Zero Gain

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The great starving horde marched through space. No, they didn’t. They swarmed and, just as the hive-minded are apt to do, they toiled relentlessly, each individual an integral part of the whole.

Every last one a citizen and willing slave to its place and function as the collective of this ancient civilisation rose up from its dying world and took the form of a single mass. A great black-winged wedge to glide through the ink in search of that one thing all life craves – sustenance.

I’m not sure if you’ve read or, perhaps, you’ve been told that in all of existence there are but two worlds that harbour sentient life.

The first, of course, is Earth with its hierarchy of intelligence that, arguably, staggers down from humans and then to things that can be shot or caught in nets and, then, to things that squash beneath the tips of shoes and then onto some other insignificant organisms even smaller than that.

The other world, I forget now its name, is the afore-mentioned now dead rock from which the horde had set out. A place where microscopic Goliaths devoured all the things that swam in its sea and all the furry and feathered and scaled creatures that wandered the land and then, finally, although they had long toyed with the possibility of their preservation, they also gulped down the humanoids. The creatures that looked just like you. Mostly, save for that thing with the ears.

So these insects, for want of a better word, they cleaned out their larder and then set out into the heavens in search of a bite to eat.

It is only by chance that they happened upon your minuscule backwater speck of life. A water gripped rock upon which their great wedge could swoop and divide. You saw didn’t you as they dispersed into precisely targeted legions that cut down through the clouds and shunted your day into night.

They targeted the sentient and the swarm did adhere to every last living, breathing and thinking one of you. The first wave hit and they locked together, interconnecting their exoskeletons so that, once again, the many become the one. All life freezes in situ and in an instant all sound ceases, a global silence before simultaneously you could hear them begin to chew.

So there it is. That is how you ended, shredded away from the outside to the in by a bus load of ravenous tourists. The first wave passing back its masticated nutrition to the next wave that latches to its back and, then, back again to wave after wave until you have been replaced right down to your core.

But you had an unwitting surprise in store, didn’t you? You pass on a last little treat. A strand that twists within a tiny strand of your animal essence. A simple variation that locks their joints and closes them down and dooms them to never again budge.

They die, eventually, this time unable to escape from the hunger that throbs and claws in their heads. Though, even if they could, there is not but one crumb of sustenance left in the universe to be had.

At least the trees still look down, creaking in the wind above your morbid monuments. Statue remembrances as you bleach and flake in the sun.

So that’s the story, how in a single day the sentient life total for all of the cosmos was dialled back down to zero. Well, almost zero.

Zero, not counting me.

The Girl Who Fell Up from the Earth

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The ancient evil that lives and breathes and seethes beneath my grandmother’s house has nothing to do with Hell. This rotting husk is not the place that villains go when they die. It is not some construct tasked with offering context and balance to those who need to have a notion of evil so as they know just how it is to be good.

It is a craft. A ship of enormous dimensions and it is a prison and it is failing.

You see these creatures thrive on the exact flavour of toxicity that our planet now finds itself bound. How gleeful as they pulled images of our slow demise down through the dirt and they watched and they plotted and they waited.

Such jealousy as they wish to walk upon the surface as we, but cannot. They pray for the day to arrive when they can wade out into the acid lake. To drink our rank filth down into their pores until it courses through every last ounce of their being.

And so for now they can but dream of a time, now many millennia ago. When their refugee barge spiralled like a great sycamore pod through the endless folds of the cosmos sea. When they crashed down into a world still in the bawling throws of its birth.

At first they thrived in their newly found acid realm. But, then, came the filtering trees and the animals and the greenery and, then… and, then, there came us. They retreated back into their craft and they watched with hungry eyes the march of time as the sediment and waste and the filth layered and layered and it layered.

At the end of one of my grandmother’s many winding garden paths, there is a rock that juts up from the earth. Only it’s not a rock. It is the very tip of a wing. That of a craft of enormous dimensions. As a child, I’d lay my hand upon it and feel its crackle warmth even on the coldest of days and Grandmother would tell me this tale.

How my own mother had been digging in the garden one day and that it was she who discovered the craft. That a tiny door had opened in it and she crawled through and was never seen again.

The monsters used her to create me. They created me so that I would speak to the world. I had to be female and when my time came to make known my voice I had to be young. I had to be sixteen. Surely, nobody would listen and the world would rail against me and belligerently stick to its course.

The monsters knew that the earth was at a tipping point. All it needed was for arrogance and greed to continue its trudge and the end would be nigh and they could slither on up to feed.

It’s just fiction, I know. Just a funny little tale that grandmothers tell. Not a fleck of truth in it at all.

But today, as I stand before the leaders of the world and some mock me and call out my differences, I smile.

I smile because I can feel that so many others can smell the stink of their uranium breath. I see change jostling just at the ends of my fingers. I smile because for now the monsters will remain down in the shell of their crumbling hell.

For now…

… They will, at least, for now.

Man and Woman

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“I love you, my dearest”, I say folding back and patting smooth the sheet that is tucked at her chin.

I look at her and trace the thick welts at my cheek and feel within them my own mother’s bottomless affection. I, too, will love my child as she loved me. Bottomless, endless love.

I remember caressing her form as she grew in my belly. We were alone, she and I, and even then I knew she was special. More than a daughter. She is my best friend. But today is the day I will hack from her sweet face every last hint of its beauty.

“Is today when you tell me the story?”, she asks through eyes so deep and so dark.

“Yes, yes. For you to understand what’s to come, you must first learn what has already been.”

“Is it a scary story, Mother?”

“It is horrifying. This tale of the day when the world ground to a halt and then again it spun”, I stutter.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Please…”

“OK… so it was that the remnants of our burning planet’s leadership sat in the great auditorium and gazed at him up on the screen.”

“At who?”

“The one who was scrubbed from all memory. A mighty invader from a distant civilisation. He looked like us. Or, at least, he looked like we once had been. Arrogant. Smug in the certainty of his absolute power.”

“What was his name?”

“His name was God. For we had no other name for he who welds control so absolutely. We asked for mercy. We asked to be saved and in his grace he allowed us a chance.”

“I know everything about you. Your cultures, your languages but I really do not understand this incredulous notion you harbour. That there must be some underlying motive to my actions. I annihilate because I can. You want mercy? I can do that, too. Do you know of an Italian television show that goes by the name of Uomini e Donne?”, he said.

“Of course… it is very popular”, The Italian Prime-minister responded bemused.

“It is also very popular on the farthest edge of the galaxy. The borderline tortuous ever-repeating theme music, the continuous vacuous arguing and the fake body parts and the ’does he love her does she not’ dynamic… it’s all so… stimulating. I’ll spare you your world and I will leave and pledge never to return… but you must continue to make that show. You must pour all of your resources into its perpetual continuation. Beam it out into the stars. The very instant that you don’t, I will return and that… will be… the end of that!”

“And so this damned show is beamed three times daily out into the swirling mystery of the cosmos. All notion of organized religion is erased. Government’s cease to exist. There is only the show. A dating show that to this very day selects only our most beautiful. Groomed to transcend mere celebrity, you will pass into the pantheon of immortals. Only you won’t. For it is farce. You’ll be exulted and lauded only whist you still have your looks. The moment age falters your perfection, they will kill you. I’m so sorry… I love you so very, very much”, I say into the pristine ocean eyes of my unfathomably beautiful daughter as my weak fingers open and the blade falls away to the floor.

The Jungle Room

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Thick vines encircle in an ever upward choke of the huge concrete pillars that support the spine roof of the great cathedral. It is not a cathedral but, rather, a great subterranean chamber in which building supplies were once stored. Though its heavy sad gape does give a certain sense of those ancient halls of empty and pointless worship.

At the base of the walls, thick undergrowth gives way to vast open plains of the most vivid green. If you look closely, there are polar bears and elephants and marmots and kiwis and all manner of other creatures to be found. Lazily, they forage beneath the freshly rendered great orange orb that glimpses through the foliage that creeps and intertwines overhead.

The walls themselves are a crush of great centurion trunks with multitude branches that filter out to the most delicately formed tips. It is beautiful. It is silent. And it is as black and unseen as most deepest and inanimate of dreams.

“It’s nearly here. Do you not hear the crackling roll of its approaching feet?”, says the artist as her lover toys with the holes in the ends of her fingers.

“Are they painful?”, he asks and, then, snorts at the redundant stupidity of his question.

“We did well. Working our fingers to the bone. I think the last details are no more than our flesh and our blood.”

“Do you think it is beautiful? This memory of a world now all but lost.”

“I think it is perfect. Don’t worry, you’ll see. We’ll see it all… Just hold me…”

There is a shudder and a patter of falling cement in the darkness and then, of a sudden, the roof renders apart and a great molten wave surges and crests up above.

The artists, the lovers, the last two beings on Earth lay together and feel the heat grip and contract at the grey sag of their skin. And they look upward with long blinded eyes and they do not see a thing.

In the roar of an instant, a great vast artwork becomes drenched in a ferocious and searing light. The last ever record of the trees and the animals and the grass beneath their feet ignites as the defeated slurry of the poor melted earth crashes down and into the void.

Oeo

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I hadn’t visited it for many years. It’s like anything I suppose, the more time rolls forward the more things get left behind. But this place was special and I never should have left it alone for as long as I did.

My grandfather was a fisherman. Not one who owned or worked on a boat. Not one who would cut out into the waves and feel at perfect ease as the land fell away far beneath. But he was no less hardy as he waded into the swell up to his knees and whipped with awesome might the great rod in his hands. Forever searching and dreaming of those great snapping beasts that shone as they were pulled to the light.

As with all lovers of the the catch, my grandfather had a favoured and secret spot where he would go and hide and fish. This remote tiny cove upon which I now stand. And, again, the wind whips the foam from the waves and drives its salt sting to my face.

My grandfather has been dead for many years now and so I guess it’s OK to tell you about Oeo. It’s not a town, just farmland and I think there was a pub but, maybe, now there is not.

Oeo. My grandfather would joke relentlessly that it is the same forward as it is backward. Not so much a joke as it was a statement of fact. But, then, he could make anything fun.

We had family friends that owned a dairy farm there and my grandfather would drive me in his blue station wagon through the hoof worn muddy rut of its fields.

He was a maniac. Hardened by war and a youth of devil may care, he’d pummel that old car at breakneck speed. Only to swerve and slide to a halt just feet from where the cliff-top slumped and fell away beneath the chomp of the Tasman Sea’s relentless decaying bite.

Then, with his backpack filled with the stench of bait that permeated the sandwiches my grandmother had made and his rods hoisted atop his shoulder, he’d disappear down the sheer face of the cliff.

A makeshift ladder of driftwood led us to this secret spot. This parapet outcrop of boulders from atop which we’d sit and wait for the tug of the fish.

I stand here now with my young son. His hand blue in mine and I look and I see my Grandfather up on the rocks. He is not someone else nor a trick of the light through the lash of the rain.

It is him.

In this moment I know. I know that memories can curdle and rot. That precious moments don’t fade in time, they linger and wait.

His skin is grey and paper-thin and riddled with holes and his ruined shirt flaps as the salt and wind seep through and crash and beat in the hollow of his chest.

“What are you waiting for, old man?”, I shout out into the wind and the tiny blue hand it tightens.

He turns and he smiles. I love this old man.

“It’s the same way backward as it is forward!”, he replies.

And the words that carry on the icy gusts warm me and the tip of his rod suddenly cranes and points out into the swell.

“You see him, right?”, I say to the wide-eyed boy at my side.

“Yes Dad, I most surely can and I think that he’s got a fish.”