Birchwood

America, struggling for over fifty years of decline, falls thanks to the decline of the Biosphere. Biosphere being the air we breath, the water we drink, the soil which we grow. Without these, wars spread like wildfire before nuclear meltdowns and electricity shortages led to an all out civil war. Now, many years late, four main Syndicates fight for control of America. AMP, CASS, CALF, and the Gov't.

               A shot of thick brown liquid fell into the foul smelling coffee by a large hand. It had been four hard days and four long nights for the Doc, and the wear showed on his puffed Bavarian face. He look a long, slow sip from the warm liquid, the heat rising steadily in the early morning chill. The door to the cabin was wide open, and the Doc sat upon a small wooden chair, his thing blues eyes gazing listlessly at the streets outside.

             The bustle of the day had just begun, and many men and women were seen on horseback, strolling by for their daily activities. Small children screamed and ran in packs, not a adult watching in sight. Dust rose from the street and Doc could just barely make out the mist rising from the nearby river behind a small bunch of houses across the way. The sun had yet to creep above the thick fog, and the whole town seemed unearthly in that early morning light. One or two loud dirt bikes could be heard in the distance, no doubt owned by some of the wealthiest residents of Birchwood. Everyone knew gas was nearly unattainable this far north. The hunched, large man wondered how someone could afford such a regal instrument of transportation and still reside here, in this Hell-Hole. 

         The Gov't troops have been pushing ever harder from the west, and not a single day went by a settler, scout or civilian was dragged into his office, shot or stabbed. Bombed or mined. Radiation sickness, mutations, large tumors. There was nothing in the years he'd been here he hadn't seen. But it's been so much worse lately, he thought. Just last week solar drones passed overhead of Fort Shay and bombed it to oblivion. A few of the surviving soldiers were still cramped in the back room, still recovering. 

          Wrinkles cut deep into his frog like face as he saw from across the dirt road a meek, stumbling figure he recognized immediately. He took another slow sip of coffee and made no effort to move. Henry Vaughan. His limping, small figure was unmistakable. He had been voted leader of the settlement last year after his superior, Todd McTell, had perished fighting against Gov't troops in the Rockies. He was considered not qualified by most, but no one really had the will to take McTell's place, so Henry was in charge. The man's pace was worrisome, but Doc remained stationary in his chair, holding his drink close to his face with both hands. The steam rising up in streams. Mr. Vaughan was extremely out of breath when he appeared in the doorway, resting against the beam. His thickly bearded face constricted into a painful expression as nothing but wheezes came out of his mouth.

"You need to give up that tobacco, Henry." The Bavarian cracked a sly smile as he pulled a hand rolled cigarette out of his jean pocket and lit it with a small match. He rose to meet the visitor and his large figure towered over the much smaller Henry, who held out a finger as he caught his breath, asking him to wait a moment.

"The Timber," Doc said with the same, hanging smile.

Wheeze. "What?" Wheeze.

"Sure! Thou didst flourish once! and many springs,

many bright mornings, much dew, many showers,

passed o'er thy head. Many light hearts and wings.

Which now are dead, lodg'd in thy living bowers."

Henry had regained his composure but stared blankly. The doctor gave me a look of equal peculiarity.

"You're named after a poet you don't even know?" He laughed deeply and shook his head.

"You see, it's a generational name," Henry explained, "my father's name, and his father's name."  He looked ill at ease and explained with attitude, "Plus, I'm not here to talk about poetry, I'm here for the doctor."

"What's wrong then?" Doc got short, the disdain clearly showing on his face.

"It's Priest Arius, he got into a scuffle with some LICE while he was visiting ol' Philemon and Bacchus down the way. Somehow he got pushed into the fire, he's burnt up pretty bad, Doc. No sign of the LICE." Henry's eyes darted in worry, a constant habit, his thinning, short hair pushed aside with his small hands, "The locals are pretty mad, you know how important the Priest is to these people."

"Yeah, Yeah." Doc sighed deep and finished his coffee with one final gulp. He look into Henry's darting eyes. "Things sure aren't getting better, are they?"

"Well," Said Henry, slightly more comfortable, "How's that poem end? We might need its prophecy."

Doc laughed a short, hoarse laugh and threw on his coat.

"Else all at rest, thou liest. And the fierce breath,

of tempests can no more disturb thy ease.

But this strange resentment after death

means only those who broke --In Life-- thy peace."

"Oh." Said Henry mutely, and they both went out to get their horses without another word.

The End

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