In the Dell
By Al Kristopher
It wouldn't rain in Kalekka if God had walked over and squeezed the water out of the clouds.
Kirov was far away and I bet they didn't have the seeds I was looking for either. Not that it'd matter anyway--nothing's ever grown on this ground since before the invasion. Now those were the days. I recall when I held an entire plantation under my thumb, my green thumb, and how even I lost count of the crops I'd harvest. There'd be kids running around screaming, and because I usually had a surplus, I'd give some of my food to them and spoil their dinner.
Worthless don't quite say enough when you consider this place. I remember those prosperous days like they was yesterday--well, they almost were. I remember how I could almost look at the ground and there'd be something coming up out of it, or how much game there was for the hunters to find, and how beautiful and strong everyone was. Don't ask me why it had to change--I'm just a simple old farmer who hardly understands anything.
The tool I use to farm is now my only possession. My home is wrecked beyond repair, and my village is a ghost town. Ain't nobody living here except for me, that crazy old geezer, and the renowned strategist who's just moping around all day doing nothing. Leon, he says is his name, and I wonder why a Silverberg is wasting his life in the ruins of this town. Maybe, like me, he has nowhere else to go, or maybe he just loves this place too much to abandon it.
Three. Three plants. Three measly, weak, starving plants are all that's left of my life's work. Just three. Not one more, not one less. Even the starving old man knows that. Just three. I remember when there were rows and rows of plants, easily a hundred times more than what I had already, and they were so wonderful and they gave people life, and then it had to end.
The invasion. Fire. Smoke. Blood, murder, screaming, I think I heard laughter. Somebody killed someone I knew, someone I knew killed somebody, and rows and rows of plants were burned to the ground. Soil ruined. Houses smashed in. A Silverberg was vomiting on the burnt ground, sick of war and death and blood and maybe even sick of life. It wasn't Leon, although he was there too.
And now Leon is staying behind. Maybe he's waiting for the other Silverberg to come back, grovel, apologize, beg to be killed, or maybe just to beg. Perhaps he'll gloat. Maybe they'll embrace each other and make up and everything will be okay and I'll have to get back to reality, because that ain't working out. I know men too much to live in a fantasy world.
I survived the attack. A lot of people did, believe it or not, but nobody wants to live here anymore. If all of the survivors had banded together and given their town another chance, then maybe--just maybe, this little hamlet would be thriving again, and I'd have much more plants to take care of. But that ain't happening: this place is the past, and as we all know (myself included), nobody wants to go back to their past again. Anybody that says otherwise is a fool or a liar.
I'm a fool. But I'm a fool with hope, a hope that my plants will one day thrive again, and maybe the fields will be green instead of black, and maybe the houses will be shining instead of dull, and maybe the Silverbergs will live in peace again, and maybe I will be able to sleep at night.
But that ain't happening. I'm a fool to believe otherwise, so that's why I'm staying here with my plants. I'm a fool, but I have never lied once in my life. That I can be proud of, at least. You don't find too many people that aren't liars. Even good people lie.
"Blackman." I looked up from my plants to see Leon Silverburg standing there. The cold, dead wind of this abandoned town tears at his clothes and his hair, and the look on his face is as empty as the houses here. He is almost as grim as this village.
"Yeah?" I say.
"I don't understand you," he says, approaching me. "Why do you--"
"Please, sir," I say, "don't step on my plants. They're all I have left." A long pause hung over our heads, and Leon gazed at me with dead wonder. I think, even though he really didn't get to ask his question, that he understood me in that long pause.
"All you have left," he said, rubbing his chin. "All you have left." He grunted to himself, and carefully made his way back to the building that he called home. I grunted, rested from my labors, and stared down at my plants. There's a reason why there's only three plants, and not more or less. Well, there's not more because the ground's too burned and dead to hold any more.
My wife and my two boys were killed in the invasion, and these crops have been planted over their graves. I hope that one day, they'll bloom into beautiful flowers, and maybe they'll even bear fruit. That, at least, is a possibility.