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[2 of 5] Parable of the Sower, Chapters 7-13, Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Author: Octavia E. Butler

Butler, Octavia E. “Chapters 7-13.” Parable of the Sower, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 1993.


! ! !

We are all Godseed, but no more or less so than any other aspect of the universe, Godseed is all there is —all that Changes. Earthseed is all that spreads Earthlife to new earths. The universe is Godseed. Only we are Earthseed. And the Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars. EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING


SOMETIMES NAMING A THING—giving it a name or discovering its name—helps one to begin to understand it. Knowing the name of a thing and knowing what that thing is for gives me even more of a handle on it.

The particular God-is-Change belief system that seems right to me will be called Earthseed. Iʼve tried to name it before. Failing that, Iʼve tried to leave it unnamed. Neither effort has made me comfortable. Name plus purpose equals focus for me.

Well, today, I found the name, found it while I was weeding the back garden and thinking about the way plants seed themselves, windborne, animalborne, waterborne, far from their parent plants. They have no ability at all to travel great distances under their own power, and yet, they do travel. Even they donʼt have to just sit in one place and wait to be wiped out. There are islands thousands of miles from anywhere—the Hawaiian Islands, for example, and Easter Island—where plants seeded themselves and grew long before any humans arrived.


I am Earthseed. Anyone can be. Someday, I think there will be a lot of us. And I think weʼll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place.

Iʼve never felt that I was making any of this up—not the name, Earthseed, not any of it. I mean, Iʼve never felt that it was anything other than real: discovery rather than invention, exploration rather than creation. I wish I could believe it was all supernatural, and that Iʼm getting messages from God. But then, I donʼt believe in that kind of God. All I do is observe and take notes, trying to put things down in ways that are as powerful, as simple, and as direct as I feel them. I can never do that. I keep trying, but I canʼt. Iʼm not good enough as a writer or poet or whatever it is I need to be. I donʼt know what to do about that. It drives me frantic sometimes. Iʼm getting better, but so slowly.

The thing is, even with my writing problems, every time I understand a little more, I wonder why itʼs taken me so long—why there was ever a time when I didnʼt understand a thing so obvious and real and true. Hereʼs the only puzzle in it all, the only paradox, or bit of illogic or circular reasoning or whatever it should be called:

Why is the universe?

To shape God.

Why is God?

To shape the universe.

I canʼt get rid of it. Iʼve tried to change it or dump it, but I canʼt. I cannot. It feels like the truest thing Iʼve ever written. Itʼs as mysterious and as obvious as any other explanation of God or the universe that Iʼve ever read, except that to me the others feel inadequate, at best.

All the rest of Earthseed is explanation—what God is, what God does, what we are, what we should do, what we canʼt help doing… Consider: Whether youʼre a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.

All that you touch,

You Change.

All that you Change,

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.


Is Change.

Iʼm going to go through my old journals and gather the verses Iʼve written into one volume. Iʼll put them into one of the exercise notebooks that Cory hands out to the older kids now that there are so few computers in the neighborhood. Iʼve written plenty of useless stuff in those books, getting my high school work out of the way. Now Iʼll put one to better use. Then, someday when people are able to pay more attention to what I say than to how old I am, Iʼll use these verses to pry them loose from the rotting past, and maybe push them into saving themselves and building a future that makes sense.

Thatʼs if everything will just hold together for a few more years.


Iʼve finally assembled a small survival pack for myself—a grab-and-run pack. Iʼve had to dig some things I need out of the garage and the attic so that no one complains about my taking things they need. Iʼve collected a hatchet, for instance, and two small, light, all-metal pots. Thereʼs plenty of stuff like that around because no one throws anything away that has any possibility of someday being useful or salable.

I packed my few hundred dollars in savings—almost a thousand. It might feed me for two weeks if Iʼm allowed to keep it, and if Iʼm very careful what I buy and where I buy it. Iʼve kept up with, prices, questioning Dad when he and the other neighborhood men do the essential shopping. Food prices are insane, always going up, never down. Everyone complains about them.

I found an old canteen and a plastic bottle both for water, and I resolved to keep them clean and full. I packed matches, a full change of clothing, including shoes in case I have to get up at night and run, comb, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, tampons, toilet paper, bandages, pins, needles and thread, alcohol, aspirin, a couple of spoons and forks, a can opener, my pocket knife, packets of acorn flour, dried fruit, roasted nuts and edible seeds, dried milk, a little sugar and salt, my survival notes, several plastic storage bags, large and small, a lot of plantable raw seed, my journal, my Earthseed notebook, and lengths of clothesline. I stowed all this in a pair of old pillow cases, one inside the other for strength. I rolled the pillowcases into a blanket pack and tied it with some of the clothesline so that I could grab it and run without losing things, but I made it easy to open at the top so that I could get my journal in and out, change the water to keep it fresh, and less often, change the food and check on the seed. The last thing I wanted to find out was that instead of carrying plantable seed or edible food, I had a load of bugs and worms.

I wish I could take a gun. I donʼt own one and Dad wonʼt let me keep one of his in my room. I mean to try to grab one if trouble comes, but I may not be able to. It would be crazy to wind up outside with nothing but a knife and a scared look, but it could happen. Dad and Wyatt Talcott took us out for target practice today, and afterward I tried to talk Dad into letting me keep one of the guns in my room.

“No,” he said, sitting down, tired and dusty, behind his desk in his cluttered office. “You donʼt have anywhere to keep it safe during the day, and the boys are always in and out of your room.” I hesitated, then told him about the emergency pack that I had put together.

He nodded. “I thought it was a good idea back when you first suggested it,” he said. “But, think, Lauren. It would be like a gift to a burglar. Money, food, water, a gun… Most burglars donʼt find what they want all bundled up and waiting for them. I think weʼd better make it a little harder for any burglar who comes here to get hold of a gun.”

“It will just be a rolled up blanket mixed in with some other rolled or folded bed clothes in my closet,” I said. “No one will even notice it.”

“No.” He shook his head. “No, the guns stay where they are.”

And thatʼs that. I think heʼs more worried about the boys snooping around than about burglars. My brothers have been taught how to behave around guns all their lives, but Greg is only eight and Ben is nine. Dad just isnʼt ready to put temptation in their paths yet. Marcus at 11 is more trustworthy than a lot of adults, but Keith at almost 13 is a question mark. He wouldnʼt steal from Dad. He wouldnʼt dare. But he has stolen from me —only little things so far. He wants a gun, though, the way thirsty people want water. He wants to be all grown up—yesterday. So maybe Dadʼs right. I hate his decision, but maybe heʼs right.

“Where would you go?” I asked him, changing the subject. “If we were forced out of here, where would you take us?”

He blew out a breath, puffing up his cheeks for a second. “To the neighbors or to the college,” he said. “The college has temporary emergency accommodations for employees who are burned or driven out of their homes.”

“And then?”

“Rebuilding, fortifying, doing whatever we can do to live and be safe.”

“Would you ever think about leaving here, heading north to where water isnʼt such a problem and food is cheaper?”

“No.” He stared into space. “My job down here is as secure as a job can be. There are no jobs up there. Newcomers work for food if they work at all. Experience doesnʼt matter. Education doesnʼt matter. There are just too many desperate people. They work their lives away for a sack of beans and they live on the streets.” “I heard it was easier up there,” I said. “Oregon, Washington, Canada.”

“Closed,” he said. “Youʼve got to sneak into Oregon if you get in at all. Even harder to sneak into Washington. People get shot every day trying to sneak into Canada. Nobody wants California trash.” “But people do leave. People are always moving north.”

“They try. Theyʼre desperate and they have nothing to lose. But I do. This is my home. Beyond taxes, I donʼt owe a penny on it. You and your brothers have never known a hungry day here, and God willing, you never will.”

In my Earthseed notebook, Iʼve written,

A tree

Cannot grow

In its parentsʼ shadows.

Is it necessary to write things like that? Everyone knows them. What do they mean now, anyway? What does this one mean if you live in a cul-de-sac with a wall around it? What does it mean if youʼre damned lucky to live in a cul-de-sac with a wall around it?

MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2025

There was a long report on the radio today about the findings of the big Anglo-Japanese cosmological station on the moon. The station, with its vast array of telescopes and some of the most sensitive spectroscopic equipment ever made has detected more planets orbiting nearby stars. That station has been detecting new worlds for a dozen years now, and thereʼs even evidence that a few of the discovered worlds may be life bearing. Iʼve listened to and read every scrap of information I could find on this subject, and Iʼve noticed that thereʼs less and less argument against the likelihood that some of these worlds are alive. The idea is gaining scientific acceptance. Of course, no one has any idea whether the extrasolar life is anything more than a few trillion microbes. People speculate about intelligent life, and itʼs fun to think about, but no one is claiming to have found anyone to talk to out there. I donʼt care. Life alone is enough. I find it…more exciting and encouraging than I can explain, more important than I can explain. There is life out there. There are living worlds just a few light years away, and the United States is busy drawing back from even our nearby dead worlds, the moon and Mars. I understand why they are, but I wish they werenʼt.

I suspect that a living world might be easier for us to adapt to and live on without a long, expensive umbilical to Earth. Easier but not easy. Still, thatʼs something, because I donʼt think there could be a multi-light year umbilical. I think people who traveled to extrasolar worlds would be on their own—far from politicians and business people, failing economies and tortured ecologies—and far from help. Well out of the shadow of their parent world.


Tomorrow, Iʼll be sixteen. Only sixteen. I feel older. I want to be older. I need to be older. I hate being a kid. Time drags!

Tracy Dunn has disappeared. Sheʼs been depressed since Amy was killed. When she talked at all, it was about dying and wanting to die and deserving to die. Everyone kept hoping she would get over her grief—or her guilt—and get on with her life. Maybe she couldnʼt. Dad talked with her several times, and I know he was worried about her. Her crazy family hasnʼt been any help. They treat her the way she treated Amy: They ignore her.

The rumor is that she went outside sometime yesterday. A group of Moss and Payne kids say they saw her go out of the gate just after they left school. No one has seen her since.

SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2025

Hereʼs the birthday gift that came into my mind this morning as I woke up—just two lines: The Destiny of Earthseed

Is to take root among the stars.

This is what I was reaching for a few days ago when the story of the new planets being discovered caught my attention. Itʼs true, of course. Itʼs obvious.

Right now, itʼs also impossible. The world is in horrible shape. Even rich countries arenʼt doing as well as history says rich countries used to do. President Donner isnʼt the only one breaking up and selling off science and space projects. No one is expanding the kind of exploration that doesnʼt earn an immediate profit, or at least promise big future profits. Thereʼs no mood now for doing anything that could be considered unnecessary or wasteful. And yet,

The Destiny of Earthseed

Is to take root among the stars.

I donʼt know how it will happen or when it will happen. Thereʼs so much to do before it can even begin. I guess thatʼs to be expected. Thereʼs always a lot to do before you get to go to heaven.


! ! !

To get along with God,

Consider the consequences of your behavior.



TRACY DUNN HAS NOT come home and has not been found by the police. I donʼt think she will be. Sheʼs only been gone for a week, but a week outside must be like a week in hell. People vanish outside. They go through our gate like Mr. Yannis did, and everyone waits for them, but they never come back—or they come back in an urn. I think Tracy Dunn is dead.

Bianca Montoya is pregnant. It isnʼt just gossip, itʼs true, and it matters to me, somehow. Bianca is 17, unmarried, and out of her mind about Jorge Iturbe who lives at the Ibarra house and is Yolanda Ibarraʼs brother.

Jorge admits to being the father. I donʼt know why they didnʼt just get married before everything got so public. Jorge is 23, and he, at least, ought to have some sense. Anyway, theyʼre going to get married now. The Ibarra and Iturbe families have been feuding with the Montoyas for a week over this. So stupid. Youʼd think they had nothing else to do. At least theyʼre both Latino. No interracial feud this time. Last year when Craig Dunn whoʼs white and one of the saner members of the Dunn family was caught making love to Siti Moss whoʼs black and Richard Mossʼs oldest daughter to boot, I thought someone was going to get killed. Crazy.

But my point isnʼt whoʼs sleeping with whom or whoʼs feuding. My point is—my question is—how in the world can anyone get married and make babies with things the way they are now?

I mean, I know people have always gotten married and had kids, but now… Now thereʼs nowhere to go, nothing to do. A couple gets married, and if theyʼre lucky, they get a room or a garage to live in—with no hope of anything better and every reason to expect things to get worse.

Biancaʼs chosen life is one of my options. Itʼs not one that I intend to exercise, but it is pretty much what the neighborhood expects of me—of anyone my age. Grow up a little more, get married, have babies. Curtis Talcott says the new Iturbe family will get half-a-garage to live in after they marry. Jorgeʼs sister Celia Iturbe Cruz and her husband and baby have the other half. Two couples, and not one paying job among them. The best they could hope for would be to move into some rich peopleʼs compound as domestic servants and work for room and board. Thereʼs no way to save any money or ever do any better.

And what if they wanted to go north, try for a better life in Oregon or Washington or Canada? It would be much harder to travel with a baby or two, and much more dangerous to try to sneak past hostile guards and over state lines or international borders with babies.

I donʼt know whether Bianca is brave or stupid. She and her sister are busy altering their motherʼs old wedding dress, and everyoneʼs cooking and getting ready for a party as though these were the good old days. How can they?

I like Curtis Talcott a lot. Maybe I love him. Sometimes I think I do. He says he loves me. But if all I had to look forward to was marriage to him and babies and poverty that just keeps getting worse, I think Iʼd kill myself. SATURDAY, AUGUST 2, 2025

We had a target practice today, and for the first time since I killed the dog, we found another corpse. We all saw it this time—an old woman, naked, maggoty, half-eaten, and beyond disgusting. That did it for Aura Moss. She says she wonʼt do any more target shooting. Not ever. I tried talking to her, but she says itʼs the menʼs job to protect us anyway. She says women shouldnʼt have to practice with guns. “What if you have to protect your younger sisters and brothers?” I asked her. She has to babysit them often enough.

“I already know enough to do that,” she said.

“You get rusty without practice,” I said.

“Iʼm not going out again,” she insisted. “Itʼs none of your business. I donʼt have to go!” I couldnʼt move her. She was afraid, and that made her defensive. Dad said I should have waited until the memory of the corpse faded, then tried to convince her. Heʼs right, I guess. Itʼs the Moss attitude that gets me. Richard Moss lets his wives and daughters pull things like this. He works them like slaves in his gardens and rabbit raising operation and around the house, but he lets them pretend theyʼre “ladies” when it comes to any community effort. If they donʼt want to do their part, he always backs them up. This is dangerous and stupid. Itʼs a breeding ground for resentment. No Moss woman has ever stood a watch. Iʼm not the only one whoʼs noticed. The two oldest Payne kids went with us for the first time. Bad luck for them. They werenʼt scared off, though. Doyle and Margaret. Thereʼs a toughness to them. Theyʼre all right. Their uncle Wardell Parrish hadnʼt wanted them to go. He had made nasty comments about Dadʼs ego, about private armies and vigilantes, and about his taxes—how he had paid enough in his life to have a right to depend on the police to protect him. Blah, blah, blah. Heʼs a strange, solitary, whiny man. Iʼve heard that he used to be wealthy. Dad agrees with me that he canʼt be trusted. But heʼs not Doyle and Margaretʼs father, and their mother Rosalee Payne doesnʼt like anyone telling her how to raise her five kids. The only power she has in the world is her authority over her children and her money. She does have a little money, inherited from her parents. Her brother has somehow lost his. So his trying to tell her what to do or what she shouldnʼt let her kids do was a dumb move. He should have known better—though for the kidsʼ sake, Iʼm glad he didnʼt.

My brother Keith begged to go with us as usual. Heʼll turn thirteen in a few days—August 14—and the thought of waiting two more years until heʼs 15 must seem impossible to him. I understand that. Waiting is terrible. Waiting to be older is worse than other kinds of waiting because thereʼs nothing you can do to make it happen faster. Poor Keith. Poor me.

At least Dad lets Keith shoot at birds and squirrels with the family BB gun, but Keith still complains. “Itʼs not

fair,” he said today for the twentieth or thirtieth time. “Laurenʼs a girl and you let her go. You always let her do things. I could learn to help you guard and scare off robbers…” He had once made the mistake of offering to help “shoot robbers” instead of scaring them off, and Dad all but preached him a sermon. Dad almost never hits us, but he can be scary without lifting a finger.

Keith didnʼt go today, of course. And our practice went all right until we found the corpse. We didnʼt see any dogs this time. Most upsetting to me, though, there were a few more rag, stick, cardboard, and palm frond shacks along the way into the hills along River Street. There always seem to be more. Theyʼve never bothered us beyond begging and cursing, but they always stare so. It gets harder to ride past them. Theyʼre living skeletons, some of them. Skin and bones and a few teeth. They eat whatever they can find up there. Sometimes I dream about the way they stare at us.

Back at home, my brother Keith slipped out of the neighborhood—out through the front gates and away. He stole Coryʼs key and took off on his own. Dad and I didnʼt know until we got home. Keith was still gone, and by then Cory knew he must be outside. She had checked with others in the neighborhood and two of the Dunn kids, twins Allison and Marie, age six, said they saw him go out the gate. That was when Cory went home and discovered that her key was gone.

Dad, tired and angry and scared, was going to go right back out to look for him, but Keith got home just as Dad was leaving. Cory, Marcus, and I had gone to the front porch with Dad, all three of us speculating about where Keith had gone, and Marcus and I volunteering to go with Dad to help search. It was almost dark.

“You get back in that house and stay there,” Dad said. “Itʼs bad enough to have one of you out there.” He checked the submachine gun, made sure it was fully loaded.

“Dad, look,” I said. I had spotted something moving three houses down—quick, shadowy movement alongside the Garfield porch. I didnʼt know it was Keith. I was attracted by its furtiveness. Someone was sneaking around, trying to hide.

Dad was quick enough to see the movement before it was hidden by the Garfield house. He got up at once, took the gun, and went to check. The rest of us watched and waited.

Moments later Cory said she heard an odd noise in the house. I was too focused on Dad and what was going on outside to hear what she heard, or to pay any attention to her. She went in. Marcus and I were still on the porch when she screamed.

Marcus and I glanced at each other, then at the front door. Marcus lunged for the door. I yelled for Dad. Dad was out of sight, but I heard him answer my call.

“Come quick,” I shouted, then I ran into the house.

Cory, Marcus, Bennett, and Gregory were in the kitchen, clustered around Keith. Keith was sprawled, panting, on the floor, wearing only his underpants. He was scraped and bruised, bleeding, and filthy. Cory knelt beside him, examining him, questioning him, crying.

“What happened to you? Who did this? Why did you go outside? Where are your clothes? What—?” “Whereʼs the key you stole?” Dad cut in. “Did they take it from you?”

Everyone jumped, looked up at Dad, then down at Keith.

“I couldnʼt help it,” Keith said, still panting. “I couldnʼt, Daddy. There were five guys.”

“So they got the key.”

Keith nodded, careful not to meet Dadʼs eyes.

Dad turned and strode out of the house, almost at a run. It was too late now to get George or Brian Hsu to change the gate lock. That would have to be done tomorrow, and new keys made and passed out. I thought Dad must be going out to warn people and to put more watchers on duty. I wanted to offer to help alert people, but I didnʼt. Dad looked too angry to accept help from one of his kids right then. And when he got back, Keith was in for it. Was he ever in for it. A pair of pants gone, and a shirt and a pair of shoes. Cory had never been willing to let us run around barefoot the way a lot of kids did, except in the house. Her definitions of being civilized did not involve dirty, heavily callused feet any more than they involved dirty, diseased skin. Shoes were expensive, and we were always growing out of ours, but Cory insisted. Each of us had at least one pair of wearable shoes, in spite of what they cost, and they cost a lot. Now money would have to be found to get an extra pair for Keith.

Keith curled up on the floor, smudging the tile with blood from his nose and mouth, hugging himself and crying now that Dad was gone. It took Cory two or three minutes to get him up and half carry him to the bathroom. I tried to help her, but she stared at me like I was the one who beat him up, so I let them alone. It wasnʼt as though I wanted to help. I just thought I should. Keith was in real pain, and it was hard for me to endure sharing it.

I cleaned up the blood so no one would slip in it or track it around. Then I fixed dinner, ate, fed the three younger boys, and put the rest aside for Dad, Cory, and Keith.


Keith had to confess what he had done this morning at church. He had to stand up in front of the whole congregation and tell them everything, including what the five thugs had done to him. Then he had to apologize—to God, to his parents, and to the congregation that he had endangered and inconvenienced. Dad made him do that over Coryʼs objections.

Dad never hit him, though last night he must have been tempted. “Why would you do such a thing!” he kept demanding. “How could any son of mine be so stupid! Where are your brains, boy? What did you think you

were doing? Iʼm talking to you! Answer me!”

Keith answered and answered and answered, but the answers never seemed to make much sense to Dad. “I ainʼt no baby no more,” he wept. Or, “I wanted to show you. Just wanted to show you! You always let Lauren do stuff!” Or, “Iʼm a man! I shouldnʼt be hiding in the house, hiding in the wall; Iʼm a man!”

It went on and on because Keith refused to admit he had done anything wrong. He wanted to show he was a man, not a scared girl. It wasnʼt his fault that a gang of guys jumped him, beat him, robbed him. He didnʼt do anything. It wasnʼt his fault.

Dad stared at him in utter disgust. “You disobeyed,” he said. “You stole. You endangered the lives and the property of everyone here, including your mother, your sister, and your little brothers. If you were the man you think you are, Iʼd beat the hell out of you!”

Keith stared straight ahead. “Bad guys come in even if they donʼt have a key,” he muttered. “They come in and steal stuff. Itʼs not my fault!”

It took Dad two hours to get Keith to admit that it was his fault, no excuses. Heʼd done wrong. He wouldnʼt do it again.

My brother isnʼt very smart, but he makes up for it in pure stubbornness. My father is smart and stubborn. Keith didnʼt have a chance, but he made Dad work for his victory. The next morning, Dad had his revenge. I donʼt believe he thought of Keithʼs forced confession that way, but Keithʼs expression told me that he did.

“How do I get out of this family,” Marcus muttered to me as we watched. I sympathized. He had to share a room with Keith, and the two of them, only a year apart in age, fought all the time. Now things would be worse. Keith is Coryʼs favorite. If you asked her, she would say she didnʼt have a favorite, but she does. She babies him and lets him get away with skipping chores, a little lying, a little stealing… Maybe thatʼs why Keith thinks when he screws up, itʼs okay.

This morningʼs sermon was on the ten commandments with extra emphasis on “Honor thy father and thy mother,” and “Thou shalt not steal.” I think Dad got rid of a lot of anger and frustration, preaching that sermon. Keith, tall, stone-faced, looking older than his thirteen years, kept his anger. I could see him keeping it inside, holding it down, choking on it.


! ! !

All struggles

Are essentially

power struggles.

Who will rule,

Who will lead,

Who will define,




Who will dominate.

All struggles

Are essentially power struggles,

And most are no more intellectual

than two rams

knocking their heads together.



MY PARENTSʼ USUAL GOOD judgment failed them this week on my brother Keithʼs birthday. They gave him his own BB gun. It wasnʼt new, but it worked, and it looked much more dangerous than it was. And it was his. He didnʼt have to share it. I suppose it was intended to make him feel better about the two years he still, had to wait until he got his hands on the Smith & Wesson, or better yet, the Heckler & Koch. And, of course, it was supposed to help him get over his stupid desire to sneak out, and the humiliation of his public confession.

Keith shot a few more pigeons and crows, threatened to shoot Marcus—Marcus just told me about that tonight—then yesterday, he took off for parts unknown. He took the BB gun with him, of course. No one has seen him for about eighteen hours, and thereʼs not much doubt that heʼs gone outside again. MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2025

Dad went out looking for Keith today. He even called in the police. He says he doesnʼt know how weʼll afford the fee, but heʼs scared. The longer Keith is gone, the more likely he is to get hurt or killed. Marcus says he thinks Keith went looking for the guys who beat him up. I donʼt believe it. Not even Keith would go looking for five guys—or even one guy—with nothing but a BB gun.

Coryʼs even more upset than Dad. Sheʼs scared and jumpy and sick to her stomach, and she keeps crying. I talked her into going back to bed, then taught her classes myself. Iʼve done that four or five times before when she was sick, so it wasnʼt too weird for the kids. I just used Coryʼs lesson plans, and during the first part of the day, I partnered the older kids with my kindergartners and let everyone get a taste of teaching or learning from someone different. Some of my students are my age and older, and a couple of these—Aura Moss and Michael Talcott—got up and left. They knew I understood the work. I got the last of my high school work and tests out of the way almost two years ago. Since then Iʼve done uncredited (free) college work with Dad. Michael and Aura know all that, but theyʼre much too grown up to learn anything from the likes of me. The hell with them. Itʼs a pity, though, that my Curtis has to have a brother like Michael—not that any of us gets to choose our brothers.


No sign of Keith. I think Cory has gone into mourning for him. I handled classes again today, and Dad went out searching again. He came home looking exhausted tonight, and Cory wept and shouted at him. “You didnʼt try!” she said with me and all three of my brothers looking on. Weʼd all come to see whether Dad had brought Keith back. “You could have found him if youʼd tried!”

Dad tried to go to her, but she backed away, still shouting: “If it were your precious Lauren out there alone, you would have found her by now! You donʼt care about Keith.”

Sheʼs never said anything like that before.

I mean, we were always Cory and Lauren. She never asked me to call her “mother,” and I never thought to do it. I always knew she was my stepmother. But still… I always loved her. It mystified me that Keith was her favorite, but it didnʼt make me love her any less. I was her kid, but not her kid. Not quite. Not really. But I always thought she loved me.

Dad shooed us all off to bed. He quieted Cory and took her back to their room. A few minutes ago, he came to see me.

“She didnʼt mean it,” he said. “She loves you as though you were her daughter, Lauren.” I just looked at him.

“She wants you to know sheʼs sorry.”

I nodded, and after a few more assurances, he went.

Is she sorry? I donʼt think so.

Did she mean it. She did. Oh, yes, she meant it. Shit.


Keith came back last night.

He just walked into the house during dinner, as though heʼd been outside playing football instead of gone since Saturday. And this time he looked fine. Not a mark on him. He was wearing a clean new set of clothing— even new shoes. All of it was of much better quality than he had when he left, and much more expensive than we could have afforded.

He still had the BB gun until Dad took it away from him and smashed it.

Keith wouldnʼt say where heʼd been or how heʼd gotten the new things, so Dad beat him bloody. Iʼve only seen Dad like that once before—when I was 12. Cory tried to stop him, tried to pull him off Keith, screamed at him in English, then in Spanish, then without words.

Gregory threw up on the floor, and Bennett started to cry. Marcus backed away from the whole scene, and slipped out of the house.

Then it was over.

Keith was crying like a two-year-old and Cory was holding him. Dad stood over both of them, looking dazed.

I followed Marcus out the back door and stumbled and almost fell down the back steps. I didnʼt know what I was doing. Marcus wasnʼt around. I sat on the steps in the warm darkness and let my body shake and hurt and vomit in helpless empathy with Keith. Then I guess I passed out.

I came to sometime later with Marcus shaking me and whispering my name.

I got up with Marcus hanging on to my arm, trying to steady me, and I got to my bedroom. “Let me sleep in here,” he whispered once I was sitting on my bed, dazed and still in pain. “Iʼll sleep on the floor, I donʼt care.”

“All right,” I said, not caring where he slept. I lay down on the bed without taking off even my shoes, and drew my body into a fetal ball on top of the bedclothes. I either fell asleep that way or I passed out again. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2025

Keith has gone outside again. He went yesterday afternoon. Cory didnʼt admit until tonight that he took not only her key this time, but her gun. He took the Smith & Wesson.

Dad refused to go out and look for him. Dad slept in his office last night. Heʼs sleeping there again tonight. I never liked my brother much. I hate him now for what heʼs doing to the family—for what heʼs doing to my father. I hate him. Damn, I hate him.


Keith came home tonight while Dad was visiting over at the Talcott house. I suspect that Keith hung around and watched the house and waited until Dad left. He had come to see Cory. He brought her a lot of money done up in a fat roll.

She stared at it, then took it, dazed. “So much, Keith,” she whispered. “Where did you get it?” “Itʼs for you,” he said. “All for you, not him.”

He took her hand and closed it around the money—and she let him do it, though she had to know it must be stolen money or drug money or worse.

Keith gave Bennett and Gregory big, expensive bars of milk chocolate with peanuts. He just smiled at Marcus and me—an obvious “fuck you” smile. Then, before Dad could come home and find him here, he left again. Cory hadnʼt realized that he was leaving again, and she all but screamed and clung to him. “No! Youʼll be killed out there! Whatʼs the matter with you? Stay home!”

“Mama, I wonʼt let him beat me again,” he said. “I donʼt need him hitting me and telling me what to do. Pretty soon, Iʼll be able to make more money in a day than he can in a week—maybe in a month.” “Youʼll be killed!”

“No I wonʼt. I know what Iʼm doing.” He kissed her, then, with surprising ease, took her arms from around him. “Iʼll come back and see you,” he said. “Iʼll bring you presents.”

And he vanished out the back door, and was gone.


! ! !

CIVILIZATION IS TO GROUPS what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.Civilization, like intelligence, may serve well, serve adequately, or fail to serve its adaptive function. When civilization fails to serve, it must disintegrate unless it is acted upon by unifying internal or external forces.



! ! !

When apparent stability disintegrates,

As it must—

God is Change—

People tend to give in

To fear and depression,

To need and greed.

When no influence is strong enough

To unify people

They divide.

They struggle,

One against one,

Group against group,

For survival, position, power.

They remember old hates and generate new ones,

They create chaos and nurture it.

They kill and kill and kill,

Until they are exhausted and destroyed,

Until they are conquered by outside forces,

Or until one of them becomes

A leader

Most will follow,

Or a tyrant

Most fear.



KEITH CAME HOME YESTERDAY, bigger than ever, as tall and lean as Dad is tall and broad. Heʼs not quite 14, but he already looks like the man he wants so much to be. Weʼre like that, we Olaminas—tall, sturdy, fast growing people. Except for Gregory who is only nine, we all tower over Cory. Iʼm still the tallest, but my height seems to annoy her these days. She loves Keithʼs size, though—her big son. She just hates the fact that he doesnʼt live with us anymore.

“I got a room,” he said to me yesterday. We talked, he and I. Cory was with Dorotea Cruz who is one of her best friends and who had just had another baby. The other boys were playing in the street and on the island. Dad had gone to the college, and would be gone overnight. Now, more than ever, itʼs safest to go out just at dawn, and not to try coming home until just at dawn the next morning. Thatʼs if you have to go outside at all, which Dad does about once a week. The worst parasites still prowl at night and sleep late into the morning. Yet Keith lives outside.

“I got a room in a building with some other people,” he said. Translation: He and his friends were squatting in an abandoned building. Who were his friends? A gang? A flock of prostitutes? A bunch of astronauts, flying high on drugs? A den of thieves? All of the above? Whenever he came to see us he brought money to Cory and little gifts to Bennett and Gregory.

How could he get money? Thereʼs no honest way.

“Do your friends know how old you are?” I asked.

He grinned. “Hell, no. Why should I tell them that?”

I nodded. “It does help to look older sometimes.”

“You want something to eat?”

“You going to cook for me?”

“Iʼve cooked for you hundreds of times. Thousands.”

“I know. But you always had to before.”

“Donʼt be stupid. You think I couldnʼt act the way you did: Skip out on my responsibilities if I felt like it? I donʼt feel like it. You want to eat or not?”


I made rabbit stew and acorn bread—enough for Cory and all the boys when they came in. He hung around and watched me work for a while, then began to talk to me. Heʼs never done that before. Weʼve never, never liked each other, he and I. But he had information I wanted, and he seemed to want to talk. I must have been the safest person he could talk to. He wasnʼt afraid of shocking me. He didnʼt much care what I thought. And he wasnʼt afraid Iʼd tell Dad or Cory anything he said. Of course, I wouldnʼt. Why cause them pain? Iʼve never been much for tattling on people, anyway.

“Itʼs just a nasty old building on the outside,” he was saying of his new home. “You wouldnʼt believe how great it looks once you go in, though.”

“Whorehouse or spaceship?” I asked.

“Itʼs got stuff like you never saw,” he evaded. “TV windows you go through instead of just sitting and looking at. Headsets, belts, and touchrings…you see and feel everything, do anything. Anything! Thereʼs places and things you can get into with that equipment that are insane! You donʼt ever have to go into the street except to get food.”

“And whoever owns this stuff took you in?” I asked.



He looked at me for a long time, then started to laugh. “Because I can read and write,” he said at last. “And none of them can. Theyʼre all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything. They stole all this great stuff and they couldnʼt even use it. Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldnʼt read the instructions.”

Cory and I had had a hell of a struggle, teaching him to read and write. He had been bored, impatient, anything but eager.

“So you read for a living—help your new friends learn to use their stolen equipment,” I said. “Yeah.”

“And what else?”

“Nothinʼ else.”

What a piss-poor liar he is. Always was. Heʼs got no conscience. He just isnʼt smart enough to tell convincing lies. “Drugs, Keith?” I asked. “Prostitution? Robbery?”

“I said nothing else! You always think you know everything.”

I sighed. “Youʼre not done causing Dad and Cory pain are you? Not by a long shot.”

He looked as though he wanted to shout back at me or hit me. He might have done one or the other if I hadnʼt mentioned Cory.

“I donʼt give a shit about him,” he said, his voice low and ugly. He had a manʼs voice already. He had everything but a manʼs brain. “I do more for her than he does. I bring her money and nice things. And my friends…my friends know she lives here, and they let this place alone. Heʼs nothing!”

I turned and looked at him and saw my fatherʼs face, lighter-skinned, younger, thinner, but my fatherʼs face, unmistakable. “Heʼs you,” I whispered. “Every time I look at you, I see him. Every time you look at him, you see yourself.”


I shrugged.

It was a long time before he spoke again. At last he said, “Did he ever hit you?”

“Not for about five years.”

“Whyʼd he hit you—back then?”

I thought about that, and decided to tell him. He was old enough. “He caught me and Rubin Quintanilla in the bushes together.”

Keith shouted with abrupt laughter. “You and Rubin? Really? You were doing it with him? Youʼre kidding.” “We were twelve. What the hell.”

“Youʼre lucky you didnʼt get pregnant.”

“I know. Twelve can be a dumb age.”

He looked away. “Bet he didnʼt beat you as bad as he beat me!”

“He sent you boys over to play with the Talcotts.” I gave him a glass of cold orange juice and poured one for myself.

“I donʼt remember,” he said.

“You were nine,” I said. “Nobody was going to tell you what was going on. As I remember, I told you I fell down the back steps.”

He frowned, perhaps remembering. My face had been memorable. Dad hadnʼt beaten me as badly as he beat Keith, but I looked worse. He should remember that.

“He ever beat up Mama?”

I shook my head. “No. Iʼve never seen any sign of it. I donʼt think he would. He loves her, you know. He really does.”


“Heʼs our father, and heʼs the best man I know.”

“Did you think that when he beat you?”

“No. But later when I figured out how stupid Iʼd been, I was just glad he was so strict. And back when it happened, I was just glad he didnʼt quite kill me.”

He laughed again—twice in just a few minutes, and both times at things Iʼd said. Maybe he was ready to open up a little now.

“Tell me about the outside,” I said. “How do you live out there?”

He drained the last of his second glass of juice. “I told you. I live real good out there.” “But how did you live when you first went out—when you went to stay.”

He looked at me and smiled. He smiled like that years ago when he used red ink to trick me into bleeding

in empathy with a wound he didnʼt have. I remember that particular nasty smile.

“You want to go out yourself, donʼt you?” he demanded.


“What, instead of marrying Curtis and having a bunch of babies?”

“Yeah. Instead of that.”

“I wondered why you were being so nice to me.”

The food smelled just about ready, so I got up and took the bread from the oven and bowls from the cupboard. I was tempted to tell him to dish up his own stew, but I knew he would spoon all the meat out of the stew and leave nothing but potatoes and vegetables for the rest of us. So I served him and myself, covered the pot, left it on the lowest possible fire, and put a towel over the bread.

I let him eat in peace for a while, though I thought the boys would be coming in any time now, starving. Then I was afraid to wait any longer. “Talk to me, Keith,” I said. “I really want to know. How did you survive when you first went out there.”

His smile this time was less evil. Maybe the food had mellowed him. “Slept in a cardboard box for three days and stole food,” he said. “I donʼt know why I kept going back to that box. Could have slept in any old corner. Some kids carry a piece of cardboard to sleep on—so they wonʼt be right down on the ground, you know.

“Then I got a sleepsack from an old man. It was new, like he never used it. Then I—”

“You stole it?”

He gave me a look of scorn. “What you think I was going to do? I didnʼt have no money. Just had that gun —Mamaʼs .38.”

Yes. He had brought it back to her three visits ago, along with two boxes of ammunition. Of course he never said how he got the ammunition—or how he got his replacement gun—a Heckler & Koch nine millimeter just like Dadʼs. He just showed up with things and claimed that if you had the money, you could buy anything outside. He had never admitted how he got the money.

“Okay,” I said. “So you stole a sleepsack. And you kept stealing food? Itʼs a wonder you didnʼt get caught.” “The old guy had some money. I used it to buy food. Then I started walking toward L.A.” That old dream of his. For reasons that make sense to him alone, heʼs always wanted to go to L.A. Any

sane person would be thankful for the twenty miles that separate us from that oozing sore. “Thereʼs people all over the freeway coming away from LA.,” he said. “Thereʼs even people walking up from way down in San Diego. They donʼt know where theyʼre going. I talked to this guy, he said he was going to Alaska. Goddamn. Alaska!”

“Good luck to him,” I said. “Heʼs got a lot of guns to face before he gets there.”

“He wonʼt get there. Alaska must be a thousand miles from here!”

I nodded. “More than that, and with hostile state lines and borders along the way. But good luck to him anyhow. Itʼs a goal that makes sense.”

“He had twenty-three thousand dollars in his pack.”

I didnʼt say anything. I just froze, stared at him in disgust and renewed dislike. But of course. Of course. “You wanted to know,” he said. “Thatʼs what itʼs like outside. If you got a gun, youʼre somebody. If you donʼt, youʼre shit. And a lot of people out there donʼt have guns.”

“I thought most of them did—except the ones too poor to be worth robbing.”

“I thought so too. But guns cost a lot. And itʼs easier to get one if you already got one, you know?” “What if that Alaska guy had had one. Youʼd be dead.”

“I sneaked up on him while he was sleeping. Just sort of followed him until he went off the road to go to sleep. Then I got him. He led me away from L.A., though.”

“You shot him?”

The nasty smile again.

“He talked to you. He was friendly to you. And you shot him.”

“What was I supposed to do? Wait for God to come and give me some money? What was I supposed to do?”

“Come home.”


“Doesnʼt it even bother you that you took someoneʼs life—you killed a man?”

He seemed to think about that for a while. Then he shook his head. “It donʼt bother me,” he said. “I was scared at first, but then…after I did it, I didnʼt feel nothing. Nobody saw me do it. I just took his stuff and left him there. Besides, maybe he wasnʼt dead. People donʼt always die just because you shoot them.” “You didnʼt check?”

“I just wanted his stuff. He was crazy anyway. Alaska!”

I didnʼt say any more to him, didnʼt ask any more questions. He talked a little about meeting some guys and joining up with them, then discovering that even though they were all older than he was, none of them could read or write. He was a help to them. He made their lives pleasanter. Maybe thatʼs why they didnʼt just wait until he was asleep and kill him and take his loot for themselves.

After a while, he noticed that I wasnʼt saying anything, and he laughed. “You better marry Curtis and make babies,” he said. “Out there, outside, you wouldnʼt last a day. That hyperempathy shit of yours would bring you down even if nobody touched you.”

“You think that,” I said.

“Hey, I saw a guy get both of his eyes gouged out. After that, they set him on fire and watched him run around and scream and burn. You think you could stand to see that?”

“Your new friends did that?” I asked.

“Hell no! Crazies did that. Paints. They shave off all their hair—even their eyebrows—and they paint their skin green or blue or red or yellow. They eat fire and kill rich people.”

“They do what?”

“They take that drug that makes them like to watch fires. Sometimes a camp fire or a trash fire or a house fire. Or sometimes they grab a rich guy and set him on fire.”


“I donʼt know. Theyʼre crazy. I heard some of them used to be rich kids, so I donʼt know why they hate rich people so much. That drug is bad, though. Sometimes the paints like the fire so much they get too close to it. Then their friends donʼt even help him. They just watch them burn. Itʼs like… I donʼt know, itʼs like they were fucking the fire, and like it was the best fuck they ever had.”

“Youʼve never tried it?”

“Hell no! I told you. Those guys are crazy. You know, even the girls shave their heads. Damn, they look ugly!”

“Theyʼre mostly kids, then?”

“Yeah. Your age up to maybe twenty. Thereʼs a few old ones, twenty-five, even thirty. I hear most of them donʼt live that long though.”

Cory and the boys came in at that moment, Gregory and Bennett excited because their side in soccer had won. Cory was happy and wistful, talking to Marcus about Dorotea Cruzʼs new baby girl. Things changed when they all saw Keith, of course, but the evening wasnʼt too bad. Keith had presents for the little boys, of course, and money for Cory and nothing for Marcus and me. This time, though, he was a little shamefaced with me. “Maybe Iʼll bring you something next time,” he said.

“No, donʼt,” I said, thinking of the Alaska-bound traveler. “Itʼs all right. I donʼt want anything.” He shrugged and turned to talk to Cory.

MONDAY, JULY 20, 2026

Keith came to see me today just before dark. He found me walking home from the Talcott house where Curtis had been wishing me a very happy birthday. Weʼve been very careful, Curtis and I, but from somewhere or other, heʼs gotten a supply of condoms. Theyʼre old fashioned, but they work. And thereʼs an unused darkroom in a corner of the Talcott garage.

Keith scared me out of a very sweet mood. He came from behind two houses without making a sound. He had almost reached me before I realized someone was there and turned to face him. He raised his hands, smiling, “Brought you a birthday present,” he said. He put something into my left hand. Money.

“Keith, no, give it to Cory.”

“You give it to her. You want her to have it, you give it to her. I gave it to you.”

I walked him to the gate, concerned that one of the watchers might spot him and shoot him. He was that much taller than he had been when he stopped living with us. Dad was home so he wouldnʼt come in. I thanked him for the money and told him I would give it to Cory. I wanted him to know that because I didnʼt want him to bring me anything else, ever.

He seemed not to mind. He kissed the side of my face said, “Happy birthday,” and went out. He still had Coryʼs key, and although Dad knew he had it, he hadnʼt had the lock changed again. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2026

Today, my parents had to go downtown to identify the body of my brother Keith.


I havenʼt been able to write a word since Wednesday. I donʼt know what to write. The body was Keithʼs. I never saw it, of course. Dad said he tried to keep Cory from seeing it. The things someone had done to Keith before he died… I donʼt want to write about this, but I need to. Sometimes writing about a thing makes it easier to stand.

Someone had cut and burned away most of my brothers skin. Everywhere except his face. They burned out his eyes, but left the rest of his face intact—like they wanted him to be recognized. They cut and they cauterized and they cut and they cauterized… Some of the wounds were days old. Someone had an endless hatred of my brother.

Dad got us all together and described to us what had been done. He told it in a flat, dead monotone. He wanted to scare us, to scare Marcus, Bennett, and Gregory in particular. He wanted us to understand just how dangerous the outside is.

The police said drug dealers torture people the way Keith was tortured. They torture people who steal from them and people who compete with them. We donʼt know whether Keith was doing either of these things. We just know heʼs dead. His body was dumped across town from here in front of a burned-out old building that was once a nursing home. It was dumped on the broken concrete and abandoned several hours after Keith

died. It could have been dumped in one of the canyons and only the dogs would have found it. But someone wanted it to be found, wanted it to be recognized. Had one of his victimsʼ relatives or friends managed to get even at last?

The police seemed to think we should know who killed him. I got the feeling from their questions that they would have been happy to arrest Dad or Cory or both of them. But they both lead very public lives, and neither had any unexplained absences or other breaks in routine. Dozens of people could give them alibis. Of course, I said nothing about what Keith had told me he had been doing. What good would that do? He was dead, and in a horrible way. By accident or by intent, all his victims were avenged.

Wardell Parrish felt called upon to tell the police about the big fight Dad and Keith had had last year. Heʼd heard it, of course. Half the neighborhood had heard it. Family fights are neighborhood theater—and Dad, the minister, after all!

I know Wardell Parrish was the one who told the cops. His youngest niece Tanya let that much slip. “Uncle Ward said he hated to mention it but…”

Oh, Iʼll bet he hated to mention it. Damned bastard! But nobody backed him up. The cops went nosing around the neighborhood, but no one else admitted knowing anything about a fight. After all, they knew Dad didnʼt kill Keith. And they knew the cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty. Best to give them nothing. They never helped when people called for help. They came later, and more often than not, made a bad situation worse.

We had the service today. Dad asked his friend Reverend Robinson to take care of it. Dad just sat with Cory and the rest of us and looked bent and old. So old.

Cory cried all day, most of the time without making a sound. Sheʼs been crying off and on since Wednesday. Marcus and Dad tried to comfort her. Even I tried, though the way she looked at me…as though I had had something to do with Keithʼs death, as though she almost hated me. I keep reaching out to her. I donʼt know what else to do. Maybe in time, sheʼll be able to forgive me for not being her daughter, for being alive when her son is dead, for being Dadʼs daughter by someone else…? I donʼt know.

Dad never shed a tear. Iʼve never seen him cry in my life. Today, I wish he would. I wish he could. Curtis Talcott sort of hung around with me today, and we talked and talked. I guess I needed to talk, and Curtis was willing to put up with me.

He said I should cry. He said no matter how bad things had gotten between Keith and me or Keith and the family, I should let myself cry. Odd. Until he brought it up, I hadnʼt thought about my own absence of tears. I hadnʼt cried at all. Maybe Cory had noticed. Maybe my dry face was just one more grudge she held against me.

It wasnʼt that I was holding back, being stoic. Itʼs just that I hated Keith at least as much as I loved him. He was my brother—half-brother—but he was also the most sociopathic person Iʼve ever been close to. He would have been a monster if he had been allowed to grow up. Maybe he was one already. He never cared what he did. If he wanted to do something and it wouldnʼt cause him immediate physical pain, he did it, fuck the earth.

He messed up our family, broke it into something less than a family. Still, I would never have wished him dead. I would never wish anyone dead in that horrible way. I think he was killed by monsters much worse than himself. Itʼs beyond me how one human being could do that to another. If hyperempathy syndrome were a more common complaint, people couldnʼt do such things. They could kill if they had to, and bear the pain of it or be destroyed by it. But if everyone could feel everyone elseʼs pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain? Iʼve never thought of my problem as something that might do some good before, but the way things are, I think it would help. I wish I could give it to people. Failing that, I wish I could find other people who have it, and live among them. A biological conscience is better than no conscience at all.

But as for me crying, if I were going to cry, I think I would have done it back when Dad beat Keith—when the beating was over and Dad saw what he had done, and we all saw how both Keith and Cory looked at him. I knew then that neither of them would ever forgive him. Not ever. That was the end of something precious in the family.

I wish Dad could cry for his son, but I donʼt feel any need at all to cry for my brother. May he rest in peace —in his urn, in heaven, wherever.


! ! !

Any Change may bear seeds of benefit.

Seek them out.

Any Change may bear seeds of harm.


God is infinitely malleable.

God is Change.




The community, the families, individual family members… Weʼre a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

There was another robbery last night—or an attempted robbery. I wish that was all. No garden theft this time. Three guys came over the wall and crowbarred their way into the Cruz house. The Cruz family, of course, has loud burglar alarms, barred windows, and security gates at all the doors just like the rest of us, but that doesnʼt seem to matter. When people want to come in, they come in. The thieves used simple hand tools— crowbars, hydraulic jacks, things anyone can get. I donʼt know how they disabled the burglar alarm. I know they cut the electrical and phone lines to the house. That shouldnʼt have mattered since the alarm had back-up batteries. Whatever else they did, or whatever went wrong, the alarm didnʼt go off. And after the thieves used the crowbar on the door, they walked into the kitchen and used it on Dorotea Cruzʼs seventy-five-year-old grandmother. The old lady was a light sleeper and had gotten into the habit of getting up at night and brewing herself a cup of lemon grass tea. Her family says thatʼs what she was coming into the kitchen to do when the thieves broke in.

Then Doroteaʼs brothers Hector and Rubin Quintanilla, came running, guns in hand. They had the bedroom nearest to the kitchen and they heard all the noise—the break-in itself and Mrs. Quintanilla being knocked against the kitchen table and chairs. They killed two of the thieves. The third got away, perhaps wounded. There was a lot of blood. But old Mrs. Quintanilla was dead.

This is the seventh incident since Keith was killed. More and more people are coming over our wall to take what we have, or what they think we have. Seven intrusions into house or garden in less than two months in an 11-household community. If this is whatʼs happening to us, what must it be like for people who are really rich—although perhaps with their big guns, private armies of security guards, and up to date security equipment, theyʼre better able to fight back. Maybe thatʼs why weʼre getting so much attention. We have a few stealables and weʼre not that well protected. Of the seven intrusions, three were successful. Thieves got in and out with something—a couple of radios, a sack of walnuts, wheat flour, corn meal, pieces of jewelry, an ancient TV, a computer… If they could carry it, they made off with it. If what Keith told me is true, weʼre getting the poorer class of thieves here. No doubt the tougher, smarter, more courageous thieves hit stores and businesses. But our lower-class thugs are killing us slowly.

Next year, Iʼll be 18—old enough, according to Dad, to stand a regular night watch. I wish I could do it now. As soon as I can do it, I will. But it wonʼt be enough.

Itʼs funny. Cory and Dad have been using some of the money Keith brought us to help the people whoʼve been robbed. Stolen money to help victims of theft. Half the money is hidden in our back yard in case of disaster. There has always been some money hidden out there. Now thereʼs enough to make a difference. The other half has gone into the church fund to help our neighbors in emergencies. It wonʼt be enough. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2026

Something new is beginning—or perhaps something old and nasty is reviving. A company called Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton, and Company—KSF—has taken over the running of a small coastal city called Olivar. Olivar, incorporated in the 1980s, is just one more beach/bedroom suburb of Los Angeles, small and well-to-do. It has little industry, much hilly, vacant land and a short, crumbling coastline. Its people, like some

here in our Robledo neighborhood, earn salaries that would once have made them prosperous and comfortable. In fact, Olivar is a lot richer than we are, but since itʼs a coastal city, its taxes are higher, and since some of its land is unstable, it has extra problems. Parts of it sometimes crumble into the ocean, undercut or deeply saturated by salt water. Sea level keeps rising with the warming climate and there is the occasional earthquake. Olivarʼs flat, sandy beach is already just a memory. So are the houses and businesses that used to sit on that beach. Like coastal cities all over the world, Olivar needs special help. Itʼs an upper middle class, white, literate community of people who once had a lot of weight to throw around. Now, not even the politicians itʼs helped to elect will stand by it. The whole state, the country, the world needs help, itʼs been told. What the hell is tiny Olivar whining about?

Somewhat richer and less geologically active communities are getting help—dikes, sea walls, evacuation assistance, whateverʼs appropriate. Olivar, located between the sea and Los Angeles, is getting an influx of salt water from one direction and desperate poor people from the other. It has a solar powered desalination plant on some of its flatter, more stable land, and that provides its people with a dependable supply of water.

But it canʼt protect itself from the encroaching sea, the crumbling earth, the crumbling economy, or the desperate refugees. Even getting back and forth to work, for those few who canʼt work at home, was becoming as dangerous for them as it is for our people—a kind of terrible gauntlet that has to be run over and over again.

Then the people of KSF showed up. After many promises, much haggling, suspicion, fear, hope, and legal wrangling, the voters and the officials of Olivar permitted their town to be taken over, bought out, privatized. KSF will expand the desalination plant to vast size. That plant will be the first of many. The company intends to

dominate farming and the selling of water and solar and wind energy over much of the southwest—where for pennies itʼs already bought vast tracts of fertile, waterless land. So far, Olivar is one of its smaller coastal holdings, but with Olivar, it gets an eager, educated work force, people a few years older than I am whose options are very limited. And thereʼs all that formerly public land that they now control. They mean to own great water, power, and agricultural industries in an area that most people have given up on. They have long-term plans, and the people of Olivar have decided to become part of them—to accept smaller salaries than their socio-economic group is used to in exchange for security, a guaranteed food supply, jobs, and help in their battle with the Pacific.

There are still people in Olivar who are uncomfortable with the change. They know about early American company towns in which the companies cheated and abused people.

But this is to be different. The people of Olivar arenʼt frightened, impoverished victims. Theyʼre able to look after themselves, their rights and their property. Theyʼre educated people who donʼt want to live in the spreading chaos of the rest of Los Angeles County. Some of them said so on the radio documentary we all listened to last night—as they made a public spectacle of selling themselves to KSF.

“Good luck to them,” Dad said. “Not that theyʼll have much luck in the long run.”

“What do you mean?” Cory demanded. “I think the whole idea is wonderful. Itʼs what we need. Now if only some big company would want to do the same thing with Robledo.”

“No,” Dad said. “Thank God, no.”

“You donʼt know! Why shouldnʼt they?”

“Robledoʼs too big, too poor, too black, and too Hispanic to be of interest to anyone—and it has no coastline. What it does have is street poor, body dumps, and a memory of once being well-off—of shade trees, big houses, hills, and canyons. Most of those things are still here, but no company will want us.”

At the end of the program it was announced that KSF was looking for registered nurses, credentialed teachers, and a few other skilled professionals who would be willing to move to Olivar and work for room and board. The offer wasnʼt put that way, of course, but thatʼs what it meant. Yet Cory recorded the phone number and called it at once. She and Dad are both teachers, both Ph.D.ʼs. She was desperate to get in ahead of the crowd. Dad just shrugged and let her call.

Room and board. The offered salaries were so low that if Dad and Cory both worked, they wouldnʼt earn as much as Dad is earning now with the college. And out of it theyʼd have to pay rent as well as the usual expenses. In fact, when you add everything up, itʼs clear that with the six of us, they couldnʼt earn enough to meet expenses. It might work if I could find a job of some kind, but in Olivar they donʼt need me. Theyʼve got hundreds of me, at least—maybe thousands. Every surviving community is full of unemployed, half-educated kids or unemployed, uneducated kids.

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company. Thatʼs an old company-town trick—get people into debt, hang on to them, and work them harder. Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Donnerʼs America. Labor laws, state and federal, are not what they once were.

“We could try,” Cory insisted to Dad. “We could be safe in Olivar. The kids could go to a real school and later get jobs with the company. After all, where can they go from here except outside?” Dad shook his head. “Donʼt hope for it, Cory. Thereʼs nothing safe about slavery.”

Marcus and I were still up, listening. The two younger boys had been sent to bed, but we four were still clustered around the radio. Now Marcus spoke up.

“Olivar doesnʼt sound like slavery,” he said. “Those rich people would never let themselves be slaves.” Dad gave him a sad smile. “Not now,” he said. “Not at first.” He shook his head. “Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian. When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well, why shouldnʼt other countries buy whatʼs left of us if we put it up for sale. I wonder how many of the people in Olivar have any idea what theyʼre doing.”

“I donʼt think many do,” I said. “I donʼt think theyʼd dare let themselves know.”

He looked at me, and I looked back. Iʼm still learning how dogged people can be in denial, even when their freedom or their lives are at stake. Heʼs lived with it longer. I wonder how.

Marcus said, “Lauren, you ought to want to go to some place like Olivar more than anyone. You share pain every time you see someone get hurt. Thereʼd be a lot less pain in Olivar.”

“And there would be all those guards,” I said. “Iʼve noticed that people who have a little bit of power tend to use it. All those guards KSF is bringing in—they wonʼt be allowed to bother the rich people, at least at first. But new, bare-bones, work-for-room-and-board employees… Iʼll bet theyʼll be fair game.”

“Thereʼs no reason to believe the company would allow that kind of thing,” Cory said. “Why do you always expect the worst of everyone?”

“When it comes to strangers with guns,” I told her, “I think suspicion is more likely to keep you alive than trust.”

She made a sharp, wordless sound of disgust. “You know nothing about the world. You think you have all the answers but you know nothing!”

I didnʼt argue. There wasnʼt much point in my arguing with her.

“I doubt that Olivar is looking for families of blacks and Hispanics, anyway,” Dad said. “The Baiters or the Garfields or even some of the Dunns might get in, but I donʼt think we would. Even if I were trusting enough to put my family into KSFʼs hands, they wouldnʼt have us.”

“We could try it,” Cory insisted. “We should! We wouldnʼt be any worse off than we are now if they turn us down. And if we got in and we didnʼt like it, we could come back here. We could rent the house to one of the big families here—charge them just a little, then—”

“Then come back here jobless and penniless,” Dad said. “No, I mean it. This business sounds half antebellum revival and half science fiction. I donʼt trust it. Freedom is dangerous, Cory, but itʼs precious, too. You canʼt just throw it away or let it slip away. You canʼt sell it for bread and pottage.”

Cory stared at him—just stared. He refused to look away. Cory got up and went to their bedroom. I saw her there a few minutes later, sitting on the bed, cradling the urn of Keithʼs ashes, and crying. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2026

Marcus tells me the Garfields are trying to get into Olivar. Heʼs been spending a lot of time with Robin Baiter and she told him. She hates the idea because she likes her cousin Joanne a lot better than she does her two sisters. Sheʼs afraid that if Joanne goes away to Olivar, sheʼll never see her again. I suspect sheʼs right.

I canʼt imagine this place without the Garfields. Joanne, Jay, Phillida… Weʼve lost individuals before, of course, but weʼve never lost a whole family. I mean…theyʼll be alive, but…theyʼll be gone. I hope theyʼre refused. I know itʼs selfish, but I donʼt care. Not that it makes any difference what I hope. Oh hell. I hope they get whatever will be best for their survival. I hope theyʼll be all right.

At 13, my brother Marcus has become the only person in the family whom I would call beautiful. Girls his age stare at him when they think heʼs not looking. They giggle a lot around him and chase him like crazy, but he sticks to Robin. Sheʼs not pretty at all—all skin and bones and brains—but sheʼs funny and sensible. In a year or two, sheʼll start to fill out and my brother will get beauty along with all those brains. Then, if the two of them are still together, their lives will get a lot more interesting.

Iʼve changed my mind. I used to wait for the explosion, the big crash, the sudden chaos that would destroy the neighborhood. Instead, things are unraveling, disintegrating bit by bit. Susan Talcott Bruce and her husband have applied to Olivar. Other people are talking about applying, thinking about it. Thereʼs a small college in Olivar. There are lethal security devices to keep thugs and the street poor out. There are more jobs opening up…

Maybe Olivar is the future—one face of it. Cities controlled by big companies are old hat in science fiction. My grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels. The company-city subgenre always seemed to star a hero who outsmarted, overthrew, or escaped “the company.” Iʼve never seen one where the hero fought like hell to get taken in and underpaid by the company. In real life, thatʼs the way it will be. Thatʼs the way it is.

And what should I be doing? What can I do? In less than a year, Iʼll be 18, an adult—an adult with no prospects except life in our disintegrating neighborhood. Or Earthseed.

To begin Earthseed, Iʼll have to go outside. Iʼve known that for a long time, but the idea scares me just as much as it always has.

Next year when Iʼm 18, Iʼll go. That means now I have to begin to plan how Iʼll handle it. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2026

Iʼm going to go north. My grandparents once traveled a lot by car. They left us old road maps of just about every county in the state plus several of other parts of the country. The newest of them is 40 years old, but that doesnʼt matter. The roads will still be there. Theyʼll just be in worse shape than they were back when my grandparents drove a gas-fueled car over them. Iʼve put maps of the California counties north of us and the few I could find of Washington and Oregon counties into my pack.

I wonder if there are people outside who will pay me to teach them reading and writing—basic stuff—or people who will pay me to read or write for them. Keith started me thinking about that. I might even be able to teach some Earthseed verses along with the reading and writing. Given any chance at all, teaching is what I would choose to do. Even if I have to take other kinds of work to get enough to eat, I can teach. If I do it well, it will draw people to me—to Earthseed.

All successful life is




Interconnected, and


Understand this.

Use it.

Shape God.

I wrote that verse a few months ago. Itʼs true like all the verses. It seems more true than ever now, more useful to me when Iʼm afraid.

Iʼve finally got a title for my book of Earthseed verses—Earthseed: The Book of the Living. There are the Tibetan and the Egyptian Books of the Dead. Dad has copies of them. Iʼve never heard of anything called a book of the living, but I wouldnʼt be surprised to discover that there is something. I donʼt care. Iʼm trying to speak —to write—the truth. Iʼm trying to be clear. Iʼm not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them. If it happens that there are other people outside somewhere preaching my truth, Iʼll join them. Otherwise, Iʼll adapt where I must, take what opportunities I can find or make, hang on, gather students, and teach.


! ! !

We are Earthseed

The life that perceives itself




THE GARFIELDS HAVE BEEN accepted at Olivar.

Theyʼll be moving next month. That soon. Iʼve known them all my life, and theyʼll be gone. Joanne and I have had our differences, but we grew up together. I thought somehow that when I left, she would still be here. Everyone would still be here, frozen in time just as I left them. But no, thatʼs fantasy. God is Change.

“Do you want to go?” I asked her this morning. We had gotten together to pick a few early lemons and navel oranges and some persimmons, almost ripe and brilliant orange. We picked at my house, and then at hers, enjoying the work. The weather was cool. It was good to be outside.

“I have to go,” she said. “What else is there for me—for anyone. Itʼs all going to hell here. You know it is.” I stared at her. I guess discussing such things is all right now that she has a way out. “So you move into another fortress,” I said.

“Itʼs a better fortress. It wonʼt have people coming over the walls, killing old ladies.”

“Your mother says all youʼll have is an apartment. No yard. No garden. Youʼll have less money, but youʼll have to use more of it to buy food.”

“Weʼll manage!” There was a brittle quality to her voice.

I put down the old rake I was using as a fruit picker. It worked fine on the lemons and oranges. “Scared?” I asked.

She put down her own real fruit picker with its awkward extension handle and small fruit-catching basket. It was best for persimmons. She hugged herself. “Iʼve lived here, lived with trees and gardens all my life. I… donʼt know how it will be to be shut up in an apartment. It does scare me, but weʼll manage. Weʼll have to.”

“You can come back here if things arenʼt what you hope. Your grandparents and your auntʼs family will still be here.”

“Harry will still be here,” she whispered, looking toward her house. I would have to stop thinking of it as the Garfield house. Harry and Joanne were at least as close as Curtis and I. I hadnʼt thought about her leaving him—what that must be like. I like Harry Baiter. I remember being surprised when he and Joanne first started going together. Theyʼd lived in the same house all their lives. I had thought of Harry almost as her brother. But they were only first cousins, and against the odds, they had managed to fall in love. Or I thought they had. They hadnʼt gone with anyone else for years. Everyone assumed they would get around to marrying when they were a little older.

“Marry him and take him with you,” I said.

“He wonʼt go,” she said in that same whisper. “Weʼve talked and talked about it. He wants me to stay here with him, get married soon and go north. Just…go with no prospects. Nothing. Itʼs crazy.” “Why wonʼt he go to Olivar?”

“He thinks the way your father does. He thinks Olivarʼs a trap. Heʼs read about nineteenth and early twentieth century company towns, and he says no matter how great Olivar looks, all weʼll get from it in the end is debt and loss of freedom.”

I knew Harry had sense. “Jo,” I said, “youʼll be of age next year. You could stay here with the Baiters until then and marry. Or you could talk your father into letting you marry now.”

“And then what? Go join the street poor? Stay and stuff more babies into that crowded house. Harry doesnʼt have a job, and thereʼs no real chance of his getting one that pays money. Are we supposed to live on what Harryʼs parents earn? What kind of future is that? None! None at all!”

Sensible. Conservative and sensible and mature and wrong. Very much in character with Joanne. Or maybe I was the one who was wrong. Maybe the security Joanne will find in Olivar is the only kind of security to be had for anyone who isnʼt rich. To me, though, security in Olivar isnʼt much more attractive than the security Keith has finally found in his urn.

I picked a few more lemons and some oranges and wondered what she would do if she knew I was also planning to leave next year. Would she run to her mother again, frightened for me, and eager to have someone protect me from myself? She might. She wants a future she can understand and depend on—a future that looks a lot like her parentsʼ present. I donʼt think thatʼs possible. Things are changing too much, too fast. Who can fight God?

We put baskets of fruit inside my back door on the porch, then headed for her house. “What will you do?” she asked me as we walked. “Are you just going to stay here? I mean…are you going to stay and marry Curtis?”

I shrugged and lied. “I donʼt know. If I marry anyone, it will be Curtis. But I donʼt know about marrying. I donʼt want to have children here any more than you do. I know weʼll be staying here for a while longer, though. Dad wonʼt let Cory even apply to Olivar. Iʼm glad of that because I donʼt want to go there. But thereʼll be other Olivars. Who knows what I might wind up doing?” That last didnʼt feel like a lie.

“You think thereʼll be more privatized cities?” she asked.

“Bound to be if Olivar succeeds. This country is going to be parceled out as a source of cheap labor and cheap land. When people like those in Olivar beg to sell themselves, our surviving cities are bound to wind up the economic colonies of whoever can afford to buy them.”

“Oh, God, there you go again. Youʼve always got a disaster up your sleeve.”

“I see whatʼs out there. You see it too. You just deny it.”

“Remember when you thought starving hordes were going to come crawling over our walls and we would have to run away to the mountains and eat grass?”

Did I remember? I turned to face her, first angry—furious—then to my own surprise, sad. “Iʼll miss you,” I said.

She must have read my feelings. “Iʼm sorry,” she whispered.

We hugged each other. I didnʼt ask her what she was sorry for, and she didnʼt say any more. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2026

Dad didnʼt come home today. He was due this morning.

I donʼt know what that means. I donʼt know what to think. Iʼm scared to death.

Cory called the college, his friends, fellow ministers, co-workers, the cops, the hospitals… Nothing. He isnʼt under arrest or sick or injured or dead—at least not as far as anyone knows. None of his friends or colleagues had seen him since he left work early this morning. His bike was working all right. He was all right.

He had ridden off toward home with three co-workers who lived in other neighborhoods in our area. Each of these said the same thing: That they had left him as usual at River Street where it intersects Durant Road. Thatʼs only five blocks from here. Weʼre at the tip-end of Durant Road.

So where is he?

Today a group of us, all armed, rode bicycles from home to River Street and down River Street to the college. Five miles in all. We checked side streets, alleys, vacant buildings, every place we could think of. I went. I took Marcus with me because if I hadnʼt, he would have gone out alone. I had the Smith & Wesson. Marcus had only his knife. Heʼs quick and agile with it, and strong for his age, but heʼs never used it on anything alive. If anything had happened to him, I donʼt think I would have dared to go home. Cory is already out of her mind with worry. All this on top of losing Keith… I donʼt know. Everyone helped. Jay Garfield will be leaving soon, but that didnʼt stop him from leading the search. Heʼs a good man. He did everything he could think of to find Dad.

Tomorrow weʼre going into the hills and canyons. We have to. No one wants to, but what else can we do? WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2026

Iʼve never seen more squalor, more human remains, more feral dogs than I saw today. I have to write. I have to dump this onto paper. I canʼt keep it inside of me. Seeing the dead has never bothered me before, but this…

We were looking for Dadʼs body, of course, though no one said so. I couldnʼt deny that reality or avoid thinking about it. Cory checked with the police again, with the hospitals, with everyone we could think of who knew Dad.


So we had to go to the hills. When we go for target practice, we donʼt look around, except to ensure safety. We donʼt look for what weʼd rather not find. Today in groups of three or four, we combed through the area nearest to the top of River Street. I kept Marcus with me—which was not easy. What is it in young boys that makes them want to wander off alone and get killed? They get two chin hairs and theyʼre trying to prove theyʼre


“You watch my back and Iʼll watch yours,” I said. “Iʼm not going to let you get hurt. Donʼt you let me down.” He gave me the kind of near-smile that said he knew exactly what I was trying to do, and that he was going to do as he pleased. I got mad and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Dammit, Marcus, how many sisters have you got? How many fathers have you got!” I never used even mild profanity with him unless things were very serious. Now, it got his attention.

“Donʼt worry,” he muttered. “Iʼll help.”

Then we found the arm. Marcus was the one who spotted it—something dark lying just off the trail we were following. It was hung up in the low branches of a scrub oak.

The arm was fresh and whole—a hand, a lower, and an upper arm. A black manʼs arm, just the color of my fatherʼs where color could be seen. It was slashed and cut all over, yet still powerful looking—long-boned, long-fingered, yet muscular and massive… Familiar?

Smooth, white bone stuck out at the shoulder end. The arm had been cut off with a sharp knife. The bone wasnʼt broken. And, yes. It could have been his.

Marcus threw up when he saw it. I made myself examine it, search it for something familiar, for certainty. Jay Garfield tried to stop me, and I shoved him away and told him to go to hell. Iʼm sorry for that, and I told him so later. But I had to know. And yet, I still donʼt know. The arm was too slashed and covered in dried blood. I couldnʼt tell. Jay Garfield took fingerprints in his pocket notebook, but we left the arm itself. How could we take that back to Cory?

And we kept searching. What else could we do? George Hsu found a rattlesnake. It didnʼt bite anyone and we didnʼt kill it. I donʼt think anyone was in a mood to kill things.

We saw dogs, but they kept away from us. I even saw a cat watching us from under a bush. Cats either run like hell or crouch and freeze. Theyʼre interesting to watch, somehow. Or, at any other time, theyʼd be interesting.

Then someone began to scream. Iʼve never heard screams like that before—on and on. A man, screaming, begging, praying: “No! No more! Oh, God, no more, please. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, please!” Then there were wordless, grating cries and high, horrible mewling.

It was a manʼs voice, not like my fatherʼs but not that different from his. We couldnʼt locate the source. The echoes bounced around the canyon, confusing us, sending us first in one direction, then in another. The canyon was full of loose rock and spiny, vicious plants that kept us on the pathways where there were pathways.

The screaming stopped, then began again as a kind of horrible, bubbling noise.

I had let myself fall back to the end of the line of us by then. I wasnʼt in trouble. Sound doesnʼt trigger my sharing. I have to see another person in pain before I do any sharing. And this was one Iʼd do anything to avoid seeing.

Marcus dropped back beside me and whispered, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I just donʼt want to know anything about whatʼs happening to that man.” “Keith,” he said.

“I know,” I agreed.

We walked our bikes behind the others, watching the back trail. Kayla Talcott dropped back to see if we were all right. She hadnʼt wanted us to come, but since we had come, she had come, she had kept an eye on us. Sheʼs like that.

“It doesnʼt sound like your daddy,” she said. “Doesnʼt sound like him at all.” Kayla is from Texas like my biological mother. Sometimes she sounded as though sheʼd never left, and sometimes she sounded as though sheʼd never been near any part of the south. She seemed to be able to turn the accent on and off. She tended to turn it on for comforting people, and for threatening to kill them. Sometimes when Iʼm with Curtis, I see her in his face and wonder what kind of relative—what kind of mother-in-law—she would make. Today I think both Marcus and I were glad she was there. We needed to be close to someone with her kind of mothering strength.

The horrible noise ended. Maybe the poor man was dead and out of his misery. I hope so. We never found him. We found human bones and animal bones. We found the rotting corpses of five people scattered among the boulders. We found the cold remains of a fire with a human femur and two human skulls lying among the ashes.

At last, we came home and wrapped our community wall around us and huddled in our illusions of security.


No one has found my father. Almost every adult in the neighborhood has spent some time looking. Richard Moss didnʼt, but his oldest son and daughter did. Wardell Parrish didnʼt, but his sister and oldest nephew did. I donʼt know what else people could have done. If I did know, I would be out doing it.

And yet nothing, nothing, nothing! The police never came up with any sign of him. He never turned up anywhere. Heʼs vanished, gone. Even the severed armʼs fingerprints werenʼt his.

Every night since Wednesday, Iʼve dreamed that horrible screaming. Iʼve gone out twice more with teams hunting through the canyons. Weʼve found nothing but more of the dead and the poorest of the living—people who are all staring eyes and visible bones. My own bones ached in empathy. Sometimes if I sleep for a while without hearing the screaming, I see these—the living dead. Iʼve always seen them. Iʼve never seen them.

A team I wasnʼt with found a living child being eaten by dogs. The team killed the dogs, then watched, helpless as the boy died.

I spoke at services this morning. Maybe it was my duty. I donʼt know. People came for church, all uncertain and upset, not knowing what they should do. I think they wanted to draw together, and they had years of habit drawing them together at our house on Sunday morning. They were uncertain and hesitant, but they came.

Both Wyatt Talcott and Jay Garfield offered to speak. Both did say a few words, both informally eulogizing my father, though neither admitted that that was what they were doing. I was afraid everyone would do that and the service would become an impossible impromptu funeral. When I stood up, it wasnʼt just to say a couple of words. I meant to give them something they could take home—something that might make them feel that enough had been said for today.

I thanked them all for the ongoing—emphasize ongoing—efforts to find my father. Then…well, then I talked about perseverance. I preached a sermon about perseverance if an unordained kid can be said to preach a sermon. No one was going to stop me. Cory was the only one who might have tried, but Cory was in a kind of walking coma. She wasnʼt doing anything she didnʼt have to do.

So I preached from Luke, chapter eighteen, verses one through eight: the parable of the importunate widow. Itʼs one Iʼve always liked. A widow is so persistent in her demands for justice that she overcomes the resistance of a judge who fears neither God nor man. She wears him down.

Moral: The weak can overcome the strong if the weak persist. Persisting isnʼt always safe, but itʼs often necessary.

My father and the adults present had created and maintained our community in spite of the scarcity and the violence outside. Now, with my father or without him, that community had to go on, hold together, survive. I talked about my nightmares and the source of those nightmares. Some people might not have wanted their kids to hear things like that, but I didnʼt care. If Keith had known more, maybe he would still be alive. But I didnʼt mention Keith. People could say what happened to Keith was his own fault. No one could say that about Dad. I didnʼt want anyone to be able to say it about this community some day.

“Those nightmares of mine are our future if we fail one another,” I said, winding up. “Starvation, agony at the hands of people who arenʼt human any more. Dismemberment. Death.

“We have God and we have each other. We have our island community, fragile, and yet a fortress. Sometimes it seems too small and too weak to survive. And like the widow in Christʼs parable, its enemies fear neither God nor man. But also like the widow, it persists. We persist. This is our place, no matter what.”

That was my message. I left it there, hanging before them with an unfinished feel to it. I could feel them expecting more, then realizing that I wasnʼt going to say more, then biting down on what I had said. At just the right moment, Kayla Talcott began an old song. Others took it up, singing slowly, but with feeling: “We shall not, we shall not be moved…”

I think this might have sounded weak or even pitiful somehow if it had been begun by a lesser voice. I think I might have sang it weakly. Iʼm only a fair singer. Kayla, on the other hand, has a big voice, beautiful, clear, and able to do everything she asks of it. Also, Kayla has a reputation for not moving unless she wants to. Later, as she was leaving, I thanked her.

She looked at me. Iʼd grown past her years ago, and she had to look up. “Good job,” she said, and nodded and walked away toward her house. I love her.

I got other compliments today, and I think they were sincere. Most said, in one way or another, “Youʼre right,” and “I didnʼt know you could preach like that,” and “Your father would be proud of you.” Yeah, I hope so. I did it for him. He built this bunch of houses into a community. And now, heʼs probably dead. I wouldnʼt let them bury him, but I know. Iʼm no good at denial and self-deception. That was Dadʼs funeral that I was preaching—his and the communityʼs. Because as much as I want all that I said to be true, it isnʼt. Weʼll be moved, all right. Itʼs just a matter of when, by whom, and in how many pieces.


! ! !

There is no end

To what a living world

Will demand of you.



TODAY REVEREND MATTHEW ROBINSON in whose church I was baptized came to preach my fathers funeral. Cory made the arrangements. There was no body, no urn. No one knows what happened to my father. Neither we nor the police have been able to find out. Weʼre sure heʼs dead. He would find a way to come home

if he were alive, so weʼre certain heʼs dead.

No, weʼre not certain. Weʼre not certain at all. Is he sick somewhere? Hurt? Held against his will for who knows what reason by who knows what monsters?

This is worse than when Keith died. So much worse. As horrible as that was, we knew he was dead. Whatever he suffered, we knew he wasnʼt suffering any more. Not in this world, anyway. We knew. Now, we donʼt know anything. He is dead. But we donʼt know!

The Dunns must of felt this when Tracy vanished. Crazy as they are, crazy as she was, they must have felt this. What do they feel now? Tracy never came back. If sheʼs not dead, what must be happening to her outside? A girl alone only faced one kind of future outside. I intend to go out posing as a man when I go.

How will they feel when I go? Iʼll be dead to them—to Cory, the boys, the neighborhood. Theyʼll hope Iʼm dead, considering the supposed alternative. Thank Dad for my tallness and my strength. I wonʼt have to leave Dad now. Heʼs already left me. He was 57. What reason would strangers have for keeping a 57-year-old man alive? Once theyʼd robbed him, they would either let him go or kill him. If they let him go, heʼd come home, walking, limping, crawling.

So heʼs dead.

Thatʼs that.

It has to be.


The Garfields left for Olivar today—Phillida, Jay, and Joanne. An armored KSF truck came from Olivar to collect them and their belongings. The adults of the community had all they could do to keep the little kids from climbing all over the truck and pestering the drivers to death. Most kids my brothersʼ ages have never been close to a truck that runs. Some of the younger Moss kids have never seen a truck of any kind. The Moss kids werenʼt even allowed to visit the Yannis house back when the Yannis television still worked.

The two guys from KSF were patient once they realized the kids werenʼt thieves or vandals. Those two guys with their uniforms, pistols, whips, and clubs, looked more like cops than movers. No doubt they had even more substantial weapons in the truck. My brother Bennett said he saw bigger guns mounted inside the truck when he climbed onto the hood. But when you consider how much a truck that size is worth, and how many people might want to relieve them of it and its contents, I guess the weaponry isnʼt surprising.

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful. Maybe Olivar wouldnʼt be the white enclave that Dad had expected.

Cory cornered the black guy and talked to him for as long as he would let her. Will she try now to get us into Olivar? I think she will. After all, without Dadʼs salary, sheʼll have to do something. I donʼt think we have a prayer of being accepted. The insurance company isnʼt going to pay—or not for a long time. Its people choose not to believe that Dad is dead. Without proof he canʼt be declared legally dead for seven years. Can they hold on to our money for that long? I donʼt know, but it wouldnʼt surprise me. We could starve many times over in seven years. And Cory must know she alone canʼt earn enough in Olivar to feed and house us. Is she hoping to get work for me, too? I donʼt know what weʼre going to do.

Joanne and I cried all over each other, saying good-bye. We promised to phone each other, to stay in touch. I donʼt think weʼll be able to. It costs extra to call Olivar. We wonʼt be able to afford it. I donʼt think she will either. Chances are, Iʼll never see her again. The people Iʼve grown up with are falling out of my life, one by one.

After the truck pulled away, I found Curtis and took him back to the old darkroom to make love. We hadnʼt done it for a long time, and I needed it. I wish I could imagine just marrying Curtis, staying here, and having a decent life with him.

It isnʼt possible. Even if there were no Earthseed, it wouldnʼt be possible. I would almost be doing the family a favor if I left now—one less mouth to feed. Unless I could somehow get a job… “Weʼve got to get out of here, too,” Curtis said as we lay together afterward, lingering, tempting fate, not wanting to lose the feel of each other so soon. But that wasnʼt what he had meant. I turned my head to look at him.

“Donʼt you want to go?” he asked. “Wouldnʼt you like to get out of this dead end neighborhood, out of Robledo.”

I nodded. “I was just thinking that. But—”

“I want you to marry me, and I want us to get out of here,” he said in a near whisper. “This place is dying.” I raised myself to my elbows and looked down at him. The only light in the room came from a single window up near the ceiling. Nothing covered it any more, and the glass was broken out of it, but still, only a little light came in. Curtisʼs face was full of shadows.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked him.

“Not Olivar,” he said. “That could turn out to be a bigger dead end than living here.”

“Where, then?”

“I donʼt know. Oregon or Washington? Canada? Alaska?”

I donʼt think I gave any sign of sudden excitement. People tell me my face doesnʼt show them what Iʼm feeling. My sharing has been a hard teacher. But he saw something.

“Youʼve already been thinking about leaving, havenʼt you,” he demanded. “Thatʼs why you wonʼt talk about getting married.”

I rested my hand on his smooth chest.

“You were thinking about going alone!” He grasped my wrist, seemed ready to push it away. Then he held on to it, kept it. “You were just going to walk away from here and leave me.”

I turned so that he couldnʼt see my face because now I had a feeling my emotions were all too obvious: Confusion, fear, hope… Of course I had intended to go alone, and of course I hadnʼt told anyone that I was leaving. And I had not decided yet how Dadʼs disappearance would affect my going. That raised frightening questions. What are my responsibilities? What will happen to my brothers if I leave them to Cory? Theyʼre her sons, and sheʼll move the earth to take care of them, keep them fed and clothed and housed. But can she do it alone? How?

“I want to go,” I admitted, moving around, trying to be comfortable on the pallet of old sleepsacks that we had put down on the concrete floor. “I planned to go. Donʼt tell anyone.”

“How can I if I go with you?”

I smiled, loving him. But…“Cory and my brothers are going to need help,” I said. “When my father was here, I planned to go next year when Iʼm eighteen. Now… I donʼt know.”

“Where were you going?”

“North. Maybe as far as Canada. Maybe not.”



“Why?” Why alone, he meant.

I shrugged. “I could get killed as soon as I leave here. I could starve. The cops could pick me up. Dogs could get me. I could catch a disease. Anything could happen to me; Iʼve thought about it. I havenʼt named half the bad possibilities.”

“Thatʼs why you need help!”

“Thatʼs why I couldnʼt ask anyone else to walk away from food and shelter and as much safety as there is in our world. To just start walking north, and hope you wind up some place good. How could I ask that of you?” “Itʼs not that bad. Farther north, we can get work.”

“Maybe. But people have been flooding north for years. Jobs are scarce up there, too. And statelines and borders are closed.”

“Thereʼs nothing down there!”

“I know.”

“So how can you help Cory and your brothers?”

“I donʼt know. We havenʼt figured out what to do. So far, nothing Iʼve thought of will work.” “Theyʼd have more of everything if you left.”

“Maybe. But, Curtis, how can I leave them? Could you walk away and leave your family, not knowing how they would manage to survive?”

“Sometimes I think so,” he said.

I ignored that. He didnʼt get along very well with his brother Michael, but his family was probably the strongest unit in the neighborhood. Take on one of them and youʼve got to deal with them all. He would never walk away from them if they were in trouble.

“Marry me now,” he said. “Weʼll stay here and help your family get on its feet. Then weʼll leave.” “Not now,” I said. “I canʼt see how anything is going to work out now. Everythingʼs too crazy.” “And what? You think itʼs going to get sane? Itʼs never been sane. You just have to go ahead and live, no matter what.”

I didnʼt know what to say, so I kissed him. But I couldnʼt distract him.

“I hate this room,” he said. “I hate hiding to be with you and I hate playing games.” He paused. “But I do love you. Damn! Sometimes I almost wish I didnʼt.”

“Donʼt wish that,” I said. He knew so little about me, and he thought he knew everything. Iʼd never told him about my sharing, for instance. Iʼll have to before I marry him. If I donʼt, when he finds out, heʼll know I didnʼt trust him enough to be honest, with him. And not much is known about sharing. Suppose I pass it on to my kids?

Then thereʼs Earthseed. Iʼll have to tell him about that. What will he think? That Iʼve gone crazy? I canʼt tell him. Not yet.

“We could live at your house,” he said. “My parents would help out with food. Maybe I could find some kind of job…”

“I want to marry you,” I said. I hesitated, and there was absolute silence. I couldnʼt believe Iʼd heard myself say such a thing, but it was true. Maybe I was just feeling bereft. Keith, my father, the Garfields, Mrs. Quintanilla… People could disappear so easily. I wanted someone with me who cared about me, and who wouldnʼt disappear. But my judgment wasnʼt entirely gone.

“When my family is back on its feet, weʼll marry,” I said. “Then we can get out of here. I just have to know that my brothers will be all right.”

“If weʼre going to marry anyway, why not do it now?”

Because I have things to tell you, I thought. Because if you reject me or make me reject you with your reactions, I donʼt want to have to hang around and watch you with someone else.

“Not now,” I said. “Wait for me.”

He shook his head in obvious disgust. “What the hell do you think Iʼve been doing?”


Itʼs Christmas Eve.

Last night someone set fire to the Payne-Parrish house. While the community tried to put out the fire, and then tried to keep it from spreading, three other houses were robbed. Ours was one of the three: Thieves took all our store-bought food: wheat flour, sugar, canned goods, packaged goods… They took our radio—our last one. The crazy thing is, before we went to bed we had been listening to a half-hour news feature about increasing arson. People are setting more fires to cover crimes—although why they would bother these days, I donʼt know. The police are no threat to criminals. People are setting fires to do what our arsonist did last night—to get the neighbors of the arson victim to leave their own homes unguarded. People are setting fires to get rid of whomever they dislike from personal enemies to anyone who looks or sounds foreign or racially different. People are setting fires because theyʼre frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable. And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.

Then thereʼs that fire drug with itʼs dozen or so names: Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire… The most popular name is pyro—short for pyromania. Itʼs all the same drug, and itʼs been around for a while. From what Keith said, itʼs becoming more popular. It makes watching the leaping, changing patterns of fire a better, more intense, longer-lasting high than sex. Like Paracetco, my biological motherʼs drug of choice, pyro screws around with peopleʼs neurochemistry. But Paracetco began as a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimerʼs disease. Pyro was an accident. It was a homebrew—a basement drug invented by someone who was trying to assemble one of the other higher-priced street drugs. The inventor made a very small chemical mistake, and wound up with pyro. That happened on the east coast and caused an immediate increase in the number of senseless arson fires, large and small.

Pyro worked its way west without making nearly as much trouble as it could have. Now its popularity is growing. And in dry-as-straw Southern California, it can cause a real orgy of burning. “My God,” Cory said when the radio report was over. And in a small, whispery voice, she quoted from the Book of Revelation: “ʻBabylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils…ʼ” And the devils set fire to the Payne-Parrish house.

At about two A.M. I woke to the jangling of the bell: Emergency! Earthquake? Fire? Intruders? But there was no shaking, no unfamiliar noise, no smoke. Whatever was happening, it wasnʼt at our house. I got up, threw clothing on, debated for a second whether to snatch my survival pack, then left it. Our house didnʼt seem to be in immediate danger. My pack was safe in the closet, mixed in among blankets and bundles of old clothes. If I had to have it, I could come back and snatch it in seconds. I ran outside to see what was needed, and saw at once. The Payne-Parrish house was fully involved, surrounded by fire. One of the watchers on duty was still sounding the alarm. People spilled from all the houses, and must have seen as I did that the Parrish house was a total loss. Neighbors were already wetting down the houses on either side. A live oak tree—one of our huge, ancient ones—was afire. There was a light wind blowing, swirling bits of burning leaves and twigs into the air and scattering them. I joined the people who were beating and wetting the grounds.

Where were the Paynes? Where was Wardell Parrish? Had anyone called the fire department? A house full of people, after all, it wasnʼt like a burning garage.

I asked several people. Kayla Talcott said she had called them. I was grateful and ashamed. I wouldnʼt have asked if Dad were still with us. One of us would have just called. Now we couldnʼt afford to call. No one had seen any of the Paynes. Wardell Parrish I found in the Yannis yard where Cory and my brother Bennett were wrapping him in a blanket. He was coughing so much that he couldnʼt talk, and wearing only pajama pants.

“Is he okay?” I asked.

“He breathed a lot of smoke,” Cory said. “Has someone called—”

“Kayla Talcott called the fire department.”

“Good. But no oneʼs at the gate to let them in.”

“Iʼll go.” I turned away, but she caught my arm.

“The others?” she whispered. She meant the Paynes, of course.

“I donʼt know.”

She nodded and let me go.

I went to the gate, borrowing Alex Montoyaʼs key on the way. He always seemed to have his gate key in his pocket. It was because of him that I didnʼt go back into our house and maybe interrupt a robbery and be killed for my trouble.

Firefighters arrived in no great hurry. I let them in, locked the gate after them, and watched as they put out the fire.

No one had seen the Paynes. We could only assume they had never gotten out. Cory tried to take Wardell Parrish to our house, but he refused to leave until he found out one way or the other about his twin sister and his nieces and nephews.

When the fire was almost out, the bell began to ring again. We all looked around. Caroline Baiter, Harryʼs mother, was jerking and pushing at the bell and screaming.

“Intruders!” she shouted. “Thieves! Theyʼve broken into the houses!”

And we all rushed without thinking back to our houses. Wardell Parrish came along with my family, still coughing, and wheezing, and as useless—as weaponless—as the rest of us. We could have been killed, rushing in that way. Instead, we were lucky. We scared away our thieves.

Along with our store-bought food and the radio, the thieves got some of Dadʼs tools and supplies—nails, wire, screws, bolts, that kind of thing. They didnʼt get the phone, the computer, or anything in Dadʼs office. In fact, they didnʼt get into Dadʼs office at all. I suppose we scared them away before they could search the whole house.

They stole clothing and shoes from Coryʼs room, but didnʼt touch my room or the boysʼ. They got some of our money—the kitchen money, Cory calls it. She had hidden it in the kitchen in a box of detergent. She had thought no one would steal such a thing. In fact, the thieves might have stolen it for resale without realizing that it wasnʼt just detergent. It could have been worse. The kitchen money was only about a thousand dollars for minor emergencies.

The thieves did not find the rest of our money, some of it hidden out by our lemon tree, and some hidden with our two remaining guns under the floor in Coryʼs closet. Dad had gone to a lot of trouble to make a kind of floor safe, not locked, but completely concealed beneath a rug and a battered chest of drawers filled with sewing things—salvaged bits of cloth, buttons, zippers, hooks, things like that. The chest of drawers could be moved with one hand. It slid from one side of the closet to the other if you pushed it right, and in seconds you could have the money and the guns in your hands. The concealment trick wouldnʼt have defeated people who had time to make a thorough search, but it had defeated our thieves. They had dumped some of the drawers onto the floor, but they had not thought to look under the chest.

The thieves did take Coryʼs sewing machine. It was a compact, sturdy old machine with its own carrying case. Both case and machine were gone. That was a real blow. Cory and I both use that machine to make, alter, and repair clothing for the family. I had thought I might even be able to earn some money with the machine, sewing for other people in the neighborhood. Now the machine is gone. Sewing for the family will have to be done by hand. It will take much more time, and may not look like what weʼre used to. Bad. Hard. But not a fatal blow. Cory cried over the loss of her machine, but we can get along without it. Sheʼs just being worn down by one blow after another.

Weʼll adapt. Weʼll have to. God is Change.

Strange how much it helps me to remember that.

Curtis Talcott just came to my window to tell me that the firemen have found charred bodies and bones in the ashes of the Payne-Parrish house. The police are here, taking reports of the robberies and the obvious arson. I told Cory. She can tell Wardell Parrish or let the cops tell him. Heʼs lying down on one of our living room couches. I doubt that heʼs sleeping. Even though Iʼve never liked him, I feel sorry for him. Heʼs lost his house and his family. Heʼs the only survivor. What must that be like?


I donʼt know how long it can last, but in some way that I suspect is not quite legal, Cory has taken over part of the job Dad held for so long. Sheʼll give the classes Dad gave. With the computer hookups we have already in place, sheʼll issue assignments, receive homework, and be available for phone and compu-conferences. The administrative part of Dadʼs work will be handled by someone else who can use the extra money, and who is willing to show up at the college more often than once or twice a month. It will be as though Dad were still teaching, but had decided to give up his other responsibilities.

Cory has arranged this by pleading and begging, by crying and cajoling and calling in every favor and every friend she could think of. People at the college know her. She taught there before Bennettʼs birth, before she saw the need here and began the front-room school that serves all the children of the neighborhood. Dad was all for her quitting the college because he didnʼt want her going back and forth outside, exposed to all the dangers that involved. The neighbors pay a per-kid fee, but it isnʼt much. No one could support a household on it.

Now Cory will have to go outside again. Sheʼs already drafting men and older boys in the neighborhood to escort her when she has to go out. There are plenty of unemployed men here, and Cory will be paying them a small fee.

So in a few days, the new term will start and Cory will do Dadʼs work—while I do her work. Iʼll handle the school with help from her and from Russel Dory, Joanne and Harryʼs grandfather. He used to be a high school math teacher. Heʼs been retired for years, but heʼs still sharp. I donʼt think I need his help, but Cory does, and heʼs willing, so thatʼs that.

Alex Montoya and Kayla Talcott will take over Dadʼs preaching and other church work. Neither is ordained, but both have substituted for Dad in the past. Both have authority in the community and the church. And, of course, both know their Bible.

This is how we will survive and hold together. It will work. I donʼt know how long it will last, but for now, it will work.


Wardell Parrish has finally dragged himself back to his people—to the part of his family that he lived with before he and his sister inherited the Sims house. Heʼs stayed with us since his sister and all her children were killed. Cory gave him some of Dadʼs clothes which were too big for him. Much too big.

He wandered around, not talking, not seeming to see anything, not eating enough… Then yesterday he said, like a little boy, “I want to go home. I canʼt stay here. I hate it here; everyoneʼs dead! I have to go home.” So today Wyatt Talcott, Michael, and Curtis escorted him home. Poor man. Heʼs years older than he was a week ago. I think he may not live much longer.

DMU Timestamp: October 12, 2021 18:29