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[1 of 5] Parable of the Sower, Chapters 1-6, Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Author: Octavia E. Butler

Butler, Octavia E. “Chapters 1-6.” Parable of the Sower, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 1993.

2024

! ! !

PRODIGY IS, AT ITS essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

by Lauren Oya Olamina

1

! ! !

All that you touch

You Change.

All that you Change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.

God

Is Change.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

SATURDAY, JULY 20, 2024

I HAD MY RECURRING dream last night. I guess I should have expected it. It comes to me when I struggle—when I twist on my own personal hook and try to pretend that nothing unusual is happening. It comes to me when I try to be my fatherʼs daughter.

Today is our birthday—my fifteenth and my fatherʼs fifty-fifth. Tomorrow, Iʼll try to please him—him and the community and God. So last night, I dreamed a reminder that itʼs all a lie. I think I need to write about the dream because this particular lie bothers me so much.

Iʼm learning to fly, to levitate myself. No one is teaching me. Iʼm just learning on my own, little by little, dream lesson by dream lesson. Not a very subtle image, but a persistent one. Iʼve had many lessons, and Iʼm better at flying than I used to be. I trust my ability more now, but Iʼm still afraid. I canʼt quite control my directions yet.

I lean forward toward the doorway. Itʼs a doorway like the one between my room and the hall. It seems to be a long way from me, but I lean toward it. Holding my body stiff and tense, I let go of whatever Iʼm grasping, whatever has kept me from rising or falling so far. And I lean into the air, straining upward, not moving upward, but not quite falling down either. Then I do begin to move, as though to slide on the air drifting a few feet above the floor, caught between terror and joy.

I drift toward the doorway. Cool, pale light glows from it. Then I slide a little to the right; and a little more. I can see that Iʼm going to miss the door and hit the wall beside it, but I canʼt stop or turn. I drift away from the door, away from the cool glow into another light.

The wall before me is burning. Fire has sprung from nowhere, has eaten in through the wall, has begun to reach toward me, reach for me. The fire spreads. I drift into it. It blazes up around me. I thrash and scramble and try to swim back out of it, grabbing handfuls of air and fire, kicking, burning! Darkness.

Perhaps I awake a little. I do sometimes when the fire swallows me. Thatʼs bad. When I wake up all the way, I canʼt get back to sleep. I try, but Iʼve never been able to.

This time I donʼt wake up all the way. I fade into the second part of the dream—the part thatʼs ordinary and real, the part that did happen years ago when I was little, though at the time it didnʼt seem to matter. Darkness.

Darkness brightening.

Stars.

Stars casting their cool, pale, glinting light.

“We couldnʼt see so many stars when I was little,” my stepmother says to me. She speaks in Spanish, her own first language. She stands still and small, looking up at the broad sweep of the Milky Way. She and I have gone out after dark to take the washing down from the clothesline. The day has been hot, as usual, and we both like the cool darkness of early night. Thereʼs no moon, but we can see very well. The sky is full of stars.

The neighborhood wall is a massive, looming presence nearby. I see it as a crouching animal, perhaps about to spring, more threatening than protective. But my stepmother is there, and she isnʼt afraid. I stay close to her. Iʼm seven years old.

I look up at the stars and the deep, black sky. “Why couldnʼt you see the stars?” I ask her. “Everyone can see them.” I speak in Spanish, too, as sheʼs taught me. Itʼs an intimacy somehow.

“City lights,” she says. “Lights, progress, growth, all those things weʼre too hot and too poor to bother with anymore.” She pauses. “When I was your age, my mother told me that the stars—the few stars we could see— were windows into heaven. Windows for God to look through to keep an eye on us. I believed her for almost a year.” My stepmother hands me an armload of my youngest brotherʼs diapers. I take them, walk back toward the house where she has left her big wicker laundry basket, and pile the diapers atop the rest of the clothes. The basket is full. I look to see that my stepmother is not watching me, then let myself fall backward onto the soft mound of stiff, clean clothes. For a moment, the fall is like floating.

I lie there, looking up at the stars. I pick out some of the constellations and name the stars that make them

up. Iʼve learned them from an astronomy book that belonged to my fatherʼs mother.

I see the sudden light streak of a meteor flashing westward across the sky. I stare after it, hoping to see another. Then my stepmother calls me and I go back to her.

“There are city lights now,” I say to her. “They donʼt hide the stars.”

She shakes her head. “There arenʼt anywhere near as many as there were. Kids today have no idea what a blaze of light cities used to be—and not that long ago.”

“Iʼd rather have the stars,” I say.

“The stars are free.” She shrugs. “Iʼd rather have the city lights back myself, the sooner the better. But we can afford the stars.”

2

! ! !

A gift of God

May sear unready fingers.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2024

AT LEAST THREE YEARS ago, my fathers God stopped being my God. His church stopped being my church. And yet, today, because Iʼm a coward, I let myself be initiated into that church. I let my father baptize me in all three names of that God who isnʼt mine any more.

My God has another name.

We got up early this morning because we had to go across town to church. Most Sundays, Dad holds church services in our front rooms. Heʼs a Baptist minister, and even though not all of the people who live within our neighborhood walls are Baptists, those who feel the need to go to church are glad to come to us. That way they donʼt have to risk going outside where things are so dangerous and crazy. Itʼs bad enough that some people—my father for one—have to go out to work at least once a week. None of us goes out to school any more. Adults get nervous about kids going outside.

But today was special. For today, my father made arrangements with another minister—a friend of his who still had a real church building with a real baptistery.

Dad once had a church just a few blocks outside our wall. He began it before there were so many walls. But after it had been slept in by the homeless, robbed, and vandalized several times, someone poured gasoline in and around it and burned it down. Seven of the homeless people sleeping inside on that last night burned with it.

But somehow, Dadʼs friend Reverend Robinson has managed to keep his church from being destroyed. We rode our bikes to it this morning—me, two of my brothers, four other neighborhood kids who were ready to be baptized, plus my father and some other neighborhood adults riding shotgun. All the adults were armed. Thatʼs the rule. Go out in a bunch, and go armed.

The alternative was to be baptized in the bathtub at home. That would have been cheaper and safer and fine with me. I said so, but no one paid attention to me. To the adults, going outside to a real church was like stepping back into the good old days when there were churches all over the place and too many lights and gasoline was for fueling cars and trucks instead of for torching things. They never miss a chance to relive the good old days or to tell kids how great itʼs going to be when the country gets back on its feet and good times come back.

Yeah.

To us kids—most of us—the trip was just an adventure, an excuse to go outside the wall. We would be baptized out of duty or as a kind of insurance, but most of us arenʼt that much concerned with religion. I am, but then I have a different religion.

“Why take chances,” Silvia Dunn said to me a few days ago. “Maybe thereʼs something to all this religion stuff.” Her parents thought there was, so she was with us.

My brother Keith who was also with us didnʼt share any of my beliefs. He just didnʼt care. Dad wanted him to be baptized, so what the hell. There wasnʼt much that Keith did care about. He liked to hang out with his friends and pretend to be grown up, dodge work and dodge school and dodge church. Heʼs only twelve, the oldest of my three brothers. I donʼt like him much, but heʼs my stepmotherʼs favorite. Three smart sons and one dumb one, and itʼs the dumb one she loves best.

Keith looked around more than anyone as we rode. His ambition, if you could call it that, is to get out of the neighborhood and go to Los Angeles. Heʼs never too clear about what heʼll do there. He just wants to go to the big city and make big money. According to my father, the big city is a carcass covered with too many maggots. I think heʼs right, though not all the maggots are in LA. Theyʼre here, too.

But maggots tend not to be early-morning types. We rode past people stretched out, sleeping on the

sidewalks, and a few just waking up, but they paid no attention to us. I saw at least three people who werenʼt going to wake up again, ever. One of them was headless. I caught myself looking around for the head. After that, I tired not to look around at all.

A woman, young, naked, and filthy stumbled along past us. I got a look at her slack expression and realized that she was dazed or drunk or something.

Maybe she had been raped so much that she was crazy. Iʼd heard stories of that happening. Or maybe she was just high on drugs. The boys in our group almost fell off their bikes, staring at her. What wonderful religious thoughts they would be having for a while.

The naked woman never looked at us. I glanced back after weʼd passed her and saw that she had settled down in the weeds against someone elseʼs neighborhood wall.

A lot of our ride was along one neighborhood wall after another; some a block long, some two blocks, some five… Up toward the hills there were walled estates—one big house and a lot of shacky little dependencies where the servants lived. We didnʼt pass anything like that today. In fact we passed a couple of neighborhoods so poor that their walls were made up of unmortared rocks, chunks of concrete, and trash. Then there were the pitiful, unwalled residential areas. A lot of the houses were trashed—burned, vandalized, infested with drunks or druggies or squatted-in by homeless families with their filthy, gaunt, half-naked children. Their kids were wide awake and watching us this morning. I feel sorry for the little ones, but the ones my age and older make me nervous. We ride down the middle of the cracked street, and the kids come out and stand along the curb to stare at us. They just stand and stare. I think if there were only one or two of us, or if they couldnʼt see our guns, they might try to pull us down and steal our bikes, our clothes, our shoes, whatever. Then what? Rape? Murder? We could wind up like that naked woman, stumbling along, dazed, maybe hurt, sure to attract dangerous attention unless she could steal some clothing. I wish we could have given her something.

My stepmother says she and my father stopped to help an injured woman once, and the guys who had injured her jumped out from behind a wall and almost killed them.

And weʼre in Robledo—20 miles from Los Angeles, and, according to Dad, once a rich, green, unwalled little city that he had been eager to abandon when he was a young man. Like Keith, he had wanted to escape the dullness of Robledo for big city excitement. L.A. was better then—less lethal. He lived there for 21 years. Then in 2010, his parents were murdered and he inherited their house. Whoever killed them had robbed the house and smashed up the furniture, but they didnʼt torch anything. There was no neighborhood wall back then.

Crazy to live without a wall to protect you. Even in Robledo, most of the street poor—squatters, winos, junkies, homeless people in general—are dangerous. Theyʼre desperate or crazy or both. Thatʼs enough to make anyone dangerous.

Worse for me, they often have things wrong with them. They cut off each otherʼs ears, arms, legs… They carry untreated diseases and festering wounds. They have no money to spend on water to wash with so even the unwounded have sores. They donʼt get enough to eat so theyʼre malnourished—or they eat bad food and poison themselves. As I rode, I tried not to look around at them, but I couldnʼt help seeing—collecting—some of their general misery.

I can take a lot of pain without falling apart. Iʼve had to learn to do that. But it was hard, today, to keep peddling and keep up with the others when just about everyone I saw made me feel worse and worse. My father glanced back at me every now and then. He tells me, “You can beat this thing. You donʼt have to give in to it.” He has always pretended, or perhaps believed, that my hyperempathy syndrome was something I could shake off and forget about. The sharing isnʼt real, after all. It isnʼt some magic or ESP that allows me to share the pain or the pleasure of other people. Itʼs delusional. Even I admit that. My brother Keith used to pretend to be hurt just to trick me into sharing his supposed pain. Once he used red ink as fake blood to make me bleed. I was eleven then, and I still bled through the skin when I saw someone else bleeding. I couldnʼt help doing it, and I always worried that it would give me away to people outside the family. I havenʼt shared bleeding with anyone since I was twelve and got my first period. What a relief that was. I just wish all the rest of it had gone away, too. Keith only tricked me into bleeding that once, and I beat the hell out of him for it. I didnʼt fight much when I was little because it hurt me so. I felt every blow that I struck, just as though Iʼd hit myself. So when I did decide that I had to fight, I set out to hurt the other kid more than kids usually hurt one another. I broke Michael Talcottʼs arm and Rubin Quintanillaʼs nose. I knocked out four of Silvia Dunnʼs teeth. They all earned what I did to them two or three times over. I got punished every time, and I resented it. It was double punishment, after all, and my father and stepmother knew it. But knowing didnʼt stop them. I think they did it to satisfy the other kidsʼ parents. But when I beat up Keith, I knew that Cory or Dad or both of them would punish me for it—my poor little brother, after all. So I had to see that my poor little brother paid in advance. What I did to him had to be worthwhile in spite of what they would do to me. It was.

We both got it later from Dad—me for hurting a younger kid and Keith for risking putting “family business” into the street. Dad is big on privacy and “family business.” Thereʼs a whole range of things we never even hint about outside the family. First among these is anything about my mother, my hyperempathy, and how the two are connected. To my father, the whole business is shameful. Heʼs a preacher and a professor and a dean. A first wife who was a drug addict and a daughter who is drug damaged is not something he wants to boast about. Lucky for me. Being the most vulnerable person I know is damned sure not something I want to boast about.

I canʼt do a thing about my hyperempathy, no matter what Dad thinks or wants or wishes. I feel what I see others feeling or what I believe they feel. Hyperempathy is what the doctors call an “organic delusional syndrome.” Big shit. It hurts, thatʼs all I know. Thanks to Paracetco, the small pill, the Einstein powder, the particular drug my mother chose to abuse before my birth killed her, Iʼm crazy. I get a lot of grief that doesnʼt belong to me, and that isnʼt real. But it hurts.

Iʼm supposed to share pleasure and pain, but there isnʼt much pleasure around these days. About the only pleasure Iʼve found that I enjoy sharing is sex. I get the guyʼs good feeling and my own. I almost wish I didnʼt. I live in a tiny, walled fish-bowl cul-de-sac community, and Iʼm the preacherʼs daughter. Thereʼs a real limit to what I can do as far as sex goes.

Anyway, my neurotransmitters are scrambled and theyʼre going to stay scrambled. But I can do okay as long as other people donʼt know about me. Inside our neighborhood walls I do fine. Our rides today, though, were hell. Going and coming, they were all the worst things Iʼve ever felt—shadows and ghosts, twists and jabs of unexpected pain.

If I donʼt look too long at old injuries, they donʼt hurt me too much. There was a naked little boy whose skin was a mass of big red sores; a man with a huge scab over the stump where his right hand used to be; a little girl, naked, maybe seven years old with blood running down her bare thighs. A woman with a swollen, bloody, beaten face…

I must have seemed jumpy. I glanced around like a bird, not letting my gaze rest on anyone longer than it took me to see that they werenʼt coming in my direction or aiming anything at me.

Dad may have read something of what I was feeling in my expression. I try not to let my face show anything, but heʼs good at reading me. Sometimes people say I look grim or angry. Better to have them think that than know the truth. Better to have them think anything than let them know just how easy it is to hurt me.

Dad had insisted on fresh, clean, potable water for the baptism. He couldnʼt afford it, of course. Who could? That was the other reason for the four extra kids:

Silvia Dunn, Hector Quintanilla, Curtis Talcott, and Drew Baiter, along with my brothers Keith and Marcus. The other kidsʼ parents had helped with costs. They thought a proper baptism was important enough to spend some money and take some risks. I was the oldest by about two months. Curtis was next. As much as I hated being there, I hated even more that Curtis was there. I care about him more than I want to. I care what he thinks of me. I worry that Iʼll fall apart in public some day and heʼll see. But not today.

By the time we reached the fortress-church, my jaw-muscles hurt from clinching and unclinching my teeth, and overall, I was exhausted.

There were only five or six dozen people at the service—enough to fill up our front rooms at home and look like a big crowd. At the church, though, with its surrounding wall and its security bars and Lazor wire and its huge hollowness inside, and itʼs armed guards, the crowd seemed a tiny scattering of people. That was all right. The last thing I wanted was a big audience to maybe trip me up with pain.

The baptism went just as planned. They sent us kids off to the bathrooms (“menʼs,” “womenʼs,” “please do not put paper of any kind into toilets,” “water for washing in bucket at left…”) to undress and put on white gowns. When we were ready, Curtisʼs father took us to an anteroom where we could hear the preaching—from the first chapter of Saint John and the second chapter of The Acts—and wait our turns.

My turn came last. I assume that was my fatherʼs idea. First the neighbor kids, then my brothers, then me. For reasons that donʼt make a lot of sense to me, Dad thinks I need more humility. I think my particular biological humility—or humiliation—is more than enough.

What the hell? Someone had to be last. I just wish I could have been courageous enough to skip the thing altogether.

So, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost…”

Catholics get this stuff over with when theyʼre babies. I wish Baptists did. I almost wish I could believe it was important the way a lot of people seem to, the way my father seems to. Failing that, I wish I didnʼt care. But I do. The idea of God is much on my mind these days. Iʼve been paying attention to what other people believe—whether they believe, and if so what kind of God they believe in. Keith says God is just the adultsʼ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want. He doesnʼt say that around Dad, but he says it. He believes in what he sees, and no matter whatʼs in front of him, he doesnʼt see much. I suppose Dad would say that about me if he knew what I believe. Maybe heʼd be right. But it wouldnʼt stop me from seeing what I see. A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of super-person. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feel in control of.

Some say God is a spirit, a force, an ultimate reality. Ask seven people what all of that means and youʼll get seven different answers. So what is God? Just another name for whatever makes you feel special and protected?

Thereʼs a big, early-season storm blowing itself out in the Gulf of Mexico. Itʼs bounced around the Gulf, killing people from Florida to Texas and down into Mexico. There are over 700 known dead so far. One hurricane. And how many people has it hurt? How many are going to starve later because of destroyed crops? Thatʼs nature. Is it God? Most of the dead are the street poor who have nowhere to go and who donʼt hear the warnings until itʼs too late for their feet to take them to safety. Whereʼs safety for them anyway? Is it a sin against God to be poor? Weʼre almost poor ourselves. There are fewer and fewer jobs among us, more of us being

born, more kids growing up with nothing to look forward to. One way or another, weʼll all be poor some day. The adults say things will get better, but they never have. How will God—my fatherʼs God—behave toward us when weʼre poor?

Is there a God? If there is, does he (she? it?) care about us? Deists like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson believed God was something that made us, then left us on our own.

“Misguided,” Dad said when I asked him about Deists. “They should have had more faith in what their Bibles told them.”

I wonder if the people on the Gulf Coast still have faith. People have had faith through horrible disasters before. I read a lot about that kind of thing. I read a lot period. My favorite book of the Bible is Job. I think it says more about my fatherʼs God in particular and gods in general than anything else Iʼve ever read.

In the book of Job, God says he made everything and he knows everything so no one has any right to question what he does with any of it. Okay. That works. That Old Testament God doesnʼt violate the way things are now. But that God sounds a lot like Zeus—a super-powerful man, playing with his toys the way my youngest brothers play with toy soldiers. Bang, bang! Seven toys fall dead. If theyʼre yours, you make the rules. Who cares what the toys think. Wipe out a toyʼs family, then give it a brand new family. Toy children, like Jobʼs children, are interchangeable.

Maybe God is a kind of big kid, playing with his toys. If he is, what difference does it make if 700 people get killed in a hurricane—or if seven kids go to church and get dipped in a big tank of expensive water? But what if all that is wrong? What if God is something else altogether?

3

! ! !

We do not worship God.

We perceive and attend God.

We learn from God.

With forethought and work,

We shape God.

In the end, we yield to God.

We adapt and endure,

For we are Earthseed

And God is Change.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2024

ONE OF THE ASTRONAUTS on the latest Mars mission has been killed. Something went wrong with her protective suit and the rest of her team couldnʼt get her back to the shelter in time to save her. People here in the neighborhood are saying she had no business going to Mars, anyway. All that money wasted on another crazy space trip when so many people here on earth canʼt afford water, food, or shelter.

The cost of water has gone up again. And I heard on the news today that more water peddlers are being killed. Peddlers sell water to squatters and the street poor—and to people whoʼve managed to hold on to their homes, but not to pay their utility bills. Peddlers are being found with their throats cut and their money and their handtrucks stolen. Dad says water now costs several times as much as gasoline. But, except for arsonists and the rich, most people have given up buying gasoline. No one I know uses a gas-powered car, truck, or cycle. Vehicles like that are rusting in driveways and being cannibalized for metal and plastic. Itʼs a lot harder to give up water.

Fashion helps. Youʼre supposed to be dirty now. If youʼre clean, you make a target of yourself. People think youʼre showing off, trying to be better than they are. Among the younger kids, being clean is a great way to start a fight. Cory wonʼt let us stay dirty here in the neighborhood, but we all have filthy clothes to wear outside the walls. Even inside, my brothers throw dirt on themselves as soon as they get away from the house. Itʼs better than getting beaten up all the time.

Tonight the last big Window Wall television in the neighborhood went dark for good. We saw the dead astronaut with all of red, rocky Mars around her. We saw a dust-dry reservoir and three dead water peddlers

with their dirty-blue armbands and their heads cut halfway off. And we saw whole blocks of boarded up buildings burning in Los Angeles. Of course, no one would waste water trying to put such fires out. Then the Window went dark. The sound had flickered up and down for months, but the picture was always as promised—like looking through a vast, open window.

The Yannis family has made a business of having people in to look through their Window. Dad says that kind of unlicensed business isnʼt legal, but he let us go to watch sometimes because he didnʼt see any harm in it, and it helped the Yannises. A lot of small businesses are illegal, even though they donʼt hurt anyone, and they keep a household or two alive. The Yannis Window is about as old as I am. It covers the long west wall of their living room. They must have had plenty of money back when they bought it. For the past couple of years, though, theyʼve been charging admission—only letting in people from the neighborhood—and selling fruit, fruit juice, acorn bread, or walnuts. Whatever they had too much of in their garden, they found a way to sell. They showed movies from their library and let us watch news and whatever else was broadcast. They couldnʼt afford to subscribe to any of the new multisensory stuff, and their old Window couldnʼt have received most of it, anyway.

They have no reality vests, no touch-rings, and no headsets. Their setup was just a plain, thin-screened Window.

All we have left now are three small, ancient, murky little TV sets scattered around the neighborhood, a couple of computers used for work, and radios. Every household still has at least one working radio. A lot of our everyday news is from radio.

I wonder what Mrs. Yannis will do now. Her two sisters have moved in with her, and theyʼre working so maybe it will be all right. One is a pharmacist and the other is a nurse. They donʼt earn much, but Mrs. Yannis owns the house free and clear. It was her parentsʼ house.

All three sisters are widows and between them they have twelve kids, all younger than I am. Two years ago, Mr. Yannis, a dentist, was killed while riding his electric cycle home from the walled, guarded clinic where he worked. Mrs. Yannis says he was caught in a crossfire, hit from two directions, then shot once more at close range. His bike was stolen. The police investigated, collected their fee, and couldnʼt find a thing. People get killed like that all the time. Unless it happens in front of a police station, there are never any witnesses. SATURDAY, AUGUST 3, 2024

The dead astronaut is going to be brought back to Earth. She wanted to be buried on Mars. She said that when she realized she was dying. She said Mars was the one thing she had wanted all her life, and now she would be part of it forever.

But the Secretary of Astronautics says no. He says her body might be a contaminant. Idiot. Can he believe that any microorganism living in or on her body would have a prayer of surviving and going native in that cold, thin, lethal ghost of an atmosphere? Maybe he can. Secretaries of Astronautics donʼt have to know much about science. They have to know about politics. Theirs is the youngest Cabinet department, and already itʼs fighting for its life. Christopher Morpeth Donner, one of the men running for President this year, has promised to abolish it if heʼs elected. My father agrees with Donner. “Bread and circuses,” my father says when thereʼs space news on the radio. “Politicians and big corporations get the bread, and we get the circuses.”

“Space could be our future,” I say. I believe that. As far as Iʼm concerned, space exploration and colonization are among the few things left over from the last century that can help us more than they hurt us. Itʼs hard to get anyone to see that, though, when thereʼs so much suffering going on just outside our walls.

Dad just looks at me and shakes his head. “You donʼt understand,” he says. “You donʼt have any idea what a criminal waste of time and money that so-called space program is.” Heʼs going to vote for Donner. Heʼs the only person I know whoʼs going to vote at all. Most people have given up on politicians. After all, politicians have been promising to return us to the glory, wealth, and order of the twentieth century ever since I can remember. Thatʼs what the space program is about these days, at least for politicians. Hey, we can run a space station, a station on the moon, and soon, a colony on Mars. That proves weʼre still a great, forward-looking, powerful nation, right?

Yeah.

Well, weʼre barely a nation at all anymore, but Iʼm glad weʼre still in space. We have to be going some place other than down the toilet.

And Iʼm sorry that astronaut will be brought back from her own chosen heaven. Her name was Alicia Catalina Godinez Leal. She was a chemist. I intend to remember her. I think she can be a kind of model for me. She spent her life heading for Mars—preparing herself, becoming an astronaut, getting on a Mars crew, going to Mars, beginning to figure out how to terraform Mars, beginning to create sheltered places where people can live and work now…

Mars is a rock—cold, empty, almost airless, dead. Yet itʼs heaven in a way. We can see it in the night sky, a whole other world, but too nearby, too close within the reach of the people whoʼve made such a hell of life here on Earth.

MONDAY, AUGUST 12, 2024

Mrs. Sims shot herself today—or rather, she shot herself a few days ago, and Cory and Dad found her today. Cory went a little crazy for a while afterward.

Poor, sanctimonious, old Mrs. Sims. She used to sit in our front-room church every Sunday, large-print Bible in hand, and shout out her responses: “Yes, Lord!” “Hallelujah!” “Thank you, Jesus!” “Amen!” During the rest of the week she sewed, made baskets, took care of her garden, sold what she could from it, took care of pre-school children, and talked about everyone who wasnʼt as holy as she thought she was.

She was the only person Iʼve ever known who lived alone. She had a whole big house to herself because she and the wife of her only son hated each other. Her son and his family were poor, but they wouldnʼt live with her. Too bad.

Different people frightened her in some deep, hard, ugly way. She didnʼt like the Hsu family because they were Chinese and Hispanic, and the older Chinese generation is still Buddhist. Sheʼs lived a couple of doors up from them for longer than Iʼve been alive, but they were still from Saturn as far as she was concerned.

“Idolaters,” she would call them if none of them were around. At least she cared enough about neighborly relations to do her talking about them behind their backs. They brought her peaches and figs and a length of good cotton cloth last month when she was robbed.

That robbery was Mrs. Simsʼs first major tragedy. Three men climbed over the neighborhood wall, cutting through the strands of barbed wire and Lazor wire on top. Lazor wire is terrible stuff. Itʼs so fine and sharp that it slices into the wings or feet of birds who either donʼt see it or see it and try to settle on it. People, though, can always find a way over, under, or through.

Everyone brought Mrs. Sims things after the robbery, in spite of the way she is. Was. Food, clothing, money… We took up collections for her at church. The thieves had tied her up and left her—after one of them raped her. An old lady like that! They grabbed all her food, her jewelry that had once belonged to her mother,

her clothes, and worse of all, her supply of cash. It turns out she kept that—all of it—in a blue plastic mixing bowl high up in her kitchen cabinet. Poor, crazy old lady. She came to my father, crying and carrying on after the robbery because now she couldnʼt buy the extra food she needed to supplement what she grew. She couldnʼt pay her utility bills or her upcoming property taxes. She would be thrown out of her house into the street! She would starve!

Dad told her over and over that the church would never let that happen, but she didnʼt believe him. She talked on and on about having to be a beggar now, while Dad and Cory tried to reassure her. The funny thing is, she didnʼt like us either because Dad had gone and married “that Mexican woman Cory-ah-zan.” It just isnʼt that hard to say “Corazon” if thatʼs what you choose to call her. Most people just call her Cory or Mrs. Olamina.

Cory never let on that she was offended. She and Mrs. Sims were sugary sweet to one another. A little more hypocrisy to keep the peace.

Last week Mrs. Simsʼs son, his five kids, his wife, her brother, and her brotherʼs three kids all died in a house fire—an arson fire. The sonʼs house had been in an unwalled area north and east of us, closer to the foothills. It wasnʼt a bad area, but it was poor. Naked. One night someone torched the house. Maybe it was a vengeance fire set by some enemy of a family member or maybe some crazy just set it for fun. Iʼve heard thereʼs a new illegal drug that makes people want to set fires.

Anyway, no one knows who did it to the Sims/Boyer families. No one saw anything, of course. And no one got out of the house. Odd, that. Eleven people, and no one got out.

So about three days ago, Mrs. Sims shot herself. Dad said heʼd heard from the cops that it was about three days ago. That would have been just two days after she heard about her sonʼs death. Dad went to see her this morning because she missed church yesterday. Cory forced herself to go along because she thought she should. I wish she hadnʼt. To me, dead bodies are disgusting. They stink, and if theyʼre old enough, there are maggots. But what the hell? Theyʼre dead. They arenʼt suffering, and if you didnʼt like them when they were alive, why get so upset about their being dead? Cory gets upset. She jumps on me for sharing pain with the living, but she tries to share it with the dead.

I began writing this about Mrs. Sims because she killed herself. Thatʼs whatʼs upset me. She believed, like Dad, that if you kill yourself, you go to hell and burn forever. She believed in a literal acceptance of everything in the Bible. Yet, when things got to be too much for her, she decided to trade pain for eternal pain in the hereafter.

How could she do that?

Did she really believe in anything at all? Was it all hypocrisy?

Or maybe she just went crazy because her God was demanding too much of her. She was no Job. In real life, how many people are?

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17, 2024

I canʼt get Mrs. Sims out of my mind. Somehow, she and her suicide have gotten tangled up with the astronaut and her death and her expulsion from heaven. I need to write about what I believe. I need to begin to put together the scattered verses that Iʼve been writing about God since I was twelve. Most of them arenʼt much good. They say what I need to say, but they donʼt say it very well. A few are the way they should be. They press

on me, too, like the two deaths. I try to hide in all the work there is to do here for the household, for my fatherʼs church, and for the school Cory keeps to teach the neighborhood kids. The truth is, I donʼt care about any of those things, but they keep me busy and make me tired, and most of the time, I sleep without dreaming. And Dad beams when people tell him how smart and industrious I am.

I love him. Heʼs the best person I know, and I care what he thinks. I wish I didnʼt, but I do. For whatever itʼs worth, hereʼs what I believe. It took me a lot of time to understand it, then a lot more time

with a dictionary and a thesaurus to say it just right—just the way it has to be. In the past year, itʼs gone through twenty-five or thirty lumpy, incoherent rewrites. This is the right one, the true one. This is the one I keep coming back to:

God is Power—

Infinite,

Irresistible,

Inexorable,

Indifferent.

And yet, God is Pliable—

Trickster,

Teacher,

Chaos,

Clay.

God exists to be shaped.

God is Change.

This is the literal truth.

God canʼt be resisted or stopped, but can be shaped and focused. This means God is not to be prayed to. Prayers only help the person doing the praying, and then, only if they strengthen and focus that persons resolve. If theyʼre used that way, they can help us in our only real relationship with God. They help us to shape God and to accept and work with the shapes that God imposes on us. God is power, and in the end, God prevails.

But we can rig the game in our own favor if we understand that God exists to be shaped, and will be shaped, with or without our forethought, with or without our intent.

Thatʼs what I know. Thatʼs some of it anyway. Iʼm not like Mrs. Sims. Iʼm not some kind of potential Job, long suffering, stiff necked, then, at last, either humble before an all-knowing almighty, or destroyed. My God doesnʼt love me or hate me or watch over me or know me at all, and I feel no love for or loyalty to my God. My God just is.

Maybe Iʼll be more like Alicia Leal, the astronaut. Like her, I believe in something that I think my dying, denying, backward-looking people need. I donʼt have all of it yet. I donʼt even know how to pass on what I do have. Iʼve got to learn to do that. It scares me how many things Iʼve got to learn. How will I learn them? Is any of this real?

Dangerous question. Sometimes I donʼt know the answer. I doubt myself. I doubt what I think I know. I try to forget about it. After all, if itʼs real, why doesnʼt anyone else know about it. Every one knows that change is inevitable. From the second law of thermodynamics to Darwinian evolution, from Buddhismʼs insistence that nothing is permanent and all suffering results from our delusions of permanence to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes (“To everything there is a season”), change is part of life, of existence, of the common wisdom. But I donʼt believe weʼre dealing with all that that means. We havenʼt even begun to deal with it.

We give lip service to acceptance, as though acceptance were enough. Then we go on to create super people—super-parents, super-kings and queens, super-cops—to be our gods and to look after us—to stand between us and God. Yet God has been here all along, shaping us and being shaped by us in no particular way or in too many ways at once like an amoeba—or like a cancer. Chaos.

Even so, why canʼt I do what others have done—ignore the obvious. Live a normal life. Itʼs hard enough just to do that in this world.

But this thing (This idea? Philosophy? New religion?) wonʼt let me alone, wonʼt let me forget it, wonʼt let me go. Maybe… Maybe itʼs like my sharing: One more weirdness; one more crazy, deep-rooted delusion that Iʼm stuck with. I am stuck with it. And in time, Iʼll have to do something about it. In spite of what my father will say or do to me, in spite of the poisonous rottenness outside the wall where I might be exiled, Iʼll have to do something about it.

That reality scares me to death.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2024

President William Turner Smith lost yesterdays election. Christopher Charles Morpeth Donner is our new

President—President-elect. So what are we in for? Donner has already said that as soon as possible after his inauguration next year, heʼll begin to dismantle the “wasteful, pointless, unnecessary” moon and Mars programs. Near space programs dealing with communications and experimentation will be privatized—sold off.

Also, Donner has a plan for putting people back to work. He hopes to get laws changed, suspend “overly restrictive” minimum wage, environmental, and worker protection laws for those employers willing to take on homeless employees and provide them with training and adequate room and board.

Whatʼs adequate, I wonder: A house or apartment? A room? A bed in a shared room? A barracks bed? Space on a floor? Space on the ground? And what about people with big families? Wonʼt they be seen as bad investments? Wonʼt it make much more sense for companies to hire single people, childless couples, or, at most, people with only one or two kids? I wonder.

And what about those suspended laws? Will it be legal to poison, mutilate, or infect people—as long as you provide them with food, water, and space to die?

Dad decided not to vote for Donner after all. He didnʼt vote for anyone. He said politicians turned his stomach.

2025

! ! !

INTELLIGENCE IS ONGOING, INDIVIDUAL adaptability. Adaptations that an intelligent species may make in a single generation, other species make over many generations of selective breeding and selective dying. Yet intelligence is demanding. If it is misdirected by accident or by intent, it can foster its own orgies of breeding and dying. EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

4

! ! !

A victim of God may,

Through learning adaption,

Become a partner of God,

A victim of God may,

Through forethought and planning,

Become a shaper of God.

Or a victim of God may,

Through shortsightedness and fear,

Remain Godʼs victim,

Godʼs plaything,

Godʼs prey.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2025

WE HAD A FIRE today. People worry so much about fire, but the little kids will play with it if they can. We were lucky with this fire. Amy Dunn, three years old, managed to start it in her familyʼs garage. Once the fire began to crawl up the wall, Amy got scared and ran into the house. She knew she had done something bad, so she didnʼt tell anyone. She hid under her grandmotherʼs bed.

Out back, the dry wood of the garage burned fast and hot. Robin Baiter saw the smoke and rang the emergency bell on the island in our street. Robinʼs only ten, but sheʼs a bright little kid—one of my stepmotherʼs star students. She keeps her head. If she hadnʼt alerted people as soon as she saw the smoke, the fire could have spread.

I heard the bell and ran out like everyone else to see what was wrong. The Dunns live across the street from us, so I couldnʼt miss the smoke.

The fire plan worked the way it was supposed to. The adult men and women put the fire out with garden hoses, shovels, wet towels and blankets. Those without hoses beat at the edges of the fire and smothered them with dirt. Kids my age helped out where we were needed and put out any new fires started by flying embers. We brought buckets to fill with water, and shovels, blankets, and towels of our own. There were a lot of us, and we kept our eyes open. The very old people watched the little kids and kept them out of the way and out of trouble.

No one missed Amy. No one had seen her in the Dunn back yard, so no one thought about her. Her grandmother found her much later and got the truth out of her.

The garage was a total loss. Edwin Dunn salvaged some of his garden and carpentry equipment, but not much. The grapefruit tree next to the garage and the two peach trees behind it were half-burned, too, but they might survive. The carrot, squash, collard, and potato plants were a trampled mess.

Of course, no one called the fire department. No one would take on fire service fees just to save an unoccupied garage. Most of our households couldnʼt afford another big bill, anyway. The water wasted on putting out the fire was going to be hard enough to pay for.

What will happen, I wonder, to poor little Amy Dunn. No one cares about her. Her family feeds her and, now and then, cleans her up, but they donʼt love her or even like her. Her mother Tracy is only a year older than I am. She was 13 when Amy was born. She was 12 when her 27-year-old uncle who had been raping her for years managed to make her pregnant.

Problem: Uncle Derek was a big, blond, handsome guy, funny and bright and well-liked. Tracy was, is, dull and homely, sulky and dirty-looking. Even when sheʼs clean, she looks splotchy, dirty. Some of her problems might have come from being raped by Uncle Derek for years. Uncle Derek was Tracyʼs motherʼs youngest brother, her favorite brother, but when people realized what he had been doing, the neighborhood men got together and suggested he go live somewhere else. People didnʼt want him around their daughters. Irrational as usual, Tracyʼs mother blamed Tracy for his exile, and for her own embarrassment. Not many girls in the neighborhood have babies before they drag some boy to my father and have him unite them in holy matrimony. But there was no one to marry Tracy, and no money for prenatal care or an abortion. And poor Amy, as she grew, looked more and more like Tracy: scrawny and splotchy with sparse, stringy hair. I donʼt think sheʼll ever be pretty.

Tracyʼs maternal instincts didnʼt kick in, and I doubt that her mother Christmas Dunn has any. The Dunn family has a reputation for craziness. There are sixteen of them living in the Dunn house, and at least a third are nuts. Amy isnʼt crazy, though. Not yet. Sheʼs neglected and lonely, and like any little kid left on her own too much, she finds ways to amuse herself.

Iʼve never seen anyone hit Amy or curse her or anything like that. The Dunns do care what people think of them. But no one pays any attention to her, either. She spends most of her time playing alone in the dirt. She also eats the dirt and whatever she finds in it, including bugs. But not long ago, just out of curiosity, I took her to our house, sponged her off, taught her the alphabet, and showed her how to write her name. She loved it. Sheʼs got a hungry, able little mind, and she loves attention.

Tonight I asked Cory if Amy could start school early. Cory doesnʼt take kids until theyʼre five or close to five, but she said sheʼd let Amy in if I would take charge of her. I expected that, though I donʼt like it. I help with the five and six year olds, anyway. Iʼve been taking care of little kids since I was one, and Iʼm tired of it. I think, though, that if someone doesnʼt help Amy now, someday sheʼll do something a lot worse than burning down her familyʼs garage.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2025

Some cousins of old Mrs. Sims have inherited her house. Theyʼre lucky thereʼs still a house to inherit. If it werenʼt for our wall, the house would have been gutted, taken over by squatters, or torched as soon as it was empty. As it was, all people did was take back things they had given to Mrs. Sims after she was robbed, and take whatever food she had in the house. No sense letting it rot. We didnʼt take her furniture or her rugs or her appliances. We could have, but we didnʼt. We arenʼt thieves.

Wardell Parrish and Rosalee Payne think otherwise. Theyʼre both small, rust-brown, sour-looking people like Mrs. Sims. Theyʼre the children of a first cousin that Mrs. Sims had managed to keep contact and good relations with. Heʼs a widower twice over, no kids, and sheʼs been widowed once, seven kids. Theyʼre not only brother and sister, but twins. Maybe that helps them get along with each other. They damn sure wonʼt get along with anyone else.

Theyʼre moving in today. Theyʼve been here a couple of times before to look the place over, and I guess they must have liked it better than their parentsʼ house. They shared that with 18 other people. I was busy in the den with my class of younger school kids, so I didnʼt meet them until today, though Iʼve heard Dad talking to them—heard them sit in our living room and insinuate that we had cleaned out Mrs. Sims house before they arrived.

Dad kept his temper. “You know she was robbed during the month before she died,” he said. “You can check with the police about that—if you havenʼt already. Since then the community has protected the house. We havenʼt used it or stripped it. If you choose to live among us, you should understand that. We help each other, and we donʼt steal.”

“I wouldnʼt expect you to say you did,” Wardell Parrish muttered.

His sister jumped in before he could say more. “Weʼre not accusing anyone of anything,” she lied. “We just

wondered… We knew Cousin Marjorie had some nice things—jewelry that she inherited from her mother… Very valuable…”

“Check with the police,” my father said.

“Well, yes, I know, but…”

“This is a small community,” my father said. “We all know each other here. We depend on each other.” There was a silence. Perhaps the twins were getting the message.

“Weʼre not very social,” Wardell Parrish said. “We mind our own business.”

Again his sister jumped in before he could go on. “Iʼm sure everything will be all right,” she said. “Iʼm sure weʼll get along fine.”

I didnʼt like them when I heard them. I liked them even less when I met them. They look at us as though we smell and they donʼt. Of course, it doesnʼt matter whether I like them or not. There are other people in the neighborhood whom I donʼt like. But I donʼt trust the Payne-Parrishes. The kids seem all right, but the adults… I wouldnʼt want to have to depend on them. Not even for little things.

Payne and Parrish. What perfect names they have.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2025

We ran into a pack of feral dogs today. We went to the hills today for target practice—me, my father, Joanne Garfield, her cousin and boyfriend Harold—Harry—Baiter, my boyfriend Curtis Talcott, his brother Michael, Aura Moss and her brother Peter. Our other adult Guardian was Joanneʼs father Jay. Heʼs a good guy and a good shot. Dad likes to work with him, although sometimes there are problems. The Garfields and the Baiters are white, and the rest of us are black. That can be dangerous these days. On the street, people are expected to fear and hate everyone but their own kind, but with all of us armed and watchful, people stared, but they let us alone. Our neighborhood is too small for us to play those kinds of games.

Everything went as usual at first. The Talcotts got into an argument first with each other, then with the Mosses. The Mosses are always blaming other people for whatever they do wrong, so they tend to have disputes outstanding with most of us. Peter Moss is the worst because heʼs always trying to be like his father, and his father is a total shit. His father has three wives. All at once, Karen, Natalie, and Zahra. Theyʼve all got kids by him, though so far, Zahra, the youngest and prettiest, only has one. Karen is the one with the marriage license, but she let him get away with bringing in first one, then another new woman into the house and calling them his wives. I guess the way things are, she didnʼt think she could make it on her own with three kids when he brought in Natalie and five by the time he found Zahra.

The Mosses donʼt come to church. Richard Moss has put together his own religion—a combination of the Old Testament and historical West African practices. He claims that God wants men to be patriarchs, rulers and protectors of women, and fathers of as many children as possible. Heʼs an engineer for one of the big commercial water companies, so he can afford to pick up beautiful, young homeless women and live with them in polygamous relationships. He could pick up twenty women like that if he could afford to feed them. I hear thereʼs a lot of that kind of thing going on in other neighborhoods. Some middle class men prove theyʼre men by having a lot of wives in temporary or permanent relationships. Some upper class men prove theyʼre men by having one wife and a lot of beautiful, disposable young servant girls. Nasty. When the girls get pregnant, if their rich employers wonʼt protect them, the employersʼ wives throw them out to starve.

Is that the way itʼs going to be, I wonder? Is that the future: Large numbers of people stuck in either President-elect Donnerʼs version of slavery or Richard Mossʼs.

We rode our bikes to the top of River Street past the last neighborhood walls, past the last ragged, unwalled houses, past the last stretch of broken asphalt and rag and stick shacks of squatters and street poor who stare at us in their horrible, empty way, and then higher into the hills along a dirt road. At last we dismounted and walked our bikes down the narrow trail into one of the canyons that we and others use for target practice. It looked all right this time, but we always have to be careful. People use canyons for a lot of things. If we find corpses in one, we stay away from it for a while. Dad tries to shield us from what goes on in the world, but he canʼt. Knowing that, he also tries to teach us to shield ourselves.

Most of us have practiced at home with BB guns on homemade targets or on squirrel and bird targets. Iʼve done all that. My aim is good, but I donʼt like it with the birds and squirrels. Dad was the one who insisted on my learning to shoot them. He said moving targets would be good for my aim. I think there was more to it than that. I think he wanted to see whether or not I could do it—whether shooting a bird or a squirrel would trigger my hyperempathy

It didnʼt, quite. I didnʼt like it, but it wasnʼt painful. It felt like a big, soft, strange ghost blow, like getting hit with a huge ball of air, but with no coolness, no feeling of wind. The blow, though still soft, was a little harder with squirrels and sometimes rats than with birds. All three had to be killed, though. They ate our food or ruined it. Tree-crops were their special victims: Peaches, plums, figs, persimmons, nuts… And crops like strawberries, blackberries, grapes… Whatever we planted, if they could get at it, they would. Birds are particular pests because they can fly in, yet I like them. I envy their ability to fly. Sometimes I get up and go out at dawn just so I can watch them without anyone scaring them or shooting them. Now that Iʼm old enough to go target shooting on Saturdays, I donʼt intend to shoot any more birds, no matter what Dad says. Besides, just because I can shoot a bird or a squirrel doesnʼt mean I could shoot a person—a thief like the ones who robbed Mrs. Sims. I donʼt know whether I could do that. And if I did it, I donʼt know what would happen to me. Would I die? Itʼs my fatherʼs fault that we pay so much attention to guns and shooting. He carries a nine millimeter automatic pistol whenever he leaves the neighborhood. He carries it on his hip where people can see it. He says that discourages mistakes. Armed people do get killed—most often in crossfires or by snipers—but unarmed people get killed a lot more often.

Dad also has a silenced nine millimeter submachine gun. It stays at home with Cory in case something happens there while heʼs away. Both guns are German—Heckler & Koch. Dad has never said where he got the submachine gun. Itʼs illegal, of course, so I donʼt blame him. It must have cost a hell of a lot. Heʼs only had it away from home a few times so he, Cory, and I could get the feel of it. Heʼll do the same for the boys when theyʼre older.

Cory has an old Smith & Wesson .38 revolver that sheʼs good with. Sheʼs had it since before she married Dad. She loaned that one to me today. Ours arenʼt the best or the newest guns in the neighborhood, but they all work. Dad and Cory keep them in good condition. I have to help with that now. And they spend the necessary time on practice and money on ammunition.

At neighborhood association meetings, Dad used to push the adults of every household to own weapons, maintain them, and know how to use them. “Know how to use them so well,” heʼs said more than once, “that youʼre as able to defend yourself at two A.M. as you are at two P.M.”

At first there were a few neighbors who didnʼt like that—older ones who said it was the job of the police to protect them, younger ones who worried that their little children would find their guns, and religious ones who didnʼt think a minister of the gospel should need guns. This was several years ago.

“The police,” my father told them, “may be able to avenge you, but they canʼt protect you. Things are getting worse. And as for your children… Well, yes, there is risk. But you can put your guns out of their reach while theyʼre very young, and train them as they grow older. Thatʼs what I mean to do. I believe theyʼll have a better chance of growing up if you can protect them.” He paused, stared at the people, then went on. “I have a wife and five children,” he said. “I will pray for them all. Iʼll also see to it that they know how to defend themselves. And for as long as I can, I will stand between my family and any intruder.” He paused again. “Now thatʼs what I have to do. You all do what you have to do.”

By now there are at least two guns in every household. Dad says he suspects that some of them are so well hidden—like Mrs. Simsʼ gun—that they wouldnʼt be available in an emergency. Heʼs working on that. All the kids who attend school at our house get gun handling instruction. Once theyʼve passed that and turned fifteen, two or three of the neighborhood adults begin taking them to the hills for target practice. Itʼs a kind of rite of passage for us. My brother Keith has been whining to go along whenever someone gets a shooting group together, but the age rule is firm.

I worry about the way Keith wants to get his hands on the guns. Dad doesnʼt seem to worry, but I do. There are always a few groups of homeless people and packs of feral dogs living out beyond the last hillside shacks. People and dogs hunt rabbits, possums, squirrels, and each other. Both scavenge whatever dies. The dogs used to belong to people—or their ancestors did. But dogs eat meat. These days, no poor or middle class person who had an edible piece of meat would give it to a dog. Rich people still keep dogs, either because they like them or because they use them to guard estates, enclaves, and businesses. The rich have plenty of other security devices, but the dogs are extra insurance. Dogs scare people. I did some shooting today, and I was leaning against a boulder, watching others shoot, when I realized there was a dog nearby, watching me. Just one dog—male, yellow-brown, sharp-eared, short-haired. He wasnʼt big enough to make a meal of me, and I still had the Smith & Wesson, so while he was looking me over, I took a good look at him. He was lean, but he didnʼt look starved. He looked alert and curious. He sniffed the air, and I remembered that dogs were supposed to be oriented more toward scent than sight. “Look at that,” I said to Joanne Garfield who was standing nearby.

She turned, gasped, and jerked her gun up to aim at the dog. The dog vanished into the dry brush and boulders. Turning, Joanne tried to look everywhere as though she expected to see more dogs stalking us, but there was nothing. She was shaking.

“Iʼm sorry,” I said. “I didnʼt know you were afraid of them.”

She drew a deep breath and looked at the place where the dog had been. “I didnʼt know I was either,” she whispered. “Iʼve never been so close to one before. I… I wish I had gotten a better look at it.” At that moment, Aura Moss screamed and fired her fathers Llama automatic.

I pushed away from the boulder and turned to see Aura pointing her gun toward some rocks and babbling.

“It was over there!” she said, her words tumbling over one another. “It was some kind of animal—dirty yellow with big teeth. It had its mouth open. It was huge!”

“You stupid bitch, you almost shot me!” Michael Talcott shouted. I could see now that he had ducked down behind a boulder. He would have been in Auraʼs line of fire, but he didnʼt seem to be hurt. “Put your gun away, Aura,” my father said. He kept his voice low, but he was angry. I could see that, whether Aura could or not.

“It was an animal,” she insisted. “A big one. It might still be around.”

“Aura!” My father raised his voice and hardened it.

Aura looked at him, then seemed to realize that she had more than a dog to worry about. She looked at the gun in her hand, frowned, fumbled it safe, and put it back into her holster.

“Mike?” my father said.

“Iʼm okay,” Michael Talcott said. “No thanks to her!”

“It wasnʼt my fault,” Aura said, right on cue. “There was an animal. It could have killed you! It was sneaking up on us!”

“I think it was just a dog,” I said. “There was one watching us over here. Joanne moved and it ran away.” “You should have killed it,” Peter Moss said. “What do you want to do? Wait until it jumps someone.” “What was it doing?” Jay Garfield asked. “Just watching?”

“Thatʼs all,” I said. “It didnʼt look sick or starved. It wasnʼt very big. I donʼt think it was a danger to anyone here. There are too many of us, and weʼre all too big.”

“The thing I saw was huge,” Aura insisted. “It had its mouth open!”

I went over to her because Iʼd had a sudden thought. “It was panting,” I said. “They pant when theyʼre hot. It doesnʼt mean theyʼre angry or hungry.” I hesitated, watching her. “Youʼve never seen one before, have you?” She shook her head.

“Theyʼre bold, but theyʼre not dangerous to a group like this. You donʼt have to worry.” She didnʼt look as though she quite believed me, but she seemed to relax a little. The Moss girls were both bullied and sheltered. They were almost never allowed to leave the walls of the neighborhood. They were educated at home by their mothers according to the religion their father had assembled, and they were warned away from the sin and contamination of the rest of the world. Iʼm surprised that Aura was allowed to come to us for gun handling instruction and target practice. I hope it will be good for her—and I hope the rest of us will survive.

“All of you stay where you are,” Dad said. He glanced at Jay Garfield, then went a short way up among the rocks and scrub oaks to see whether Aura had shot anything. He kept his gun in his hand and the safety off. He was out of our sight for no more than a minute.

He came back with a look on his face that I couldnʼt read. “Put your guns away,” he said. “Weʼre going home.”

“Did I kill it?” Aura demanded.

“No. Get your bikes.” He and Jay Garfield whispered together for a moment, and Jay Garfield sighed. Joanne and I watched them, wondering, knowing we wouldnʼt hear anything from them until they were ready to tell us.

“This is not about a dead dog,” Harold Baiter said behind us. Joanne moved back to stand beside him. “Itʼs about either a dog pack or a human pack,” I said, “or maybe itʼs a corpse.”

It was, as I found out later, a family of corpses: A woman, a little boy of about four years, and a just-born infant, all partly eaten. But Dad didnʼt tell me that until we got home. At the canyon, all we knew was that he was upset.

“If there were a corpse around here, we would have smelled it,” Harry said.

“Not if it were fresh,” I countered.

Joanne looked at me and sighed the way her father sighs. “If its that, I wonder where weʼll go shooting next time. I wonder when thereʼll be a next time.”

Peter Moss and the Talcott brothers had gotten into an argument over whose fault it was that Aura had almost shot Michael, and Dad had to break it up. Then Dad checked with Aura to see that she was all right. He said a few things to her that I couldnʼt hear, and I saw a tear slide down her face. She cries easily. She always has.

Dad walked away from her looking harassed. He led us up the path out of the canyon. We walked our bikes, and we all kept looking around. We could see now that there were other dogs nearby. We were being watched by a big pack. Jay Garfield brought up the rear, guarding our backs.

“He said we should stick together,” Joanne told me. She had seen me looking back at her father. “You and I?”

“Yeah, and Harry. He said we should look out for one another.”

“I donʼt think these dogs are stupid enough or hungry enough to attack us in daylight. Theyʼll go after some lone street person tonight.”

“Shut up, for godsake.”

The road was narrow going up and out of the canyon. It would have been a bad place to have to fight off dogs. Someone could trip and step off the crumbling edge. Someone could be knocked off the edge by a dog or by one of us. That would mean falling several hundred feet.

Down below, I could hear dogs fighting now. We may have been close to their dens or whatever they lived in. I thought maybe we were just close to what they were feeding on.

“If they come,” my father said in a quiet, even voice, “Freeze, aim, and fire. That will save you. Nothing else will. Freeze, aim, and fire. Keep your eyes open and stay calm.”

I replayed the words in my mind as we went up the switchbacks. No doubt Dad wanted us to replay them. I could see that Aura was still leaking tears and smearing and streaking her face with dirt like a little kid. She was too wrapped up in her own misery and fear to be of much use.

We got almost to the top before anything happened. We were beginning to relax, I think. I hadnʼt seen a dog for a while. Then, from the front of our line, we heard three shots.

We all froze, most of, us unable to see what had happened.

“Keep moving,” my father called. “Itʼs all right. It was just one dog getting too close.”

“Are you okay?” I called.

“Yes,” he said. “Just come on and keep your eyes open.”

One by one, we came abreast of the dog that had been shot and walked past it. It was a bigger, grayer animal than the one I had seen. There was a beauty to it. It looked like pictures I had seen of wolves. It was wedged against a hanging boulder just a few steps up the steep canyon wall from us. It moved.

I saw its bloody wounds as it twisted. I bit my tongue as the pain I knew it must feel became my pain. What to do? Keep walking? I couldnʼt. One more step and I would fall and lie in the dirt, helpless against the pain. Or I might fall into the canyon.

“Itʼs still alive,” Joanne said behind me. “Itʼs moving.”

Its forefeet were making little running motions, its claws scraping against the rock.

I thought I would throw up. My belly hurt more and more until I felt skewered through the middle. I leaned on my bike with my left arm. With my right hand, I drew the Smith & Wesson, aimed, and shot the beautiful dog through its head.

I felt the impact of the bullet as a hard, solid blow—something beyond pain. Then I felt the dog die. I saw it jerk, shudder, stretch its body long, then freeze. I saw it die. I felt it die. It went out like a match in a sudden vanishing of pain. Its life flared up, then went out. I went a little numb. Without the bike, I would have collapsed.

People had crowded close before and behind me. I heard them before I could see them clearly. “Itʼs dead,” I heard Joanne say “Poor thing.”

“What?” my father demanded. “Another one?”

I managed to focus on him. He must have skirted close to the cliff-edge of the road to have gotten all the way back to us. And he must have run.

“The same one,” I said, managing to straighten up. “It wasnʼt dead. We saw it moving.” “I put three bullets into it,” he said.

“It was moving, Reverend Olamina,” Joanne insisted. “It was suffering. If Lauren hadnʼt shot it, someone else would have had to.”

Dad sighed. “Well, it isnʼt suffering now. Letʼs get out of here.” Then he seemed to realize what Joanne had said. He looked at me. “Are you all right?”

I nodded. I donʼt know how I looked. No one was reacting to me as though I looked odd, so I must not have shown much of what I had gone through. I think only Harry Baiter, Curtis Talcott, and Joanne had seen me shoot the dog. I looked at them and Curtis grinned at me. He leaned against his bike and in a slow, lazy motion, he drew an imaginary gun, took careful aim at the dead dog, and fired an imaginary shot. “Pow,” he said. “Just like she does stuff like that every day Pow!”

“Letʼs go.” My father said.

We began walking up the path again. We left the canyon and made our way down to the street. There were no more dogs.

I walked, then rode in a daze, still not quite free of the dog I had killed. I had felt it die, and yet I had not died. I had felt its pain as though it were a human being. I had felt its life flare and go out, and I was still alive. Pow.

5

! ! !

Belief

Initiates and guides action—

Or it does nothing.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2025

ITʼS RAINING.

We heard last night on the radio that there was a storm sweeping in from the Pacific, but most people didnʼt believe it. “Weʼll have wind,” Cory said. “Wind and maybe a few drops of rain, or maybe just a little cool weather. That would be welcome. Itʼs all weʼll get.”

Thatʼs all there has been for six years. I can remember the rain six years ago, water swirling around the back porch, not high enough to come into the house, but high enough to attract my brothers who wanted to play in it. Cory, forever worried about infection, wouldnʼt let them. She said theyʼd be splashing around in a soup of all the waste-water germs weʼd been watering our gardens with for years. Maybe she was right, but kids all over the neighborhood covered themselves with mud and earthworms that day, and nothing terrible happened to them.

But that storm was almost tropical—a quick, hard, warm, September rain, the edge of a hurricane that hit Mexicoʼs Pacific coast. This is a colder, winter storm. It began this morning as people were coming to church.

In the choir we sang rousing old hymns accompanied by Coryʼs piano playing and lightning and thunder from outside. It was wonderful. Some people missed part of the sermon, though, because they went home to put out all the barrels, buckets, tubs, and pots they could find to catch the free water. Other went home to put pots and buckets inside where there were leaks in the roof.

I canʼt remember when any of us have had a roof repaired by a professional. We all have Spanish tile roofs, and thatʼs good. A tile roof is, I suspect, more secure and lasting than wood or asphalt shingles. But time, wind, and earthquakes have taken a toll. Tree limbs have done some damage, too. Yet no one has extra money for anything as nonessential as roof repair. At best, some of the neighborhood men go up with whatever materials they can scavenge and create makeshift patches. No oneʼs even done that for a while. If it only rains once every six or seven years, why bother?

Our roof is all right so far, and the barrels and things we put out after services this morning are full or filling. Good, clean, free water from the sky. If only it came more often.

MONDAY, MARCH 3, 2025

Still raining.

No thunder today, though there was some last night. Steady drizzle, and occasional, heavy showers all day. All day. So different and beautiful. Iʼve never felt so overwhelmed by water. I went out and walked in the rain until I was soaked. Cory didnʼt want me to, but I did it anyway. It was so wonderful. How can she not understand that? It was so incredible and wonderful.

TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2025

Amy Dunn is dead.

Three years old, unloved, and dead. That doesnʼt seem reasonable or even possible. She could read simple words and count to thirty. I taught her. She so much loved getting attention that she stuck to me during school hours and drove me crazy. Didnʼt want me to go to the bathroom without her.

Dead.

I had gotten to like her, even though she was a pest.

Today I walked her home after class. I had gotten into the habit of walking her home because the Dunns wouldnʼt send anyone for her.

“She knows the way,” Christmas said. “Just send her over. Sheʼll get here all right.”

I didnʼt doubt that she could have. She could look across the street, and across the center island, and see her house from ours, but Amy had a tendency to wander. Sent home alone, she might get there or she might wind up in the Montoya garden, grazing, or in the Moss rabbit house, trying to let the rabbits out. So I walked her across, glad for an excuse to get out in the rain again. Amy loved it, too, and we lingered for a moment under the big avocado tree on the island. There was a navel orange tree at the back end of the island, and I picked a pair of ripe oranges—one for Amy and one for me. I peeled both of them, and we ate them while the rain plastered Amyʼs scant colorless hair against her head and made her look bald.

I took her to her door and left her in the care of her mother.

“You didnʼt have to get her so wet,” Tracy complained.

“Might as well enjoy the rain while it lasts,” I said, and I left them.

I saw Tracy take Amy into the house and shut the door. Yet somehow Amy wound up outside again, wound up near the front gate, just opposite the Garfield/Balter/Dory house. Jay Garfield found her there when he came out to investigate what he thought was another bundle that someone had thrown over the gate. People toss us things sometimes—gifts of envy and hate: A maggoty, dead animal, a bag of shit, even an occasional severed human limb or a dead child. Dead adults have been left lying just beyond our wall. But these were all outsiders. Amy was one of us.

Someone shot Amy right through the metal gate. It had to be an accidental hit because you canʼt see through our gate from the outside. The shooter either fired at someone who was in front of the gate or fired at the gate itself, at the neighborhood, at us and our supposed wealth and privilege. Most bullets wouldnʼt have gotten through the gate. Itʼs supposed to be bulletproof. But itʼs been penetrated a couple of times before, high up, near the top. Now we have six new bullet holes in the lower portion—six holes and a seventh dent, a long, smooth gauge where a bullet had glanced off without breaking through.

We hear so much gunfire, day and night, single shots and odd bursts of automatic weapons fire, even occasional blasts from heavy artillery or explosions from grenades or bigger bombs. We worry most about those last things, but theyʼre rare. Itʼs harder to steal big weapons, and not many people around here can afford to buy the illegal ones—or thatʼs what Dad says. The thing is, we hear gunfire so much that we donʼt hear it. A couple of the Baiter kids said they heard shooting, but as usual, they paid no attention to it. It was outside, beyond the wall, after all. Most of us heard nothing except the rain.

Amy was going to turn four in a couple of weeks. I had planned to give her a little party with my kindergartners.

God, I hate this place.

I mean, I love it. Itʼs home. These are my people. But I hate it. Itʼs like an island surrounded by sharks— except that sharks donʼt bother you unless you go in the water. But our land sharks are on their way in. Itʼs just a matter of how long it takes for them to get hungry enough.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 2025

I walked in the rain again this morning. It was cold, but good. Amy has already been cremated. I wonder if her mother is relieved. She doesnʼt look relieved. She never liked Amy, but now she cries. I donʼt think sheʼs faking. The family has spent money it could not afford to get the police involved to try to find the killer. I suspect that the only good this will do will be to chase away the people who live on the sidewalks and streets nearest to our wall. Is that good? The street poor will be back, and they wonʼt love us for sicking the cops on them. Itʼs illegal to camp out on the street the way they do—the way they must—so the cops knock them around, rob them if they have anything worth stealing, then order them away or jail them. The miserable will be made even more miserable. None of that can help Amy. I suppose, though, that it will make the Dunns feel better about the way they treated her.

On Saturday, Dad will preach Amyʼs funeral. I wish I didnʼt have to be there. Funerals have never bothered me before, but this one does.

“You cared about Amy,” Joanne Garfield said to me when I complained to her. We had lunch together today. We ate in my bedroom because itʼs still raining off and on, and the rest of the house was full of all the kids who hadnʼt gone home to eat lunch. But my room is still mine. Itʼs the one place in the world where I can go and not be followed by anyone I donʼt invite in. Iʼm the only person I know who has a bedroom to herself. These days, even Dad and Cory knock before they open my door. Thatʼs one of the best things about being the only daughter in the family. I have to kick my brothers out of here all the time, but at least I can kick them out. Joanne is an only child, but she shares a room with three younger girl cousins—whiny Lisa, always demanding and complaining; smart, giggly Robin with her near-genius I.Q.; and invisible Jessica who whispers and stares at her feet and cries if you give her a dirty look. All three are Baiters—Harryʼs sisters and the children of Joanneʼs motherʼs sister. The two adult sisters, their husbands, their eight children, and their parents Mr. and Mrs. Dory are all squeezed into one five-bedroom house. It isnʼt the most crowded house in the neighborhood, but Iʼm glad I donʼt have to live like that.

“Almost no one cared about Amy,” Joanne said. “But you did.”

“After the fire, I did,” I said. “I got scared for her then. Before that, I ignored her like everyone else.” “So now youʼre feeling guilty?”

“No.”

“Yes, you are.”

I looked at her, surprised. “I mean it. No. I hate that sheʼs dead, and I miss her, but I didnʼt cause her death. I just canʼt deny what all this says about us.”

“What?”

I felt on the verge of talking to her about things I hadnʼt talked about before. Iʼd written about them. Sometimes I write to keep from going crazy. Thereʼs a world of things I donʼt feel free to talk to anyone about. But Joanne is a friend. She knows me better than most people, and she has a brain. Why not talk to her? Sooner or later, I have to talk to someone.

“Whatʼs wrong?” she asked. She had opened a plastic container of bean salad. Now she put it down on my night table.

“Donʼt you ever wonder if maybe Amy and Mrs. Sims are the lucky ones?” I asked. “I mean, donʼt you ever wonder whatʼs going to happen to the rest of us?”

There was a clap of dull, muffled thunder, and a sudden heavy shower. Radio weather reports say todayʼs rain will be the last of the four-day series of storms. I hope not.

“Sure I think about it,” Joanne said. “With people shooting little kids, how can I not think about it?” “People have been killing little kids since thereʼve been people,” I said.

“Not in here, they havenʼt. Not until now.”

“Yes, thatʼs it, isnʼt it. We got a wake-up call. Another one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Amy was the first of us to be killed like that. She wonʼt be the last.”

Joanne sighed, and there was a little shudder in the sigh. “So you think so, too.”

“I do. But I didnʼt know you thought about it at all.”

“Rape, robbery, and now murder. Of course I think about it. Everyone thinks about it. Everyone worries. I wish I could get out of here.”

“Where would you go?”

“Thatʼs it, isnʼt it? Thereʼs nowhere to go.”

“There might be.”

“Not if you donʼt have money. Not if all you know how to do is take care of babies and cook.” I shook my head. “You know much more than that.”

“Maybe, but none of it matters. I wonʼt be able to afford college. I wonʼt be able to get a job or move out of my parentsʼ house because no job I could get would support me and there are no safe places to move. Hell, my parents are still living with their parents.”

“I know,” I said. “And as bad as that is, thereʼs more.”

“Who needs more? Thatʼs enough!” She began to eat the bean salad. It looked good, but I thought I might be about to ruin it for her.

“Thereʼs cholera spreading in southern Mississippi and Louisiana,” I said. “I heard about it on the radio yesterday. There are too many poor people—illiterate, jobless, homeless, without decent sanitation or clean

water. They have plenty of water down there, but a lot of it is polluted. And you know that drug that makes people want to set fires?”

She nodded, chewing.

“Itʼs spreading again. It was on the east coast. Now itʼs in Chicago. The reports say that it makes watching a fire better than sex. I donʼt know whether the reporters are condemning it or advertising it.” I drew a deep breath. “Tornadoes are smashing hell out of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and two or three other states. Three hundred people dead so far. And thereʼs a blizzard freezing the northern midwest, killing even more people. In New York and New Jersey, a measles epidemic is killing people. Measles!”

“I heard about the measles,” Joanne said. “Strange. Even if people canʼt afford immunizations, measles shouldnʼt kill.”

“Those people are half dead already,” I told her. “Theyʼve come through the winter cold, hungry, already sick with other diseases. And, no, of course they canʼt afford immunizations. Weʼre lucky our parents found the money to pay for all our immunizations. If we have kids, I donʼt see how weʼll be able to do even that for them.”

“I know, I know.” She sounded almost bored. “Things are bad. My mother is hoping this new guy, President Donner, will start to get us back to normal.”

“Normal,” I muttered. “I wonder what that is. Do you agree with your mother?”

“No. Donner hasnʼt got a chance. I think he would fix things if he could, but Harry says his ideas are scary. Harry says heʼll set the country back a hundred years.”

“My father says something like that. Iʼm surprised that Harry agrees.”

“He would. His own father thinks Donner is God. Harry wouldnʼt agree with him on anything.” I laughed, distracted, thinking about Harryʼs battles with his father. Neighborhood fireworks—plenty of flash, but no real fire.

“Why do you want to talk about this stuff,” Joanne asked, bringing me back to the real fire. “We canʼt do anything about it.”

“We have to.”

“Have to what? Weʼre fifteen! What can we do?”

“We can get ready. Thatʼs what weʼve got to do now. Get ready for whatʼs going to happen, get ready to survive it, get ready to make a life afterward. Get focused on arranging to survive so that we can do more than just get batted around by crazy people, desperate people, thugs, and leaders who donʼt know what theyʼre doing!”

She just stared at me. “I donʼt know what youʼre talking about.”

I was rolling—too fast, maybe. “Iʼm talking about this place, Jo, this cul-de-sac with a wall around it. Iʼm talking about the day a big gang of those hungry, desperate, crazy people outside decide to come in. Iʼm talking about what weʼve got to do before that happens so that we can survive and rebuild—or at least survive and escape to be something other than beggars.”

“Someoneʼs going to just smash in our wall and come in?”

“More likely blast it down, or blast the gate open. Itʼs going to happen some day. You know that as well as I do.”

“Oh, no I donʼt,” she protested. She sat up straight, almost stiff, her lunch forgotten for the moment. I bit into a piece of acorn bread that was full of dried fruit and nuts. Itʼs a favorite of mine, but I managed to chew and swallow without tasting it.

“Jo, weʼre in for trouble. Youʼve already admitted that.”

“Sure,” she said. “More shootings, more break-ins. Thatʼs what I meant.”

“And thatʼs what will happen for a while. I wish I could guess how long. Weʼll be hit and hit and hit, then the big hit will come. And if weʼre not ready for it, it will be like Jericho.”

She held herself rigid, rejecting. “You donʼt know that! You canʼt read the future. No one can.” “You can,” I said, “if you want to. Itʼs scary, but once you get past the fear, itʼs easy. In LA. some walled communities bigger and stronger than this one just arenʼt there any more. Nothing left but ruins, rats, and squatters. What happened to them can happen to us. Weʼll die in here unless we get busy now and work out ways to survive.”

“If you think that, why donʼt you tell your parents. Warn them and see what they say.” “I intend to as soon as I think of a way to do it that will reach them. Besides… I think they already know. I think my father does, anyway. I think most of the adults know. They donʼt want to know, but they do.” “My mother could be right about Donner. He really could do some good.”

“No. No, Donnerʼs just a kind of human banister.”

“A what?”

“I mean heʼs like…like a symbol of the past for us to hold on to as weʼre pushed into the future. Heʼs nothing. No substance. But having him there, the latest in a two-and-a-half-century-long line of American Presidents make people feel that the country, the culture that they grew up with is still here—that weʼll get through these bad times and back to normal.”

“We could,” she said. “We might. I think someday we will.” No, she didnʼt. She was too bright to take anything but the most superficial comfort from her denial. But even superficial comfort is better than none, I guess. I tried another tactic.

“Did you ever read about bubonic plague in medieval Europe?” I asked.

She nodded. She reads a lot the way I do, reads all kinds of things. “A lot of the continent was

depopulated,” she said. “Some survivors thought the world was coming to an end.”

“Yes, but once they realized it wasnʼt, they also realized there was a lot of vacant land available for the taking, and if they had a trade, they realized they could demand better pay for their work. A lot of things changed for the survivors.”

“Whatʼs your point?”

“The changes.” I thought for a moment. They were slow changes compared to anything that might happen here, but it took a plague to make some of the people realize that things could change.” “So?”

“Things are changing now, too. Our adults havenʼt been wiped out by a plague so theyʼre still anchored in the past, waiting for the good old days to come back. But things have changed a lot, and theyʼll change more. Things are always changing. This is just one of the big jumps instead of the little step-by-step changes that are easier to take. People have changed the climate of the world. Now theyʼre waiting for the old days to come back.”

“Your father says he doesnʼt believe people changed the climate in spite of what scientists say. He says only God could change the world in such an important way.”

“Do you believe him?”

She opened her mouth, looked at me, then closed it again. After a while, she said, “I donʼt know.” “My father has his blind spots,” I said. “Heʼs the best person I know, but even he has blind spots.” “It doesnʼt make any difference,” she said. “We canʼt make the climate change back, no matter why it

changed in the first place. You and I canʼt. The neighborhood canʼt. We canʼt do anything.” I lost patience. “Then letʼs kill ourselves now and be done with it!”

She frowned, her round, too serious face almost angry. She tore bits of peel from a small navel orange. “What then?” she demanded. “What can we do?”

I put the last bite of my acorn bread down and went around her to my night table. I took several books from the deep bottom drawer and showed them to her. “This is what Iʼve been doing—reading and studying these over the past few months. These books are old like all the books in this house. Iʼve also been using Dadʼs computer when he lets me—to get new stuff.”

Frowning, she looked them over. Three books on survival in the wilderness, three on guns and shooting, two each on handling medical emergencies, California native and naturalized plants and their uses, and basic living: logcabin-building, livestock raising, plant cultivation, soap making—that kind of thing. Joanne caught on at once.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “Trying to learn to live off the land?”

“Iʼm trying to learn whatever I can that might help me survive out there. I think we should all study books like these. I think we should bury money and other necessities in the ground where thieves wonʼt find them. I think we should make emergency packs—grab and run packs—in case we have to get out of here in a hurry. Money, food, clothing, matches, a blanket… I think we should fix places outside where we can meet in case we

get separated. Hell, I think a lot of things. And I know—I know!—that no matter how many things I think of, they wonʼt be enough. Every time I go outside, I try to imagine what it might be like to live out there without walls, and I realize I donʼt know anything.”

“Then why—”

“I intend to survive.”

She just stared.

“I mean to learn everything I can while I can,” I said. “If I find myself outside, maybe what Iʼve learned will help me live long enough to learn more.”

She gave me a nervous smile. “Youʼve been reading too many adventure stories,” she said. I frowned. How could I reach her. “This isnʼt a joke, Jo.”

“What is it then?” She ate the last section of her orange. “What do you want me to say?” “I want you to be serious. I realize I donʼt know very much. None of us knows very much. But we can all learn more. Then we can teach one another. We can stop denying reality or hoping it will go away by magic.” “Thatʼs not what Iʼm doing.”

I looked out for a moment at the rain, calming myself.

“Okay. Okay, what are you doing?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Iʼm still not sure we can really do anything.”

“Jo!”

“Tell me what I can do that wonʼt get me in trouble or make everyone think Iʼm crazy. Just tell me something.”

At last. “Have you read all your familyʼs books?”

“Some of them. Not all. They arenʼt all worth reading. Books arenʼt going to save us.” “Nothing is going to save us. If we donʼt save ourselves, weʼre dead. Now use your imagination. Is there anything on your family bookshelves that might help you if you were stuck outside?”

“No.”

“You answer too fast. Go home and look again. And like I said, use your imagination. Any kind of survival information from encyclopedias, biographies, anything that helps you learn to live off the land and defend ourselves. Even some fiction might be useful.”

She gave me a sidelong glance. “Iʼll bet,” she said.

“Jo, if you never need this information, it wonʼt do you any harm. Youʼll just know a little more than you did before. So what? By the way, do you take notes when you read?”

Guarded look. “Sometimes.”

“Read this.” I handed her one of the plant books. This one was about California Indians, the plants they used, and how they used them—an interesting, entertaining little book. She would be surprised. There was nothing in it to scare her or threaten her or push her. I thought I had already done enough of that. “Take notes,” I told her. “Youʼll remember better if you do.”

“I still donʼt believe you,” she said. “Things donʼt have to be as bad as you say they are.” I put the book into her hands. “Hang on to your notes,” I said. “Pay special attention to the plants that grow between here and the coast and between here and Oregon along the coast. Iʼve marked them.” “I said I donʼt believe you.”

“I donʼt care.”

She looked down at the book, ran her hands over the black cloth-and-cardboard binding. “So we learn to eat grass and live in the bushes,” she muttered.

“We learn to survive,” I said. “Itʼs a good book. Take care of it. You know how my father is about his books.” THURSDAY, MARCH 6, 2025

The rain stopped. My windows are on the north side of the house, and I can see the clouds breaking up. Theyʼre being blown over the mountains toward the desert. Surprising how fast they can move. The wind is strong and cold now. It might cost us a few trees.

I wonder how many years it will be before we see rain again.

6

! ! !

Drowning people

Sometimes die

Fighting their rescuers.

EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING

SATURDAY, MARCH 8, 2025

JOANNE TOLD.

She told her mother who told her father who told my father who had one of those serious talks with me. Damn her. Damn her!

I saw her today at the service we had for Amy and yesterday at school. She didnʼt say a word about what she had done. It turns out she told her mother on Thursday. Maybe it was supposed to be a secret between them or something. But, oh, Phillida Garfield was so concerned for me, so worried. And she didnʼt like my scaring Joanne. Was Joanne scared? Not scared enough to use her brain, it seems. Joanne always seemed so sensible. Did she think getting me into trouble would make the danger go away? No, thatʼs not it. This is just more denial: A dumb little game of “If we donʼt talk about bad things, maybe they wonʼt happen.” Idiot! Iʼll never be able to tell her anything important again.

What if Iʼd been more open. What if Iʼd talked religion with her? Iʼd wanted to. How will I ever be able to talk to anyone about that?

What I did say worked its way back to me tonight. Mr. Garfield talked to Dad after the funeral. It was like the whispering game that little kids play. The message went all the way from, “Weʼre in danger here and weʼre going to have to work hard to save ourselves,” to “Lauren is talking about running away because sheʼs afraid that outsiders are going to riot and tear down the walls and kill us all.”

Well, I had said some of that, and Joanne had made it clear that she didnʼt agree with me. But I hadnʼt just let the bad predictions stand alone: “Weʼre going to die, boo-hoo.” What would be the point of that? Still, only the negative stuff came home to me.

“Lauren, what did you say to Joanne?” my father demanded. He came to my room after dinner when he should have been doing his final work on tomorrowʼs sermon. He sat down on my one chair and stared at me in a way that meant, “Where is your mind, girl? Whatʼs the matter with you?” That look plus Joanneʼs name told me what had happened, what this was about. My friend Joanne. Damn her!

I sat on my bed and looked back at him. “I told her we were in for some bad, dangerous times,” I said. “I warned her we ought to learn what we could now so we could survive.”

That was when he told me how upset Joanneʼs mother was, how upset Joanne was, and how they both thought I needed to “talk to someone,” because I thought our world was coming to an end. “Do you think our world is coming to an end?” Dad asked, and with no warning at all, I almost started

crying. I had all I could do to hold it back. What I thought was, “No, I think your world is coming to an end, and maybe you with it.” That was terrible. I hadnʼt thought about it in such a personal way before. I turned and looked out a window until I felt calmer. When I faced him again, I said. “Yes. Donʼt you?”

He frowned. I donʼt think he expected me to say that. “Youʼre fifteen,” he said. “You donʼt really understand whatʼs going on here. The problems we have now have been building since long before you were born.” “I know.”

He was still frowning. I wondered what he wanted me to say. “What were you doing, then?” he asked. “Why did you say those things to Joanne?”

I decided to go on telling the truth for as long as I could. I hate to lie to him. “What I said was true,” I insisted.

“You donʼt have to say everything you think you know,” he said. “Havenʼt you figured that out yet?” “Joanne and I were friends,” I said. “I thought I could talk to her.”

He shook his head. “These things frighten people. Itʼs best not to talk about them.”

“But, Dad, thatʼs like…like ignoring a fire in the living room because weʼre all in the kitchen, and, besides, house fires are too scary to talk about.”

“Donʼt warn Joanne or any of your other friends,” he said. “Not now. I know you think youʼre right, but youʼre not doing anyone any good. Youʼre just panicking people.”

I managed to suppress a surge of anger by shifting the subject a little. Sometimes the way to move Dad is to go at him from several directions.

“Did Mr. Garfield give you back your book?” I asked.

“What book?”

“I loaned Joanne a book about California plants and the ways Indians used them. It was one of your books. Iʼm sorry I loaned it to her. Itʼs so neutral, I didnʼt think it could cause trouble. But I guess it has.” He looked startled, then he almost smiled. “Yes, I will have to have that one back, all right. You wouldnʼt have the acorn bread you like so much without that one—not to mention a few other things we take for granted.”

“Acorn bread…?”

He nodded. “Most of the people in this country donʼt eat acorns, you know. They have no tradition of eating them, they donʼt know how to prepare them, and for some reason, they find the idea of eating them disgusting. Some of our neighbors wanted to cut down all our big live oak trees and plant something useful. You wouldnʼt believe the time I had changing their minds.”

“What did people eat before?”

“Bread made of wheat and other grains—corn, rye, oats…things like that.”

“Too expensive!”

“Didnʼt use to be. You get that book back from Joanne.” He drew a deep breath. “Now, letʼs get off the side track and back onto the main track. What were you planning? Did you try to talk Joanne into running away?” Then I sighed. “Of course not.”

“Her father says you did.”

“Heʼs wrong. This was about staying alive, learning to live outside so that weʼd be able to if we ever had to.”

He watched me as though he could read the truth in my mind. When I was little, I used to think he could. “All right,” he said. “You may have meant well, but no more scare talk.”

“It wasnʼt scare talk. We do need to learn what we can while thereʼs time.”

“Thatʼs not up to you, Lauren. You donʼt make decisions for this community.”

Oh hell. If I could just find a balance between holding back too much and pushing, poaching. “Yes, sir.” He leaned back and looked at me. “Tell me exactly what you told Joanne. All of it.”

I told him. I was careful to keep my voice flat and passionless, but I didnʼt leave anything out. I wanted him to know, to understand what I believed. The nonreligious part of it, anyway. When I finished, I stopped and waited. He seemed to expect me to say more. He just sat there for a while and stared at me. I couldnʼt tell what he felt. Other people never could if he didnʼt want them to, but Iʼve been able to most of the time. Now I felt shut out, and there was nothing I could do about it. I waited.

At last he let his breath out as though he had been holding it. “Donʼt talk about this any more,” he said in a voice that didnʼt invite argument.

I looked back at him, not wanting to give a promise that would be a lie.

“Lauren.”

“Dad.”

“I want your promise that you wonʼt talk about this any more.”

What to say? I wouldnʼt promise. I couldnʼt. “We could make earthquake packs,” I suggested. “Emergency kits that we can grab in case we have to get out of the house fast. If we call them earthquake packs, the idea might not bother people so much. People are used to worrying about earthquakes.” All this came out in a rush. “I want your promise, Daughter.”

I slumped. “Why? You know Iʼm right. Even Mrs. Garfield must know it. So why?”

I thought he would yell at me or punish me. His voice had had that warning edge to it that my brothers and I had come to call the rattle—as in a rattlesnakeʼs warning sound. If you pushed him past the rattle, you were in trouble. If he called you “son” or “daughter” you were close to trouble.

“Why?” I insisted.

“Because you donʼt have any idea what youʼre doing,” he said. He frowned and rubbed his forehead. When he spoke again, the edge went out of his voice. “Itʼs better to teach people than to scare them, Lauren. If you scare them and nothing happens, they lose their fear, and you lose some of your authority with them. Itʼs harder to scare them a second time, harder to teach them, harder to win back their trust. Best to begin by teaching.” His mouth crooked into a little smile. “Itʼs interesting that you chose to begin your efforts with the book you lent to Joanne. Did you ever think of teaching from that book?”

“Teaching…my kindergartners?”

“Why not. Get them started on the right foot. You could even put together a class for older kids and adults. Something like Mr. Ibarraʼs wood carving class, Mrs. Baiterʼs needlework classes, and young Robert Hsuʼs astronomy lectures. People are bored. They wouldnʼt mind another informal class now that theyʼve lost the Yannis television. If you can think of ways to entertain them and teach them at the same time, youʼll get your information out. And all without making anyone look down.”

“Look down…?”

“Into the abyss, Daughter.” But I wasnʼt in trouble any more. Not at the moment. “Youʼve just noticed the abyss,” he continued. “The adults in this community have been balancing at the edge of it for more years than youʼve been alive.”

I got up, went over to him and took his hand. “Itʼs getting worse, Dad.”

“I know.”

“Maybe itʼs time to look down. Time to look for some hand and foot holds before we just get pushed in.” “Thatʼs why we have target practice every week and Lazor wire and our emergency bell. Your idea for emergency packs is a good one. Some people already have them. For earthquakes. Some will assemble them if I suggest it. And, of course, some wonʼt do anything at all. There are always people who wonʼt do anything.” “Will you suggest it?”

“Yes. At the next neighborhood association meeting.”

“What else can we do? None of this is fast enough.”

“It will have to be.” He stood up, a tall, broad wall of a man. “Why donʼt you ask around, see if anyone in the neighborhood knows anything about martial arts. You need more than a book or two to learn good dependable unarmed combat.”

I blinked. “Okay.”

“Check with old Mr. Hsu and Mr. and Mrs. Montoya.”

“Mr. and Mrs.?”

“I think so. Talk to them about classes, not about Armageddon.”

I looked up at him, and he looked more like a wall than ever, standing and waiting. And he had offered me a lot—all I would get, I suspected. I sighed. “Okay, Dad, I promise. Iʼll try not to scare anyone else. I just hope things hold together long enough for us to do it your way.”

And he echoed my sigh. “At last. Good. Now come out back with me. There are some important things buried in the yard in sealed containers. Itʼs time for you to know where they are—just in case.” SUNDAY, MARCH 9, 2025

Today, Dad preached from Genesis six, Noah and the ark: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts and of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

And then, of course, later God says to Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.”

Dad focused on the two-part nature of this situation. God decides to destroy everything except Noah, his family, and some animals. But if Noah is going to be saved, he has plenty of hard work to do. Joanne came to me after church and said she was sorry for all the craziness.

“Okay,” I said.

“Still friends?” she asked.

And I hedged: “Not enemies, anyway. Get my fathers book back to me. He wants it.”

“My mother took it. I didnʼt know sheʼd get so upset.”

“It isnʼt hers. Get it back to me. Or have your dad give it to mine. I donʼt care. But he wants his book.” “All right.”

I watched her leave the house. She looks so trustworthy—tall and straight and serious and intelligent—I still feel inclined to trust her. But I canʼt. I donʼt. She has no idea how much she could have hurt me if I had given her just a few more words to use against me. I donʼt think Iʼll ever trust her again, and I hate that. She was my best friend. Now she isnʼt.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 12, 2025

Garden thieves got in last night. They stripped citrus trees of fruit in the Hsu yard and the Talcott yard. In the process, they trampled what was left of winter gardens and much of the spring planting. Dad says we have to set up a regular watch. He tried to call a neighborhood association meeting for

tonight, but itʼs a work night for some people, including Gary Hsu who sleeps over at his job whenever he has to report in person. Weʼre supposed to get together for a meeting on Saturday. Meanwhile, Dad got Jay Garfield, Wyatt and Kayla Talcott, Alex Montoya, and Edwin Dunn together to patrol the neighborhood in shifts in armed pairs. That meant that except for the Talcotts who are already a pair (and who are so angry about their garden that I pity any thief who gets in their way), the others have to find partners among the other adults of the neighborhood.

“Find someone you trust to protect your back,” I heard Dad tell the little group. Each pair was to patrol for two hours from just before dark to just after dawn. The first patrol, walking through or looking into all the back yards would get people used to the idea of watchers while they were still awake enough to understand.

“Make sure they see you if you get first watch,” Dad said. “The sight of you will remind them that there will be watchers all through the night. We donʼt want any of them mistaking you for thieves.” Sensible. People go to bed soon after dark to save electricity, but between dinner and darkness they spend time on their porches or in their yards where it isnʼt so hot. Some listen to their radio on front or back porches. Now and then people get together to play music, sing, play board games, talk, or get out on the paved part of the street for volleyball, touch football, basketball, or tennis. People used to play baseball, but we just canʼt afford what that costs in windows. A few people just find a corner and read a book while thereʼs still daylight. Itʼs a good, comfortable, recreational time. What a pity to spoil it with reminders of reality. But it canʼt be helped.

“What will you do if you catch a thief?” Cory asked my father before he went out. He was on the second shift, and he and Cory were having a rare cup of coffee together in the kitchen while he waited. Coffee was for special occasions. I couldnʼt miss the good smell of it in my room where I lay awake.

I eavesdrop. I donʼt put drinking glasses to walls or crouch with my ear against doors, but I do often lie awake long after dark when we kids are all supposed to be asleep. The kitchen is across the hall from my room, the dining room is nearby at the end of the hall, and my parentsʼ room is next door. The house is old and well insulated. If thereʼs a shut door between me and the conversation, I canʼt hear much. But at night with all or most of the lights out, I can leave my door open a crack, and if other doors are also open, I can hear a lot. I learn a lot.

“Weʼll chase him off, I hope,” Dad said. “Weʼve agreed to that. Weʼll give him a good scare and let him know there are easier ways to get a dollar.”

“A dollar…?”

“Yes, indeed. Our thieves didnʼt steal all that food because they were hungry. They stripped those trees— took everything they could.”

“I know,” Cory said. “I took some lemons and grapefruits to both the Hsus and the Wyatts today and told them they could pick from our trees when they needed more. I took them some seed, too. They both had a lot of young plants trampled, but this early in the season, they should be able to repair the damage.”

“Yes.” My father paused. “But you see my point. People steal that way for money. Theyʼre not desperate. Just greedy and dangerous. We might be able to scare them into looking for easier pickings.” “But what if you canʼt?” Cory asked, almost whispering. Her voice fell so low that I was afraid I would miss something.

“If you canʼt, will you shoot them?”

“Yes,” he said.

“…yes?” she repeated in that same small voice. “Just…ʻyes?ʼ” She was like Joanne all over again— denial personified. What planet do people like that live on?

“Yes,” my father said.

“Why!”

There was a long silence. When my father spoke again, his own voice had gone very soft. “Baby, if these people steal enough, theyʼll force us to spend more than we can afford on food—or go hungry. We live on the edge as it is. You know how hard things are.

“But…couldnʼt we just call the police?”

“For what? We canʼt afford their fees, and anyway, theyʼre not interested until after a crime has been committed. Even then, if you call them, they wonʼt show up for hours—maybe not for two or three days.” “I know.”

“What are you saying then? You want the kids to go hungry? You want thieves coming into the house once theyʼve stripped the gardens?”

“But they havenʼt done that.”

“Of course they have. Mrs. Sims was only their latest victim.”

“She lived alone. We always said she shouldnʼt do that.”

“You want to trust them not to hurt you or the kids just because there are seven of us? Baby, we canʼt live by pretending this is still twenty or thirty years ago.”

“But you could go to jail!” She was crying—not sobbing, but speaking with that voice-full-of-tears that she can manage sometimes.

“No,” Dad said. “If we have to shoot someone, weʼre together in it. After weʼve shot him we carry him into the nearest house. Itʼs still legal to shoot housebreakers. After that we do a little damage and get our stories straight.”

Long, long silence. “You could still get in trouble.”

“Iʼll risk it.”

Another long silence. “ʻThou shalt not kill,ʼ” Cory whispered.

“Nehemiah four,” Dad said. “Verse 14.”

There was nothing more. A few minutes later, I heard Dad leave. I waited until I heard Cory go to her room and shut the door. Then I got up, shut my door, moved my lamp so the light wouldnʼt show under the door, then turned it on and opened my grandmotherʼs Bible. She had had a lot of Bibles and Dad had let me keep this one.

Nehemiah, chapter four, Verse 14: “And I looked and rose up and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, be not afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives and your houses.”

Interesting. Interesting that Dad had that verse ready, and that Cory recognized it. Maybe theyʼve had this conversation before.

SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 2025

Itʼs official.

Now we have a regular neighborhood watch—a roster of people from every household who are over eighteen, good with guns—their own and others—and considered responsible by my father and by the people who have already been patrolling the neighborhood. Since none of the watchers have ever been cops or security guards, theyʼll go on working in pairs, watching out for each other as well as for the neighborhood. Theyʼll use whistles to call for help if they need it. Also, theyʼll meet once a week to read, discuss, and practice martial arts and shoot-out techniques. The Montoyas will give their martial arts classes, all right, but not at my suggestion. Old Mr. Hsu is having back problems, and he wonʼt be teaching anything for a while, but the Montoyas seem to be enough. I plan to sit in on the classes as often as I can stand to share everyoneʼs practice pains.

Dad has collected all his books from me this morning. All I have left are my notes. I donʼt mind. Thanks to the garden thieves, people are preparing themselves for the worst. I feel almost grateful to the thieves. They havenʼt come back, by the way—our thieves. When they do, we should be able to give them something they donʼt expect.

SATURDAY, MARCH 29, 2025

Our thieves paid us another visit last night.

Maybe they werenʼt the same ones, but their intentions were the same: To take away what someone else has sweated to grow and very much needs.

This time they were after Richard Mossʼs rabbits. Those rabbits are the neighborhoodʼs only livestock except for some chickens the Cruz and Montoya families tried to raise a few years ago. Those were stolen as soon as they were old enough to make noise and let outsiders know they were there. The Moss rabbits have been our secret until this year when Richard Moss insisted on selling meat and whatever his wives could make from raw or tanned rabbit hides out beyond the wall. The Mosses had been selling to us all along, of course, meat, hides, fertilizer, everything except live rabbits. Those he hoarded as breeding stock. But now, stubborn, arrogant, and greedy, he had decided he could earn more if he peddled his merchandise outside. So, now the word is out on the street about the damned rabbits, and last night someone came to get them.

The Moss rabbit house is a converted three-car garage added to the property in the 1980s according to Dad. Itʼs hard to believe any household once had three cars, and gas fueled cars at that. But I remember the old garage before Richard Moss converted it. It was huge with three black oil spots on the floor where three cars had once been housed. Richard Moss repaired the walls and roof, put in windows for cross ventilation, and in general, made the place almost fit for people to live in. In fact, itʼs much better than what a lot of people live in now on the outside. He built rows and tiers of cages—hutches—and put in more electric lights and ceiling fans. The fans can be made to work on kid power. Heʼs hooked them up to an old bicycle frame, and every Moss kid whoʼs old enough to manage the pedals sooner or later gets drafted into powering the fans. The Moss kids hate it, but they know what theyʼll get if they donʼt do it.

I donʼt know how many rabbits the Mosses have now, but it seems theyʼre always killing and skinning and doing disgusting things to pelts. Even a little monopoly is worth a lot of trouble.

The two thieves had managed to stuff 13 rabbits into canvas sacks by the time our watchers spotted them. The watchers were Alejandro Montoya and Julia Lincoln, one of Shani Yannisʼs sisters. Mrs. Montoya has two kids sick with the flu so sheʼs off the watch roster for a while.

Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Montoya followed the plan that the group of watchers had put together at their meetings. Without a word of command or warning, they fired their guns into the air two or three times each, at the same time, blowing their whistles full blast. They kept to cover, but inside the Moss house, someone woke

up and turned on the rabbit house lights. That could have been a lethal mistake for the watchers, but they were hidden behind pomegranate bushes.

The two thieves ran like rabbits.

Abandoning sacks, rabbits, pry bars, a long coil of rope, wire cutters, and even an excellent long aluminum ladder, they scrambled up that ladder and over the wall in seconds. Our wall is three meters high and topped off with pieces of broken glass as well as the usual barbed wire and the all but invisible Lazor wire. All the wire had been cut in spite of our efforts. What a pity we couldnʼt afford to electrify it or set other traps. But

at least the glass—the oldest, simplest of our tricks—had gotten one of them. We found a broad stream of dried blood down the inside of the wall this morning.

We also found a Glock 19 pistol where one of the thieves had dropped it. Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Montoya could have been shot. If the thieves hadnʼt been scared out of their minds, there could have been a gun battle. Someone in the Moss house or a neighboring house could have been hurt or killed.

Cory went after Dad about that once they were alone in the kitchen tonight.

“I know,” Dad said. He sounded tired and miserable. “Donʼt think we havenʼt thought about those things. Thatʼs why we want to scare the thieves away. Even shooting into the air isnʼt safe. Nothingʼs safe.” “They ran away this time, but they wonʼt always run.”

“I know.”

“So what, then? You protect rabbits or oranges, and maybe get a child killed?”

Silence.

“We canʼt live this way!” Cory shouted. I jumped. Iʼve never heard her sound like that before. “We do live this way,” Dad said. There was no anger in his voice, no emotional response at all to her shouting. There was nothing. Weariness. Sadness. Iʼve never heard him sound so tired, so…almost beaten. And yet he had won. His idea had beaten off a pair of armed thieves without our having to hurt anyone. If the thieves had hurt themselves, that was their problem.

Of course they would come back, or others would come. That would happen no matter what. And Cory was right. The next thieves might not lose their guns and run away. So what? Should we lie in our beds and let them take all we had and hope they were content with stripping our gardens? How long does a thief stay content? And whatʼs it like to starve?

“We couldnʼt make it without you,” Cory was saying. She wasnʼt shouting now. “That could have been you out there, facing criminals. Next time it might be you. You could be shot, protecting the neighborsʼ rabbits.” “Did you notice,” Dad said, “that every off-duty watcher answered the whistles last night? They came out to defend their community.”

“I donʼt care about them! Itʼs you Iʼm worried about!”

“No,” he said. “We canʼt think that way any more. Cory, thereʼs nobody to help us but God and ourselves. I protect Mossʼs place in spite of what I think of him, and he protects mine, no matter what he thinks of me. We all look out for one another.” He paused. “Iʼve got plenty of insurance. You and the kids should be able to make it all right if—”

“No!” Cory said. “Do you think thatʼs all it is? Money? Do you think—?”

“No, Babe. No.” Pause. “I know what it is to be left alone. This is no world to be alone in.” There was a long silence, and I didnʼt think they would say any more. I lay on my bed, wondering if I should get up and shut my door so I could turn on my lamp and write. But there was a little more. “What are we supposed to do if you die?” she demanded, and I think she was crying. “What do we do if they shoot you over some damn rabbits?”

“Live!” Dad said. “Thatʼs all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I donʼt know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that wonʼt matter if we donʼt survive these times.” That was the end of their talk. I lay in the dark for a long time, thinking about what they had said. Cory was right again. Dad might get hurt. He might get killed. I donʼt know how to think about that. I can write about it, but I donʼt feel it. On some deep level, I donʼt believe it. I guess Iʼm as good at denial as anyone. So Cory is right, but it doesnʼt matter. And Dad is right, but he doesnʼt go far enough. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But God exists to be shaped. It isnʼt enough for us to just survive, limping along, playing business as usual while things get worse and worse. If thatʼs the shape we give to God, then someday we must become too weak—too poor, too hungry, too sick—to defend ourselves. Then weʼll be wiped out. There has to be more that we can do, a better destiny that we can shape. Another place. Another way. Something!

DMU Timestamp: October 12, 2021 18:27