Dew had settled on the grassy meadow, reflecting the fiery orange of morning sunlight. An ant pushed his way between the blades in search of food. He sensed something in the distance. It was quite cool beneath the cover of the overgrown meadow. The earth was very soft and difficult to traverse. Yet, the ant kept his pace and trudged onward.
Lily had been watching the determined insect for a while now. Occasionally she would place her finger in his path to see if he would turn back, or find a new route to his destination.
Behind her stood an old farm house badly in need of repair. The porch had sagged almost to ground level, the shutters long gone. Tattered curtains waved from the windows in sync with the morning breeze. Lily heard the muffled sounds of people coming to life.
She was almost always the first to awaken. At 12, she was considered old enough to start the cooking fire and put on coffee, when the government included it in the ration packages (or “rat packs”, as most Commons called them). The breakfast skillet was warmed on a grate next to the coals inside of the fire ring. Most days, breakfast included liquid eggs, veecon (a tofu product formed to resemble bacon) and soft corn tortillas. Lily did not prepare the meal. That chore was left to her older brother, Lyle.
“How long you been up?”, her mother asked as she walked toward the fire ring.
“Oh, about an hour or so. The ants were in our cooler box again.”
“Damn! Did they ruin anything?”
“Nope. Got ‘em before they could do much harm. Wish we could find a better spot for the food, Mom. Why don’t we put it in the house?”
Her mother sighed and looked to the sky. “Lily, I TOLD you if we put it inside, the ants will be INSIDE. I don’t particularly like sleeping with ants, do you?”
“No. I just hate fightin’ ‘em every day. It gets to be a real pain.” She reached into the cooler box and retrieved a glass bottle containing their weekly supply of soy milk.
Lily was not old enough to know the taste of cow’s milk. As a matter of fact, the only cows she had ever seen were in picture books. That might not have been so odd if she lived in a big city, but she did not. Lily lived on her Grampa’s old dairy farm. Thirty-five years ago it was the Number One dairy in the state. Their milk was distributed all over the country.
Then came the Great American Clean-up. In Two Thousand Fifteen, the Government mandated zero-methane output nationwide. Cows, pigs, sheep and other “ranch animals” were rounded up and sold to Canada or Mexico. Meat products were purchased from those countries, if you could afford them.
The Clean-up ruined her Grampa financially. The only reason they still had a house to live in was that a parcel of the dairy farm had been paid off long ago and her Grampa had never borrowed against it. He was “asked” to do the Patriotic thing and donate the balance of his land to the “Corn Co-Operative”.
Fossil fuels were available only to the Protectors, Techies or the Government. The traditional Military had been dismantled in Twenty-twenty and replaced with an organization consisting of former members of some of the larger private security firms. The borders were policed remotely via monitors, only a few actual Protectors were needed to respond to escape alerts put out by the Techies. America no longer sent troops to foreign lands. The largest national security issue was citizens who wanted to leave without special permission or a work Visa.
Windmills crowded the landscapes from Coast to Coast. Solar panels popped up like ugly dandelions. Television and radio were obsolete, as were laptops and PC’s. All communication was regulated by the Fairness Commission and transmitted via cell phones. Every citizen was issued a phone when they turned 5-years-old. It was to be carried with you at all times.
Lily did not attend school. She had Vid-Ed for 4 hours every day. The Education Commission had been nationalized and all children received the same education in every part of the country.
Lyle called the family to breakfast and they gathered around the picnic table to eat. This was Lily’s favorite time of day. Sometimes, Grampa would tell stories of the days when he would attend automobile races with his father. Or when he went to a place called Iraq so that America could be safe. He spoke of the 50 states that made up his country. Alaska had long since become a nation unto itself, and Hawaii had been lost to North Korea in Twenty-Ten.
Three other states – Michigan, Maine and Washington – had been traded to Canada for gold. California became a part of Mexico in a deal with the Mexican Government that was never clearly explained. “No one cared”, said Grampa. “They were a pain in the ass anyway.”
“Good Lord, Dad!” said Lily’s mom. Suddenly, a large hand clamped over her mouth. It was Lily’s father. He held his wife close and whispered in her ear, “Do you want to go to jail, Susan?”
He loosened his grip and Susan took a deep breath. “It just comes out sometimes. I mean, it’s just a saying. I wasn’t, you know, praying or anything.”
“We don’t want to take any chances, Susan. So far, we have been left alone. I don’t want to risk that.” He reached for her and held her tightly. “I’m sorry. I love you.”
Soon, it was time for Vid-Ed to begin. Lily’s father, grandfather and brother left to work in the Corn Co-Op. Their hybrid hummed as it went down the dirt road and disappeared into the horizon. Her mother retrieved some water from the rain catcher and began to clean the breakfast dishes.
Lily moved to her makeshift desk on the far end of the porch and turned on her phone. Class began with a salute to the New America as a circular sunrise over a red, white and blue horizon appeared on the screen…