And the Heavens Weep

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic story triggered by climate change.... view prompt


Drama Fantasy

When the steady rains came to quench the parched earth, we rejoiced: that is, until ‘The Enlightened One’ beckoned us forth. The beckoning was not unusual. Rather, the sense of urgency superseding his typically stoic presence was.

The meeting chamber was massive, suspended above-ground, nestled among the ancient trees; as were our private chambers. Strong nests of interlacing branches imparted the perfect foundation to support the dwellings built upon them.

The meeting space offered several points of entry for the populace of Elderwood Keep: wooden ladders leading up from the forest floor, a long, upward, spiraling ramp to accommodate those who weren’t able to ascend the ladders, as well as a few suspended, vine rope and wood-slatted footbridges leading in from adjoining communal structures.

This day, as I observed from my place at the high table, the people of our land poured in like a river flowing to the sea. Never, had so many been present for the advisement meetings of our clan. But, never, had ‘The Enlightened One’ expressed such exigency.

Blinking eyes flitted about the cavernous, yet cram-packed space as everyone awaited their guardians’ announcement.

Once the last stragglers pressed in among their peers, ‘The Enlightened One’ raised an open palm. He regarded those before him in silent contemplation then, clearing his throat, reluctantly began.

“The Gods have bestowed upon me, a distressing vision. Life, as we have come to know it, will be irrevocably altered; perhaps, even worse. Though we are the ‘Chosen Ones’, we shall not be spared from what comes,” he looked out upon the wide-eyed, shifting clansmen. “The rains that are upon us will not cease for many moon cycles. The lands will soon begin to flood, bringing about many unseen challenges. But, of those which have been revealed to me, we have much to swiftly prepare for.”

Sharp gasps and frightened murmurs sounded throughout the crowd. Shouted questions filled the previously quiet space. With a force unlike any they had ever witnessed, one word sliced through the deafening cacophony. “SILENCE!” His penetrating glare chastising the offenders, then softening. “Truly, I appreciate your concerns. There will be time for inquiries upon completion of what I have to share. But, for now, allow me to continue unhindered, and perhaps some of your questions shall be addressed.” His wise, old eyes snapped around the room. Once he was assured their attention was again his, he continued.

“My vision has shown that with the proper preparations, our dwellings shall remain inhabitable. However, we shall need to reinforce them as well as construct several new wood sheds and storage facilities. We will require sturdy rafts and higher footbridges, and a method to capture and safely store rainwater.” He glanced around, satisfied that he continued to hold their undivided attention.

“To ensure our greatest possibility of survival, we must also collect an abundance of firewood, hunt for and gather as much food as possible, as well as medicinal herbs. Any salvageable crops must be harvested from our fields posthaste, and additionally, be preserved to our utmost capabilities. These details are where we shall focus our initial efforts. Those of us at the high table will coordinate a plan and inform each of you of your place in the preparatory process.”

The meeting wrapped up with answers to as many questions as possible, then, a request for volunteers who possessed a skillset they believed could best contribute to specific tasks, to stay behind.

While I had never seen such a sense of impending doom amongst our people, I was enheartened to also note a general mindset of determination. That determination would be the ultimate key to our continued ability to thrive. I just prayed it would last.

Once all but the members of the high table had left, we were served a simple evening meal and cups of ale, water, for myself. It would be a long, however, productive evening for us all.

The moon was high in the night sky, and barely visible through the murky clouds above when we adjourned. Kai led me gently by the hand, to our shelter. Placing the torch in its rest upon the wall, he turned to me. His brilliant grey-green eyes shimmered in the soft light of the flame.

“I love you, Ayla. I promise I will do all I can to protect us from whatever we are about to face.” He said, earnestly.

“I know you will, my love. I’ve never doubted you, and I won’t begin to now.

He extinguished the torch and we sunk into our fur-covered, grass pallet. Just as we embraced, a cold, wet nose nudged its way between us. We laughed at the antics of our young, orphaned wolf pup we’d adopted. Or, had he adopted us?

Either way, Orf was now a part of our little family, and we would never willingly allow that to change. He knew he was loved, and reciprocated it in so many ways. When he received his fill of our affection and attention, he settled in for the night at our feet. Lying on his side, facing me, Kai draped the soft, worn rabbit hide cover over me, then protectively rested his large, work-roughened hand over my swollen belly and we drifted off to the droning spattering of the rain.

Aside from the ground, which was now as thick with mud as the sky was with water-laden grey clouds, the forest was still striking. It presented a flamboyant offering of red, orange, and gold Autumn foliage. The massive, ancient trees sported a gnarled root system, which protruded menacingly from the ground like long arachnoid-like limbs. The grey-brown trunks so large, it would take in excess of twenty men, arms stretched wide, hand in hand, to surround.

The following days passed in a blur of activity. The inhabitants of Elderwood Keep worked tirelessly from dawn until well after darkness settled across the lands, as was necessary to accomplish all that was required for our survival. 

Meals were simple, carefully rationed, and communal; held in the meeting chamber and in two sittings, to accommodate our large population. There was always much to discuss and mealtimes most often resembled conferences.

The streams were becoming great, rushing rivers. We were grateful that our forest lands were situated higher than the arroyos they flowed through. However, it was clear to all that soon they would breach the walls of the ravines currently containing them. Several rafts had already been constructed for if or when the time came we’d need them.

Hunters and gatherers were out for days at a time. Fortunately, with the increased water levels, fish became more plentiful, as well. Some fish and game were cured with salt and left to hang in a large nearby cave, which, the men took turns guarding against predators.

The elder-folk taught some of the older children the art of smoking fish and meats, drying fish, making jerky, and drying the herbs and grains. They worked to preserve the fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and tubers that were harvested.

Families and friends spent as much time together as possible, whether working, taking meals, or brainstorming much-needed solutions, being that the future was so extraordinarily questionable.

Insects abounded, and it wasn’t long before people were covered with large, itching, painful welts from their bites. Some, becoming rank smelling masses, oozing with greenish, purulent pus; requiring lancing and poultices to help draw out the infection.

As the flooding encroached upon the forest lands, deadly water snakes, and dangerous wild beasts, fleeing for safety, became a constant danger; claiming a few lives, already. Our people were forced to begin carrying weapons with us at all times. The meat from those deadly things was often utilized as a protein source in soups and stews, though few were aware of it.

Those too young or feeble were kept together, under the protection of hunters when their care-givers were busy contributing to the greater good.

The cries and agonized screams of the ill and dying became as commonplace as the rhythm of the near-freezing cold, falling rain. And, we were helpless to ease their suffering, mostly. Though, some chose to facilitate their own or an afflicted loved-ones escape.

As time went on, parents began giving their thinning children a portion of their own daily rations; as did other adults sacrifice for the benefit of the growing number of orphaned children, and expectant mothers. While no one was left without their share, it was common knowledge that those still growing and developing were in need of more substantial nourishment. Though the food supplies weren’t yet running out, it was only a matter of time before that would become a very real problem. Some, who were extremely hungry, resorted to eating insects to supplement their intake.

What little scraps of food and meat drippings were left each day, the cooks, servers, and clean up crew, saved for those who had dogs, or in our case, a growing wolf pup. No one could deny the immense benefit of having the loyal, fiercely protective creatures among us. There were relatively few, perhaps six or seven, but already, they had saved the lives of many. When the hunters went out to try to replenish some of our food stores, most often they were accompanied by one or more of the canines. And for some, that had been the difference between life and death.

One early afternoon, I sought out ‘The Enlightened One’. I found him in his private chambers. In the nearly five moon cycles since the barrage of rain began, he had become notably thinner and appeared to have aged more than possible.

“Ayla, I trust you are well, my child?’

“Yes, I am as well as could be expected, Enlightened One. And you?”

He shifted in his worn, woven chair, “Tired, Ayla. I am becoming quite tired. But, given our challenges, I suppose that is to be expected. I have had some recent visions, however, which I have been praying on. It can become taxing. But, enough about myself, how may I help you, Child?”

“I’m quite concerned, truth be told. I…well, it’s about the children. The orphans. It troubles me that they are, in essence, alone. I know they are with each other, and the adults watching over them, but I fear they are in need of more, which they are not receiving.” She answered, tears pooling in her pretty almond-shaped, mocha eyes.

He regarded her with warmth. “And? What do you propose we do?”

“I believe we should ask the inhabitants of Elderwood Keep to consider taking on these children as their own. And, request that siblings be kept together. These precious young ones need love, a family, people who care helping them to get through the loss of their own parents.” she finished, twisting her long, curly, auburn locks and pursing her full lips, as she did when in contemplation. Adding, “Kai and myself, we have spoken on the matter, and are willing to do so. Perhaps, there are others who would be as well?”

Reaching out for her hand, he grasped it gently in his gnarled, boney fingers. “Ah, Ayla. I have always known that you are special. Kai, too.” His eyes now sparkled with intensity, as they appeared to be looking directly into her soul rather than her eyes. “For longer than you could know, I have been in possession of a vision from the Gods concerning you both, as well as the son you shall birth.” He paused, sipping from his cup of ale. Ayla breathed in sharply at hearing his revelation but, remained silent otherwise. “You speak wisely. We shall call for a meeting of the clan after the evening meal.” 

“Thank you, Enlightened One.” and, pleased, she turned to leave. He called out to her and turning back to him, she waited for him to speak further.

“I wish for an audience with your husband and yourself, after the meeting. We’ve much to discuss.”

“Of course.” and with that, she waddled off, curiosity nibbling away at her.

As it turned out, the vast majority of the inhabitants were enthusiastically supportive of the plan. Not only had families accommodated every parentless child but, there too, was a long list of others, ready and willing to step forward if or when the need should arise again. And, as it also turned out, Kai and I were unable to attend the requested meeting with ‘The Enlightened One’.

After a long, difficult labor and delivery, I was sweat-soaked and smiling more than I had in a long while. He was so perfect, our son. He was suckling determinedly at my breast, as we watched on, love and pride blooming in our chests. The mid-wife had gone and left us to bond in privacy. When a knock sounded upon the door, Kai went to answer, expecting the mid-wife had left something behind.

I was surprised when I heard Kai welcoming ‘The Enlightened One’ into our chamber. My husband led him over, and he looked on with intrigue. Finally, he broke his silence.

“I surmised as much,” He smiled, semi-toothlessly, as he took us in. “Have you chosen a name?” Gently placing his finger in our newborn’s tiny palm, he was pleased when the baby grasped it.

My face warmed, “Actually we’ve not…yet. We had expected to have more time to think about what we would name the child, it seems he was anxious to join our world. And what with all of this…strife, I fear we have neglected our duty in that respect.” I couldn’t take my eyes off of our precious son. “Also, we fully intend to take in the two siblings we have committed to, however, with this little surprise, we have asked that Johan and Mira watch after them for a short time.”

“Quite understandable, my dear, Ayla!” He responded animatedly, finger still gripped by those perfect, tiny fingers of our son. "I do not wish to tread where I am unwelcome…but, I, uh…” He cleared his throat. “I would appreciate the privilege if you’d be so kind?” He stated, more than asked. “You see,” he tried, looking to both Kai and myself, “It is tradition, that ‘The Enlightened One’ pass his name unto the one, who shall follow in his path.” A nervous twitch played upon his grinning lips.

I looked to my husband, wondering if I were hearing things that weren’t real. That’s when Kai spoke up. “Do you mean to tell us…I mean…Are you saying what I believe you are? That our son will be the next ‘Enlightened One?” He asked sliding to the floor beside our pallet, surely in shock.

“He is! Remember, Ayla, I spoke to you of how special you all are?” He smiled encouragingly, “Well, this is precisely what I wished to meet with you both about. Now, if I may, I shall bestow my name upon your boy, here.”

Dumbfounded, we both nodded and waited. He pulled a small golden vial from a leather pouch he wore around his neck, and opened it, placing the tiniest drop of a liquid on the tip of a finger. He whispered a prayer, anointed our infant son, and took him into his ancient arms.

“I hereby proclaim you Alden Elijah, Gods' Enlightened One! He has chosen you, Alden, to watch over and take care of our people. I shall mentor you until which time you are fully prepared to take my place.” And, Alden stared into his wizened old eyes, as if he knew, and agreed to, exactly what he was saying to him.

“Kai? Ayla? Aside from the arrival of your precious son, have you noticed anything different?” Glancing at one another, we both looked back, shaking our heads in confusion, still speechless at his proclamation. “Listen carefully. Do you not hear it? The cadence of the rain has slowed. Your son…he is our new hope. The new hope of our Gods. They were dissatisfied, heartbroken, really…with the destruction the inhabitants of our world have created. And, so, the heavens weep. The Gods have found you worthy to bring unto our lands, my successor. The one who will continue to right our wrongs; who shall return us to life as it was intended.” Handing our miracle child back to me, tears of hope and joy rolled uninhibited down all our faces.

When the new day dawned, the rains had ceased, and the sun began to penetrate the ever-decreasing clouds. Our friends brought our two beautiful, adopted children home to us, at my insistence. So blessed were we to have such a lovely family. Once the waters receded, Kai and Johan (with Orf always close-by) went to work constructing a larger, more accomodating chamber for our much larger family.

The remaining inhabitants went to work, once more: preparing the fields for a new crop, hunting, fishing, making essential repairs, as well as many other necessary tasks. It would be a long while before things would even be close to normal for us once again. There were many who still fought for their lives, and it would take time to win the fight. While we were now a fraction of the number we had been, our race had, after all, survived; with a deep, new respect for the lands upon which we so desperately depended all along.

September 25, 2020 06:34

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Asta .
04:59 Oct 01, 2020

This was such a satisfying read! I'm very impressed by the vocabulary and I wish mine were as large. The descriptions were also on point. I think the beginning could have been more engaging by shortening the sentences and giving more context. However, if it's a stylistic preference that's understandable. If you want, check out some of my stories! <3 Sincerely, Asta


Patrece Reed
13:49 Oct 01, 2020

Hello, Asta. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on my short story! i'm really glad that you enjoyed it. I am still hard at work, trying to figure out super engaging (the hook!) first sentences. I actually took a class that suggested beginning with something that offered a positive statement, followed by something that almost negated it, to plant that question of "what the heck?" and make them think, "I need to know more now!" So, this was my attempt at that. I wasn't sure how successful it was, so thank you for your feedback on ...


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