The End: Our Present in the Future
They sat together in the cave, watching the valley below change as the earth finally, mercifully, spun away from the sun and the shadows lengthened.
“It comes,” the boy said.
No one answered. They stared, knowing.
The girl nudged the boy crouching beside her with an elbow. “Did you ever see it not come?”
“I did,” said the old woman sitting on the far edge of the cave opening. They all turned to her and stared.
“Shut up, woman!” their leader said. He threw a pebble at her, grazing her cheek.
Another elder nodded. “We don’t want to hear your stories.”
Others glared at her, bitter hatred in their eyes, warning her to silence.
A young girl, their best hunter, rose and walked to the opening. She watched the horizon. “Let her speak,” she said. “What was it like then?”
The old woman rolled to her side, got on her hands and knees and pushed herself up into a standing position. She hobbled to the mouth of the cave. The young ones gathered around her. “Green,” she said.
“Green!” several repeated.
“Even the desert, land like ours, it was green.” She stretched out her skeletal arm, sweeping it from left to right. “I remember standing on the old road by the pointed rocks when I was your age. We looked out and saw the valley green all the way, and the river. And beyond, the ocean.”
“You saw the ocean?” asked a boy startled.
“And beyond. There was an island, Far-a-long, I think we called it. We could barely see it. But it was there.”
She swept her arm again, along the valley. “The land was green, dark green. The sky was blue. There was food . . . everywhere.”
“What happened? What made it go away?”
One of the elder men spoke up. He had joined them at the mouth of the cave. “We . . . let the land die, the animals die, the fish and birds.”
“Why?” the little girl asked.
The old woman shrugged. “People could see we were killing the planet. We were warned. Some did not believe. Those people who had the power to stop it did not.”
“Many reasons. Those days, some people thought that the world would never end, the planet would never die. Some people, the people on small islands, cried and begged for action and help. But few people believed it would happen. And those who could have done something did not believe the warnings.”
“But why did they do nothing?”
“Some say fear. They were afraid the seers, called sci-tists, had made a mistake. They were afraid it was too early, or too late. They were afraid to make a change. They talked about it for many, many years.”
“Yes,” the old man said. “They argued about it, for decades, over reasons that now seem foolish.”
The woman shook her head. “We had no world ruler who could make people go along with the changes that might have helped. We thought that everyone should agree what to do, and of course, no one would agree. A leader could have made a decision and made everyone change so that we could keep the animals, the water and fish. But the person who would make that decision would never know that the decision was the right one. He or she would not know if the information was enough, and the decisions would affect everyone in harsh ways.”
“Yes,” a young man said, “and the ruler would have to make the changes by physical force, using guns and soldiers to make everyone do what must be done. Everyone knew that force turned to war and destroyed everyone, no matter the cause.”
“So, they waited and tried to get everyone to agree,” the woman said. “And when they did agree, they decided to do only small things at first to get used to the changes. Changes that did not cost too much, changes that let those destroying the world with their thirst for money, keep making their money.”
“What’s money?” a little boy asked.
“Never mind, son. We don’t have it, no one has it now.” The old woman smiled, her mouth nearly hollow without teeth. “Besides, money did not stop the planet from dying.”
“Because time ran out,” the old man said.
“The dying came too fast,” the old woman said. “The oceans, the birds, most of the animals died and now we die because we have nothing to eat.”
“Except each other,” the leader reminded.
The old woman nodded, knowing they kept the elders alive now so the tribe could feed on them in deep winter.
“Don’t forget the others,” another old man said. “The god people.”
“Yes,” the old woman said. “Some people believed their god made the planet and had given it to people to use. It said so in the god books.”
The old man ruffled the boy’s head and said, “Some god people thought the crisis was the end of the world promised in their god books. Many said that to try to do something to stop the planet from dying would be to go against god’s will. Some believed that god would come in a flash and take only the god people with him.”
Another man spoke. “And there were those who said, that humans had no impact on the vast earth. They believed that humans could dig up the soil, cut down forests, poison the rivers and lakes forever with no consequences. They said that human pride makes us think we can affect the planet, when it is the planet’s nature to warm and cool and alter its atmosphere.”
“It did not take long, once the dying began. One-quarter of my lifetime,” the old woman said.
Silence fell, and below in the valley, they saw the massive dust storm sweeping across the horizon toward them. The men rose, rolled the large rock into place. In the cooling darkness, everyone covered their faces with cloth remnants: pieces of scavenged clothing. It would be another long, cold night as the wind howled and the fine powered dust came into the cave making it almost impossible to breathe.