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Where It’s Green

by Cereal Oatmeal about a year ago in Adventure · updated about a year ago
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Svalbard’s Story

A shadowed figure wearing a red hoodie, a pink gas mask, black pants and a leather brace. She is holding a pink heart locket that sunflower seeds are falling out of. A sunflower is in front of her. Drawn by TazerPones at https://tazerpones.tumblr.com/

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, it wasn’t ever supposed to be like this. This is shit.

But what else do you do when things have gone to shit but write it down?

The names Svalbard, at least that’s what I’m going by these days. Honestly don’t know if I remember what it used to be, Jane or something like it. Got the new nick ages ago from some prepper-head with more guns than sense, he’d said something about it being some “island of hope and salvation” in the prepper circles.

Apparently it’s some Norwegian island country so untouched by the mainstream big governments that everyone thought it would be some safe haven if the shit hit the fan. Don’t see what good believing in something like that did him, considering he was in Arkansas when I met him. Might as well have said The Moon or Mars were our big ticket to safety, wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

I don’t know why he gave me the name but if I had to guess I’d say it was probably some ongoing fantasy narrative of his about him and I repopulating the earth or some shit.

As if that would help anything. As if having more people to turn into nightmares would save the world.

As if anything would.

Well I hoped something would, but I really don’t think it’s gonna be repopulating, not for a long time.

I tried not to get attached, to never learn names. Didn’t really make it any easier to shoot his head off after that Blank got ahold of him.

It was still probably a better end for us than trying to explain to some forty eight year old White guy who had spent an odd handful of decades and way too much money collecting bear traps and canned food and little else that the thirty two year old woman he was chatting up didn’t even have the parts he was seeking anyway.

Maybe I should have found it flattering, or I don’t know, confirming at the least, you know, I could have thought of it as some sort of compliment, proof that I “passed” but.... nah, the flirting just felt really gross.

Maybe it was the way he’d laughed at me when I asked him if he had any farming skills or textile knowledge, the way he’d implied those things weren’t useful….

But that was over five years ago and for some reason Svalbard stuck. And people, survivors, well they listened to the name too. I wasn’t just some plain Jane or something. I gained a lot of trust, got through to a lot of people. Passed on a theory of mine… but we’ll get to that. Anyway, I made a lot of friends over the years as Svalbard.

I was salvation.

I let it go to my head once, and only once. Unfortunately that was far more recently than I’d like to admit to on paper.

Nothing like watching a kid turn into a Blank that knocks you back down to Earth real quick.

All their hair and teeth falling out, their eyes rotting to black sludge in a matter of minutes and their mouth pulled back in a wide, gasping, horror-show mockery of breathing.

When their skin goes sallow and starts to look like an old burlap sack?

Well, it’s then and there that you have to make the decision to shoot or be turned yourself.

It’s only been a little over a month or so but I know I’ll never forget her mother’s screams. Or the way she looked at me as she deliberately took off her gas mask and began to turn herself. Her eyes never stopped burning with hate and rage and pain, even as they began melting out of her skull.

They’d been my only friends for the last two years. Lost a lot of others to the Blanks or starvation, a few of the lucky ones that I inspired moved on to plant my theory around.

Two years and I had tried to not learn their names. I did, but I’m not gonna make a big deal out of it. Don’t want to ruin their dignity by sobbing about them on the back of a Safeway flyer. Their names deserve more than to be chicken scratched onto this paper with a half broken gel pen.

I still thought they were worth two though. Two was really all I could spare, but they were worth it. They’d certainly never belittled me and I had spent far too long pretending not to care about them.

The big, plastic, sort of clunky heart locket I’d been carrying around my neck since the beginning was starting to lose it’s weight. I opened it gently, making sure not to spill any of the contents.

I took two big seeds from the locket, sunflowers the both of them, and planted them close by their Blanked bodies. They’d turn to sludge eventually, no need or ability to bury them.

I set up camp and a rain catcher to make sure I could get them started. Two seeds for two years spent together. Two seeds for two lives lost.

This was shit.

My own daughter had given me the chunky locket for Mother’s Day when she was five, a few weeks before this nightmare started. I’d had to get a bigger chain than the tiny plastic one it had come with.

Maybe the idea of gardening should make me sick.

After all, if Emma hadn’t taken Abby out to the garden that morning, day zero, maybe they wouldn’t have turned. But then again maybe it was for the best. I don’t know if Emma could have worn a gas mask for years on end, she was really sensitive to things like texture or having something on her face.

And after I’d spent so long making sure Abby loved her natural hair… after she had told me she wanted it to be:

“Fluffy and beautiful, like you mom!”

I don’t think I could have stomached explaining why all her beautiful hair had to be cut off for the gas mask to have the best possible fit….

Except that’s a shit explanation isn’t it?

Of course I could have, I would have shoved a gas mask on Emma and shaved Abby’s head in a heartbeat, if I had only had the option. But I hadn’t. So we’ll just say it was for the best instead. Silver linings or whatever.

She would be about ten now.

I don’t know what possessed me to start grabbing seeds, after I’d locked my daughter and wife in the garden shed, but I did.

Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of a long line of farmers? Maybe it’s because the community garden project had been so important to Emma?

Maybe I’ll never know what it was, but I just had a strong sense to grab some seeds before I left my home forever.

We kept all our seeds in the garage in large wooden bins with scoops and plastic covers. Emma and Abby both loved to stick their hands in the different seeds and feel the textures. I didn’t necessarily understand it from their perspective, but I had always loved to watch them play with the seeds and see how happy and relaxed they both were doing so.

On the dawn of doomsday I loved that I didn’t have to waste time or wherewithal opening a bunch of paper packets.

I didn’t think to, or maybe wasn’t able to grab a backpack or whatever. I don’t remember the specifics, it was all a blur of terror and pain; and constantly holding my breath probably didn’t do any favours to my brain cells. Not that there’s much oxygen for me to breathe now as is. Makes me feel pretty loopy sometimes, I’m sure you know what I mean.

So my pockets and clunky heart locket and bra got filled with seeds and gas mask canisters, as many as I could carry, and I fled.

I try not to hate myself for leaving them in that shed in Georgia. I try not to think about the hypocrisy of me being ready and willing to kill someone else’s daughter and not able to kill my own. If I start hating myself for my choices during the Goddamned Apocalypse I’ll never recover.

I stayed at that camp, after I shot the girl and her mom whose names I’m refusing to tell you, for weeks, taking out four or five more Blanks, waiting for the first signs of life.

A traditional media drawing of a girl (Svalbard) in a red tank top holding a pink heart locket with sunflower seeds in it, watching young sunflowers grow. To the right is a trans pride flag with sunflower care instructions written on it. Drawn by Alec Basil https://vocal.media/authors/alec-basil

The sunflowers have sprouted. I kept them watered and safe, built them a trellis out of reclaimed metal and wood and whatever else I could find. They’re hyperaccumulators, sunflowers are. Take all the toxins out of the earth.

Plus they spread well on their own. Meaning if they make it, in a few years time I could come back to this dusty field and find rows and rows of toxic sunflowers and rich clean soil. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this. So if someone comes along, sees the fence and the rain collector and compost pile I’ve made, sees the sunflowers starting to grow their bright yellow petals, they’ll know to let them grow. Let them stay. Help them survive. Stay near them and they’ll keep your O2 up.

Because what I think, is that whatever is causing this, this hellscape, it’s got to do with the plants. So many of em started dying a month or so before it all began.

Everything’s the wrong temperature, the weather is all messed up. And everything I know about agriculture is saying that whatever it is turning people into Blanks, it was always here. The trees, the grass, the hyperaccumulators of the world, they were protecting us from it.

And things went to shit because they stopped being able to. People stopped planting seeds, stopped caring about the climate of the world. Ripped up too much grass for parking lots and strip malls and office buildings. And the plants weren’t there anymore to filter out the bad shit.

That’s my theory anyway. We need to keep moving, keep planting. If you find seeds, hang onto them. Find a way to keep them growing, keep them alive. They’re the only future we’ve got. I have my reasons for this theory, but maybe you’ve noticed too?

The Blank don’t go where it’s green. They avoid plant life. It’s just a hunch but maybe it’s worth something.

I’ll be moving on once they reach their full height. It only takes about seventy days for a sunflower to grow fully, and I’ve been here at least forty.

Sunflowers need about an inch of water a week, but I’m setting up an automatic watering system the best I can to try and help them with that.

Then I’m heading further west, towards California. The last correspondence I had before the Internet went down totally was with a solar punk spearhead there, someone who had been watching the declining plant growth with concern. I’m hoping they’re still alive, still out there. I’m hoping they have some more seeds, some plants growing.

If anyone’s reading this, anyone at all, I’m hoping we can fight this together. There’s a trans pride flag Emma got for me ages ago on the inside of this fence. It was one of those after-thought things I grabbed off the flagpole as I was fleeing our home.

On it you’ll see I’ve written clearer instructions for caring for the sunflowers and how to harvest their seeds and plant more of them. They should spread okay on their own given time, but if there is someone reading this, don’t wait for things to get better okay? Start making them better now. If you wait, things may just get worse instead.

Anyways, have hope for the future okay?

With love,

Svalbard

Note from the author: Hello everyone! I’m editing this to say that this is not the end of Svalbard’s story. She has many more adventures to go on and many more stories to tell, so if you like this prelude please check out the next instalment of Where It’s Green, Chapter 1. The Note on The Back of The Safeway Flyer!

Adventure

About the author

Cereal Oatmeal

Autistic, Pan, Trans

I use all pronouns including neopronouns!

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