Day 2: River
27 December 2017


Yap Ming Yao

The barbarians were coming now, and the villagers scrambled for cover. Those of them who were willing arming themselves, those who were not hiding the children and the elderly- necessity spurred them on, acting as a collective instead of individuals. Doors were barred shut and windows nailed down as the rest gripped the hilts of their motley blades. They knew this fight was their lifeline, do or die. Marauders and invaders were commonplace in this corner of the world, and the winners claimed the spoils in the unforgiving terrain. The horseback archers and cavalry drew ever-closer. Only when the rabble of the battle was drowned out by the screams of their own men did the villagers discover the outcome with heavy hearts. The rivers ran red that night, and all present knew why.

Now the age of petty conquests drew to an end, and newfound empires spanned the globe. Overseas possessions and imperial colonisers sprang up and seemed to control the seas themselves. The factions no longer waged war amongst each other; now they banded together, merging and combining until their peoples were one. The rivers were communal, the vessels of life for the villagers, and the heaving masses used the running water for all its utility. Trade looked as though it would never recede as families grew, now able of supporting more. The population boomed, the waste they produced exponentially larger. Sanitation and education were the furthest things from their minds: they cared not where their waste was carried to, or what havoc they wreaked on the landscape. The rivers ran brown all that year, and all present knew why.

Industry overran all in the end with hulks of factories belching smoke into the air. Lead in their fuel and smog in their lungs, the countrymen toiled for what they called progress. Skin blackened by soot and bones cracked from mechanical mishaps, the people of this new era were a different breed. Some descended into coal mines, others across the sea, even more engaged in the business of production. Steamships traversed the earth, choking marine life. Forests were burnt to the ground to make way for more buildings, more railroads, more forges. The workshops and the mills were by far the worst; owners and governments lax on where their toxic byproducts were disposed of. The rivers ran black for the better half of a decade, and all present knew why.

The trees were gone, the jungles dead. Those who foresaw the end had long since left. Empty vessels dotted imaginary borders as flashes of lightning burst at random. The air was stifling, the heat permeating all in its way. Shells and husks of machines, powerless without the fuel they craved, laid motionless like the skeletons they were. Cans clattered in the breeze- missing their masters- and the soil was cracked, its sustenance drained. The pulse of the cities ebbed and faded away. The rivers ran dry that day, never to return. None were present, none knew why.