Tick tick tick tick tick.
Exotic colors canvased the forest floor, shades so forgotten they no longer had a
name in any remaining tongues. The branches of a weeping willow reached out
as though to hug the sun, a secret love affair obvious only by the excited flutter of
her leaves. The wind was jealous, and howled for attention.
The outdoor museum exhibit was bordered by bright lights that distorted the
colors, stealing the sun’s job as though to say it was unneeded. The lights crisscrossed
all around the willow’s private meadow, some impersonating sunshine
while others painted petals nameless hues. A young woman with hair like twisted
tree bark stood beyond the exhibit, her fingers curled around the soft velvet rope
that separated her from the meadow. The thick roots of the willow snaked
towards her, fading beyond existence just before reaching the blockade. Signs of
warning swung from the rope: “No trespassing!” “Do not disturb the hologram,”
“Be wary of wires.”
Always protecting the tech.
This was a place of “Once Was;” a landmark memory of Before the world broke.
Though she’d only visited on one occasion, her memory held tight to the only
image of natural beauty she’d ever seen. It was unmatched by this attempt at
imitation.
Her hand rose toward one of the drooping vines, remembering the way the
leaves danced toward the soil in a flittering, twirling waltz. Her fingertips met
static that sent a trail of goose bumps to race against her skin. The vine rippled at
her touch, shattering like fragile glass to show a glimpse of reality behind the
charade. A graveyard of shadows and secrets disappeared when she pulled her
hand away.
Long curls fell around her porcelain skin, hiding the freckles that older souls said
reminded them of stars that glittered the inky night sky Before. The thought of
sparkling freckles was as foreign as the sight of the sun.
She ducked beneath the velvet ropes, stepping through an invisible wall that
send static to crawl over the entire span of her skin. Closing her eyes, she waited
until the sensation faded, opening them again to see the magnitude of the
hologram’s lie.
This meadow was once a gravesite of stumps, remaining as headstones to mark
the skeletal roots of the trees that made this forest. The flowers, once a painting
of pigments, were wilted and forgotten. The stream that bordered the meadow
was now dry, twigs and roots the only reminder of life beneath the ashes. Those
roots constituted an intersecting network that connected every being to the Earth.
Young souls were supposed to be the spark of an idea to take on the worldwide
obligation to save her.
To save Mother Nature.
“A single spark to feed the inferno,” she whispered, stepping closer to the center
of the meadow. Instead of the graveyard of stumps she remembered, only a
single headstone remained. The shade of the willow’s looming branches was
absent, replaced by a smoggy sky. A man sat on the face of the stump, tracing
his fingers over the scorched bark.
Underfoot were the ashes of the last forest Earth ever knew, before Mother
Nature’s own children beat her until broken.
“I’ve been here, once,” the woman whispered. The man didn’t raise his head, and
she sat beside him against the stump of a willow that could no longer weep. “It
was different then.” She sighed, running her fingertips over the cold bark in lazy
spirals. “It was alive, then.”
The man said nothing, tracing his tongue over cracked lips as rough as the bark
beneath their fingers.
“Do you want to know what happened to the world?”
She nodded, recalling his warning from years ago. This man knew how the world
would end, and he informed everyone who would listen. They knew, they all
knew. But they didn’t stop the damage until it was done.
Until all that remained were the ashes of an idea that something could be done.
“It wasn’t ignorance. They knew the numbers, compiled them into impressive
charts, graphs drawn across the very plant life they swore to save. By 2013, they
knew 80% of our forests were gone. Only 2.5% of the water remaining on our
planet was available freshwater, and our world population would exceed its
capacity within a matter of centuries.”
He sighed, raising his hands. Ten fingers, ten toes…multiplied until too many.
“They knew the numbers and could riddle them over their tongues like nursery
rhymes. It wasn’t ignorance.
It was arrogance.”
The woman pursed her lips, remembering the statistics they memorized in grade
school. How much water was left, the rising population, the toxins they blew into
the air. Unapplied to find a solution, the numbers were meaningless.
They knew so much, but did so little.
That didn’t mean they didn’t try.
“What about Earth Day? We made it an entire holiday, to celebrate this planet
and promote environmental awareness. We—“
The man laughed; an imitation, like the hologram, of something once inspiring.
He scratched at his wrist, where instead of a watch was an hourglass, stitched to
a leather strap.
“We gave Earth one day. For one day, we had a masquerade of shame for the
mess we’ve made. While the other 364, we let the air boil with our toxin
emissions and fill waste into sky-high hills. But oh, don’t forget to reduce, reuse,
recycle. Just today. Just one day.”
He scratched at his wrist again, and this time his companion noticed the sand
spilling towards the bottom of the glass.
“We’re running out of time,” she whispered, eyes wide. He didn’t take notice
when she stood, continuing as though uninterrupted.
“Do you know the damage a day could do? Or the repair, if we gave Mother
Nature the fighting chance. We should give her a People Day and let her poison
us with the same smog we spilled into the air!”
The woman continued her way around the meadow, searching through the ashes
for a phoenix.
All they needed was a spark.
“One day, we’ll be only bones, sent to sleep in her soil, and she’ll laugh and
laugh at the beautiful irony.” He patted the willow’s stump, a sad smile crossing
his lips. “That’s if there’s anything left of her to fight. Even a wilted rose has its
thorns, but they’re easy enough to burn.
The world would live on without us.”
“No, it wouldn’t.” The woman stood up, pulling her hand from a pile of ashen
twigs; the skeletal remains of an aged oak left near the long-dry river hadn’t been
burnt. “The world needs her children to fight for her. To plant a new idea, let it
establish roots, and have it spread until it touches everything.” She returned to
the willow’s stump, running her hand along the wood. “You once told me these
roots connected us, made it a worldwide obligation to save the world. Well, roots
always start with a seed.”
She opened her palm, revealing a glossy acorn hidden beneath a war zone. The
last seed.
The last chance.
“We start small and revive our meadow so people know what nature’s beauty
really looks like. The trees we plant will aid in repairing the air, and maybe we’ll
see the sun and stars again. We let our roots spread until there’s an entire army
of protectors. The more minds, the more seeds that can sprout ideas for repairing
our Earth. If every remaining body on Earth were to plant a single tree at some
point in their lifetime, the world would be able to regenerate and survive. She
could age so beautifully, naturally, if Mother Nature was taken care for by her
children.
So what do you say, Father Time? Ready to help Mother Nature?”
There are waves. Moments where the tide pulls up onto shore and cleanses the
mess the masses left behind. But then the wave pulls back and you can see it left
as much as it took. Seashells, new ideas, changed minds.
He laughed, twisting the hourglass on his wrist so the sand began to spill again.
“Reduce, reuse, restart.”
Tick tick tick tick tick…