It is early, the first cool, unflinching rays just touching the rocky outcrops above the house, damp drags of fog still clinging to the bottom of the little valley. The air is fresh and dewy, it smells of wet grass and earth and pines. Quite beautiful really, but also eerie and very still.
I stub out my half-smoked cigarette. It tasted horrible, but did the trick. I have cured and cultivated the tobacco myself, which is probably why it’s so awful. I have neither experience nor books on the subject, but relied on vaguely remembered stories of dad’s childhood during the war, when everybody had to produce their quota of tobacco. I had actually quit smoking a few years back, but now this seems absurd. Do I really still have aspirations for a clean and healthy long life—a future?
I tentatively and carefully let my emotional guard soften a bit, ready for the onslaught of guilt and sadness to wash over me, sweep me away like a tiny boat in an enormous, stormy and merciless sea… but there is nothing. The sea is still, cool, uncaring. And it has been for a while.
Good. There are things to do, and lots of them. Feed the animals, mulch the vegetable patch, sow some more seed. Collect some herbs—too early in the year for anything more substantial. Check my traps. Cut and stack some firewood. Walk the area, improve the alarm system. Well, I guess all this is some planning for the future. But these are immediate and necessary tasks to ensure that I will have something to eat, be warm, dry and not dead tomorrow, or the day after. Devoid of any dreams, hopes or desires. But it keeps me occupied and my mind out of trouble.
And read, I need to read to stay human. I amassed lots of books about any and everything. Crime, romance, philosophy, astronomy, plumbing, Mandarin, botany, history, economics, Buddhism, politics, cookery, needlework, carpentry… Everything is useful, everything is company. I think the only book I did not take, was ‘Brand Management Software for Dummies’—I cannot imagine the remotest speck of literary enjoyment, or any practical application in this now completely analogue world.
I have five chickens and a rooster, which means more chickens, but is also risky because the bastard does make a lot of noise. I have contemplated, if it was possible to remove his vocal cords, even consulted my books, but besides human anatomy and pigs’ ailments, I have found nothing in my library that would qualify me for such an operation. So he lives and cock-a-doodle-doos, for now.
I like watching the chickens. Apart from their obvious usefulness, they endlessly entertain me with their industrious pecking and scratching, self-important and oblivious to the dramas of the world. I love their funny and complicated social interactions, and the tameness and trust they have towards me.
Two months ago I found a sheep, and it was easy to catch, it actually ran towards me. Sheep cannot stand being alone. If I had two or more, I would have kept them. For their wool and manure. Maybe milk, if I found a ram. But as it was, it seemed more merciful to kill the poor thing, stressed and confused, bleeping for its flock. It did not go to waste, though I made a real mess of it. Next time will be much easier.
Besides the things I produce or forage of the land, I have squirrelled away a big stash of dried and tinned food, medical supplies, many useful tools and materials. It will last a while if I am careful. I dread the day I will run out of coffee, or salt. I even got a few canisters of fuel, but refrain from using the chainsaw or the truck—this is only for absolute emergencies. There are still some places around, where I can scavenge and stock up, but I am reluctant to leave my little valley too often. Not only is it dangerous, but I also avoid facing the rapid disintegration of what was once called civilization.
Today I am going into town, backpack on my shoulders, pistol in my pocket, hunting knife on my belt, machete in my hand. It takes a little over an hour to get there. Before I leave, I lock the dogs into the house, so they won’t follow me. Though they are a good warning system, they can also attract attention. I am better off on my own. It is a dull, rainy day, good for walking and blending into the background. I do not want to meet anybody.
When I get to the road, it has become a mere path since the last time I passed here. Vegetation encroaching from all sides, tree roots and weeds braking up the tarmac, and covering the charred remains of cars and other debris. Nature is prolific and uncaring, it takes back in months or even weeks what man has created in decades and centuries.
Just before I reach the first houses, I leave the main road and carefully pick my way along an overgrown footpath next to a bubbling, little stream. My destination this time is a small depot set at the back of the industrial estate. A nondescript building, seemingly ignored by the less distinguished looter. It is a junk shop, full of old-time treasures, such as the hand-operated grain mill or battered trumpet I salvaged from here previously.
I skirt the boundaries of the place, keeping low and in the cover of the walls and trees, scanning my surroundings and examining the building for any signs of life. When I am just a few steps from the door, I notice fresh footprints in the soft ground. I retreat behind a tree, duck and freeze. Listening, sniffing the air… and waiting. After a short while, which seems like eternity, there is a soft rustle, and a boy emerges from the brambles, which have grown over the entrance. He carefully frees himself of a few clinging shoots and nervously turns his head left and right, scrutinizing the wall beyond the out of control hedge. Tumbled over bins and a pile of rotting lumber to the right. The large oak tree ahead and a thicket of shrubs, brambles, and weeds beneath it. But he does not see me hiding in the shadows beyond the dense vegetation.
I assess him: 16, maybe 17, medium build and height, a small, narrow face with big wary eyes. His brown, stringy hair is long. Combat trousers. Dirty red puffer jacket, patched in places with gaffer tape. Not a good choice of colour, better to be more inconspicuous in this life. Hiking boots. A brown bag over his shoulder. There is a long knife in his hand. He looks capable, but not cruel—a child really. In fact, there might be something like hope in his young face. Maybe my imagination. I decide to risk it.
I am small, skinny, but who isn’t these days. I have a harmless, unassuming face—sane, at least I hope so. I do not look that threatening. I stand up, and with slow deliberation, I drop the machete and say:“Here… don’t worry.” I smile, or try to. The muscles in my face seem to creak and strain from this unfamiliar movement. Then I say: “Hi, I am Eve. You?” Just out of the corner of my eyes I study him, every micro-movement, every ripple of muscle. I watch him relax just a tiny fraction and open his mouth… that’s when I shoot him. It’s quick but still feels like slow motion. There is surprise on his face, immediately followed by recognition, and then fear. He makes a gurgling noise and drops to the ground with a thud. I jump over to him and use my knife to cut through his jugular. There is no pleasure in this act, but neither horror nor regret.
I take his knife and put it in my backpack. I quickly go through his pockets and bag. I keep a compass, flash-light, a pair of socks, three tins of pineapple and some crackers. I also find a notebook filled halfway. I rip out the used pages and pocket the book. I discard a filthy jumper, a few musky smelling chocolate bars and a small Tyrannosaurus plastic figurine.
I prefer to keep things simple. It does lack nuance and imagination, but it works for me. I divide humans into three groups: The doomed sheep—lost without their flock; the pesky wolves—hunting in packs, dangerous together, but submissive and frightened on their own; and the big, fearsome cats—silent stalkers, self-reliant and solitary. Nobody needs social graces these days, or an affable personality, which is a relief.
My name is not Eve, but names are not important any more. I have shed the past and embraced the future. Whether this is the Garden of Eden or a wasteland, a beginning or the end, is all a matter of perspective.