Prologue

Something was wrong with the world. He wasn’t sure what, and he was even less certain of why he felt that way. But he was certain that the world was changed, different, like the changing of one season to the next with the same gradual slide from one to the next. And like the changing of the seasons, it wasn’t until you were truly immersed in the new season that the change was evident and incontrovertible.

He looked at the earth around his tomato plants. Years past, the soil was rich and dark, filled with moisture and the aroma that only fresh, living soil can send forth into the later afternoon air. But the ground that he saw around those tomatoes was pale and cracked and smelled of nothing more than the dull fragrance of the tomato plants themselves. Droopy plants, at that. The leaves curled into themselves, the edges brown and crispy, and what wasn’t brown was yellow, and what wasn’t yellow was pale green. Barely green. Greenish white.

Never mind the small green tomatoes that looked all the world like shriveled green peas.

This year, he knew that his crop of tomatoes would be minimal at best.

With a sigh, he began to spray the plants. A fine mist wafted down upon them, some of it blowing back into his face as a sudden breeze caught the cone of fine water droplets and distorted it. The cracked and powdery ground stirred beneath the tiny droplets that had coalesced on the leaves and plummeted earthward to the insistence of gravity. At least gravity was still a constant, he mused, while the thirsty gray power formerly called soil soaked in the water with the voraciousness of a vacuum sucking up motes of dust. The once reliable rains had become so sporadic and infrequent that one hardly needed to listen to the weather forecast, not that the weather forecasters were ever right. As a rainbow formed in the cone of water, he remembered that the sun, too, was a constant along with gravity.

With the leaves sprinkled and glistening in the rapidly sinking sun, he shut of f the sprayer and deliberately wound the house back into its cradle. He knew that that type of watering was not the most efficient method of watering plants, but there was a certain level of comfort and normalcy that the event gave to him. He was sure that the plants liked it too, as the leaves already seemed to respond to their shower by straightening out just a bit. Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed, but he did. Or at least he was able to cajole himself into believing that they had been imbued with a small measure of vigor and vitality by his actions.

Before he turned on his garden’s drip irrigation system, he checked the rain barrel float gauge to see how much water remained in it. Twenty gallons remained, and he had used 3 quarts to mist the plants. It was a waste, but they deserved to be pampered a little. After tonight’s thirst quenching, they would not be watered again for another two days and the rain barrel would be less one more gallon. Unless it rained, which the forecaster claimed to be 30% chance.

He looked to the sky, saw a few smattering of orange tinted cirrus in the violet sky, a few crisscrossing orange streamers that were contrails from stratospheric commercial airliners, destinations unknown. Seeing what he saw above, the thought of a 30% chance of rain made him smile, because he knew it was a lie. It was always 30% chance. Never 40, never 20. The forecasters wanted to give hope to the parched and dryness-weary masses, just not too much.

His eyes scanned over the rest of his garden. Dry, brown and curled leaves met his gaze no matter where he cast it. Perhaps he had been a little overzealous with his planting this year. A little too hopeful, as it were. Something had told him to scale back, and only grow what was his favorite, that being tomatoes, but the thought of an empty garden was a thought that was a little hard to reckon with. He’d grown gardens for year, starting as small boy, and not once did it ever truly occur to him not to plant.

Of course, that was before he knew that something was wrong with the world. That was before the sometimes subtle, sometimes overwhelming sense of a dreadful future assailed him, sometimes during the day, sometimes during the night. And while most people, forecasters included, brushed it off as El Nino, La Nina, jet stream course and sunspot activity, he knew that it was something more, something ghastly and deadly and looming on the horizon like a plague of locusts ready to devour and scour.

He only wished he knew what it was. At least that’s what he thought he wanted.

 

Chapter One: Crčche

 

Joel Goldstein hurried onto the bus to escape the thundering rain that threatened to soak him to the bone. That would have been a real mess, for the rain was ice cold and was driven by the swirling winds of an early November nor’easter. Once again. It seemed that the storm had stalled and it was already the twelfth consecutive day that the rains hammered the area. Large areas had already flooded and more areas were bound to, especially if the weather forecasters were right: 90% chance of rain for the next week, heavy flooding expected.

He lamented: where was this rain when it was growing season and his garden was still alive?

Once again, he pushed that thought aside, and was almost shocked that it wasn’t immediately replaced by the feeling of dreadful foreboding that usually accompanied it. The only dread he felt now was the dread of having to stand on the pitching and swaying bus packed to the handholds with wet and miserable commuters. The only saving graces was that he didn’t have to worry about biking in these terrible conditions and the fact that the bus was one of the new hydrogen-powered ones. A moment of pride swept across him when he saw that the bus was one that his consulting company has secured a contract for for the municipalities in and around his city of Philadelphia.

Joel deposited a token in the fare box and the driver, a heavy set woman with a total lack of enthusiasm, handed him his transfer ticket. In the old days, the transfer tickets were made of thin newsprint-type paper that would have started disintegrating the moment it got wet, even only by the wetness of the hands of one who had been caught in a downpour. Nowadays, the transfer tickets were laminates the size of a credit card with a magnetic strip on the back, just like a credit card. The jury was still out with regard to the environmental efficiency of those cards. Joel’s consulting firm did not get the contract for that assessment, due mostly to the owner’s personal legal troubles at the time of the bidding

He didn’t want to think of those days two years ago. He really didn’t want to think of much, but he had a very active and very imaginative mind that could not be tamed no matter what. Observant, he scanned over the people around him and deeper into the bus. He didn’t recognize any of the faces as acquaintances, although he did recognize some from the past two weeks of catching the same bus to avoid the rains. Usually, he biked to work. Less frequently, he rode his motorcycle. And less frequently still, he drove his car. Neither of those methods allowed him to meet new people to and from work. And he considered only the biking to work to be environmentally sound, despite the fact that the motorcycle exceeded 50 miles per gallon of gasoline and the car was a hybrid that got nearly as many miles as the motorcycle per gallon.

Joel noticed a few things about his co-commuters that he hadn’t noticed before. Perhaps it was the continuously bad weather that caused it or drew his attention and made him not notice it earlier for his fixation with the rain. Or perhaps it was the constantly worsening of the weather that had finally drawn it out of them. Whatever the case, he noticed that they truly were a miserable looking lot. Dour expressions, listless eyes, heads rolling and swaying in unison with the roll and pitch of the bus as it clunked down into knee deep potholes and sent geysers of water spraying up onto the tall and wide Lexan windows. Some people stared relentlessly into the gray, rain soaked morning through those windows, with eyes that would make those of a shell-shock victim look like they were innocent eyes dancing with glee.

 

 

Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton