Mist saturated the forest and blurred the sights and sounds so that it seemed that Martin’s world had contracted into a small sphere of visible space. Underfoot, the ground was moist and cushiony. The myriad confier boughs overlapped one another until the eye grew tired of discerning where one branch ended and another began. Shapes grew vague and the colors coalesced into a patina of muted browns and greens that darkened and finally disappeared amongst the distant trees.
It was quiet in the woods. Occasionally birds chirped in the tree-tops and every so often a squirrel would take fright and scramble up a tree scolding Martin vigorously for his audacity to penetrate this wilderness. Martin enjoyed this solitude away from throngs, away from the urgency, away from the insoluble problems, away from the regimentation of life in Starkton.
It had been raining most of the morning as he trudged out from the city. Slowly but surely he had been making his way along the heavily wooded ridgeline heading north from Starkton. Martin was one of the few people that ever ventured into these woods. Even after almost century when the city drew up its defenses to repel all outsiders, few people ventured forth from the city.
Certainly, there were some that had to leave the relative safety of Starkton to keep the water flowing, to repair the constantly breaking energy lines, and some even ventured up and down the river in small boats to trade with neighboring communities up and down the river. For decades after the great Cataclysm people had been hoping to hear from other communities, waiting patiently to restring the tenuous threads that would lead to a rebirth of the proud nation nation that had effectively vanished with the infrastructure and technology that born its weight. Small groups of survivors had been detected along the lower Columbia, but most were too traumatized by the plagues and the extermination campaigns that had followed to allow any form of contact with outsiders. No word had come over the decrepid infrastructure – from anywhere.
Not since the calamitous years years following the Cataclysm, when hordes of desparate refugees swarmed the Willamette Valley had any bands of people come north. It was said that the Jacksonville partisans had long since destroyed the freeway through the Siskyou mountains and preyed on any unfortunate that strayed into their feifdoms. And from the north beyond the Cowlitz River no trace of civilization had been detected – not that anyone had been too thorough in those early years. Making “contact” was no longer a joyous occaision. Usually, it meant the return of a scouting party that has sustained losses when fearful “hermiters” attacked from the encroaching forests that grew right up to the river banks. Occaisionally it meant the retrieval of a pitious band of survivors that were so traumatized by re-assimilation into the city that they soon fled back into the wilds.
And away from the rivers, the penetration was all but non-existent. Here the most gruesome acts of barbarism had occured during the Refugee wars, culminating in the poisoning of huge swathes of the Tualatin valley, once a fertile valley abutting the city, but now reduced to a thick alder jungle apparently devoid of all apparent life. In fact, as had recently been determined when a group of engineers ventured forth to retrieve salvage goods beyond the Tualatin hills, it was not entirely desolate. Following an old route down into the valley they had been forced to detour around several large beaver ponds that now occuppied some parts of the lowlands. While passing single-file though a particulary boggy portion surrounded by a maze of decaying aldersthey suddenly came under attack on all sides. The lead engineer was felled before he knew what hit him, and the forest around them produced a haze of arrows that struck down three more engineers. Quickly the team established defensive positions and began to return file with their rifles, but by that time the illusive attackers had vanished before anyone even got a good glimpse at the shadowy figures flitting between the trees. Two men had died from that attack, and all further efforts to salvage beyond the perimeter of controlled lands was discontinued.
Even before the most recent incident , few people were comfortable entering into the great forest that lay like an impenetrable ocean between Starkton and whatever other human settlements still operated along the western coast of this nearly feral continent.
Martin was one of the very few who had penetrated into the endless tracts of forest that surrounded the city, but even he stayed close to the paths that his father had shown him. As a healer it was unavoidable that he would have to venture into the hills from time to time, to gather the precious herbs, to collect the ingredients for his ointments and salves. From his father he had learned the half concealed pathways carved into the forest centuries ago and now maintained by the constant animal traffic through the forest. No one knew the purpose of these trails any more. But occaisionally Martin came across signs that these overgrown tracks were more than a coincidence or merely the result of the endless passing of elk and deer herds. Once he had found an iron gate and on another excursion he had uncovered the metal carapace for some forgotten machine buried amongst the giant ferns. But if these paths had ever held some purpose for his distant ancestors, today these muddy tracks seemed to serve only a four-footed clientele that methodically retraced the routes deviating only when fallen trees and mudslides reshaped the forest floor.
Pausing now, at the crest of a drop-off that afforded him a clear view down to the Columbia River, he recalled his early excursions accompanying his father, and how his mother had fretted over the dangers to which her “baby boy” would be subjected as they penetrated the forests that encircled Starkton. But she knew he had to go, to learn from his father the hidden wisdom that had been passed down through the family for more than four generations. Dangerous as it might be , martin would have to learn the plants, the animals and even the soils that would later form the basis of his healer’s knowledge.
Once long ago “doctors” had worked with wonderous machines, but after the great Cataclysm these machines had rusted and fallen into disrepair. And the doctors had desparately sought other means to stem the tide of pain and early death. Some had tried in vain to keep the machines running, but in the end they too succumbed leaving only the charlatans to preach the benefits of expensive but largely ineffective techno-meds. Many others turned to mysticism and saw the hand of God, or other divine powers as the root cause of all phyical failings. They drew many converts to their temples, but none were spared the pain and misery of life’s declining years. But there were others that had sought for remedies and palliatives amongst nature’s great diversity. Martin’s great-great grandfather, Sylvanus, had been one of the foremost healers of his day. A man with no medical training before the Cataclysm, he had researched the ancient histories to identify many plant varieties that could bring relief to the sick and dying, and in fewer cases he was even able to reverse the progress of the illness until they were cured. Few of the mystics or the techno-healers could match that record, so he quickly developed a significant following. His son, and then his grandson had learned the plant and animal lore that was essential to carry on Sylvanus’ work. Each had added to the list and refined the recipes for preparing these concoctions. The grandson, Martin’s father, had spent the last 5 years teaching him about the secrets of the forest. But increasingly over the last two years arthritis had afflicted the older man so that finally the burden of gathering the needed plants had fallen entirely on Martin’s shoulders.
For the last two months Martin had begun to make the regular trips into the forest entirely by himself. Martin, remembered how his father had showed him the intricate routes that threaded through the great sylvan jungle. Each trail they followed led past lonely meadows that were home to specific plants, or bogs whose foul-smelling waters nurtured some vital remedy. Martin remembered how each visit was carefully timed and evaluated according to the moon and the recent weather conditions so that they might be sure to find the plants they sought at the right mement of their development. In the Spring the onion and tuber hunt had led them to the home of the Camas Lilly, past the noxious bogs that held the precious skunk weed, along the shores of the lowland ponds that held large troves of the bulbous Wapato and then into the hills to harvest the rows of purple Foxgloves that clustered high above the river valley. In the Fall, Martin’s father took him deep into the giant conifers where fallen logs could block a man’s progress for a thousand paces in either direction. These mysterious groves were rare and they sheltered unusual plants and animals. Once he thought he saw one of the most feared beasts skulking through the eternal gloom that lay below the towering conifer giants. Hugging the ground, the animal’s broad body seemed to float over the florest floor like a black and white stripped shaggy rug. This was a Wolverine, his father had warned. It was a solitary creature in part because of its notoriously bad temper. Disturb it only at your extreme peril, his father had warned, for it was likely to attack you with such ferocity and tenacity that you would be lucky to survive the attack. Few survived a wolverine attack to tell about it, in part because the Wolverine was know to never let go once its jaws had clamped down upon the unfortunate victim.
It was on these trips late in the Fall, that his father would set the traps to catch the badgers and the beavers that provided the most valuable fats for healing wounds, and alleviating the pain of advancing age. So along with the vast plant knowledge he had accumulated, Martin had also learned about the animals that shared the forest with him. He learned to be especially watchful in the late summer when the irasible black bear was fond of feeding on the yellow salmon-berries. He learned to track the wily black tail deer, and to be especially careful to avoid the powerful cougars that roamed the hills.
This morning Martin set out not with any definite destination in mind, but more intent upon learning about the land itself. Increasingly he wanted to understand the context of his wanderings and what might lay beyond the narrow perimeter that he had been introduced to. And so he found himself not particularly knowing where he was going, but at the same time understanding that there was something out there that he needed to find.
All morning he had been coping with frequent bouts of rain and an increasingly boggy forest floor that made traversing in and out of the many ravines and creek beds difficult. Everywhere vine maple spread its tough branches forming an almost impenetrable barrier along the bottoms of these ravines. Devils Club grew in great swaths across the slope forcing Martin to side step this poisonous plant with its heavily barbed stem and leaves. Huge trees lay across his path often forcing him to detour around them. But slowly he made progress and began to penetrate more deeply into the forest than any places his father had ever shown him.
As he stood at the edge of the forest. Through the gloom and he noticed a tree partially stripped of its bark. This, in and of itself, was not unusual. Deer often rubbed their antlers against the trees to remove the fuzz that grew on them. But even as he was about to dismiss the scarring, he saw that the edges were neatly cut, not worn away by antlers. No dear had made these marks. It looked almost as if the cuts were made by a knife. How could this be? There was no one out here. No one had ever reported any human habitation in the forests around Starkton – and for good reason!
As he stared at the freshly stripped bark, he recalled the histories of the great battles that followed the Cataclysm and about the heroic efforts of the last civilized city dwellers to ward off the attacks from the brutal mountain folk. It had been a merciless struggle between the beseiged citydwellers and hordes of dispossessed. But in the end all of the forest dwellers had been eradicated and the forest was left empty, except for the game that Starkton’s hunting parties regularly harvested.
When all this had occurred over 100 years ago but still Pistorius and the horror of those savage days was fresh and the memories of the people that live in stark. He could remember his father recounting the stories that he had heard from his grandfather about the patrols that went out into the forest and never returned. He remebered the stories abput the legions of starving half crazed people that surged into Starkton. can seasoning how is this killing people and setting: neighborhood’s on fire in Amman at crazed rush to obtain whatever food or resources they could acquire. They said there was no central leader to guide it this board this plague of dispossessed the rampage into the North will have a valley it was scum comb it was spontaneous combustion of the fast social scale it turned the land into a horrific conflagration. Order had broken down almost immediately they said is panicked residents to start can flag in all directions and close behind the right bands marauders followed 901 hand porch and the other looking balefully at those that had something which they did not. In the end his father told him the leaders of the city had banded together and choosing one among them had given him power to organize the defense.
According to the story he had heard from his grandfather, they had chosen Drucellas, a decisive and vigorous man who had been a policeman before the collapse of the nation. Drucellas proved to be a competent leader. He quickly organized the people of Starkton into efficient squadrons of defensive militias. A man of limited subtlety, but if a man’s purpose and energy. He was everywhere during the great attack. Cajoling dispirited citizens here, restraining angry defenders there, he wrestled good defenses of the town into a cohesive bulwark against the invading hordes. Everywhere he went to, he sought out the young and the able enlisting them into a special fighting unit that will take the battle to the enemy. Even as the lines were being fortified and specially armored redoubts were established at regular intervals, he rallied the defenders to harass the disorganized, but desperate mob that sought to penetrate into their midst. With his select band of soldiers, he launched frequent raids into the no man’s land that lay beyond the hastily erected as barricades. Drucellas was a man who understood how to organize people behind the cause. He was not a complicated man. Simply one who had a mission and intended to get it done, for if he didn’t he knew they would not survive for long. And then slipping over the barricades. He and his irregular defenders, struck into the midst of the murderous mob that lay encamped all around . With premeditated brutality his band attacked the ragged camps of the desperate refugees. They took no prisoners, but instead tried to kill all the able-bodied men, and even many of the women. They burned the houses is outside the perimeter to create an open space beyond their defensive lines. Where are they could, they destroyed the infrastructure that could support a large population of humans. In short they made it clear that they wish to know other people to exists near Starkton.
It was a bitter fight because the refugees had nowhere else to go. The bridges across the Columbia River had fallen during the insurrections that followed the great collapse and so the great southern migration had nowhere else to go. It was hard for Martin to understand what had transpired in those dark days, but it seemed that drastic times require even more horrendous solutions. In the end, it seems Drucellas had sent a band of his Raiders into eastern Oregon to find the remnants of the lethal gases once stored securely in earthen bunkers. It had taken them nearly a month to travel along the broken route that led through the Columbia Gorge, because the highway had collapsed making this direct route all but impassable. In Others into squadrons of fighters to order the older and younger man to build the ramparts now surrounded the city. And he ordered the women to plant food on every vacant lot and tear down the deserted houses and reuse the wood and rock to build for adapts that and now encircled the center of had once been in huge sprawling metropolis. It was he who insisted that they drop the original name of the city because he said it was important to build a new city out of the ashes of the old. Nothing would speed the same nothing should remind us of what had been from here on out he had told they were to look forward to begin a Herculean task of are you building. It would never be a copy of what had been. This was no restoration this was no attempt to achieve a previous heights that civilization and its scale. No this was a new beginning a Holmdel start in the midst of broken concrete and shattered lives for that he had told them they needed a new name to mark the start of a new era and he would lead to into it if they would give him their allegiance completely and without reservation. Following the mind numbing savagery of the EE who that it: the world of people who start to have a left at this chance to carve a small corner of sanity duo was down a dysfunctional world in which K. nature had gone haywire mended condos are and nothing on us as it had been even as the memories of the prior achievements made it from one generation to the next.
When the leader that the citizens of start can have an honest man a brave and resourceful leader who strove to create security and to adjust poor old and no longer provided to a second chance there was no margin of error in this world there was no carefree creativity only in mind numbing reality that overwhelming need to poverty growing ignorance was fueling a race to the bottom and he drucellas would do his best to keep start to from sliding down that long slippery slope into a barber or barbarism strife and possibly even extinction. But the price that he demanded was an unforgiving uncompromising loyalty that stripped the community of many of its diverse opinions. He would not tolerate the objections of the criticisms of petty and sincere that arose soon after cohorts have been driven off. Not willing to rest upon his laurels he drove mercilessly forward building defenses reorganizing the resources that kept start to live assigning people to key functions and stripping away all but the most essential functions that the community needed. No longer was the time to teach school no longer was their time to keep up parks alive no longer could they tend to PHH who had no youngsters to protect them no longer could take tea he and tend to the seriously ill qualities members of the community suffer and die to invest numbers.