I haven't seen one of those in a long time, thought the ant as it jetted back to its layer on the burning desert sand. It watched as a bonny boy with pale dark skin bent over a small puddle of water. It’s alone, thought the ant. Its journey back to its nest consisted of constantly looking for a broken dried-up branch to take shelter under for a few seconds. The ants had developed a special mucus which they excreted to cool themselves down whenever they went hunting for food. Under a makeshift shade, they would blow at their miniscule legs to cool down their feet. By 2110, the temperatures on earth had increased by 6 degrees taking the atmospheric temperature from a warm summer in the backyard to a scorching and lethal one in barren wasteland. This meant death to colonies of wildlife, marine life, and reefs. To trees and even to the ocean, things dried up pretty quickly and with it shriveled the size of humanity. Civilization was thrown out of the window with racial conflict and civil wars as another catalyst to the extinction of human existence on earth.
Once inside the safety of its nest, the ant watched the boy lying beside the water. That was the third day it had seen the boy there, sometimes it looked dead. The ant would walk towards the boy only for him to move his head and startle the ant back to its nest. It had carried in the grip of its mouth a dead insect, - food that would last it for days. While inside the nest, it had dug up a hole where it preserved its food and, if ever it found an animal like a larvae alive, it would bring it back home and keep it for milk. Of course this had only happened three times in years, but the ant was always on the lookout for a meal.
In 2020, they would have told you that data was the most valuable thing on the planet. In 2110, it's four meals a week and you’re the richest person on the planet. Most leaves turned brown during the global warming crisis and most of the earth's water evaporated. The little that was left was full of carbon and acidity that it killed most marine life which were crucial in aiding to the cycle of life for all species on earth. The animals died from starvation and the ant's colony shriveled up like a dehydrated thing. The queen was dead and the only ants within the area was the little scavenger.
It met with the fringe-toed lizard every once in a while when on a hunt and immediately, it would start digging into the earth to burry itself beneath the sand. The lizard had developed a hard skin, so hard it could ricochet a knife. This ensured its survival in the blaring degrees of the 22nd century. It had also seen the boy as he journeyed in search for anything to put in his mouth; any liquid, any bite of any moist thing or, anything. Sometimes, the boy would find himself shifting his mouth, as if he was biting into the air, whenever his stomach rumbled. This could confuse his stomach and it would rest for a little while before complaining again.
The desert he dragged his feet on was once a jungle in the Congo. For miles on end, nothing had ever looked more plain and disastrous than the sand dunes on sand dunes that stretched beyond what the eye could perceive. Once, an orangutan was swinging from a very tall tree on this dry land. A spider was weaving its web, a bird building its nest. Now all dead.
Whenever the boy flinched, the ant would move further inside his nest. He would lick the surface of the water three times a day for hydration and drink as much of his urine as he could make. He had heard a tale of a mad man who once walked the streets in his home town. The man said, "A time will come when the land will refuse to sweat or cry. A heaven on earth will remain. No desert plain is so lonely. From heaven, life will grow once more. But the toll? The toll of death would first rise before new life. Do you hear you scoundrels? YOU WILL ALL DIE!" From then, it became a scene of the most violent insults thrown at strangers that any ears had ever heard before.
The search for this heaven begun in 2050. The poor killed each other for food, the rich hid in bunkers with years’ worth of supplies. Eventually, the food would run out or someone would get sick or run mad and go outside the bunker. Almost immediately, he would become prey to starving hyenas, and vultures would even attack a running man, pin him down and rip the flesh off his bones. Because the oceans had become so hot, all the ice in the Arctic had melted away, and with it, a whole species of fish, birds and animals like the polar bears, seals, orcas, walrus, and every other creature that had once so baffled human beings.
The ocean’s drying was a gradual evaporation of water as more of its surface begun to come upland. Coral reefs that were once deep in the ocean became rubble on the sidewalk of a path of scavengers. The big whales that needed lots of space to thrive disappeared quickly together with dolphins. Some sharks were able to hold on for a few more years but even they eventually disappeared. By 2100, 95% of the earth was dry land. The 5% of life that remained sustained themselves in the Congo and a small stretch of what was once Canadian soil. Death to dreams and futures, death to everything that can breathe.
Man was already divided from the self for extinction to gobble the earth up like that. Borders were a thing of the past. They represented nothing on a lawless land. In Congo, the community that lived there consisted of seventeen people. They had built thatched huts with mud walls and barricaded their houses with thick sticks. There were no windows except for a few holes scattered around the house to provide ventilation at night. They would take shifts with lookout duties during nighttime because jackals were on the hunt for food and animals, it now seemed, would team up to attack a community of humans. Some dog species had evolved into grisly looking creatures with sharp teeth that permanently stuck out of their mouths and with a keener sense of smell for flesh. Their fur had become as hard as a porcupine’s quill and their height had reduced to the size of a pregnant alligator so they could sense movement with their stomachs and also hide from predators.
One night, in March of 2103, the guards on duty fell asleep. There had been a lion attack that week and no one, up until then, had suspected that a lion had survived that long out in the open desert by itself. Those who could find some shut eye were eyed with hateful eyes. It had been a week of restlessness and that night, when the lion finally came back, it came with two lioness who together, took apart the famished and already weak people who could only run for just a few meters. Soon, the little that was left of the animal kingdom in Africa converged on that spot to lick the blood and bones off the second last bunch of humans.
After about nine days, the place was bare. Hyenas laid on the sand whining. The two lionesses still had some energy, but not for long. The lion had been injured in the fight over the last bits of meat and its wound was rotting at lightning speed fueled by the heat. When it was too weak to move its head, the two lionesses bit off the rotten part of the injured lion's leg and fed on him. In just a month, no plant or animal life was holding on to life in this former community, except this little boy who had stayed hidden inside a heavily barricaded hut with his mother.
In that month, the mother had taught the boy how to light a fire, where to aim when hunting down different types of animals, characters of dangerous animals to avoid, what to replant first if ever a chance appeared, and how to ration food and water to ensure he survives. They had two KGs of hyena meat which the mother preserved using drying, smoke and heat. They also had a 10 liter container of water, two small pans, a cooking stick made by the best tools man they had and a bunch of tied up sticks. They had been lucky enough to be in the main kitchen when the attack happened. The mother snuck in there to give her boy just a sip of water.
As time went by, the mother took permanent rest against the wall, everyday looking paler, lips more cracked, bones more visible, eyes more shut, and words less and less. She had trained the boy to endure a bite of meat a day and a sip of water. During this time, the mother had told the boy of a tale a mad man once spewed that might be his only hope.
"Remember, you are like the fish in the deepest and darkest parts of the sea where patience is the only way to a full meal. Down there, it used to be so dark that fish had to make their own glow. Some fish would flash their glowing teeth for the prey, attracting them with their bright luminesce. Some would make their fins glow and others had glowing, inviting bodily extensions. The glow is the heaven on earth. When you reach, you must have patience. I know you will be hungry," said the mother, "but if you rash, you will be hungrier. Do you bear my boy? It's what led us to this wasteland but for you, patience will forge your future."
She would then keep quiet for the rest of the day, sometimes humming a forgotten tune and repeat the same words to him the following day. After seventeen days, her body had eaten itself to the point where she was more comparable to a stick than a human being. She could hear the lions outside, whining their hunger cries into the dead air covered in a blanket of night. Not my boy, she thought, and saw yet another day.
A few days later, the boy woke up to a still body; no chest moving up and down, no lips parting, no eyelids shifting. His mother was gone. His only connection with the outside world were the little holes in the wall. Though he knew that digging through the sand would mean a lot of energy use and hence, a serious need to replenish more than usual, he thought it a worthwhile task to bury his mother in the ground like they used to do in the 21st century. At the turn of the century, bodies were either food for some or they were left where they took their last breaths as they lay. It was survival for the fittest and saving of energy at all cost.
Over the next few days, he dug up a two foot grave with the pan and spoon, taking turns with each. Immediately he felt like taking a piss, he would grab the pan, piss and drink. At least that way, he would save some water. He’d light a small fire with pieces of wood and boil the meat then drink the water and save the protein for later. He would also lick his sweat and the little defecation he did went straight back in his mouth.
On the journey in search of this heaven on earth, the last of the community's meat and some water would be his only companions for as long as he had energy in him. He would peep through the holes to try and spot any moving shadows. His mother had taught him that the art of silent breathing is deep long breaths. Apparently, these breaths also made one more aware of their surroundings so one would easily be able to perceive movement and hide before any danger arrives. The deep breaths also made his body feel extremely relaxed despite everything and he often did them when he got startled by a shadow or a growl outside the hut or when he looked at the protrusion in the ground.
After a few days, he was the only thing left alive within hundreds of miles. He broke off a small piece of wood and engraved his mother's initials on it then walked over to where she lay and placed the little piece in the ground. Only the tip protruded, leaving the initials buried in the soil, but it was enough to give his heart a smile. He hugged the protrusion, feeling a connection with his mother more vividly now in the time of this departure. Once he was outside the shelter of the hut, he stepped into the belly of the desert beast.
The boy was eleven then and, against all rattling snakes and porcupine attacks, he walked the desert for seven years until 2110 when he finally chanced upon a sliver line glowing far in the East. He had seen this silver streak more than a thousand times and often, his dream of finding water had been crushed by the reality of falling victim to a mirage. Sometimes however, he would find a puddle of water with some leaves around it and live there feeding off these until they were fully exhausted to the extent of what he could digest before moving on to the next.
Each time he chanced upon such fortune, the first quench of thirst would always feel like his mother's warm arms. He prayed not to forget what the face of a woman looks like or what the bass of a man sounds like. One day, I will bump into someone, he would repeat in his head, sometimes shouting it at the top of his voice. He’d also normalized vocalizing his thoughts least they run him mad. Because of his mother's tuition, his deep breathing skills had only perfected over time and he was able to filter out the carbon which had filled the air and breathe in decent enough oxygen. He would take slow steps, covering his head with the last of his shirt and exposing his body to the scorching sun. He had become quite crafty and whatever scraps he found on the road, he would use to fashion weapons, digging and cutting tools. He would leave some of them on the ground incase other people were to pass by and chance upon them and only carry a sharp cutting tool, a digging tool and two stones to ignite a fire.
When he saw the silver line shimmering just under the blaring sun, he reminded himself not to get too excited. However, once this hope had been drilled inside his heart, there was no pulling it out without the finality of darkness or light. Onwards he went until he saw a little ant shooting across the desert land. His initial impulse was to chase it and eat it for nutrients but he found himself eyeing the peculiar movement of the ant. It would walk a few meters then take a spin, walk a few more, another spin. He decided to follow the ant closely behind and thirteen kilometers in, the ant led him to the puddle. It drank its water and run back into its nest.
The boy, now a young man, splashed the water on his face with a big smile across it. He bent down and drunk eleven mouthfuls of water. His counting was to remind him -the next time he craved some water- that he already had more than enough and could survive with that for a while. The puddle was about two meters long, but there was no tree in sight. He wondered where the water was coming from but his curiosity would only be met when he left that place. He laid there for three days, shivering like a leaf during the night and burning like paper during the day.
The ant, eyeing the man, watched as tears begun to flow from his eyes. He can make a river! Thought the ant and moved a few steps closer. The boy sniffed, wiping barely there snot from his nose. He swirled his finger in the water, making patters, writing letters, humming to the tunes that his mother provided as soft comfort, an emotional pillow in a dead and dreadful world. The ant watched the patterns forming in the water and was mesmerized by the magic powers of the boy. Eight years ago, it saw a thing the size of the boy but taller and more muscular. It was roaming alone with a sharp edged object in its hand also releasing some musical sound from its mouth. The ant moved closer to the water, eyeing the boy who was faced the other way.
The boy opened his eyes only to see the reflection of the ant. Something in his gut told him this was the same ant that had led him to that miniscule oasis. He noticed that it had its eyes on the movement of his finger so he slowly continued to move it, shifting his body so he would face the ant but done in a calculated gradual movement of his limbs. He let his finger swim until it was at the edge of the water, and the curious ant stretched out its fore legs towards his finger.
CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS