What Remains Behind

The great machines crawl like earthworms through the sea of refuse, the candy wrappers and plastic bags, the broken bottles and soda cans, the tangled wire and foam from old mattresses now indistinguishable from the mangled carcasses of sleeper sofas and lazy-boy recliners. What was once the bedrock of a comfortable home has become the top soil of a burial mound raised over the mass grave of a civilization that refused to back down to itself, that raged in its own filth while disease gnawed away, until finally, mercifully, it sank beneath the surface and drowned.

Now the machines toil away, great drills pulling the metal hulks down, churning into the mire and then back up into the open air choked with the stench of death. Everything that could degrade has degraded; all that could rot has rotted away. The scavengers have all died or fled, finding nothing that could sustain them.

Only the machines remain to work this land, with the creatures who built them tucked away in their bowels, the seventh sons of the seventh sons who raped the Eden they were born to, who took every good thing they found and plucked it at the stem, wrapped it in plastic, and threw it in the sea. Those men had long left the earth, though even their bones still remained alongside their cars and wall-to-wall carpets, an inheritance for the ancestors who would crack open the coffins to find skeletal hands presenting them with double middle fingers, jaws open wide with the insane laughter of the damned.


The first generation had wept, had raged against the injustice as the last rockets disappeared into the sky. They were left behind, were left to rot in a mess centuries in the making, and they knew who to blame. Anger and indignation drove the social machine to its knees. Who would work the plants, man the factories, tend the fields, drive the trucks, run the mills, fix the roads, or milk the cows without anyone to pay them? The systems that held the global economy together collapsed; cities crumbled in anarchy; people driven to the edge killed for food, for cars, for gasoline, for safety, for fear. Skyscrapers burned to the ground, a last fuck you to the elite who had left the world behind in a torrent of smoke and fire. In the wider parts of the world crops rotted on the vine, for the farmers who knew the true value of their goods could not harvest it all.

The first generation was lost—they still had the sickness. The disease that had destroyed their world burned in them, consumed their insides and wracked them with madness. Most could not survive it, and they went shooting and screaming into their graves. Those who did survive were left changed, weakened in body but strong in spirit, for they had come back from the brink with a new knowledge, a transcendent insight from their glimpse into the void. Their understanding was one that would come to define the second generation, who knew nothing else but the world they were born to, and what they saw were the remains of a people who had paid dearly for their sins. They were lucky to be born in this era, to be born into a world of sanity, a world that was theirs to rebuild. Gone were the capitalists hellbent on profit, and gone were their minions: the police, the wardens, the debt collectors, the law makers who worked to enforce the only rule—that all must serve the machine or be ground beneath it.

The second generation was born into a world without rulers or systems, but it was a world with infrastructure—however damaged from disuse. It was a world with factories, power plants, airplanes, cargo ships, farmland, and the husks of cities—never mind the sprawling landfills, the rivers choked with plastic, the ocean drowned in toxic chemicals—these were obstacles only, challenges to be overcome. For the world was flawed and damaged, yes—but not beyond repair, never that, because this was the only world they had, and they could see that it was mutable. The ancestors had warped it, mutated it with the toxicity of their souls, but the world was still there, and it was still just as malleable as it had always been.

The second generation took the world left to them, and they began to work. They built new systems over the decaying infrastructure, lacing together the disparate pieces of the old world with the ideology of the new. What was not essential to the society was dismantled and recycled. Factories designed to mass produce consumer goods were re-purposed. Great machines designed to tear apart the earth were modified and rebuilt in the imagination of a people clever enough to understand their workings but wise enough to tremble at their blasphemous purpose. The old way had been to break apart, to sunder the wholeness of the earth and shape it into a thousand-million single-use servings. The new way was a vision of wholeness; their work was to break apart the brokenness, to deconstruct the individual, to take those component parts and rework them into the whole that it had been stolen from. Their work was a great unworking, an unwinding of the clock that had reached its zero hour. The tools of the old way were retooled and bent to this new purpose.


Now the great machines delve into the fields of ruin and waste, collecting the metals, dispersing the biochemical agents that gnaw at the plastics, churning the wreckage, coaxing the molecules to let go and break down, to return to the diverse unity from which they were pulled. And the people work the machines in patience. They are not overburdened with their task, though it will long out live them; the glory of their righteous purpose sustains them no matter the burden or toll.

Yet what has become of evil in this vision of utopia? Has it fled the Earth in a cloud of smoke? Surely not, for evil never was until it awoke in the dreams of mankind. Perhaps it has been distilled into its purest form, or ground to a powder, reshaped, and bent to a useful purpose; indeed, this is the new way. Perhaps it has been dispersed in non-toxic quantities, stirred into the mortar of new buildings, mixed in with the asphalt, used as a conductor in photo-voltaic cells, or woven into the sustainably-produced fabrics. Perhaps it seeps into the soil after a hard rain and lingers among the roots of fruit-bearing trees. Perhaps even now the seeds lay dormant in valorous hearts. Perhaps even now the great beast turns in its sleep, shaking the Earth with its terrible weight. Perhaps even now the righteous awaken in the dark, troubled, from a dream they can’t remember.