Where It’s Green
Chapter 1: The Note on The Back of The Safeway Flyer
Hi there, this story is a part of a series called Where It’s Green!
Enjoy chapter 1 and as always, tips are appreciated more than you know.
Svalbard grunted as she packed her belongings into the backpack, it was getting more worn by the day, and she wondered about finding a new one. She glanced back at Dianne and Tilly, the two sunflowers standing straight and proud, at their full height but still green, unaware their protector was leaving them.
She looked at the rickety fence she had built, shelter from the far too harsh sun. Sunflowers didn’t use to need shelter from the sun. She thought about the note she had tacked to it, how the ink was fading already. She wondered how long before someone would have to rub it with a pencil like an epitaph to read her words. It felt fitting and she wished she could find a pencil. Graphite and carbon didn’t seem to disintegrate as quickly as ink.
She paused, inspecting her fingernails. The oxygen deprivation was starting to take its toll on them, even through the dark tinted gas mask she could tell the bed of her nails were blue, the nails themselves pushed out and cracked, skin ripped and bleeding, from the caustic air or from digging in the hard dirt or both.
She turned back, got closer to the sunflowers and put the filter of her gas mask right next to Dianne. She breathed in deeply.
She repeated the process. It felt as though she could see the oxygen the plants were giving off, like the oxygen was visible in the dense concentration of carbon and nitrogen the atmosphere was now.
Like it was glowing out of the plants.
That was probably just the oxygen deprivation.
She breathed normally, her head still between the two sunflowers.
Tears that had been threatening to spill over for months now once again prickling in her eyes. She swallowed hard, sharp pain in her sinus and heart biting her throat.
She moved back abruptly, interrupting her slow breathing and her painful thoughts. Tears were a bitch and then some to deal with when you’re wearing a gas mask and she wasn’t about to chance taking it off while in an open, Blank filled area.
She started walking, due west, the same straight line she’d begun in when she first left her house.
As she walked she revisited her favourite, and damn near only, past time of thinking about her life. And it was easy at this point, years and counting of practice. One foot in front of the other, a flash of the face of someone she cared about.
The prepper head she had written about, the one who fancied her and gave her her name? His sunflower was named Joey. He wasn’t quite right in the head by the time she got to him, about two months or more after Day Zero.
She thought it had been months anyway, her sense of time really got away from her. She blamed the lack of Oxygen. It had been like that a whole month before the apocalypse started.
She shuddered at the thought of the news at the time. A mass extinction of Earth’s plantlife. It had been surreal, in her wooded farmland home surrounded by miles and miles of greenery and gardens. They’d had a meeting about it at the community garden center she and Emma ran.
Really it was Emma’s, they may have worked on it day and night together but it was as much Emma’s baby as Abby was.
Emma had told her stories about growing up poor in the otherwise thriving Korean neighborhood of Alpharetta, Georgia. It had been a difficult move , Emma had only been four and her mom had been pregnant with her brother at the time, and they had unfortunately sunk a lot of money into the move.
When her dad was laid off from his restaurant job it had been her mom’s family that rallied together, eventually getting her mom’s bakery off the ground. But there had been a lot of days in between the rallying and the poverty. Years. And Emma had told her what it was like, going hungry for days, watching her dad refuse meals so she and her mom could eat.
The one thing Emma had focused on was the fact that there was a community garden two cities away, and if they could just go there, they would have food.
“Sweetie we don’t have the money to go there” her mom had explained to her in Korean, over and over again. And Emma had made a promise to herself to start a community garden anywhere she could.
Before the apocalypse she had gotten at least twelve up and running. She was a whirlwind of a person, it always seemed like she didn’t slow down, but Svalbard had known better. She had bare witness to meltdown after Autistic meltdown, anxiety attacks and panic attacks and frustrated stimming that went on behind the scenes.
For better or worse, Emma always came to mind. She had met her when she was seventeen at a farming conference, her mom had been selling her cakes and Emma had been talking animatedly about community gardens and farmers markets and the importance of buying local food. She had been passionate about a few very key things her whole life and Svalbard had imbibed that passion, drinking it all for herself and living with it as well.
They became fast friends and fed off one another’s passions, baking, sewing, gas masks, that one was Emma’s but they had started her collection together. And gardening. Agriculture and environmental conservation became their lives.
Svalbard stopped dead in her tracks and thoughts. She nearly stumbled on the cracked and dusty ground. She had been walking for hours, she knew, or days possibly. Right in front of her was the third most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. The first had been a girl at a farming convention, the second her daughter being born, but an old rickety barn with the red roof half caved in was climbing the leaderboards.
There were black sludge soaked hay bales in one corner, but no Blank in sight. She pushed aside the rust eaten wheelbarrow and stepped inside, minding her step so she wouldn't cave in the rest of the roof.
She made her way to what she had spotted outside of the barn, a little pantry of sorts. She saw glass jars of preserves, still sealed up tight with a promise of fruit, garlic, peppers, and what looked like candied pecans. Svalbard could have cried then and there but her eyes were on something even more precious. A small metal spade, untouched somehow by the caustic air that seemed to be eating all the plastics and most metals in the world.
She wouldn’t have to worry about her hands getting torn up while planting. She quickly looted the area, the spade safely tucked away in her backpack, the candied pecans next to her bag of sugar cane and cocoa beans that she had grown before she’d left her last permanent campgrounds with… her friends.
She sighed bitterly at the thought and started making her way out of the barn, the creaking and teetering making her less than eager to explore the rest of the barn, whatever other goodies could stay its own little secret.
Her mind flitted back to her friends. Then to Emma and Abby…. she coughed, kept walking.
As she walked she began to sing.
“Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through! Just an old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind! I said a Georgia!
Georgia, a song of you.
Company sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines or the arms that reach out to me
for the eyes smile tenderly still in the peaceful dreams I see, the road leads back to you.”
She started to hum the rest, lyrics fading to muffled sounds behind her gas mask. She couldn’t remember the rest. She knew it was the lack of oxygen.
She cleared her throat, and began anew;
“He was two weeks from candeltop…. uh…. At Web’s he thought he’d stop and have a drink before he went home to her....
Andy Wolo said Hello, said I’m your best friend... you know that’s right, but your young bride ain’t home tonight, since you’ve been gone she’s been seeing that Amos boy Seth!
That’s the night that the Lights went out in Georgia! That’s the night that they hung an innocent man!
Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods southern lawyer! Cause the judge in the town has got bloodstains on his hands!”
“Hah! Forgettin’ that one big time!” She laughed aloud to herself, keeping her eyes sharp.
Singing wasn’t just a good way to pass the time but also a good way to lure Blanks out into open spaces where she could deal with them, or find friendly faces she could join or help.
She was really hoping for the latter.
It didn’t do her any good to be alone; that was lesson number one the apocalypse taught her. Although it seemed like it was a lesson that Life itself kept telling her.
She thought back, suddenly, to when she had been sixteen, terrified, and convinced she had to do everything on her own.
She’d written a note.
Grabbed a rope.
Then she had crumpled the first note, thrown the rope down and wrote another. Taped it to her bedroom door, packed her things and left her home for what she thought at the time would be forever.
Her mom and dad found her that night on the campgrounds at John Dick Branch. It was overgrown and littered with garter snakes but the branch was as clear as ever, she had been watching the crawdads swim around in the moonlight when she had heard a truck pull up.
She’d never forget her mamma gathering her up in her arms and calling her ‘her daughter’ for the first time, both notes, the taped and the crumpled one, in her shaking, farm worn hands.
And when her daddy got out of their old pickup truck too, when he had came right up to her and said;
“The world is difficult enough to us Black folk, difficult enough to us Southern folks, difficult enough to us farmers, difficult enough to everybody, especially you girls, that we ain’t about to go making’ it anyways harder by not supportin’ each other. You hear me young lady?!”
He’d said it loudly and firmly and gently and lovingly and she hadn’t been able to stop sobbing the whole night.
She had known those words would be seared into her mind forever. And as she fought the tears welling up once again in her eyes she knew them to be true. Always. Possibly especially now.
The world was far too difficult to not be kind.
She couldn’t stop the tears anymore when she recalled the rope, her older sister and brother had cut it to pieces far too small to do anything with. They’d have to spend hard earned money for another one come hay baling season but neither of their parents had yelled at them for it. They’d both looked vaguely proud.
Her mamma had set right to work sewin’ her a dress just as pretty as her sister’s had ever been and her brother had happily helped her get rid of her unwanted clothes.
And she was… Janelle? Jo-Anne?
She couldn’t remember…. but she was happy.
Because she’d had her family with her.
“She was so pretty.” She sang out with a watery voice.
“Emma was a star in everyone’s eyes. And when she said she’d be a movie queen…”
Svalbard stopped, a sob wracking her whole body.
“N-no…nobody laughed. A face like an Angel, she could be anything.”
“Emma.” She sighed to herself.
Took in a deep breath, as deep as she possibly could, grabbed a rag she had tucked in the side of her back brace, and removed her gas mask.