Emerging from the Rubble 

Chapter 8

The sun was now at the zenith of its arc for the day, and the men were sweating as they climbed an exposed road, which zig-zagged up the mountain side. Every few hundred yards there were reminders of the great migration – discarded gas bottles, broken down vehicles which were slowly rusting, and sometimes there were even the lonely remains of an unfortunate traveller, their bones bleached by exposure to the elements.


Despite the fatigue from constant walking, the mood of the five of them was good. Carlos was getting used to being called by his real name again.


Rabbit and Bull were deep in discussion…


“So, what do you think? Magic? Are they witchdoctors? How can they make flesh heal so perfectly?” Rabbit was mystified by who these men were, especially after he had also been impacted by the kindness of their female friends. It was beginning to bother him constantly, that these people were so different, and yet so unassuming.


“Possible I guess,” said Bull in response. “I’ve never met a witchdoctor before. What do they do?”


“They commune with the spirit world, and tap into its power,” said Rabbit, animated by the idea.


“I don’t think I believe in a spirit world,” said Bull, “I was always told to only trust things that could be proven.”


“So what was last night, if not proof? I’m going to ask them. I have to know who the hell we are dealing with!” said Rabbit, his intrigue beginning to overwhelm him.


Bull wanted to protest, but couldn’t think of a good enough reason. He opened his mouth but no words came. Before Bull realised Rabbit had caught up to Yan and Thomas ahead of him.


“So, I have to know. Who and what are you?”


Thomas knew what he meant and didn’t try and evade the question.


“We are travellers. We are old friends. We are followers of ‘The Way’.”


“What ‘Way’?” replied Rabbit, excited at the thought of finding out more about why Thomas and his friends behaved in unusual ways sometimes.


“The Way of Truth and Life,” Yan pitched in.


“What Truth? Whose Life?” challenged Rabbit. A smile was growing across his face at the progress he felt he was making.


“The universal truth of what life is about. Your life, my life, everyone’s existence. There is a true meaning to why we are here.” Thomas felt able to share this information because Rabbit was being so genuine. Carlos listened intently as he walked alongside. Bull joined them and they discussed the meaning of truth and life.


“I used to think that life had meaning, but when my family were taken from me, it felt like the universe was a cold and cruel place. Can you understand that?” Rabbit said, with a sense of relief to finally voice his pain.


“Yes, I believe the soul of the universe understands that completely,” responded Yan. “In fact, I believe no one has experienced rejection like the soul of the universe. Imagine you have a thousand children and only a handful ever cared about you? The rest of them abused what you gave them, ignored your loving advice, and cursed your name? How would you feel?”


Rabbit was stunned by the question. He had never entertained the idea that the consciousness itself could have feelings, and experience pain.


“When you say, ‘soul of the universe’, do you mean God?” Bull asked.


“That word is so clumsy,” laughed Thomas. “The word ‘God’ means so many things to so many people. Many millions of lives have been ruined in the cause of ‘God’, by religious ideologies over the centuries. But beyond religion and dogma, the universe is alive with consciousness and love. Yan and I have been called by this love. It is absolutely unfailing love. It cannot and does not give up on anyone.”


Bull pondered and then continued, “So, does this consciousness control things?”


“No, and yes,” said Yan. “No, it doesn’t violate our choices. It doesn’t micromanage creation. However, it is working through us to make all things better. It is like a good father, always working towards his children being safe and happy, but not invading their every moment or making them a puppet.”


Carlos was intrigued, “So how did you heal my shoulder?”


“Healing is a power that has been gifted to some, so that they can demonstrate God’s love. If we use this gift for our glory or to give us power, we would be abusing it. Love doesn’t seek glory for itself. It only seeks to benefit others.” Thomas said, remembering the things he had learnt about healing from Jesus all those years ago.


Carlos wanted to share his thoughts. “I felt held last night as I went to sleep. I felt like the universe was for me, and not against me. I felt that I was cherished and reassured, that I am going to be alright!”


Thomas chuckled with delight, “Yes, that is the feeling of being loved. The soul of the universe is a good and loving father who holds us all. He will not disrespect our autonomy, but he will always be with us, to encourage us to give and receive love.”


“If I can tell you one thing,” added Yan, “it is that the future is full of bright hope. All things will be well.”


The men were reaching the summit of the hill. Taking a minute to look back at the distance they had travelled, they could see the great city stretched out like a huge grey blanket on the land. On the edge of the city they could make out the district where the apartment block was situated, and they each silently thought of their friends who were there.


Turning back toward the summit, they could now smell the smoke which they had been able to see their entire journey.


“We are close,” said Bull.


He led the five men forward into a dense pine forest through which a road had been cut. Preferring the cover of trees, Bull was utilising his experience in the army, to stay hidden from view, while they discovered the origin of the smoke.


In the distance they could glimpse a camp in a clearing, a short distance from the road. Two huge trucks were parked on the roadside.


“Electric vehicles!” exclaimed Carlos. “I haven’t seen a working vehicle for decades! Wow, and they have large solar panels to recharge them.”


The clearing was surrounded by several tarpaulin constructions. A large fire was burning in the middle of the clearing. Two men were piling wood onto it.


“Guns,” said Bull quietly, pointing at a group of men who were standing smoking at the edge of the clearing, carrying automatic rifles. “And cigarettes!” added Rabbit.


“All of these things are so rare now. That can only mean that they are ruthless at taking whatever they find,” said Bull in a serious tone.


“They are likely to head our way,” said Carlos with trepidation.


“What now, holy boys?” said Bull with a sarcastic, but not unfriendly air.


“I think we have to proceed very cautiously,” said Yan.


Bull nodded and looked at Thomas. “Anything to add, witchdoctor?”


Thomas thought for a second. On the one hand he wanted to reach out to them now but, on the other hand, he wanted to avoid anything dangerous happening.


“What would Owl say?” asked Rabbit, not knowing that Owl was now dead.


“Owl would want us to batten down the hatches and protect ourselves,” remarked Bull. “Remember when we fought off the last gang of raiders?”


Carlos and Rabbit were wistful and looked sad as they recalled the battle which had raged, resulting in many of their community being killed.


“I do think we need to take a closer look at what they have at any rate,” said Bull. “Rabbit, let’s get closer and have a look.”


Rabbit didn’t protest. He was keen to get moving.


Creeping around the edge of the clearing, Bull and Rabbit could see about twenty men carrying various weapons, pistols, meat cleavers, shotguns and automatic rifles. They were mostly heavily bearded, wearing sunglasses and looked strong and healthy.


Rabbit was surveying a group sitting on the ground, who were eating from some tins, when his heart almost stopped.


Bull heard his sudden intake of breath. “What’s up?” he asked.


“I think. I think that’s my son!” gasped Rabbit loudly.


“Shhhhhh!” hissed Bull.


“It’s my boy, Ally!” said Rabbit, beginning to cry.


Bull heaved a sigh, acknowledging that things were going to get complicated.


Rabbit’s strong emotions as a father made him instinctively want to run and embrace his son, Ally. Bull sensed this, and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Rabbit, mate. Don’t do it! Look at all those weapons!”


In the middle-distance Ally turned, and Rabbit and Bull could clearly see that Ally was missing an arm.


“What happened to him?” gasped Rabbit as he sobbed.


“Let’s go. Come on!” urged Bull, practically dragging Rabbit away.


After several minutes of frantic scrambling, the two men found Yan and Thomas sitting with Carlos.


“My boy! My boy was there! He… his arm…”


Thomas nodded in understanding. “Look at me,” he said calmly. “What else did you see?”


Bull stepped in, “Weapons. A lot of them. We have to go!”


Yan looked at Thomas, and in that quiet moment they were united in thought.


“Let’s get back and report on what we’ve seen,” suggested Thomas. “We will have to make some decisions as a community.”


“Don’t you think Owl will immediately impose stricter controls?” asked Carlos as they began to walk quickly back out of the woodland and on to the road.


“Without a doubt,” sighed Bull.


“What choice do we have!” exclaimed Rabbit. “As soon as they see signs of life at our camp, they will invade. Any resistance and it will be a bloodbath!”


Thomas and Yan remained silent, listening to the worries of their friends as they walked determinedly back to the camp.


Adrenaline sped them on their journey. During and after the seven years of great turmoil, violent gangs had formed to try and seize the resources that remained. For years they had fought first the diminished state forces, and then each other. Now only the toughest survived.


“Do you think the threat is real?” Yan quietly asked Thomas.


“I am sure it is. I think we both know what we need to do.”


“Convince Owl and his men to leave the camp?” asked Yan.


“Yes, exactly. It’s the only way we know we can definitely avoid bloodshed. If we go back into the forest on the other side of the valley, I think we can maintain a vantage point to watch their activity, and see if they find the camp.”


Yan thought for a moment, realising how much of an upheaval it would be to have to start again somewhere else.


“I have no doubt that they will find the camp,” he said with resignation. “The fields are so well farmed now around the apartments, that they will be able to see us the moment they come out of the woods.”


“We have to pray that Owl will listen to our suggestion and that he goes along with us. He could really make things difficult if he wants everyone to stay and defend the camp!”


Eventually, the tired men arrived back at the camp. Anne was delighted and relieved to see them, and she and Harmony rushed to greet them.


Thomas could see from their faces that something was awry. A wordless hug was followed by Anne breaking the news.


“Owl is dead,” she said with sadness in her eyes.


The group of men looked at each other, uneasy at how to respond.


“How?” asked Bull, squinting in the sunlight.


“Jumped from the roof,” said Harmony. “Died instantly.”


The seven of them rounded the corner and walked into the field where the entire community was gathered. A mound of earth covered the remains of the once revered leader of the camp. Some of the older men looked genuinely grieved, and whilst everyone kept a respectful hush, it was also clear that there was a sense of relief in the air.


The men joined the group in quiet remembrance.


“What of the smoke?” asked one lady, turning to Thomas.


Thomas looked at her, full of compassion and then stepped up on to a bench. Every face turned toward him, and he had the complete attention of the entire community.


“Friends. This is a difficult moment for us all. We have returned to find Owl has left us, and we have returned with news of what we saw in the mountains. I believe we have to make a very tough choice, urgently.” Thomas paused and surveyed the scores of faces, looking to him for guidance.


“There is a group on the mountain. They seem to be a gang of marauders.”


Suddenly, uninvited, Bull climbed up next to Thomas. “They are very heavily armed,” he declared.


A gasp went up from the crowd.


Thomas considered the fact that he was now not alone on the makeshift stage. He decided to honour Bull and present a united front.


“Bull and Rabbit went close to their camp and saw their weapons stash at close quarters.”


The people looked at Bull and some nodded their heads in respect.


Bull folded his arms, satisfied with the feeling of influence he was now enjoying.


“The moment they leave their makeshift camp and emerge from the woods, they will see our work in the fields. We can expect them to be here within twenty-four hours,” Bull continued.


A murmur of distress spread across the courtyard.


“I believe we should fight for our homestead,” suggested Bull, loudly. “This is our city. Our settlement. We have put our lives into this place. I say we use what we can to defend it. Who is with me?”


Thomas was quick to quell the murmur by continuing. “I believe the best chance for us all is to leave this place and head for the opposite side of the valley. Our hope is that they will move in here for a while, and then move on. From a new camp, we can watch them and return here should they travel on. But friends, I must tell you, I think we should prepare to leave with the knowledge that it may never be safe to return.


“As you know, I have no wish to be recognised or rewarded as your leader, but, if you choose this path, I will help you all during these coming years and promise to always act in the interests of the whole community to the best of my ability.”


The crowd remained awkwardly quiet. Bull grimaced at Thomas.


“Bull has made his proposal. I have made mine,” said Thomas. “Neither option is easy by any means. Bull, I understand your desire to protect this place that we have all come to call home.


“As a community we now must decide, do we fight for what we have accomplished, or do we leave in silence in the face of those wishing to crucify us?”


Rabbit moved forward and addressed the community. “We’ve got to decide quickly. Are you with Bull or with Thomas?”


There was a moment’s silence, then Carlos shouted, “Thomas”. Then Polecat shouted, “Thomas”. More and more voices were heard, and they all shouted, “Thomas!”