Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Elder Valley

    A cloud of toxic dust knocked him down. Lohbado collapsed on the Plains of Radiation, after stumbling through hot wind and burning red sand for nearly two weeks. He’d given up hope of ever finding the Valley of the Old, where one could live free from shock and surprise. Lohbado hoped to be accepted into the valley, where he would obtain the food he liked. Valley food left nothing to imagination, no unexpected surprises, no hot sauce or funky herbs and spices. Served at room temperature and with the consistency of tapioca pudding and the taste of saliva, it could be swallowed without chewing. It was easy to digest.

    Guided by sound, Lohbado knew he didn’t have much farther to go. He could almost smell a musty, acrid, plastic dampness indicating he was near. Searing heat and dry wind sapped his energy. Blasts of hot air intensified, stirring up the dust and reducing visibility. Lohbado crawled to the top of a radioactive sand dune and listened to the secret cry from the Valley. He’d been picking up vibrations for the past two days. At first, it sounded like sounds from a brothel, but then he realized, it was the sound of dementia, of men and women lying in bed, or strapped to chairs and gasping for air. It followed a rhythm. Sometimes he picked out fragments of fantasy, coffee, water, why are they fighting, will there be food on the shelves tomorrow? Sets of words punctuated the moaning as elder minds got swept away with fantasy, dream or hallucination, or memory mixtures. Often the person on death’s door didn’t know time of day or season of the year. He or she ceased to recognize anybody. Perception got evened out into a pastel blur and white noise.
    Since the Apocalyptic War, life expectancy for a man averaged sixty and for a woman, seventy. Many suffered lung disease and leukemia. Symptoms of old age began in one’s late forties and early fifties. Lohbado also felt symptoms. He hoped to be accepted into the valley.
    Old man moan and mumbling women in the Valley of the Old had trouble seeing and hearing. They communicated with vibrations. To fit into Elder Valley, one had to make sound vibrations at a minimum of one or two spasms every fifteen minutes: uh, uh, oh, oh, ah, ah, ah. It’s also necessary to move around in order to get the blood circulating and to avoid bed sores.
    Lohbado preferred death in the valley to brain damage in the dome, where he worked as a trainer for the Department of Regulation in a community of five hundred top administrators. Lohbado swore not to give details about the people of the OOO, pronounced oo as in moon, loon or soon. The name originated from the secret code: zero zero zero. Three zeroes entered into the appropriate systems file would erase incriminating data on all computer networks. The administrators, who engineered the outbreak of the Apocalyptic War in a desperate attempt to avoid paying taxes and to reduce the deficit without decreasing military spending, constructed a glass domed community in the Cha Region of the Poh Valley in the State Secret Desert. Service workers at the dome were expected to work until breaking point. There was no such thing as retirement.
    Due to human error, a leak occurred in the dome. Radiation got into the air system, causing  administrators to experience memory loss and swelling of the right brain, resulting in heightened religious sensibility and imagination. They hired trainers to come in and remind administrators what they were forgetting. Lohbado worked there for three years, until he too began to experience symptoms of radiation poisoning.
    One day, Lohbado got up and walked out of the office and never returned. It was easy to leave. Nobody dreamed that anyone would be foolish enough to leave the shelter of a glass bubble and to hike across the deadly Plains of Radiation. Lohbado learned about refugee camps for increasing numbers of people fleeing increasing levels of radiation. Radiation became unpredictable, like the weather. One learned to expect the unexpected. Lohbado’s connections with the Goo-Goo Underground made him aware of the Valley of the Old, set up for fleeing dictators and their families, who could afford high rise sealed luxury units in the middle of a nuclear wasteland. Human waste got recycled into food. Urine was the main source of water.
     During a trek into the Rock Hills, Lohbado met a team of Dwarves from the Underground who introduced him to Snow White and the magic powder. They said he was welcome to join them in Elder Valley, once he met medical requirements.
    At the age of 55, Lohbado qualified to be there. All Lohbado needed was a medical certificate in order to be able to retire. Lohbado’s vital force had gone into rapid decline. His teeth began rotting and crumbling all at once. His joints ached. He had chest pains and trouble breathing. In short, he was no longer young and sexy. He was on the threshold of old age and within about ten years of dying.
    On top of the mountain, Lohbado saw the towering white monument, above the clouds of dust. The  mighty towers of old dictators. That would be Lohbado’s new home, until death evicted him. Lohbado trembled and wept for joy as he saw the Valley, which he despaired of finding. It lay about an hour’s hike, straight ahead. He checked the direction of prevailing winds and charted his course across the sand. During the final march, Lohbado lost all bodily sensation. Driven by an urge to survive, he moved without stopping until he reached the gates of the heavily guarded valley.
    An armed guard escorted him to the admitting department, where he was told to lie on a red velvet sofa. He smelled the familiar damp, plastic, with ammonia overtones, as elders approached to do a laying on of hands. In addition to a certificate, one had to experience the laying on of hands. The old peoples’ poor vision and trouble hearing made it easy for Lohbado to disguise himself as a sixty year old man. Lohbado lay on an old red velvet sofa while elders touched his face to feel the dryness and texture of skin. Lohbado’s skin was all crusty and dried out from radiation burn, after wandering two weeks on the Plains of Radiation. He lost fifty pounds in two weeks, while living on nothing but one packet of instant cinnamon and raisin flavored oatmeal per day.
    The elders were pleased to note the open jelloid sore on the top of Lohbado’s head and the small growth next to his right ear. Lohbado passed inspection and was given the status of trembling hesitation, because when questioned, he replied without confidence or conviction. They recognized him as being one of the Lost Wanderers, who escaped enslavement within the dome. Lohbado heaved a huge sigh of relief as his name was entered into the register of dying men and women in the Valley of the Old.

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