Mother Nature’s Anguish

This week’s photo was sent to me by my uncle Rob– this is an actual photo he took of flooding that was near his house! I don’t know about you guys, but if I saw that much water near my place, I’d be pretty terrified…

In the past I have written a story about the finer qualities of rain, so I figured it was time to write something that looks at the more treacherous side of it. That resulted in a kind of futuristic, dystopian kind of story.

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Here is, ‘Mother Nature’s Anguish’:

Mother Nature’s Anguish, Year Twenty: Another Species Gone

Bexley Carmichael, September 15, 2094,

Another species of native plant life gone. Acer Rubrum: Red Maple Tree. Once the most common tree in all of North America, now gone forever. It joins the long list of now extinct plant and animal species. How much farther will this go? How much longer before we lose every other sign of life? Another twenty years? Forty? Will the rain continue on for that long? It doesn’t seem scientifically possible, but that’s what everyone has been saying for two decades.

Bexley sat back and read back over her sparse lines in one of the few notebooks she had left. There really wasn’t much else to say. Writing those few words had been hard enough. As the one in charge of the hot house where they all worked to keep the native earth plants alive, it stung when another species fell away.

She looked up from her work to the rows of trees in front of her. Most of them were as old as the unending rain that had been going on for twenty years and covered the entire earth in water. The UV lights dangling from the ceiling were doing their best to give some life to the trees, but there was only so much artificial light could do. What the plants needed was the real sun. Real dirt that went deeper than the ten feet that the hot house offered them. Real wind. Real everything. Until the rain stopped and the water receded, that just wasn’t going to happen.

Her eyes were burning from lack of rest and her head was pounding. She missed the days when she could simply walk to her medicine cabinet and pull out some pain killers.

“You should get some sleep. You look done in,” said Turner Harris from the next desk over. He was one to talk. His own hazel eyes were sunken in and dull.

“Sleep? I don’t think that’s something I’ll be successful at any time soon. Every time I close my eyes, I see those spots.” She sighed. “We’ve got to figure out a way to contain this disease.”

If they didn’t, the outlook would be grim for the town.

“I’ll check the moisture content in here again today. See if the levels are rising along with the disease.”

“I’d appreciate it.” Bexley stood and placed her hands on her lower back, leaning into them as she massaged a sore spot. “I’m going to take a little walk. Maybe grab something to eat. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Bexley grabbed her yellow poncho from beside the door, slipped it over her head, and stepped out into the rain.

The drops had slowed more than usual to almost a drizzle. At one time, it would have been enough to lift everyone’s spirits and give them hope. Not anymore. They all knew it was just a brief respite before the steadier downpour began again.

Since the hot house was located near the edge of the floating city called Beacon, she went and stood at the side of the massive floating platform, placing her hands on the chain link fence that stretched up about twenty feet. Enough to keep someone from accidentally falling over. Not high enough to keep those who had gone mad from climbing up and throwing themselves out into the expansive sea.

She rested her head against the fence and stared out at the endless waves of brown water. The same mundane sight that had met her eyes for years. As she had since the beginning, she searched the horizon for any sign of life. Especially one of the plant platforms that she and Turner had been sending out for the past fifteen years. They had hoped the floating plants would survive until the rain stopped, then fall back to earth with the receding water to repopulate the ground again. Despite sending out over a thousand platforms, though, they had yet to run back into one. Most likely they had all been capsized by the storm or drowned out by the water. Even if they had made it, chances were good that there wasn’t enough sunlight making it through the ceaseless clouds for anything to survive.

When she made it back to the hot house, she found Leader Hayes waiting for her, his mostly bald head dotted with sweat, concerned lines gathered along his eyes and mouth.

“Leader Hayes, how can I help you?” Bexley asked as she motioned for him to sit in the seat opposite her desk.

“Word got out,” he said, causing Bexley’s heart to sink.

“How?”

“I think it may have been one of the maintenance men. Seems he heard you and Turner talking about it when he was fixing one of the lights. Instead of keeping it to himself so as not to cause panic, he decided to spread the word around.”

Wincing, Bexley asked, “What’s the damage?”

“Right now just murmurings. I’ve tried to paint it as a baseless rumor. That the guy just misunderstood the severity of it all. But I have to ask, where are we at right now?”

“Honestly, it’s not good. We lost another species last night. That’s the third one this month. If the disease keeps spreading at this rate…” Bexley swallowed hard against the growing lump in her throat and shook her head. “Four more months.”

“Four months?” the leader’s words came out barely above a whisper. “Is it just the trees?”

“All the plants.”

“Even the food crops? For humans and animals?”

“Everything.”

“I suppose that means that, even if we can get enough food to stay alive, we lose oxygen?”

“Not necessarily. Pre-flood, microscopic plant life in the water called phytoplankton made up for at least fifty percent of the earth’s oxygen supply. If those phytoplankton are still going strong in this flooded world of ours, we’ll still be able to breathe, even if the plants go. Really, it comes down to the food sources and the fact that, if the rain stops, we would have nothing to replant the earth with.”

Hayes exhaled loudly and clasped his hands in front of him.

“What can I do to help? What kind of resources do you need?”

“The kind of resources we don’t have on this floating piece of plastic and rubber. Turner and I are doing what we can. I’ll keep you updated of the situation. Keep up that story about the mechanic overreacting.”

“Don’t worry, I will. If the severity of this gets out, it won’t be pretty.”

“It’s some kind of foliar fungal disease,” Turner said two days later when they were going over new test results. “But not like one that we’ve seen before. Some kind of new hybrid.”

“We don’t even have the necessary stuff to treat the fungal diseases we’re familiar with. How are we supposed to treat a whole new form?”

Turner was quiet for a moment, then looked up at the ceiling as if he was getting ready to say something he really wasn’t happy about.

“We’ve got to eradicate the infected plants,” he finally said. “That’s the only way to keep it from spreading.”

“Tear them out.”

“Yep. You know it kills me to say that, but we have to think of the good of the rest of the plants.”

Feeling a sharp pain in her gut at the thought, Bexley gave a small nod.

“Fine. Let’s do it,” she murmured. “We can give the fallen trees over to the town so they can at least be used for something valuable. We need to keep this quiet, though. If anyone finds out we’re starting to cut vegetation, it won’t go over well.”

It about killed Bexley to have to watch her beloved trees and plants fall, especially by her own hands. For her, it was tantamount to destroying her own children. For twenty years she had fought to keep the plants alive, only to finally bring them down herself. Her sleeve was damp from running it across her tear-stained face by the time the last infected tree came down.

“We could use some of the wood to build new floating platforms,” Turner suggested as they looked down at one of the fallen trees.

“We can’t risk it. If some of the other floating plants are still alive, we can’t send this disease out to them.”

For the next week, Bexley thought they had beaten the fungal disease. The remaining plants and trees seemed healthy, and she didn’t spot any of the white, filmy coating on the leaves that were indicative of the sickness. By the time she was starting to let herself feel optimistic, though, she found newly infected plants on her weekly Saturday health check. New tears streamed down her face as she fought the strong urge to be sick.

“I think… I think this may be the end of us,” Bexley whispered to Turner, a tremor shaking her voice.

“What do you want to do?” Turner’s face was pale, and he looked as worried as she felt. “Should we tell people?”

“I’ll tell Leader Hayes. We can let him decide.”

“We’ll tell them,” Hayes said after he was informed of the situation. His voice was heavy, his shoulders slumped forward. “At least part of the story. They have to know, if only to start rationing supplies. I’ll tell Sheila over at the animal sheds to do the same for her stock.”

“That will only slow the inevitable,” Bexley said from her seat in front of his desk.

“Maybe, but we’ll look for some kind of solution. If we ration everything, maybe we’ll think of something in time.”

“Like what?” Bexley could hear the own rise in her voice, but she didn’t care. Hayes needed to wake up. “We are floating in the middle of an endless sea. There are no solutions. Those plants were the solution to a dead world, and now they’re dying, too.”

Red tinged the leader’s features.

“I will not send this entire town into a frenzy of blind fear,” he growled. “As far as they’re going to be concerned, we are temporarily rationing supplies until a solution to a minor set-back is achieved. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Bexley ground out. Then, she stood and walked out of his office, not giving a backward glance.

While Leader Haye’s announcement was not the most joyful for the people of Beacon, he delivered the news in such a way that the situation really didn’t seem that dire. Only three people on the floating town knew how bad things were. They were the only ones who had to live with the constant ache of dread and fear in their guts as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months.

As Bexley had predicted, the last of the plants died off at the end of four months. She sat amongst the ruins of the last of the dead trees and felt the dull ache of grief radiate throughout her body. Twenty years. Twenty years spent tending the trees. Loving them. Caring for them like the living things they were, all for nothing. The town was doomed. Humanity was doomed.

Even with the small amount of feed stored away for the animals, there was only enough to last them another week or so. For the humans, there were only enough stores for two weeks.

Despite Hayes doing his best to keep the entirety of the situation hidden from the townsfolk, the murmurings grew, and more people began to put the pieces together about what was happening. Because they knew, the tensions only continued to grow until there was only a couple days of food left. And that was when everything blew up.

Bexley didn’t know what had started until Turner ran into the now useless and empty hot house and slammed the door shut behind him. There were three locks on the door that had rarely been used before. He secured all of them, then turned and rested his back against the metal, breathing hard. His eyes were wide, and there was something dark staining the bottom of his ragged jeans.

“What is it?” Bexley asked, standing from her desk. “What’s wrong?”

Turner shook his head and closed his eyes.

“Don’t go out there,” he said. “It’s begun.”

“What’s begun?”

“The end.”

“What do you…”

That was when she heard it. A scream that pierced straight through the metal door of the hot house and straight to her heart. It was soon followed by others, along with angry shouts. The sounds were drawing closer. Suddenly, she knew exactly what Turner meant. The people knew. Everyone knew the food was on its way out.

She remembered the riots, looting, and violence after Mother Nature’s Anguish had first begun. So much bloodshed over what resources could be found on the quickly flooding earth. It was happening again.

Pointing at the bottom of Turner’s pants, she said, “Blood?”

He nodded, opening his eyes again and looking sick.

There was a loud pounding on the door and an imperceptible shout. Turner jumped. Bexley opened her bottom desk drawer and pulled out her hatchet. Usually it was for removing dead or weak branches, but she was more than willing to use it as a weapon. Death was inevitable, but she refused to go out at the hands of men and women who had turned savage with fear.

The pounding continued for another minute or so, then there were more yells and screams followed by silence.

“Do you think the locks will hold?” she asked.

“They should,” Turner said, running his hand over them as if he could tell that way.

Eight hours ticked by on the clock above the door before things became quiet outside the door, the only sounds the ever-present patter of rain drops. Another eight passed before Bexley and Turner were brave enough to undo the locks and open the door.

Right outside was the body of Gray Forbes, an older man who had once helped her install the UV lights in the hot house so many years before. He was on his knees, his body slumped forward, blood being washed away from his body by the never-ending rain.

“Maybe he was trying to hide?” Bexley whispered, horror filling her. “Maybe he wanted in so he could get away from the violence, too.”

“We don’t know that, Bex,” Turner said, bending in front of Gray’s body and placing two fingers against his carotid artery to make sure he was really gone.

“He was a good guy.”

“I would have said that about most of the people on Beacon. But take a look around you.” He motioned around with his arm to the wet town they lived on. “This is what happens when good people know they’re going to die.”

Bexley looked up and only then really saw the true nature of the destruction around her. There were bodies lying here and there, some of them groaning and writhing in pain. The buildings looked rough, like they had been torn into. There were also carcasses of what had been animals, only now they were unrecognizable. They had been torn into, the meat yanked sloppily from them, as if wolves had ripped their flesh. Only wolves would have probably been more systematic about it.

Blood ran freely with the water along the rubber roads, its tangy scent carrying on the breeze.

“Come on,” Bexley said, fighting back the nausea and disgust that was welling up. “We’ve got to help.”

She moved to the nearest moving body and began assessing the woman’s wounds.

Through the night, Bexley learned that over a quarter of Beacon’s one-thousand people had died, most of them at the hands of the very people they had been living semi-peacefully with for twenty years. All of the food was officially gone, either eaten by those who had foolishly gorged themselves, or hidden away by those who were still alive. And all so that they could live a few extra days than the other people around them.

Bexley ran into Leader Hayes as the first muted light tried to seep through the thick, dark clouds. The man looked lost and defeated, his eyes dull, his face pale as he wiped water away from it.

“Such a terrible way to end things,” he said, wiping more than just rain from his eyes.

“Fear is powerful,” Bexley said, straightening from the body whose eyes she had just closed. “Especially fear of death.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry about all of this. If we had just found a way to fix the plants…”

Hayes laid a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “You and Turner kept us going for twenty years with that hot house. You did everything you could. It’s amazing we made it as long as we did.” He gave her shoulder a pat, then turned and walked away.

Later in the day, spent with exhaustion, Bexley joined Turner at the edge of Beacon and looked out over the water. She wrapped her fingers through the wet links of the fence and let them hold up some of her weight.

After a few minutes, she glanced over at Turner.

“I just wanted to say, you’ve been a great work partner these last twenty years,” she said. “And a great friend. You dedicated your life as much to those plants as I did. You cared for them like I did.” She cleared her throat to get rid of the building emotions. “Thank you for that.”

“It’s truly been an honor,” Turner said, giving her a sad smile.

Both of them looked back out over the water, occasionally brushing the raindrops from their faces. Until they didn’t anymore. It was Turner that noticed it first.

“The rain,” he said, almost nonchalantly.

“What about it?”

“It stopped.”

Bexley looked up toward the heavens, not having to blink against falling water. As she stared up at the lightening clouds, they parted. Not a lot. Only enough to show the smallest sliver of blue sky. The first blue sky she had seen since Mother Nature’s Anguish had started. Through that slit, the smallest ray of sun broke through and landed on her hand. It was warm and beautifully bright.

Hot tears trailed down her face.

“Beautiful,” she said, unable to look away from the way the light played over her skin. She wiped at her cheeks. “Absolutely beautiful.”

It didn’t take long for the others on Beacon to notice. Soon, there were whoops and cheers throughout the town. Those who had been fighting each other for food only the night before were embracing with happy tears.

“They think we’re saved,” she said quietly. “They think the rain has stopped just in time.”

“We’ll all be dead before the water recedes,” Turner murmured in agreement. “Let them have this for now, though. Let them have one last moment of joy. Let them enjoy the sun and the sky the way man was intended to.”

Nodding, Bexley looked back up at the blue slit and couldn’t help but smile at it. If she had to die from starvation, at least she could do it looking at the glorious sky.

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