Getting it all in the ground.

Today I buried my family.  I SkIMped all the relatives in my Mom’s contacts – got about five answers, none of them close enough to offer more than condolences.  I didn’t want to try the neighbours just yet – they’re probably going through the same thing.  There won’t be any emergency services or undertakers on call for a long time yet, so I dug the graves myself, and wrapped each of them up and buried them.  We’re not what you’d call a church-going family, but Mom and Dad would sometimes say a prayer when times were tough, and Carla was a pretty keen curser, so I put together some crosses to mark the graves.  I thought about calling a priest to do funerals, but it’d be better not to have anybody come in, in case of infection – mine or theirs.

There are a ton of funeral service templates on the socnets right now, did you know that?  You can just fill in the names and a few choice memories and download pre-recorded services, complete with music.  I didn’t do that.  I used some of the questions they give you about the departed to put together my own.  I pulled some good recent photos off my skystore and added the names and dates, then printed and laminated them to staple onto the crosses.  Worst bit was when I couldn’t remember the year Dad was born and almost got out my handset to SkIMp Carla.  The last thing I did was promise them I’d take care of the farm.  It’s their legacy, my inheritance.  It’s all I have left of them.

When you’re alone it’s easy to go into denial, and it still feels like they’re away at the produce fair or sitting up in the house, not lying under the ground by the herb garden.  I catch myself forgetting all the time, not wanting to believe it.  You get distracted, doing the daily chores like normal, it’s difficult to focus on.  You just have that feeling of something missing, like there’s something you forgot to do and it’ll come back to you any minute, but you’re not gonna think about it yet, you’re gonna get on with what you need to do first.  I’m getting the farm in order, tending the crops for autumn, preparing to plant the winter root veg, looking up any fertilisers or sprays they’re gonna need.  It’s all about putting things in the ground.  That’s what I got to do now.  Just get it all buried.

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This can’t be happening

So, I saw Mei’s comment this morning and it finally clicked, because I am such a fucking dumbass.  Mei could see what was going on from 10,000 miles away, and all I could do was moan about not getting my dinner.  So Mom was right: I am a spoilt little schmuck who needs to grow up and take responsibility.

Fucked up way to say goodbye, though.  I mean, she couldn’t just say: “Don’t come up to the house, son, we got flu,” and, you know, “I love you,” or some shit.

I guess I knew something was up, but I couldn’t place it – maybe I just didn’t want to. There was something strange about that SkIMp call – not the lectures, I get that crap all the time.  But the first thing Mom asked was: “How are you?  How are you feeling, Jack?”  And she sounded kind of intense.  So I said, “I’m fine, Mom, it was just a head cold.”  I didn’t ask how she was.  I don’t think I ever asked how she was, all my life.  She was just Mom.  Her job was to be fine, to be around when I needed her, to look after me.  I never thought she could be sick, let alone dead.

Dad and Carla are still sick.  I’m checking in on SkIMp every ten minutes or so.  Whenever I get through, I just say “Do you need anything?”, and they say, “You asked that already,” and start coughing again, and it hurts them to talk and we don’t know what to do, so we turn off the SkIMp again.  Dad doesn’t want me to see him on the camera.  Carla says he’s been crying blood.  She’s coughing up blood now.  They have enough food and water in easy reach, there’s nothing they need – nothing that’ll help.  Mom locked and bolted all the doors and windows when she saw they were sick, and they all agreed that before any of them got delirious she should hide the keys.  She must’ve thought I’d bust in, or that they might run out the house and go looking for me.

Dad just wants me to keep the farm going, and Carla only says “Sorry, I’m so sorry,” and I don’t know what she’s sorry for, or if she’s saying it to me or Dad or Mom or God or nobody.  She might be sorry for leaving the farm, for going to that job interview, for selling Grandma’s necklaces for fake anti-virals.  Maybe she thinks she brought the virus to the fair, but it could’ve been anybody, could’ve been Nature’s Chef and his Recipes for Disaster, everybody there must have had a bowl of cream of nettle soup from the vidtent.  I’ll SkIMp and tell her that.  I’ll say I saw it on a newsnet, that Nature’s Chef is patient Zero of NJ.

There’s no help in the town.  I called 911 and that got us a quarantine seal across the front gate faster than the confirmation message that we’re on a waiting list for medical attention.  Police are blocking up all the roads, but it’s broken out in NY now so that’s where all the attention’s gonna be.  I’ll just be sitting here waiting to see if Dad or Carla pulls through.  They both have pretty good immune systems, hardly a day’s illness in the last ten years.  I just remembered why that’s bad news.

I don’t know what to do now.  Perhaps I should go round the edge of the farm, secure the perimeter.  I never thought it would be like this.  I got guns and ammo and canned food and bottled water, got bandages and penicillin, got barbed wire on the fences – but I never thought the living dead would be my family.  I didn’t think I’d be doing this alone.

Well this sucks

Some weird shit is going on.  My folks called to say I couldn’t come up to the house for dinner tonight – got this new idea that I’ll start pulling my weight better if they just start refusing to cook for me, with no warning. I mean, I’d get it if it was any other time, but I’ve been seeing to myself while they were all out at the produce fair, and last night I was clearing a pretty intensive quest on Bailout (Zombie Edition), so I haven’t even seen them in a week.

Then Carla comes on camera, says she’s got something important to tell me; she heard from Laura, who we used to hang out with five years back, says she used to really like me.  She just thought I’d like to know that.  Again, WTF?  I’m in the middle of a blazing row with Mom and Dad, and she’s telling me now I coulda got some back in high school if I hadn’t been an ignorant jerk?  So she passes me back to Mom, who carries on lecturing me on how she won’t be cooking for me no more, and I got to start taking responsibility.  Then she disappears without a word, and Dad picks up the set again, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying cause Mom was coughing behind him.  I offered to just go up to the house tonight and order pizza, but he cut me off with this major list of stuff needs doing on the farm, stuff that’s not even my job, tells me write it down, then logs out on me.

I don’t get my family.  Must be some kinda crisis going on up at the Big House, and they’ve all got it into their heads to blame me for it.  I’ll go up there tomorrow and see what the trauma was – I got laundry to take up, anyhow.

On top of all that, the damn pizza place is offline, and I’m hungry.  Guess I’ll be breaking into my emergency store and eating macaroni and cheese out the tin again.

Making it up to Mei

The holiday-makers have gone home, so I’m back in my house, and we got most of the spring harvest in – well, enough to get by, maybe, just about, if we find buyers.  It’ll be a tough year, and we’re ass-deep in debt, but if we do well in the fall we won’t have to sell up.  Hey, if we can’t get buyers, we’ll just have to live off the land for a year.

It’s quiet here today.  Carla and the folks are away doing a stall at a series of food fairs, along with most of the town – some famous vidcast chef’s doing a promo on growing, picking and shooting your own food (like he invented it) and just about every suckass in the county wants to get their produce or their face on the set.  I’m taking care of stuff back here, but I got a cold, so I’m taking a well-deserved rest and spending a few quality hours with my ImmerXen Gamesphere.

After that, I’m going to take back some time to concentrate on the important things, and I want to try and be there for Mei more than I have been, get up earlier so we can be on SkIMp for longer, see if we can keep things going.  I didn’t even answer her last meme, so here it is: I’m a deep-pan pizza – a little cheesy at first glance, but plenty going on under the surface.  I’m at my best at home in front of the homeset, with friends and family.  You can cut me into pieces, but you’ll never finish me off, and when you leave me cold, you’ll be back for more in the morning.    And if that don’t work for ya, there’s this:

I don't believe you would-chuck me.

I don’t believe you would-chuck me.

Sorry Mom!

So, first thing I have to blog today is abject apologies to my Mom, cause I’ve been so wrapped up in this shit around the farm and around Mei and all that I completely forgot it was Mother’s Day, and didn’t get around to doing my usual heartfelt, hand-drawn card.

I blame Carla – she usually gives me a heads up on this stuff, but she’s been out of town going for some fancy corporate agriculture job in Jersey City, so I didn’t catch on till I saw her card on the counter when I came down for breakfast. Mom was pretty pissed, but we all had to get to work and not waste the daylight. I picked her some flowers from the path on the way to the fields (OK, some weeds, but pretty, flowering weeds), and she said “That’s a 3 for effort, a 6 for resourcefulness, and a 9 for sheer nerve. Get your quota picked today and you might just get some dinner.”

Ironic, huh? When I take the time to make a nice gesture on Valentine’s Day I get brushed off, when I forget to make one on Mother’s Day I get chewed up. What am I supposed to do?

Manifesto for nothing much

So, Mei’s meme this month is Disaster Manifestos. What emergency measures would you enforce if a pandemic broke out? It’s a tough one – I’ve thought a lot about what I’d do, just for me and my family, but I guess I never thought much about anybody else, or what everybody should do. I just wanted to make sure everybody I cared about would be here, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I look at what the governments around the world are doing with quarantine camps and communications lockdowns, and I can see it’s wrong, but I can’t really see what else to do. Honestly, I can’t think of a good solution that’ll work for everybody – most people are fucked, it’s pretty much just the ones who get out of whatever plans the government put in place who are going to survive. So I guess I’d say everybody for themselves. And even I wouldn’t vote for that.

I really hope the US government have come up with something better, cause I guess you all heard about the confirmed cases on the West coast. They reckon it’s the slower-moving Eastern European strain, not that virulent Australasian one, so I think we should be OK. Airports and national borders got closed up beginning of the month, and now State borders are shutting tight. It makes sense, but pretty much screws us for the Spring harvest. Not only have Marelys and Jaivin’s gang not been able to get out of Puerto Rico, our back-up plan is now no go. We’ve been trying to get a loan to pay local workers, but we can’t find enough (money or workers) so we’re resorting to tourists. My voluntary quarantine’s been cut short, and I’ve had to vacate my house so it can be used as a holiday home for cheapskate city families who get a free country break in return for 4 hours a day harvesting – and jeez, they’re slow, you’d think they’d never seen a damn beanstalk before, and I swear they’re eating more than they put in the basket. We’ve pulled in every favour and drop of goodwill from friends and family, too. No good asking neighbours – they all got the same deal themselves. I haven’t even been able to speak with Mei for a week cause I have to be out in the fields 8 hours a day picking beans and beets. I look like a damned beet.

Carla was talking about selling the necklaces Granma left her to get in a stock of anti-virals from a drugstore on a “genuine” medical socnet, but I told her not to trust that shit. For a start, it could be anything, and even if it is real Reliflu, it won’t stop you catching shit, it’ll just suppress the symptoms a little longer and let you spread it. Better to spend it on stocks of tinned and dried food and keep away from people. She said, “Guess you’re right, Jack,” then she did it anyway. Why do I bother?
Seems like everybody’s keeping a stock of Reliflu or something like it “just in case”. Next time we get a head cold going round here everyone’ll start chugging them like candy, and we’ll probably breed some kind of superbug. Maybe that’ll fight off the bird flu, like Godzilla. That’s about as near to a plan as we got round here. I’m just not leaving the farm.

Keeping it going

So, harvest time approaches and with national borders all shut up, we have to accept that the usual help ain’t gonna, and we’re in need of some other way of getting 20 acres of Lean Mean X-tra Protein BeanTM picked and shipped. Mom’s set up a meeting with some other small Friendly Frankenstein farms, and they’re thinking of putting together the cash to run a transport from Texas, running 100 or so labourers up to NJ (no questions on immigration status asked). It’s risky, and morally questionable, but if it works it might just save the farm. Hey, at least we’re not going to have them gutting chickens in a metal trailer in 100 degree heat for $10 a day.

I’m not sure what I think about it all just now. It’s like, one minute everybody’s getting flu jabs and calling for a 28 day quarantine at every airport and state border, but as soon as it means profits might be down it’s all just a minor inconvenience and we find ways to get around it. The general view in the town is that if we just get the harvest in, we’ll be fine and it’ll all go back to normal by next year. When I think about what’s happened in China, what’s happening in Australia, I don’t see how it can ever be the same. Then I hear Mom and Dad saying that we’re gonna lose the farm and it’s like, we still got to carry on keeping our own shit together, don’t we? Is that selfish? I can’t even tell. I just know if we get the harvest in, we have food to eat, we get food into the stores, the people who make the anti-virals and work on the vaccines have food, the aid workers have food, the food gets out to the places it’s needed, we keep the wheels turning, we keep the farm…and Mei will have somewhere to go to when the borders open up again.

Quarantining myself

I can’t think of anything but Blood Flu lately. I try to imagine it coming here, like Mei’s convinced it will, but I can’t. I know something hit San Francisco, but I think that’s just folk being jumpy at every cough – there’s no way the infected can get past the closed airports and border quarantines. Then again, neither can just about all the seasonal workers the industry relies on, especially us small farmers. We’re just sitting here waiting to see what collapses first – the borders or the economy. Dad’s started calculating whether it’s better to branch out into bioplastics and lose our Friendly Frankenstein status or just sell up and be done with it. I kind of went a little mad when he said that. I grew up here, I don’t ever want to leave this place. So I just keep thinking it’ll blow over, and then refreshing my feeds and looking at more depressing stats.

It’s unbelievable how many people are estimated dead in Guanxi – it’s like, the entire population of New York City, or double the population of the whole of New Jersey, and that’s just in the one province. I just keep comparing the figures and then thinking, no, I can’t get my head round that. And then I just think of Mei and those students in PKU, surrounded by all that and holding out. It’s too huge. I can’t imagine it. I keep saying the wrong thing because I’ve just got no idea what it’s like for her.

So I’ve decided to do something that might sound dumb. I’m going to find out. I’m going to stay in my house, seeing no-one, until the end of Mei’s quarantine. Call it a romantic gesture, or a safety measure, or whatever. I’ll do my duties around the farm, but I’ll stay out of talking distance of everybody. I’ll eat on my own and only talk on SkIMp. I’ll see what it means to be isolated.

My family aren’t as keen as I thought they’d be to get me out their hair for the next month. My sis was the first to say I’d just use it to get out of work, Mom says she doesn’t get what it’s meant to achieve and Dad thinks it’s just another pointless gesture I won’t follow through on. Like that Zombie comic. Like all the comics and animations and cover illustrations.

So what do you guys think? Do you see what I’m trying to do?

Like a boy scout…

So Mei’s meme is, what are we doing to prepare ourselves for Blood Flu? It happens this is something I’ve put a little thought into – well, not for Blood Flu specifically, but y’know how it is when you watch those old disaster movies and you look around your place and you think, “Well, I’ll store my food supplies in the waterproofed basement and run a dynamo from the tank and keep a cache of weapons in that roofspace and split the ammo and fuel supplies between the buildings with thought to that vulnerable point on my perimeter where there’s no direct line of sight from the water tower and—” you get the gist. I’m not saying I think it’ll happen, but this is one of the ways I spend an idle hour. So I reckon I’m pretty well prepped.

I figure, I’m in a good place for it if it did happen. We’re way out from centres of population, and we can hole up here indefinitely – long as we learn to really like beans and squash, or maybe breed woodchucks. If the mains water goes we got the tower that sees to most of our irrigation needs outside of a drought, and would serve pretty well as a watch-tower if we had to defend the perimeter from looters, zombies or whatever. We got stores of food and the means to grow more. We got shelter, weapons, enough of us to defend ourselves and not too many to feed.

I guess the main thing I’d need to do is secure the perimeter a little better, cause at the moment it’s just a wire fence. I need to make sure I got a range of foods stored, and something to purify water that’s been sitting in the tank. I need fuel for the generator in case the electric goes. None of this stuff is hard.

So I guess no need to worry about me – I’m pretty much all set. If anything went down with the outside world, this is pretty much the safest and best place I could imagine being.

All that’s missing is Mei. But nothing we can do about that now except wait, and hope.

Virtual Valentine

Since the post won’t be getting through to Beijing any time soon, I thought I’d put this up here for Mei to see.

Valentine's card for Mei

For Mei…

I woulda done that whole Zombie Woodchuck comic by now, only I had to go to that GreenTech Expo and give out FF Vitimillion Squash and Allergone Peanut Tarts, in an apron with that stupid grinning green monster logo that I coulda drawn better with my left foot. Bet the guy who drew Friendly Frankie doesn’t have to stand there being polite to humanities students who think small organic family farms are destroying the earth.

So this girl with a “No to Fake Foods” button and a fake flesh tunnel in her nose was spinning me the line about GM crops breeding with the local flora, and I was like, do you even know how many farms don’t grow GM now? Why don’t you go after the big corps trying to buy us out instead of the small farms who’ve gone to FF just to get by, ’cause at least we don’t use pesticides and our crops got health benefits, and yeah, sure FF give us non-terminating seeds that could breed in the wild, and we save them and don’t have to pay for the license and the stock and the stupid franchise shit every year, which is why I’m rich and don’t have to go to stupid Expos and talk to stupid people like you!

Yeah, I didn’t say that.

What I said was, “Mom, customer!” And she came over from networking with the Organicalise rep and she said all of that, more or less. Well, not the last part. She just sorta implied it.

Mei, you gotta meet my Mom one day. Hope it’ll be soon. Happy Valentines! xxx