Once the world wasn’t like this, according to Father Blackburn. Once the world was covered in green grass, tall trees, and beautiful clear skies. Tonight there’s a patch of visible sky. It’s so beautiful. I think if I ever saw a sky that was entirely like that, I wouldn’t be able to comprehend what I was looking at.
But that changed when humanity destroyed it all.
Father Blackburn was there. He saw it happen. He might be one of the few people left alive who truly witnessed it. He tells us every Sunday and Thursday about the days of clear skies and plenty of food. Fresh food, not the packages of dried powder that contain our necessary nourishment but have the texture of sand. I’ve always wanted to eat an apple. I can’t explain why, I just see so many pictures of them. My mouth waters at how it must be to taste an apple.
Before he was Father Blackburn, he was a salesman. He traveled the world, saw so many things. On days where he feels the mercy of our God, he talks about how wondrous it was. How many people tried for a better world, one that was clean and pretty.
But that’s not what the people in charge cared about apparently. They cared for what caused the blight of man.
And there was no money in a clean world.
Smog rolled over the skies. Rivers were poisoned. The forests were ‘clear cut’, meaning they were mowed over, leaving nothing but barren earth behind. It was horrible to witness happen, according to Father Blackburn.
That’s why he created the Church of the Trees.
It was a church that believed in the preservation of the earth, of nature around us. If we failed nature, than we might as well kill ourselves. He gained so many members. My grandparents were some of the first, according to the Father. Petitions were made. Protests were held. Programs were funded by the richest members to attempt to clean the world.
Those petitions were ignored. The protesters were arrested. The programs were shut down after claims they were being ran by ‘terrorists’.
The Church was not terrorists. The people who controlled the world and destroyed nature were ‘terrorists’. But in the end, there was nothing that Father Blackburn could do but watch the disaster unfold.
He calls it the Judgment of Nature. The few outsiders that come to our compound for shelter call it the apocalypse. I prefer Judgment of Nature, it rolls off the tongue better. Father Blackburn says it was caused by the smog that rolled over the clouds, making the world burn hot and the sky turn brown. That smog entered the lungs of humanity, and humanity began to rot from the inside out.
Father Blackburn was prepared for this day, the day that finally man’s destructive force would turn on itself. He urged his people to join him in his own version of an ark, the compound we live in today. He handed out gas masks and medication to those who stood by his side. And those who mocked his work were left outside for the Ferrymen to drag away.
That’s what the humans who rotted away became. Ferrymen to death and the afterlife.
It’s been so long since this happened. The Ferrymen walk around our gates, awaiting more souls to escort to their final days. They’re dangerous, but easily placated. One must walk among the Ferrymen to keep them from attacking our gates, killing the children and the weak inside. Some must make that sacrifice. And today, it’s my turn.
“Doreen, I have a final gift for you.”
Father Blackburn pushes into my hands a small, red skinned fruit. “It’s not like the pictures you like, the skin’s a bit wrinkled but… it’s what you requested,” He said.
An apple. My eyes watered as I brought it to my lips, biting down. I shook as the juices trembled into my mouth, so sweet and full of flavor. It was divine. I felt complete.
“Thank you, Father Blackburn.”
Everyone who walks among the Ferrymen gets their final gift. Sometimes that final gift cannot be fulfilled. I did not expect mine would be. But it was just as delicious as I imagined. And now I felt ready. I walked up above the gates, the harsh wind cutting my face and drying my lips. I could hear the whispering rasps of the Ferrymen, impatient as they awaited the new one to join their ranks.
I closed my eyes and smiled as I let myself topple down to their waiting teeth, imagining clear blue skies and trees filled with apples.