Written by Caeli MacLennan
Goode, Ben. Global warming timeline. Dreamstime. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <Dreamstime.com>.
“Help! Help! HELP!” I scream at the top of my lungs, clawing uselessly at the pile of boulders covering the small tunnel that was my only way of escape, praying that someone might be able to hear me; the only response is the echo of my own voice, ricocheting off the damp cave walls. Help, help, help the walls whisper back, mocking my efforts. I continue to scream and claw and kick and pound at the stones, until my voice is hoarse and my body bruised, battered, and bleeding. With a sob of despair, I slide down against the cave wall, resting my stinging fists on my knees. Struggling is pointless; I’m an idiot for wasting my last moments on it. Once trapped inside, no one escapes the caves. Ever.
Burying my face in my knees, my wails echo off the cave walls, rising in a crescendo sounding not like the cries of one girl, sitting alone waiting for death, but like that of a village during a terrible plague, when the old and young die; those remaining not yet grown left alone to fend for themselves. This disturbing sonata continues to grow and thrive, only increasing my fear and adding fuel to the growing music. It is not until my voice is hoarse and raw that the wails finally die down to whimpers, barely audible through my trembling knees.
When my eyes have been cried dry, I raise my head and look for a source of light that I know isn’t there. I’d heard of people being trapped before, but never had I dreamt it would happen to me. I begin to wonder what it is said all caught ones wonder about in their last moments; how will I die? Will the air run out? Will I suffocate? Will the tide come in and I drown? Perhaps the sun will come out and I’ll bake in here, or maybe time will pass and I’ll just starve to death.
As I ponder the possibilities of my imminent demise, I wonder what the village will think back home when I don’t return. Will they assume that I perished while scavenging for food, or will they even notice my absence at all? I know my grandmother and younger twin siblings would never forget me, though without the supplies I bring in, I’m not sure how long they’d last. The thought of being completely forgotten, washed away from the fabric of time, frightens me almost as much as dying in here. Grandmother would tell me nobody really dies, that they live on in the hearts of others. But what happens if there’s nobody left to remember you?
Then it hits me: what if I won’t be forgotten? What if I live on, not in the hearts of those who knew me, but in the minds of some distant people in the future who happen to stumble across my ancient skeleton? Quickly, not daring to waste another moment, I dig into my backpack and whip out a notepad and pen, hand poised to strike the empty page at any given moment. I pause; this is it, my impact on the world, my gift to the human race. And so I begin to write.
July 26th, 2456
Hello. My name is Catherine Angelee Lockhart; I have been lucky enough to reach the age of fourteen and have lived in the nearby village of Portum with my grandmother and twin younger siblings. Well, I used to live there. My life is nearing an end, and my last remaining family members are sure to follow. Trapped in this cave, I have decided to spend my last moments, whether they be hours or days, recording my memories in hopes that I will not be forgotten; so that I may live on in the hearts and minds of others. And so, without further delay, I shall begin.
Portum was the name bestowed upon my village when the first survivors from the dark ages built it in the year 2209. It means haven in Latin, and perhaps those who have experienced life outside its borders view it as such. However, in my eyes, Portum is one of the least hospitable places a poor, tired old sap could stumble across. Our shacks are squished together so that one home can hardly be differentiated from the other; the only distance between them are tiny walkways separating each row, wide enough for a mere three people to walk side by side. Each shack has a low ceiling with scarcely enough room for two traditional beds; each housed at least four, while some as many as ten. Walking through the streets, you see the small grimy forms of children peeking out from behind cloth doorways, their sunken eyes staring mournfully from skull-like faces. This is their way of begging; for scraps, clothes, anything really. Their eerie gaze follows you as you pass by, almost hungrily. No one ever helps, though. In Portum, everyone fends for themselves; only the strongest survive.
That’s the opposite of my family right now. Grandmother is ancient; she must be 56 by now. As for my younger siblings, Amber and Coal, they were both born weak and sickly. It’s almost unheard of for a mother to have twins nowadays, ever since the crops failed. Most of the old stories I’ve salvaged from the ruins of houses and libraries act like a single catastrophic event is what blotted out the sun and tore apart mankind. But the real way it happened was much slower, agonizing, humiliating even. Our ancestors were careless and naïve. Life was too easy for them; an escape could be easily provided by looking the other way. They had no idea the future their ignorance brought upon us. If they had only been less selfish and lazy, maybe Portum could live up to its name. Because of the extreme amount of carbon dioxide that was sent into our atmosphere, the earth is warmer than ever. Seas have risen to flood our lands and areas where it was warm before are now barren desert wastelands. Refugees flocked to places like Portum for a hundred years before the flow finally stopped.
Overcrowding has been the end of many a village. A large population in small spaces makes cleanliness difficult and diseases remarkably easy to spread. Plagues are the leading cause for a community’s demise; a close runner up is starvation. Any attempts at agriculture are futile now that the sun is cloaked by gray cloud cover every day. Food has to be scavenged from the old ruins surrounding the village, which can be dangerous and, after two hundred years of searching, less than fruitful. It is the reason why Amber and Coal will never live to adulthood; their mother simply didn’t have enough strength to give, even if she relinquished her own life so they could have theirs.
Ever since mom’s death four years ago, I’ve taken up life as a scavenger. Out of the few ways to make a living, scavenging is the most dangerous. A wrong move can get you killed faster than you can say shoot. But it was the only way for me to support my grandmother and two sickly children. That was how I ended up like this; stuck in a cave, waiting for the oxygen to run out. There’s this legend that some lady from the 21’st century was paranoid about a food shortage, so she stored a whole villages worth of canned goods deep inside a cave near Portum. Supposedly, the old woman died before she ever got a chance to use any of it, and no one’s found it since. I figured if I found her secret stash, I’d never have to scavenge again, and Amber and Coal would sleep soundly, not having to worry that the sister that cared for them so much as to risk her life wouldn’t be there come morning.
Now that dream is gone. I’ll never again see the smiling faces of Amber and Coal, feel their tugging hands as they pester me to tell them a story before bed, watch them huddled together as one pair of sleepy eyelids begins to droop, then the other, and before you know it, they’re both asleep on the floor, snoring lightly. I’ll never be able to hear any more wisdom from my grandmother or feel her wrinkly old arms embrace me as she kisses my cheek goodbye each morning. There is only one fate left for us now; leave this world, never to return. No one is going to save us. My vision of two smiling children stuffing their faces with bits of pineapple while grandmother scolds them about manners, is impossible. And so, in order to grant myself some solace in my last moments, I have one last plea before I die, and that is to not be forgotten. Whoever you are, whether it be a hundred or a thousand years from now, remember the words I have written today. Do not forget the world I speak of or the mistakes of our ancestors, for though I may be long dead, I am real, and these problems are real. Refusing to acknowledge an issue does not solve it; it only provides a safe place for it to grow and thrive until it is no longer within man’s capabilities to control. Remember this, and I will rest in peace.
Catherine Angelee Lockhart
My fingers shake as the pen slides from their grasp, rolling down the notebook and hitting the floor with a soft clunk. Hurriedly, I stuff the journal into a plastic bag, drain the air, and seal it shut. This way it won’t be damaged when the tide comes in. Stuffing the journal back into my bag, I remove the blanket I found from a scavenge earlier that day and find the most comfortable position to spend my last moments. I know now that it’s suffocation that will take me; it’s an effort to perform even the smallest tasks, and my eyes feel droopy. It’s strange, but in a way I feel remarkably peaceful. I begin to wonder, what if it’s not so bad that grandmother, Amber, Coal, and I are dying? What if death would provide an escape from this rotten world, take us to another place where my twin siblings can run and play in vast meadows, and grandma can sit in a rocking chair, conversing with my mother about the afterlife like she always used to. “I told you so”, she’d say smugly. “There’s always a place for people who are remembered.”
The more I think about it, the more it doesn’t seem so bad. Suddenly a grin spreads across my face and I begin to sing, a melody I sang to the twins when they had bad dreams. The music echoes throughout the cave, harmonizing beautifully with itself as the verses weave together to create melodies fit for angels.
Hushaby, my sweet little baby
Forget your fears and doubts
For somewhere, far over the rainbow
Lies the land of Sonisoe.
There the day sky’s blue as an iris,
The night sky’s pricked with light
There the fruit trees blossom with cherries
That bring a smile of delight
During daylight children play
During nighttime they dream sweet
So fall to sleep, so that one day dear,
There again we still may meet
My eyelids are hard to keep open now, and more than anything I want to succumb to the blackness, but for some reason, the song must finish.
So hushaby, my sweet little baby
Dream the good dreams now
And know, that if you ever may need me
I’ll be there in Sonisoe
The last verse is sung with my eyes closed, the music reverberating off the walls and singing to me the lullaby that will guide me to an eternal slumber.
When the time is right, my baby
Your dreams will take you there
I’ll miss you dear, but not to worry
We’ll meet again in Sonisoe