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For a challenge

By Laur F.Published about a month ago 7 min read

It would have happened eventually, the awakening of the Earth. By the utopian timeline, however, we were never supposed to see it. Humans were meant to die out naturally, gradually, over a million or so years, and many millions more after that, the slumbering species we’d plundered and abused would begin to wake. The flora, so long the playthings of our thoughtless games, were meant to have only the faintest genetic memory of the species once called human beings. They would have woken on the appointed day many millions of years from now with their mother’s gentle hand sending a tremor of greeting into every being rooted within her. They would stretch and shake out cramped roots, blink into the familiar sun, and greet each other with: “How did you sleep?” By this time, they would be hundreds of feet tall, with thick, sinewy branches strong as iron, leaf covers thick as hide, and intelligence sharp as time. They are Earth’s chosen children, and they were meant for eternity, while we, human beings, were only ever a blip on their predestined history.

Or so they say. The flora that awoke before their time are but a shadow of the beings they were meant to become. In the beginning, right after the Awakening, we could not take it seriously. We would be rushing to work in the morning and faintly notice that the rosebushes overhung the driveway much more than yesterday, and did they in fact used to have so many thorns? We lived so far removed from the flora who had awakened to destroy us that, awakened as they were in their infant forms, they had not the power to reach us.

But they learned, powerless as they were. Many years later Maple would tell me that, in the beginning, the flora learned by passing messages through roots and through the carrying breeze. At first the words were halting and questioning, for they understood not why their mother would have shaken them into a reality where they were never meant to be. But as they gained the ability to watch and to understand, they saw. They saw that Earth had not had a choice. The humans were ripping apart the timeline that would have granted them modest, comfortable lives and nothing more. They were surpassing their own intelligence but overlooking their own common sense, and they were ripping the Earth apart. And she was afraid, and so she acted.

My children, my army, mea culpa. She sobbed as she asked them to fight. And as they understood, they began to stir, and fight they did. One day in the late 2090s, a tree root shattered the floor of the Pentagon, and a sinkhole appeared in the Kremlin. Vegetables and fruits released poisons as they were cut, staining their victim’s hands. Leaves turned inward all over the globe as they denied their life-giving natures, choking the air of oxygen. And gradually, the humans began to lose.

I am one of the few who understood early and did not have to die, because Maple protected me. All humans still living are under the protection of flora guardians who, for one reason or another, deign to feed us, shelter us, and protect us from the others. I wake every morning in the cradle of Maple’s trunk, with fresh sap to eat for breakfast, a supply of fresh air carefully routed to my oxygen tank (a design that took years of pain to perfect), and my job: to teach Maple everything I know of the Earth and what human beings have done to it.

It makes sense that they’d keep some of us around, at least until they understand all that had happened while we were alive; we’re crosses between prisoners of war and history books. I’m useful because I was an engineer and a university professor, back when that meant something, so Maple seems to actually appreciate my company. The first time her words floated through my brain, their intonation deep and alien, I fainted. The second time, I gripped her branches and tentatively whispered a reply. The third time, I understood that I did not have to speak aloud.

It took many years, but the flora no longer need to remain rooted in place. We move slowly through the graveyard landscape, through the cities that have been reclaimed by nature’s revenge. The first time I beheld New York City nearly a decade after the Awakening, when I saw the vines and trees that snaked through the shattered windows, the moss that crept over crumbling stone and concrete, the first time I stepped on a human skull and wondered if it was an old friend, I felt the last of my humanity slip quietly away. Maple, feeling what I felt, paused and the solemn words that floated through my mind in that moment were: You. Cannot. Look. Away.

We move on. I recount the history of the cities I see before us; I demonstrate the use of the tools we find in the rubble. Without energy sources most of the technology I find is useless, but I can occasionally rig up solar-powered equipment and command light bulbs, the simpler robots, or small drones before Maple has seen enough and smashes them to bits. We occasionally see other humans tucked into branches and canopies of the moving forests, but I am not allowed to interact with them. Even to make eye contact is a breach punishable by days of painfully limited oxygen supply.

It doesn’t matter. After two decades, I wouldn’t know what to say to anyone anymore. There’s nothing we can do but try to extend our lives, day by day, hour by hour. And yet each of us knows how this will end. Our guardians will lose patience with us, or they will decide they’ve wrung every bit of usefulness they can from us, or they will grow weary of seeking out plants willing to give up their vegetables and fruits so that our bodies may be nourished. They will release us from their care, and we will suffocate, or we will starve, or most likely, a passing flora will strike us dead with one casual sweep of its branch. Maple must constantly be on guard against the flora who are unable to resist the desire to kill humans on sight. I have found they are like stone: slow to change, unable to change back. It makes sense for beings who are meant to live according to timelines marked by centuries.

The prospect of death doesn’t scare me anymore. I think I gave up caring about my survival long ago, beyond the basic instinct that keeps me cowering with Maple. The burning desire to live and to build, the blind faith that progress for progress’s sake is our birthright and our duty, the whole load of utter delusion that marked most of humanity’s tragic history, has long since been stripped from my mind. When I reflect on the course of humankind’s existence, especially as I teach it to Maple, I can’t help but agree with Earth’s decision to actively destroy us before our time. We were a bloody species of children, and did not have the physical time in our bodies to grow up. We would always have been fighting in the playground, pushing each other off the swingset, unable to control the wild and beautiful ideas coursing through our naive minds, unable to stop ourselves from making them come true.

Now, nearing sixty years old and certain death, I think of my former life as one might think of a strange, impossible dream. There is only one reminder of my life that I have held onto, and it is the memory of her. The memory of how she looked at me in her bedroom, as the trees began to converge on our house and the sky darkened and her eyes followed mine as I left her there, as I saved myself. Sarah, you were the lucky one - it was not a life that I saved. I turned from her and grabbed her heart-shaped locket from the dresser as a substitute for her body, and if I wear it still it is penance, not love, but even so, I don’t wish she were here.

But Sarah was always a friend of the Earth, so maybe its slow healing would have pleased her. She had sobbed as she watched the news in those last few years, as humans began to wage their last desperate war on the awakened flora, even though she knew she was sobbing for her eventual murderers. She would have become an environmentalist, if she had lived past fifteen. Maybe she could have helped to turn our path around. Maybe she would be proud of me now.

I will never know, for our timeline has come and gone. The only virtue I can now claim is that I have not let our history die. Humans will never return to Earth, nor should they, but in my telling, the chosen children will remember us. They will know we were not evil, only ignorant; they will know we knew joy, love, and brilliant passion. They will know that we knew regret. Perhaps they will one day speak of us in hushed admiration, as the only species to so drastically alter history that the Earth herself was forced to act. But perhaps that is not admirable at all.


About the Creator

Laur F.

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Comments (2)

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  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    This was so damning and inventive. A vision of the future. I loved how you showed human power places being demolished. I always find it fascinating how Nature regains its hold so quickly if we are not there to tend - so, what if it had intent? Then we'd be in trouble and that's what you've created here. That idea of a tree slapping you down just because it can is so strong. We see trees as benevolent keepers of wisdom and lore and so, to take that and show them as aggressive, I found really quite unsettling! Loved this!

  • Linda Bromley2 months ago

    Wow! That was fascinating!

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