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Author Topic: And Then There Were None...  (Read 1969 times)

Joel

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And Then There Were None...
« on: April 18, 2007, 12:26:05 pm »

My editors and I determined that the end of the story was too abrupt, and that The Traveler shouldn't have been left so far behind.  So I wrote this final chapter, which goes just before the epilogue.  Which in turn, got me to writing my very first folk song - to the tune of a pre-existing song, of course, since I can't write songs.

22 – Then There Were None

 It had been a long, cold winter, but there could be no doubt that things were changing now.  Art Barnett had ventured out only one other time since the troubles began, on a test run without goods.  On that trip the TSA restrictions were so bad that the Interstate and main roads were virtually unusable.  The CB radio was silent, the checkpoints everywhere.  Finally he’d given it up and returned home, and for months he had done no business at all.  He’d wondered if that was the end; if the days of the underground trader were over.  Was it possible for the government to clamp down that hard forever?  The news sites told him nothing, but that wasn’t surprising.  It had been a long time since they had been anything but government organs.  Depressed and weary, Barnett withdrew into his books and stopped paying attention.

But as the winter faded, his brief forays on the internet began to reveal changes.  Like crocuses pushing through snow in the first tentative weeks of spring, new web logs and independent news sites emerged.  Normally when this happened they always vanished suddenly as some law enforcement agency or panicked ISP shut them down.  But this time they remained, and gradually became more bold and outspoken.  It was as though some invisible restraint had been lifted.  People began finding their voices again.  And their voices were angry.

There were other changes as well.  Gold was still illegal but appearing in trade more and more openly, and its theoretical price in Federal Reserve Notes rose almost by the minute.  Not that anyone would really trade it for FRNs now; it was over 5000 to the ounce.  The currency was hyperinflating and nearing collapse.  There were stories of food riots in inner cities.  Heating fuel had become scarce in some metropolitan areas; the governments had tried to subsidize it, control its prices, even ration it.  But refinement and transportation costs had skyrocketed, and shortages were shortages.  You couldn’t burn what you didn’t have.  Despite the relatively mild winter, people had died of exposure.  They’d died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried alternatives; they’d died in fires.  Oil-producing states were hinting about no longer “exporting” refined fuel to other states since there was no longer any practical way for them to be paid.  The country was on the cusp of a crazy time, and the government seemed powerless to stop it.

With the melt, Barnett felt his wanderlust returning.  He researched routes, paying particular attention to any news items concerning travel restrictions.  On the mainstream news sites there was no word of them at all, which was unusual even for them.  “For purposes of Homeland Security,” of course, the government would never say anything specific about checkpoint locations or new requirements.  But the rules changed constantly, and they usually had the decency to at least give you a hint as to what the new rules were.  It was peculiar.

So he began paying more attention to these new unauthorized sites, and there he got an eyeful.  Archived story after story about checkpoint abuses, followed by stories of spontaneous attacks on Checkpoint Charlies complete with body counts.  Attempts at crackdowns followed by escalations in the violence.  And then…withdrawal of the checkpoints!  The mainstream sites didn’t admit to any change at all.  But according to the underground sites, the travel laws were no longer being enforced.  He had to see this for himself.

Barnett had left friends stranded in refugee camps last autumn, and had never felt good about that.  So now he loaded up with goods they’d need to get back on their feet if they could; food and blankets, clothing and tools.  He’d give the crap away if he had to.  He owed it to his conscience, if not to them.

He hit the road, driving west toward Wyoming.  Reaching out with his radio, he scanned the CB channels.  The channels were alive again.  Truckers bitched to one another endlessly about hyperinflation and how hard it was getting to find paying loads worth the incredible cost of diesel, and speculated on whether it was even worth it to keep their expensive rigs on the road.  But they didn’t warn one another about the once-ubiquitous Checkpoint Charlies.  The Charlies really were gone.

West along the 26 through Scottsbluff and into Wyoming, it took several hours to make his way to the little town where Auntie Mabel and his other friends had been sheltered.  He was worried and anxious to arrive, but also unaccountably reluctant.  The way he had left them had always seemed so inadequate; he should have found a way to do more.  Would they be all right, after such a winter?  Would he even be welcome?

When he arrived at the farmstead where he had last met Auntie Mabel, he got an ominous surprise.  The house and outbuildings were still there, but the travel trailers and tents and ramshackle shelters that had dotted the place before were all gone.  Oh, god, no.  What had happened now?

He practically sprinted to the porch and probably would have rudely pounded on the door, but it opened before he got to it.  The same sad-eyed man he’d met before stood before him.

“No, they’re not here any more.  They went home a month or six weeks ago.”

Barnett was dumbfounded.  “What?  How could they go home?  The feds took it!”

The man shrugged.  “Guess they decided they didn’t want it after all.”

“Well, that’s kind of…capricious.”

The man smiled.  “Not really.  The law hasn’t changed, and the signs are still there.  But most of the forest rangers got laid off when the Forestry Service’s budget was cut.  The ones they kept, they’re getting paid in dollars that don’t buy squat.  The forest’s a resource now, and anything can happen there.  It pays to be polite.

“Anyway, most of the ones who did the raids have moved away.  Nobody would sell to them, their wives got snubbed on the streets, their kids got beat up in school.  This isn’t Chicago; you can’t pull that shit here.  Nothing but small towns around here, and everybody knows everybody.  Nobody wanted them around anymore.  So, there it is.  The forest is open again.”

***
What had ever made him think these people would just lie down and die because somebody declared them surplus?  Barnett found Auntie Mabel’s farm up and running, with most of the same people he’d met before and several more besides.  A number of people had filtered back into the area from the trailer parks where they’d been interned.  Finding their towns devastated by the government contractors’ brief ownership, many had wandered away.  But others had found other places to stay, including this farm.  They now worked to clear the fields and get ready for planting.  The farm was a going concern again.

The first evening, at their invitation he joined them around a cheery campfire.  He dug his six-string out of its case and noodled at butchering that old Leslie Fish song to suit the occasion.

“Bad times came and bad times went, and left us here alive
Gulching folks have histories of learning to survive.
The feds fenced in the forest, and to drive us out connived
But they won’t risk their necks for dollars, so here we all abide.
Come and join the gulching life, it’s peaceful and it’s free
Let feds find their own way to hell, the gulching life’s for me!”

Barnett looked over at Auntie Mabel, across the fire from him.  Her face had gained a few more lines, and her posture was maybe a little more stooped.  The events of the past several months had taken a toll, but they hadn’t broken her.  She still ruled her little world with a firm hand and a heaping spoonful of wisdom and humor.  He let the song foray into painful territory.

“They came with trucks and cattle cars, and looking for a fight
They caught us with our pants down, didn’t matter who was right
Big Pinky held the feds off, while to the bus we ran…”

Mabel’s voice was sharp.  “Don’t call him that.” 

Barnett looked up.  “Beg your pardon?”

“Don’t call him that,” she said firmly.  “His name was Tom.”

Barnett sat silent for a few moments.  Then he nodded.  “Quite right.  Sorry, Mabel.”  He strummed a moment to find the chords again, then resumed the song.

“Big Thomas held the feds off, while to the bus we ran
But we didn’t plan to stay away, just found another stand.
Come and join the gulching life, it’s peaceful and it’s free
Let feds find their own way to hell, the gulching life’s for me!”

By the end of the third verse the gulchers, including Mabel, joined in the chorus.
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Yet another Freedomista blog: The Ultimate Answer to Kings is not a bullet, but a belly laugh.

Joel

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The Ballad of Medicine Bow Gulch
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2007, 12:27:47 pm »

The Ballad of Medicine Bow Gulch
(to the tune of Leslie Fish’s Cities of the Sun)

Bad times came and bad times went, and left us here alive
Gulching folks have histories of learning to survive.
The feds fenced in the forest, and to drive us out connived
But they won’t risk their necks for dollars, so here we all abide.

Come and join the gulching life, it’s peaceful and it’s free
Let feds find their own way to hell, the gulching life’s for me

They came with trucks and cattle cars, and looking for a fight
They caught us with our pants down, didn’t matter who was right
Big Thomas held the feds off, while to the bus we ran
But we didn’t plan to stay away, just found another stand.

Come and join the gulching life, it’s peaceful and it’s free
Let feds find their own way to hell, the gulching life’s for me!

We mourned the day big Thomas fell, for him and then for us
Back there we had lost everything, now there was just the bus
Where could we find a place to live, oh god, where could we go?
We had nothing left to trade or plant, and we just didn’t know.

(chorus)

Then Auntie Mabel stood her up, and loud and firm she said
“We made our home there honestly, it don’t belong to feds.
So dry your tears and make your plans, and list what all we lack
It may take some time to get it right, but we are going back.”

(chorus)

We found a place to stay with friends, and argued all that night
For some had had enough of feds, and spoiled for a fight.
But others said, “We’re farmers.  We only want to live.
If we can take it without blood we will, but we will not forgive.”

(chorus)

Since on that point we all agreed, we settled down to plans.
We didn’t know how we could get around the feds’ demands
But another man, unknown to us, had wilder thoughts by far
He blew up a fed official and his lackeys in his car.

(chorus)

And then he did the wildest thing than anyone had seen
He kidnapped all the contractors and hung them from the trees
And just in case the Newsies should quiet down his bet
He videoed the whole damn thing, and broadcast on the ‘Net!

(chorus)

And that began the Crazy Times, for others rose as well
The Battle of New Mexico sent DHS to hell
And we learned we had other friends, and they would not forgive
The fed agents who drove us away had nowhere they could live.

(chorus)

The dollar fell to nothing, and the agents weren’t paid
They wouldn’t work for nothing, so most of them moved away
Our time had come, our chance was here, we wanted to go home
So we moved back to the forest, but we found we weren’t alone.

(chorus)

Some feds had stayed, near starving, and they took what they could take.
We didn’t want to fight, but screwing us was a mistake
We’d had enough of feds and we did not want them around
So we hunted out those bastards, and we put them in the ground.

(chorus)

So now we make our home right here, no matter what they say
We built this gulch ourselves and we are never going away
And if they’ll leave us all in peace, then peaceful we will be
But if they screw with us again, by god, they’re history.

Come and join the gulching life, it’s peaceful and it’s free
Let feds find their own way to hell, the gulching life’s for me

Logged
Yet another Freedomista blog: The Ultimate Answer to Kings is not a bullet, but a belly laugh.

George Potter

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Re: And Then There Were None...
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2007, 07:31:42 pm »

 :mellow:
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