There Is No Fixing This: Chapters 6 & 7
Before the End III
Ghosts. Ephemeral and eternal. What we were, who we’d be. Ghosts.
Resistance lends itself to carelessness. Never thought of, never prepared for. Destruction on a scale unimagined. Pushing. Pulling.
The lights go out. One by one. Then all together. Then not at all. Fire destroys as it illuminates. Pushing pulling.
Accept the things you can not change. Except for the things you can not accept. All things. Reality. Eternity. Failings uncounted.
The hungry roam the roads. The weak and the tired claim all flat ground. We are all the hungry. All the weak. All the tired.
We felt we were rising. Our whim was the world’s price to pay. Pushing, pulling.
There was no time to entertain the needs of the rest. There was only us and the cascading ocean of time.
The bodies stacked. No need to bring out the dead, the dead were everywhere. Ghosts of what were, who we’d be. Organic litter amongst the rotted leaves of certainty. Blown aside by delusions.
Stacks, pits, anywhere but in sight. New ways to hide decay became new ways to remain hidden.
The end became the reason for all. Hastened or resisted, it was all that remained when nothing else remained. So much sadness, so much pain. Nothing new, but newly unavoidable. If pain is the last vestige of the living, then we know how to rid our existence of pain.
Nothing but ghosts.
Pushing, pulling, until something snaps.
The End IV
The night deepens around me as the city’s corpse envelops. The walk from the fields on the outskirts of town to where I’m staying (stayed?) isn’t very far, a few miles at most, but I am making it a point to take my time. To think. To reflect. Once I’m gone, it’s gone. Even at the very end it seems impossible to fully let go of a need for remembrance and appreciation.
So I walk, slowly, one foot in front of the other. Enjoying the pressure of the sloppy concrete as it rises to meet my steps, holding me aloft. Though tonight carries the distinct sense that it is working in the opposite way. That I am in fact keeping the ground down, holding it in place so it doesn’t rise up and swallow me, adding me to the parade of desiccation that has become it’s form.
The further darkening of the night increases the glow of the fields on the outskirts, never quite reaching the full luminous quality we associate with “brightness.” No, it hangs beneath the clouds, looming and threatening, a shadow of light. Immaterial, yet more solid the ground feels now.
The dream like quality is carried into the city. Hinted at by whispers of blue haze reflected against the last remnants of buildings, just where they meet the road. Or peeking through subtle, hairline cracks in the sidewalk. The earth has always held its own heartbeat and the more time that passes, it seems it is breaking through.
The wind picks up, kissing my face with clarity and whipping my hair into my eyes. It carries with it the whisper of the song being sung by entities most consider like plants. But that is both diminishing and an insult to all flora and fauna. In my readings, with what few books remained that weren’t kept solely for fuel to keep fires alight, I learned that our newest neighbors with their song and light and repurposing of our wasted forms, or more akin to some madman’s hybrid of flora and fauna. Plant and animal. One and the same. Communication and proliferation in ways vastly similar too, yet wholly different from, all others.
The freshness of their arrival startled, at first. Immediately alien and frightening. Most who you would run into and broach the subject with expressed fear and exasperation.
“What now?” They would ask without ever receiving a reply that satisfied. What could satisfy, though? The knowledge that they were innocuous and benign? Was there ever a time when we truly accepted something we couldn’t fully understand? I’ve yet to read about it and am drawing ever closer to not having a need to care.
The vastness of human knowledge had been amassed. We had the capability to learn and grow and nourish any intellectual curiosity that took our fancy. There was a reliance, however, on other people needing to provide that information to us. The academics and their studies, the intermediaries to simply and context for the layperson. Once the ability to tap that seemingly endless resource was gone, we were left with hard copy of what we could find.
It proved less than helpful and the outlook for insight and alleviation of fear was grim. For all of our supposed intellect and perceived superiority, we really need a whole lot more complete explanations for the world than those animals of a “lower order.” We need to be spoon-fed reassurance, and when that is lacking, we invent stories and deities to fill in the gaps. Simple, frightened apes yelling at the sky for answers we wouldn’t get and never needed.
The glow was what was noticed first. Dull and almost secret under the rubble and dirt in towns we would travel through. My father was the first one to notice it on a random, clear night, when we had settled in the skeletal remains of a department store that only had two vertical walls, but maintained a roof from the floor of what used to house men’s wear.
The three of us had crowded into a corner so we could see out and feign warmth. I woke sometime in the night to realize that my father was gone and the blanket that had covered the three of us hung sloppily on the far side of my mother. Blinking my eyes into focus, I scanned our immediate horizon. Nothing, save the dark and the wind, was noticed until I whipped my head full to my left. Here there was an entire wall missing from the building, broken down either by time or people, or both. At first, I thought there was movement that had caught my eye. But no, it was a silhouette lit from below ever so lightly.
I slid out from the blanket as quietly as I could for fear of waking my mother. Rising to my feet added a disorienting tilt as I hadn’t taken my eyes of the negative space in the glow. Creeping slowly across the floor, I made my way towards the light. It became brighter the closer I came after crossing the sixty or so feet from where we had slept. Then my foot met a rock or some shattered piece of brink from the non-existent wall and made a deafening journey across the floor against the silence of the night. The silhouette turned towards me and the sound.
My father’s eyes were wide, from what was afforded me by the dull light emanating from the ground. His breathing was uneven and stifled. I asked him if he was alright. He said he was, but I didn’t really believe him given the look that was permanently scrawled across his face. A look we’ve all carried at one time during all this and even before. A look that spoke of utter disbelief, fear, curiosity, and wonder. The end of the human world is a smorgasbord of contradictions.
My father explained to me what he thought the light was. We had discovered that this spot just outside the building had been used as a mass grave in the early days, prior to reclamations. When those that passed and those that remained continued their dance of being little benefit to anything besides themselves. This was evidenced to us when the glow caught a shoe across the lot in its light, with a foot and the last vestiges of a leg still within.
My father told me about bioluminescence. It’s a chemical reaction in living things to ward off predators as a warning of harm, or to attract prey through a dizzying display. That first night, neither of us knew which this was. My father told me about fungus, how mushrooms and their fruiting bodies that we see above ground are just the end result of a vast, interconnected network below. Normally, the mushrooms were what provided the glow to keep from being eaten. There seemed no purpose to a glow underground. What predators would be underneath with that decay?
After staring and talking for a couple hours, my father and I went to lie back down beside my mother. I fell fast asleep but, judging by the same look my father kept, he had not.
We had assumed this would be an isolated incident, a freak occurrence caused by the right conjunction of oddities. Every night, however, from that night forward, we witnessed the glowing, underground at first, always in the spots where the dead lay. It only took a few weeks before these fungal fiends broke ground, rising skyward and making night a vomitous day.
Humanity’s forced infrastructure kept them relegated to patches of earth where they could easily break through and gain purchase, never spreading too far. They were eating, digesting our remains with greedy enzymes so that nothing remained. As the bodies were destroyed, the ground beneath remained firm. They, it, was growing, there was no saying if they were individual clusters or part of some enormous whole. I read once of a fungus that was spread over 3.7 square miles in the woods somewhere out west. The cities where we dwelled were bigger than that. The blue was everywhere.
Once the city was lit and the bodily remnants of what we were vanished, the song began. At first just a hint, like an electrical hum in a separate room from days long gone. Nothing was thought of it at first. The wind or some other, grounded, explanation was at play. The nights continued on and the emergence of the blue fungus every night was mated with the mewling of a child begging for sustenance. It had run out of food. Whether it had existed before the end, or changed once it found something better to ingest, who can say? But the song grew in intricacy and intensity. Rising, falling, ghost chords behind a drone. I believe it was learning. We can’t all have the same taste in music.
The nightly visitors became all those we came into contact with would discuss. No talking heads to help explain away the obscene affront to what we believed to be true. No experts to quell our fear. Fear is what it became, as it always did, as it always must. If this is reality, where have we been this whole time? Fear serves its purpose, but only so far.
I hadn’t known then, but that night in the ruined department store was a turning point. Not just for those of us who remained, but more intimately for my mother and father. The emergence of the fungus had changed everything. Like the last nail in a coffin we had all hoped beyond hope would remain open, however slightly, forever.
The reclamations began soon after and parents were reclaimed not long after that. Fear turned into resignation. The alien had become the norm. We could fear and fight, or resign and cease.
To travel to a bleak, but inevitable, future may cause fear. But fear always precedes understanding. Desiccation becomes a known entity and there is not reason to fear what cannot be stopped.