May, 2095. Evening came at last, and with it a welcome cooling. It was down to 112 now, almost bearable. The old woman ambled slowly past the vapor condensers, briefly reading the gauges. She looked up at the yellow sky and sniffed the air. There was something different; she couldn’t put her finger on it, and she really knew weather. She moved on past the covered chicken yard and garden, and into the small pavilion where about a dozen children were waiting.
“Gammee! Hi, Gammee,” they greeted her. It rhymed with her name, Amee, although her real name was Amelia. “Well, well, quite a crowd today,” she said as she removed her sun hat and shoulder bag. “How is everybody today?” “Fine,” they mumbled, as she moved among them, checking that their breathing masks were properly adjusted and sealed. Amee was the matriarch of the small community; she had the knowings of plants, medicinal herbs, and most everything else. Back when there were still computers, she knew all about them, too. Her father had taught her, including their secret codes. She was also a story weaver, like her mother before her, and today was storytime. Being with the children was what she loved most of all.
“Do you know,” she said as she examined them, “that when I was your age we could play outside in the sunshine, and the sky was blue?” They all laughed. None of them had ever seen a blue sky. “And we didn’t need breathing masks, either!” “Oh, Gammee,” they laughed again. “It’s true,” she continued, as she sat down. “We used to fish in the lakes and streams, too, but we had to be careful.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a small rectangular box that had a cord coming out of one end. On the other end of the cord was a snake head. She pressed a button on the box and held the snake head out to them: tick . . tick . . tititititick . . tick. “What is that?” she asked them.
“Ray-dee-ay-shun,” they all answered.
“That’s right. It seems a little lower this week.” It wasn’t, but Amee was always relentlessly upbeat and positive around the children.
No one knew what had gone wrong with the planet, but they knew how it had begun, with a massive solar flare. It was called a CME, coronal mass ejection, and it was headed straight for Earth. When it hit, it fried the global communications grid, as well as most life forms on that side of the world. Amee was in college when it happened, over sixty years ago. A chain of events followed, all of them bad. The already melting permafrosts released billions of cubic tons of methane, cooking the atmosphere. Without electricity to cool them, nuclear reactors melted down, adding deadly radiation into the weather cycle. It was impossible to know how bad things were anywhere else, without communications. Were the oceans all dead, too? The survival of humans and most other forms of life seemed balanced on a knife’s edge, now. Amee knew it, and she yearned for these children to have a future. All she could do was hope for the best, and pass on all the knowledge she could.
“Tell us a story, Gammee,” they cried. “Story, please.”
“Alright. But as soon as it’s over, we’re going out to pollinate the garden.” She reached into the bag again, pulling out a handful of soft brushes. “With these.” She held them out. “Why do we need these?”
“Bees,” someone said. Travis, the oldest, said, “Because the bees are all gone.”
“Well, not all of them, but they need our help now. Okay. Would you like to hear a story about Coyote?” She pronounced it “Koi – OH – tay.”
“Yes!” they yelled. He was one of their favorite characters.
“What does Coyote like to do?” she asked them.
“He plays tricks on people!”
“Yes, he loves, tricks, doesn’t he? Once, a long, long time ago, all the knowings were on computers.” Again she reached into the bag, and pulled out a dead iPad. with a broken screen. “But then some bad people erased all the knowings, and replaced them with false knowings, which confused everyone. So one day, Coyote got an idea how to play a trick on the computers.” As she talked, she leaned forward in her seat, swaying slowly back and forth, as she looked each of them in the eyes. “Coyote went out into the forest. He looked in the grass, he looked in the trees. He looked in the water, and along the river bank. He looked under rocks, and in old rotten logs. At last he found the bug he was looking for.”
The ceiling fan overhead made a faint, whirring sound. It was powered by a crudely rigged solar array on the roof, but that was enough to supply the needs of the forty or so people in the village. Amee stopped, as if listening. There was that something in the air, again. What was it?
“Then Coyote put the bug into a computer. It was a very special bug, very smart, and it knew just where to go in the computer to lay its eggs.” There were periodic oohs and aahs among the children. “Then the eggs hatched, and lots and lots of tiny little worms came out. And the little worms ate up all the false knowings. So the computers became empty boxes, and nobody could get them to work again. And that’s why the villages all have story weavers, because stories help us to remember who we are and where we came from, and what’s really important. Now, everyone grab a brush and let’s head to the garden.”
They walked across the yard to the covered garden. Everything had to be covered to protect it from the rain and sun. The covering on the garden was Plexiglas, so the light could come in. Water for drinking, washing, and the food crops came from the vapor condensers, which filtered out radiation or heavy metals. “Remember how I showed you.” She lightly brushed a potato blossom, then brushed one of the others. “See? Just a little touch, that’s all it takes. One flower at a time, then another.” She watched them with their brushes; she was getting too old to be bending over for very long. She stepped outside and over to a water pump to get a drink. She poured cool water over her the back of her neck and splashed it on her face. A crow squawked somewhere, and she looked off towards the West, where the sound came from. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
“Children! Come quickly!” She clapped her hands together sharply. “Hurry!” They all came running out to see what had happened. Amee pointed Westwards, to a bit of sky between two trees. “Look at that!”
They looked past her long, bony finger. “What is that, Gammee?” they asked her.
“That, children, is blue sky! Blue sky!” She grabbed one of the children and hugged him tightly, then another. Maybe things were coming back, she thought. Maybe things were going to get better. Maybe . . .