Green Blood #3 (Science Fiction – Post-apocalyptic)
Thirty years after the Devastation, when astounding tree growth destroyed technology and much of humanity, the Metchosin clan is thriving, perfecting their self-reliance with ongoing education about such subjects as herbal medicine. But no matter how simple life may be now, questions always arise.
Miles is writing a backwards history of mankind, trying to find out where the human race went so wrong that it almost destroyed itself as well as planet Earth. When he finds the answer, Casey plans to take the news to other clans. What puzzles her is why she’d rather travel than partner with Cam, whom she loves deeply.
Even the Earth itself raises questions about survival. A megathrust earthquake erupts, then a tsunami, violent reminders that natural forces are stronger than humans. The shockwaves will reverberate for years to come.
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Casey stood on the patio, in sweet April sunlight, and stretched out her arms to embrace the morning. Below her, the tree-studded meadow sloped down to Duke Road. Icelandic sheep browsed fresh growth among the arbutus and Garry oak, while half a dozen black-legged lambs with fuzzy cream coats bounced and tumbled in play.
“How does it feel to be home again?” Cam had emerged from the earth-sheltered house and was running both hands through his black hair while he looked at the view.
Casey liked the way his hair framed his face, from wild curls on top to neatly-trimmed mustache and beard below. She liked to run her hands through those curls, too, sometimes. “It’s okay.”
Not as exciting as she’d expected, after six months on exchange in the Fort Rodd clan. But then, she’d been able to come back several times for a visit.
Cam raised his eyebrows. “Only okay? That’s not like you. Well, I’m excited enough for both of us.”
“You’ll be studying herbs and massage with my mother and nursing with my great-aunt Leona, learning things, becoming a healer. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Except the usual.” Which were things she’d always loved to do: hunting with her bow and arrows, combing the rocky shores of the Juan de Fuca strait for flint and obsidian, helping her parents with the vegetable garden and the sheep, and her brother with the goat herd, exploring the countryside with Vala and Mutt. So what was wrong with those things now that she had the chance to do them again?
Annoyed at herself, Casey walked around the side of the house toward the barn. Vala looked out over the half-door, switching her black tail and whickering.
“No, we’re not traveling today,” Casey said, and rubbed the chestnut mare’s face from the white star on her forehead down to her velvet nose. “I wish we could, but I don’t know where I want to go. Besides, I have to introduce Cam to people and show him around the place.” She turned to leave, but had taken only a step when a strong tug on her long braid of flyaway brown hair told her Vala had grabbed it. She never tugged hard, but it could be difficult to make her let go. Then she’d look sideways at Casey, her eyes twinkling. Casey put her fingers in Vala’s mouth and pried until the mare let go, wondering why nobody ever believed her when she said the horse had a sense of humor.
On the patio, her mother was putting a large black stew pot in the solar oven. “Smoked deer meat and potatoes,” Laken said. “Not very many potatoes, I’m afraid.” She glanced at Cam. “The plants didn’t produce well last year and what we have won’t last through summer.”
“I don’t know if we’ll be here at noon,” Casey said. “We’re going down to Wescara so I can introduce Cam to everybody there.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Brad, her father, had joined them. “We can always reheat it for dinner if there’s any left over. Laken, you about ready to go?” He wore a leather tool belt, which carried several flint knives with bone handles.
“What are you doing today?” Casey asked, wishing she could go with them and ignore her restless feelings.
“Clearing trails,” Brad said. “Trying to stay ahead of the blackberry vines.”
“We have to do that at Fort Rodd, too,” Cam said. “It’s a good thing shrubs don’t zap you the way trees do or blackberries would take over the world.”
“Trees taking over the world has been more than enough to deal with,” Laken said.
The four of them walked down through the meadow to the gate. Mutt, a wild dog pup Casey had raised from birth, deserted the two border collies guarding sheep and stuck his head under Casey’s hand for a pat. Mutt was ten now, past middle age, a big, rugged animal, with a squarish head and coarse black and sand fur that hinted at both mastiff and Airedale ancestors. He and Vala had been her constant companions since she was ten. That would have to change, though, when she partnered with Cam.
Casey tried to chase the thought from her mind, then shook her head. How could she feel that way? Cam was a compassionate, intelligent person and she adored him. But, lately, she felt less and less sure of what that should mean, less able to visualize the future. Maybe she was just worried about whether Nana Sunny would like him, or whether he’d like the Metchosin clan. Or something. These restless feelings would go away once he’d settled into some kind of routine, freeing her to pick up her own routine again.
Once through the gate, Laken and Brad turned left to head up Gilbert Drive, where they would join the Chens in clearing the trail for a mile or so. Casey led Cam to the right along Duke Road. Mutt trotted ahead, sniffing the air.
“Isn’t it silly to still call these trails roads or drives?” she said. “I’ve seen pictures of the way they looked before the Devastation and they’re so different now that the trees have squeezed them almost to nothing.”
“You have to call them something,” Cam said, with a smile. He took her hand. “And they still go somewhere.”
Two hundred meters along the trail, they went through Wescara’s gate. As Cam closed it, Casey found herself inexplicably off balance, nearly falling. Mutt whined.
“It’s all right, Mutt!” she snapped. “I didn’t hurt myself.” He didn’t usually whine when she did something stupid. Perhaps he sensed her bad mood. Silently, she berated herself. Why be grumpy when she had everything? When it was spring and the sun shone warmly and the love of her life walked beside her? What the hell was wrong with her? Maybe she’d go trail clearing after lunch and work off this mood.
They walked on through four hectares of Garry oak meadow, liberally treed with Garry oaks and arbutus, but open enough to still afford some grazing. As they passed the goat pen, empty at this time of day, Cam said, “Where’s the house? I remembered it being right here.”
“You’re right.” Casey pointed ahead and a little to the right. “If you look closely, you can see a chimney sticking out of the grass.”
Cam laughed. “Of course! The house is built right into the ridge. Now I remember. When I came for the equinox feast five years ago, I didn’t know it was here until I walked down that little slope around to the front. The front is all glass, facing south, right?”
“Right. My grandfather says it’s the perfect earth-sheltered house.” It was Nana Sunny’s father who had built it, years before the Devastation.
They approached the sloping path, passing the barn and chicken house, where fat reddish-brown hens pecked at grain in the chicken yard. She stopped and pointed at the open meadow below the house, where a couple of dozen Nubian goats and a few fluffy kids grazed. The goats were clever and funny with their long, floppy ears and yellow eyes and an amazing variety of colors and patterns on their hides. “My brother, Dino, will be down there somewhere. He’s been herding goats since he could walk.”
Mutt was watching the goats, too. He no doubt wanted to visit Sandy, Wescara’s collie, but she wouldn’t let him go. He’d only distract Sandy from his guarding duties, which were important, as she remembered all too well from the bite she’d suffered when a pack of wild dogs had attacked ten years ago.
Casey rapped once at the east door of the house and walked in. Nana Sunny poked her head out of the kitchen, then rushed forward, arms open.
“Oh, I am glad you’re home,” Sunny said. “I’ve missed you.” She stepped back after hugging Casey and looked up at Cam. “And you’re Cameron Simmons. I remember you from the solstice feast we had here. And your parents, Nancy and Bill.”
“Call me Cam,” he said, giving Sunny his hand. “I think you met my grandfather, too, when you came to Fort Rodd to teach us about edible wild plants.”
Casey had seen a lot of Michael at Fort Rodd because he was teaching Cam about medicine. He was a doctor and, during the worst of the Devastation, he’d been attacked and beaten by people looking for drugs and had one crippled leg, perhaps the reason he was short-tempered. No, crusty was a better word. Whichever it was, she’d learned he had zero patience for stupidity.
Sunny bustled back into the kitchen, her braid of white hair bouncing on her back. “I’ll make some chicory root coffee. We’ll sit out on the patio. It’s a lovely morning.”
Settled there, with Mutt lying beside her chair, sunlight kissing her face, and protected from the sea breeze by a blackberry hedge separating Wescara from the meadow below, Casey sipped her coffee and listened to Sunny and Cam making small talk about people they both knew. When Sunny had refilled their mugs with more ground chicory and water from the pot simmering on the solar oven, Cam leaned toward her.
“What was the Devastation like for you?” he asked.
“Terrifying!” Sunny said, with no hesitation. Then she smiled. “You’re familiar with the way the world is now, and comfortable with it, I’m sure. How would you feel if it was turned upside down?”
“I guess I’d be terrified, too,” Cam admitted.
“Of course you would,” Sunny said. “It’s been thirty years since the trees took over in 2050. I think it’s the biggest change humans have ever faced. And the biggest challenge because it happened so fast.”
Why had Cam asked about the Devastation? Hadn’t his people in Fort Rodd told him all the stories? Casey shrugged and leaned back. Maybe he was just making more conversation for Nana Sunny. She did like to talk about the old days.
“My grandfather says the trees were getting even with humans for cutting down all the old-growth forests,” Cam said, “though I’m not sure he believes that.”
Sunny shook her head. “Trees aren’t sentient. I must admit that, at first, it seemed as though they knew what they were doing when they began zapping anything metal that touched them. But Richard and I are both biologists and the only logical explanation we could come up with was that they developed an enhanced electrical system as a natural adaptation to the threat of extinction of centuries-old trees.”
Casey blew on her hot coffee. Her cousin, Mayanne, believed the trees were sentient. She even thought they should be worshiped. At least she hadn’t suggested that a goat or a human ought to be sacrificed to them. Not so far, anyway.
“I don’t know if adaptation is the answer,” Cam said. “Organisms usually take hundreds or thousands of years to adapt to new situations.”
“Humans have been cutting down trees far longer than that.” Sunny put her mug on the little wooden table beside her chair. “Seeing trees electrocute people and disable machinery was very frightening. But the worst was young trees sprouting up everywhere that trees had grown thousands of years ago, before humans cut them all down. They grew like wildfire. Nothing could stop them and, within weeks, farms, roads and airports were covered with forests of healthy trees towering over ruined crops and crumbling pavement.”
“What my grandfather and my parents found horrendous,” Cam said, “was that almost all the population starved to death.”
Sunny nodded. “That was terrifying, too, and tragic. The whole world seemed to be suffering a total disaster and we just didn’t know what terrible thing was going to happen next. It was awful to see houses wrecked as trees grew up through the foundations, and vehicles abandoned because the roads were gone. But far worse to know that so many people were dying because they couldn’t get enough food. We nearly died, too. My mother and granny did die.”
“Casey told me the story of the gang attacking Wescara,” Cam said.
“That was hard,” Sunny said. “Life went on being hard, too, because we’d lost all the technology and conveniences we’d taken for granted, those comforts we thought we’d have forever.”
“Cam and I grew up without any of those things, so we don’t miss them.” Casey stretched her arms over her head. “I guess you had a tough time adapting, though.”
Sunny laughed. “No kidding! We used to be able to walk in the door and flip a switch to get light and heat, or music, or the news. I used to wear a device on my wrist that could make phone calls to the other side of the world, or do any of the other things computers were capable of doing. I could drive a car to a grocery store and stock up on all the food we needed. After the Devastation, we had to learn to grow or gather our own food and we had to learn fast or die.”
“Where’s Grandfather Richard?” Casey asked. She was impatient to get moving.
“Clearing trails with Spider, Skipper and Leona. That’s what most people are doing this week. The children are in the schoolroom getting lessons in reading and writing from Mayanne.”
“I was hoping to talk to Leona,” Cam said, “and arrange for lessons for me.”
“She won’t be home until suppertime,” Sunny said. “They took their lunches with them. You could drop by tonight.”
Casey rose. “What about Jim and Mitzi? Do you know if they’re home?” She’d love to swap jokes with her uncle. And, if she were honest, to feel the comfort of his calm confidence. He always knew what to do.
“I saw him go out in the boat this morning, so he’s fishing. He was alone, so Mitzi may be home,” Sunny said. “Is she going to teach Cam about doctoring animals?”
“I hope so,” Cam said. “I want to learn everything I can about healing, whether it concerns people or animals.”
Five minutes later they were on their way back up to Duke Road. “I think my Nana likes you,” Casey said, as they went out through the gate.
“I like her, too. I don’t remember much about the people I met here five years ago.” Cam grinned down at her. “I guess I was paying too much attention to you.”
“Oh, sure! Flattery will get you everything.” It wouldn’t, though, she thought. Casey sighed, but very quietly, so he wouldn’t hear and ask her what was wrong. If she knew what was wrong, she’d do something about it.
Another two minutes and they arrived at the door of Jim’s house, built just behind the pebble beach on the north edge of Campbell Cove.
Cam frowned. “I wouldn’t like to live here. Winter storms would send waves lapping right on the doorstep.”
“You’re on the water at Fort Rodd.” She’d slept in Jim’s house a few times and it was exciting to hear the waves crashing so close to her pillow.
“Not that close. All the buildings are at least four or five meters above sea level.”
The door was opened by a small boy with black hair and lively brown eyes. His face split into a grin and he threw himself at Casey. She hugged him, lifted him up off his feet and swung him around. “Hey, guy! How’s it going?”
“Mom!” he yelled into the house, “Casey’s here!” He turned to Cam. “Who’s this?”
“His name is Cam and he’s going to be here studying healing for the next six months.” He was going to be here forever, but they had decided not to announce their partnership just yet. Casey turned to Cam. “This is my cousin Cricket and he just turned seven. How come you’re not at school, guy?”
Mitzi, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail, appeared at the door. “Come on in. Cricket is on his way to school right this minute. Aren’t you, young man?”
“Aw, Mom, but Casey’s here.”
“And she’s not going away again, so you can see her any time you like. Except when you’re supposed to be in school.”
Cricket heaved a long, dramatic sigh.
Mitzi took him by the shoulders and turned him toward the cove and Tower Point. “I wouldn’t be surprised if your Nana Sunny has a honey scone for you.”
His face brightened again and he took off, running along the edge of the cove, heading for the rocky, tangled shortcut that led up to Wescara.
Mitzi led them into the kitchen. “Nice to see you again, Cam. I remember you from one of the equinox feasts. Would you like some goat milk?”
“We just had coffee at Nana’s,” Casey said. “Cam is here to study healing and he wants to learn about doctoring animals.”
“You picked the right day,” Mitzi said. “I’m on my way up to Luke and Tanya’s to castrate a couple of goat kids. I’d be glad of the help, especially since nothing else has gone right for me this morning.”
“I take it Cricket didn’t want to go to school,” Casey said.
Mitzi shook her head. “He wanted to go with his father. But Jim plans to be out there all day, which is too long for a seven-year-old. So then he decided he didn’t feel well enough to go to school.”
“Where is school?” Cam asked.
“Sorry, I forgot to tell you,” Casey said. “The school room is in my Nana’s house, the opposite end of where we had coffee this morning.”
“Anyway,” Mitzi went on, “it’s taken two hours of psychology to convince my son that he feels fine and that school is a good place to be. So now I can get on with my day.” She took a light jacket off a hook beside the door and picked up a small leather satchel. “I haven’t had any formal training, Cam, but I can teach you the practical aspects.”
“That’s what I need,” he said. “I’ve had textbook training from my grandfather, who is a doctor, and I’ve read all his books. None on veterinary practice, though.”
“There might be one at Wescara,” Casey said. “My grandfather and great-grandfather collected hundreds, maybe thousands, of books during the Devastation. They’re stacked all over the house.”
They walked back up the steep path to Duke Road. “I’ve watched Mitzi do this before,” Casey said, “so I won’t come with you. I’ll see you back at the Croft, Cam.”
Mitzi said, “We all missed you, Casey. It will be good to sit and listen to your stories again.” She turned left and Casey watched until they were out of sight around the bend.
She strolled along the trail, at peace with herself. Mutt ranged ahead, returning to check on her every few minutes. It felt good to be alone. Maybe what ailed her was too much human company over the last six months. At Fort Rodd, she’d taught drumming, for both music and the Morse code they used as communication between settlements. Otherwise, she helped with the everyday tasks of the clan, learned first aid from Doctor Michael and, having fallen for Cam almost at once, spent the rest of her time with him.
She stopped at the gate to The Croft, then changed her mind. “Come on, Mutt, lets go visit Miles.” Being around Miles was almost as good as being with Uncle Jim. She wouldn’t have to think about feeling restless and wonder why exactly she’d suggested postponing the announcement of her engagement to Cam. When Amber Harris shared the news that she was partnering Aldo Karlson, she could have been heard clear to Sooke. That was Amber, though. Casey shrugged. She was nothing like Amber and never would be.