed at the dashboard, and then she opened the van door and climbed out. He followed her to the back of the van, where she was already pulling out her bicycle. He went to help her and she snapped at him irrationally, “Don’t!” and he stepped back a few paces. With both wheels on the ground, she started walking it toward the driveway and the garage greenhouse.
“Don’t,” and she waved her hand, her back to him, stifling tears.
Back on the freeway, Shaun reflected on the conversation with his wife Carolyn, in their back yard this morning. That she was thinking of moving was a surprise to him – that she had decided to move without consulting him was a shock. That she had insinuated this plan of his was purely ambition, had unsettled him, though he wasn’t sure if that was because she had dredged up the past, or because she was right. About five years before, prior to the crash of 2008, he had gotten it into his head that he wanted to be CEO. He had never aspired that way previously, but he had turned thirty and suddenly, that is what he wanted. He wasn’t sure how that had come upon him, but it had. As time went on, and the markets rose, that desire had morphed into something more primal, and then it became mostly about power, and that became mostly about sex. There were many women, and lunchtime encounters in parking lots, and workplace interludes, which were tolerated because he was so very good at his job. And then the crash came, and his ambition became self-destruction, and he had left Carolyn and the two year old Abigail, Carolyn pregnant with Isabel, and he spent six months in a studio apartment surrounded by un-emptied storage boxes, and empty alcohol containers and boxes of condoms.
And then Carolyn’s parents died within a week of each other when she was eight months pregnant, and he was there for the delivery when he hadn’t been there at all for the pregnancy. And just as seemingly inexplicably as he had fallen into it, he had snapped out of it, his ambition to be CEO. He started sitting in a weekly circle of men at Wallace’s place, and he started paying attention to all the revelations about what the banks had been up to, and how fraudulent so much of it had been, and it was like a re-wiring of priorities, a complete undermining of his previous worldview.
Carolyn had taken him back, for which she had been judged by some, in ways more harshly than he had been, for leaving. They had closed in as a family, and worked together to get at what was driving them, the unseen forces and influences, the past conditioning, and they had found healing, he thought, together. He thought about all the people who had cut her off, how much she had sacrificed. Everything seemed to be going well, until the world stopped, and now those old wounds which he thought they had healed, were popping up all over the place and he wasn’t sure what was what anymore.
He knew everything she said about this adventure of his made sense, that it made no sense for him to go in search of the CEO now, but he was telling himself that if he didn’t do this, he would always regret it, and he pretended that it didn’t matter that he kept going back to imagining the power back on, and the praise he would receive for protecting the CEO of the third largest bank in the world. The potential reward seemed greater than the potential risk, which he was holding as an idea in only the most vague and abstract terms, so he wouldn’t really have to look at it. He was doing his job. He was being responsible. Even if the whole world was falling apart, shirking responsibility, that didn’t mean he had to, he was telling himself.
He emerged from the neighborhood onto 55E, and took the exit to Hwy 5, to pass by the foot of the airport. But his progress was interrupted by a crack in the west bound lanes, and a white Subaru partly buried in it, the gas tank facing him. He backtracked to the bridge, and crossed the median into the east bound lanes, traveling the wrong way. “Can’t be the wrong way if there’s only one vehicle,” he said to himself. After a half mile he crossed back into west bound lanes, and then took the 34th avenue exit, crossing the bridge away from the airport, onto the frontage road and into the Hilton parking lot. “No problem.”
Two men in combat fatigues emerged from the lobby doors, M-16’s drawn, pointing at the windshield. They were shouting, “Get out of the vehicle now!” A military Hum-vee pulled up and parked in front and another in back of the van.
“Shit,” he muttered, raising his hands above the steering wheel. He unbuckled himself, and shut off the van as instructed, leaving the keys in the ignition, and opened the door and climbed out, putting his hands behind his head. One of the two men out the door grabbed him and shoved him roughly, belly to the van. “You guys are a little jumpy,” Shaun said, and they banged him against the van as they zip-tied his hands.
Yeah, well,” said one of the men, “a lot of shits been blown up around here lately, and you drove a van right up to this hotel.”
“If I wanted to blow it up, it would be blown up,” said Shaun. “You guys call yourself security and you let me get to the front door?” and one of the men hammered him in the kidney with the butt of his gun. Shaun doubled over.
“Knock it off!” shouted a third man, who stepped out from the front door. The man who hit Shaun took a step back while the other held Shaun to the van with his weapon. “What’s your business here,” said the third man, as the van was searched.
“I’m here to see the CEO of Skellard/Blicom Bank, Malcolm Shivington. My name is Shaun Baxter, executive management of tech systems.”
The commander looked at him skeptically, and walked back into the hotel. Shaun stood up and looked at the six men with guns now standing around him. “You guys forget this is America?” He said, more than asked. They seemed to straighten up a bit. “People out there need your help, they don’t need you beating on them.” The commander stepped out from the doors and gestured to him to come in. “My hands are still bound,” said Shaun, curtly. The bonds were cut, and Shaun turned and faced the man who had hit him, taking a step closer. “That wasn’t necessary,” he said, his Irish blood welling up. “How about you put that gun down and well see if you’re still smilin’ in about eight seconds.” A few of the men laughed at private Pederson’s reaction.
“C’mon,” said the commander to Shaun. “Stand down, private,” and he did, reluctantly.
Inside, there were an abundance of people, morose and languid, milling about. The place didn’t smell very good, Shaun thought. Soiled was the word. The commander was leading him around the main desk, down a winding hallway. “Whose command are you under,” asked Shaun.
“Col. Anderson of the Minnesota Army National Guard.”
“You’re guys aren’t acting very American.”
The Sergeant laughed. He hadn’t introduced himself. “You go walk around the city tonight, and remind yourself you still live in America.”
They passed a banquet hall, which had become something like a triage center. There was a VA hospital on the other side of the airport, which meant the hospital was overwhelmed or under performing. Beyond that, they entered into a greenhouse atrium that had been a restaurant, but which had taken on the characteristics of a cafeteria in a mental ward.
“He’s in the corner,” said the Sergeant, pointing, and then the Sergeant left him.
Carolyn loved Wallace’s home. The garage had been rebuilt, to become a greenhouse, storage shed and loft. There were hops vines crawling up the walls and roof. The former driveway was part orchard, vineyard and vegetable and flower garden. The fence enclosing part of the yard was covered with grape vines, bluebell, an unknown edible white, and Frontenac vines for wine making. There were 20 fruit trees, six apple, four pear, four cherry, and two peaches. There were also raspberries, western sand cherries, currants, black caps, wild and cultivar strawberries, and blueberries. There was a pond, and this time of year the yard was full of monarch butterfly.
The house was a modest two stories, with a greenhouse wrapped around the southwest corner, attached to the kitchen and an office, both the kitchen and the office open to the greenhouse. The rest of the south face was also windows, with the second story set back somewhat to incorporate passive solar water panels. Inside the greenhouse there were two avocado trees, a citrus, and a tilapia fish tank. The back of the house was a giant mural in colored glass shards, more fruit trees and gardens. In back of the garage, there was a river rock bread oven and a similar smokehouse.
Most remarkable, the house and lot next door were very similar, only the house was larger. The lots together were actually three lots, each over-sized by half. Enough food was grown on the two lots to feed eight people the entire year. They grew about 1000 lbs of edible mushrooms every year, and about 600 lbs of potatoes. They also wild foraged, and purchased locally grown products, but selling plant starts usually lead to the 13 people living on the two lots not otherwise spending a dollar on food, except when the individuals ate out, which apparently wasn’t often.
Carolyn had walked into Wallace’s back yard, admiring a five foot tall, six stemmed meadow blazing star, on which and hovering around, were about forty monarch butterflies. There were another hundred or more scattered throughout the garden. Madeline walked out the back door of Wallace’s house, a woman Carolyn had met only twice, who lived next door. She was a tall woman, nearly six feet, chestnut shoulder length hair beginning to go to gray, with a shapely body and a self-possessing elegance, such that even now, sweating, wearing a tomato stained apron, Carolyn thought she looked striking.
“Hello Carolyn,” she said, with a welcoming, friendly smile. Carolyn was pleased that Madeline had remembered her.
“They are amazing, aren’t they,” referring to the butterflies. “Wallace says that blazing star is fifteen years old, and the monarch have been coming in numbers like these for more than ten years.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” and she hadn’t. She pointed at Madeline’s apron, “You are canning tomatoes?”
“Canning tomatoes, making salsa, and paste. I was just about to collect more cilantro – right this way.” She led the way to the kitchen garden, a separate fenced area inside the main garden.
“Is Wallace home?”
“No, he hasn’t been in much at all, the last five days.” Madeline replied, opening up the gate. “That’s why we’re canning in his house, so we don’t smell up ours. Normally we would do it outside, but it doesn’t seem wise to advertise it,” and she looked at Carolyn to gauge her response.
“Have you had any theft problems?” Carolyn replied, looking at the fruit trees covered with fruit, the food all around her.
“Not yet,” Madeline said, as she knelt to cut the cilantro, which were back by the compost bins and the grapes on the fence and bins, which smelled aromatic, sweet. “We have a crows nest in each of the houses,” and she pointed with the knife at her own house, “There,” and the house across the street, to the south, “and there.” Carolyn looked up to see a woman in the second story window across the street, holding a rifle and waving at her. She looked back at Madeline’s house and saw the same. She waved gingerly to both.
“Snipers,” Carolyn said, a little disconcerted.
“They’re not throwing flowers out the windows,” Madeline said, as she clipped cilantro. “Just a little salt shot. It will hurt, but it won’t harm.” She stood up with a basket full of cilantro in one hand and her knife in the other, and looked Carolyn in the eyes. “Most of the time. Though we do have real bullets too, and we each take turns, all day, every day. We’re hoping to have the harvest in before we have occasion to use them.”
Carolyn held her gaze. “It’s very beautiful. Worth protecting,” she said.
“Imagine if the whole city were like this,” and they both paused, to gaze. “We wouldn’t have to worry about protecting it.
“Oh, I need some of this too, thyme,” and she knelt demurely and reached for the plant with a scissors. “Wallace told me he made you an offer.”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Carolyn, and she wondered for the first time why she had been the one offered, to choose the families to fill the houses. It occurred to her that perhaps Madeline might have wanted someone else. “He said there were three houses open, and room for six families. I found five other families. I’d like to bring mine too.” Madeline didn’t say anything as she clipped the thyme. “Are they still open?”
“They are,” Madeline said, and she stood up with her basket of cilantro and thyme, nodding her head toward the gate, as if to direct Carolyn that she was ready to leave the kitchen garden. Carolyn followed, a little surprised at the silence, not sure how to interpret it.
“Does that mean I can let the other five families know it’s okay to come?”
Madeline stopped again to admire the monarchs, smiling. Carolyn walked up beside her, suddenly afraid for the first time that she wasn’t welcome here, and that she had told all those families that they were. But Wallace had said?
“I had a few people in mind,” Madeline said. “But Wallace said he trusted you to decide. I wouldn’t have filled them with families. I would have filled them with women mostly, maybe a few gay guys,” and she laughed in a friendly way, kidding, and Carolyn laughed too. “But I see the wisdom of it. Kids will help us focus, and keep things joyous hopefully, this winter. I’m wary of the men, but I trust you didn’t select any jackasses?” And Carolyn laughed again.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Except my husband, of course.”
“Aren’t they all though, really dear,” and she put her hand on Carolyn, and it was like a blessing, and it suddenly seemed that Madeline was very, very old. “Why don’t you come inside and meet the girls. We have an apron for you. When was the last time you canned vegetables with five interesting women?”
“You poor, poor child,” and she held out her hand, and Carolyn took it.
Malcolm Hadwell Shivington was sitting in the corner of the Greenhouse restaurant, near an open window, smoking a cigar. He was 57, JC Penney catalog handsome, graying in a distinguished way accentuating his highbrow features. He was wearing expensive clothing that looked worn, with the perturbed look of a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted, who hadn’t gotten anything he wanted of any consequence in some time. In addition, he had convinced himself that his wife was home fucking the gardener, drunk on the wine of his vineyards. In fact, he was pretty fucking certain.
“My God, Shaun Baxter,” he said, in a tone that might have been mistaken for not the least bit impressed. Had Malcolm been a spiritual man, he might have reflected on synchronicities and divine encounters. Instead, he had spent the last four days at least, fulminating about the stupidity of just about every one he came in contact with. He was in no mood, and perhaps not even capable of acknowledging providence, in any guise.
Shaun very nearly turned around and left the building. Instead, he said, “How are you?”
“How am I?” and Malcolm laughed, in exactly as snide a manner as you might imagine. “I have been stuck in this madhouse Hilton in mini-puke-olis, minn-e-so-ta, for five god damn days, instead of home fucking my wife up the ass, drunk on my own wine, with my own god damned view of the ocean – and maybe throwing my gardener to the fishes,” and he flicked the ashes from his cigar with contempt.
Shaun had become something of a reflective person the last three years, and he thought now about the last five days, and all that he and Carolyn had been through, and what he was risking, and what Carolyn thought about what he was risking. His kidney hurt. “That’s fine,” he said suddenly, brightening up. “I just spent some of the last of my gas getting here, my wife is furious with me, I just got hammered in the kidney by some redneck suburban shitbag, and one of your VP’s tried to kill me! So, fuck off! I resign. You nor your fucking bank are any of my responsibility any more. Have fun in your Hilton madhouse!” and he turned around and started walking back the way he came.
He did not see Private Pederson on the way out, though he did see the Sergeant, who gave him his keys, who did not tell him he was skipping out that night, to return to his wife and child who were 175 miles away, in Bagly, Minnesota. Shaun had to go in search of his van, and found it on the west side of the building. He pulled the van out of the spot hurriedly, and began to race out of the parking lot, but he had to stop, because the CEO of his former company was standing in his way, with a suitcase.
“Fuck,” Shaun said, but he did not lock the door, nor drive around evasively. Malcolm walked to the passenger side, threw his bag in, and climbed into the passenger seat.
“This place is going to run out of food in about two days,” said Malcolm, as he buckled his seat.
“Ladies, this is Carolyn Baxter.” Madeline had led her into the kitchen, where four women worked around an island counter top. The smell of tomatoes was strong, though the kitchen was open to the greenhouse. There were several pots on a gas stove top, and Carolyn was surprised to see blue flame. She was also astounded by the tomatoes, It was clear by the mess that the women had been at it for awhile, and yet there were several large baskets full of a variety of different kinds and colors of tomatoes. There were also baskets of peppers, big red and green bells, habanero, red chili, jalapeño and a few others she didn’t recognize. Baskets of onions as well. There seemed more here than would have come from these two lots. The women all stopped what they were doing and looked at Carolyn.
“Hello,” Carolyn said. She felt intimidated slightly, all the women looking at her so intently, covered in red stains on a variety of aprons, each apron appearing to be antique, older than several of the women in the room.
“Hello,” they all chimed in.
Madeline pulled another attractive apron from a hook on the wall and handed it to Carolyn, a flower pattern that looked to be from the fifties. “Here you are.” Turning her attention to the ladies, she said, “What shall we have her do?”
“You can take these blanched red calabash and remove the skins,” said a fiery redhead. “I’m Brigite.” Her gray/green eyes were attractively unsettling, her red wavy hair bouncing even in the humidity. She was the most physically beautiful woman in the room, as much because she didn’t seem to care. ‘Remarkable skin,’ Carolyn thought, ‘she looks like a dancer.’ She had an easy smile, and a kind if intense demeanor.
“Thank you,” Carolyn said, as she sidled up to the island, taking the bowl and the paring knife and peeling tomatoes. The others watched her, and quickly came to the judgment that she knew how to handle herself in a kitchen.
“Carolyn will be moving in next door,” said Madeline. “She’s bringing her family, and five other families with her. They’ll be filling all three houses.” Carolyn wondered as Madeline broke this news, if all the women had their own ideas about who should fill the houses. That was dispelled somewhat by the warm response. All the women congratulated her. “She has assured me,” Madeline continued, “that she did not choose any jackasses.” The women showed their approval. “Except her husband,” Madeline finished. The women broke out laughing. Carolyn thought it was for the joke; she did not know that one of the women who lived next door, who was not in the kitchen, had worked at Skellard/Blicom at the same time Shaun had been philandering. They all knew the back story.
“My last husband’s name was Jack,” said a short, stout brunette, with a wide but firm and cheerful face. Though she was crying, or appeared to be, as she chopped onions. “His middle name was Ass. I found him in bed with the sixteen year old neighbor girl. I took a belt to him. Should have took it to the girl too, the fat little slut,” she laughed. “I’m actually sorry I hit him, but that’s not why I’m crying. I’m Jill,” and she reached out and shook Carolyn’s hand.
“I’m Karen,” who looked like a university professor, which she had been. The oldest woman in the room, though only 47, and not yet going gray. She had taught economics, until she came to terms with the fact that that dismal science was just that, and her attempts to teach a more holistic model ran afoul of the economics department, which had become to her mind as blindly obsessed with the Austrian school, as the Keynsians were with their guru. Delusional dualism, she was fond of ranting. She was dicing the cilantro Madeline had collected.
“I’m Mischa,” said a young twenty-something, a resolute looking, thin woman with brown hair and freckles, who had been homeschooled by fanatic Christians, who believed their daughter was possessed of a demon. She had run away when she was 12, because she was possessed of life, and didn’t care to be beaten, or manipulated. She didn’t have to recover from her evangelical training because it had never stuck; she had looked at her parents like they were insane from the time she could remember thinking, and had left as soon as she felt confident enough that she would not get caught. She was like an empty vessel when she met Madeline a month after that. She had long ago learned to be thankful her parents had been so radical, as they had never drugged her, or institutionalized her. She had in recent years been a lover to both Madeline and Wallace, who had been mentors to her, and she didn’t give a damn what her parents or anyone else thought of that, because she was the smartest woman she knew. She appeared to be making salsa. “Why is your husband a jackass?” she asked, though she had her own ideas about that.
“He’s not, not really,” Carolyn said, and all the women teased her good-naturedly. “He’s on an errand right now with the family van, on an adventure I do not approve of, wasting gas as far as I’m concerned.”
“An adventure?” said Jill. “Husband and adventure in the same sentence is nothing but bad juju,” and she laughed in a way that said she knew better.
“What sort of adventure?” asked Mischa. Madeline gave her a look.
“He’s off to save the CEO of his company, who is stranded at the airport, or a hotel out there somewhere.”
“To do what with?” asked Karen. “Most CEO’s are sociopaths.
“That’s what I said,” said Carolyn, as she worked her way through the bowl of red calabash. She was about to say that she didn’t have food for the family for more than six months, by way of saying that she couldn’t afford to feed the CEO. Instead, she said, “I have enough to worry about without another baby in the house,” and all the women laughed. Madeline was stirring the various pots on the stove.
“Baby’s make the world go round,” Madeline said, somewhat cryptically.
“I thought men do,” said Jill.
“Men who think they do are like babes,” said Brigite. “I prefer mine with horns,” and she laughed, and so did the other women, and Carolyn smiled, though more in communion than understanding.
“Too bad you have to kill them every time,” said Madeline.
“The good one’s come back to life,” said Brigite.
“What are you going to do if your husband brings him home?” Mischa asked Carolyn.
“I’m going to force him on my neighbor across the street.”
“A CEO?” Mischa seemed to imply that Carolyn wasn’t up to it, forcing a CEO to do anything. There was a pause as the women waited, grasping the import of the tone.
“He won’t be staying at my house more than a few nights,” Carolyn said. She wasn’t sure how it came out, but she wondered, because Madeline was looking at her strangely.
“Who is Barry?” Madeline said.
Carolyn dropped the paring knife, and tears came to her eyes instantly. All the women stopped what they were doing and were looking at her now. She struggled to maintain her upright posture, but the grief came in waves, and she didn’t think she could contain it. “It’s okay,” said Karen, and Carolyn let go and wept.
When she recovered she looked up and saw that several of the women were crying too. After awhile, she told them that she had killed a man. She told them about Barry, about everything she knew about him, and what had happened. They were all looking very differently at her now, Mischa especially. For all of their bravado, none of them had killed a man, or even seriously harmed one. This was something new entirely, this kind of violence, like a portent, and Carolyn like a warrior. Every woman in that room had sat in the crows nest.
“I think I know why Wallace chose you,” said Madeline.
“So where are we going,” asked Malcolm, in the tone of a CEO. He seemed to have recovered his sense of stature. Shaun was reminded that, though Malcolm was the CEO of Skellard/Blicom, he was not prone to making public statements, like Jamie Dimond, or Lance Blankfein, so the public knew little about him. What public face he did have was of a more conservative leader than many of his fellow big bank CEO’s, if only that his bank had been bailed out for comparatively less than the the other big banks in 2008. Or at least people thought so.
“I’m not sure,” said Shaun. “I’m either going to pawn you off on the lesbians, or force you upon my neighbor. I’m sure as hell not taking you home with me.” He was reveling in the idea that he no longer worked for the man.
“Lesbians?” said Malcolm. “How old is your neighbor?”
“She’s about 55, and a lawyer.”
“That’s about 30 years too old and about 30 points too smart for my taste.”
“I think if you keep talking like that, the lesbians are going to keep you outside like a dog. If you prove loyal though, I bet they’ll build you a little dog house,” and he laughed mischievously .
“Lesbians, you say.” Malcolm looked reflective, and unperturbed. “I’m the CEO of the third largest bank in the world.”
Shaun laughed anew, as they started climbing the 5 to 55 bridge. “You are a man with few skills, a dirty mind, a bad attitude, and if the new rules continue to apply, you are starting from zero.”
The car jerked backward, and heaved forward and then stalled, and Shaun looked at the fuel gauge for the first time since he left the Hilton, and then he knew, Private Pederson had siphoned most of the tank, and the van came to a rest at the very top of the bridge.
He climbed out, head drooping, lamenting his profound stupidity, reaching for the flap to the fuel cap, for no reason, and then stopping, because someone had clearly peed all over that sidewall, and it looked like they tucked a little dog shit behind the flap, and he drooped his head again and smiled ruefully.
Malcolm climbed out of the car, the sun without any cloud to veil it, the concrete radiating heat, the engine as well, and clicking. He stood there, looking over the rail at the 55 bridge to Mendota, and the Minnesota river valley below that. Shaun walked up beside him with his own backpack on, looked at Malcolm and then the bridge and valley. “Surveying your domain?” he asked, and then added, “Hurry. I’m not waiting to see if those soldiers show up to admire their service. We need to get off the road.”
Carolyn worked with the women, and in the hour after she had revealed that she had killed a man, she told them about Sam’s club, and the trouble in her neighborhood, and toward the end of the hour after that, she decided she had not had that much fun in a long time. And they were clearly not lesbians, or maybe they were, and she reflected for a brief moment, wondering, when they were speaking amongst themselves in some veiled language she did not quite comprehend, that maybe something like this is what the whole of society seemed to be structured to prevent.
Then she started thinking about her own girls, and though it was only mid-afternoon, she felt compelled to get home. She hadn’t said anything to the women about Shaun’s return. She told them she needed to leave, and though they were surprised, they did not object strenuously. Rather, they gave her some of their store, a bottle of their wine, some dried shitake mushrooms, and some fresh blueberries. And blessings with their goodbyes.
Madeline walked out with her, into the alley, Carolyn with her backpack and her bike. As they stepped onto the concrete alley, Carolyn said, “I don’t want to leave now.”
“No one who spends time here does.”
They walked together down the alley, talking. Carolyn asked, “How was it you came to live here?”
Madeline smiled. “Several of us have known Wallace for a long time. We liked what he was doing with his house and garden, and he kept trying to get everyone he knew to move to his neighborhood. And, he kept challenging us, to step up, ‘be the women you imagine yourselves capable of being.’ We were like, fuck you, you dumb ass man, we know who we are; and yet he was right, and it pains me to say it took a man to spur us there, and there it is, and here we are.”
“It really is amazing what you’ve done,” Carolyn said, as she took one more glimpse of the garden.
“We had a thirty-year plan. We wanted the whole neighborhood to look like this,” and she gazed lovingly at the garden. “I wonder now if it will only take three.”
Carolyn stopped. “How did you know about Barry?”
Madeline smiled at her reassuringly, a glint of profound kindness in her eyes. “This world is far more mysterious than the dominators of the world have demanded we believe. The mystery will be more apparent now, to those who are willing and able to listen.”
Shaun walked into Wallace’s back yard, a block ahead of Malcolm. He went straight to the back door and knocked. Madeline opened it.
“Carolyn?” he said.
“No. She went home, a good hour ago now.”
“Damn,” Shaun said, though he wasn’t sure he meant it. He didn’t have the van. “How did she get home?”
“She rode her bike.”
Madeline looked at him oddly. “She seemed like she was quite good at it. You dropped it off with the van. Where’s the van?”
Shaun looked back at her. They knew each other, though not well. Shaun had spent time here almost every week for nearly a year, but he hardly knew the women living next door. They knew more about him. He avoided her query. “I don’t think it’s safe.”
“Nothing is ever safe. There is only ever the illusion.”
“I was wondering if you had any unleaded gasoline?”
“Where is your van?”
“It’s a long story.” Just then he saw Malcolm in the street, and waved him over.
“He looks familiar,” said Madeline, smiling.
“That is Malcolm Shivington, CEO of Skellard/Blicom Bank. My former boss. I quit,” he said proudly.
“It’s about time,” she said absently, as she watched Malcolm disappear behind the grape vines. “Malcolm Shivington, my goodness,” she said, to the universe, and she stepped off the back step to meet him.
Malcolm made his way through the fruit trees in the old driveway as if oblivious, roughly towing his suitcase. Madeline met him, as he passed the greenhouse without noticing it. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Malcolm Shivington?” She said, asking majestically. He stopped, but looked perturbed, like he had found himself against his will in a bus station, instead of one of the most remarkable gardens in the city.
“I thought you said we were going to your friend Wallace’s house?” he said to Shaun.
“What do you think about our garden, Mr Shivington,” Madeline said, as if she had not noticed any slight, smiling kindly.
“It is very nice,” he said, as if he hadn’t noticed her, and already forgot she was there.
“We think so,” she said, unperturbed. “Do you garden?”
“Are we eating soon,” he said, more to Shaun than Madeline.
“Actually, we were just about to begin preparing dinner. Shaun,” and she gestured to Shaun to go ahead, inside. Malcolm began to follow him.
“Excuse me, Malcolm,” Madeline said, politely. “May I call you Malcolm?” And he looked at her like he was seeing her for the first time, but he wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
“Malcolm, then,” she said. “What do you know about compost?”
“What?” he said, peering at her as if she were alien. He briefly reflected that he did not at all like this bitch lesbian.
“Compost. The stuff of life, yes? Do you see those six bins over there?” She pointed to the shade of the grape vines on the south fence. “They need to be turned, the contents of the three full bins moved to the empty bin next to it.”
He looked at the bins. “I don’t see any Mexicans here.”
“You said you were hungry,” and she peered at him softly.
She smiled. “Someone will bring you some water.”
“I am not here to do anything but eat, thank you very much.”
“You will move that compost, and you will do it well so that no one has to fix what you’ve done, or you will not eat anything here,” and her smile was gone, and her eyes were rarely more clear.
“Who in the hell do you think you are? I am the CEO of Skellard/Blicom, I will not be moving any compost.”
“You will if you want to eat,” she said over her shoulder, calmly, and she climbed the step and entered the house and locked the door.
Malcolm Shivington was astonished. ‘Who in the fuck does this cunt think she is,’ he thought. He looked around him and saw an apple tree, loaded with golden fruit, near the back corner of the storage shed/greenhouse. He looked all around him, and realized he was surrounded by food. There was a bean trellis, and tomato’s of several varieties, and peppers and cabbage and broccoli. He chuckled at this woman’s stupidity, walking directly to the apple tree and reaching up to pick an apple.
Shelly Lamb was in the north crows nest. A young, dread-locked blonde, tattooed with various piercings, in a flower print dress and combat boots. She had heard everything that had been said between Madeline and the CEO.
Kat Melman was in the South crows nest across the street. She was a stout woman who tended bar at the Cabooze, until about two days ago. She loved her crows nest as much as she loved slinging drinks to hard-core riders, and dumb, horny animalistic working men. Because the day was so calm, and the city so quite, she could hear the the conversation too, though she was farther away, or she caught the gist of it, or maybe just because.
At the same moment, just as Malcolm Shivington, CEO of the third largest bank in the world, was about to take hold of an apple, they simultaneously shot him in the ass with salt shot.
He let out a howl that was as much surprise as pain. He winced and cried out as he put both hands on his ass, and whirled around. No one came out of the house.
“You heard Madeline,” shouted Shelly, from the crow’s nest to the north. “No food until you’ve turned that compost.”
He was wide eyed and red in the face. “You shot me!”
“I did too,” shouted Kat. “Ya dumb fucker. What don’t you get?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Shelly, as Malcolm whirled back to her. “It’s just salt. It’ll sting for a few days, and you won’t be able to sit right, but it’ll heal up just fine.”
“But just in case,” shouted Kat, and she held a big rifle out the window with both hands. “You ever seen one a these?” and she pulled it back in and stuck her head out. “Yeah, that’s a thirty-odd six. Take yer leg off at the knee,” and he winced comically, both hands still on his ass, as she laughed heartily.
“Don’t mind Kat,” shouted Shelly. “She’d as likely put a bullet in your brain, put you out of your misery, so she doesn’t have to talk to you about it after.” And she laughed, and Kat laughed.
There was silence, while Malcolm faltered in a mix of indignation, incredulity and insecurity.
“Try to take any more food,” said Kat, “and you better not be facing me. Now get what cock and balls you have left on that compost!” and she disappeared into the dark behind the window.
Slouching, defeated, his mind and emotions as unruly as his hair, so much that was unprecedented having happened to him the last five days, he did not know what to do.
Shaun walked out of the house carrying a glass and a pitcher of water, and headed in the direction of one of the compost bins, setting the glass and pitcher on an old stump. “Shaun,” said Malcolm, weakly.
“I told you,” was all Shaun said, and he left the garden, down the alley.
Carolyn was on Nokomis Parkway, on the east side of Lake Nokomis. It was the kind of August day, were it a week ago, there would have been thousands of people in the park, and cars and bikes everywhere. She had felt safe, to this point, in the neighborhood, as there were people outside, enjoying the weather, gardening, talking. On the Parkway, it felt like a different world. The solitude, the emptiness, began to weigh heavy, and she felt vulnerable. Stopping to listen for cars, she heard nothing but a light wind in the trees, and some crows far off, over the golf course. She continued west, counter-clockwise to the lake.
She continued until she came to the turn to Minnehaha parkway, and came to the edge of that thoroughfare facing the golf course, her back to the lake. Satisfied but nervous, she pulled west onto the parkway.
Just as she was halfway across the lane, she froze. There was a car coming down the hill behind her, or she heard it, and the deep bass of a powerful sound system. She panicked. There was no hiding. There was only the lake and the wide open parkland, and a vine covered chain-link fence between her and the golf course.
She choked back a cry as she heaved the bike over the curb on the golf course side. Just as she hit the side walk she saw the car, the car accelerating fast down the hill, and she was running across the grass with her bike. She was at the base of the fence dumping her bike, just starting to climb, when the car, a 1967 black Buick Wildcat, modified with suicide doors, came to a screeching, smoking stop, and hydraulic rest. She was only partway up the fence when three Latino men emerged from the car, carrying semi-automatic weapons.
She looked behind her over her shoulder and started crying tears of strain. She reached into the shoulder holster Madeline had given her, and pulled out a 9mm, but her left hand was holding dead vines. They snapped, and she fell to the ground turning like a cat but landing on her side. She struggled against her partially unstrung backpack to rise to her knees, and hold the gun in the direction of the men.
All three were halfway across the grass when Carolyn pointed the gun at them, and they pulled up and raised their guns in the air. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, lady,” said the man in the middle, as he took a step back, and the others followed him, saying the same. The one in the center dropped his gun behind his back by the strap, barrel up, and raised both hands palms toward her. The other two did the same.
Carolyn held the gun firm, hair entangled with dry grape leaves, frothing at the mouth.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, lady,” the man in the middle said again. “We’re not here to hurt you.”
When she didn’t say anything, he continued, with his Spanish tongue, “It’s not safe for you to be out here.” He was well dressed, with a fifties flare – he was even wearing wing tips – and not more than 23 years of age. They were all young she saw, though they seemed to carry themselves with a mature dignity. There was something in them she thought sincere, somehow, despite herself. It did register with her, that if they wanted to harm her, they would still be holding their guns; but then, it might be a ruse to get her into the car. She was still pointing the gun at them.
“Lady,” the man said, “we can give you a ride anywhere you need to go. It’s not safe to be out here.”
What to do? What to do? “What do you guys think?” she said suddenly, to the two guys who hadn’t spoken, not lowering her weapon. The man on the right, who had been driving said, “He’s right lady. It’s not safe. If you live more than a mile from here, there’s a good chance you might run into trouble.” He said this without a trace of irony. He was about the same age as the man in the middle, but shorter and stockier. He was equally well dressed, though wearing nothing more than jeans and a pristine white t-shirt, both of which were rolled tightly at the cuffs, wearing something like moccasins, and a pair of sunglasses tipped back on his forehead.
The third man on the left, who had been in the back seat, was the smallest of the three, and the most ready with a smile. He was wearing a jumpsuit in the colors of the Mexican national flag, and glittery green shoes. He looked at Carolyn, and then the other men and their guns, and back at Carolyn, his thumb flipping the strap of his gun self-consciously. He shrugged his shoulders bashfully and sort of bowed and said, “We just didn’t think, if we didn’t have the guns, you wouldn’t stop, and then you might run into trouble,” and he sort of bobbed up and down like he was embarrassed, like he really wanted Carolyn to like him.
She looked at all three, and they all looked, no, felt innocent in some way. Like they were on a mission. She didn’t know what to call it, but they felt present and alive. She lowered her gun but still held it ready. “I…what are you guys?”
They all laughed. And looked at each other and laughed some more. The guy in the middle said, “I’m Paco.” The guy on the right said, “I’m Juan.” And the guy on the left said, giggling, “I’m Luis”, and Carolyn giggled despite herself, and then they were all laughing.
“Seriously,” Carolyn said, “you think I’m going to get in that car with you?” Paco, in the middle, as soon as she said it, unslung his gun, took three steps forward, set down his gun, and took three steps back. Juan and Luis followed.
“Listen lady,” said Paco. “I don’t know what we got to do, to let you know we don’t mean you any harm. We were just riding around, looking to help people. This here,” and he gestured at the car, is Juan’s ride, and we’ve got a lot of fuel, and we’re just looking to help people.” And Juan said calmly, “Like warriors, you know? Good ones.”
There was something almost comically genuine about them, and she stilled her mind, and then thought about her girls, and she thought these young men were more like her girls than most of the people she knew, and she wondered about the strangeness of it all, and how the day was turning inexorably toward evening and night.
“Alright,” she said. “But leave your guns where they are.”
Shaun had been down the alley to meet Jeff, who was the neighborhood mechanic, a retired airplane mechanic, with a package from Madeline, in exchange for a gallon of gas, in a small enough container to fit in Shaun’s backpack. They got to talking for a time, and started riffing on the Ford dam, which they’d both been thinking about, but Shaun excused himself, to continue that conversation at a later time.
He was now standing next to his van, on the bridge overlooking the Minnesota river valley, with the sun low in the west. The van was demolished. All the tires were flat, all the windows were smashed, there was not a panel that was not dented, and the engine was in pieces. The seats were on hwy 55, seventy feet below the bridge.
‘What am I going to say to Carolyn,’ was all he could think.
“We’re like Avengers,” Paco said, from the front passenger seat, by way of apology, sensing Carolyn’s discomfort and wanting to put her at ease. All the guns were between her and the door next to her. “Juan put together this car, and we’ve been putting away a lot of fuel, and we found these guns.”
“And so we are looking to help the people,” said Luis from the back seat, smiling and kind of bouncing up and down in his jumpsuit.
“We thought,” said Juan coolly, from behind the steering wheel, “since it’s the apocalypse, might as well go out in style.”
“Found the guns?” said Carolyn.
They looked back and forth at each other. “Liberated them,” said Paco.
“From some bad guys,” offered Luis. They all looked at her to gauge her reaction. She was well beyond knowing what to think, but she offered,
“Next time you want to help someone like me, you maybe don’t want not to point these big guns at them.” They each looked at her, and each other, and silently agreed. They were reassured, and Juan said, smiling,
“Excusa Senora, but we are going to have to take evasive action now.”
Paco said, “Let ’em know were coming, so they know to get out of the way.” And then Carolyn could no longer hear anything but the stereo of the car, and the vibration of the bass made it seem almost as if she were being propelled forward without a car beneath her. The car itself vibrated such that looking out the windows the world seemed to be vibrating. She wondered if she had entered some kind of alternative surreality, like some cosmic worm hole, or maybe a dream, but she pinched herself, as they turned north on Park avenue.
There were a few people out in their yards, but no other cars, and they crossed the bridge at 42nd over 35w, and she wondered if the bridge might collapse, the car was so loud, and she plugged her ears with here fingers. They rolled slowly down her street, window panes shaking on all sides, coming to a stop in front of her house.
Luis rushed out and pulled her bike from the trunk. Paco instructed Carolyn to stop, and he climbed out of the car and opened her door, and took her hand as she stepped out, the big guns now on the floor. Several people came out of their houses, and everyone else was looking out a window. Juan climbed out, and then the three of them were escorting her to her door. Natalie came out, and the girls rushed out and threw themselves into Carolyn’s arms. She held both, and turned to her new friends.
“I feel like I got home to my girls safely, with the help of three superheroes.” They all smiled broadly, young men feeling good about themselves.
“No, no,” said Paco, “not superheroes. Heroes, maybe,” and he laughed. He continued, bowing, “My name is Pacio Ignacio Aguilar, and I am at your service.”
Juan said, bowing as well, “My name is Manuel Juan Elistatio.”
Luis bowed most deeply, and giggled, “My name is Jesus Maria, son of Jesus and Maria Luis, and I am at your service.
Carolyn laughed, and shed a little tear as she held tightly to the girls, who watched the young men wide-eyed. The young men walked confidently back to their Wildcat, and Carolyn marveled at this strange new America she was living in. They climbed back into their car, and the whole neighborhood shook with their departure.
Malcolm was sitting gingerly in a collapsible wooden chair, next to the the last of the compost piles, in his $500 Armani button up open to the last button. Madeline stepped out of the house wearing a simple but elegant off-white gown. The light was low and she looked radiant. She was carrying a large wooden bowl heaping with food, a carafe of wine, and two glasses. She walked close to where he was sitting, set the bowl on the old stump, and retrieved another chair and a small folding table in the same style as the chairs, setting it up in front of him. She retrieved a piece of foam from the storage bin in the shade of the grape vines, that she gave to him to sit on, and then brought him his food, and poured him a glass of wine. She handed him a clothe napkin. He took it, and said, “Thank you.” He did not wait to eat before she sat in her chair. She poured herself a small glass of wine.
“That’s a nice shirt,” she said.
“So good of you to notice,” though he softened the snide tone, mid sentence.
“I noticed right away, when you showed up earlier,” and she met his glance. “You might have asked for some work clothes, you know.” She took a sip of wine as she watched him, and he followed. He grimaced and spat it out.
“That’s a Frontenac wine, what we grow and ferment here,” she said. He grimaced some more.
“Oh, it’s not that bad. We’re experimenting. You would get used to it. I’ve rather come to enjoy it, being that I help tend the grapes and make the wine. I like it,” and she took another sip, “Though I know it couldn’t possibly impress a vintner as accomplished as yourself.” He had in fact never trimmed a vine in his life, though he owned at least 20,000.
“Turn enough compost, and you’ll grow to love just about everything,” she finished.
“I have no intention of turning another pile of compost as long as I live,” he replied. “But this is excellent food.” It was a braised meat fried in oil with fresh shitake mushrooms and onions, over a massive salad of many different kinds of greens, with thinly sliced carrot and apple, and grated beet. He added, “and the wine will do, thank you. What is the meat? It’s quite good.”
“Marinated gray squirrel.” He was swallowing, and gagged reflexively. “Oh c’mon,” she said, leaning forward in her chair. “Taste it, you fool.”
He recovered himself, and stared forlornly into his bowl. “I see,” he said, “the 99% get to torture the 1% now. Lucky you.”
“First of all,” she said, leaning back comfortably in her chair, “we all eat the same thing here. Second of all,” and she looked him in the eye, “you don’t know what I am.” She smiled. For a brief almost unconscious moment he thought he was looking at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. “Thirdly,” she said, “If I had said it was guinea fowl, you would have gone to bed full and happy and probably slept as well as you had any of the last four nights.”
“Except neither the guinea fowl nor the squirrel is going to make my ass stop stinging.” It might have been a curt response, but something in him had shifted, in some inconceivable way, and he found himself surrendering without knowing to call it that, and he even laughed a little.
“A shower will help with that,” she said, smiling with him. “There’s a shower in back of the greenhouse there,” pointing at the former garage. “You’ll find a sleeping pad on the floor next to the shower, and towels, blankets. And clothing you can change into if you like, on the shelf above.” She stood up and started to walk back to the house. She stopped, and turned around. “I’m on point tonight. I will shoot you, if I have to.” She winked at him. “But you can have one apple. But only one,” and she held up an index finger, and turned and walked back into the house.
Malcolm limped into the storage area behind the garage greenhouse, with his bowl of food and his wine. She had left him the rest of the carafe. He found the shower, and lingered a long time. Outside the shower he found the towel he hadn’t thought to look for, and some first aid supplies she hadn’t mentioned, and loose fitting hemp clothing, and the blankets and the sleeping pad, which was indeed underneath a shelf, on the floor.
He gathered his food and wine, and wandered into the greenhouse. While it was cool in the shed, it was evening tropical in the greenhouse. He sat on an empty bench, and ate his food under the stars, and an aurora that was fading to greens and blues. The glass was open on both sides, and a refreshing breeze blew through.
He did not know how long he sat there. Long enough that the last of the wine tasted pretty good, and he had a nice buzz; but suddenly he had never been so tired, and he lay down on the pad on the floor under the shelf, and fell asleep without thinking another thought.
This would be the fifth night, since the shift, and while people had started to come together more in the day, the night was very different. This night especially, the true troubles would begin. More people were running out of food, and many people were afraid to drink the few waters that were available. That, and a people deprived of the media that had so thoroughly dominated their lives, had phones and mp3 players now running low on a charge, or empty, with their favorite music trapped within. There was a brisk business already, in batteries. Much of it illicit, and people were already afraid to tell anyone they had a battery, or a way to charge one. Whole community alliances had begun to spring up around the few known charging sites. And yet people who could were wary to shine any kind of light, without ample protection, and the night remained dark, with as many stars visible in the city as in any wilderness.
Except for the aurora, which had dissipated somewhat and softened, and the waning moon that was white again. The aurora was no longer red but blues and greens primarily, and for those who could let it, it had a calming effect. But a people now deprived of whatever stimulants, anti-depressants and mind altering substances they had previously taken for granted, on top of the absence of their daily media fix, were going crazy. While those so thoroughly deprived were a small minority as yet, it was now not unusual to see someone wandering the street clearly disoriented.
Worse, gangs had started to form, in greater number and brazenness, wherever there were sufficient men going crazy who still had enough sense to know it would be easier to take from others, as a group than alone. While neighborhoods on the whole had not come together in any meaningful way, some neighborhoods were an exception. Neighborhoods in every city, in fact, had initiated some kind of night watch and alarm system, though most people were so accustomed to police protection, many refused to believe that it didn’t exist, some even neurotically picking up a paperweight phone at every night-time sound, to call 911. Most people with guns were content to sit at home, however increasingly intolerable the suddenly off the grid house was becoming, without flowing fresh water. Many of those without guns were content to sit home and pretend.
People were being shot everywhere, in record numbers. It wasn’t a radical increase yet, if there had been anyone left measuring that sort of thing, but it would have made nation-wide headlines if it were before the shift and isolated to the Twin Cities metro, and not in every city, globally.
Some still had not come out of their houses. Some never would, of their own volition. Some people globally hadn’t even noticed any change, but most of these were close to the equator living in jungles. Some had reason to rejoice, in low lying island nations and coastal regions, as hardly a human had generated any carbon dioxide the last five days, except from their lungs and their skin. But everywhere people were dependent on the global and trans-regional trade of modern civilization and industrial transportation, in any way, were suffering, or they were about to.
There is a great evil in the land, people were saying. Others were thinking without saying, that a great evil had been exposed. There was also much that was good.
Shaun had returned to Jeff to return the gas, and they lingered awhile drinking mead Jeff had made himself from the bees he kept, and riffing some more on electrical generation. Jeff gave Shaun a special cookie too, which had not taken full effect by the time Shaun excused himself and started wandering somberly home, somewhat heedless, by way of the parkway.
Then he was under a large mulberry tree, next to a bike bridge over the Minnehaha, and though the berries were long gone this late in the summer, he remembered the raven who would congregate there when the tree was in fruit. And then he was something like a raven. And then he was home, and Carolyn rushed out the door and embraced him, and might have made love to him there on the front lawn if there were no neighbors watching. Then she asked,
“Where’s the van?
Wallace was sitting on a paver patio in the mid-morning sun, with Davis Adelepondrow, the renowned and somewhat infamous astro-physicist, not far from the river on the Minneapolis Northeast side. They were in Davis’ back yard in a rough neighborhood, part run-down Industrial area. Though they were surrounded by grape vines well tended and abundant, and many vegetables and flowers.
“God-damned physicists!” shouted Davis, over his glass of Swensen White and orange juice concentrate. The second to last of the containers of the concentrate, but he had not seen Wallace in at least a month, and this was very likely Davis and his wife Ramona’s last day in the city. “Ask a physicist about the vacuum catastrophe, and see if he doesn’t blink his eyes and shit and piss himself,” and he kicked the ball again for his tiny terrier, which he called TV, his acronym for The Void. There was a sawed-off shotgun leaning against the grapevines next to the table. “Anti-matter, panty-smatter. Boson, Ho-son. I’ve got the biggest particle smasher!” he mocked, in sing-song, as he faux stroked a giant imaginary phallus. The terrier brought the ball back, and Davis pretended to throw it, but dropped it behind his back. The dog was not fooled, and Wallace thought the dog looked at Davis like, what was the point of that, or maybe that was just Wallace’s reaction?
“I had a dram – dream – about a physicist the other day,” Wallace said, already a little drunk.
“Oh yeah,” said Davis, perking up.
“He was in Nokomis park next to the lake, asking an investment banker which he thought would last longer, the derivatives market or quantum theory.”
“Did a pride of lionesses arrive and devour them both?”
“The earth opened up, the lake drained into it, that derivatives trader was drowned, but the physicist was suspended in the void.”
Davis laughed, dropping himself on the glass table, nearly upsetting his half home-grown mimosa. Lifting his head, with a glimmer and a question in his eye, “Yes, but what was the void?”
“There’s not a god-damned one of those facilities that are going to be good for another couple of weeks. Hell, the back-up systems all run on diesel, and if those operators are as present for their jobs as our police and health care staff, it’ll probably happen sooner. I wouldn’t be surprised if one goes into default tomorrow. For all we know, they’re already spouting, all over the country”
Wallace was trying to take this in. “As in, meltdown?”
“As in all your hair falls out one day and you die the next.”
“That seems a little dramatic.”
“We’ve got one thirty miles on either side of us, on the river. If the fallout area is fifty miles round, that puts us smack in the middle of the vesica pisces,” and he made two circles with his middle fingers and thumbs, overlapped them and peered trough the hole in the middle like a pirate through a looking glass. “Might as well be at ground zero.”
Wallace sat there, a little drunk at ten in the morning. Still hungry, after the two eggs and salad they had fed him. Romona came outside with another pitcher of wine and OJ, sat down at the table and started filling their glasses.
“Mona,” said Davis, “Wallace here was just coming to terms with the full extent of our predicament.” Ramona was a theoretical physicist more or less equal to her husband, though a much better cook and a better musician. She was just as hostile to nuclear as her husband, if she did not share her husbands penchant for course language. “He’s being a baby about it,” said Davis.
Ramona handed Wallace his drink. “Have you made any plans to move?” she asked.
“There seems enough to worry about, without thinking I have to evacuate.”
“Really, you have to be thinking about leaving the city, sooner rather than later,” she said matter-of-factly, in her calm, professorial, yet almost girlish way. At nearly sixty, she was aging well. Her relative girlishness was accentuated by her slight mid-morning drunkenness. She was not often over-indulgent.
“I don’t want to leave the city,” Wallace replied.
“See what I mean,” said Davis. “Do we have to check with the neighbors to see if anyone has a spare diaper?” He was trying to be playful, but his tone belied a tension that was exacerbated by the fact that his favorite watering hole, the Admiral, had run out of beer the second day after the shift, or so they said. He was suspicious.
“You have to understand,” said Ramona, ignoring her husband. There is no decommissioning a nuclear facility now. That’s about a thirty, or forty million dollar project, with something like a requirement of fifty thousand tons of concrete and steel, and probably a few ten million gallons of diesel. There is no saving the Twin Cities metro area.” She said it like she was explaining why they couldn’t have sushi for dinner. “It really is a nightmare scenario,” she continued, “They never really considered this possibility.”
“It wasn’t probable enough for them,” muttered Davis.
“I mean,” Ramona continued, “we considered it, and talked about it, and wrote about it, Davis especially, but we are physicists, not nuclear engineers, grid operators, industrialists, or politicians.”
“God damned politicians,” Davis added.
“Why are you still here?” Wallace asked.
“We thought about leaving the second day,” said Ramona. “But we weren’t sure what was going on, or maybe we didn’t want to know,” and she looked at Davis and put her hand on his arm. He harrumphed. “We just let ourselves think it was all coming back, and everything would return to normal – until last night, when we started packing.”
“Where will you go?”
“Ely,” said Davis.
“Our son is there,” said Ramona. “There is some land in the family, a sizable chunk actually, which he has been care-taking.” She said this last part with a strange little reserve in her voice.
“If I know my son,” Davis said, “He’s got about seven years of perishable goods tucked away somewhere, and guns besides.” There was a tinge of sadness in his voice, behind the hope, the sadness of the established father who did not understand his brilliant, awkward son.
“How do you plan on getting there?”
“We have an RV in storage nearby,” said Ramona.
“It’s a five hour drive to Ely under normal conditions,” said Wallace. “That doesn’t seem safe.”
“I think it sounds romantic,” said Ramona, wistfully, drunk.
Wallace smiled at her. “So these drinks are like bon voyage.”
“There’s room in the van,” said Davis.
Wallace smiled. “I love Ely.”
“It’s a long way from any nuclear plant. Plenty of opportunity for small hydro electrical generation. It’ll be fun, like an adventure.” Stentorially, he said, “We shall rebuild civilization in some more worthy image. I will regale you on the way with tales of the delusions of physicists, and drunkenness and fighting, and other such calouspricious sundry.”
“Calouspricious is not a word…”
“It is a mash of words speaking directly to our current circumstances and how they arose,” Davis said pointedly, in a lamenting tone, “Thank you very much.”
“I love Ely,” Wallace repeated, “but I don’t think I can listen to five hours of conspiratorial physics.”
Davis leaned over the table, sneering drunkenly, “If the bitches had ever accounted for circular and spiral momentum, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“What he means is,” Ramona said, as she burped politely, “our conception of physics is almost entirely masculine.”
“Thrust, punch and blow it up,” Davis added, with hand gestures.
“Speaking of Ely,” Wallace asked, changing the subject, “Are you taking your canoe with you?”
“We’re going to Ely, you widget,” said Davis. “Of course were bringing the canoe.”
“Can I borrow it for the day? There are some things I need to do. I can have it back by tomorrow morning.”
Wallace pulled the canoe from the water, an extraordinarily beautiful cedar canoe, hand crafted by a master builder in Ely, Joe Seliga, years ago, especially for Davis and Ramona. Wallace knew what the canoe meant to them, and he had been surprised at how readily they had offered it to him. He had been calling out in gratitude much of the way.
As he expected, both the Saint Anthony lock-and-dam and the lock-and-dam #1 were closed, and he’d had to portage around, which is no easy thing in a city. Thankfully, he had a wheeled attachment to help him pull the canoe, instead of carrying the 80 lbs on his shoulders. Passing the St Anthony dam, he marveled as always, at that Gehry monstrosity, ode in machismo to the little blue pill, the Guthrie. “Can’t stay up forever,” he chuckled.
Here, at Fort Snelling State Park, he didn’t bother with the wheels. He carried the canoe up the bank, across the bike path and onto a canary grass-covered rise, locking the canoe out of sight, to the foundation of a high tension power line. It was the best he could do to protect it.
There had been people on the river, around the dams, and particularly below the lock and damn #1, fishing mostly. He had seen a few people on the National Wildlife Refuge side of the river, across from the park, who had moved furtively out of sight, though he had presumed them to be watching. He saw no one in the park, as he walked the bike path past the interpretive center, up the hill to the old Fort. Fort Snelling, at one time the furthest-most western outpost of the united States of America, a limestone structure adhering to the limestone bluff, overlooking Pike Island and the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. His plan was to check out the old fort, see about it’s practicality as a stronghold, and then to move on across the highway, to see if anyone was commanding the MN Army National Guard. He wanted to see about that explosion, and see if there was anyone he might talk to about the nuclear danger. Cresting the rise, admiring the old fort, a man in fatigues approached him aggressively.
“State your business!” the young man shouted. Wallace raised his hands, palm forward.
“I’m here to speak to whomever is in command,” Wallace said.
“Why?” The young man was pointing his gun at Wallace, his tone not very professional.
“I have some information about Minnesota’s nuclear facilities that needs to be addressed.”
“On your knees mother fucker!”
Wallace furrowed his brow, what are you talking about, and the young man thrust the point of his rifle in Wallace’s face, repeating hysterically, “On your knees motherfucker!”
Others were running toward them, and Wallace reluctantly went to his knees with his hands behind his head. “I got one, I got one,” the kid was shouting.
“What’d he do?” shouted one of the men, as a crowd began to gather.
‘ “He said something about a nuclear bomb,” said the young guard. Wallace laughed.
“The hell I did!”
The young guard looked flustered. “What’d you say then?”
Wallace directed his attention at all the men. There were seven. “I was about to tell him there are two nuclear reactors on either side of the Twin Cities that are about to melt down, and if that happens every one of us is going to be dead.”
They all flinched, including the young man who had confronted him. There was probably no other threat that would have made them flinch so. The silence was interrupted by another cavalcade. All seven stood at attention: a little haphazardly, Wallace thought. A man strode into the circle, followed by three others in attendance. Whoever this man was, he was in command.
“What’s going on here?” the man asked.
“He said he had a nuclear bomb, sir!” said the young guard.
The man looked at Wallace, and smiled. Wallace smiled. “You have a nuclear device on your person, sir?” the man said, somewhat bemused.
“No sir,” said Wallace, equally bemused.
“Who are you then?”
“My name is Wallace Robertson. I live in south Minneapolis, and I have reason to believe both the Monticello nuclear facility and the Prairie Island nuclear facility are in danger of melting down imminently. In which case the entire Twin Cities metro area is in danger of nuclear fallout.”
The man blanched, as he felt the discomfort around him. “Are you an operator?” he said.
“No I am not. I’m friends with two nuclear physicists who worked for the U. Who had been talking beforehand about this sort of thing happening.” He was addressing all the men. A wave seemed to pass through them.
“And these physicists said what?”
Wallace looked at him, wondering. No, Wallace thought, let not this man be against facing the danger. “They said to me this morning that they are leaving the city because both facilities might melt down at any moment.”
Command almost seemed to have shifted. Many of these men were recent conscriptions, hence the unprofessionalism. Minnesota’s 14,000 guard members were scattered as far as Afghanistan and Iraq, and otherwise across the state, living within 30 miles of any of the 65 different posts, every post as unreachable as every other.
“Have you been to these facilities?” The man seemed perturbed about the information, but not in the way Wallace had intended.
“I have not, but…”
“You have not seen them, but you have information they are at risk? That’s surprising. Because I have information that both facilities have been shut down, in standby, and are otherwise in perfect working order, indefinitely.”
Wallace thought the man was lying, and he thought he knew why. But he wasn’t clear about the situation here, so he wasn’t sure where the boundaries lay. He wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t looking at a tyrant, though the guy seemed a bit old and studious for that.
The man continued, “Security is enough of a problem right now, food shortages have arisen, and there is a charismatic holed up in Tharsidial, with about 500 heavily armed followers. I don’t need people scaring an already scared community with fantasies about nuclear problems…that aren’t a problem.
“Back to work!” he shouted, and the men scattered, but not his immediate detail. “Cut this man’s hands loose.” The zip ties were cut, and Wallace stood. “Go home,” the man said. “And if I find that you’re still scaring people with nuclear talk, I’m going to lock you in the limestone brig,” and he walked away.
Walking back down the hill, Wallace said to himself, “Well, that didn’t go as well as I hoped.”
If you have been wondering about our lovers on their island, I ask, if you were on an island in the middle of a three million person metro area, civilization collapsing around you, and no one knew you were there, and you had all the supplies you needed, and you were with someone with whom you shared an intense mutual attraction, would you want to be bothered?
The last five days were exactly as idyllic as you might imagine, two lovers removing themselves to the proverbial desert island, at the height of summer, in perfect weather. But their idyll was about to be disturbed.
Jackson saw the canoe before the man with it had fully crossed from the river to the lake. By the time Jackson had retrieved his shotgun and bow and arrows, the man was on the water about 300 yards away, paddling directly toward the island.
“Shit,” Jackson whispered. Selene was sleeping and he didn’t want to wake her. He nocked an arrow, and readied the bow. It was an increasingly tense two minutes. The man in the canoe slowed as he neared the island. When he was in easy range about three rods out, Jackson raised his bow and stood up. The man stopped the canoe and raised both hands in the air, thinking, again? “Don’t shoot,” he said.
“This island is occupied.”
“I thought it might be, Jackson.” Jackson released some of the tension on the bow, looking more attentively at his target. He thought the man looked familiar.
“We met at the Birchwood,” Wallace said. “I bought you a couple of beers.”
“Two-hearted,” Jackson said.
“That’s right. You told me you were living on an island down here. I’m glad I found it.”
Having had beers with the man did not make Jackson want him here. It didn’t entitle this man to anything. “What do you want?”
“I was hoping we could talk.”
“About your future.”
“None of your damn business, my future.”
“Let him come.” It was Selene. Neither man had known she was there.
“Hello,” said Wallace, smiling kindly.
“”Hello.” She smiled back, shyly. Jackson looked at Selene, and then Wallace, and saw that they were smiling. He relented without objection. “You can dock your canoe on the north side.”
Wallace admired the set up. “I like what you’ve done with the place. Very cozy.” Jackson brewed some tea.
“I like it too,” said Selene, smiling, eating an apple.
“What’s it like in town?” Jackson asked.
“Everything is in a bad way, everywhere.”
“What was that explosion?” asked Selene.
“Someone blew up the the MN Air and Army National Guard site, and most of the fuel at the airport. I just came from there, or I tried to get there. There is some work going on at the old fort. They accused me of being a terrorist.” When they didn’t say anything, Wallace continued. “It sounds like there are some real ones in Tharsidial, I gather responsible for the attack. Probably that sheetrocker guy, whatever his name is.”
“Mckintly,” said Selene, and both men looked at her surprised. She was a reader. “What?” she asked, of their surprise. Wallace smiled at her.
“Is there any law?” Jackson asked Wallace, changing the subject.
“None but nature’s, it seems.”
“How are the Somali’s doing?” asked Selene.
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything, which might be a good thing. I can’t believe life in those towers is very pleasant right now.”
“It wasn’t before, so much,” said Selene. She reflexively put her hand on her belly.
“You’re pregnant,” Wallace said.
“Is it Jackson’s?” He regretted saying it as soon as it came out, thinking it none of his business, and she shied, but Jackson shook his head no. Wallace looked at Selene again. “Can I ask how old your are?”
“Old enough to have a baby,” she said, suddenly stern.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.” He was a little saddened to see that she was pregnant, at her age, in this time, but he was also impressed by her. She seemed clear and present, more than most. Despite this, to both he said, “You can’t stay here, you know.”
“Why not?” said Jackson, defiant, confident in his own capacities.
“First of all, this lake is going to freeze before the due date. Even if you had a nice warm canvas tent out here, you’d have to build a fire. You’d be visible with or without the fire, and anyone could just walk here, once the lake is frozen. Second, even if you managed to stay, this island might be under water in the spring. But you know all that.
“Have you thought about where you might go?” Neither of them responded. “Selene, you could stay at my house or with my neighbors. There are a dozen women next door. I think you’ld fit right in.” He looked at Jackson. Jackson wanted to say that he didn’t need help, but there was something about Wallace, and the offer, that made him stop. He couldn’t take care of Selene and her baby alone, he knew, not under these conditions. Even if he could, it would be a truly aboriginal life, which he was more than prepared to do alone, but a baby is a precious thing and the Minnesota winter is harsh.
“Where would Jackson stay?” asked Selene, not wanting to go anywhere Jackson was not.
“He could stay at my house. Though I’m here,” and he was addressing Jackson at this point, “because I wanted to ask you to join me on a journey I need to make.” Jackson was intrigued, though he didn’t show it for Selene’s sake. “I need to go see about some nuclear facilities, and I thought you might be just the sort of guy who could make that journey.”
Six days ago Jackson certainly was. He wasn’t so sure now. It wasn’t his child Selene was carrying, but he felt responsible for it and her in a way that he never had for anything. He understood too, intuitively, why Wallace needed to know about those nuclear facilities. “I would need to know that Selene is safe,” he said, honorably. Selene looked stricken.
“Here’s the thing though,” Wallace said. “We have a ride to the Monticello facility in the morning. Otherwise, we might have to walk, or paddle, upriver.”
Jackson finished his tea and stood up. “I want to show you something,” he said to Wallace. Selene stood too, and joined Jackson holding his arm and leaning on him lightly. Jackson led them toward the middle of the island, where he pulled back a sheet of sod to reveal a large box. He opened it and unzipped the bags inside.
“The lesbians are going to love you,” said Wallace.