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Fantasy Speculative Science Fiction

According to Gregory, the land would one day turn a different colour, as green as the tiles in the citrus store, as red as the ochre pots. Looking out at the relentless white of the land, it was impossible to believe those stories.

And then the rain started.

We hid in our houses for the first few days until it became unbearable, and then we moved our goats and our belongings and ourselves up to the atoll. For as far back as memory, we had gone up to the atoll to gather food and water. But now the whole village gathered there to shelter, families sleeping in storerooms while water poured from the sky and destroyed the white earth.

I stood at the stone doorway, watching the calamity below us, while the others slept.

“Will it ever stop?” Morgan asked, as he came to stand beside me. He slipped his hand into mine and I squeezed it, but said nothing. “Gregory says…” he began, but then trailed off, knowing how much I hate the tales of Gregory.

Our days took on a new rhythm as we settled into life on the atoll. Annalise, the head store warden, led teams to rearrange the stocks. For years we had known the food was dwindling, but to see all we had left in one room, it looked very meagre indeed. Pottery jars full of picked vegetables, carp, anchovies; salted meats that had to be soaked for three days before we could put it in a stew; rolls of flat dried fruit. Just a few shelves left, enough to last a year or two, if we were very careful. And we were always careful.

“At least we have plenty of water,” Analise joked.

Benny set up a new school in the room that used to house beets, and the children made faces at the smell. They used some newly discovered tubs of paint to make everything inside bright and agreeable. Even the goats found a new home, settling into the last of the hay, and we dried their dung by the fires to use later.

After a few days, all the ice had melted from the top of the Great Dam, and we climbed up to see it for ourselves.

“It was said by Gregory, and so it is,” said Elias. He was the strongest man in the village, and he pulled aside the stone seals that kept the Great Dam secure. We lay on our bellies and peered in; it was an enormous cavern, built hundreds of years ago by our ancestors. We had always drawn our water from taps at its base; I had never thought what it looked like on the inside.

“Now is the great replenishment,” Elias said, and we watched the water collect in channels and rivulets and pour into the chamber. 

Back at the atoll, we sat around the evening fires and dried our clothes. Our woollens were no match for this rain. They hung like dead oxen around the central cavern, drip drip dripping onto the stone floor, until Annalise bundled them up in a fury of curses and took them elsewhere. The other villagers sat quietly while Elias described the inside of the Great Dam, its staggering columns, the vast green liquid lake at its core.

Morgan was sitting by me and I leaned my head on his shoulder, listening to the powerful voice of Elias.

“And as we watched, the water from the sky rushed in from a thousand different directions, filling up the Great Dam for future generations. When it is full, we will return and cover it up again to keep it safe. Just as Gregory said.”

I heard the awe in his voice and I felt it reflected in my own heart. Because if this were true, then maybe all of Gregory’s stories were true.

During the days, we sewed new clothing made from our undergarments and rubbed them all over with wax. I wasn’t convinced it would work, but Morgan and I put on the thin suits and stood in the rain, several villagers crowded at the entranceway watching us with smiles.

“You look ridiculous!” Morgan said to me. I laughed. We were outside - outside! - in our undergarments.

“And what about you!” I said. 

We turned our faces up to the sky, to the inexorable rain, and drank it in. The wax on our clothes kept us dry for a few minutes, but soon the water found its way into the gaps. I wanted to strip off, to feel it wash over me, to feel cleansed. I looked at Morgan and I knew he was thinking the same thing. He pulled me to him and kissed me, his body so close. Without all his coats on, he was smaller and firmer. He smelled of earth and sky. He was warm. I was warm.

It wasn’t cold anymore. What was the world if it wasn’t cold?

For many weeks, the rain continued. Below us, rivers raged as the ice that had always been our home broke up and melted away. Morgan and I went out to see what had become of our village. We wore broad brimmed hats to keep the rain off our faces, coated with wax and some resin. Each day, someone came up with a new way to keep out the rain. We walked forward slowly with long sticks, poking the soft swirling ground in front of us. It was melting before our eyes.

“What will be left?” Morgan said. We had come to a place where rivers merged into a giant swell, too dangerous to go any further. The place where our village had been. 

We knew it hadn’t survived. But to see the place where we had been born and lived our lives, where we had gone to school, where we had fallen in love, the place we assumed we would go on living, and loving in - to see it obliterated… 

“Will the world be washed away to nothing? Where do we go if it all disappears?”

I think I wept. I couldn’t tell anymore what was water and what was me.

“Gregory says,” I found myself saying, and then paused. I took a breath. “Gregory says that under the white earth is black earth. It is from the black earth that our food comes. We must protect the earth - it will be fresh and new like a baby, but it will provide for us.”

“Amen,” Morgan said.

I didn’t count the days, but some children were writing a tally up by the entranceway. On the 37th day, the sound of the rain on the stone roof changed; it seemed lighter. The following day it was lighter still, and the next day it had eased so much that even the most hesitant of the villagers came to stand on the edge of the atoll, shielding their faces with saucepan lids to look out at the destruction. By the 40th day, the rain had stopped completely. That afternoon, the clouds broke and we saw the sky for the first time in weeks. I thought it might be a different colour, but it was as blue as ever. The sun was already low, but its rays did not bounce off the startling white of the land and blind us, as it used to. All of the white was gone. Not a morsel of ice remained. Even I, who had been outside in the rain several times, even I was surprised. In every direction there was the black of the new earth, and rivers and lakes of green and blue.

“What does Gregory say now?” an old woman asked. She shifted her gaze from the obliterated landscape to me. “Gregory, what happens now?”

I looked at my fellow villagers standing on the atoll. For years, I had been telling them the stories, as countless Gregorys before me had done. I had told them that one day a great rain would come, and that we would need to retreat up to the atoll. And the rains really had come. A new season had begun - 100 years of spring. I had new stories to tell them.

“Gregory says that the waters will soon disperse and the earth will be covered in small green things,” I said. “Those are the plants that we eat, but they will be fresh, not kept in jars. We must protect the earth and help the plants to grow. We will need to learn to make new jars of food, keep the Great Dam clean and full. We need to remind our children and our children’s children. Because in three centuries, the ice will return, and the Winter People will need to eat.”

“But we are the Winter People,” the old woman said.

“No,” I said. “We are now the Spring People. We have much work ahead of us. But we must also enjoy the earth and the warmth and the breeze. Walk outside without coats. Run and play. Eat fresh food. Smell the flowers.”

“What are flowers, o Gregory?” said Morgan.

I looked at him, took his hand and smiled. “You will see,” I said. “I will show you.”

September 22, 2021 08:56

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1 comment

Jessica Robbins
22:56 Sep 29, 2021

very good!

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