“The walk that Merlin began outside was anything but easy. The grass almost reached his torso. He shivered, not used to the feeling of mud and water, and even some bugs on his bare toes. He didn’t think to get his shoes. He was just wondering what the heck happened to his so normal town.”
Chapter 1: Apocalypse
Merlin’s eyes opened. As usual, a white ceiling was above him. It was the weekend; he should have stayed in bed. For some reason, he didn’t. He wanted to get up and eat breakfast. Maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was hunger, Merlin would never know. So Merlin rubbed his small eyes, scratched his light brown, overgrown hair, and walked downstairs to the kitchen table.
He first noticed the smells that were floating up the stairs. It didn’t smell like pancakes or fresh-out-of-the-box cereal, or anything like that. It smelled fresh and full of nutrients, but not the kind of nutrients that were that appetizing.
Merlin’s foot brushed over something growing on the step. It wouldn’t hold. He slipped and bonked all the way downstairs to the kitchen. That’s where he saw it.
The kitchen and dining room were barely recognizable as those things at all. It was more of a garden. That’s right, a garden. An overgrown garden.
The table wasn’t the rusty, wooden brown anymore. Some kind of flowering moss was there instead, acting as a tablecloth. That moss was all over the floor, along with dandelions and some golden wildflower that Merlin didn’t recognize. Giant, curling roots broke the window and molded around the cabinets, counter, and faucet. The sink was full of water, not to mention the lily pads and lotus flowers.
Outside didn’t look anything like a city. That one branch was curling through everything it could see. There were other trees, leaves that were growing and falling, moss, grass, wildflowers, bird baths with algae, and telephone poles covered in ivy.
The walk that Merlin began outside was anything but easy. The grass almost reached his torso. He shivered, not used to the feeling of mud and water, and even some bugs on his bare toes. He didn’t think to get his shoes. He was just wondering what the heck happened to his so normal town.
As Merlin walked, his feet grew numb, and it just felt like sneakers on the concrete again. He knew that it was still concrete, and that his sneakers were still inside his house, but to be truthful, he never walked anywhere without somebody who had a good sense of direction. He had no idea where he was, but he did know that he went straight for a while and then took a left, then straight, then another left, and then, a right. That’s what he knew, apart from knowledge of the strange attributes the city got. Things that he would recognize well.
The strong soil smell was still there. The spring day was breezeless. Merlin felt the exact thing that he was: alone. That didn’t make sense to Merlin. His city was densely populated, or at least it was. Now, nobody was in sight. So Merlin kept walking the endless streets of this overgrown place and kept taking notes of the interesting things he saw. Such as: a one-story house that had flowers of intense purple covering its roof, a fence that was covered in loose grasses and what looked like animal waste, a small patch of sidewalk that was covered in darker grass, rather than lighter grass, and many other things. The sky was painted a brilliant blue, which was new to Merlin. Before, almost every day had a gray, nimbus sky. That’s what Merlin was used to: a gray, nimbus sky.
Merlin stopped. A small breeze rustled his hair, and then stilled. The leaves were facing the sun. A squirrel scurried down a nearby tree, nut in mouth. Why wasn’t the sky gray or nimbus? Why did it alternate from breezeless to breeze? Why were there roofs covered in flowers, and branches curling around telephone poles and faucets? Why was Merlin alone? Why were his feet numb?
I’m not used to this, Merlin thought, I’ve never seen or felt anything like this. Was that a squirrel? I never usually see squirrels… but there’s another one running in the grass, and another one, and another one! What’s going on? I’ve never experienced this before. I’ve never walked this far, I’ve never been alone. Then why do I like the numb feeling in my toes?
“Why?” Merlin asked out loud and stared at the sun.
The sun did not answer him. It instead converted his vision to a burning white. Merlin’s head flew back down, and he shook it.
“Why?” Merlin asked again. “I used to be around so many people. Why am I alone?”
He started to look around. Then, he stopped.
“The funny thing is, you aren’t,” replied the person standing in front of him.
Her arms were thin, and her hands large. She wasn’t tall, but wasn’t short either. Her hair was black and matted. She had the largest ears Merlin had ever seen. She wore loose, black shorts, a brilliant orange, plaid, long-sleeve tunic, and a wide-brimmed hat. Her feet were completely bare. She smiled.
“Who might you be?”
Merlin let out a breath. He was beginning to think that all this was a dream because it was so surreal, and because dreams only had faces the dreamer has seen before. Dreams never have ears that big.
“I’m Merlin,” Merlin said, with some difficulty. It seemed that for a fraction of a second, Merlin couldn’t remember how to speak.
“That’s a cool name,” the girl said with interest in her voice. “My name’s Cecilia.” Cecilia smiled some more, and then her face suddenly became quizzical.
“I don’t recognize you. Do you live around here?”
Then, she started to look worried. Her arms started to raise, and her hands clasped together. They started massaging each other.
“Maybe you don’t… I shouldn’t have told you my name.”
Cecilia took one last look at Merlin and ran. All he did about that was stare. And stare. And stare. Stare at the grass, and at the moss. At the little stream coming from the sewers, ironically, with healthy and clean water.
Cecilia, Merlin thought. Cecilia. Why was Cecilia scared of me? Cecilia. Cecilia.
A habit of Merlin’s was, when he met a new person, to repeat their name over and over again in his head, so he might remember it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You won’t ever know, will you? But then the thought, that question, came back.
Why was Cecilia nervous?
Merlin then noticed that Cecilia wasn’t nervous at first, and then suddenly she was.
Peculiar. “Peculiar” was a word that Merlin used often. When he first heard the word, said by his father, or maybe it was a kid on the street, Merlin didn’t remember. But when he had first heard it, he repeated it over and over again. Peculiar, peculiar, peculiar. At that time, Merlin did not know what peculiar meant, but he used it anyway. That system got many laughs from the surrounding adults. Something that came across as peculiar to Merlin was that when you’re a kid, you were always surrounded by adults. Merlin noticed another thing: there were no adults in sight. Merlin was alone again. A bird chirped in the distance. Another one joined in. More squirrels. More flowers. Merlin sighed, and finally decided that he should go after Cecilia.
He bounded across the streets, dodging trees, trying not to step on animal waste. Soon, Cecilia was in sight. She was with another woman. That woman was the tallest woman Merlin had ever seen. She was wearing an extremely dirty and faded, blue, floral dress. Her hair was black, like Cecilia’s, but less matted and longer. The woman wasn’t wearing any shoes either. Her toenails were long, and painted blue. So blue that Merlin could see it, even from where he was now.
Merlin called out “Cecilia!”
Cecilia’s head whipped around, and her face met his. At first, her face matched the expression of how Merlin saw her last, a little confused and scared, but then, her face twisted into a wide grin.
“There you are!” she exclaimed. She hopped over to Merlin and then said, “I’m sorry for that little outburst. My mother says I can get emotionally weird sometimes. Oh!”
Cecilia turned to the other woman, then grabbed Merlin’s arm and abruptly dragged him over to her.
“This is my mother. Mom, this is…” She looked back at him for a second. “Merlin! That’s your name.”
Cecilia’s mother smiled sweetly.
“Why, hello there, Merlin. This is new. Cecilia has never had a friend before.”
“That’s not true,” Cecilia complained, “What about Henry, and the others?”
Her mother looked at her and then looked back at Merlin.
“That is true, she does have friends,” Cecilia’s mom continued. “But you are her first human friend.”
Merlin paused. First human friend? Wasn’t Cecilia human? She looked like it, and so did her mother. They were nice people, though Cecilia was a little childish. Merlin looked around, then looked back. He smiled.
“How old are you?” Cecilia’s mother asked.
“I’m almost eleven!” exclaimed Cecilia.
“That is true,” Cecilia’s mother said. “You are a little older than my daughter.”
She sighed. A sharp wind started to blow around the area, and the wind shaped her skirt beautifully. Merlin noticed her legs. They were dirty, and even a little hairy. Cecilia’s mother looked around just like Merlin did a moment before. She seemed to mirror his every move. She turned back to Cecilia.
“Did you tell Merlin our last name yet?”
“No, ma’am,” Cecilia proudly announced.
“Good girl,” her mother said
“How about we go back to the house then? I’m sure Merlin has some places to go.”
Cecilia’s eyes became as large as clementines. She rushed over to Merlin and grabbed his arm again.
“Can he come over?” she pleaded. “Please? I don’t think he knows where he is,”
“Well, if that’s the case,” her mother pondered.
A couple of seconds passed. Cecilia looked eagerly from her mother to Merlin, back and forth.
“I guess he can stay for a little while.”
Cecilia grinned her crooked grin again, and suddenly screamed, “Race you to the house!” and took off. Merlin shortly followed.
His bare feet pounded the ground, splashing water everywhere, hitting textured moss, and even cold, wet concrete. He slowly caught up to Cecilia, who was darting back and forth taking zigzags along the streets. She jumped over a stream, where Merlin had to jump across some rocks. She swung across some vines and branches and still had the energy. Pound, pound, pound went Merlin’s feet. Prot, prot, prot, went Cecilia’s feet and arms.
More zigzagging, and then, Cecilia abruptly stopped. She held her chest, bent over, and then flipped right up again.
“Whew,” she exhaled. “Won again.”
Then, she turned around to Merlin.
“You’re pretty fast, you know that?”
Merlin slowly nodded. He had just remembered that for some time, he had been on a track team.
“Look,” Cecilia pointed. “This is the farm, we’re really close to home now.”
Merlin looked ahead, and what he saw was almost unreal. What he remembered to have been the city park was a giant community garden, growing trees ripe with fruits, vegetables, roots, and flowers. Beautiful flowers in all sorts of colors. There were sections, it seemed, split by man-made streams of clear water leading all around the garden. Merlin knew why everybody was gone; they were all here. Thousands of men, women, and children were working and playing in the garden and the small islands of wild around it. Merlin stared in awe. That was what happened. This wasn’t a city any longer.
Soon, Cecilia’s mother was close behind, and she too stared. After a couple of minutes, Cecilia’s mother moved them along.
Cecilia didn’t run, but walked close to her mother, waving at various people. They waved back. Merlin was close behind them, looking around.
A garden? A farm, even? Why would we, if we came so far, suddenly resort back to farming? Why is everything so primitive here?
Merlin looked around at all the people and their faces. Some were happy, some were not, and some were neither. The children were playing, or sulking, or just sitting down. The adults were farming, playing with their children, or gossiping. Merlin sighed.
He thought, My parents didn’t know how to farm. I have a black thumb, and so do they. My mother may be able to cook food, but she cannot grow it. I’ve cooked before, and it turned out okay. I’ve tried to grow flowers before, and it turned out the opposite of okay.
So he just walked with the others, around the entire edge of the garden until they were back in forest again. That was when he couldn’t take it anymore.
Merlin ran up to Cecilia’s mother and asked impatiently, “What’s going on here?”
Cecilia’s mother looked back at him, confused. Then, it looked as if she had an a-ha moment.
“I see,” she breathed.
“When your great-great-grandfather was a child,” started Cecilia’s mother, interrupted by Cecilia.
She ran over to stop her mom, saying “Storytime!”, and then sat down right in front of her. Not knowing what else to do, Merlin sat down too, on top of a dead tree stump. Cecilia’s mother giggled, and sat down as well.
“When he was a child, even younger than Cecilia, this whole area was a big city. Buildings everywhere, made of clay and stone and metal and glass. There were roads leading to every single place there was, and all the grass and trees were controlled.”
“No way!” Cecilia exhaled.
“Yes way, if you’re strong enough to believe it. Everything was different, all the resources were from somewhere else, brought to our home by magical machines that could fly.
Cecilia’s mouth gaped wider.
“But one day, it all…” Cecilia’s mother paused. “Went away. It all disappeared. It wasn’t very fun, then.”
“What do you mean?” Cecilia asked quizzically, “After it disappeared, then it was like this?”
“Well, if you recall what I told you about plants–”
“They take time to grow.” Cecilia answered, “Ah, I see. What was it like then?”
“I’m getting to that,” Cecilia’s mother said patiently. “It really wasn’t fun. All of that clay and glass and metal were broken into little pieces of rubble on the ground. There were few survivors. Oh, what’s the word I’m looking for… paco… upa…”
“Apocalypse,” Merlin said. “The word’s apocalypse.”
Another peculiar word, and a word that Merlin did not like to say.
“Yes,” Cecilia’s mother said, looking at Merlin with happiness and a trace of sympathy. “Apocalypse. A time where there are few survivors. But, of course, he was a survivor and he grew up to reproduce me and Cecilia.”
“And you are a survivor, Merlin. One of the lucky few.”
Chapter 2: Days Turn To Years
Storytime left Merlin’s brain fried and confused. He had to think all the way through the forest; he couldn’t look at any of the sites or the broken buildings.
A survivor? An apocalypse? I was a survivor of something, something huge. How? It’s so peaceful here! How? It’s like nothing ever happened. Like the entire world changed in the time I was asleep…
How long was I asleep?
Merlin jogged to catch up to Cecila. He looked back at her mother, who knew the area so well she could walk through it with her eyes closed. He began to repeat that word. It was such a terrible word. He knew it so well, but he repeated it.
Apocalypse, apocalypse, apocalypse, apocalypse, apocalypse…
All the way through the forest. There were hills, valleys, animals, reptiles, rain, sun, and the word “apocalypse.”
Cecilia eventually ran back to Merlin, concerned.
“Are you okay?” she asked, “You’ve been silent for the past ten minutes.”
Merlin nodded his head. He was okay. He was just confused.
“Well, anyway,” Cecilia closed her eyes and held her head high.
Cecilia stopped, and so did her mother, in the same place. They both opened their eyes at the same time.
They all stood before a clearing surrounded by moss-covered trees, and a single warehouse with many holes. The clearing had grass that was much taller than any grass Merlin has ever seen, even those near his own home. There was a hut in the middle of all of it, made from bricks seemingly from the warehouse, boulders, and straw. The walls were held together with some kind of sap, and the roof was stone and straw. In the very front, a wooden door stood, closed. There were windows, those windows being holes in the walls, and a single sign next to the door. It read “Mentoris.”
That must be their last name, Merlin thought.
He began his usual habit; he really wanted to remember that name.
Mrs. Mentoris beckoned the two children inside, and they followed.
Inside was a large bed made of wool and soft grass. A wooden, handcarved table with three stools. Those two holes making windows caused the bright sun to pour in from seemingly all angles. Merlin could see the dust particles flying. There was a small fireplace, with a pot hanging very close to a very small, dying flame. There was a trapdoor; Merlin guessed it was for storage. It all looked so primitive, like everything else had looked. Merlin looked around, interested and disgusted at the same time. Once he looked down, straight in front of himself, he took a step back.
A small groundhog was standing on two limbs, looking at Merlin curiously.
“Oh, that’s Henry,” explained Cecilia. “He’s one of my dear friends, so dear that he stays with us in the house.”
Merlin turned his head slowly, even more confused.
“He’s… supposed to be here?”
“Merlin!” Cecilia scolded, “Don’t you know about the revolution?”
Merlin stared blankly at Cecilia.
“Where animals and humans joined together? Y’know, the rule that you can only kill an animal and an animal can only kill you if it’s for purposes of survival?”
Merlin didn’t answer.
“What are you from? The twenty first century?”
Cecilia laughed, raising her face to the ceiling. Merlin looked away from Henry, and found Mrs. Mentoris sitting on one of the stools.
“What does she mean?” Merlin knew that Mrs. Mentoris would have an answer.
“It’s a joke, meaning that the people who lived four hundred years ago were stupid. She’s young, Merlin. She doesn’t know about the freezings.”
Merlin’s eyes widened.
“The freezings,” Mrs. Mentoris repeated, “Don’t you know? A surviving is placed in a bed and frozen. Their muscles are paralyzed and memories are erased. It saved hundreds of lives!”
Merlin looked down at his leg, and rolled up the pant leg. It seemed to be twitching. He found a band strapped near his ankle.
Muscle paralysis band – children’s. Freezings INC.