The ancestor road rose up ahead. A doe and it's fawn were wandering up to the apex, following the sedges growing from the deep cracks. Elisia knew that there was a drop-off just at the apex, where the ancestor road had rotted away years ago. Its pillars still stood, but at the base was a pile of grass-covered rubble. The ancestor road continued after a large gap of several hundred feet, and curved down, and back into the earth and under the trees of the forest.
The doe eyed Elisia from a distance, and stepped further up the incline. Elisia bent down and pulled out a large hank of sedges. She shook them of excess dirt and dew. And looking down, or in the distance she slowly walked up the incline, zigzagging bit.
"Hurry up," said one of her brothers. She turned back and glared at him, putting her finger to her lip. He mouthed, "okay," then sat in the grass next to their other brother. They were both a lot younger than she was, and still learning the ways of their tribe. She was teaching them tactics of hunting, but there would be no kill today. A milking doe was too valuable, especially now that the tribe was growing so quickly.
It was their grandmother who decided to start the herd. The deer were growing thin in the city lands, although they were still plentiful in the parklands to the east. The tribes of the parklands were friendly and traded with them, but Grandmother was worried that if they had to trade too much away, their tribe would grow poor. So the tribe built a large paddock and the younger people set out to capture the deer they could find. The bucks had to be kept each in separate areas so they wouldn't fight. Grandmother said that she had heard from her grandfather that a tribe in the far north, on a different continent that an animal called a reindeer was raised and kept by people, and that they were used to help transport goods, and that they even wore bells so you could hear where they were if they ran off.
Elisia walked further up the incline, and the doe raised her head, sniffing the air and looked at her, then the edge of the road. Elisia stopped and crouched down. The doe warily returned to eating, and the fawn started suckling. Elisia took the time to knot a loop in the end of the rope she carried. When the doe looked relaxed, Elisia got up and started slowing walking again. The road was crumbling underneath her feet. Some areas had washed away. She could see bars of rusted metal in the long process of dissolving. There were holes straight through, and even one hole that had the top of a pine tree poking through. She wondered how long it would take before the ancestor road fell down completely.
Elisia had asked her grandmother many times about the people who built the cities. Grandmother was usually more willing to talk when the fire was getting low at night.
"I never met any of them," Grandmother usually replied.
"Do you know what happened to them?" Elisia would ask.
"They became us," Grandmother would say, which made little sense to Elisia.
"But how come they built the city? What was it's purpose?"
"As far as I was told," said Grandmother, "there were a great many of them, and they had mastered technology. They transported themselves with mechanical cars on the ancestor roads. They didn't grow their own food but they didn't hunt either. They drank water from the pipes underground--"
"Eww! Animals live their," said Elisia.
"Well, animals live in the lake too," said Grandmother.
"But that's different," said Elisia. "What else did they do? Tell me Grandmother."
"They could speak to each other over long distances, many miles, even hundreds of miles."
"How did they do that?"
"I don't know. No one knew the answer when I asked. But that would be quite something to see, wouldn't it?"
"Yes," said Elisia, trying to envision it. How loud would someone have to shout in order to be heard hundreds of miles away? It seemed silly.
"I think it's time to sleep Elisia," Grandmother would say, when she tired of the questions. Elisia thought that maybe she didn't know much of the ancestors. She hoped to travel among the neighbor tribes and ask their elders what they knew of the ancestors.
Elisia was now only several feet away from the doe. The fawn was looking at her cautiously now too. Elisia stepped closer to the raised up lip of the road. Near the apex the view was expansive. Down in the forests and meadows you couldn't get a sense of the stretch of the city ruins, but here Elisia could see for miles. There were many tall piles of rubble jutting up from the forest floor. There were lines of elevated ancestor roads going off towards the mountains.
She could see the pit where here tribe scavenged the goods the ancients left behind. For some reason, there was a lot of thin plastic sheeting--it was the most common thing they dug out of the dirt in the pit. It was good for weatherproofing shelters, and they bundled up great piles of it to trade with the other tribes. They also found glass and plastic containers and utensils which were a little more valuable. They found foam, which was used for insulation in the winter. There was metal too, and it was sorted by type and melted into ingots for the smiths to form into tools in their hot fires.
The pit had provided Elisia's tribe with wealth, and it was why they had grown numerous. But Grandmother was worried that the pit would run out and the tribe would face famine and death. There were those that were dismissive and said 'how could it ever run out?' but Grandmother insisted on diversifying their resources. In the past several years they had traded for seeds from far away tribes, and now they grew all sorts of crops, like beans and melons and beets (which stained your hands and mouth a fascinating shade of magenta). They started breeding rabbits and birds, and one of her uncles traveled far north to a tribe that knew how to capture mustang, in the hopes of bringing some back. They ate them, but Grandmother said they could be used for transportation as well as food. And they had started the deer herd.
Elisia inched closer to the doe. She was close enough to touch it, but she held out the handful of sedges. The doe sniffed in her direction, and sniffed at the sedges. The doe was dangerously close to the edge of the drop-off. Elisia worried that it might try to jump if it felt threatened. She spoke calmly to the doe, inviting her to join the tribe, and thanking her if she did. The doe's eyes, round liquid globes, peered up at her through long eyelashes. The tongue came out, and wrapped around some of the sedge. The doe pulled some of the grass from her hand and ate it, eyes fixed on Elisia's face.
Elisia reached out with her other hand, and stroked the neck of the doe. The doe did not flinch, and was calm. Elisia slowly reached for the rope, and unfurled it. The doe looked at it, but did not react. Elisia found the loop and draped it across the doe's neck. She reached down and threaded the other end through the loop. She let it hang loose around the doe's neck. She started walking back and kept the sedges just out of the doe's reach, and she lead it back down the incline towards her bored brothers. The fawn followed. Elisia wondered how long the doe would live in the paddock. How many fawns would it have? How many generations of people would be fed by this herd? She wondered if Grandmother would let them name the doe and her fawn.