Homo sapiens is at a precipice: Climate change is here, and if humankind will not curtail its use of fossil fuels, sooner or later our species will run headlong into its day of reckoning. This collection of short stories is one imagining of how the price of our hubris will be paid. $17.99 249 pages
Until the Stars Are Fallen
Excerpt from After the Unlocking:
The sound of crashing blocks of torn-up masonry in the stairwell woke them, and they knew someone had tripped the wire on the floor below. Gee-Gee was up quicker than a fly dodging a swatter and his shotgun exploded, paused, then let loose again. They saw Father Jake holding his machete, watching past Gee-Gee into the darkened opening. Mother Maddie was moving a small pile of bricks closer to the men.
“Are they still coming?” she shouted.
“Not yet, they ain’t,” Gee-Gee yelled over his shoulder as he chambered two more rounds. We’ve got those goddam claim jumpers blocked off with the deadfall, and they’ll have to try and clear the rubble if they want to come any further. When they do, I’ll cut ’em down one, two at a time.”
“But we don’t have too many shells left,” Father Jake said.
“Those stupid bastards don’t know that,” Gee-Gee said. “They gonna have to be pretty desperate to be comin’ at us like this, so we gotta convince ’em it ain’t worth their while for now.”
Mother Maddie’s jaw tightened. “Oh, I think we can keep ’em down there alright. Leastwise for now. But we’re gonna need a plan for the next time they try it.”
Gee-Gee snorted. Below him, he heard some bricks being moved. The stairwell was still dark, but he could tell someone was crawling forward. He fired again, just one barrel. A sound of a body sliding backward and the crash of more blocks dropping and filling the gaps that had just been made preceded a prolonged silence.
After a long wait, he turned to Father Jake. “I’ll take first watch ’til noon. You can get it then, Maddie. We’ll rotate a few days and build up another trap.”
The children, fully awake and frightened, rushed to Mother. “Are the goddam claim jumpers coming back? Are they?”
Gee-Gee answered for her. “They might, but it won’t do them no good. They gotta be pretty damn hungry to charge up here, and every day they ain’t bein’ fed, is one that’s makin’ ’em weaker. I’m bettin’ they’ll try their luck downstairs before they have at us again.”
It made sense, of course, but Father Jake knew that once their soy ran out, the Family wasn’t likely to stay healthy for long. He did a mental inventory, trying to estimate how much time they might have before the Family, too, would have to risk the streets.
The three hens were getting old; eggs were fewer every week. The rooster was getting too weak to justify wasting any of the remaining grain to keep him alive. Scrawny and tough as he’d prove to be, he still might make more than one meal if they stewed him just right.
The Family could still grow potatoes and tomatoes in the boxes, and the rat cages were full for the time being. Firewood, taken when they’d first moved up to this place for shelter, was not going to be a problem. There had been enough furniture and wall studs below before anyone new had come to stake a claim.
But the claim jumpers were here now, had moved below them on at least two floors, and had occasionally tried to barter with the adults for citrus and starch. Still, under Gee-Gee’s guidance, the Family had kept their guard up and had used the time of relative peace to store the government rations, especially the sacks of soy, until the helicopter supply drops stopped. At first there was a fifty-pound bag of soy meal per floor, but, Gee-Gee reasoned, who knew how many floors below remained inhabited. So, for several months, he and Father Jake had hauled down two sacks to the next floor below and kept four until the drops became more infrequent. And though the number of bags remained the same, the size of them dropped to forty, then thirty-five pounds. It became obvious to the Family that they’d have to keep everything for themselves, and the time for isolation had come.
Oh, the others below had been warned. They knew the Family was armed, and they left the rooftop alone until food became scarce. The lower floors had made their appeals for any kind of surpluses, but, of course, there were none that could be shared without risking starvation for the Family.
Father and Gee-Gee had begun building the defensive trap just before the last food drop a few months ago. And a good thing, too, Jake thought. Without that deadfall, they might all have been murdered in their sleep.
The Family spent the day tending crops while Gee-Gee kept watch. The weather wasn’t much of a barrier since the winter months were almost always warm, except around the holidays—but even then, the chills at night were mostly due to the frequent rainstorms. The tin-sided hut was large enough to cover the five of them in a downpour, and the advantage to those seasonal deluges was the resupply of water gathered in the concrete pool that had been used for swimming and bathing back when Gee-Gee was a child.
Maddie looked up from time to time, gauging the weather for that day. Maybe a few showers later, she decided. She’d glance at Gee-Gee, where he was seated on the top stair, holding the shotgun, keeping an eye on the rubble-choked steps. When the Family had done all they could with the crops, Maddie served them the thin bug broth that was first of their twice-a-day meals. Then, she checked on the livestock.
The chickens were fine—had even laid two eggs, and the six rats were alive even if they were getting a bit thin. She resolved to use one of them in their dinner stew.
When she brought Gee-Gee his lunch cup, she paused a moment, glancing around to ensure they were out of earshot of the others.
“I’m worried,” she spoke barely above a whisper.
Gee-Gee frowned. “’Bout them?” He gestured toward the well with his chin. “We’re safe now, and we’re gonna likely stay that way.”
“But …” she hesitated, then spoke quickly, almost as if she were trying to get the words out before her voice failed her. “But, if we can’t get down, once the soy runs out—”
He turned his face toward hers. “We won’t starve,” he said bluntly. “We’ll have plenty of meat.” Again, he gestured toward the stairwell. “There’s plenty down there.”
“More rats? You think they’ll be enough of them to get us by?”
His brows knit. “Oh, yeah. Especially the two-legged kind.”
Maddie’s head bowed, but she didn’t feel horrified at the prospect. In fact, the more she thought about it, the greater her sense of relief increased.