Sometimes, You Got to Roll Them Bones

Posted: August 9, 2011 in General, History, Stakers

Joelle, one of one of The Farm’s Elders, and had been standing in the morning sun rise, enjoying hibiscus tea from a well-worn mug, thinking extensively about the direction of things.

She was a woman of about forty or fifty harvests (nobody really kept count). Generally mild in temperament, she had been hardened by terrible things that she had seen with her own eyes, and stories she had heard. Joelle had seen a good share of children (including her own daughter) die from dirty water, infection, and lack of food; the result of generations of pollution. She had been told by her grandparents, (Elders themselves in their time) that things had been far worse in their time, but she wasn’t sure always what percentage of their declarations had been pure fact, and how much had been embellished. That said, things had gotten gradually better during her lifetime, so they hadn’t just been “tellin’ storees.”

Life on The Farm was hard a hard one. Many harvests ago; the earth had been abandoned, at least by those that had “counted,” whatever that had meant. The people who once ruled all the lands had taken to the sky, bound for other worlds supposedly better than this one had been (or had become). From tales passed down and told after harvest-time, Joelle knew that the people who hadn’t been invited to go either fought between themselves, or banded together and tried to make things right.

However, as the Elders before her had told (and as she now repeated); the earth rebelled against them. Their crops wouldn’t no longer grow, and people starved and became increasingly more desperate. The Farm, which had stood as a symbol of defiant hope for countless generations since the Exodus (as the abandonment had been coined), had fractured and fallen into generations of chaos and decline. People began to eat anything they could get their hands on, including each other. The Elders decreed the last part of the storee as parable rather than historical fact. A warning of what could happen if members of The Farm failed to do their tasks. Some of the children teased that it was The Elders attempt at putting monsters under their beds. Of course, they only said these things out of earshot.

She knew that these Elders of seasons-past had had to make difficult decisions for the survival of The Farm, which even now, was the only place that food could be found for hundreds of miles in any direction. She had heard the narrative spoken over and over, ingrained into her head, so that her, and all the other children, wouldn’t forget the strife that almost destroyed the only world that they had ever really known; the Farm.

Round about the time since she’d had her daughter, things had been looking up for The Farm, even though her girl hadn’t made it past ten seasons. Crop rotation and some micro-organisms, which helped “scrub” the pollution out of the soil, had greatly increased the yield of the fields. They had bartered for the micro-organisms, which to her had just looked like dirt, in exchange for a couple of prisoners who had broken Code.


Things were now growing at record pace. No one challenged that, the Elders being the only ones who would be able to remember any differently anyways. Mangos, papayas, pineapples, avocados, and bananas all flourished in the heat and humidity. Over the generations, the good people of The Farm had learned that in order to keep their crops going, they needed variety. Otherwise, the soil would rebel (once again) against them. They currently had almost twenty different types of bananas that were hanging from the trees like the green and pink wigs that she remembered seeing as a girl on her one and only trip to Hub City with her parents.

They had bartered passage on one of the trade caravans for the long journey from The Farm to the big city. There, among the many rows of stalls and shops in the Hub, or “Chi-Cago,” which it was sometimes called, she had heard several people refer to her parents as “Stakers”. She paid little mind to it at the time, as it didn’t seem to be an insult. Though a little detail, she thought about it occasionally, attempting to find meaning in the word.

Joelle recalled seeing streets filled endlessly with destitute and starving people. At the time, she wanted to take them back home with her and feed them all, even though at the time, they barely had enough just for themselves. She recalled feeling a great sadness that people existed in these conditions. The starving folk, bore little resemblance to the merchants peddling their wares. No, these people looked like the kind who broke Code and were set into stockades when she had been a child. Their faces had been gaunt, their bones looking like they were about to break through their skin. The practice of stockading was no longer allowed at The Farm, but its images still haunted her memories.

Back in current times, Joelle casually noted, one of the laborer boys, Danyel she believed his name was, cupping his hands around his pockets and walking rapidly in her direction. She also noted that he was about to run right into her.

Danyel had been busy. His coat pockets were full of several different varieties of pineapples. The matchstick sized Seeds were more valuable than gold. Gold long-since ceasing to be the standard by which value was measured.

She didn’t have much time left to dwell on her past, as Danyel was presently approaching, his head cocked to the side. He was currently looking at the path he was making, as if he were being followed. He ran square into her, completely oblivious to her presence until it was just a split-second too late. As soon as he saw who it was, he straightened up and greeted her with a monosyllable, tripping over his word several times.

She asked him what he was doing, and he looked at her with a ghost-white face, which was peeking out from his unkempt hair, which fell over most of his face like a mop. It only took a few softly stated questions for him to produce a handful of seeds from his pockets, which he hesitantly admitted he was planning on trading with a caravan. It was docked on the outskirts of town, and was just about to pull up and head back North, towards Hub City. He had planned on procuring some sweets, but not just for himself, he claimed.

Joelle gave the boy a long look. As an Elder, she was faced with a grave decision. She could remember when even children were cast out for much lesser infractions than the once-heinous crime of stealing Seeds. However, it wasn’t the severity of the crime that troubled her here, it was the boy’s age, not much older than that of her own, long-lost daughter.

Those memories of her daughter re-surfaced, the comfort she offered her mother though she was the one lying sick, and dying. The Farm wouldn’t have to feed her anymore, she had said, it would be her turn to feed the crops.

Danyel stood there in front of Joelle. She saw so much hope and potential. Not that he had made a particularly significant impression on her in the past, as she didn’t know the boy all that well. He didn’t particularly stand out in a crowd, and yet, he represented so much more than just this individual little child in front of her.

She instinctively reached out her arms, and pulled him close. She told him that even though she found him guilty, that she, and more importantly, The Farm, would forgive him as long as he never did something like this again. Her thoughts ran back and forth through time, and she remembered similar children’s fates at the hands of the old Elders. She thought of her trip to the Hub, and how unfair it was that some should live so well, and some should live so poorly. Joelle held him in her arms and she started to silently weep when the boy burst out into tears and told her how sorry that he was.

*****

Later on that same morning, the caravan, pulled up its rigs and rolled past The Farm in the still-early light. Its wheels creaked as they rolled, caked with dirt and dust. Gun barrels mounted on top of the wagons were darkened with the black powder from very regular use- defending the train from the desperate.

From one of the last cars, through the armor plated window, a sun-weathered man of about forty years named Lile, took a last, envious look around. He recognized the place of his birth, which looked so very different to him now, these many years later. All its fruits and obvious wealth acquired too late for him to have ever enjoyed them. He felt a tingle in his back, and anger rising in his voice, as he turned to his friend and said, with barely hidden malice, “Ya know, I remember this shiny little pile of cow dung. This is where I sprouted from.”

“Ree-aally?” Lile’s friend who shared the wagon car inquired, suddenly interested, but unable to get past his own jaded sarcasm.

“Yeah. I got kicked out for stealing seeds, and these scrapers traded me to this here very caravan for some stuff that was supposed to make the soil grow stuff better. Wasn’t even supposed to work from what I got told.”

“Well, it sure looks like it worked,” his friend stated with a wry smile.

“Sometimes you just can’t win.” Lile replied an air of defeat in his voice.

“Don’t be so hard on you,” said his friend, his face caked with dirt and grime, as the caravan slowly rolled off, heading back North, looking for its next place to stop and barter for its wares, “Sometimes you got to roll them bones.” 


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