Episode III - High Plains
Premiered 20 March 2009
Multiple Choice -- Episode III
The high plains of Northwestern Nebraska have never been renowned for their weather hospitality. Even in the best of times, wind-driven... or rather wind-propelled snow has had the tendency to blot out (white out) any suspected signs of civilization and/of hospitality. The wind that epitomized the term ubiquitous also had the tendency, in full accord with Newton’s third law of action and reaction, to relocate all manner of objects in the approximate direction of the wind, regardless of the alleged stability or direction of the object’s motion, and whether or not said object had ever intended to be even faintly mobile. As for stationary objects… these were also often unexpectedly mobile, the concept of “stationary” in the high plains being both naïve and a product of not having lived in the area… and thus the tradition of wind in the best of times.
[The more rigorous scientists might rightly claim that there was no tradition of wind in the best of times in Northwestern Nebraska inasmuch as the “best of times” had very likely never visited the area. Fortunately, there are no rigorous scientists currently located, or passing through, NW Nebraska... a testimony to their intellectual prowess.]
Today was not even remotely approaching the best of times in NW Nebraska. Snow and ice had become the closest thing to permanence the area had witnessed in a score of decades. The fact snow and ice were being constantly rearranged, sculptured, and otherwise reshaped by the wind did not remove the fact that the traditional patches of green and/or brown grass were not making their springtime debuts. Things had grown quite a bit colder on the High Plains of late. Survival had become the new modus operandi for any number of living creatures. Marginal survival.
David was sliding and then falling head-over-hills down a steep, snowy, ice and rock strewn slope. He landed headfirst in a drift – the latter a momentary avant garde art configuration sculpted by the swirling chaotic winds. After a frantic struggle, David managed to get his head and shoulders out of the snow and struggled to his knees. He quickly took a deep breath, only to put one hand on his throat as the intense cold air almost froze his innards – the traditional form of ‘brain freeze’ for the whole body. At the same time as he was discovering new challenges in the art of breathing, he collapsed back onto the snow and ice bank, where he reacted immediately to the suddenly cold, frigid surroundings. Quickly, he grabbed a nearby snowshoe and began to use it as a crutch.
After managing to get back to his feet, he shook like a wet puppy trying to shed the snow from his more exposed parts. Shifting into stage two of de-snowing himself, he began to frantically brush off the rest of the clinging white stuff. During the snow removal process, and as it came under some semblance of control, he began to inspect his clothing… succinctly, a ragged, heavy winter garb. From the bulk of his legs, arms and so forth, he could surmise and to some degree feel the multiple layers of clothing, all intended to somehow reduce the heat loss from his body. He was clearly dressed for the occasion, and mercifully any residual water from this transformational phasing process that he might have brought along in his phasing was in fact absence. He was dry… and thus he was not already frozen to death. Q.E.D., as scientists like to say.
His mind had noted these facts and briefly marveled at the complete dichotomy of his immediate past and his present condition. Obviously, the “phasing” was proceeding in some random step-wise fashion, with about the only items remaining unchanged being David himself and his state of mind in terms of what was happening. His mind had not yet considered the “why” of whatever was happening.
Straightening up and taking his weight off the snowshoe, he stopped to look more carefully at his momentary crutch, the snowshoe he had used to help himself off the ground. A snowshoe… by any other name… would still look pretty much like an old tennis racket pressed into service in an extreme emergency… a wooden frame, tied with neat bundles of cat gut, leather, and/or some strange concoction of webbing.
David took a moment to hold the snowshoe at arm’s length, visually examining it and the fact that it was tied with a long leather strap to his ankle. Looking down he saw a second strap on the other ankle. Pulling on that strap, he dragged a second snowshoe, slightly damaged, out of the drift. He begins inspecting the second one, just as Evyr arrived from a different direction, moving at a fast clip and using her snowshoes with considerable skill. She stopped at the top of a small rise when she saw him casually turning to look in her direction.
Evyr was in fact anxious. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” David answered. “No problem… I think…” Evyr shrugged her shoulders and looked away. Seeing her reaction, David frowned. “Disappointed?”
Evyr looked at him for a long moment, thinking before speaking. “No,” she finally said. “I mean like you’re a good lay, but some real meat would have been nice. You understand… You’d just be part of me then.”
David looked at her, stunned by the possibilities. His reply was as much to the ether as to Evyr. “I don’t fucking believe this!”
“It’s not like I would have killed you for a meal, Hun,” Evyr explained. “But if you were already dead… what’s the harm?”
“You would have eaten me?” David felt a strange compunction to make certain he understood the gist of the conversation.
“Well, Hun, you know the drill: It’s about survival.”
David shook his head in disgust, dropped the snowshoes, and stepped into them.
“For lunch, no fucking doubt,” David replied, as if reconciling himself to the art of survival in different dimensions of space and time. Rule One: You do what you have to do. It’s built into the DNA, a device for propagating itself.
Evyr watched him, unaware of the intellectual contemplation going on in his mind. She was looking instead for indications of any infirmities, any hindrances that his fall might have unintentionally acquired on his behalf and thus left him prey for the elements… not to mention any of his well-intentioned friends.
As David began to stomp his way in her direction, Evyr smiled. It suddenly occurred to her that the Instinct for Survival was not the only basic, fundamental instinct.
David and Evyr were now moving at a good clip against a desolate, bleak, treeless, snow and ice-covered backdrop. Shaded face-shields cut the glare and the cold wind, but also tended to ice up along the bottom of the shield where their out breaths deposited bits of their suddenly frozen exhaled moisture. Their arms were swinging to and fro, using poles proficiently to help keep their balance, even to the point where their attention was more on the horizon and their surroundings than on the automatic processes of moving rapidly on snowshoes. They had obviously become good at this basic mode of transportation. They were breathing steadily, but deeply, their out breaths quickly fogging in the icy cold.
David was doing his job, but muttering all at the same time. “This is crazy. If I don’t figure out what the Hades is going on, and who’s on whose side… Or better yet, what… or who’s for lunch…!”
Evyr looked at him. “What’s the problem? Jeremiah on your case again?”
David momentarily pulled up short, breaking stride and very nearly falling. Once he was back into the groove, he asked simply, “Jeremiah?”
Evyr frowned good-naturedly. “Come on, David! We’ve talked about this before. We desperately need a strong leader. With Jeremiah, we’ve managed to survive for four years since Launch Day. We did this while millions upon millions of others were dying from radiation, starvation, or just freezing to death – assuming that they had survived the war. Let’s face it: Most of them didn’t last more than three months.”
"Survival? Look,” David replied, “There’s got to be more to… all this… than just fucking surviving!”
Evyr almost smiled. “You’d prefer to freeze to death?”
David pulled up and stopped. Evyr stopped as well, taking the time to look around for anything that might be remotely threatening. Then she turned her attention back to David. He was staring straight ahead, as she watched him and tried vainly to gauge what was on his mind. Finally David gave her just a hint.
“Damn! I don’t know what the heck I’d prefer!”
It was a simple statement, but also a profound one. David did not know… yet… what he wanted. He didn’t have a clue. Not really. Admittedly, his condition was a common affliction among the populace at large, and in fact, Evyr could have been included in the same bundle of souls. The question was what would anyone prefer if their choices were uninhibited by the prerequisite that they be given no hint as to their possible options? Choosing between A, B, C, even “All of the Above” just didn’t cut it. It might sound like fun to choose what's behind Door Number Three... but not when life is at stake. There was instead the possibility of an open-ended option: something far beyond, something not yet even imagined, something unconstrained by the local space-time continuum. And if there were no limitations... none! What then? What manner of adventure might there be, having lived through and then blithely discarded the fears and paradigms of what had been externally imposed for so long? Indeed, David’s question was the central one.
And relevant to that central question were the oft repeated queries of: “What if you fell asleep and dreamed? And what if in that dream you went to heaven, and what if there you picked a rare and wondrous flower. And what if when you awoke, you held that flower in your hand? Aye... what then?”
On the other side of the planet (mentally), Evyr took the more mundane, down to earth approach. “I’ll admit this constant struggle is hell, Hun… living off the remnants of what we once had, never increasing our supplies to the point to being able to relax and… just read a book for God’s sake! Always hanging on by our fingertips… it doesn’t encourage optimism and a sense of ease. I’d be the first to admit that it would be a whole lot easer to do a Hawkins’ thing and just walk out into the blizzard and freeze yourself to death. Frankly, my dear, I’m tired too!”
David turned to study Evyr, looking at her with different eyes.
“So tell me: What keeps you going?”
She smiled. “You mean besides having sex with you?”
David laughed. “Yeah… besides that.”
Evyr took a contemplative breath, her eyes defocusing upon anything other than the question in her mind. “I don’t know, for sure,” she began. “On the one hand, I suppose that every day I survive is a victory. Every morning that I crawl out from under the heavy covers, I’m thinking that I’m not done yet… I’ve somehow managed to keep it all together. It somehow makes things… worthwhile. Just hanging in there day after day means a victory each and every day. I think I like that.”
When David raised his eyebrows as if to agree with her, Evyr added, “There’s something else, too. It’s like somehow… I chose this state of affairs… like I’ve now got to prove to myself… if only to myself… that I can deal with this… and perhaps more.”
David shrugged his shoulders – which was something of a victory in and of itself. With the amount of clothing, the weight of the backpacks and the general circumstances, a shrug had to be considered heavy lifting. But David was suddenly reflective. “Well, I suppose things could be worse.” And then as an amusing afterthought, “And probably in the very near future will be.”
Evyr was not following. “What’d you mean?”
David looked at her. “This may sound strange…” He ignored Evyr’ expression which suggested that based on her experience, anything escaping his lips would ‘sound strange’. David continued blithely on. “I’m glad you… I’m glad anybody went to the trouble of including me in their ‘state of affairs’.”
“Wow,” Evyr replied. “Every time I think I’m ready for one of your strange and bewildering comments, you still manage to surprise me. As for being included in my ‘state of affairs’… it’s not like we have a long history together.”
David cocked his head. “How can you be sure?”
Evyr had to take a long, puzzled look at David, who had moved a few feet further along before turning to glance back at her. Then her eyes widened, as she looks just beyond him and the small ridge they had been climbing. Panic spread over her face.
“Oh, my God! A blowout!”
David turned to see a virtual tidal wave of snow being whipped by the winds and moving rapidly in their direction. For a moment he was frozen (literally and figuratively), staring wide-eyed at the sight.
Evyr yelled, “Run for it, David!”
David turned to find Evyr already turning her snowshoes, end-over-end, and heading with a near-panic speed in an angled direction down from the ridge (and at an angle of some sixty degrees from their original path). David did the same end-over-end skiing trick and headed after her. One is always advised to not panic, but sometimes a slight degree of panic can be highly useful in getting the lead out!
The two of them continued at the same panic-induced frantic speed until they came over a second ridge and saw before them -- some two hundred yards away -- their snowbound camp. Despite the proliferation of jury-rigged wind energy generators and mechanical devices scattered all about – and making a junkyard look neat and organized by comparison – David and Evyr were happy to see their refuge just ahead. It was now just the minor problem of getting there in time.
People at the camp were already in the process of preparing for the coming hurricane winds, rapidly tying gear down and moving other items indoors. One turned toward David and Evyr, and pointing in their direction, excitedly yelled something that couldn’t be heard above the roar of the approaching blizzard.
Evyr looked back and momentarily stumbled. She lost a few seconds of time, but still managed to keep her feet. David stopped to look back as well, his expression almost instantly transformed to awe and fear. The tidal wave of windblown snow was almost on top of them. David turned and attempted to dash after Evyr, who was now going at her full speed, having shed her snowshoes. She was now running on the hard-packed ice near the camp. David shed his snowshoes as well, and began to run with everything he had. It just might or might not be enough.
Ahead, everyone was dashing for the shelter of the camp’s interior. Jeremiah, standing like the Captain on a sinking ship, looked in their direction, as he massaged the front part of his neck. Pursing his lips in dismay, he turned to Katherine who was standing beside him and who had been watching David and Evyr as well. Katy looked at Jeremiah, shook her head slightly from side to side, turned, and headed for the shelter. Jeremiah frowned and followed her, and with one last glance at David and Evyr, pulled the door closed behind him.
Evyr and David continued their dash for relative safety, but the snow flurries and wind-blown snow rapidly increasing in intensity were now all around them. The visibility quickly faded to zero, and David staggered, turning slightly until the snow was blowing directly into his face. Simultaneously, the scene phased.
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