Short Story and Image by Isabelle Sorrells
2993 AD – The Beginning
We were ungrateful. Ungrateful and bored. But we always found things to fill our time. We found things to complain about. We did not know how blessed we were. We had food, family, love, freedom. But we soon learned. We learned what it was like to suffer. We learned what it was like to be hungry.
At the end of 2993, the entire world was starving.
It came all at once. We had no prophet to warn us to turn from our sins. No Moses or Jeremiah to say “repent”. This curse was pure evil, and there was nothing humanity could have done to prepare for it.
I was fifteen years old when my immune system, along with every other human being on the planet, was turned into an enemy against the substances we needed for life. The plague changed the chemistry of our bodies so that food and drink were poison. Water was the only thing we could consume, but we could only last so long. We were surrounded by all the food in the world, and if we ate it, we would die. If we did not eat it, we would die.
And we did die. Millions of us were dead before fourteen days could pass. Many were brave and continued to eat the food, to try and find what ones were safe for us to eat, in hope that there was something our bodies would accept. So far, nothing had been found. Others ate because they could not stand the hunger.
Twenty-one days after the curse struck, humanity was given a saving grace. A desperate man fed his dying children a handmade loaf of bread. Somehow, they survived. We rejoiced. Why this was not discovered sooner, I do not know. Everyone rushed to make bread and we carried on with life, as weak as it was.
We were surviving.
3003 AD – The Evolution
Ten years later, I was still alive. I do not know why my sister and I survived. We were young when it hit, not many of the young ones made it. My father, sister, and I were the only ones left from our family. There had not always been enough bread to go around, so people still died from The Eleventh Plague, as we had come to call it. It had become a normal occurrence, and many had accepted it as the way of our lives. But still, others persisted, and finally, had come up with a solution.
I had been working in the bread factory with my sister and father when the announcement came. We had been hearing talk of it for months, a scientific solution for our starvation by a woman by the name of Gaskell. She was an elderly woman. I knew because they had been putting pictures up of her everywhere. She had been working on a way to create a new way for us to get food.
I remember our manager standing on the stage in front of us, his lean frame, as all of ours were, and his thinning hair. He was far too young for that, but then again, age had different meanings for us back then, back when people had hair. He always addressed us with a forced cheer, trying his best not to add to the depression we all carried as a physical trait.
I think his name was Alberto. He might have been Italian, but it was hard to tell. We all looked the same with our starved bodies. Alberto always talked about the good things we accomplished, always found something to commend us for. He never talked about the waning amount of ingredients we had, or the death tolls. When we did not meet our bread quotas, he only ever mentioned it as a side note, even though we all knew how bad it was – the deaths it would cause. Alberto was funny. Everyone liked him. Well, everyone except my sister.
Of the three of us, she took our mother and brother’s death the worst. The day they passed was the day she stopped smiling, and the day she stopped caring about the good things – about anything at all. The only thing she felt was anger, but that anger seemed to be the only thing to keep her going, so Dad and I made sure to keep that fire stoked whenever it seemed like it was starting to die.
My Dad was different. He remained hopeful, faithful, and strong for the three of us. He took it on as his mission to take care of us when Mom died, in every way he could, reading to us whenever we had time or strength. We were too tired to do anything else. He always looked to the bright side of things, and I admired him for it.
Me, I tried to be like my dad, faithful and strong, helping us survive as best as I could, searching for the good anywhere I could find it.
I was surprised when Alberto shouted over the room with real optimism, the kind I had not seen in him before – the kind that put a sparkle in his eye – that the cure for The Eleventh Plague was here. The room’s reaction was not a strong one. There had been attempts for a cure for years, some making it as far as testing on human subjects, but all have failed.
“Does it work?” a female baker from the crowd asked. The rest of us waited eagerly for the answer. We were all wondering the same thing. At Alberto’s answering smile the room went quiet with a sudden and rare surge of hope. He stepped aside as a young girl walked onto the stage. The room gasped when they saw her. She was beautiful, healthy, and green.
“My name is Genesis, and I am living proof this cure is effective,” she declared over the crowd.
All the starved bakers fed this healthy girl with a vigorous bombardment of questions, all of which she answered.
“Why are you green?” a female baker up front asked.
“A simple side effect from the chlorophyll,” Genesis responded.
“How does it work?” another from the back shouted.
“Each person takes a shot per week for a month, slowly adjusting their body to the transformation.”
“The shots fuse plant DNA into your human DNA, allowing us to gain food and energy the same way plants do, through the rays of the sun and water. Our food will no longer poison us, and we will live much longer lives. Starvation won’t exist anymore as long as we have the sun and water.”
“Why haven’t we heard about this in the news?” my father asked with a serious expression, something that was so at odds with the general attitude of the room.
“Dr. Gaskell can only make a limited number of doses at a time and the last thing she wants to start is a riot,” Genesis responded calmly.
“Ah,” my father said, although I could see he was not satisfied.
“When can we take the cure?” my sister asked eagerly. I looked at her, astonished with her sudden display of emotion. Emotion that was not anger. I saw the hope in her eyes, something I could not remember her ever having. I looked to my father to see if he noticed too. He had. And he did not approve. I could not understand why, our sister had hope again! I did too.
I was a fool.
Genesis explained the first shipment would be there the following week, and that we would have to sign up now if we wanted the cure, but my father pulled us out before we could hear much more. I was confused. My sister was angry. But it was not her usual anger, this time, there was a fury behind it.
“Why did we leave?” she asked when we had made it on to the streets.
“Something about that cure doesn’t sit right with me,” my father replied as calmly as he could, forever maintaining the strong front.
“But it works!” Lila protested.
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But the way she was explaining it does not sound natural. We were not made to be plants. I do not want either of you to take that cure. Not now. Not until we know more,” Dad explained, looking to both of us. I understood and I agreed. Lila, however, did not.
“Why? Because it might finally save us, and you are too afraid of change? We finally have an answer for all this! I’m not going to sit around and starve to death,” Lila shouted.
“You will not take that monstrosity of a drug, and that’s final!” Dad shouted in return. Lila and I stared at him. He never yelled. She stopped arguing and we walked home in silence. Dad and I thought for sure that had changed her mind. He apologized for yelling later that day.
When the first dose came in, we steered clear. Bakers around us that had taken the cure did not experience much of a difference and people were starting to wonder, but at Genesis’ reassurance the anxiety lessened.
The second dose did not cause much change either. Those of us who had not taken the cure were constantly watching those who had for anything different about them, good or bad. Both groups tried to hide our fear.
On the third week Lila began acting weird. She was quieter and the fire inside her seemed smaller than usual. Dad and I tried to provoke her, but she would not retaliate. We were perturbed. Once, I found her standing outside with her head tilted to the sky, eyes closed, almost like she was enjoying the fresh air. Lila had never cared about anything so trivial as that. I told Dad about her strange behavior, and he sat her down for a discussion.
“Are you all right?” Dad asked, laying a hand on hers.
“Perfect,” she said almost blissfully, taking her hand away and not making eye contact. The tips of her fingers had a strange tinge to them, but I forced it out my mind. I did not want the thought that ran through my head to be true.
“If you are still angry with me for not letting you take the cure– “
“I’m not angry,” she interrupted, making eye contact for the first time, “I understand why you did.”
Dad let out a sigh of relief. “Good, but I’m still worried about you. Your brother is too. You have been acting so strange lately…”
“Don’t worry father, I am just finally starting to see the joy in life, that’s all.”
Spring was coming. The rest of that week Lila’s behavior only changed more drastically. Her trademark anger was gone. She was eating less and less. She was gone for hours at a time. I caught her leaving the factory one day and followed her outside to see her basking in the sun again. Her skin was turning green.
“You are taking the cure, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she did not bother denying it.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m better than ever!” she exclaimed as she turned around to look at me. It had been so long since she looked at me directly. Her eyes had changed too, the veins had turned green. “I am happier, the hunger is not so strong anymore. Look, I’m stronger now too!” Lila picked me up for a few seconds before putting me down again in a puff of breath.
“You are,” I replied.
“And you still don’t want to do it?” Lila looked at me, annoyed.
“No. I don’t.”
“Why? Because ‘daddy’ says its wrong?”
“Yes. And no. God made me the way I am. If I am to die by starvation, I will die. I will trust God to take care of me in whatever way He sees fit.”
“You won’t be able to hide this from Dad much longer.”
“Your skin is green.”
At home that day, Lila told Dad what she had been doing. He did not take it well. He forbid her from taking the final dose, and only then did she reveal to us that if she did not take the rest of it, her body would reject the transformation and she would die.
She laughed at our stunned silence.
With that, my father stopped talking to her. He did not say anything when she went out to get the final dose. He prayed all day that day.
Throughout the final week the final transition was made. Half of the bakers were fully green. They did not eat anymore. By the end of that week, they left the factory. If they did not have to eat, why did they have to make bread? That is what they said, when they talked with us at all. We called them Greens, for lack of a better word, or lack of mental capacity to come up with another.
Alberto left with them, leaving his shocked, unprepared, non-green brother to take his place. Family members left family members. Those of us that were normal cried, the Greens showed no sign of emotion. They were not the people we knew they used to be. They took nothing with them.
Lila’s final words to us were, “If you really love me, be Reborn.” Then she left.
That day I saw my father cry for the third time in my life.
3043 AD – The Extinction of a Species
I am an old man now. My father rests in the cemetery outside the town. I am still a bread maker, although the factories do not exist anymore. The cites have been taken over by the Greens. They have evolved even more, with petals for hair and roots for fingers and toes. They are beautiful and unnatural. They have torn down the buildings that block their light and have created greenhouses and gardens in their places. They have made the world a beautiful place ruled by Mother Nature and all her children.
I am one of the few of the Starved left, as the Greens have named us. I stay behind and help feed those who have not given in to the drug called Rebirth. There are not very many.
I am one of the last of the Old Humanity, and soon we will all be extinct. If not starvation, the hatred of the Greens will kill us. They ask me every day why I remain as I am. Broken, starving, bread-reliant, old. I could be young again, alive, they say, really feel the warmth of the sun. But they do not understand.
I have the bread of life to sustain me. The Greens are afraid of death, afraid of time and the wrinkles that come with age, but like my father, I am not afraid, and I will greet death with open arms knowing it is not the end, and I will see my father again. There is a better country than this waiting for me.
I think of the people who have left often. I wonder what has become of my dear, angry Lila and the funny Alberto. I wonder what kind of flower has sprouted from their heads. I imagine Lila and her hair a fiery, red rose with all the thorns to go with her beauty, and I imagine Alberto a happy, yellow sunflower, both basking in the sun, too beautiful and proud in their uniqueness to look the other flower in the eye.