For they shall inherit...
It's week four of the flash tales challenges at Black Ship Books, and this week we're looking to the future. Here's my offering - please let me know what you think!
“Haven't you finished with that, yet?” snapped my grandmother, tweaking the bottom corner of the newspaper.
I changed position so as to keep it out of her reach. “Let me just finish this article, Gramms,” I replied. “It's about the discoveries that Professor Steven Morris made on his last dig.”
She gave a derisive snort. “A male archaeologist; whatever next.”
“And why shouldn't a man be an archaeologist?” I demanded. It was an automatic response and I regretted the words as soon as I had spoken them.
“Remember what men – not humans in general, just the men – did last time they ran things, my boy?” and she stabbed an accusing finger upwards.
She was not pointing at the ceiling; she was pointing beyond it, up onto the surface of what was once a beautiful planet but was now a wasteland. A thousand years ago, humanity had finally destroyed its own habitat and the few that remained had retreated underground.
“Yeah, Gramms, we learned about it in history,” I sighed, returning to the article. As a boy growing up in a matriarchal society I found myself with few role models but Professor Morris was top of my list. He worked with an all male group of staff, partly because opportunities for men were so scarce but also because women refused to be ordered around by men. The archaeological community often mocked his theories but rarely proposed anything concrete in their place.
I carefully refolded the newspaper and handed it to my grandmother. “Here you are, Gramms! I'm going down to the park for a bit, OK?”
“Fine. Get out from under my feet for a bit!” she replied, already deeply engrossed in the front page.
I pulled on my shoes and left our little fire, pulling the door closed behind me. When we first moved underground, people lived in large caves, each family gathered around a literal fire. Then we began digging into the cave walls, carving out first one room, then two, three... even twenty or a hundred if the legends were true. The original caves became communal spaces where people met to debate, to trade and to play. Ours held a busy market, a forum and a park.
As I walked, I watched my shadow cast by the Almost Natural halogen bulbs high above my head. Not for the first time, I wondered what Really Natural light would be like. Professor Morris must know; he had been on the surface because that was where the archaeology was, he had walked under the sun. But, I reminded myself, he had worn a protective suit because of the clouds of poisonous dust that still palled the surface.
“Hey, Davey, lookin' hot today!” I turned to see Anita hurrying across the market towards me.
I gave what I hoped was a natural smile, one that did not reveal that my brain had turned to mush and was leaking out of my ears. “Hi, Anita!” I managed.
She gave me one of her knowing smiles but, as usual, I had no idea how to interpret it. Did it mean that she knew how I felt and was amused by it? or worse, that she did not care? Or perhaps she was just being friendly? We had been friends all our lives; why would anything change, now? And whatever it meant, it was not my place to make the first move – or any kind of move...
“Going to the park?” she asked, perhaps unnecessarily, since we were standing right by the entrance and it was the place we normally hung out. Hydroponic trees hung over the railings and hydroponic grass covered most of the ground beyond the gates. As well as providing relief from the brown and grey of the cave walls, they also helped with our oxygen supply.
“Yeah! Just meeting up with the gang, you know?”
“Well, let's go, then.”
I could find no answer to this, so I nodded and we turned into the gate together. The silence stretched uncomfortably.
“So, er, Anita... Did you see that article in the paper about Professor Morris?” I blurted out, instantly regretting it.
Anita rolled her eyes. “That old fraud? Why do you still follow him around like a little lost puppy, Davey?”
“I don't follow him around. He lives in Capital...”
“You know what I mean. Reading his books, cutting articles out of the paper... He talks absolute rubbish! Contrary to popular belief, I do know you have a brain – I just wish you'd use it.”
“But his latest discoveries! No, Anita, please listen... He's just come back from a trip to Greata Brittin – he actually dug up some of the hooses, the fires from the old days...”
“I have read the history books, Davey. I know what a howz is.” She stressed the word to tell me I'd got it wrong without actually saying so.
“Oh, yeah – howzes... But it says in the article that he believes they were a deeply religious society.”
“Religious? How?” Inside I rejoiced. She was interested, now, despite herself.
“Well, each howz had a shrine in it – some even had more than one! It was usually placed in a corner where it would be the focus of the whole room but some had them up on the wall.”
“Shrines...? What kind of shrines?”
“Flat black boxes. They were usually placed in the most important room in the howz, surrounded by the family's most precious possessions. That's how he knew that they must be shrines, holy objects.”
“So, what did they do with them?”
“Well, he's still working out his ideas, of course... But the article said that these rooms also contained chairs and couches, all pointing towards the shrine. His theory is that the family would gather around it and worship it.”
“They just sat around staring at a black box all day? Come on, Davey, even you must see that has to be nonsense!”
“Well, you explain it, then!” I cried, emboldened by my frustration at her refusal to even consider Professor Morris' ideas.
She looked at me coldly. “If we weren't friends, I would slap you for speaking to me like that,” she said.
“I... I'm sorry, Anita, really I am. But you know how interested I am in his work...”
“I know, I know, crazy little Davey and his dream to conquer the world,” she laughed, ruffling my hair. “Look, Sally, Jen and Tommy are already at the swings. You can tell them all about your shrines.”
“Race you!” I shouted, already sprinting away.