M. Shedric Simson
April 7th 2023
“They were gods once,” Cassie said. She nodded out across the desert beneath them, to where twisting skeins of bone rose halfway to the sky. It’d been an ocean once, but the water had vanished years ago. “Proud and mighty. Reigned over the whole world. Weren’t nothing that could challenge them.”
Little Toby looked out at the massive skeletons, white and wicked and etched by the years. The wind shrieked like a banshee when it tore through them at night. “Did you ever meet them?”
Cassie chuckled, but it turned into a cough somewhere deep in her lungs. “Oh, no,” she said when the coughing stopped. “That was ages ago, back before any of us were here.”
“Huh.” Toby shoed a cockroach away from his hand. They always came out in the evenings, even here at the edge of the plateau. “If they were gods, then how could they have died?”
“Who am I to say?” Cassie shrugged. “Small folk like us can’t know the minds of gods.”
“I guess not. Though Ma always seemed to.”
“Well, yeah. Maybe she did. Your ma was a special kind of woman, though. Full of dreams and too good for this world.” She rolled her head, cracking the bones in her neck. “Me, all I can do is wonder. Maybe those gods were too hungry, and the world couldn’t keep up. Or maybe it was the world that changed, and they were too set in their ways to do anything about it. Like big machines that only know how to do one thing.”
“Like the mining bots over in Haleton?”
“Aye. Just like them.” A smile creased the old leather of her face. “But I don’t know, really. Maybe they were just tired, and they wanted to sleep.”
Another cockroach scurried out to join the first. The two faced off, fighting, or maybe mating. Toby dropped his eyes from the desert to watch them scuffle.
They weren’t really cockroaches, not exactly, but that’s what everyone called them. Always had, ever since the first settlers. Analogous enough that there wasn’t any point in calling them anything else. That’s just how it was. Wherever humanity spread, they carried the same patterns with them. The same names, the same stories. The same endings.
“Will they wake up?” Little Toby finally asked. “The sleeping gods?”
“Oh, no. I don’t reckon they will. Their time’s gone,” Cassie said. “This world belongs to us now.”
“Oh.” He picked up a rock and tossed it over the edge of the plateau. It spun out into the bronzed evening sky, then down into the shadows where the ocean had once been. The desert was too far below for him to hear it land. “Guess that’s a good thing.”
“True that,” Cassie said. “That foreman’s trouble enough, what with his levies and his quotas. Asking a little more each year.”
“Is that why you watch the bonestacks every night?” Toby asked. “To make sure they don’t wake up?”
“No.” Cassie gazed out at those last lingering shards of daylight along the mesas. “No, the reason I watch them is so I remember what’s to come.”
“Well, we’ve just about used this world up. Soon enough, Management’s gonna take their leave, and find themselves a new world to start over. And you and me? We’ll still be here, just like those old skeletons out in the desert.”
Toby frowned. “I don’t like that.”
“No.” Cassie rested her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Maybe not, but you know, those cockroaches down there? They’re going to look up at our bones every night, half as tall as the sky, and they’re going to tell their children,
“They were gods once…”
M Shedric Simpson is the familiar of a small black cat. They studied art in Baltimore, MD, before moving to Seattle to live between the mountains and the sea. They spend their free time crafting stories and other small things. You can find them online at shedric.com or on twitter @inkspiral
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