The Survivors' City, Montana
Summer 1987 (For sure. I could tell what month and year it was better after I started going to Bigfork)
We were deep in the woods, making our way to the city wall. Noah and I had been talking when Ben solicited us to come with him out here to show us something. When we got to the wall, I looked around and didn't see anything. Then Ben jumped the wall. I was startled and looked at Noah. He shrugged and jumped it, too. I followed suit.
We didn't go far. Ben's about three years older than Noah and me, but he stopped aging when we did. He brought us to a stop in the middle of the woods. There was a large barrel that he had clearly made himself lying on its side, a small hole filled with a stopper on the top of it.
"What is this?" Noah asked.
"It's wine," Ben said. Noah and I exchanged troubled and incredulous glances. "What? Don't look at me like that. I've been working on it for literally years, and now I think I have it right."
"You made wine? Like what we drink for communion?" I asked.
"Yeah, I get grapes from David. He's gotten a lot better at being able to make stuff when you ask him. Just food though," Ben said. David was the youngest from the second generation who had stopped aging only in our lifetimes, and he could create stuff like James could, only in a more limited way.
Ben dipped a small wooden cup into the small hole at the top. A golden liquid filled the cup. "It's not the same color as the communion wine," Noah said. I nodded in agreement.
"I know. I think the grapes must be different than the ones they use," he said. "You have to try it, though. It will make you feel funny."
So we did. And, from what I could gather, it did make them feel funny, but I felt nothing. Soon enough, I was sitting on the ground, picking at the underbrush, and Noah and Ben were both leaning against trees and talking aimlessly. I had wanted to ask them something for years that I had never had the guts to ask, so this seemed like a good time to catch them with their guard down.
"Boys," I said, addressing them both, "I have a question."
"Yeah?" Ben asked.
"Why do you think they gave us the books when we were kids? Lizzie and Sarah... Why do you think they let us read things from outside?" I asked.
They both thought about it for a moment, strangely blank expressions on their faces, the corners of their mouths upturned, feeling the effects of wine. Noah spoke first. "I wonder if they trust us. Maybe they know that someone in each generation should know a little bit about the world outside, and they know we're not crazy enough to fall in love with that world," he said. This pulled deep in my stomach. I was already neck-deep in love with the complexity of it.
"Yeah, I think they wanted to make sure we knew how reprehensible things are out there. People killing each other, indecent with each other, those witches in Macbeth...it was all insane. And the worst was yours, Sadie. That Theogony was ridiculous. I cannot believe that people out there believed that stuff, that they thought that was the way the world was created, denying what God really did," Ben said. The pull in my stomach escalated to a stab.
"Why do you think they gave them to us?" Noah asked me.
I didn't say anything. I shrugged my shoulders, unwilling to admit the truth. I couldn't tell them that I had hoped it was because they were getting us ready for the outside, or, at the very least, that the three of us had some purpose, some need to know more about the outside world. I liked to think it was because Lizzie and Sarah understood what I did: I felt a need to be connected to the world outside our walls, even a century before Lizzie let me start going outside.
Finally, I said, "You don't think it's a little strange that you two are the only two ever to have been born with the gift of tracking in all our generations, and you just so happened to be two of the ones they chose?"
The boys looked at each other, clearly having never considered this before. Soon Noah's face cleared. "That can't be it. You're not a tracker," he said.
"Yeah," Ben said, backing him up.
"What if I might become one?" I said quietly.
Both boys laughed. "Look, we don't know much about the tracking, where it comes from, how we got it, but we do know that it is something you're born with, not something you get along the way," Ben said. "Besides, you stopped aging over a hundred years ago. Nothing about you is going to change."
Noah could tell they had hurt my feelings, so he tried to fix it. "Sadie, let's think about it. If the three of us were trackers," he began. Ben sneered in the background. "Or something," he said, glaring at Ben, "then maybe it's like Ben said. They wanted us to know how insane it is out there. That way, if ever we had to go outside these walls, because we have the skills of tracking, we'd also have no desire to linger out there because of what we've read."
Noah was trying to be reassuring and supportive of my tracking theory. However, his theory took exactly the opposite spin of the one I was hoping for. In my head, they gave us books, let us know about the outside, because they could tell that one day we'd need to go outside, and that way we'd be prepared. But thinking about what I knew about my family, Noah's version seemed far more correct. The three books had, after all, terrified Noah and Ben, scaring them further and further into loyalty to the family.
I didn't say anything else, but rose to my feet to go back into the city, wanting to be away from the boys, who didn't understand me.
"Sadie, you're a little weird," Ben called out to me as I walked away from them, his voice slurred. Then he broke out laughing.