I wrote this on July 19, 1988. To the best of my recollection, all on the same day. I used to keep a journal, of sorts, offline in a series of computer files I called "Write." They were full of disconnected story snippets, lyrics to songs that I liked, extremely bad free-form poetry, and occasionally even stuff from my life.
This is one of the longer disconnected story bits. I am resisting the exceedingly strong temptation to edit it. The only change I've made is to add in a missing article.
Once upon a time...
Not so long ago...
Not so far away...
There was a world...
A world full of heroes, life, joy, light and laughter...
A Survivor's Tale
What do you do when the world ends?
How can the world end?
I guess it doesn't, really. Life goes on, out of sheer perversity, I suspect, or perhaps because we're too stupid and too stubborn to quit, even when everything around us, humanity's civilization and nature's living beauty, is in ruins. We hold on anyway.
And the humans, we think, we'll rebuild somehow, someday. We'll reconstruct our dominion over the Earth, recreate all that has been lost, and more--we'll be even
better this time!
I don't know if I buy all that insanity--can we ever gain back what we've lost?--but I haven't given up on the past--why else would I write on this black box, a solar- powered computer from the last age?
How can I let go of yesterday? It's all the dreams, all the hopes I'll ever have.
In the past, they might have called me a historian, for my quest is for the lost tales of history, all the glory, all the power, every dramtic success and tragic failure that a brilliant and colorful world once held.
Everything that a dull, black and white world now lacks.
Perhaps somewhere deep inside of me, I think that by holding the key to our fascinating history, I can open the door to a brighter future.
But the realist in me believes in nothing now, nothing but the truth I know.
I am a storyteller, nothing more, nothing less. What that means, only time will tell.
I got up from the little pile of debris I'd been resting on, folding the screen down on my computer. Darkness was falling; I should be on my way. Those who remained in this
part of the city were dangerous, even to such as I. I could rest when I'd reached Little York.
Even as I moved, a man appeared from the shadows before me. "Well well well," his voice purred out loudly in the still darkness, "What have we here? Some little girl who's lost her way?"
I stood before him in silence. His back was to the setting sun, and I could only see his silhouette, a tall, rangy form with spikey matted hair, hacked away in parts; probably deliberately, to keep it from blocking his eyes. A second form drew out of the empty buildings near us. "Should we set her straight, Ricky?" he said.
"Oh, maybe we shall." I could feel his grin, hear it in his voice, though I could not see it. "Later!" Both laughed, cruel and mocking.
I had been silent until now, but now I spoke. "I am not lost," I said calmly. I was not afraid, though they could easily have killed me, or anything else which took their fancy. But I did not care; there is nothing they could do that has not happened to me before. I would live or I would
die; the outcome did not matter to me.
Their laughter was silenced for a moment. They were doubtless used to preying on the sheep-people, and the scavengers, who should be properly terrified by now, or running, if they had the presence of mind to do so. Then the one addressed as Ricky said, "Oh, but you will be!" This
minor witticism set him and his companion laughing again.
I waited a moment for their attention to return to me, then spoke. "I am traveling to Little York. But I could be persuaded to stay here a night."
They advanced upon me, Ricky coming in close enough that I could see his scraggly beard, and his widening smile. He put a hand on my chin, and tilted my head up to look closely
at me. I saw his eyes; they were muddy brown, and flickered slightly with feral cleverness. "I think we can persuade you, eh, Jack?"
Before he could speak again, I said, "I am a storyteller."
The reaction this produced was astonishing to behold. Ricky dropped his hand as though I burned him, and Jack exclaimed, "A storyteller!"
"I'm s-sorry, I didn't realize...." Ricky stammered.
"Are you really a storyteller?" Jack asked almost reverently.
"I truly am, Jack," I said with a smile. I live for moments like these. I held out my hand, saying, "I am called Marilee." He stared at my hand, as though uncertain what to make of the gesture. After a moment he extended his own, and I seized it, squeezing it lightly before dropping it. I've tried to revive these old customs.
"I'm Jack," he said belatedly, staring at his hand.
"Look, Jack, you go on ahead an' tell th' others that we got a storyteller f' th' night." Ricky told the other. "You will come, won't you?" he asked me as an afterthought, almost
"Of course." It was really too dark to make Little York by nightfall.
Jack jumped away and bounded off, presumably towards their camp.
"There are others of you?" I asked as Ricky and I began to follow, more slowly.
"Oh, yeah," Ricky said, puffing up with pride. "There are 'bout twenty of us. We go all around taking stuff--uh, er...collectin' from the sheep."
"I see." I was neither impressed nor condemning. In this world, one is either a sheep or a sheep-predator. One is seldom better than the other, for the sheep's only reason for not being a predator is timidity, at least in most cases.
"What kind'a stories d' you know?" he asked, eager to switch the topic.
"All kinds. How far is it to the encampment?"
"Perhaps I'll tell you a short one, then. Do you remember TV?"
"Yeah. You'll really tell me one?"
"And commercials?" I persisted.
"Uh-huh. I was eight 'fore things went bad."
"Well, this is from the time before the disaster had even began.
"It was on a singularly hot, muggy day, and a very hot, sweaty girl was painfully walking home from her job.
"She was dead tired, and would have given anything for a cold drink. But she was five miles from home, and it was a long walk ahead of her. So she consoled herself with the thought that she could stop at the market and get a cold soda before she reached home.
"So she plugged on, putting one foot in front of the other sluggishly, her tongue lolling out of her mouth, just dreaming of that ice-cold beverage.
"Pretty soon, she began to sing in her mind a jingle from one of the soft-drink commercials:
"Isn't it cool
Isn't it cool
How right it feels
So very clean and real
I sang the tune softly, clearly and lyrically, and watched as Ricky began to hum along.
"So the song ran through her mind, and she was getting hotter and tireder and thirstier every moment, longing for that promised drink.
"At last she reached the market, and happily--if wearily--entered. She then walked past a large display of Cherry 7-UP, and headed for the cooler, reaching to the very
back to bring forth a bottle of Coca-Cola.
"She paid for the bottle, walked outside and happily traveled the rest of the way home, drinking her Coke and singing the Cherry 7-UP jingle.
"Which just goes to show that no matter how hard somebody tries to get others to do what he wants, there are always people who will do just as they please anyway."
Ricky laughed at the short anecdote, probably harder than the tale deserved, but there are few enough humorous moments in our lives, so I guess we like to make the most of them.
It is odd, I think, how such a tale can still amuse us, now when there are no jobs to walk home from, no markets to buy from, no soft-drink commercials--or even soft-drinks. But in the past there were people who would become obsessed with worlds of a teller's own imagining, fantasy lands where things which never happened to real people regularly occured. These people could laugh at the funny things which would only take place in such a land. I guess our past is like such a land, a make-believe world we are all obsessed with, the rules of which we keep alive in our hopes and dreams--and stories.
Twenty years ago, if you asked a man walking down the street if the remnants of man would remember civilization after it had fallen, he probably would have said no--not very well, at least.
But we do remember--we have to. What else do we have?