Count Down by Emma McKenzie

Pollinated by The Beekeeper

The moon has set and the stars have faded,                                                                           midnight has gone, long hours pass by, pass by

I sleep alone                                                                                                                                                                      (Sappho)


Today I am laughing Son, if you could see my face, with tears streaming down each cheek as if I had never in my life cried before, and now it all comes at once. When I stepped from the cabin this morning the air was very still. At first I thought my ears were deceiving me after all these long years. I still not dare walk bare foot on the soil but there are flowers growing now after so long. It was the noise that woke me, the hum and vibration of bees. The air was filled; they were everywhere, swarming around the mountain side filling every piece of space possible. Not for so many years have I seen anything like this. If only you were here to see this. If I could bring you back even for just this one moment – I would do everything I could to do so. My words are lost to the wind.


Father, I am sitting here in the capsule, wondering if the seed pods have landed. I am writing this alone, yes even here we can find space alone, especially with our thoughts even when other people are around. I can see the earth from my seat and wonder what you are doing, are you still alive? I barely remember your face, but I remember your words.

You told me once of the aspen trees that used to line the drive to our home and made the sound of a rushing stream. You told me the names of the birds and how your grandfather had once kept a garden to feed them all. I remember these stories and the world you painted for me with your stories, so different to the storms that swept away our landscape. I remember our shelter and the blankets that Mum brought. They were little use against the waves, but I remember them still the same. I remember her face, her smell, and I remember her hands clasping me so tightly.

Today I heard on the news that some of the first capsules had landed safely and not burnt up like the others. We are sending up to one hundred a day now that the air has tested as safe again. My job is to programme where they land. I send them the world over, but mostly I dream of sending them to you. I wonder if you are watching the stars and wondering about me. I wonder often if you are still alive. I wonder if you still remember the birds as I do?


Son. I want you to know that I did everything. I was with her until the very last moment. The air is so thin with so few trees. There is little to eat, she was growing weaker every day. I did everything I could to help her, but it wasn’t enough. Each day I have prayed that she would last another, I have kept watch over the long dark hours. I know that she wanted nothing more than to see you again, perhaps she will, perhaps she is with you? I like to imagine there is more to the world than this. This year you will be twenty, the age I was when you were born. I am sorry that I gave you this life – what little life you have had – are you even there? I look to the stars every evening, sometimes I imagine that you can see me standing on this mountain side, a lone figure in my hermit’s retreat. Have they taken care of you my son?

Let me share for a moment a memory. When you were three years old, just before things started to go really wrong, you were full of wonder at the world. You wanted to touch everything, to experience every sense of an object. You woke with the dawn, a creature of the earth ready to explore your environment to learn everything you could. You were eager to explore, to run, to discover. You loved nothing more than riding on my shoulders and reaching up to the sky. Your Mum used to shout ‘Hold On, Hold On!’ she was so fearful you would fall, but you never did. We were exhausted but full of love.

I never got the chance to show you everything I wanted to. I once got the notion to go back down to the lower ground, to see if there was anything I could reclaim, but the air was so poisonous, there was nothing left. Instead I have been salvaging scrap metal. I often find things on the lower tracks to the mountain that the storm threw far and wide. I have been making models of all the creatures I once knew. I have crickets and bees, I have song birds and crows all hung from thread on the roof of the cabin. Outside I have placed larger creatures, I am working on a tiger right now, I have no idea if they survived. Sometimes on the horizon I see patches of green, but it is too far and I have too little food to find out what else is out there. Another man once came to the cabin just shortly after you left. We offered him a place to stay but he was determined to go over the mountain pass, he wanted to find out if there was anything left. I have stayed here. I only wanted to remain here, to survive, for you.

Today the world seems bleak, I have lost her. Have I lost you? I see the stars blinking. Is that you?


I hate this. I hate that I had to leave and you had to stay. The carers tell us that it won’t be too many years now, to keep hope. The truth is we all hate it. We look down at the earth with all the blackened surfaces and wonder why we are all drifting up here. What the hell does it all matter anyway? They show us films, it only makes us wish for what we don’t have and everything that has been lost. We know nothing but these artificial walls. If there is life out there let it come soon. I can’t stand this. Mum, Dad – are you there?  My friend Jo – he says he forgives his parents for sending him here, how can we forgive you? I am trapped here. At least down there I could be doing something instead of waiting. All I do is wait. One hundred lives saved for what?


Son, I don’t know how much longer it will be. Ten months seemed an eternity, five years seems like infinity. The only thing that keeps us going is that up here on the mountain we do see occasional glimmers of life. Occasionally we catch a rabbit or a mountain hare. Your mother has managed to make some potatoes grow! Water that we can actually drink is scarce, but some of the remaining plants do seem to survive on it. When it rains we shelter in the cabin for fear of our skin being burnt. We found the wing from a plane a few months ago; we dragged it back through the burnt forest and have placed the panels over the cabin roof, another layer of protection.

The rations they gave us are lasting out. We eat little but keep going to survive. We wonder how you look now that you are ten? They always said you looked like me. I hope you haven’t got my nose! At least yours won’t be broken like mine. We have an idea of the capsule but can’t imagine how you are all surviving up there. Each time there is a shooting star I silently wonder if it is you falling from the sky – but don’t ever tell your mother that.

If you ever make it back here, make sure you look after things – all of you, better than we did. Enjoy the simple things and make space for each other in the world. I know there are other men and women who must have made it besides us. It seems such a strange thing that we should have wrecked it all, a world so huge and big. It started long before the war; people lived with little thought for the future, for what we were leaving after us. By the time the war came and then the storms, it was too late. Don’t make the same mistakes son. I love you. I hope you can reach us – we have no satellite. I can only give you my words. Do they reach you?


On the news the storms rage. The projections flicker – the energy is the weakest we have known it. Most of the power structures have been taken out. My boy, just five years old, has been secured a place on the rockets. Vee has begged me not to send him but what choice do we have? There is no world for him here and no place for us there. There are only eighty spaces for the children. People are dying everywhere. There are one hundred capsules waiting. One hundred was all they could make, one hundred places on each one. Will he survive? It is the only chance we have to keep him alive. The government have put out searches for seeds of any kind. If the bomb hits they plan to repopulate the earth with growth from space, to send the seeds down in bombs growth. It seems farfetched but I will give what I have. The storm shelter is breaking. The hatch doors keep jamming, the electronics are failing.

Vee and I will go to the cabin. My parents loved the place, we will be safe there in the mountains. I have enough power in the small craft to get us there once he has gone. Our hearts are breaking. We have no choice. He is scared by all this and I often wonder what kind of world we have brought him to. I tell him stories of my childhood; I want him to imagine the world I once knew. I try to describe it so that he can take a piece with him and hold out hope of what he will one day return to.

                                                *                             *                             *


Father, I am signed for the first ship. I know that you gave me up for the chance to survive. I am coming home.


Tonight I saw the ships returning. Amongst the stars the brighter sparks must have been you. I have so much to show you. The buds have returned. New growth has come through the soil. We have waited so long. Nature is returning.

When I stepped from the cabin this morning the sky was red. As the light faded down through to a pink haze two crows descended to the bare earth beside me. I watched as they strutted over the rutted clods of soil before lifting their wings to the sky once more. As they lifted on the breeze the tips of their wings were pointing to heaven.

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