The forest was dark and quiet--just the drips of condensation from the high fronded branches of the trees broke the silence. The humidity pressed in and was absorbed by the omnipresent mosses that had grown wildly out of control and covered the entirety of trees and suffocated the ground. Everything was dead except the moss.
Then there were footsteps, sliding and scraping footsteps. They belonged to a girl, dressed in tatters, muddied, and with the green stain of moss around her mouth. Her breath was ragged and her hair was falling out--what was left was stuck to the sides of her head, neck, and shoulders. Her eyes fluttered and rolled, and she found it difficult to look ahead in her delirium. Her fingernails were scabbed and bleeding from clawing to get at the protein-packed corpses of grubs embedded in the rotting wood under the carpet of moss.
She stumbled into a clearing. There had been trees but they were downed by an interloper that rested in the middle of the clearing. She looked and could not comprehend it at first. It was as green as everything else, but there was the smell of the ocean--a scent she had not experienced in many months. She stumbled closer. There were tall arching curved columns on two sides of the volume, that did not meet in the middle. There was a large lump on one end. She put a hand on one of the columns and pushed it. It creaked, but did not give any more information of itself. There was rustling from inside the volume.
"Who goes there?" asked a woman's voice.
The girl stumbled back, her eyes wide and her hands held out defensively in front of her. A woman dressed in some sort of gray animal skins appeared--she was lean and sunburnt, but looked healthy. Her hair was combed. She stared intently at the girl.
"Don't see many of you these days," said the woman.
"I-I.." the girl faltered, overwhelmed.
"And I take it you haven't seen many people either," said the woman.
"No." The girl's voice croaked with disuse. "What is this?" She looked quickly up at the structure.
"Whale carcass," said the woman matter-of-factly. She rubbed her hands on the front of her skins, then placed them on her hips. "You gonna stand there?"
"Whu...Why are you...in it?" asked the girl.
"It's my house," said the woman.
The girl turned around three hundred and sixty degrees, then looked up at the sky, searching for words.
"Cat got your tongue?" asked the woman.
"I keep thinking," blurted the girl suddenly, "that I'm in a nightmare...and I can't wake up, and I don't know what's worse."
"Oh this is real honey," said the woman.
"I know that," said the girl angrily.
""The things I seen before I found this place...well. I'm sure you've seen similar. Frankly I'm surprised you're so shocked."
"It's a whole whale! We're hundreds of miles from the ocean."
"What can I say? Things got jumbled up. Look come in, and I'll treat your scrapes and such. I don't bite. Could use with a bit of conversation and I think you could use with a bit of fattening up."
"You're not going to eat me?" asked the girl warily.
"I have no mind to do such a thing. I think you'd be a bit stringy in any case. I've got warm water, but not much to go in it. Luckily mushrooms still grow in this muck. And earthworms."
"I know," said the girl, clutching her stomach. She shuffled towards the whale and in through the ribs.
"That's it," said the woman. "Come over here. I'll start the fire." The woman led the girl towards the large lump, which was the skull of the whale. There was a small smoldering fire with a pot suspended by several sticks. She motioned for the girl to sit on a pile of ripped up moss and she did so. Then the woman reached into a pile of yellow goo near the fire, took out a hunk, and squeezed it out onto the fire in greasy drops. "Blubber," she said flatly. "Last of it."
"Does it burn well?"
"Sort of. Dry wood is nearly impossible to come by, so it burns better than that." The woman rubbed her hands again down her front. She picked up a plastic bowl from the creeping moss on the floor, opened the pot, and placed the bowl inside, scraping out some of it's still-warm contents. She handed the bowl to the girl.
"Thanks," said the girl. She looked down at the watery meal it contained. There were strands of flesh that curled towards the bottom of the bowl.
"Eat up. Don't worry they're dead."
"I'm not sure that makes it any better. I've been hungry so long...I..."
"S'alright. Just take a sip."
The girl sipped delicately at the edge of the bowl. The warmth flowed into her, and she was glad to be rid of the mossy aftertaste in her mouth. The worms slipped down easily enough without her expending the effort to chew.
"Feel a bit better?" asked the woman.
"Yeah," said the girl.
"You have a particular direction you're taking? Have anywhere to be?"
The girl smirked at her.
"Mmmm. Course. Just thought maybe you were trying to find your family or such."
"At the beginning, sure. Now...now I just want to fall down and let the moss take me."
"You can't think like that," said the woman. She moved closer to the girl and knelt beside her, then started looking over her scrapes and scratches, and dabbed at them with a hank of moss soaked with the water from the pot.
"You don't need to do that," said the girl shrinking away. The woman sat back and laid her hands in her lap.
"Sorry," she said. "Just trying to help you out."
"I didn't mean to offend," said the girl.
"You didn't. I can understand you must be wary, but come on, when's the last time you had a conversation."
"With a real person and not the figment of my imagination?"
They both laughed. The woman leaned in.
"Sometimes I talk to the whale skull," she whispered. The girl giggled. "I call him Yorick."
"Huh?" asked the girl.
"Oh, you're young. You talk older than you seem. I think that's it."
They were both quiet for a minute, assessing each other.
"Why'd this happen to us?" asked the girl.
"Well...I don't say that I know," said the woman. She sat back on her own pile of moss. "Humans, well we've been running into roadblocks since the beginning. We came a long way, but it was never easy. I think we got in our own way more often than not."
"But, why this? I mean it can't have anything to do with anything else, can it?"
"When it first started, they said that it was a toxin. I thought man-made, but who knows. It was probably just a guess anyway. If it really was, I figure it got all up in the foodchain and killed off most things."
"But we're not dead, are we?"
"No. We are not. That's why I think it's something else. Maybe something Biblical, I'd hate to admit."
"If it is, what does it prove?"
"Well, like the flood, maybe it was a way to cleanse the Earth. Scrape away as much as the human pondscum as possible." The woman's features went hard. "Maybe we failed some kind of test. Or maybe that's not for use to speculate upon."
"No," said the girl. "There has to be some sort of rational reason. There has to be."
"Sometimes you just gotta accept the hand of cards thrown at you. You gotta keep going, 'cause sometimes things are just bigger than you."
The girl stood slowly, her limbs and muscles aching.
"You can sit here in your whale house," said the girl.
She started to walk away. The woman stood and grabbed the girl's thin arm.
"Don't go," asked the woman.
The girl shook her arm free.
"If you want to accept this situation, go ahead. But I'm not. I can't. I have to keep going."
"You'll die out there, by yourself."
"Then that is a situation I can accept. But while I live. I'm not going to stop questioning why."
She pushed between the ribs and out into the clearing. She headed unsteadily back into the forest.
"There's was an aquarium a few miles from here," shouted out the woman. "They might have been trying to move this beast when everything started."
The girl turned and looked back. She nodded and smiled.
"Thank you for the food," said the girl.
"Thank you for your company," said the woman.
"If I'm back this way again, I'll stop in."
The girl shuffled off and disappeared into the vast green.