This is the year of 83, 83 years after Ragnarök, Nthe apocalypse, the end of one time and the beginning of another. I was born on the tenth year of the new beginning. My father used to tell me stories about the life before the end of time while he was putting me to bed at night. The little he himself remembered that is, he was on his twentieth year when he fathered me, so he was only a child when it all unfolded. I was the last of my mother’s children and she was a around thirty when she mothered me. As the Homestead still was fairly small at this time and the surroundings a lot more hostile back then, she left for the Outward guard not long after my seventh birthday. But before she left she took me out for a walk above ground. She dressed me up in the smallest outdoors overall there was and carefully fitted the air filter over my mouth and nose. As she herself was soon going to move permanently above ground she was not wearing a mask herself.
In my early years, I had only been above ground for the short periods of time in the summer months, to get my dose of vitamin D. Carefully measured periods of time after heavy rains and with regards to the damaged ozone layer, when the fathers and brothers, the mothers to be and all the children would stand naked on the carefully cleaned flagstones in the middle of the encampment to catch as much sun as they could in as short time as possible. All while the Outer guard stood watching the surroundings from the palisade of the homestead in case raiders would appear. As the years passed and the radiation level got lower and the ozone layer got thicker, the period allowed above ground got longer and longer. As the soil got cleared for more and more polytunnels, the age for when the mothers, sisters and others had to leave for the Outward guard got higher.
I was part scared of going outside the palisade and part caught by the solemnity of the moment. Some of the older children’s mothers had already left for the Outwards guard and had told tales of their heroic efforts to keep us all safe. So far most of them had returned to celebrate the Mother’s Day festivities but Anna, David and Kevin had had to keep a brave face on when realizing that their mother was not only late but terminally delayed from appearing at the celebration. There was no more room left for doubt when her name was entered on the wall of remembrance and her few worldly belongings from the hold passed over to Anna. Their father Simon cried all the way through the ceremony and the other fathers tried to comfort him while the mothers payed their regards to him and the children.
As my mother helped me get dressed, she told me about the last years before the end of the old times. Instead of focusing on the wonders of the high-tech world and the luxuries of the everyday life as father used to do, she told me a saga about how the greed of man had caused brother to stand against brother, watching the other starve to death or suffocate from unbreathable air. And finally, how everything had culminated with an enormous nuclear all-out war that had not only killed about half of the world’s population but also caused a nuclear winter that had made almost nothing grow for two full years and had severely affected the harvests for three more years. In the end or rather the beginning, leaving only a few survivors, fighting for the few scraps of food and shelter that was left. I had of course heard this version before, as told by the fathers and brothers that taught us in school. But I hadn’t heard it before from my mother, that was also there in person, for the end of time.
Her parents had been part of a group, who more for social reasons than out of a real belief that the world would end had banded together and bought an old military facility. It had been decommissioned and sold, since it was no longer up to standards and wouldn’t withstand any larger bomb blasts. As it was nowhere near any current military targets and in the middle of a relatively scarcely populated rural area, the different parties of the group still found that it would suit their needs as a getaway for potential social unrest and a place where they could practice what at the time was a fad called “living of the grid”. My mother told me that she had been around my age, when they started going there on spare weekends to refurbish it and fit the place with new equipment for such things as a hydroponic facility or a new water filter. As the political climate got worse and worse, what at first had seen like a quirky past time, had begun feeling as an important necessity. They spent more of their free time working on what initially was jokingly referred to as the Homestead and almost all of their savings was poured into pieces of equipment and long-lasting food stuff. When first a curfew was announced, soon followed by martial law, most of the initial group managed to get to the facility before mayhem broke loose. It was in good time as only a few days later the bombs started falling over most of the larger cities in the world.
My mother paused her story to point out the trails of a pack of wild dogs. It turned out to be a few days old and my mother reassured me that it was probably the trails of the pack shot by the other Outer guards two days ago. She eased up a bit and put back her bow in the carrying position and the arrow back in its quiver. As we continued down the path down the slope from the palisade, she resumed her story, familiar to me as I knew the outcome but at the same time new, as I only heard it chanted by the fathers and brothers before.
At first, they had all sat in chock as they heard Ragnarök being played out on the news on the last remaining tv and radio stations they managed to tune in to. The following day, a family that hadn’t made it in time, turned up banging on the outer door and calling on the intercom. All five of them were in bad shape but they pleaded us to take in the children. They had tried to shield them in the same type of overalls you are wearing now my little heart, she told me. It was probably not doing much good around such levels of radiation but hope is the last thing that dies. Her voice welled up, it very rarely did, when she spoke about how there was a big argument about whether to let them in or not. The argument had divided the mothers and sisters and the fathers and brothers in two separate groups. When the argument culminated two of the fathers had hit some of the mothers trying to open the hatch, to go through the airlock dressed in overalls, to let the children in. Another father as it turned out, had brought a gun, which had not been locked in the armory as agreed and threatened to shoot anyone that dared to open the door. The mothers and sisters withdraw to the larger recreational area with all the children and the young that had not yet become a mother or a father among which was my own mother. After a couple of hours there were no more calls on the intercom. As the anger of the mothers grew in the night, half of them slipped out an unlocked the armory. When morning came and my mother had woken up, her mother and the other mothers and sisters, had locked all the fathers and the older brothers in one of the dormitories. They accused them of bringing the end of the world into the Homestead. They accused them of being the likes of the brothers that killed each other out of greed. They accused them of the actual end of the world. They even held a trial.
The story told by the fathers and brothers in school included a lot less shouting. The fathers in that story had very quickly realized their errors and come out to repent. In my mother’s story, it was only after they turned off the water to the dormitory, that the last of them gave up and came out to accept the judgement of the trial. No father or brother was allowed to carry any type of weapon, neither were they allowed to make any decisions regarding the Homestead. They were also not allowed to own anything personal, as it could set off their greed. They were to repent by picking up the burden of nurturing to counteract their urges to conquer and corrupt that which makes up society. The council of mothers and sisters was formed and as the years passed the Outward guard was formed by the mothers who was done with bearing children, sisters and a few of the others who said they were neither mothers, sisters, fathers or brothers.
We had now gone down the path in the middle of the slope and were following the small creek at the bottom of the hill, it seemed wild and deep to my young eyes that had not seen much of the world on the outside yet. But now I know I can jump over it on a good day when my knees don’t bother me much. My mother passed a long a bottle of water and a food package to the Outward guard who was standing there on lookout. They exchanged a couple of words about my mother’s soon to come transition ritual and the gray-haired Outward guard gave me a pat on the shoulder before we started the walk back along the creek and up the path up the slope. We sat down outside the palisade in the shade and shared a remaining bottle of water. Ada, my daughter, she started as to mark the significance of the moment. When I leave for good for the Outwards guard it will be your responsibility as a future mother, sister or another to make sure that the fathers and brothers, including your own father and your own brothers of the Homestead, stay on the nurturing path. When you have had all the children you want to have, it is time to join the Outward guard to make sure that we all stand protected and that the nurturing path is spread in the world. It is the responsibility of the mothers, sisters and others to make sure that we continue this new beginning of time. It might seem unfair to your fathers and brothers but they have much to repent before they can be trusted again. Maybe it will take as many years as the last time lasted.
I met her a couple of times more before her name was written on the wall of remembrance and her belongings was passed on to me. But this was the last time we had a longer conversation. She took part in securing the two last remaining camps in the area that had not yet made a new beginning and parted from the old times. I was told that she helped save four mothers held as slaves and their children before being stabbed to death by one of the wounded fathers left for dead. I kept my promise to my mother to keep my father and my children’s father on the nurturing path. I mothered two children out of which both decided to be mothers of their own. Although by this time the age when a mother had to leave for Outward guard had increased to closer to the fifties rather than the forties I went through the transition ritual around the same age as my mother had. As they passed from children, to young, to potential mother’s, it felt right to give them room and help keep them safe rather than hanging around waiting for the inevitable. I had also seen too many mothers having a hard time leaving their children’s children behind and maybe that was the real reason I decided to leave early.
I don’t regret my choice, it has so far given me one live mostly underground in the Homestead keeping my father, my brothers and my children’s fathers on the nurturing path and another one about equally long above ground, spreading and securing the nurturing path in an area where you now have to walk for two full days before you run into places where the time has not had a new beginning. My children’s children were born and mostly raised above ground although still behind palisades. If I can still jump over the creek next summer it could well be that I get to fight side by side with my first-born child. The father of my children will still be alive to cry for me as my name is written on the wall of remembrance and my belongings are being passed on to the mother that comes after me.