Circles in the Dirt – Chapter 1: Transformation


Thank you for reading! This is an unedited teaser for my upcoming novel Circles in the Dirt. I hope you enjoy it. Please comment anything positive or negative.

It’s not everyday we’re asked to walk in circles; in fact, we have such few opportunities that we often confuse the duty with a tedious chore. Each ungrateful step takes us bounds away from the greatest elusive truth–we’re alive, and that alone is a power immeasurable.
I measured each step against two and a half adjacent logs firmly impales into the ground. Two and a half logs paced steps in perfect rhythm, like walking to the ticks of a metronome. When I was young, I did the same thing to slabs of concrete, except I had to reach for each crack to catch tempo. The routine soothed me, only I haven’t seen a slab of concrete since everything changed, parted, disappeared.
Beforehand, people toyed with “The End” like some sort of heroic romance. Stories on screens and games painted a pastoral collapse of society, survived by men clad in futuristic armor or purposely ratty outfits paired by professional stylists, armed with automatic weapons–a population of modern, yet primitive, ubermensch. They ran camps like the old wild west I used to hear stories about, shooting aimlessly at beast and man alike. Most importantly, their mortality depended more on dramatic shock value than danger, accident, or lack of survival skills. They were heroes of inarguable moral and physical stature.
In reality, however, the world transformed imperfectly. Bullets and psychological medication drew thin, then ran out. Those who casually planned intricate escape plans panicked or turned to violence and ended up wiping themselves out. Many gaudy business men and their families sought shelter in bunkers designed for myths. Isolated and alone, most turned to familial homicide motivated by mercy or overwhelming solitude. When preparation became reality, guidebooks reduced to kindling.
Initially, survival depended on an intricate balance of innate human drive and compassion. The hopeless gave up while the fanatics killed each other off. In the same way, the charitable were discarded by the self-seeking. Towns and cities collapsed under politicians whose only powers were twisting words and marshal law, which lasted until local aid stockpiles diminished. Then, all structure and logic wilted and decayed just as most of the crops had months before. The chaos spread from city centers, reaching the outer suburbs, where the stubborn and naive recognized their mistakes but were too late. Our country neighbors who came together, however, overcame. Through painful sacrifice and often irrational altruism, pockets of survivors from the area eked past the initial surge of violence, famine, and pestilence, but not without losing loved ones.
There were no celebrations, no comic relief, nor heroic expressions of love. Each day number than the last, passion meant sharing a can of food and helping to bury, or burn, dead family members. But with small triumphs and greater tragedies hung faces like nature: dry, grey, and expressionless–droning survivalists both.
From these pockets formed our ragged tribe, and from the tribe, a sense of isolation driven by collective fear. My mom looked skeptical when the elder men decided to construct Endo, but hid her protest behind quiet, shy eyes. A year and a half later, a wooden palisade hidden within dying foliage surrounded us;  a blanket of comfort, according to mom, separating truth and struggle from reality–a sense of security to the rest of us.
Since our world shrank to just over a square mile, each day a member of the community endures the responsibility of walking the entire perimeter of the fortress; a duty called circumventing, which involves checking the wall for damage or breaches. Besides a few minor repairs, nothing has ever been reported. Circumventing is better spent day dreaming and making up meaningless games, like timing steps according to log placement. And so I walked in circles, carefully distancing each ungrateful step.
I wondered about the unnamed warriors mom used to describe in stories meant to drown out the groans of pain and starvation around us. My favorite traversed violent oceans, fought enemies of both natural and supernatural realms, and returned a couple decades later to reunite with his family. She always told me there was more to the ending, but never actually finished. I guess she didn’t feel stories, nor circles, were meant for finishing. “Two and a half logs a step,” I shook myself, refocusing on the dull eluding of truths.