May 20th, Year of our Fair Lord 10, Upper Jonestown
On a Tuesday morning back in Jonestown, Fred Clayton carried bags of garbage to the curb and dropped them there with a satisfying smash of abandonment. He walked back up the gravel path to the lakeside house with a purposeful stride. There was sweeping to do on the back and front porches, the boat to pull up to the shed in case of storms, and the carpets indoors to beat out and then vacuum for good measure. He did it all with an apron on and a paper mask across his mouth, the way he always did spring cleaning.
That it was almost summer hardly mattered.
He saved two cardboard boxes and filled one with dry and canned stores from his cabinets, loading this final burden into the bed of his truck. He also gathered all the books that were his, novels mostly, some comics, and put these in the other box as a separate donation. Then he walked through the house end to end—it took hardly a few seconds—and finally returned to the kitchen table. The kitchen was at the central part of the long house, with a door facing the back porch and a view of the lake. It was mostly in shadow during the day. He’d left his laptop, a compact but durable appliance, open there. The bubbles of the screensaver bounced around in front of his email inbox.
The table had a long bench against the wall and three mismatched chairs. Fred sat down in one, glanced at his pack, ready and waiting on the bench for its journey, and jogged the mouse pad with his finger.
Fred’s parents had always made sure he learned a little bit of everything, especially as they’d seen the war come on and the so-called peace that followed it. They’d brought their son up on Orwell and Huxley, Golding and Harkness, and also Heraclitus, Hegel, and Locke. He’d only learned religion like some people learned mythology, alongside math and language and skills at scientific deduction. Where others’ parents taught them faith, he’d learned how to fight the Fair Folk, which was far more difficult, in his opinion, because the game always changed.
He had never been taught by his parents’ scholarship or their example to panic in the face of the inevitable. He’d been taught that you do what you can.
Fred bought his cell phones prepaid from a small shop that didn’t recognize popular trends as quickly as others, and kept the SIM cards out until he needed them. Sure, they tracked patterns, but if you hardly used them, there would be hardly anything to track. He also kept every online account password in a small notebook in his jacket pocket. Now he pulled both of these out and flipped to the first of several ratty paper pages of passwords and account names. One after another, he visited website after website on both the phone and the computer, clearing information from his profiles and then doing one last save of these blank profiles before deleting accounts. He sent mass emails stating his current address had been compromised and that he would be in touch with new contact information, and then these accounts, too, he vanquished. You couldn’t disappear too quickly or they’d see that too. He’d had a senior classmate who’d gone missing not long after the new police were deployed by the Western Faeries. The social media kept logging followers and friend requests, private messages and suggested advertisements. It had been weeks before anyone bothered to see if he was still alive. Fred knew he would need at least that long. If he made it back, he’d just say his email was compromised.
Fred turned another page in his notebook. When he’d finished, he pulled a lighter from the kitchen drawer next to the emergency candles. He burned the password pages into ashes in the sink, then washed them down the drain by running the water a long while.
Finally, he called from the landline to cancel his electric, water, and gas utilities, “until further notice.” He penned a log of all these preparations and left it on the kitchen table for the next relative to live here. His family owned this house and there was a general rotation with others since it was one of the nicer ones. Someone would be by, eventually, when it seemed to have gotten quiet. Fred found himself tempted to leave some copy of his old photo files on the computer, but then, if Blanyard was dead, no one could say who might find them first. His parents would have made copies of the ones they liked best.
So Fred cleared each library, disabled the Wi-Fi, then set his computer up for a wipe and reboot. He spent the hours that followed dropping off the non-perishables at the nearest charity center, returning his truck to his parents’ house with a note on the windshield, and catching a taxi back to the woods. He locked up, hung the key up in the old boathouse, and headed for the road into town.
He looked back once. The afternoon sun hung over the lake in a blue sky amid wisps of cloud. The gently rippling water was dark under the shadow of the trees, but almost blinding under the open sky. The view was framed by the pine trees standing tall and green on either side. Ginkgo leaves fluttered in a slight wind. The warm, earthy smell of the place, from its sod to its evergreens, was always a peaceful one. He’d miss it, he decided. He never denied his feelings, so he let the sadness hold him there a moment, for the memory.
Then turning on his heel he headed off down the dirt road.