Everyone was sitting around the fire. In the darkness of the forest around them it was the only light. It reflected off the childrens faces and glittered in their eyes.
Eyes that were locked on the old lady before them. They sat in a circle on the ground; Anticipation running like an electrical current among them.
The old lady poked at the fire with a long stick. She sat on a stump, her long blond, white and gray braid lay coiled on the grass… Like a snake around her rubber flip flop adorned feet. She chewed some kind of root she held in her other hand. Every now and them she turned and spat out the chew onto the ground behind her. She looked up and around at all the children in the circle. Her bright blue and shiny moo moo dress with the big colorful flowers all over it, sagged down revealing deeply tanned, freckled and wrinkled old cleavage. She smelled of coconuts…
She already knew what stories the children wanted to hear the most, but in a curious voice she asked them anyways. What tales from the Old World would you children like to hear this evening?!
Out of all the tales of the Old World before the Climate Changed the kids always wanted to hear the same ones… Pirates, Merpeople… Floridians…
They didn’t disappoint this time either… Florida! Florida! The kids excitedly chattered back at her. Tell us about what Florida Man did! A few little boys wanted to hear about all the venomous creatures and huge lizards. Some of the girls wanted to hear stories of the glamourous ones in the fabled Miami…
The old lady decided tonight she would tell an old tale again. The very first one in fact. As with every story she told she prayed a little prayer before it. A prayer of remembrance. A prayer that the bad past would never be repeated.
Leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, she hushed at the children and paused. They waited… She began to speak, low and steady; her voice making music like drums, floating out and into the dark night.
She whispered… Times weren’t always like this… Dark. Quiet. The forest didn’t used to be all there was. She shook her head a stared off into the darkness.
The children followed her gaze, turning their heads to look where she did. See what she saw… They realized they couldn’t see anything but the dark silhouettes of the trees…. They turned back to Granny.
No children. Things weren’t always like this. She tapped her foot on the grass. She hummed a little. The hum turned into a word… mmmmnnnnnnooooo… No, things were much brighter, lights everywhere. Everyone had lights. Lights so bright you couldn’t see the stars in most places.
The children murmured amongst themselves…
And Loud! Granny raised her voice when she said the word. The kids jumped. Granny spread her arms wide as she said this… The world was so very, very loud. Music played everywhere from boxes and wires. People. Thousands, millions, billions of people talking everywhere. You could hear them through the boxes too. All the time… All the time… Granny shook her head again and harrumphed. The children could tell the old woman didn’t approve.
Her voice got real low and threatening. The worst though, the worst of it was all the waste. The garbage that piled up on all the shores and lands. It filled up the seas and the creatures in it. It filled up the space above us. She raised her face to the sky and shied away from it as if something would fall. Crash down and kill them all.
The old woman seemed to read their minds. It did once you know… Their eyes widened that she knew their thoughts. A piece of trash fell right out of the sky. Caused a huge commotion in the world. Then it happened again, and again…. It became pretty common she said casually. The children stared up at the sky and stars wondering if anything was left up there to fall on them.
Granny snapped her fingers and the children were wrapped up in her again. It wasn’t all that though, what took out the Floridians. Took much, much more than all that bright loudness and trash. It took Mother Nature. Earth herself arrived to carry the Floridians back to where they came from anyways.
What did you say Granny? One of the little ones piped up from the kids.
I said only Mother Nature…. You know who she is there boy?
Good. Only Mother Nature could take the Floridians out of this world and into the next. God sent her to do it when he wiped the planet clean. Those Floridians were that special. That important.
Why Granny? This came from a few of the children.
The old woman smiled slowly. She winked one eye at them and looked wise. Because they were guardians. Guardians of nature, of beauty and the wild wilderness. Even if they failed… They were the guardians of a certain land. They were important. Her voice faded away on this last word and again she stared off into the dark distance…
What happened to them Granny? The kids impatient voices snapped her back into the present.
What happened indeed?? First my loves, it was invaders from the world. Long, long ago… hundreds of years before the Climate Changed… Humans from other places traveled around in the cars. They flew around in the planes. The visited other lands and that included Florida.
At first the Floridians were suspicious and didn’t want the visitors, but as time went on, more and more people came. And they all weren’t that bad but Florida became more and more crowded.
The people who came to visit began to stay. They bought land and built homes. They filled in swamps and marshlands. They discovered there were oils… Granny said this ominously…
The black stuff that boils out of the ground by Nanna’s house? The children were amazed anyone would want that stuff for anything. It was so hot anything around it died and was turned to bones.
Granny nodded. The very same only back then it stayed in the ground. She tapped her foot on that very ground. It didn’t rise up everywhere any time like it does now. And it wasn’t as hot as it is now. Humans actually pumped it out of the Earth to use. Mostly so they could travel around more. They needed it for all those cars and planes… the old woman’s voice trailed off.
Firelight coming through the trees made everyone look. The old woman tightened her grip on her stick. One of the adults from the village emerged from the trees. Everyone relaxed. She handed Granny a hot cup of coffee, the old woman nodded thanks and she silently went back the way she came.
Granny sipped her coffee and tried to remember… Where was she? … … She watched the firelight reflected in her cup of black liquid… rainbows on its surface… Ah… She nodded to herself. The filthy, black oil…
The children were patient. Granny looked up and straight at them. She said to them; Never be in such a hurry that you destroy everything in your path to get somewhere. Or gain some.. thing. She pointed her finger at them and caught each one of them in her gaze.
The kids shuddered. Never Granny… They promised.
She continued on with a loud voice now, bold with a touch of pain and anger. It was oil that began it all. First the Floridians fought it but then… Money. People needed money somethin awful back then kids. They had to have the money for everything. Food, water… Eventually even clean air to breathe. It was like trade stuff today only much more complicated.
The children nodded back at Granny.
So the Floridians needed this money and sold their lands and land rights and such. The people who bought these lands were usually looking to build lots of houses for lots of people on them. Not always though. In some parts of Florida they wanted to drill for the oil. Some Floridians and even the visitors who had moved there, did try to help and fought against the progress.
Do you all know why?
Some of the kids looked wise and said yes… Others didn’t know, some shrugged.
The fought against this oil because not only was it destructive to the Earth and Mother Nature, but when an accident happened… It was mass destruction children. Granny’s voice became very excited. It wasn’t hot like at Nanas, so things it covered didn’t burn away. It killed things slowly… horribly…
The oil people had no good way to clean it up either. Remember that. They always told people and the guardians there would be no accidents and they were believed. The oil people got their way. The Floridians lost the fight. In the end they put a pipeline off the coast out in the ocean.
This was when the ocean was blue and the sands were white. Great monsters didn’t eat you in the big water back then and everything wasn’t poisonous. You could play in the water, lay on the warm sand… Her voice trailed away… She leaned way back closing her eyes and spreading her arms wide.
The sun didn’t burn your flesh off back then. You could go out in the day time… She was almost whispering. The kids leaned forward so they could hear her.
You could lay in the sun back then.
The children saw a tear slip down the old lady’s temple and disappear into her ear.
Slowly she came back to them. Straight up, no drama she looked at them and continued on.
They put in the pipeline. Off the East Coast. Off the only beaches left as the West Coast was already done for. Not but a few miles away from places where many Floridians were raised. Where the visitors had built fancy and huge homes. Where the travelers came to swim and play.
Yes… They were called beaches children and they were beautiful. We have nothing to compare today. Not yet anyways… The Earth has not finished her makeup yet… The kids nodded and laughed at Granny’s old joke about not being finished yet and makeup…
Granny smiled and chuckled with them. She continued on about the pipeline, where it was for a bit. How big it was. Her voice got low and menacing… She nearly growled at the kids like it was their fault… Granny spoke through her teeth when she said and…
Then it happened…
It happened. The old woman took a deep breath. The kids couldn’t breathe at all…
What happened Granny!? One of them almost shouted at her.
They had a damn accident is what happened! She nearly shouted back. She slapped her led and the kids all jumped a little again. Son of a Bitchin Thing split right down the side. No one even noticed for a month or so. Not until thick drops of black oil in the waves started spraying the sands. This oil poured out of the split in the pipe. It poured into the ocean and darkened the waters. The fish began washing up black, shiny and dead. The sand was all speckled with black. Then the oil itself reached the shore.
White sands stained black, bits of rusty pipes. Bubbling black foam reflecting back the sun in it’s shine. Thickly lapping at the darkening sand… Granny faded off..
The kids waited. She came back to them with the tears back in her eyes.
The birds were all black. They were all covered in the oil spilling out of the pipes. They couldn’t fly. They couldn’t spread their wings at all. They pecked and hopped around trying to survive but eventually they all just died… She looked off as if she had been there and was seeing it again…
The black birds lay all over the black beach.
Some of the kids were crying now, but the old woman didn’t care. These stories are to be remembered.
Her voice was low and scary. She began to look into the eyes of each child, singling them out one by one as she spoke to them…
The fish washed up dead and black every minute of the day for a long time she snarled. The smell was the worst thing you could have ever smelled times a thousand.
Some of the kids wanted to leave now but the older, braver ones wouldn’t let them go. Really, they were all more scared of the dark woods away from the fire than the nightmares Granny gave them.
The old lady was smiling at them now but it was a scary, creepy smile… The children decided it wasn’t a smile…
The smell of the dead fish mixed with the dead birds and other dead things. This smell of course brought more birds. They too died and all over everything; shiny, slick black oil.
Everything. And it kept coming!
After the oil people noticed the gushing leak it took them months to even try to patch it. Then they began to fight about who was to blame, who would pay for the clean up… On and on it went…
The patch failed by the way. Granny smirked and chewed violently on her root. She turned her head and spat on the ground behind her.
She turned back to them, normal old Granny again. The kids relaxed… A little.
We would have helped them clean it up Granny. The children chimed back at her.
Granny smiled… Of course you would guys. But you’re all smart enough never to have done it to begin with. She winked at them as they all very seriously nodded their heads in agreement.
But some people did come down to try and help clean it up. The Floridians, they were a big help. The River Keepers chipped in of course. It was a big deal but the oil kept on coming.
Granny paused. She waited a second.
People were different back then. They were sad a lot. The gave up quickly. We are much stronger now.
But they gave up. When nothing happened in the ancient courts of law, the people stopped coming to clean it up. The government closed off the entire Eastern coastline then and finally, years later… They capped and closed the pipeline.
The Floridians were now required to live fifty miles or more from any of the beaches as the West Coast had been closed off a long time ago. Most of the visitors who stayed left and the travelers only came to look at the destruction and mess.
The Floridians in their always optimistic ways, sold these travelers post cards and oil in jars to take back home, but it was never the same.
That’s so sad Granny… A little girl spoke out from the circle.
Yes it is child. It is. It was..
But the beach wasn’t all there was to the Floridians born and raised in that magical land. The catastrophe didn’t make them leave or die. In fact… the old lady’s voice perked up positively… In fact, they now had a good portion of their land back. Swamps and springs that before had belonged to visitors and the State.
They set about life as they now knew it and carried on.
Swamps and springs are just as good as the beach if you don’t mind the gators and snakes. Granny finished with a wink and a smile at the kids who now wanted her to to go on about gators and snakes.
No… No… We are done for the evening… She threw out her root and picked up a torch. With her cup and stick in one hand and the torch in the other, she motioned for the kids to put out the fire.
They followed her into the forest chattering about tomorrow night’s story. They all hoped Granny would tell them a better one… Maybe about the gators or springs. The one about the giant mouse maybe…
The old lady says to them that we will see… But she already knows the next story is about storms… Big ones that began to sweep everything away…
It may involve some gators and snakes… She chuckles to herself as she leads this band of New World children home to their village.