The buggy turned into a suburban cul-de-sac that was somewhere in Spotsylvania County. The houses along the cul-de-sac were all massive, but where they excelled in size, they lacked in variety. After looking at a number of the houses, Robert figured that there must’ve only been three or four house models which were repeated infinitely. Robert was reminded of cartoons of his youth where the characters would walk down a street while the background, which happened to be houses, just kept on repeating itself. It kept the costs down for the animators; likewise, using the same house model probably let subdivision developers keep costs down because they could get away with hiring fewer architects.
“This is my secrete getaway,” said Clayton. “If I know a passenger doesn’t mind keeping away from the Homesteads for a night, I bring them here.”
“Good choice. Saves us from the Homestead managers. If you thought PR people were bad,”
“Oh I know.” Clayton turned the buggy into a driveway of one of the deserted McMansions and told Slush and Mudd to halt. “Can you believe it? This is one of ‘em commuter suburbs. Took us half a day to get here.”
“Yah, well, when people actually occupied this house I don’t think they used horses to get into the city.”
“Horses on a deserted freeway can be better than a car in traffic. Trust me, I’ve done both. At least you’re moving with the horses.”
“But you’re not moving fast.”
“Let’s drop it. Can you go into the house and open the garage door while I take Slush and Mudd out back?”
“Why do I need to do that?”
“We gotta get the buggy inside. We don’t want anyone knowing we’re here, right?”
Robert left the buggy and walked towards the front door. He glanced over at the front lawn and observed that the grass must have been around two and a half feet high. Robert didn’t want to think about what lurked in the forest-lawn. No amount of mowing and trimming could whip that lawn into respectable shape. It was a suburban dad’s worst nightmare. What would the neighbors think?
The front door was open which was sort of disappointing. Robert had kicked a number of doors down when he went on artifact journeys on the weekends, and every time he did it he felt like he was an action movie anti-hero. He was a little let down with the fact that this door was unlocked, but oh well, if he really was up for it he could always go to other houses in the community and kick doors down. It was something to do before sundown, albeit, it was a little too juvenile delinquent for taste.
Once inside the house he could tell that the place had seen better days. Everything seemed to be in a state of decay, but surprisingly, all the furniture and appliances were there. The living room featured a rotting sofa, the skeleton of a coffee table, a 50 inch flat screen TV (without a screen) and a three foot lamp without a shade or a light bulb; all the fixtures that are needed to make a nourishing home. Robert pictured archeologists roaming around the place in a thousand years wondering what all these objects were. Especially the TV; its use could easily be mistaken. At least pottery has a straight forward purpose.
Robert could mosey around after, so he went to the garage and opened the door. Clayton was waiting on the driveway, ready to push the hybrid into the garage. Robert helped out. It didn’t take much effort to get the vehicle moving because it turned out to be unexpectedly light.
“How’s about some of that food,” said Robert after they got the hybrid into place.
“Alright, alright. Let me get it out, then we can feast.” Clayton opened the trunk of the vehicle and started rustling around. “Do you want a cookout, or do you want to eat now?”
“I’m sort of hungry right now.”
“Good answer. This will give you your fiber and vitamins,” said Clayton as he brought out an assortment of fruits and vegetables. “This will give you your carbs.” A corn cob was handed to Robert. “And this will give you your protein.” Clayton opened a satchel, exposing a bunch of withered strips of something.
“You expect me to eat tree bark? That sounds like too much fiber to handle.”
“Tree bark? You’re trippin’. This here is beef jerky.” Clayton took out a piece and started chewing on it.
“Beef jerky? I haven’t heard of that stuff for ages. Since when did Alpha Corp. start making it again?”
“So how did you get it? Are there still operating convenience stores down the Virginian way?”
“I have my sources.”
“Well, let’s keep it between you and me. I wouldn’t mind eating some of that beef jerky, even if some Homestead in the ranchlands is missing one of their cattle due to a skillful exporter.”
“Hey now, don’t jump to no conclusions. I didn’t get this from an exporter, or an importer. No foul play here. I got it from an independent.”
“Now that sounds like some BS. Independents are harder to spot than a BB in a ball pit, let alone make a trade with one of them. I’m sorry Clayton, I don’t think I can believe you on this one.”
Clayton let out a big smile to indicate that he wasn’t offended by Robert’s comment, then spoke, “Suit yourself man. I’m a man of many hustles though. Don’t forget that.”
“Yah well, I’m a man of few,” responded Robert. “Say, where do you wanna eat?”
“We can go out back. We should probably keep an eye on Slush and Mudd. Plus there’s a stream back there that ain’t to shabby of a sight.”
Clayton led Robert out of the garage and through the house. They exited the back door then took a seat at the edge of the deck. Clayton was right: the backyard did offer a view. The backyard in itself was quite a marvel, mostly because of its size, but behind its chain link fence was a nice forested area with a stream running through it.
“After I eat I’ll take the horses out to the water,” said Clayton before he takes a bite out of peach.
“This is a nice place you got here.”
“Thanks. I just paid off the mortgage,” responded Clayton in his white-male accent. “I’m planning on doing some renovations, so things will be even nicer after this year’s golf season.”
Robert ripped off the husks of a corn cob, scrapped off some kernels with his teeth and chewed. It would have been much better if it had been prepared somehow, but he can’t complain; it beats having a Homestead manager jabbering about the Homestead’s projected output for the season. As he ate he watched the horses chomp on their meal. Once he swallowed the kernels, he spoke. “The horses seem to like it out here.”
“Oh yah, this is their favorite spot.” Clayton stuck his hand in the satchel and took another strip of beef jerker. “Well, I can’t speak for them, so maybe it ain’t their favorite spot, but whenever they come here they seem to eat more aggressively. It’s like they need more of this type of grass, you know?”
“It’s probably all the fertilizer that got used on this yard.”
“I bet you the guy who lived here paid more attention to his lawn than he did to his own children. Unless he had a star quarterback for a son.”
“Amen. I never got that about white folk. Back where I come from, people didn’t care if they had a fresh cut lawn or a goddam wheat field in front of your house. It just was. Hell, if you had corn growing in your front and back yard, you could be saving money at the supermarket by making your own hoecakes.”
“That’s the way it should have been. If it wasn’t for the Restructuring, I think that would’ve been the next step.”
“What do you mean ‘the next step’?”
“Urban farming. Or suburban farming. I saw some stuff about it back in the day. Apparently a lot of people were doing it in Detroit. This was around, I don’t know, say 2013-2014.”
“Well, so, what was up with it?” asked Clayton as he ate a handful of blueberries.
“People put there yards under cultivation. That’s pretty much it.” Robert finished off the last bit of his corn cob.
“But why Detroit? Why not anywhere else?”
“Because the factories were all closed down which left the inner city in ruins. No jobs meant no people. Well, there were some people, the ones who couldn’t afford to just get up and go, or they didn’t have the means of transportation.”
“So instead they started farming their yards, right?”
“Exactly. Some of them had an advantage in that their next door neighbors took off; therefore they had a couple of properties to farm.”
“Were they able to make it?”
“I don’t know how it panned out, but I’m sure some of them reached subsistence. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Unless it was an experiment.” Robert took a handful of blueberries into his mouth, chewed them, then swallowed. “But I think they made it. The story I saw featured a lot of African-Americans whose grandparents came from the South, so they must’ve passed down some skills to the younger generations. You know, telling them stories about how to tend the land and all that.”
“You know you don’t have to say ‘African-American.’ Black people will do. Hell, I’ve been saying white people this whole time. You should even out the playing field.” Clayton smiled.
“Alright, I’ll try and remember that.” Robert dug into the beef jerky satchel.
“So how is this any different from the Restructuring? To me it seems like this ‘next step’ happened, America wide. The useless lawns of the past are sort farmed, in a way, cause those people that owed those lawns are now mostly farmers.”
“I see where you’re getting at. You see the Detroit ‘experiment’ as being a microcosm of Restructuring?”
“To put it into ‘Caucasian’ words, yes.”
Robert laughed. “Okay, but it isn’t quite like that. I talked this one over with one of my coworkers once, a guy named Tim, who isn’t your typical PR employee either, and we came up with a pretty decent theory. Although that’s kind of biased.”
“You saying your own theory is decent? Yah, that is kind of biased. But tell me anyways.”
“There are two main differences. The first is that Detroit was an industrial city that couldn’t quite cope with post-industrialism. You know. Those factories weren’t replaced with malls and banks and all those things. The white people jobs that we talked about earlier. Or service sector jobs and tertiary industries in Caucasian terms.”
“So what does that have to do with anything?” Clayton started unpeeling a corn cob.
“I’m getting there. So the Detroit farmers were probably ex-factory workers. They went from a secondary industry to a primary industry – which is agriculture. That’s only a one rung difference. Whereas the Restructuring made a lot of service sector workers into primary industry workers – aka farmhands; a two rung difference.”
“Alright. I get it, but that doesn’t really back up your ‘next step’ theory. It’s sort of the same thing. You’re saying ‘the next step’ was for labourers to turn into agricultural labourers, but America at the time when you’re claiming ‘the next step’ had barely any labourers. I mean the factory type. So they wouldn’t be the main ones turning their lawns into farms, it would be the people with white people jobs. I don’t know, it doesn’t seem that different to me.”
“Yah, okay. Well then let’s skip that reason. Detroit as a city is an anomaly in the first place, so I guess it isn’t the best example.” Robert ate a few blueberries and thought his next step out. “But the second difference still holds true.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“They were self-employed.”
“Simple as that?”
“It’s as simple as that. They worked for themselves and they looked out for themselves. They didn’t owe anything to a major institution, say for example Alpha Corp.”
“So you’re saying that they’re like independents.”
“Sort of. Independents of a different time. They still could trade their products with outsiders if they had a surplus, or needed something else, so they’re a little different than independents.”
“And you’re saying that that was the next step?”
“For American society, yah maybe. People farming their yards, maybe doing a little work for a company or something when the lawns didn’t have to be tended, then trading with their neighbors when the crops were harvested. You could even have a government that could help out incase areas of the country underwent a disaster. But I don’t know, that’s an awfully simplistic way of looking at it. Things are much more complex in the real world. This theory of mine wouldn’t work in today’s world either. I’m just too old for ideologies.”
Clayton stood up and faced Robert. “You know what Robert, you got some interesting ideas. Talking to you is like taking a social class with an old eccentric teacher.” Robert took a bow. “But it’s all good. I appreciate people who are willing to teach me things.”
Robert pretended to wipe a tear out of his eyes.
“Yah yah yah,” responded Clayton. “I gotta let the horses get a drink though. Don’t go too far.”
Clayton made his way through the high and dense grass, opened a gate at the corner of the fence then grabbed Slush and Mudd. He took the horses into the forested area and they climbed down a bank at the edge of the stream. Clayton was no longer visible; Robert lost him in the thicket.
It had only been about a minute since Clayton left when Robert heard a creaking noise coming from one of the corners of the deck. Robert turned to investigate, but before he could see where it came from, he felt an arm around his neck and a heavy object at his temple.
“Make a move and I’ll blast your brains out,” shouted a voice that sounded distinctively female.
“CLAYT…” yelled out Robert who couldn’t finish the last syllable because the arm that was around his neck was now blocking his mouth. He thought about biting down on the arm, but thought that it might not be the best idea, seeing as the heavy object at his temple was probably some sort of gun.
“I’m coming,” replied Clayton. Robert could see the brush move as Clayton made his way back to the yard.
The object moved from his temple. Over his left shoulder he could see an arm descending. At the end of the arm was a pistol. Robert wasn’t much of a gun nut, so he didn’t know the model of the pistol, but he did know that the pistol was pointing in the direction where Clayton was to leave the forest.
When Clayton entered the yard he was holding the horses, but once he saw the situation, he flung both of his arms up in surrender. “Don’t shoot,” he yelled out. “We’re not here to make any trouble.”
Robert felt the arm slacken from his mouth. “Clay?” asked the voice.
The grapple ended; Robert was now free. “You two know each other?”
“I guess you could say that,” replied Clayton. “Now I know you’ve been acquainted, but let me introduce you. Francine, this is Robert; Robert, this is Feral Fran aka. The toughest highwaywoman you’ll ever meet.”
Robert turned around and got a sight of Francine for the first time. She looked to be in her late-thirties, yet it was hard to tell because her skin had seen so much sun that it was toughened beyond belief. Depending on the person, that leathery skin look can either add ten years or fifty years to a persons estimated age. In her case it wasn’t that bad because her hair was dark and her eyes were brown, so Robert figured that she started out pretty dark in the first place. Her ancestors were probably from somewhere in Southern Europe, and when it comes to being hammered down by UV rays all day, that certainly has a leg up on people with Anglo-Saxon or Irish ancestors.
If one were to judge her ancestors based on her attire, they would get a completely different picture. She looked as though she stepped out of a western film. She had on a plaid shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans and a pair of cowboy boots complete with spurs. Robert wondered if this getup was all an image or if it was functional.
Francine raised her arm in order for Robert to shake it. Robert was hesitant to shake her hand and she picked up on it. “Look, I know we may have started off on the wrong foot, but you gotta realize that I can’t take any chances. I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?” Francine lunged her hand closer to Robert.
“Come on Robert, shake her hand. Don’t be a pussy,” said Clayton. Francine gave him an unimpressed look. “Oh right. Just do it Rob. Trust me, you don’t want to be in Fran’s bad books. She’s the one that supplied me with the beef jerky after all, and you didn’t complain about eatin’ it.”
“Alright,” said Robert as he shook Francine’s hand. “You stuck a gun to my head and all, but I guess I should let that slide. If it had been two, or a shotgun, I don’t think I would be doing this.”
Francine let out a laugh.
“Alright. Let’s talk things out. Robert and Fran, sit on the deck while I finish lettin’ the horses get a drink.” Robert and Francine did just that while Clayton retreated back into the forest with the horses.
Robert had never met a ‘successful’ independent, so he was eager to hear her story. The ones he usually dealt with were scrappy outlaws that were bound for the Homesteads. But Francine seemed different, and seeing as she made it this long without being forced into an Alpha Corp. farm hand position, he wondered how she got by. As they sat on the deck and talked, the story of Feral Fran unraveled.
Feral Fran was born Francine Patricia Barone in 2004 to a couple who lived in Potomac, Maryland. It was an affluent suburban community, which helped her parents decide that this would be the best place for their daughter to grow up.
In order for people to raise a kid in such an environment, people needed to have good jobs that would pay for a house in such a community, but that problem was solved by the fact that both of Francine’s parents were accountants who worked in Washington. Because they were accountants, they never had much time to spare, so much so that Fran often joked that they didn’t waste time using contraceptives; therefore, she was born out of a time management decision.
Her parent’s relationship was based on the fact that they were both certified accountants. However, relationships based solely on occupational titles are a dangerous bet. The glue of the relationship had been that the parents had very little free time, so they had no time to realize that they had nothing in common. This truth lay dormant for several years, but nearing Francine’s fourth birthday, the family took a weeklong vacation where they spent a vast amount of free time together, ultimately causing the parents to realize that they weren’t as compatible as they had previously thought.
This led to a divorce. Francine was to live with her mother in Potomac, while her father moved to Bethesda and went on to marry another accountant.
Because Francine’s mother was a career orientated woman who had no time for raising a child, Francine was mainly raised by her maternal grandmother who she called Grandma Pat. Grandma Pat was a baby boomer, and naturally, she enjoyed her best years during the counterculture of the 1960s. During that time, driven by her distrust of government policies and the rising corporate machine, Grandma Pat had been a member of a back-to-the-land commune. She learned how to live off of the land and how to separate oneself from any major organizations, which were skills that she would constantly lecture Francine about while taking care of her.
These lectures were much to her mother’s dismay. Starting at a young age, Francine’s mother encouraged her child to become an active member of the system. In the mother’s mind, Grandma Pat acted as a counterforce to this goal. But the mother didn’t have many options: after school care in Potomac was expensive, and seeing as her money was being siphoned off to the many complexities of modern life, she would have to the bite the bullet and allow her own mother to look after Francine. All she could do was tell her mother to take it easy on the lecturing, but Grandma Pat didn’t seem to listen. She wasn’t responsive to orders, after all.
Plus, Grandma Pat saw her daughter as a slave to the corporate machine, so she just increased the indoctrination in order to compensate for her daughters failures.
This continued on throughout Francine’s upbringing and the final straw was drawn when Francine opted to take environmental science at a university instead of going to business school like her mother had hoped. The rebellion was finalized at this point; Grandma Pat’s seed had been planted years before and now it had germinated. This created a rift between Francine and her mother which grew even larger once Francine graduated from school; this being the year that America underwent Restructuring.
At this decisive time, Francine’s mother became one of the financial department heads for Alpha Corp’s Mid-Eastern Seaboard Division. She saw Alpha Corp’s Homestead plan as a necessity. To her, it was the only way in which America could operate, so she took great pride in her new position.
the contrary, Francine saw it as a corporate scheme to swallow the last remains
of government and control the country through a monopolistic company. This went
against everything she had learned growing up so she wanted nothing to do with
Having nothing to do with Alpha Corp. was a difficult task though, seeing as the company had dominance over most of the country’s population and most of its resources. The first few years were hard for Francine. She had gained a lot of knowledge from her classes, but she had never practiced the skills in the real world. One could have endless hours of lectures on sustainable agricultural practices, yet the only way for one to truly know how it all works is to grow some crops for themselves, aka. learn from experience. So during the first year of Restructuring she struggled. She had commandeered a horse from a transitioning ranch, then plotted out some land in a fertile Virginia which was far away from a railway line, but before her first harvest came she nearly died of hunger. She hadn’t learned how to correctly multi-crop yet, and her harvesting timing was not yet refined, so she had to resort to petty foraging in order to meet her nutritional needs.
She was almost willing to throw in the towel when, luckily, she met a man who was starting up a cooperative. This man, whose name is Howard, gathered up ten independent farmers – and their families - across Virginia and they all made a pact. The farmers were to grow different crops that are harvested during different periods of the year. This made it so that the members of the cooperative could help out other members during the busy harvest days, and then they could trade the yields amongst themselves so that they could have a balanced diet. Also, they wouldn’t have to starve during their respective off seasons. Francine liked this idea, and she also liked Howard, so she decided to join the cooperative.
She committed fully for she moved in with Howard and his family - which was composed of his brother, his sister-in-law, and their two kids. After two years of living with Howard she gave birth to a boy. They named him Patrick as an ode to Grandma Pat. Things went smoothly with Howard’s family, and with the cooperative, but after 6 years of meeting Howard, a tragedy occurred.
Every so often, Howard would go on expeditions to find more independents for the cooperative, yet on this one occasion, he never returned. The family was worried, but they all believed that he would come back one day because he was a skilled survivalist. They thought that something must’ve happened to his horse, which would cause him to walk, which would take a lot of time for him to return.
However, the optimism soon faded when one of the farmers in the cooperative was out hunting and found Howard’s body lying beside a tent. Out of respect, the farmer brought the corpse to Howard’s farm for burial. When the body arrived it had been too long since the time of death, and then the traveling time on top of that, to determine the cause of death. Although it couldn’t be determined, the man who found Howard’s body had a plausible theory: ‘If the body hadn’t been decomposed,’ said the farmer, ‘I bet you would find a snake bite on him. Those slithering bastards are bad in my area. Probably bit him while he was asleep. He wasn’t far from his tent when I found him, so I figure the venom got to him pretty quick. Most people get done in less than an hour after getting bit by one of those beasts, so I can’t imagine what sort of pain ol’ Howard must’ve went through.’
Howard’s death brought a major blow to the cooperative. He was the one that came up with the idea, thus the informal leader. With him gone things weren’t the same, but despite the challenges, Francine stepped up and attempted to fill his role. Being his spouse helped because she had heard all about his daily doings over pillow talk, and after seven years of living off of the land, she was now hardened enough to take on the position.
Things went along just as they were before, and since the tragedy, Francine has brought a number of new farmers into the cooperative. This all ties into the present. Right now she’s on an expedition to the southern reaches of Virginia to search out any possible independents that are cooperative worthy. Patrick, who’s now eleven years old, is back home with his uncle, aunt and cousins, while his mom is away. Feral Fran doesn’t expect to find any new independents, but she enjoys venturing away from the farm every now and then, so she’s not dreading the trek.
Lastly, as she wrapped up her life story, she apologized to Robert once again for the whole gun-point incident. Whenever she’s away from home she has the pistol nearby in case she hears anything that rattles, and when she sees anyone she doesn’t recognize, she gets on edge because they just might rat her out to the Alpha Corp. security department. ‘I hope that clears up my uneasiness earlier on,’ said Fran, ‘as I said before, I just can’t take any chances, especially if strangers happen to be PR people.’
 Which is strange, seeing as most people would consider accountants as successful.
 Although ‘independent’ may not be a correct a term, seeing as they rely on a community of people, but nonetheless, the PR handbook states that anyone who is not an employee of Alpha Corp. is an independent.