ATC Chapter 4: Rebecca
Rebecca was hot from all the climbing of stairs as she climbed up to the 4th floor that held the operating room. Under her starched white uniform, she still had on her thermal undergarments that lent her warmth when she made the mile long trek from her family’s compound near the crest of the hill to the hospital on the slope below.
They hadn’t had snow yet this year, but that only made the dampness even more penetrating. Already there had been reports of several of the farm workers becoming disoriented and wandering off into the scrub-lands to disappear. No doubt next springs foraging parties would find their corpses, or at least the remnants of the clothes they wore – whatever the wild animals left behind. It was the most dangerous aspect of their environment, the hypothermia. You couldn’t see it and by the time it began to affect your thinking you were already delusional. The end came inexorably for most of those that wandered off into the woods; their remains were most often found less than a quarter of a mile from where they had started, but their tracks showed how they’d walked in circles for hours, until confusion and exhaustion dropped them in their tracks.
For travelers, the challenge was even greater. When they got lost and disoriented in the mountains, every dirt road intersection looked like the rest and it was all too easy to become hopelessly lost in the maze of old logging roads that crisscrossed these hills. Inexperienced townsfolk would invariably try to descend following the streams and rivulets that carved their course through the thick foliage. Down in the valleys is where they would think that they would find people. Instead, they discovered that the ravines were cold, damp, and blocked by thickets of Devil’s Club a poisonous thorny bush that carpeted these dank corridors. Most of those that descended into these dank and treacherous gullies never returned.
Rebecca knew enough about the dangers of the woods and unlike her younger brother, Martin, she had no desire to wander about in those trackless wastes. Long ago she had decided that the tangled thickets that surrounded Harborton were best to be appreciated from afar. Not only were these wild lands nearly impenetrable, but they also harbored a rich variety of dangers. Though most of the refugee hordes had long since been chased off or had succumbed to the elements, it was not unheard of to hear of small groups of survivors that scavenged a rude existence just beyond the carefully guarded farms lands around Harborton. Many years ago a stout brushwood fence had been erected all along the perimeter to keep out the elk and deer that liked to graze in the croplands, but it also served to discourage the marauders who knew that it was monitored daily and that breaches were soon followed by armed searches of the nearby forests. Anyone found in the vicinity were captured and imprisoned as dangerous marauders, but usually the sorties only brought back bodies.
But there were those few that did venture out past the sentries and Martin was one of those. Ostensibly it was his role as the assistant to the pharmacologist that allowed him access to the uncontrolled forests, since it was his job to bring back the fungi, the herbs and the sundry animal parts that were used to concoct the herbal remedies his father mixed. In theory, no one was allowed beyond the confines of the brushwood fences, but then again everyone had need of Martin and his father’s tinctures and cures sometime. So that was why Martin was given informal leave to explore the impenetrable forest as he saw fit.
Rebecca also benefited from his excursions, as he would regularly drop by her office to deliver a bouquet of willow roots, and thimbleberries, nettles and salmonberries – not to mention the badger fat that stank up the office until she could store it in the basement. These plants were very important in her healing work that she performed in the old hospital. The doctors still maintained that it was the power of the ancient machines that kept their patients alive, but if truth were told it was often due to the ministrations of Rebecca that they stayed alive and usually learned to cope with their infirmities. The doctors scoffed at Rebecca’s cures, but in the end they all came sneaking by to cadge some Salmonberry to cure their diarrhea or a dab of duck fat to use as a salve for aching muscles.
The doctors were less than thrilled by this intrusion of folk-medicine , as they tried to treat the growing population of (xxxxxxx) infoim and aging as summarily killed since it was strictly illegal to venture out beyond the Made from the long branches of the thorny hawthorn tree, the tough ironwood shrubs, or the ubiquitous scotch broom that plagued the farmers this barrier served to keep most of the wild animals out of the city’s intensively cultivated farm belt that lay in a large semi-circle around the city.