This Dead and Dying World

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They told us to stay, to hope a family will find us, that we’ll someday have that family we dreamt so long for. Staring at the cracked apart moon drifting archipelago green through the blackness of night beneath the milky way river swirling ever over us I see no hope in futures no made by me and we all agree. Everyone on the fifth floor is with me and the word spreads to the lower floors, to the higher ones. Only dreaming, but we can make this reality if we lift up our helpless hands and force them through the boundaries of this orphaned life we inherited from a world at war, tearing apart and leaving nothing but frayed seams and distant angry caretakers to watch over us left behind children of the dead and dying. Our song will not be silenced. We’ll keep on singing.

All at once we ran. They yelled no but we sang go go go and through the gates and over the walls, we pushed past and through their grasping hands, collapsing skulls who tried to keep our younger brothers and sisters, our family dozens strong racing away from the hopeless world we were given to forge new ties in the wildness, the woods and trees swaying and singing as we leap over rivers, climb mountains, always singing and dancing. We gather food, we huddle together at night round fires, keeping ourselves contained with bodies. All our bodies, all our brothers and sisters wrapped round one another. This is the life we dreamt of when they told us to smile at potential mommies and daddies. I saw their pasty faces and screamed inside till my heart turned to glass bitter and brittle so we reached inside one another, tempered that glass, made it glowing and hot and always strong strong strong. I am my sister and brother and they are me and our bodies are one and for one another. We left a hopeless world and ran into the wide open glens, the lakes and the rivers opened before us, these summer night with wartainted horizons are all we ever needed.

The young ones are hungry. They grow hungrier by the day but we keep them up and going, dancing and singing, kicking and screaming through this dead and dying world. A pageant of hope at the top of the world, right against the ocean of melted ice that’ll never grow back. This is our melody and we play it one action at a time.

Brothers and sisters make weapons for the hunt. Brothers found guns in desolate villages where the humans gave up on the world they built. Humanity runs south while we take back the north and we’ll live and sing and dance and reign all through winter, all through this apocalyptic war crushing eternity. Sky is a billowing blanket wrapped round the souls of all those dead and dying humans thrown to the wolves that they are. Brothers and sisters separated by culture and country but the differences are only political and if they see their distant brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters then maybe there’s a way through this, and we all can sing, orphans of humanity, of eternity, given a world with a blind and deaf god reeling from cataclysm we create.

The hunger takes them and nights fill with crying but brothers and sisters rush out to hunt. The hunt we hoped we’d never do. Killing for ourselves, but how can we justify our wild lives if we imitate civilisation by murdering all that we see?

We do it for the children.

Planes fly overhead but they don’t look at us. No one looks at us. Born to a parentless world, we are the roaming mass of an infected future. The structures and systems of the world fall apart so we must make our own, remake the dead and dying world we were left. We don’t want it. We reject and they see nothing in us but hopelessness. But lost opportunity and more bodies to throw into the violent theatre. We say no, we scream it, kicking and singing and dancing. We are not a part of your world! We shall run and sing and dance and die in each other’s arms, screaming for the new world to be born in the husk of this foul shell.

We are the future and we say No.

Brothers and sisters learnt to hunt and now we feast often but we fear it’s too often and we get better at gathering and we live in the empty houses and cottages and barns of this former world. We sleep together bundled through autumn and we know winter comes but we know winter is not what it was. The cracked moon is a sliver and we tell each other dreams of possibility, about wolves that escaped that broken moon when it crashed into earth, of the lunar forest sprouting in the south and how that will be the new light and future and life of the world. We talk about the Womb and cradle of a new civilisation past humanity’s suicide.

We do not sing or dance but sleep, and in the darkness we hear brothers and sisters becoming lovers, becoming potential fathers and mothers.

The leaves change but the grass is still green and we sing and dance in this autumnal romance. And then the earth shakes. And then the animals run. Even the birds race away, but they go north. There is a silence after the quake. A silence so loud our hearts beat into the sky and shake the veneer of space. Wind rushes past us, heading north, carrying a choking stench. Every atom round us writhes in a song no one can hear but bursting with energy that sets our skin to crawl and sweat and fear rises like the trees blocking the horizon. We remain where we are and then a young brother cries and no one responds.

And then the snow. The snow so grey. The snow like sludge. It sticks to us in big wet vile drops. It piles round us and we look into the empty sky, the cloudless nothing above us.

We take the young brothers and sisters and run for shelter.

The earth shivers again at night and the windows cover with the grey sludge of this unseasonable snow. The reek fills the barn we call home. Sister finds a radio and through the crackling is a voice calling for evacuation. Demanding we leave our new home. Crowded around, listening, we hold hands, bodies, and the trembling in our limbs is shared by this human chain of familial love. We, orphans of humanity, we grow into the same body, a giant flexible tree sprouting hundreds of hands and eyes and feet and lungs dissolving in fear. The bombs rain and the snow is toxic. Evacuate the island, head for anywhere else.

We fight. For the first time. Many of the brothers and sisters leave, and they take the young ones with them. Only seven of us remain at the world atop the world. They run back to the orphanage we clawed our way out of to rejoin the life of war, the dead and dying world we escaped.

That night we seven become one, our bodies twisting and uniting to stay warm, to feel human, to feel loved.

The snow doesn’t melt but turns the ground to sludge and everything is rot. The trees rot skeletal and leaves are a murky waste running over the grass, leaving it dead and grey and black. The world turns to ash and bile. We run further north, escaping this dead and dying world. At the shore of the world at the edge of the ocean that will never freeze again, we look as far as we can and imagine polar bears and penguins and everything wintry that we read in those books of humanity long gone. We stare into the expanse of water and sky and us sisters and brothers weep through we can’t say why. We cry and our crying turns to embraces, and mouths and skin and we bury ourselves in one another, in hope and life for a future past this artificial nuclear winter. The water’s cold but we swim to wash away the Death, the rot, the old world.

We arise, new. refreshed.

We gather food and smoke meat, salt it, keep it. In this dead and dying world, we learn to fish and we remain by the shore in the cold and the wind but we remain together, bodies entwined, falling in love with each other, with ourselves, leaving the human world behind. We will become something new. Something like hope. Something like spring.

As winter collapses upon us the world goes quiet and the leaves are a memory of the hope we dreamt of so long ago. Born into a world at war, into a species suiciding itself and murdering the planet, we remain at the shore and brothers and sisters turn to bones, to skin so tight it becomes paper frail and our eyes grow blind and our hair thins and falls out. We are the naked hairless remnants of a people who hates itself and so we accept this new image of humanity and love it stronger, harder, more fully. But brothers and sisters gasp and though we eat, we starve, and though we sing, we crack apart like the falling sky and the sun stops shining but the world keeps rolling over and the waves keep lapping and the first brothers succumbs to the abyss of this hopeless world we were born to and we sing and scream and cry over his body torn apart from the inside, from the molecule on up.

We sing and dance and we cry and we die. We fear, even here, as the sky corrodes round us and the splintered moon smiles on above us, and we beg it for just for an early spring.

We sit and we share. We share every thought and experience we’ve ever had with one another. All that’s left to us is talking. When we sleep we die a little each time. Opening eyes becomes the struggle that defines us, getting up and eating is the poison that blinds us. Blackness collapses upon us and we lose our bodies in the darkness, but find them by touch. Naked and alone but together, the six of us hold on as tight as we can until one of our six stops breathing, stops speaking, and then another, and by the end of this week we are only three. Too tired and cold and blind, we don’t bury our brothers and sisters but simply crawl away from them over this dead and dying world.

We should have gone back our only sister says. It wouldn’t have mattered says our only brother. We agree that Death becomes us and we are Death. Death is the parent we always waited for but never knew. We describe the landscapes we see behind our deadeyes, the music we hear in our decaying heads, our toxic bodies rotting from the inside. We leave trails of our bodies as we crawl away from the dead and dying parts of our own bodies. When brother dies, we sisters turn to the ocean. We can float we say and so we crawl into the water and remain buoyant as best we can. Holding hands, we drift into the cold water, our bodies made of glass, dissolving.

In the blackness of my eyes, the muffle of my ears, the water surrounding me, I become warm. I hold the hand of my sister though I know she died a long time ago. Or maybe I died and I am my sister. We have died but we shall live, drifting away from this dead and dying world toward one where the sun will crawl over this rolling planet tumbling through space.

I feel the heat and I imagine sunlight or see it, finally. I open my mouth and let the world in, drowning.

 

 

Photo By: Luc de Leeuw




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About Author

Edward J. Rathke wrote Ash Cinema [KUBOA Press, 2012], Twilight of the Wolves [Perfect Edge Books, 2014], and Noir: A Love Story [Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014]. He edits at The Lit Pub and Monkeybicycle. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.com.

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