The air was listless.
The dust on the old road also refused to be stirred.
It seemed to be early Fall, yet the memory of late
summer heat lingered. The sun hung directly overhead, in
a sky too heavy with washed out blue.
Horse nibbled some sweet
grass, flicking a tail at a lazy fly. Her rider sat
quietly, and the smells were of pine and dust, for they stood
and sat beside that dry dirt road, hidden behind a thick stand
of young and old scotch pines. Horse had no thoughts and
didn’t even know whether her rider was male or female,
although various smells told a story Horse recognized.
For Horse, to graze on the
sweet grass, was to live in a now of delight, for the weight
of her rider was slight, while the heat was tempered by the
shade. Again, Horse did not know that she was a large
piebald mare, or that her rider was thin and tall for a woman
- nearly 5 feet eleven inches, and weighing only 135 pounds.
There was a lot Horse didn’t know.
She didn’t know how old she
was, or that her rider had raised her from a foal, starting
over seven years ago. She didn’t know the names of
anything, and didn’t even know her own name - which was,
obviously, Horse, although when rider used that sound Horse
responded. All Horse knew was that her rider was part of
her, even in an inward way.
It wasn’t so much that her
rider and she shared thoughts, but they did know each other’s
emotions in an intimate fashion. Right now Horse could
feel her rider’s anxiety increase, such that Horse herself
shifted her weight and hooves a bit, and looked up for a
moment, wondering if there was something dangerous coming.
But her rider’s smell wasn’t right - wasn’t cause for
worry - they were not in any danger.
The dead stillness in the air
waited. Something was coming.
In the not too distant past,
a motor bike was a thing of elegant beauty - a living
mechanical horse. Powerful, savage, - it lifted its
rider into a state of freedom and euphoria, often without even
drugs. Yet, coming down that dry hot dusty road,
in the direction of Horse and her rider, was a mass of
growling, barely functioning, fallen debris of that once upon
a time amimalistic and radical mechanical beauty.
A clump of this former glory,
perhaps just over twenty, collected itself in front of, behind
and around, a half dozen barely running trucks, pickups and
what once might have been an expensive SUV. Their riders
also seemed barely human, tattooed and pierced here and there
with bits of metal and bone, clothes torn and worn and a hair
style that won its claim to fame by just how intentionally
unkempt it could appear. Whether these riders were male
or female or something entirely other - that too was unclear,
although whatever was riding down that dusty road, in the
direction of Horse and rider, did seem a bit like an comic
apparition right out of some demented B-movie idea of
Noise came with, and was not
so much deafening, but simply out of place. Too loud for
the season and the heat. The place wanted quiet, and the
machines refused to play along.
Rider was dressed to kill,
literally. Her basic clothes - shirt and trousers - were
well-made well-cured deer hide, with bits of beaded color and
fringe. Her soft golden brown hair was well
groomed, and woven into a long long braid, which was now
tucked inside the collar of her shirt. The earrings she
usually wore, and as well the bracelets - each of coordinated
turquoise and silver - were off now, stuffed inside one of her
saddle bags in order to be out of the way during the coming
Each calf-length boot had a
six inch knife on its outside, tucked in a little scabbard.
On her back was a sword - a Japanese katana, and in her
belt its partner, a tanto. A well cared for Remington
pump action shotgun was in her saddle scabbard. There
was also a brace of 45-caliber pistols in one of her saddle
bags. All was soft leather (mostly deer), fringed and
Yet, it was the face paint
that would frighten her opponents. Rider’s face was
mostly painted black, with red circles around the eyes and
mouth - each touch of red suggesting dripping blood at its
lower edges. She wore colored contact lenses too, that
covered her whole eye for effect (she didn’t need a
correction) - these were a bright yellow inside of which were
set cat-like red oval irises.
The clump of mechanical
chaos, that was this particular marauder band, rounded a
corner of the dirt road and there encountered a long straight
stretch, which was fronted nearest them with a some kind of
metal wall, meant to warn and perhaps terrify trespassers.
Their passaged raised dust, and stirred some wind, but
the heavy air resisted, and with so little breeze these so
tiny pieces of dry earth soon fell back to their appointed
The metal wall that barred
the road consisted of a number of shoved together and piled up
burned and blown up cars, trucks and motor bikes, as well as
bits and pieces of human skeletons. At one corner, - the
corner where one might drive around the barrier if one dared,
was a pile of human skulls. In the center of this wall a
sign: “On this Path lies a Death you cannot Imagine”.
The clump rode to a staggered
and uncoordinated stop, and a couple of people dismounted and
walked up to the barrier for a closer look. Engines were
turned off, and groups gathered discussing whether or not to
proceed. They had needs, and up the road further into
the surrounding hills were signs of smoke and habitation -
places they usually pillaged and destroyed in order to satisfy
their own hungers.
As they stood there,
indecisive, they heard Horse wicker and snort, as Rider rode
her down the road toward the wall from the other side.
The shotgun was out of its scabbard, held in her right
hand pointing up, with its stock resting on the toe of her
right boot. Horse walked slowly, giving time for the
marauder’s to draw weapons and aim them in her general
About thirty-five yards out
she stopped, turned Horse sideways, exposing her left side and
revealing the katana strapped to her back. Her painted
face was now clearly seen. She sat there for a while
starring at them, and then turned Horse around, exposing her
back and rode slowly away. The message was clear: don’t fuck with me; and, nothing about you scares me at all.
One of the bike riders raised
a rifle, took aim, and there was a soft noise, which would
have been familiar to anyone who had experienced combat - the
noise of a sniper bullet ripping through the air far ahead of
the sound of its going off. The bullet drove a hole
through the face and then blew the back of the head off of the
biker with the raised rifle, knocking him ass over backwards
into the dust. The sound of the echo-report of the just
fired sniper rifle followed.
The marauders scattered to
the sides of the road, or fell to the ground in fear. A
couple of them wet or shit their pants. By the time they
dared to get up, Horse and Rider were far away, rounding the
corner at the end of the long dusty stretch of road.
There was dead silence. The air still barely
moved. But anger and rage stirred the marauder’s
emotions, and so they fired up their vehicles, rode around the
pile of skulls at the edge of the barrier, and began the last
minutes of their lives leading to their inevitable doom.
Quite a few of the people
living down that dusty road made it their business to
completely destroy such marauding bands, and this one was just
one more foolish group, driven by too many uncontrolled
appetites while possessing almost no common sense
As the marauding clump of
vehicles rounded the pile of skulls, it slowly gathered
tightly together, in part driven by fear. One sniper
meant the possibilities of other snipers, but anger and rage
and hunger drove the mob-like mass forward.
Engines slowly took on speed
and the clump spread out a little, until it ran into the
killing field in the last fifty yards of that long straight on
the dusty road to nowhere. Once they were centered in
the kill zone, trip levers holding back loads of rock and
stone caused angle arms of iron and steel to pull up out of
the dust of the road more than a dozen lines of heavy duty
chain, around which was wrapped tautly stretched razor wire,
right before and into the midst of the marauding accelerating
The chain based razor wire
cut flesh and rubber and grabbed bits of bike and car parts,
spilling the bikers, and driving the larger pickups and so
forth into each other and over the top of the crashed bikes
and bodies now littering the road. Some of the chains
broke, but it made no difference. The forward momentum
was lost - the clump became an exploding spasm of flesh and
For a moment rising dust hid
all from view, but as that settled, the moans of the injured
began to be heard, and some survivors rose up to stand
confused in the killing field. Then came the crossbow
bolts. If you stood, you got at least two, if not more.
The noise was soon gone except for some moans. The
dead air returned to dominance bearing the weight of not just
the sky now, but of death and dying as well.
After a while no one was able
to stand anymore. Next, into this massive pile of
confusion, came a pack of five very large wolf-like dogs.
Their pelts were mostly gray and black mixed together.
These moved slowly, nosing and testing with teeth and
claw the piled bodies and debris, growling when something
still living was found. Into the mass of this
field of death next came Rider, having dismounted from Horse.
Both the katana and the tanto were in her hands, as she
moved among that gory mess, dispatching with sadness and
sympathy any not yet dead into the lands beyond time and
The moans grew less, and
silence sought to reign once more. A couple of dozen
people stood among the trees in somber quiet, watching the
ritual finish to their gory art.
At a certain point she
paused, because two of her pack were licking one of the faces
- not growling. That one she skipped, until all the rest
were as dead as dead could be. At a gesture, the
wolf-like dogs moved back and away, and she squatted down on
her heels besides this body her animal friends found somehow
not quite as wrong inside as the others.
He was fat, and older, with
patches on his leathers indicating an ancient biker gang - a
Hell’s Angel it would seem, from stories now long past.
He moaned, and was not somehow as bloodied as all the
rest. Something had hit his forehead, perhaps knocking
him off his bike and into unconsciousness.
He opened his eyes, and
looked directly at her, licking his lips. She pulled a
small flask from a side pocket and poured from it some rough
home brewed liquor into his mouth. He coughed and spit a
little and then sighed deeply.
“Well,” he said, you sure as hell ain’t some fucking angel or some
“No, I’m worse”, she replied.
“That”, he said, “I do not doubt” and laughed.
He tried to sit up, but she
put a hand on his chest and kept him on his back.
“Take your time. You’ve a big life and death
decision to make, and you’ll make a better one if you don’t
try to move so fast. You might have a concussion. “
She got up to move on to
other duties, and a couple of her very large wolf-dogs lay
down next to him, clearly encouraging him to stay put.
The killing field was next
possessed by groups of people, young and old, who moved among
the mess picking up pieces of metal, while a tow truck arrived
and began to pull the vehicles apart. It was a bad
business - separating metal from body parts, but one that had
to be done. Like Rider each was dressed in quiet
earth-like colors - accented with splashes of beaded or
crafted art, which had made them essentially invisible inside
the tree line on the sides of the road around the zone of
They pulled crossbow quarrels
from the bodies, using tongs and wearing gloves. Blood
borne illnesses were still a problem. Someone
started to hum, and others joined in. There was a
reverence in that tune, for what had had to be done, had
not been done lightly. The marauders had been warned
Those with technical skills
began to pile stuff on a flatbed truck that had also arrived.
Nothing was to be wasted. Weapons the marauders
carried were collected, and each body was carefully searched,
although no clothes were taken. After a while there were
two piles: one of bodies and one of collected wrecked cars and
bikes. If gasoline tanks had not been ruptured, the gas
was also collected. Medicines and other important items,
such as canned food were put on the flatbed, which drove away
a couple of times and then later came back for more.
Members of the collective whispered to each other, and
some began drifting home. A folding chair was brought,
and the now less-groggy biker was told to sit there while his
head wound was looked after.
Evening was coming, the sun
was maybe an hour from setting. Flies had gathered
around the dead, and some crows and other carrion birds also
joined the activity. No one shooed them away, and the
pack of wolf-dogs just moved away from the bloody mess of the
killing field and lay among the trees in the shade. The
day’s mood changed, and a late afternoon breeze stirred the
scene, diluting the smell of blood and death.
He was given some water, and
a piece of fresh fruit. When he tried to speak, the dogs
growled, so that was the end of that. Another folding
chair was eventually brought in the returning flatbed, and
Rider sat down in front of him, sighing as she did.
“I don’t like it that my pack accepted you.
It would be simpler if I just could end you like the
others, but they know and see stuff in a different way and I
have to honor that.”
He started to speak and she
shut him up with a gesture - and a low growl of her own.
“Here’s the deal. If you want to leave,
we’ll give you a working bike and some of the stuff that
belonged to your friends. You can go back to the main
highway and go wherever the fuck you want to go.
“That’s the one option.
“The other is more scary in a way, for all
of us. You take off your clothes, all of them, and
then naked you walk to town, thinking about being maybe reborn
in this life of yours - becoming something you are not yet.
In town you will be bathed and scrubbed and de-loused
hair and beard will be cut off - its a hygiene problem.
We’ll also take your blood and test it. Then comes
for you the really hard part.
“You’ll be called before the community fire, still
naked. If its too cold, you’ll get a blanket for warmth.
Then you confess ... all of at ... all the awful shit
you’ve done in your whole fucking miserable life. You’ll
talk until you are hoarse. My pack will guard you, and
if you lie or leave stuff out they’ll know - they’ll smell the
“When you’re done, there’ll be a vote. If
just one person says no, down the road you go. You don’t
get to argue to stay ... you just go, without a word.
You’ll still get a bike and stuff. My pack lets
you live, the community gets to say whether you will
provisionally join us. If you join us you’ll go to work
in the House of Graceful Souls for a year.
“You will not be the first individual to come to
us on this path ... we’ve done this before. The danger
to us is that you’ll start to pull shit ... make trouble ...
not learn. Maybe hurt someone. That happens
my pack gets to have you. Then its not down the road on
a bike ... its into the woods and they’ll hunt you down and
kill you in a way nobody here will give a shit about.
“This is a hard world now, as you know. Same
with us. We don’t take any prisoners, but sometimes we
find new friends. That’ll be up to you.
“Take your time thinking about this, but once the
sun sets you have to decide - the road and a bike, or a long
hard risky naked fucking path to a new life.”
A lot of post-apocalyptic
movies of the before-time - the time leading to the descent
into and through chaos and anarchy - showed fractured
violent communities, where people wore ugly clothes and lived
in ugly houses and used ugly speech. The town of
Sanctuary, where Horse and Rider lived, intentionally did the
opposite. It put art at its center - as its heart.
Each person thought of themselves as a work of art, and
each living place and each path and each work space was also a
work of art. Even the killing field was seen as a work
of art, and those who carried out its details thought of all
that destruction and violence as a horrible and necessary
ritual work of art. Death was not taken lightly.
One of the places in
Sanctuary built and kept repaired ultra-lite tiny flying
one-seat planes. If you flew over Sanctuary in one of
them you would hardly see it at all, because it was so well
integrated into the forest and meadows and natural seeming
fields. For example, planted everywhere were the three
sisters, as known to the Iroquois Confederacy and other native
American ways. The center was a stalk of corn,
right next to which was a bean plant having a vine-like
character which climbed the corn stalk, while at the base was
a gourde-like plant such as a pumpkin or squash,
spreading its leaves yards outward from the core of corn and
bean vine. Wherever you walked in Sanctuary you
would run into the three sisters, for there were thousands of
them spread among acres and acres of land and village.
The roofs of houses were
planted as well, with everywhere herbs and medicinals and
flowers and such. Woodworkers and weavers made doors and
curtains, many of which had glass, for there was both a
glass-works and a pottery works. Large herds of sheep
and goats prowled the outer precincts of the village, all
watched and tended by young children and dogs.
Two strong year-long flowing
streams ran in and through and near Sanctuary, from which
water wheels gave power to turn the granite stone wheel for
grinding corn and wheat into flour. The water wheels
also generated electricity, for the now past civilization was
not despised as much as harvested for items that should not be
Sanctuary was a town that
wove together both ancient and modern arts, for it tried to
preserve as much as possible all the knowledge of humanity
from the before-time. At its core was the Library.
During the last years of the
before-time, some far-thinkers saw the coming time of chaos,
and prepared for it by gathering as much human knowledge as
possible into high density data discs. These discs,
which were of various types and kinds according to the taste
of those who created them, were then distributed all over the
world, in the company of multiple copies of each disc and
multiple hand-crankable laptop computers.
Search software came with
each disc set, that allowed the holder of the Library to find
out how to treat such social-chaos related diseases as cholera
and dysentery. Also included was how to create
penicillin, or make insulin ... literally thousands and
thousands of basic instructions from which one might be able
to recreate medicines, and even technology.
As well, all that could be
gathered of ancient cultures was included in the Library.
For a time, as different folk all over the world created
their own versions of the Library, each individual group
traded copies of their material with other groups. When
the final stages of the Collapse drew near, and Internet
communication itself disappeared, human knowledge had been
saved from the ravages of the ensuing descent into madness, in
various degrees in a multitude of places and languages .
Sanctuary itself was
intentionally created as a survival home for different people
with different skill sets. Originally there were about
1500 people living there, and since its establishment another
1500 have been added. One did not have to have a skill,
but whether it was Divine Providence or just simply blind
chance, multiple kinds of expertise ended up in these forested
hills in the San Francisco Mountains near what had once been
called the Four Corners area of the United States.
Then, of course, there were
the children. Some showed up by themselves or in groups
of two or three. How they survived to get there, was a
miracle. A few were part of the community from the
beginning, and many had been born since the first
in-gathering, as it was called. More than a few were of
the fabled star-children, that the before-time had started to
notice. These were unusual individuals, capable of all
kinds of mental and social arts never before seen. Each
such child added something to the community of Sanctuary that
could not have been imagined to have existed before.
Rider was nine when she
walked in. Dirty, dusty, starving and wild. With
her came a large bitch of a dog - something part German
Shepherd and part Wolfhound. Huge and fiercely
protective of Rider, yet completely docile and obedient as if
Bitch (as Rider had named her) was somehow part of Rider’s
mind. The two always lived alone at the edge of the
village. It was when Rider was 12, and first bled, that
the real strangeness happened.
That summer she disappeared
for three weeks, out and about with Bitch. When she came
back she and Bitch were dragging a large flexible cage made of
woven blackthorn branches, inside of which was an actual wild
male wolf. The cage was tight, and the wolf had
tired of trying to fight and bite its way away through the
thorns. Rider then built a larger wooded cage for the
wolf, and when Bitch next came in heat Rider put the two of
them in together. Once it was clear that Bitch was
successfully mated to the wolf, he was set free.
When the pups came (there
were five), from the beginning they slept with Rider and
Bitch. As they grew older, the bond was clear.
What Rider felt, they felt. What they felt,
she understood. They even learned to play with
Sanctuary’s growing pile of children, although all the other
dogs and cats and animals (and most the humans) kept a clear
and obvious distance.
It wasn’t really fear as much
as it was respect. The pack, as they came to be known,
had their own way, their own rules. Once a starving bear
had wandered near some sheep and goats, and scared cries from
the guarding children rang out in the woods. The pack
was there in minutes, and the bear was chased away, never to
On occasion the male wolf -
the father - visited. He’d sit atop a hill nearby and
howl at the moon. The pack would howl too, but never
went out to visit him.
When Rider was 15 she singled
out a man, who was not just by reputation tough, but had been
an actual soldier - a former marine. He was with her for
a week, and never said a word to anyone later about what they
had done or what had been said. All the same, at a
community fire meeting three weeks later she explained her
plans for the killing field and why it needed to be built.
They had had some problems
before, with wanderers bringing their troubles with them, but
up until she spoke that night at the circle-fire, the
community had never felt the spirit of the thing.
No one had ever said what she said about death
needing to be beautiful, as well as violence. Sanctuary
was not of a single religious view, although in the
before-time many had believed in turning the other cheek.
Hard questions were thrown at her that night, and she
stood there before them for the first time in the costume she
had made and which she wore when the rite of the art of the
killing field was enacted. That was the first time they
saw the swords, the knives, and that makeup on her face.
One of the older wise women had said later that it was as if the goddess of the hunt was among them now, and that when a human being became a predator of other human beings - when they descended and became lost in their animal nature, then it meant they too could be hunted.
Rider, Horse, the pack -
prowled the edges of the village, mostly lived apart,
occasionally took a man among them, and seldom hung out with
others. Always had a kind word when about though.
Smiled even - once in a while. But mostly silent,
and watchful and often seemingly gone, except when marauders
or troubles came. Then they were there - the sword of
Sanctuary some called her in the stories and in
What she really thought, no
one knew, and she was not the only very private minded member
The former Hell’s Angel
decided to try to stay. When he told Rider and
used the word “try” she quoted Yoda: Don’t try, do. He didn’t get it, and
Rider shook her head, and said to some others: This is not starting out good.
A young adolescent boy, with
a crossbow hung across his back came up to him and told him to
take off all his clothes, and throw them on the fire.
There was already a huge fire in the middle of the
killing field, started where gas had spilled, and on which all
the bodies and clothes were being burned.
Around the fire was a big
circle of people, adults and children. Some holding
hands, many singing. One of the older ones said to him
to get going to town, calling him “Angel”. The
name stuck, and by the time he’d walked to what seemed to be
an edge of the town, several people called him that.
A couple members of the pack
followed near by. Greeting and sniffing all who came
toward him, it took a while before he noticed that only a few
of the children petted them. The wolf-dogs nudged him
down a path and he could see there was here and there some
light, even electrical light - something of a surprise to him
- enough to see by anyway.
No one seemed bothered by his
nakedness. They didn’t stare at his body but many paused
as they walked by and did look at his face and eyes with some
intensity. Some expressed open hostility on their faces.
A few were armed, but not most. His feet hurt, and
his mind seemed out of sorts. He wanted badly a drink of
some kind of hooch.
While he didn’t know it, he
was being guided to a bath-house, of which there were several
dozen in Sanctuary, for that was one of the social arts on
which they concentrated - something borrowed from Japanese
Three older women meet him on the veranda of one
such bath-house. They wore little clothing and took him
by the hand and began his outer cleansing. They were all
watched over by a band of adolescent crossbow bearers, and of
course a couple of the ever present members of the pack.
Sometimes the members of his guard would change, and a
few words spoken in whispers drifted toward him.
Mostly he was bathed and
scrubbed and bathed and scrubbed again. One of the women
feed him some hot tea, and a bit of vegetable soup. They
did the nails on his hands and his feet. They shaved him
everywhere and then the hair was gathered up and burned in one
of the many charcoal heaters throughout the bath house.
Once the hair was burned scented herbs were added, to
clean the air of the smell of the burning hair.
No one really spoke to him.
Some hummed some kind of a tune. The women looked
healthy and fit, and he got an erection at one point.
That brought laughs, but not at him so much as with him
somehow. They understood his consternation, and did not
make fun of him.
At one point an older man
came in and examined him carefully ... all over. Had
instruments like a doctor. Took his temperature, his
blood pressure, probed his anus, and drew some blood.
Looked in his ears, down his throat, made some comment
on his teeth and his breath, after which one of the women
brought him some kind of antiseptic mouthwash, which he
was told not to swallow. That cleaning was done three
times before a quick sniff of his breath by one of the women
pronounced him barely passable.
Outside he could hear some
drumming. Low and rhythmic - fading in and out. He
was dried carefully, everywhere. Shown to a
cushion chair and told to wait. He was left alone
in a nice wood-walled room, with a view out over the veranda.
A sliver of moon had risen. The air was
cooling, and a blanket was given to him.
Then an even older old man
walked in, carrying and leaning on a tall carved staff.
This old man stood over him, looking down and such a
look Angel had never before felt. It was like that way
too personal probe of his anus, but went into his soul not his
body. He turned his head away and was scared in a manner
that was not like any kind of fear he’d known before.
The newest old man spoke:
You’ve been a little bit physically cleansed. Only a little bit. If you stay you’ll diet and be cleansed inside, again physically. Not to say we don’t have alcohol or drugs or even tobacco, but first you get clean. Tonight though, starts the cleansing of your soul. That’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and tonight is only the start.
This is not for us ... its for yourself, make no mistake. No one really wants to hear what a shit you’ve been, but all the same, its the only gift we can give you to start your new life. You confess, we listen. Few will judge you, but some might. No one here is perfect. There will be those who have done worse then you can ever imagine, or have ever done. They in particular will know when you lie, because that’s one of the things they know best about themselves - how to lie.
We get to ask questions. Sometimes this part of joining us takes all night and more. Can’t be predicted. During your first weeks here, if no one sends you to the road, anyone can question you ... anytime. The pack vouched your survival of the killing field. They saw there was still some human in you. If someone comes up to question you, you stop whatever you are doing and answer. You’ll have two moons during which anyone can send you to the road, if they wish.
The tea and soup we gave you had some medicinals in it ... to help you feel a little less pain, and maybe be a little more awake in your mind. That’s the only help we can give, and if you need some more during the confession, just say, and we’ll do what we can. My advice though is that the more truth you speak the better you’ll feel and the more clear will be your mind. Its the truth that is the key.
One final thing. You don’t have to tell your story all at once ... but for your own sake I’d start with the things you most do not want to say. As you look within, notice those - the hard ones. You start with the ones you most fear to say, then it gets easier.
up and follow me ... your future waits out there, and what is
its nature is up to you.
The telling lasted until
sunrise. He spoke, they listened. The old man had
been right - although it took Angel a while to speak of the
things he’d done, about which he felt the worst. But an
hour or so in, he did. He cried then. No one
came to comfort him, though. They just listened, many
leaving the circle-fire and some few of those coming back.
What was strangest of all was
when some of his stories led to laughter. He hadn’t
expected that. It wasn’t like he was telling a joke, it
was just that some bad things had this quality of being
absurd. Mostly they were about bad things he’d done to
try to impress others, and how he felt afterward when they
weren’t impressed. His listeners saw this folly for what
it was - a vanity, not so much evil as foolish - this trying
to impress. They laughed and then he laughed too.
Some people leaving the
circle near dawn stopped by and laid a hand on his shoulder.
It was like they were voting in a kind of way - saying:
I see you and I know you, you are like
me and I wish you luck.
When the sun rose, there were
just three, human beings that is. Rider had been there
all night, her and her pack. So too the old man with the
staff. Then the oldest woman of those who cleaned him in
the bath house came by and gestured him to follow.
She led him through the town
and in the dawn’s light he began to see the scale of the
place. They went up some hills and down. Across an
almost river like creek, on a bridge made of stone.
Through some woods, past some meadows. People
moving about. Children running with dogs out
toward fenced-in pens of goats and sheep, setting them free to
roam the hills further out. The whole place coming alive
in the daylight.
In all his wanderings he’d
never seen anything like it. Happy healthy people.
They came eventually to a
group of buildings, clearly interconnected with covered brick
walkways, and bits of garden and wooden benches on which to
sit. There too a stirring of life coming awake to
the light of dawn.
This is the House of Graceful Souls, she said. A short man walked toward them. He had a funny rounded face, if some folks had seen him before he would have called him a dummy. It was a Down’s man if one remembered that term from the before-time. She introduced them.
said, this is Heartmender Smith.
This is his place. He’s the boss and you’ll be
working for him.
The dummy smiled that
guileless smile - typical for a Down’s, and Angel felt
confused. Smith reached out and offered his hand to be
shaken. Angel shook it, and Smith looked then at the
woman and said: He needs sleep,
and three days perhaps of not doing. Rest and food
first, then work.
The woman led him away, down
a path, some wooden stairs and through a door and then into a
set of rooms, many with beds inside them.
read?, she asked.
He nodded yes, still
confused, but tired enough that a bed looked wonderful.
She led him into a room, and as he sat down on it, she
opened a drawer in the bedside stand and took out a little
book, covered in leather. She showed him inside some
maps of Sanctuary, of the House of Graceful Souls, and of the
rooms where he was. She pointed out where he could
toilet, where was the nearest bathhouse, where there was food.
She showed him clothes in a closet and in a set of
long as you need. Eat when you need. Remember if
asked questions, answer. There is no hurry here.
No place to go, nothing to be or do. If you get
us, this is home, the kind of home we mostly only dream
As she turned to leave, she
paused in the doorway and looked at him. My name is Gabriel. I too am an angel.
With that she walked away,
first shutting the door to the room, and he was asleep before
his head hit the pillow.
He woke in the late
afternoon, to a small cat licking his face. Angel looked
up to see the door to his room open and an equally small girl
staring at him.
name’s Buttons, she said. My name is Rachael, but you can call me Racy,
that’s what I like.
She walked closer, and seemed
to be studying his tattoos. Nice ink, she said, as she picked up the cat
and bounced out of the room, pausing in the doorway like the
older woman had. Bathroom’s that
way, she said pointing to his left, and the galley is that way she
added, pointing to the right. She spun in a couple of
circles, flashed a grin like only a child can do, and vanished
in the direction of the galley.
After going to the bathroom
and discovering real working plumbing fixtures, something he
had not seen in years, he went to the galley. It was a
somewhat spacious room with lots of plants and glass to let in
the light. There was a table in a corner, and Rider was
sitting there waiting for him. For a minute he almost
didn’t recognize her because she wasn’t armed and her face
wasn’t painted. She hooked a finger at him as soon as he
walked in one of the doors, drawing him closer. A couple
of the wolf-dogs sat at her feet, but no one else was near
As he approached her she
pointed a finger in the direction of the tables full of food
and plates and stuff, so he stopped there first ... again
surprised by wealth of this place. For a moment he
thought of what a score this might have been for his band, but
immediately realized that this place was way too organized and
there was no way they’d even have gotten near it.
Once again he realize how lucky he was to be
He started to strut a bit as
he neared the table, but a low growl got that impulse out of
him right away. He found he couldn’t look her in the
She was staring, candidly,
and said: When’s the last
time you got laid?
He dropped his fork, and
tried to mumble.
worry, she said, I’m just
trying to point out to you that in this community there are a
lot of opportunities for the right man, if he figures out how
to be a true man, and gets out of his head the illusion that
the best lovers are the young and inexperienced.
She continued: You probably have a lot of bad ideas about women,
having been part of that bunch of idiots that just got
destroyed. Here, if the guy pays attention, some true
woman might just take him under her wing and teach him how to
be a true man.
With that she got up, bused
her dishes into the kitchen and with a couple of wolf-dogs
following left the room; and left him with his mind spinning
crosswise and upside down, which was probably her intention.
Angel’s next teacher was
Racy. His obligation was to tell all to any who asked,
and whenever Racy ran into him, which was often as he wandered
around, what she wanted to know was the story behind every bit
of ink. He had a lot of tattoos.
She always surprised him too.
He’d be involved in one thing and there she would be,
pointing to one tattoo or another, and asking for its story.
Once he thought about fibbing, but just then one of the
wolf-dogs was there starring at him, and he knew he had to be
honest - that too was part of the obligation. But how
could he be honest to a five or six year old, given that some
of the ink-stories were about very bad things he had done, and
which normally would have been told in a language he had no
desire to speak to someone so young ... so bright ... so
Inside his soul he twisted
and turned and danced and struggled, never realizing until
years later what a gift this was, - this demand he confess the
things he confessed to an innocent little girl. It
helped later to understand what star-children were, for Racy
was one of those - a person others might have called an
old-soul, but who was not quite that - more of a fresh soul,
so unbound and untied from anything past that simply by being
she placed a demand on him that led to inner healing that
could have come in no other way.
Of course, Racy was not at
all like Heartmender Smith, the Down’s man. For some
inexplicable reason Angel was terrified of him.
We should not assume that the
inner life of a Down’s individual is like our own. We
can use the same language and sense in each other similar
emotions, but there is more and less there than appears simply
because the intellect seems dimmed.
The seer-philosopher Rudolf
Steiner described Down’s, and other individuals in need of
special care, as for complicated reasons accepting a body that
is weaker in certain ways. Most of us incarnate into
bodies that are capable of a normal range of activity,
although the karma of certain childhood diseases, such as
polio, will often then change that.
But that is how we see from
the outside - we see the odd body type. In the
inwardness of the Down’s child, the bright light of normal
human thinking, and its ability to grasp abstractions is not
present. This inner light of spirit is “centered” lower
in the organism, and the bright light of perception we
“normals" experience in our heads, lives in the Down’s Child
nearer the heart.
This does not necessarily
make them more moral or loving although such is often the
case. The heart as an organ of perception is more
vivid for a Down’s, but this does not mean there is no
thinking at all. It is just not abstract. It can
be very concrete and sometimes quite clever. When it is
clever, the Down’s child will be secretive and perhaps
inclined to possessiveness, or to thievery. The mixture
of nature and nurture in their early life is important to the
development of a Down’s child.
In the before-time, the
Steiner inspired communities were often called Camphill
Communities, and sometimes part of what was called shared
living. In Sanctuary, the Library preserved as much of
what wisdom had been discovered about those in need of special
care during the last hundred years of the before-time.
The ideas and teachings of Steiner and Camphill were
well represented in the Library.
One of those shared living
families brought Heartmender Smith to Sanctuary right in the
beginning. He was about ten years old at that time.
This meant that right from the beginning those in need
of special care had a home in Sanctuary. Over time this
part of Sanctuary came to include all kinds of individuals
with special needs, including the aging and the dying.
Hospice care was part of this work, and Heartmender
Smith wasn’t even his name in the beginning of Sanctuary.
In the beginning he was just John Smith.
He volunteered for special
needs care, for hospice care, and for all kind of care for
those who could not fully take care of themselves. He
visited the ill, read to those who’d lost their sight
(although mostly certain children’s stories). He changed
diapers and bed pans. He was tireless and always of a
good mood. He matured.
It was in his late twenties
that people started to notice the effect he was having on
certain emotionally troubled members of the Sanctuary
community. People liked to sit with him and just talk.
He was often seen in private conversation with people
who otherwise had a hard time sharing their own inner
emotional and cognitive life with others. He listened
well and did not judge. He gave no advice.
Sometimes he hugged, and he was a strong hugger - he
held you a long time - wouldn’t let you go, and people who had
grief they held on to too tightly found themselves in that
embrace and crying.
One day at evening community
fire, one of the star children ran through the circle, calling
out for someone she called “Heartmender”. It took
a while for those present to realize that she was looking for
John Smith, and had in the process of her own unique and
intuitive insight given him a true name - something the
community later learned to trust as one of the gifts of the
Eventually Heartmender Smith
became the leader of that part of Sanctuary where special care
was needed. There was no election, no formal process.
It was just that people started going to him with
certain questions and were finding his answers very practical
and deep in an emotional way. His answer generally felt
right, and so it became the habit of the community to place
under his guidance all new members.
Again it was one of the star
children that called that complicated wandering building,
where special needs folk were cared for, the House of Graceful
Souls. So new members of the community were placed in
the House, with Heartmender Smith as their guide.
The old man that had talked
to Angel that first night, and advised him about how to first
tell the hardest things to tell, was named by the star
children: Teller-of-Stories. It was Teller-of-Stories
that taught about how it was that going first to the House of
Graceful Souls helped people understand “washing the feet”.
Helped people understand humility. You changed
diapers. You washed bed pans. You cleaned toilets,
and washed soiled linens. You cleaned soiled people that
couldn’t clean themselves.
Some people worked all the
time in the House of Graceful Souls. Most everyone
worked there on at least a couple tenth-day work periods every
year - that day the community did work that had to be
done, and which many didn’t like to do. Tenth-day work
was an idea borrowed from a very wise American writer of the
before-time: Ursula K. LeQuin. A lot of her social
ideas from her book The Dispossessed lived in Sanctuary.
Now Angel didn’t know any of
this, but he also felt something when he was with Heartmender
Smith. He felt an emotional reality that he’d
spent most his life running from. He’d hidden his own
heart from his own self-awareness, in drugs and sex and
violence. He heart was in hiding, and when he saw
Heartmender Smith during his first days wandering about the
House of Graceful Souls, he wanted to run away.
Very scary to have to be around someone who just
by being who they were made you self-aware of your deepest
Yet, if Angel was to stay in
Sanctuary he could not hide from himself - this he knew
without knowing it intellectually. Sanctuary was very
emotionally real - more real than any place he’d ever lived
before. Which was of course what he was told in
the beginning - it was a place where the very first step
seemed to be surrendering to something, starting with
confession. Angel just hadn’t yet realized how long that
time of surrender and confession was to last.
Gabriel snagged Angel one
go to work, she said.
As he walked along with her,
she explained that one didn’t start out right away with
personal bed care of those that needed it. Instead, he
was to start in the laundry, washing bed clothes and other
soiled items. Later he would graduate to more personal
care. This wasn’t about punishing him in any way, it was
about letting him get used to caring for others.
In the laundry there was only
one other regular worker. Most of the rest were
tenth-day folks. The work was hard, there was a lot of
laundry and cleaning soiled clothes and linen required some
carefulness. They used a kind of homemade soap and
something that was like bleach, but was not. Angel
didn’t understand any of the chemistry, but the instructions
were printed on the walls of the laundry, and everything was
labeled and clear.
He was a bit shocked after
about a week there when one of the tenth-day people threw a
recyclable container in the burn-garbage pail. He didn’t
say anything, only to find out at the end of the day, that
that action had been a kind of test. A couple of the
tenth-day men stayed back and invited him to sit with them at
the House galley.
you a curve ball today, one of them said. We wanted to see how you would react if we
violated a rule. It
isn’t like there was a right way to act, we just wanted to see
what you’d do, and then ask you why you did what you did.
We’re not trying to catch you out ... we’re just trying
to get to know you.
Angel digested that and then
decided he was really pissed. In his past, he would have
hit one of them. Somehow he guessed that really wouldn’t
work here. So he starred at his coffee cup for a while,
and then looked at them in a most serious way.
you think I’m a fuck up, and the guys I was with were trash,
but we had codes - we had our own kind of brotherhood, and
what you guys did today, that’s bullshit. We tease and
we joke and we sometimes make the new guy dance a bit, but
what you just did to me, that’s serious asshole stuff.
walking around here on broken glass and you made it worse.
I sweated all afternoon, trying to figure out the right
thing to do, and now its turns out this was some kind of
His voice was rising as he
spoke, and others in the galley started looking at the three
of them. He stood up, wanting to run, wanting to throw
something, wanting to punch someone.
Next thing he knew there was
a tiny hand holding his. Racy was there besides him.
She looked at the two seated tenth-day men, and smiled
what looked a bit like a very feral smile. They
looked down, and then both stood up, and started to
my friend, Racy said, interrupting them. Then
she put her other hand on one of his tattoos and said: This is a reminder of a guy whose tongue he cut
out ... pulled it out with a pliers and cut it off with a hot
knife. Got him drunk first though. Very kind. You get to ask Angel questions and he has to tell
you the truth. You don’t get to mind-fuck him.
Several people, near enough
in the galley to hear what had gone on, applauded.
The next morning Gabriel
caught him in the galley and told him not to go to work in the
laundry, but to wait in the galley - someone was coming to see
him. No, she
said, you didn’t do something bad,
you did something good.
He was on his third cup of
coffee when in walked Rider and the old man with the staff -
Teller of Stories. Rider smiled and the old man
frowned. Both expressions seemed to mean the same thing
Rider was her usual straight to the point: You know anything about the RV People?
That made him sit up very
everything you think you know, the old man said.
scary people, said Angel, after thinking about it a
bit. More than 500 miles south of
here and maybe west. Ruins of Phoenix some say. RV
is about how their leaders live in these old million dollar
RVs, so can move around if they have to. Maybe make and
sell drugs. Buy and sell people. Smart, got a
Library like you guys.
Do bad shit with the knowledge though. Most folks
I knew stay as far away as possible from them. All the
stories about them bad, scary bad. Torture, child
slaves, weird religious shit. You name it.
Supposed to be guarded by an army of cannibals.
they may be making a move in our direction, the old
send out a scouting party, you and me, and a couple of others,
its a stupid question, but why me, said Angel.
still have the road in you. You’re the newest guy to
come in in the last year. You still have the right
instincts. That was Rider.
Angel could understand that,
but didn’t like going toward the RV. When we found you guys we was running from the
- the old man.
Silence. Everyone just
sitting there thinking.
Rider, but have to pick up a few
tools and fools first.
It took about 24 hours.
They needed a big truck, that looked like a wreck and
ran like a cougar. Inside the truck was a bike that also
looked like crap but which would perform in spite of the fact
that the muffler sound and black smoke pouring out the exhaust
implied it was near death.
Also inside the truck was an
ultra-lite and some electronic gear, one guy to pilot the
ultra-lite and the other guy to run the gear. Rider,
Horse and pack went cross-country, with some plans she
Angel drove, and the old man
rode in the cab with him. The two guys in the back sat
in old stuffed chairs, and drank beer from the Sanctuary
micro-brewery, kept cold in a small refrigerator run off the
truck engine. Angel had two shotguns and a
nine-millimeter with him in the cab. The guys in the
back had a couple of assault rifles and a sniper rifle as
well. Both had been marines - some folks said they’d
been Navy Seals, but they only admitted to being marines.
Teller-of-Stories had his
tall walking staff, and a cigar - a very good cigar.
The old man gave all the
directions. Sometimes they went on main roads, sometimes
not. Sometimes they pulled off into the trees and waited
until something else went by on the road. Angel couldn’t
figure how the old man knew someone was coming, but there was
no complaining as they were making fairly good time and
keeping out of trouble.
About three days into the
trip, they met up with Rider in some low hills that looked
across a vast open plain, dotted with fire lights at night,
and perhaps even some electrical lights. That night they
sat around a camp fire, made a good meal of some fresh killed
and butchered deer meat Rider and the pack provided.
Everyone shared, including the pack, except they had
The old man wanted to know if
there needed to be a lot of killing.
The two marines didn’t say
anything, and Angel then understood that it was Rider who was
being asked. She sat still for quite a while, and then
said: I’m leaving Horse and One,
Two and Five here with you. Three and Four will go with
me tonight. We’ll be a couple of days walk-about down
there, since we can only safely move at night. I’ll let
you know after I get back.
mean time, stay out of trouble.
She looked at Angel: You play cards?
play with the old man, but those two can’t bluff for shit.
With that, they all bunked
down, except for Rider and Three and Four who slipped silently
into the night at one point and no one even noticed.
On the trip down the old man
had explained to Angel how the pack got its individual names -
it was another of those star-children things - a kind of joke
actually, because Rider initially didn’t like it. It had
to do with a game they played, that included the pack members.
These children ran around playing some weird version of
hide and seek and included in the game the wolf-dogs.
Since the pack members pretty
much all looked alike, only the star-children and Rider could
initially tell them apart. In the game the numbers were
used to refer to individual members of the pack, and
after a while the number-names stuck, in spite of Rider’s
The next morning the old man
had disappeared and Tom and Jerry, as the two marines had been
named by the star-children, said it was not unusual for the
old man to wander off during scouting trips. They also
explained, over a breakfast of bacon and eggs, how they were
actually named at birth William Katz and Matthew Maus, and
that once they were known in Sanctuary as Katz and Maus, Tom
and Jerry they became.
There was a lot of good
camping gear in the truck, given its large size, so the
waiting for Rider to return was kind of a vacation. Tom
went fly fishing in the early evening, while Jerry showed
Angel how to clean and double check all the guns.
The old man was back after
the second night just in time for after dinner dessert.
He brought a friend, another old man, this time a Native
America looking guy who said his name was called President
Obama. Some kind of joke, but only Teller of Stories and
Obama were in on it. The two of them laughed a lot.
It was in the following morning that the strangest thing
Rider walked into, camp with
Three and Four a little after sunrise. Obama stood and
bowed very low, almost worshipfully.
grace, he said, with a bit of humor like edge.
Oh shit, she
said, with the same odd edge in her voice.
knock it off, said the old man.
Angel said, how about a little less we have secrets crap
here. If we’re about to go up against RV, I for one need
to know you’re not a bunch of fucking idiots.
There followed a lot of looks
and glances between Obama, Rider and the old man, until Rider
gave a big sigh and started speaking. Tom and Jerry were
also paying careful attention.
Obama “steps in shit” when I was five, ‘cause well he did it
once and I was - well I was me. So with me calling him
“steps in shit” he started calling me “your grace”. I
was raised by Hopi, and he was my adoptive grandfather.
They found me abandoned on the Navajo Res when I was
about three days old.
was eight, I got mad at them, because they didn’t like Bitch
and the wildness I was getting into. So I wandered off
and took a long hike. Haven’t seen steps-in-shit since.
She laughed then, deep
rolling laughter out of joy and power. She knew who she
was and what she was about. Whatever was next, she was
their leader and they would die for her if she needed it.
Toward the end the wolf-dogs joined in with yips and
barks and almost some dancing. Horse rose up on her hind
legs and snorted and whinnied. As they all let it soften
away, off not to far there came a howl - the father wolf was
out there, and then there were more howls all over the hills
Wolves, easily dozens,
perhaps hundreds, of wolves and who knows what were with them
too. Then setting moon broke full from behind some
clouds, and even Angel knew there was something more going on
than anyone of them could give voice to. The old man
coughed to get their attention, and then said to her: So?
The little girl devil left
her eyes, and a serious face was there, and she began to
making an army. At least that’s what they think.
Playing with fire to my mind. Too many crazy
people coming and joining. RV leaders must think they
can control this horse they’re making, but it isn’t to be.
seen meetings among those gathering in, the crazies, the
cannibals, the marauders, - talking to each other.
Jealous, not interested in being together, ... some of
them look with feral hunger on the RV’s camps and hoards and
something else in play too ... Some mercs of a kind, dressed
like soldiers ... heavy gear, electronics, at least a half
dozen armored vehicles with big guns on top. They
do perimeter guard work, watch the crazies and others. A
few have trained dogs, but no match for mine ... still
dangerous tho’ ... mostly used to watch the bands, keep an eye
out for small thievery, and such ...
bunch grabbed a woman from near the RV group-center, raped
her. Next day the mercs came, took the rapers, castrated
them in public and then set them on fire with a couple of
those flame thrower things ... ugly, especially the smells ...
or your group acts good, the mercs are passing out some new
drugs ... people take them, lie down and dream for a while,
maybe do some sex, but no violence ... very peaceable drugs
... might be some version of that LSD I used to hear about ...
at least 2500 armed folk out there, with another couple
thousand civilians of various kinds. Plenty of food
seems like, along with good water being trucked in from some
number Four some of those tiny tracer spy chips Tom and Jerry
gave me, told her to go take a dump as close as she could get
to the center ... Did that a couple of times, ... we might get
some intel from those ... who knows ... someone steps in it,
drives over it, who knows ... maybe Obama tracked one here
At that everyone laughed.
Jerry got up and went to the truck and brought out a
laptop, while Tom set up some kind of aerial on a pole held up
by a tripod base.
Angel asked the questions
everyone didn’t want asked ...
they move north? Can we stop them?
ourselves, she said, not by ourselves, and I mean everyone in
Sanctuary ... we’re not enough against this.
then? said the old man, and Obama echoed him, what then?
she said, evil shit.
Fight fire with fire. Anyone does what I’m
thinking needs doing is going to have nasty karma from it,
nasty nasty karma.
Jerry looked up from his
laptop, he was wearing some earphones. We’re going to have to fly recon at first light
tomorrow, risk them knowing we are out here. But
from the sounds of this something is going on ... noises of
people packing up, engines firing up, some singing weird-like
war songs ...
have to make a quick decision, she said.
Lets wait a while and see if
they raise dust from moving in a certain direction, and then
you fly over and take a look.
Obama and the old man were
full of frowns. But neither said anything. Both
knew war decisions belonged to those that were going to fight
them. Old men sitting peaceably at home had no business
telling others where and when and how to die.
Tom and Jerry got out the
ultra-lite and began to pre-flight it. Rider told Angel
to prep the bike as well. Then she took Obama and the
old man and sent them out into the woods, doing something they
clearly didn’t want to do. Angel saw them arguing before
they left, and then saw her kind of stand very still, and
change somehow. Become something more. Hard to
describe, but the light around her seemed to shift - like she
was there and something else was there too. After
that the old man and Obama had no more objections, and went on
to do their tasks. She went off to sleep in a pile of
wolf-dogs, since neither she nor they had slept much in two
Evening neared and Tom got on
the ultra-lite. Rider gave him specific instructions.
West in a big loop, first north, flying low, and then West up
high. I want you to find the water trucks, where they
are coming from. Don’t need you to scout the big groups,
we can see already today from the dust they are moving north.
Lots of folks besides us Sanctuary types live up there.
They may know about us already ... even rumors be bad
enough. The moon will be full, and there will be few if
any clouds. You should be able to see by that as well.
water for a few thousand people is a big deal. Its one
of the ways they are paying the crazies and such.
Tom was back about two hours
after moon-rise. The ultra-lite didn’t really need a
runway and just floated in motor off over some low trees and
landed soft. By that time, Obama and the old man were
brewing something in a big pot over the fire. Wasn’t
food, smelled weird, but not necessarily bad.
Jerry set up the laptop to
screen for everyone to look at what Tom’s digital cameras had
caught. The source of the water had been found.
Obama recognized it.
cistern system some new agers built in the last days of the
before-time. When the monsoons come in July and August
around here, they captured all that rain in their cisterns.
Old tech, very good. Have to process it to
make it drinkable though. Looks like those buildings
there are where they filter it, and maybe add some chemicals,
although I don’t know where they get the chlorine and stuff
like that today.
Everyone looked at Rider.
We are going to poison the water, she said. Poison the source. Something real bad. Lots of collateral damage, there’s children with these folks. Pregnant women too. No other way to stop them. These are hard times, and the RV’s should know by now ... what you sow, you reap.
Tom and Jerry swore,
together. Tom said: I
thought I was finished with weapons of mass destruction!
Rider answered back, quickly, in that quiet no
non-sense voice she had: More
like weapons of mass desperation.
Angel then made a bark-like
scared and troubled laugh. Some part of him thought it
was funny given what he’d been up to before running into Rider
and Sanctuary. Obama and the old man just looked way too
old, too sad, too unable to stop what has to be.
Rider looked angry. The
pack growled, very low. Then the wolves in the woods
around them started to howl again. Even the air seemed
heavy, and the moon hid itself behind some clouds.
people? said Angel. Just like that, we kill 5,000 people. Won’t
they notice something when people start to die?
Rider looked at the old man.
He spoke ...
said. Like Dysentery,
Cholera, water born illnesses. Bad bugs. Parasites
from animal shit. They’ll think the water’s clean,
because it comes from a clean source. Won’t be looking
for that kind of attack. They’ll be rationing water
anyway, see to everyone getting a fair share every day.
Some may survive, but those that do will be too ill to
help any others. They’ll all have drunk a couple days
worth of these bugs before they even notice the first ones is
Obama spoke next: Those mercs, you think they don’t take care of
their own water, have their own chemicals and stuff.
Former military would have all kinds of stuff maybe?
Sure, she said. But they won’t know who, might look for
awhile like some kind of weird play by the RV’s themselves or
some one of the other groups. This makes a kinds of
chaos. That’s were Angel comes in. He goes with me
and Horse and pack. On the bike. Does something to
make a distraction, while I dope the water. If I can get
to the trucks, one or two, I can also pollute their plumbing
systems - how they pump and stuff. Their guards chase
off after Angel, and I sneak inside the grounds where the
cisterns are, do the bad things.
luck they won’t kill Angel and we’ll get him back. With
luck they won’t kill me, but then they wouldn’t survive pack.
Lots of ways this can go bad. You’ll know soon
enough if it works. Old man can help you travel parallel
and watch what happens.
they’ll get a hundred miles before the whole mass collapses
into chaos and anarchy. We, or you, watch and see if
what survives tries to go further north. You should be
able to handle whatever’s left, which I guarantee will not be
much, and not be strong or healthy.
Sobered by these thoughts,
they all fell silent. The fire crackled as Obama fed it
some more wood. Jerry brought out a harmonica, and
played some sad songs, some slow-dancing cowboy blues.
Some of the wolves lurking in the woods around them
joined in again. The moon came out once more.
Angel thought he saw a couple
of tears on Rider’s face, but didn’t say anything. What
was there to say? Hard times, harder choices.
The plan worked, mostly.
The guards at the cisterns
shot Angel in the thigh with a rifle, a through and through,
no arteries or bones hit. He fell off the bike which
decided to suicide and blow up when it crashed.
The guards came out to kill him, but the pack
showed up and after a few exchanges of growls and shots, the
guards decided where the better part of valor lay.
Rider got inside and did the
deed. The guards left Angel alone figuring he was wolf
meat anyway, which enabled him to tie off the wound with part
of his shirt and his belt. The pack led him to a nearby
ravine, where he waited for Rider and the night.
He got to ride back behind
Rider on Horse, which led him in the direction of certain
ideas, but she made it clear that he wasn’t yet a true man, so
he best keep those kinds of ideas to himself.
They were a couple of days
late getting back to the truck partly because Horse had to
carry them both, and they had to do a work around and get
ahead of the RV army to catch up to Tom and Jerry and the old
man. Obama had gone home, wherever that was.
There was some beer shared
around when it was seen that they had survived.
They followed the army at distance while it slowly
and haphazardly traveled up the old interstate highway north
from the Phoenix area toward what remained of Flagstaff.
The saguaro cactus desert was giving way to pine
forests, near the former Prescott and Sedona areas of Arizona,
when the army just stopped moving completely.
It had been more and more
stringing out - elongating - and then it just stopped moving
at all. Parts of it burned brightly at night - people
probably burning bodies. Trucks and other more mobile
vehicles broke away, but soon they too stopped. Kind of
like rats leaving a sinking ship, only to die about half a day
or so out.
They debated about doing an
ultra-lite flyover, but the old man said no, and when he
looked at Rider, she just shook her head yes, and slipped away
with Horse and pack in the night, this time dressed in her
gear, swords and face paint and all.
Tom and Jerry and Angel took
up positions watching. Jerry unpacked the sniper rifle,
just in case. She was five days moving through the
huge killing field. Carrion birds were everywhere, and
the wolves that had followed them drifted close by on their
way to the killing field, letting themselves be seen, but made
no move toward their camp.
The old man gathered herbs
and stuff, taking care of Angel’s wound and then mounted the
ultra-lite and took off following the path the pack and Horse
and Rider had taken, and marked. Through the
sniper scope Jerry provided descriptions, mostly of the old
man, who kept himself far more visible than did Rider.
The old man was making fires, and the herb smells
sometimes drifted near where they waited.
Sometimes they heard singing
floating on the winds that came up at night. Tom said it
was Rider, letting out her grief. The three men
drank no beer, hardly talked. What was there to say?
The old man came back first
and set Tom and Jerry to making what he called a
“sweat-lodge”. When Rider came back she had two
knife wounds, one on her face. When they looked at her,
she just had one word: mercs.
Jerry wanted to sew the cuts
up, and she just shook her head no. What was weird was
that the pack wasn’t with her, and when asked she just shook
her head no again.
The old man set them to make
the fire for the sweat-lodge and they all four watched her
take off all her bloody clothes and burn them in the fire.
Naked and bloody she stood and then broke the pair of
swords over a knee, as well as the two small knives she
normally carried in her boots. Later Tom said privately
that she should not have been able to do that. Swordless
and clothesless she crawled into the Lodge.
When she came out a couple of
hours later, Obama walked into the camp carrying a beautiful
fringed and beaded deer cloth dress and some calf-high
moccasins, as well as replacements for her usual shirt and
pants. After helping her dress in the dress, he had her
sit by the fire and he brushed out her hair and wove it into a
long braid. No one spoke a word.
The next morning the pack
arrived, bringing with them about 150 survivors, many children
and women, two of those pregnant. About noon a
strong wind came up, and the fires in that huge killing field
increased in ferocity and soon the whole desert there was
ablaze. Periodically unexploded ordinance went off, with
loud bangs and spitting pieces of burning metal.
It was hard not to see this
as beautiful, and when Obama stood tall, facing the fireworks,
arms out spread, and sang what had to be a prayer before
wandering off again, it was difficult not to feel this
awfulness was also something holy.
They were two weeks getting
back to Sanctuary, but the ultra-lite had gone on ahead, and
over a hundred people, including families, came down to
greet the newcomers and explain to them their possibilities.
Teller of Stories told tales
of Sanctuary every night around the campfires as they traveled
north. For the first week Tom and Jerry took game, along
with the pack so as to feed everyone. When the families
from Sanctuary arrived, a bit of joy began to bloom, and the
shock of recent events started to fade some.
Mostly people didn’t talk,
not even the children. The one with the most words
every day was Teller of Stories. Here is the story he
told the first night on the trail north. Keep in mind
that the way he tells it is as important as the story.
He begins as the campfire
burns low, and tired adults and children huddling together get
ready to enter the realm of Morpheus - the realm of
Everybody dreams. Night dreams and day dreams are not the same. In night dreams I entertain visitors. In day dreams I entertain myself. In night dreams the dead visit. In the day, I am among the living, even when dreaming.
Fantasy is good for the soul. The before-time died of too little fantasy and imagination. The story tellers tried, but the number lovers did not listen ... they were too busy counting their gold.
A spirit-mind wrapped in numbers is cold and has no heart. A civilization without a heart commits suicide, in one way or another. Loving numbers is to already be dead to life.
The newly dead will visit us all over the next months. Out beyond us was a great sacrifice. Many of you here loved those who died out there. That love is a warmth they will seek. They will not be ready right away to leave the earth-time for the star-time. They will need us, and we will need them.
So in the night dreams we will entertain visitors.
But to do that rightly we have work to do. To help them and to help ourselves we have to remember, even the things we don’t want to remember.
In the before-time no one much understood about the dead. Few believed there was life after life. So the dead were not important, and the living suffered for ignoring them. A science of just numbers and no imagination killed civilization as surely as did the gold counters. So too a religion of stale ideas, frozen in time and space.
The before-time got old and then died. We of today live in the in-between-time. We live after the before-time, but not yet in the new-time.
We live in chaos and anarchy - the burning fire before the new Phoenix rises from the cold ashes of destruction.
For the new-time to come, we have to remember the imagination, and lose our attachment to dead and cold ideas. So in the next days, once we get to what might become your new home - the place we call Sanctuary - we have to start to remember those who just died.
So when you get to the campfires in Sanctuary be ready to tell stories about the life you were leading. Even the bad things, even the horrible and terrible things. Especially the awful things, the things we most want not to remember.
It will be easier than you think because the dead will come and visit in the night and remind you.
Some times we call these kinds of dreams: Nightmares. They scare us, and we might even wake up screaming. But I promise you, if you tell of the scary dark things that visit in the night, over time they will visit less and less.
They want to leave, but before they can leave the earth-time to go to the star-time, they need to finish something. They need to finish finding out who they are. They got lost in life and didn’t find out who they are, and so when they die they don’t know, and they depend on us to tell them.
The great majority of the before-time civilization didn’t know what a human being was. They believed we were just things, bits of stuff, bound up in rules over which we had no powers. We came out of stuff, lived as stuff and then when we died, the stuff fell apart - dust to dust was the old saying.
Problem was the before-time civilization didn’t know how to count things of the heart, or count things of the imagination. That civilization taught us confusion and unreality, all the time claiming they were giving us reality. Why did something, to be real, have to be able to be counted?
So there will be work to come, but no hurry to do the work. It is work because it is hard, although at the same time it is play. It is hard because we are not used to doing it, not used to living out of the imagination and the heart to the degree we need to so live. We have to learn to stretch our imaginative and heart-string muscles as it were.
The place you are going - this Sanctuary place - a lot of people there have traveled roads just as hard as yours. They will know what you have done, and what you have yet to do. They will help you be patient. They will help you not do, and teach you how to take time. They have been lost themselves and are still finding themselves and know a lot about all of that.
While we travel to what might become your new home, there is no need to talk, unless you want to talk. Rest, day-dream, eat good food, get better. If you have night visitors, share that or don’t share that. There isn’t just one way to do this finding yourself. There is just your way, your truth, your dreams.
though, none of this we have to do alone. That’s why we
are on earth and in same-time together - to learn to share and
to be good company.
One night, just before the
whole crowd - the new people and the Sanctuary people that had
come to greet them - got back to Sanctuary, Rider spoke to the
the mercenaries were alive when I did the killing field ritual
work. We fought, I won. A couple didn’t die right
away, and I helped them be talkative. They told me a
really scary story.
people weren’t moving North looking for us ... they were
running. Something was coming toward them from further
South. Not in a couple of weeks but surely in a half of
a year at the earliest.
dark, something connected to before-time drug gangs and
ancient Toltec sacrificial rites. Thousands and
thousands of people, needing food and water, and fleeing the
growing heat of the warming. Like a mad army of locusts,
stripping bare all the land that it crosses over.
is we have to abandon Sanctuary, and move further North, much
further. My other guess is that that old man
teller-of-stories knows something about where to move to.
Some of his stories in Sanctuary hint at this.
I remember in one of his stories there was a place, in
northern Oregon and southern Washington, where four now active
volcanoes made a geographical cross. Some place were
magic might come to rule one day.
going back to the killing field in a few days. Could use
some help. I want to turn it into a warning barrier like
on our dusty road. Not exactly the same, but something
that might give a pause to the locusts - get their attention
and make them think about where they are going and if they
really want to get there ...
Tom and Jerry went with her and a couple of dozen others from Sanctuary - veterans, people who knew how to make IEDs and such - bombs and traps - both men and women. Tough folks. Determined folks.
Angel wanted to go to, but
Racy had come down with the Sanctuary people and told him
that if he went he would die, and she didn’t want him to
die. He looked to Rider and Teller-of-Stories and they
both nodded. Made him mad, though. Made him feel
That night Gabriel, who had
also come down, took Angel by the hand and with a blanket
they went away from the camp and into the woods. Time to start to teach you how to be a true
man, she said.
She was 20 years older than he was, and full of surprises. When Racy saw them come back to the camp in the morning, she told Angel: Might be time for you to get a new tattoo, something with a grin like the one running all over your usual sour face.
When everyone got back to Sanctuary there was a lot of sadness and anger over the idea that they had to pick up and move. So much effort and life had been invested, and the community was torn into smaller groups, each thinking they knew best what to do, including some who were planning on not leaving.
The new people - the
survivors of the RV debacle - didn’t know what to make of
it. Who could blame them? The chaos of the time
had made it once more into the souls of Sanctuary folk, and
their hard won idyllic life was crumbling. It was as
if some kind of vacation from madness was over, and now it
was time to once more enter into the struggle with cultural
and individual insanity.
All kinds of arguments came
and went, including some violence. Finally the
star-children called a community meeting, and that united
action - rather unfamiliar and unexpected - started to sober
people up. The star-children requested a feast and a
festival as well. Whatever’s
happening it’s time to party, sang Racy, as she danced
and twirled through the community for three days, never
seeming to stop or sleep.
The mood of everyone
changed and the star-children seemed behind it.
The flaring of tempers
subsided, work set aside was started up again, people went
to the bathhouses, clothes were cleaned and even some new
fashions appeared. The star-children began making
remarkable masks, and handing them out to everyone.
Each mask was individual. The festival
didn’t start at a particular time, it just sort of grew -
everyone was slowly being caught up in it, and food that
maybe needed to be eaten, and not saved or abandoned if they
fled, was turned into fancy dishes.
People who hoarded liquor
gave it up. Some people started giving presents.
The folk from the RV would wake up in the morning to
baskets of bright colored new outfits in their rooms.
The star-children promised a drama one night to come -
a play they said.
Then Tom and Jerry and the
folks who had gone to lay a delaying maze in the path of the
locusts got back. Rider and Horse and pack were not
with them. For several hours the party-mood broke - it
had had a quality of mania ... of excessive fake celebration
to cover over the anger and the sadness.
Angel and Gabriel were now a couple and brought some folding chairs so as to sit together at the huge community meeting that was called by Tom and Jerry, where they would tell the story that might or might not answer everyone’s burning question: Where was Rider?
The story was more strange
than expected, and Rider had been a lot strange ... for
years. Tom spoke:
The night we were done laying the traps and IEDs and stuff, we had a little party because the next day we were going north - coming home or coming here at any rate. It was a full moon with a clear sky.
The smell of rot and decay was mostly gone. Fires we had set and help from carrion eaters had pretty much cleaned the area up.
Rider had been packing all day, and I noticed she was packing odd, loading up Horse as if she wasn’t going to ride her. She’d made a travois too, one of those two pole things a horse can drag in order to carry extra stuff. And, made smaller one’s for the pack. We didn’t ask questions - you know how is with her, when she wants to tell you something, she tells you - otherwise no point to ask.
She packed food and water and feed grains and other practical stuff. No weapons though. She’d broken her swords and thrown away her guns - you must have heard about that already. Could have picked up all kinds to replace, just laying everywhere on the ground, but she didn’t.
We were eating around a campfire when she walked up naked as the day she was born, and threw the dress Obama had given her, plus her new regular work duds on the fire. I’ll try to say it as exactly as she said it to us:
“Going south”, she said. “Going to be a goddess to some sorry folks. They need me to help them transform the locust thing to something better. Might not work, though. Serious bad people with them. Magic people. Dangerous people. Might be like a war. I dream of being crucified. The tree people and the rock people and the four-legged and the winged people - they are all with me. I won’t be alone. The thunder and lightening folk too - the storm people - they will try to watch my back.
“Still, the Dark Ones carry the bomb, and some other stuff, some stuff the old science didn’t know was possible. Got to try to stop them, - if not stop them at least mess with their heads a little bit - make their schemes have holes and weaknesses.
“Don’t be sad - its why I was born in this time. With you, I was just getting ready for this - learning, practicing for this.
“Love each other if you can.”
was the last thing she said. She turned around and
walked away, Horse and pack following her south and into the
night. We were basically speechless. I mostly
still am. Its one of those things that makes complete
sense at the same time it makes you crazy just to know it
Silence settled over the
community fire. No one spoke or moved, until the
star-children got up and wearing their personal masks
performed their play. It was all mime - all silent.
Over the next days, the
community talked. The story the star-children told was
about them splitting up, and traveling different paths.
Not everyone would go to the same place. Most
would eventually get to the new Sanctuary - up north in the
magic place where the volcano cross was. Teller of
Stories told us the names of the mountains that were now
active volcanoes, each connected to one of the Four
Directions: To the South, Mt. Hood. To the North,
Mt. Rainer. To the West, Mt. St. Helens, and to the East,
A long discussion was had
about what to do with the physical structures of Sanctuary
South as it was now being called. Some folks wanted to
destroy it, and others wanted to leave it behind. Some
of that was settled when Heartmender Smith spoke at one of
the community fires, and announced he was staying.
Some people should not be moved, and with some grace
from the Mystery, this home might survive in a way.
Once that was in the air,
the star-children starting planting various kinds of ivy
everywhere. They didn’t explain what they were
up to, but soon others caught on. Nature was being
evoked to perhaps hide Sanctuary South. Some others
did smash certain things, and said that if the place looked
like a ruin, it might be a good idea in case some few wanted
to try to continue to live there.
The road to the killing field was wrecked. If someone came from that direction all they would find was rusted out cars and other debris common to almost everywhere else. Explosives were used to make it look like some kind of war had maybe taken place there several years ago.
As different groups got
ready to leave, - the first ones were ready in a couple of
months time - the wealth of Sanctuary South was divided up.
Cars, ultralights, glass and pottery works tools
and knowledge, the Library duplicated, ... if it could be
moved and packed it was. Of course the animals - the
sheep and the goats and the cows and the chickens and the
horses and the dogs and the cats and the pet birds, and
trained falcons and other fauna were spread out among all.
Seeds of course, all kinds of seeds and plant
cuttings and such.
If people got heated up
over who was to have what, usually one of the star-children,
or Teller of Stories or Heartmender Smith would show up and
help resolve conflict. It was hard - leave takings on
such a scale could never be easy.
People with different
skills organized themselves into what they called guilds.
They spread their knowledge around. Warriors and
weavers and healers and teachers and veterinarians - they
all made sure that every group had someone who knew how to
do stuff - not just book knowledge like the Library, but
practical hands-on knowledge.
Strange things happened.
For example, every time there was a big group leaving,
wolves came to the nearby hills and sang. Birds too,
during the day and night, collected and flew nearby.
Crows especially, and ravens. Once in a while
larger animals, that the community had known were out there
and mostly had not hunted, showed themselves at a distance
as if saying goodbye.
Even the weather seemed to
cooperate. Nothing extreme, nothing unusual.
Rain, sun, snow, clouds, wind - all mild and normal.
The ivy planted by the star-children grew at a furious
rate - for reasons no one could explain, other than that it
seemed to be needed.
The last groups to leave
noticed that you had to be far inside the town to even know
it was there. At the end, when no one else was
going to leave, there were only about three dozen folk, all
clustered around the House of Graceful Souls.
Heartmender Smith of course, plus Angel and Gabriel,
and of course, Racy. A couple of dogs, some chickens
and other food sources.
A deep winter had come,
there was plenty of fire wood and stored food. The
snows were soft and fluffy, the temperature not too cold.
The House of Graceful Souls could be lived in without
anyone having to go outside.
On Christmas Day the pack
showed up, seemingly investigating the status of things.
They wandered about the town, nosing into every nook
and cranny. They slept in the House for a few
days, next to people. Then one morning they were gone.
A few years later no one
would have been found there alive. A serious
investigation, knowing where to look, might have found some
graves, one of which had the name Heartmender Smith on it.
No stones for Angel or Gabriel or Racy, though.
Like the rest of Sanctuary South, they were now one
with the wind.