Hello, all. I know I’ve been silent for quite a while. Real life issues have kept me busy and likely will continue to do so for a few more weeks. However, I did want to set aside some time to write. I apologize in advance for the unnatural darkness of this piece. It has been a hard few months. This is from a few weeks ago (#13), and hopefully I will catch up with the rest of the MidWeek Flash crew soon. Enjoy your Fourth of July!
Poison or Regret
From my threadbare cot, I gaze out across the sandy strip of land to the fouled sea. At this time of day, the blue of the sky and sea deceive me, convincing me they are safe like before the War. But they lie. The intervening junkyard of monstrous gears rusting in the sun accuses me and rightly so. Guilt turns like a nauseous worm somewhere between my gut and my heart.
My world is about to end, has ended already in fact, and the fault is undeniably mine.
I had done this, me and my rose-colored glasses. My blankets carry the sour stench of my fear. If only I could vomit up the churning mass of rot inside me and be rid of it, this mess of guilt and shame and regret. The torment of knowing how close the end is wracks my soul, pinches in my chest. No God in history, however loving, could forgive me what I’ve done. I will never forgive myself.
I had borrowed from the future to pay for my privileged and lofty ideals, stealing our children’s future as if they wouldn’t notice. Thinking I could pay it back before they realized what I’d done. But I had gambled on bright-eyed hope and love and kumbaya—and lost.
The aliens hadn’t been out to exterminate us. Truthfully, they hadn’t even noticed us at first. Our little blue-green planet had simply been in the way of their galactic feud.
I shiver and my stomach roils as flashbacks shudder through my weakening mind. Giant machines sheathed in sleek oily carapaces of bottle-fly green clash around me. Earth herself is hard-pressed to tolerate their size and weight. Each footfall, each strike, each crash reverberates through the ground beneath my feet like an earthquake. I imagine myself, pitiful and small, standing between them like a child playing referee to warriors. I try to stop them from trampling the world I love, but they battle on heedless of the fragile life beneath their feet.
We should have attacked when we first saw them, out beyond the moon. We should have thrown everything we could think of at them, but instead I had led a call for contact and diplomacy. I convinced the world to follow me… to our doom.
Is my sin one of hubris, or only short-sightedness? Or perhaps cowardice? A fear of looking circumstances in the face and calling them by their right name. I’d attributed human processes to the aliens’ actions, thinking that behind the callous destruction lay misunderstanding rather than ingrained aggression. I once thought it was daring and brave to believe in universal Good with a capital G, but in reality I had turned my eyes from the truth. Nature is the only ruler, and she is as blind as Justice. Her rules are simple: kill or be killed.
I swing swollen feet to the ground and teeter on starved legs. Emerging from the sheltering debris where I sleep, I walk my penitent gauntlet as I do every day. My sleeping quarters had once been an alien diplomat who thought as I did. Or at least that’s what the translators conveyed. Death found him (it?) quickly. I am not so lucky. Passing beneath the broken bodies of the combatants left behind, I notice rivulets of bright blue and green and oily yellow. Their alien alloys leach into the ground, finding their microscopic way to the water My gut twists a turn tighter.
Oh, that joyous day when the War ended. Whether by victory or surrender we had no way of knowing, but no one cared. The giant robots simply stopped fighting and one by one blasted off into the sky, leaving their dead and wounded stranded. Such misguided relief, as if Fate was done with us. The simmering backlash of my cause lashed out then and we retaliated with all the spiteful anger of a tormented child, nuking what was left of their number and our world. But it was already too late. The tincture of alien metals left behind and irradiated by our foolishness now poisons us little by little. One cannot survive without water and drinking the water will kill you.
The bleak landscape of my mind is torture. Guilt, regret, sorrow, isolation. I want to die and I surely will along with everything I tried to save. The question is: Will the alien poison or my own regret kill me first?