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.

6 Comments

  1. Ominous. Nice foreshadowing. Somethin’s a’brewin’ in my old home town, and it ain’t just the coffee. :-). Lew

    • Thank you, Lew! As to your comment on the last post I didn’t get around to responding to, yes–the bad habits die hard. I am certainly guilty of getting locked in on a particular view of the world and then drilling too deep into it, becoming myopic. I try to stay aware but don’t always succeed. I had been feeling particularly unsuccessful in recent weeks. Thankful to say, I think I’m breaking out of it a bit.

      I think the above writing helps. It’s nice to break from looking at the current, hard realities of the world and to instead explore fictional but possible futures from a human and emotional perspective more than an analytical one. It’s a definite therapy for me. And with luck, others enjoy it, too!

  2. Joel, this is delicious. I love the buildup, revealed in each character’s characteristics, and the slow movement toward something, as Lew said, ominous. Just lovely.

  3. Really good start or buildup – lots of intriguing things not quite explained that I’d like to know more about. Nice scene-setting,with the re-plotted golf course – sets it far enough into the future for something like that to be realistic. And the differences in the couple’s response to civil unrest – that’s gonna be common, and a real issue for couples, and families… can’t wait to read more!

    • Thanks, Cathy! Yeah, there’s a fair amount going on in the background, some but perhaps not all of which will be revealed. There’s also foreshadowing of the other story I’m working on, set roughly a year later. I do think the question of how people will react to our unfolding challenges is a fairly fascinating subject to explore; there’s a lot of potential storytelling in that!

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