Bitter are truths that are undeniable, unconquerable- so many un-things, too many to count. But who's counting, anyway? The lies we tell ourselves are so much sweeter.
Light filters through the early morning haze, patterning over the ground and dying the air a tarnished gold. It glitters across the fragments of the world and skitters, sparkling, along the edges of the glass strewn about the ground. Shards of crystal litter the surface of the planet in an unending carpet of shimmering slivers and silvery stone; and if one were to stand in just the right place, the world would appear to be a vast sea of mirrors.
The soil pokes free between pieces of glass here and there, cutting holes in the reflections of buildings left behind. Bricks and crumbled mortar lie jumbled together in disjointed piles, slumped against the few walls still left standing. These tower over the landscape, monoliths of stone like sentinels over the earth. All are dusted in a thick layer of sand and ground glass so that they, too, shimmer in the pale watery sunlight.
Empty frames lean crookedly in the three remaining walls of what once was a church, their contents scattered about haphazardly in a halo across the ground. Oranges and violets reflect their hues upon the moldering bricks and are then picked up by the mirror-like shards that lay over the surface of the sand. Perhaps these flashes of rainbow shall be carried across the desert, held and shared between fragments until the whole world is reflected, reverberating, in a symphony of blues and reds and greens.
Or perhaps not- who can say?
The broken, once-proud steeple of the ancient church still scrapes against the sky, a single point of broken, twisted black against the endless rosy sky, still blushed with dawn. Wisps of clouds race by overhead, carried ever on by unseen winds. A lone twist of foggy morning air curls across the sun, casting its shadow over the barren landscape.
A river of black crawls between the ruined buildings and broken fragments of pointed light, mingling with the shadows and flowing endlessly into the horizon. A single strip of yellow paint clings stubbornly to the center of the asphalt road, forever telling the non-existent populace do not cross here. Broken houses, broken dreams line the sides of the tarmac, all that remains of a once thriving neighborhood.
What happened here, so long ago, to take a planet so filled with life and reduce it down to a shining husk of its former glory? And that is the word- reduced. Not destroyed, or broken, or shattered; nothing so violent as that. Just the bitter passage of time, moving on and on and on like the clouds overhead.
There is no life here, not anymore, but it is beautiful nonetheless. Cool blue waters replaced with seas of glass and river-like roads, mountains flattened in favor of towers of rebar and rubble to scrape the sky in their stead. A strange sort of beauty, but breath-taking all the same.
But what of the people, the ones who lived before? What happened to those who once inhabited this town and sang in the church, who had loved and lived as all others do?
Perhaps they stayed, tried to hang on to their fragile kingdom as long as possible. Sat by their radios and televisions and listened to tales of catastrophes, and prayed please, not us too. Kept living and praying, even as the water dried up and the world withered away under their feet- and hunger or illness or fear took them away one by one. Perhaps they all lie buried under the sand, entombed beneath the sea-like mirrors, unloved and unremembered.
Or instead, perhaps, they left. Set out upon that unbroken river of road in search of better places. Took everything of value and some things that had none, and set out in ones and twos to find what they may. Maybe they saw things that no others had seen before- towering spires of orangey stone carved by wind and ancient water into graceful arches and imposing monoliths, far taller than anything they had seen before. Or buildings of silver and strange, gray stone rising higher yet, all surrounded by an urban jungle of wires and unfulfilled wishes- a lost monument to humanity. Perhaps a few plucky souls survived their wandering to become travelers, going forth into the unknown, come what may. If they are even luckier, perhaps they wander yet.
Or perhaps, instead, they flew. Built a ship from steel and sweat and unrelenting hope and bade it to fly them somewhere far and away. Perhaps they hover in their gilded cage over what was once their home; gazing down from on high upon all that they left behind, but unable to look away. Perhaps they wait still for a time when soft rains will come again to clothe their planet in green once more. Maybe they gave up hope entirely. Who knows?
We can all guess at what happened, at how this story ends. Death comes for us all, for all that we might try to avoid it. There is no proof of life here, not anymore- just glass and dust and a dawn that shall occur, uncaring, whether or not there is anyone to see.
But I? I choose to have hope regardless- to tell myself that this story hasn't ended, not yet. For while one civilization may fall, there may still be others in its wake.
Perhaps one day, a thousand years into the future, a new ship may arrive upon the neglected planet. Perhaps those within it will see the shining, sharp-edged seas and the broken buildings and think home. Perhaps life will resume in ways foreign from what we have known, but similar all the same. And there will be people to live, and laugh, and love once more.
Perhaps I am lying to myself, merely spinning out a flight of fancy, a hopeless dream. But of all the endings out there to choose from, I know which one is the sweetest.
Don't you agree?