A world without rain.
We dream of ( ) falling in our sleep, remnants of the fables passed from grandparent to child. We feel the pitter-patter of the drops kiss our cheeks with the dignity of lovers long lost—to wake and discover they are only our tears slipping out, ghosts of the past; into the collection jar they go.
A scorched world.
We live underground now, down in the darkness where we are protected from our overbearing father, the sun. We do nothing but collect ( ) any way we can—from geothermal leeching to bloodletting. The various ways, unimaginable, unspeakable, if only because speaking requires saliva we dare not use.
A loveless world where kisses return sand.
Dry, noncommittal sex, fruitless from our wombs the young are born. Procreation for necessity—though some wonder: is it even necessary, to try? New life is painful. We are a pained people now. No arguments, no war. There are no nations or killing unnecessarily. No energy.
A clouded world.
Those who scavenge Above at night return with stories of the clouds hovering over the vast plains of dust. “Clouds?” the naïve whisper, croaked through permanently-cracked lips. “Don’t clouds mean rain?” They are too young to remember, or too foolish to hope.
A world consumed by ash.
We once lived Above for a great while, before the ash claimed it. Laughing, swimming in ( ) oceanic and crystalline. Procreating, our nectars mixing, germinating the planet. And dying, dying, dying. From our decay came the end of everything.
A world steeped in fire.
We burned our dead once burying was no longer an option. Fire—a terminal disease for humankind now; so dry here that even sparks from bright ideas could turn our underground world to cinders. The bringer of ends, the terminus.
A world of scattered remains.
Ours was a custom to spread the dead where they wished. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the old saying goes. Into the air, down the rivers. All across the land. For centuries our bodies were burnt and scattered, scattered and burnt.
A world of forgotten dead, returned.
Until we realized our lost ones were no longer lost. They returned through the pipes, into our glasses of ( ); collected in abstract shapes in the corners of our homes like cobwebs; clinging to the pollen in the air, collecting in our lungs, the sweat on our backs, the vegetables in the supermarket. In strange ways bittersweet to recollect; we all remember the first taste of our forgotten.
A world rendered unworldly.
Of course we kept dying, and of course we kept burning. Masks covered our faces in those early days, to keep the death out of our bodies. Great dust storms ravaged our farmlands, mutated them to barren tombs. Eventually the world became a giant tomb. The dust of our dead, returning to haunt us. Masks failed, then bodily functions. We failed ourselves.
Our newly fallen were claimed, eroded by the dust storms, propagated into dust with the rest. Those of us who escaped buried down past our ancestors, found caverns with deep pools to harvest, now long gone. Our reflections in the still ( ) returned a species just seeing itself for the first time. A ripple broke the surface into thousands of fragments—a tectonic plate shifting below us. We learned that it is impossible to forget the chaos of comfort.