Harold looked out over the dusty hills. Connecticut. He had hoped to never come back through these thieved and barren lands. He could remember when there were still rolling hills of maple and oak trees, where crab apple trees would find themselves singular in a small field, or the bubbling and flowing creeks that ran between hill and home, under the bridge and through trails. It was a picture that lived in his thoughts, swimming trout, patient lures, dewdrops and the early songs of morning-loving birds.
He could recall the time when friends and family rode through town and country, cars that zipped and sang music. Ahhh, music, he missed that most of all. Harold would hum to himself often, trying to score to memory the songs that had shaped him, that had reached out and plucked the cords of his heart. And cheeseburgers, he’d do unspeakable things for a burger and beer.
What a feeling that would be!
But no more. Those fuckers had chased their gold, their greed, wants and desires unbidden with thought, careless, fucking careless.
A gust of wind breathed down the dry dirt hills, the land coughed up more dust and bone-dry dirt, and Harold watched as it drifted along with the air current, flowing his way. Leafless brush and brown grass clung timidly to the disintegrating earth.
He had sworn never to come back here, but sometimes a man must break his word. Sometimes a word is given unbeknownst to need. Sometimes a stronger oath shatters the confinement of another. That was the case, most obviously, as he walked through Old Windsor. He was a fool, death lived in these hills. The growth no longer lived up here. It had retreated to the South he heard, and chased. In the South, he heard to the North.
Harold had seen that shit in a movie before and laughed at the irony. From the big screen to the real thing. It was funny, all this, so enraged at the state of the world that his thoughts brought forth a gesture to his hands. Well, not so funny. Sad, and so human. Like a woman scorned, or a man of prickled pride, insult to injury, all of this desolation for nothing more than a new candy. A goddamn piece of delicious, any flavored candy, any texture candy, and sweetness, it was pretty fucking awesome. Still. Not worth the world.
He had indeed found spots of Growth left, where the land still held to hope, to life, heedless to the workings of men. Though now, they were prized, and controlled by the powerful, the persuasive, the influential, basically anyone with the biggest gun, the biggest set of balls. You know, that hairy kind that doesn’t give a damn how it tastes when they shove em’ down your throat. Figuratively of course, though some right-pricks did that shit.
The sun shone bright and heavy, leaden with pierced heat, a light to burn the horror of the new world into mind and heart. Though the new generations, however small they happened to be, didn’t know any difference, only through sad eyes of remembrance, the cracked voice in the story, could the feel, the scope, of what was lost be felt.
It is funny, in a horrific sad kind of way, really it wasn’t fucking funny at all, how insignificant man could attribute any act to be. How trivial they made themselves. In the end, though, Harold knew, the world would grow eventually with or without them. Life would continue, a man may not. The universe had a song to sing, and as sure as the sun shines it would sing it. What he found funny, was how small the people of this world had painted themselves, how small they still did.
But, he mused, a man is what he is, and none but himself can change it.
Back in god-blasted Connecticut. He only hated it because he grew up here. Surely that sounded odd at first, but he knew the sense of it. What man would wish to look upon the home of childhood, burned to nothing? None. Well, maybe Crazy Spanz, that asshole had been wandering these parts for decades, he reveled in some weird shit.
The day was a hazy one, the Razed Airs were on the move. As long as he stayed off-wind he had nothing to worry over, and he had spent much of his life wandering the vast desert of the grand U.S.A. home and country, he spat. Harold was a Waterman. He would scour the world for water, sources that still clung to life, nothing really flowed overland anymore. In the end, all the land had been churned up to pump out the satiating candies, it had been madness. Every warning known had been sounded, every alarm pressed, every thoughtful voice, and on and on the damn consuming world went. Plow and plant, synthetic plants that bloomed the sensational candies.
Really, they were a marvel, he could have gone for one now, fucking world-ending-delicious candies. The blue kind that had red spots had been his favorite, to describe it would shame its’ flavors, would betray the delight that pranced across taste-bud and tongue.
He stopped, and looked around, rolling hills colored a burnt brown, a blue-less sky, even if he found a clean spring, no plants would grow. Only in the scarce land that had been free of the pillaging candied plants could anything be grown.
All the experts had assured, they had promised, that the land would replenish itself. Basically, without any real research, driven from the pressure of demand and greed of fortune, a story based around the industrial age concept of crop rotation was cited. The world ate it as a bear eats honey. Who cares about the stinging bees when there is so much sweetness!?
Well, now they fucking cared. Most of the world’s population was buried beneath that caring, the care of regrets in the last breath of life. The pains of a life spent eating candy and forgetting the fruits. A damn apple tree never chewed the land to non-use. It was truly amazing the inventions and exponential increase in technologies developed to cultivate, gather, hold, distribute and enjoy the sweet-filled candies.
Harold walked, a dark mood brewed within. His desolate use-to-be home wasn’t fair, he was feeling the pains of hunger, and it had been days since he had found any water. Every footstep felt heavy, dust puffed up around his worn shoes with each footfall, leaving small clouds of dust lingering in the air. The air was dry, everything was dry, all the water had washed away to the oceans, fleeing the fist-full workings of the land.
How many years had passed now? More than two decades. He remembered vividly the last dying hours of civilization. When food and water ran low, then out. How hunger and thirst and desperation had driven mad the whole earth. Blood and fire tore through country and friends alike.
Up to the dirt hills, over the crest, look around, squint a bit for good measure, repeat. That was most of his day, he had been out from Farthings for nearly three days now, the Water Haven he was calling home for now. His supply of freshwater, not that there was any more unfresh water out here, was dwindling quite splendidly. He allowed himself a long drink. Harold was good at finding water, even so, he had never found a new Growing Spring. That was where the glory was! He could sell its location for a heavy price or start his own Haven. Though there was often a high blood price on that occupation, he had no dreams of being Haven Master.
Nah, give him a full water pouch and…
A movement far off caught his attention. Three hills over he thought he saw the shape of a man before it disappeared behind the crest of the hilltop. He watched for a long minute, it felt long to him, like it was drawn out over a bacon stretcher. Harold dreamed of bacon as he walked toward the hill.
By the time he arrived, about a half-hour later; hard to tell without anything to measure time in hand, it felt like a good guess, he hadn’t seen anything else. He wasn’t worried about the Razzers, he was too far north for them, they liked to stick in the York Fields, maybe that’s where they were from. Most likely the fellow was another Waterman.
He placed his foot on the top of the hill, looking out across the treeless hills, the rolling piles of endless dirt, the wind felt stronger, offering a push instead of caress. His hair pulled itself into the current; his coat, cut in the long fashion, billowed out into the wind too. He could see what would have been the Connecticut River, it snaked and wove through the land, dried and caked, crusted over, a dead river.
Madness, folks had planted the damn candy plants in the dried-up riverbed! All the wildlife had died off too, with no ecosystem that was rather expected. He suspected soon the atmosphere would flee too. That was the reason he searched and scoured the land, the more growth spots they found, the more hope to bring life back to the planet. It was a small hope, fleeting, and would take the lifetime of more than his to finish.
He looked down, to trace the footprints, to follow whoever was ahead, and found them. At the bottom of the hill, a man lay in a heap. Harold looked around, nothing seemed dangerous, there was nowhere for anyone to hide anyway. He rushed down to the fallen figure.
It was indeed a man, though it didn’t seem he was a Waterman, he looked to be a Haven Tender. That was a job of security, no constant days spent on the Barrens. Maybe a small excursion, but nothing to bring a man days from the nearest Haven. Harold gave him a shake and received a quiet groan in return. Well, that was good.
He looked around again, he would need to get the man on his feet and moving, no way he could carry him the three days back to his Haven. With only a little effort he managed to right the fellow up and get some water into his stomach. This gave a little life to him. Though he looked ashen and gaunt.
“Hey, you, wake up!” Harold croaked, he hadn’t spoken in days and his voice showed it.
After a couple more tries, a shake, a few drops of water, he managed to get the fellow to open an eye. For an unfocused second, they looked at each other. The dying man tried to whisper, and Harold did the best he could to hear. “….ocket…”
As though that single word took out the last of his effort, a rattling breath escaped his lungs, and the life faded from him. Harold sat there for a moment, offering his thoughts to the passed man.
He guessed the word had been ‘pocket’, unlikely it was going to be ‘socket’. After a moment of searching, he felt something, a small round thing hidden in the folds of the man’s coat.
In horror, awe, excitement, basically, as he pulled the object from the man’s pocket, his heart leaped from his chest, it pounded, he could feel it’s beat in head and ear, he began to sweat and shake. He for an instant almost threw the thing with all his might. Instead, he closed his hand around it, gently, in a loving way. He carefully put it into one of his own pockets.
He managed to do the man the honors of a true burial, without shovel it was not easy, but there was a handily shaped rock nearby he used. Covered in dirt, and sweat, the sun beat down on Harold, it was a harsh sun during the hours of midday. Harold sat there, the man was buried, his prize had passed on. Harold knew now why the man was out here and was doubly glad he had a good bit of water left, and triply glad he was a Waterman.
It was his job to seek the liquid of survival.
There were still hours left to the day, he took a measured drink, and stood. He was both glad and horrified that he had come back to Connecticut. He took a step, then another, and another. Thought grabbed hold of his attention and for a long while he walked mindlessly, the way a man does when he’s reading. He stumbled up and down dirt hills, through rock fields and even a ravine, though he barely noticed. He walked, and his thoughts raged.
Then, near the end of the day, when the sun was just beginning to touch land on the horizon, Harold found a Water Spring. He had nearly fallen into it. At the bottom of a small cliff, in a hidden place of the world, the kind that you would never find unless you nearly fell into it, he found the Spring and growth. True growth.
He cried out and fell to the ground in overwhelming relief. Tears ran down his face, streaking his dirtful cheeks. It took the rest of his strength to crawl and climb down to the Growth Spring, where he promptly fell to his knees and splashed the freshwater on his sunbaked head. It felt wonderful, fresh, clean, crisp, it washed his weariness away, brought wit back to his thoughts.
He had one last thing to do before he fell asleep. Looking around he saw this Growth had begun to spread, it was healthy, a beacon for the world, small plants and bits of grass grew in a wide circle around the bubbling spring. The cliff walls rose up about fifty feet in a great half-circle, the other half led out into what may have once been a forest.
After long moments of looking and feeling and thinking, he stood over a spot, and dug a hole one foot deep and one foot wide. He used his hands, the dirt was soft enough for him to easily do. Hesitantly, as though a huge piece of him cried out to stop, he pulled from the thing from his pocket. The round, treacherous, delightful blue candy, there were red spots on it. All he had to do was plant it, and in days he would have a plant, in weeks afield. The voice that cried, pounded on the doors of his thoughts, grew quiet. Besides it was just one Growth Spring, and he was alone, he could live out here forever! Enjoying a crop of his own candies!
Harold laughed, loud, hard, his ribs cracked, tears ran down his face.
Now that he thought of it, his home would have been somewhere around here, he could remember a wrapping cliff, crowned with tall trees, and a babbling creek that bubbled from an old spring.
It is said, that through the years, somewhere in the Barrens of Connecticut a secret grove of candy grew. None who went in search of it returned. Then again, if found, who would? Even the legendary Waterman, Harold of Windsor was said to have disappeared looking for it.