Girl Facing Village (Author's Cut*)
I went into the Rodman Mountains seven years ago to run away from the things I hated.
Loud noise, crowding, pressure, jobs, and that ever-lasting rat race to have more than other people had.
I had my little farm, where the animals roamed free.
No fences or anything like that.
The chickens laid eggs when they felt like it, and my single cow gave milk when inclined.
There was no pressure in my farm.
My name was Anna Fin and I ran because living there was too much for me. It nearly killed me.
So I found a tiny hovel among the hills.
Didn't take much paperwork at all.
The Marines made noise, but it was rare and muffled when it did happen. The miles and miles that separated me from them did their job.
Five years ago commercial jets began drifting above me and the animals, inaudible save for the very occasional background rumble, that sound sometimes called civilization's soundtrack.
They didn’t bother me.
Since leaving the world behind very few things bothered me.
I had a well, deep, because the mountains were very dry.
No plumbing, running this and electric that.
No connections to anything save to the land and my fellow creatures. Yes, trips to the towns below were necessary from time to time, and I hiked the distance or hired people to deliver.
This was highly nominal and I never missed the company of other humans.
Five years passed by the light of an oil-burning lamp and candles.
Reading, writing and thinking.
It was good having none of the commodities and material stuff so defining of the reality I wished to avoid, a world built on selfish desires and lack of compassion for others.
The last few years before leaving almost killed me.
I wasn't the victim of some horrific crime, quite the opposite, but every day clawed at my sanity with its endless onslaught of ignorance and malice.
A day came, and while tending to the gathering of dinner, eggs and vegetables from my modest patch, the distinct rumble of open-pipe exhaust echoed along the path leading to the ravine below my house.
This was after rainfall, and so little dust rose.
I recognized the car immediately.
Those symbols of everything their society achieved, encompassing so much and taking it twofold.
I never overly liked them, even when part of the madness, but wasn't one of those crazies who'd refuse to ride in one.
I had a car once.
Used to drive that thing day in, day out, from work to my complex.
It wasn't too bad for a time, but then the city began to close in on me.
Especially the noise, which was slowly but incessantly becoming unbearable.
I had this one neighbor who had to have music playing in the background all the time.
I knocked on her door one weekend afternoon.
"Yeah, what do you want? Anything wrong?", she said.
"Your music's too loud, can you please turn it down?"
"I don't think so. It's not loud, and I have a right to listen to music if I feel like it."
"No, actually, I have the right to enjoy my apartment in quiet..."
"Well, just call the fucking cops, then."
"There's no need for that, if you only listen...", I tried to come across reasonable.
"Get lost, I don't have to hear this from someone like you, Miss Sensitive Ears.
This is an apartment building, you know, there's always gonna be noise.
Move to the hills or something, bitch."
She slammed the door in my face.
The car belonged to Casey, a woman I knew from the city.
It was a big navy blue one, sucking at natural resources better than a Hoover on meth.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't an environmentalist anti-technological, but cars made the connection for me with everything I ran away from.
Casey stopped in front of the hut.
She was one of a handful who knew where I was, and very gorgeous in a young, healthy way that made sure her life among them was good.
Naturally, I didn't have a phone, so there was no way for her to call in advance. But I welcomed her, hermit or not, company did feel good once in a while.
We stood there, looking at each other.
"Hello Casey", I opened.
"Anna, my favorite loner in the whole world. Enjoying the cave drawings?"
"They're illustrations, hieroglyphs."
"Good old civilization, even in the Mojave it chases you, eh?"
"I'm not here for that, but that's not news to you, right?"
"No. You look good. Haven't seen you in how long, a year?"
"About. Thanks." Nobody looked good next to her, I thought.
I glanced at the car, waxed and glimmering in the desert sun.
"How was the drive from the city?", I asked.
The question made her nervous, I could tell.
"Not bad, very little traffic."
I eyed her closely, and she noticed.
"Nothing, you're probably tired and hungry, unless you had some of that food along the way."
I didn't like highway food.
By then, I hated highways.
The last time I drove a car was on an interstate, between two cities.
It was getting late, so I pulled into one of those overly-bright, artificial oases with all the fast food in them.
Speakers were playing some song about sleepers in metropolis, which I found odd since the truck stop was in the desert.
Above me, I could see the dark silhouettes of a mountain range where the stars didn't twinkle.
I sat at the diner next to a gas station, plastic moldings glared at me from every which way.
As odors comprising equal parts Lysol and coffee wafted towards my person, I noticed the people in the next booth.
The girl was talking on a cell phone, loud and obnoxious. She was speaking to someone about partying and fucking yet another party.
I couldn't stand it.
"No, I didn't eat on the road. The food in those places is getting pretty stale by now.
So you're not into researching what the desert people left behind anymore?"
She made to get closer to my hut, but I had a compunction to remain by the car.
"How did you keep it so clean, with the bugs and all?", I asked.
"There was a place not far, on the main road down there, I washed her. It's pointless when you think about it, wash and get dirty all over soon enough. Kind of like the drawings in your caves. The people who left them there, they probably knew one day what they meant would be gone, and some other people would leave behind their own meanings", she said leaning on the car, which I remembered Casey got at a dealership in San Francisco, called Stewart Chevy by the plate bracket.
"Answering your question, I never intended to study anything up here in the mountains. Look at it, it's quiet here. I came for the silence, you know that, the history in this area was merely an occupation. It kept me busy for a little while", I explained even though she knew.
Casey eyed me after pulling out a bag from the passenger side.
"What will you be leaving behind, Anna?"
"That's what I came here to avoid".
I ordered a salad and juice.
Screens were showing one of the news channels.
The international committee on societal reconstruction had another summit planned to discuss means of solving social criminality or at least reducing the incidence of disorder.
Several drastic measures were on the docket, and commentators bickered over the moral undertones inherent in implementation.
I just worried about going back to my nightmare apartment eventually.
The girl kept at her phone, louder and louder, the noise encroaching on my mind the way water creeps up over time on the mightiest of rock formations.
Two men, young then, were with her in the booth. They, too, laughed and yelped almost without rhyme or reason. Nobody else in the diner seemed to notice.
I looked at them when the girl caught me staring.
She motioned to the others and they turned to look back at me.
"Is there a problem?", one of the men asked from across the distance between us.
I hesitated for a second.
"No, but you're too loud".
"We’re just talking, lady", he said.
"But can't you try to keep it down?" my voice sounded small again, I felt small again, too.
"Go to hell", added the girl, barely acknowledging me.
Going wasn't even necessary anymore by that point.
Emily, my resident dog, wandered closer to Casey's car. Gave it a hoodwinked glance and rambled on to look for something to eat. I wasn't actively feeding the animals, they were on their own for that unless they gave signs of being otherwise inclined.
Casey put down her bag, looked at the sky.
"Are you going to invite me in?"
"There isn't too much there, but you're welcome to share in what I have. What brings you here to me anyway?", I asked.
"Maybe I'm fed up, Fin, maybe I want to be like you, stare at some ancient scrolls and whatnot. Besides, I'm here to tell you your wish has been granted."
At the diner, the two men laughed at me. They mocked my weakness, I could tell.
The girl with them, she was on her phone, telling the other side about some crazy woman who has the nerve to ask for a peaceful meal.
Like a possessed being, I grabbed the silver knife they gave me for the salad, thinking you don't need a knife for salad but what the hey, and got up.
In a dream state, I went over to their booth, the two men staring at me, unsure, and began stabbing the woman as she talked. The force in my arm was uncanny, and even though the knife wasn't sharp, it broke skin time and again, piercing her left, exposed shoulder.
One of the men got up to stop me, so I turned and kicked him in the groin, and he doubled over. The other one looked on, flabbergasted, and didn't do anything. He was weaker than me.
Sensing this, I pulled the girl towards me and sunk the knife in her left eye.
"The noise isn't there anymore, Fin, at least not the noise you ran from, not the angry noise of the city, like when you went on trial."
"I know I owe you for that", I added.
Casey gave me a dismissing gesture as we started for my hovel. It only had two windows and they were dark. I needed to light the oil lamp, it was getting towards twilight.
"What I did was my job, but not enough, like your cave scrabbles it won't matter in the long run."
Casey was a reference, part of the new legal system, evaluating cases on their social order merit. This was late in the fray, after the debate on goodness was well established.
She was the deciding vote in the jury of references, certifying me and my actions as good.
My case was projected around the country and by extension the world, one of several thousand instances forming the advanced stages of social cleansing.
"Regardless, I think you could have gone either way, and you know how I feel about us meeting. It was for a good reason", I looked at her and she seemed uneasy again.
She was looking at Emily, who came after us.
"The meek shall inherit, eh? When can we go out to the caves? I'd like to see what they were talking about."
"We can do it later this week, if you want. Why the sudden interest?"
"Why did you stop being interested?", Casey asked.
"Because I realized it was more ties to civilization. More bridges that needed to be burned if I was to ever recover. I wasn't meant to be part of that."
"That's great, cause you know what, you're not a part of it anymore."
"What do you mean?", I couldn’t figure her out.
Of course they arrested me, and the state police, who claimed jurisdiction, even tried to keep me out of the new courts.
But by then California signed the societal order convention, and I went on trial with good vs. bad setting the tone.
It was somewhat of a hotly contested thing, defense for the girl and her friends saying me murdering her like that was unwarranted and constituting vigilante action.
But the prosecution established my genetic makeup was one of good, and that I stood for society's best interest.
The jury of references interviewed me in detail, almost half not buying me at all.
Except Casey took extra time with me, and we bonded. She voted in my favor, and the case was decided.
When they announced the two guys would be sent to processing for guilt by association, I was almost lynched coming out of the court house, but Casey was there to shield me.
We remained close ever since.
Soon after the trial, I packed all my stuff and headed east to the parcel of land and hut I laid a claim to, all along imagining my neighbor and the girl following me to the mountains, waiting there with noise and hate to haunt me forever.
As it turned out, there were only the Marines, training to keep order and make sure processing went on undisturbed. Then the planes started.
Casey visited me once in a while, and that was really good.
"You have to start being honest with yourself, Anna", she said as I turned to light the lamp. It was really cool inside, and I didn't know why she looked rather flushed. "Will this life be so nice if you knew there was nothing to run away from?"
"You have to stop speaking in riddles and just say what you want to say. That world doesn't occupy my thoughts any longer, so please. Even if they did get to all the bad ones, it doesn't matter, I'm not going back."
She shook her beautiful head.
"That's not what I'm saying. The city, it's like the drawings now. Just a message, a reminder, maybe, I don't know. That's why I want to go to the caves, to see if it's really just like that", she clutched at her bag.
"Wanna put that down somewhere out of the way?", I offered.
"No, it's all I have left", and with that, I saw death on her face. It was the first time I saw death. The girl in the diner, I was too busy feeling good to notice.
Soon after that day at the courthouse, with the tumultuous mobs, lynching wasn't too big a deal anymore.
The world, most of it anyway, became divided in two. Each camp said they were the good one and the other faction bad, except one side eventually relied on DNA testing and the other simply took to accepting those the tests failed.
The new legal system and the split ripped through communities, leaping over boundaries and oceans. Soon every nation and place had the same idea, and people were going at each other.
I was up in the mountains, though, and safer. But from the little that came to me while in town, an angry crowd closing in on a lone woman lost much of its shock value.
The marines and airplanes remained a constant though, and when we went up to the caves, Casey and me, they weren't.
"Can you hear any noise from outside?", I asked her.
She ignored me, pointing at the drawings, which have stood there, lonesome and forgotten, probably thousands of years.
There was still some light from outside, to which Casey observed things inscribed by extinct people. Even the Rodman Mountains probably erased all memory of them by then.
"This one", she indicated, "this one shows a woman facing horses. They look like they're running away from her. Have you seen it before?"
"Seen all of them, Casey", I answered. "Check out the one with the hamlet".
"Yes, hamlet, like a little village. Over there", I showed her, down ten paces into the cave.
With less light to go on, Casey had to squint, which made her look funny.
"Don't laugh, glasses are in the car. It'll be hard getting them replaced now so I can't risk it", she said.
"Again with the secretive innuendo. What do you see?"
"Huh, I think it's more or less the same lady, right? The horses changed color, they're brownish-red now, still facing the same way, but she's facing the village. There's nobody else in the tents."
"Yep. And I still think it's a hamlet."
"What do you make of it?"
"No clue. Some of the others are even creepier", I added.
"What I wanted to find isn't here. Let's go out", Casey moved past me into the bluish evening.
We stood there.
I looked up at the Rodmans. Silence pervaded everywhere, and the stars began to glisten. There wasn't a sound or smell to say this way or that. Emily took off to some place again, she was a total princess when it came to discipline.
"This time a day, there should be planes overhead. Was the weather bad in the city or something?"
"And I haven't heard the marines in a while, either. Maybe they're busy."
"Maybe not", said Casey, getting ready to light a cigarette.
"What do you mean?"
And with that, she started to cough.
© 2006 by Lee Alon
(*Editor's note: A heavily-edited version of this story was online until February 25th. Lee indicated that he preferred that an unedited version appear; this is his original vision. The "Editor's Cut" (or Orphan Edition) can be seen at Girl Facing Village (Editor's Cut).)
Bio: "Lee is now formally addicted to gaming and believes it is the answer to life, everything, the fish and even 42. yes, that was the question. oh, this gaming here has nothing to do with slot machines or little cards with royalty on 'em.
Lee resides all over the world and thus thinks we only have each other for comfort, so keep reading this space." His most recent appearance in Aphelion was It'll All end Sobbing in the Dark (January 2006).
E-mail: Lee Alon
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