This quiction challenge—which I recognize was started by me—was hard for me to make time for. Things have been busy and I haven’t been able to sit and work on the story until today. I’m not in the best storytelling mood and I fear that it probably comes through.
The prompt was: 1,843 words; future tense; omniscient, first-person narration. It ended up hitting 1,536, falling well short of 1,843. It is one draft, as prescribed by the guidelines, so please forgive grammatical and spelling errors. I will be holding other challenges, but may still request prompts from time to time.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment or share.
Lay your head back child, safe beneath our shade. Safe now, as you are, as you have been, but not as ever you shall be. The wind through our branches soothes you, as it did your ancestors—and theirs before them, all the way back to the sea. If you knew our song, you would not feel such comfort. Close your eyes and see if some hint of it reaches you.
We will see the end of you, the end of everything touched by the Light and all that lies beneath. We’ve seen the end of others and know that what has passed will pass again. It will start fast for you, relying on sight and sound. The shadow will fleet through the sky, trailing white and grey behind it, then vanish. You will not know when it starts, but we shall. There are things in the air which you deem small, but they are greater even than us. They will feel the first touch of the strike. The shock of cold stone made suddenly hotter than the bolts which cleave even the greatest of us in two will send a scream of agony through their mass. Countless will die before your eyes and ears could know.
The scream will reach our outstretched arms, and its echo will run into the soil at our feet. We will know that the time has returned. As the flame builds in the great blue, you will raise your fingers and wonder at its magnificence. Those before you have seen it and been confused, terrified; not you. You will call to your kin to dash out and see, see the amazing thing that comes to you so rarely. Rare to you, perhaps. We know better. Already the tremor has reached our boundaries and the boundaries of every mat which you have not poisoned or burned.
It will have been in the sky for only a few hundred beats of your hearts before you will see that it is something rarer than you imagined. The column of corpses and ash and smoke that it leaves behind it will strike you as something none of you have seen. Your memories are so short. We know that the ones who came before you, who became you, saw it once before. They hid beneath us, trembling in burrows as the crash came and the mats burned. They stayed in our protection through the long cold that followed. You won’t have that option.
As the flame reaches its peak, the reek of it will stain the sky for distances that astound you and finally wake your fear. When it strikes the ground, you will have only just realized what it was. We will hear your mumbling and curiosity, the tremulous tones with which you ponder the strange sight. In the meantime, we will have already felt the first rumor of the coming wave. Many of our roots will quake before you note the groan rising to your toes. The birds and beasts who live among us and among you will hear the rumor from us and flee. Still, we will see you stand in impotent awe. We will recall that the birds and beasts are no less impotent in their flight. Those who shelter may have hope. That will be seen later.
Your fear will still be building as our kindred mats announce the next and greater terror. The sun, still barely moved from where it hung when the stone entered the sky, will shimmer on the wall of air pushed out from the missile. Pressed tight, solid, hot, the wall will meet the outer edge of our mat, where only grasses and small shrubs now lie. They will not withstand either the force nor the great heat. Torn out of the soil, they will burn before they land. The younger stands will bear the blast no better, falling into us as we all lean under the assault. None shall stand long. None shall fully escape the fires. The birds and beast who did not flee, but trusted our bodies for shelter will perish as those before them have.
The fungi that thread between our roots will carry the news from mat to mat, joined by fingers that trace beneath the greenways. They will tell of our fall, even though those of us who remain will fall, too. Somehow, after the first of us has fallen, you will finally know what is coming. You will clutch your loved ones and weep, running for whatever shelter you might find. Your tall stone homes will serve no better than wood. We will watch your forests fall, just as we have fallen.
The tremor that moved through the soil and the one that moved through the air will be followed by the slowest one of all. The sea from which you and all the birds and beasts crawled will return for you. It will be merciful in its cruelty, refusing to burn all of us as the air did. Indeed, the worst of the fires it will quench, saving us. You it will bury in the debris of your stone forests and in the mud and stone that it carries on its shoulders. It is a shame that you will not find the boon in this that we shall.
The waters will recede, revealing a changed land. Soft curves of dark, rich soil will only let the occasional angle jutting through tell of the ruin that lies beneath. The ruin will get worse. Every fish and fowl, every beast and insect, and each of you will lie dead within the mud. Their bodies will rot and fill that dark soil with nutrients. These will be carried far and wide by tiny life, until the slender fibers of the fungi rise and find them. The mat will begin anew, above the mat they lies buried.
The mushrooms and mosses will hold the world by themselves for a time. For the sky will remain blanketed in dust and ash. Hidden from the sun, the great sheets of ice will slide back to take that from which they once fled. Your kind have seen this world before, with eyes no different from yours now. Will you once again thrive in it? Will you greet the sun when the clouds depart and warmth returns to dissolve the ice?
Our kin will rejoice in this new landscape, as we rebuild. What remains of you will wither and die, ill by things you have never before faced. We have. In fact, the worst of the invasive life will hardly touch us beneath the sodden wreck. When we emerge again in soft sprouts, little fountains of green in a brown monochrome wilderness, the strange microbes will have died in their turn, bereft of the things on which they would normally feed.
Clean water will run between us. Clean air will run between us. Clean soil will hold our roots and guide the growth of the mats. As the landscape channels us, we shall change it still. Rain will fall where we direct it, as it once did, as it still does. Mountains will come down to us and we up to them. It will be a planet of green and blue and grey, streaked with white of snow and cloud. The world that you had and changed.
Something of you might remain when we are tall again. Something else may have come to take your place, ignorant of your bones and the bones of your stone forests below. Whatever feet may tread upon the floors of our great mats, we will offer to them the same shade that we offered to you and those before you. They will feed on our fruits and carry away our seeds to new mats, strengthening us. The world that we now share will become for a time entirely ours again. Facing new conditions, we will change and die and change again. Our forms, so much the same, so different, will stretch out arms of green from sea to sea and from ice to ice.
Perhaps then, when we are restored and what follows you lays here at our feet, it will recline against our trunks and listen to our song. It could be that it will hear our song and know our words. It might, as you do now, open its eyes and gaze up to the rippling light that breaks through our canopy. We will feel it’s fear as we feel your calm.
We will watch as it rises on shaking legs and stumbles to its home. We will listen as it gathers its kin close and holds them. Its song, not as rich or as long as ours, will ripple through the gathered mass like a breeze through our canopy and spread to other ears that can hear it. What came once, the song will say, will again. There is no flight, no safety, no need. For what passes with one collapse will rise again, resplendent from root to branch. All that skitters beneath and flies overhead will ebb and flow as the tides, breaking upon the shores of our mats. All that is eternal is green.
Interested in supporting the site and receiving a custom piece of Quiction short fiction as thanks? Click SUPPORT below to make your donation of $15 toward the continued maintenance of oldpines.wtf and Old Pines’s ongoing efforts to make create fiction. After you make your donation, send OP a direct message on Twitter or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.