Adam's Story: Tillicum River

This narrative is the fourth part of an exploration of the five themes from my Archdruid Report post “Glimpsing the Deindustrial Future” using the tools of narrative fiction. As with the first three portions of “Adam’s Story,” the setting is the rural Pacific Northwest during the second half of this century.


South of the army roadblock, the coast highway swung inland and wove through hills. For three days Adam and Haruko saw no further sign of the Cascade Republic’s forces, or for that matter anyone else. Even before things began falling apart, those hills had been all but uninhabited, a region of timberland and hiking trails pierced by a few roads but never really settled. Now, other than the highway and the healing scars of logging during the war—the government fueled its tanks and planes on wood alcohol once the last overseas oil was lost, and ravaged much of the nation’s woodlands doing it—the hills looked as though they had never been visited by people at all. The woods to either side of the road offered little in the way of forage; it was a hungry time.

Early on the fourth day, the low rumble of diesel engines echoed off the hills behind them, and the two of them hurried off the road and hid in dense brush upslope. Adam worked his way to a place where he could glimpse the road below. Half a dozen trucks painted army green roared south at what he guessed was top speed. After the last echoes died away, he and Haruko picked their way warily back down to the road and followed. A few miles onthey came to a crossing where a road headed east toward the cities of the interior. Tracks in the duff showed the trucks had gone that way, and others had come from the south and taken the same road east.

“What do you think?” he asked Haruko. “South or east?” They’d talked over their route more than once, trying to guess whether the coast or inland offered the best hope of a place to settle.

“They drove like men going to fight,” she said in her halting English. “If there is war in the east, maybe south is better.”

Adam nodded. “I was thinking something like that.” South it was, then. They followed the highway south for the rest of the day and spent the night in a sheltered place just off the road.

The next morning dawned gray. After they shared the last of the food from Pells Falls, they went on. Before noon, the road wrapped around the side of one last hill and turned west. Off in the distance, where the line of a river met the sea’s edge, streams of woodsmoke rose from a patchwork of grays and browns that could only be a town. A few more hours, walking past buildings that had been stripped of anything useful, brought them to another crossing, where the highway veered south and a sign said WELCOME TO TILLICUM RIVER and pointed west.

They followed the arrow. Most of the ground on either side of the road had been cleared and turned into fields—potatoes and garden truck, mostly, along with Adam guessed was ripening grain. Ahead, the town’s edge resolved into a long gray shape that turned out to be a high wall made of broken chunks of concrete mortared roughly together. There was a gate in the wall where the road reached it, and a chair beside the gate, and a man sitting in the chair.

“Afternoon,” the man said as they walked up to the gate. Portly and graying, he had an old blue policeman’s cap perched on his head, a metal badge pinned on his shirt, and a revolver tucked unobtrusively into his belt. “What can I do for you?”

“Afternoon,” said Adam. “My wife and I are looking for work.”

“That arm of yours get in the way much?”

“There’s plenty I can still do.”

The man looked them over, nodded. “Here’s the rules. If you got a gun, you leave it with me, and my deputy frisks you and searches your packs before you get in. Any trouble, any stealing, we chuck you out without your gear, and don’t even think about coming back here, ever. You think you been cheated by somebody, talk to me or the mayor. Got it?”

“Got it.” Adam took his father’s pistol out of his pocket and gave it to the man, knowing he probably wouldn’t see it again: not much choice now, and he had so little ammo that the gun wasn’t that useful anyway. The man called out something, and a younger man with a badge on his shirt came from inside the gate, patted Adam and Haruko down, dug aimlessly through their packs, and said, “Clean as a whistle. Where to?”

“Earl’s. He’s been looking for help since Anne took sick.” To Adam and Haruko: “Earl Tigard is a good friend of mine. Give him an honest day’s work and he’ll treat you right. Mess him over and let’s just say I ain’t gonna be happy.”

A few minutes later the deputy was leading them through the streets of Tillicum River, past houses with vegetable gardens and henyards around them. “Around five hundred,” he was saying, “half or thereabouts born here, the others from towns on the coast that didn’t make it. Where’re you from?”

“Learyville,” Adam said. “North of the Meeker and back up in the hills.”

“Heard of it. Here there’s a hydro plant that still works, so we’ve got some electricity; the soil’s good and so is the harbor; we get ships sometimes, going up and down the coast, and they’ll trade for food and water. And we get people coming along the road, some honest, some not so honest. That’s why the wall’s there; we had raiders a couple of times.”

“Must have taken a lot of work to build that.”

“Yeah. Everybody puts in one day a week on town projects. That means you two, too; Earl’s day is your day so long as you work for him.”

They turned a corner onto what an old sign still labeled Main Street, passed a library that still seemed to be open and a couple of businesses that were clearly shut for good. Another old store front further on had a wooden sign above the door with some symbols Adam didn’t recognize.

“Excuse me,” said Haruko then. She didn’t speak much to strangers, not with the risk of being recognized as nanmin. “That is – Buddhist?”

“Yeah, that’s their church,” said the deputy. “Are you Buddhist?” When she nodded: “Well, there you go. You wouldn’t expect a Buddhist church here, would you? But they had a retreat center upriver back in the day; a lot of them went there during the last part of the war, when food got so scarce, and they came here when the raiders got to be too much of a problem.

“It’s a real mix here. Back when I was a kid you’d see a lot of tension. The old mossbacks and the greens didn’t agree on much of anything, some of the Christians didn’t like having Buddhists around, and the folks from Mississippi – we got a bunch of ‘em resettled here after they had to evacuate the Hurricane Coast – there was some trouble between them and the locals for a while. But that’s mostly past history these days. People pretty much get along.”

“You get any trouble from nanmin?” That was a risky question, Adam knew, but the sooner he and Haruko knew the town’s attitude to the refugees from Japan, the better.

The deputy gave him a quick glance, hard to read. “Not really. They had a camp upriver by the old Buddhist center, but they kept to themselves. I don’t know if they’re still there, with the soldiers coming through – did you run into ‘em?”

“A couple of times. We saw them leaving this morning. What’s with that?”

“Off to fight some other brand new republic. That’s what I heard, at any rate; no one’s saying who attacked who.”

Two more streets, one with a half dozen children playing ball right there in the middle, and then they came to a big Victorian house surrounded by gardens that hadn’t been tended much in weeks. “This is Earl’s,” the deputy said. Then, shouting: “Earl? You home?”

Earl Tigard turned out to be an old man with the straight posture and buzz-cut hair of a retired soldier. He was eager enough for help – his wife Anne had some kind of heart condition that nobody could treat these days – and they settled on room, board, and four credits a day. “One credit’s worth an hour’s work,” he explaned to Adam, “and everbody in town will take ‘em for anything they want to sell. Might come in handy.”

Before long Adam was in the backyard splitting firewood while Haruko tackled the kitchen: the old division of labor was coming back pretty widely now that it made economic sense again. The firewood was a mess, part of it salvaged from dismantled buildings and riddled with nails, part of it knotty hardwood from trees he didn’t recognize. Still, he’d reduced the woodlot to some semblance of order and made a good start on the garden weeding before Earl came out to call him in for dinner. The meal was plain solid fare, as good as anything he’d had since Learyville, and afterwards they all sat in the living room near the fire, sipping cups of dandelion root coffee and talking, while the night closed in outside.

“Oh, I grew up here,” Earl said at one point, leaning back in his chair. “Alice and I both. Got married right out of high school and moved all over everywhere when I went into the army, then came back to settle when I left the service in ’42. The place had changed a lot. All these greens, talking about organic process and local dependency and all that stuff. I thought they were nuts.” He chuckled. “I guess even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. We’d have done a lot worse without them.”

“I saw some pretty good gardens in town,” Adam said.

“True enough. You do a lot of gardening?”

“I used to get some pretty good asparagus up in Learyville.”

Earl looked wistful. “God, I used to love asparagus. We haven’t had any since the grocery stores shut down; nobody grew it here, and we haven’t been able to get any in trade yet.”

Adam thought of the six asparagus crowns wrapped in cloth in the bottom of his pack, but said nothing. Later, he thought. If –

That last word was still on his mind as he and Haruko settled down under the covers in the spare bedroom they’d been allotted. Haruko had been thinking, too. “Adam,” she whispered, “maybe we should stay here.”

“If they’ll let us,” he whispered back. “We’ll just have to see.”

Wind hissed in the trees outside, and somewhere in the middle distance a dog barked. Adam pulled her close and tried to silence the questions that circled endlessly in his mind.