April 4, 2017

Fiction by Raymond Greiner: "Peace Pilgrims"

Raymond Greiner's writings include short stories and essays published frequently in various literary journals and magazines:  Branches magazine, La Joie Journal, Literary Yard Journal, Nib Magazine, Canary Literary Journal, Bellesprit Magazine, Freedom Journal, Grace Notes Literary Magazine. His latest book, "Queenie; a novella" is available on Amazon. Raymond lives in a remote area of southern Indiana in a cabin far off a lightly traveled road with his two dogs Orion and Venus.  

Peace Pilgrims

Over one hundred years has passed since global atomic warfare erupted exceeding predictable magnitude of death and destruction. Prior to this catastrophic event technology centered civil functions fused to every facet of daily life. The meld of technology with military weaponry was especially notable among wealthy industrialized countries trending toward acquisition of stockpiles of atomic devices, and this endeavor transformed into a self-mutating dynamic. Powerful nuclear-armed countries imposed diplomatic intervention to prevent lesser countries from developing these lethal weapons, which would weaken their dominant presence and ability to control using war threats and intimidation. Eventually, less powerful countries obtained nuclear weaponry, and global distribution expanded into thousands of devices prompting political saber rattling and threats of war revealing the tangle of opposition ideologies.   
The Achilles heel was long-range atomic missiles were activated using cyber codes, and regardless of efforts applied to block access these codes became increasingly vulnerable as hackers gained proficiency to extract activation codes. This exponentially foisted conditions for unprovoked random atomic attacks.  
As modern living design moved forward it failed to recognize civil errors, as it engaged in ubiquitous societal missteps, the foremost being acts of war. Large-scale warfare manifested and intensified during the Bronze Age when weaponry development advanced, and became attached to this era’s civil format. Massive military formations and invasions of adjacent geographic zones is a relatively new event on the human timeline, and the genesis of this activity appeared when we identified ourselves as becoming a civilized species during the historic Mesopotamian era. Sumer formed the first mass army and invaded Elam, which represented the cardinal activation of large-scale warfare and advanced from this historic aggressive act.
Progression of war became a social fixture imposing its wrath of death and destruction. Powerful industrialized countries like the United States, Russia and China applied extensive efforts to increase military presence setting a stage of speculation to become the most predictable to activate multiple atomic devices.
Activation of this lethal trigger was unrelated to size of country. An obscure country, inundated with hate driven splinter groups configured an oblique approach to force global atomic warfare.
This small, war oriented, country designed a method using fallacious cyber tactics to feign missile launches displayed on global monitoring devices installed to detect incoming atomic missiles. This aggression driven tactic was activated, and caused major atomic powers to panic in response to these false attacks. This tactic was the mainspring provocation to retaliate and sparked massive uncontrollable nuclear warfare. The Earth became consumed by the most extreme horror, as heavily populated zones were completely destroyed leaving millions dead and environments uninhabitable as major population zones became void of life mired in toxic residuum.
Over the next hundred years the human species slowly gained back a vague outline of recovery but with far fewer inhabitants and many areas remained uninhabitable. Governments and monetary systems collapsed. Cancer deaths increased from radiation exposure and a void of medical facilities. Chaos expanded as civil structure imploded unable to gain significant footing to re-establish, as basic elements to sustain life were destroyed by the nuclear attacks.
The band of survivors were four in number; moving south from what was formally Canada entering a remnant zone, which was previously the United States of America, now a wasteland with an apparent absence of human life. Three brothers and their sister attired in skin clothing carrying packs were trekking south. These siblings represented fourth generation survivors whose grandparents and parents survived the horrid extreme global atomic warfare.
Their great grandparents anticipated catastrophic war and relocated to western Canada in the Canadian Rocky Mountains calculating the remoteness and higher altitude would provide greater potential for survival. These four survivors are fulfilling a dream of their ancestors to rediscover productive and harmonious lives. The goal was to move to a lower latitude allowing improved agricultural opportunities. The Canadian Rockies offered refuge, but created challenge, relying on wild game, high altitude plants, roots and berries unable to grow crops because of altitude, short growing season and poor soil conditions. The southbound sibling migrant’s great grandparents were exceptionally resilient. They discovered a cave to use as a dwelling and organized their relocation in a fashion to teach offspring’s rudiments of survival techniques. They transported chosen items to sustain life with hope to eventually move south to a more agriculturally amiable climate. This band of siblings represented an outreach to activate this initiative. During the group’s long journey south they shared nightly campfires and discussed their future. Harlan was the oldest, and carried in his pack journals kept by ancestors documenting the demise and causes of modern civilization’s self-destruction. In addition were two brothers, Walter, Jonathan, and their sister Melanie. They carried seeds stored for years in anticipation of this migration. The great grandparents included firearms for their original settlement for hunting game. The four refugees had no firearms. Ammunition was depleted long ago with no manner to resupply, and they reverted to snare traps for small game and pit traps for larger animals.   
Harlan spoke, “I’m pleased with our progress. We’ll remain steadfast on our trek south. The Earth is slowly healing, although one hundred years is a brief period relating to atmospheric and geological changes. As we travel south we’ve observed encouraging signs. Birds are more abundant combined with new forest growth and purified streams. It’s encouraging at this juncture.
“I’m uncertain where we’ll settle. Our great grandparents chose our mountain location offering shelter from atomic attacks they felt certain would come. This geographic choice served as the most important element to our survival. I remember discussions with our parents and grandparents regarding where they’d relocate if the severe atmospheric damage created from the thousands of atomic explosions improved enough to attempt the trek south. The Ozark Mountains were mentioned often, and ideally located with a long growing season and abundant annual rainfall. The Ozarks were isolated geographically from the majority of atomic missile targets, and allowed greater potential for survivors, but it’s speculation. The overall death count was the highest from secondary influences, as most deaths occurred distant from ground zero explosions, and atmospheric pollution proved the prominent widespread cause of death. The toxic stench of extremely polluted air and water combined with nuclear winter created inability to distribute what little food was available. Roaming, armed bands killed survivors in great numbers seizing miniscule advantage, and ultimately these bands succumbed to environmental toxicity, with starvation being the most common cause of death. The spectrum of damage was at its worst in major metropolitan areas, and survivors were nonexistent. These areas will likely remain void of life, and may take hundreds of years for extreme radiation percentages to dissipate returning ability for reestablishment of structured social order.
“Corrupt, greed-oriented governments influenced where our species arrived. War mentality grew from this base and millions of the collective citizenry drifted toward political hype to promote war seeking to purify religious and cultural ideals, which became the prominent mechanism causing annihilation beyond anticipated dimension.”  
Harlan’s brothers were clones of Harlan, tough, smart and agile of mind and body. They trusted and admired Harlan. Harlan’s sister, Melanie, was exceptionally beautiful, and nearly equal in strength and physical ability to her brothers, and the standout in mental sharpness. After their parent’s deaths the decision was made among the siblings to pursue their venture south.
As they fled south skin clothing became uncomfortable. They used remnant roadways as their paths, which were strewn with rusted abandoned vehicles. They passed through towns void of life. Some buildings remained intact and they often slept in abandoned buildings and sometimes culverts under roadways. One town had a clothing store and the migrants exchanged their skin clothing for denim work clothes. No signs of recent human presence causing a haunting sensation.  
The siblings have been on their southbound trek for two months. As they neared the Ozark Mountains abandoned towns became less frequent and in rural areas were farms, but no survivors, with a few farmhouses intact. Rusted farm equipment was strewn about covered with weeds and wild vines.
During an evening campfire Melanie spoke, “It’s disappointing to not find survivors. It’d seem during this long journey we’d find a few survivors. It’s sickening as we observe the decaying residue of a destroyed society.  Buildings and roadways remain, creating an indescribable sadness knowing so many died from actions of their own species.”
Harlan responded, “We’ve read our ancestor’s journals describing circumstances leading to what we’ve observed. Governments were the most negative influence. Leaderships became obsessed with a quest for power to control the populous, and war psychology stimulated societal decay. I feel leaderships failed to recognize atomic warfare’s ability to ensue to such horrendous fruition.
“Ambitious politicians imposed exaggerated campaign promises to gain influence and disregarded the necessity of peaceful unity, which forms the most basic element to allow species longevity.
“It’s apparent the regions we’re transiting were isolated from direct attack; yet, we’ve found no survivors at this juncture. I believe we’ll find survivors, but likely will be few in numbers attached to unique circumstances similar to ours to offer survival conditions. Atmospheric damage appears to be the single largest cause death. These deaths came slowly over years as survivors lingered in the mire of a toxic atmosphere.”   
The siblings were amazing, displaying ability to acquire food and water to continue southbound. The atmosphere healed over time. Water became pure and abundant again. Wild animals and plants recovered, but questions loomed if humanity can replicate this healing.  
As they entered the central Ozark Mountain zone they were overtaken with its beauty, and felt a sense of elation. They were following an old roadway leading to the crest of a ridgeline and suddenly stopped and stared in disbelief. A small house perched on the edge of the forest had smoke coming from its chimney.
Harlan said, “It appears we’re not the only survivors.”
As the band neared the dwelling the door opened and a young man stood in the doorway with a shotgun in his hands.
The young man spoke, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Harlan gave the young man a brief explanation. Then Melanie flashed her heart-melting smile and said, “Don’t be afraid, we’ll not harm you.”
The young man immediately put the shotgun down and responded, “I’ve lived alone since my parents died. I apologize for the weapon. I assumed you were pillagers. I know of no other survivors in this area. I’m surprised to see you. Please come in. I’ll make sassafras tea and we’ll talk.” The young man’s eyes remained fixed on Melanie, she was truly a beautiful young woman.
The small house was in perfect order. The young man looked fit and athletic, his name was James, and described the evolution of his life and circumstance, “My great grandparents and their intelligent analysis of conditions leading to global chaos is the main ingredient allowing my survival from the nuclear holocaust. My great-grandfather was an archeologist and professor at the University of Arkansas. He was an inventive person, and his anticipation of global social disarray stimulated his actions. Here in the Ozark Mountains are many caves and caverns. My great grandparents purchased property, which included an interesting cave. They constructed the cave’s entranceway in the fashion of a bomb shelter. Inside the cave was a natural spring offering a pure water source and they installed a carbon air filtration system at the cave’s entrance. They relocated permanently to the cave a year prior to the vast atomic attacks. They stored bags of rice, and other non-perishable foods, including basic survival equipment. This arrangement increased probability of survival. They remained in the shelter for two years then ventured out for brief intervals during the atmospheric healing process. My grandfather was born in the cave shelter.
“Over time, as conditions improved, my great-grandparents planted a garden and constructed this house using lumber salvaged from abandoned buildings. During this time a few survivors were in the vicinity, and my grandfather married a neighbor woman. My mother was born in this house. She married, and I was born.
“I’ve struggled since my parents died, and the isolation was the most difficult.”
Melanie responded, “It’s like a miracle we found you. Coincidently we also survived in a cave in the Canadian Rockies, and it took great effort. We decided to relocate to a lower latitude to permit food crops.”
James said, “Yes, it’s a miracle. My great grandfather documented progression of social decay through his published papers as a professor at the university. I’ve read his papers describing details of the crisis. He highlighted how his investigative work as an archeologist revealed early hunter-gatherer cultures displayed harmonious social format. The ancients recognized the importance of unity. They were directly connected to Earth, and relied on its natural offerings. They were sparse in number and spread geographically. War mentality had yet to be socially installed. Hunter-gatherers were consumed with survival efforts, and instinctually bonded. We’ve reverted to hunter-gatherers. It’s an opportunity to seek social balance. I’m joyful we established contact, and we’ll proceed as a team. Modern, high tech society felt peace was a fantasy viewing war as innate to human character.  
“You can live in the cave shelter until we’re able to construct your home. Meanwhile we’ll plant crops. I’m growing hemp to be processed into cloth for clothing.”
Harlan said, “We’ve been given a gift, and living in the Ozarks is ideally suited to pursue self sustenance and longevity.”
The migrants were enthralled, and adjusted perfectly to James’s proposal. James was a master gardener, taught by his parents. He had knowledge of soil enrichment using natural compost. He knew when to plant and when to harvest, and also knowledgeable of food preservation methods. The four migrants from the Canadian Rockies were impressed at James’s broad knowledge and quick mind.
One morning, as the team gathered for tea and their morning meal James said, “I’m certain survivors remain in isolated rural zones like the Ozarks. I sense some areas were less victimized with fewer fallout related deaths. It’s impossible to know where survivors are located, but it’s a logical speculation they exist. We’re bound as a communal unit and must pursue our future as a priority.
“During the atomic warfare build up period governments eroded and propensity for war gained momentum. The United States became the most hated country related to its leadership’s lack of respect for other countries and cultures; therefore, formed the most prominent target.”
Melanie was the centerpiece of the team, and served as the primary organizer and assumed food preparation responsibility. Mealtimes offered opportunity for quality interaction and the team looked forward to sharing meals. James was completely smitten by Melanie. She projected warmth, and was pure joy in every manner. Her physical beauty was overwhelming.   
James said, “I’ll read one of my great grandfather’s published papers. This paper describes events and details leading to horrific atomic warfare: ‘Government leaderships were the main impetus. War’s history is laced with dictatorial oriented leaders. The quest for domination and control represents the root of war’s manifestation, historically imposed and identified as empires. In the case of the United States it implemented an empire styled format caused by a particular presidential candidate with poor credentials, who infused hate and anger themes to his aggressive campaign reflecting his personal views, created from racial, ethnic and religious discriminatory agendas. It was surprising the number of Americans who aligned with this approach allowing this candidate to gain US presidential political power. This candidate won the election by a small margin and immediately installed activity toward additional military buildup, although the US already possessed the most powerful military on the planet. This president quickly establish a cabinet filled with military leaders who shared his views as America became an aggressive military state greater than any other in human history. This condition set the stage for global retaliation. This convoluted leader also unnecessarily increased the atomic weaponry stockpile.’
“This is the description my great grandfather wrote of during his final year as a college professor.”
The summer’s work went well, and the team proved worthy. James and Melanie grew closer in an obvious love bond. The brothers also admired and respected James yielding unity in a pattern of the historic hunter-gatherer tribal social order emulating ancient human history.
During mealtime discussion James directed his conversation toward Harlan and his two brothers, “Melanie and I are in love, something I never expected or even thought of previous to your arrival. We want to become partners in life. I’m compelled to inform you of our feelings. What’re your thoughts?”
Harlan said, “Well, James, it’d be impossible for you not to fall in love with Melanie. She’s the engine of our sibling group, the smart one, and nearly equal in physical strength and endurance. My immediate thought is one of envy.”
Walter spoke, “Melanie is the youngest of our family. I feel your bond will enhance our communal effort in an equally beneficial manner. I wish we three could find loving companions. We’ve witnessed the power of love observing our parents and grandparents, with their amazing resiliency and diverse skills.
“It’s predictable we’ll never be given such an opportunity. I share Harlan’s envy. You’ll receive all the support we can muster.”
Jonathan projected his thoughts, “James, it was an astonishing journey to arrive here. The decision was made because of parental influence. They analyzed the Ozarks as an ideal location to migrate. Your skills and guidance emit a sense of divine intervention, and we’re appreciative.”
Melanie’s face lit up with her signature smile and she hugged each brother with tears of joy in her eyes. This was an exceptional group, intensely bonded forming an unforgettable moment.
Over the summer the group constructed a house from salvaged lumber for the brothers. The cave shelter became a communal place where they shared tea and conversation.
These five formed an example. Prior to the nuclear holocaust society was entrapped in close geographic proximities engulfed in falsely perceived comforts afar from simplistic earthly attachments ancient human social designs embraced for such a very long time. Money and its power became godlike, and social separation expanded, as millions living in urban environments were reliant on industrialized agriculture for survival. These condition caused air and water pollution. Heavy applications of agricultural chemicals to seek higher yields damaged soil and killed pollinators limiting crop productivity, a reversal of what was initially perceived as a technological advancement. The entire spectrum of life was pulled downward, and declined further by globally corrupt governments directed to enhance individual leader’s quest for fiscal wealth, at the expense of the populous. Military power expansion was considered necessary promoted as a means of defense, which in truth was a means to seize greater power via threat or conquest.
The group continued their natural Earth bond. Years passed and no survivors appeared. Melanie and James had three children. The brothers functioned as they always had, reliant on each other.
During a communal tea Melanie spoke, “I often wonder what’s happening in the rest of the world. Will cities eventually reappear? Will corrupt government evolve again? Will monetary systems regain negative influence? Is the human species even capable of peaceful coexistence? Our group has proven an embrace of earthly gifts can exceed the power of money attached the old societal structure. Money would be of no value to us, we’re Peace Pilgrims, and our lives are joyful and fulfilling.”

© Raymond Greiner

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