CHAPTER 43 – Ashes of Past Lives
How can I describe a home world that doesn’t become Heaven or Valhalla? How about a hunt world that doesn’t become Hell or Hades? And what is Earth? Limbo?
It had been two days since Raven had finished describing to those gathered in the Victorian the actual origin and history of the human species along with their talents and abilities that were coming to light. Nate … no, Dagar, had pointed out to her then that the knowledge was too vital to be entrusted to malleable human memories and folklore.
That’s probably how things have gotten so messed up and mixed up. Has the full truth ever been revealed to humans in the past – any humans?
From what she now knew about the mission of the glurriks, probably not. Not the full truth; not as much as she had. But if even a partial truth was revealed, who got it, and with what understanding? Did the enlightened man – or woman – way back in … whenever it was, document and record the information factually, only to have it later interpreted as parables and fictional myths and legends? Or had they written it as a parable, changing things here and there, sacrificing the intended meaning of more appropriate words because … well, because that’s just the way it was done at the time? Did Homer or Plato, their contemporaries, or their predecessors ever write anything as a straight accounting? How many of the religions of the world sprang from those past partial revelations? Would such loss of knowledge happen again? Could she really make a difference?
When she and Dagar had talked after the meeting, he had stressed that she had what might be a unique opportunity. The amount of information that Ronald had given to her telepathically was not in the strategy of the glurriks, and the chances of it happening again were small.
Well, girl, you always wanted to write something significant.
But, what if I don’t do it right, and things get all balled up, again?
Ronald said I would have the knowledge in my own memories. It’s not like I have to rely on him or someone else to tell it to me, maybe leaving out this or that, and maybe getting things mixed up, again, right from the beginning. Not all of them are first-hand memories, of course, ’cause he wasn’t around for the first time the kryls met humans when it all started. But I have what he learned about it.
So now all I have to do is to recall them. That’s all … just remember a history of worlds that goes back farther than anyone could imagine … in sequential order … in a manner that makes sense. Then, all I have to do is write it all down in such a way that people reading it a thousand years from now will understand it and accept it as factual and not a fairytale. That’s all.
She reached out and touched the old, manual typewriter The Judge had given to her just hours earlier. He said he had kept it in his attic for years, reluctant to get rid of it even after he became proficient with computers. Now, he claimed, he understood why every time he thought about dumping it a little voice came into his mind that said to hold onto it just a little longer because you never know when it might come in handy. He made a joke of it when he said it must have been his own little bit of magic that foresaw the future and what would be required.
Or was that little voice actually the human hive-mind?
The early morning sun streamed through the window of The Judge’s parlor and illuminated the mysterious innards of the machine with its maze of levers and mechanical looking things. Not a motherboard or printed circuit anywhere. Next to the typewriter were stacked three boxes of packaged inked ribbons and two reams of printer paper on top of a full box of paper reams from The Judge’s now useless computer station. He said they would be on the lookout for more paper for when she used it up.
Ha ha, funny. Like in, maybe twenty years? I’ll run the ribbons dry of ink long before the paper is gone. I wonder how hard it’ll be to make more ink.
Even though the mission before her was daunting, she was looking forward to it. She did love to write. But, for now, all she could do was touch and familiarize herself with the obsolete machine and consider her approach to the task.
The Judge and Jason had decided it was time to get out of town, north into the forested coastal mountains, but probably no farther than the Russian River area. About the time The Judge had given the typewriter to Raven, Charlie had taken off with Billy Ray to retrieve the truck he and The Judge had dumped when the kryls landed. With it, three large SUV’s, a pickup and a small school bus they salvaged, they should have enough room for everyone to ride, plus carry a good load of food and supplies – including an old, manual typewriter.
Five hours later Raven peered out the right-rear side window of the lead SUV at what she had to assume would be her last look at the town where she had been born and grew up, and, finally, lost her family. She had nursed hopes from that first, horrible day that Jamal would turn up, and he did. Then, Mickey killed him, murdered him in cold blood in full view of everyone, like the brutal, little man was beyond justice. Well, she had dealt Mickey a portion of the justice he deserved, and that would have to suffice.
She didn’t know what ever happened to Morgan. No one could say they had seen him killed. He was seen running back inside the building, but no one had seen him after that. When the crowd surged forward after the shock of the murders and overwhelmed Morgan’s forces, they scattered like chaff. The few that didn’t fall in combat with the Victorian group had fled. Morgan, the great Prophet of God who was going to rid the world of evil, must have scrambled into a hole when it looked like his own magic of intimidation had failed.
He must have just about gone into shock. Hell, maybe he did. Maybe he’s still standing somewhere back there in town, in some dead-end alley somewhere, gazing at one of the brick walls still standing and trying to understand what went wrong. He was so sure everyone was thoroughly cowed and obedient to his commandments.
Well, Reverend, what can I say? Life’s a bitch.
The caravan rolled slowly north, through streets abandoned by everyone but the dead entombed in blackened metal coffins littering the road. From shells of ruined structures and open lots burned black, occasional scavengers stared at the line of moving vehicles – a rare sight these days. Others, moving like specters through a graveyard, seemed to be so impoverished of hope, so encased in cocoons of devastation of the soul, that even the passing presence of the caravan generated no response. Those poor wretches simply continued scraping through the ashes of past lives and destroyed dreams with no hope of a livable future. Some, she thought, might still carry some grain of hope as they searched for something that, against all odds, might yet have survived. But how long can hope last in such desolation?
She wrapped her arm around Satan who sat upright on the seat beside her. From his other side, Uncle Joe peered around the massive dog’s head and winked at her, his tired smile comforting. Satan responded to Joe’s nearness by slopping the big man’s face with his tongue, which had been lolling out the side of his mouth as he took in the view creeping past them. Chuckling, Uncle Joe ducked further assault and fished for his handkerchief.
With Charlie at the wheel, they drove past a side road that led up to a few, small ranches, and Raven gazed down at the photograph in her lap, running the tip of her finger around the glossy edge. It was a five-by-seven enlargement of a snapshot of Adam and her dad, with both of their signatures and a date written across it. Wearing jungle cammos, they were standing on a riverbank and looking at the camera, arms about each other’s shoulders in a clichéd pose so common with military buddies. Both wore big grins along with smears of black beneath their eyes and across their foreheads, noses and chins. Adam had kept it on a side table in his dad’s living room along with other memorabilia. Someone had snapped it after a SEAL training exercise about a month before her dad lost his leg.
One of the ranches up that side road had belonged to Adam’s dad. The day before, when everyone was accumulating all they were going to take, she told Dagar about seeing several hunting rifles and handguns out there on the occasions she’d gotten Adam to take her to visit his dad over the years. Dagar grabbed Billy Ray and one of the SUVs, and the three went out to see what they could find. She knew Mister Rainger wouldn’t be there. Adam had mentioned to her and Momma the day he had dropped Raven off at the store, the day everything changed, that his dad was in San Francisco for a Giants game. She had hoped that the ranch was far enough out of town that it had remained untouched, but earlier looters and scavengers had beaten them to it. Even the framed panel of Adam’s medals that his dad had proudly displayed was gone. Of course, the guns were gone. The only thing they had saved was this photo she found on the floor beneath smashed glass in a broken frame.
The caravan slowed for a sharp curve at the entrance to a narrow valley. Once into it, the spread of Petaluma in the larger valley behind them would no longer be in view. So, for that one last look, to try to absorb as much as possible in the few seconds she had of the place where everyone from her previous life, everyone she had loved, had died, she gazed out to the side and behind. Not that she could actually see much from that distance.
The town’s now jagged skyline, like a row of broken teeth, blended into the silhouette of the hills beyond. But her memories superimposed over it the old pattern of square forms of the familiar buildings she had grown up with, and she turned from it while those mind-shadows still dominated. Sweeping her gaze again forward, she let it drift across the open pasture crawling past. In the foreground, in the shade of a spreading valley oak several yards from the road, a knot of scraggly men hovered around a small cooking fire. Several heads turned to peer at the vehicles rumbling past, meeting Raven’s gaze with looks of envy, fear, lust, and any number of other emotions that were becoming the norm when encountering strangers.
Suddenly, with a shock like an electric wire wrapped about her heart, a detail jumped into her consciousness and obliterated all else. Screaming for Charlie to stop, she fumbled the door’s handle, jerked it open and leaped out.
Hunched over the cooking fire, his back to the road, one figure that hadn’t looked up at the passing vehicles leaned forward to stir the pot. From the back, there was nothing all that unusual about him. He was sort of on the small size and dark. A makeshift, wooden cast on each leg explained why he had not returned. He wore a jacket, a sky-blue nylon jacket with a dinner-plate size emblem on the back in which the embroidered image of an airplane looked like an arrow.
Raven cleared the ditch beside the road, scrambled over a three-strand barbed-wire fence just past the far bank, and sprinted through knee-high weeds toward the group of men that scattered at her frenzied approach.
He turned toward her, and the image of his beautiful face began to blur beyond the welling tears veiling her eyes. As his mouth, opening in the shock of surprise, morphed into a familiar grin, she found her voice.
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