Culture Shock

Life is horrible. For the first time ever, I feel useless. I can't do any research. I don't have Belle to talk to. I am happy that my grandmother is here, and we do talk a lot and have been catching up. But the days just go on forever, and I feel like I'm in limbo waiting for something to happen.

Don't get me wrong, there are tons of chores to be done every day. This is one of the few places that food is actually grown in the ground. According to my gramma, before the outbreak there wasn't much open land in this town, there were mostly schools and houses. And because of the red clay in the ground, people could garden but it was enough of a hassle that most only used gardening as a hobby, not for sustenance. However, as it turns out, that red clay did end up saving this community. In most of the world, when PTA got into the soil, it would spread to the plants and then to livestock, essentially poisoning everyone who ate local food. (we're fairly positive that's how the outbreak initially started to spread). In the areas where the soil was rich and healthy, the spread was even more rapid. However, wherever the ground was made mostly of clay or rock, the parasite would spread through the local food either very slowly or not at all.

So the little bits of gardens here were expanded, and when houses became empty, they were torn down and plowed by neighbors and volunteers. The locals were finding that they simply couldn't get food from the outside world, so they had to grow their own. Which believe me, is not a simple task in unhealthy soil. But as a community, they took care of each other. Whoever worked was given as much food as they needed, whoever was too old or too young to work was given jobs they could handle, and as long as they did those jobs they got as much food as they needed. My gramma is on the edge of being able to help work. She can't stand or walk for very long anymore, so she only has to do labor one day a week, and it's usually sorting the edible food from the rotten. The rest of the week, she babysits for people who do labor every day. She has one day off a week, and she only comes to the door at dawn to meet the parents and children on the days she babysits. If the kids aren't there within twenty minutes, the parents can't work that day. It's a community rule and everyone abides by it as much as possible. She explained this to me a few days after the accident, and it's why she answered the door with a gun that day...

But we had enough food for me not to work for about a week, then gramma took me to the community meeting on Sunday. We explained the situation to everyone, minus the part about Belle, and after a nurse had checked me out and made sure I was healthy and my worm was working properly, I was given a work schedule. So, from dawn to noon seven days a week, I go to a plot of land (which was once a soccerfield and track, which is why they call it 'The Track') at the bottom of the hill and I pull up weeds. I've always been in pretty decent physical shape, but I never knew muscles could hurt so bad as they did one week into the work. I also apparently get sunburned pretty easily. After noon, I walk back up the hill and over a few blocks to where they store the food, what used to be a high school.

I show an old man behind a counter my time card, which is punched down at The Track by an old fashioned time clock. They do a lot by trust here, but of course if one of my dozen coworkers saw me faking my work hours, I've been warned that they won't be gentle in correcting my laziness. Anyway, I hand my card to that old man, Roger, and he initials it and gives me a bag of food, twenty dollars, and asks if I have any needs. Anybody who needs some help with anything from roofing to childcare to medical attention gets put on a list and gets a ticket number, and someone for a team comes to help you as soon as it's your turn. The wait is usually about two weeks for common chores like broken windows or furniture. Medicine is the one thing that you're not first come first serve. If it's not an emergency, you're given an appointment usually about two or three weeks out. If it is an emergency, and they can't fix it with a bandage or some aspirin, you get put on a list based on priority.

Outside the food storage, there's a sort of market, where good people trade food during the day. For instance, if you're allergic to peanuts, you may trade your peanut butter ration for a few eggs from someone else. Every day, everyone gets the same things as everyone else, and it's up to them to find a trade if they need something different. During the night, however, the trades may be for anything, including drugs and sex. Of course, sex trading is illegal, because it's so easy to spread PTA that way that anyone caught is charged with attempted murder. So that's not really very common, but it does happen. Drugs, however, while technically illegal aren't really governed unless they're being used as a weapon. So there are a lot of those.

There's not much you can do with cash anymore, besides buying gas or guns. So most of the people who are trying to get out of town are the ones who will sell half their food for cash. I don't know if I'm going to leave or not, but who knows? Hopefully I'll find a reason and I don't want to be stuck for months without a way out if that does happen. Better the plan for the unknown.

After noon, I'm basically free to do whatever I want. Even though everyone takes good care of each other like we did back home, there's not a very tight community here. Back home, we all lived in the same few buildings and worked at the same few places. Here, there are about as many people but they're all spread out. Everyone's got a house. Families who didn't have homes before the outbreak eventually overtook the many abandoned homes in the central part of town. Many of the people who did have homes, but found that they were too far away from the center of town to feasibly and safely get there and back for food and supplies ended up moving into town as well. But there are always the hermits, and the people who would rather fend for themselves, and the people who were just too attached to their homes to leave who are still scattered on the outskirts. And since nobody's home is connected to anybody else's like they were back home, nobody sees each other much. Even with the worm, and the slightly cleaner air here, it's still not that safe to be outside. The eight hours we spend working outside every morning, and the fact that there are no decontaminating air locks anywhere are worrisome enough that everyone is mandated to get checked up once a month. Even with properly working worms and the medication everyone has to take, they still require everyone to wear an old coal mining respirator, long sleeves, gloves and long pants if they're going outdoors for more than thirty minutes.

Gramma watches kids til dark, so sometimes I go home and help her, but usually I don't really want to. For some reason, hanging out there with all those children just depresses me. So instead, I usually just put my food away and sneak out the back door and go to the garage. Back there is an old computer with connection to the internet, so I can look around and see what's going on in the science community.

Belle was right about John. There's a warrant out for my arrest for treason. So I can't log in to any of my accounts and see anything private, for fear of the government tracing it back to me. Instead, I just watch what's going on in the news and on public forums. There's not been a breath about what they're really working on. They're doing a really good job keeping the fact that human brains secrete the cure to PTA. I guess they would arrest me if they did find me, just to keep my mouth shut about that. Not that I would tell anyone. I understand the implications, and I don't want my brain to be taken away from me so someone can try to save their loved ones. It's not that I'm selfish, I just don't want to die. And people get PTA every day still, heck, even here there are five adult deaths a year and at least twenty newborns die every year because of PTA. With a population just shy of two thousand, that's a lot. So the government's concern about letting this knowledge slip is legitimate.

I've tried to see if John is even still an active member of the community, but all I can find is that he is the one who provided my photo for the police. Sometimes I worry that someone here in St. Albans will tip off the people looking for me, but most of them aren't too concerned with the news, according to gramma. And the ones that are usually are not big fans of the government that essentially left the community to die. They've got an unwritten law here, as long as you act like us and don't harm us, you're one of us. So that's a comfort. I don't know what the police would do with me if they found me. Lock me up? Force me to help them find a way to replicate a cure? That last one wouldn't be so bad. I wouldn't mind working on it as long as I can put my name on my research. But, who knows, there aren't really any precedents set forth about treason anymore. Would they use me for research? Use me to immunize the politicians and powerful people? I don't really want to find out. So I have to lay low until they decide I'm not worth looking for anymore. In other words, I'm stuck in limbo, without Belle, without any friends, without contact to the people of my field, without anything that has made my life worth living for the last ten years. This place is boring, so much so that sometimes I secretly wish for someone to contract PTA so I can have a cadaver to study. I know, that's terrible, but it's the truth. I feel like I'm losing not only my mind, but my intelligence. This place is purgatory, and I am so homesick I can't sleep.

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