Dreddy-Glamour-Girl beat time with the rhythm on the bodhram with her manicured fingers, not so much with joy in the music, but, Sheila thought, to show the world, or this small sphere at least, just how cool she was. Sheila didn’t like her. Dreddy-Girl had the self assurance, the confidence in her own prettiness, the arrogance that is common, or so it’s said, in “breathtaking beauties”; an arrogance that at times can make the rest of women question their value, their gorgeousness, their necessity in this world. She was beautiful. And cold. And lacking the ability to let another, “lesser” woman be pretty in her presence, much less the ability to allow that other to steal the attention of a handsome or powerful man away from the shiny orb she deemed herself to be. We’ve all heard of women like this, apparently they exist in droves, at least according to the complaints from women who don’t like other women, because because other women are “competitive” with each other. Sheila had always fought against this stereotype. Truth be told, she’d only met one other such girl in all her life life, and that was some thirty odd years ago. She hadn’t liked that one either.
On this night in particular, she was having a philosophical conversation with a guy, a guy with deep brown eyes, a voice like honey, hair down his back and a mischievous smile. They were bent in close to hear each other over the cacophony of the camp. Yes, he was one of the leaders, and, no, she was not interested, him being seventeen years her junior (young enough to be her son, she mused, had she discarded her virginity a few years earlier than she did) Dreddy-Girl cut in, interrupted the close conversation, pulled the unwitting man into her orbit with softer, closer talk, soulful looks, and, yes, though Sheila couldn’t believe she was seeing it, the batting of long, thick, mascaraed lashes. Dreddy Glamour Girl got him just interested enough that he forgot about conversing with Sheila and then…she left, her job, after all, being done. It was an odd bit of manipulation that Sheila could not grasp the meaning of. It left her confused (and him, perhaps, as well). But, again, Sheila saw him not as a prospect, but an interesting person to talk to…Dreddy-Glamour-Girl had unnecessarily derailed the interest train, because she misinterpreted it’s final destination.
Sheila made her way to the other side of the campfire, to sit with the rest of the envoy, those she had known from other travels, those that knew her, and respected her, and wouldn’t find it necessary to engage in mind-tricks and pissing contests.
She looked at Annie, older, matronly, dowdy, unarguably respected and a mother figure to all. Sheila wondered if Annie had to deal with with being challenged by the young and beautiful too, or was that reserved for those like Sheila who retained their own looks past the end of the world.
But where on earth had that girl come up with all her make-up? Had she looted every Rite-aid from here to the shell that once was Los Angeles? And why was it so important to have manicured fingernails when they were essentially traveling in the dessert like the lost tribes?
She let it go with a laugh. It was not something that really mattered in this rougher world of theirs. She relaxed and looked around.
The fire cracked and cast it’s golden glow on the travelers camped at the crossroads, on the two forces joined this night for camaraderie and conversation before parting again in the morning, to follow their divergent roads, one group to the west, one to the south, trading and stopping and gleaning. Carrying on.
A violin to her left began a doleful cry, a guitarist on the right picking up the cue, a flute caught the flow and soon the entire company swayed gently to it’s sweetness, as firelight flickered on transported faces.
The world was a smaller place now, it was easier to know the people you ran across, to recognize faces in the contracted crowds. The end of the world as we’d known it, had been relatively bloodless, as apocalypses go. No battle; No war; No Seven Horsemen;No spaceships arriving to take only those with a certain color of tennis shoes; no filling our babies bottles with poisoned Kool-Aid and forcing them to drink; no crazy spiritual guides advising mass suicide; no comets from outer space, no zombies…
People just died. As did pets…and farm animals, and deer in the forests. Folks complained of a headache, said they didn’t feel good, sat down and never got up again. Dogs took to their beds and didn’t rise when the mailman came or the leash was brought out. Birds in the cage or on the lines stopped singing and fell. There was no perceivable illness, just death, quick and practically painless, life breathed out and gone, just like that.
Scientists blamed the mining of asteroids that had started in the mid to late teens, by private companies, funded by movie moguls and high tech Billionaires. Something came back in a shipment of ore, but whether it was a microbe of some sort, or whether our closed ecological system had been thrown out of balance by the introduction of some extra bit of one mineral or another, the scientists didn’t know, and so much of the research was cut short by the mystery reaper that the answer may never come.
One third of the population was gone in a matter of weeks, then one half, then two thirds. Within a couple of months the deaths stopped, except for the old style, from actual, known diseases, or accidents, or old age…but births stopped among the living. What pregnancies did take hold were spontaneously aborted, but for the most part, no one and nothing conceived, zygotes failed to split, embryos didn’t implant, reproduction ceased. The population of the earth, whether human or animal or insect continued to slide downwards towards oblivion.
Then one day, a decade and a half into the disaster, a woman woke up with morning sickness, a cat had kittens, a dog had puppies, a fawn was seen in the forest. Slowly, achingly slowly, the world was righting itself.
Now there were children racing around the periphery of the campfire, not many, four or five, and none of them older than six, but they were there, precious living children. Hope.