FABLE OF THE DESERT AND THE ABYSS by Natalie Terezi Rei Watts


There was once a human who wandered the post-Climate War glass.


The entire ground had been turned into a kaleidoscope, dirt and stone and concrete rising into fluorescent stained glass walls that lined the rose window craterfields. The rulers of this land, having decided epochs ago that humanity was no longer worthy of its Grace, erased the world, replacing it with endless church-window glares of an authority turned universal. Every pane spoke its words, iconography spanning continents of variegated light to disown the humans who rejected their Will, refused their Love. It was punishment for abandonment, so many having decided that they knew better and leaving the weather-scoured heat-melted city-thrones for some chasm underwater, where they believed all of their dreams could come true. They dubbed the chasm Chthonopelagia — the place of primal birth.


The wanderer had never seen Chthonopelagia before. They were born in a silo of genetic-infospheric amniotic fluid, a laboratory designed to recreate civilization identical to how it was before the climate bled over Earth and the revolutions began. It was vacant, and they sat in pits of rusted incubators while drinking stale ichor from the ever-pumping thermoplastic umbilicals. No one was there, and even underground the factories and research caverns had been abandoned. The wanderer was born long after the rest of humanity died, a displaced biofact.


(Death in the post-apocalypse constituted one of two possibilities: either the cessation of biological functions or the evolution of your body/mind/soul into a shape non-human. To attempt the later was to defile your entire life, from birth till gnosis, as Aberration).


One day as the wanderer crossed a shattered panel formerly spelling refractive scripture they found the ocean. The panel was sheared at the exact boundary of the waves, and as the water rushed in the glass formerly below it was replaced by sand and kelp, returning when the water retreated.


Somewhere miles into the horizon the blue plunged into a pit of darkness, and as it traveled to the bottom the world grew dimmer and dimmer until everything was a sunless shade and bioluminescence mapped a constellation pointing somewhere even deeper. There would lie the entrance to Chthonopelagia, and in its spirals of inverse skies was the cosmic potential to bloom a world greater than anything the wanderer had ever seen.


The wanderer refused to approach.


How could they trust the dark? It was sightless, increate like the womb where you know nothing and all you experience is fed by another hand guiding you. How could they trust the water? It was impermeable, changing so fast that there would never be the stability land provided or the relief in static limbo. How could they trust the things undersea, when they defied everything the land taught and grew in ways that reamed the minds of the sane when they surfaced? How could they trust a depth where so many dissolved and brought the world to an end? How could you wade into something that refused Order?


Ambassadors from Chthonopelagia surfaced when uproar in the city-thrones spread, and it was to their trumpet-cry that millions sunk to the eldritch shore. The planet was glassed to ensure that only the holiest of deaths would triumph, and that the corpses of humanity would remain unchanged — undefiled — in extinction's timeless embrace; oblivion transcendent, history sequestered.


How could the wanderer leave such tragedy behind? How could they leave for an abyss Unimaginable?


The wanderer's throat ached. As abyss-uncontaminated water was scarce to come by and food nonexistent the laboratory vats grafted a glass-eating organ to their body, bulging from the neck and right scapula and stretching filamentous limbs to the ground. The limbs, with feather-like fingers, cracked off shards of scripture and lifted them to a thin hole in the glass organ's fascia, dropping them in so a chain of artificial metabolic procedures would convert the glass into dilute nutrients and spill it down the esophageal tract. Swallowing burned. The wanderer once tried to gulp fresh rainfall, but the water vanished before their lips (an anti-contamination measure) and the droplets never reached their tongue. Lesions down the pharynx were sanctified by the hand of Glory-blessed pain and persistence.


Didn't they want to taste the water just once?


But doing so would mean rejecting humanity. Doing so would betray everything they existed for and everything the last technicians operating the lab wished for. But did they need that existence? They barely spent any time in the lab, and all of what the humans wanted is gone with the glass; those ideals shouldn't define them. But wouldn't it be a rejection of stability? The solid coherence of land, the inflexible throne of continents, piety of the physical? A rejection of strength? But did strength matter when the glass only hurt? Was life only meant to be the post-apocalypse?


There was once a wise man who argued the ocean was a blight. It was "infantile," a vacuity only adored by the childish and immature who missed its embrace and hadn't yet developed the strength to be solid. It was a place of birth that only served birth and nothing more; returning to it would be a point of weakness defying the certain order of everything material. But what would be so bad about letting yourself evolve into something New?


No one really knows what the wanderer's last thoughts were. Maybe it was dejection, maybe it was curiosity, maybe it was anxiety and the terror that everything they ever knew about their self would be lost to the unknown. Regardless, either in hesitation or excitement, hope or agita, waves splashing and effacing the glass, they stepped into the water.


The mutagens took hold in an eyeblink.


The wanderer's torso splintered into growing silk massifs of spiderweb mountain ranges. The intestinal tract hardened into an aureole of crystal sunlight, rising over the expanding terrain like a sun for a drowning planet. From the spiderwebs exploded branches of veins that shot upwards and knotted into a billowing forest of blood and pulmonary skyscrapers, lacing the mountains in a scarlet ecosystem that swayed as the ocean currents crawled through. The skull twisted into wings, and spiking through the waves and out of the water's surface the arms lance the sky as twin chelicerae biting into Heaven. Every muscle blinked an eye. The glass organ dissolved.


We don't know what their thoughts in those moments were; as far as we are concerned, it doesn't matter.


The last of humanity was dead. The wanderer, deep underwater, organs expanding to every trench and ancient chasm, was alive. Far from the glass and holy debris a new world blossomed, and its petals graced the Earth.



First published in YONQ Issue 5