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The Walker's Story

Us'uns comed up over the hill in the half-dark and there was a bit of the moon sliding down backside of the sky in the way to take her proper rest. But it was good, cos that wind was more stiller nor I feeled it in many a long stretch of days and nights. All this Coldspell that wind's come howling and jabbering like spirits as is sad or eviled somehow and its more colder yet when wind's mad. Too cold for my old bones for to be carrying me more longer if and it keeps up, I mind. But winds dropping makes for warmer times maybe, good times again. Its always good when's less cold. It was good too hearing the little scrabble of us childs' voices, like when thems mind us old'uns won't clowt 'em for noising over. Not as us clan holds with clowting and that but when us littl'uns han't understood as there's danger crouching down on us or when's the need for cautious silence, what else can us do?

So as us'uns was all wrapped up in us warmest cloths and carrying all the clobber, what with the wind soft and the day getting close on us too, soon us beganned to sweat and that. Cos was just a little piece of time for to make us camp there in the scrubbings this end of the old High Way - just under where it shoves up in that place us clan names for Stones Falling. Us all knows for to make camp good, knows for to do it right. Like, first you take the shovels and dig a pit for the littl'uns to lie thems in, digging deep so when's all covered up it won't be telling any sign for a maybe passing Stranger as don't know to look but nor so deep as the childs can't get out easy when needs come. Next us must put in all what big plastics us carries well down in the pit -and them big, long thinny plastics is harder for to find these times now is and most the old biggies as us'uns carry is all torned and twisted and loosing that nice black shine as keeps the wet out proper - its a sadness. So us makes 'em do. But when day's up near like as that'un was, its sleeping on the ground for us growed'uns and the bigger childs, all wrapped in us warm cloths and the littler big plastics for to keep out the wet. Them's getting all holed too.

These times now is hard. Its harder scrabble for food and clobber both. Trading's hard and finding's hard and there's no more friending in the ways. Cos there's no kindness anymore. No getting together and jollity like the old times. Me, cos I'm old, I mind back the old times before the Big Change and all the badness coming down. I mind back long walking in the ways and gullies and all the good findings us knowed then; I mind trading and that down the settlements for the Neighbours as lives at them places and I mind the 'markets after thems started up and more things too. Bestest yet, I mind the gathers. Oh, them was good times, all the gathers, the clan gathers and the Great Gathers both; the jollity and longsongs and dancing going up for a goodmoon's quarter. Oh yes. Me, I get like I must for to tell it all again and again before its goned from me like its goned from the times now is.

Cos them old gathers was more wonderfuller nor I know for telling. See, like us North'un clans'd gather us up together down the Eye Rock or someplace such, just like as the South'uns maked a gather for themselves and clans out at the West, them'd gather and maybe East'uns too, though I never heared tell of any Easter clan proper, only Solitaries just. But them little gathers was nothing for the Great Gathers as was! When after so many moons the whisper'd spread and all us Walkers was going for whatever place been choosed. Most soon as Coldspell liked to go down, then whisper's come for all Walkers gathering in some center place. Like as the Eye Rock here northward if and us North'uns spoked the gather firstest. After Coldspell was always a Great Gather and maybe after Warmspell, if was a warmspell, and all us'uns would go down south.

I mind walking for southward many a big moon when times was soft. Times was more soft longer down south thentimes but there's another change. If and I'd feel that sweet air now I'd die happy. How I mind it! How us Norther clans'd meet up all before the long walk southward, then more and more of us Walkers going, gathering together, the Wester clans soon and Solitaries too and oh what jollity in the Ways then, walking and dancing down south. I mind clear tonight as like it was now. All songs and dancing and making stories, old and new, and telling the news all day and all night. And trading clobber and eating and drinking good and strange stuff, like as that home-brewed us got for trade down the settlements thentimes. And loving. So much loving cos them days us young'uns as was beed sweating for it come gathers! Then what must to happen with clans mingling and mucking and loving and that, so it happened. Some North'un, say, goned with a Souther's clan maybe for a while, maybe for always. Or half a clan of West'uns come walked with us'uns one moon like. Then Solitaries walked in with clans - as was a good thing too, cos solitary's not right. Maybe the old times was a fine life, solitary, but not nowtimes when there's danger coming down all over and how's to know when's next gather since the bad times is coming. Alls changed now, for bad. Cos was always some next gather, the old times. Before, and when I was a littl'un, beed gathers every other moon just, but so it was warmer then.

Warmtimes, us gathers waxed in with the plump moons and Walkers from all over comed striding under the Ways all clobbered up for a good long stretch of jollity. Then was good times with clans mixing and mingling so. For the night, there'd be a great firing of the woods us'd find, cos in them days us knowed the trick for making fires with the little plastic clickers us all carried thentimes. Ever so really prettyfull them clickers, red and yellow and moon-coloured. Another good thing as is goned. Like as the woods is most goned. I mind how was lots of woods when I was young, all sorts, great thick woods and little skimpy woods with the leafs as was good for eats too, some of 'em. All lying about the Ways and on the Lands, black and soft and good-smelling them woods. Last Great Gather - and that's a long, long stretch backward - was a West'un telled how new woods was growing up now there in the West. I don't know if was for real or for story cos the mostest woods here Northward is them little scrubbings under Stones Falling and thems no good for burning come Coldtime. Maybe if us got them clickers yet us could do fires for thems but I don't know. Them things staying with the better times like as the gathers and the friendings. Like as the stories I knowed for telling; stories I mind like the gathers is spinning yet and the moon all silver at the bottom of the sky. I like to mind them stories over and over and hug them to me. Cos us old'uns needs the happy days for keeping us old bloods warm in us legs.

Thentimes is goned now, them good times. The sureness of the whisper, that's goned too. Young'uns now, thems hardly know the whisper when for us come by other Walkers that's not us clan. Some even fears the offclans like as thems was Strangers yet. Such badness come, the Walker clans is splitting, or like as to split. Nowtimes come worser and worser and all the fear and the bad stories still spreading. How long since us go by any other clan, even? How long since lastest gather, lastest really gather as was good and strong and spiritful like the oldtime gathers was? So, gathered us North'un clans half a ten of moons back, some of 'em, but wasn't real. Us sat in us clans and moaned out the songs more like an old wind sighing but us left the longsongs be. The young'uns all, thems made songs as was ugly and bad and very loud. Thems don't even mind what's right. That's why for I tell the oldtime stories, so us young'uns'll know how times was before the change as comed of the fear and the sickness as Strangers telled was down to us Walkers.

Cos thems now tell as the Falling Sickness is bringed by us Walkers and that's a wicked story! And I mind what's true. Cos was always sickness in the Neighbourlands, all kinds, long before the Falling comed. But that's how the Settlements was closed to us and how the cold looks and the stones and worser things yet. And me, I'm feared for what all's coming down. Its not right, its too hard, Walkers and Neighbours, us always haved some life together them beforetimes as was needful for us all. On the Inways and the Outways when I was a young'un, us clan'd stop down some settlement for trading and thems'd welcome us right. Maybe Neighbours was better people in the older days, more like us Walkers, more open to the moon. All I know is Neighbours, thems haved them neighbour kind of life, us Walkers haved us'n. Like us travelled and telled the news. All peoples want to hear the news if and its story or real. Too, us'uns bringed us tools for mending the neighbour pots and clobber as us'd trade for food and stuff and thems liked that. But I mind as was the news and jollity us bringed as thems liked the bestest: the songs and the bit of like colour as was diffrent nor working up them same lands all the time, seeing the same clodder faces, loving up the same bodies. Oh, thems haved more eats and warmness and that but for to live so confined, so stuck in one piece of the hard lands, its out of my understanding.

Cos for I lived down one of them settlements, I know for the life there. How its all work for them Neighbours just. Thems strange to jollity, so cautious for any kind of joyful noising and as for mingling, thats not allowed for, thems feared at it maybe. Its only that settlement home-brewed as makes Neighbours dance. But thats scary stuff too, cos it takes your eyes and makes for them to see strange things. Thats how I got my sad, half-maked littl'un, swigging home-brewed with a Neighbour off that Northeaster settlement. That's a story as the pain's not goned out of, even with the longness of many moons passing over; the story for my stopping down that settlement and that losted child. If and I minded thentimes things as I know since, I'd been goned out of there like the wind and my story come diffrent. But I was so really young and loving that Neighbourman was good, oh yes, I mind it. And thems wanted me too, all the settlement of Neighbours as telled me, "stop for us, be a Neighbour with us, do," in them way of saying it.

See, childing was always harder down the settlements as is the way when womens is stopping still, but down that settlement was special bad. Them'd borned so much wrong childs and haved so few of 'em anyways and that's for why them wanted me, cos of my littl'un coming. And thems knowed her was a good'un. See, thems haved a proper seer as was learned along of some Walker clan for to know all things for babies before and after borning both, for right herbs and healing all kinds of stuff too. She smelled it right, there in my belly. 'Course it was right - it wasn't my firstest for beginning! Do I mind still for that'un? 'Course I do, my one and onlyest then and now, as was big enough for walking on with the clan that time I stopped for a Neighbour. Stella her named. Her later goned with a Souther clan I mind and its beened many moons now and us not meeting with the gathers goned like I'm telling. Many moons and then I was a strong'un. Them Neighbours wanted me for a longtime breeder as I sees it now but then, well, I was young just and newness was a thing I liked and change. Cos all young'uns likes a change and settlement life was diffrent for walking, so it was. Cos a settlement's a really big camp maked for always and Neighbours take the lands for to grow them vegies and the creatures. Them creatures lives along of Neighbours like friends. Them eats and the Neighbours eats and times come the Neighbours eat them creatures when's coming more of 'em. Its true! But then, I was sweating for my Neighbour sire. I don't mind even how him was named now. Too, cos I was young, I minded I knowed for to do anything just, like walking and neighbouring and all kinds of strangeness yet. And I liked to stop down that settlement there in the nice warm, for borning the child just, cos I knowed as stopping is bad for child's spirit, as is all Walkers knowing. Come Warmtime, I was waiting up for walking in with nextest clan as'd come by that settlement. Me and my sire too I minded.

Not much moons was passed down that place, I knowed for diffrent. Cos wasn't all nice adventure stuff with good loving and new knowings. Thems was strict and hard down the settlements, even thentimes. Its cos of the life them lives as is all work like. Well, I maked the work as them telled me for but it wasn't right for thems, how I doned nor what I doned. Truth was I wasn't right for thems. Thems haved what them named for Council (as is a small gang as tells most all the Neighbours what for to do and that) and Council baled at me. Neighbours haved to do what for council telled or badness coming down right quick. Thentimes even was some of the Wester settlements sending out them young'uns as was troublesome for to live or be deaded in the badlands. Some of them troublers goned with us Walker clans if and thems finding us. Cos thems minded walking was a softer life. Nor but us way's the hardest, if ands its gooder and jolly come gathers, not like that moping settlement life. But most of them Neighbour bad'uns as was maked for to go, thems was so strange and desperate maybe thems liked to go for Solitaries bester. And I know why, cos it maked me mad too, that neighbour life.

When time and my belly comed big, it started for hurting; hurting bad and badder like all the winds comed out from the sky and torning up my belly. I was all feared. I wanted my clan, for to be deaded out from the clan is dreadful for a Walker. Them Neighbours, thems dig deaded peoples down a hole in the land and how's for them's spirit for to fly off for beginning again? It's cruel what them Northeaster Neighbours doned for my deaded little'un. Was tooked from me soon as her comed out from my belly almost. So fearful hard that borning was too, so I liked for to dead and go for spirits. But the littl'un, her baby heart stopped. And her's in them bad Neighbour lands, down a hole, stopped up. I hear for her thwarted spirit scrabbling yet, poor wrong'un. Was that settlement living maked her wrong, them eats as was wrong, the land as smelled bad. That's how for I know its evil wrong stories as the Strangers all is telling for Walkers and us bringing down sickness. Cos wasn't it my half-Neighbour baby as was borned so broked and bad and my poor body never fitted for more childs since?

My only mother telled it right. Never to mind the hurtful things nor worser's for to come. Cos I'm now feared for what's to be for all us clan. I hear for us childs as is crying. Thems too feared for keeping still, so cold and hungered in this dank place. And what for us old'uns as isn't walking sturdy? And us got sick'uns too, like as Lanna's littl'n and Reen that's childing yet and I mind its coming hard for her. I'm feared for all the clan, thems as is growed and strong not less, for what's to be if and us runs or us stops here. Cos ruins is bad places Walkers always knowed for to keep from out. Us'uns knows for the smell of them, like of dead'uns, peoples or creatures both, as rotted wrong, distant from the sky. But where else can us go as is safe from them terrorful new Starngers? What else was for us to do when them hard'uns comed on us up Stones falling?

There us all was dugged in good and the littl'uns most was sleeping and us watchers cautious. I sleeped too, cos I'm old. Watchers never seed, hearers never heared a thing, then thems all was on the skyline, sudden, like as thems comed down the sky just, dropping like the wind. Strange cloths, strange bodies, bigger nor us'ns - most like Neighbours from the Souther clans - ugly. Then thems was coming for us. Us heared them strangely noising, shouting and us'uns all too feared for knowing what to do for firstest. Yammy then, that young fool as is unfeared almost, him throwed a stone. I'm not for blaming him as is young and all and isn't mindful. Then was fearfullness and wrath cos them new Strangers started for throwing things like stones as wasn't stones but maked for torned bodies, bloods and dreadful pains inside and us all screamed and runned before us even knowed it. Dropped us camp, us eats, us cloths and plastics all and runned with the littl'uns under the High Way, down the tunnel as comes up in this ruin here.

And here us stops, not knowing if and them Strangers crouches down on us yet, what them'll do for us. Us watchers all is long goned now for to see the signs. So if its safe, them's coming back and telling it, and if its not. But thems not coming down again, the watchers, I mind it in my old seer's bones. Thems goned or runned or deaded or mustn't move for fear. Cos I know, us all knows, as us seed the fearful Strangers as is whispered for these lastest moons. Even Neighbours is feared for thems. Some whispers tell as these Strangers is comed out from that place named for City as is a dread place bigger nor any settlement. As Wester clans is telling, its a camp maked all of ruins and dust piled up. Too I heared tell it for a Solitary as goned down there, to City - cos Solitaries go all over - as thems do strange things as only Spirits know for doing in that Cityplace. Such stories is out of my knowing but seems it wasn't story just, now these bad'uns come travelling the ways all over. Them as us seened up Stones Falling looked just like for the whisper tells it. Like it was telled firstest down Center market as I heared it and its whispered yet down all the markets. Cos markets and all suchlike places as is maked in the ways for trading is bestest places for hearing the news now there's no gathers proper. Them was maked for Neighbours as runned out from the settlements - them as liked a softer life nor walking. Maybe thems Strangers for us yet, if and them misliked the neighbour life so, but still there's cautious friending for us down the markets. There stops old Walkers as isn't walking sturdy more, and Solitaries is coming sometime even. I minded long now as markets is the onliest places us can go when us is maybe sicked or needful. Cos us might to hide there.... But if us runned for Center market, as is closest up, will us be safe from City Strangers? There's Zak and me as is too old for running and there's poor Reen as is near her borning. Must us young'uns and them as is strongest take the chance for all the clan, for to run like the wind under the Ways, not stopping for to sleep before them drops from dread? And where them'll run for? Market's to distant. The Eye Rock? Is there safe? Must us always hide from Strangers all, now that these City'uns as sees from far and flies on the wind is travelling the ways? Us knows the stories, us hears the news and how its bad and worser. How thems comes and goes, how thems spread the fear, how thems goned down settlements and tooked out Neighbours littl'uns - the ones as is able bodies - and disapeared 'em. That's a dreadful thing like what them Neighbours do for Walkers when them's finding us. So now these City'uns do the same for Neighbours thems know the badness for it is. There's worser whispers yet. As how a clan of City Strangers comed down on some Solitaries walking down east and deaded thems. Will them dead us too, if and them finds us? Will thems disapear us childs like Neighbours do, take thems for City? Will us all clan dead here in this ruin under the land?

Me, I'm not seeing clear for the darkness and the dread of this place, the crawling things as eats the dust and the bones and the bits of cloth, the ancient oldtime things as no-one knows what them's for. So I know too as out the ruins come plastics and suchlike good things as cloths and clickers in the before times. I hear some young'un just is telling for its really good here, safe, maybe things for finding. "Eats," he tells, "oldtime eats for to make us strong!" Is it that Yammy again? Too dark for to see with my old eyes, my hearings blunted but it must be that young fool.

I'm telling him, I'm telling all as likes to hear as stopping down these ruins is mad. I mind stories for Walkers as sleeped down a ruin onetime and never walked again. Cos there's sickness here; sickness and eviled spirits of the oldtime deads as is stopped up. And us'uns down here longer nor a sleeptime. There's no eats, no water, us warmthings is goned, us littl'uns cry. But that Yammy, he's laughing now, hopeful like. And others too, thems telling, "yes, yes, Granny Seer, how us stops for nowtimes, see what's for finding before the watchers come?" Thems won't listen for what I'm telling, me as is clan seer these too long moons. I see with my inside eyes what's coming down. Nor us stops, nor us runs, its over for us clan.

- Noa Kleinman (September 1993)

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revised 24 November 2005