I lay back on the smooth river rock and closed my eyes, basking in the cool light that slipped through the bamboo leaves. I had lain here, in this exact spot, many times. But something was off. The surface was slick and smelled of rot. I sat up and looked around. The roots of the bamboo plants curled above the water – not their usual healthy beige, but a rusty yellow-orange hue. Bits of bilious algae clung to them for dear life, strangling the fragile tendrils as they sought out moisture from the air. Mother Nature was in one of her moods. I couldn’t tell if she was depressed, or angry, or simply feeling lazy, lately. In any case, my world was dying.
I let out a sigh and shimmied up a bamboo stalk to get a better look around. The Rosemary Forest, once thick with green conifers and smelling of Christmas, had migrated south, to the lowlands. It, too, appeared to have succumbed to drought – but there were small pools of water and a muddy slurry encasing the drooping, brown trunks. That was odd. The Lavender Thicket was equally scraggly and appeared to be listing towards the Sea of Shifting Saucers, a mysterious body of water that was sometimes so clear you could see the silver, spotted basin at the very bottom of its deepest depths – and then, the next day, it would be brown with floating globules of grease and iridescent bubbles. It might smell sweet or foul or have no scent at all; only then, when there was no detectable aroma, was it safe to sip and quench a thirst. Sometimes, it would dry up completely, only to overflow in an hour or two.
One glance at the big island and I began to weep. Where only yesterday, there had been giant green stalks topped with colorful blossoms, today, there was nothing. The entire island had been clear-cut, and was now devoid of life.
I cried myself to sleep, there in the dying bamboo.
Something tickled my nose. I swatted it away with my arm. It was persistent. So was I. I scrunched up my eyes and tried to ignore it, but it’s hard to keep your eyes squinched shut – or wide open – when you sneeze. The annoying creature tumbled through the air and landed on a nearby branch. It was a very fat, insolent fruit fly. Must have come up from the Growling Pit. Mother Nature really ought to rethink fruit flies, I thought, glaring at it. It simply stared back without blinking. No sign of intelligent life in those eyes. Fruit flies liked things that were dead…and overripe. I sat up and memories of yesterday’s desolation filled me with grief.
As the light overhead shone down on us and I rubbed the grit from my eyes, I saw the most astonishing site! There, on the island, was a giant tree. Dripping from its branches were bright yellow fruits – lemons! Below it, there were small mountains with flat tops – made from the most marvelous reddish orange rock or clay. On their plateaus grew fanciful, frilly green fronds – parsley and cilantro! Basil and mint! My heart leapt with joy – until I remembered that this is how it began, last year.
The Time of Sacrifice would soon be upon us. Yes, the kitchen shears were already sharpened and ready.
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