At first we see it as a blessing. After years of wild temperature fluctuations, flooding that devastates the coasts, droughts and storms that seem to surgically target our food-producing regions…after years of inconsistent food supplies, photographs of starving children on the front page of every news site, budget cuts to all non-essential government programs…things begin to grow again. The rains do not change, the storms do not abate, but the plants somehow grow again.
We notice it first in the Midwest, those drought-stricken farms that have failed to produce so much as a soybean for countless seasons. Abandoned by their farmers, left fallow, the land begins to produce again. Flying over, we are astounded by the expanse of green – by the proof of life, by the crush of feeling one acre of alfalfa can bring. We return to the land, tilling and planting, admiring the return of our crops. Wheat, corn, soybeans, grasses – it is all back, and after a season of hesitance – using the crops only for human consumption – we begin to feed chickens, pigs, and cows once more. Shifted in from the coast, the map a foreign land to all but the youngest among us, we nevertheless feel the world returning to normal. It is correct once more. We have found our path forward.
It takes longer for us to see it elsewhere. Stunted trees begin to broaden, kelp begins to bloom again off the coast, even algae makes a stunning return from what we had failed to recognize as its reduced state. City maintenance budgets are strained as crews struggle to contain the tree roots now encroaching on streets and splitting sidewalk slabs in two. We feel the growth as something joyous, we spend our spring and summer evenings in parks surrounded by the ceaseless drone of lawnmowers and clippers, holding back the grass and bushes and trees. This is life, we say to one another. This is living.
But the growth doesn’t stop. Plumbing companies find themselves in high demand as trees penetrate sewer pipes. Streets become impassable because the overgrowth has encroached too far into the lanes, or because root systems have cracked and buckled their pavement, or because some combination of the two. Farmers lament that their crops are uncontrollable, that they cannot thin their rows because there is simply too much growth, too many weeds, too much of everything. The plants choke themselves off but still the growth is relentless, moss inching across any damp surface, ivy creeping up houses and undermining foundations across the country. The grass is uncheckable, we stop going to the parks as it reaches our knees, but still there is no getting away from it. Monstrous trees scar our cityscapes, growing alongside skyscrapers, blocking the streets, and there is nothing we can do. Oil derricks crumble, pulled to the ground by creeping vines, and the crops we celebrated have no way of reaching our markets.
It becomes untenable to live in the cities, so we return to the land. This too shall pass, we think, this too shall pass as so much has before. This overabundance far preferable to what we have faced in our history, the Dust Bowl or even the food shortages of a few years back. For a time we can keep it controlled, new hands battling back the weeds and thinning the crops, sheep and cows set loose on pasture, but the abundance is unfathomable and overwhelming.
For no reason scientists can discern the growth only becomes faster, as though the plants are feeding off their own kind, their energy spilling over and seeking new outlets, new lands, new ways to grow out and up, even once desolate regions verdant with new growth. If our governments had not cut their space programs years before, when resources were more limited, astronauts would have reported their inability to distinguish between the lands or even between land and sea, as the ocean too is choked by blankets of seaweed.
Too late we realize this is an imbalance, a horror: that with no roads and no sea lanes we can travel only by foot; that our pipes and wires have been cracked, pulled down, broken; that the homes that once protected us from the elements are now barely distinguishable from that outside. As the growth speeds our dying begins, children and older men and women choked in the night by the vines that grow up around them. We think we can move faster, we can hold it back, but the growth seems only to gain strength from our efforts to hack it back. As their gene pool strengthens, diversifies, ours only becomes shallower, limited by geography. It is only after our children have died, unprotected despite our attempts to build hammocks, bunk beds, anything to keep them out of reach of the plants, that we realize our end is coming. Lost in the waving grasses, choked by vines, enveloped by trees, pierced by nettles, we become this new earth.
Written for the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: Apocalypse Now!