setting the scene
Abandonment has a particular way of adorning public places and infrastructure. It had only been a few months since some of the neighborhoods had been evacuated, and the power and water shut off. In that short time, lawns had gone from green and tidy, to brown and shaggy. Ornamental vines, once limited to specific spaces now aggressively rambled up walls, trees and traffic signs. Depending on the region English ivy, bindweed, kudzu and blackberry brambles began colonizing the open spaces left by humans.
Over time, if humans did not return and bring back their habits of control, plant detritus would fill the streets and pile up against the houses. Within this flotsam, life from various phyla of the animal kingdom as well as others would make homes and meals. Rotting into mush, becoming soil, becoming the birthplace of more plants and creatures and so on until the hard, geometric edges of human occupation were softened, blurred, erased.
setting the global scene
After years of ignoring the science of global warming for politics and capitalism, the United States finally got hit with a disastrous drought situation from California and into Oregon, as well as across the midwest. A centenarian or two might draw on their history lessons to make comparisons to the dust bowl days of the 1930s, but that was far too long ago for most people to care about. Besides, it wasn’t just the drought that drove people away from their homes, it was the riots.
Civil unrest, the news posts called it, as if there were anything civil about the social ulcerations that occurred. In the United States, years of increasing unrest among people of color as well as white citizens fermented into a volatile concoction stirred up by the continual election of conservative candidates who served their corporate masters in more and more blatant ways.
Law enforcement continued to be the tool of the 1%, those with the resources to outlast the chain of recessions that led to a global depression. They also had the money to buy the politicians from all parties, who spewed a continuous flood of nonsensical, science-denying, contradictory garbage that was lapped up by less and less of the citizenry.
Protests that started peacefully were resisted by police officers in battle gear. It became almost commonplace in some large metropolitan areas to see regular patrols by the National Guard and even the occasional tank lurking down a side street. Police forces grew weary of the criticisms and garbage hurled at them literally and reacted in more and more violent ways. Peaceful resistance turned into armed resistance and protests turned into battles. Large swaths of urban areas across the country turned into battlefields with declarations of emergency used to suspend civil rights and impose curfews and sanctions. Power was cut, emergency services limited, deliveries to stores ceased. People got sick and injured and hungry and turned on each other. Once the infighting started, it was much easier for the army to move in and take control.
Some people were kept in their increasingly unlivable neighborhoods and burroughs. Some were ‘resettled’ elsewhere. Corporate interests became more blatant in their control of the government. Suburbs and towns were shut down and people moved out to increase the available water and power to privileged areas. Petroleum fuel products had become too expensive – continuous wars in other parts of the world and corporate interests saw to that. People forced out of their neighborhoods mostly left on foot, towing wagons or pushing shopping carts. Comparisons to the great depression and the migration from the midwest to the coast during the dustbowl era would not be out of place. If anyone thought to make the comparison.
To accomplish this huge task of human displacement, resettlement camps were set up and a system of waystations created to direct the flow of human traffic. Why would people get up and leave their homes and lives, taking what few possessions they could move and go to a tent camp, sometimes hundreds of miles from home? Didn’t anyone think this whole thing was a bit hinky?
Some did and they ended up forming bands of people living outside the system. But the vast majority did not. Their compliance had been cultivated over the years by a political system populated with cogs that had grown so accustomed to lying to the public on behalf of mega-rich corporations that they weren’t even aware of the lies anymore. Most would have passed a lie detector test, in fact.
Really, this is a story about boiling frogs to death in the juices of their own apathy.
More specifically, it’s the story of two of those frogs, who have taken human form in this life and who by fate’s role of a hundred sided dice landed them in the same place at the same time. Eventually.
Fred Burbank was by all accounts doing the right thing. That had been his modis operendi since childhood and, having served him so well into adulthood, had led him without question into his middle age. “Doing the right thing” was what he did day in and day out and there was every chance it would have ended up on his headstone. If he’d gotten one. He was a rule-follower and he steadfastly believed that if he followed the rules, he and his family would prosper.
As the song lyrics went, he “knew all the right people, took all the right pills”. His family was comfortable, his job was comfortable. They had a nice house in a nice subdivision just the right distance from a nice mid-sized city in an area once known for the innovation of its engineers. That area had long lost its cachet for innovation, succumbing as so many success stories did, to the weight of holding up its own success. Flashes in the pan are rarely repeated and when people become so accustomed to brilliance that they yawn in its face and send it packing for the next shiny thing, Brilliance will eventually get the hint and move on.
You could safely say that Brilliance and Fred had never been close. He’d once been in the company of Brilliance, during a demo for venture capitalists. He was there for no reason other than he’d drawn the short straw. No one sent a middle manager to a demo they expect to invest in. Fred’s hazy memory of that afternoon, if he recalled it at all, was of a tall wiry man accompanied by a generously curved woman in glasses. He was discerning enough to know that the woman was the brains behind the start-up and the man was the eye candy. Their idea about a distributed,decentralized intelligent cybernet utilizing mobile computing devices was way over his head though. He’d spent most of the night hunched over the toilet in his expensive hotel room in downtown San Francisco, having had far too many of the shrimp whip appetizers and more alcohol than he’d normally consume in a month.
Fred’s idea of a good day was one where he got to work a little early, got through a day of paper pushing without an interaction from upper management and got home in time for a brief rest in his recliner before dinner. His children were well-behaved for the most part and when they weren’t, his wife Sarah took the lead. He taught his kids the mantra of doing the right thing’ from an early age. They was very little disruption in their lives. To Fred, that was a sign that he was doing the right thing.
The unrest that finally pulled the country apart developed by degrees. And really, the lead up to declaring states of emergency in a patchwork across the continent didn’t look all that different from the occasional flare ups of the past several decades. Progressive social activists made advances here and there, followed by huge push back from conservatives. The religious right grew in power and elected more and more candidates. As those candidates became politicians and became investible, the corporatocracy did just that. They lured them in with promises of campaign contributions and support for their sectarian causes and pulled the reins in tight when needed.
The fringes screamed foul but the center was placated by the continuation of their comfort. it didn’t take much really. Make sure the groceries are stocked with their favorite processed foods, keep delivering entertainment through their various devices and they’ll look the other way when some malcontents get tear gassed and thrown in jail. Make sure their precious offspring can play sportsball, and make sure they can watch The Game wherever they are and give them churches to visit weekly and they’ll have their religious requirements met.
The frogs didn’t know that the water was already boiling because they didn’t want to know. Knowing that would interfere with their after dinner cocktails or their weekend golf game. Understanding that the government was squeezing the marginal for all they could give just made them believe it was deserved. They didn’t see the inevitable result of that process — that eventually the marginalized would have no more to give and the government would have to find some one new to squeeze. Old Man Niemoller had it right, but since no one learned real history any more not many of the people who could have benefited from his message knew anything about it.
Eventually, the government and its corporate puppeteers ran out of queers and gender freaks and brown people to squeeze and that meant people like Fred Burbank and his neighbors were next.
Somewhere between the fringes and the Fred Burbanks were frogs who could tell the water was getting hotter, who were not blind to the injustices perpetrated by corporate government but were insulated from the direct effects, at least for a while. One such frog, having no loyalty to the place she happened to be, was fairly certain everything was going to go to hell before she reached adulthood. This frog, who had the perverse habit of reading about history, saw it coming. If not the whole thing, enough to know that preparedness was warranted. She put political history away and picked up survival manuals, learned how to start a fire without a lighter, how to start a car without a key, how to move through crowds without stirring up much notice.
Not being a very large individual, this frog knew that craftiness and stealth would be her greatest tools in the dark days to come. She studied and practiced and waited for the sign that it was time to go.
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