There was a place in the pacific northwest of America where the elders dared not to go. It reminded those who saw the end, with their own desperate eyes, of what it had felt like to lose hope. But they didn’t remember much before the empire fell. In the forests and glades, somewhere in the People’s Republic of Oregon, a thick dark valley slowly devoured the plants and animals that surrounded it. Helpless against the consumption, all life became slowly trapped between the Everdark, as it was called by those who remembered, and the places where the toxic sunlight burned hot through the holes in the sky.
As with most of the American states, Oregon and Washington had merged with some of their neighbors after the Federation lost power. Small settlements began to develop as people founded communities with other survivors around them. By the year twenty-one twenty, the states had all gone back to agrarian economic societies.
Farmland with good soil was the new prized real estate and the market was getting bloodier by the decade. Pretty soon all that remained of the great American empire was forgotten as Melinda Zulinski, the last of the Zeitcaust survivors, passed from the world. She lived to be one hundred and eight and left her legacy woven in the stories she told to her grandchildren.
* * *
Willow opened her eyes for the first autumn dawn, and peeled her body from her lover's. She rolled around in her furs next to Jonah for an hour or so, but he still twitched, dreaming, in a way that could not be faked. So she touched herself and thought of how she climbed atop him in the dark like a motorcycle and how powerful that made her feel. She could still feel the heat of him.
The wind shook the golden grass that threatened to snap at once, it was so brittle.
At full light, Willow gathered her tanning equipment and her favorite pre-Zeitcaust magazine simply titled "Cycles", and climbed the short hill back to Camp Central. She liked flipping through the old pages and smelling the paper while she waited for her new leather to set. Jonah was not far behind, a rusty assault rifle slung loosely back. His hands were full with small sacks of seeds and grain. His feet drug a path to the camp's main stores where he left his and Willow's shares for that week. Theirs was always a modest one, yet it was almost always the same amount, so their fellow Weaver Camp citizens were almost always grateful. It was more than most couples in the camp could produce that didn't result in another mouth to feed. Both were purposes that could not be argued against.
So that was the way of things until Illiah said otherwise. Nobody spoke above an elder.
Decades of drought winters had brought lessons to the survivors of exactly what to expect in the autumn; hungry Ferals with lots of guns and practice killing. Desperate people without skilled agrarian communities usually meant hostile and ultra-violent raids. The Weavers had guns and the wall and the illusion of security but they had no solidity or true experience. They had been left alone for the most part the recent years due to such a small size of community. Thanks to Illiah, however, their reputation had grown more and more widely known across the Pac during spring and their crops did exceptionally well that year. She was so concerned with production, and keeping her title "Champion" on as many lips and ears as possible, that she ignored the obvious backlash that comes with all fame.
"Every night I keep expecting to wake up with an arrow in my chest and a freshly cooked chicken squawkin' on the tip." Jonah said to Willow as she slid into the bedfurs beside him.
"At least it'll be cooked and you won't get sick." She kissed him goodnight.
* * *