The Hunger

By Codey

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The man sat, leaning against the wall near the entrance to the cave he’d carved into the ice cliff the previous day. He could hear rustling noises from the restless sleep of his mate and child, coming from their resting place farther into the cave. The whimpering of his child distressed him deeply. He had been a good provider for his family, but they’d been discovered by a wandering group of hunters two days ago. They were lucky to have eluded them and now, with their stockpiles of meat many miles away, the child was hungry. The man was hungry too.

He watched as the snow fell. He tried to figure out how long it had been snowing. It had been generations, but he couldn’t decide how many years that had been. He only knew that he, his parents, and his parents’ parents had never seen it not snowing. Snow was normal for humanity now. He knew, from the collective memory of the people, that there had been times of warmth and plenty. Areas of the earth were warm and comfortable. The story was told how the people had always known the earth maintained its balance with cycles, dry and wet, cold and hot, desert and lush forest land. Now there was only cold and ice.

There had come a time when the scientists – the man spit on the ice unconsciously when he thought of them – had decided the earth was warming too fast, and this warming had to be stopped. Many things were tried; many things failed. No one was willing to give up the lifestyle they enjoyed, it was always someone else that was expected to make the sacrifice.

It was told that in these times, there were cities of many millions. In those days, there were units of government called by many names. Some were local units, some were called cities, states, and the largest and most powerful were countries. As the cities grew, they gained more and more control over the country–units, and with this they controlled all the smaller units as well. These cities made, by far, the largest impact on the earth and its resources, and were the most reluctant to give up their lifestyles.

After taking effective control of the countries’ governments, they began passing laws limiting air pollution. They made sure these laws could be bypassed by their industries by using a system of credits, where different areas were alloted a given amount of acceptable pollution, and the right to buy these credits from the areas with less pollution than they had credits for. This did not decrease the pollution worldwide, and increased the pollution in the cities, as other areas found it more profitable to lease their pollution credits to the cities than to police their own area’s polluters. This arrangement satisfied the city dwellers for a couple of decades. It allowed the cities to grow even larger and to increase their control over the general population.

The man shifted his position, trying to ease the hunger pains. He would need to feed soon. He glanced upward. Somewhere up there, above the clouds, it was said there were many suns which sparkled in the night sky like ice crystals. There were other worlds circling these suns. He hoped there were people living on these worlds. He felt that the time of the people was over on this one.

When it was seen that the credit system was neither stopping nor slowing the warming, the governments gathered with the scientists and, between them, decided that the way to proceed was to tax the fuel the people used in their machines of transportation. This made the people of the cities very happy, because they had little use for these machines, as they had other means of public transport, and the new laws would have very little impact on their lives. The cities demanded, and received, exemptions for their public systems. Life in the cities, for a time, remained much the same.

These laws, however, were devastating to the less populated areas. When these went into effect, overnight, the price of fuel tripled and, over the next few months, the price rose to nearly ten times what it had been before the new laws.

The rural people complained that it was unfair to them, because they were so scattered they needed their machines, just for the necessities to sustain life. They felt that the pollution they produced was minimal compared to that of the cities, and their machines should receive the same exemptions that the cities’ public transport machines received.

The cities countered that the machines the rural people used were larger and less fuel efficient. The rural people argued that, because of the larger distances between centers of commerce, they needed larger machines to carry larger loads. Instead of a five minute walk to a place where they could purchase goods or services, they faced journeys of hours, so it was more efficient for them to purchase and transport larger amounts of supplies less frequently. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The fuel laws affected not only the rural people’s private transports, but also the machines used in the production of food crops. They could no longer afford to grow a crop or even to harvest the crops already planted. Crops rotted in the fields and in holding warehouses, because the transport companies could not afford the fuel to deliver the food. The governments used military transports to save what food they could and bring it into the cities. This only delayed the inevitable. Soon the cities were running out of food. This led to the first of the great food riots in the cities. The rural people did what people of the land always did. They adapted to the new conditions.

The rural people began growing food for themselves and relearned the arts of food preservation used by their ancestors. They dug huge holes in the ground where they built large cellars to take advantage of the cooling properties of the earth. They began drying some foods and preserving others in glass jars. Those who had been grain farmers started raising animals for food. Old machinery was scavenged for the iron that local craftsmen converted into plows and other machines that could be drawn by draft animals. Wagons, drawn by animals, were soon seen on roads built for the movement of machines, carrying excess produce into the smaller towns. The towns, in turn, had craftsmen to build tools that the farmers needed but couldn’t build for themselves. Towns also had markets where people could trade excess items for items they needed but didn’t produce. The rural areas were money-poor but rich in things needed for daily life.

Some of the farmers began growing fibrous crops for spinning and weaving into clothing as the cost of transport also caused the price of this commodity to be beyond the means of the rural people. Some people in the small towns began cottage industries to spin and weave these into cloth. The people of the rural areas wore these clothes with pride. They considered them to be an example of how they could survive.

The elite in the city had money but were short of things. As the food supplies diminished, the elite joined together to purchase transport vehicles to send into the rural areas to buy food for themselves. Within two crop seasons, the government stockpiles, food that was being used to feed the poor in the cities, were nearly depleted. The elite’s food transports started to be attacked and the food looted as they returned to the cities. The elite began escorting their transports with armed guards to protect their food supplies, and this led to the first deaths.

The poor, as usual, were the first victims. Many died in attempts to get food. Some raided farms near the cities, but, as these were the suppliers of food for the elite, they were soon guarded, and many raiders died. The only advantage the poor had was in their numbers. As the rioting started, The elite thought their police and military could control the outbreak, but it was soon obvious that there were as many hungry poor as the police and military had bullets, and many of these poor had bullets of their own. Cities around the world were soon in flames. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the conflicts.

The governments decided the only way to curb the riots and end the violence would be to feed the people. They announced that, in the future, the government would take over the transport of foodstuffs and that food would be cheaper, since government vehicles were exempt from the high taxes on fuel. They did not, however, exempt the machines farmers depended on to mass produce foodstuffs. This led to many farmers not reentering the mass production of food. They no longer trusted the governments to look out for their best interests like they did the interests of the city dwellers. Some farmers did begin producing food again, but still held onto the new ways the rural people had begun living, as a backup.

Because of the innate inefficiencies of large bureaucracies, foodstuffs began arriving in the cities, but not in the quantities or at the prices promised by the governments. The cost to the farmers was still high, and because of the demand for food being great and the supply so low, prices dropped very little. There was enough food to survive though, and so the violence ended and an uneasy peace ensued for a short time.

An outcry from his child distracted the man from his pondering. He listened to the soothing voice of his mate as she comforted their child and coaxed it back to sleep. The time was coming for feeding, but not yet. He would know the time and would act then.

He began to think about time. It was said that in those earlier days, they had divided time into units shorter than the blink of an eye and longer than the life of a human. This concept was beyond him. Why would there be a need for these units? What was so important that it needed such units in order to be measured? In the present, the only divisions needed were the time you were alive and the time of dark for hunting and light for feeding. Once you were dead, time was of no consequence to you.

The elites and scientists knew this peace was unstable and wouldn’t last long. It was decided that the only solution would be the halting of the warming of the environment. The scientists began concentrating all their efforts to this end, but their grand scheme was too long in the making, and the second food riots occurred in a few years.

Just as the cost of transport had driven food prices to levels most could not afford, the same thing happened to the commodities produced in the cities. As people could no longer afford the things produced in the cities, the factories began closing and people’s sources of income were lost. The people just began the taking of those things they needed. Looting and killing became a way of life in the cities. With the loss of income from the closing down of industry, even the elite were spending their money faster than they could earn it.

Soon, the governments of the poorer countries began to fall, and those countries were left in complete lawlessness. Even the richer countries were feeling the pressures from the hungry masses. The rural areas, though to a lesser extent, also faced these same pressures.

The rural people had a resource the city people had no access to: the land. They were able to feed themselves, with enough excess to use as barter in the town, but they also wanted to hold onto their previous way of life as much as possible. Soon, in towns as well as on the farms, wind turbines began appearing, so they could have the artificial light they had in those days. These were constructed from parts of machines they no longer had fuel for.

While very few births were taking place in the cities, the birth rate in the rural areas rose dramatically as the need for labor on the farms increased. Having more children was an asset to the food production and cottage industries that were the backbone of the rural economy.

As conditions worsened in the cities, many city dwellers, in search of food and safety, migrated to the rural areas. There were no jobs for these people but the rural people could offer food, a place to live, and comparative safety to these migrants. The migrants, in return, increased the production of not only food crops but also of the fiber crops needed for clothing. There was a ready market for the food in the cities but none, other than local, for the fiber crops.

This led to the creation of small industries which processed the fiber and wove it into cloth which did have a market in the cities. Workers were needed to furnish the labor for these industries, so many more migrants from the cities were accepted in exchange for their labor. There was no need for money any more, as it became worthless in this barter economy. There was nothing money could buy, so there was no reason to want it.

As the rural economy grew, all the local, unneeded machines were scavenged for parts for turbines and for their metal to use in the construction of machines for processing fibers. A thriving barter trade grew between the cities and close by rural areas. Food and cloth were exchanged for the metals and parts from the machines abandoned in the cities. This influx of necessities eased the pressures on the governments that remained, and allowed the governments to claim they had solved the problem.

At first, the migrants were welcomed. Each was given a plot of land and help in constructing shelter for him and his family. They were treated well and blended into the community as they learned the ways of their new homes. The need for labor for the farms and small industries grew as the available land dwindled. Even those who were previous immigrants opposed the continued influx of new people.

The landowners and new industrialists decided, as the labor was needed but available land for housing these newcomers was dwindling, that they should cease the practice of giving land to these newcomers and build housing for them on their own land. Instead of allowing them to grow their own food for their families, these people would work the land and factories and the landowners and new industrialists would take over the responsibility for housing and feeding them.

It soon became apparent to the landowners and industrialists that they were feeding, clothing, and housing people who were not contributing to production in the families of these workers. They began to require the wives to also work the fields and factories, and soon decided that the children of these families should contribute too, by doing what work they could, both on the farms and in the factories. Voluntary servitude had become, in effect, slavery.

The balance of power was steadily shifting to the rural areas and the governments were unwilling to jeopardize the uneasy peace that was the norm for this time. Even had they been willing to take the chance to condemn and try to stop this practice, it was unclear if they had the power. As the rural powers grew, the cities’ power waned. In an effort to regain their powers, the cities turned to the scientists for help. They felt the only way to regain power would be to stop the global warming. In exchange, the scientists would regain their place among the elite of the world. This was the birth of the “ultimate solution” and the onset of the end of the age of the people, and maybe even the end of all life on this world.

The scientists decided that the way to stop, and maybe even reverse, global warming, was to stop thinking about reducing the pollutants and devise ways to block some of the sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. They came up with a scheme to use a metal element that would reflect the sun’s rays. They had a technology that used things smaller than the eye could see in those days, although the man couldn’t see how they knew something was there if it couldn’t be seen.

There arose dissenters in the ranks of the scientists that said this approach needed to be studied more extensively, that the effects on the environment were uncertain with this new technology. They held that there could well be unforeseen consequences to this action that could be harmful to mankind for years to come. These dissenters pointed out that because of the disasters in the cities, due to the previous attempts to control global warming, the level of pollutants had greatly lessened with the shutdown of industries and the dramatic drop in the numbers of transport machines being used. They argued that time should be spent studying the effects of this drop in pollutants, but the governments and their scientist allies refused. They were shouted down by the alliance of scientists and governments, just as had those earlier scientists who had questioned the attempts to lessen global warming by trying to stop what they felt was a naturally occurring cycle.

The plan took many years of negotiations between the countries of the world before it could be put into effect. Many of these governments felt it unfair that they should bear the cost of the entire project when the whole world would benefit. It was their belief that everyone should share the cost, either with money, materials, or land. The more powerful of the countries came to an agreement where, in exchange for saving the world, the lands and people of those areas now in anarchy would come under the control of the more powerful allies. They gathered among themselves and decided what land would go to each country, and the deal was settled. Those who could not pay their fair share would pay the dearest price of all: their freedom.

When this plan was first announced to the people, the people were encouraged to believe that soon, things would improve in the world. As the negotiations dragged on, the people began to lose faith, and the exodus from the cities returned and the power of the rural areas grew even more.

The dissenting scientists joined in an uneasy alliance with the landowners and rural people. Both sides had the goal of stopping the cities and their plan, but for very different reasons. The dissenting scientists, because of their beliefs in allowing natural cycles to proceed without interference from mankind. The landowners, with their desire to maintain the status quo and their rising power.

The landowners threatened to stop trade with the cities, leading to more unrest among the people of the cities and loss of even more power for the elite. There was a strong faction among those that opposed this because of the potential loss of income and a lessening of their power. This faction delayed a decision long enough for the cities to begin implementing their plan for stopping the global warming. Once the cities began, it was too late for the landowners to act.

They used their flying machines to spread the particles throughout the atmosphere. The people gathered in clear areas and on rooftops, wherever they had a clear view of the sky, to watch and wait for a change. The spreading of the particles lasted for a full lunar cycle but the people saw no change. They began to lose heart and returned to their struggles to survive. After a while, they began to notice that the sun seemed dimmer. The winds blew more frequently and the people rejoiced at the cooling breezes. And then the storms began.

Storms devastated parts of the world. Deserts were flooded and winds destroyed forests and cities around the world. In the part of the world the people called Asia, one mega-storm crossed the southern regions and, by the time it subsided, over one hundred million people had perished. Both city and rural people were affected. In the rural areas, flooding destroyed forests and crops, and flooding killed many people. In the cities, the people took refuge in their towers, in order to escape the flooding, but these towers were bent by the wind to points where they collapsed. These collapsing towers killed not only the people inside, but also in buildings that were crushed as the towers fell. They number of dead were such that the survivors could not clear the bodies, and so soon diseases began breaking out and many more died.

For a period of ten of their years, these storms persisted. By the time the climate calmed and settled into a less violent phase, over half the people of the world had perished. With the calming of the climate, came new hope for the people. The global heating had been halted and a cooling phase had begun. For the next three generations, the people struggled to rebuild the world as they had known it.

Very little had changed in the relationships between the cities and the rural areas. The rural people still controlled the food supply, but the cities slowly began rebuilding industries which gave them a better bargaining position in their trade with the rural areas. The rural areas now controlled the wealth, but as the cities began manufacturing luxury items coveted by the rural people, an uneasy balance was maintained. No one seemed to be concerned with climate or noticed the global cooling continuing.

The freeze line, during the winter season, at first only gradually moved south in the Northern hemisphere and north in the Southern. This movement gathered speed quickly, though, and the temperate areas, where the majority of food crops were grown, moved toward the equator. The crops that were the basis for the power and wealth of the rural peoples could no longer be grown in the colder areas.

The landowners and their households began migrating into the new temperate areas, and with their numbers and wealth, displaced the peoples already living in these areas. As the source of their food moved farther away, the city people were forced to follow. The abandonment of their factories deprived them of their trade commodities, and this loss of trade deprived the rural landowners of a market for their products. With no incentive for profit, the landowners cut their production of foodstuffs. This led to violence, as the struggle for food and the struggle to protect food supplies grew ever more intense. As the freeze lines and cold moved toward the equator, mass migrations and the struggles for food caused many conflicts among the people, and by the time all life had been squeezed into a band circling the world at the equator, the population of the world had been more than halved again. – And then it snowed at the equator.

The man noticed a lightening of the sky, and knew dawn was near. He thought of his mate and surviving boy child asleep in the ice cave. The boy, still too young to be taught the art of hunting, had no future. He thought of his other children, lost to hunters. The boy children killed and the girl children taken captive. Soon it would be time to feed.

The tropical plants wilted and died at the first frost. What plant food sources there were, were now gone. Mankind turned to hunting to survive. The animals had been driven toward the equator along with the humans, and once again, humans became the ultimate predator. The hunters were now the most powerful people alive, and the snow kept falling. Land slowly disappeared beneath layers of snow. The snow made tracking easy, and the hunters and their families thrived, while many more people died.

The man was the third generation of hunters. When it was time for him to be taught hunting, his father took him on a hunting expedition. It was a successful hunt, and the man did as he knew he should, but was unable to eat for many days upon their return. His parents offered him meat at each feeding time and finally, in order to survive, he fed. From that time until now, he had been a hunter. He learned well from his father and was a good provider for his own family when the time came.

As the people hunted the animals, the number of animals declined. The hunters traveled farther and farther afield to find meat for their families. Soon there were no more animals to hunt, and in order to survive, the ultimate hunters also became the ultimate prey. Men, boy children, and women beyond childbearing age, were the main prey. Girls and women, who could bear children, were taken captive for the breeding of meat. Humanity was lost among the people and there only remained predator and prey, who were one and the same. This could not be sustained and, now, Man was fast disappearing from the world. The numbers of people were halved each lunar cycle, both from hunting and starvation.

The sky was markedly lighter, and the man knew it was time to feed. He arose and went into the ice cave to retrieve his knife and do what must be done. The need for meat was great.

He returned to his place at the cave’s entrance and sat back down. Soon he would feed. He gazed into the sky and wished that he could, just once, view the many suns sparkling in the night sky. He wondered if any of the people would ever see this sight again. He felt the time of man was over.

He felt himself growing weaker and watched as the blood from his cut wrist filled the depression he’d carved into the ice floor. He knew he he must feed now or die with an empty belly. He wanted to at least feel sated once, before his death. He laid down and drank the blood collected there. When he was full, he laid back. His mate and child would have meat to last them several weeks when they awoke and found his body. It was the last he would ever be able to supply them. His time as a hunter ended and he fell into the final sleep. Within two lunar cycles, there was no more life on the world.

Thus ended my experiment. Was it a failure? Yes. Was it a success? Yes. Will I try again sometime? Probably.

The End?





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Codey ~ Poet & Author

Blue ~ Editor & Designer