SciFi Story -- The Greening

Here's something a little different. A scifi story I wrote last year. Let me know what you think.

 

The Greening

by Tanya Eby

 

The Extinguishers were coming. She could already hear the horses. ``It is Beautiful. It is Beautiful. It is Beautiful.'' Triva quickly whispered the mantra. Maybe she would believe it soon. Maybe it was even true.

            By the sounds of the hooves on her gravel driveway, she counted at least five horses, though there may have been more Extinguishers on foot. Attracting attention during the Change was unwise, but she still wanted to see. Her smooth fingers parted the blinds less than a breath apart. There, by the barn, illuminated in the cool blue of hazard lights, stood a group of men clad in woolen grey suits, working with a crowbar at the door. The women, in the same woolen grey suits, held the torches. Now that The Greening was happening, she found she had to see everything, if only for a moment. She pushed the blinds aside.

            One of them saw her and scowled. Triva could feel the quickening of her heart. Perhaps though the man was not scowling; if she were lucky it was just a squint. She recognized him. It was Dinesh Janpouri from three doors down, who used to design computer networks. Triva worried he would point her out to the others, but instead, once he knew it was her, he smiled and waved. It was a small wave, a wave of the fingers only, but still. There it was. There may have been sympathy on his face, but she couldn't be sure; his emotions were masked by the blue of the remaining lights and the shadows inching in around them. Triva was careful she showed no sadness. They both silently nodded their acceptance for The Greening, a time when they would lose all connection to technology and enter a world of darkness.

            ``It is Beautiful,'' he mouthed.

            "Beautiful," she said. She wondered if either of them really felt that. Dinesh returned to his work.

            A young boy standing near the men, hair cropped unevenly short, about eight years old, held the yellow and grey flag. Triva did not need to see the flag to know that it read: Return to Darkness! Return to Freedom!; and the omnipresent reminder, the words everyone in town had been repeating for weeks to prepare them: It is Beautiful. Triva had been saying it from the moment she woke up every morning, hoping that the truth of it would grow into her. Sometimes she thought that perhaps it had started to, but then she would listen to the coffee maker drip and think, ``Never again,'' and become very sad.

            She closed the blinds and went back to her leather couch. She pressed the triangle on the cd player and adjusted the volume. She wanted to hear Van Morrison one last time. She wanted to hear him softly, barely a whisper, telling her that it was a marvelous night for a moondance. In this way she could close her eyes and imagine her husband Will in the kitchen, singing to himself as he spread rhubarb jam on his morning toast. It had been two weeks since his last toast, and Triva knew that eventually the remaining jam would go bad.

            It was hard for her to picture Will in the fortress city he'd fled for, but Vegas was the closest one, and if you wanted to live somewhere still bright and humming, your options were scant. Probably, he hadn't even made it. Names of the Extinguished were posted all through towns and cities, drawn on printing presses with uneven lettering. Or even if he had made it, they probably hadn't let him in. Being college friends with a low-level city administrator was not going to be enough to get him in. If the Extinguishers had gotten a hold of Will, then he was at one of their Freedom Camps, marching, plowing fields, memorizing slogans and working until he was so exhausted he believed. She wanted to understand his choice, but she did not. It was so much easier to stay, wasn't it?

            ``I can't live like they want us to,'' he had told her on his last night at home.

            ``Neither can I,'' she'd said, ``but I'm going to. They say The Greening is just a transition. After that, it’s beautiful, Will. Maybe it is.''

            ``I suppose,'' he'd said, looking out the window at the gray afternoon. He wiped his hand across his brow as if trying to erase something.

            "I have things to offer them," she'd said. "I can protect us. The Extinguishers are trying to learn the old ways from books, but I...we possess something infinitely more valuable. Practical experience. I can teach them. Winter is coming, you know. Everyone is afraid of the first winter of the New Life." He shrugged, and shook his head.

            Will knew her secrets. He loved her rhubarb jam and ate canned peaches in December that were as sweet as July. Their table was covered with material she'd created. Triva thought he would stay. Not because he was starting to believe in the Movement, or was even willing to try, but because he loved her. He would stay. Of course he would.

            "You already sound like one of them," he mumbled. Triva knew at that moment he was already gone.

            When the time came, she would show the Extinguishers' her mother's things and what she'd learned as a girl. She would show them the canning jars and how to preserve their harvests. She would show them how to turn wool into thread with the spinning wheel, how to be careful to keep it even or the thread would clump in places and be thinner than a hair in others. She would teach them to warp her mother's loom that was now her loom, how to warp it so tight you'd think the threads would ring with music if plucked. She would teach them the difference between warp and weft, how to dye, how to tend. She would teach them how to survive in a world without light. But not yet. Power came from waiting for the perfect moment, when they needed her the most.

            She was torn between admiration, sorrow, and fear when she realized that maybe her mother was right about Will. And if one-tenth of the rumors about the ultranew technologies percolating through the fortress cities were true, once he was living there his life would become unimaginable to her. Of course, there were no new technologies. Technology was dead, as dead as gods and goddesses, as dead as fairies and nymphs. Technology was a myth spontaneously invented by a despairing populace; the Extinguishers said it was so. So it was.

            Triva hummed a little, but it didn't help her nerves much. She could still hear the cracking of wood as they tore the doorframe loose. How much easier it would have been if Will were outside instead of their neighbor Dinesh. This was just a pointless wish: the fantasy of a child. The world could not keep dreamers any more.

            It was better, she thought, to keep her eyes closed through this, even though later, when there was no more light save the flickering of a candle, she would miss the electric glow. Maybe some day she would stop missing it. This was what the tracts all promised.

            She breathed. The refrigerator hummed. Van Morrison sang, and her pumping heart accompanied him. Van the man. She would never hear him again. Something told her she would never hear Will again either, but she shook the thought away from her as if trying to warm a chill. It was sad, but this was not the kind of thing you could admit, not out loud.

            How long would it take them to destroy a generator? Would there be explosions painting the night and burning for days, weeks, like they'd had in New York, Detroit, Los Angeles? Would they use explosives like they did on the White House? No. Of course not. Those were tools of technology, used before The Greening. Now, they would use something more in keeping with their ideals of ``getting off the grid'' and returning to a simpler, better life. In days past, revolutionaries used muskets, swords, even rocks, depending how far back you went in time. Crowbars and brute strength then, she thought. That's all they needed to turn the world around. And brute strength was effective.

            All in all, it was a surprisingly quiet act.

            A horse whinnied. The gravel crunched. And then there was the soft pop, like a gum bubble bursting. She opened her eyes in time to see the lights flutter and then go out. Van Morrison had stopped mid-song, but if she tried, she could hear Will's deep voice calling to her, finishing the last sad chords.

            She did not light the candles. She simply sat in the darkness, listening to the ticking of appliances that would never run again. She listened to her own breathing and the sound of the horses and men marching on to the next house. After a time, she got up, walked blindly to her bedroom and thought, so, this is what it feels like to be free.

            It is Beautiful. It is Beautiful. It is Beautiful. She tried to make this her only thought. Every time, it felt like a lie.

                                                                        *

            She slept. She did not know for how long because of the deepness of the dark around her, but when she woke, the world was purple either with dark setting or the dark lifting. It was peculiar not knowing which. She thought she should feel something beyond emptiness, but that's all there was to her.

            Maybe it would take a while for her to feel the beauty. Her only other option was to bemoan what she still saw as her loss, and if she did this, she would live and die bitter. She lay in the corner to pet her cat, who didn't seem to notice anything different, and wait and hope for the beauty to begin, the return of nature and, with it, happiness. In her mind, Van was still singing. ``The leaves on the trees are falling...'' She prayed this singing in her mind would never fade, but knew that when some day she sang this song to her child, it would be in her own voice, not his. It hurt to think that, but she comforted herself that children seldom like the same music as their parents anyway.

            The song went on, but it wasn't Van Morrison any more. It was Will, and Triva was stunned at how real the sound of it was in her mind. This was a rumor about the Beauty. When there was nothing electronic to turn the senses toward, they became more vivid, and that included the inner senses. It was starting already, and she stopped feeling sorry for herself long enough to be fascinated by the change, and to wonder how it would affect reading. So many dusty books in the basement. She would be spending a lot of time with them now. Maybe it would be all right.

            ``Triva!'' The voice was too vivid, startlingly so. She heard static, then distant beeps and muttering crowd voices, and the Will in her mind said it again . ``Triva. It's me. I'm in Vegas. Triva! Triiivaaa!'' More static. Then his bearded face started to form in her mind's eye, looking as frustrated as it always had when the TV or the computer would act up, and he was called upon to fix it. ``Is this thing working?'' he said, then another voice said something she couldn't hear and Will said, ``Oh, got it, okay, thanks.'' He looked down and did something, and there was a satisfying beep. In the lower left of her mental field of vision, bright flashing neon letters came into view: ``Message From: MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV.'' Will nodded, and looked up at her with a look of intense concentration, smiling now but sad too. She thought she could hear a slot machine paying off in the background.

            ``Honey,'' he said. ``I made it.''

            It was a dream. It had to be. But she was awake. Maybe this was a side effect of the stress of Blackout, the last mental spasm of her desire for all the things she would never see again: electric light, computer technology, her husband, fun. She had never been to Las Vegas, never especially wanted to go, and found it odd that this was the form her dying desires had taken.

            "Triva," he said. "Hello? Hello?" He laughed. "Come on, aren't you glad I'm okay?"

            Go away, she thought. You're not real. But he didn't seem to hear her. The look on his face was one of frustrated but hopeful listening. He scratched his beard, and looked like he was going to laugh. "You wouldn't believe this place," he said, shaking his head. "You'd hate it. Or you'd love it. I hate it or love it too."

            Will! She tried to think it as loudly as she could, but he still showed no sign of hearing her. Wiiiiiiiillll!

            His face started blinking on and off, and he said, "Crap. It's going to cut out. Triva! Damn it, damn it, damn it. Open this message! It'll give you instructions! Open it, and..." He said more, but the static was louder than his voice, and she couldn't make out one word, and his face was obscured with a fizzy wavering scrolling diagonals.. Then, abruptly, the sound and the hazy image stopped, leaving her whole field of awareness feeling eerily dark, moist, and quiet, especially her head. It was a relief, as if a dangerous invader had finally left her alone. She could hear and see and feel her body, the world, and a cooling layer of sweat between them.

            She had a message. She didn't know she knew this, but she did. It was already stored somewhere in her mind. All she needed to do was feel around for it with her attention, and it would come forth. It would come forth. And with the message, perhaps Will, perhaps an escape to his new life, to lights and sound and comfort, perhaps it would all come forth. She would not have to sit in silence. She would not have to show the Extinguishers her knowledge. The loom, the canning, could sit and gather dust, and she would not help them. She would not help them go on.

            Her house was quiet.

            She had never known such quiet.

            She walked out onto her porch and breathed deeply. This was what The Greening felt like. There were no more telephone poles or wires lacing the trees. No more traffic or airplanes. She could hear the birds and the wind as if the earth herself were breathing. Her life had become one of loss, one of ‘no mores’. She had Will, could feel his message rumbling in her mind, but everything else, everything she knew was gone. With the loss, though, came something else. Something new. A quickening within her. A thrum. An energy.

            She closed her eyes. She thought deeply, wiggled the message with her mind until for a brief moment she saw a flash of red in front of her eyes: MESSAGE DELETED. And then slowly, as a flower unfurling in the first rays of the sun, she felt her mind shift and the words floated out of her as if someone else were speaking, as if they were words born from her, for her, and she said into the cool morning "It is Beautiful", because it was.