A solitary child searches through the sand, looking for food. The hot sun blazes down upon her back as she crawls about on hands and knees, trying to find stray plants or animals. Shielding her eyes with a small brown hand she squints up at the green toned sky.
It’s just after sun rise, but She knows that she can’t stay outside for much longer, no more than ten minutes as it will be far too hot to remain in direct sunlight.
Today is a special day, it is the Storyteller’s birthday, and given her age every birthday is greatly honoured. Each year on this exact date, the preteen girl ventures out to hunt for special food for a gift for the Storyteller. On the night of her birthday, the storyteller would always tell her most important tale- ‘how the world had ended’.
But this year, there isn’t any food to be found, it is becoming far more scarce. Over the six years that she has been old enough to go gathering, she has found less food than she did the previous year.
Before long, Anga gives up searching, standing up straight to stretch her stiff slight frame. Feeling the sun’s scorching rays beat down upon her head and shoulders, she lets her dirty blonde hair fall into her eyes to shield her face.
The temperature continues to climb. The child starts making her way back home to where a small group of twenty people live together beneath a ruin. Wending her way through scorching stone and sand, trying to locate a former main road. To her left stand the tall towers which had belonged to a long dead city. They rise up like giant jagged teeth to meet the ill appearing sky. The original purpose of these crumbling towers has been all but forgotten.
The bitumen on the road burns the soles of Anga’s feet. She can’t run back to safety because she doesn’t wish to collapse from exhaustion. It is too hot to run, and the air is contaminated. The Storyteller had told them that the air had been poisoned long ago making it thick and yellow, burning your lungs when you breathed heavily. The child glances up through her tangled hair at the cloudless sky. She remembers one of the stories she’d heard, about when the sky had been blue, the sun wouldn’t burn you if you were out in it for longer than ten minutes, and that you could safely go outside at any time of the day.
Anga thinks about night, that you can’t see the moon for the smog, except as a pale, yellow shape. Apparently, the moon had been white, clear and visible once. Sometimes it would shine so brightly that the night time would be as clear as the day. She stops, closing her eyes trying to imagine what that would feel like, but Anga can’t create an image of a world she has never seen before. The sun burns her bare shoulders, and the toxic air stabs at her chest as she keeps on walking. She is lost in her thoughts, dreaming of that alien world. Her hair obscuring her vision, she steps on a hot stone. Slipping, she scrapes her hands and knees on the scorching road.
Anga cries out in pain when she sees her blood and skin lying on the ground. Wincing, she stands, then picks up the pace, paying more attention to her surroundings. Finally, she makes it home, just as the sun is becoming unbearable and her skin is starting to redden. Her knees and palms sting, so she doesn’t look forward to crawling down the main entrance hole.
As she kneels down to crawl inside, she notices something gleaming out of the corner of her eye. Anga turns to investigate, discovering a small, smooth, purple coloured stone resting atop the sand. Picking it up, she toys with it in curiosity. Anga has never seen anything like it before, and wonders what it is doing beside the entrance. It will make a good gift, she thinks, doubting that the Storyteller has ever received anything quite like this in the 45 years she’s been alive. Once again the youngster marvels at how somebody could live that long. Aside from the Storyteller, she didn’t know anybody who had lived past thirty. Anga crawls into the cool, dark hole and begins to descend. The ambient temperature of the stone is soothing against her burnt skin, but the friction caused by crawling further abrades her grazes. Eventually she reaches the bottom.
Everyone in the collective is going about their business as usual; preparing what little food they have, collecting the small amount of water that runs off the walls, stitching discarded cloths into clothing, and making tools for hunting and gathering.
Anga sees the Storyteller sitting on her old rickety wooden stool, and approaches her. Inclining her head she says, “Storyteller… I have a gift for you,” and holds out the stone.
“Thankyou Anga,” replies the elder, as she takes the rock from her hand. She examines it thoughtfully. “It reminds me of amethyst, a precious stone that was used in jewellery.”.
The older woman smiles down at the young girl, who is looking up into her lined face. The elder’s skin is hard like old leather from years under the unforgiving sun. Her hair has gone grey from decades of stress. Her eyes are a sad, pale blue. It is said that she was there when the world ended, and that she had lived in this place when it was a city. Apparently, her name was Maggie, but nobody called her that now, only Storyteller.
Anga smiles back, saying, “I’m glad you like it! Have a happy birthday.”
“You should get someone to take a look at your grazes.”
Anga nods before taking her leave.
Anga goes over to her mother and shows her the grazes. Her mother applies a small amount of aloe sap to the affected areas. The soothing plant still grows in some places and can be found if you know where to look. With her abrasions treated, Anga continues her daily chores, helping her mother make clothing and food. She takes every available opportunity to play games with the other children, but there is scant time for recreation.
At last, it is dusk and the people venture out to search for food and water. It is cool and quite pleasant, but this will only last for an hour. After sunset it is way too cold to be out in the open. The foraging parties returned nigh on empty handed, with everyone feeling the familiar sense of foreboding and despair. They are running out of resources, and will probably have to move soon. Finding somewhere suitable to live is becoming much more difficult, making moving elsewhere just about impossible.
Since today was a special day, one for celebration and entertainment, everyone put their negative thoughts aside, as they went in for dinner. Following their meagre meal, the small community huddles together around the little banked up fire. Anga sits in front of her mother, warm in her mother’s embrace, watching on as the chronicler rises and stands upon her stool.
She wears a cloak made of many different cloths, to signify her importance and age. Her matted grey hair is tied back with a strip of leather. The dim flickering light from the fire makes the wise woman appear even older than usual. Anga thinks she looks like she is not quite of this world.
A hush falls over the crowd. After a pause the Storyteller takes a deep breath of smoky air and says, “there was a time when this land was very different, instead of being a scorched sandy brown plain it was a vibrant lush city named Perth. My parents lived here, and for a short time, so did I.” Pausing she looks away appearing sad, then continues. “The towers in the distance were buildings, where people worked. The roads were made of bitumen and we used machines called cars to travel on them. There were lots of plants and animals….and people, so many people, more than you could imagine lived here. The dried up river bed where you go to collect shells was the Swan River. The river was full of clear fresh water and fish, it was so beautiful.”
She sighs sadly, “it sounds like paradise, I know… and when I think back to it, that’s how it seemed. But, it was the really large cities that made the environment sick. Poisonous chemicals were pumped into the air by machinery, cars and factories. Cars were powered by fuel- chemicals that were mined from the earth. Plants and waterways were destroyed to make room for roads and buildings, leaving fewer places for the animals to live. Some people knew that it was wrong, and tried to stop the degradation. But they found it very difficult because back then the population was under the control of governments and corporations, that refused to stop destroying the environment. Everything around us was slowly dying off. As time went by it became increasingly difficult to grow food due to rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall.. This was called global warming. Scientists engineered hazardous plants, which only grew for one generation, and made anyone who ate them ill. As I was born around the end times, I was too young to really understand what was happening. My parents didn’t teach me about global warming, nor did they think about it themselves. We were like so many people at that time.”
“The chemicals for fuelling cars ran out, and so did money. Money was used to purchase goods and services, making it highly valued at the time. This happened everywhere around the world. The world was divided into countries, ours is Australia. Some countries were more severely affected than others. The people living in the worst affected areas started to leave, seeking new land with more resources. But this caused conflicts and wars as there wasn’t enough unaffected land or resources to support everyone. This resulted in a great worldwide war over food, water, and habitats. In desperation, some countries resorted to using a deadly weapon- the nuclear bomb, which obliterated everything in its path, and caused radiation poisoning in people. This bomb wiped out food, water, and buildings faster than anything else ever had before including global warming. In the end, the very thing that was being fought over was obliterated. The corporations stopped getting money, and seemed to disappear. The cities died, the governments dissolved, and the world as we knew it ceased to exist.”
The narrator takes a small sip of water before continuing. “But, it was our fault, we, made the world ill and didn’t try hard enough to stop it. Unfortunately, Those who did try were in the minority. Most of us didn’t want to think about the consequences of our way of life, and so in the end it killed us and everything around us. We are responsible for the death of our planet, so it is a fitting punishment that we are nearly extinct. Therefore, should you ever have a civilisation that is like mine was, ensure that you learn the lessons of the past, and do not repeat the mistakes of your ancestors. You do not have dominance over nature, so do not abuse it for your own benefit. Instead, make sure that you look after it and it will look after you.” Looking pointedly at Anga the sage says, “I was your age when the world ended. Always remember that you are never too young to learn this most important lesson. That is my story.”
The commune’s elder takes her seat, and drinks from her earthenware cup. Her audience sit in silence, thinking about the story, which they’ve heard many times before. They always thought it was mystical. But, they didn’t grasp its implications, or the fact that it was a tale of truth. Instead, they enjoyed it because it distracted them from their own predicament, as was the fabulist’s role.
As other people began to think about various things they forgot the point of the story, but Anga couldn’t. Never before had the Storyteller looked directly at a single audience member during her narrations, nor had she referred to a particular individual. Anga couldn’t figure out why she had done so this time, it was unsettling. Anga thinks about it as she watches the raconteur from across the room, through the flickering flames of the fire. Anga thinks that she looks sadder than ever before. In that moment Anga realises that she is just an old woman, and not a mystical being after all. For the first time Anga thinks of her as ‘Maggie’.
When Anga goes to bed she is still pondering the story’s ending. As she crawls in beside her parents she tries to conjure up an image of that long dead world, of the unbroken towers, the river flowing with water, birds in the sky, and the ground covered with green plants. Trying hard to imagine air so clean that you can see the sun and moon through it. As she falls asleep, and starts to dream, she sees it!
Despite the dream lingering in the pre teen’s memory, it never does return to her in her sleep. Every night as she goes to sleep, Anga tries to see the long ago world that is in her mind, but, she never can conjure up those images.
Anga’s life continues in monotony. At both dawn and dusk, she gleans food and searches for water. During the day, along with her mother and the other women she makes clothes and baskets. At night, she joins the other residents as they congregate around the communal fire to listen to the Storyteller’s many accounts of the past.
Two years go by with minimal change, except that everyone grows a little older and a little weaker. Food and water become scarcer, forcing the gatherers to search further afield. More often than not they return empty handed.
As Anga grows older, she ventures further out with the gathering parties because she has become quite proficient at locating water. She always seems to know, ‘feel’ where to look.
On the evening of the Storyteller’s 47th birthday, Anga is helping her mother forage for food. It is getting cold, so they’ll have to stop their search soon, even though their baskets are empty. Her mother stands and stretches her back. “Come on Anga, time to go home.”
Without warning, out of nowhere comes a deep rumbling sound like thunder, but there isn’t any lightning in the sky. The ground begins to tremble beneath their feet, and great plumes of dust rise into the air.
“What’s happening?” Anga’s mother cries out in terror.
“I don’t know,” Anga shouts back, peering towards their residence. She stares in horror as slabs of cement and earth begin to fall from the ruined building above the settlement. Without thinking, the teenager runs towards the devastation, frantically shouting for her fellow settlers to get out. She hears her mother screaming her name, telling her to come back, but she ignores her pleas. Anga tries to reach the colony’s entrance, but the ground keeps moving in violent undulations. The Earth is like an angry animal, trying to flick her off its back. Anga tumbles Earthward, and watches on in helpless despair as the building collapses, obliterating her home. A massive dust haze continues to obscure her vision even after the ground finally ceases to quake.
Anga gets to her feet and starts running, hoping to discover anyone who had somehow managed to survive. To her amazement, a group of people led by the Storyteller emerges from the billowing dust cloud. With a surge of relief, she sees her father amongst them. He is helping an older man who has been injured. Anga hurries to embrace her Father. “What happened?” she asks in a frenzy.
“We don’t know, suddenly the ground started shaking and everything around us began tumbling down. I’m so glad that you are alive! But where is your Mother?”
“She’s fine, she’s with the foraging party.” Anga replies reassuringly as she helps him to support the injured man.
The gatherers reunite with the group of injured and shocked survivors. Some greet their loved ones with relief, whilst others despair when they realise that the person they seek isn’t there.
“What will we do now?” asks Anga’s Mother as she stands with her arms wrapt protectively around her only child.
Their leader speaks with certainty, “We must leave as it’s no longer safe for us to live here.”
Murmurs of shock ripple through the diminished community.
“LEAVE!!! But where will we go? There is nowhere to go,” demands a young man in shock.
“But we will burn in the sun and choke in the air,” adds a small woman in panic.
“Please be calm everyone,” their elder raises her voice above theirs. “I know that you are afraid, but panicking will not help us. We need to make a plan. What happened here was an earthquake. They often reoccur so we cannot remain here. But, do not fear, for I know this area well, and will lead us to somewhere safe, just as I did from the falling building.”
The crowd’s initial uproar subsides, but their expressions remained concerned and anxious. Anga can see they are afraid and starting to doubt the Storyteller’s judgement.
“What about survivors?” Anga’s Father questions, “shouldn’t we see if there is anyone still alive?”
The Storyteller nods, “yes, we’ll search the rubble as carefully as we can for any survivors. We will need to collect as much food and water as we can carry. Also, we must find anything that will provide us with shelter during our journey.”
The refugees turn despondently towards their fallen home.