The last thirty or forty days have been pretty apocalyptic for me, what with essays on classic intrapocalyptic literature and films (The Birds and The Death of Grass, to be specific), analyses of the different ways societies might respond to the hypothetical end of days (Sweatily, Cozily, and via Escapism, in case you were wondering), and the release of my last ebook, ABSENCES – Two Tales of Impending Apocalypse.
Sadly for my straining vocabulary, the coming week will be no less so. The new Dark Matters title, AFTERMATHS, comes out one week from now, exploring what life after the fall may be like. Just like the pitiful dregs of humanity left to sift through the rubble and battle with each other over the last scraps of sustenance, I’ve brought this suffering on myself…
But misery loves company, as they say, and I don’t want to face the future alone, so here’s an excerpt from the first story – in which a farmer whose lands are surprisingly fertile has crossed a blistered landscape to pay a visit on one of his neighbours: the man who guards their community against invaders from across a hostile frontier…
Thought I’d see you shortly,” Argabrite said as he came up from the barrier. One of his grandsons led Ruggier’s horse into the cool shadow of the watchmen’s longhouse, for water drawn from their spring-fed reservoir. The two men only shook hands when they were out of the accidental view of whoever might be around—barrier volunteers came from every corner and could be related to friend or foe—but it was a heartless greeting.
The Argabrite family’s huge log cabin was filled with furniture as incongruous as the precious solar panels currently lashed to the corrugated steel roof that overhung it to the ground on all sides. The old man lowered himself into one of two cracked leather chairs, both as old as the smooth, dark hardwood table between them, waving Ruggier into the other.
“You’re leaving it late,” he observed. His sagging chops never smiled, but there was hard humour in his eyes. “Thought you’d decided to weather the storm.”
“The cart is on its way,” Ruggier said, “but you’re a fool for waiting on it. Why’ve you no trust in me after all this time?”
Argabrite shrugged one shoulder. “Nothing grows faster than a debt, and no harvest is harder to bring in than a payment. I’m not here to show trust. I’m here to put a bullet in whatever threatens this piss-poor way of life. The other farms, all those folks in that board-fronted joke of a town, they don’t get our service for free. Neither do you.”
Ruggier leaned back into his chair, scowling. “Well, it’s coming.”
“We’ll get fed either way. That plus the visiting whores is enough for the likes of us. But position is what you worry over. All those people, needing you. Your sweet land, your sweet, soft, tasty crops, and none of it that would hold up under a single dose.” Argabrite’s whiskery lips twitched. “Maybe it’s time for a change. Farmory and Coplyn, they still bring in enough to sell at market, enough to pay us here. Maybe not a huge, fine harvest like yours, but tough enough to take what nature throws.”
Ruggier slapped the table, out of his seat with a face like thunder. “I said they’re coming! Here, and to your cousin’s camp!” The old man raised placatory palms, then flicked one hand toward something at his guest’s back. When Ruggier turned there was only the empty doorway to the next room, but he heard a creaking board as someone moved away behind the wall.
“Settle, Mr. Ruggier, settle.” Ruggier looked back into a face as expressionless as a pig-leather mask. “We’re here to serve best interests, now as always. Town convinced my father it was best interest to keep newcomers on the far side of these mountains, and now I do that service and take your payment on the quarter, right along with everyone else’s.
“And your father, he convinced me it’s best interest for the Ruggier farm to flourish. More food for all, and healthy commerce means a healthy society.” Sincerity in the voice, but mockery in the eyes. “So you keep me convinced, and I’ll do what I can.”
There was nothing for him to do except say thank you and collect his horse. The grandson was sealing off their underground reservoir and diverting the spring stream down to the valleys, and as they set off Ruggier found himself keeping pace as it trickled back along its dry, familiar path. He didn’t pass the cycle-cart while descending. Argabrite had the sense to hide his surplus bounty from idle view; it would be unloaded in some hidden twist of the mountains.
It was mid-afternoon when a flurry of deep booms echoed from the peaks. Ruggier twisted in the saddle to look, but saw no more than a faint haze in the blue. As he left the freeway for the last leg of his journey they sounded again, this time far off to the south and fainter, the sharp edge softened but not fooling his ear. He wondered if they reached Coplyn’s ears, or Farmory’s, or all the way to the town; and, if they did, whether they sounded any more like thunder with distance and ignorance.
He gulped down food and water standing in the yard, tired and dirty from the road, eyes on the sky. Clouds lurked at the horizon now, preparing to spill over the mountain line, but only where Argabrite and his cousin had seeded them, drawing moisture away from the centre. When they finally did come rolling down, they flowed well wide of his turf.
Ruggier spent the evening drinking on his balcony, watching the rain fall safely in the distance until it was too dark to see. Strong winds to the north drove the clouds past quickly, but in the south they lingered, and his bottle emptied itself long before they did.
What kind of farmer doesn’t want the rain to fall on his land? To find out, you’re going to have to buy Aftermaths: Two Post-Apocalyptic Tales – published Thursday, May 7th, on pre-order now.