The following flash fiction was inspired by the prompt ‘Aftermath,’ Rob says.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
Sixty of us in this small room, squatting shoulder-to-shoulder in the sultry blackness. The roof groans under the layer of liquid earth that now incarcerates us. Travellers from other worlds, uneasy with this enforced intimacy, we gaze without seeing, we listen to the mountain giving voice to its fury.
My mouth tastes of deep-earth, its hot rancid breath permeating my whare, seeping into me. I’m melting down. In a time before memory, in the warm darkness of a mother’s womb, I awaited my emergence. Now in another womb, warm and dark, I await my exit. E kore ahau e mate.
The light from a muted sun yellows a blackened landscape, populated by the skeletal remains of the forest. The earth trembles without ceasing. Villages have vanished and the Terraces, we crossed the earth to see, are no more. Tales of the erruption are told and embellished. We learn of premonitions: a ghostly canoe on the lake; prohetic warnings by a hundred year old holy man who, it seems, cannot now be found.
How long have I been here? Day and night are one, the six spirits watch over me. My hands explore this face, lined and pitted by the years, hands that have bestowed blessings and curses. The now-chilly air bites deep, I wrap my skin-rug about me.
We dine on biscuits dipped in brandy. Some, now a little braver, venture outside only to scurry back as the earth shudders underfoot. Others, bolder, make off and do not return. The old priest, Tohutu by name, is said to have been found, buried yet breathing. It is rumoured, some of his people wish to leave him where he is. It was his curses, they argue, that brought about this sorry state of affairs.
The earth’s raging surprises me not. The omens were all there; the incessant rising and falling of lake and land; the waka-wairua gliding through morning mists, its paddlers plumed for death; firey beacons in the heavens.
We had it coming! I condemed them for their ever- growing greed and contempt for our tikanga. But to what effect I must ask? Look about you, see that my words are but smoke.
Scratching sounds above? A Keruru on the roof? I think not. I’ve prayed for a peaceful ending, but it’s not to be. A long finger of sunlight blinds me, strange Pakeha words deafen me. I refuse the extended hand but am pulled out anyway.
I gaze at the wasteland I see spreading away before me. The lake and village have vanished as has the peak of Tarawera-Maunga.. Were Otakapuorangi and Te Tarata just a dream? Is this what the spirits have been saving me for? Is this my promised land?
I lay myself down and weep.