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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5. Day 1,157

Four

Day 1,157

Jace slaps angrily at the trilling alarm clock, silencing the eager scream of constant hammers and bells.

As a sweet silence settles into the room, light listing along the floor towards the single bed, the young man groans, slapping a hand over his face to block out the light. He leans over the side of the mattress to whisper, “I guess that it’s my turn to wind it.” He does this religiously every morning, since he was on his own in the room and every morning he shrugs off the dust of sleep and gets right to it.

Walking zombie like through to the kitchen, he scrubs his eyes like a child and sits down for breakfast. The morning is held with general chit chat, his father still dopey eyed over a paper and his mother eager eyed on one of her rare days off.

“You were home late last night,” the woman diverts suddenly. “Were you... with anyone?”

Jace lifts his head up tenaciously from his breakfast bowl and gives his mother the briefest of nods. “Sort of.”

“Was it Harley?”

Again, he nods.

Stepping over to his side of the table, she pats the tabletop expectantly. Her wedding ring clatters loudly against the wood, echoing in the small room. “Okay, so explain it to me?”

“It’s not what you think,” he argues quickly, eyes turning to the floor.

Abigale’s eyes narrow curiously, combing over his expression. “What’s wrong, Jace?” she inquires softly.

“Harley’s father found a cure for the trees.”

Her eyebrows raise, eyes widening slightly as her mouth drops open in a shocked, happy ‘o.’ But as she takes a smooth, easy breath, she manages a quiet, “Jace why do you make that sound like a bad thing?”

“Because he went to Falmouth to take it to some dude to transport it illegally to the US,” at his mother’s still curious gaze he explains further “Mark is asthmatic so Harley wants to follow him to make sure he’s alright and not dead in a ditch somewhere,”

“That’s… six hundred miles.”

Jace winces. “Technically its six hundred and five miles give or take depending on how many deters we take,”

“And you’ll be crossing that on… What?  A bike.”

Rising out of his seat to be closer to his mother and taking a hesitant step forward, Jace’s fingers curl around his mother’s shoulder, grinning slightly when the muscles visibly relax under his touch “Yeah, I guess. And…”

Abigale doesn’t join him in his grin and deigning to remain standing, she remembers not to look at her son in case she laughs and ruins the serious moment. “This is a big thing,” she tells him, voice heavy. “It’s okay to feel conflicted.”

The man nods hesitantly. “The whole ride here I was just wondering… Are we even going to make it? Mark had it all planned out, right? The route, the contacts – everything. But I don’t get why she needs me on the trip because I don’t really give anything to the team, and if I leave I also leave you guys -”

“We are not your responsibility,” the woman interjects sharply, cutting him abruptly off.

“What?”

“You’ve been coddling us for years Jace,” Abigale explains quietly. “Yes, we will miss you, and yes we will worry about you but just knowing that you’re exploring the world while you still can is worth it. Okay?” She stares at him pointedly for a while, waiting, and only when he nods weakly in reply does she continue, drawing him into a hug that only mothers can produce. “Okay. Now, let’s talk about this trip. You are worthy of going on it, you’ve helped Harley in numerous ways and you can offer her all the ration cards that you could dream of.”

“How can I do that?” Jace quizzes her but she just moves to a draw and snapping it open with one hand and reaching in with the other to reveal a stack of ration cards, displaying then between her fingers. She fans them out mockingly, picking at them until they fall evenly into place.

“How did you-”

“We all work a lot of hours, plus your father got a reward for his wartime,” she gloats looking back at her husband who was still out of it with his hands wrapped protectively over a coffee mug. “And my grandmother happened to have a good car – and an entire room dedicated to said car at her old lake house that we scrapped for the very wealthy parts.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m really not.”

“Whoa,” Jace mutters looking at all of the cards in that draw, they were like a rainbow contained in a box – cards of every colour possible spanning from the start of the apocalypse to present day.

“Now, I imagine that you and Harley aren’t going on your own on this journey?” Abigale cocks her eyebrow as if insinuating what would happen if they were in fact going across the country on their own.

“We were actually hoping you could help us with that.”

“Oh?”

He nods fervently. “Do you have any personnel at the hospital you don’t desperately need? Like a volunteer? Someone who would be able to bike to Falmouth at the drop of a hat?”

“Well…” She trails off, leaning back into her chair with a heavy slump, unwashed curls falling over thin shoulders. “Honestly, the only person I can really think of is Lorna Brown – one of our nursing assistants. She might be willing to join you. She’s strange, but she’s smart and dedicated. If it’s to protect someone and to ensure that the cure is delivered, Lorna won’t hesitate to join you.”

Jace gapes. “Won’t hesitate? It’s six hundred miles.”

“Lorna won’t care,” she replies evenly. “She’s the type to figure if the ends justify the means she’ll jump first and deal with the consequences as they come. If she has to bike six hundred miles across the whole of Britain to save the world, she won’t hesitate. But she’s quiet so don’t expect much conversation from her; however, she will get the job done alright,”

“Oh…”

Leaning forward, the woman rests her arms against the table, sliding a hand into her hair to support her head as she looks her son dead in the eye. “That can’t be everything, can it? What else do you need?”

The boys eyes turn to the table nervously, drawing along the length as me murmurs, “Honestly? Someone with a gun.”

Abigale’s eyebrows arch delicately. “A gun,” she parrots lowly.

Jace shrugs. “Road can be dangerous, you know?”

“So, someone with a gun,” she deadpans. “We might as well go to the hospital so you can fill in Lorna and your father has a meeting so we can kill two birds with one stone. He’ll know someone,” she suggests, pulling away from the table to look back at her husband, “Isn’t that right, darling?”

“Huh?” John replies and it is so very clear that he hasn’t got enough coffee in his system to function.

*

So they find themselves at the hospital, where Abigale introduces Jace to Lorna while she is on her break. As expected Lorna is quick to get on board with the mission, and from her own words her reason why was said in a barely there voice, “It’s to save the world and I don’t like living but feeling like I’m already dead.”

Next they follow John to his meeting which is totally like nothing Jace had ever expected. It was held in a grey square of a room with a circle containing roughly thirteen men, one of which held the meeting and was speaking really loudly.

“PTSD in my own words is a completely life shattering event and one which would leave me stranded between life and death, somewhere resembling “no-mans land”. It has far wider implications and complexities than any text book definition, or clinical classification can grasp or a stranger “looking in” could possibly understand. I liken it to a creeping ivy which is slow to take its hold in the beginning but with time invades every aspect of your life. Left to its own devices and in time, it flourishes and can outcompete its host which is left stranded and slowly diminishes. If left unmanaged it can become quite overwhelming by then you are well and truly under its control. Before you know it your life is totally eclipsed and all that remains is an exterior shell whereby you co-exist but you cease to live.” There are a few moments of silence before he moves on with a smile on his face, “So, how is everybody feeling today, anymore incidents to report?”

Jace gets the feeling that the meeting holder was once a general and now that he has come out of war and dived into the apocalypse, he never got the chance to not be a leader. The circle of men go around sharing their stories. John reporting how he is incredibly proud of his son and what he has accomplished, in having managed to bring a girl out of the dark for her own benefit. He looks at Jace the entire time he is saying it and while he mentions Harley, his smile is so wide that it could split his cheeks. And so because of that Jace was thrown into a new tornado of conflict, leaving his father might make him less proud of him but it could also make him more proud of call Jace his son. To hide this, Jace just smiled back at his father.

However there was one man who struck a chord in Jace;

 “Today I realised that I loved war. I loved the constant business, the sense of importance, a purpose for some reason. And I remembered what my momma always used to say to me – you will know when you fall in love, the person just gets you and you get them, like two puzzle pieces finally clicking together in harmony. But I think my feeling of love goes further than that.

We all have a list of Nevers – and to clarify, that is a list of things that we must never do. If we’re lucky, we get to hold on to most of them. But life sometimes forces us to make some tough decisions. Our Nevers change over time. Sometimes we can’t keep our Nevers, no matter how hard we try. Growing up it’s quite easy to say ‘I will never kill anyone,’ and then we find our country going to war and you find yourself on a battlefield killing people. We have to hang on to as many of our Nevers as we can, for as long as we can and only sacrifice them when it serves the greater good. One of my Nevers is to never let go of love and humanity. And that is one that is still unbroken, even through war my decisions were always justified and right in my own mind. Therefore, I think love is not just about getting each other, it is about finding someone or something that compliments your inner demons and war did that for me.”

*

At the end of the meeting Jace asks his father who that man had been, “Simon Abernathy,” John replies, “A man who used to be a Marine but then turned Deputy when he returned here,”

After a bit of investigation, he fitted a lot of the criteria; a man who doesn’t have a lot of obligations, not at risk of a heart attack and has military experience.

Jace didn’t have much else to do but arrange a meeting for both Simon and Lorna to meet with him and Harley, any questions they might have would be answered and then they would be on their way to saving the world.

*

A whisper in the trees lingers in the air; the subtle hush of the breeze hissing through needles and gently tugging at long auburn tresses.

Jace glances surreptitiously toward Harley, admiring the shine of her hair beneath the golden spring sun. His fingers tighten incrementally against the handlebars that Harley had given him, this is the bike that he will use to ride across Britain. Gripping it firmly, he lifts it above a long string of roots crawling along the ground. “This isn’t much of a place,” he points out dryly, eyes flicking from the length of glittering hair to admire the woman’s arms as she maneuvers around a new set of roots.

“This is a place, everywhere is essentially a ‘place’,” she replies evenly. “But thanks to the over growth of trees, everywhere has been turned into a forest or creek,”

“Huh. No kidding?”

Harley hums an affirmative, face turning up to soak in a patch of sun seeping through the trees.

They wait patiently for both of their possible comrades. But Jace is bored, so terribly bored that he just wants to get on the road and get on with it. He remembers when he told his father about the mission before he came here and the tears that leaked from John’s eyes, they were not tears of sorrow, however, but tears of joy that perhaps the world had a beacon of hope coming to save it. 

To curb his boredom Jace stares and for a long second, Jace can only stare at Harley.

In his moment of distraction, his foot catches on a raised patch of roots, sending him and his bike clattering to the ground in a pile of metal and flesh.

Glancing back at him, Harley rolls her eyes. “Seriously?”

“I’m fine,” he announces, stumbling to his feet and righting his bike with a nervous laugh. “Totally fine.”

“Good to know,” she drawls back, pushing her bike up a small incline before jogging carefully down a small hill. “I wonder when they are going to get here?” she muses.

“Lorna and Simon are already here,” a smooth voice corrects.

Two pairs of eyes turn to look at the bottom of the hill, where two figures sit , comfortably reclining on a patch of grass that had been cut down to a good size. And for a moment there is silence.

Rising from his seat, Simon scoffs. “Well, I feel the need to nip this in the bud.”

“Simon that isn’t helping you know,” Lorna snaps oddly, and Jace wonders if there is a fire of its own species raging under the usually quiet girl’s skin.

“I just don’t see what’s in it for me.”

“Really?” Jace drawls. “You don’t see saving the world as something in it for you?” Jace had filled Simon in before he had left the hospital earlier that day, the older man had only adopted a sneer and an answer of maybe meeting them to discuss the plans further.

“No, I don’t. In fact, it’s all rather confusing,” the older man drones, nodding his head theatrically. “Why go all the way to Falmouth? Why not just send a letter?”

“Because I did send them a letter,” Harley drawls, shifting her weight casually to one foot, “And they all get returned, claiming that the man they were addressed to had never been there and they replied with skepticism and misogyny.”

“Meaning?”

“They didn’t believe me because I am a ‘young woman from a town called Peebles with no references.’”

Simon shrugs. “And I don’t see why that’s my problem.”

“Simon, we’re literally running out of minutes to actually save the world and you’re saying it’s not your problem?” Lorna sighs and turning to their guests, she raises a finger pointedly. “I’m in.”

“You can’t be serious,” Simon drawls, turning to the reserved with a grimace.

“I am going,” she simply whispers back. Locking her gaze with the other pair she nods. “Let me know when you plan to leave.”

“Thank you,” Harley tells her earnestly, a small grin budding in the apples of her cheeks.

“Great,” Simon drawls.  “We might as well kill her now. Save some trouble while we’re at it.”

“Well, I don’t really care if you’re not going. The rest of us are going but we might just be killed on the way there and the world is essentially doomed because the cure never got there,” the auburn woman announces loudly drawing all eyes to her wide, amused grin.

“Your father has the cure, it will get there even if I don’t go,”

“But I also have a copy of the ingredients for it and would like to share it with as many towns as possible,”

“The guy transporting it could have already left?” Simon is grasping at straws very clearly, trying to find loopholes.

“The guy doesn’t leave until the 1,200th day, he was really specific about that for some reason, so we have forty three days to get there.” Harley crocks both eyebrows at the ex-Marine.

Simon flinches. “No, you are not going to guilt trip me into doing this,”

“But didn’t you say that you loved war, we are providing free havoc for you to heroically save us from,” Jace muses,

“Yes, I did say that but…” There are a few moments before Simon says, “Okay, I’m in. Name a date and a place.”

“Wonderful.” 

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