When the Cities Died, I Danced – Fiction by C.C. Brower
A couple of days after the cities died, I was there.
Whether it was appropriate or not, there was no one there to care.
I had things to celebrate and this was my way.
Because I and my family were still alive. And perhaps it was a wake for those who weren’t.
It wasn’t a sad occasion, but joyous.
I made the trip on my recharging electric pedal-bike. Pedal up hills and go as fast as you can down to recharge. Meanwhile, you get a lot of exercise. Fresh air and all that. Some sunshine, but not too much.
There’s so much to take in about what happened.
That was probably another reason I was out there dancing.
It took months to figure out what happened. The common description was the dark times, or Dark Age. Whether people wanted to call it a New Dark Age or Second one, depending on how optimistic they were about our future.
And it was too easy to blame several generations of politicians and what they used to call the “military-industrial complex.” Little of either left around these days.
Another reason to celebrate and count your blessings. And dance.
What some people have pieced together is that hypersonic ICBM’s with multiple warheads launched simultaneously by everyone who had them. They had clusters of neutron bombs that detonated in the atmosphere just above the cities, leaving little destruction, but killing all life.
It stunk for several weeks, but that was about it.
Oh, and any electronics died, too. Forget your “smart houses.” And Internet. Gone in a literal flash.
But only in bigger cities. That’s all they had to hit. When 90% of your people cluster up together in areas that are just a few miles across, they are easy targets.
The bombs were pretty smart, though. They left things standing, untouched. Only the people and their pets and any nearby wildlife were eliminated. The buildings were left untouched.
That first time I danced, I only had to make sure I was upwind.
Nature got hurt, but it continued on.
I don’t know it was really that “dark” an age. It wasn’t like we didn’t have lights. Things got back to a new normal pretty quickly. Because the people who survived the attack were independent. Used to making do on their own. Farmers, mostly. But some “townies” also. So we had people who could run stores and make things and grow food.
That was my reason for dancing. I was thankful. Grateful. To be alive. To have my family. To still enjoy this earth.
We had to quit thinking in certain ways, and re-learn old ones. Craftsmen appeared, those who liked to work with their hands. Because things always get busted and have to be fixed. After the cities died, there was lots to fix. Grow food and trade it for getting your machines running again.
After more than a few years, they got the refineries and the oil-well pumps back online. That took some organizing. Electricity had to come first. And they were thankful that there were still some coal plants with stockpiles sitting there. Meanwhile, using eco-diesel, our local trucks were already rolling again. Some trains, where they could manually change the switches. That brought the cabooses back, as radios were still flaky. Without cities to buy stuff, they didn’t run much.
Rural communities had eco-diesel and could thin down alcohol so it would run in the older “gas” engines. Most of the modern cars sat around, while old pickups kept going. No electronics. They could run on almost anything with a few adjustments. Combines and tractors usually worked once they stripped out the “copyrighted” software and what it controlled. Took some tinkering. But soon the soy and corn could be planted again. And hauled. And processed.
But only if you could do something with it. Oversea shipping was basically dead. All nations were barely making it, let alone importing massive bulk shipments of grain.
Nobody knows when we’ll have big cities like that again. It takes awhile to breed that many people into existence.
And the empty asphalt outside the cities was a beautiful, flat expanse where I could make my steps in freedom. With no audience.
Also, no zombies. No people running around with automatic guns attacking things, shooting holes, and blowing up stuff. We remembered the movies we used to watch. More comedy than fact.
It’s hard enough to live itself. People shooting people made no sense. And bullets got expensive real quick. So you saved them for hunting meat. My dad says the .22 is the most popular rifle now, because it doesn’t blow big holes in whatever you want to eat. Now that might not be true for getting rid of bears and wolves and coyotes. Big stuff you want to keep away from your livestock. Mostly, they did stay away, there was plenty of wildlife with few hunters. Predators came back as well. So guard dogs and other animals were in demand.
Some travelers say the big herds are coming back. But I doubt it. Because all those fences and interstate highways are still there. Well, maybe on all that open farmland where they used to use huge equipment to work up the fields and plant and harvest. That might be possible. Farming’s not worth the cost if you can’t sell the crop to people who need it.
We had our garden, and then made it bigger to help our neighbors, and to trade for other stuff. My dad’s a prepper and so we did OK. And my brother is a geek, so he takes care of anything he can fix. That’s why we have what he calls a “mesh” network these days. Mainly its just sharing files with other local families. Dad calls the most popular site on it a “bulletin board.” It’s almost all text. But the smartphones that still work take good photo’s, even if you can’t call anyone. And Mrs. McCauley used the “mesh” to get help to arrive when she was giving birth. Later she posted pictures of the new little tyke to the “mesh” board.
Brother was even able to contact some city-zens after awhile. More people survived than anyone believed possible. And it wasn’t as bad as rumored in there, either. Took awhile to bury all those that died originally. That wasn’t talked about much. People went back to their job sites and tried to get them running again. If they couldn’t, they’d seal it up against weather (and two-legged varmints, as Granddad used to say.) People took care of other people’s property for them, just in case.
The warehouses became big stores, where you’d ask for something and they’d go to get it for you. They got generators running to recharge the electric lifts, and used the fried ones for parts. The smart ones started small stores where people could leave their stuff on consignment and trade for fresh food that wouldn’t keep. And farmers would haul away the spoiled produce for livestock food or compost.
We learned to waste nothing.
Not that I went to the cities very much at all, except to dance. Concrete high-rises work OK as a backdrop, but hell to live in. All those stairs and dark insides.
Everyone had to have a skill or two or more. Most of our schooling had to change. Reading and writing and doing math got a new priority. Libraries became important for the knowledge they held. We had to learn to search with our fingers and eyes to find what we needed to know. Dewey-decimal knowledge kept the librarians fed. People would always bring them gifts of food, which they would trade for keeping their lights on. Or they’d have their own jobs and open the place on weekends or festival days. They had no problem getting someone to fix their roof leaks or fix their furniture. Some libraries had greenhouses attached so that the librarian could stay open more. Wouldn’t have to go very far if they lived in there.
The roads held together, mostly, for quite a long time. Because there wasn’t much to travel on them. And they were hardly worth breaking up to make back into soil again. It was up to the plants and weather to do their jobs. And that was slow work.
So I had plenty to dance on and not too hard a time getting there.
Yes, I learned to do other things than dance. Grandma used to say, “Looks don’t last, but love does.” And she taught me all she could about the old ways to do things. Some worked, others didn’t. She said as much.
We didn’t have the chemicals to treat things anymore. So we learned to move our garden every year, pasture and feed the animals there, then move back the next year or two. Chickens were great at fixing the soil up. So were geese. Seed-free manure, good fertilizer. And everybody got good at hoeing between the rows.
Some towns near cities became known for their regular festivals where people could meet and swap. Not too far for people to travel either way. Trade was important. Horse-trading became an art and a science. Scammers and fakes wouldn’t come back to festivals again, once they got found out.
Met my Beau at one of these festivals. He and Brother hit it off right away, talking about the old days when geek stuff still worked. Like when you could order things online and they’d show up the next day or two at your house. Beau even drove one of those diesel delivery trucks. It smelled like dough-nuts, fried food.
He wanted more space and less concrete. He had moved out to one of the festival cities and helped get their “mesh” network up with solar-powered gizmo’s he brought out.
We got married and settled down just outside that town, where we could have our own garden and raise food and children.
I take them with me sometimes to go dance. Beau comes, too. He likes to watch. Says his “two left feet” don’t help. Sometimes, I go alone.
You gotta be grateful for what you got, said my Grandma. She said a lot of things.
Things are coming back. Slowly. Maybe we’ll do better this time. Hope so. Those are two things you can’t run out of if you want to keep living. Grateful for what you got and hope for what you could get.
Me, I go and dance when I get too full of one and want more of the other.
Brings me peace. Not that we’re short of that, either.
No politics and no news reporters. Just the “mesh” and its bulletin board.
Well, thanks for listening to me prattle on. Would you look at that, the sun has moved way over there. I’ve got to get some chores done. That time of day, that time of year.
Are you staying for supper? Great.
Maybe I’ll take you over to where I dance tomorrow…
C. C. Brower is writing fiction for Midwest Journal Press.
Also published on Medium.