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Archive for July, 2017

World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Sixteen: The Way It Grew

And so the days and seasons passed, and in the third year of the community of Falling Spring, in the new territory called Mumbros, babies were born, newcomers continued to arrive, and the village grew and continued to change as seasons and circumstances dictated. Its citizens learned to state in clear language their life ways and rules as more prospective settlers arrived at the gate. They were equally eager to provide directions for making their way to other settlements when the newcomers determined they were not a good fit. The villagers’ hospitality never faltered, and when people arrived who were short on supplies or were travel-worn but didn’t want to stay, they were invited in to rest and restore themselves, and were supplied with food and other necessities when they left to seek accommodations elsewhere.

The Brothers, who were now readily identifiable by their “uniform,” which consisted solely of a trio of bands of red cloth – hatband, armband and one fastened to the boot, continued widening their explorations and at Moira’s suggestion were keeping copious notes on the changing demographics of the island nation.

The Brothers had come into their own since that first hard winter when they sheltered in a large, roomy cavern up north at Glen’s homestead. Glen related the story of that first winter, and Steven wrote it all down in a journal he had keeping since first arriving back in the village.

“As the winter’s cold deepened, we were pretty much confined to the cavern and had little to do beyond harvesting firewood and concocting meals from an odd mix of ingredients. So there was plenty of time to talk. We did a great deal of talking through all those long nights. Otherwise, we’d have probably gone mad listening to the godawful racket of those howling winds. But after a while we tired of sharing our pasts and began to take up a serious conversation about what might be the needs of the future, assuming we might have a future. And there, in that all-male environment, we naturally began to speculate on what tasks might be more suited specifically to the talents and strengths of men. We talked about our failings as well, and the curse of being slaves to testosterone. Gradually we came into a larger vision of our various skills and proclivities. We came to see ourselves as one single, strong cord in a web of interlocking cultural strands. In short, we began to understand our place in things.”

For everything to work, Glen explained, everyone must find their place, their lifework, really, and just do it to the best of their skills. For instance, some would naturally choose to nurture the children, the animals, all the growing things. Although some insisted that job was more likely to be a woman’s choice, Glen asked that they question that stereotype, as it might no longer be appropriate in this new culture. Needs would be different. So would choices. They discussed the concept of homebodies and talked about Steven, who, although he was virtually unable to leave the village, had essential talents and skills within the community. The same was true with other men like Toby and Rickard, who had come to occupy their own essential place in the fabric of village life, a place that deserved respect.

Still, someone had to keep order, especially between and beyond the settlements. Obviously, Glen said, some of them were clearly cut out to be cowboys, while some were…just not. By winter’s end nearly all the men at Glen’s Cave happily volunteered to serve the brothers’ mission and do whatever job was given them while they searched within themselves to find their own place in the fabric of life. A few of the young men balked, bragged and boasted they could make their own way. Glen said they were free to take any path they chose, but said their way would not be the Brothers’ way.

When reporting on those discussions back at home, Glen was quick to emphasize that in no way did the Brothers intend to take on the leadership of the community and its surrounding territory. Instead, they humbly asked the community’s blessing for their endeavor to bring order and some helpful pairs of hands to those places and people who had such needs. Their stated intent was accepted by all and welcomed by most. By the next winter’s end, the Brothers had become a pillar in the framework of communities. By then, though, they were having to make some adjustments to their internal structure when some of the younger hardworking women demanded to be included in their company. That was managed by enlarging an otherwise unused chamber in the cavern where the “Brotherwomen” could establish their own enclave, living apart but coming together for meals and training. Rules for those interactions were simple, and transgressions punished sternly and fairly. Soon, they had become a polished unit, known as fair arbiters of disputes while being helpful in other ways as needed.
Everywhere they traveled, they found communities where refugees from a variety of somewhat related sects and cultures had made homes for themselves wherever they were welcomed in. People of all inclinations had set about choosing where and with whom they wished to live, and many of their choices were spiritual ones. In particular, the Christians had broken into somewhat modified factions, with traditionalists blending their ways with the Amish and Mennonites on the island’s west coast and the more mainstream sects finding their places in and near the community of Van Buren, over on the Current River.

It became likely, although no one knew for sure, that the most radically conservative Christians had cemented their relationships as they walled themselves off from casual contact with the outside world by journeying deep into the rugged Monadnocks that lay to the southwest. As travelers had passed on their way to other destinations during the past year, rumors had spread of sightings of scattered groups identifying themselves as fundamentalist Christians making their way southwest toward their “home country.” Some were congregations from small country churches, while others were packs of semi-organized, well armed white men who weren’t inclined to share their thoughts or beliefs. “Like follows like,” most people said and dismissed the news, although not without some concern. With luck, those folks like everyone else would be too occupied trying to construct a sustainable settlement in that inhospitable land to cause their neighbors any significant problems, at least for the present.

Meanwhile, Falling Spring and its environs had become the most diverse anywhere, and were known for their tolerance and respect for the ways of others. “No harm,” was the first law. The very progressive, the Unitarians, the Quakers, the Back-to-the-Landers and many other under-represented tribes had all managed to settle in comfortably among the increasingly pagan, pantheistic heathenish ways of the founding family, whose policies of kindness, fairness. and inclusion resulted in a society whose disagreements mostly ended in handshakes rather than conflict.

Meanwhile, as news spread about the availability of true-growing seeds, representatives from other settlements and territories began to call, many of them offering items they hoped to trade for seeds. In that third spring, the idea began to grow of having some sort of festival to accommodate the many more than the Amish who arrived looking to augment their seed supplies and to trade their wares for a variety of items in short supply at home.

Early on that year came a group of potters from somewhere near “Popular,” hawking bowls, teapots, plates, mugs, and flagons. After them came vendors from Van Buren peddling dried and cured fish, meats and fruits. Trade kept up a brisk pace all summer, and in the early fall a small traveling theater company from somewhere over west came and held a Chatauqua-style show at the Inn. The company contained everything from jugglers to debaters and they were delighted to take their pay in seeds and supplies.

Later to come that year was an old man, August Barton, who stumbled up to the Inn one evening long after the harvest was in and winter threatening. He was afoot but his pony pulled a cart loaded with a haphazard collection of vessels filled with a searing moonshine that he had made somewhere over the hills to the northwest. Between the infirmary, the herbary and the Innkeeper, they bought out his entire supply and placed orders for more. He was to return at the ends of two more autumns with cartloads of alcohol, and at his second leave-taking he led a contingent of three apprentices who packed up their bedding and foodstuffs and returned with him to his mountain abode deep within an old, long-untended orchard near Grove Hill. They would learn to tend the orchard and to craft its fruits, in combination with a handsome supply of wheat and corn from the Amish families next door, into respectable brews, vintages and spirits. The contract established between the distiller and his wards included continuing to supply his earthly wants after he retired from the business. It was an agreement that all parties were to find agreeable. Possibly in honor of what he had brought them that chilly October night, they ever after referred to a fine harvest from the wheat, grape, or apple lands, as a “right August offering.”

Even later than the distiller arrived, as the dreaded winter winds were beginning to batter the hilltops that year, a trio of hard-muscled, grim faced, very tall blond men arrived and asked to speak with the village’s leaders. Ostensibly they were selling a few bits of cookery made of crafted metal, along with tools old and new, and other rare oddities from a place to the north where they held land that once had been a large municipal landfill and several salvage yards. But they had more to offer. They spent a long evening at the Inn, visiting with Moira, Glen, Rickard, Annie, and Tish, discussing the community’s needs for the future, especially suggesting what these miners of the wreckage might search for as they delved further into the metal salvage and the packed full and sealed landfill. The most interesting question came from Annie.

“This landfill. Is it still sealed, or is it leaking?”
Burton Yoder, a tall, bearded man who appeared to be the leader of the group, had the answer. “It’s holding together fairly well so far, ma’am. But the earthquakes didn’t do it any good. There are a couple of places where some sludge is showing. We’ve stopped it up the best we can.”

As the conversation continued, Moira studied him. He looked to be about 50, tanned, and with a burn scar that marked him from his ruined left ear to somewhere below his collar. When she asked about it he said, “I was driving east trying to get back to my folks’ farm when, as you remember, everything went to hell. I spent a little time under my car, mashed up against the exhaust manifold. Whitley here pulled me out,” he said, gesturing toward his brother, a taller and slimmer version of himself. The third man, younger but larger still, was a cousin, Kris Kuhn, who said little but watched the proceedings intently.

Behind him, Moira noted, Joel had come in and found a perch next to their table where he could hear the conversation. He seemed very interested in the men from the north. But Annie wanted to hear more about the sludge. “Next time you come, bring me a sample, a quart or two if you can. I need to know what’s in it, to see if there’s anything we can separate out and use.”

Everyone looked at her with varying degrees of curiosity mixed with revulsion. She let out a huff of air. “We need a multitude of things that cannot be had without the materials to make them,” she explained. “Like it or not, it’s a resource.”

Moira cleared her throat. “She knows what she’s doing. Leave her to it.”

The conversation continued late into the evening but even when the family bade the visitors a good night, Joel lingered. He wanted to know more about the north country. He was told there seemed to be an impenetrable wilderness beyond the blond men’s territory, and that strange stories came out of that place from the few who returned from attempts to explore it. He kept notes, along with directions on how to find the blond men’s home country, should he someday wish to travel there. He was wishing it already but hadn’t the age or experience yet to try it. Best of all, he had enough wisdom to know that. He filed the urge, along with his notes, in a leather bag on a peg where he kept his little penny whistle he’d found amid Glen’s bags of salvage. Someday, he thought, maybe I’ll be the one to solve that mystery.

The original family still dined together almost every night, and at the dinners, even though the list of items for discussion always included some urgent matter, there also arose first a framework and then a plan to stabilize the underpinnings of this place, to make it work better as a unit. For that, there must be a way to promote and control economic development. First on the list was the need to make a hospitable place for the traveling merchants when they returned, as everyone knew they would in the spring. Some kind of minimal shelter for the travelers would be needed as well as a place for those folks living in outlying areas who would face a journey to market that would often take longer than a day. The Inn could not hold them all.
As Moira described the large open area needed to hold a market place and adjacent temporary quarters, Joel looked up from his plate.
“That’s easy, how about down next to the ball field? There’s lots more space than we need to play ball, and it’s pretty level. It’s no good for crops because it floods once in a while. But that only happens in very early spring. Even if there was damage we’d have time to clean it up before the Gather …ing.” They laughed at his odd stutter, but later began to repeat it. Thereafter, the spring festival would be called the Gather.

The plot of land measuring about 15 acres of riverside meadow, would serve the purpose neatly, they decided. But as Rickard was quick to remind them, winter was almost upon them, and if habitable places were to be completed before the next season of travel and trade, who would there be to make them? Those most able to perform the work would be gone to Glen’s cave for the winter.

“We may have to weather the weather, and come back a week or two early,” Glen said, but he didn’t look happy about it.

“Well, to be fair, you’ll not be taking everybody, and Eldon and I can get a lot done ourselves during breaks in the weather,” Steven said.

“Not all of us go up to play cowboys,” he said, reminding everyone that he wouldn’t be going to Glen’s cave due to his fear of the woods, and neither would Eldon because of his arthritis.

That brought them to another urgent matter for discussion. The following week, Glen and his followers would be on their way to the winter outpost of the Brothers. This time his choices included the most fit among them, for they would spend the time training for service. Months had already gone into the building of the new group that merged law enforcement and social services. It had now become large enough to patrol almost all the territories, offering practical assistance and keeping order.

“I’ve been thinking about all this, and I’d like to throw out an idea for us to chew over,” Glen said. “We’re already planning to send a few patrols a little farther out to contact all the other known communities and farmsteads to assess their needs and gather information. It’s time to see if we could be more of a help to them. We could spread the word about the Gathers, let them know they can come and trade for what they need. And we certainly have plenty of wares to trade as well.” There were nods around the table.

“Well, as long as we’re doing that, why not see if they would like to come at a couple of dates, one in spring to buy seeds and again in fall to share their harvests,” Steven offered.

“That would certainly make it safer for everybody. It’s still not all that safe to wander off into the wilds alone or to travel in unprotected little groups,” Glen replied. “If we knew when they were coming, we could provide better security along the trail.”

“While you’re at it,” Ellen suggested, “why not encourage the folks in all the communities you visit to set up their own gatherings, to make a season of festivals. If you staggered the dates, that would encourage the merchants and artisans to work out a regular trade route to serve all the communities. Glen’s messengers could let them know about it and then provide some security along the route to protect the traders and the customers from tramps and ruffians.”

“I can see how that would work,” Moira said. “We need to know our neighbors better, and a more organized approach to commerce would be good for everyone, yes? Maybe we should organize a crafters’ guild to help with the planning. They will know more than we do what their needs would be.”

“I can see it now,” drawled Rickard, who had been invited specifically for this part of the discussion. “First there’s a guild, and then a chamber of commerce. Next thing you know we’ll be organizing rival sports teams.” Everyone laughed, but then the conversation went quiet. There was still hesitation, finally voiced by Annie.

“This is all very well,” she said. “But we shouldn’t put too much faith in the good intentions of all our neighbors. Bad apples, you know. Everybody has them.” Everyone knew what she meant. She had been accosted more than once by vagrants and thieves while trying to make her way to Falling Spring.

As more ideas were thrown into the discussion, Moira excused herself to rummage in the nearby files. She returned with a map of what had once been the state’s highway system.

“I realize that this is hopelessly out of date and more so every day, but it’s fundamentally accurate as to directions and distances. I have several copies, enough for you to take a couple along and make notes, so the basic document can be modified to fit present times. We have a pretty good idea of road and trail conditions, but we need to have better information not just about who and what’s out there but what they’re up to. I’m not at all comfortable with waiting for some other group to come up with some hinky idea of government and try to foist it off on everyone. I’m not suggesting we try to take charge of everything everywhere. But if we’re to protect our own autonomy over the years, we need to start investing now in making ourselves appear strong enough that we’re not to be messed with. Some would just think to come take our stuff. But there are also those, as we know, who would love to try to make us conform to ways that really wouldn’t suit us.”

They laughed again when someone muttered “Ephraim.”

“Well, there’s that,” said Glen. “Ephraim’s still out there, and I’m sure his ideas are gathering steam, especially over in the Monadnocks. I’m really not looking forward to going over there. But I think we must.”

And so the days passed, autumn turned toward winter and the band of Brothers departed for their winter encampment. All over Ozarkia the nut harvest was in full swing, as was the gathering of persimmons and the little wild fox grapes. Traps were set for catching furbearers and bows were strung, arrows fletched, and the hunters were abroad for the winter’s first fresh meat. In Mumbros, after a fair weather carpentry crew was established made of male homebodies and females handy with hammer and saw, a plan was developed and simple shelters were built down by the ball field in anticipation of the next spring Gather at an official Gather grounds. Shortly afterward a crafters’ society was formally charged with developing a circle of Gathers that crafters would follow to call on and serve even the most remote settlements, so long as they were welcome there. But the idea of forming a chamber of commerce was tabled ‘for the foreseeable.’

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Fifteen: Endings and New Beginnings

After her dusty hunt in the seed vaults, the warm breeze and comfortable seat felt wonderful. As she cracked open the elderly textbook she smiled at the memory of Steven and Jared, her two favorite boys, hanging out together. She was pleased to see Steven in such a good mood today. It had been almost four months now since he had left the village one last time with Ellen, and Glen on what proved to be a terrible trip to the their former homes in the once-thriving community of Alton. The trip had had several goals: to search for any vestiges of Steven’s extended family, to locate others who might want to come to Falling Spring, and to retrieve anything that might be left of Ellen’s library or her herb plants and the products she’d made of them.

Ellen’s was the first place they had gone. They had found the house mostly trashed but still intact, and still holding a cellar full of dark bottles containing herbal tinctures. They had wrapped them in scraps of cloth and paper and carefully packed them in a pair of potato crates that had been converted to saddle bags for the pack horse. They had hidden those in the barn along with their pack horse, so they’d not be challenged or robbed. They had spent another hour searching the weed-filled garden for herbal mother plants, and found several, including a horsetail rush, a gone-to-seed lovage plant, a similarly decked bronze fennel, horehound and a prized spearmint. Ellen dug up the rush and the mint while the men clipped the seed heads of the other two, wrapped the plants in a scrap of burlap, bagged the seeds, and stowed them with the tinctures.

Proceeding on into town, they’d found the village in ruins, with most of the families gone and those that remained in dreadful circumstances. All semblance of civilization had vanished and chaos reigned. When they stopped to ask about lost relatives, a sinister looking crowd began to form and people had rushed them, trying to take their horses, presumably for food. They had barely escaped, Glen finally shooting one man in the leg and clubbing another away with his rifle barrel as he tried to grab the reins of Ellen’s mare. Some had been family friends, but they had reverted to a desperate state and were almost feral. The trio had told no one where they’d come from and had taken a circuitous route back to Ellen’s barn to retrieve the pack horse and its precious cargo.

They returned to Falling Spring grief-stricken, both Ellen and Steven vowing to never return to that sad place again. Ellen had not grown up in Alton and had no family ties, so the loss she felt was primarily for her home place. Steven, though, was deeply wounded by what he had seen. He made an emotional vow that Falling Spring was now and would always be his home, and he was home for good.

But the experience seemed to add to his depression, and even after months, grief for his lost family tormented him and he was consumed by sadness. As an antidote, he worked himself brutally and was always in search of more to do. Gradually he began to regain some bits of both his sense of humor and his sanity, but he was very quiet now and still worked best when left alone. Even now Glen and Moira and Ellen made sure they never left him alone too often or for too long.

Joey, who was asking them to call him Joel now that he had entered his tweens, loved Steven and seemed to understand his grief on some deep level. He was content to work at Steven’s side for hours in a steady, companionable silence, although with others he was so talkative as to almost be a pest. He seemed to instinctively sense what Steven was going through and was determined to be there for him. As Jared grew, Steven acquired another fan, one who eased his troubles and made him laugh. So Jared was succeeding in a job he didn’t yet know he had.
Jared’s presence might ease some separation anxiety in another few years as Joel reached adulthood and settled into his own path. She thought that path would likely be with Glen. In the winter just past, the men who had journeyed north to Glen’s former homestead to stay through the coldest months had made good use of their time. Glen had proposed they use their idle time to organize a kind of “brotherhood,” of men to serve the village and its environs in an organized way as workers, helpers and defenders. Together they worked out a set of principles, defined their duties and began to train, neither as a militia, a postal service nor a social service agency, but as a curious mix of all those. From the small, frightened, and disoriented array of men and boys there arose a tight unit with strict rules of conduct and a scheduled term of service. The group sometimes served as a law enforcement entity that now patrolled the region around Falling Spring and sometime became handymen, social workers or caregivers, seeing to various of the community’s needs as they arose. The group was open to any person, male or female, in the village and the surrounding environs, if they wished to take the oath and participate in the training. Its headquarters remained secret, in the hidden cave at Glen’s homestead. Its purpose simply to serve with integrity the practical needs of the community’s citizens, as well as those of people living in the surrounding area. As recruitment continued to rise, the stated purpose expanded until now they were considering sending small patrols afield to locate any outlying communities. Locally, they served to pass along news, assist where needed and settle disputes. As they traveled farther into wild and unsettled parts of the territory, they remained constantly on the lookout for useable salvage from the world’s wreckage. Joel planned to join them as soon as he reached the requisite age of 15.

Moira was impressed with Glen’s leadership and insight in seeing what needed to happen with the unsettled men – to give them a purpose, some dignity, and a place to invest their energy. He must have had plenty of time to think, for he’d even come up with a name for the territory surrounding the village. He had said it should honor the people’s evolving traditions of Part Pagan-quasi-Unitarian-Native American-Earth Mother focus, as well as the dedicated brotherhood of helpers dedicated to service, protection, and keeping order in the community at large.

“We appear to be done with the archaic model of man and ‘helpmeet.’ Mothers and sons, or mothers and brothers, is a better model,” he had said, only slightly joking. “It’s egalitarian, it respects everyone, and removes the notion that male energy, with its focus on rule by testosterone, is how things run best. As we’ve seen, that’s just not so, and we have the chance to fix it. We need to give dignity and respect to everyone’s energy. That’s what will keep us running right. I propose we call our piece of the territory surrounding Falling Springs with the name Mumbros, to stand for Mothers and Brothers, and in that way honor them both.”

And so they had voted. The name had taken some getting accustomed to, but people fell into its use fairly quickly. They soon learned that other communities were beginning to stake out what they saw to be their own territories. If they managed to not get into any serious fights over boundaries, this could well evolve into a group of cooperating states. Moira couldn’t help but be pleased at how things were evolving. She opened the book and began to read about hemp.

An hour later, hearing hoofbeats approaching from down the hill, Moira laid her book aside and shaded her eyes with her hand. Far down the way a mounted figure came into view, instantly recognizable. Young Tom Langston had claimed a Missouri Foxtrotter mare gathered in by Glen on one of the Brothers’ trips. The mare’s characteristic gait was evident as Joel appeared to glide up the hill as if seated in a porch swing. The old-timers said if you couldn’t recite the words “a hunk o’ meat and two potatoes” in time with the beat of its hoofs, the animal wasn’t a true Foxtrotter. Tom, having ridden this mount for weeks with his ear cocked to the side to listen to the rhythm, swore that it was true because he’d heard it. She waved as he approached and he swung down easily.

“Go find you some grass and a shady spot,” he said to the mare, looping the reins over the saddle horn, and off she ambled. “I used to think Glen was razzing me about Willie, but she does it too. She understands everything I say. I swear she does.”

“I believe you,” Moira said. She’d had her own experiences with the village’s animals, most particularly with Sheba, her dog, and Stella, the stray cat. Sometimes she swore Stella could hear her very thoughts. All the animals seemed to be showing signs of becoming more aware and more communicative. In fact, the same might be said for some of the humans as well. Ellen insisted that wounds healed faster if she touched them, and it appeared to be so. Moira shook her head in wonder. Even as they clung here at the very edge of survival, it seemed the universe was trying to make amends in odd ways for what they had lost. Not that it was anywhere near an even trade. Not by a mile. Not yet.

“What brings you up this way? Are you looking for Steven? He’s inside.”

“Nope. I found who I’m looking for. You’ve got some visitors down the hill. They’re dressed kind of strange, and they have kind of a different accent. They look like those wha’d’y’call’em, amich, Amish, something, that Glen described after his last trip west. They came driving in a little bit ago in a very nice wagon and it really caused a stir. You’d think somebody had come roaring down Main Street in a new pickup truck from the way people acted. I took them over and got them settled in at the Inn, and told them I’d come and fetch you. Was that all right?”

“It was excellent, clever boy,” Moira said, smiling fondly at the young man. “I guess I’d better put on some clean clothes if I’m bound on official business. You want to ride back and tell them I’ll be down in a bit?”

“Well, actually, I thought I might stay and see if Steven needs any help. You can ride Huffenpuff down, and I’ll come fetch her later. Just tell her to wait over by the spillway. It’s cool there and there’s plenty to eat. Be sure and tell her to stay out of the flowers.”

Moira agreed, put away her book, threw on a clean shirt, and was soon walking up the board sidewalk to the building they’d made the town’s social center and makeshift hotel. A small crowd of the curious was still gathered around the trim and well-outfitted wagon, and they looked at her with eyebrows raised as she passed them with a nod and continued into the Inn.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but not nearly so long to spot the three visitors.
Her best clue was the flat-brimmed black hat they each wore and their long, flowing beards beneath clean-shaven cheeks.

“Gentlemen. I’m Moira Evans, the nearest thing to a leader we have here. How can I help you?” She was startled when they rose and removed their hats to greet her, but she begged them to be seated and pulled up a chair to the table’s end to join them. Her stomach had lurched at first sight of their beards. But Glen had described them as a peaceful people and had said they had expressed a desire to travel here one day soon to discuss trading their excess grain for products that were in short supply in their area. She supposed that was why they were here and she was soon proved correct.

After a few awkward moments while she grew used to their appearance and accents, and they became accustomed to talking frankly with a woman, they got down to business, and trading survival stories, and just plain visiting.

Mumbros territory could certainly use a steady supply of more diverse and better grains, she told them. They would also be needing good wagons, and harness and tools of all description that could be operated without gasoline or electrical power. When she brought up the subject of wild hemp and expressed interest in obtaining a supply of its fiber, she was pleasantly surprised at their reaction.

They, too, had thought of cultivating it. Even growing wild it supplied more than their simple needs for rope and such. But unfortunately they had lost the knowledge of how to process it for other uses. They would send all she wanted of the plants that grew wild in their territory, they said, but cautioned that it was of no value as a smoking material. They said this last in mock seriousness, and they all shared a laugh.

Then they told her why they had come. Their seeds, they said, were blighted. The wheat continued to flourish, and the oats. But garden seeds that had thrived last year had disappointed in the season just ending, and had not produced enough food for their families without rationing. If things grew worse or if the grain failed, they would go hungry. Even now, they said, the sameness of their diets was beginning to be reflected in their health. They had heard that she had seeds that would grow true, they said. Might she please be willing to share? And if so, would she consider barter as payment?

She would, of course. This was the very circumstance she had foreseen from the beginning. The seeds the visitors had been planting in their gardens were hybrids, purchased from the feed store each year. They had produced well the first year, but in many of their saved seeds the cross had not held. They had not retained their altered genetic pattern and could not reproduce the fruit their parents had delivered. By the time another year passed, some would lose almost completely their ability to produce food. It seemed to her a classic and predictable scenario — but then she was a specialist who understood the seeds and what to expect.

“Certainly we can supply you with seeds from our stores,” she said. “We began last year growing out and expanding our stock because we expected this might happen. All of what we grow are varieties you should be able to save and replant again in years to come. There are some plant families, however, that cross-pollinate very easily, especially the cucurbits, and so you may want to come and get new seeds of things like squash, melons, and cucumbers every year or two, just because they mix so readily.”

“We are grateful for your kindness.” said a brown-bearded, kind-eyed man of about 40 years of age who spoke with a thick Germanic accent. “We will happily repay you with grains and with other things we have that you might find useful. We might not have come so soon to seek aid, but with all the refuges, ah, I’m sorry, refugees, we have experienced difficulties keeping everyone fed and our community in order.” At Moira’s puzzled look, he continued. “When the city to the west of us sank beneath the waters, it was a great tragedy. All those thousands of people. It happened so suddenly that most of them were unable to escape. Those who did, though, still were in the hundreds. They descended on us like locusts, most of them with no food, just the clothing on their backs. It was terrible. We were putting people in the barns, in the cattle sheds, any covered places we could find, because it was winter, you see. Still, many were lost, either from the cold, or from illness, or just from the horror of it all.

“But most survived the winter, and now things are beginning to get better. They are learning our ways, and learning to work differently, and learning not to spend all their time correcting our speech or our beliefs. When the fuel for the automobiles is gone, you learn to respect the wagon-maker a little more, I think.” He smiled at Moira with his kind eyes, and she knew she could trust him with her life – and the seeds.
They had expected to come and place their order now and pick up the seeds when they delivered whatever grain was asked in payment. But some food crops, like brassicas and peas, could still be grown this late in the season, and there was no sense in putting off the agreement for formality’s sake, she decided, or to delay planting when it might mean more hunger.

“Why don’t you all spend the night here as our guests. Tomorrow we will go over your list of needs, and I will prepare a supply of seeds suitable for fall gardens and you can take them back with you,” she said. And then she suggested that perhaps if there were stands of the wild hemp still to be had, and if someone were to travel with them back to their land and take along a pack animal or two, they could bring her some of the stalks and seeds of the wild hemp to begin experimenting with.

“You can bring payment when you return in the spring. Actually, we’ve been discussing whether to invite everyone from the surrounding regions to come here for a spring gathering and to bring their wares to sell or trade. We’ll let you know the dates when they’re settled. But you might as well be getting some fall crops in now. There’s plenty of time for greens and peas and some root crops” Her eyes twinkled.

“You’ll be back to see us more often if we can keep your strength up,” she said.

The brown-haired man blushed but admitted it was so. The men ended up staying two nights and left the third morning with their saddlebags loaded with seeds, along with orders for two of the sturdy wagons and a thousand pounds of grain. It was the beginning of what would be a long and happy association between the communities. In time, Moira suspected, a few brown-haired, kind-eyed children might also grace their village. She hoped that it would be so, for every expansion of the gene pool meant a better chance at the survival of all, for they were not out of the woods yet. And, like the seeds, these men were of good stock.

On the evening before they left, she broached another subject that some thought she should ask.

“You know, not all of our community members here are Christian,” she said frankly. “In fact, it has happened that some of those of more conservative backgrounds feel themselves to be very much in the minority here, and some of them are less than comfortable with that situation. They feel they do not have an adequate church community here to sustain them. Is your community still crowded beyond endurance, or could you consider taking in just a few more, given their yearnings to be with more people of their faith in the broader sense? Given that those with truly radical beliefs have already left us,” she added hastily.

The brown-eyed man grinned widely at this. “It happens that we also have those among us who have the same complaint, but from the other side. They favor a variety of ways, but most lean toward a more Earth-centered tradition. Would you consider a trade?”

She would, and so when the men left, they carried three people who elected to join them for religious reasons. Moira wondered who they would get in return. Better not to speculate, she decided.

That same week, Glen came riding in late in the day from another foray into the wild, bringing with him another newcomer and a heavily laden pack horse. Fast on their heels was a dramatic thunderstorm that boomed and crackled and flashed until everyone put aside their tasks to stop and watch, ready to throw blankets over tender garden crops if it started to hail. But the storm petered out and blew away, leaving a drenched pair begging dry stalls for their horses and dry lodging at the Inn. Moira was called down from her hilltop refuge again as night was falling to meet with Glen and his guest.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do with this ornery old woman,” Glen said by way of introducing Moira to the grey-haired, still damp stranger, and for a moment she was unsure of which of the women he was addressing. She motioned to a table and they all sat.
“Moira Evans, Letitia Beebe. She claims to be a botanist, or plant specialist, or maybe several kinds of -ists. I couldn’t get it all straight, but when I found her out east of Brixey living in a cave and brewing up potions, I thought we might make some use of her.”

“Elixirs,” the woman snapped, scowling. “Witches do potions. I do elixirs. And formulas, and drugs.” She stuck a gnarled hand out and clasped Moira’s outstretched one. “I’m a biochemist and horticulturist, Miss Moira. And I’m hoping you might find use for the 200-odd pounds of plant starts and ‘potions’ I brought with me. Your fella here thought I should come along without them. He’s still a little put out with me, but they were my life’s work and I wasn’t about to leave them to the hogs. So we worked our way through it, although I think he’s grateful to be about shut of me. I just ask that you put me to work and give me a reason for surviving this godawful mess.”

Moira shook her head in disbelief. If she didn’t already believe in the beneficent bounty of the universe, this would have nailed it for her. She fixed the woman with a gaze of stunning intensity. “Hemp. What do you know about hemp?” she demanded.

The woman flung up an arm and began to tick items off on her fingers. “I have rope hemp, and dope hemp, and five bamboos,” the woman shot back, fire blazing from her eyes and her voice trembling with passion.

“Five … you mean river cane?”

“No, I mean timber bamboo in all dimensions. Tools, pipes, structural bamboo. And medicines. I have quinine, and prickly ash, and you name it. I’ve got either a start or a seed of everything I could save.”

Moira sat back, a smile on her lips and amazement in her eyes. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I’d conjured you up. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for you to get here?”

This time it was the other woman’s turn to be amazed. As the two sat staring at each other and grinning, Glen stood and picked up his mug of coffee.

“I just knew you two would get along,” he said, irony in his tone as he strode away toward the fireplace.

Moira laughed. ”I’m not sure we’ll get along at all,” she said. “But I’ll bet we’re going to have us some serious fun.”

Tish Beebe wanted nothing to do with a cubicle at the Keep, but settled herself in a little homemade hut alongside the garden, from which she enlarged the stock of medicinal plants, expanded the adjacent orchard to add numerous varieties of berries, and established the bamboo thickets upriver from the village. Her energy was high but her age was advanced, and Moira came up with more than one tempting offer to get her up the hill where facilities were more comfortable. But Tish would have none of it. “Everything I do is centered in the garden and what the plants have to offer. I move away from that, then what earthly use am I? I’m happy here, and I’ll live longer if I can stay that way. So hush and let me get back to work.”

Moira knew who would be her best help, and she didn’t have to bring it up. Both Rick and Toby were following her around like puppies, soaking up everything she could teach them. They would look after her.

At the Inn, though, talk of Tish’s talents centered on her ideas for improving the brewery and its products. Lon Brixey, the volunteer brewmaster, was trembling in excitement for what kind of potion she might be able to conjure up for him. The more he talked, the more expectations grew.

But that would be a while coming to pass, and soon the talk turned to the growing awareness that further explorations of the outlying territory by the Brothers had ascertained that, although they had not yet reached the farthest reaches of the north shore, this part of their once vast nation had indeed become an island. At the next town meeting it was christened “Ozarkia.”

In a comical turn of fortune, a small group of wandering itinerants who had come to study with the Brothers but found the course to be too rigorous volunteered to move upriver to the old Langston and Case farms and establish test plots of the several varieties of medicinal hemp whose seeds Tish had collected, and grow them in fields far enough apart to discourage cross pollination. The sites were chosen because of their many positive features. Some of the facilities remained – the buildings were repairable and they rigged a downsized electric system to run on solar – and the bottomland fields along the river provided fertile ground, cleared and ready for sowing.

The only problem – if it could be called that – was that most of the crew had made sampling of the crop (to test its potency, of course) into a steady habit. They did manage to produce a plentiful, reliable supply of standard cannabis varieties as well as create some new crosses, in particular by grafting the hemp rootstock onto some shoots of the hops they were also growing for making beer. But in addition to creating new drugs and drinks with interesting potential, they became an extremely laid-back bunch. They were called by their downstream neighbors the Hoppers, and their “research station” thence became Hopperville. The vicious band of Ossabow-related pigs who had terrorized the original inhabitants had mostly moved farther out into the untracked wilderness, and the few who remained became more docile as they,too, sampled the local vegetation.

But that, of course, is another story.

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Fourteen: The Village It Takes

The explosive “Aaa-choo” that echoed down the hard corridor was followed quickly by a curse, as Moira worked her way down the dusty shelves far back in a little-visited corner of the seed vaults. She knew what she was looking for but damned if she could find it, and the dust was beginning to get into her brain.

Where could all the dust be coming from in what was supposed to be a sealed chamber? Well, come to think of it, it couldn’t be that well sealed or the air would have gone bad years ago. She guessed it could be coming down through the ventilation shafts, although those were supposed to be covered with filters. Maybe the earth tremors that had begun over two years ago had knocked something loose or made a crack somewhere. She would get Steven to look into it. That wasn’t her job or why she was down here.

Somewhere in this ill-assorted mess was a book of such arcane information that she had thought best to keep it tucked away in earlier days, when the vaults had been part of a living history museum and she was simply its chief of operations. She’d been hired based on her knowledge of plants and animals. And yet some plants, in an era that was beginning to seem in many ways far back in archaic times, had been on a forbidden list. You weren’t supposed to know anything about them at all. Don’t ask, don’t tell. No, wait. That was another issue. Never mind.

It seemed now as if nearly everything from those times was swiftly receding into the dim past, so much had the world changed. She expected the same experience was common to everyone. But the book. Where was it? She’d held onto it even though it had been somewhat of an illicit tome in the world that once was. She had been one of those forward looking individuals who thought there was more to be considered about the notorious hemp plant than its reputation as the devil’s weed. For one thing, she’d traveled abroad frequently in her younger days and had seen first hand some of the industrial uses to which it had been put in other, less puritanical cultures. Certainly in the last days of the old world the laws had changed and research had made some forward strides. But much of that new research had not been published, and now probably would never be.

She’d been putting the word out since last year that she was looking for samples of both mature plant material and seeds from as many different varietal sources of hemp as possible. She knew she must locate every possible existing variety for more than one reason. First, with their limited pharmacological capabilities, they needed to make use of all the medicinal plants they could find and learn uses for. Not long before the Change, it had been discovered that different strains of cannabis had different medicinal properties which still needed evaluating. And secondly, she knew that at least one variety of the hemp plant had once been valued primarily for its fiber. In fact, farther to the north and west, over in Amish country and beyond where some of the terrain was flat enough for row crops, hemp had once been widely grown for that purpose. But that was before the cotton, tobacco, and liquor industries had taken aim at its smaller cousin, the marijuana plant, and had pressured Congress into outlawing the cultivation of any variety of cannabis. However, she knew now that the wild hemp still flourishing on roadsides and in waste spaces in areas where it had once been cultivated was far different in character than the shorter, bushy, aromatic specimens that were cultivated for more medicinal and recreational purposes. They needed all of it. Annie had brought a few seeds, but they were old, and only one plant survived, a male that did not produce viable seeds.

Just last week when a stoned-looking young man stopped at the village for supplies, she persuaded him to share with her a small quantity of his obviously recreational variety – because it had seeds.

She’d had the devil of a time convincing him to part with a gram or two, plus some additional seeds, but he had finally capitulated, and now they had on hand enough seeds to produce one strain of the valuable medicinal in quantity sufficient for use and research. The object now was to procure seeds of other varieties, particularly the strains with differing medicinal properties. She was pretty sure she could trade with any surviving farmer to the northwest for the wild hemp, the one used in industry. There were still people alive in that country, for Glen had met them. One day the fiber and the seeds would come. To keep the strains pure, the fiber plant would need to be grown widely separated from its cousins to avoid cross pollination. Perhaps they should just continue to let the plant grow where it was happiest, and establish good trading partners with people in other places who grew different varieties. Ellen the herbalist had claimed most of the resinous plant material obtained from the young man and was busily making tinctures for use as painkillers and tranquilizers. The seeds had been passed on to Toby and a number of other reliable growers to do with as they would. A small portion of plant material was passed to Annie, who was now extracting its resins and trying to track the markers that would make the variety distinguishable from any others.

If they could find reliably useful varieties, most other issues would be moot. For instance, if some folks decided to indulge in a toke or two purely for recreation, it was none of her business. It was hard enough to enforce such rules as were absolutely necessary for survival. She didn’t have time to keep track of everybody’s personal habits so long as they posed no harm to others, and neither did anyone else. Besides, every one of the survivors still carried the immense burden of loss, not just of family, friends and loved ones, but of their entire context as human beings. How could she argue against any remedy for pain, particularly the pain of deep grief and heartache? But now she was drifting, and she must keep on track.

What she needed desperately, and as soon as possible, was information on how the plants of the fiber-producing hemp could be processed into the goods and materials that were rapidly becoming rare commodities in this isolated culture. Paper, for one thing. And rope. And door mats, shoes, baskets, clothing. Goddess, the list was endless. Leather served for some purposes but was itself in short supply. Split white oak would do for durable baskets but had little tensile strength. She had begun her dusty search when she’d remembered reading that the oil extracted from hemp seed was extremely versatile and easily processed into a variety of fuels and lubricants, including lamp oil.

In just these past year and some months some things once thought crucial to life were gone, used up, and no replacement had been found that could be produced in sufficient quantity. They’d soon be reduced to burning animal fat for light if nothing else could be found. The small amount of electricity from the mill pond generator was providing some comforts for now, but even at its peak it could supply only minimal amounts beyond what was needed to keep the vaults dry and evenly heated.

She had been both generous and practical, she thought, in allowing its use to drive power tools used in the construction of housing for the rapidly growing community. They might as well use the tools, and use them up, while there was power to spare, she reasoned. After all, both the tools and the generator would wear down and then wear out over time. Once they were gone, there might well be no replacing them. They were merely buying time and sparing these unintentional pioneers some physical effort as they struggled to adjust to a world of vastly different and far fewer resources. From here on, there seemed very limited potential for the kind of growth that was once called “progress.”
Fortunately, those long-silent folks who had earlier supplied her with the “doomsday stash” had sent numerous large cartons of rechargeable batteries, and more of lightweight, flexible solar panels. Those too would be useful for their limited lifespan as would, eventually, the still half-full carton of once cheap and now priceless butane cigarette lighters.

Unfortunately, some of the settlers at Falling Spring hadn’t figured out the need to be frugal, or perhaps were still in denial. It was only through her dogged determination and occasional threats that the more short-sighted of the citizenry hadn’t decided to just chuck the preservation of the vitally important seed stocks in favor of holding on just a little longer to that last precious symbol of their former lives — electric light. Never mind that the supply of light bulbs was dwindling, too, and there was no conceivable way at this point in the new world’s evolution to make more. Goddess, what primeval forces were at work. She was seeing deeply what fear was driving them all, to be without a way to light the darkness. No wonder they panicked so easily when reminded that the age of cheap and plentiful electric power had simply ended. Well, she meant to fix that problem for good and all, if she could only find that damned book!

An hour later she had found helpful instructions on brewing homemade beer, making vinegar from apples, basic soap making, leather tanning, and fermenting techniques. And a recipe for a variety of intoxicating beverages, including raspberry mead, of all things. All useful information, but not what she sought. She tried to remember where she had last seen the text on hemp production and processing.
Wait a minute. That’s right. It was a reference book, not something from popular culture. She’d come across it at the university library’s annual book sale while still in grad school and had been intrigued enough to carry it home. She’d paid something like a quarter for it, she remembered. Now, she thought, it was priceless. It was also likely to be stored with the rest of her ag reference books on a shelf in her bedroom upstairs. Oh, great. She’d spent a morning down here in the dust for nothing.

Well, not quite, she thought with a grin. She’d found the beer-making book. What they’d managed so far was drinkable, more or less, but that’s all. Their crop of barley had been meager since it wasn’t really suited to the local climate. Maybe they could substitute wheat for part of the malt and still get something drinkable – if the wheat harvest was sufficient. It was worth a try. She’d drop that book by Lon Brixey’s cabin down next to the mill. An African American carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade before the Change, and one of the latest arrivals, he’d been trying to get the woodright’s shop, powered by the mill wheel and used by the house builders, developed into a better design so he could make more than lumber. He was talking about making, among other things, barrels and casks for storage vessels. He’d also frequently expressed serious displeasure at the mediocre quality of the beer and the few fruit wines they’d managed to produce. If he wasn’t interested in developing the craft of beermaking, she’d bet he’d find someone who was.

Someone overhearing her thoughts might have thought her a little too focused on the production of addictive substances, she realized with a grin. But she knew what her growing extended family was going through in its struggle to adjust to this new and difficult life. If she could spare any of them an ounce of pain and make their daily lives smoother, that would be just fine with her.

She bypassed the energy-sucking freight elevator and headed for the stairs. She was stronger than she’d been in years from the physical labor required to stay abreast of her duties and jogged easily up the stairs from the vaults, brushed the dust from her clothes, and had another sneezing fit at the top. When she entered her apartment by the back door, the book was just where she’d thought it might be, tucked away right between chickens and grains on a closet shelf.

She leafed through its introductory pages as she strolled absently out of her personal quarters, across the hall, and into the cavernous room that had once been the exhibit space of the visitor center, now converted to use as an infirmary and for other purposes. Most of the equipment in the hall, including the antique tools and implements on display, had long since been scavenged for direct use or as patterns to copy, their once-obsolete designs having suddenly become essential again. She looked up, hearing the screech of a nail being pulled through wood, and found Steven dismantling one of the last remaining tall display cases. It was on its side with its front open, the heavy glass panels from it and two other cases leaning against a nearby wall.

“What’s going on, my good man?” she asked, moderating her tone as she noted a small, moccasined foot protruding from what she’d thought was a pile of rags. “I see you’ve stolen my son.” Jared, her adopted firstborn, was just now old enough to escape from the village nursery so long as he had supervision. He was becoming Steven’s frequent companion on days when his tasks posed no danger, like today.

Steven nodded and smiled. “I thought I’d give the nannymamas a break for a few hours. I know people describe his kind of energy as ‘all boy,’ but I swear, this one seems to be about a boy and a half.” He smiled as he stood and put out an arm to pull her to him. They embraced awkwardly, each unwilling to put down their tools — hers the book and his a pry bar. Exchanging smiles of easy affection, they held each other a moment and then stepped apart.

She pretended an official tone as she demanded, “And what mischief are you up to today?”

“I’m commandeering these articles for use in the greater plan, oh wise and generous one,” he said, affecting a similarly officious tone and saluting with the pry bar. There appeared to be more than one mischievous child in the room.

“In other words, you’re absconding with more loot from my place to put to some questionable purpose of your own,” she returned.

“That’s it, exactly,” he said with a grin, looking pleased with himself. “The glass will make some great windows for the school, and these cases will hold lots of books and supplies, once I’ve put in some sturdier shelves. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Not a bit, especially since I’ll end up with more of this great big room so its other endeavors can expand and offer more space for essential services. The theater is great for meetings. We can seat everyone and more in that space,” she said, gesturing toward the adjoining room.

“This room has the capacity to become a medical center of sorts. Annie has her lab, Nurse Alice has her clinic, and Ellen is developing a proper herbary to process and store medicinals in what used to be the other restroom and the janitor’s closet inside. They all seem to get along well enough, and are learning a great deal from each other.”

Steven commended her farsightedness, but she demurred.

“ It had to happen. At first, I was obsessed with keeping this whole facility, excepting Annie’s lab and the warehouse, as some kind of last remnant of the world before. But I’m over it. I don’t really need anything in here for me beyond my apartment. I do want to hold onto that, because I really think I’d like to have another child, once this guy’s a little farther along. I was against it at first, because my job gives me little time to spare caring for an infant. But now that the nannymamas have organized, that’s not so much of an issue. I’d have the benefit of those extra hands. But what we really need” she said, shifting gears, “is a community health, science, and research center. And what we don’t need is another structure to build. So I’m thinking this is it.”

“Yeah. Like a Keep,” he said and grinned, for everyone called it that, but she still found it awkward.

Yeah, kinda,” she agreed. “I’m beginning to see that.”

“Well, don’t see it too clearly. There’s bound to be another meeting,” he said and made a face.

“Oh, Goddess bless us, not that,” she groaned. They laughed, and she returned to her previous focus. “Well, hey, we’re going to have to do that anyway pretty soon, because I’ve just now found us the answer to most of life’s biggest problems.” She held up the book and he read its title.

“What’s this? ‘Hemp Production and Processes?’ Oh, right. You’re going to get us all so stoned we don’t give a rip for life’s biggest problems, is that it? Some answer.”

She held the book up and shook it under his nose, a menacing look on her face. “No,” she hissed. “I’m gonna take this stuff and grow you a shirt – and some tow ropes, and maybe some house paint, and a goddamn night light, you scientifically challenged woofer. You know what this means? We work out how to break this stuff down on a large scale into its component parts and we have a manufacturing base. We have raw materials for some of the most basic goods of civilized life. It’s all right here, in this one amazing plant.

“And I’m not blowing smoke, buddy. Did you know that this fiber is, ounce for ounce, stronger than steel? We can make ropes and cables and baskets and paper and clothing, plus lubricants and oils for nearly every use imaginable. We can cook with it and light our houses at night. This stuff is going to save our asses, Steven. No kidding. I’m certain of it.”

“Wow. Okay then, I guess I’m impressed,” he said, sobering. “So how do we go about it? How do we get these wonders to happen?”
She heaved a sigh. “Let’s save that for the meeting. I need to bone up on my subject matter some more before I go blowing about it like this before an audience. But I’m glad you said ‘we,’” she said with satisfaction. “If we can locate the right seeds, I’m sure we can get the stuff to grow. But then to learn the refining processes, to work it into usable forms, I’m going to need the right implements, including some pretty sophisticated machinery. Warning’s fair – I’m probably going to be keeping your forges hot all summer.” She gave him a wicked grin, which he answered with eyebrows raised.

“Oo, baby, you know what I like,” he quoted the long-ago popular song. They shared another hug and a chuckle, and he returned to his task. Moira tiptoed out, leaving Jared to his nap, and found a sunny corner outside, next to the greenhouse and out of the wind, where she settled down to read everything she could squeeze out of this little book about industrial hemp. It was going to be their salvation. She just knew it.

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