Out of the Badlands: Part 15:
We headed down the driveway. The sheep protested pulling the cart at first, balking and groaning, but it was only the excess weight that seemed to be the problem. I pulled them along by their lead ropes, and Faustus got behind and pushed, using the handle he had repurposed from a closet rod so that it would be smooth and forgiving on the hands. The driveway was still relatively smooth; the local fauna had not yet obliterated the ruts. Bobby rode along in a little hammock designed especially for him, which jounced him gently, mitigating the harder bumps. The cart gained momentum, and we were off.
It felt both strange and freeing to be leaving for parts unknown. With the ewes turned out to forage for themselves—we had to hope that they would not wander too far or be killed in our absence, though at least it would be easy to identify ‘shorn’ versus ‘walking mountains of wool’—there was nothing to tie us down but sentiment and convenience.
I had gotten out of the practice of long hikes. By the time we stopped to eat, my legs were in open revolt. We unhitched the sheep and gave them time to graze, and Faustus unfolded the shelter from the back of the cart. It was repurposed from a nylon tent, which meant it didn’t add a lot of weight. I didn’t think it looked able to stand up to heavy winds, but I trusted him: anything that went wrong would affect him as much as Bobby and me.
I milked the ewe into Bobby’s sippy cup, and then we sat and rested under the shade of the tent, with a light breeze blowing hot across our bodies.
Faustus asked, “What happens if we find out people are living in something resembling society out there? Would you want to join them?”
“How can there be? We haven’t seen a single living person but each other—and the kids, and Bobby—in ages.”
“People tend to congregate. We’re not made to live alone.”
“The mortality rate must have been near a hundred percent.”
“Yes. Whole towns simply emptied. But think of the size of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. If people managed to survive the—whatever the airplanes spread—and there have to be more like us out there—and also managed to survive the mobs and the weather, well, it’d be natural for them to begin to gather together again. We did, didn’t we?”
“Okay. You found me. Why?”
“Because I was going nuts, talking to myself. I went looking for someone, hoping whoever I found, if I found somebody, they wouldn’t already be crazy.”
“Or still crazy.”
“And I, for my part, wasn’t actually looking for anyone, but I wasn’t averse to the idea. If I had been, for a start, I’d have disappeared when I realized you were following me. I let you find me. If you’d been crazy, I’d have killed you in your sleep that first night, if not before.”
I shuddered. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would have. The crazy ones weren’t people anymore. We don’t hesitate to kill a dangerous animal.”
“Sorry. I’m just looking at it from the point of view of now.”
“That was then. I didn’t know you, then.”
“Why did you even let me come to your fire, then?”
He shrugged. “You didn’t look crazy.” He smiled. “I have pretty good judgment on these kinds of things.”
He lifted Bobby away from where the baby was about to stuff a small branch into his mouth, putting him on his knee and bouncing him a little. “Lucky me. I told you before that I can’t imagine my life anymore without you.” Bobby squealed and laughed. Faustus added, “Or him.”
I felt a little uncomfortable with all this sentiment, so I brought the subject back around to the original question. “If we find people, we’ll see how it goes. Especially if they don’t react well to Bobby.”
He gave me a sharp glance. “Why shouldn’t they? Babies are the only future we have.”
“You know as well as I do—“
“—that he doesn’t look human. Yes, I know. But I haven’t seen anything about the way he’s developing to suggest his brain isn’t normal for a human. He’s hitting all the milestones as far as I’m aware. Sitting up, rolling over, tracking things with his eyes, making sounds. If his brain is human, then he is human, no matter how he looks.”
“People might not agree. Back before, you couldn’t even be a kid with glasses and hope to escape bullying.”
“Humans are just primates that can talk. Here’s my theory, okay? Primate groups have to be able to differentiate between ‘clan’ and ‘not clan’. Anything different makes you ‘not clan’. Every native people that has ever existed basically called itself ‘the people’ in its own language. Every other group—which usually spoke a different language due to isolation—was ‘not of the people’. They were often viewed as enemies. Inter-tribal warfare wasn’t uncommon. Neither was the enslavement of captured ‘non-people’. Being different, or weak, or injured, put the individual at risk of ostracism because of the perceived threat or liability to the group. It’s instinctive. Look how hard our governments tried—and tried—and tried—to snuff out all the –isms. They tried shame, legislation, and indoctrination from young ages, and still you would read about attacks by one group against someone not of that group. You can’t eradicate instinct.”
“But some people obviously overcame.”
“Sure. Through awareness and self-control. But then the Day happened. Whatever they did to us stripped us down to our raw instinctive—roots, or guts, or something—and you got the mobs. The ones who survived being stripped of rational thought and escaped the mobs still may not have been able to survive in the bush. I don’t expect the number of survivors is very high. But still, humans aren’t made to be alone.” He wiped a dribble of drool off Bobby’s chin. “If we find others, and they treat Bobby badly, we’ll leave again. Okay?”
“Okay.” I got up. “Time to get moving again before my muscles freeze up and you have to throw me in the cart and push me.”
He chuckled. “I’d do it, but I’m feeling the same way.” He got up, too. He put Bobby in his hammock, folded up the shelter and tucked it away, and helped me get the wethers into their harnesses again. We headed on. Within another hour, we could see the silhouette of farm buildings in the hazy distance. It helped to be able to see it, and even the sheep seemed eager to arrive. We stepped up our pace.