Verdant

Normally people worry about deforestation, global warming and carbon dioxide levels rising astronomically throughout the years. But they never consider the other side of the spectrum where carbon dioxide levels are in decline while oxygen rises and trees are over populating the planet.
People don’t fear trees.
But they should.
They are what really started the apocalypse after all.

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4. Day 1,156

Three

Day 1,156

The line for the ration station is full of bored and impatient people and therefore dauntingly long, as the evening hours have wound on as work comes to an end. Harley waits patiently for her turn, grumbling inwardly at the rather sweaty man in front of her who looks like an angry bull, complete with a red face and a constantly tapping foot. Overhead, clouds hang heavily over the procession, and Harley grabs at her jacket, pulling it closer to her body to conserve body heat and putting up the collar to protect her against the persistent breeze.

Finally, she draws to the front, presenting her hour card with a wide grin. “Harley Jane Davidson” she tells them softly.

“Social Security number?” the woman – Oliva her nametag reads – asks with a wide grin.

Leaning forward, and pressing herself up on her tiptoes, Harley murmurs, “172-13-8475.”

“And you have worked how many hours this week?”

“Forty-three.”

She glances over the sheet before nodding with a grin. “Great. Here are your ration cards.”

As she leaves the line, she thinks back on the past two weeks. Since the dinner at the Myer’s, Harley has made more of an effort to wake herself up in the morning and actually do some work. She had done various errands to collect and deliver parts, to take in bikes that needed to be fixed and all the while only going underground when she needs to. She takes more caution when she goes down there, making sure that she goes out for some fresh air and something to eat.

Harley even had a cleanout and found some interesting things. One such thing had already been found; the book in which her father wrote about the oxygen and the consequent easy ignition. Besides that entry there are two other entries in the book, one about how natural light affects sleeping patterns and something about a plan. This ‘plan’ is not and never specified in his writing and so Harley figured that it was just about a new bike.

In the book it said:

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert. However, many aspects of modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep-wake cycle.

Spending long periods of time in an environment that is away from natural light can impact your daytime wakefulness and trick your brain into thinking that it’s sleeping. Also, spending long periods using light in the dark can reduce Melatonin levels at night and make it harder to sleep.

Note to self: Make some kind of effort to actually get some light and therefore a regulated sleeping pattern.

And the other entry is small and it simply reads:

Note to self: Dedicate another notebook to the plan so that all information is collated, in doing so specify supplies needed, a map and directions of course, and compiled notes and contacts. The plan must be carried out in appropriate and non-less than perfect terms.

The notes were something that makes Harley feel something peculiar, something so strange that she doesn’t have a proper name for it.  

She needs Jace to help her decipher not only the notes but the feeling. The feeling kind of scares her a bit. And that is why she was walking towards the trading block, a stock little building adjacent to the rations station, and separated in various stations of trade.

Harley approaches Jace with a grimace “Jace,” she greets and watches with a curious look as he makes an adamant and valiant attempt to not look at her cards.

“Harley” he greets in reply, placing his arms on the desk and nestling his head in his cupped hands.

“Would you mind coming home with me after you’re finished here?” She asks, although she wants to retract her statement at Jace’s cocked eyebrow. Taking a moment, she notices that her question was phrased in a way of asking him on a date and coughs to hide her embarrassment. She knows that she’s turning the shade of red that the man in front of her in the line at the rations station was. Blushes usually looks great on girls; however, Harley had never suited it and looked like a tomato fit to explode.

“Uh, sure, why not?” He replies, “Do I get to know why?”

“Nope.”

“C’mon Harley!”

It goes like this for a while a mindless back and forth battle where still Harley doesn’t relent, yet she promises that everything will be revealed once they get there.

“Ahem!” an old woman interrupted them, “Girl if you aren’t going to trade something, would you mind stepping out of the way for others to carry out that simple task?” The rude old woman has tightly coiled white hair and is a sight to behold since elderly are hard to find in the community.

Excess radicals, such as oxygen, are thought to exacerbate the aging process through Oxidative stress, which interferes in numerous cellular processes: protein production, DNA replication, intercellular communication. Basically, people figuratively burned twice as bright for half as half thus meaning that people die younger. The oldest people in the community were in their mid-fifties and knew that any day could be their last.  

Harley moves with a barely contained retort and lets the rude old lady trade in her cosset tapes.

The old lady then moves slightly back when she was done with her trade, but stares at Harley as if she was a stain on the bottom of her shoe. Making an example, Harley moves shoving the cards into the inside pocket of her jacket and, glancing steadily at the rude old woman, removes an old record from a bag and places it on the desk. The old woman sulks and storks off.

Jace just crinkles his nose and moves to trade the record for more rations. “It’s English this time and I believe that it’s Hendrix so enjoy,” Harley mutters taking the cards and stuffing them with the others.

“Where did you find this?” Jace sounds awed as he inspects it and then places it with the silent vinyl at the back of his desk behind him.

“I’m doing a clean out of the chamber and I came across it, the chamber is kind of what I want to talk to you about though,” Harley replies and waits while more and more people come up to trade their strange processions for ration cards.

Eventually, Jace is finished and moves to close up his station. As they remove themselves from the building they both look cautiously at the cloudy sky as they zip up their jackets. Then, as expected the first few drops of rain begin to drop the ground in eager little spatters.

“You brought your bike right?” Jace sighs as he thinks about having to walk in the rain.

“Of course and of course I’m going to give you a ride,” Harley answers as she guesses what he’s thinking next, and suppresses a giggle at the obvious sigh of relief and drop of his shoulders.

Climbing on the bike and watching Jace get settled she places one foot on the pedal, and ignores the way Jace looked at her and says with a wide grin “So, where is your house exactly?”

“You know where I live.”

He blows a raspberry. “Just trying to make conversation.”

“Just shut up and we’ll get there quicker.” she demands, exasperated.

She takes off, trying to ignore a few drops of rain that land precariously on her outstretched hands and their uncovered heads.

The ride across town is a long one. The breeze is floral yet stale in the air. The scent of leaves thick on their tongues and lying constantly in their nostrils. In the dying evening light, the sun darts quickly through the trees and into their eyes, shifting in and out of their vision until it dips below the horizon and the sky bleeds pink.

They step in to the house just as the rain picks up.

Neat and clean, the foyer is just as well tended as they both remembers it ever being, sans the overtaking voices and sense of comfort “So what do you have to…” Jace trails off as she leads him into her room, sweeping the door aside to reveal stacks among stacks of over flowing books.

“What are these?” Jace murmurs as he picks the top one and strokes its aging spine.

“I found these, hidden in a wardrobe in the chamber,” Harley takes the book from him and puts it back in the stack and cuts him off as he goes to ask another question, “Except the strange thing was that the wardrobe was lacking a back and led to another room where it was filled with these,”

“Well, either your father is a book fanatic or there is another person living in your underground chamber,” Jace laughs, Harley smacks him on the back of the head just for that statement.

“No one has been living in the chamber, not exactly. Anyway what is worse is this…” Harley pulls out a magazine from her cabinet draw and they can both tell what it is from the chemistry glass tube on the cover.

“Science Weekly,” Jace read as he flicked through the magazine, “This is rare,”

“The books are all filled with science theories and things for the trees. But I think my Dad found a cure for our oxygen problem!” Harley whispers not quite believing her own words.  

Jace stares at her openly for a long time before opening his mouth to announce rather intelligently, “Nnn… wah?”

“Close your mouth. I don’t need to see your tongue.”

His jaw clicks shut.

Harley shuffles around to find another book and then opens it to the back page where an orange post it note stands stark against the pale back cover. She reads methodically and almost robotically, “Today I tested a subject that was nearly a year old. I simply took a branch from an existing tree and work from there. I tested a mixture involving a vinegar compound and it seemed to take as the branches shriveled up and the decomposition process began… And then there’s more underneath: A year on and it hasn’t grown back I think I’ve got it, I’ve worked out a cure!” 

“Oh, wow! So where’s your Dad, did he go to London to give it to the officials there?”

“I don’t think so, Dad always hated the London government, I think he went to Falmouth,” Harley admitted as she searched around her bottom draw.

“Why Falmouth?”

Harley pulls out a map their community, situated in Peebles at the Scottish border, was circled and a trek led down to Falmouth at the tip of the island.

“According to Dad’s notes there is a person there, a science man who was de-elected from the London Government, who actually has a way to getting to America and he’s apparently going to D.C, and I think Dad went there to give it to him.”

Harley was a whirlwind of motion pulling out various notes full to the edges with writing and maps all with a number circled at the bottom ‘605 miles to go’ it read.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to find him of course!”

“No offense but why?”

Harley stills and slowly turns to face him, “Why? Because my Dad is asthmatic, he can’t make a 605 mile journey on a bike with an inhaler that is in such short supply. That was why he fitted the hub dynamo because he was planning such a long journey. But the bike is so rare and expensive that he could easily be jumped for it,”

Harley remembers a time when she came back from Jace’s house from one night and found her Dad on the sofa. Arms akimbo, legs falling half off the couch, and his limp form commanding the length of the sofa with a limp vengeance.

“What’s-” she starts but knows what’s going on without anyone there to tell her “He had an attack.” She remembers how scary it was when she couldn’t revive him and then had to call medics and everyone for help. She remembers how it took her Dad two whole days to come around. Those two days were on the list of the longest days of her life. Only being overtaken by the day her mother had died.

On that day flames had attacked their community licking the walls and tenderly and brutally turning to dust everything she had ever loved. That had included her mother, who had become crushed under a beam, and kissed her daughter for the last time before telling her father to run and go. That night they had left Scotland in favour for Peebles and that day she finally knew what a Nightmare actually was. Not a dream based on your imaginations conjuring’s but pure and untarnished terror.

Shaking off the cobwebs of the past Harley plundered on, “I was originally planning to just to go myself, but crossing Britain alone on a bicycle isn’t the safest on multiple regards.”

“No shit.”

Her eyes snap to his, holding them for a long, intimidating second before turning back to the map spread out before them “I’m going to need someone to keep me in good condition. And I’m going to need someone with a gun.”

Jace spins slowly in a circle as he stands up, eyeing her carefully. “What makes you think I’ll help?”

“Oh Jace,” she coos with uncharacteristic sweetness and a lace of malice, turning to face him. “What makes you think you won’t?"

“Because I have a life here. And I kind of need to keep my life as long as I can, I can’t risk it by getting a bike stolen,”

“That’s why I need someone who has a gun,” Harley says blankly,

 “Jesus…” He settles heavily against a bookshelf, glancing from the map to the stack of books, “Okay. I’m in.”

“Good I knew that you would agree eventually. We’re going to need two more people in on this,” Harley tells him simply. “Or just a nurse with a gun.”

“Why do we need a nurse with a gun?”

“Because our bodies aren’t machines,” she states simply, tucking the map back into the draw. “Not to mention the riff-raff we might run into.”

“My Dad can,” He states simply but then sees the way Harley’s face twists

 “We’re on a mission to save the world,” she snaps in reply. “If this were a movie, it’d be a slice-of-life/adventure. As competent as he is, your father would spend more time attempting to turn it into a family life movie by constantly protecting you, than actually guarding all of our asses. But I do love your father don’t doubt that,”

“Okay then,” he consents softly. “So… what are we looking for?”

“Someone with experience. Preferably someone without obligations to the city and a history of Heart Disease.”

A grimace curls in the corners of his lips, but his head bobs firmly in agreement. “So…” He trails off, fingers twitching in and out of his palm nervously. Waving one hand to the bed, he asks softly, “May I?”

“Go ahead,” she offers monotonously.

He settles onto the comforter with a groan. Burying his face in his hands, Jace’s breath slows, hissing between his fingers and echoing in the space. “Okay,” he murmurs. “We need someone with medical training, but who doesn’t have a permanent position at the hospital. A nurse’s assistant? Someone young without as much experience? I can probably ask my Mom about that.”

“And what about the guard?” Harley drawls sharply, settling beside him on the comforter. Her dress flattens over carefully preserved leggings; the holes patched with short threads and lighter fabrics. “Would it be good for them to have military experience?” she wonders idly.

 “Wait,” Jace insists suddenly. “Military experience.  My Dad has a veteran meet at the hospital once a week for PTSD counselling. He might know somebody who can help up,”

“PTSD counselling?” Harley repeats skeptically. “Seriously, Jace?”

“What?”

“No.”

Yes,” Jace says stubbornly crossing his arms.

“Okay.” 

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