Category: Fiction

An Expected Chill: Full Story Now Available

Back in late October, I began a story here on Litterfall, “An Expected Chill.” Set in the near future in Portland, Oregon, the story played off the oppressive political atmosphere of the time (an atmosphere that obviously remains to this day), as well as some of the housing issues that currently plague my hometown. It wrapped these elements into a future beset with some of the sort of troubles we might expect to see in our lifetimes and placed its characters within this future storm in an effort to see how they might weather it, how it might impact their relationship, and what challenges arise from living in very troubled times.

The story came about as an intended prequel to another story I began writing in the aim of publishing it in a future edition of Into the Ruins. However, as I shifted my attention away from weekly updates of this blog and toward a busy life that was demanding more of my attention, it slipped into the background and stalled. A few weeks back, I picked it up with a vengeance and I’m happy to announce that the finished product has now been published in the Winter 2017 issue of Into the Ruins. If you’re a subscriber to the magazine, your copy should be arriving shortly. If you aren’t, then you can purchase the new issue and my story within either directly from Figuration Press or via Amazon. I think the story turned out well and I hope that you’ll seek it out, give it a read (not to mention the rest of the issue, which is pretty fantastic) and drop me a line to let me know what you thought of “An Expected Chill.” I have a particular interest in feedback as I consider expanding the story that originally sparked “An Expected Chill” into a possible full fledged novel to be released by Figuration Press sometime next year.

So go read, and let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I hope you all are doing well and that you find yourself navigating these tumultuous times with a surprising (or perhaps unsurprising) grace. Take care.

A Moment of Nothing

Needing a walk, he shrugged a heavy flannel button down over his undershirt, then took his winter coat off the rack and added it over the top. He slipped a pen in his pocket—always ready—grabbed his keys and opened the front door to the dark night outside, wet and cold and just past the throes of breaking apart from the freezing rain the day before.

The previous day had started with snow, transitioned into freezing rain in the afternoon, and then held there, the ice building a steady sheen, slickening the world about. It held overnight, despite the warming temperatures, and not until 24 hours after it began did it finally start to break and dissipate and then relent against the pressure of steadily warming rain. Now it was just rain, steady and calming, and only the occasional kaleidoscope of broken ice on the sidewalks, slush lines on the roads.

The neighborhood huddled quiet around him, the sidewalks empty and street lights few and far between. The house’s windows held light, but less than it seemed they should. The holidays kept echoing: Christmas lights still strung and lit here and there, some multi-colored and some white, some tiny and some bulbous, some displays neat and others a garish mess. One blow up Santa, its fan whirring, fought against the competing white noise of steady rain.

He didn’t know where to go and didn’t care, so he walked straight for awhile and then turned and straight and turned and wound his way through the gridded neighborhood. It wasn’t quite the right jacket for the rain, drops falling and soaking in and the coat so slowly growing heavier as he walked, taking in the winter’s runoff. It fell all around—tiny and incessant hollow thumps on the hood of his coat. Its steadiness calmed him, though, and set his mind adrift in the best of ways. His steps echoed the raindrops: one for a hundred, or for thousands, dependent on the area surveyed.

He kept trying to understand the year stretched in front of him, shaded in an outline that shifted every time he tried to comprehend it. The year behind he understood better, even if he knew it would continue to echo across his life for many more years to come. But he couldn’t yet grasp the one in front of him.

An occasional car passed him slow, it’s hissing tires turned to waterwheels in the wet streets. The sidewalk kept greeting him with puddles and ponds: ice and rain, joining forces and becoming one. He stepped around them and in them and sometimes it wasn’t puddles but cracked messes of water and ice, pockets of cold that refused to give way to the warming. He kept leaving the sidewalk for the street, walking its cleaner edge and slowly drifting toward the middle until he felt unknown eyes on him, telling him to get back in place.

Passing under a cluster of thick pine trees, the steady sound of the rain muted back to a whisper. The rain entered the trees and filtered through its branches, coalescing into fatter, clumsier drops that tumbled out of the pine’s needles, landing messy on his shoulders, the hood of his coat, the concrete surrounding him. He stopped, and even as he waited the rain muted more and more, faded, and became almost nothing until he realized it was slowing beyond the trees, too—the clouds were tightening, closing in on themselves, taking a deep breath before deciding what to do next.

Not completely, though. It still rained, he found, as he emerged from beneath the trees, the dark street unwinding before him. It rained light, but it rained, the drops much more few and far between now, small and uncertain. The houses on either side were dark. He didn’t understand what had happened to them, so early in the evening. Where was everyone? What were they planning?

A vacant lot rose on his left, at the top of a sharp slope of muddied grass that flattened out at close to even with his head, a broken fence strung around the lot’s edges. A backhoe waited just beyond. The ground was torn apart, the earth gaping and waiting to be covered. Halfway along the lot’s ragged edge, a cat’s face emerged out of the darkness on the other side of the chain link.

He startled. The face was feet from his, low to the ground, too large. It was sharp, pointed, a cat and not a cat and–

a bobcat.

He stumbled, but stopped. Pushed the hood from his head. The bobcat shifted and the full length of its body came parallel to the fence, so dim in the night’s dark. But a bobcat. He had seen one once before, at a good distance, slipping out of view ahead on a trail. Nothing this close, though.

This one stared at him, calm, and even as he both backed up and moved forward, it paced him along the fence with soft and silent steps, padded feet sure of each placement. They watched each other. It sunk its head low, then high, and brushed its nose soft against the fence. He remembered to breathe. Then he continued to walk, watching the fence ahead to see if it was solid, if it held gaps. He could see none. But he knew it wasn’t solid; it was barely upright and no doubt this creature could leap over it, push through it, get to him if it truly wanted to. Still, he felt little danger, just fascination and a certain nervousness at the surprise of the situation and the small background pressure of his mind turning over what this might mean, what its significance was.

At the edge of the lot, the corner of the next street, the two of them stopped and eyed each other, their breathing now synced. A rumble and hiss rose behind him and he turned in time to see a car passing slowly. A young girl stared at him out the back driver’s side window, illuminating by the passing street light, her eyes widening at the sight of the bobcat waiting at the fence. She put two fingers against the window’s cold glass. In front of her, her father gripped the steering wheel tight, eyes straight ahead even as he turned the car at the corner, head rigid, refusing to look anywhere else, not even where he was going. “Daddy,” the girl mouthed, but he made no indication he heard her and then the car was gone, slanting around the corner and down the street, the father’s head still turned to the right and searching in vain for his pre-turn view.

He stared after the car for a moment and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the bobcat slip backward into the darkness, the vacant lot swallowing the animal’s presence.

He continued on. After another block, the rain ceased falling and the night’s quiet grew. He passed signs for various political candidates from the just-passed election, the corrugated plastic flat and sullen in its January impotence. Take them down, he thought. Was it inertia or laziness that kept them up? Denial? Rage? A wistful hope?

Now he looped back, coming within a few blocks of his apartment. The year past continued to echo and the year coming kept flexing around the edge of his vision, not quite ready to come into focus. Turning a corner, he started down a hill, the sidewalk lined with spindled deciduous trees, leafless in the winter gloom. The one above him held a crow, he noticed—just barely spied in the diffused light of a distant street lamp. He stutter-stepped. He could remember no other time he had seen a crow at night, still or otherwise, and even as he clumsily paused to consider this, the corvid swept down out of the tree and toward the top of his head, dropping fast, and it ruffled his hair as it rose just as fast, swooping into a settled perch the next tree down.

Okay, he thought.

He walked, watching the crow as he approached. The bird stared back at him, just barely an outline against the night sky. As he passed under the next tree’s branches, he forced himself not to look up at the crow, not to look back at him, and soon he felt another rustle as it flew silently past again, a wing brushing the crown of his head.

The second time felt more familiar and so he continued walking, steps heavy on the sidewalk’s slope, the crow’s presence heavy above him. Again he passed the tree, again the bird dove and brushed him, again it settled in the next tree beyond. Twice more it happened before he came to the corner and turned right and then, ten yards on, stopped and turned back to look for his companion.

The bird waited on a sturdy branch halfway up the tree on the corner. A moment after looking at it, the crow dipped its head twice and stretched out one wing and then, after a long beat, the other.

He said nothing. Turning back, he continued on toward his waiting apartment. Above, the clouds made their decision and opened back up, this time wider, and they drenched the world below. The rain pounded against his coat, spattered his jeans, echoed upon the concrete all around him. For a moment, the world was only a cacophony and he knew nothing then except the past half hour—the bobcat and the girl and the crow, the Christmas lights and yard signs, the eerie silence of the street and breaking, melting ice. He could hardly even see the past year then, and the one stretching before him became nothing but an inevitability he couldn’t know, a future knowledge he had no hope of predicting. The rain drowned it all out, and that moment of nothing became the only thing he understood.

Editor’s Addendum: I hope you all will forgive the above creative digression. I intended to write an essay tonight, talking a bit about my New Years resolutions and intentions, and some of my thoughts about the year to come. But, to be honest, I don’t have it all clear in my head yet. And so, as I struggled to start this blog post, I decided instead to take a short walk to see if it could clear my mind. The above is what came out of that. These things did not actually happen to me, of course—though some of the less strange elements and details are indeed taken in part from my  walk—but it feels as though it captures some of my current state of mind. Forgive me the lack of thorough editing, the inevitable indulgences, and the strong possibility the above is all just too damn precious. Despite its flaws, I hope you enjoyed it.

On another note, I’d like to bring everyone’s attention to a few things happening over at Into the Ruins. First of all, I’m running a special on the first three issues of the magazine for anyone who hasn’t yet dived in, knows someone who might be interested, may want to gift an issue or three, or just wants to stock up for whatever crazy reason. All shipping is currently free through the end of January and you can also purchase both the first and second issue for just $23 or the first three for $33. Go here to take advantage of the offers.

Secondly, I just put up a new post on the Into the Ruins blog putting out a new call for letters to the editor for the fourth issue of the magazine. As before, this post comes with a prompt. I want to know what your new year’s resolutions (or just general intentions) are to mitigate the impact of decline and consequence in 2017. There’s more detail in the post itself, so go check it out and add your voice. I’d love to get a good conversation going over there and, as a result, a good conversation going in the letters section of the fourth issue of Into the Ruins.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope it’s started out well for you.

An Expected Chill: Part Two

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a story set in Portland, Oregon in the near future. You can read the first installment here. Also, for those who already read last week’s installment, note the alteration in title. I had a creative change of heart.

It didn’t take long for Linsey to fall into the rhythm of the work, stepping carefully through the tangled squash vines, hunting down their fruit—sometimes visible, sometimes hidden in the tumble of foliage—and cutting their thick stems from the vines. She pushed the plants away from the fruit after each cut, making sure she could see it for its later move out of the field. Taking her time, enjoying the meditation of it, she worked steady through the crop. The variety of the harvest cheered her: Butternut, Delicata, Spaghetti, Carnivale, Sweet Meat, Kabocha, Acorn, and so many more, including experimental varieties. She always struggled to settle on a reasonable number of varieties deep in the winter, when she found herself sorting through the special order seed catalogs from the small companies proliferating throughout the Northwest.

The public’s increasing, almost pathological demand for variety and heirloom revivals didn’t help her. As home gardens and small farms continued to boom, and more municipalities pursued urban farming policies to secure local food supplies, small seed companies focused on regional varieties and those tailored to a wide array of micro-climates began multiplying at a dizzying rate, spread by the technological failures and devastating public backlash against the corporate seed companies. Linsey had found it a blessing and a curse. On one hand, too many new ventures kept coming to market with weak seed that sometimes didn’t breed true, their owners hampered by lack of experience and knowledge. Yet a number of new breeders were pushing deep into genetic localization and increased resiliency to the wild swings in weather becoming more common as the global climate continued to spiral deeper into chaos and unpredictability. As a farmer and someone who, at a basic level, simply loved plants, she found the diversity exciting and always looked forward to long winter afternoons spent combing through seed catalogs and participating in the ritual discovery of new varieties. However, the small nagging always remained in the back of her head: this breakneck search for the next great seed was as much frantic safeguarding against the knife’s edge of too little to eat. Too many massive crop failures had unfolded over the proceeding years. Too many food riots haunted countries across the globe, including America. The last few years, she had been waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Of course, she had learned long ago that ignoring the tasks at hand while waiting for the next dark turn in America’s stumble down the world pecking order was a fool’s game. Too much good work needed to be done and, as she walked through the squash now—clipping and turning, admiring the fruit—the satisfaction of that work settled deep into her, providing some of the limited control over her life she still felt she had these days. Pride settled in, as well—her usual reaction to a good harvest. There was little more satisfying than seeing such an impressive spread of food and sustenance she knew came in large part from her own labor and skill. It made her feel powerful.

Katherine arrived as Linsey moved through the final row of squash, her rusted bike bouncing hard and fast along the pathway, coming in from the south the same as Linsey had earlier. She came to a quick stop, gravel scattering from beneath the bike’s tires. “Hey,” she said, breath heavy as she dismounted the bicycle and let it drop to the ground. Her first day on the job, Linsey had made clear to Katherine she was not to treat any of her tools or other equipment in a similar fashion, or she would risk her wrath and a quick bounce from the Sixth. Katherine told her not to worry, no problem, and she stayed true to that assurance from the first day. Numerous times Linsey had seen Katherine abuse her own belongings, but she always treated others’ with the utmost care. It made little sense to Linsey—her disregard for her own belongings—but sometimes that’s all the sense she could hope to make of Katherine. She loved her to death just the same.

As Linsey quickly clipped her way down the final row, Katherine swapped out her top shirt with her usual farm flannel, ragged and familiar, permanently stained with dirt and plant matter. “So it’s ready,” Katherine said, looking over the sea of squash vines, many of them now ragged and broken thanks to Linsey’s efforts.

“It’s ready,” Linsey said, clipping a final squash and straightening up at the end of the row, turning to appraise her work. “At least, I hope. I’ve got it all clipped.”

Turning back, she saw Katherine stretching and smiling, but with dark eyes that belied her expression. “So now we haul.”

“Now we haul,” Linsey agreed. “Let’s line them up along the edge here,” she said, motioning down at the three foot strip of grass between the squash beds and the gravel path. “Then we can go get the cart from Garrett and start getting them to storage.”

Katherine clapped, short and sharp, her usual enthusiastic start to work. But it felt empty to Linsey, a show of expected behavior rather than genuine enthusiasm.

“Let’s go,” Katherine said.

They went.

— ∞ —

Back and forth they walked, up and down the rows, filling their arms with squash large and small and bringing them to a gentle deposit on the grass by the side of the field. They worked quietly at first and nothing was odd about that. Katherine always worked quietly at first after an initial burst of enthusiasm upon arrival, moving fast and steady as though she wanted to accomplish a good chunk of the task at hand before daring to break the silence with conversation. Linsey never had figured out if it was a matter of ethic, a desire to come across as a good and hard worker, or just a natural internal rhythm of hers that demanded a bout of hard work before words could flow. It was her usual approach, though, so the silence didn’t feel out of the ordinary at first.

Linsey couldn’t help but watch her, though, as she gathered and moved the squash, stepping fast and graceful through the vines, showing an impressive ability to balance multiple large and misshapen fruit in her arms as she moved. Despite her fast work, something felt off with her—an unnecessary rigidness and intensity of focus. Normally, her quiet would not extend to lack of acknowledgment; she would still make the occasional non-leading comment or smile at inadvertent eye contact. But today she worked inside herself, it seemed, eyes often on the ground and not even the most passing of comment uttered.

She wondered if the city’s angry energy was getting to Katherine, too, the same as it had cut her own sleep short that morning. She hoped not; Katherine’s enthusiasm consistently heartened and helped carry her on days she struggled and she hated the thought of her being brought down by the stupidity and destructive lashings out around them.

Shrugging it off—Katherine would talk if she wanted to—she let her mind wander elsewhere as she moved the squash, back and forth, the rhythm of the work again settling into her. It didn’t wander far, though, before finding the familiar rut of the day before, tracing the outpouring of anger and frustration across the city and her own foreboding sense that the life she had so carefully cultivated over the past two years might be dangling above some unexpected cliff, at the mercy of—

“Jesse was there yesterday,” Katherine said.

Bent over and about to pick up a large Sweet Meat squash, Linsey looked up at Katherine, standing a few feet away and holding two Delicatas and staring at her intense, all of her struggling. She looked close to tears; she looked ready to throw the squash; she looked ready to drill herself down into the earth and not emerge for a very long time. For a moment, Linsey felt dumb, her mind working over the words and trying to make sense of them.

Then she understood. “Up north. You mean at the shooting?”

“The fucking murder,” she said, her voice straining, her head nodding.

“He was there?”

“He’s in jail. They won’t release him yet.”

“Shit,” Linsey said. She stepped through the squash, broad leaves hooking and giving against her feet, the vines snapping with only the smallest resistance. “Come here.” She motioned over toward the already-moved squash, the stretch of clear grass. “Come on.” Katherine moved, her head down, still stepping so damn careful. It doesn’t fucking matter, Linsey wanted to say, the squash already done, not important anyway. But she was so careful with the things that weren’t hers. She could never bear to hurt what wasn’t hers to hurt.

She grabbed Katherine, held her tight. The girl—then, anyway; a girl then—slipped her arms around her but didn’t cry. Still held. “Is he okay?” Linsey asked.

“Banged up,” she said, voice still tight, her chin on Linsey’s right shoulder. “I talked to him. Didn’t see him. I don’t know what they’re doing—they’re not releasing him. I want him out. He didn’t . . . he was just there, that’s all.”

“How close?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he see?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he—”

Linsey.” She pulled back, looked at her. “I don’t know.”

Linsey put a hand against the side of her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking past Katherine at the trees beyond, the lightened autumn sky. Turning leaves and green of pine needles. The traced outline of the natural world, always continuing on while the rest of them fought and tumbled in the background. “I’m sorry.”

— ∞ —

Word of the shooting came in confused flashes. No, first it came in the sirens, screaming everywhere. Linsey had been working the Sixth the day before, Katherine taking her usual Wednesday off. She had been in the squash then, too, walking and inspecting it and thinking, with the expected chill that night, that it would finally be ready for harvest the next day. It took her a moment to recognize the sirens, to actually hear them, and then they seemed all around her. Off somewhere else but coming from every direction. A lot of them, at least two different pitches. Police and ambulance for sure.

She didn’t usually hear so many, but otherwise she let it be. Sirens came and went in the city and, besides, she had work to do. They didn’t get too close, and that was good enough for her. No one at Links was injured. Nothing untoward had happened on one of the other holes. She kept inspecting the squash, then began turning a bed in anticipation of planting garlic, the seed in for both the Sixth and their home garden. It was one of her favorite tasks, flipping the beds and turning the soil with her digging fork. She lost herself in it.

It wasn’t until checking in with Garrett at the end of the day that he told her about the rumors flying, the online reports still as yet unverified. A shooting had taken place in the northern section of the city, at least two people dead. Supposedly it was private security hired by Helton that had committed the murders, a forced eviction of squatters that had spiraled out of control. Supposedly protesters hard shown up, a crowd gathering and quickly devolving into shouts and intimidation, a surge against the hired guns. Supposedly they shot indiscriminately; supposedly they were only protecting themselves. The police had arrived to a scene of madness. No one gave them advance notice of the eviction. No one really knew anything, except that the city was beginning to devolve into chaos and protests were breaking out in every quadrant, reports of rioting spreading throughout the city.

Linsey biked home fast at that point, eager to check in with Brett, her eyes sharp for riots. She saw none, but heard chatter and watched other bikers pass her fast, looking intent. Maybe it meant nothing, maybe everything. When she arrived home, he wasn’t there and she called Jack. He knew nothing except that Brett had worked the morning and then left. Cursing his lack of a phone—on board normally, but just wanting to talk with him—she waited. He straggled in hours later, exhausted and amped, his jittery edge telling her all she needed to know even before he spoke. He’d been marching and the police broke it up. He fumed at the murder and told her what he knew, which was little. She didn’t even know if it was murder, though Helton’s behavior had been skirting the edge for months now, them taking more of the law into their own hands with each passing week and every new house and apartment building they bought up, increasing their grip on the city.

“They were arresting people, but I kept ahead,” he said.

She stared at him, thinking so much. “I wish you had been here when I got home,” she said.

He watched her. “I couldn’t stay here, Linsey.”

“You couldn’t stay here for me?”

“I had to go out there. It wasn’t about you.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I figure.”

His face told her he didn’t think she was being fair. She didn’t know if she was or not, and the conversation devolved from there into frustration, into fear, until finally she just lay down and closed her eyes and gave up trying to put it all together in a way that made sense—him piecing together a meal in the kitchen and her waiting for him to come to her and for them to try again.

Want to read the rest of the story? Learn more here.

An Expected Chill: Part One

Editor’s Note: One of my intents with this blog has been to explore my own writing, including through works of deindustrial science fiction. For the past couple months, I have been mulling a particular near-future scenario based here in Portland, Oregon, with plans to include an eventual story set in this future in a coming issue of Into the Ruins. As I continue to work on that story, this vignette reared its head. It features the same characters as my coming tale, “No Home Without,” but is set about a year earlier in their lives, setting the stage for some of the turmoil to come.

I still plan to return to the “Closed System Economics” posts, but am not yet sure exactly which week that will be. The continuation of the story below will likely fill the next couple weeks here on Litterfall, though I always maintain the right to change my mind.

I hope you all enjoy.

Linsey woke hard into darkness. Lying on her back, she blinked up at the just visible ceiling, then shifted her attention to the soft outline of their bedroom window. Early. She guessed 5:30—earlier than she normally woke. Brett slept next to her, curled on his side and breathing easy and rhythmic, unperturbed by her sudden consciousness. Listening to him, she thought a moment about trying to return to sleep—join him in oblivion—but knew it was no use. The events from the day before already tugged at her, threatened to set her mind moving in directions she didn’t need. So, pushing back the covers, she slipped out of bed and moved soft through the room, quiet but not too quiet. Brett slept deep most of the time. She rarely woke him.

An expected chill pervaded the apartment, and she grabbed a pair of thick wool socks from one of the open drawers of their dresser as she passed. She put them on in the bathroom, along with a heavy robe, and then shuffled into the kitchen for her morning ritual: a small cup of coffee, not too weak but not strong, made from a small scoop of their precious grounds; a piece of bacon fried in a cast iron skillet, followed by two eggs and pan-fried toast; a small glass of goat milk. She had her routine down perfect. She finished the pour over coffee just as she pulled the eggs and toast from the skillet, sliding them onto her plate, taking it all to their small dining table.

Not even six yet, she sat relishing her first sips of coffee, and then cut into her eggs while reflecting on her early awakening. She would have liked it to be the cold morning or her anticipation for the day’s harvest, but knew neither of those things had awoken her. No, it came from the death and unrest the day before, and from the sickening anticipation of what might be to come. The city had started to break yesterday, frustrations pouring into the streets. She worried that flood would continue and start tearing apart her community and the modest life Brett and she had made over the past few years. She wanted to help piece it all back together, but knew she had no domain over the situation. It would run its course regardless.

Her small comfort that morning lay in thoughts of her winter squash crop and the wealth it represented. With the chill from the night before, the frost out on the grass, she felt certain it would be waiting for her this morning, touched finally by sweetness and ready for harvest. She didn’t know what else might be waiting, though, and that worried her.

— ∞ —

A half hour later, breakfast eaten and dishes washed, she knelt by the bed and snaked her arms around Brett, still sleeping, breaths still so heavy. He stirred as she kissed him on the cheek, then at the corner of his eye, and he smiled as he opened to the sight of her. “Hi,” he said, sleepy.

“Hi,” she said back.

“It’s early.”

“Yeah. Sorry, I wanted to say goodbye.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. He put a hand on her back, pressing light. “Squash today?”

“I think so. I’ll see how it feels, but it’s cold out there.” She hesitated. “You?”

“I’m gonna clear that bed for the garlic.” Now he hesitated, watching her, each of them listening to their unspoken words. “Jack said he may need help with the solar heater, the plumbing for it. I’ll check in with him. It’d be good to learn.” This dance—it made her sick, worry on top of apprehension, the layers suffocating her. “You have Katherine today?” he asked.

“She’ll be there,” Linsey said, adjusting herself back to see him better, bring his guarded face into better focus.

“Okay. I can come by and help get the squash in if you want.”

He glanced down a moment, away from her—somewhere else. “We can get it done,” she said. “Katherine’s fast—she’s a damn workhorse.” She paused. “You should go learn plumbing.”

He stared at her a moment—blinking slow, then touching the back of her neck, resting his hand there—and she thought of their conversation last night, of the people flooding into the streets. It amped him, she knew, made him want to burn. Made him want the struggle, which scared the hell out of her. “What do you think’s going to happen today?” he asked.

She sighed. “I don’t know, babe. I don’t know if I want to know. I just want to harvest and feel rich.”

He smiled at that. “Me, too.”

“You want that?”

“I want it for you.”

His hand felt hot on her neck. “You don’t want it for us?” she asked. “You want something else?”

He shook his head, and the silence stretched a moment while he stared lost at her. “I don’t believe you,” she said. “You always want something else.”

Pulling his hand away, taking a deep breath—she knew too well the ways he fell into himself, all the fights he fought in his head without her. He looked at the ceiling for a moment, then back at her. “I just want the world okay for us,” he said. “I . . . just want to do what’s right.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Well, I think gardening and plumbing and bringing in the squash is what’s right. It’s what needs to be done—for us, for other people, for this stupid city that’s trying to tear itself apart. That’s what we have to do, you know. We don’t get to throw our lives aside every time people get crazy. And we don’t have to tear ourselves apart just because they are.”

“I know,” he lied, looking away from her.

Silence again while she struggled to know what to say—how to close their divide before she left. But there was no reason she would know it any better now than she had in the past. She stood, bent down and kissed him quick. “Eat a good breakfast. Work. And just . . . ignore the bullshit outside, okay? I’m not saying forever, but . . . I can’t, okay? I just want you here for dinner. I want you to tell me about plumbing, and I want to tell you about squash, and I want us to have this place, okay? Have each other.” She hated her voice then, but knew nothing else to do.

“I know,” he said, watching her with so much he wouldn’t say. “Okay.”

“Fuck.” She stared at him. “I love you, and I wish you would—”

not be stupid.

“I know,” he said, sliding his hand over her calf, his tone an apology.

So often able to read her mind.

— ∞ —

Normally she would bike to the Sixth, but that morning she walked. She wanted the cold air and its clarity, to see where the frost was and wasn’t. She also wanted to listen and look and see if anything was yet happening in the city, or if the tension was still building behind closed doors and out of sight. Maybe more than all that, she wanted the rhythm of the walk and the way it allowed her to think, though her parting conversation left her doubtful of the utility of such time. Helpful thinking too often turned to harmful dwelling and she was already too at risk of that.

Pulling her heavy work coat tight around her, she walked at a brisk pace, eager for the warmth it would bring. The neighborhood spread quiet around her, the sky above still dark and only just starting to lighten, the stars beginning their fade into daylight banishment. Thanks to the city’s budget cuts, only the occasional street light burned. She walked in shadow and dark far more often than not. It made her somewhat nervous, but she still liked it—some small reminiscence of her times lived in rural areas. Plus, she wanted this small stretch of dark before twilight broke it into a new day. She wanted this moment of quiet and calm.

A number of houses were dark with slumber as she passed them. But a number of windows were lit, and she wondered in particular about the covered ones, about what was happening within. Were they making plans, plotting their anger? Or just getting ready for work as she had been shortly ago? Maybe eating breakfast and nothing more.

Doesn’t matter anyway, she thought. I’ve got my own crops to tend.

— ∞ —

The sun broke across the sky as she arrived at the Sixth, its orange glow heavy behind the tree line, altering the world’s colors. She approached her plot from the south, along a small gravel road—or more a path, really, not that much wider than the golf carts that used to run it. Her work spread out in front of her, an overgrown and in many places ragged tangle of a vegetable plot, nearly an acre, spread with a wide array of vegetables and herbs, perennials, bordered by young fruit trees, many of the plants already harvested and left broken apart on the ground, but a good number of fall and winter crops yet to provide meals across the city. She winced a little at the mess of it, admonishing herself for not being tidier, not having it as clean and presentable as, say, the Council might like. But then, the purpose of it was to feed people and make a living, not to beautify the city under the shallowest of definitions. The sheer amount of good food resting here was beauty enough.

She allowed an initial survey of the plants—a small, ritual refamiliarizing that settled her without fail—before making the trek to the Clubhouse to pick up supplies, check in and make her presence official. Garrett waited there as always, nodded, dutifully logged her and her supplies: clippers, gloves, two hori-horis, a couple hand hoes. They chatted for a few moments—skirting around the clashes from the day before, too aware of the complex conflicts of interest littered across the former golf course. The subject felt too fraught for such an early morning interaction; might as well play safe. She did ask him, though, if there had been any trouble the night before—a concern of hers.

“Nope,” he said, voice slow as always. “Or if so, they did it quiet and low key. No one’s complained yet.”

“How many are here?”

He smiled. “Just you.”

“Really? Not even Nikki?”

“Haven’t seen her.”

“You take a walk this morning?”

“Of course,” he said, shooting her a look. “I always do.”

“Sorry, I know. I just mean—it look okay?”

“Yep, sure does. I guess I’ll hear about it if it’s not, though.”

“I’m sure you will,” Linsey said, then gave him her goodbye as she headed back for her plot, carrying her basket of supplies, suddenly wanting to take a closer look just to be sure. In the first few years Links had been active, no one had yet to engage in any significant vandalism of any of the plots, despite the acrimony over the decision to transition the golf course. Even the early going had been bumpy but successful, the controversy giving way to glowing media accounts and a thriving, twice-weekly on-site market. Garret, a wealth of cameras, and a part time security guard turned out to be enough to patrol and keep stable the relatively open stretch of land within the city. Occasional thefts happened and kids sometimes acted their age—stomped a pumpkin, splattered a neighbor’s door with stolen tomatoes—but there seemed a surprising level of respect and pride for the farm throughout the city. Of course, the stiff penalties for damaging city property didn’t hurt and these days, as well, not many people looked askance at a solid source of food within city limits.

Still, the unrest the day before had been the worst to roil the city since Links had been christened and respect for city property hadn’t been particularly high the day before. She would hope that wouldn’t extend to urban farmers and the land they leased, but who was to say? Some thought they were too tied to the Council, too buddy-buddy with the people in ever-more-tentative power. She would have enjoyed a long, clarifying conversation with such people, though they would be even more distrustful of her than any of the other Links farmers.

On return to her plot and a slow walk through it—needed, anyway, so she could categorize and prioritize tasks—she found her worries unfounded. The crops appeared as healthy as the day before, aside from those the light frost had left bowed and blackened. The basil was officially finished, tomatoes gone, her already-faded summer crops finished off for good. She expected it, of course, and it was really the squash she gave the closest look to. And indeed, as hoped for, it appeared ready for harvest, with the slightest of small discolorations on the skin, the flesh inside undoubtedly sweetened by the touch of frost. It would be a good harvest. Now she just had to pull in the few thousand pounds of fruit that awaited her. She would need to check out a cart from Garrett.

Pulling her pocket watch, she saw that she had a good hour before Katherine would arrive. Taking a pair of clippers from the supply basket, she got to work, pushing aside her worries and wondering what the brightening day would bring: hoping for simple harvest but suspecting worse.

Continue reading An Expected Chill: Part Two  -or-  Want to read the full story? Learn more here.

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