Apocalypse + Oral History
Thanks so much for this week’s motif suggestions, but I'm going to play around with a concept of my own this week.
“The scientists kept calling it global warming so when it started getting colder everyone figured it was just an early winter. But then it started snowing down south. Georgia, Florida, Mexico. The roads needed plowing all the time, and for a while, the plow drivers were heroes. It the Wild West commerce and communication all relied on the train, but in the days of the early ice age people lived and died by the snowplow. There were passenger plows, freighter plows with 18 wheels, communication plows, and mail plows (and boy did that make the federal postal service angry). Those drivers that didn't kill themselves in the first year with calories, caffeine, and cocaine lived like Wall Street fat cats... for a time. When the plows ran out of places to push or dump the snow, a man named Ron went to the president with a plan to use the snow to construct ice tunnels over all the major roads.”
“What about planes?” asked the little girl, turning from where she sat by the fire.
It cast an orange-yellow light from the cinderblock hearth in corner of their Manhattan apartment, which lit her grandfather’s face with a happy glow and made his wrinkle lines all the more deeper as he smiled and said, “Anyone ever tell you you’re too smart for your own good? Where’d you hear about planes?”
The girl pointed to the lowest shelf where her small stack of children’s books lived. “A day at the Airport!”
“Very good Sara’k.”
“Airplanes had been grounded as soon as the first blizzards started. Emergency trips were attempted, but only one in nine ever reached their destination. So this plow man, with the help of the government’s oil and all of his friends started building the first tunnels over the roads. The original plan was to keep them big, but when I was a little girl, they realized that the ice age wasn’t going away any time soon—”
“Grandma Sara’k? What’s an air-plane?” The heavily wrinkled face before them scowled, and eyed the group of children.
“What do they teach you in that school anyway?”
Not realizing the question was rhetorical they all started bouncing excitedly on the carpet of furs, and all talking at once, “How to make fire with wood and friction!” “The laws of Has and Take!” “How to skin an animal, and tan, and sew!” “How to—”
“Yes yes, those are all well and good things that every child should know, but what about History?”
The flap of the hut lifted for a moment, letting in beams of orange and pink light that cut through the dim light of the small tallow lamp, and an adult man, dressed in deerskin ducked into hut.
“History is dangerous,” the man said.
“Not nearly as dangerous as ignorance,” Grandma Sara’k replied.
“I agreed to let you tell this story so they would know why rules like
Has and Take
Grandma Sara’k interrupted, “—and so that when they reach the Age of Choice, they actually have a choice to make.”
“What choice? I want to choose now?” “Me too!” “Me too!”
“Hush!” the man commanded, “I only came in here to tell you to keep your voices down, and
to Grandmother Sara’k. Children who do not have patience do not catch food.” The room was so quiet one could have heard a pin drop, if anyone besides Sara’k remembered what a pin was.
“Just as my Grandmother Sara’k told me many years ago, and as her grandfather told her before, you have reached the age of choice.” The woman they called Grandmother, more because of her role than her age, paused. Looking out at the fifty or so young adults, men and women dressed in their finest leathers and linens, adorned with months of delicate beadwork.
She continued, “You have lived in this community only as partial members, we have taught you, trained you, fed you and clothed you. You have done your part and paid back all that was given to you except the cost of your birth, which can never be repaid. But today is the day you are given the freedom to choose your home, and choose your path. You have heard the stories about the time before. About the dark times, and the cold times. You have heard about the level of technology humankind had achieved, both the good and the bad. You have heard about why this community chooses to live simply, beautifully small lives. And you have heard stories and seen people from other communities who choose to search for, relearn, and rebuild the old ways. Who dream of one day flying through the air in huge metal birds, and having lives that demand they do so.” She was relieved to see many heads shaking with disapproval. “You don’t need to choose today, but once you chose to join another community you may not return.” The Grandmother began to cry, and did not hold back her tears. Her own son, Wolf Spider has chosen to go, and everyone still remembered the day he tried to come back. “You may not return,” she repeated. “Do not come back to show us the ease and simplicity of hunting with black powder, or sewing with metal needles. You will believe you are helping us, or maybe even saving us. You are not. You are offering us a slow poison, which won’t kill us for seven generations.”
“I had tried to go back twice. The first time to show them what civilization had already remembered, and what it was capable of, and the second time because I wanted to come home.”
One of the boys who surrounded the old man in the alley loudly complained at one of the other boys, “You said he could make fire without matches!”
The youth responded, “He can, don’t interrupt!”
The young man stood, puffed out his chest and challenged the old man. “Well then DO it!”
Wolf Spider sat there, unaffected by the young pomp, and waited.
“Maybe Mr. Spider will make a fire after the story?” The smallest of the boys offered and asked at the same time.
“Well his story’s lame, and I bet he can’t even make fire. Come on guys.” Seven eights of the posse stood, and started walking away with the loud boy.
Of the two boys who remained one called after them, “Wait! He knows about some kind of poison that’s killing us!”
The second boy comforted the first saying, “Don’t worry, I’m staying.”
The first boy sat back down. “Keep telling your story Mr. Spider. Tell us, is there a way to get cured of the poison?”
Wolf Spider took a flask from his shirt pocket. He didn't know where the shirt came from, it was from the island certainly, but he didn't know exactly where, only that machines had somehow made it, and that machines used electricity. He knew about growing flax, and processing flax into thread and weaving that into linen, but he couldn't figure out how electricity turned into clothing. He took a long pull on the flask and put it back, “Yes,” he lied, “But it’s not going to be easy or comfortable.”
After three hours I still haven’t gotten to the place I thought I was going. It’s funny how writing like this is not storytelling. It’s like taking a roadtrip. When I first started driving west I thought I was going to California to see the ocean, but when I got there I ended up discovering something else entirely more interesting. When I started writing I thought I was talking about stories passed down the generations. The punch line was going to be a child living natively off the land, singing the Alka-Seltzer jingle from the 60s as if it were a Mother Goose song about swimming. Plop-plop fizz-fizz…
Maybe, if this ever turns into something longer (afraid to use the word novel), I’ll use that idea.