It used to rain a lot out here. Not as much as some places, but enough that we kinda earned a reputation for it. They would joke that summer didn’t officially start until the Fourth of July because before then it would be in the 60s and raining.
The 60s sound downright frigid now. And rain…let’s see…it rained last December. Early in the month sometime. It’s hard to keep track of dates these days.
It used to be green around here too, green and beautiful. The hills had these huge forests all over them, and the downtown buildings stuck up between them like silver pillars. On those nice, sunny days—you know, the ones you treasured because they were so damn rare, if you can believe it—on those days, the city looked like something out of the future.
Well, the future as we’d hoped it would be. Exactly the opposite of what we got.
I guess I should say why I’m recording this. Power’s been out for years, obviously, with the rivers too low to run the dams. Before that we were using the Internet to try to get aid, but it was bad everywhere. There wasn’t any aid to send. Around August of the third really bad year, the weather forecasters just quit posting their predictions because there hadn’t been any change to predict. All those websites just said “help.”
Anyway, some folks had their own generators, so here and there you could get Internet if you needed to know something specific, or if you hadn’t yet given up on contacting loved ones. But the news just kept getting worse and worse from all corners of the world. Finally, a year and half ago I suppose, even the folks with generators couldn’t get online anymore. The weirdest part was no one seemed to know why. You’d think with all that information that’d been careening around for so many years, we’d be able to figure out why the world had ended, but all we got were wild rumors about aliens and liberals and nukes.
I guess the truly weird part was that we didn’t mind not knowing. What difference would it make? Still no water.
Christ, it’s hot.
There used to be huge forests out in the mountains between the city and the coast. I haven’t been out there to see if they’re still standing, but I can guess. I know for a fact the farmland’s still out there, both because I can still see it on clear days and because that’s where I got run out of.
I haven’t thought about those people in a while: maniacs claiming to promote “freedom”—those are finger quotes there, listeners—loaded with crates and crates of ammo and rifles but not enough water to drown a fly. No farming knowledge either. Good riddance. That land must be looking real bad by now. They chased me out nearly two years ago and even then it was turning yellow. Well, some fields are always yellow, but they’re still green, you know? Still alive.
Oh yeah, the tape. So there’s no more Internet, no planes, hardly any cars or trucks…none that can be trusted to transport stuff, anyway. Paper’s mostly used up. Still loads of batteries lying around, though, and if they aren’t too corroded they mostly still work. I built a converter for my laptop but I save that for when I boot up to look at my old pictures of my grandkids. They were five and two when the bottom fell out of the world. The oldest should’ve been in high school now if everything…well.
So this tape is my invitation, I guess. I found a whole box of them in a basement so I can record a bunch, put them out here and there, maybe someone will be able to play one.
I’ve found a good spot up in the hills west of the rail depot. It’s small, but the soil does alright, and it’s secluded, which I figure is the most important part.
So if you hear this, come out and join me. I have corn, beans, melons, some tasty cacti, even a couple apple trees. What’s mine is yours, if you’re willing to put up with a cranky old lady made extra cranky by the end times. It’s, let’s see, early July, 2041.
Oh, and my name’s Linda. That’s probably important. Look for the blue flag on the split pine. I’ll see you soon.
It’s Linda, again. Or, if this is your first tape: you’re tuned in to End-of-the-World Radio and you’re listening to Linda!
Christ, that’s lame. Sorry. People were barely listening to radio when the world ended, anyway—everyone had all the music they could ever want set up on their phones. My son got mine all…
I—I’m sorry. I don’t think about them often, and it kinda—well, grief sneaks up on you, you know?
It’s mid-October now and I’ve been thinking about Halloween and all the ways the world used to honor the dead. Halloween didn’t do that hardly at all, but it used to, back when it was Samhain. Even when Day of the Dead got all trendy, most people weren’t necessarily in it to celebrate the dead—they just liked the face paint, the sugar skulls. Maybe it was just being in America, or the Northwest, I don’t know—we just never liked to reconcile with our deaths, or death in general. When death happened, we liked to push it away, bury it quick and say your prayers and start moving on, because we thought moving on was something we actually could, or should, do. We don’t like grief, the way it wells up unexpectedly, the way it sticks in our minds and our chests and won’t be forced out. We don’t like feeling weak.
My grandchildren…oh, Christ.
I need a minute.
See? That all happened ten years ago and it still stops me in my tracks sometimes. And I can’t afford to cry anymore. Waste of water.
I guess the hard part—the part that truly sticks in my heart—is not knowing exactly when it happened. We kept in touch through the slow heating, but then communication got spotty. He said they were going to try to reach Canada, where it might be cooler. How they were going to manage that with a first-grader and a three-year-old, I can only guess.
I daydream that they made it, and that they have a nice little farm, like mine, tucked away somewhere safe and cool. I imagine them jumping in puddles…
Oh, Christ Almighty. I hope they’re alive, I really do.
Speaking of farms, though: these tapes are supposed to be invitations, not the diary of an old lady. I get sidetracked, so sorry about that. If you’re looking for a safe place, head west from the train depot, up into the hills. Got a nice gully with some food growing, if you’re willing to help out. Look for the blue flag on the split pine. I’ll see you soon.
I used to bike everywhere. The city was famous for being bike-friendly—or at least it was built bike-friendly. The drivers could’ve used a few more lessons. I got hit three times when I was a commuter. Wrecked the bike all three times. Had to get ankle surgery the third time, too. That was right before I retired. I’d planned to stay in the city, but my son made a fuss, so we found me a place in the suburbs. It was nice actually—big lot, big enough to build some planter beds and grow a nice garden. And it was close to the trails, so I could go out there on my bike and not worry about getting taken out by some tech-startup kid zipping around in his electric car. They used to have the most gorgeous trails out here, back when there were forests. It’s still pretty, in a way, all the stripped-down gray trunks, but then you remember it’s all dead and that kinda takes the beauty out of it.
I saw an old electric car the other day. Totally stripped down. Kind of a shame—the thing could probably still run—but cars are full of useful stuff, so I can’t blame them. The seat fabric makes good rain gear. I even lived in a tent made out of taped-together Volkswagen upholstery for a few months. I remember it was Volkswagen because what other company put plaid in their vehicles?
Anyway. Oh, the bike. My chain broke and I’m down to my last spare, so if anyone finds these tapes and comes to visit, if you can bring me a bike chain, I’ve got five liters of filtered water with your name on it. Oh, and I’ve only got six tapes left, so if you want to keep End-of-the-World Radio Hour with Linda on the air, see if you can find any cassette tapes, too. Say a prayer for Sara W. who found me and stayed here for a few weeks: she brought three tapes and a whole shoebox of batteries, bless her. She said she’s heading to Canada, too. I used one of those tapes to record a message for my son and his family and sent it with her. Just in case.
This is Linda, the blue-flag lady with the homestead. I used to help with the quote-unquote farmers out west of the city. You know, the ones with too many guns, no water, and no concept of agricultural practices? This is probably a good time to mention that I took some of those many guns with me when they decided they didn’t need an old lady’s help anymore.
So if anyone else from the Red Dawners or the Crimson Sunshine or whatever the hell those assholes were calling themselves, wants to come try to take what’s mine, when I extended a perfectly polite invitation to come and help, please know that I’ve gotten pretty damn good with a shotgun.
It’s not like there’s even that much to take. I told you, I’ve got a couple of apple trees. Couple means two. The Ruby Dawns torched one of them, so congratulations, you complete morons—now we can’t have Gala apples anymore. Hope you like Fujis, ‘cause that’s all that’s left.
The corn isn’t doing great, either, but that actually isn’t their fault. It’s August and it’s just too damn hot now. Even the watermelon looks unhappy. I don’t go outside during the day when I can help it, and when I go out after dark for water, I cover up like I’m crossing the Sahara.
The western sky has been hazy for the last few days, and it’s creeping this way. Must be a big fire out there. I told those farmers when I left, I said, if you boys can’t quit squabbling over other folks’ land and take care of the land you have, you’ll lose everything. They were so focused on stealing seeds and saplings from the other settlements, and standing guard over the stuff they’d stolen, that they never bothered to test the soil or monitor the weather or save their damn water.
And the livestock, Christ…the number of people killed over rumors of a new calf or lambs. Rumors. I even said as much: cows ain’t gonna give birth in November! But as soon as they heard whisper of someone’s livestock doing better than theirs, they’d grab their guns and ride out like they were in a Western. And they’d shoot up the place, then discover I was right and there were no baby livestock to steal. So they’d rope a sad-looking sheep or two and ride back home. And then the sheep would die a couple days later because we barely had water for our own animals.
They never wanted to change. That’s how the heating came to happen in the first place: no one wanted to change their ways.
Not that I wanted to change either—I bought local, organic everything, grew my own food when I could, and rode my bike to work, and I thought I’d ticked all the boxes. I’d done my part. I mean, I guess I had, but when the problem’s being caused by massive factories all over the world, what’s one woman’s lifestyle change going to accomplish?
Made me feel better about myself, I guess. That’s all. That’s all we wanted, then: to make ourselves feel better, never mind how it was making everyone else feel.
Now what remains of the farmlands and wine country is on fire. I don’t know what’s going to stop it. That fire could be up here in just a couple days, quicker if the wind picks up. I’d say to come visit me, but I may not be here much longer.
Don’t know where I’ll go. Suppose I could try to see what all the fuss is about Canada.
Before she left, Sara asked me why I wasn’t going, if I had family up there. I cracked some joke about adult children needing to get out of the nest already, but really…I know they aren’t there. I feel it in my mother’s bones: they didn’t make it out of those bad early days. I never wanted to go to Canada because I knew the truth would be there, waiting.
If I never go, if I never hear one way or the other…I can still pretend. I can still imagine puddles, and children splashing.
The fire’s not here yet, but it’s close. Christ, the air is bad today. My mother used to tell me about when Mt. Saint Helens erupted and how it rained ash on everyone’s house for days afterward. I imagine it looks a bit like that now. My alleys of corn look like the set of a horror film, and the ash-covered stump of the dead apple tree sticks out of the dust like a tombstone. I chopped down that tree and stored the wood that wasn’t too charred. I thought maybe I’d smoke some rabbit or squirrel over it, but the fire kept creeping closer and I’ve just been too distracted by the possibility of having to leave.
It’s amazing how much I still had to pack. You’d think surviving the desertification of the world would help you declutter, but I still have too much stuff to carry. Granted, it’s all useful—gardening tools and whatnot—but I don’t exactly have a Conestoga wagon to haul it in.
And it’s been so dark. This part of the world used to be so dark and so rainy for so many months at a time that people would actually get depressed from it. Seasonal Affective Disorder, they called it, but I think they mostly made that up so they could use the acronym SAD. It hasn’t been this dark in the daytime since…oh, who knows. Since the last good rain. That’s how thick the smoke is. It wakes me up coughing.
Shh, hang on! Why am I shushing the tape…
Merciful Lord. Ha! Rain! Would you look at that?
I think it’s been almost a year since it rained. Oh, I wish you could feel that! I’ve just got one hand out the door so I can keep recording—can you hear it? Can you hear the patter?—anyway, the drops are hitting my hand and it feels like kisses. It’s wonderful.
Okay, it’s January 2042, and my farm is still open for business. I’ve got room for guests, I’m not going to be on fire, and now I’ll have enough water to start a new plot. You’ll find me west up the hills—oh look, a little creek is forming! Flowing water, I haven’t seen that in years—west from the train depot, up in the hills!
Look for the blue flag on the split pine. I’ll see you soon!