I’ve been thinking about my origin story the last few days. The Great Silence. For the first time in a while, I’ve started looking around at my spiritual surroundings. If they were physical places, I grew up in a small town. My thoughts and beliefs were safe and comfortable. I thrived there. I became a big fish in a little pond. Left to my own devices, there’s a good chance that I would have stayed there forever. But I wasn’t given that option.
Instead, the Great Silence fell like a bomb. The safe little homes that housed my beliefs were blown apart. Roads that used to take me everywhere I thought I needed to go became impassable. The pleasant scent of summer honeysuckle had been replaced with acrid smoke.
For a long time, I lived in that darkness. The bomb left me homeless, and instead of moving on, I decided to camp in the middle of the desolation. The earth had been scorched; nothing could grow and I began to starve. I didn’t care though; this was my home. Where else could I go? I spent a miserable period of time scavenging a meager and unfulfilling living from the ashes.
Eventually, the shock wore off and I was able to think objectively long enough to realize that I needed to get out. So I began walking. Before long, I reached the edge of what was familiar. I turned and faced the smoldering ruins of what had been all I had known my entire life. There was nothing left for me there. Steeling myself, I took my first step into the unknown.
We had told stories of the dark wilderness back in my safe town. Only crazy people went out there. Those that did, never returned. There were rumors of a settlement that a band of these outcasts had cobbled together, but it was assumed that was just a fable. I had replaced black death for green. Thorns, poison, and wild animals called this place home. The earliest nights in that savage land were the hardest.With nothing to focus on but the sounds of the forest, my mind would drift back to the stories we would tell; those that had left the safety of our town and Lost Their Way. Those that Backslid into oblivion.
Progress was trial and error, and error could leave you crippled or worse. I was always cautious. I knew how quickly a flippant decision could lead you somewhere you didn’t want to be, so I did my best to be fastidious. I tested the food I found and ate cautiously. After several mishaps, I began to learn the lay of the land. I discovered sources of consistent nourishment. I began to recognize the things that should be avoided.
Then the day came that changed everything. I had been out foraging, when for the first time since the bomb, I heard a voice that didn’t belong to me. Several, in fact. My immediate reaction was sheer terror. I climbed into a tree and looked and listened. A group of people soon walked by my tree. They were laughing and enjoying each other. They had baskets of berries and tubers and several dead animals hanging from their belts. I realized this must be some kind of a hunting party.
They must have decided to take a break, because they all sat and started a fire. They skinned and roasted some of their animals and they ate and told jokes and stories. As they were packing up, one of them seemed to notice something. They walked toward the path I had been following before I heard them, and knelt down. They turned around and looked up t0ward the trees. I did my best to hide as I was still unsure of their intentions.
The group left, but the person that looked at my path was the last to leave. Before they joined their group, they left a roasted squirrel and some berries at the foot of my tree. I didn’t know what to make of any of this. I waited in that tree until evening when I felt it was safe. I came down and immediately gorged myself on the food they left behind. It had been so long since I ate this well I had almost forgot what it felt like to be completely satisfied. Happy, I went to sleep at the foot of the tree.
I woke with the sun the next morning. In the light, I realized I had missed part of the offering left behind. They had left a note that said, “We are just like you. We’re safe. Join us when you’re ready.” Despite the warm invitation, I still had my hesitations. I knew nothing about these people. What if they were the crazy people I had been warned about? What if this was a trap?
I tried to live my life normally the next several days, but my mind kept wandering back to the hunting party. They had a group. They had others. I hadn’t realized how lonely I had become until I saw them laughing and celebrating together. One week after my first sighting, I found them again. It went much the same as before; complete with a meal. This went on for quite a while. Every week they would leave me something, and every week they would invite me to join them.
Finally, it was too much. Maybe it was the isolation, maybe the promise of a real meal more than once a week… but I decided that the next week… I wasn’t going to hide. When the time came, I stood in front of my tree, trying not to tremble. It had been so long since I interacted with another person I wasn’t sure I remembered how. When I first heard the rustling of the grass, I had to force myself not to run. I saw figures moving. I could hear my heartbeat thudding in my ears. There was a crack as a twig was stepped on, and suddenly I was face to face with another human. Not just any human; the one that had been leaving me the food and the notes.
I’m positive I must have looked like a cornered animal. I was so scared of what would come next… Was this all a ruse? Did I just give myself over to slavers? Would they hurt me? Our eyes locked. What struck me the most was their complete lack of surprise. They just smiled like we were old friends. They offered me some food and introductions were made. I told them my story, of the town and the bomb and they nodded sympathetically. Similar things had happened to them. They invited me back to their camp. I said “yes” before they finished asking the question.
When I arrived, there was a celebration. I discovered that this camp was the one that was whispered about back in my town. This was the home of the outcasts. Disenfranchised souls living together in community. Unlike the town I had grew up in, they were willing to face the darkness of the wilderness. Though their bodies bore the scars of their previous lives and the injuries the forest had given them, they existed to find those that had gotten lost… like me.