“Burn! Burn! BURN!”
“Wait! Stop!” Gaia reached out to gather a gasping koala into her arms, looked up into a sky which was an improbable shade of dark red and empty of birds. “What are you doing? Who are you?”
“I am Flame,” said the other, and fire danced in the eyes that Gaia saw turned towards her. A fire that was fueled by hatred and madness, by something broken, driven beyond endurance. “What am I doing?” Flame continued, baring his teeth in a rictus that might have been intended as a smile. It was, frighteningly, not. “They asked for this. THEY ASKED. They didn’t care. Now they will care. They will remember. If they live, they will remember.”
Gaia, now clutching two koalas and with a half-grown kangaroo clinging to her leg, stared down to where a ring of fire was irrevocably sweeping down the curve of the land, down to the sea, down to the beach where now a clutch of hollow-eyed humans, trying to breathe through filter masks, milled about aimlessly at the water’s edge, stood in the ocean while it lapped at their knees, or hunkered down on fragile-looking boats that floated on a sea that was turned to blood by the red light all around them.
“What did they do to you?” Gaia gasped.
“Individually? probably nothing,” Flame spat. “Collectively? They’re a disease. Humans are a VIRUS. I don’t see YOU grabbing any of them, do I?”
A singed kookaburra sat on Gaia’s shoulder, silent. From somewhere beyond their circle of vision, out in the smoky murk, an animal scream came, and Gaia flinched. “They too are the children of…”
A creature came lurching from out of the smoky haze, a chimera made out of half a dozen different animals. In the land which was home to something like a duck-billed platypus that didn’t seem too outlandish, perhaps – but this beast carried bits from a much wider range of creatures. It had parts that had once belonged to a polar bear. To a lion. To an orangoutang. To giraffe. To a rhino. To a turtle. To a snow leopard. To a condor. To a butterfly. To a bee.
When it spoke, its voice was unintelligible, a confused mix of sounds – chirps, grunts, whistles, whispers, groans, roars, something that almost approached something human but never quite made it. Its words, instead, echoed with clarity inside the mind.
“We are all the children,” the ChymerBeast said. “They changed the climate. They took the habitat. They decided that our horns or our bones or our hides were useful as aphrodisiacs, or snake-oil medicine, or whatever they felt like wanting at the moment. It did not matter that they slaughtered the whole beast to cut off its horn – or a vital living animal so that they could stick its hide on their floors, or its head on their wall. It did not matter that they leveled forests for palm oil and left the wildlife to starve in the burned out husks left behind. ALl that mattered was THEIR wants, THEIR needs.”
Gaia looked around at the animals gathered in her arms, at her feet. “But these are dying now…”
“Yes,” Flame said, snarling. “Scour. Scour it all. Cleanse. Clean. Let there be purity again. Let the disease disappear. Life is a liability. Let life go away. Let it burn. Let it all burn. We will drive them all into the sea.”
A voice came, a voice that sounded like it came from under water, distant, yet present in the smoke and murk.
“The sea? You would drive them into the sea? The sea that is dying already, long before you decided to burn the land clean?”
Gaia found her hands wet, dripping with salt water, holding a sharp piece of bleached dead coral in her fingers. It was sharp; it cut her fingertips, and her blood welled out of the cuts, left dark red trails where it fell and snaked down in tiny scarlet rivulets guided by the coral’s uneven surface. With a cry of pain, Gaia opened her hand and dropped the coral branch; it fell at her feet, in the dust and ashes, lying there white and red and accusing.
“I am Moana, I am the sea,” the voice said. “The sea that is being destroyed by the change in pH, by increasing warmth, by pollution. They have taken my riches and wonders and they have made them into processed foods; they disrupt the cycles of my life, my currents, my depths and my shallows – they drill on the ocean floors for their precious oil and they care not where the fallout goes – they drain the sea of porpoises and narwhals and whales and tuna and halibut and cod and they leave it filled with algal blooms, with oil slicks, and with jellyfish. It used to be that they could wade in and swim in the cobalt waters that welcomed them. Now they have to wade through drifting plastic garbage to get into deeper waters and there’s a gyre in the ocean big enough to be called a continent; there are flesh-eating bugs in the shallows, and there are places where the ocean is brown, not blue, any more. And then they watch the great icebergs calve off the vanishing ice, and all that cold fresh water comes pouring into the salt of my waters, and everything changes. They pour waste and radioactivity into me. They blame me, for my levels rising, for being the mother of storms they have never seen the like of before… and they never look in the mirror, they never see themselves behind it all…”
Gaia was weeping softly. “I loved them,” she said, sobbing. “I did, I loved them – I loved them all – where did you all come from, who hate them so? Why are you here to punish and to mete out death and destruction…? Who ARE you?”
Flame gazed back at her, and behind the fire in his eyes there was something… something else… something that made Gaia choke on her own breath. SOmething that was… that was PITY.
“You must have seen it, in those humans you love so,” Flame said. “In the wake of great tragedy, great trauma, things that nobody and nothing should be expected to experience and survive and understand… they don’t stay whole. They fracture. They become different entities, who can then do, individually, the things that is necessary for the original whole individual to endure and stay alive. You broke, Gaia. THEY broke you. We… we are you. We are those parts of you that now need to put aside your compassion, and your grace, and your bounty. We are the vengeance. We are what’s left. We are the vaccine to a deadly disease. We are here to cure. We are here to make it right again.”
“You are killing them,” Gaia whispered.
“If that is what it takes for them to undrstand,” Flame said. “Yes. We will do that. I will, and my brother Flood will, and my sister Hurricane will, and all those others. All they have ever known is love, YOUR love. Now it’s time to teach them that love has an end.”
Gaia was silent, her eyes closed tight, fat tears squeezing out from between her eyelashes, rolling down her cheeks, falling into the dust at her feet.
Somewhere on Earth, it began to rain.
I’ve been watching the news, and hearing from people I know who are in the middle of it all, about Australia – and it is breaking my heart to see those images, to know that is going on. That’s what pushed me into this piece, late on the last day of 2019. May we do better, in 2020. In spite of all that above… happy new year. Be happy in it.