Stories should start with Hope, especially stories of the Future, for we should always look to the Future with that best of emotions. Too often these days, the narrative of what may come is painted black, bleak and a place you would not want to go. Yet it is a place that we are destined to inhabit no matter how much we might dread it, or even how hard we fight against it.
It’s coming, like it or not.
While it is healthy to fear the unknown, you should not let that fear rule you. Take the hand of Hope and face the Future gladly.
November 25th, 2067
“Its not too late to change your mind,” I said, walking out onto the rapidly darkening patio. “There’s a couple of horses tied up in the back and the chestnut mare is especially good at long distance travel.”
The young man standing on the patio, laughed.
“I might but then the old man who owns her is very persistent,” Jean Paul smiled at me. “He would probably hunt me down even if I rode all the way back to Quebec.”
It was my turn to laugh.
“I would too, I like that horse.”
The evening held a hint of coming Winter cold. Enough that the light jacket I wore was a welcome addition. First frost wouldn’t be long off. Usually the early part of December saw colder weather and sometimes even snow, though that was happening less and less, even with the change in the Gulf Stream.
Europe I heard still saw real Winter, the kind I remembered from my childhood. It had been rough for them back at the end of the Before. So much had changed since I was born at the start of the new century in 2000. My parents never would have dreamed how much as they sat there in the hospital holding me.
So much change.
So much grief.
I took a drink from mug I held, the beer tart and tasty. Some of Sandy Winkler’s homebrew. Change not all for the bad, I had to admit to myself thinking of the young man before me.
The Sun had set and the Horizon held its final traces of red and yellow, enough to still see by for the late comers that were still arriving. And too, the doorways and windows of the Saint Ann Community Co-Op provided a beacon, marking their destination after a hard day’s work. The soft glow of the LED lighting inside calling them to enter and be welcomed. Harvest was finally done, the last few fields picked clean today and the Thanksgiving’s Day Feast would be made that much merry by the bountiful nature of this year’s harvest.
We had used the lights sparingly this week and I knew that the batteries were fully charged off the roof mounted solar cells. That should give us three to four hours of light. Not what we had gotten twenty years ago when we first installed them, but plenty for tonight.
I was glad yet again, that the City had opted for the more expensive NorAm equipment when they had bought the system, rather than the cheaper Asian Block stuff. Most people hadn’t and now that replacements were so expensive and hard to get, were forced to do without.
Like so many things from Before.
The Beckwith’s were just now walking up, their pace slow what with their oldest child, Harry, on crutches. He’d broken his leg when the floor in the abandoned house he had been playing in, had given way. Harry had been lucky that the basement had several feet of water in it to cushion his fall. And luckier, that his younger brother had been there to help him out.
That was a sore spot among the community elders. Not Harry, but what to do about all the empty homes in the area. Many had already fallen in on themselves, but a sizeable portion still stood, in various states of decay. Dangerous for the unwary or the children, who never listened when they were warned.
And the standing water that collected in them, ready breeding ground for mosquitoes during the hot days of Summer. Seems like someone was always coming down with the Fever during those few months. If it didn’t kill you, it still put you on your back for weeks.
That was a good thing about being a member of the Community Co-Op. You had people to look out for you. To see your garden got planted, or your harvest got collected. They had learned the advantage of working together the hard way.
I took another drink, remembering the Dark Times past.
Remembering when the trucks stopped coming because fuel was so expensive, then grocery shelves slowly becoming empty until there just wasn’t anything there to feed the starving Masses. The riots. The looting. And finally the wave of hungry city dwellers fleeing to the country side, to disappear and never be heard of again.
I remembered what it was like to have stayed. One among just a few.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be done about the problem of the empty homes. For every place occupied, five more stood vacant. There weren’t that many people in their city with free time that they could organize the effort needed to take all of the derelict buildings down. And what little power equipment still remained in St. Louis was just too expensive to rent. It got used Downtown, salvaging the remains of another century.
So we tried to make the best of it. A little here, a little there.That’s what you did these days. Make the best of what you had.
“So, Jean Paul,” I said. “A little birdie told me you’d gotten a ring from the Gallagher’s.”
Tim and Freda Gallagher owned a small pawn shop up on the Rock Road. They did a brisk and profitable trade in ‘Before’ goods. Though most of their jewelry was second class. Not like the Jacob’s place, over in Brecken Ridge Hills, the next city East along the Rock Road. That was a real jewelry store. Freda had let me know Jean Paul had been shopping for a ring.
Even in the darkening dusk, I could see him blush. His hand went slowly to the pocket of his jacket.
“Let me see,” I said, setting my mug down.
To call the diamond tiny would insult the word, though the thin band was clearly gold. Jean Paul tried not to fidget as I looked the ring over. Truth be told, it was a good ring considering. I bet he’s saved up for most of the past year. No small feat considering how hard he’d worked.
Working an abandoned property and earning the right to call it your own was a difficult prospect. In Jean Paul’s case doubly difficult since he was from out of town. Though as a citizen of the North American Union, of the US, Canada and Mexico, meant he was free to settle anywhere he wanted, being from somewhere else had it’s load of problems.
Lucky for Jean Paul, his father was one of the new businessmen, who had learned to turn scarcity to profit. Their family owned an airship line flying zeppelins up and down the Mississippi from Quebec to New Orleans. Most people took the train but if you had the money or lacked the time, then air travel was an option. One that had repaid their effort handsomely and was the reason Jean Paul was in Saint Louis.
Well, that and a bullet.
His family’s money helped Jean Paul getting settled in Saint Ann, though I’ll be the first to admit, Jean Paul had worked very hard to get his place here. He’d not let his father simply buy his way in. In fact at first he’d been quite opposed to his youngest son’s change of career from businessman to farmer. It had taken a trip down here to talk with Jean Paul to convince him.
Though Jean Paul’s plans include much more than just suburban farming.
State law was clear and simple. You could live in any abandoned property you wanted to, that is as long as the neighbors didn’t run you off but to legally own it required a three year commitment. The ‘Homestead Act’ was passed to do something about all the empty houses with no owner nor bank. That law had followed the second big financial collapse, when banks went under like dominoes and global money froze.
I’d been in college then, and I remember the way everyone hadn’t believe it was happening again. Logical, considering nothing had been done after the first time the bankers had screwed up. Money talked then. They had stopped any meaningful regulations and so had gone back to their risky ways. The Second Great Depression had been a long decade of double digit unemployment, foreclosures and displacement, that now years later marked in my mind, the End of the Before.
The decade after that had seen some recovery, but hardship was always in the back of your mind. A worry of what might happen. Fortunes still were made, and lost. Today though, your wealth was more often counted by the land you tilled, the skills you knew and the friends you had.
Still, a young woman is no less impressed now by a pretty thing than she was back then. And a engagement ring should be something impressive. That Jean Paul had gone to the trouble of getting it, when so many others didn’t, or couldn’t, spoke well of his future.
And after all, the young woman in question WAS my daughter.
That had been a surprise, the two of them, when it first started down its present path. Even I had been caught flat footed, but then children do that, don’t they? Though looking back, I’d be the first to admit, all the conditions were there for what came to be.