Chapter 1 - Procrastination at the Baker's
Mary went shopping in the dusky February light. Today her husband was to return home from New York, and they were celebrating a belated Christmas at their eldest daughter's place. She went to the Baker. That baker, the only baker who produced Lebkuchen all year round. Those spicy, honey bread without which and in large quantities, no celebrations would ever be perfect. While waiting for her turn, she admired the display of cakes and bread. The flat, broad counter, unlike the tall ones normally in fashion in bakeries, displayed a sea of cakes to her hungry eyes. The lebkuchen were to the right, round ones, tree-shaped ones. Some with chocolate coating, some with white glazing. Some even had small decorative patterns of sugar pellets strewn all over.
"Lebkuchen, please." she said to the lady who stood in the middle of the counter, where the sea of cakes parted, sloping up on both ides of her. "Which ones are the best? Oh. let me have five of the tree shaped white ones, and five of the round ones with sugar beads. I better take five of the dark chocolate ones as well." The patient lady sighed almost inaudibly and took a larger bag. "Oh and please, five of the milk chocolate ones too." Mary saw her patient face, and looked behind her at the growing line. "Well, I'll just take five of each, please," she said.
"Five of each. That'll be 45 lebkuchen!" the lady said. She could not wholly contain her surprise.
"Yes please, we're many, and we like our freedom of choice. They won't go stale for some days yet, will they?"
"No," she admitted, "they're all as fresh as can be and will be fine for weeks to come before they'll turn dry. They won't go off for half a year or more, unless they become wet. Our Lebkuchen are the hardiest cakes I know of!" she said with a proud professional smile.
On her way out carrying a big bag of lebkuchen, Mary met Pete, an old friend. He had begun by being mostly her husband's friend, but he had grown into a family friend over the years. He looked terrible. "Hello Pete, what's up. You look like you need a cup of coffee, or maybe something stronger. I'm at my daughter's for our annual post-Christmas celebrations."
"Yes!" Pete said, "let me buy a cake or two, and then come with me. We have to talk."
"Pete? Did something happen to my husband?" she said giving voice to a nagging suspicion
"No, dear Mary, he's as safe as you and me." "Two Berliners please," he said to the lady, "and a Danish. No, make that three, different tastes, please." He got his loot, paid and went ahead of her to his car, an old blue minibus. He held the door for Mary, like an old fashioned movie star and crawled into the driver''s seat. He quickly, but in a savouring way ate one Danish and a Berliner all the while steering the car though the sparse morning traffic.
"Pete," Mary said, "you're eating pastry. For Heavens' sake man! You're a coeliac. You'll get stomach ache like nothing I know from what you've eaten already."
He parked the car in the empty parking lot by the harbour. "No, I wont" he answered with a face fit for a funeral. "Before all these wheaten bodies of whatever have worked their way through my system, we'll all be dead. A bomb went off late yesterday in the eastern Russia, One of theirs, or somebody else's. I do not know. West of Bratsk, never heard of that place. Now it's too late, it does not exist any more."
Mary made a move for the radio.
He shook his head. "There's nothing on the radio, but business as usual. Nobody's been told anything, as there's nothing to be done. Ten minutes before the Wave reaches a country the emergency numbers go dead. And that's it. It will reach us at 12 or thereabout. It, the Wave that is, is moving faster than any land vehicle, it burns, or rather annihilates all living matter, melting most metals in its way, and leaving only minerals behind. It thrives on oxygen, as far as I have understood." He turned on is other radio, the MP one.
They listened: "On its way around the world in 40 hours, the Wave has just annihilated Moscow and Calcutta. The Himalayan mountains delayed its spreading only slightly. Still nobody has any idea of how to stop it, or what will be left of Earth after the Wave. We'll return if and when we have any further news. Over and out." Static filled the air.
"This sounds just like an old science fiction I once read," Mary said, still stunned by the news.
"I think I read that one as well," Pete answered. "What was their way out?"
"None, I think. I remember our protagonist dying miserably in the end. But I ... I have an idea. How long do we have?"
"Something like two hours," he said.
"Time enough to get our families and get out of here?" He nodded "But we can't out-travel it?"
"Nope, It's faster than any car, but travelling east can buy us a little time. What are you thinking off?
"Joe's Farm!" Mary answered. "You remember it. The place where we made these farmers' days re-enactments and markets. It belongs to no-one really And it has an honest to God old-fashioned tornado cellar, under the normal cellar, very deep, and Joe's farm has its own water supply, too. Go and fetch your wife. Dress warm, and bring all your edibles and blankets and knives and such. Whatever you would pack for a week in a primitive cabin. But quick! Drop me at the Mega-store, and meet me there again as soon as possible."
As she hoped, the Mega-store had already prepared for Spring. She grabbed seed bags: corn, radishes, kale, 4 or 5 of each different sort, also tomatoes and cucumbers, in short all things edible. On an afterthought she added flower seed to the mix. In the exotic corner she found cotton seeds! She emptied the box, cotton was so much easier to treat than flax and nettles. In the health food department whole, untreated linseed, wheat, rye, barley and oats found their way into her shopping basket. She bought drills, knitting pins and needles, antihistamines and painkillers. then a lot of sweets. Bags of tea and sugar and a big freezing box to put it all into. Then she hurried out to meet Pete.
He was as good as his word. He and his wife Minna sat in the car with the engine running. Mary climbed in, greeted Minna, chucked her crate in the luggage compartment and gave him the address of her daughter's place.
"What a luck you have a big bus," Mary said to Pete.
"Jill," Mary said, as she opened the door, baby on one arm. "We're turning the party into an outing. A pique-nique if you like. Pete and Minna, are out there in that old, blue bus of theirs. Dress warm, and let me help you carry all the food and your bedding to the bus. It's a surprise party for your Dad. Pete'll go and pick him up. Pack some more clothes and night things for the kids and you as well. We might stay for the weekend."
Jill and George did not ask many questions, used to Mary's quirky ways and whims, and she answered in short words only. The children awoke, or tore themselves off the computers or whatever, and came and gave big hugs all around.
Mary had not much to pack, her faithful backpack was not unpacked yes. She carried it to the bus with crates of Jill and George's savoury cooking and cans.
Then Mary helped Janet tie the laces of her clumsy boots, and bade her go and fetch some shoes as well. "You can't run and play indoors in those big ole boots," Mary teased her. Gregor needed more help, at 2 he wanted to do everything, by himself but could not quite manage.
Lil'George, all of eleven, big, and a bit sensitive, felt the tension between Pete and her granny. "Are you angry with Pete?" he asked.
"Nope." she answered, "Not really. We just had a little old discussion is all. I wanted him to call granddad while still in the plane, he said it could not be done,"
Pete listened, and said "I still think it cannot be done, but you know granny, she's stubborn like."
Lil'George smiled. Grown up spats was something he could understand. Pete smiled a mirthless smile at Mary when his back was turned.
"Diapers, don't forget the diapers!" Jill called back at George still in the sleeping room.
In less than an hour everything was in the car and Pete at the wheel: "Pile in," Pete said and started the car.
On the way out of town they picked up Pete's brother Ben and his wife Sally. He had told them the story by phone, and they were ready, carrying bedding, a crate of tools and a bulging bag of clothes and edibles.
Then they drove off. Mary let her daughter and George in on the real reason behind the outing. Pete let the MP radio run and they all could follow the Wave as it came nearer and nearer. They drove along the railway. A train was travelling alongside us. Then it set off full speed ahead.
"They are not going to escape," Pete said, shaking his head. The voice on the radio announced that the Wave was estimated to reach the shoreline in 15 minutes "but the Wave is no longer a uniform front. Mountains, shallows, bodies of water and so on has made the edges rather jagged."
The air behind them began to take on a strange hue, glowing almost. They were overtaken by a handy-man in a Ute. He had several pressurized gas bottles in the back. He was driving like a madman.
"Keep away from him," Sally said. "Those flasks will explode in the Wave or maybe earlier."
"By golly, and so will our gas tank!" Pete gasped.
The man in the Ute careened wildly from one side of the road to the other, and ended up in the ditch. Only Pete's superior driving skills saved them from the same fate.
They all sat, urging the car to go faster, pressing against the seats in front of us, Pete drove as fast as humanly possible. Mary yelled: "Turn left here! Joe's farm is over there."
Pete ran the bus as close as he deemed safe. Everybody helped emptying the bus and carried the stuff to the farm while Mary alarmed the caretakers. They came tumbling out, and ran to open the door to the farm and unlock the cellar. Mary turned on the water faucet outside the kitchen and Jill and Ben thoroughly wet their clothes and all the decorative pillows left over from the exhibition last week. Pete filled some big jars with water and they lugged them and themselves into the house together with all their belongings.
As they loaded the children down to their waiting parents Linda, the caretaker's wife suddenly said: "The animals!" She ran to the barn, opened the doors and let the dogs and donkeys out.
Mary looked back the way they had come and saw the town turn into a mushrooming cloud.
"It's landed!" Mary screamed. Linda and Mary watched the cables along the train tracks starting to burn, then combust and in slow motion the tracks began lifting. Then they hurried into the cellar and down the narrow hatch to the tornado cellar below it, after the others, closed and bolted the trap door and waited.
Chapter 2 - A Plane Ride
Allan sat in the plane on his way across the Atlantic. He was looking forward to returning home, that conference had been dull and long. He had only gone because his boss had almost ordered him to do so. It had been nice enough, he had also made a few new contacts, but frankly. That kind of thing was more for young, up and coming researchers. Allan looked around inside the plane. Next to him, on the seat next to window, was a monk. He was the archetypal Franciscan from a Protestant joke, rotund, ruddy, unkempt. And he hadn't held back when wine was served for lunch shortly after departure. Allan berated himself, never trust first impressions, Allan. Now the monk sat reading his prayers - as far as Allan could see in Latin - no stupid, cartoon monk this one. Allan smiled at the monk who looked up and smiled back. Then Allan dozed off. As he awoke, he looked past the now-sleeping monk out through the window. He could see white clouds, and sometimes a glimpse of blue. They flew most of the trip over water, he recalled from the outwards bound journey. He went to the restroom, when he returned, a stewardess gave him a glass of water and a few salted biscuits. It had its benefits, being in business class. Wonder how the monk could afford it. He leaned back in his seat, thinking about the gifts he had for his grandchildren. First of all to those he was to meet tomorrow, or would that be today? Time, time zones and time differences always made him a bit dizzy. Tomorrow, he decided. Little George was having maple candy, like those from the Laura books and a book about garden plants and livestock. He loved helping out in the garden, and his daughter Jill and son-in-law George had told them they were moving to the countryside this spring. The kids were getting their own small gardens. Janet would get some new clothes. He had found some with the Cookie Monster, funny that she had fallen in love with such an old idol, and then a big bag of American multicoloured candy. It was more difficult with the soon-to-be three-year-old Gregor. Children of that age changed taste so quickly that it was not easy for a poor grandfather to follow, of course, candy for him as well, and then he had found a tiny pocket knife. It might not be that smart, Jill would probably protest, but it fit him. Baby would get clothes too; it was never wrong for a person that size- For Jill and George he had found a bigger, newly updated edition of an old classic garden book. In fact the "green Bible" that Jill had always, a bit irreverently called John Seymour's book. And for Mary. a slow, loving smile spread on his face. His dearly beloved, always surprising and creative wife. He had found that perfect gift. Nettles for Textiles had finally published their nettle book with all their accumulated knowledge and a drop spindle eminently suited to the spinning of nettle fibers. He had also bought a book of sewing patterns for 19th-century clothing and a lot of strange seeds in a store with what Americans called Heirloom seeds. It was old varieties, it would fit into that re-enactment something she loved. He was looking forward to seeing her face as she unpacked it. To himself he had bought an old bottle of wine and a good deal of cactus seeds. He would resume his hobby when he retired and the seeds would keep until then. The wine he looked forward to sharing with his family for the late Christmas party at Jill and George's. It was reportedly brewed on grapes from the very first vine planted in America, a Zinfandel but a white wine. It was brewed before the turn of the millennium, before they started adding carbon dioxide and other fun things. He had bought a special container to carry it in. One that could handle the lack of air pressure in the cargo hold. He was not allowed to have that kind of things inside the cabin. The box had been fairly large, he had packed most of the presents in it. It lay deep inside, well-insulated inside his suitcase in the cargo hold. He fell asleep again with pleasant thoughts about Mary's smile and hug.
Allan woke up to an unpleasant beeping sound. He struck out for the alarm, but hit an airplane seat. He woke up. He saw the Fasten seatbelts lights come on and oxygen masks descending from the ceiling. He fastened his seatbelt and felt the plane's nose lift. "Up?" he thought, "Shouldn't we be landing soon?"
The captain's voice sounded in the speaker: "We're going to climb, due to turbulence. Be prepared for a rough ride, and put on the oxygen masks at the first onset of unease. Remember. In case of an accident put on your own mask before helping others."
The monk smiled at Allan. "The Lord be praised for the invention of oxygen masks." Allan smiled, and agreed, but inside he thought "American BS."
"Are you a Catholic?" the monk asked.
"Yes," Allan replied, "but not a very good one."
"I think the pilot needs all our prayers now," he said, and to Allan's surprise he held thigh to his breviary and began singing the old hymn Veni sancte Spiritus. Allan had been a member of the local choir since before he met Mary, and he knew that hymn by heart. He began singing along with the monk.
The plane steadily climbed. and Allan and the monk kept on singing. And slowly more people joined in.
The monk looked out through the plane window, "My Goodness!" he exclaimed. Everybody looked out, and saw a wall of fire in front and slightly below them.
The monk got up, and handed Allan his breviary. "Hold this for me, please." He said. Allan took the book and in a conditioned reflex from his youth as an altar server he held the book just like the Bible at mass. The monk raised his voice: "Everybody kneel! Or on second thoughts. Don't kneel, only in your hearts. Repent of your sins!" He stretched his arms and began speaking in Latin: "Deus, Pater misericordiarum, qui per mortem et resurrectionem Filii sui mundum sibi reconciliavit et Spiritum Sanctum effudit in remissionem peccatorum, per ministerium Ecclesiæ indulgentiam tibi tribuat et pacem. Et ego vos absolvo a peccatis vestris in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
"Amen," Allan said as well, slowly making the sign of the cross. And many people on the plane did the same.
"And let us now thank and praise the Lord for all the gifts of good, for all the love and mercy we have received. Let us go to Him with a happy and thankful heart."
The plane rose and fell like a winged bird. The engines sounded like they were working at their last powers, everything was shaking and quivering.
Allan thought of his Mary. He would see her soon, in Heaven, in a little while. She would certainly have brought a gift for Saint Peter. He closed his eyes and thanked God for his beautiful, unusual wife. And Jill would be there as well with the little one on her arm. George would hold the middle two in his hands and Lil'George would be standing between them, with a quiet smile. Their other children would be there too. Gustav, Beata, Jason and Halvard.
"God," he thought, "how I love them. Thank you for every day and every moment we've had together." He saw Mary stand in front of him for a brief second. Then there was an almighty deafening sound.
Chapter 3 - Days of Grace
"Listen!" Mary said. "Do as I say. I have no time to explain. But please all of you, think positive thoughts. Think of love, children, flowers, fairy dust, sunlit meadows. Your true love. Hug one another, feel the love we share. I love you all!" Then Mary looked around in the tiny space. Ben and Sally hugged, hidden in wet pillows. Jimmy and Linda sat holding hands, they radiated the togetherness old, married couples sometimes do. It warmed her to the toes. Pete and Minna sat facing Mary, their faces hidden in wet pillows. Mary could see Mina absentmindedly stroking her stomach. Jill sat nursing the baby, smiling and cooing. George had Lil'George around the shoulders quietly humming Be a Man from Mulan. Janet and Gregor huddled close to their mum from each side.
Mary called them: "Janet and Gregor, come to me. Granny loves you, and she won't let nothing harm you tiny scoundrels." They climbed into her lap. "Yes, one leg for each child," Mary said, as she had so often told first her own children, and since her grandkids. Mary put her arms around them, and they snuggled even closer. "I love you," Mary whispered. All hugged and held tight. Mary thought of her other children and grandchildren far away and mostly of her beloved husband still on his way home in a plane. She tried to cram all her love for him into the short time left to her. They sat in a bundle with their faces buried in the wet, smelly pillows, and heard the sound. Imagine the greatest, heaviest, slowest train ever passing on top of the cellar, A low, ominous rumbling sound, growing and growing and growing to almost unbearable volume. Fully expecting to die by crushing, asphyxiation, electrocuting or a lot of other nasty means, they just sat there holding one another and thinking positive thoughts. Then they heard the sound subsiding.
"We survived the end of the world." Ben said dreamily. "Or maybe not. The Wave eats electricity, energy and oxygen too. Maybe there will not be enough air left for us to survive."
Jill, Mary's brave daughter laid a hand on the trapdoor.
"Don't open," Ben warned.
"No, I just wanted to feel it. It's hot. Almost, but not quite burning to my hand."
"Let's eat and wait." James the old caretaker, said. They pooled what we had, it was a goodly pile, but still not much to go for a long time for seven adults and four children. They began by eating all the delicate fruits, peaches and grapes and Jill's lovely, fluffy buns. They would not keep.
"Save the pips and stones," Mary said. "They might be what's left of this plant in the whole world."
After their impromptu meal, Pete turned on the police radio. Nothing but statics, not even a carrier wave. He tried fiddling the settings, and got a faraway station in a language, no one understood. It ended in a blood-curling scream. Pete turned off the radio.
They slept on the benches, the excitement had tired all of them out. And they woke later, just how much later, nobody knew. They discovered that all electronic devices did no longer work. Something magnetic was their best guess, but watches, radio and mobile devices were all dead. They had no light but a single candle. After a breakfast of Jill's wonderful Christmas dinner things, they were ready for something else than the musty, hot cellar.
Jill laid a hand to the hatch and said that the underside was cooler than it had been. They opened the hatch. Or rather tried. The old caretaker, James, guessed that the chimney stack, made of boulders in varying sizes must have fallen on it. They all put their collected muscles to the trap door, and it moved. Not much, but enough to wedge it open. They pulled the warm boulders through, down in the cellar, and piled them off to a side and threw some blankets over them to contain the heat. Finally they could open the hatch enough for Ben and Mary's oldest grandkid to slip through. They waited for what seemed like a long time, until finally, one by one we got out.
They stood in bright, but strangely subdued sunshine on level bare soil next to the heap of boulders, that was all what was left of the farm. Not a trace could be seen of Pete's blue bus or even the road. Nothing but bare soil from horizon to horizon, no green grass, no houses, no train tracks. The wooden poles along the railroad still showed where it had been; they stood, or leaned or lay. The trees were all trunks, It looked as if almost everything had burned, but there were no ashes. And no smoke. The air was hot, but clean, sterile almost, and thin, all drew deep breaths. It was like being in a jungle, hot, oppressing, yet clear air.
"Will we run out of oxygen?" Mary wondered.
"Let's go look at the well," James suggested. "Water is almost as important as oxygen. The well looked normal, deep, but not totally dry. Deep down water shone up at them.
"Pines and spruce." Lil'George said. "We just learned about photosynthesis in Biology. They are the only oxygen-producing trees this time of year. We might have luck in finding some living ones."
Slowly they went down to the river. It was a sorrowful sight, brown, dusty, not a drop of water left. But near where the waterfall had been, close by the big stones, they actually found some live spruce, the lower branches of the trees were not totally dead. The stones were hot to the touch, and they all briefly wondered what kind of disaster had befallen the world, to eat up almost all the water and all man-made things, and still leave trees and even poles standing. They decided to make a camp by the river, lugged their stuff down there and slowly made a camp. James began having trouble breathing after the exertion.
"Oh blast it," he said. "I'm on a pacemaker ... have been for years and only seldom give it a thought now ... But the Wave must have killed it along with all the other electronics."
They all hugged the old man, and left him and Linda to say their final goodbyes alone without the backing of tumultuous kids and a crying baby. They went exploring, slowly, laboriously following the bed of the train tracks. As far as they could see, or cared to walk, the earth had the same uniform, brown, dusty look. They were all thirsty and drank lots of water. Minna estimated the temperature to be in the vicinity of 40 degrees Celsius.
"We should be able to see the sea from here, Pete said, "but all I can see is more of that brown, dusty earth." He was the tallest and strongest of them all and he lifted up Janet as far as he could. But even with Pete standing on the highest point, she was not sure she could see a glimpse of water far away, or if it was only wistful thinking. They were all still dazed from all what had happened, or maybe the lack of oxygen made them numb in some way. They just walked, taking it all in, not reflecting very much on what they saw.
As evening fell, they returned to the river. There was still not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature dropped only slightly. James had died sometimes in the late afternoon, holding Linda's hand and looking towards the setting sun.
The stars came out and they all shut up. It was majestic to say the least. None of them knew just how many stars you could see when the night was totally dark. Or rather, of course they knew, but they had not fully realized it.
The children fell asleep and they started talking in fits and starts. Ben asked Mary what that think positive-pep-talk had been all about. Mary answered truthfully that somewhere in the last weeks she had read something about positive thoughts making for beautiful snowflakes. "I think I was reading about the IgNobel Price and a Japanese professor with a name very much like 'Emote'. And as we're made mostly of water, I got the idea that positive thinking would aid our survival. But there's no way I can verify that now. And maybe it did not help." They all sat each engrossed in their own thoughts.
After a while Mary started talking again: "We have to think. How many did survive, do you think? Could people have survived in air planes? Yes I'm thinking about Allan here too. And most importantly. Where do we go from here?"
"Not many." Pete said. "You'd have to be alert, quick of wits and very lucky too to pull off a survival. But then again pilots are normally endowed with exactly these traits. I bet we belong to a very exclusive club by now."
"Go?" Ben asked.
"We stay here," Jill said. "We're a nice, small group."
"No," Mary said. "There's at least two reasons why not. Let's begin with the practical one. I'm not that good at physics, meteorology or other sciences, but haven't you all been wondering where the water has gone? No brooks, no sea, well almost empty?
As I see it, it has been burned off, evaporated. We have all noticed the haziness of the Sunshine? The water is up there somewhere, I suspect, and as cooing sets in, it'll come back down as rain, warm rain. It will be the deluge all over again, and with no time to build an ark. I read somewhere in one of my rabbits' hole internet searches - getting used to living without the internet, and without books is going to be hard - that the melting of the ice caps, even a total melting would not result in more than say 5 or 6 meters more water. Not enough to do more than swamp a very low percentage, albeit the most inhabited, of the continents. No, what was to be afraid of, was the expanding of the water, it could result in 20 to 30 or even more meters of water. They said it was a totally hypothetical situation, as the water in the oceans were split up in zones, and only the upper around 200 meters were heated up. But now, now all the waterbodies, or at least lots of the water, has evaporated. We are going to drown if we do not set out for some high ground and soon.
"Sound thinking," Pete said. "Minna, speak up, you're the scientist here."
"Yes," Minna said slowly, looking around on us all. "Mary's right. The water is up there, it will come down, and it will have a bigger volume at this higher temperature. We'll have to leave Joe's farm. But where to, and more importantly how?"
"How? Walking of course," Ben said.
"Well," Minna retorted, "how many of us are used to walking more than the distance from our car to the mall, and to our front door? And it's hot! We have to bring water, lots of water. We cannot count on finding any until the rain starts. And then what? We have small children, we have the things we brought. And it seems these things are what we have to live from.
"How will we even survive? Sally asked. "We have food, but not for long. We have to walk far, work hard and survive until ... Yes until when?
"Until we can harvest something edible, or find something, but I would not count too much on this happening," Mary said. "I don't know how quick the cooling will set in or how soon the cooling will bring us back to normal temperatures, but things should germinate and grow quickly once the rains begin."
"Are you sure," Minna said. "The soil will be infertile from the heating. How could anything grow?"
"I'm not sure of anything," Mary said, "but if we do not do anything we won't survive. I at least intend to die fighting. And as for fertilizer .. we all produce fertilizers on a daily basis. We've got to collect and compost our solid wastes, all of them, the liquid ones can be used as is. Don't tell me ever again re-enactment is not good for anything."
Linda began laughing, a laughter turning into hysterics and then to a wrecking, sobbing cry.
Mary held her close,stroking her hair until her breathing turned normal again. Jill produces a bottle of some liquor, and poured a small glass for all of us.
"Let's propose a toast to our future," Jill said. "May we prosper and live long."
"I'm not coming with you," Linda said as she put down her glass. "No. Listen to me," she said as they began protesting. James is buried here, we lived our life here. I'd only hamper your travels, as I'm slow and old."
"You're younger than I," Mary protested. "We need you as a teacher, You know lots of thing from your youth on a farm, and from the re-enactment."
"It was a dairy farm. No more cows." Linda said soberly. "And my re-enactment days were mostly spent finding parkspace, selling tickets, showing people where the restrooms were hidden, in short, modern, practical, and now un-useful knowledge. Furthermore I have a health problem. And even though I remembered to bring my medicine, the glass of pills will be empty by tomorrow night. I won't last for more than a week. Only slowing you down more and more, lessening your chance of survival. I'll stay here by the waterfall, pray for you and fertilize this beautiful spot with my remains. Do please grant me this."
"I am out of arguments, but I still do not like it." Mary said.
"No," Ben said, "I don't like it either. But on the other hand, we can't force you, and we can't carry you."
"Thank you," Linda said.
They all drank to that. They slept for long, as the sunrise still kept its February schedule as far as they could discern.
"As for carrying, panniers might be a solution," Ben suggested next morning.
"Made of what?" Linda asked, "We have no tough cloths and weaving from skeins or whatever requires skills and time, neither of which we have. And no branches or reeds or suchlike either."
Lil'George spoke up. "What about those thingies the Native Americans and Inuit used for traveling, those long, tied-together poles?"
"Did I ever say that children nowadays do not learn anything useful in school? I take that back. Travois, they're called. Yes of course George, you hit it!" Mary said "Trees survived, we have rope and sheets. Let's not cut them. Cloth is worth a fortune for us now. and will be for years to come."
They set to work, slowly and with many breaks, the heat and lack of oxygen still made them slow, clumsy and easily tired. But by nightfall they had a workable travois for each. Ben was a good man to be around, a carpenter by trade, even many years of paperwork as a boss had not made him forget basic skills.
They sat by the former waterfall again as night fell, Once again discussing slowly.
"Where do we go?"
"Up," Lil'George said, and was met by laughter.
"You just made the first post-apocalyptic joke," his mother said warmly.
"Not stupid, he is," said Ben, "But where is up?"
"Well," said Minna. "The Sun still rises in the east. I suggest going west and a bit north. Away from the coastline."
"Away from the coat sounds right," Ben answered. "How far would you deem safe?"
"No idea," Minna answered, "I do not know how far up we can go, Or even how high up we need to go, your guess is as good as mine. I suggest we stay on this island. Crossing the straits, or what was the straits, still does not seem like a good idea. Also, we can't have lots of time. The rain could start falling anytime soon. It is a bit cooler tonight."
In the morning they all ate sparingly of what they had. Linda insisted on them taking almost all the food, only leaving her some tidbits and enough water to last her a week. They loaded the last of their goods on the travoises, hugged and hugged Linda and then they set out with their backs to the rising sun.
Chapter 4 - On Board a Plane
The plane began descending without rising again. It felt like sitting in a boat at the top of a wave and then sliding, quickly, down the side of the wave. But he just kept going down. Strange dream. Allan thought to himself. Then he heard the alarm: Oxygen masks - Oxygen masks!" A tiny, metallic voice insisted next to him. Allan fumbled on the mask in the dark and clasped it over his nose and mouth just as the stewardess had showed him. His eyes cleared, the darkness turned to almost daylight, and the deep, roaring sound in his ears disappeared. It was quiet. Completely quiet. Allan looked around. The monk, no the priest, lay between the seat rows. Allan snapped free of the seatbelt, grabbed the priest by his Franciscan rope and with an effort hoisted him up into his own seat. He placed the dangling oxygen mask over the priest's nose and mouth. He couldn't close the clasp, but he held the mask until the priest again breathed by his own power and opened his eyes.
"Thank you, or maybe not. I was on my way to Heaven, I think."
"Oxygen deprivation." Allan said. "What happened."
"The end of the world, I suppose," the priest said soberly. "Somebody pressed that red button."
Allan and the priest both looked around inside the plane. Everybody had their oxygen masks on, or were helped by their neighbour to put it on.
"We're still descending," Allan said, puzzled. "How far down can there be."
"I don't know if I really want to know," the priest replied, but still he looked out through the window. "Far still. But the world looks absolutely and entirely wrong."
Allan looked out. The world was brown.
The door to the cockpit opened and a stunned stewardess stood in the door. Everybody looked at her and she held a megaphone to her mouth: "Greetings from our captain. All computer-operated systems - that is all but emergency lights, flaps and oxygen - have stopped working. We have no fuel left and we have only an inkling of where we are. The world is looking all wrong. Any and all ideas on what to do are gratefully received. We have about 10 minutes left before we reach the ground."
"Well!" Alan heard a voice behind him say "We did not survive Armageddon just to crash pitifully to the ground. What's the best thing to land on?"
"Water," someone suggested.
"Snowy slopes," a man added.
"Level ground." an old granny grunted.
"Pine trees!" This from a young man, looking as if he hurt all over.
They all scrabbled for a look through the windows Nothing but brown as far as they could see.
"Wait a bit, the first voice said again. This ground looks entirely too level. Maybe it's the ocean after all."
"An illusion," said the stewardess, "even the Rocky Mountains look flat seen from above. We'll have to wait a bit until we can see more." She went back into the cockpit.
"Level ground was the right option," she said, even smiling slightly. "Our pilot is trying to land. Well we do not actually have any alternative suggestions, do we? I'll have to ask you all to sit down and fasten your belts once again. Keep the masks on, and for God's sake keep still. It's going to be rough. Nobody moves, gets up or even speaks before I tell you to." She showed them how to put down their heads, tuck in the chin and place the arms over their head. "If you have a pillow or some other soft item, please place it between head and legs. Pull in your feet, place them flat to the floor. And as I told you, stay put till you're told otherwise." She then went to the empty seat in front and fastened her own belt. "I'll count down, as best I can from now. Be prepared."
The plane shook and danced, falling faster, Allan thought. He felt surprised, the air was supposed to become denser nearer the ground, breaking their fall, slowing them down. Then his thoughts went to the giant wall of fire. All the air had burned off, Nothing would brake their speed, nothing but the ground. He prepared to die.
Allan looked at the priest and saw him pick up his rosary beads. Oxygen masks meant no singing. but it could not stop him from thinking. He tucked in his head, rested both hands on the back of his head and thought of Mary and his family once again. He was going to meet them. Here or there, but he was going to see them.
"4 minutes left", the stewardess counted.
"I can stay like this for four more minutes Allan thought. For Mary and for me. He began reciting the Lord's prayer; automatically the prayer turned to song inside his head.
He did not hear the three minutes count, the "Two minutes to landing," from the optimistic stewardess caught him by surprise. He prayed once again, heard the one minute warning and then a crunching, jarring noise ran through the plane.
The noise stopped again, and began again. The plane bucked like a dancing horse, Allan held still. Even to holding his breath. A crunching, a twisting, a lurching, sickening sideways motion, and everything went quiet once again. "Oh God." Allan prayed. "Let this be the end. I cannot take any more suspension today."
The plane sloped gently towards right and front. It was miraculously not broken, the doors and windows still closed and airtight. The captain came out from the cockpit, followed by the co-pilot and were received by sitting ovations. The Captain took the megaphone from the stewardess and spoke: "You are free to un-fasten your seat belts and take off the masks, but please stay in your seats. There's a thing or two I'd like to test. I'll tell all you all I know. And, dear Henny, could we please have some coffee, the thermos are still full and there's no reason to let it turn cold."
Laughter was heard from several places. The stewardess rose and with the aid of her co-stewardess, a youngish timid girl, and some of the passengers in the front rows, coffee was soon distributed to all aboard. They all gathered in the front rows. It was a small pane to start with, Allan remembered his surprise when he saw the size of the plane, Cross Atlantic flights was connected to jumbo jets in his mind. Many of the seats had even been empty. Maybe it was one of the less travelled days a year.
The captain spoke again: "I do not quite know where to start."
"At the beginning" someone suggested.
After a bit more laughter, the captain said. "Not a very bad place to start. First of all, I'm not a hero, it was chance, luck or whatever that made us survive. First item: We flew towards that wall of fire not away from it. I had a warning from the airport. I do not know whether they said 'go up' or it's no use to go up' before they fell silent. I decided to climb ... as far and as fast as possible. We had a saying, 'you can get over it' when I trained. It was in my mind. I used up almost all the remaining fuel. But a plane does not fall like a stone, like everybody likes to think. Even without any fuel, a plane will drift downwards for a long, long time. As I saw that wall of fire coming towards us, I jettisoned the rest of the fuel. I imagined it would then be a matter of just gliding, trying to estimate how far we had come, and how high we really had gone. And how far till somewhere to land of course. But then the problems began. All the instruments stopped working. I landed with my butt-sense really." Again people laughed. "The altimeter tells me we're at or even below sea level. I do not believe this to be true. The plane fell, not like a stone, but at least like a log during some of the descend. We had gone very high, but we did not spend very much time descending. I suspect that the wall of fire has consumed the air outside. I am grateful for this brown, level ground. The plane did not break. Now I'm going to test my theory. Normally, if we open the doors on the ground, air rushes in, because even if the cabin is pressurized, it's not at ground pressure. I suspect the air to rush or at least seep out of the plane when I open the small emergency hatch. And I'll close it immediately if I'm right." He let action follow words. They did not hear any sound, but the pilot pulled the hatch shut. "Yes, the pressure is lower outside. Not by much, but it is. I have no idea of the pressure inside here either, all that going up and down, the systems doing some weirdo things, the masks pumping oxygen into the cabin, and all that. As the systems have all closed down, there's only the oxygen still in the tanks available to us."
"I suggest shutting off most of the masks, then," the granny said.
"They can't be shut off, the controls are all gone," the pilot said.
The granny rose, bend over the tube to one of the masks, and secured it with a piece of string. "Like this," she smiled.
"Shut down three out of four masks," the co-pilot said. "That should be sufficient."
"Let's have something to eat," Henny the stewardess said. "everything, even the end of the world, looks better when you're not hungry." She rose, and again helped by eager hands the plane fare was distributed among passengers and crew alike.
"This is the lunch normally reserved for first class passengers and crew members," she said smiling, "but I have an inkling that such distinctions are not worth a sneeze any more." They all munched at the surprisingly tasty sandwiches and drank more coffee.
"What do we do now?" the co-pilot asked.
"Sleep, I'd suggest," the pilot answered. "The sun is about to set, we're going to try to make our bodies fit the time zone here fast, Plus sleeping is going to save energy and oxygen. And we're exhausted. Well at least I am."
They all found a place to sleep in the plane, as creature of habit still, they chose mostly to sleep in the seats they had occupied during the flight. The priest offered to say an evening prayer and most listened and many joined in the final Amen. Allan slept fitfully during the dark hours. He kept dreaming about Mary and their children. Kept seeing them, but not being able to get to them. As he lay awake in the dark he wondered whether this meant that they had all died, or that he was never going to find them. Or maybe it meant nothing at all.
As the Sun rose, Alan had come to a decision. He wanted to try to travel to the place, he was sure Mary and the family had gone to. If the world was really totally barren and dead, he would do as a man in a science fiction he once read. The spacer returned from the Moon after someone pushed the red buttons, the Earth was barren, sterile, no air, no nothing left. He was all alone. That space pilot had opened the hatch and walked as far as he could, hoping to be the seed to new life for Earth. Alan was determined to do the same.
Chapter 5 - Traveling
They trudged on through the dry, dusty brown landscape. They did not see anything or anybody all day. No birds, no insects, no nothing. The whole world was quiet, hot, brown down below and hazy blue above.
The children soon tired from walking, actually they all did. They had blisters, sores and cramps before long. And it did not take long for the children to pull off their shoes. The ground was hot and the ubiquitous brown layer was soft, without sharp edges. Soon they all followed their example. Their pace was atrocious. They looked for a place to rest, but one place looked just like another, brown dunes with stumps of trees and stone and boulders. Sometimes an old dry stone wall was preserved, Often only partially, but once they walked along a wall for a long stretch. They rested there, with their backs to the wall. They were all still numb, the children were subdued, only the baby was making loud noises. After the midday rest they trudged on. They took turns telling funny or momentous happenings from their past occupations to make the time pass faster. It slowed them down further, but they were able to go on.
Ben told them about how once, years ago as an apprentice, he was building a house for a costumer, who then made up his mind to have it re-built in another wood. Instead of chucking all the wooden parts, Ben carefully pulled down the house, and put it up somewhere else for another customer. And number one had been angry as a wasp upon discovering the replica house. They all laughed at the man's outrage.
Then Minna told of her one real big discovery. They all laughed at her disclosure. Her big discovery was a minute insect, encased in amber an named after her. They stopped laughing almost simultaneously as they realized that there were no more insects.
Near evening, as the shadows grew long, they discovered that they stood at the top of a hill, all around them the terrain fell away from them in soft curves. Towards the west, in front of them lay a shallow, bowl-formed shape and behind this even more, but lower hills stretched.
"This is high ground," Minna said.
"It is as good as any place else." Ben agreed. Mary turned slowly to the right,
"And I think that the dark smudge over there are the remains of a forest," Mary said. "I suggest, we go there, we can return here to build later, when the water rise, if it should get that high. But right now trees are a must for us. They ate a piece of cake each and trailed their travoises down the hill, over what clearly had once been a river and uphill towards the woods again.
They were exhausted upon reaching the edge of the forest, all the trees were deciduous and quite dead.
But further in the forest seemed to darken, and they hoped to find some live spruce or pine trees the next day.
Chapter 6 - Morning in the Plane
Allan awoke to the tantalizing smell of freshly brewed coffee. As they drank and ate more sandwiches, Allan told them of the story and of his wish to set out into the world to find his Mary.
"This must qualify as the most wishy-washy diatribe I ever heard!" These words came from the young man, looking as if he hurt all over. The one who had suggested pine trees as a safe landing spot.
"Wishy-washy," the plucky granny said. "Just because you're a censored young whelp suffering from constipation, it's no reason to berate others for dreaming big."
"Allan here is onto something," the pilot admitted. "What's the use of sitting in this plane, eating gradually more stale sandwiches and possibly die miserably from hypoxia or hunger."
"Can we get at our luggage," the priest asked. "By the way, I'm Father Paul, a Franciscan. I was on my was home, and my coffer is filled to the brim with edibles given as a gift from a community in Idaho, for an American-style Valentine party. Hunger won't be an issue for days to come."
"No, but water will, and oxygen as well," the co-pilot said. "Haven't you noticed how hot it is in here? The heaters shut off with the rest of the equipment, but the thermometer in the cockpit shows a roaring 106 degrees. The water in the tanks will be off soon and harmful in a day or two."
"Let's vote," the pilot rose. "all in favour of opening the doors raise their hands.
Alan, father Paul, Granny T and some of the other passengers raised their hands. The co-pilot, Henny and her co-stewardess slowly raised theirs as well, and then more and more of the passengers.
"OK, you can take them down. And those against?" The hurting youth, a family of five, an elderly, sickly looking man, and two men looking for all the world like English police officers, raised their hands. Then two more on the third row, and a softly crying lady. "No more?" the captain asked. "25 voted for and 12 against. Let's get it over with."
"Wait," the crying lady said. "Won't the Americans, or the Australians, or somebody come and save us."
"Dear lady errr ..."
"Cordelia," the crying lady said.
"Dear Cordelia," the captain began again. He cleared his throat, opened and clenched his fists and then continued in a rush: "There are no Americans, neither Australians, Russian, Chinese, ... you name it. I've been fiddling and twiddling the radio most of the night. It's battery-operated, and ... well I did get a carrier wave, some statics, but no speech, not even the dots and dashes of old. Nothing but silence all around the globe. And now even the radio has died." He looked at Cordelia, and then at all the other passengers. "Even if somebody did survive, and I'm almost certain somebody did somewhere. We can not be the only ones. Submarine crews may have survived for instance. To the point," he said, once more clenching his fists. "These survivors are in the self same predicament as we are, and they are not going to come and help us or anybody else sometime soon, if ever."
"I did not realize this," Cordelia said. "I vote for leaving as well then."
"That makes it 26 for and 11 against leaving,"
Then the hurting youth jumped up, brandishing a baseball bat. "I'll kill you. You're not going to kill us all, I'll get you first."
"Yes and then!" the captain said. "Are you going to squash us all one by one using that bat?"
"Yes one by one by one. I was going home to my sweetheart. We were going to be married, and now you're going to kill me before I even have a chance of seeing her again."
"Ronny!" father Paul called softly. "You could hurt someone with that bat. How do you think your Lisa would greet the news that she was going to marry a murderer?"
"Me, a murderer. It's the captain here, what's a murderer and that old man with his wishy-washy heroism."
"Didn't you listen to what Allan said," Father Paul asked. "He is going to look for his Mary. He's not counting on dying, no?"
"I sure am not," Allan said. "Mary is as fine a wife as I ever could dream of. I would never let her down. If your Lisa is just half as good, you're one lucky young man." Allan could not stop smiling, thinking of Mary, and that smile made something break inside Ronny.
"You had your chance, Mister" he sobbed. "I never had one. And Lisa even less. I'm sure ... no I'm not sure of anything any more. Padre, you better take that bat before I hurt someone, or myself." He sat down on the seat, a picture of dejection and desperation.
"Where does your Lisa live?" father Paul asked, taking the bat from the young man's hand.
"In the countryside somewhere, she was visiting an aunt and uncle. I have the address here in my pocket."
"We'll try and find her," father Paul said. "Henny did I hear something about a cake and some brandy?" I sure could use some before we open those doors.
Chapter 7 - Two Hills
"Actually," Minna said as they ate breakfast next morning. "As we're all still alive, oxygen must be produced somewhere and distributed even thought there's no wind."
"And I'm feeling better today," Mary added. "Its cooler for one, there might be a bit more oxygen in the air, or I might just have accustomed to the lower oxygen volume."
"Not this quickly," Sally protested, Those Tour de France riders go to altitude camps for weeks to reap the benefits. The oxygen contents must have increased somehow."
"Sowing something to eat and building a shelter must be our prime priorities, then," Ben said.
"Yes. Should we split up, or work together, that's the question," Minna said
"Safety in numbers versus efficiency," Pete said.
"Safety is of no, or at least of very small relevance," Mary said. "We have seen nobody at all, but us, and we would be likely to hear any and all moving in the world long time before we saw them. I vote for splitting up,"
"Brawn versus brain," Pete said. "I mean ..." he said as everybody looked at him. "Mary and the kids, and Jill as well, would be of less use than Minna, Ben, Sally, George and me, when it comes to carting off trees." He drew a deep breath. "Mary, Lil'George, Janet, Gregor and Jill could surely plant a great garden in the time it took us to gather timber for a house. Or for some houses."
"We'd need some brawn as well," Mary said smiling. "I'd like the beds to be hemmed by stone, and there's digging to be done. But we're not weaklings. Let's get to it"
"Just a sec." Jill said. "Are you going to plant the garden on top of that hill?"
"Yes, Mary said." I'd rather be carrying water by the bucket all summer than watch the plants rot."
"Talking about water. How far is the sea really?" Lil'George asked. "I'd bet we could catch some fish, if we wanted to."
"I bet you're right," Minna said. "Fish could have survived. At least some of those ugly, deep-sea ones. But first we got to build a house and plant some veggies."
"Yes how far?" Ben asked, more rhetorical than really a question. "If I am right, we should be as much in the middle of this island as possible. If this was ... Uh, what ... a week ago, I'd say 20 kilometres in any direction but due West. Now, I don't know."
"A calendar," Jill said. "We need a calendar." She looked at me. "Mom, you normally lug around a diary, do you still do that."
"Yes." Mary answered. "But I must admit, I have not been writing. Tonight," I promised. "Now it's sowing time."
Mary opened the box and looked through the seed bags. "We can plant radishes, corn, all the roots, carrots, turnips, swedes, parsley root and so on. Lentils and broad beans as well. I even purchased a bag of Beluga lentils. All these should sprout and grow in the colder, shorter days. I do not know much about grain," Mary admitted. "Neither when they can be sown, how to do and so on. I bought a lot of different things, even bird seed." Mary said smiling, "but what will come from planting them, I have no idea."
"You're a genius, Mary! Hemp, buckwheat and quinoa are a big part of bird feed, and they are a source of essential amino acids ... those we cannot make ourselves." Pete's knowledge on all things health-related was impressing. "But they'll have to wait, They can't tolerate sub-zero, or even a bit above-zero temperatures."
"I'll keep them warm," Mary said.
Armed with sticks, branches, stones and lids from crates and cooking utensils they attacked the soil on one of the hilltops. The strange, brown substance that covered the ground as far down as they could dig, offered very little resistance to their impromptu tools.
"I'm afraid this will wash off and carry seeds and sprouts away with it." Mary said. "Let's try clearing a bigger area, and see what's down there. Or wait a bit. let's try something else." Mary filled a biggish bowl with the brown substance and asked Gregor to pee on it. He produced, and the brown substance floated on the liquid. Mary waited, agitated the container, stirred with a twig, waited some more, and finally the stuff began soaking up the liquid and falling to the bottom. It also shrunk until only less than a third of the bowl was filled with some earth-like substance.
"Minna!" Mary called, as she saw her and Pete carrying a log up the nearby hill, where they had decided to build a house. "Come and have a look." Minna came. And listened and looked. "Puffed soil," she declared. "The heat did this. It will wash off in the rain." Well, let's make pots for seedlings, then" Mary told her eager helpers.
"No." Pete said. "You all come and help carry and hold rafters for a shelter".
"Why," Lil'George asked. "Veggies are important."
"Look up," Pete pointed in place of answer. " Clouds!"
Lil'George made a round O with his mouth, and almost ran to the lumber place. Ben had brought along his box of selected carpenters' tools. Even thought a goodly part of them were of no immediate use due to being electrical, many of them came in handy for the cutting down and de-branching of trees.
The rest of the short day they worked like busy ants, carrying trees and trying to make a place to weather the oncoming rain. They made a platform, just big enough to hold all of them, with stilt legs going as far down as they could make them go. A low ceilinged place for them and on the second floor an even narrower space for all their stuff. Then a roof made out of thinner branches, topped with sheets and a tarpaulin on top and fastened down the sides as carefully and solidly as they could.
"The winds used to come from the West." Ben said,
"Yes or from the South," Mary said. "The opening should be towards the north. That is if winds after the Wave behaves as those before."
"I don't see why not," Ben retorted, "but so far we have had none."
"This will have to do for tonight," they all agreed.
When they sat eating in the semi-dark, Mary pulled out her diary and found the latest entry.
"My last entry was on February 15. It reads: Sunrise 7.39, Sunset 17.10, crisp and clear. Today I went to Jill's. Preparing for party tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing Allan again."
Mary paused, wiped her eyes, drank a sip of the not so fresh water and continued. "February 16: The world ended. We survived at Joe's farm."
"Who are 'we'?" George asked, "Shouldn't you write down our names."
"Yes, true," Mary said. "Spill it!"
"Jill and George Robertson 36 and 37 years old, with children George Junior 11, Janet 6, Gregor almost 3 and June 6 months," George said.
Mary looked at Pete and Minna, who spoke "Pete and Minna Smith 25 and 28 years old. Brother and sister in-law of Ben."
Ben said: "Sally and Ben Smith, 21 and 23. Ben is a carpenter and Sally a seamstress."
Mary wrote all this down and added James and Linda, Caretakers. "James and Linda. What was their last name?"
"No idea," Jill said, and Pete and Minna just shook their heads.
"Former occupations would be great," Mary added. " Minna?"
Minna answered: "Pete, Accountant and Minna, Palaeontologist."
"Jill, housewife and bookkeeper for George, Salesman," said Jill, but you knew.
Mary smiled, added her own name: Mary Bandas, 62, Teacher, and continued: "February 17: We moved to the ex-waterfall, James died, and was buried by the waterfall. February 18: We prepared for our walk out. Linda wanted to stay behind. February 19: We walked here. Where's here, by the way?" Mary asked.
"In the middle of somewhere," Jill said.
"On two hills." Sally added.
"Two Hills, that sounds nice, Good name." And Two Hills it was. "February 20, today. We built a stilt hut in Two Hills, Clouds arrived."
Mary closed the book and put it back in her backpack. It was almost totally dark now. They still did not like using their candles too much. They did not know how long they had to last, and they did not want them to use up any more oxygen than necessary.
Chapter 8 - Morning Outside the Plane
The opening of the doors was rather anticlimactic. After a short bout of rivalry, Tom, the pilot, was given the honour. Co-pilot Hank, Allan, Father Paul, Granny T, Henny, Cordelia and a few other people stood close by as Tom opened the door. The rest stood further away, ready to grasp oxygen masks at the slightest sign of weakness. A gentle swooshing sound was heard as some of the air from inside the plane escaped via the open door. Then the small group descended to the ground. The brown dusty earth clung to their shoes and while the air was hot and thin, it was breathable.
They stood squinting in the morning sun, looking at the brown, dusty soil stretching ahead of them in soft waves.
"We can breathe this." Allan said subdued, "but where are we."
Tom, the pilot answered. "I do not know. Not exactly anyway. I stuck to the course as best I could, but whether we've reached the airport, overshot it or never reached it at all, I am not sure. If you held me up with that infamous baseball bat I'd say we did not quite make it there. We were one hour and 12 minutes from touchdown as we began climbing. We did not stay airborne for an hour after that, but then again. Our speed was greater ... I'm positive we made it home. I saw land ahead, shortly before the Wave struck. By the way the altimeter still shows us at below sea level but not as far below than yesterday,. The air is returning."
"This tells me that some stretches of sea must be untouched, or at least still filled with water," Hank said. The true lungs of the Earth are not the Amazon forest or indeed any rain forests, the algae and sea weeds are producing most of the oxygen."
"I just hope 'are' is the right tense here," Tom said.
"Where would you go, and how." Tm asked Allan.
"I don't know why, but I'd go east and north. I believe in your not quite making it home, I think, and then north by east will take me home."
"Home is a strange word to use about this brown desert."
"My home is where my Mary is," Allan said.
Hank, the co-pilot spoke up: "I have another suggestion. "We should build some kind of sea going vessel, and then try sailing around. That way we can check if the sea is indeed dead, if there's some bodies of water left, and where the water has gone. And sailing was The means of transportation in days gone by. Land masses and forests divided people, water connected."
"God almighty! Look at the plane!" Allan said. To hear what Hank said he had turned around, and was now facing the plane. All paint had been scoured from the belly and sides of the plane, the landing gear and nose-wheel were missing. The big engines under the wings were missing too, and the wings were blackened around the edges where they had sat. The plane shone as a newly polished coin in the early morning light.
"The Wave did this?" Tom said and went pale. "If I had not climbed that fast ... or not jettisoned the fuel ... I begin to think we might be the only survivors after all."
"More cake and brandy, anyone?" Henny asked. The optimistic stewardess carried a tray, loaded with cake and glasses and smiled at them.
Allan accepted both, and so did Tom. "Cheers!" Allan said extending his glass "To survival!"
"To survival!" the others echoed.
"Could we get to the luggage hatch, father Paul asked. "I'd like to see if there's anything left down there.
Tom and Hank unlocked the hatches to the cargo bay. They did not open smoothly, and much tucking and yanking was necessary to make them open, but finally they could get in. The suitcases were charred, blackened and frayed, and Allan feared for the contents. Father Paul, Allan, Cordelia, the two police types, and the hurting young man, who asked to be called by his real name, Robert instead of Ronny, made a human conveyor belt and transported all suitcases out onto the brown soil. Father Paul found his sturdy looking, brown and well used suitcase. Coffer he had called it, and it was a true treasure chest. Cookies, chocolates, candy, edibles of all sorts and kinds.
Allan opened his suitcase, and the pressure proof crate was still good as new.
"What's do you have in there?" Tom asked.
"A white Zinfandel from the year our eldest daughter was born. It's still intact - much to my surprise. I was going to join a party at her place when I arrived. Then small gifts for my grandkids, books, candy and such. Something for my Mary as well. And then the usual stuff: clothes, notes and books from a boring conference. Not really good for anything now."
Everybody came down from the plane and began opening their suitcases, checking for treasured belongings or chosen gifts. In all very few things had been broken or toasted.
"Don't you have anything packed, Tom." Father Paul asked.
"Not much, toothbrush, clothes, some money, a snack or two. It's up in the cockpit," Tom answered. "I was only going to have a stopover for 36 hours before flying back home again. Most of that time I would have spent sleeping, eating and working out. Travelling becomes routine you know. Just a job."
"And now my job is finding Mary." Allan said. "I think ..."
"I think," Tom said, "that we have to stick together, or at least in smaller groups. No man should face this great unknown on his own. But I have a suggestion."
They all gathered in a loose group with the captain, Allan and Hank in the middle.
"OK," Tom said, "I suggest we send out scouting groups, not now, tomorrow, but let's agree upon the groups and their mission now."
Most of the group nodded or in other ways indicated their assent, and Tom continued: "Hank, you and two or three more could go east of here. Allan you and a couple more go north, Henny, could you lead a group going south," She nodded, and Tom continued: "Robert would you care to take a group west?" He also nodded. "We have a compass for each group, still in working order. Try to find water, walk for two or three hours - until the sun is at its highest - then return back."
Hank took the two 'police officers', who were not police officers at all, but actors, He also invited Father Paul, but he asked to be excused. He had sprained an ankle jumping down from the plane.
Allan asked Cordelia, who said yes at once; and then the burly man who had suggested snowy slopes as a landing place, he was grumpy, but willing to go on an expedition.
Henny invited a young couple who had been sitting in the front row, and a elderly, but sporty looking lady.
Robert shyly asked for volunteers but had no takers until Granny T broke the ice by stating that she was going to follow this fine young man to the end of the world. Then a couple of women and a man volunteered to go with him.
Granny T pulled out again, telling: "Well I only really suggested my going with him as a way of shaming out you young ones. I would not last very long on a scouting expedition. You got to travel fast, I with my rheumy hips would only be a liability."
"I guessed as much, Granny T," Robert said. "You take good care of the plane and our captain for us while we're gone. I bet you can brew one darned good cup of tea."
The captain fetched the plane's log - it was still an old-fashioned paper thing with stiff, orange cardboard binders.
"Group 1, going east, Hank Peterson, co-pilot in charge. Here's the compass. And could I please have the names of the rest of you?"
"John Turnstile, actor," the tallest of the two said.
"James Thomson, also an actor," the other one said, matching the tone of John perfectly.
"Thomson and Thompson" Allan thought to himself, smiling.
"And group 2 going north," he said handing Allan the compass. "Allan what?"
"Allan Bandas, Geologist."
"Cordelia Smith, shop assistant," She said as the captain looked at her.
"Daniel Sutton, Butcher."
"Group 3 Southwards bound, led by Henny ... sorry I forgot your last name."
"Henny Taylor, captain Tom," she answered, "I also forgot yours."
Smiling an almost boyish smile, Tom said "It's so easy it should be fun; Tom Jones, and no, I can't sing."
"Sarah and Fred Timberley, both medical students." Sarah answered for both of them, "and on our honeymoon flight."
"Eva Vernon, Ski instructor," the sporty woman said.
"And the last group. West. Led by ..."
"Robert Townsend, Mechanic."
"Allison Whale, Biologist."
"Mona Bright, Farmer,"
"Matthew White, Painter, of houses, not paintings," he added with a sad smile.
The rest of the day was spent preparing for the expedition, backpack were borrowed, emptied and filled, luggage moved around. Henny brewed some tea by boiling water over a small fire but it did not taste good. "The air pressure is low," Allan explained. "The water will boil before it reaches 100 degrees C like on the top of a mountain. Coffee is OK with that, tea is not. Let's keep to coffee, as long as possible."
Eva cursed the ill fates that had made her decide to buy a new pair of skis when she returned home, ditching her old pair for their weight's worth of books and clothes. "Skis would have been much more useful now, than those crummy books, she agonized."
Allan examined the curious brown stuff covering the ground. together with Allison, the biologist from Robert's group, and the mother of the three children; she was called Ulla, and had studied chemistry before becoming a mom to the boy twins and their baby sister.
"For pity's sake, what is this stuff?" Daniel, the grumpy butcher in Allan's group, said.
"Do you know Leca?" Allan asked. Daniel nodded and Eva said: "Puffed clay balls?"
"Yes," Allan said. "We suspect this is puffed earth, and whatever else happened to be right here as the Wave passed.
They set out after a hefty breakfast next morning; each of them carrying supplies and water for themselves, binoculars, pencils, paper and what else they seemed essential for the success of such an expedition.
Allan and his two party members started by going up a slope. It was hard work, the brown stuff was like very dense snow, they sank in, not much, but still it was taxing and they had to pull up their legs after each step. They heard Eva Vernon once more wishing loudly for her skis with a very un-ladylike expletive before they came out of hearing distance.
They walked in a line, each taking turns trampling a path, changing when one of them became out of breath. This happened often in the thin, hot air. When they had to take a break, the plane was still clearly visible as a silver speck at the horizon, and their tracks made a shallow ditch-like indentation in the uniform brown desert.
"We're still working our way up a slope," Allan remarked. "we've walked far enough for the plane to disappear even behind a small hill."
"That's why it is so darned hard." Daniel said. "I sure needed a break."
"Well, we can look forward to the journey home being downhill all the way, then," Cordelia said. "Let's continue."
She got up, and reluctantly Allan and Daniel got to their legs as well. Laboriously they walked on and on, still alternating the front position, still slightly uphill, still the same, brown fluffy stuff covering the ground.
"Phew. Do you think we landed in the ocean, and we're walking on the bottom of what was the sea, day before yesterday?" Daniel asked, as he passed Allan to go in the back after leading.
"Could be, We could also just be on the southern slopes of the land. I don't know how we'll ever find out where we are. It looks just the same everywhere," Allan said.
Cordelia turned round to face them: "We can't see the plane any more. But our trace is clear. What would we do if a wind started blowing or rain begin to fall?"
"Rain," Allan said, making that simple word sound like an expletive. "You said the word! All the water is up there somewhere. Don't you see how fuzzy the sunlight is, and how hot and uncomfortable we feel, even walking this slow."
"Slow?" Daniel asked.
"Yes," Allan explained. "We've walked for a bit more than two hours, as far as I can judge from the sun." Daniel nodded. "And the plane was visible a short while ago when I fell back, That gives us a distance of approximately 8 kilometres in 2 hours, maybe a bit more allowing for the uphill travelling, nothing impressing."
"Absolutely right." Cordelia agreed. "But let's press on for a bit longer. The sun's still not at its zenith."
"The rain," Daniel said, "what about the rain?"
"Well all the water is not going to stay up there. It will have to come down as the earth cools off again. It'll be one hell of a shower, I do not care to guess what will happen to all this puffball earth. And do you notice how we tend to forget what we were talking about?" Daniel and Cordelia nodded, looking surprised. "Mild hypoxia does this, Let's turn back. Apropos back. The compass will tell us where to go, Cordelia, even if our trail should disappear."
"Of course. I knew that." Cordelia said, shaking her head. "Let's go on just a bit more, Maybe we'll reach the top of this rise and be able to see further away," Cordelia said.
They did as she suggested, and actually only a short time later, they scaled a steeper incline and stood on the top of a small hill gently sloping away from them back, front and to the left. Right or east of them, the dunes looked the same as the one they were standing on. But still the only thing they could see, even with the help of binoculars, were more dune-like hills of brown stuff in front of them.
"I can't recognize anything at all," Daniel said. "I lived on this coast, or at least what I suspect is this coast all my life, and still I can't ..."
"Yes we had high hopes," Allan said.
"Do you think the whole world looks like this?" Cordelia asked, as they sat down.
"Yes," Allan said. "There's nothing but brown fluff all over. But I noticed that the layer is becoming thinner here. Not that I have any idea of why, but it is. Let's walk just a little bit further. I 'd like to see if it grows in thickness downhill again or something else caused this difference."
"I'd like to stay here," Daniel said. "It's very hard for me to walk and you'll be coming this way back again."
"Yes, and we won't stray far, Allan said, "We should be able to see or at least hear one another all the time." Daniel leant against his pack, while Cordelia and Allan set out further north. The brown layer kept to its new depth even when they had scaled and gone down two more small hills.
"Time to turn back," Cordelia said.
"Yes. We won't learn any more unless we keep on for days, and that was not what we agreed on."
Upon returning they found Daniel sleeping where they had left him.
They woke him up and returned to the plane. It was an easier trek, downhill, following their own steps, but still they were winded and exhausted as they arrived at the plane. Daniel was ordered inside to get some more oxygen, Allan and Cordelia just sat down on some of the crates from the storage.
Henny's group came back, carrying Eva, the ski instructor between them. Her leg nicely bandaged. "Not a big thing," she said, "I stumbled into a hole. And the two youngsters there tell me nothing's broken."
"Well you choose the right group with two medical students, at least" Tom said
"We did not get that far, Henny said, But it looks the same everywhere, low hills cowered in this brown stuff."
Chapter 9 - Preparations
Robert's group returned shortly afterwards, and told of a totally uneventful, yet strenuous journey.
"Brown, brown and brown, as far as we could see. Only brown dunes, hot as a greenhouse and this strangely hazy sky. It's like walking inside an inverted bowl, one place is just like another," Allison, the shorter of the two women told. "As stated I'm a biologist, and I did not see any animal, neither the remains, traces or tracks of any life at all. No birds, no mammals, no nothing. This place is dead!"
Mona, the farmer, added her two bits: "Yes, and no water either."
Last to arrive, not long before sunset, was the eastbound group with Hank, the co-pilot and the two actors, John and James. Everybody was outside the plane to hear news and discuss what would happen now. Sitting on crates and coffers or standing around all 37 listened to what the returning groups told.
Just to ensure that everybody was up to date, Tom asked the groups to repeat their findings before he gave the word to the newly arrived group.
"We saw something," John, the tallest of the two actors said,"
"And we estimated that the home trip would be easier, downhill, walking in our own footsteps and all that," James, the other actor added.
"We went there," Hank told. "And I'm happy we did! We found a forest! In the beginning all the trees were only stumps, then going toward the centre, the stumps grew taller, and finally we saw pines or firs or whatever - trees with needles on them, not leaves - and they were still alive!"
"Just a sec," Allan said. "You travelled uphill as well?"
"Yes," James and Hank affirmed.
"We did too," Robert said.
"I'm not sure," Henny said. "It was a bit easier going back, but then we followed the trail, we made on the way out."
And was the brown stuff a uniform layer or did it thin out?
"Became thinner, James said.
"It thinned a bit," Robert said too, "then it became thicker as we neared the forest."
"It stayed the same, or at least it did not change enough for me to notice." Henny said, and the two medical students, Sarah and Fred nodded.
"I have a theory." Allan said. "We are actually under water, or we would have been if the water was where it used to be. I dare bet we have landed in one of the straits, with a piece of land protruding north of us. I don't know how, why or anything. But this brown layer seems to be thinner on land."
"It's a theory, and at least it covers all what we have seen." Tom said. "And do you have any ideas on what to do?
"What about when the rains come, what then?" Daniel asked.
"Rain?" he father of the 3 children and Ulla's husband asked. "What rain?"
"Oh, I surmised everyone had heard by now," Allan said. I'll explain: "All the water from the seas and lakes and rivers is up there somewhere," Allan pointed to the skies. "Haven't you noticed how fuzzy the sunlight is, and how hot and uncomfortable we feel, even just standing or sitting around like this?"
Those of the people who had not heard about his theory before, nodded slowly or gave vent to their agreement in a verbal way.
Allan concluded: "Well all that water is not going to stay up there. It will have to come down as the earth cools off again. It'll be violent, to say the least, and I haven't got the slightest idea as to what will happen to all this puffed earth."
"Does the plane float?" someone asked.
"Yes, at least for a time." Hank answered.
The woman posing the question stood up: "I think the best move might be to wait for the rains to set in, hoping for the plane to float, and then have all of us pull it to land somewhere dry. Would this be possible?"
"No idea." Tom said. "A plane like this weighs ... ugh around 100 tonnes when empty. I have no idea whether we could move it at all, and the currents would either aid or hamper us ..."
Allan stood up as well: "If I'm right, the water would flow north from here, in direction of that peninsula. It would more be a question of us steering the plane with the currents, and then getting it to strand where we wanted it to, than really pulling it."
"We should empty it, Carry all the cargo to the highest possible ground hereabout - that would probably be Allan's Dunes," Hank, the co-pilot suggested."
Henny spoke: "Could we take the altimeter from the plane. I mean, we we could send someone out to find the highest ground east, north and west of here. That would tell us where to go."
"Big brain, like my children used to say." Hank smiled. "We can indeed do that tomorrow. And I can support Allan's rain theory by telling that the temperature has been falling steadily since we landed. It seems we're in for a rainy season.
Next morning runners, or maybe quick walkers would be a better expression, were sent out. They had an easy job. Get to the highest point on each of the routes - or deviate if somewhere along the trail seemed higher, read the altimeter there and return with their observations. When darkness fell it was clear that Allan's Dunes, as they had come to be known, were indeed the highest point in the vicinity.
Those at the plane had not been sitting with their hands in their laps. They had been emptying the plane, packed everything as compact and as watertight as possible. They had devised carrying stretchers from metal strips, evacuation slides, curtains and bits and sundry pulled from the interior of the plane. Hank and a group of helpers had closed the cargo bay and sealed the hatches with a glue-like substance that Hank called "Monkeys' snot". They discussed emptying the plane of seats and interior, but agreed that they could not carry too much all the way to Allan's Dunes in the remaining time, not without more people, as movement still was taxing in the thin, humid air. Furthermore Tom admitted that the plane had to be lighter than his former estimate, since the heavy under-wing motors had fallen off sometime during the Wave.
Ropes were secured around the wings and belly of the plane, making a harness by means of which the plane could be pulled in the wanted direction. Everything was almost ready when Cordelia, tying an extra stubborn knot gave a yelp of surprise. "Clouds, she said, "The clouds have returned!"
Chapter 10 - The Rain
The next morning, the clouds had multiplied, It was overcast and cooler than in the days before. The air was still thin, and the carriers were exchanged often in the many hauls up to Allan's Dunes. Late in the afternoon everything was carried up there and covered with landing slides and secured with more rope. They decided to split up in two groups The biggest, with Tom as a leader, stayed with the plane, hoping to be able to hold onto the lines and guide the plane in the wanted direction.
Hank, Allan and a few more stayed with the luggage, armed with ropes and stakes, ready to keep everything dry during the coming downpour.
At the plane they discussed their possibilities, and then decided that the downpour would not fill up the strait, lake or whatever they were in, in an hour or two. Ergo there were no reason for them all to stay out and be miserable and wet. In the end two for each rope stayed out, the rest took refuge inside the plane and slept in the dry, relative comfort of the cabin.
After some hours of continuing rain, just getting worse and worse the eight people at the ropes were wet to the skin, and shivering despite the heat, One from each rope went inside and woke up two more, and then eight wet people gleefully crept into the even darker maw of the plane. Twice more rope holders changed places, and eight others were sent to replace those watching the luggage.
They had a hard time finding their way The sky was pitch dark, the brown fluff ran over the ground, riding on top of the running rainwater, hiding all irregularities in the ground under a uniform, floating carpet of brown. Thus making it totally impossible to see where you put your feet. They had put stakes in the ground at regular intervals, but the massive rain had pulled up some of them, and even those still standing were almost invisible in the dark. The crude lanterns they carried did not give up much light. Despite being dressed in raincoats and anoraks, they were wet trough long before reaching the halfway mark. Only their sense of duty and a deep pity with the crew at the luggage end kept them on their track. Robert was one of the replacement team, and he spurred on the others when they lost heir will to continue. He even pulled out Cordelia, saving her from a tumble in the dark and wet.
"Thanks, Robert," she said, "I could probably not get any wetter, but that black stuff is mighty itchy once it gets inside your clothes."
At long last they arrived at the mound of boxes to find a wet, despondent looking group of people.
"Those ropes," Hank said with a voice harsh from use. "They are of the kind, that expands when they get wet. We've been fighting and tightening ropes ever since the rain began in earnest, but I'm afraid a great deal of the crates are soggy."
"It's all yours now, But we'll send replacements earlier than planned, I'd say two hours from now. Four hours is just too much." Allan said. His voice too was roughened and he was brown from the waist down in the glow of the lanterns.
Allan, Hank and the 6 other grasped their almost spent lanterns and began the way back.
"Take care at the 3 kilometre mark, there's a hidden edge down under all that stuff. I'd have taken a tumble if not Robert had saved me." Cordelia yelled after the leaving party.
"Thanks for the warning," Hank was yelling back, and almost lost his footing. "Bugger, the ground under this stuff sure is slippery."
The way back to the plane was a nightmare for the tired group of refugees. Wet, cold, overworked and in the dark, they groped, stumbled and groaned their way back. Once they got lost, and only the compass in Allan's pockets and Hetty's wits - she made them walk an arms-width distant, sweeping the dark for stakes, which Mona, the farmer, finally found. She almost yelled her head off before the others heard her over the rain, but finally they gathered at the stake. Allan pulled out the compass and once more they continued in direction plane.
When they got there, Sarah and Fred, the two medical students, handed them each a small piece of soap, and bade them strip and wash in the rain before getting inside. The wet, puffed earth was either filled with small splinters or contained some kind of skin irritant, and rashes was sure to follow if they did not heed their advice. Soon after eight wet, but clean persons bundled in towels and sheet had their hands around mugs of coffee laced with rum. Soon they slept.
Chapter 11 - Rain 2in Two Hills
It was a day of frantic preparation in Two Hills. The sky was grey and overcast.
They built yet another house on stilts - this time ramming the slender trunks down, until they touched solid ground below the top of the brown fluff.
Mary and her veggie crew carried stones, and put them into holes. They had been at it for about an hour when Minna asked: "How much did the fluff shrink?"
"It shrunk to less than a third, but the problem is not shrinking, it's the flow off or washing off or what you'd like to call it. When the rains come, all this - which I take for the fertile part of the surface - will inevitably be washed into the seas around us."
"No, it won't" Minna said. "It'll be washed from the high grounds for sure. But there's enough low or lower grounds here for the fluff to stay in and sink eventually. I think we really should work on building dry place for us, not try to contain the brown stuff."
"My, I think you're right. I remember looking at one of those maps with: 'Will your house be swamped in those rains that happen once in 50 years' or something equally inane worst case scenario from our insurance company. Our house was safe, but lots of light and darker blue patches marked large poodles and mini lakes where the water would pool up. It's almost the same here." Let's get to building for us instead."
All day they worked, not fast, but almost continuously. And when the rain began falling in the evening, gently at first, then with more and more power, they had a roof over their heads, and the first house, they had built, was secured against the waters and contained all their stuff. Sturdy ropes connected the two huts.
Their living space has no walls, but the roof hang over the floor all the way around - far out, so that the rain could not get at them. Getting cold was not a problem for them yet, but becoming wet would be.
It was not a good looking home, struts and branches criss-crossed in crazy patterns, but Ben promised that they would hold up against strong winds, barring a hurricane. He began talking about triangles and tensile strength. Words, that made their heads swim, but Mary patiently asked him to explain the basics again and again until most of them had grasped it.
"We have to learn," Mary said. "No more we can afford thinking: 'It is not my job to know this'. Pooled together we might pull through. But one or more of us could fall ill, meet an accident or something. We all have to teach and learn. And I think that the coming, rainy days are best used with this."
"The only thing I'm really good at, is adding and subtracting numbers," Pete said.
"That might be what your job was, and maybe even what you're best at, Minna gently teased him, "But you're a health freak as well. I bet some of that knowledge about, oh vitamins, amino acids and so on will come in handy. You teach us that, not accounting. We all know more than we think, more than our job consisted of surely. And we have to pass as much as possible of this knowledge on to more of our group. Mary's right. Something could happen to any of us at the drop of a hat. Palaeontology might not be the most useful subject either, but I was an avid baker in my spare time, and I had a go at fermenting vegetables. Both of these might become necessary skills in the times to come."
The rains continued in uniform strength all through the night. They lay awake, listening, for some time, there was nothing they could do, except hope and pray. They each had their most treasured belongings in a bag, or small suitcase or box next to them in the people's hut. Mary had the seeds, her diary and a few other prized possessions inside the big cooler box, and her old, worn backpack was still loaded with personal items. Almost no water was seeping through the roof, and they were quite sure the same would be the case over in the storage hut. The rain was falling heavily, but not a wind was stirring. The edges of the flooring had a few drops only.
The steady rain was like a lullaby, and all slept peacefully far into the morning. Next day the weather was cooler, not cold, they guessed it to be still in the lower 30es.
After a breakfast of fresh waster, stale cakes and canned figs they agreed that a fire hut would be a welcome addition to their small settlement.
As they looked out, the world looked different. It was wet, for one thing, and all the brown fluff had gathered in the shallow valleys and depressions. They were dark, and Mary went down to look at one of them while Ben and Sally checked the storage hut.
Mary went out and filled a big bowl with water-soaked fluff. It had turned black, and was fluffy no more. It reminded her most of all of those small compressed peat plant pots. You bought a box of discs, but as they soaked up water, they grew into a small pot ready for planting. The only difference was that this stuff contracted when wet instead of expanding. Mary distributed the earth into shallow containers and she and the children planted seeds in them, while Jill either took care of baby June, or looked through and sorted their edibles. Some of the fruits and vegetables had suffered during the trek, and the busy day yesterday had left them no time sorting them. Only one orange was rotten, and luckily none of the other fruits, not even the susceptible pears had caught the mould. Jill rinsed and dried the unharmed edibles, storing them in towels, bags and other containers hanging them under the roof. She placed the damaged, but edible fruits in a big bowl, ready for lunch.
After planting the seeds, Mary carefully cut small squares of cardboard.
"What now, Granny?" Janet asked.
"Now we have to write what we planted. In some weeks, we cannot remember, and it is important not to mistake swedes for carrots later on."
"Yuck, I do not like swedes."
"The more reason not to mistake them," Mary said smiling. Mary handed her a square of cardboard, a black marker and the seed-bag with swedes in it. Pointing at the word, she said: "That word says 'Swedes', copy that onto your square, then you'll know where they are."
Mary handed Lil'George some squares, and the blue marker. "You can handle the broad beans, the carrots and the spinach."
"You bet. I'll mark that spinach, so I won't accidentally eat it," Lil'George said.
"Me too mark plants," Gregor said.
"Do you know some letters?" Mary asked him.
"Me know 'G'," he said.
"Not quite enough, we do it together," Mary told him. "We'll mark the corn and the chillies, They both begin with 'C'. Mary held his hand with the marker, and together they made a good job of marking all the seeds they had planted.
Jill praised their work in passing.
"Ohh, my hands are itching," Janet said.
As she said this Mary noticed that she too had been rubbing her hands against her trousers repeatedly. "Mine too," Mary said. "I think we need to wash our hands very thoroughly whenever we have been touching that earth stuff. My feet and legs are itchy too." Mary dug some of her homemade soap out of her backpack, and they went out into the warm rain and washed and washed. In the beginning the soap stung, but it soon stopped and the itching with it.
As they stood there in the rain, Ben. Minna, Pete, Sally and George returned home from the woods loaded with timber. Mary handed them the soap and told them to wash all parts of them that had been in contact with the wet fluff.
Not a few of them walked far off, stripped and washed.
"Why is earth itching" Janet asked, "I do not like itchy earth."
"I don't know," Mary admitted. "Maybe there's something like itsy bitsy splinters in it, maybe it's just corrosive, a bit like my green soap. I would not know without somebody with a microscope or a lot of test tubes and chemicals to test this for me."
"Soap!" Mary said," as they ate a lunch of greens and lebkuchen. "Soap is one of the better commodities of modern times. But how are we going to make more soap when we run out? I did not bring more than a couple for my own use, and some for gifts."
"But, you can make soap, can't you, Mom? Jill asked.
"Yes I can, but not from thin air and bananas!" I need fats and oils and lye to make it from. Where will I get that? No animals means no fats."
"Sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and linseed can all be pressed to make oils" Pete said. "Would they do?"
"Yes they would, I just don't know how. But live and learn must be our new motto. I dare bet I could even make an exfoliating soap using some poppy seeds - yes I bought flower seeds as well. I am a dreamer, and I love flowers. And lye come from ashes. It will be soap of a kind anyway," she said with a lopsided smile.
In the middle of the disaster this was a surprisingly normal day. They could have been in some primitive cabin in the mountains somewhere. Now the eternal silence was covered by the rain and that very same rain in their heads at least accounted for not seeing anybody else. They ate, they played cards, they build with sticks, trying to make a small kitchen space for a covered fire. All very primitive, but Mary and Allan had been taking their children hiking in the wild since they could walk. The air too felt more normal too, thicker, richer somehow.
Next day began much the same. They began making a firehut by breaking up the ground with some of Ben's heavier, manual tools. The ground was covered in an almost glazed layer of varying depth. They broke it up on the slopes of the farthest hill, and discovered the underground to be clay, rocks and pebble.
"It seems the Wave fluffed up most of the arable layers, glazed the subsoil layers and left the bedrock relatively untouched. This is good news indeed. I suppose the bedrock will be the limit of the Wave's devastating power only where the sole is very thin."
Ben looked at Mary with a blank expression: "Say what? The which of the whats? I thought bedrock was a ting in computer games."
"Sorry, I forgot. You know ... Allan is a geologist, and ... Well, in everyday terms: The Wave fluffed up all the organic matters, the layer we normally grow plants and stuff in. Under this, there's a layer composed of stone, gravel and sand, lots of it quartzite, and coloured and permeated by minerals transported down there with the water. This layer is what we're standing on right now. The Wave was hot, it fused a thin top layer of minerals and quartz into this glasslike stuff. Luckily some of the fluff descended before it cooled off, else we would be skating on a pane of glass." Mary smiled at the thought of all of them slipping and sliding on the vitreous slayer. "Furthest down is bedrock. Like in the computer game, only not as tough as that."
"And pertaining to our cooking hut this means?" Ben asked.
"It means, we can drill, chop, somehow make holes in the hard shell, put in corner stakes and have them stand, also it won't burn."
"But, if the earth has become lower ... I don't really know how to express this ..." Minna said. "If the fluff, was earth, topsoil, I think is the everyday word for it, and that is now washed off ... And then all the water, really ALL the water on Earth comes raining down from the skies. Will we be high enough up here to not drown?"
"I don't know," Mary answered slowly. "There are too many unknowns here. The topsoil really does not matter, it's only about one meter where it is deepest. What matters is as you said; all the water. I imagine that some of the high grounds around here will be free of water, and become islands. But I don't know for certain. Eventually we will have to move somewhere else, I think."
"Maybe we should be building floating houses, raft houses, so to speak, instead of stilt houses" Ben said.
"Could we? And how long do we have?" Pete asked.
"Oh, how I wish for Allan's presence." Mary sighed. He would know instead of all our half-baked guesswork."
Chapter 12 - Rainy days
In the early morning, just after dawn, the sleeping men and women aboard the plane were awakened by drumming and knocks on the plane. They woke to a floating, unpleasant feeling. The plane was adrift. Quickly they dressed fully and jumped out. Only Eva, father Paul and Ulla and Bo's three small children stayed in the plane. The children were easier to watch there, and they were not underfoot. The slight extra weight were deemed acceptable by all.
The brown fluff had now mostly sunk to the bottom of the water-filled depression. Only small islands of the fluff were still swirling and floating on the surface of the water.
The plane was totally clear of the ground and was carried, flowed, gently swaying and wobbling, north and a bit east, just as Allan had foreseen. The two persons on each robe walked quickly through the swirling, shallow waters, taking care to keep the ropes taut. Those not holding on to a rope, and their replacements, went to the shore and followed the stakes up to Allan's Dunes to help re-covering and fastening the luggage. Luckily the damage looked way less in daylight. One or two of the suitcases in the upper layer were wet, but the water had not spread and with help from many willing hands and more rope - this time pre-soaked in the water around the plane - "Mount Luggage" was once again safe. It was now only a question of keeping it safe, a much easier job for the 10 remaining persons up there after the strengthening of the fortifications. On their way back to the plane, the larger group rammed the fallen staves back in and made the staked path swing further north in order to concur with the plane's current position.
Down by the plane they kept to the shoreline, watching the plane's progress from there. From time to time one of the persons at the rope asked to be replaced, and enough hands were ready to take over the ropes. The progress was slow. Shortly before the sun reached zenith, the plane stuck on a stretch of higher ground. They used the respite to get something to eat, and those going to replace at Allan's Dunes, were armed with thermos of hot coffee made over a fire in the plane's kitchen. Granny T watched over it like a dragon, and almost spewed fire at anybody getting too near.
"Shouldn't we anchor up for the tonight when the sun sets?" Hank asked. "We can't see where we're going and the luggage crew still needs to be replaced at short intervals."
"It's a choice between two evils," Tom answered. "Either we keep on stumbling along in the dark, or we run the risk of the plane sinking before we reach the fabled isthmus. I begin to think that faster is better. One: we need to get dry. Two: the watching of "Mount Luggage" is wearing us out, and three: the water might well rise so much as to make the current too strong for us to fight against."
"May I suggest that Robert and I 'run' ahead along the shoreline, armed with lanterns and look for my fantasy-isthmus" Allan said with a soft laughter.
"Splendid idea." Tom answered. "Have Father Paul hand you two of his lanterns each, then you can leave one in a strategical place should need arise."
Allan and Robert got the lanterns, a couple of left over stakes, and wiser from experience, Granny T also handed them a small thermos with hot coffee. "Thanks" Robert said.
"Take good care of the flask," Granny T retorted.
Eager to make haste in the watery daylight Allan and Robert quickly walked along the shoreline, overtaking the plane, the walking replacement for the rope holders, and even the replacement crew for "Mount Luggage" in Allan's Dunes, who was hurrying landwards.
They were soon wet again, but not cold, and they made good progress. After what seemed like an endless journey, but in reality was little more than an hour they stopped and drank some coffee. Allan handed Robert some of the sweets, he had bought: "I bought these for my granddaughter, in what now seems like another life," Allan said. "It's mostly sugar, and a couple of those now and then should boost our energy."
"Yes leftovers from another life," Robert said dreamily. "But I would not go back, even if I could. Here, now, I feel that my actions, all my life is meaningful. It's somehow simpler, easier. Hold onto this rope, tie that knot, save that drowning man, and speak gently to everybody ... I can do this ... I mean, I am, maybe for the first time in my life, able to make a real difference, to be of value to somebody else. Maybe we won't survive, but ... no regrets"
"No regrets," Allan said. "I get what you mean, and yes, I feel the same way, more alive, more real, somehow." Allan stopped. He sensed it was not the time to talk about Mary.
They continued in silence, a good silence
Shortly before dark Robert stopped. "There's something ahead of us in the water. It could be your fantasy - what was that fancy word again?"
"Isthmus, It means roughly the same as peninsula. Let's hope that is what it is."
It was. A lot of the not yet soaked brown stuff had gathered in the shallows between the shoreline and the peninsula. In the semi-dark they had trouble seeing where the land began and the water stopped, but when they reached dry ground, they could see that this was in fact Allan's fabled isthmus. Like a sleeping sea monster it stretched from the shore and far out into the water, Allan and Robert agreed that more of it would sure be flooded as the rain continued, but as they used the binoculars they saw hills rise in front of them. To their left, towards the west the hills seemed a little lower, in accordance with Allan's theory that the gap was out there somewhere. Also the water-currents, running west along the peninsula supported the theory.
"Now I regret that we're only two. Ideally one of us should return with the good news, and the other stay here on the top of the peninsula with the lanterns. But that is not going to happen. Neither you, nor I am going to stay all alone out here for hours."
"No," Robert agreed. "I would not like to stay here alone, nor for that sake return alone. No-one should be alone in this new world. Let's put in the stakes, tie the lanterns to them and return the way we came."
They found a nice high place not too far from the mainland to put in the stakes. As everywhere, where the brown fluff had been washed away, the ground was hard and crusty and it was hard work to drive in the stakes. They bent one of them out of shape, and mangled the tip of another. Lightweight plane metals were not the best for this job, but they had to work with what they had. Robert adjusted the wicks in the lanterns Father Paul had fashioned from old bottles, tin cans and frying oil. His sprained ankle had not permitted him to work along with the others, but he was inventive, and true to his priestly calling always available for a talk, day or night.
"I'm beginning to get cold," Allan said. "Let's get moving. My granny always said 'Old bones; thin blood' when she stoked the fire of her old stove during cold winter days. Now I begin to understand."
"No, it is getting colder," Robert protested. "Or maybe I'm getting old as well. Let's ask Tom how the temperature is progressing when we get back".
They were both cold and miserable long before they got back. After the thermos had long given its last drop, two things kept them going. Allan's candy and the fact that they could not get lost. Following the shoreline would sooner or later bring them to the plane. And sure enough. As they were about to sit down and gather strength for a last push, or even hoping that the plane would get to them, they saw the feeble lights of the lanterns in the windows of the plane - placed there by gentle hands as beacons for returning travellers.
Even before he heard their report, Tom commandeered them to wash off and get inside the plane to get some rest and warmth.
Shortly after they sat inside the plane, swaddled in blankets and holding a mug of hot and sweet coffee Tom joined them and all listened to their report.
"Good news," Allan said. "Fantasy - that's the peninsula - is less than two hours north of here. We staked the highest point near the mainland. I suggest we run the plane aground there and tie it to as many stakes as possible."
Everybody was happy to hear the news and some even applauded Allan and Robert.
"We have had to slacken the restrictions on people staying inside the plane." Tom said. "Sarah and Fred has been examining a bunch of us, and we're most of us at the edge of exhaustion and hypothermia. It's getting colder all the time."
Hank added: "Maybe we should make everybody but the necessary rope holders and luggage watchers come aboard and instead ditch some of the seats. People's health and well being is worth more than some seats. We might even be able to find them, or most of them later on, when the rains have stopped again."
All were in favour of this decision, and armed with tools from the emergency bucket Hank, Allan and Robert unfastened the sturdy rows of chairs, alternating between a left and a right row. Each row of seats were carried inland by three eager persons, who then washed off and got aboard.
When everybody but the people holding onto the ropes and the crew at Allan's Dunes were aboard, coffee and a snack was served by Granny T and Matthew, the painter, who was an amateur chef as well.
The plane's speed was lower than a person could walk, so the time it took the plane to drift up to Fantasy was nearer to five than two hours, Replacement were sent regularly to Allan's Dunes and a new route staked, leading from Fantasy to Allan's Dunes.
Daniel Sutton, the Butcher from Allan's scouting group was carried aboard the plane by the returning group. He had collapsed on the way, and he was now pale, incoherent and his breathing was fast and shallow. Sarah and Fred examined him and said he suffered from hypothermia, and probably some underlying heart or lung trouble too. They treated him with medicine from the plane's emergency kit, warm blankets and scalding hot coffee, but to no avail. Father Paul held his hands and prayed for him as he died in the early hours of the new day.
At first light the people aboard the plane gathered at the shore and looked while father Paul, Allan, Tom, Hank, Sarah and Fred consigned Daniel Sutton to his watery grave. After a while of silence and prayers, father Paul said a final prayer. Just as he had concluded it and everybody answered with Amen, a group of people came running from Allan's Dunes: The water was almost at "Mount Luggage".
Allan facepalmed. "Yes of course. I feel so stupid now," he said. "The waters of Antarctica and Greenland combined will make sea level rise about 70 meters. Warming of the water would add an extra 30 meters or more. A 100 meters higher sea level would make this whole region underwater except for a few, small islands. We'll have to go south."
"What about the Arctic ice?" Tom asked.
"Why south? Why not east or even north?" Henny asked.
"The Arctic ice cap was more like a giant ice cube, it mostly floated. Hence it contributes very little, if at all, just like a melting ice cube won't make your drink overflow. The warming of it will contribute of course." Allan looked at Henny: "Unless we were very much off course, which I seriously doubt, south is the shortest way to higher and I think better land. East and north would take us to the stony reaches of Sweden and Norway. We'd like somewhere a bit more level."
Tom got up. As the former captain of the plane, he still had some authority. He clapped his hands: "Everybody, dress up and get out. We need to evacuate Allan's Dunes immediately. Up till now, we have been doing too much and thinking too little. Now we've got to have to act again to avert more disaster. But afterwards ... We need to think."
Everybody except the three children, the wounded father Paul and Eva, were soon ready to leave the plane.
Tom spoke loudly: "Grasp the ropes. Those not able to find a place on the ropes, get behind the wings, and push and steer the planes towards Allan's Dunes."
They all pushed and pulled with great effort. The plane was big and heavy, at least compared to their strength, but the caulking of the hatches to the cargo hull held, the wings and hull were relatively unharmed, and withstood the pressure, and slowly it began moving.
At Allan's Dunes the waves were already lapping at the lowest edge of Mount Luggage. The passengers made a double chain, passing crates, coffers, valises, suitcases and backpacks from hand to hand. Tom and Hank stayed aboard the plane and supervised the distribution of the luggage in the plane's cabin. Now they were happy about the discarded rows of seats. It made room for all the luggage. Quickly the worn emergency slides were shaken out and placed in the back of the plane together with tarpaulins and other watertight stuff from the mount.
Everybody washed off, dressed in dry stuff and distributed themselves carefully aboard the plane.
Chapter 12 - At Allan's Dunes
After dinner they all sat listening and eager.
"Now we talk and think." Tom said, returning with the plane's maps: "Allan, please repeat your part about the rising waters."
Allan rose carefully: "The ice all over the globe was melted by the Wave. Now it is falling down again as rain, warm rain. The melting alone will make the waters rise by around 70 meters. The heating up and resulting expansion of all that water is going to account for at least 30 meters more. More than 100 meters higher sea levels will surely inundate the whole of Denmark Belgium and The Netherlands: Also the southern parts of Norway and Sweden and the northern parts of Germany, except for a few, small islands will be below sea level. We'll have to go somewhere else."
"And where do you suggest?" Granny T asked.
"I would suggest we went south," Allan said. "North and east of us are the ridges of Norway and Sweden. But I would recommend that we began by going north and then east, to get free of the labyrinthine fjords directly south of us." He drew a deep breath and asked Tom and Hank to hold up the map. "I think I know where we are. The peninsula, we called Fantasy has to be one of these outcroppings on the western coast of Zealand, Denmark where we were to have landed. Maybe we are even in this Fjord. And if we go south from here, there's just too many dead ends, fjords, peninsulas and so on to get lost in, even with the waters rising and eventually covering them. We want to get away, not get lost. Even in the days before the Wave I would have suggested going north and then east and south following the shoreline of Zealand, down through this strait here. It's called the Øresund. It is narrow, but deep and with an almost unbroken coastline to follow south it would be the better choice.
"Can we help the plane float for longer by building some sort of outriggers?" Eva asked. "I remember reading about the Polynesian people being able to navigate stormy waters in small three-hulled canoes."
"Yes that would surely help," Hank said. Let's wait a bit with the technical parts of this and continue with our travel plans.
"Going south would also help us survive in the long run. Shorter winters and hotter summers, once the earth's temperature returns to normal, would be a great help. We're back to the stone ages, or rather we're worse off than the stone agers," Allison, the biologist from Roberts group said.
"How so?" Cordelia asked.
"No animals, Maybe not even insects. Ever since the Wave I have been on the look-out for tracks and traces of animals. I have neither seen nor heard any so far. Maybe there'll be no plants either. The densest woods seems to have a few surviving trees, mostly conifers. If any deciduous trees have survived, only time will tell. We're back to zero."
"How are we ever going to survive?" Cordelia asked in a despondent voice. "No plants, no animals, no noting?"
Allan raised his hands: "Don't give up! First of all, we have food enough for a long time yet. It seems most of us thought that edibles was the thing to bring from the US of A. Father Paul has a treasure chest of goodies, I have something, and many of us have as well. And even better. I have seeds here in my bag. I bought bags and bags of heirloom seeds for my Mary, my wife who loves re-enactment, pioneer times and all that. Now they are going to help us survive." Allan had saved this announcement for such a moment, guessing that the invigorating effect of this piece of news could become necessary.
"And I've saved a lot of pips, kernels and stones from things we have been eating." Granny T said. "I don't rightly know why, other than I like growing things. I think I'm a relative to the entwives," she said smiling.
"But first these ents and entwives will have to keep from drowning and decide where to go to achieve this," Tom said. "Does anybody have questions, suggestions, comments or other of relevance to Allan's travel route?" After a spell of silence he said: "Well then I have. Allan, do you have any idea as to how long this rain will continue to fall like this and how fast the waters will rise. In other words. How long do we have? And if your guess is right as to where we are, and how far the waters will rise, how far do we have to travel?
After a short of time, where you could almost hear all the small gears inside Allan's head grinding, he said: "Now you might think I'm joking, but as far as I can reckon, it is going to rain for around 40 days." Laughter met this statement. "And of course the water will rise faster in the beginning, filling up all the lower parts. Later the rate will slow down, as the water will have ever broadening valleys to fill up. It has been raining steadily and heavily since it began, giving us an estimated 5 meters of rain, which of course is way more locally as like I said the shallow parts fill up first. My best guess is that it equals 6 or 7 times as much, which seems about right for the water to reach Allan's Dunes now. We won't have much time left now, maybe two days. But after we have started travelling we'll have all the time we want, or rather we'll have until we run out of food."
"When will we run out?" Tom said. "Henny, Granny T and Matthew, what are your estimates?"
"If we have water - and there's obviously going to be no lack thereof," Granny T said, "We should be able to manage for four months, maybe a bit longer on slimmer rations. It won't be a feast, sooner a famine, but we'll live."
"Well," Allan said, slowly. "5 or 600 kilometres should take us to the higher parts in the middle of former Germany. Walking this distance would take us around a month, maybe less. Swimming, pulling the plane ... far too long time. If we could fashion some kind of outriggers like Eva spoke of, and then maybe some rafts and stakes or paddles, then we could row and pull the plane. A wild guess is that it would be about as fast as walking, especially since we can take turns rowing."
"I have some really good news," Tom said. "As this plane was going to land in Denmark, and flew for long over water, we were obliged to have lifeboats with oars aboard! We can do it!"
"And," Henny said. "Those slides are inflatable, or at least they were. I hope we have not made too many holes in them on Mount Luggage. But there's still patches and glue somewhere. They could stabilize and serve as pontoons, outrigger or whatever."
Tom rose. "My suggestion is safety before speed this time around. We repair the slides, we make outriggers, check and reinforce the underside of the plane, and fasten everything thoroughly before we set out. Anybody who has even the slightest knowledge on sailing, boats, canoes, water-sports construction and so on, please help. Please speak up if you think something could be done better, safer, more efficient. Anything! This is not the time to be afraid of insulting anyone - or the time to be insulted either. If we had stopped to ask ourselves about the rains, we would have left here a week ago, and been better off not least health-wise. From now on the only stupid remark or question is the unspoken one."
Everybody spontaneously applauded Tom.
Granny T raised her hand just like at school: "I am of not much use caulking, hauling, carrying and so on. I would like to begin a nursery for plants in the cockpit of the plane. The windows are as far as I know made of some kind of plastic that will let the sun-rays through." Hank nodded her on. "Allan has seeds, I have pits, stones, kernels and so on from what we have been eating. Earth and water is in abundance outside. It could save us lots of time getting a garden started ..." she lost momentum as everybody was staring at her.
Then Allan said: "You and my Mary would get along so well, she would have suggested this, too." And cheering and applauding began again.
Allison spoke up next: "But the heat must have sterilized the soil, the brown fluff cannot contain much in order of nutrients."
"You're right," Allan said, "The heat will have sterilized it totally. No weeds will be the positive part of it, but whether the small plants can grow, I do not know."
"They will," Mona said, "I bought sterilized potting soil for sensitive plants each year on my farm. And before they have grown big enough to need fertilizer, well have a compost ready. Or if not, then human urine, thinned with water, is a very good fertilizer," she said smiling. "We have to stop being squeamish, And I volunteer as chef de compost." A new round of applause told her that she had the job.
"I'll place a bucket in the toilet, when the need arise," she said. "Every healthy male is then asked to use this for his morning pee. Sorry for the discrimination ladies. It will have to happen as female hormones can be harmful for sensitive plants. Later on, when we have a place for a larger compost pile, female urine and solid wastes will be added into the system as well."
Tom put in an hour before going to bed, sitting with his headphones on, fiddling with the radio, trying to make it work, but not a sound was to be heard. Not even statics.
He turned to Hank: "I think the Wave also contained some kind of anti-magnetics. Nothing has been working since it hit."
"Yes" Hank said, "I have noticed. No batteries, no electricity, no computers, no electronics at all. I wonder if it was only a passing thing, if we can make those things work later on."
"Only time will tell. I'm going to give it up for now at least," Tom said shrugging his shoulders in a forlorn gesture.
Next morning at first lights the construction and boat-wise people congregated aft to pull out and inflate the lifeboats. Allan found his seeds and joined Granny T in the small kitchen compartment just outside the cockpit. He handed her the seeds and said: "I'll volunteer for the carrying and other heavy work. I'm not needed in the outrigger department right now. There's no need for too many hands either."
Granny T just smiled and handed him two big buckets, "Water and soil," she said, quickly grasping the package containing the seed bags.
As Allan returned with the filled buckets, Granny T and Mona were in the cockpit planning the set up of trays. He helped bending, forming, twisting, drilling, hammering and filling in soil together with the two eager women. By evening the cockpit looked more like a greenhouse than anything else. Small buckets with peach and apple pits, date kernels cherry stones and and even some avocado stones stood on the floor, Trays of moist earth hung in layers, covered in white plastic to create the right ambience for seedlings. Allan carefully packaged the remaining seeds. They had decided to use only a third of the seeds now, One third to be saved for possible mishaps and re-planting, one third for next year. Allan placed the remaining seeds back into the watertight container inside his backpack.
Also inside and outside the plane things had been happening. The slides had been mended, Father Paul and Ulla had been very good at this job, and Ulla's husband, who had worked in a bike shop for years, had been the very best. The skeletons of two boat-formed outriggers could be seen outside. Branches, small trees and the former stakes criss-crossed in crazy patterns, more long poles lay alongside the plane, made from what to Allan's untrained eyes looked like whole trees, but actually was an ingenuous composition of trees, lightweight metals and strings.
Chapter 13 - Leaving Allan's Dunes
Finally the moment had come. All knots were tied, all ropes fastened, every twig in the outriggers tested and re-tested. It was time to leave Allan's Dunes. Already yesterday most of the dunes had been under water, with only the highest tops visible as round, glassy islands in the streaming water. Now they were slowly being swallowed by the water. The boats were manned, four to each. They had decided to set out at a slow pace, rowing slowly, changing oarsmen every half hour or at even shorter intervals if needed until the unusual excersise bacame more normal for them. The air had become steadily cooler and richer in oxygen during the downpour, so only their lack of training was the limiting factor. They had also decided to have one man armed with a pole in the front of each boat, sounding the depths and watching out for hidden reefs and shallows. Slowly the plane, pulled by the two boats glided towards the west to get clear of Fantasy. Allan stood in the boat to the right with a pole, testing the depth of the water along the shore. He called out the depth at regular intervals, and as the numbers steadily increased, the oarsmen in his boat took a break so that the plane was pulled due north. Slowly they navigated the plane through the opening between the outcroppings, the man with the pole in each boat calling his measurements repeatedly, the rowers going as slowly as possible. And then the soundings were 'all clear' from both boats, they could no longer touch the bottom with their stakes. Once again the rowers in Allan's boat rested, and the plane was pulled to the east. Still slowly, still testing the depth the eight rowers pulled at the oars, and the plane set out on the long journey for higher ground.
It was slow and tedious work moving the plane. Each morning began with inspection of boats, outriggers, plane bottom and equipment. Those not rowing spent the days aboard the plane listening to the endless rain. On the second day of the trip, Granny T organized classes in cooking, sewing, woodworking and what skills anybody possessed. It was both something to do, and a way of making survival more of a possibility. Each evening the windows of the plane each had a lantern hung in front of it. If anybody else should have survived, the plane would be plainly visible also in night time.
It soon became routine. They all woke at first light, extinguished the lanterns, inspected the equipment and made breakfast. After eating, rowing began, crews exchanged at half hour intervals, classes, tending of plants, washing, drying and mending of clothes, cleaning and tidying of the cabin. In short, a new daily routine. Before darkness fell, dinner was prepared, everything inspected once again. After dinner lanterns were hung in the windows and they sung, or told stories, held quizzes and spelling bees until it was time to sleep.
A week in Granny T and Mona returned from their morning trip to the cockpit-nursery with the good news that the broad beans and black radishes had sprouted. Almost everybody had to sneak into the cockpit during the day to see for themselves the green, hopeful sprouts.
A few days later, Eva was awakened by a strange, gargling noise, She jumped up, which made her sprained ankle hit something in the dark, and her cussing woke up more people. A gargling sound sounded ominous to Hank, It could be a hole in the outer hull, letting in water, or some other sinister happening. He inspected the outer hull, aided by father Paul's lanterns but he did not find any holes or leakages. The strange sounds continued well into the night and next morning by daylight a strange hole was found in one of the water-buckets in the cockpit.
"It's a mouse!" Allison said. "We'll have to catch it, but NOT to kill! It might be the last animal on earth, I so hope for a family." People aboard the plane had mixed feelings about a mouse, or a possible family of mice. Some were happy, some found animals nice, but why mice! Some wanted to kill them outright. Mona and father Paul constructed a trap from metal bars, hooks, and a long, narrow piece of wood mounted in a see-saw position. The mouse could get in, but not out. Next morning a small mouse with beadlike black eyes looked at them through the lattice around the trap.
Allison examined the mouse. "I know you will have a hard time believing me, and an even harder time trusting me, but this mouse is a mama mouse, She has a litter somewhere, we just have to let her go. In three weeks we can catch them all."
"Can you eat mice?" That was Ulla, the mother of three.
"Yes," Allison said. "The Romans found mice to be a delicacy, and luckily this mouse is not one of the disease-carriers. Had it been, I would have suggested killing it directly. Let me release it and it could be the beginnings of a mouse farm."
Everybody saw the wisdom in this even though James said: "You won't make me eat any mice." And John echoed him: "No, no way you'll make me eat one of those."
The mouse, released, made a bee-line for the kitchen nook, where it appeared behind a cabinet.
"OK!" Mona said "I'll personally whip the person that leaves the cockpit door open from now on to within an inch of his life. Mice in the newly sprouted plants is NOT going to happen."
Chapter 14 - The End
After the mouse incident, life went on much the same. Even greater care was taken to leave nothing lying around for the mouse to get into, exept for the scraps left on purpose for it. They wanted it to survive. Day by day Allan grew more sure that he was right, The coastline looked as if it could be the eastern coast of Zealand, and when they sighted some cliffs still standing tall and white over the water, he was sure. "Of course, I could be totally mistaken, and this could be the white Cliffs of Dover or somewhere else, but I'm sure, or at least as sure as humanely possible, that this is the Cliff of Møn." He took a deep, steadying breath and continued: "For sentimental reasons I'd like to stop here for a while. It was the first place I ever went with my Mary, we went camping as newly-wed, biking trough Denmark. And our first stop not visiting friends and families was here. On Møns Klint."
Tom placed his hand on Allan's shoulders. "Yes. I would have suggested a day or two of rest soon anyway. We are all getting restless and a day or two of walking and doing something but sitting inside the plane would sure do us all good."
They tied the plane to the cliffs and hoisted a tall mast with brightly coloured rags on the most prominent spot. The twin boys Adam and Benny chased one another on the top of the cliffs where they were broad and fairly flat. Allan walked slowly, all by himself all the way to the top of the cliffs. There he stood for a long time looking out over the brownish-grey water and the relentlessly falling rain. Then he turned around, seeing the slowly drowning hills and islands, that once was his and Mary's home. He wept. He sat down and hid his face in his hands. Now, he admitted to himself, there was not any more much hope of finding survivors, even his dear Mary. When he had no more tears left, he wiped his eyes in his sleeves, to no avail, he was wet all over. He stood up, and let the rain, now colder by several degrees than his skin, wash away all traces of his tears.
Allan rubbed his eyes, and rubbed them once more. Then he jumped up and down on the slippery surface, he slipped and almost fell, He stood still and then he yelled at the top of his lungs: "Here. We are here. Up here at the white cliffs!" He pulled off his jacket and waved it through the air. Richard came running up to him. "Look, Allan said, "I think I can see something sailing over there. He pointed landwards and to the north. "Could you run down, carefully, fetch that megaphone, and ... oh just get everybody up here and whatever they find useful."
In an amazingly short time everybody had congregated at the northernmost end of the cliffs. Hank had brought binoculars, Tom the megaphone, Ulla held a twin in each hand, while her husband carried the baby sister under one of their very few umbrellas. Richard had grasped a pair of father Paul's lanterns and a long branch. He tore strips of a rag, and after wetting them in the oil, he made a primitive torch by twisting them around the branch. He lit it and carefully waved it to an fro. Tom yelled through the megaphone, and Allan still waved this jacket.
Hank said: "What strange looking boats. It looks like a small settlement of huts only on rafts. It is, as far as I can see, pulled by a rowing boat of great size, manned by only four."
"Taking turns rowing, like we are, Ulla guessed. "Can you see more?"
"Yes. They're seen us - someone in the boat is standing up and waving something bright and yellow. and they're heading over here."
"That's a freaking settlement," Hank said. "Complete with floating gardens and huts. Whoever build something like that?"
"My Mary." Allan said in a disbelieving voice. "It would be just like her to have a garden no matter what - even the end of the world."
As the floating village came closer still, faces could be seen in the doorways of the huts.
All the people from the plane walked gingerly down the cliffs to the place where the settlement would land.
Allan tapped Hank on the shoulder and asked for the binoculars, Hank handed them to him without a word. "It IS Mary!" Allan yelled. "Hello Mary! Welcome to Møn." And then he began crying again.
Robert plucked the binoculars from Allan's hands and began studying the settlement.
Chapter 15 - A new Life?
They all sat inside the plane in the evening, feasting on hot coffee and slightly dry lebkuchen. "Finally lebkuchen," Allan sighed. It was time for tales.
"Nasty place." Lisa said. "We were really getting desperate, er were about to set off and see what would happen, when you arrived."
"And then, in two small boats, we crossed the Øresund, then only a bit wider than its normal 3 kilometres, and rescued Bengt and Astrid here from the dungeon in Helsingborg.
"Oh dear," Astrid said. "We had been visiting Kärnan, the old fort in Helsingborg. As we were about to mount the stairs to go up again from the dungeons, I slipped on the lover step. I think my arm is broken. Anyway, Bengt stayed with me, they promised to send help. But then an almighty roaring sound was heard, and rubble fell from the hatch. Bengt spent the next many days painstakingly pulling down rocks, stones and rubble, while I just sat, or lay half conscious from pain. When he finally reached the surface and told me about what he had seen outside, I thought that I was having a nightmare. But as no help arrived, I realized it was true. We had resigned, and when the staircase broke as Bengt removed a really stubborn stone, we just gave up. Then we heard Pete yelling outside. We were pulled out ... and here we are."
Sarah and Fred took care of her arm, It was broken, and badly set. All they could do was bandaging and supporting it. "It might never be as good as new," Fred said. "But it should stop hurting at least."
"And while the boys were out saving those precious people, the rest of us were building a floating village and planting seeds. Somewhere along the planting, we also discovered, found out might be a better word, that when it has been wet through for some time, the fluff stops itching, stops being fluffy and begins acting like normal soil again.
"Yes," Allison said. There's some inorganic, needle like compounds in it. They're quite interesting ... but your tale is more so, do continue."
Mary smiled and continued: "When they returned, by boat, and faster than expected, we sent them to more places with deep cellars or dungeons, but no more people were found until we, slowly and towing our village with the two small boats, came to the Fort and War museum in Stege. There we found two young girls, Susan and Janne and a boy Michael, from the fort. They had been on pre opening duty in the lower ends of the fort as the Wave passed, storing the freshly arrived vegetables in the cold room down there, playing at some teenage pranks all the while. They had lived off the cafeteria's food and were about to set out in that big boat after having prepared all the edibles down there for a longish trip. Then we passed here, and the rest is history."
The next day was spent moving crates and luggage from one place to another, It was not a question whether to bring the village or not, but how to. The small cooking hut was given over to storage of heavy crates after dumping of the slabs of glazed ground used for fireproofing. In the evening, Mary, Jill, Granny T and Matthew were happily cooking, comparing notes on plants and all in all felt very happy.
After the evening meal a discussion arose. Most of the people spoke for several small, self-containing settlements spread at equal and far distances along the foot of a mountain range. Those not in favour, were mostly found among the older segment, and were not taken quite seriously.
Then Mary rose from her seat next to Allan: "Now you listen to me," she said. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks had red spots. This is important: "The thing that has made humanity top notch is not our muscle power - we're a scrawny lot compared to most species. It's not our big brains either. Many species boasted bigger brains compared to size, and even smarter brains. No our asset, our sole asset, is knowledge, more specifically our ability to share and pool this knowledge." They all fell silent and listened. Mary drew a deep breath: "And if there's one thing I have learnt, first from the reading of books like The Day of the Triffids, and later from my voluntary working with refugees, it is how quickly knowledge is lost or deteriorates. Of course we could manage in small communities. We could stay alive and eke out an existence. Maybe. You're all young and strong, and we oldies could be spread out, teaching, taking care of the children? They would most decidedly not learn all I know, even less yet all we know all together. No way. We'd be back to the stone ages in a few generations."
A stunned silence ensued, and Mary continued: "Take the refugees I used to teach as an example. They were neither stupid, nor unintelligent. The old ones, the grandparents' generation, were mostly quite erudite; doctors, technicians, engineers, most of them speaking one or more language fluently apart from their own, as were a few of the parents too. The very young ones were OK, noting special. But the teens and the young adults! Those who had spent their formative years being on the run, surviving ... So many basic skills and knowledge they did not have. I remember proposing an outing to the forest. Many of those teens did not want to come. As I asked them why not, it was because they were afraid of dangerous animals in the woods. At that time I just smiled, and told them that vipers, wasps and ticks were the worst they could come up against. But I've been thinking. They had been to school here, learned Danish, how to read and write and so on. But their basic skills, those that we assume is learned automatically as we grow? It is not the way it happens. You have to have time for learning, for playing and growing. Else you grow up an ignorant." Mary drew a deep breath and went on: "Take Robinson Crusoe. Did he survive on his own? Yes and no. He had books, he had knowledge, he even had tools. He was not alone. Now imagine him wholly alone, cut off totally from the rest of the world on that island of his - give him a wife and imagine then having children. How much would they learn? And their children's children? Learning, coping and development all stems from a surplus. If the children have to work from early age to avoid starvation, how will they ever learn?
"But what does this mean for us?" Ben asked.
"The answer is interdependence! This means that we'll have to stay together. And even try to find more people, as many as possible. Make a town, an old fashioned rural community with houses in the centre, fields all around. And many small towns like this entered around an even larger one for higher education and for luxury items like soap, candy and books. This is a dream, the ideal state, I'd say, I don't even know if we can find enough people to get over critical mass, to have this surplus." Mary said soberly. "So far we do not know haw many survived, or even if we will survive the coming years. But together we have a chance. Together we have hope."
Mary sat down to a thundering applause.
Chapter 16 - Where to go?
Next day the discussion continued.
It turned to ways and means of finding more people.
"The plane is visible day and night. This is good, but should we search? and if yes, then where?" Tom asked.
"Yes we should," Mary said. "The more people, the better we're off in the long run."
"But we risk depleting our foodstuff if we find many," Granny T protested.
"Numbers, skills etc. are more important. We will survive. The green stuff is already growing both in the floating garden and aboard the plane. It won't be long before we can harvest the first crops. Besides we still don't have anybody with real, old fashioned farming skills!"
"My question still stands," Tom. "Where to look."
"Where?" Allan said. "Underground, mines and such. Everybody except for us plane-people survived underground. And we cannot guess where planes will have landed, but mines have to stay where they are."
"And now we know where we are," Tom said, "maps and equipment in the plane will be of big help. I can still plot a course by hand and use a compass and the other non-electrical equipment of the plane."
"And we can learn," Mary added.
"Wieliczka," Eva said.
"Say what?" Tom said
"Wieliczka," Eva repeated. "It's a salt mine in Poland. Not in use, but a museum. It's fantastic, caves, even a church carved in saltstones of different colours. I bet it was filled with visitors when the wave hit! I went skiing in the Tatry-mountains near there more than once."
"And Goslar, Germany. There's one like it, only not salt, iron or some such ore. That one is even closer," James, the actor, said.
"Show me those places on the map," Tom said rolling out a big, old map of northern Europe on a table.
Eva and James showed him where. and Tom bade Robert and Eva come and help him do the maths. They drew two tentative courses, one Goslar - Wieliczka, one the other way round.
"Let's end up in Goslar," Allan said. "The Tartrys for all their immense beauty was not renowned for their fertile grounds."
That motion was shared by most of the collected group. Mona agreed, and her opinion counted, as she was the only farmer at hand. "We have to go south," she said. "And from Wieliczka that means mountains, a hazardous thing to brave, but going back west and a bit north from there to Goslar will of course set us somewhat back, but the lessening hazards from partly underwater mountain ranges should more than make up for this."
"I agree," Tom said. "The plane is amazingly seaworthy what with the outriggers and so on. But jagged mountaintops would not be good."
The next morning they left the white cliffs of Møn and set the course due east. The life went on much as they used to, the settled routine of the two communities intermingling almost seamlessly. The most visible differences were by lanterns on the floating village by night and masts and pennants on the plane by day. Learning and teaching took place all over, in the open spaces of the floating village, when the weather was fine, inside the huts and on board the plane when it rained, as it did most of the time still. All took turns rowing, and everybody was swimming or taught how to by the two young doctors and Father Paul. They had to keep fit. One evening Tom said: "Tomorrow we have to go slowly. I need to know exactly how far east we have come so as to hit the rivermouth as shown in the course diagrams. All who wants to can have a go at the sextant. But I want the 12 noon spot!"
"Aye, aye captain." Robert said standing at attention.
"Yes, Tom said after reading the Sun, conferring with the charts, and as many as wanted to try and understand course plotting, "now we go South. We have to hit the river complexes leading to the mine," he said, pointing to Oder on the map, and following it and Weichsle and Dunajec to Wieliczka. "The rivers go right through the cities of Stettin, Wroclaw, Kattovice and Kracow down to the salt mine here. Of course the cities are not there anymore, but the land will still be level as opposed to outside the watercourses.
After some days going south, people armed with stakes were once again at their places in the hauling boats and every day they stopped at a quarter to noon to let Tom do his magic. Many of the others tried their hand at it, and became quite adept at knowing just where they were.
They worked their way slowly south and east, keeping over the old waterways. It sill rained every day. Mornings and evenings were mostly clear, the downpour beginning at around ten and going steadily until six or seven in the evening. Ben made some lead lines for the staking of the depth, this was easier, faster and less dangerous than the poles, giving longer reach and less risk of falling overboard. Still they found no ground below.
Chapter 17 - Wieliczka
They turned more towards east and next day mountains slowly grew up from the waters south and east of them. The Tatrys Eva said with a satisfied expression.
"Yes? Do you recognise them? Mountains should not be bothered much by the wave," Allan said.
"I'm not sure, but that one could be 'Silvertop'," Eva said. The mine should be a little closer to the mountains, away from the river, they agreed
They rowed slowly, testing the depths, this close to the mountains they saw no need in running unnecessary risks.
Robert yelled: "Something down here. Stop!" And the back up crew hurried to the small boats behind the plane and rowed the other way. This of course stopped the plane, and the floating village was alerted and also came to a halt.
"What is down there, and how far?" Tom asked. They freed the life boat, and slowly rowed back and forth, testing the depth. "Here," Robert yelled. "Almost at the end of the rope ... far down. and only here. Slowly forwards, please," he asked, and the rowers roved carefully forwards. Robert threw the line again and again, but nowhere else did it reach anything. "Maybe an immersed mountaintop?" Robert mused.
"I think not", Tom said "The mountains rise fairly suddenly here." Eva nodded.
"It could very well be some mine-related thing," Tom said. "It should be here, very near. Let's row the boat closer to the mountain range. If somebody survived somewhere underground they'll have to have come out, and the mountains would be the logical place to go."
"Should we risk a boat?" Cordelia asked. "Should we not stick together?"
"I think you're right Cordelia," Robert said. "No use risking anything. They might be desperate if they just sit on a mountainside watching the waters rise and rise. And desperate people can be dangerous as well we know," he said with a lopsided smile.
They were extra careful throwing the lines at regular intervals. Robert gave over his post to Lisa, and she in turn was replaced by Henny.
Henny was the one who finally struck ground. "Bottom here!" she called only to be echoed seconds later by Ben in the other boat. Slowly they proceeded. Always nearer the mountain range with the floating village bringing up the rear. When they had to stop for the night they scanned the mountainside using binoculars, but nothing could be seen.
In the night, Robert thought he saw a light flickering far away, he woke up Tom and Hank and had them look. They marked where they had seen the flicker, for armed with binoculars they thought they caught the flicker of a fire between two mountain tops.
In the morning they steered after the fire, and proceeding with care, they sailed closer to the gap between the two mountain tops, and saw the remnants of a dying fire and a flag pole with a red shirt hanging limp and damp in the murky daylight.
"Back up!"Hank yelled. "It's a trap!" The ones in the pulling boats immediately stopped rowing, backing up and then hoisting their oars while the crew in the two smaller boats behind the plane rowed for dear life, stopping, then painstakingly slowly pulled the plane backwards.
A mixture of assorted projectiles rained down over the crew in the two boats. Stones, mine struts, and various debris came down from the mountain tops. But the aim was miserable, and the throws lacked speed and precision.
Eva suddenly poked her head through the plane door and shot a string of harsh-sounding syllables at the mountains.
She was answered from above. Only one word, but understandable for the people in the boats. "Nie - no"
Eva spoke again, this time helped by the megaphone from the plane.
Another voice answered from the other mountain top. This one plaintive, longer. Back and forth the conversation went. The plane stopped well out of throwing range and all the boats gathered round the plane, where Eva told what she had found out.
"They say they do indeed come from the salt mine. They have nothing more to eat and they are armed. With what, I did not understand. Maybe pikes, maybe other strange things from the salt mine."
"Desperate," Robert nodded. "And maybe dangerous."
"We have to stay out of range of even a gun, then" Allan said, "but still within hailing distance."
One small boat sailed off to the village and they pulled closer to the plane after hearing the news.
"Theirs is the impossible situation," Hank said. "We can just leave them. Or at least they must think so. They cannot get close to the plane without us hearing or seeing them. But that said, we must not become careless. They are desperate, we don't know how many they are, and we have no weapons with which to defend ourselves."
"I'd say they have no weapon either," Hank said. "They have not been shooting. and everything must have been pulled over here from the mine by manpower. If that unknown thing yesterday was indeed the mine, as we suspect, they have walked quite a distance carrying stakes and stones. Maybe they have even been fighting among themselves. They must be hungry by now."
The situation grew into a long drawn stalemate. The people on the mountaintops could sit there and throw down things and they did. But the plane and even more the village kept their distance. The younger villagers and plane crew took turns swimming circles around the vessels two and two going in opposite directions. The rain began with depressing regularity at ten and the visibility dropped. The rain was not as heavy as it had been. After all it was the 39th day of the biblical downpour. But a steady wind was blowing, making up for the lack of raindrops.
"What way is the wind blowing?" father Paul asked Tom.
"From us to them," Tom said, "but why?"
"Smell." Father Paul explained. Could you ask the kitchen persons to make something hot and savoury for lunch. That could very well push those mine- and mountain people over the edge."
"Good thinking!" Tom said and went into the small kitchen. Granny T and Matthew understood the proposition and promised to make a very savoury lunch with lots of enticing smells.
Meanwhile the floating village, manned with only a skeleton crew and all the children aboard under Mary's and Minna's supervision backed further off. It was hard to defend, not stable and too valuable with all the plants and goods to risk in a fight.
All able-bodied found something that could be used as a weapon, Lots of ropes were put at the ready for tying up of prisoners and Sarah and Fred Timberley readied a first aid station in the front of the plane.
"How come you speak Polish?" Allan asked.
"I don't speak it very well," Eva said. "My maiden name was Nowak. My grandfather was from Poland, and as I told yesterday, I have spent several holidays here skiing and hiking."
"Great," Tom said. "Could you please dress in something white and green. You're to be our spokesman and interpreter. Our demands are these and not up for negotiation: We offer collaboration, a share of our meagre rations and a chance at a future. In return we need their labour and collaboration."
The boats were placed strategically in the waters facing the two mountain tops. As the smells of cooking drifted to the mountains, voices and noise could be heard. Eva stood in the boat nearest to the mountains, but could not catch but a single word here and there.
From the right mountain top, the one from which a single No! had been heard yesterday, an arrow came flying through the air. Eva jumped, and the arrow struck the railing instead of her legs. They prudently backed off some more. "Arrows!" Tom said. "That's a weapon to be weary of. Can you tell them that if they keep shooting we'll just leave?"
"Yes," Eva said and called out in Polish. The megaphone amplifying her words, making them roll between the mountains.
More tumultuous sounds could be heard from the hills, but no answer. They waited. Matthew and Granny T appeared in the plane door with baskets of food. One of the small boats rowed up and got the baskets, then they sailed round, distributing the food. Then two things happened simultaneously. The rain stopped and from the left mountaintop a young woman jumped into the water and came swimming towards the boats. Arrows from the right mountain top hit the water around her, forcing her into a zig-zag path. She was slow. And the power in her strokes became more and more feeble. She called out and began sinking. "She called for help." Eva said.
Hank rose and grabbed a rope. "Let me get her." he said and jumped in.
Arrows still hit the water, but fewer and farther between. "The bowman must realise that he's wasting his arrows," Eva said.
Hank reached the drowning lady and grabbed her dress. He tied the rope around her and turned her so that her head was clear of the water. James and John pulled mightily at the rope and slowly the lady was pulled to the boat. There was no reason to undress her, the wet dress clung to her emaciated body, hiding nothing. "Bring her aboard the plane and let our doctors look at her," Hank said to Robert, who rowed the food carrying small boat.
A commotion on top of the rightmost hill caught their eyes. A silhouette of a standing person could be seen against the mountainous backdrop, a thing rose in the air and with a yell the standing person slipped and fell down the side of the mountain. Allan, who had been watching the goings on through the binoculars yelled from the other boat: "Someone sneaked up behind the bowman and clubbed him over the head. The swing made him loose his balance, and they both fell into the water. Should we get closer?"
"Yes, But take care. First sight of trouble, you leave," Tom said. A yell in Polish was heard from the left mountaintop. Eva listened and translated: "They say: Their leader is down in the water, fighting another man. They ask for help. The leader is a bad .. a bad lady, I think, or a bad witch. They hope she's drowning." Eva shook her head and spoke in the megaphone in Polish. "I told them to surrender to us. If they say yes, what then?"
"Ask them to go down to the waters edge. Throw all weapons in the small boat, or on the mountainside. Strip down to underwear and swim here one or two at a time. We'll get them."
A loud voice rose in Polish from the right hilltop. "We have annulled the evil leader," Eva translated. "We wish to join you. She is dead."
Eva raised the megaphone once again and Tom could see the people going down and placing sticks and stones and makeshift clubs and weaponry on an outcropping boulder near the water. Then one after another they undressed and swam towards the other small boat rowed by Mona and Allison. Ben and Bengt stood over them brandishing hefty sticks.
"Ask them to go slowly," Tom said. "Only two at a time into the water. We won't be swarmed." And Eva conveyed his orders. The milling people on the shore seemed to understand, but many still undressed and was more than eager to get into the water. Soon the boat returned with two shivering people aboard. "We speak English!" A man yelled as soon as he was within hailing distance. "Fine. Can you swim on?" the man nodded, uncertain. And Tom continued: "Fine, swim to the plane. How many of you are there?"
"I don't know any longer," the man answered. "We were 40 to begin with, and 6 guides. But some have died. We're starving."
Aboard the plane Granny T served the wieliczkan people mugs of hot soup and pierogi with meat and chopped vegetables. They were all tied to a seat and George, Pete and some of the men from the plane stood at intervals armed with clubs and spears. They felt melodramatic, but necessity taught them to look tough. Slowly the plane filled. Ravenous mine and mountain people were dried, tied and fed, and Father Paul began talking to one of them.
Outside the trickle of refugees left off. Allan and his boat reached the right mountain from the side away from land and mountains. they looked up, the mountain was empty, no crevices or big rocks could be seen. They sailed along the bottom of the mountain and found a trail of blood leading down to the water's edge. They inched closer. Someone called from the other mountain, and Allan bade the others be on the look out while he put the binoculars to his eyes and looked at the yelling man. The man on the other mountaintop pointed to a point further along and made a chopping movement over his throat. Then he pointed higher, further on and held his hands in an attitude of prayer. Allan understood: "The dead one is a bit further along, and even further we will find the assailant in need of help. You still use all your ears and eyes, please. They followed the base of the mountain and sure enough., A woman lay in the water. No doubt that she was dead. A big hole in her head was still slowly oozing blood, and her face was under water. They gave her a wide berth. Another bit further along a bleeding, but still breathing woman lay in the water. One of her legs lay in an awkward angle, surely broken, wounds on arms and upper body spoke of her ungentle descent from the mountaintop. Allan spoke to her: "We're here to help you. Do you understand?"
"Elp, Pomoc!" the woman said and fainted.
"Get her in," Allan said and Susan and Janne, the young women, they had found in the fort, pulled her aboard, as gently as possible. All the rest of the crew were still at the lookout.
"The bow," Allan said. "I wonder where it is?"
"Still on the lady over there?" Michael, the boy from the fort guessed. They turned the boat and rowed back to the dead leader. She was dressed in black robes, many layers flowing and trailing from her body. Michael grasped her dress and pulled her to the railing. He tied her to it with a rope and then searched her. "Nope, no bow. Leave me here. I'll search this mountaintop for it."
"I don't like it," Allan said.
"Why not. I'm young and strong, not like these half starved ghosts here. Give me a club and I'll be able to hold my own against any of them."
Jane spoke up: "I go with him. I'm used to fighting, and all the rowing has made me strong."
"Two is better," Allan said. "But please, please be careful. Run away and swim - you're good at that too, luckily - at the least sign of danger. Promise?"
"Promise," the two repeated and got off the boat.
Quickly they rowed back to the plane and handed the wounded woman over to the crew aboard the plane. The dead leader was tied to one of the ropes hanging from the plane and they quickly went back for Janne and Michael. Tom was not happy with what they had done, but understood the need. "You can bring the clothes and weaponry back And anything else you find. Search the mountains and the land behind it. I'll send another boat your way soon. We have almost all aboard now."
It was not far and Allan and his crew rowed as if their life depended on their speed. Nothing untoward had happened, and Janne and Micael stood on the mountainside, carrying a bow, a bag and some clothing, When they pulled close, they saw that both Michael and Janne had cuts and bruises on arms and legs, and a man lay, bound and bandaged in a crevice nearby. A big box stood on another boulder.
"Arrows," Janne said pointing to the box. "You have a tale to tell," Alan said, "but it's got to wait."
They loaded the cargo and the wounded prisoner in the boat and Janne and Michael climbed aboard. They told that the man had lain behind a boulder waiting for them, but they were young, well fed and quick of mind and limb, so he had the worst of it. The bruises came from a fall, not from the fight with the man at all.
On the other mountaintop they gathered the clothes, a sorry, smelly bundle and Janne volunteered to search the top. Susan went with her and the boat waited until they returned with empty hands.
Meanwhile the other big boat had reached them and together they sailed the rest of the distance to the mountain range. A worn path led to a cave. Only broken implements, some half rotten fruits and a big, heavy iron pot were left in the cave. Allan put all the fruit into the pot and carried it with him. "Mary would not like me to leave anything that might grow, behind," he offered as explanation. They found a suitcase and some backpacks behind a boulder. They also found the fire, that had caught their eyes last night and the red shirt on a pole. They took all of it and carried everything down to the boats.
Allan, Mary and Mona volunteered to stay with the floating village. Ulla, Bo and their three children also joined them, as did Minna and George with his and Jill's children, Lil'George, Janet, Gregor and baby June.
Chapter 17 - Wieliczkan Aftermath
Back in the plane Tom stood in front of the rows of seats with the tied and sated wieliczkans in front of him. "How many of you speak English?" he asked. Ten of them raised their hands. "And German, French, Italian, other languages but Polish?" Eleven more raised their hands among those a pregnant woman. Eva asked, in Polish: "How many do only speak Polish," An elderly couple, three youngish men and two timid looking girls raised their hands. "And what about those two over there?" Tom asked, pointing to the tied and bandaged, but still unconscious man who had assaulted Janne and Michael and the woman who had killed the black-clad leader. The man who had swum all the way to the plane answered: "The woman speaks only Polish, she's Beata. She was one of the very few who always opposed Strega, our leader, later tyrant. The man is Italian, I think. He speaks a lot of languages badly. He was the Strega's right hand."
"Yes true that," the pregnant woman said. "I'm Bella, also Italian, but my job was to teach English literature at the university in Florence. He, Francesco, is an Italian, from somewhere North."
"Could you please tell what happened from an end?" Tom asked her. "And if anybody has something to add, raise your hand." Eva, ask the Polish-only people the same, write down, what they say and let's compare afterwards. Anyone else speaking the relevant languages, feel free to tackle the group of people you understand."
Father Paul said: "I'll take the Italians."
And Sally, who had kept much in the background since the plane and the floating village met, rose and said: "I have studied German for many years, let me take that group."
A game much like musical chairs ensued with the extra spice that all occupants of chairs had to be untied and then retied after finding a new place in their language group.
At long last even father Paul was done with the asking and writing and the interrogators sat around a table, reading aloud, clarifying, going back to their group to ask more questions. Granny T served coffee, this helped immensely on the general well being.
When the thirst for coffee had been somewhat slaked, Tom arose. "Time for a tale," he said. "I'll try to make it clear and slow for anyone to follow and to make it easy on the translators. Do not hesitate to stop or interrupt me, but please raise your hand to do so." He looked around and people nodded and grunted in agreement. Tom continued: "When the Wave hit, two groups of tourists were in the Wieliczka salt mine, one Polish-speaking group led by the guides Danuta, Tomasz and Lech; one English/Italian group led by Dana, Strega and Bob.
Dana and Bob both died in a cave in some days after the wave as did 5 tourists. This means that four guides and 35 tourists made it out of the mine. As they found their way to the surface, the rains had already begun, and they began the trek to the Tatry - that's those mountains here. They did not have much in the way of edibles, as the cafeteria in Wieliczka was above ground and all luggage, except from very small backpacks were discouraged in the mines. They hoped to find some wild animals in the mountains, as they supposed the disaster was only local. There's an atomic plant somewhere north of Kracau - or was, and they suspected that one to have blown up. Going south, to the mountains and the tourist towns there, seemed the logical solution. But as they reached the mountain range and all towns were nothing but brown dust they lost their courage. Without food, without anything but a crate of arrows and Strega's bow they were going to starve before help would ever get to them. A group went back to the mine and collected all they could find, but they were a long time returning. The mine was partially filled up with water and more cave ins made it dangerous there. On their return, Strega had taken leadership of the groups and kept them alive, doling out meagre rations of the collected food stuff. They had found the cave, then high up in the mountains, and settled there. Strega keeping the flock in tight reins with a mixture of threats and promises. Later Strega was discovered stuffing her head during the night, when she watched over the suitcase and its contents. Slowly they all became undernourished, famished even and only Strega and Francesco had the energy to keep on going. When they were too weak to do much, and Strega had gone mad at some point and forbade them to leave the cave, some, led by Beata planned a rebellion, but Strega had the bow, and her mesmerising personality. She bribed Fransesco with promises of sex and food to be her strong man, the rebellion petered out. Some days later she saw our plane and hatched a plan of luring us into the narrows between the two mountains and steal all our possessions, killing us off or taking us prisoners. When this misfired on behalf of our caution, they tried to talk Strega into surrender, but she said no. When our food smells reached them, Beata sneaked upon her, using that distraction and clubbed Strega over the head. And that broke her hold on the group. Only Francesco tried to revenge her," Tom ended the tale.
Danuta spoke: "What we do to Francesco now? And what to us all? We have very little clothes, no food, no nothing. What happen?"
Tom said: "All who wants to stay and to work together with us are welcome to stay. We promise nothing but hard work and a chance of survival. All here work, all do their part. You row a boat, you tend the greens, you feed the mice, you wash, repair, study languages, mathematics, anything ... and teach what you know. Those are the conditions." Eva, father Paul and Sally translated to 'their' language groups. The wieliczkans mostly nodded, some said yes, some were too confused or shocked to think straight.
Tom rose again: "Franceso is a problem. If we can trust him, he can stay. If not, he poses a danger to all of us. To survival even. We cannot keep him tied up, or sedated. We could leave him in the cave, but that would be an inhuman solution. How say you? Can he be trusted, or will he try something again?"
"Let me talk to him when he wakens," Father Paul said. "I am still a priest. We can hope this means something to him."
Beata was the first to awaken, she was given food and briefed by Danuta and Tomasz, her co-guide. Beata listened and then spoke quickly to them, looking embarrassed, anxious and uncomfortable. Danuta looked up. "She says she would want very much to join, but she will be of no help for long time, leg broken and her pregnant too. And she awfully sad for having killed a person, even Strega. She asks to be put into cave and abandoned." Danuta said, tears welling from her eyes. "She thinks she is bad person." Eva was listening as well, on the look out for sour notes and further information, but found nothing. Beata, that had been unconscious during much of the recounting of the happenings, and furthermore not close enough to the Polish group to have overheard what they said, gave once again the same story, only this time from a dissident's point of view.
"I think we have a cure for 'bad person'." Robert said. He was the one bringing round the food baskets with Lisa, his fiancée. "Father Paul, come over here. You're the expert on bad persons, aren't you?"
"As long as Sarah and Fred have worked their magic on that leg, I can try and mend the bad person," father Paul said with a reassuring smile. "But I'll need some peace and quiet. Not a highway as here."
"You can use the kitchen nook, if that's fine with you," Granny T offered. Robert carried Beata into the nook and father Paul and Danuta went in too and closed the door. Some times later father Paul came out, rummaged in his chest and brought forth a purple stole, which he kissed before placing it around his neck, and his brevier. After even more time he and Danuta left the kitchen nook together, leaving Beata alone for a spell out there.
In the meantime Hank and Tom had written everybody's names in the logbook, and had them put their signature next to it as a way of keeping them to their promises. When they had signed the ledger, they were freed from their ropes and set to work on washing and mending their clothes. Most of the wieliczkans did not have any spare clothes, and what they had were much in need of washing and mending. The rest of the afternoon the original survivors searched in their wardrobes for spare clothes that fit them. Most of them also bathed and washed thoroughly and looked much better in the evening. Much language learning also happened, Polish, Italian and German words for clothing flew through the air to be replaced with the English equivalent. Allan, Mary and the rest of the crew from the floating village came aboard and was told of the day's happenings. Allan dug up what Polish he remembered and helped a big man find fitting clothes from his own suitcase. Only Francesco did not partake in the general happy mess. He half sat, half lay, still tied to a plane seat, looking dour and angry. "He's having a bad attack of the envy," Father Paul explained to Allan, Mary and their children. "He thinks we have had it too easy. He won't accept our help, 'charity' he calls it and wants to fend for himself. Also I'm not certain he would not try to kill Tom, whom he sees as our leader, or all of us for that matter, and take over the plane. He needs to hear - and understand, really understand Mary's talk on interdependence. He's one tough nut, and I'm not sure we can crack him in time to do any good."
The evening meal was a boisterous affair with grace said in Latin by father Paul, for all to understand ... or not. It was a repetition of lunch, soup and pierogi, but tasty as always. Beata had been great for making of pierogi, a task where her broken leg did not hamper her. The long man in Allan's suit, hung the lamps in the windows, his long arms making it easy for him. The evening's story time was easy. Mary told the story of how she, Pete and their families had survived in the cellar and how they build the floating village and rescued people from cellars and dungeons. Eva, father Paul and Sally translating as best they could. She ended the story in the war museum: "Tomorrow Alan will tell his tale. Now it's time for sleep." The wieliczka people were split up in smaller groups, and assigned two 'guardians' or helpers, to teach them the ropes. It was an uneasy night. The village and planes people were used to the slight movements of their vessels, but the wieliczka refuges had been on solid ground, the many noises and movements made them ill at ease. Tom and Hank slept to each side of Francesco, with a rope round their wrists bound to him. But he slept through the night, still dazed from the clubbing over the head he had received from Janne and Michael and the sedation during the stitching up of the same.
In the morning the first thing to be done after the morning chores, was the burial of Strega. She was undressed washed and a thin rope weighed bu stones tied round her middle. Father Paul sad the relevant prayers with Beata, Robert and surprisingly Francesco holding the rope consigning her to her watery grave when father Paul spoke the final Amen, echoed by most of the gathered survivors.
After a short silence, they split up in four teams. Always double up the original numbers as compared to the Wieliczkans, keeping the language groups intact and friends and family together as well. The wieliczkans could not yet row, they were given the sounding off jobs, or just sitting in the boat with their 'guardians'. Breakfast was eaten in turns as the plane did not have room for that many seated comfortably at once.
They left the mountain range, going back the way they had come as far as necessary before going west to Goslar and the German high grounds where they had decided to settle.
Tom and Hank had had a miserable day tied to Francesco, they had been unable to do much, but setting the course. Danuta, who was still subdued after yesterday's translating duties suggested a small detour to another Polish salt mine, Bochnia, Tom asked her to show him on the map, and it was indeed only a small detour. "We'll go east instead of west, when we reach the right position south-north " Tom said. "Finding more people is more important than anything."
"Why?" Danuta asked.
"You better ask Mary," Tom said. "She has a way with words, and she made us all see it her way in the beginning."
"I will," Danuta said. "I'd think the less people to share the foodstuff the better."
That evening after Allan's story of the plane flight and the ensuing events until the meeting on Møn, the word was free. Granny T rose, looking worried: "When we left Allan's Dunes we had enough to eat for four months. Then we met the floating village and their supplies were abundant, putting the estimate at nearer to five or six months with slim rations. Now, in one swoop we have added half again the number of inhabitants to our number, and thus reduced the time our supplies are good for. I'm not that good at maths," Granny T said, "but subtracting the 40 days we have already been underway, and then divide by three and multiply by two ... that means we'll run out of edibles in 2 and a half months and not almost 4 from today. Am I right?"
"Yes your maths are sound," Pete said seconded by Jill, "but," Pete continued, "we have sailed faster than we estimated, the rains have almost stopped and more people mean more speed. When they get their muscles back."
"Which also mean to feed them better," Granny T said, managing to smile despite her worried looks. "More proteins, more fats. We're going to live on beans and cabbage for some days now."
"Listen to her," Robert said, "You've better start training tomorrow to keep on the good side of Granny T here."
Fred and Sarah looked at one another, Fred rose: "Not tomorrow, nor the day after. You were all malnourished and we need your metabolism to normalise before you begin training. Walk or swim slowly a lot, don't sit too much. Drink lots of water and sweet tea." He turned to Granny T: "We won't run out of sugar anytime soon, I hope."
"No," she said shaking her head. "We'll do. If they need it, they'll have it!"
"And still, knowing these numbers, you agreed to sailing to Bochnia to look for even more people?" Danuta said and turned to Mary. "Mary, Tom said you could explain this better than him, please do!"
Mary rose, a bit red in the face. "Long ago. The evening we had all met on the white cliffs of Møn, we had a discussion of where to go and what to do. We all agreed in going south for longer summers and warmer climate, but when it came to how to build our community, we disagreed. I then, as now, speak for a close network of small villages, say ten families to each in a circle around a "town". Town here not necessarily being bigger, but with a church," she bowed in father Paul's direction, "a school for higher learning, and advanced industry. I know, we all know if we stop to think about it, that mankind is nothing special if we remove the language, the ability to pass on knowledge." She estoppel to let this sink in and giving the translators a chance to catch up, and many wieliczkans nodded, looking thoughtful. Mary continued when everybody looked at her again, making her feel fidgety: "I then told a story of some refugees I taught. Their grandparents were smart ones, businessmen, politicians, skilled artisans and so on. Well read, speaking several languages. Then came the war. Their parents were still civilized, good people, but not as well educated as their parents ..."
"Education is not everything," one of the wieliczkans interrupted.
"No it's not, and that's not my point either. Bear with me for a short while longer. But the children, who had been born during the war, spent their first 10 up to 14 years in the war zone, fighting for survival, on the run, hiding, scavenging. and so on ... they were different. They had come to Denmark, they went to school, learned Danish, maths and so on. Most of them had good notes, were able to go on in the school system. But they lacked something. I arranged a trip to the forest. Many of those teens did not want to come. As I asked them why not, they were afraid of dangerous animals in the woods. At first I smiled, and told them that vipers, wasps and ticks were the worst they would meet. But I was met with similar incidents too often, lack of basic knowledge, lack of trust, lack of ... you might call it common sense and curiosity. Children need time to learn, to play, to be bored even. And they won't have that if we do not have a surplus of manpower. If we're not enough to get over critical mass. And no, I do not know how many is critical mass. That's why we're zig-zagging our way through Europe, looking for people in likely and unlikely places. That's why Tom did not hesitate to go on a wild goose chase for Bochnia tomorrow. None of us would hesitate."
Hetty brought the evening tea, today only tea, no cakes, It was drunk in an unusual silence. The wieliczkans were quiet, and the plane and village people knew better than to intrude.
Surprisingly Francesco broke the silence. "I have been suspicious ever since we met," he said by way of introduction, in heavily accented English. "I have been looking for your hidden agenda, for the barb beneath your cute words, your kindness and trusting behaviour. I saw Hank putting away the bow and the crate of arrows, but hanging the key in plain view. I have seen your kitchen, your food stash. I have seen your planting facilities. You have been open, to naivety, maybe over. I could not understand. I'm still not sure I understand."
"We are compulsively sharing," Tom said laughing. "Mary has taught us well."
"And still you do not trust me. I do understand. I'm not a very trustworthy person. And I am a thing that hinders your going forth - I miss a word?"
"A drag on us?" Tom supplied. "Yes you are, and a sourly one at that," he smiled to lessen the impact of his words.
"I thought you had had an easy life after the desastro. But I see your struggle at the Allan Dunes. your knowing what had happened. Your aloneness. Yet I still not trust."
"You will work tomorrow." "Tom said. Tomorrow we go people hunting in Bochnia and you're rowing alongside me."
That ended the meeting. But the night brought many whispered conversations and telling of stories.
Next day they turned east instead of west a couple of hours after dawn. The village again manned with as few as possible kept at long distance from the plane. The manoeuvrability of the floating huts were not great and the incident in Wieliczka had taught them even more caution. Almost everyone were distributed in the boats to keep the time for changing of oarsmen at a minimum. The smallest boat taxied to and fro between plane, the pulling boats and the village bringing snacks, tea, cold water, even lunch so that progress could be as fast as possible. True to his words Tom manned an ore in one of the rowing boats, and had Francesco take the other at his side. Francecso was rather fit for a Wieliczkan, but he was soon sweating and groaning softly, favouring his left hand in the strokes. After an hour Tom had pity with him and called for replacement. Hank and Mona at the next pair of oars kept on rowing but Robert and Cordelia took the oars from Tom and Francesco.
"Now undress," Tom said. "It's time for a swim."
"What!" Francesco said. "Swim!" I''m exhausted, I'm hungry and hurting all over."
"Yes," Tom said, "and your hands are filled with blisters. We need limbering and a washing off. you did not wash yesterday. Get in!"
Francesco understood that Tom meant it, and were not going to relent. Still tied to one another, but by a long rope they swam in only underwear. Then they hung in a rope washing and splashing in the lukewarm waters. "Mary made this soap," Tom said. "Soon we'll have no more until she figures out how to make more. Now wash your shirt and trousers. You'll have to borrow some of Hank's while they dry."
Francesco scrubbed and scrubbed, wincing as the coarse fabric raised even more blisters on his sore hands and the soap got into them. Finally they were clean and together they wrung the pants. Inside the plane the clothes were hung on a line in the tail end of the plane, and Hank came with towels for both and some clothes for Francesco. They dressed and until lunch Tom planned the course and checked the plane with Francesco either sitting on a chair nearby or trailing after. He ate a normal ration for lunch, and emptied three mugs of hot, sweet tea in a very short time.
After lunch work began anew. Tom rowed one of the small boats with Mona to the floating village. There they put stakes to the runner beans and watered the sunflowers and the flax. "They need to be planted in something bigger," Mona said, "But everywhere plants are growing. We need land."
"Yes we need land. We also need more people. One more week. Then we settle," Tom said, he felt cramped, same as the plants, but sympathy with plants and people alike did nothing to change the need for more people, which Mary's words had instilled inside their brains.
"One more week," Mona said. "I just hope we find someone in that place or in Goslar."
When the sun was at its highest Tom measured the height with the sextant and compared to the map. "We should be there in less than an hour," he announced. "Everybody keep a lookout for anything at all!"
Once again the rowers and lead line throwers changed places. Francesco had the lead line in Tom's boat with Tom, Hank, Mona and Robert rowing. Danuta stood in Tom's boat and Thomas and Lech in the other, where Allan sat with the megaphone in the stern.
All clear the two lead liners called in a monotone rhythm. And then "Bottom here" from first Allison in the other big boat and then from Francesco in Tom's boat. It got more and more shallow and then deeper again. "That was the mine, I suppose," Tom said. "We found something like it in Wieliczka."
"Yes all the non-salt, dug out from the mine made a mound outside," Francesco said. Danuta added: "Yes, that's true. And the hill in Bochnia was larger, more not-salt down there I think, and that mine actually older."
"But not a trace of people here," Hank said. "Where would they have gone?"
"We could not know. The Tatry are not visible from here, They go a bit south, and we are more to the north. Not much, but enough," Danuta said.
"We need not go any further," Francesco said sounding both sad and disgusted.
Tom stood up and saw what Francesco had seen. A row of bodies, kept together by a rope lay in the water, gently swaying as so many strange boats.
"Row away!" Sarah called from the other boat. "If some disease got them they could still contaminate us"
"Turn left," she said, and all rowers to the right stopped rowing, lifting their oars. The boats and the plane swung in a wide arc, clearing the connected bodies by only a few metres."Keep rowing," Sarah called, and they all did. The lookout crews sat down and the plane sped on to the west, away from the grisly scene. Allan alerted the village by means of the megaphone, and they too swung left.
That evening Tom, and thus Francesco were kitchen slaves. They peeled potatoes, grated carrots carried water to the tables and did the dishes, twice and then put everything away together with the other whose turn it was. "You do everything?" Francesco asked.
"Yes," Tom said. "We're compulsively sharing as I said. Nothing should be a secret. I can plot a course. What if I fall ill, or meet an accident. I teach everyone wanting to learn, and also most not wanting to. Mona teaches farming and plant lore, Sarah and Fred are our medicine men, they teach that, assisted by Pete, who was a health freak. And so on. Tomorrow you join classes, as today was my - and your - work day."
"Tomorrow we go on to Goslar, and then south," Tom said that evening as they once again sat in the plane. "The inspection of the plane today showed everything OK, but the added weight of the Wieliczkans are stressing the outriggers and the caulking."
"We should all go the the floating village, then," Danuta said.
"Nope," Ben said. "It is also feeling the strain. Maybe even more so than the plane. We have been sailing for much longer than we counted on when we set out. Next time we see a gently sloping mountain, I suggest pulling in there and making some repairs."
"For how long do you reckon the village will hold together?"
"A week at most. With some repairs, double that time."
"I was a building man too," the big man, said. "I can help inspecting tomorrow."
"Why did you not say so today?" Ben said.
"Now everybody raise and present yourself. Name, former occupation, hobbies, living family members. All you think could be of relevance for our survival," Allan said. "As Tom here has said several times, we are compulsively sharing."
"They all did as suggested, and several of the Wieliczkans were miners, farmers, stonemasons, dressmakers, or had practical hobbies. They looked to turn into an asset much like Mary hoped.
After morning chores were done and the plane and village once again deemed seaworthy, Tom and Francesco went off to the most solid hut of the floating village. This was where their education were going on to distribute the load of passengers.
Francesco protested Tom's choice of educational subject, and was put together with father Paul, in a group of mixed origin, discussing mining, smelting, smithing and metals.
"We can't do much practical smithing while sailing, but we can talk," A stocky wielickan said. When we land, we can mine. We can dig for metals."
The discussion turned to fires, scarcity of wood, and shovels and lots of other subjects. Francesco was very quiet, listening, not talking but for an occasional grunt or nod. In the end Bengt, the Swede, lost patience with him. "You just sit there, grunting. Yesterday you said next to nothing when we told who we were and so on. How much do you know of mining and such? Why don't you speak up?"
"Discretion is not one of your biggest virtues, Bengt," father Paul said with a frown. "But now the cat is out of the bag." He turned to Francesco: "How do you say? Do you want to share, or ...?"
"Padre," Francesco said. "Can I talk to you alone, away from everybody?"
"Of course you can, Francesco. We can use one of the smaller boats." Fa Paul said. "May we be excused?"
Father Paul and Francesco climbed into the boat, and Father Paul asked Francesco to row to what he found a suitable distance.
"I am in an awful situation, father." Francisco said. "I have seen and heard much good here, but I still believe that no matter what I do, people will still be wary of me for a long time to come. The people from the mine have surely told everybody who wanted to know about how I helped Strega gain her power and how I was cruel to everybody not heeding her every word. Even in the end, when she showed herself as a selfish fraud, I stood behind her. All the way. I was stupid, naive even to believe her promises of a golden future and wild orgies and .. everything a healthy person could dream of. But that's the exact thing ... you would not understand!" Francesco's voice turned into a whine and he rose, pulling one of the big kitchen knifes from somewhere in his clothes. "You're a sissy, an excuse for a man, you play it big ... You pamper to peoples' feelings of unrest and blackness. You thrive upon their "sins", their lust and passions!" Francesco's voice was a hoarse whisper.
Father Paul bend his head and started praying inside. He was not afraid of death, but he felt stupid for having let Francesco overcome him so easily. He repeated mumbled the words of Jesus on the cross: "Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does!" He felt more than saw the knife descending, and then he heard a strange twanging, singing noise and Francesco collapsed over him. The big knife fell rattling to the bottom of the boat. Father Paul raised his head and looked around. All boats, windows, doors and plane windows were filled with faces looking at him, big-eyed and white in the sunlight. In the door to the plane Eva stood, bow in hand and a row of arrows planted in front of her.
Father Paul lifted Francesco down from his back and placed him in the boat. The arrow had gone into the small of his back. probably piercing a lung. Francesco's breathing was laboured, a trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth.
"I forgive you!" Father Paul said simply, tracing the sign of the cross over the dying man. Francesco raised his head, tried to focus, and slowly his hand crept to his forehead, then down, then from shoulder to shoulder, and fell limply to the side. Father Paul hid his face in his hands, crying or praying, or both.
After a short while, he grasped the oars and rowed back to the floating village.
"You never told that you hunted with bow and arrow," Father Paul said to Eva as she too reached the floating village.
"No it was not relevant," Eva answered, still shaking with the reaction. "Until yesterday we had no weapon of any kind, and for that matter no game to hunt for. I hope we never will have either!" she said miserably and sat down, hiding her face with one hand.
"Thank you for saving my life," father Paul said. "It might not be the best possible thing to say," he said shaking his head, "but I need to say it."
"And I need to hear it," Eva said in a very subdued voice. "I was so afraid, afraid of hitting you, afraid of missing, afraid of killing him, afraid I was doing the wrong thing, but also afraid not doing anything," she said and began crying in earnest.
Robert ran to her: "You did the right thing, Eva, He was a bad egg, and he was about to kill father Paul," Robert said his voice breaking as well. "We need him, we need you."
"And we might even have needed Francesco," Mary said. "But you did what had to be done, and you were the only one able to do it." Mary pulled a big knife from her skirt. "I was about to swim out there with this one," she said, sounding disgusted.
"And I was looking for that infamous bat of mine," Robert admitted. "Where did you hide it, Padre?" He said, looking at Father Paul.
The big man from the mine, who was still wearing Allan's shirt, placed two largish knives on the table: "I was about to throw these at him. I worked in a circus as a knife-thrower once."
Father Paul shook his head. "I thought we were a peaceful and reasonable crew here," he said. Once again his mental balance had been restored, "But we seem a rather bloodthirsty bunch."
"When our priest is in danger," Tom said and gave Robert the bat. "Here it is," he said with a bow.
"Let's put all these tools of death back where they belong, and then give Francesco a decent burial," Father Paul said.
Tom spoke to everybody the next morning: "We are set on the right course to the mine-museum in Goslar. It was, and still is situated at the foot of the Harzer mountains. The Rammelsberg, under which the mine was situated, is with its 635 metres tall enough to push through the waters even now at their highest, but it would be rather an isolated top. We'll start looking there of course, but if there's nobody there then what?"
Allison and Allan rose simultaneously. "Yes?" Tom said. "Allison, I think you were first, go on, speak."
"There's caves nearby, what more is large cave complexes with entrances above water even now, and some of those caves were ... I hope the right word is "ARE" inhabited by fabulous creatures, the olms!"
Allan said: "The nearest cave is surely the dripstone caves in Iberg. I would think that the People from Goslar would go there. As far as I remember, you should be able to walk there, at least if you set out some time ago. Now the lower parts of the path will probably be inundated. I think we could do much worse than going there. The climate will be mild, and caves, both Iberg and Herrmanscave - the one with the olms and its neighbouring Baumann, I think it's called, would give us somewhere to live until trees can grow and we again can build houses.
"I protest!" Allison said. "Nobody should be allowed to live in Herrmanscave. Those olms are strange creatures, if they still live. They are very sensitive to pollution and loud noises. We should leave them alone ... after ascertaining that they still are there and put eventual flooded specimens back in. Also it's cold. It's really not fit for human beings in there, the thermometer staying at around 8 degrees Celsius at any time."
"We have a job, I see" Tom said. Let's see, Allan and Allison, come here, help me find those places on the map and show everyone.
"It looks good," Tom said. "The distance to the cave from Rammelsberg, which we will reach around noon, is not more than 15 kilometres. The two other caves are to the east," he pointed to the map, which Allan and Allison held up. "Here, maybe 45 kilometres east and a bit south. But the big mountains, among these the well known Brocken lies in between, going there by sailing around would be the obvious choice."
"Actually," Allan said, "those mountains are riddled with caves and hollows. I would not be surprised if we were able to find more people if we looked around."
Mona rose: "But finding all these people will do us no good if we do not land somewhere soon and get to growing plants for all to eat. I'd like us to go to Iberg and start a farm on the slopes and flat parts to the west."
"We are pressed for time on both accounts," Mostly in the people's department, Mary said. Today is, believe it or not, only the 15th of April. Time enough for growing. But if those places were just somewhat like Wielicka with above ground cafeteria and so on, people will be starving, if not dead from hunger already. It would be pure wickedness not to go searching as fast as possible."
"I had forgotten, Mona said. "The Wave made the temperature rise, we have experienced a lot in those short weeks since. It feels like years instead of months. But it does not eliminate the need to transplant the plants in the cockpit."
We can convert most of the village huts to plants, at least all outside spaces. And we can do this while still sailing. Boats and hands we do not lack!" Mary said emphatically.
"But first, let's hurry on to Goslar," Tom said.
The big boats in front of the village, and the medium ones in front of the plane were again manned with the smaller boats trailing form the plane. Ropes connected all huts, and the plane, criss-crossing so that even the timid ones dared brave the open water in between.
Soon islands were seen in the water and once again line throwers were placed in all boats. The going got slower.
"This is dumb." Jan, the big man from Wieliczka said, and continued in Polish. "He suggests we split up, anchoring village and plane here, and then rowing all but the two small boats there with strong people, and dare I suggest Eva and that bow?"
"It's the need for haste versus the need for security," Allan summed up. But then again, If we run aground here, there's no telling how long it'll take us to get seaworthy again."
"We had good luck with sending out small groups," Mary said simply. "We had torches and flagpoles, Pete and George made it to Elsinore, over the Sund to Helsingborg and back to us again with the boats and Astrid and Bengt. That's double the distance or more, I think, than the distance from Goslar to Iberg. And we have boats now."
"Yes, well, should we vote?" Allan asked.
Everybody was asked aboard the plane, carefully, distributing the weight as per Tom and Hank's commands. Then first Tom, then Allan, Jan - translated by Danuta, Mona and Mary repeated their arguments and embellished upon them for all to hear. Then Allan suggested a vote again. "All in favour of splitting up raise your hands!"
Almost everybody did so. "And those against!" Only 6 people were against. Five of those were wieliczkans. One of them, a lady spoke and Danuta translated: "They say to not go alone. Be afraid of ambushes like the one they staged."
"I think," Mary said, "that we need be more afraid of people dying than ambushing us. How would you have looked today?" she asked, looking at the woman who had objected. After Danuta's translation of the question, she slowly nodded.
"For how long can a person survive without food?" Mary asked.
Fred answered. "Approximately 40 days, depending on how fat you are and other variables. Not walking and keeping warm would be essential. I'd say that if we find survivors in caves around here, they will pose not threat to us."
The floating village and the plane anchored at the Rammelsberg. At least Tom said that the north-south coordinates were absolutely correct for Rammelsberg, ergo he concluded that this was where they were. They could see mountains rising to the south and east, and not so tall hills south and west; totally in accordance with what would be expected.
The boats were manned with rowers, reserves and what Allan called soldiers. Eva with bow and arrows, Robert with that bat of his, Jacek, the big knifethrower with selected knives, and so on. Also in the boats were lots of food, blankets, first aid things and hot soup in the thermos. Two small boats trailed in ropes after the bigger ones.
"We can manage with only three boats here," Mary said. "Just hurry up. The sun will set at 7 tonight. We'll keep a small fire going from before sunset and until after dawn," she added. "But I sure hope to see yo before then."
"Almost seven hours," Tom said. "We should be back before nightfall."
The people left at Rammelsberg did not just sit down and wait. They had everybody moving, potting, watering and transplanting seedlings from the cockpit to every free space on the floating village, and then the shelves "Hanging gardens" someone remarked, were filled up with new earth and seeds, this time selecting the plants that needed longer days and more heat.
Inside the plane Sarah was readying pallets and medical things with the help of Granny T and the older children. The two timid Polish girls came over. They were both nurses in training, best friends and eager to help and learn. They repeated all the names of things in English, and Janet and the four children from Castle Kronborg had the wonderful experience of being able to teach someone knowing less than themselves and eager to learn.
When the first aid quarter was almost done, one of the young girls slowly and hesitantly spoke up: "We need move beds. They be ill, maybe. Isolating?"
"Hanna, you're a genius!" Sarah said. "Yes we move. Move to a hut in the village. Let's do!" And Janet, Lil'George, the four from Kronborg, and even Gregor and his best friends, the twins Adam and Benny helped carry pallets, glasses and water bottles and medical things to the plane door where Hanna and Zofia handed them down to Sarah, standing in the boat.
Mary, helped by Astrid and Bengt the Swedish couple, evacuated one of the smaller floating huts and moved some plants so that it would be convenient to carry people aboard on stretchers. "How many do you think they will be bringing back, if any at all" Mary asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Sarah answered, "I hope they find some alive, but I fear no more than 20. Those caves are normally not just walk in-places, you go in in groups, led by guides. Most of those groups are 20, like in Wieliczka" Hanna and Zofia nodded. "We did 20," Zofia said smiling. "And they have to be deep inside to survive. Maybe two lucky groups. By now the old, and the weak will have died. Half left is a good guess."
Some time before sunset Mary, who were keeping watch at the top of Rammelsberg building a small fire, binoculars at the ready, spied the returning boats. She started waving the flag and calling out. Bengt came running over, bringing the megaphone and a fire brand.
"No need for fire," Mary said, "but please call them, they seem to be a bit off course."
Two of the boats could be seen splitting off from the group and turning towards Rammeslberg, the other three continued towards the east.
"They are going to Herrmannscave," Mary guessed. "I fear to hear what they found in the Iberg caves."
Mary's fear was justified. They walked back to the plane in time to show the two boats to the readied hospital hut.
In the boat lay eleven human forms, swaddled in blankets and every piece of clothing that could be expended from the rowers. They were thin, weak, unable to even sit, with big, shining eyes.
"Don't even try to speak," Sarah said. "We'll take care of you." They were carefully carried to the cots in the hospital hut and Sarah, Zofia and Hanna stayed with them. Granny T filled the thermos with new, hot soup and everybody carried blankets and spare clothes to the boats. "We're leaving again immediately," Tom said. "Every minute counts for people as hungry as these."
Mona, Matthew, Lisa and Cordelia was asked to take over in the rowing team and John, James, Pete and Sally gave up their spots to the fresh rowers.
The people left in Rammeslberg gathered in the plane. Pete spoke slowly, softly: "It was terrible. They just lay there, in the opening of the cave in the sparse sunshine. Dead and living among one another. Holding hands. Not reacting, not speaking. I think they thought we were hallucinations. We had to check all of them for signs of life, and some even died as we touched them. Some of the bodies had missing parts, But we found no fires, and it seems that the raw meat had not agreed with them." He shook his head. "I think this is all I need to tell of that cave. If we go there, we'll have to send a clean up squad ahead. We decided to split up with the strongest hurrying on to Hermanns and Baumanns caves. And the other two boats getting those people here and then stocking up on everything they could think of and have young fresh people rowing to catch up. They will be rowing as fast as humanly possible, and we should expect to see them again tomorrow. Keep a lookout and have the fire burning at all time. I'll take the first turn up there," Pete ended.
"Not until you've eaten, you won't!" Granny T said, and led Pete into the kitchen nook.
"I go," Bengt said simply, and patted Pete's shoulder awkwardly. The square, reliable Swede was on his way before Pete even reacted.
Mary found some stones stowed in the sides as ballast and heated theme and swaddled them in soft rags. She filled a basket of these and rowed to the sick hut. Hannah received her with thanks. "Those poor people. They have used up all their energy just staying alive. Keeping them warm and feed them soup and sweet tea by the spoonful is all we can do. And then hope and pray of course. And, Mary, could you ask for someone speaking German, I have to tell them so that they understand ... deep inside that they are safe now."
Mary hung a big hunk of her best soap on a rope outside the sick hut. "And you use it!" she said to Hannah and her team. "We'll need no viruses or whatever going around!" Then she rowed back and repeated Hanna's request. One of the young men called Adam from Wieliczka arose and said that he spoke German. "Even if my English is not very good, my German is," he said.
"As long as you understand English well enough to repeat what Hannah tells you," Mary said with relief.
"I'll go there as well," father Paul said. "My German may not be much, but I can pray!" Father Paul rowed the boat for the short distance, then they disappeared into the hut.
"We have to make another hut ready for reception of possible people from those two other mines," Mary said simply.
"We prepared 20 cots. Eleven are now occupied, How many more do we need?" Ulla said.
"I don't know," Mary said. "But I'd rather have 100 too many than one too few when they return."
They agreed upon evacuating and readying two more huts, making room for 60 people in all.
"I can't make up my mind whether I hope to fill those beds up or not," Granny T said. "We're running low of foods too fast for my liking, and those ones too will need high fat and protein foodstuff. We need a cow! This all was never thought for so many, so hungry people."
Pete came to her aid. "I saw a big bag of chickpeas in the store room the other day. We can make some sort of nut-mash with those. It won't be tasty, but if we add oil, sugar and ground up vitamin supplements it will pump them back up in next to no time. As soon as they can eat, they should be given 6 spoonfuls a day. I'll prepare some, and then go to the huts with it."
Minna looked lovingly at her husband: "Do you remember what I said about him being a health freak," he said to Mary. "This is so much him."
Hannah, Zofia and Sarah set a schedule for the care of the famished people from Iber. Always one of the three at attendance, and Hannah sleeping in the small hut next to the sick hut. Father Paul sat on a chair in the sick hut, praying or softly singing until he almost fell from the chair and Hannah ordered him to lie down on one of the empty pallets. "You're no help to anybody if you fall over from sheer lack of sleep!" she said in a half mocking tone.
Father Paul meekly obeyed, sleeping with one eye open and always ready for a comforting word or a short prayer.
In the morning all eleven were still alive. Ten of them seeming to grow stronger, but one very fragile looking man with a moustache kept getting weaker and more translucent with each passing hour.
Father Paul walked over to him and took his hand. "I know you're told not to speak," he said in faltering German. "But listen, you can do!" The man nodded once. "I am a priest. And I am telling you that we all need you here. Not in Heaven! You are not alone any more. You will not be left alone. I sit here. I stay!" Father Paul knew the Lord's prayer in a multitude of languages, his only hobby, he once told Allan was collecting prayers in foreign languages. And now he prayed this prayer over and over again, dozing and praying all day. The man with the moustache still lived as the sun set. Father Paul heard the commotion as the other boats returned, but he stayed at the man's side, fed him soup and tea with a drop of whiskey and prayed and sung. All through the night father Paul held his hand, eating and drinking one-handedly, even peeing in a bucket with a blanket round him for privacy. Next morning the man looked better, his skin had lost its paper white translucency and he slept peacefully.
"Father, you worked a miracle there," Hannah said. "The other boat have brought 13 living dead back. They are a bit better off. Tom says Allison is livid. They seem to have slaughtered and eaten all the colourless olms in that cave in order to to survive."
"No problem!" the man with the moustache whispered.
"Don't speak," Hannah said automatically, but father Paul asked: "Why is it not a problem that they ate the probably last animals on earth?" The man tried to swallow, and father Paul fed him more lukewarm tea. He got several teaspoons inside before whispering: "All males."
"The olms in that cave were all males?" father Paul said and the man nodded and fell asleep. "Hannah, will you please go and tell Allison that those strange creatures might have saved the life of 13 people, and that they were not destined for survival anyhow. What a story!" father Paul said with a soft but hearty laughter.
Ending - Father Paul's Quandary
Some years later the settlement was growing and the mouse farm was finally thriving. An expedition, looking for more people, had also found more mice in an old cave somewhere nearby. Before this happened, the mice were getting steadily more inbred, and Mona had been on the verge of killing them off when the winter's expedition returned home with their catch. All week after their homecoming of the expedition Father Paul had not been his normal, equanimous self.
As the week ended, they held their habitual Saturday evening meeting, as they did every Saturday after dinner. Everybody met in the common hut. There grudges were settled, disputes ended or postponed until a solution could be found. Next day was Sunday, and a day of resting and feasting as far as possible. Every Sunday Father Paul also celebrated mass for all who cared to participate, and more and more people came for mass. Father Paul liberally spent holy communion to those wanting it, only asking that people believed that Christ was actually present in bread and wine and not being knowingly at odds with anyone, God or human alike. This was unlikely after the Saturday meeting; and father Paul himself was always available for a talk or for confession.
But on that Saturday evening's meeting father Paul brought himself up as a subject. "I've been thinking," he said. "What with the mice and all that other gene-pool stuff. I feel I'm somehow cheating out by not marrying and begetting children of my own." He looked round on all present. "I mean, I'm not related to anybody here, as far as I know at least, and I wonder whether I am not just being selfish for not adding my genes to the pool?"
"Do you want to marry, Father?" Mary asked.
"No way," father Paul answered quickly. "I neither feel alone, nor lonely. And the thought of living with a woman, getting to know her in the biblical sense and most of all: Never being able to celebrate the mysteries of Mass again, makes me go all cold inside and my stomach heavy as lead. It's not that; it is pure 'should I be allowed to deprive the gene pool of my genes' that is the question. I'm not in the least unsure of my calling."
"And neither are we, really." Tom said. "Your being our priest, and by 'our' I mean a priest for all of us, has meant a great deal for the sanity of this settlement. 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek' Those words suit you perfectly."
Allan rose, shyly for once. "Ever since the Wave, you have been The Priest. Our priest. Genes, gene pools and future generations' survivability is not all there is to life. Mental stability, rituals and the things that transcendent reality matter as well. I'm not a man of big words but I'll try to explain ... When someone dies, I kneel here, in this place. ... I think I speak for many of us now ... I kneel here and I look at my hands, at Mary's hands, at the hands of all us old geezers. Big, gnarled hands, scarred, rough, made for work, made for doing. But in front of death there is no doing, only silence. I want to be somewhere else doing something, lugging stones, chopping down trees, digging ... everywhere else but here, kneeling, waiting, silent ... I feel my impotence in the presence of death. But then you are here as well, with that tiny altar of yours, with your worn paraments, and with my best Zinfandel." Allan smiled despite his seriousity. "With rituals, prayers, words as old as time itself. And then I feel, despite my despair and impotence, that I am where I need to be. Not that I feel at ease. I'd still run, given the option. But somehow some way ... there's a meaning behind all we are and do."
"I think this was your answer." Tom said. "We are all your children. But if yo wish, we'll hold an election?" Father Paul nodded, unable to speak. "You know the drill. All go to the lectern one by one," Tom continued, "on a slip of paper you write 'Marry' or 'Priest' or a doodle if you abstain. Robert, please put up the bowl.
Robert placed a big, lidded bowl next to the lectern and took off the lid. One by one all adult members of the community went to the lectern, took a slip of paper, wrote a word, folded it and dropped it into the bowl. Tom pointed at Astrid: "Astrid, please shake the bowl." Bothered by her arm, that never became as good as new after the accident which spared the life of her and her husband Bengt when the Wave passed, she placed the lid back over the bowl and shook it. Then she placed it on the lectern and sat down. Tom looked in his list: Mona, you're counting today. Mona went up, took off the lid and picked the slips of paper up one by one, Reading aloud, she sorted them in neat stacks in front of her:" "Priest." Mona read aloud 15 times in a row, then two Abstains then more Priests, one Marry, three more abstains, and then Priest ... Priest ... Priest ... until the bowl was empty. "I think there's no reason to count the votes," Mona said. "Father Paul, you are our priest, now and forever!"
"And now, Tom said, "As the chairman of today's meeting I declare the meeting for ended. Communal cake will be served shortly."
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