We are pleased to publish our first piece of fiction set in a post-peak world. Enjoy.
Despite a clear sky and morning sun, yesterday’s snow fall wouldn’t make today’s trip downtown any easier. The fresh accumulation would add time and burn extra calories which would be hard to replace this week. On the upside, maybe it would discourage the neighbors from coming out to ask favors of me as they often did. As I step from the porch, I tighten the straps on my backpack, pull my hood forward, and head down into the calf deep snow.
In the middle of the street, I discover at least one set of adult sized boot prints headed in the same direction. I pause to take a quick look ahead to find the owner. Not seeing anyone, I match my stride to the icy depressions and pick up the pace a bit. The exertion quickly sends warmth to my extremities and the joy of quiet solitude gives me time to think.
Years ago, the city parking lot on Water Street was converted every Saturday from April to November into a farmers market. It was a friendly way to support local entrepreneurs who sold fresh produce, baked goods, plants, and other less-essentials. It was great for shoppers who sought out local organic foods. However, finding the time and a parking space to buy one tomato on a busy Saturday morning wasn’t a big priority. At least, not when the grocery stores anchored at every shopping center in town were still stocked on a daily basis.
That changed about a year ago when the bond and derivatives markets crashed, triggering the first wave of corporate layoffs. The mainstream media called it “America’s Tsunami” in reference to the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that had struck Japan in early 2011. The coastal states were hit the hardest but the ripple effects swept inland engulfing nearly every aspect of the economy. The banks were closed for several months while the TBTF institutions tried to “reprofile” their debts and shore-up the concept of credit-as-money.
It didn’t work; the losses in paper wealth were devastating and unemployment doubled in a matter of months.
As I get closer to downtown, the cars dotting the street look like giant moguls of snow. Cars were the last thing to be abandoned by the middle class. But for many, it came down to a simple choice: buy food or buy gas. Eventually spare parts became an issue; a simple flat tire was enough to condemn a vehicle to a permanent parking space. As a result, the city’s modest mass transit system was quickly overwhelmed and some city services such as trash collection became less and less dependable.
The public outcry was transformative. Emergency public meetings yielded a grant to each city residence of a plot on Jackson Hill for gardening and the raising of domesticated livestock.
Photovoltaics were added to the hospital downtown which was converted into a Community Mobilization Center.
Horses were permitted inside the city limits for the first time in a hundred years and the downtown parking lot was officially re-purposed as a year-round marketplace.
Since then, everyone goes to the Lot, as it is commonly known. It’s the best place to procure just about anything, especially if it’s not your government allotted shopping day. The remaining grocery stores depend on the government issued debit ration cards to survive. The shelves are stocked with all the necessary staples, but you have better luck finding imported luxuries at the Lot. I try to use coin or barter as much as possible so that our ration card will last the entire month. This reminds me to go over my shopping list again:
Jar lids, wide mouth
Hops, Hallertau and Sterling
Milk, with cream, 2 liters
The sidewalks leading to the Mobilization Center and the Lot have been cleared of snow. The smell of a wood fire drifts through the glittering trees and I search for the source. People with shovels are milling about the old emergency entrance under the porte-cochere by a burn barrel. I wonder if they will get paid in coin or with breakfast from the Center’s kitchen. I relax a bit but keep my head down so I won’t make eye contact.
When I look up again I see that the Lot has been fenced off with four foot high orange construction netting and metal posts. There’s half a dozen people standing in line to get in, stomping their feet, hands tucked in pockets to stay warm. This is something completely new; there’s never been any impediment to access before.
At the head of the line, a guy in a red jacket is giving the attendant standing in the parking lot booth a hard time. The frustrated attendant shakes his head and turns to wave his arm to someone inside the Lot. In that direction, I see two men clad in military style fractal camo. As they move toward the attendant, I see one of them swing an assault rifle around to rest over his MOLLE chest rig. The other has his head tilted to one shoulder speaking into a radio.
As my confusion turns to alarm, I hear my name called from close by. Under a black knit cap at the back of the line, I recognize a former co-worker of mine. It’s Jeremy from the winery where we worked the harvest together last fall. He waves me forward to join him.
“Hey man” he inquires, “how are you?” His genuine concern fogs in the cold air before his face.
“Fine.” I respond hesitantly with a nod to the guards. “What’s going on?”
“They’re only letting people in when someone else comes out. You have to leave firearms at the booth and there’s a fee to get in.” He points with his elbow toward a placard leaning against the booth. “Think it has something to do with the shooting last week?”
“Maybe. Or the city is looking for more tax revenue,” I suggest as I shift my attention back to the scene ahead of us. The radio guard is patiently trying to explain to the guy in red how to file a complaint at the Mobilization Center. A lot of good that will do him, I think to myself. Without a functioning tax base, the city government is barely operating at all.
A group of four makes their way to the exit, and the guard who is still trying to calm the man, decides to let us all through at the same time. Jeremy and I submit our bags for a quick inspection, pay the fee, and get our hands stamped. It’s a curious black calligraphic design I know I’ve seen somewhere before. Without staring, I notice it’s the same emblem worn by the security guards on their shoulder patch.
“Where are you headed?” Jeremy asks.
“To the brewmeister first, then I hope to find some seeds. It might be too early in the season, but I want to get a head start,” I reply. “How about you?”
“Remember the bottle of wine we got? I’m hoping to barter it for a smoked ham,” he says, as he pats the front of his jacket to reveal the bottle hidden safely inside. At the end of the harvest when all the wine was racked to oak, the vintner gave each of us a bottle of Merlot as a bonus. It was all I could do to save it for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m surprised that he’s willing to part with it, but I keep my response neutral. “Sounds good; nice to see you.”
“Thanks, you too. Are you working the winery again next season?” Jeremy asks.
“I hope so. I guess it depends on the spring weather. Take care of yourself,” I offer, trying to end the conversation as politely as possible.
“You too,” he replies with a wave.
The home brewing vendor is glad to see me. We have an arrangement where I pay in silver bullion for pelletized hops. Over the last several months, the value of hard currency has increased steadily so the deal has worked out well for him. For smaller transactions, I usually bring boxes of matches, liquor minis, or fresh eggs. You’d be surprised what you can get for half a dozen fresh eggs in the dead of winter.
I make my rounds quickly and pick up most of what I came for, including some lettuce seeds. On my way out, I make a mental note of the $5 dollar entrance fee. This will reduce the number of trips I can afford to make each month. It will be a more serious issue for folks who have no cash left or income. Although the preparations I made early on have helped, there are new challenges each week. Adaptation has become a way of life for all of us.
Passing by the new arrivals waiting in line, I throw back my hood, offer a general “good morning” and head for home.
Do you have a vision of life in a post-peak world? Why not write it down and send it to us and we may just publish it.
— JB Sties for Transition Voice