This is a story I wrote last year – it’s a bit clunky, but it seemed to resonate with some comments I’ve heard and read lately about hubris, climate change, transience, etc. (See On the Western Edge.)
I have arrived at a stopping place today. It seems to be where I was going. There is a house by the shore, with everything I need. The door was open and the kitchen cupboards stocked with my favourite things. No one is around, no vehicles, so I guess it’ll be ok to stay here for a bit.
I like it here. It’s very peaceful and it only rains at night. There are a lot of birds in the wood and one of them keeps appearing outside the window. I put out some bread and water for it…
I’ve adopted (or been adopted by) a dog. It’s a mongrelly thing, the colour of sand. It seems friendly.
Dog had been watching her for a while. He knew what was going to happen and was not looking forward to it. He had a soft spot for humans so he had appointed himself chaperone, but it wouldn’t make any difference to the outcome.
The others were starting to arrive. When Cat appeared she acknowledged the dog with a slight glance. This was a place apart; diplomatic protocol prevailed, though the smaller birds would still fly up in agitation when anyone came too close. Quiet sheep stood around cropping the short grass and Frog hopped gratefully into the pond. It had been a long journey for the small creatures.
It’s getting very weird out there now – the tame bird is still around, and the dog. But there’s also lots of other animals – a sheep, a cat, a frog, a deer, a goose, and even a large lizard. Surprisingly they all seem to get on, and they ignore me, except for the dog, which often watches me when I go out into the garden. Something strange is happening, but then I knew that already.
Typical of her species, the woman had not noticed any of the smallest creatures present, or the largest. She was aware only of the animals similar to her in size and type. At last all the representatives had assembled. ‘It is time to go to the place of the Eldest,’ said Cat. ‘I’ll bring the human,’ said Dog. There was a collar and lead hanging by the back door of the house. Dog pulled it off the hook and carried it to the woman. ‘Do you want to go for a walk then? Walkies?’ she asked, in that special voice they have for non-humans and babies. Dog was used to it though and found it quite endearing. It reminded him of the people who had adopted him when he was a puppy.
Once she had put the collar on him and attached the lead, he took her out of the house and down the path. It was not a long walk to the meeting place, so the woman did not object. She even managed to believe she was taking Dog for a walk, and when they stepped into the clearing she stopped of her own accord and gazed up into the heights of the huge tree that grew there, amazed.
The representatives arranged themselves in the open space, and the debate began. Goose spoke first; she had no fear of public speaking and was always quick to voice an opinion. ‘We cannot let this go on. They are disturbing all the patterns. I have seen it, from the winterlands in the south to the summer breeding grounds. Everything is changing. It is time to act.’
‘But what can we do? They are everywhere and so busy all the time. How can we stop them? They don’t even notice us most of the time. And when they do, they put out traps.’ This was Mouse.
‘What choice do we have? They are going to take our homes and kill us all in the end if we let them. We must fight back.’ Goose was shouting louder now.
‘But they look after us. How can we fight against them?’ The others looked at Sheep and shook their heads in disgust. ‘If you were a proper animal you wouldn’t need them to look after you. You’ll just have to learn to cope again like you used to.’
‘Perhaps they will realise what is happening and stop?’ This was from one of the smallest representatives, a bacterium. ‘We can, we stop multiplying when we run out of room. Surely such clever animals will do the same. We just need to give them time.’
‘If they were going to do that they’d have done it by now. They only seem to be clever. They can’t see beyond their little world; they have no sense of the things around it, the things that sustain it.’ This was Cat, whose detached voice carried weight. She did not often condescend to join in the conversation.
‘But what can we do? Mouse is right. They may not be clever but they are very powerful.’
‘So are we. We are many and if we act together they cannot stand against us.’
‘Are you saying we declare war?’ asked Dog. This was what he had feared. Dogs had thrown in their lot with humans long ago. It would be hard to break that bond.
‘Yes’ said Lizard. ‘We must or it will be the end of everything.’
The discussion went on, tactics and strategies, ways to combine the skills of the species against the human empire. Dog was quiet though, watching the woman as she sat oblivious among them. He was the one who had argued that there should be a human representative at the convocation. It might mitigate the anger, he thought, if there was a reminder of the innocence of a solitary human. At least the species should not be tried, judged and sentenced in absentia. But it made no difference. The woman’s total unawareness of what was happening around her made things worse. As Lizard pointed out, ‘there’s no talking to them – they don’t understand. Look at her.’
Then, in a lull in the debate, a new voice was heard, deep and slow, a humming in the ground beneath them. ‘You are all as foolish as the humans.’
‘Eldest … you honour us,’ they all spoke the ritual words, then fell silent, waiting for the ancient voice to continue. ‘You do not need to wage war. You only need patience. This has happened before – I have seen it. The balance will be restored. It is already happening. You smallest ones – soon you will be strong again. The weapons they use against you have made you stronger. And my ancestors and yours that they have pulled out of the ground for fuel – they are almost gone. Change is coming, to the humans and to all of us. But that is nothing new. You do not need to make it happen. It will come.’
‘But that is why we need to fight! We do not want this change. It will destroy so many of us, not just the humans! We want things the way they were before.’
‘I said you were fools. There is no going back. Time will not stop for you.’
‘What should we do then, Eldest?’ asked Mouse.
‘Live your little lives. What else? That is all anything can ever do.’
A silence fell. A breeze passed through the clearing. The woman watched a leaf fall from the highest branch of the great tree. ‘The sun is setting, dog. Shall we go home?’ She stood up and Dog followed her back down the path towards the house.
Today was the strangest yet. I took the dog for a walk and we found all the animals in a clearing in the wood. It was almost as if they were talking to each other. There was a tree – the biggest I have ever seen. It gave me a leaf… I mean a leaf fell, even though it is not autumn, a green leaf – but it is turning brown already. I have pressed it in a big book to keep it safe. And I’ve remembered where I came from, where I should be. So I will go back tomorrow. I hope the dog will come with me…