Carly’s uncle Max and her father Bill were doing their morning rounds. Both had sidearms, Bill carried a .22 Henry and Max had a bow. The air held the hint of Spring.
“Carly’s pregnant,” Bill said.
“Whoa. No shit?”
“She told Sue last night.” Sue was Carly’s mother. “What are we going to do about it?”
“Nothing we can do,” Max said. “Any idea who the father is?”
“She didn’t say, according to Sue. My guess it would that asshole Frank Anderson.”
“So when he tried to rape her, that wasn’t the first time? Why didn’t she tell anyone?”
“Probably because she thought we’d cowboy up and go hunt him down,” Bill mused. “And that would have started a feud.”
“So she waited her time and then shot him the next time he tried? Tough girl, our Carly.”
“Times make people pretty hard.”
“What life is this going to be for my grandchild,” Bill asked. “We, everyone, have been hanging on by our nails for years, now. Waiting for some sign that things are going to go back to the way they were, or get close to it. And when it does, then what? We’ve been trying to teach our kids science and math and other things, but they see none of that matters these days. Teach handicrafts or farming and they pay attention. Algebra and the like, not so much.”
“So if things do recover, they’ll be on the outside?”
“Like a Kalahari goat herder looking at a computer.”
“What if things don’t recover?”
Bill stopped walking and sat on a fallen tree. “Then we, as in humanity, are forever screwed.”
Max sat down next to him. “Why?”
Bill shrugged. “Because there’s nothing left. If we go back to the Stone Age, there’s nothing else. All of the steel and iron in buildings and cars and railroad tracks will rust away, sooner or later. And even if we did start melting them down into ingots, all we have is wood for a fuel source. All of the oil and coal that was easy to get out of the ground has been gotten. Same for iron, tin, copper. The industrial revolution took off because the Brits and then us had lots of coal that could be mined by hand. Took coal and coke to make steel available. Took electricity to make aluminum from ore.”
Max didn’t say anything.
Bill continued on. “Won’t happen overnight. There’s lots of steel and aluminum out there. A mile of railroad track has--” he thought for a few seconds “-- almost three hundred tons of high-grade steel in it, not counting the fish plates and the spikes. Harder to get at, since they welded it all. Not like the old days, you could break out forty-foot sections.”
“Bust a lot of hacksaw blades doing that, now.
“Yeah. You’d have to dig under the track, build a big hot fire, heat it up and maybe you could then beat it apart, I dunno.”
“So, what do we do?”
“I think we’d better get those books you bought out on how the Indians did things, back before the white man showed up, and we’d best teach ourselves and our kids how they made tools and things.”
Max looked skeptical. “So our grandkids and great-grandkids are going to be running around in moccasins, wearing buckskins, shooting bows and living in tepees or wigwams?”
“Yeah. Folks forget there were something like fifteen million Indians lived in this country before Columbus showed up, bearing gifts and diseases. Might even be better if they can hang onto horses and cows.”
“And all of our culture and literature and music and shit like that’ll be gone?”
Bill nodded. “Pretty much. None of it’s worth a turd if you’re living a subsistence life. Things don’t recover, in a hundred years, there won’t be fifty people on the planet who’ll know who Shakespeare or Neil Armstrong was.”
“But life goes on.”
“It do. As long as we don’t give up. Best sign of that’s Carly’s baby.”
“Gonna be tough, with another mouth to feed.”
“Yeah. But that kid’s the future. A long as people keep having kids and raising them and teaching them to survive, we go on. And maybe, sometime, they’ll figure out a way to get back to things like science and art and shit.”
Max stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants. “But we’ve got work to do, now.”