We got a letter from the city.
“Due the declining population, changing climate, and increasing cost of infrastructure maintenance,” it read, “we will terminate all services but water to your block effective June 1.” Then it emphasized that we could continue to live in our houses, but utilities, garbage removal, law enforcement, and fire and public health services were among the things that we would no longer receive for our property taxes.
“You mean we were getting all that stuff before? Fooled me,” Sam said in the chat room. He was the unofficial mayor of the block, had the most extensive collection of firearms and, also, solar panels. He had been expecting this day.
The rest of us?
Sure, we lived in a crumbling rust belt town at a time when our kinds of places were disappearing from the map, while cities grew like tumors, but we’d still got our old ladies, our old men, our dogs, our cats, couple kids. Just like our moms and pops. It was hard to shake the feeling that nothing would ever change.
Our go-to body language move at this time became the shrug. Over and over. Hands out, away from the core. Meaning either “Who knew?” or “What can you do?” or maybe meaning both.
Sam’s first memo came under our doors just after dark on the night of June 1. It called us. We rallied by torchlight, vowed to stay together, left feeling warmer and stronger in our hearts. Then we walked home in the dark.
It didn’t bother us that, days after, there were more skunks in the neighborhood. They were around for years anyway, every time you walked down the block. Just a few more now. Maybe a tiny bit bolder.
And it didn’t really bother us when the raccoons became just as plentiful as the skunks because it made sense. More garbage lying around, more raccoons. So what if a rabid one pissed on the patio and tried to tear apart the old bike chained to the garage?
And it didn’t even really bother us that much when the bears followed the raccoons for the trash, except that bears are a lot bigger and more clever. Yeah, they caused some trouble getting into a pool down the street, crashing through a glass porch door, but -- you know, man meets nature. Shit happens.
And it didn’t bother us all that much when Sam started building the stockade and there was the block vote, talk of the vows of First Night, as June 1 came to be called, along with the annexation of Spruce Tree Lane. It was just protection, after all.
But what got to us, in our house, anyway, was the coyotes. Those packs, the howls from just after dusk to just before dawn. How they appeared even in the mornings now. The rumors about what happened to a kid from Treeland Circle.
That was when we packed the children into the SUV and got ready to take off. Only to find Sam and the neighbors, grimy and greasy, at the bottom of the driveway.
“Hotel California, baby,” Sam said. “You can check out any time you like --. ”
“But you can never leave!” the crowd shouted out together. Then Sam played air guitar with his 30 ought 6.
We got a letter from the city.