Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.
Sleep refuses to come. Outside it is cold and snowing.
Mercifully there are no thoughts in my head, though I suspect they are there lurking and waiting for their moment to emerge. A strange emptiness has seized me, a blankness that is sometimes freeing, sometimes paralyzing. The future is an undrawn map, an unsurveyed domain, particularly now. That is both hopeful and terrifying in equal measure.
I recall an ancestor of mine who first came to the Lost Quarter, not long after Those Who Went Away were banished. She came from afar with her husband and two daughters, having taken a train, for the trains still ran in those days. There is no one left who knows those ways into the Quarter any longer. You can find glimpses of the tracks if you know where to look, the trestles still lying and rotting in the earth, the iron taken up and sold for scrap.
They disembarked at a small settlement, the first after entering the Quarter and the last stop for the train. There they took on supplies, purchased a wagon and some horses, and set off into the depths of the Quarter. Another family and two lone men joined them on their journey, the first to enter those lands since Those Who Went Away left them. Even in the times when Those Who Went Away held domain over the Quarter these parts were little travelled. It was windswept and dry as dust for years at a time. Water was hard to come by, for the creeks ran only in spring and the nearest river was days to the south.
It was an unforgiving place, no ease or comfort to be found, such a contrast to where she had grown up: London, the centre of the whole world, the heart of the greatest empire the world had seen to that point. Her mother died in childbirth, as so many did then. Her father, some say, was an important man there, but he died young of the grippe while that dread lord was stalking the world again. She was their only child and was sent to live with cousins in the great western dominion of the empire.
She married the younger son of a farmer she met there, whose only desire was to farm, but who had no land or fortune to do so. They went west, working in the growing provincial outposts of the dominion, until he had earned enough to stake his claim on a parcel of land in the Lost Quarter. She had never lived outside of a town or city, had never set foot on a farm in her life, but she agreed to take their children and go with him.
They traveled south and west across the vast empty plains. Perhaps they saw some sign of Those Who Went Away – rings of stones from their encampments maybe – but certainly no other living soul was to be found. Nights they spent in their wagons listening to the strange, almost mournful howls of the coyotes wandering nearby. She lay awake in the darkness, wondering what the morning would bring, what they would find when they finally arrived.