Shortly before nightfall, with the sun well gone and daylight dimming out colours already, me in a lull while waiting for my second quest of the day, a tractor could be heard. It was coming up the dirt road's easy climb and turned my way. Its headlights started shining over my wood. In total panic I shoved all my belongings under the sad bushes and lay down low, thinking: please go around, I know this already. After endless seconds it would. Not able to look up, I followed its heavy sound brush off in the distance, along the uphill edge of the cornfield. Whatever went into the falling darkness was bound to come back.
I waited fifteen minutes more, no immediate return, and went back for the water, the crescent moon shedding some light on my path. There was nobody else but me, only the faint glow of a village in the distance signalling human activity and that distant smell of rotting corpses with a heartbeat once again carried on a hint of mist. No free animals, either. Nothing flying or crawling or running, just me. It was nothing but the consequence of my situation, but it felt scary to be totally on my own, just me and some trees and miles of toxic corn.
There I was, almost that is. I followed the hundred metres back and then stepped into the field. Nothing. Further away neither, backwards then, yes there it was, some five meters away. My steps had just been that bit more energetic than this afternoon. I picked the tank up and realised it was empty. In the bottom corner, there was a crack and it looked as if it was made by force. That couldn't have been humans, they would have taken the tank or thrown it away. A sign perhaps there was life after all on these plains? But I was without water and that could only mean one thing, I had to go down to the river to find some to drink. I couldn't live three days without. All I had was the water in a can of peas. I took the broken tank with me so as not to leave any traces and walked the same road back. There was a lonely night rider going up the ascent. I was far away enough to simply sit down and wait for the cries of relief in the darkness to confirm he was a man. Once he had gone past the shed and continued, I walked on. O, elusive place where a runaway can be alone, where are you? I realised the only place where I had been alone most of my life was my home, surrounded by people who were equally alone or in pairs, all living nicely under the watchful eye of the controllers. Alone until you were deemed surplus to requirements.
Back at the den another surprise awaited me. An animal had been going through my food supplies as well, perhaps the same one? I noticed as soon as I turned on Marga's solar torch, which worked surprisingly well. It must have been reasonably full already, as the thin white light shone brightly. Luckily, most of my stock was packed in tins and jars, so only my bread and a small tin of tuna were missing. I felt I'd been outsmarted and only grudgingly accepted my defeat. The water was especially hurting. I couldn't feed myself anything I wouldn't rather keep for days to come, so I sat back and then stretched my back on the ground. I wasn't going to do anything more tonight. Perhaps I woke up early tomorrow morning and were able to do some writing before the heat set in. Now, I was tired from everything. I'm 57, remember? I'm supposed to find all this an ordeal. You may be wondering, if you are so full of energy that you are able to perform three or four times a week, how can a little walking around exhaust you? That's because it's a different kind of energy, something my ageing muscles cannot benefit from. Call it soul energy, the ability to connect with other humans in a useful way. My own body needs food to thrive, just like anybody's, and with age my digestion isn't as effective as it used to be. Yet I had to be strong and work on my survival. Weakness wasn't part of the plan. I'm not weak, I'm just tired, watch me going come tomorrow. And I wouldn't mind a glass of wine.
Later that night there was a feeling I was being watched. I carefully placed my elbow under my upper body and immediately saw two eyes shining in the dark, hard to say at what distance as I couldn't make out any contours of a body. Whatever it was, it wasn't afraid of me. I made myself comfortable and kept staring and after a while it moved and came closer, stepping out of the dark into a beam of moonlight shining through the trees. It was a fox, surprisingly small with its oversized fluffy tail, but what did I know about animals. Knowing it was visible it stood for a few seconds, then turned around and was gone. I turned around myself and went back to sleep. Come morning, I began dreaming of death. I do that sometimes. I was talking to a handful of people, Ahmed with some friends I had the feeling, he pressing me on to give my version of religion to his mates. They were his pals from the bad boy days and they hadn't all chosen Ahmed's path. In fact, no one had. So I gave it to them straight faced. So let me tell you why I believe in reincarnation, I blurted. It has to do with the human soul. If you bother yourself to become some kind of a decent person, then you will notice how with age you indeed get nicer and helpful. It's a normal thing, it's the result of many experiences. And then you die. You die a nice person. And all this niceness that you never quite mustered when you were young and full of energy and busy wrecking the planet, what is it good for? That's why I cannot believe in the heaven thesis. Just being happy forever, I mean, what for? Nature is rather utilitarian. There's space for frills if circumstances allow, think of flowers and birds, but on a core level life is pretty methodical. So why then just waste all that soul energy? It makes no sense. Also, if my image of heaven is more or less coherent, then I can imagine severe logistical problems occurring with so many souls entering every day. May all become a bit, how shall I put it, Sobibor-like. That's why I prefer believing in the idea of reincarnation. We are supposed to get better at living every next time round and some of us prove so, but there are still large numbers of people who live like it’s their first time out here, something which it may very well be if my thesis about the soul destroying influence of heaven holds sway. That would be sad, no? That after thousands of years of development and high levels of responsibility, in certain realms of human society the majority of us are still first-timers, not aware that life is a mission, while continuing trading work for pleasure up till old age. Let everybody please get aware that money can only buy you manufactured goods and services. Everything else, stemming from the soul and mind regions of the body, must be offered for free to make it worthwhile. These are the only things that can survive total societal breakdown, the immaterial ones, ideas, promises, expressions of loyalty. The rest of human behaviour will be worthless without money.
This is a fragment of my forthcoming novel “The Price of Return”. For pre-reads and early purchases write to: firstname.lastname@example.org