This story was inspired by a trip to London’s Natural History Museum, and their display about the devastation caused by a herd of elephants. These animals are simply searching for food and trying to survive, but end up causing ‘Elephant Devastation’.
I put humans in the same position for this story and have called it ‘Survival Devastation’.
Two men. Four women. Seven children, only one biologically related to any of the adults.
‘I’m tired,’ someone said.
‘Nearly there,’ said another.
Silence but for the crackling of twigs in the undergrowth.
‘What about this?’
‘What is it?’
One word was enough to stop everyone. Apples hadn’t been part of their diet for three or four years. Some of the younger children hadn’t ever seen one.
‘Really? Apples? You sure?’
The smallest of the men rushed to the tree and looked upwards. The others gradually gathered.
Whatever it was wasn’t obvious, but the tallest man reached up to pull one of the fruits from the branch.
There was silence while he loosened the fruit and removed it from the branch.
‘No, I’m scared.’
‘I will,’ said the thinnest of the group, a scrawny girl with lank and dry yellow-brown hair, as she grabbed the fruit.
‘It might not be and apple,’ came another voice.
‘I don’t care.’
The girl held the apple between her hands and pushed her loose and breaking teeth into the fruit. She chewed then slowed, then chewed, the fruit’s juice seeping from her mouth and down her chin. She wiped it with her hand and hair.
‘Is it apple?’ asked the child who wore a filthy sweatshirt, sporting its faded iron-on motif of a cartoon mouse.
The girl’s mouth bulged and she nodded. ‘I remember,’ she said, and the rest of her sentence was sunk into the melee as the remaining 12 people she moved round with climbed the tree, shook the branches and caused dozens of fruit to fall onto the woodland floor.
Once the fruit was loosened, the group of 13 began scrabbling round for their semi-shapes.
Two men reached for the same apple.
‘Hey,’ said the one wearing a black woolen hat. There was aggression in the tone.
‘I got it first,’ said the other.
‘You already have six.’
‘First come…’ said the smaller man, grasping still further onto his prize, and in the process further crushing his other fruits into the mud.
The taller man in the black hat reached out to grab his hair. Already frazzled from malnutrition, a handful came out in his hand.
He brandished it in front of his regular opponent and sparring partner.
The red headed woman said ‘Put two men in the same place and you can be sure there’s going to be a fight’.
The taller man stared at her, the aggression seemingly transferred to his voice now. ‘Know it all,’ the wooly-hatted man said.
‘It is men like you who made this whole crappy situation happen,’ the woman continued. It wasn’t the first time she’d said it. The man reached out to grab her hand.
‘Shut up,’ he said.
Tension. Silence you could snap. The sounds of munching and the occasional cough.
Then, a loud cry. A choking sound. A moaning. A sighing. The youngest child seemed to be choking on her fruit.
The red headed matriarch was quick to assist.
‘Help her, for God’s sake, help her.’
‘God has nothing to do with it.’
‘God is connected to everyone and everything, if you’d just give him the chance,’ she gasped between attempts to dislodge the offending piece of apple.
The little girl was beginning to recover, her face red and sweaty, and her eyes water-filled.
‘I want to go home,’ she croaked.
‘We all do,’ said the woman.
Meanwhile, relieved at the end of the drama, the three other women were scrabbling on the ground, filling their pockets and bags with the sweet and crispy fallen apples.
One of the quietest of the group, a woman who seemed to have only recently left her teens, was pocketless, and was gathering apples using her tattered jacket as a basket. But she shivered.
‘I feel sick,’ she said, suddenly grasping her upper abdomen. She vomited into her apple stash, mainly liquid and occasional apple chunks, part-chewed in haste to fill her empty and pained belly.
‘Oh my God,’ moaned the smaller man as he fell to his knees, retching in agony. The young girl who had seemingly choked with violent contractions watched as those around her, the adults and children, crumpled to the floor of the woodland their apples discarded along with their bags, their coats and their shoes.
The girl, Eve, collected the best of these not even bothering to check whether the remainder of the group might still be living, or recoverable.
‘Do your worst,’ she said to the apples.
But it wasn’t the apples that had caused the collapse of some of the only remaining people in this ravaged land. Part of this ravaged world. It was a young girl, barely out of her teens.
Eve was her name, and she was finally, magically and absolutely alone. It wasn’t a problem. She’d been working up to this moment since the second of her conception. And as she was born and grew, her innate skills for destruction erupted and she evolved into a true force of nature. A force of destruction. And Eve, the last human (of sorts) would become the first, by a regenerative process caused when her rib, her spare rib, was ripped out of her body and lay surrounded by apple trees to later be covered with rotting leaves, disintegrating fruit and the remains of persons who once were.
Devastation and regeneration.
They were her forces and friends. They were how she passed time. They were how she enjoyed and how she survived. Warrior mother. Earth goddess. Devil woman. Crone of Wisdom. Force of nature.
‘My dears, my dears…’ she crooned to the humans. ‘Time for goodnight.’
It was one stage. One rung on the ladder. One day where she knew it was all finished.
And she was excited to begin again. Yet again.