Author : Glenn Blakeslee
It had taken us weeks to get there. My brother Phillip and I, carrying heavy packs, had joined with a group of pilgrims early in our journey. We’d wound our way through the ruins, followed the old freeways to the mountains which rimmed the coastal plain like sentinels.
We wore burnooses and headgear like the pilgrims. I’d befriended a girl, Elisa, traveling with her parents, and spent my time with her. “The Tree talked to our ancestors,” she’d said once, but I didn’t argue with her, couldn’t blame her for being backwards. Most people, besides my clan, were lost in myths of the old days.
“Maybe it’ll talk to us again,” I replied.
We were attacked by robbers in the foothills. They rolled rocks down on us and closed the narrow canyon to our advance, but we were able to overcome them. I killed my first man with the rusty shotgun my father had given me, and kept wits enough to collect the emptied shells before covering the body with stones.
Finally we’d arrived. The Talking Tree stood high on a ridge overlooking a rugged sere valley, a tall evergreen that looked out of place among the Manzanita and low sage that filled the canyon.
Pilgrims filled the space around the Tree. Beyond, a cleared area beside the crumbled asphalt of a highway held merchant shacks where people traded water, food, and bits of broken technology as charms. Phillip and I moved to the front of the crowd, where the pilgrims stood reverently circling the Tree. Some were praying but most just watched, waiting for the Tree to Talk.
The Tree was a steel column surrounded by a wire fence, festooned with tokens and charms. At the middle and top of the column curved pieces of steel jutted at cardinal points. Green plastic needles cascaded from the column, completing the Tree illusion. A large silver box stood between the Tree and the fence.
Phillip glanced down the canyon, at the hills that fell to the sea. “Excellent fresnel location,” he whispered, and walked toward the Tree. The crowd stirred, and as he climbed the fence pilgrims gasped and screamed. I stood back, at the periphery, afraid.
Phillip motioned to me from inside the fence. I carefully dropped my pack and pulled out the converter-relay and the compact solar panel, handed them to him. The crowd moved but didn’t approach the fence. Someone shouted “Blasphemers!”
Phillip opened a door on the silver box, knelt and stepped inside. I turned to the pilgrims, who were all watching us, the crowd surging toward the Tree. I pulled the shotgun from under my robes, pumped it once, and pointed the barrel at the sky. “Get back!” I screamed.
A bearded man in the crowd screamed back, “You must not touch the Tree!” and he took steps toward me. I lowered the shotgun.
Elisa appeared out of nowhere. “Matthew?” she said, looking at me.
“The Tree doesn’t talk to us,” I said. I tried being calm, but I was shaking. “We use the Tree to talk,” I said, holding the shotgun level, but not at her.
Phillip scrambled back over the fence, smiling. “The interface worked perfectly,” he said and pulled a handheld from his pocket. The crowd watched, silent. Phillip pushed a button on the device. “Radio check,” he said.
The handheld was silent, and then a tinny sound issued from it. My father’s voice said, from miles away, “We read you.”
The bearded man threw up his arms. “It talks!” he screamed. Elisa smiled at me.
Bit by bit we are rebooting the world.