THE WAY OF
“It reminds me of a
Morey stood up and brushed
back a lock of his gray hair. “How so? This doesn’t look
anything like the cemetery in Zion.”
Kimberly shaded her eyes
with the flat of her hand as she looked around. “One of
the old cemeteries. You know, the ones with the stones
that stick up in the weeds.” She banged her stave on top
of a concrete doorstep.
The old man saw what she
meant. The steps stuck up at regular intervals in the
scrub, where the homes had stood--how long ago?
He looked at the teenager
and smiled. “You’re right,” he said. “I see it too.”
She smiled at him and
resumed picking through the pile.
Morey could tell from the
absence of charred wood that this addition had simply
crumbled over the years. Spikes of silvery weathered
wood stuck up from the weeds where the homes had been.
Rusted pipes poked up occasionally like punctuation
marks to a history gone wrong. Brown rectangular shapes
marked the rusted remains of household appliances.
Kim pulled her bonnet
forward and tightened the drawstring without looking up.
“I know the heat’s bothering you. You can rest under
Morey pulled off his straw
hat and briefly fanned his face. “That’s okay, kid. I
can still take it. I just have to go slower.”
She smiled and kept
scavenging. The West Texas dryness had preserved many
small items that otherwise would have crumbled or rusted
away long ago. Morey used his stave to turn over a flat
piece of incongruously shiny metal.
“Aluminum,” he thought.
Beneath he found a box that
was deeply impacted in the hard-packed red clay dirt. He
could tell from the nearby pattern of wood impressions
that the aluminum was probably part of ductwork that
once ran beneath the floor of a home.
Kim saw him bending
painfully at the knees. “What is it, dear?”
He looked up. “A box.
Probably was under the floor of this house. It’s solid
in the dirt.”
Morey poked at it a few more
times, but the box wouldn’t budge. Kim picked her away
past the scrap and scrub, and stopped next to him. The
box was two feet long and a foot wide. She kneeled down
and began to pry around its edges with a rusted garden
trowel. The lid came loose.
She pried it open with her
small fingers. They both looked down. Kim leaned in
closer and peered. “Nothing but brown dust.” Morey
sniffed. “Cannabis. Even after 200 years, it still
reeks.” He squinted. “Is that dust covering something?”
Kim reached down and pressed
her hand through the layer of dust. She pulled out a
“Just more of their useless
steel money,” she said.
Morey reached down and she
handed him a coin. He looked at it briefly and then
buffed it briskly against his pants leg.
He held it up. It glinted in
the sun. She looked at him quizzically and stood up.
He handed it back to her.
“This is real silver. I rubbed some of the tarnish off.”
She handed back the silver dollar and got back down on
her knees again. She began to dig with determination
until she worked the box free.
She lifted it out of the
clay and tipped it over. Dozens of the grayish disks
scattered on the brown grass.
Morey patted her on the
shoulder. “Good job.” She began to grab the coins and
throw them into her gunnysack. “We can do a lot with
real silver,” he said.
After she finished, he took
her other sack. “Those dollars are heavier than all the
rest put together,” he said. “I’ll carry our two sacks.
You carry the silver dollars.”
He tied both his and her
sack to his rope belt and grasped his stave. “Great job.
A day well spent.”
Kim looked to the west. “The
sun will set in two hours,” she said. “Time for the old
man to limp home.”
He knuckled her head. “Show
some respect for your elders!”
The sun was a red
semi-circle on the horizon as they walked down what had
once been the main street of the West Texas city. They
walked through their crops, which surrounded the ruins
of the county courthouse. Browser came out from his
favorite hole, tail wagging. Morey ruffled the yellow
hound dog’s floppy ears.
“Hey, boy, keep the rabbits
and crows away today?”
A quick sniff told the dog
there was nothing to interest him in Kim’s sack. He
sniffed and then nudged Morey’s. Kim laughed.
“He can tell you have that
plastic ball,” she said.
Morey reached in and pulled
out a bright orange hollow plastic ball that a child
hundreds of years ago had stolen from the playground of
a fast food restaurant and promptly lost at home. “Here
you go, boy,” he said as he lobbed the ball into the
At the edge of the field
they walked downwards to reach the door of the old
building where they lived. After hundreds of years of
overgrowth, the ground level was now two feet higher
than the floor inside. Above on the concrete, the
letters still clearly said “Eldorado State Bank”.
Kim took a home-dipped
candle from a wooden shelf and lit it with an ember from
the fire. After she placed the candle in a holder--a
broken porcelain cup that read “…hate Mondays”--she drew
a pail of water from a wooden barrel and then filled a
pot and set it to boil on the coals she stirred into
Morey pulled aside the mat
that covered the hole in the ground they called a “frij”
and took out a handful of small red potatoes. He sat
down on a rough-hewn three-legged stool and took a blade
from his pocket.
“I’ll skin the spuds,” he
said, “while you put the goods up.”
Kim dropped the sack full of
silver dollars on the floor and opened up the two gunny
sacks Morey had left on the table. From the first she
pulled out a rusty handgun, a socket wrench, a half
dozen glass bottles and jars, and the head of a cast
iron fireplace poker.
She opened Morey’s sack and
found three large books printed on slick paper that had
resisted crumbling into dust. They were all a light
orange-- originally a bright red--and said “World Book
“Always a seeker of
knowledge, old man,” she said with a smile.
“I have all the beauty in
the world,” he said, “all I have left to seek is
She walked over to where he
sat, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “You are such a
She stroked his cheek. “When
will we be truly man and wife?”
He pulled her hand away,
gently. “When you are 16.” He kissed the back of her
hand. “Otherwise, all I have said would be a lie.” He
tapped his forefinger on the tip of her nose. “Patience,
little one. Only four more months.”
She sighed and returned to
the table, which centuries earlier had been a bank
counter. “You’re right, as usual, Mr. Montgomery.”
“You’re as understanding as
always, Mrs. Montgomery.”
She dusted off the old books
with a hand-woven cloth. “You’ve always kept your word.
When we left Zion, you promised we would have a real
“I knew out here there would
still be a few buildings left intact,” he said. “and
there was certainly no one out here to displace.”
He saw her twinge. “I know
you were afraid because of the stories of marauders. You
were brave to believe me, and not the Elders.”
“Again, you were right,” she
said. “We’ve never met anyone out here.”
“There were marauders
for a short while after the devastation,” he said. “But
no one’s survived outside Zion for decades.”
He plopped the last potato
into the bubbling pot and smacked the dust from his
hands. “Except us.”
“I guess that’s why we never
caught the plague,” she said. “Because it was a disease.
There is no one to catch it from.”
“Yes, it was such a horrible
disease, it killed everyone who it touched,” he said.
When they first came to the
ruins of “Drado”, the old city closest to Zion, and
began to scavenge for artifacts to make their isolated
existence easier, they occasionally found human remains.
The bones of plague victims were scattered with shiny,
glass-like flakes--Morey said they needed to give those
remains a wide berth, in case any plague remained.
Kim carried one of the heavy
books to Morey. “Look here, someone put a piece of--what
do you call it, newspaper?--inside the pages!” She
handed him the “B” volume of the encyclopedia, open to
the entry for “Black Death”.
He took it in his two hands.
“I haven’t seen a piece of newspaper in years. They were
very hard to save; the paper was cheap and crumbled to
The newsprint was yellow but
still flexible. The name at the top of the page read
“Dallas Morning News”. The date was Nov. 10, 2020.
Kim stood behind him and
looked over his shoulder. “Nano plague ravages nation,”
she said. “What’s a ‘nano’?”
Morey rubbed the gray
stubble on his chin. “Dear God, it was true.”
“What was true?”
Morey read the page,
following with his finger almost, but not quite,
touching the page. “It was caused by man’s own
He looked up. “This story is
invaluable. It explains what was happening, what was
going on at the time.”
She leaned on his shoulder
to read, sounding out the words syllable by syllable.
“Medical-cyber hybrid nanovirus spreads uncontrolled.”
“I’m so proud you read so
well,” he said.
“I’m proud you taught me so
well,” she said. “But I don’t know what it means.”
“I’ll explain,” he said.
“These men then were arrogant; they wanted to live
forever. Their science made machines to repair the body,
to keep it whole forever. They were called nanos, and
they were so small they could be put into the blood.”
“That’s hard to believe,”
“It’s true. You know there
are things that are too small to be seen, but can grow.
Just like yeast in bread,” he said. “The old Americans
put these nanos in their bodies.”
He continued to read. “So
that’s what happened. It’s a little hard for me to
understand--no living man has seen these things--but
they also had machines they used to send and receive
music and pictures through the air. Some people put
small ones in their bodies, into their heads.”
“That’s an abomination,”
said Kim. “Defiling the image of God in man.”
“From what I can see here,
they also had nanos for their machines, and what it says
here is that the nanos to treat people combined with the
nanos to repair machines. The bastard hybrid became the
“Why would that kill people,
if it was supposed to repair them?” asked Kim.
“That’s what these people
here were trying to learn, as they died,” said Morey.
“It says the best they could tell, the plague tried to
repair people as if they were broken machines. That’s
what killed them.”
“Is that why, when we find
the bones and clothes of old ones, they have those shiny
sprinkles of glass on them?”
Morey covered his mouth and
chin with his hand. “Silicon. Glass. The nanos tried to
convert the people into machines. That’s why they died.”
“It must have been
horrible,” she said. “I wonder what the person who put
this newspaper in the book must have been thinking.”
“Probably that it was the
end of the world, and it was,” said Morey. “Look.” In
the margin, someone had written in ink, “Last issue.
They looked up as they heard
a whine. Browser came in, a dead pheasant in his jaws.
He sat down near the fire and began to tear at the
feathers. “Smart dog,” said Morey. “It is time
The sun had just cleared the
horizon the next morning when Browser began barking
loudly and aggressively outside their home. Morey
reached for the rifle on the wall.
“We have visitors.”
Kim pulled a dress on as she
heard a horse whinny. She walked into the doorway and
saw Morey on the edge of the field, rifle leveled.
She walked behind him with
her own rifle, and saw a lone horseman across the field.
Her loose, yellow hair fluttered in the breeze. “Who is
“I think it’s Elder McMurphy,”
he called back.
A rather pudgy, older man
with a flowing salt and pepper beard rode a bay horse
past the ruined courthouse and towards the couple. He
raised a hand in salutation.
“Brother Montgomery, I would
talk with you.”
Morey looked past the man.
On the flat West Texas prairie, he could have seen
anyone else for miles.
“You’re welcome to our
hospitality, Brother McMurphy--if you remain
He called to Browser. “It’s
McMurphy tied his horse’s
reins to the remains of a galvanized traffic light post.
“You look well, Morey.”
“It’s been a hard life, but
we’ve coped,” he said.
“The way of the heretic is
hard,” said McMurphy with a ramshackle smile. “You are
still welcome to repent and return to Zion.” He pulled a
small cloth bag from his coat pocket. “I brought a peace
offering. Some ground coffee.”
Morey nodded to Kim. “Go put
some water on to boil.”
“You will not invite me into
your home, then?” asked McMurphy.
Morey turned to face his
visitor. “What do you want, James?”
McMurphy sighed. “Blunt as
always. I want--we want--you to come back.”
“Of course you do, and take
two more children as wives,” said Morey. “You know my
He sat down on a chunk of
concrete. “You need me, because I was good at keeping
the windmills and pumps running.”
McMurphy cleared himself a
spot and sat. “True, but we have considered the matter.
We are not willing to have you come back to live in
Zion, if you refuse to repent,” he said.
“But…” He raised a dirty
finger. “We have a living arrangement to propose.”
“A compromise? That’s hard
to believe,” said Morey.
“Don’t be so proud. The
pumps and windmills are running quite well, thank you.
We are thinking of your welfare.”
“My wife”--he emphasized the
singular--“and I are doing quite well, thank you, too.”
“Couldn’t you do as well
near Zion--near, but not of, Zion? Instead of living in
the ruins of this heathen city?”
“Among the Lost Boys? They
have no dispute with the Prophet. You have simply forced
them out because there are not enough wives to go
around. If they could, they would have as many wives as
He chuckled sardonically.
“They drink and fight and kill each other. They have
nothing to do and no place to go.”
“The Council of Elders had
reconciled themselves to the fact you have left the
fold. If we cannot be brothers, then perhaps we should
at least be friends.”
“That’s ridiculous. You are
just trying to lure me back where I can be dealt with.”
McMurphy began to open his
mouth to protest, but Kim came back outside. “Water’s
Morey took the small cloth
sack from McMurphy’s hand. “Put the coffee in to boil,”
he said. He nodded to McMurphy. “We might as well go
After Kim poured the coffee
into two ancient ceramic mugs. McMurphy took a sip and
raised his eyebrows. “Sugar? My goodness, you are
“Not sugar,” said Kim. “It’s
Morey smiled. “It’s a powder
called sucralose. We found it in a sealed container in
the remains of a school.”
“Do you enjoy scavenging
through the ruins of heathen America like a prairie
dog?” asked McMurphy. “If you come back and live near
Zion, you will be living with your own kind, not with
coyotes and rattlesnakes.”
Kim turned away from the two
men. “We have each other, and that is enough,” said
Morey. “Monogamy was the basis of a great civilization.”
The Elder plunked his cup
down rather heavily on the table. “Great civilization!
All they did was defy God, fornicate and take drink and
drugs! Monogamy! You’ve read the old records. Almost
none of them married!”
“Yes, I’ve heard the old
joke, it must be 200 years old,’ said Morey. “Each Saint
had to marry at least three wives, to make up for the
heathen who never married.”
He turned serious. “Yes,
they ruined their civilization--by the end. But they had
a great nation for hundreds of years.”
McMurphy jutted his jaw.
“God preserved us because we follow his law and live as
the elders of the Bible.”
“God preserved Zion because
it was cut off from the world when the plague struck,”
“Maybe that was God’s plan,
then,” said McMurphy.
“If it is God’s will, then,
he should strike us down, too.” snarled Morey.
There was a loud crash. Kim
had dropped a glass jar she was cleaning. They turned to
see her startled expression. Morey jumped up and clasped
her as she began to sob.
“I’m sorry, dear, I
shouldn’t say that” he said. “It is prideful of me.”
McMurphy stood up. “We
allowed you this sweet wife you requested, and this is
how you treat her, putting her soul in peril and scaring
her to death!” He put his hat back on and walked towards
the door. “Any time, child, you want to return to Zion,
we will take you back and find you a proper husband!”
McMurphy stopped in the
door. “You went mad from grief, Montgomery. Don’t make
this woman suffer…”
“She’s not a woman!” Morey
“Bad luck has driven you
insane! To lose the three wives given you at
manhood--and to have no children--we thought to give you
three more wives, you would recover. To have a second
chance of a family. Instead you fled into the desert
with your first new wife…”
Morey reached for his rifle.
McMurphy sighed. “May God
have mercy on you both.”
Morey glared at the doorway
long after McMurphy left and the sound of hoof beats
Both of them ate in silence
afterwards. Morey sipped coffee.
Kim broke the silence.
“Elder McMurphy mentioned your first wives. Why do you
never speak of them. Were you unhappy?”
He grimaced. “No, it’s just
painful to remember. They were all good women, given to
me by the Old Prophet, McCamey, forty years ago, when I
came of age.”
He took a deep breath.
“Lindy was very sweet, and very pretty. Black-headed
with big, dark eyes. She worked hard--too hard. One
summer she came down with heat stroke after working in
the field. We couldn’t save her.”
“Marcella was blonde and
blue eyed, like you. You remind me a lot of her. She
died of a fever ten years ago. I think the disease was
caused by a mosquito bite.” He continued.
“Jerri was short and quiet.
She was not very intelligent. I told her to boil the
water after the cholera struck, but she didn’t believe
me. She died six years ago.”
He sipped his coffee. “After
each one died, I missed her, and always thought that I
should have spent more time with her. That’s when I had
the insight that I was more comfortable having one
She smiled. “You are very
good to me. Why didn’t you have any children?”
“We tried, but they were
always stillborn. It’s probably what was called
inbreeding, by the old people, the Americans. You’ve
seen it in Zion, the Blakeney boys with their extra
fingers and toes, the Collum girl with the split face.
We’ve been marrying amongst ourselves for hundreds of
“After we are truly man and
wife, we will try ourselves,” he said as he stood up.
“It’s time to sleep.”
He kissed her cheek. “Good
night, my child.”
It was early morning and
still dark. Browser began to bark furiously and
aggressively. Then a shot rang out, followed by a yelp.
“Raiders!” Morey called out
as he jumped from bed and grabbed his rife. Kim reached
over to a table and threw him a handgun, and grabbed her
Morey yanked the door open
and started shooting before he went through. Kim ran up behind him.
The hail of bullets he sent
ahead of him scattered the raiders who would have
stormed the entrance had it not been for Browser’s
diligence. Morey peered out carefully and saw a half
dozen young men on horseback, holding torches.
“Leave, there is no other
way in,” he called out. “We have nothing of value!”
He turned his head and spoke
to Kim. “They look like the Lost Boys.”
One rider goaded his horse
forward. “We want the silver!”
Morey cursed under his
breath. “We’re fools! We left the silver in plain view
when Elder McMurphy was here. He must have spoken of it
back at Waiting for Zion.”
Kim clutched Morey’s
shoulder. “Let them have it, we have all we need.”
Morey nodded. “Dismount and
come, we will let you have it, if you go in peace.” He
nodded backwards and Kim turned to get the sacks.
“Agreed,” called the
foremost horsemen as he slipped off his saddle. The
young man let his rifle slide to the ground and raised
his hands as he walked forward.
He walked slowly and
steadily forward. Morey noticed his gaze dart off to the
side. He realized someone was sneaking up to the
entrance from the side.
“Kim!” he called as a shot
rang out. She ran to him as the Lost Boy crumpled to the
ground. Morey looked at her. “I didn’t shoot!”
The others turned their
horses around. “Someone has come up from behind,” said
They both stepped out of the
entrance and began firing. Caught in the crossfire, the
Lost Boys were killed quickly.
Morey stepped forward, rifle
trained on the bodies on the ground in case they were
only wounded. A half-dozen men led by Elder McMurphy
McMurphy dismounted. “I’m
glad we got here in time,” he said. “Although we have
our disagreements, I do not wish you dead!”
He walked up to Morey and
clasped him by the shoulder. “It was my fault. I
mentioned that I saw the silver when I returned, and
word leaked out to the Lost Boys.”
The other members of the
posse gathered around. “When we saw the Lost Boys leave
in your direction,” said McMurphy, “I knew what
“We are grateful,” said
Morey to the assembled men.
“Why did you speak of our
silver?” asked Kim.
Another man spoke up. “Elder
McMurphy said you seemed to be doing well, and
perhaps--if you would not return to Waiting for Zion--we
could send some of the better young men who live outside
the walls to live with you, and start a new settlement.”
McMurphy looked around. “We
seemed to have killed the worst of the lot.”
“To trade for supplies to
start a new settlement,” said Kim. “That would be a good
use for the silver.”
“You can live as you
please,” said McMurphy. “You could be an elder of your
own kind to these young men.”
A member of the posse spoke
up. “We have agreed to find a few wives. Some of us will
give up a wife, to help start the settlement.”
Kim looked to see the sun
rising from the flat West Texas horizon. “It is
morning,” she said. “Would you have some coffee?”
Elder McMurphy smiled.
“That’s a wonderful idea.”
“It’s a new day, in more
ways than one,” said Morey. “What should we call our new
“How about, ‘Children of
Zion’?” asked Kim.
There were murmurs of
affirmation from the posse.
“We will take the bodies and
return to Waiting for Zion, and begin to gather
provisions,” said McMurphy.
“I will give you the silver
to pay for the purchases,” said Morey.
Kim leaned over and kissed
him on the cheek. “A down payment on a new city,” she
“Your betrothed seems to be
quite a young lady,” said McMurphy.
“You men have work to do,”
said Kim, “I will start the coffee.”
She smiled as she went
inside. “And maybe a new world, too.”