The Time Before

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium
A short story inspired by the Imaginarium House Picture Prompt 11.

Submitted: June 14, 2017

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Submitted: June 14, 2017

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The Time Before

 

The visitor caused a great deal of excitement throughout the cave. It was not often that someone would visit. And this ‘someone’ was really special; he was one of the oldest people to have survived and he still had memories of ‘the time before’; the time when the ground was not baked and barren, the time when it was cool enough to be able to venture out in daylight.

 

Food and drink was scarce but a modest meal was prepared, and after he had eaten, the cave dwellers gathered round. As a reward for feeding him, the visitor would tell of how things used to be, before things changed catastrophically.

 

"Before the Great Heat came there used to be so much water. There were streams and rivers, ponds and pools, as well as the oceans. And of course the oceans used to be much, much bigger than they are now. There was so much water that no one even thought that it could ever run out.”

 

The visitor paused at the gasps that ensued. No matter how many times they heard it, the people always seemed to treat this information with amazement. He took a tiny sip from the cup in front of him and continued.

 

"There was always plenty of rain to feed the plants. Green grass would have covered all this land.” He pointed to the earth outside the cave. It was so dry that it had deep cracks scattered all over it. There was not one single blade of grass to be seen.

 

"Trees grew, tall and strong, their leaves would appear in the spring, give shade during the summer and fall during autumn. They bore little similarity to the odd black and stunted one you might come across these days. That’s if the sun hasn’t got to them first and caused them to ignite into flame. Some of the trees would get really colorful, when little flowers would blossom all over them.”

 

"What’s a flower,” a young voice asked.

 

The man felt so sad. How could he describe a flower to someone who had never seen one, and most likely never would? “A flower was a type of plant that had petals on it.” He took from one of his tattered pockets a tiny piece of faded and crumpled paper. He tore a tiny bit off it and handed it to the child. “The petals looked a bit like that! Some were big and some were very small. They came in all different shapes and colors.”

 

The child handed the piece of paper to another, sitting next to him, and it made it’s way around the room as the visitor continued. “Food was plentiful because the ground was good for growing. Many people raised animals, that grazed on the grass and provided meat for the people to eat. There were big buildings called stores that were full of things for people to buy and take home to eat.”

 

"Sort of like hunting grounds?” The same child was asking questions again.

 

The visitor did not have the heart to tell the child that people then didn’t have to hunt and go foraging for food. That there was so much of it that heaps were left just to rot. He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, sort of.”

 

"And then it happened suddenly. No one was expecting it when one day the sun changed. People could not take the sudden extreme heat. Buildings burned and the ground melted and many, many people died. It took a long time for the survivors to adapt. They sought out the caves where we live today. They changed from being active in daylight to being active at night.”

 

"Like us, you mean!” Another child, an older one, spoke up.

 

"Exactly! You are their descendants and I am one of the survivors. We had to adapt quickly or the sun would have wiped humans entirely from the Earth’s surface.” The man felt tears prick at his eyes. Tears could not be shed. They would just lead to an increased risk of dehydration and would not solve anything.

 

"But we are lucky, aren’t we!” The older child again. “We are all still alive.”

 

The man looked around him, at the dirty faces and the ragged clothes, the thin and malnourished bodies. He looked at the cave and he looked at the baked earth outside. Were they lucky? Or would it have been better to have perished at the start? He couldn’t say that! Wouldn’t say that! He forced himself to smile.

 

"Yes, we are lucky. And look, the sun is starting to go down. You’ll soon be able to get to work, to go outside. And I’ll be on my way.”

 

Once the sun had set and the temperature became more bearable the man said goodbye. He never stayed in one place. To watch the same people, the same children, constantly struggle to survive would be too painful. He would move on to the next cave and go through the same thing again.

 

 


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