Book: Gabby (a working chapter)

“So, the old man, the one driving you…I’d swear he was blind, the way his eyes are all milky and glazed over,” the guard said almost absent-mindedly as he walked the boy back to the truck.

“I think he can see just fine,” the boy shrugged, “I guess I never really thought about it. He’s always looked like that, for as long as I can remember.”

The guard opened the passenger door, and helped the boy get inside. “You both be safe now. And thank you. As always, thank you.” The guard shut the door and waved as the old man turned over the engine, threw the truck into gear and sputtered off, bouncing down the pitted roadway.

“Well, my boy, here we go again,” the old man began joyfully, and started chattering on about nothing and everything, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

The boy stared at the old man, now almost as if for the first time. He did, indeed look like he was blind, or seeing in a way that just didn’t make sense. As if his eyes delighted in the world that was before him. The boy looked out his window, and nothing but cold, desolate and windswept land was in view. Not even a tree broke the landscape. Very far in the distant mountains rose, but they too were cold and dark, foreboding. The boy couldn’t see the tops; he remembered would be snow-capped and majestic, because the grey, ashen clouds covered the sky as far as the eye could see. Just grayness, and then darkness, and then darker darkness. The boy sighed.

“What is it, my boy?” the old man asked looking at the boy sidelong, putting a hand on his shoulder.

The boy looked back at the old man, a frown clouding his face. “The guard, he said you looked blind.”

“Haha, oh my, no. Why would he think that? I’m driving a truck after all. Quite well, too,” the old man said, narrowly missing the ditch alongside the road every few hundred feet.

“I don’t know, but you do seem to…see…differently than anybody else. Almost like, well I don’t know, like you see stuff that isn’t there. Or don’t see what is there. Or something like that. I’m not sure how to explain it…” the boy trailed off, wondering if he was making any sense at all.

The old man chuckled, and began:

“My wife Gabby died before the war, and let me tell you, she sure was something special. I had spent the better part of my life working my fingers to the bone, whether laying block or working on the railroad or the coal mines. Heck, I even did a stint for a few years on the oil rigs. All I cared about was work, even more so than the money I was making. I never stopped to look at the trees, or the flowers, or listen to the birds sing, or say hello to a squirrel. Even when they threw acorns at me from a branch! I just didn’t see any of it. Or listen. Or breathe in the fresh, wonderful air, letting it fill my entire being with life. None of it. That is until I met Gabby. Gabby was something else, let me tell you, son. We would be walking and all of the sudden she would just stop, get on her hands and knees, and tell me, “LOOK!” I would get right down there beside her, and there’d just be this worm crawling around in the dirt. She’d then start to point out all the wonderful things about it, how it would constrict its body to move, how it seemed to know where to go, even without eyes…a clearly discernible head even! And then she would say, after all that admiration, “Thank you, Mr. Worm, for letting us enjoy your presence for a minute.” And that would be it. We’d move on and she’d just have this soft smile on her face. And I swear the worm would lift its head, or what I thought was its head, and wave.”

The old man chuckled and shook his head and continued:

“One time we were lying on the grass, just enjoying the warmth of the sunlight, the cool breeze, the way the clouds took on shapes of all sorts of fantastic creatures – dragons, unicorns, and pineapples – when a butterfly landed softly on Gabby’s nose. She laid there with her eyes all cross-eyed, and after a while, made a joke of snapping at it. “CHOMP!” she said and the butterfly flew away, and I swear, to this day, I heard that butterfly laughing.”

The old man chuckled again, and shook his head. “Every time I see a butterfly I think of that and I swear, I hear it laugh again. I still hear Gabby’s laugh, too. She made me so happy.”

At this the old man eyes misted over, and he sniffed a little. He looked over at the boy, and clasped his shoulder again. “She taught me to see the sun and the stars and the trees and the flowers and every good thing the world has to offer. And I never forgot. I see it all, even to this day.”

The man turned back to the road, again narrowly missing the ditch, and the boy thought for sure the man was seeing it all, right there in front of him where everyone else only saw grayness and then darkness and then darker darkness.

And as the boy stared out the window at the cold, barren wasteland passing by, he too wished to meet someone who would teach him how to always see the green fields of old, the sun.

Book: The Beginning

It wasn’t just the war, no certainly not. There had been wars and rumors of wars for as long as anyone could remember. Some places for thousands of years. This time however, the devastation was complete. The land didn’t have the resiliency it once did due to decades of environmental indifference, and the radioactive particles from each new explosion seeped deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. Uncontaminated water sources once tapped were contaminated within days. The small skirmishes that broke over this precious resource, eventually stopped, because, really, what was the point? Anymore.

The once abundant land that produced seed that could then reproduce itself in the beautiful, intricate cycle of life had been stilted by food producers. It was a gross oversight, for how could food be regrown if the factories making the annual harvest seeds were damaged beyond capacity and the scientists who developed the process killed? In fact, this problem was quite extensive in that the genetic code making life-forms sterile spread into many other plant species. Every living thing on earth, to even the most casual observer, was on its last leg. Humans could still reproduce but eventually stopped too, because, again, what was the point? Anymore.

What do you do when you hoarded and fought so much over things meant for sharing that finally, there was nothing left of it to fight for?

The father knew his son didn’t have a future, but still he pretended. They played chess and tag and hide ‘n seek. He told his son stories; great, epic narratives of a time long since passed about heroes who could and would feed the hungry, house the foreigner, and give more than they had, and then somehow end up with even more. Sometimes too his friend, the old man, would stop by and he would crack open the dwindling supply of his most precious resource. A bottle of beer. They would drink it together, raising it to their friends long past, their homelands, the forests, the sun. The boy, feeling slightly dizzy, would remember the smell of the rain, and his mother, holding him close.

One day, however, the father found an old flower pot in his basement. There was still some dirt, and digging around, some seeds! He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but still, he had hope. Him and his son went out back, and almost shaking, held the seeds in a tight fist hovering over the hole they just dug.

“Do you think it will grow?” the boy asked.

“Only one way to find out…” said the father, but right as he was about to open his palm, the boy stopped him.

“Wait, maybe we should do something? I mean….what happened…you know…back before there was stuff growing? Like my science book talks about, before, you know…life?”

“I’m not really sure. I don’t think anyone knows…” the father’s voice trailed off, deep in thought.

The boy shrugged, “Maybe I could blow on it?’

The father, taken aback, looked at him quizzically. “What good would that do?”

“I don’t know. It makes as much sense as anything else,” said the boy, his eyes glittering softly, inspired.

The father chuckled, “Ah my boy, you have faith that can move mountains!”

He opened his palm and the boy blew ever so softly on the seed. The father, just as softly, dropped the precious cargo into the waiting earth.

Sometime later, after the father had gotten very sick, on the day he was sure would be his last, he looked out the window and saw a single shoot sprouting from the mound where they had planted the seed.

Book: Epilogue

As the boy and girl looked up to the sky, the sunset shining in their eyes, we can imagine ourselves looking back down on them and all our friends, waving from the moon or even a shooting star. Imagine too the boy’s message:

Like a soft glow
Spreading from person to person
Moving outwards still,
Forming a great electrical network
Becoming evermore complex, like inside our minds
A nervous system coming to awareness of
Or is it remembering?
This most ancient of all truths.

Book: The Family (a working chapter)

The old man turned down the dirt road towards the family’s house just as the boy awoke from another fitful sleep. He glanced over at the old man.

“Almost there, my boy!” the old man said cheerfully, his milky eyes glimmering.

As they pulled up to the weathered house, the young children gathered around their pick-up.

“Yay, our food is here!” the youngest shouted with joy, jumping up and down at the old man’s window while he chuckled.

“And our friends,” the mother said gladly. She embraced the young boy, and he welcomed her warmth, the softest of her body.

“I’m so sorry to hear of your father passing. He was such a good man, and…I…I’m just so sorry dear.”

“It’s okay,” the boy said when she finally released him, rubbing his eyes.

“Not sure when we’ll have more to bring. You know how it is…even the weeds struggle to grow…” the old man’s voice trailed off, his gleaming eyes fickered for an instant. But he quickly brightened up, “As always, dear, take what you need.”

Surely, he knew he didn’t have enough to give the family all they needed. The mother, of course, took the few bags set aside for her, leaving the rest for the boy’s last two deliveries. They all helped carry the food inside, and once in the kitchen, the children began going through the few bags, exclaiming over the bounty.

“Ma’am, I also have something for you. Special, from my Dad,” the boy said quietly amongst the uproar, lightly tugging on her skirt.

The mother looked tenderly at the note as the boy handed it to her, leaving it folded.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll read it once my husband returns.”

“He’s out looking to see if there’s any fruit on our trees!” said one of the children.

“Haha, there’s never any fruit! Dad has a….YELLOW thumb!” said another. The kids all giggled uncontrollably.

“Those trees didn’t grow fruit even years before all the bombs,” said the mother, smiling, shaking her head. “But still he looks. Everyday.”

A look of despair crossed her face, but she quickly recovered, hiding the deep fear, grief she had for her family.

“Well, we’ll be moving along. We have some more deliveries and don’t want this precious food to go to waste!”

The mother bowed her head in agreement, embracing both good-bye. She held the boy a little longer, a little tighter. As they left, the children were still rummaging through the food, giggling.

After they were gone but a few minutes, the father walked in, his head down, hands behind his back.

“Yay, Daddy! Look, we got some food!”

The father looked at his children, their innocent happiness causing a great grin to spread across his face.

“Honey….Jefferson sent us a note with his son. I was waiting for you,” the mother said, her voice catching.

The father nodded and, as if they knew something important was about to happen, the kids settled down. For the first time in the family’s home, a pin-drop could be heard, and the mother opened the tiny piece of paper.

As she read aloud, each family member looked from one to the other, and then back again. Losing interest, the children returned to their play, but the mother and father continued to stare at each other. The father, ever so slowly, brought his arms from around his back. The mother’s breathing quickened.

In his hands was one single, giant, peach.

Book: The Commander (a working chapter)

The boy trembled as the guards led him down the dark hall to their commander’s bunker. From fear or cold, he couldn’t say. Certainly the dampness that had seeped into his very bone marrow since the final strike all those months ago contributed, but he was loathe to think about that just now. He had more pressing matters. “It is urgent that you get this to our friends as quickly as possible,” his father told him, days (or was it weeks, months?) ago. His father’s final words. A plea.

One guard rapped sharply on the wooden, makeshift door.

“Come in,” she said, and they all entered.

“Jefferson’s son has arrived with this month’s shipment of food. We got a watermelon…”

Though tinged with pain from the knowledge of the death of her old, dear friend, she faintly smiled at her confederate. He remembered.

“But the boy also wanted to give you something. In person, privately.”

As the guard said this the boy stepped from around the tall soldier, shyly, not sure what to do with his hands, feet. He shuffled around, fumbling with his shirt hem. Surprised, the commander stood slowly, mouth open.

“Of course……leave us.”

The guards left, and the two stood in silence. The boy’s eyes darted around the room, noticing the old maps, rifles, and other military paraphernalia, the dust falling from the ceiling as some large truck rolled by on the street above their heads. He seemed nervous to meet the commander’s eyes, though she evenly surveyed him, curious, pained.

Finally he looked at her. He might have thought she was beautiful, if he knew what beauty was, but instead he merely presented a small, slip of paper. She received it slowly. Without opening it or even taking her eyes from the child, she asked him, “What does it say?”

“I don’t know, I can’t read.”

The commander bowled over imperceptibly, as if the slightest kick had hit her square in the chest.

“Would you like me to read it to you?”

“NO,” the boy shouted quickly, loudly. Nervously.

The commander cocked her head to one side, searching, still not taking her eyes from him.

“No…I…I don’t want to know what it says. Not until I’ve finished delivering it to everybody. Father…my dad…he said everyone along the trade route needed to know…and…I have to do this quickly…or…I don’t know. I don’t want to know until the last person knows…”

The boy seemed ashamed of this, but the commander smiled warmly. She understood such hopes, fears.

“Uh…so…that’s it. I…well….see ya later.”

The boy turned back and forth several times, uncertain, finally deciding on a poorly executed salute. The commander stood straight, lock step, returned his salute with a quick, perfect one of her own. The boy scrambled to the door and tried unsuccessfully several times to grip the handle. The guard opened it from the other side, meeting the commander’s eyes before closing the door, his hand on the boy’s back. They gave each other the briefest of nods.

Once alone, the commander sat back down, the slip of paper still folded in front of her. She stared at it for some minutes and then slowly opened the message. She read and reread the single line over and over. Placing her head in her hands, she stared at it for a long, long while. Until finally, as if holding her breath the entire time, her whole body collapsed around a sigh. Closing her eyes, a single teardrop escaping.