Thruhiker – Day 8

March 27 (6:00 – 15:45)
Magnolia Promenade – Newcrest (20 mi)
Total C2C miles: 143.5
Weather: Cloudy, partly sunny AGAIN – rain in the morning, clearing in afternoon

It’s silent when I wake, save for raindrops on the hard pavement and tiled roofs.

No one is in the courtyard, and the vendor that I bought the tea from last night is closed up, a note pinned to the door.

Service suspended, due to pandemic shut-down, per Governor’s order.

We’ll open for take-out once we find a way to get PPE.

Be safe, people. Masks on!

The pandemic? I check my phone, scrolling through Google’s newsfeed.

When I left, a week ago, the pandemic was something that was on another continent. We didn’t have to worry about it here.

I admit, I hadn’t even looked at the news, except for weather reports, during the past week. But one week? Could things change that much in a week’s time?

Indeed. On Friday, with 120 people testing positive in the state, 55 in this county, Governor Kracken, spooked by rising death counts across the nation’s border, joined governors across the country in issuing “shelter-in-place” orders.

We were all to stay at home.

What does that mean for me, who doesn’t have a home, at present? My home is the trail, until I get where I’m going.

And what of others who don’t have homes?

I scan the executive order. The homeless are to find shelter. Or get tested and then go into quarantine, if positive, or temporary housing, if not.

No mention made of travelers or thru-hikers, like me, only that travel is being canceled, and everyone is to go home. This isn’t going to work.

I’m frightened. I’m confused. I just walk, leaving Magnolia Promenade.

I think, if I can just get through here, without seeing anyone, with no one seeing me, it will be OK.

Just stick to the trail.

I walk and I focus on my heartbeat, the rhythm of my breathing, my rushed steps. I focus on the moist air, and I wonder, does the virus survive better in humid or arid conditions?

No one is around.

I walk, and no one is around, and if no one is around, then there is no one to spread the virus.

How did this all happen so sudden? Why did I not know?

Of course I didn’t know, for I haven’t spoken to anyone. But I wonder why the vendor didn’t tell me when I bought my tea last night.

I think of the revelers at the bar, their shouts and songs and noise. Of course. It was their last party before shut-down.

The sun comes out, blaring its rays across the pond, and I realize that the sun doesn’t care about viruses. It shines regardless.

It’s not silent, for robins, thrushes, wrens, and mockingbirds sing, louder than ever. But there is no noise of cars or planes.

I simply walk because I don’t know what else to do. The trail winds beside the river between Magnolia Park and Newcrest, so it’s a pleasant hike, and when my thoughts cease and my breath keeps me going, one foot after the next, I don’t have worries.

I walk like this all day.

When at last I reach the Newcrest Park, I head into the forest, way off the trail and out of sight of any houses. This will do. I’m trying to find a balance between denial, responsibility, helplessness, need for control, and just being a person with a dream of hiking across country. I feel like a fugitive.

But no one anticipated this, right? And for right now, I don’t really see many options for me. So I guess I’ll just keep on with my hike.

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Winter: On Wing and Prayer

Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge - Veteran, Nov-Dec 2020

This story is part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated and hosted by the amazing LisaBee. Please read the other stories, then, if you’d like share your votes for your favorites in the Veteran and Novice categories. You’re also encouraged to write and submit your own Sims short story! Deadline is Dec. 30. Note: Links to other stories and voting will be available at Lisabee’s blog on Jan. 1, 2021. Polls close Jan. 6, 2021

Stack of boxes of decorations in a dark hall

I can’t bring myself to decorate this year. I went to the attic, lugged down the boxes of construction paper chains and clove-studded styrofoam balls we made, my sisters and I, twenty years ago, but the boxes sit in the hall, as closed up as I feel inside.

My therapist tells me that grief is harder for sons and daughters, like me, who were emotionally neglected children. The only mood acceptable in our childhood home was cheerfulness stirred with an unhealthy dose of denial. It got us through with the illusion of being a happy family, especially during the holidays, when our good cheer ramped up with excitement and tension. But it didn’t teach us how to deal with other feelings.

If there’s anything this year has demanded, it’s been to learn to deal with those other things. That sounds too glib.

Everything sounds glib to me now, for the deepest words, the only ones that come close to touching this year, they’re buried shut.

Sometimes, I feel if I could only pull out one word, or two, that could express something of what we’re all feeling, I would be OK.

Looking sad

I figure I heard my dad say, maybe, 65,000 words–I mean, throughout my lifetime. Ten words a day, on average, for 18 years. Then, 10 words a day each time I saw him, which was maybe two or three times a year after that, for the next 10 years. And now, he’s silent forever. It’s not many words.

I must have heard my mom say 65,000 words a year–if not a day. You’d think the silence of her voice would be louder, but it’s my dad’s silence I notice more.

I don’t think I ever heard what I wanted to hear from either of them, not from my dad’s reticence nor my mom’s loquaciousness. And now, I won’t ever.

They died in April, a week apart, on ventilators, both of them, back in the days when doctors didn’t know to prone patients, back the first time hospitals were full, back when we thought that life would return to normal by now.

There’s no normal anymore. A few weeks after the Zoom memorial, the editor told all of us we’d be working remotely through June 2021, at least. The server team needed to stay where they could VPN in easily to the servers, but the writers, like me, could work from anywhere.

At the beginning of summer, when I couldn’t stand the idea of staying in my apartment through the heat of July and August, I moved up here to our family cabin. WiFi is surprisingly good, thanks to the State Park headquarters.

I tried to talk my sisters into bringing their households up here. We could form our own bubble, I figured, and I’d get to be with my niece and nephew. Good place for kids.

But my big sister was too busy with the kids’ remote learning, and her doctor husband couldn’t really leave his clinic. My little sister didn’t want to leave her Instacart job. “People count on me,” she said. “Maybe it’s not an important job, but it keeps older people safe.” Her boyfriend was earning overtime in the Amazon Fulfillment Center.

So, I’ve been isolating here by myself.

Jasper making sandwich

Sometimes my little sister and I will meet up online at ESO and run a dungeon or two. Sometimes her boyfriend will join us. We’ll talk on discord while we fight Daedra and Dremora.

But there are more nights when I’m alone. I don’t know if solitude helps processing grief or makes it harder. All I know is I have so much time to think that sometimes I can’t help but feel.

Crying on the couch

It was my little sister who turned me onto the discord channel for Covid Losers. Everyone there has lost someone or something to the pandemic. There are a lot of people like our family who lost parents. Then there are others who lost jobs, houses, plans, graduations, weddings, or their health.

It’s ripped into all of our lives.

Writing on the computer

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel worse. It’s not schadenfreude, for I’m not happy at their suffering. It’s just that, I’m not so alone.

Brewing coffee

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to lose anyone or anything.

But talking to the others on discord, I realize that we aren’t losing alone. It’s like, we haven’t been singled out.

Eating alone at the counter

It’s swept through all our lives.

Drinking coffee

It’s winter now. Solstice. It’s dark by 4:15, and the silence is greater than I’d imagined.

I’ve been remembering how, even though my dad didn’t really talk, he used to sing.

Standing outside at night

He liked to sing happy songs, “Mares Eat Oats.” But he liked to sing hymns, too, especially the tragic ones. I must have heard him sing more words than I ever heard him speak.

When I was little, I used to listen for his bass, winding through the house. I could feel the low notes in my bones. Sometimes I sing now, in a voice that sounds like his.

On the solstice, I go out into the dark night. I think of everyone I know who has lost someone, something. I think of my two sisters and their households. I think of the countless people I don’t know, who have lost, too, and how this darkness holds all of us, in its silence, the stilled voices of those who no longer speak.

Profile in night

And in a voice that sounds like my dad’s, I sing into the darkness:

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee
Only Thou art holy

Looking out into the peaceful darkness

As I sing, words don’t matter. It’s just voice, the deep resonance, that reaches out, fills the space, calls in memory, pulls out feelings. Around the world, people cry, and sing, and laugh, and weep some more, and this darkness surrounds them, with their living, breathing voices filling the emptiness.

This is the darkest night. Starting tomorrow, days will be longer.