In celebration of today’s apocalyptic mythos, here’s a story told by a wise crone in the village of Serena:
The Apocalypse of Eight Thousand Stings
a history of the Fall, as told by Ursula
It did not come as a surprise to those who had been paying attention. It was not the sudden strike of the shark, the stealthy approach of the puma. It was not one great bite that wrought destruction. It was thousands and thousands of small stings, once the wasp’s nest finally fell. And even that fall was obvious to those who were watching and warning. But our civilization wasn’t taking those warnings seriously. Shoring up or removing the nest before it fell looked like too much.
“Why get stung now?” we asked, saying, “after all, it might not fall. We can’t afford to build a ladder to fix it, to get a bee suit to handle it. It should hold. It’s held for years and years without falling. Even if it does fall, I’ve been stung before. I can handle a sting here or there. I can swat the wasps away. No sense worrying now.” And when the hive fell and split open on the ground, we swatted the first wasps away, but others stung us while we were doing it. Then more came, and more. After the first dozens, we knew we were in trouble, but it was too late to fix anything, too late to get away. The stings weakened us further still, making it harder to swat any away, harder to run. We realized that our strengths and confidence were not enough, that even the greatest bear would succumb to the thousands and thousands of wounds, this creeping doom. Who were we against so many troubles?
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
Sometimes, it looked like it was the fable of the nail:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
In the cities surrounding the great bay to the north, there was a fire in the hills, as often burned in such dry Septembers. Usually, homes were evacuated efficiently, and fires extinguished quickly. But there had been a fire in the hills around a city to the south in August, and the cities by the bay had sent many of their trained firefighters and equipment. The fuel shortage in the country meant that they delayed bringing the firefighters with the trucks and equipment back for two days until they could get them fueled. So the firefighters caught the flu that was going around in the shelter where they stayed. And it was a bad flu, with an incubation of a few days, then a sickness of two weeks, so they didn’t know they had it when they came home, and spread it to all the other firefighters who had stayed home, so that when the fire came to them, all the firehouses were empty, the firefighters all too sick to help. But the first wave had infected their families, who had infected friends and neighbors, and as the fire threatened homes the occupants were there, and too sick to move far or efficiently without help, and there were so many deaths, and the fire spread and spread.
And yet, for Sequoia, it was more like Saio’s horse:
The myriad concerns of man are like old man Saio’s [horse]. from The Zen Art of Deiryu
In a small village lived old man Saio, who had but one horse. She ran away one day. Saio’s neighbors spoke their condolences for this loss, but Saio remained untroubled. “Maybe something good will come of it,” he said.
The next month Saio’s mare returned with a beautiful stallion. Saio’s neighbors came by to congratulate him on his amazing good fortune, but Saio remained placid. “Maybe it’s not so good,” he said.
The next month, Saio’s only son tried to ride the stallion. The young man was thrown, and his leg was broken. The neighbors came by to offer sympathy, but Saio merely nodded his acceptance. “We shall see what comes to pass,” he said.
The next month, the army came, and conscripted every sound young man in the village. Saio’s son was lame, so he was not taken. The other villagers’ sons never returned from the war.
As the Firefighter’s Flu became an epidemic, the hills around Sequoia began to burn, and no one traveled over the passes with the sickness when it was at its worst. But our redwoods survived the blaze, and once people started to move about, the Flu was extinguished, and a milder version had taken its place.
Perhaps it was surprising how suddenly it all collapsed, all the fictions of civilization. And yet, it was so revealing of which parts of that civilization were fictitious, and which were immutable truths. The loss of order meant that cruelty, vengeance and the will to dominate by force were much more open and in evidence, but kindness and empathy did not disappear, even amidst the chaos. On the contrary, kindness and compassion became more potent and precious as we here in the Sequoian communities had to rely on one another even more.
Make no mistake, avarice and hatred were manifest. It started with acts of sabotage. Some claimed it was foreign terrorists who began the attacks. Others said it was a rebellion of the marginalized and impoverished from our own cities. Another rumor was that it was fanatics, seeking to abruptly halt the destruction wrought by increasingly powerful corporate interests. Perhaps there is some truth behind each of these tales.
We know that the great urban centers around the globe became ever more restive, with riots over access to food, water and warmth. Many cities were disrupted by floods as the seas rose and storms grew more ferocious.
Soon, attackers targeted the infrastructure that made the vast and complex global civilization possible. Where power grids were still huge and vulnerable, and people had only a limited capacity to generate electricity locally, millions went without main power. Fuel shipments and pipelines were disrupted. Communications hubs and trunks were systematically disabled.
And the Great Global Civilization might have survived all this, were it not for the poisons and disease. Again, there are competing stories for how these horrors were unleashed. Some tell of high-tech saboteurs who designed and unleashed the Last Plagues in all the world’s great metropolitan centers. Others say they accidentally escaped research facilities when power and communications broke down, or when terrorists unthinkingly bombed them, or when unprecedented storms and floods overwhelmed them. But whether by arson or accident, these biological wildfires spread quickly wherever there was fuel in sufficient density, rendering most urban lands uninhabitable.
What wasn’t ravaged by the Plagues was ruined by poisons, again potentially by deliberate acts of terror, or just by mistakes in the chaos of the times. Aquifers and reservoirs were rendered unpotable, and more millions died of toxins or thirst.
Few successfully fled the great cities, as outlying communities saw the chaos coming and girded themselves against the human storm front.
Legend says that those who still had the skills and land to grow food, those who had access to clean water and air, took up arms against any strangers who lacked these things, stranding them in the wastelands between the cities and the farms. Certainly we know that some of this sentiment is what kept the communities of Sequoia safe. We were oddly fortunate here, with only a few routes linking our lands to the cities beyond the hills. These passes were sabotaged early in the chaos, perhaps by the Sequoian founders, or perhaps by unfriendly outsiders. Many here had discussed and planned already for a loss of electricity and fuel from the larger civilization. Some say the roads were already ruined by the great earthquake the first year of the Fall. We do have stories from those of my great-grandmother’s generation, the children of the times of the Fall, that their parents reinforced the blockage of the roads, setting traps to prevent outsiders from entering Sequoian lands. By these acts of seeming violence and paranoia, they did keep our great-grandparents safe from the Plagues.
People of the hill communities still speak proudly of the fierce protectiveness of their ancestors, and maintain their defensive traditions. Our Cliff, here, was raised in such a village.