Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stubs: Still Working On Timing.

I grew up taking trips to the beach two or three times a year, and we went up to North Georgia to see the leaves a couple of times. I wanted to see Rome, always did, even as a kid. And I had gone to New York City twice. There was a bit of a wanderer in me and I always assumed that I would go to Mexico one day, and Canada, too. When the Stubs came it didn’t dent my dreams, at first, and I remember being at the beach one weekend with some friends and we sat on the sand and talked about what the Stubs meant and where they might have come from. Gas has spiked up a quarter a gallon but we got that when a hurricane hit anywhere within five hundred miles of the Gulf. I was just fifteen at that time, and there was no sign at all that the end was near, or even remotely close. We drove back and I remember listening to the radio and hearing about a Stub that killed a man in Boston, in broad daylight. He was the one hundredth victim in the United States, and that didn’t crack the top ten causes of death, not by a wide margin.

We took turns driving to school when gas hit three bucks a gallon. I hated the fact that I had worked my ass off all my life to be able to buy a truck and then gas went up on me as soon as I turned sixteen. But we could still get pot pretty cheap, and there was a sense of excitement that there was something going on that was dangerous and unknown. There was even talk about renaming our school team to the “Stubs” but teachers and parents thought it was in poor taste. We kept up with people on FB that did videos of attacks and there were a lot of fake ones out there, too. It was like watching the water rise in a boat and laughing as the rats jumped out into the ocean. The first wave of Stubs really didn’t make that big of a mark on humanity and it took a while to realize that shooting them was making things a lot worse.

The second wave hit about the time I graduated from High School. I was leaning towards joining the military after school because making a living in Brooks County had gotten hard. It wasn’t really hard or even to the point people were talking about the end, but the Stubs were here and the Crystal Cough came with them, and people were dying. It had taken this long to figure out we weren’t killing them when they disappeared and that news was the first piece of information that really jolted people. We weren’t killing them we were spreading them. That was a shock. The fact that we had spent four years making things worse hit everyone’s morale. It wasn’t funny at all anymore and it was like everyone woke up on the same day and started wondering what we were going to do.

News came out on the internet, and a lot of news came out on the internet that turned out to be totally weird stuff made up from nothing, that the Stubs had arrived from outer space, and that they were encased in shells that melted in the atmosphere. Four years ago we had gone through a small cloud of them, and when they hit Earth they started feeding. Well, there was some guy in Sweden who was saying there was a much larger cloud of them, and we were heading right for it, and if we didn’t find a way to knock them out of the way or destroy them we were going to be knee deep in these things in three months. The first true global effort to solve a problem went into high gear, and who knows, maybe they got enough of the incoming Stubs to save us, but we’ll never know. We stood in the middle of town with all the lights turned off and watched as thousands of streaks of light streamed towards Earth. We were screwed and everyone knew it.

They rained down from the sky for three days. They were barely visible in the daytime and at night it was hard to tell where they were going to land. But the sound they made was unmistakable and when one landed within a mile or so you could feel it. I remember counting them, two or three every hour, for three days. You are thinking right now that doesn’t sound that bad but they landed everywhere and we couldn’t kill them and they fed on us. They fed on everything they could put in their mouths; cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, and anything made of meat. They walked through fences like they weren’t there. They stopped heavy trucks when they got hit by them. They walked through fire and they would walk into a creek on one side and come out of the other.

A year after the Second Wave, there was no real contact from the outside world except from radio, and an occasional satellite transmission on the internet. It was the same everywhere. In big cities things were so bad that the Russians nuked some of their own towns to see if that would kill the Stubs, but even that made things worse, much worse, but almost everything that anyone did made things worse.

The second year was bad, but it wasn’t the end yet. We were still growing food, we still had a doctor, there was still some fuel, and there were still supplies coming in, about once a week or so, and the government was still telling everyone everything was going to get better. We were still seeing the air force out every once in a while, but it was getting dangerous to be out after dark. We heard from the radio there were riots and mobs out killing people and there were places that were on fire from looters.

The third year after the Second Wave we knew all we had was what we could see in front of us. My parents died early in the year, and the kids were killed a few months later. Kim was killed a month after that, and I really didn’t think any of us would be alive for much longer.

The fourth year came as we lived like rats, running hard from one place to another, everyone helping each other as they could, but we were running out of everything. In a town of five thousand people there was a good three hundred of us left. When some stranger named Bill Bergstrom called a meeting most people went simply because there wasn’t anything left to do. This is the story of what happened after that meeting, and what we did to try to save the human race from extinction.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Stubs: Random Writing

You never really think about sound until its quiet. We got up on the roof one night and listened to the night and there was so much of what we had gotten used to that was gone. It was easy to get used to the dark because the sky was an amazing thing now that there were no lights at all. The stars seemed closer and bunched together and the Milky Way spread out over the sky like a river. If the Stubs had come from somewhere out there it was hard to imagine there wouldn’t be something better or worse or different or anything. Everything seemed possible with a sky that full at night.

Roof top watching was a big thing. People brought sleeping bags up there when it was nice weather and we had to be careful of the roof. But sometimes, when it was really cold, and there was no one up there but Berg and me, and later, Reba and me, I could almost hear the sound of her heartbeat it would get so still. There were no human sounds at all anymore; no traffic, no planes, no factories, no trains, no metal against metal sounds or the sound of anybody playing music anywhere. It would make a person nearly deaf the silence was so big and so intense. Without a lot of background noise to clutter things up so much, we discovered that sometimes we would be whispering because regular conversation seemed so terribly loud.

Sometimes, in the school, when we were all just scattered out on the floor on mats and sleeping bags, and cots, it was easier to fall asleep with the noise of other people in the room, yawning, turning, snoring, coughing, than it was to sleep when we made apartments and brought in beds. It was easy to hear two people making love, no matter how quiet they tried to be, but no one complained about it, until some of the younger couple got too loud with it, but still, it was good to hear anything at all.

At the same time, one of the few animals that seemed to have gotten off scot free were the birds. When the cats were gone the bird started coming back. When people started disappearing birds seemed to thrive like we had never suspected they might. During the springtime it was downright loud there were so many birds singing. We knew there were a lot more fish, and we knew there was a hell of a lot more beavers. But fishing was something that was more dangerous than anything else a person could do because it required a certain state of mind, and so did watching your back.

And things were getting overrun with weeds and brush. Trails disappeared and even roads began to be erased by rain and lack of attention. Folk that swore they would never live in town had to move because getting to and from the country got to be impossible in some cases. By the time we decided to abandon the town and all move out to the old school, there were a lot of mail routes that didn’t exist. The hurricane that hit in 2017, Irma, flooded the hell out of a lot of roads and knocked down a mess of trees. We were all at the school and it hammered our fence line hard, but we got it all back up in a day. But you think about the rest of the area at the time. Every house that got a tree landing on it hard was gone forever. And we realized a lot of things would be gone forever. If you broke a pair of fingernail clippers you sure didn’t want to borrow any but the store room cost time to get things out of it with a one hour minimum. We gave up on plastics as much as we could and we tried to make our own when we could, and when we had to, and we did have to more than you would think.
But that’s another thing. When you sit on a roof top listening to the sky and your heart you lose a lot of the stuff in your head that was going on and on. Songs didn’t get stuck in a mind like they would back when, and there were a lot fewer things that belonged to one person. Everything you owned could be worn on your back, mostly, because nothing else fit into what we were trying to do, and that was survive.
And that was something else, too. Back before, I owned a nice truck and a nice house, neither were grand or expensive but I felt proud of what I had in life. Now, all of that was gone. I felt proud of my life in a different way. I could look down a row of soy beans and see that it rows were clear and clean of weeds, and that felt good. I looked up at the windmill pumping water and that felt good, too. I was tired, dead tired most days, and that felt good. We had food enough, even if it was the same things over and there was no meat, but I felt like we would survive, whatever that meant, and that we would be able to build back something, one day.

It’s hard to describe the world that was because even as we looked back at it, the memories were diluted and became harder to taste. We would sit around the supper table and talk about things that existed that some of the younger people never saw, and would never see, and we realized that we were speaking a foreign language to them, like when my grandfather spoke of Viet Nam or the days when gasoline was less than a dollar. But these young people knew of gasoline as something rare and precious, and fleeting. An eight year old might have never traveled in a car any further than Valdosta, which was twenty miles away. A five year old might have never seen a banana. There were teenagers who had never graduated from High School, and would never graduate, and who would never see a prom, or a football game. There were children who were amazed by electric lights and running water, because it took us over a year to get them both back on a daily basis. No one owned their own refrigerator or their own kitchen, even of the cabins did have them, there were only a few of them. There were no more wrist watches and no more cell phones. There were no more key rings for there were nothing with a lock on it anymore, except the armory. I’m willing to bet one hundred percent of the men were carrying a wallet on the first day we moved in and more than willing to bet no one had one after three months. Gone was the need for license or insurance cards, or for that matter, money. Everyone carried a pocket knife these days, and nearly everyone wore a hat, even the women. Gloves were in demand and the need for someone to learn how to make gloves out of rough cloth became an obsession. Trash bags disappeared after a while because there wasn’t anything to throw away anymore.

Rats and mice flourished for the first few months because they were too small to be noticed by the Stubs, but the owls and hawks soon began to catch up with them. It took some folks a while to get used to the idea of letting rat snakes live, but one rat could ruin a week’s worth of food, and many hours of hard labor, overnight. People got used to snakes eating rats and mice and people got used to eating rats and mice, if they wanted any meat at all. Mostly, people got used to not eating meat. There really wasn’t a choice.

One night we were on the roof in sleeping bags and it was cold, really cold, but it was one of the few places Reba and I felt truly alone. We sat up and watched the lunar eclipse, and it was a surprise to us, because these things were predictable before the Stubs came. Now it was simply beautiful, and wonderful, and it was awful, too, because I realized there was so much knowledge that the human race might never regain. Thousands of years ago, Chinese astronomers could predict eclipses with incredible accuracy and now one had snuck up on us. Would we humans ever rebuild? Would we be smarter this time? None of that matter right now because we had crops to harvest and rats to kill. We had to feed ourselves first, and I feared that before I died I would live to see humanity slip back into a deep state of ignorance.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

President Peyton List, God, and Me.

Once you pass under the overpass that carries I-75 both North and South, if you are headed west, you leave the domain of the Valdosta City Police and enter the jurisdiction of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department. It’s forty-five miles an hour zone that will last for just over a mile, but there is a very complex mixture of traffic that makes this mile and a piece a whole lot different than most city streets or county roads.

To begin with you have those people heading west. They’re trying to get out of Valdosta and go somewhere else and be somewhere else. It’s a four lane highway with a generous two way turn in the middle that is more used by those heading east, and turning left, than those heading west and turning left. But to the people heading west, there’s a little bit of very strange magic working on this road, and no one likes it at all.

Not everyone heading west is trying to get out of Valdosta. There’s a half dozen little side roads, a trailer park entrance, a couple of houses with driveways, and there’s a store and there’s James Road right there at the store, and there are at least three roads leading into, and therefore out of, subdivisions. Conventional Wisdom tells drivers to stay in the left lane if they want to travel faster than other traffic and to stay in the right lane if they want to go slower than other traffic. But because of all the side roads and drive ways, locals, like me, have learned to stay the hell away from the right lane. Worse, infinitely worse, there’s a major side road on the left side of the road, Rocky Ford,  that locals have learned to stay in the left lane of they want a chance to turn there and not get blocked in by traffic.

This is how it plays out, and it plays out like this all the fucking time.

There are those who are going to exit at Rocky Ford who are going to stay in the left lane and they are going to drive the speed limit. You cannot fault these people for this because there is no sense in driving sixty miles an hour for a mile and a piece and then have to slow down to make a left turn. We aren’t discussing this being the fault of those people because it isn’t. Now, we also have people, of questionable intelligence or nonlocal origin, who believe that dropping into the right lane is the path around those people in the left lane. Manifestly, they are wrong.

Invariably, a car will drop into the right lane, build up speed, then the car ahead of them will slow down to make a right, or worse, someone will pull out of James Road or the trailer park, and they’re stuck again.

This is how it plays out, and it play out like this all the fucking time.

There’s a blue car behind me, that drops down to pass me, and the car in front of the blue car slows down because a car in front of it is turning right. The blue car drops in behind me again, and gets close, to push me. But there’s a pick up in front of me doing the speed limit and we’re in the Magical Mile that means I’m sitting it out right here, at forty-five, and I’m not going to do anything else. The car starts to change lanes, but there’s a car there already now and he has to whip it back as the car blows its horn. To punish that driver, the blue car drops in behind him and gets really close to push him to go faster. And the guy in front and refuses to do so.

May I please have a show of hands of those who do not see this coming?

At James Road, which has one of those right turn lanes that lets people pull into traffic easier and sometimes suicidal, a pick up does just that. I’m already braking and I’m heading into the Promised Land of the turn lane. The guy behind me has no idea why I’ve just bailed, but if it’s good enough for me then it’s good enough for him and he locks them down, too. Horns blow. Brake lights in unison, please. And the guy in the blue car, because he doesn’t want to die, whips it back into the lane where he has no idea I’m not occupying anymore. He misses rear ending the car ahead of him by less than a second. He still misses me by less than I like because he’s overreacted and gone too far over into the turn lane. Then, because people have no idea what to do when they’ve really screwed up, he hits his brakes.  If this was a four lane without the turn lane he would have just bought a head on collision, it the right traffic.

All the time, really. This happens so often I start looking for it.

So off we go. The slow guy has got a pretty good lead, the people in the right lane were unaffected, if not freaked out, and the guy behind me, having watched me survive a near miss, backs off and lets me have some space. Oh, and blue car guy? I have no idea what’s going on in the car but I can see there are other people in there with him, and about now, there’s some pants that need cleaning out and very likely, a passenger or three that might consider homicide as a way to improve the driving population and very likely the gene pool, too.

Suddenly, as we’re getting past Rocky Ford and things are going to open up and we’re all going to live. A young woman starts crawling out of the passenger side window. She’s young, really young, and she looks like Peyton List, sort of, really pretty, and her long blonde hair is writhing in the wind like a living thing trying to escape the horror of having to be in the same car as whoever the hell that is driving it. The young woman sits on the door, looks back at me, and puts her hands out, palms touching, holds it, and then crawls back inside again, fighting to force her hair back into a vehicle driven by a lunatic.

Dear god of the Universe,
If there was someone out there, a grandmother perhaps, who prayed her grandson would not be killed on the road tonight, you owe me. If the blonde girl was supposed to grow up to be president, or cure cancer, you owe me. I’m a simple man. I’m not asking for very much, but maybe a donation to the Humane Society that would clear their debt, or maybe even something nice for someone who really deserves it. I don’t want to win the lottery or a burning bush, but could you just make the world a little nicer for dogs?

If someone prayed over the driver of that car, please speak to them about taking his keys away from him. And the young girl, tell her not to do that anymore.

If he had side swiped me a dozen things horribly wrong might have happened and you know it.

You owe me. Send a check to the Humane Society.

Take Care,