Skip to main content

Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
Contact Us

Going West 
By Elizabeth Creith

It's perfectly safe to spend one more night in the house, but I don't see the point. Everyone else on the street left days ago, and only I stayed, sipping my coffee each morning in front of the picture window, watching the leaves. Their progress was slow, but perceptible.

I'm earlier than usual with my coffee this morning. It's going to be a long day. With my eyes used to the pre-dawn dark, I can just see that those leaves are pressed like splayed fingers against the glass of my picture window. By tonight they might have shattered it. I'd just as soon not see that.

In my pack, along with my journal, and clothes, salt, matches and other survival gear is an envelope of news clippings. I clipped them for curiosity. Now I feel like they're the postscript to our history, something to be saved. The very first mention of the Green, a year and a half before, was almost jocular; southerners scoffing at the "super kudzu" springing up from Newfoundland south. Only it wasn't kudzu, and it defied classification, and control. Where communities uprooted and burned every sprig, it created a few weeks' breathing space before the problem was back, as bad as ever. Within six weeks any news reports coming from anywhere called it "the Green Invasion" and then just "the Green".

I don't know who it was who first tried salt. It seemed to wither the plants on contact, and a line of it, or of salted water, would hold them back. By the time the government caught onto the idea of trying it, people were hoarding salt, and there wasn't anything like enough to make a difference. Maybe there never would have been.

There were isolated reports of overrun buildings, and then the reports stopped being isolated. Outport communities, fishing villages, coastal resorts all down the east coast of North and South America were abandoned. At first it was gradual, but then communities which had not yet been overrun began to empty, almost always in panic.

Those who ran told stories of faces in the Green, of wide-lobed hands, like leaves of oak or sassafras, moving with will and purpose to pull shingles, lintels, window frames to pieces. The authorities labeled the stories urban myths, of course, but many believed them. The blind, mindless force of nature seemed more frightening than the idea of an enemy with purpose. An enemy could be fought; a force of nature could only be fled.

When Washington and Quebec were threatened, Canada and the States cooperated in a carpet firebombing of the Green. Any vestige of trust in government disappeared with the casualties in that conflagration. The Green was set back perhaps a week. Property values plummeted, the stock market crashed. There were food shortages, as airports and highways were cut off by the steadily encroaching overgrowth.

My father had built a bomb shelter in the fifties; I holed up there while the worst of the rioting, the panic mobs sweeping
west like locusts, the typhoid and cholera, came and went. Very early on my wind-up radio stopped picking up any broadcasts at all. Eventually I surfaced to a world of feral dogs, burned-out buildings and quiet streets. My own house was gutted, although the living room window was somehow intact except for a slowly spreading crack spanning two-thirds of its diagonal.

I went on living in the shelter, making notes on the Green. I didn't mind the quiet, and I didn't go far from my home, or anywhere at all without my father's rifle. But I did approach the Green, waterfalling over the Kempers' house across the street. I sprinkled a foot-long line of salt a few inches in front of the leading edge. I watched the leaves curl and wither as quickly as mimosa fronds closing, or hands clenching around a wound. I saw the faces, forming and reforming in the light and spaces in the leaves, mouths moving in words I couldn't read. The rustling of that growth had a cadence like speech.

I'd like to say that I found some insight into what the Green was, or why it had sprung up to chase us west. I don't know any more about that than I did when those first reports came in. Perhaps before the last of us is pushed into the Pacific ocean we'll figure it out, but I doubt it.

When I'm finished my coffee this morning, I'll wash my cup and put it in my pack. Then I'll walk out where my back door used to be and keep going west. I could salt the ground around my house before I go, but that's an act of the purest spite. It's a living thing, the Green, like a colony of ants or a beehive. You can kill a bee or an ant, but killing the colony, or every bee and ant, well, that's a big job. We weren't up to it.

Now the rising sun is visible only as a brightness through the green. The faces form and fade, form and fade, and the sassafras-like hands press lightly, lightly but irresistibly, on the window. It's time for me to go.