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Sappho and the End of the World

by Vita


In the end, it was beautiful.

The crumbling splendor of it all. It was quiet, by then. We were too far-gone to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” I read that line in my book of poetry and I placed a paper marker there, like a tombstone.

I asked her, “How did they write such lines? How did they write like their words had wings?”

“They thought they were immortal. They thought their words would last forever.”

We knew better now. But we didn’t say it out loud.

The poets died out before the final fall. She said they’d been dying out a long time.

“They were a fragile breed, poets,” She said, rinsing her scarred brown hands in a bucket of rainwater, “Needed lots of space to think, lots of quiet to shout into. They got crowded out, like flowers crushed by weeds.”

I liked to think that in a gentler time, she might have been a poet. There was something in her self-contained strength that hinted at worlds and worlds and worlds beneath her surface. Worlds that might take shape in such beautiful poems, if only there were ever time and space to write such things.

But there was never time. Survival took it all, now that humanity was breathing its last. We picked through the rubble of cities scorched by bombs or trampled by riots or simply abandoned and reclaimed by nature.

Yellow lichen was the first scout sent ahead by the forest. It crawled over cement and asphalt, working in tandem with the elements to tear down what humanity had built. Then lion-headed dandelions would push up through the cracks in the disused sidewalk.

“Nature’s first green is gold” she would quip as we trekked through the gradually collapsing streets. We scavenged anything that seemed useful, carrying it with us in a squeaky wheeled shopping cart.

The singing of its wheels blended with the symphony of birds that had moved in when humanity moved out.

We wandered endlessly together, growing old scarcely seeing another soul. At first we wondered where everyone had went. On the rare occasions we encountered another traveler, we often heard rumors about refugee cams run by the remains of governments, or of underground remnants of civilization, even of escape to the stars.

At first we were hopeful. We dreamed that civilization soldiered on in some corner of the earth, or that a seed of humanity slumbered on some century long journey to a new world and a new sun. But as our youth faded, So did our hope. We sighed and accepted that we were among the last few left alive.

Eventually, we grew too old and tired to wander further. By then, we had reached the sea, and we settled down at last.

We built ourselves a hut out of the rotting boards and rusting sheet metal that had been left behind.

We planted a garden and prayed that the soil would not poison our food.

We cast makeshift nets in the sea and hauled in a bounty from the waters. The fish had begun to thrive again since humanity’s retreat.

Still, I saw the trash and refuse that washed against the shore. I cut the shreds of plastic from my catches’ stomachs when I cleaned them to be cooked. With every fish we took, I apologized to the earth.

“Our bloody tenure on your soil is coming to its end,” I would say aloud, for I had become accustomed to speaking to nothing and everything in my many years of wandering. “Do not begrudge us our last meals. We are almost done taking from you. Soon, you can heal.”

We worked hard and tried not to think about endings. Ahead lay the final sunset of civilization. We looked backwards instead, at the veiled stars of the past.

“I was only a baby when the world ended. Two years old,” she mused. She wasn’t sad, only thoughtful. You can’t miss a world you had never known. I suppose it was comforting, in a way, to know that whatever bird or beast inherited the world after us wouldn’t mourn our passing.

“I was six,” I replied. "I remember when it ended”. I remembered cartoons on a television, and news reports my parents flicked away from when I entered the room.”

“What happened when it ended?” she asked, her eyes huge even though she’d heard the story a thousand thousand times. We knew all each other’s stories by then, but there was comfort in telling them.

“It started gradually,” I replied, the heavy memories worn light with repetition, “Things got worse and worse, less and less to go around. First they rationed things, water, food, heat. Then they reduced the rations, and people scraped by on less still. They reduced them a second time, and people began to starve. They reduced them a third time, and the people rioted. In the end, it all burned.”

My parents had grabbed what they could and fled the city.

I was just a little girl in pigtails, clinging to my teddy bear in the crush of bodies.

“We walked for a week,” I continued. “Starving, stumbling. Eventually we found a camp of refugees like us. We lived in a tent and carried water from a spring half a mile away. But that ran dry and it all happened again. Less and less to go around, rations, reductions, riots. We barely made it out.”

I paused to take a breath. She added another log to the fire and gestured for me to continue.

“We wandered on our own for a few years. Eventually we joined up with a small band of wanderers like ourselves. Nomads, scavengers, survivors.

“And that’s when we met,” she interjected; her voice filled with the softness of wonder even after all those years.

“And that’s when we met,” I echoed. “And not long after that, my parents died, and you became my family.”

She scooted closer to nestle against my side. I pressed a kiss to her flyaway grey air, hacked short and ragged with the blade of a knife.

“Can you believe they cared we were both girls?” she murmured. I felt her words as much as I heard them.

“I mean, as the world is crumbling around us, they still have it in their hearts to hate.”

I only sighed and held her tighter. There was nothing I could say.

“They drove us away,” she said dully, pulling away from me. “I never knew any family but them, and they chased me out.” Decades old scars behind her eyes caught the firelight and shone like metal.

“They were blind.” I whispered. “Blind and stupid.”

“We found their corpses later.” There was no vengeance in her tone, no vindication. Only sadness. Only the weight of a society that had failed in so many ways.

“Cheer up, my love,” I told her, taking her hand. “This civilization’s left its legacy.”

“It’s left a layer of plastic across the earth,” she answered with a broken laugh.

I nodded. “A layer of plastic and a book of poems.” I patted the yellowed volume by my side. She smiled tremulously and pressed her forehead to mine, so close I could feel her pulse beneath her skin.

I thumbed through the time-softened pages, work-hardened hands finding the right page without having to look.

“Someone, I tell you, will remember us,” I told her, half prayer and half promise, “even in another time.”

Behind us, through the door of our little hut at the end of the world, the sun set like a blazing phoenix.


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50 Reviews


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Sat Sep 26, 2020 3:21 pm
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fleuralplants wrote a review...



I love the simplicity of the beginning line. It sets the scene for the beautiful story yet to come. Personally, I am a fan of apocalyptic tales (especially if they are mixed with romance), so this was a particularly fun and romantic one to read! The vocabulary used is very sophisticated and mature, and it adds to the plot of the story. The similes used are excellent, such as

the sun set like a blazing phoenix.
. It really helps the reader to imagine what it would be like to see that and the magnificence of the sight.




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Thu Sep 10, 2020 9:03 pm
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Rosewood wrote a review...



Aww! This was just so bittersweet and heartwarming, really and truly a good tale.

I'm going to praise you constantly in this review, and there's nothing you can do about that!

My first impression was that this was the beautiful middle of a love story and a tale of our ultimate demise, (very much my preferred reading genre). And as I delved deeper, I saw that this was much more than that! You found a way to include their, and our, history in an interesting way. Usually, when an author does that, I'm crossed between constantly rolling my eyes and actively paying attention, but my choice was simple here! The description was amazing, and my favorites, which I would usually quote below, have already been pointed out by a few of you other reviewers already.

So... I have only one nit-pick that I hope you will forgive me for!

We planted a garden and prayed that the soil would not poison out food.


Did you mean to say 'our' or was 'out' intentional? In the grand scheme of things, this definitely doesn't matter, but my OCD is being particularly bad today!

Anyway, I know this was pretty short, but honestly, I don't have much to say. It was perfect and we'll leave it at that.




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Wed Sep 09, 2020 3:46 pm
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RadDog13579 wrote a review...



Hi @Vita! I'm here to review this piece. Let me start off by saying that this was a wonderful piece of writing. For it being such a short story, it really didn't feel rushed at all. There wasn't a giant info dump that a lot of short stories have. This being said however, the perspective was a little bit confusing. I couldn't figure out if this was a flashback or a life story. If you do edit this piece then consider this. I really like how you themed it around poetry, I thought that was really nice. There were a few typos here and there like how you say "out food" instead of our food but that's beside the point. I like how you never said how the apocalypse started. It leaves room for the readers imagination. The ending is a really beautiful and touching conclusion to the story. That's all from me, happy writing!
-RadDog




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Wed Sep 09, 2020 1:46 pm
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Liminality wrote a review...



This is such a melancholy and picturesque story. It comes across more as soft sci-fi than hard sci-fi, since its concepts are more loosely explored, but you have given a solid picture of the world. I absolutely love the imagery in this.

1. There is a good variety of figurative techniques, which can be difficult when the piece is so descriptive, so good job on that. I like that you have similies, personifications, metaphors put in alongside the main bulk of well-placed strong verbs. Some of my favourites:

"a paper marker . . . like a tombstone" --> this image is very telling of the tone. That it is an unusual comparison also grabbed my attention a bit and made the moment more solemn.

"the softness of wonder" --> this is just a nice phrase that captures an expression despite being quite abstract

"crush of bodies" --> a raw and fitting metaphor that makes the image of the main character as a young girl stand out

2. I really like the mood of this story. As I said, it is primarily melancholic, but in a gentle way, with a bit of hope weaved in. "heavy memories worn light with repetition" sums it up and I like how you've phrased the main character's thoughts on her life.

3. There are some typos here and there that might deserve a second look. "out food" should probably be "our food" and in "But as our youth faded, So . . . ", the 's' if probably meant to be capital letters.

4. "Can you believe . . . " and "I mean . . . " come across as a bit abrupt for me, because of how different the register is from the rest of the dialogue. Lines like "They thought their words would last forever." get the reader used to high-brow speech, so the more informal parts stick out when they come.

5. Regarding allusions and symbols, I love how they were built into the story. I did have to check Wikipedia for Sappho, admittedly, but I like how she wasn't just a name-drop, and that you've built the story around the theme of poets and poetry. It's also a nice touch that this story is written in the first-person, which was also Sappho's preferred voice. The reference to the phoenix in the last line suggests some kind of rebirth and hope, which keeps the ending from being a downer.

Overall, this story is definitely a poetic one. Not only does it have a good opening and ending line, it also has a smooth and beautiful flow of descriptions. Keep up the good work! :D

Cheers,
Liminality




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Wed Sep 09, 2020 3:27 am
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IconspicuoslyAlpacaing wrote a review...



Hello Vita!

This was a beautiful story, and easily the most romantic (and gay) take on the apocalypse I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. My favorite aspect by far is that, even before you explicitly stated that the two characters were in a romantic relationship, there's an innate sense of companionship and love between them, and I adore it! There were couple times you misspelled a word, or there was a missing comma, which isn't usually a fundamental issue with the writing, just a grammar nitpick. I'd recommend being more particular during proofreading, or just doing it more than once. The narrator's descriptions and the poetic storytelling add an exponential amount of, for lack of a better word, flavor, to the tale of Sappho and the End of the World.

This was a pretty short review, but I don't have a whole lot to say that isn't just incoherent gushing about how delightful this work was to read. I hope you have a great day, and a marvelous #RevMo ! Auf Wiedersehen!

-Connie





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