I just want the truth.
The world was barren, there was nothing left.
How did it happen?
Was it some kind of plot against all organized government? Or was it the final breakdown of the changing of the season because of climate control or something like that? Were the paranoid theorists right?
Or maybe it was something more and something less than what we all have been concerned over. Maybe it was something that was stoppable, but not because of any government or organized group of people. Maybe it was something that could only be stopped by the ordinary, every day person. Not doing anything spectacular or particularly clever or outside of their normal duties. Just something…different.
No one really knew what it was that caused it, but in the end, everything that had made up civilization was gone. No explanation, no reasons, nothing. It was just…gone.
I’d go further into this, but I wasn’t all that old when this happened and so the whys and hows aren’t really all that important to me. They might have been to my mother, she always had to know why so that she could know best what to do. My father, on the other hand, didn’t bother finding out why or how. He’d never been the kind to worry all that much about what was going on outside of the house. He’d been content to stay home and worry about what was going on inside the house.
Of course, he’d been like that before everything collapsed. Mother had always been the one to go out and earn our bread while Father stayed home and baked that bread, kept the house clean and made sure we children did what we were supposed to be doing.
This arrangement between my parents stayed much the same; Mother left the house to find what we needed, barter for it, hunt for it, do whatever it was she did for it and Father stayed home to watch over the children, to keep house and to make sure that our education never failed.
Life went on as usual, though much of what used to be considered ‘usual’ was anything but. They had no new children added to the family, but even if the life of Before hadn’t changed they wouldn’t have had anymore anyway. Mother couldn’t have children, hadn’t given birth to any of the children their parents currently had.
All six children had been adopted or fostered or whatever phrase was used Before.
It didn’t matter. Most children look an awful lot like adults that they spend most of their time around anyway simply because of muscle mimicry.
(Father studied psychology in his spare time Before and After. I, as the eldest, learned a lot of whatever caught his or Mother’s fancy as the only one that was old enough to understand most of what they talked about when the other wasn’t able to chat.)
Even with different eyes and shades of skin or hair, most of us had the same exact expressions that Mother and Father used so most people, Before, had been surprised to learn that every single one of us was adopted.
Now it wasn’t that strange to find a family made up of people that didn’t actually have any blood relation between them. During whatever it was that destroyed civilization people died; some were adults but an awful lot were children. No one really knows why, they just started dying faster than most of the adults.
At least, where I live it was like that. We didn’t lose anyone, but it was close for the youngest three. We thought Carlos was dead for a bit there. Father had covered his face and Mother and Julie had started picking where in the garden we were going to start digging the grave when Sally (she’s only four) kept insisting that Carlos play with her. She kept tickling him and Father couldn’t get her to stop.
It was a good thing he hadn’t because otherwise we probably would have buried poor Carlos alive.
I try not to think about it. I keep myself busy, really busy, so it only starts to bother me if I can’t fall asleep right away at night. so I work myself as much into exhaustion as possible.
But that isn’t what I was talking about.
(It’s hard to stay on track sometimes.)
I was talking about how it isn’t that strange for families to be made up of people that have no blood relation. Those who want children find children, those who live out on the streets, those whose parents died instead or even those who have snuck across the boarders in order to find better food for themselves.
Sometimes there are fights over the children. Adults on all sides wanted someone to remember them or to feel like they have a purpose. We’ve even had to fight off several passersby who want to take one of us as their own.
Father doesn’t like killing, it’s part of why Mother is the one who goes hunting, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t do something to someone who threatens his children. Like a mother bear (even though he isn’t a mother, but a father) he will attack and kill anything or anyone who threatens his children. Even if that threat is to take them and try to give them a ‘better’ life in the different towns that still sport ‘civilization.’
I say ‘sport’ because that’s all it really is. Someone who is strong enough, knows enough people or otherwise controls a town show or allow whatever brand of ‘civilization’ that they prefer within the borders of their town. Some people have even tried to control more than one town, but now one that I now of has succeeded. There are towns that have allied with one another, but in the end, it’s every town or everyone for themselves. No one really trusts anyone else that they don’t have a reason to do so.
And no one wants to find a reason to trust whoever they view as ‘outsiders.’
We’re not really part of a town, but there is a lose collection of farms ’round about where we live and we’re on fairly good terms with our neighbors. All that really means, though, is that when something goes missing or is damaged, we don’t immediately suspect any of the neighbors as being ‘behind the plot.’ We help each other out now and then, but we don’t have church together or barn raisings (most of the time) or things like that. We keep to ourselves and only really meet up when something goes wrong.
Like if people are getting sick or someone is attacked or something large is stolen.
Or if someone tries to take your children.
Father doesn’t own a gun. Mother does, but Father doesn’t. He knows how to basically clean one out and does so for Mother when she can’t, but he doesn’t know how to use one.
He does know how to use any other kind of farming equipment, like a hoe or a rake or a shovel, anything that can be a basic club with a sharpened end. I know he does, because I’ve seen him use one.
Someone tried to take Sally once. I don’t even know why. She’d too young to do much of anything but occasionally help out with chores. She can’t cook, she’s not the best cleaner and she is still learning how to tie her shoes. There really isn’t any reason to take her.
Unless you want someone young enough to forget who their parents were first.
Father was doing the laundry in the yard, hanging it up to dry after scrubbing it on the scrub board. Sally had been moving the laundry into the rinsing tub, which really meant she was splashing anyone or anything close enough to get caught in a small wave of water.
She wasn’t too far from Father and whoever took her was likely desperate or arrogant or something, because they ran up from the road, grabbed Sally and started running away with her.
Father dropped what was in his hands, not caring if it fell into the wash basin or onto the dirt ground, grabbed the nearest thing that would be described as a weapon (it was the yard broom that he’d used to rake away the leaves earlier in the day and hadn’t put up yet) and gave chase.
We’d had drills on what to do if this kind of thing happened after one of the neighbor’s boys was snatched the season before. I hadn’t needed to stay with the other children because Tom was there and he’d make sure no one else was taken. I was supposed to follow Father and help when and where I could.
When I caught up, Father had tripped the man, pulled Sally away, shoved her into my arms with a stern shout to keep her head pressed into my shoulder and wait for him in case there were others nearby waiting to snatch the both of us. I held the metal bat that had been Tom’s from Before in one hand while clutching Sally to my chest with the other. I kept my eyes from watching Father and the man too closely (hearing the meaty thunks of the yard broom as it met the flesh of the man were bad enough, I didn’t want to watch) and kept aware of our surroundings, just in case I needed to warn Father of any one else.
No one else was there, or came forward at least.
I don’t know if Father killed the man, like I said, I didn’t look too closely, but if no one else was there (or willing to come forward) then it is likely that the man died eventually. I do know that after Mother came home, she and Father went to where we had left the man. They were gone for what seemed like hours, it probably was with the way Tom kept looking at the wind-up clock after we’d put the other children to bed and cleaned up the kitchen.
When they came back there was dirt on their shoes, thick dirt. Neither Tom nor I asked what had happened or what they had been doing. They didn’t offer anything, simply hugged us tightly, looked in on all of the younger ones, sent us to bed, bolted the door tightly and went to bed themselves. We still had to wake up bright and early, before the sun was really up, to milk the cow and take care of other chores before the younger ones were to wake up and get ready for the day.
Life went on, but I never forgot that though Father was kind and gentle and had never successfully learned how to shoot a gun, he was more than capable of defending his children.
He wouldn’t let anyone take us or hurt us or do anything that would be against our better interests.
He loved us and the best way he had to show us was to teach us how to do things, how to cook and clean and work a farm. How to survive until you could live.
Be brave in your pain, son.
Mother taught us how to be strong, how to go out and find what we needed when we couldn’t make it ourselves. She taught us how to defend ourselves and how to move on the offense instead of reacting on the defense. She taught us how to love someone so much you didn’t stay in one place and always watch them, you moved around and then you came back.
You always came back, because you loved them more than whatever it was out there that had lured you away in the first place.
So yes, the world ended, it ended in the way that most people saw it. Electricity was still there, if you knew how to generate it, use it, make it safe for daily use, but all the trust and the interconnectedness that had abounded Before was gone.
But people lived on.
We didn’t stop and waste away. It’s likely that some did, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t live on without everything that they’d had Before. But many just kept going, they had to adapt and change and do things differently, learn things that they hadn’t known or even thought about Before, but they did it because giving up wasn’t an option.
Mother and Father were like that. They refused to give up and stop and they didn’t want us to give up or stop either, so they taught us everything they knew and sometimes things that they didn’t know so that we could first survive and then learn how to live once we’d learned how to do the first thing.
There is more, so much more, that I could say or write and tell you, but in the end, it’s not something you can learn from a book. It’s things that you learn from living your life that I can’t tell you about because if you really want to learn it then you need to be right there next to me, learning it. I’ve been told that it’s possible for someone to be next to you if they read what you’ve written and it’s like they’re learning whatever lesson they needed vicariously through you. I don’t know how well that works out, but if it does for some, then I’m happy for them.
As for myself, most of the time it was something that I needed to find out by doing it or watching it and not just reading about it.
But everyone’s different and I’m glad for that. It’s because of that that Mother and Father worked so well together, not because they learned or did things the same, but because they were different enough in most things, but had the same purpose that they were able to do so much together.
Maybe someday I’ll write more and hope that someone, somewhere, is reading this and learning from it. I don’t know if I will, though, because it still doesn’t make all that much sense to me to read the ramblings of someone whose likely long gone.
Inspired by the first Monday prompt from Light and Shade Challenge.