Short Story, “No One Would Know”
I wrote this short story about 10 years ago for an ecology science fiction competition. I didn’t make it in but I quite liked the idea of an ecology based society growing from the ashes of an industrial society. I may explore that again in the future.
An orange sun shines softly on the closing day. The warm summer breeze whistles lost songs of this world for whoever wants to listen. A middle-aged man wanders around piles of garbage, holding his young son’s hand. As they walk, they look silently at old washing machines, broken wooden chairs, grimy sinks and damaged cupboards. In front of them, ashes cover the burnt ground. A few book covers have survived and some good words here and there found their way out between the flames. Nothing is eternal, not even thoughts. A bit further on, there’s a heap of fast-food packaging, used and unused, piling up like a monument, scraps of fallen empires. Spread in front of it is a large collection of broken television sets. Somehow, along the way, these objects became what they used to broadcast: junk for broken souls. Funnily enough, it is the only place where a few plants can be found, growing out of adversity. Some say that not everything on television should have been thrown away, even nature recognises its potential. Once past the TV field, obsolete computers and electronics appear like a mountain. At its base, on the narrow path, a pocket lamp lies on the ground. The man stops, intrigued, picks up the lamp and manipulates it, trying to get something out of it, his son watching him closely. Suddenly, a weak light shines out of the old lamp, provoking a satisfied exclamation from the man: “Ah! It seems that we will go home with some light tonight! Not that we really need it but it is a good sign, my son.” His face is illuminated and he smiles broadly to his excited son. Treasures like these are quite rare.
He hands the lamp to his son, telling him to use it wisely, and keeps on walking. It takes quite a while to go around the electronics’ mountain and the sun has started fading by the time they get to the ocean of food waste. The little boy always finds this amazing. In front of him, as far as he can see, lies the detritus of many generations. It is constantly moving; some say there is water under it. In the background, the sun is half-submerged in the debris
ocean. Around it, and above the two souls’ heads, stars as big as a grown man’s fist are shining already. The sky is orange near the sun, and fades to deep blue, going through pink, green and a little bit of yellow/brownish colour. The man and his son seat themselves on a convenient small pile of cut trees to watch the sunset and the rising stars. It is the safest place to sit and the least uncomfortable. The man’s face wears a very kind look, and has very few wrinkles—just a couple around his mouth. He has no hair on his head or on his face, no eyebrows or eyelashes around his big blue eyes. His son is just as hairless and his eyes are deep green. There is constant amazement in his glance and life in his behaviour.
They both stay silent as the sun goes down. The sky changes from orange to light-pink and heavier green. Stars, thousands of them, all as big as the first ones, shine in the night sky. The light is soft and bearable but there hasn’t been real night for as long as humans can remember. Forests, lakes and deserts are ‘fantasy’ and nyctophobia is a myth.
“Is it true that humans used to move around earth to see other places?” asks the child. “Yes it is, my dear son,” his father answers kindly.
“But it is everywhere the same though.”
“My father once told me that his grandfather told him a story from his own grand-
father. People used to do something called travel,” articulates the man, evoking an ‘oooooh’ of admiration for the new word, out of his son’s mouth, “and people would go to see what they called landscapes made of trees or hot sand, and even water, standing there in the mountains or in the middle of nowhere. I have heard a lot about it but I can’t really picture it.” The man is now wandering, his mind and his eyes staring at the stars.
His son watches him and dares to ask, “And the stars, where do they come from?”
“The stars? Ha! Another legend! An interesting one though. I heard that a long time ago, humans used to live in big cities. They had many babies and the population grew very fast, so fast that they had problems sustaining themselves. They were careless with Earth and
kept destroying everything to serve their own purpose. They made the air harder to breathe, the food harder to digest and they made this place harder to live in. There were several billions of people living on Earth!”
“Ouuuuaaaaaaah! So many!”
“Yes, a lot indeed. But one day, as everyone was on their way to work or just living their lives, big lights came out of the ground, all over the world. Everyone stopped to watch the amazing spectacle. Millions of lights emerged from the earth, all around the globe. It was astonishing and sad at the same time.”
“Humans and Earth have always been connected you know, even before that happened.
They just forgot about it; they kept on living their foolish lives, running after unnecessary things but the link was still there. And that day they knew; they felt it.”
“What did they feel?”
“Well, they felt that Earth’s soul was leaving. It was hurt and needed some rest. It had been suffering for too long. The bond was broken. From that moment on, humans entered a very dark age of self destruction. All of them felt that something was missing inside them and very few could bear it. Population dramatically fell until only a few of us survived despite what had happened. Therefore, it seems that everything led to what we are now.”
“So, the stars are Earth’s soul?”
“Exactly, they are waiting out there for the right moment to return.”
“But when will that be, Dad?” asks the young boy full of hope.
“I don’t really know…” sighs the man. “Maybe when humans have all gone and Earth
has been able to recover. It will take a very long time but Earth has all the time in the world. Humans do not. I wish that I could see it; I’d like to know what is behind those big lights.”
The blue-eyed man becomes silent again, lost in his thoughts. But the boy still isn’t satisfied: “Dad?”
“Yes, my boy?” the man answers kindly, staring at the sky.
“I don’t want humans to disappear. I want to live!”
“And you will!” The man is now watching the little boy with great interest. “Life is
there for you. It might not be what you expect or what you’d like it to be, but you have to respect it and enjoy it as much as your heart can bear. We have no other destiny; all we have
to do is to be. We don’t need to pretend, we justare alive. Never let your mind be your prison, live and be happy to be alive. We won’t see the end of humanity but when it happens, I am sure that it will be a bunch of old guys, sitting just the way we are sitting now and they will be grateful for the chance to be there, at the end of all things. They will just look at the sky, at earth’s soul. They will apologize for what has been done and then close their eyes. At the beginning of humanity, no one knew what was ahead; at the end of it, people will just say goodbye. The hardest time to live is in the middle of humanity’s history because you still
don’t know what’s ahead and it’s not yet time to say goodbye.”
The man takes a deep breath after such an explanation and gives his son time to digest his words before carrying on. “Humans have made mistakes, every human does. That is what makes us what we are—not our ability to think but our capacity to make mistakes and how we deal with them. Do not be sad for humanity my beautiful boy, it had its run and now it is just time for another story to start.”
It is the little boy’s turn to be lost in his thoughts, not staring at the stars, but watching the ocean of waste, silently moving in the night, waves of garbage and human’s darkest history. He finally looks at his father and says, from the bottom of his heart, “We could have done a better job though…”
His dad bursts into laughter. “Yes, you’re right, we could have. Come on, let’s go home, your mum is going to be worried soon.”
They both get up and start heading for home. The boy tries to brighten up his pocket lamp but the light has died. As they walk away from the ocean, he asks his father, “Dad, what would happen if humans never disappear? If they don’t know what’s ahead again, what will they do?”
“Well I am not sure, but hopefully, if they don’t know what to do, they will at least remember what not to do.”
“Hmmmm! Maybe they should look at the stars more often.”