As she walks through the maelstrom, the words trace upon the tips of her fingers and press into the stone. Every brick, every crack in the concrete, every crossed and angular stroke in reds and blacks and oranges. The drips of the gasoline pool around the base of her boots, slosh as she steps over the burst pipes and the rubble.
So much rubble. So little outcry. The silence of the city grates on her eardrums and the mantras she'd been forced to memorize. The Seers demanded they observe thirteen years of recitation before they attempt to weave their first World together.
But who other than the Seers can claim the incantations that knot the skeins they twist and pull on like reins hold fast? When have any of the Sisters recorded the visions they traced upon space-time and recited them, left them open for critique and discussion and debate?
Which is why she walks through the chalky soot of the smashed city around her. This alleyway stretches on another six blocks, ending with the stocky bunker of a skyscraper, guts of electrical wires and piping and shattered glass piled around it. Shards of a rippling ocean as they pound away at gnarled shorelines.
One always possesses a purpose before destroying a World. So the Mantras said. Those Fundamentals were always recited by the Mistress of Oracles personally. Undoing or Annulling a world is acceptable as it leaves no trace. This way, no inhabitant truly understands their doom. They simply aren't, and the purposes of the Sister or Seer are redoubled upon correcting the original error. It is a clinical deletion.
She stands in the alley to trace her fingers upon the splintered brick and question this.
A brutal and imperfect cracking--a Calamity, say, or an almighty Destruction--of culture gives it the opportunity to buckle in on itself and actualize a cathartic ending. To imagine further sunsets and acknowledge that those days are numbered. What words capture this realization, etched onto alley walls with paint or oil or water? What icons and illustrations adorn the subway tunnels and apartment drywall and burn themselves into the grasses of the parks?
Can such a crucible pound diamond out of worthless ash?
Greasy winds tug at her unfettered black locks, sting unprotected eyes. Her simple white shift is torn at the knees and the waist from the barbed wire. Scars ripple across her hips. Trivial. Pain is the first of the universe's petty obstacles, and the elementary lesson drilled into the Sisters by lowly Visionaries missing sight and sanity.
She halts at the alley's corner, kneels where the gargantuan highways of the outer suburbs adhere to the rigid grids of the city's centre. Adopt their order. Lie, fundamentally cracked, fine edges buried in humble dust from the rooftops and skies above.
Shining between the cracks are the green nub-leaves of mature kun. Her own incubator is nearly empty. Holding her breath, she wraps tough fingers around the edges, tugs hard, and breaks the Seer's Herb from the cold asphalt. Shards of encrusted tar tumble away and send scurrying echoes chasing down silent and (finally) serene streets.
The Seer's Herb is an intoxicant, overriding the intimidation of grandiosity. Mortals do have their limits before vastness sets their synapses afire. Seers required the Herb to expand their horizons; to be immolated in the heat of a thousand suns and manipulate the electrons within to defuse a hundred supernovas, a dozen singularities, and still the trembling hearts of a million doomed civilizations.
If she doesn't inhale it, the casualties will overwhelm her.
This is her experiment. Hers.
Fourteen hundred twenty six cities, eighteen thousand towns, villages, or settlements. Approximate population four point six billion intelligent life forms living on a sphere-plane with gravity equal to Alpha Minus One gradient--
Statistics dissipate. And yet an odd aftertaste persists.
She bunches her fingers into an improvised scoop and drives it into the soil, ignoring broken nails and flensed skin. Again. Again. The seed pods are anchored deep underneath, and only respond to those who've built up a tolerance to the chemicals as a result of repeated use.
Dusk begins to fall as she slips through the alleys, rising to fire escapes and rooftops for hours to avoid the worst outpourings of sludge and radiation; spilled industrial solvents and infernos guaranteed to smoulder for decades if left unattended.
Her laboratory is arrayed across the rooftop of an apartment dwelling sixty-three stories high. There is no power--she climbs every rung, savouring in the simplicity of her ego's suppression and the climb. Sinews and joints. No need for internal experimentation.
Beakers of smoke and basins carved from planet's cores and solidified enlightenment await her. She drops the seeds into a knee-high pile and sits cross-legged in front of the shimmering silver work-basin. Grasps at a morass of improvised scrolls and unfurls them, one by one.
Scribbled across them are icons, painstakingly retraced over the source of several weeks. Most are rubbed in soot or diesel. Many are spiky and linear: pointed edges and blocky centres, with no steady line or grammar. They spell out gang-chants, curses against gods and fellow creatures, primitive declarations (Hag's Pass: Enter and Suffer).
She traces them inside the broth as best she can, being sure to drop the seeds one at a time. Patience. Wind nips at her neck.
Others are rounder and circular, nullified and elaborate. They aren't benevolent or enlightened, but they are refined and purposeful by comparison. Grammar exists in slight flicks of the brush or pen, and exists in a simplified form for survivors braving the wastes (Seek Food Under The Second Panel: Fortune Be Praised). Arguments are splayed across tramway walls, counter-responses barely drying before rebuking artists make hasty additions (On Cleansing The Seven Perspectives Skyscraper for Additional Housing)
All of this she holds inside an indefinite and many-layered mind. The Seer's Herb responds to strong mental impulses. And a Sister under the influence manipulates electrons and protons to frighteningly precise ends. She is no different, rebellious and flawed as she may be.
There are many cultures that thrive inside the holocaust of this world. Many are hungry. Most are deranged. But those who hoard food and shelter and silence are finding themselves in a position to while away harsh days in thought. And from thought spawns contemplation. Order.
And those who find serenity in concrete ruins are touched by a hot crucible indeed.
This is what she intends. A crucible.
The kun weed simmers gently as the molten edge of the double-sun dips beneath the horizon.
They are ragged and cold. Hungry. She slips behind the column and watches the eldest light fires from paint thinner and the dirtiest remains of their clothes.
Rocks and knives are hefted in the moon's-light. The tribe yells in a dozen tongues. Stay back. Spare us. Why? Then they remember the simple white shift and sink to their knees.
She lays her gifts across the wrecked lobby floor. A satchel of bread. A plain leather sack. And three steaming kun seeds. Rising to her full height, she locks eyes with a shy slip of a girl standing behind her mother. Nods and beckons. She's been watching this girl. She has potential. And if this had been a sanctioned Culling, there would have been Seers wailing and keening to this initiate to grip skeins ever-within her grasp.
Instead, she crouches on the green tiles and waited.
The girl approaches. Stops three paces away.
"Do you know what this is?"
The girl shakes her head.
"It is the Seer's Herb and the essence of this place. I used it to destroy your world. And now I will teach to you its creation."
"So that there can never be erasure without consequences."
Inspired by this: www.designboom.com/art/chiu-ch… by artist Chiu Chih. My lovely girlfriend sent this my way, knowing my love for destroyed landscapes all too well. I didn't know that it was a survival kit until after finishing, so this piece and the art don't quite add up. I haven't written any decent short, unplanned fiction since "Washed Out." This is a stab made almost a year later.
Man, this is incredible. I could read a novel in this vein, learning more about the Seers and their worldbuilding, but it works wonderfully as a short story as well, just a glimpse of a cold, ruined universe, only a few of its mysteries and mechanisms revealed. It leaves you unsettled, and that's how I like my short stories. I like the theme of 'there can never be erasure without consequences' and the idea of people hanging on and surviving even in a place that's so obviously meant for doom. Really, really good story-telling.
Thank you! I do have some of the mechanics of this universe plotted out, so maybe I will end up doing a novel- once I finish the other two currently on the go...
Wow... what can I say? I've always loved post-Apocalyptic works, but this cuts the mustard. You have turned a very commonly used idea into a unique and brilliant piece; I love the idea of the 'Seers' and the way you've adapted the artwork into this short story. It is deep and powerful and the description is so perfect and I love the extended metaphor of the world as her crucible and the short, sharp dialogue at the end and just everything, really.
Thanks! Again, I can really only thank the artist for her work and my girlfriend for bringing it to my attention. Very honored that you like the piece.
Lovely! Beautiful, startling imagery, something I hope to master one day myself. Congratulations also on being featured in WritersInk's weekly roundup. It's well-deserved.
Oh I like this....I like this one a lot. You've done an excellent job creating the world and painting the whole picture, and as I read, I had every moment playing out like a movie. Hell, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of this
Thanks very much! I don't have any sequels in the works, but I did end up piecing together a series of universe mechanics (physics of magic/planar travel would be the best definition) a year ago. They fit somewhat with this piece. *shrugs* Might not be a bad idea...
Holy. Crap. I read this in my APUSH class and it have me chills. Really awesome story. I'll probably read this like ten times before the end of the day. Lol.
This gave me chills, speciallly the last dialogue!
Thank you! I suggest checking out Chiu Chih's artwork as well if you're up for post-apocalyptic vistas. Inspiring stuff.
Thanks for the rec, any links to his/her gallery?
She doesn't appear to have a gallery on dA--my girlfriend found the picture on Design Boom (i.e. the link under the story), but her post-apocalyptic project can be found all over the place. As for a gallery, a cursory search isn't turning up anything. If I do find something, I'll be sure to pass it on.
Goddammit man, you're starting to intimidate me with your skill.
And you have almost mastered the art of immersing us within the story and allowing the reader to discover the context on their own, leaving crumbs familiar to scifi readers and more mainstream fans alike.
The ONE criticism I have is that there is a balance that must be struck. While you are VERY good at the mysterious, gripping technique of leading the reader to eventual understanding, you MAY need to insert a pinch of more familiar sights here or there, more obvious crumbs, or you may end up leading the reader to an incomplete vision.
I love this, man. You are getting PRETTY GOOD.
I might have to draw some of this stuff soon.
Wow, thanks! And the criticism is welcome--I've been trying to work on that myself, for this and other stories I'm currently drafting. Cheers!
GAH! I've told you on skype but I'll say it here. I love this one!