Lauren Flanders

Crusader for Nature

"There’s nobody out there, Nautica. It’s a wasteland. Stop searching. Why don’t you come inside?"
 
I shook my head, wishing my sister would leave me alone. I’d been sitting at the edge of the decaying desert all day, and none of her pleas budged me. My eyes ached from being open for so long - I was unable to tear them from the horrific sight before me.
 
What previously was our beloved city didn’t exist. No intact buildings remained, nor much evidence that civilization had thrived there. In a few days, nature had reclaimed what it rightfully owned - destroying most of humanity in the process. I contemplated this alone, only vaguely aware of the grief around me, though many people were vociferous about their woes.
 
I found myself gazing blankly across the dirty sea of wreckage, searching for survivors, while others toiled behind me, building shelters and salvaging what they could. But they knew there was no food, and the future was bleak. I’d given up before they started.
 
After searching for hours, the only family members I’d found were my sister and cat. Later we’d discovered my mom pinned beneath a support beam loosed by the earthquake. I turned to stone then, for I didn’t want to even try stomaching the pain of loss.
 
Night fell around our little camp, and fires sprang up outside the rough sheds that were constructed during the day. We’d consumed what little food there was, and hunger crawled into the stomachs of people who’d never gone a day without food.
 
A woman tripped by me, and her eyes glinted at my still form. I could see what she thought of me written all over her face. Shady.
 
I suppose I was. My auburn hair was scraggly around my pale countenance, and my eerie green eyes reflected the setting sun. I wore a plain black dress with long skirts that made me look like a witch, and the black kitten sitting next to me didn’t dispel that image.
 
I embellished that woman’s perception in my mind, imagining myself as a crusader for nature, spying on the pitiful humans in the last twilight of civilization. I would rejoice with the spirits, saying, "Free at last from the dictatorship, no longer oppressed by long lines of polluted countries! Finally released from the bondage of people who took advantage of a situation that wasn’t theirs!"
 
A movement out in the waste startled me from my reverie. It was a plume of toxic smoke that belched forth from the earth, raining debris and spewing the scent of rotten eggs. The atmosphere cringed.
 
The sun was only a fingernail on the horizon, but the sky was still blue on the edges, making the earth look like a snow globe that had been shaken too much. I knew that soon the large hand would reach down and jostle us again.
 
I rose from my creaky stool and stretched the kinks from my weary back. Satyr the kitty mewled and blinked up at me with eyes that matched my own. I picked her up and held her to my chest, burying my face in her fur to suppress a yawn. No matter how tired I became, I promised myself I would not go to sleep.
 
I set off across the camp, slipping shadow-like past fires surrounded by people talking in cautious voices. Nobody noticed me, and I was careful not to notice them so that they wouldn’t identify me and draw me into self-pitying, consumerist embraces.
 
I reached the other end of the camp and paused, letting Satyr climb onto my shoulders. The eastern sky was dark and studded with stars and a meager moon that had to fight our dust to express itself. Before me was a dense forest that had burst from the ground during the few days of upheaval. The branches and leaves rustled and whispered in the wind like so many teenage girls, beckoning me to the shadowy depths.
 
My heart palpitated, and I realized I was unconsciously walking toward the trees. I smiled apologetically. "Another time, spirits. Perhaps in daylight?"
 
The breeze suddenly became a gale, thrusting me at the pines. I braced against it and grabbed my hair to prevent it from obscuring my vision.
 
"Nautica," somebody murmured in my ear.
 
I gasped and whirled around, searching for the speaker, but nothing was there.
 
"Nautica," came the whisper again, this time from the growth.
 
I slowly turned, eyes wide to catch a glimpse, and I imagined I saw the tips of a man’s long blonde hair, but the image evaporated as fast as it appeared.
 
The gale became melodious, and the strength lessened some, allowing me to relax and pull Satyr’s claws from my neck. I froze, listening hard. Was that only howling trees? I furrowed my brow. No, I could distinctly hear an instrument - a pipe, maybe, but eerier, more…enticing. A survivor? I wondered, ungluing my feet from the rough ground and allowing the current of air to escort me to the forest’s edge.
 
I hesitated.
 
"Come."
 
Satyr mewled, and the sound of the pipe crescendoed. I closed my eyes and the beauty of the melody gripped my heart, drawing me onwards.
 
The deeper I traveled, the more comfortable I felt, though it became harder to breathe as I went on. All my life I’d trusted my gut instinct, and now I knew I needed to find the man with the pipe.
 
A branch above me bent and I looked up, narrowing my eyes. "Nautica," the forest breathed. "Nautica."
 
There stood the man, pipe in hand. His long blonde hair fell around a pale face with glittering emerald eyes that laughed at me for a moment. He grasped my arm, and we flew into the air. I clung to him in fear, but with a touch of his hand, I opened my eyes. Triumph flared in my soul at the desolate view.
 
"Welcome to our side," he whispered, and the earth began to roar again.





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