Shattered. Forgetful. Forgot. Ten years, one month.
What’s in a calamity? – he mused. Rejecting himself, he recoiled from the runners, with their uniform slick, tight silver training outfits. Monochromatic, that’s a part of the calamity – maybe he thought. He pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket. The old pocket had a small hole at the bottom – too small for anything but some antique coins he’d found as a child. A bit of spare change. Several coins fell into the inner lining, occasionally moved from the sides to the back of the coat, making themselves known to his posterior when he sat down. The light, woolen trench coat came to just below his buttocks. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Smoked one. The packaging had faded to a light blue, only two letters remained: an A and as S. Time to meet Mar.
Mar lived in an old abandoned shack on the outskirts of Park. The settlement of Park had been hastily built just before the calamity, with metal and glass brought in from some local warehouses. Eventually Park became larger, and after the collapse, a year after the calamity, it became a kind of regional hub, with its own defense force.
Mar’s place predated the calamity, the settlement and some of the trees. Several old pines obscured Mar’s wooden cabin. Mar chain-smoked cigarettes between bong hits. She grew her own weed. She tended to those plants as though they were her own children. They grew large at 41.2577° N, 123.3226° W, almost her exact location. Soft, cool bubbly steam infused with that medicinal herb entered her gnarled yet surprisingly healthy lungs. Mar was old. No one knew just how old, but she was very old. Some suspected her of being over one-hundred rotations around the sun. Her rugged hands and dark, tan skin resembled the outer part of a Redwood tree.
Perhaps she was as ancient as a Sequoia – the name she gave her dog, a youthful, happy blonde Labrador retriever. Retriever here is key. The dog loved to retrieve items for Mar. He’d sneak into neighbor’s houses and reclaim Mar’s things by scent: books (‘borrowed’ by Stone), a pair of slippers (never returned by Stone’s wife, a woman who, for reasons no one really knew, had no name and simply went by ‘Stone’s wife), a deck of cards (‘borrowed’ by Tomas), and even several chess pieces found on the ground outside of Joan’s house.
Everyone played chess and cards since the calamity. Sequoia loved to see Shattered, and the feeling was nearly mutual. Shattered couldn’t quite bring himself to love, but it came to him in the form of excited barks, licks and soft, excited whimpers. “Now, that’s enough, sit down, come on, come on, come on.” Shattered approached Mar’s place, opened the door and came in.
“Want a drink?” Mar asked, holding up a bottle of some homemade whiskey Stone had given her.
“No Mar, but a little tea would be nice.”
“Damn! Well, I am not one to judge, never have been, not in any place to do, and don’t want to. But S, five days in a row of strong-brew mushroom tea–Ooo, boy! Well, here it is.”
She lifted a ladle from a big pot on the wood stove and poured some in a an old ceramic mug. The mug, fatter in the middle, once had a flower and a creature called Mickey Mouse on it — both long faded. Shattered drank the lukewarm solution in one gulp.
“I am trying to figure out,” Shattered said, sitting back in one of the two rocking chairs. Mar, of course, occupied the other. Her dark green eyes, lit by the western Summer sun coming through the old glass windows, shined. Shattered even perceived some crystalline figures coming out of them. The medicine began working. “Mar, I am trying to figure out.”
“Let me stop you there, S, figurin’ out stuff like you’re trying ain’t never proved useful to me. More pain and trouble than it’s worth. Look, you’re what, thirty-three? Right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Shattered nodded, his thin, ashen face framed by his long dark hair reminded Mar of her first husband. She liked his look. He could be her son. Although she knew he wasn’t, but he was, she’d raised him since his parents abandoned him when he was two-years old, exactly one year after the calamity. He stopped looking or asking about them when he turned twenty-three, and served briefly in the Park defense force, wearing the sleek uniforms and running for miles. Aside from briefly thinking of joining the medical containment and isolation unit, Shattered had few ambitions yet he had one obsession–the place.
Before he joined the defense force, he already knew how to make a raft, how to skin and carve a variety of animals, how to build a shelter, how to make a food and herb garden, how to sew, cook and many other things. Mar had taught him everything. Most of the post-calamity kids knew these things too, and most of them joined at sixteen, but Shattered took his time, learning from Mar, not just survival and practical matters but literature and and advanced mathematics. Only after he felt he’d learned what he needed to be whole did he then join for the minimum one year of service. Mar had been some sort of genius professor from a place called South Carolina, long before the calamity, and she knew what was coming and where to go, and she went. She came here.
“I know, I know–but the rumors–the place.”
“Ain’t no travellin’ to the place, if such a place does exist.” Mar rocked back and forth in her wicker rocking chair, her eyes, lit each time she went back, let out little light messages like codes to Shattered. The wood room, square, held a stove, two chairs and a bench with a fur-coated oval bed for Sequoia. He only slept in his bed at the beginning of the night, but around 4am he’d either go into Mar’s room and sleep with her or go out and stealthy retrieve useful items and Mar’s lost objects. Mar’s room held a bed that nearly took up the whole space, and it had no door.
“I need to use the outhouse, it free?”
“Should be, old man Stone isn’t back yet; he’s been chopping lumber like a woodpecker, preparing for winter, ‘supposed to be a cold one’ he says. Said that last year and it didn’t even snow. Lots of rain though.”
“I’ll be a minute.” Shattered left for the old outhouse, a building that sat some 50 meters from Mar’s place, and beyond it, to the left another 100 meters, sat Stone’s sturdy wooden house. He’d lived here since before the calamity. Shattered walked down the path through the pines and ferns, and found a dead squirrel near the door. The door, a piece of wood tied to the sides of an old wooden frame with metal wire, slammed shut. Shattered undid his trousers and sat down. He looked out the screen window; the sun’s rays came through the trees and illuminated the foliage on the forest floor. He thought about the place. He thought about what life might be like there. He’d heard the rumors. He’d even seen the light, high above, fly by brightly on clear nights. He knew the numbers, 53°25’05.5″N 132°20’33.5″W. After washing his hands with lye soap, and the tap from the well, the water being pumped by pressure from the water-wheel in the river, he returned to Mar. Everything felt safe.
“Listen, S, there’s a new administrator at Park, did you know? Came yesterday.” Mar smoked a cigarette rocking back and forth.
“No, what’s their name?”
“Tallie, TJ Tallie, a real tyrant. I knew him some years ago. Raised all kinds of hell last time he came through these parts. I wish they’d kick him off the Council. But, what kinda’ voice do I have. Ain’t no one listenin’ to me. Hell, he’s the new administrator. They wanted balance after the last election. Balance with Tallie? No way.”
“Should we go to the meeting, and raise objections?”
“Sure, he’s a mean fucker … But will you speak for me? I am…”
“Yes, of course I will.”
“I love you, S.”