Yanaba sat on wooden porch steps as she stared upon the rugged, rouge landscape stretching before her. She knew what it looked like because home used to be in this area. But her home was no more, and she gazed at the Arizona desert without seeing it.
Nor did she acknowledge the young woman who approached, the owner of this ramshackle house that was pockmarked with bullet holes. Some of the windows were boarded up. Mere weeks ago the building had been in better shape, but that was before the world ended.
The house Yanaba used to live in, a couple of miles from here, was now a pile of ash.
Her hostess leaned over slightly and said her name.
Yanaba didn’t reply. There was nothing left to reply to.
“Yanaba.” The woman actually tapped her shoulder, an assertive move for a traditional member of the Diné. “There’s a couple here to see you. The fellow says he traveled with you for a couple of weeks after the disaster.”
She understood the words, but they meant nothing.
The woman turned away from her and toward the man and woman that Yanaba barely noticed stroll from around the corner of the house and toward the porch. “Like I told you, she’s not speaking.”
She did recognize the man’s voice, but it signified nothing. “That’s quite all right if she only wants to listen.”
Odd, hearing him did a stir a question from the depths of her despair. What was Fritz doing here? The last time she saw him was when they parted ways in Colorado … was that a week ago? How many weeks had it been since the solar storm took down the electrical grid?
Her hostess shrugged and walked away. Fritz and his companion approached, and each sat on the bottom step, below the one where her feet rested.
Yanaba had never seen this woman before, but another question stirred before it drowned beneath her despair. Was this the fiancée he told her about while they traveled together? Like him, his companion appeared to be in her mid-twenties. Svelte and dressed in a beige tee shirt and olive shorts, her raven tresses were pinned up.
Fritz clasped his hands together, between his knees. Also dressed in tee shirt and shorts, his blond hair was in the same disarray it seemed to prefer, although he appeared to have recently trimmed the beard that started growing … was it nearly a month ago when the sun took out the grid?
“Hello, Yanaba. We … heard about your loss. I’m so sorry. Words can’t express how terrible I feel about your husband and sons.”
Others had offered their condolences and had also needed consoling. In the beginning of her end, she’d been able to mourn with them. But now she was empty. Ah, it had taken three weeks for her to travel across three-quarters of the country to get back to her family and confirm their safety. But it had all been in vain.
If only she’d gotten here a few days earlier, she would have found them alive. She might have been able to help them all escape the looters. And if not, at least she could have died with them.
After about ten seconds of silence, Fritz continued. “It’s the same story everywhere we go. The cities are hellscapes. Setting curfews doesn’t change human nature. It’s like all the gangs think the electricity will come back on eventually and by then they’ll have reaped their profit. I think too many people don’t realize how long a haul we’re in for.”
The world wasn’t going to end in a day. When Fritz had traveled with her, each trying to get back to their families, they agreed that after the riots and looting, starvation would set in. Disease would grow rampant. This eschaton would be prolonged and painful.
“It’s a mixed bag out here, in the countryside.” Fritz, who proved his determination the first day she met him, didn’t acquiesce to her silence. “I truly wish your area hadn’t been one of the pockets for raiders. When Meg and I decided to track you down, I expected to find you back with your family.”
He looked at his companion before returned his attention to Yanaba. “By the way, I’d like you to meet my wife.”
Something flickered in her darkness.
Wife? So they’d managed to find a minister and completed their commitment to each other? Yes, deep down she was glad Fritz was successful with his quest, even though her own attempt had been totally fruitless….
“Meg, I’d like you meet Yanaba … the toughest U.S. house representative I’ve ever met.”
The blonde woman smiled, and her tone was warm and gentle. “I know you’re the only representative he’s ever met, and I’m also sorry for your loss, especially when … it’s thanks to you that Fritz was able to get back to Colorado.”
“Meg and I still haven’t been able to track down our own parents, which is part of why I suggested we look you up. I figured you’d be going back to Washington, and there’re some things you need to know.”
Maybe that flicker was because their marriage was a glimmer of hope in the gloom of destruction. A dozen or so years ago, Yanaba had been as young as them, and as ideological and foolish. Fritz was usually more perceptive about reality, but he was smitten by this young woman … they needed to understand that any attempts at normalcy were all vanity.
Her voice was raspy from a day of disuse. “I’m not going back.”
The couple glanced at each other, and then Fritz sat straighter. “You have to.”
His impertinence didn’t surprise her, but for the first time she found it annoying. “No. All any of us have left to do is die.”
They glanced at each other again, and Fritz shook his head before leaning toward Yanaba. “I understand you’ve been knocked down after putting forth valiant effort. I understand it gets hard to keep pulling yourself up. But this is no time to give in. You said you dove into the swamp to wrestle those slimy creatures. Yanaba, the fight is just beginning.”
Meg took advantage of the fact she didn’t respond. “We all know what happens during a crisis. The authorities will overstep their bounds. They’ll make things worse. Fritz told me that you’re a warrior, and that’s exactly what we need to help keep them in check.”
Yanaba could see why he liked this girl. “You expect too much of me. I can’t stop them.”
Fritz replied, “You certainly can’t by yourself. That’s why we’re offering to help, and to find others who will stand with us.”
“Don’t you see?” Yanaba actually looked at him, their preposterous proposal dragging her from the suffocating folds she’d surrendered to. “There’s nothing left to fight for. There’s nothing left. Everybody who isn’t killed outright will die of starvation or disease. Nobody can do a thing to change that.”
Fritz and his wife studied each other for a few seconds. They’d been married for mere days, yet the way they regarded each other reminded Yanaba how she and Martial would share a look whenever the children presented them with life’s complications. How could this couple already express similar familiarity?
She could suppose that deep down inside, they knew she was right. They had little time left together, so would have to be quick about cultivating their relationship.
His gaze locked on Yanaba’s face. “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to let you give up.”
She didn’t anticipate the growl that crept into her voice. “It’s my right to give up.”
“That may be, but we weren’t put on this earth to surrender. We really were put here to fight.”
“It will only be a fight to the death,” she replied. “And nothing will be accomplished.”
“That’s not true.” Meg’s voice betrayed determination. “If we fight the good fight, then there’s everything to be gained.”
Yanaba stared at Fritz’s wife. Wife. Even though the world was ending, even though they knew there was no future, they just had to shake their fists at adversity by living as though they could possibly survive.
“Fight if you want.” Yanaba turned her gaze back to the desert. “You’re not dragging me into it.”
Fritz spoke bluntly. “I may just have been a security officer, but I do know one of the arts of war is to gather allies. You are a powerful ally, Yanaba, even if you don’t believe it. And there’s another thing you’re wrong about. You do have something left to fight for.”
This persistent Bilagáana was starting to get on her nerves. With any luck, her return to silence would encourage these two to give up.
“An apocalypse hangs over us every day,” he continued. “Global, national, personal. The end always comes. Sometimes we aren’t fully prepared for it. But in one way or another, there’s always a new world to look forward to. The road there is usually hard, but we believe it’s worth it.”
She refused to speak. So he kept talking.
“And so do you. You struggled, you braved hardships, to make it back to your home after this crash.”
Heat surged through her and entered her voice. “I came back to ash.”
“And everything and everyone that stands against you is counting on your tragedy to make you surrender. Then they win. Do you want to hand victory over to them, or would you rather become an obstacle to them?”
Who were them? The raiders that murdered her family? The bureaucrats that would secure their own comfort at the expense of the populace? The unseen entities of conquest, violence, famine and death? Who was she to stand against them?
Then again, they drew first blood. The heat within her subsided, but it only shifted from a raging conflagration threatening to consume everything to a robust blaze crackling on a hearth. They were still out there. They were guaranteed to come after her in any of their incarnations to lay claim to her life.
Her family wouldn’t have surrendered to them. Her husband would have fought to defend their children, even to the bitter end. And now she was going to give up?
Would that dishonor her family’s memory?
Yanaba sat straighter as her gaze swung to Fritz. “I knew you were trouble from the day I met you. But … I’m willing to consider you might have a point.”
A smile touched his lips. “Don’t consider this the beginning of the end. We might just be facing the beginning after the end … and I’ll admit, that will be even harder.”
Here’s my contribution for this month’s #BlogBattle, and the word for this round is Eschaton. Yep, it concludes the story from last month. With a word this fun you don’t want to miss out on the other submissions!