Updated: Mar 22, 2022
The sinkhole must have formed since I was here yesterday. Slowing my breath to listen, I won’t enter until I’m sure there are no rats. Though Opal insists they’re blind, my experience suggests otherwise. They go crazy at any sort of light, sunlight or fire. It could be the heat or the crackling sound of whatever it burns, either way they’re nasty creatures. Always in hordes of twenty or more and vicious—I’d rather not deal with rats today.
There’s no sound, not even a distant tinkle of water nor a scrimmage of any animals. Perhaps all living beings were warned away by the collapse of the ground and only I have the courage to explore it. It is my duty to serve Opal, so I have no choice.
I thrust my torch into the opening and see wires and steel, papers and the pink stuff that often falls out of the walls of old structures. Opal says this place used to be a city, but now it’s a grassy field that sometimes gives way into the past that lies underneath.
Testing the solidity of the ground, I place my foot into the opening and push. It doesn’t feel soft, so I slowly shift my weight from my back foot to my front. Something gives under me and then I’m uncontrollably sliding down deeper into the hole. My arms go flailing automatically, one trying to catch onto anything and the other wildly waving the flame. I fall into a pile of rubble, scraping one arm and twisting my ankle. I jump up to pick up the torch but there is already a fire. I stomp it out, wincing with each bang as the pain extends up my leg.
Once it’s out, I wait to see if anyone or anything responds. Other than the odor of burnt rubber, it’s the same musty smell as everything else I’ve found in this field. This one I can tell used to be an office building, judging by the glass walls, desks, and excess of plastic contraptions. It’s hard for me to imagine what they used all this plastic for and in such amounts. None of it is useful to us today, even to Opal.
I catch a glimpse of something ahead of me and my heart races. I instinctively point my gun. But then I recognize the bright red mess surrounding a thin white face—my reflection, not another scavenger. I bend over and breathe deep to calm myself. Killing anyone is supposed to be an automatic sentence of death, no matter the circumstances. But none of them come across what I do out here and sometimes it’s my only choice. The secrets I have to keep.
I stand back up and see my reflection again. It reminds me why I’m given these jobs, the least honored, because I’m the only red headed one in my group. It’s baffling that from all the natural colors that cover their heads, I came out from my mother as bright as the Hating Sun. Sometimes I think my people are still trying to decide if it means that the Trees hate or worship me. I, personally, have a hard time believing the Trees choose anything. They just stand there, swaying in the wind, massive, tall living beings that probably care nothing about the little creatures that run around on their roots.
If they’re gods, then why don’t they stop the fires? Is not the Hating Sun more powerful than the green Trees if they cannot stop its hate? This is a question I’m not allowed to ask. One of the many.
In a deep corner of the office, I find a wooden desk and sorrow overtakes me. How could this civilization cut down the Trees that give them air to breathe? Did they not understand where their life originated from? With a trembling hand, I search the desk. It’s a dishonor to touch the fallen, so it must be a sin to touch one slain on purpose. But I’ve learned that this is where I find Opal’s most valuable treasures.
I search the biggest drawers first, hoping to find a book that might be of some use to her. Perhaps biology, astrology, or the best, geology. She’s the only one allowed to collect books, because she’s trying to collect knowledge that is now lost to us. But it’s hard for me to touch such things after all they’ve tried to teach my hating head.
I open the thin drawer in the middle and find a light blue box. I open it and find a yellow heart on a chain that shimmers in the light from my torch. In the middle it has a bird carved into it, surrounded by squiggly lines and leaves. On the back I see the words, Nora, I look forward to our golden years together. Mark. Thinking it might mean something to Opal, I stuff it into my pocket. And then I turn to leave because I know nothing else is here.
Limping out of the sink hole I pause on the precipice and look to the north. The black snow now falls upon me, burning more scars into my arms where my shirt is already singed. The fires are too close now. We’ll have to move again soon.
Unprotected against the Hatred, it’s too dangerous for me to stay here. I take off running toward the south. Before I enter the forest, I take one last look back and note the black snow is now falling here too. I’ll have to tell the council.
As best as I can, I rush over rocks and through rivers, winding in and out of Trees until I reach the village. Trying to hide my limp, I pass Opal’s tent and go straight to the council quarters.
Theirs is dyed in purples and blues and is twice the size of any of the others but they also have twice as many people living in it. I’d hate to be a council member—their only moments alone are in the outhouse.
I’m in such a rush with pertinent information that I enter without warning and find all six of them sitting around a low table. The savory smell of thyme and parsley of potato soup consumes me and my stomach rumbles.
“What is the cause for this interruption?” Charles, the high council ask in a bored voice as he barely glances in my direction.
“The black snow is falling on the south line.”
“Are you sure about this, Carmine?” asks Mitchel, the latest addition to our leadership. I’d been convinced we’d be paired together, at least until mother learned of his political endeavors. He probably made every bargain he could to be on the council rather than to be paired with the Hated One, which was fine by me.
“I am sure,” I say as I bow, indicating I have nothing else to offer.
“Thank you, you are dismissed. We will leave at first light,” Charles says to me with a slight bow of his head as I back out of the tent.
Not able to relax, I rush to Opal’s tent knowing we’ll have a lot of packing to do. When I enter, I smell the lemon from her tea and take a deep breath.
“Hello my dear, Carmine. Would you like some tea?” Opal asks.
“How do you know it’s me?” Opal is blind, which is sometimes why I’m convinced she thinks the rats are blind too as she doesn’t want to be alone in her dysfunction.
“You’re the only one that comes here.”
“That’s not true, plenty come to see your treasures,” I respond. Opal never gives away her secrets and always leaves me guessing how she knows so much.
“Speaking of treasures, what do you bring for me today?”
“Before I give it to you, you must know we move in the morning.”
“Oh, I know that already,” she says as she waves a hand in my direction.
“Impossible, I only just told the council about the black snow.” As I say it, my voice rises unintentionally. It’s a crime to get mad at one’s elder so I must control myself.
“Yes, but I can smell it.” She pours me some tea, as she calls it. She says tea used to be made from tea leaves, but now it’s water with lemon squeezed into it. Everyone in our village thinks she’s bat crazy for insisting on growing lemon Trees for non-tea and collecting things from the past.
“Here,” I say, placing the heart into her hand.
“Ah, this is what they called a necklace. It meant a lot for a partner to give such gifts.”
“What did they use it for?” I ask, not sure I understand what she means.
“Love,” Opal smiles, waving her fingers like leaves falling through the air.
“What use is that?”
“Ah, like many things of our ancestors, no use at all!” She laughs heartily for a moment, grabbing her belly and enjoying her own entertainment. “Now help me pack.”
“What do you want to do with this…“ I pause as I try to remember the word she used, “necklace?”
“Toss it out, it is of no use to us.” She says over her shoulder as she grabs a sack and starts stuffing her precious belongings into it. “In the morning, we will be gone and will leave it as a mystery to next people who happen upon it.”
With her guidance, I throw the necklace behind the tent and begin packing the items of history she proclaims are essential.
(c) Creativity Untamed, LLC 2021