Verdant

Normally people worry about deforestation, global warming and carbon dioxide levels rising astronomically throughout the years. But they never consider the other side of the spectrum where carbon dioxide levels are in decline while oxygen rises and trees are over populating the planet.
People don’t fear trees.
But they should.
They are what really started the apocalypse after all.

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3. Day 1,142

Two

Day 1,142

It had been a month.

An entire thirty days where her father had been gone, and hadn’t sent word to Harley about his whereabouts or his condition.

A whole month of being topside instead of underground. Being on the ground was more dangerous than being underground or in the treetops: with the oxygen levels things could ignite faster before anybody can say ‘fire!’

Harley does have a home on the ground, a concrete frame of a thing, which stands a few paces in front of the hatch that leads to the Davidson mechanics for bikes underneath the scorched, and slightly blackened earth. It doesn’t feel like home to her though. It’s as if there is something missing that even if her father were there it still would never be right.

It’s also been a full thirty days without Harley going back into the shop; that really felt like home to her. It was a new world record for her. To be honest there had been times in those thirty days where Harley stood in front of the hatch and had to fight with herself not to go down there. This was one of those days. She currently kneels in front of the hatch, her finger tips resting on the bar that required minimal strength to lift up. It would take thirty seconds to descend to her home. But she doesn’t. She spends some undeterminable amount of time debating with herself whether or not she would do it, and some other moments of time taking her hands off of the bar and then placing them back on again. She knows that if she were to go down there, she would never return to see the light until her father returns.

“I’m surprised you’re not down there,” she knows that Jace is there, leaning casually back on the concrete wall of her ‘house’, “You’re always down there.” He continues,

“I haven’t been down there for a whole month,” she doesn’t say that she left the day after Jace had that talk with her nor does she say that what he said actually struck a nerve for her. She knows that Jace would smirk until the day of his death if he knew. Even if she doesn’t say it, the words go unspoken, and that tiny grin is on his face. She knows this without even turning around.

Sighing it takes a moment to actually remove herself from the hatch and not to shake slightly as she walks away from it. The darkness is like a drug, a safe haven away from the chaos and the stress that the apocalypse brought with it. Many people fought against the decision for underground refugee camps because of this very reason. There were only a few chambers existing and they were not enough to hold everybody, who would come, when the world sunk further into the bowels of Hell.

(The bowels, Harley shuddered at that thought.)

“What are you doing here Jace?” Harley sighs as she moves into the ‘house’. It feels so uncomfortably empty that she hunches her shoulders under an invisible weight.

“I’m here to offer you a chance to have dinner with my family tonight, my Mom thought it would be better than eating alone or not at all,” at this theory he looks at her as if inspecting her body for signs of malnourishment. Harley doesn’t think about the shadows of her ribs or the sunken look of her face that are visible if you search hard enough.

There is hardly any hesitation before she says a mumbled affirmative and the pair make the trek up the trees to Jace’s home.

There is one very good reason why she has a ‘house’ on the ground and not in the trees; she is frightfully scared of heights. Even though she knows that the walkways are totally safe and no one has really fallen from them in the history of tree top houses, she is still scared of them.

Jace must notice, how he could not, Harley is pale as milk and her eyes are screwed shut so tightly she could see eruptions of stars. It’s only because of Jace leading her that she doesn’t walk into anything or trip.

“How do you describe a tree to a blind man?” Jace says as the pair wind ever higher. The motion is like a washing machine – going around and around and around. It’s no wonder that Harley feels nauseous.

“Huh?”

“How do you describe a tree to a blind man?” He repeats,

“I don’t know.”

“Use your imagination Harley, I know you have one.” Jace teases and Harley opened her eyes to glare at him. Unfortunately that gives her a view of the height, and she stills and her eyes roll slightly back in her eye sockets. Jace just manages to tighten his grip enough to make sure she doesn’t fall. Harley grips the banister of the walkways so hard that her knuckles turn as white as her face. Jace thinks quickly and ploys on with his assignment to distract her. “To describe a tree to a blind man you have to over exaggerate everything, you have to close your eyes and pretend to be blind while you use your other senses to do the explaining. But when one sense is cut off the others are heightened so you have to exaggerate,” he is acutely aware that he is rambling but carries on anyway,

“This is how I would explain it – starting at the roots, they grab the ground like you'd wrap your fingers around a large ball of dough.
The trunk is wide and uneven, like three people huddled together, trying to stay out of the rain under just one umbrella.
There are knots on the trunk, like grandfather's knobbly knees. The bark on the trunk is rough and crumbly like the underside of a tandoori roti, and it smells a little like one too. The gash in the trunk, with sap oozing out, is like blood when you nick your finger, and probably just as painful for the tree. The sap smells and feels like sticky caramel toffee when it's fresh and the dried drops are like little misshapen glass marbles.
The trunk is tall, ten times your height and then starts to branch out like it has stopped raining and the three people under the umbrella are going their separate ways.
There are as many leaves as the hair on your head, each as large as your palm and shaped like it too. They feel like freshly starched laundry if you crush them in your palm and smells like a freshly mown lawn. The low-hanging leaves are dark and rough like your daily newspaper and when they move it reminds me of Dad reading it at the breakfast table. The younger smaller leaves are smooth and light, like the satin tablecloth on the dining table.”

By the time Jace has stopped explaining Harley has opened her eyes again but this time they are round and looking at Jace and not down. Jace feels something ignite, like a spark, in his stomach. He shoves it away and ushers her to start walking again. Harley doesn’t close her eyes but keeps them directed towards him. It is the first time, in the seven months that Jace has known her, that he feels unnerved by her attention on him.

Jason ‘Jace’ Myers lives on the third floor of tree top street floors and lives relatively high up. When constructors first began to build the establishment they left several levels of branches free so that if the planet became flooded or if fires were to erupt harshly on the ground, the inhabitants would be relatively safe. The houses were almost like they were built out of the tree, wooden structures that used thick rope bridges and walkways to walk through. They weren’t totally safe against fire and were slightly dangerous.

In the tree tops instead of walking the varying distances to different places, paper airplanes were used with written messages attached to the paper. Paper was in a high abundance because of the ratio of trees and airplanes fly further because with all the extra air, the air pressure near the surface increases significantly. 

The pair pass house after house, windows dark aside from the soft, familiar off yellow glow of government-distributed solar-charged heaters. It was a relatively cool night but then again it was always colder in the sky than on the ground. This was one minimal disadvantage of living above ground. Harley has a feeling that Jace took her the long way round just so she could see the different designs of hand carved walkways, the different ranges of exotic plants and the displays of fire fly’s in the lowlight of twilight.

Harley feels her heart stutter that most of the day was spent in front of that hatch out the back and sleeping. She doesn’t feel the need to get up early or at a reasonable time since she has nothing to do and nobody to entertain. To say the least she had been bored and so Jace offering a family dinner was something that sounds pleasant to her.

Jace finally leads her to a two story house with a short porch and a set of steps. Gliding her forward he hops over to the stairs with a spring of elation in his steps. His shoes slap slowly up the steps, taking two at a time at an excited sort of hop. Harley knew that feeling, the feeling to be finally home. Then, with a flick of his wrist, the door is wrenched open with a gleeful, “I’m home.”

“Welcome back,” a man greets, peering out of the kitchen. “Anything happen today?”

The man is similar to Jace is nearly every way. Favouring the same close cut hair style that resembles being in the army. Mr. Myers had actually been away at war before the apocalypse had started, but had been sent home after being one of three survivors in an attack that killed forty seven people, all soldiers alike. It was a shame that he stepped out of one war and walked straight into another.

“Well, Mrs. Wilson traded in a vinyl and a couple of records,” Jace replies dryly. “And apparently nobody in the office and those who come in doesn’t like Spanish Ballads.”

The older man rolls his eyes. “I certainly don’t blame them!” Mr. Myers says, stepping back into the kitchen. “I bet it got so bad that they all went home with the words stuck in their heads?”

“Un ligero equipaje para tan largo viaje.”

Mr. Myers laughs, his chuckles are so loud and boisterous, and they bring a tear to his eyes. The laughter reminds Harley slightly of the times before the apocalypse, when her father and her mother would sit around a table and laugh at various jokes and stories that came to mind in that day.

“I’m not surprised in the slightest that you know that,” he says and pats his son full heartedly on the back. Toeing off his shoes, Jace pads slowly over to the kitchen, peering around the older man at the deck of cards strewn across the counter.

“Besides, the world is ending, and our days are numbered. We don’t have to pretend to be music connoisseurs any more. Leave that to the Hipsters of the past.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Turning back to his cards, Mr. Myers moves a seven to an eight and the conversation dries up.

“Uh, Dad you remember Harley Davidson, right?”

“Of course I do! Her father always comes ‘round to ask if I know anyone new,”

“Mr. Myers if you don’t mind me asking, why did my Dad do that?” Harley moves from hiding behind the hulking form of Jace, toes off her own shoes out of courtesy and sits down on the offered chair opposite Jace’s father. Her Dad had never been a people person, his conquests underground is evidence of that.

“No more of that Mr. Myers crap call me John. But anyway, Mark was always asking if there were any scientist fanatics moving in or if there were any recent information about the Scientist Regime in America.”

The Scientist Regime is a movement in America that is in favour of not only finding a cure for the overgrowth of trees, but for spreading information, finding the best brains in the world to collaborate, and protesting to get governments to release information that they themselves confirm they have been hiding from the dwindling general public of the world.

“Why would my Dad want science stuff, he’s not really had an interest in it besides a few notes and insights like any other person?” Harley muttered, although still being heard around the table.

It was true that in some point of time, everybody tried to gather their own theories of the apocalypse, how to cure it and what would happen, by backing them up with science facts. In the civilization that Harley lived in there were several factions of the community that were like dooms day cults and optimistic groups who promised a future without fire and death.

John moves an ace to a two and looks at her questionably, “He’s crazy about that stuff, always searching people out to gain more knowledge on what was going on in the science world.”

Most people had in fact given up on scientists and all newspapers and magazines depicting the information about them were untraded in their civilization.

Before she could ask any more questions, Jace’s mother came in a flurry of excitement hugging her husband and then her son and then Harley. Jace shares his nose and ears with his mother but everything else comes from his father. Despite this his mother is fair with brown eyes and a caring face.

“It’s so nice to see you again Harley,” she said having a look at her face. Harley is seventy five percent sure that the mother could see her sunken features. Abigale Myers is a woman on a mission being often seen just about everywhere asking how people are doing, fixing people up (she is certified medic after all) and trading things. “Why don’t you go have a nap in the living room, you look remarkably tired I imagine off worrying for your father but he will be fine you know?”

Harley doesn’t do much to protest, but wonders why all the sleep in the world only results in more fatigue. Sparing one last look at Jace, who sent a worrying look back, she does what Abigale had suggested. Retreating into the cozy looking living room, Harley heaves a sigh and flops onto the couch, fixing the blank TV with a long, lingering look before drifting off to sleep.

 “Dinner time!”

Harley jerks awake with a spasm, legs shooting to the side and throwing her off the couch with a wail of distress.

“I didn’t mean to startle you Harley!” Abigale calls from the kitchen and Harley lets her nose guide her to where the Myers family all sit around the table, John’s cards all absent now.

“I’ve got a surprise for everyone,” Abigale announces, holding a cloth bag above her head as she steps up to the table.

At the kitchen table, John glances up from a stack of papers weakly illuminated by a solar lawn ornament. “A surprise, Abigale?” he asks, eyebrows angled suspiciously.

“Yes, a surprise.” Spinning on her heel, she motions all of them with a laugh. “Harley please sit down,” the girl in question does what she is told as she waits for the surprise to be revealed.

“I present to you…” Settling the bag on the table, she places her hands in either of the holes and drags the sides down with a sung fanfare. “Pineapples!”

Mixed shouts emerge from all corners of the table.

Jace grins. “Holy shit.”

“Mind your language,” John warns.

“Aren’t all of the farms that used to grow pineapples burned or rotted?” Harley gasps and questions, snatching up one as it rolls out of the bag and bounces oddly towards her.

It was true pineapples grow on plants low lying to the ground and when the overgrowth of trees started many plants adapted and blocked sunlight causing the fruit to rot or spoil.

“A woman came through town on horseback,” she tells them warmly. “She rode all the way from the Southern tip of Britain to get a container to as many towns along the island as she could when she heard that we didn’t have any fruit.”

“That was nice of her,” Jace coos, grabbing up a fruit with eager fingers.

With the pineapple in hand Harley eyes it suspiciously as her hands close around the prickled fruit. She turns it over several times, nails trailing cautiously over the rind. “Doesn’t look like there are bugs, either.”

“No bugs,” Abigale confirms happily. “No bugs, no mold, and no suspicious disease.”

“This is kind of too good to be true,” John murmurs uneasily even as he moves to hack at the skin with a knife. He works carefully to peel away the skin, juice working its way into his finger nails and down his hands as he pulls aside the skin. “They could be trying to kill us for all we know. Cull the population. More resources for them then.”

The kind mother rolls her eyes. “Trust me; we need all of the help we can get at the moment,”

“I don’t know,” John still murmurs,

 “Okay then, darling,” Abigale continues with a coo. “Anything you’d like to share with the table?”

John sighs, then mutters, “I was just thinking those bastards from the government are quiet.”

The table erupts in howl, table slaps, and hoots of amusement. An arm winds around the man’s shoulder, pulling him into a short sideways-embrace before they all return to their meal. John has always had a bone to pick with the government and always thought that they had a hidden agenda. He is probably right. Harley feels a bit out of place not laughing and so joins in on the happiness.

It was good to be surrounded by the sense of home. 

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