Return 10

The next day, small animals, those who may have managed to  survive by living in warrens and tunnels. Blind moles, rats, snakes.  We caught many — some were kept, and were given scrap and rind and their weaker comrades; in this way, we fatted them, and then fed. 

The next day, more of the same. The next day, the next day, the next.

One morning, we woke to what seemed more dream than what we experienced during sleep — birds had come to the encampment. They sang and whirled in the sky, diving and screeching, screaming. Some were small, and hopped about, pecking at the gravel, while others were massive, and they skimmed the surface of the pool and then rocketed off into the sky again.

Something in the air had changed, somehow; the sky above remained as it had been, grey and featureless for the most part, save the occasional roiling storm of dust and lightning, but now it was full of birds, singing and cawing, wheeling around.

They, too, were caught, kept — caged like hens.  We began to scout around for wreckage, salvage, anything at all that could be turned to our purpose. The children were still the ones who brought back food, or what could be renewed into garden-worthy seeds and sprouts, but the adults were sent off on any other viable search.  The Captain could not tell us if seasons would still change, but the mild, nigh-weatherless world in which we found ourselves might not always remain that way, and most of us thought we ought be prepared.

It was another time of joy the morning our birds began to lay in their nesting boxes.  Some were tiny, some were speckled; all of them were thick-shelled and full of yolk so yellow, so pure, so bright, we wept to see such vivid color.

We began to truly live, we refugees, we scattered people who found one another after the smoke began to clear, and the ground stopped trembling. We began to live, not simply survive. We found purpose in waking up each day and tending the garden, adding new plants, watering the soil.  We took turns keeping vigil over the winged creature, who laid at the bank of Songfall and seemed to sleep without breath or blood. The Captain dreamt every night, still, and each day, the children were gone, and then they came back in the twilight, exhausted and ready to sleep.  We began to build, making mortar and stacking rough-hewn stone into shelters.  We sought to reach the sky again, wondering what was above us, now that we could not see the stars.

It was no fine city of steel and glass, no architectural masterpiece  — in truth, after we had built several, the tallest of the buildings fell, crushing the people inside. We could not get to them fast enough, and they bled into the ash, and were as breathless as the creature when we pulled them free.  The Captain had us clean them in the waters of Songfall, and then we dug open the earth to receive them. We sang to them the only song we knew — that of the fallen thing, whose melody still hummed in the pool, hummed in the garden of growing things, and hummed within each of us.

We did not let our stones reach for the sky, after that.

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