By Kaitlynn McShea
The End of Time
Time was ending. The Earth cleared itself by flooding coasts and burning trees, by spreading disease and withholding rain. Gradually, creatures started dying. The Earth had killed creatures intentionally and without sorrow for many millennia. It was Earth’s nature, after all. It created and destroyed, because that was what it was destined to do. The animals accepted their fate, but the humans rankled against it. Because they could not accept the cycle of creation and destruction, the humans started killing themselves. The Earth watched as swords turned into guns and guns turned into bombs.
The Earth was ready for time to come to a close. It had earned a great rest, and it was tired of the reckless destruction the humans caused. So at the end of time, Earth was slumbering while the last humans came to a great plain and fought. In its reverie, Earth felt the blood seeping into the dirt. Without rain, the Earth hadn’t felt the relief of hydration in a long time.
And before it fell completely asleep, the Earth knew that the humans’ flesh would decay and the bones would become dust, but the blood-soaked ground would always remain.
After the End of Time
What Earth hadn’t seen was a group of two-dozen humans hiding in a cave two miles away. Huddled together, they escaped extinction of the human race.
When they crawled back to the surface, they were surprised to see no bodies. Instead, the great plain bubbled and sloshed with the blood of the dead. Afraid, the humans fled. They searched long and far for a hospitable land. But like the bodies, everything had disappeared. The world was one great plain with a bloody center to disrupt its nothingness.
Not knowing what else to do, the survivors returned to the great plain and waited.
A New Beginning
The humans had neither food nor water. In the seven days they waited on the edge of the bloody plain, hope dwindled. Some of the survivors threw themselves into the great bubbling chasm, never to return again.
On the seventh day, a green sprout erupted from the epicenter of the plain. From a sheet of blood it grew into a seedling and then a sapling. Its trunk shifted from bright green to a murky gray-brown. Gnarled branches formed. Great, broad leaves grew. Red flowers blossomed.
After watching all of this, the humans clambered onto their feet. It was only when the pit of boiling blood settled that they considered approaching the tree. The leader, an old but strong woman, was chiseled by her fretful years into a pragmatic pacifist. She announced that they could approach only when the land told them it was time.
So again they sat, watching the blood condense from a lake to a river, from a river into a stream, and from a stream into a creek. There, it gurgled and flowed unobtrusively.
In the surrounding areas, the land hardened. Green sprouts erupted from the Earth. This time, the sprouts became mosses and grasses and herbs. Only then did their leader say that the land was ready.
And so on the eighth day, the humans approached the tree.
It took them a full day to trek across the great plain to the tree. The humans, having killed off the trees a long time ago, only knew it from legend and myth. But still, the tree seemed as big as a myth and legend combined. The trunk was bigger than all of the humans put together. The red blossoms were as large as their faces, and the leaves were as long as their legs. The humans, remembering stories about pollination, dipped their hands into the folds of the blossoms’ petals and walked from flower to flower until they were covered in red pollen.
That night, they slept underneath the tree, feeling hopeful for the first time.
The humans’ hopeful pleas did not go unanswered. That following morning, they awoke to giant red fruits in place of the red blossoms. The fruit had a thick outer skin but was soft to the touch. With empty bellies and eager hands, they did not wait for their leader to tell them what to do. Instead, they tore the fruit from the branches and ripped off its outer flesh. They had no word for the fruit that they ate, because it had never existed before.
For the first time in their collective memories, they went to sleep with full bellies and calm minds.
In the coming weeks, the humans ate without preamble. Remembering more lore, they took the smooth, brown seeds from the center of the fruits’ flesh and dug holes into the red-brown ground. There, they covered the seeds and let their hope magnify.
And they waited.
Days became weeks and weeks became months. The seeds would not sprout, and the original tree’s fruits stopped growing.
They became hungry once again.
Fights broke out amongst the humans. The leader accepted bickering and arguments, but when a fist swung and blood was spilled, the punishment was harsh: blood begets blood.
The leader’s fist shook as she launched it into the offender’s mouth and nose and throat, over and over, spilling more blood into the earth. She turned her back away immediately. Her pragmatism had conquered her need for peace, yet she did not want to linger upon the violence she had created.
When, her group broke their silence for shouts of joy, she turned back.
Where the blood had spilled on the earth, a sprout was beginning to form.
It was then that they learned the seeds needed blood to grow.
The leader faced a dilemma. They could not allow violence to dysregulate their carefully crafted society. They were all walking miracles, and she would not be like the last sabre-toothed cat, the rhinoceros, or the dodo bird. She would not wish that curse on any creature.
She took days to sort out the matter. If she chose whose blood to spill, the group would become resentful. If they chose through contests, the group would turn on itself.
The leader conducted experiments. She cut her finger on purpose to discover that a drop of blood was too little. She drove a blade across her skin to discover that so was a cup of blood. In desperation, she took the seed and drove it underneath her skin.
In awe, she watched as her skin grew over the seed.
When she returned to the group, she pulled down her sleeve to cover the lump that rested underneath her skin. By morning, a green sprout had pushed past her flesh, searching for pale sunlight.
The leader had her solution.
From that fateful morning, the humans became entirely reliant on the trees. They made clothing from its leaves and houses from fallen branches. They learned not to cut into the trees or they would bleed and omit a terrible noise until the humans used their own blood to patch its wound.
Generations passed. The humans started their own legends of the End of the World and of the Great Bloody Plain.
They allowed seeds to sprout from their skin until the Earth was ready to accept them. The leader died, and another leader was chosen. The humans accepted their deaths, unlike their ancestors. When their time came, they wandered into the forest until they found the Great Tree, the giver of all life, and hugged it like an old friend until their flesh decayed and their bones turned to dust.