I wake to the sound of muffled humming. I lay still, disoriented and drowsy, listening to the humming that surrounds me. My mind slowly defines that it must be more than one voice, some tones loud and deep while others are soft and high. But the beauty of the melancholy tune is indescribable and inevitably not of human design. And I'm awake. I sit up so fast my head aches, and all drowsiness vanishes as my mind rushes in a hundred different directions at the realization: I am alive. I take in shallow breaths that quicken when I begin to grasp the situation. The air feels heavy and thick as it enters my lungs and passes through me with little result or relief from the tight feeling in my chest. I quickly blink the black spots from my vision, eager and nervous to see what lies beyond.
The world that meets my eyes is not the one I had imagined. It is quiet and peaceful and wonderful. The ground, as far as I can see is covered with tiny and delicate vines which have small, green leaves lining either side of them, though they are as blue as they can be while still considered green. My eyes shift to the rich brownish-red pillars which form countless clusters around me, creating more small, circular clearings like the one I sit in the center of. The trees are bigger than any of Earth. They are immense; some of them taller than my straining eyes will allow me to see, with dark green leaves covering their massive branches in thick tufts. But light somehow finds a way to reach me in slanted streams.
I push myself to my feet, walking off the strange tingling feeling in my legs, and make my way toward one of the enormous trees. Placing a trembling hand on the rough trunk, I close my eyes. I stand this way for a few seconds before gasping, pulling my hand away quickly as gnarled thorns begin to slowly grow in a small patch where my hand rested. They grow to the size of my fingers in about five seconds. I ignore the dull pain in my hand where I was too slow to move and smile at the clever self- defense as they retract back into the cracks and nooks in the trunk. I skim my hand across the bark, quickly pulling it back before the thorns can touch my skin. A thick line of them grows, faster than they had a moment ago.
As I gaze at the thick tufts of leaves, I begin to identify the numerous clumps tucked inside as animals that resemble birds. I laugh breathily through my hand. Hundreds of the multicolored creatures perch in groups and clusters throughout the trees; their extraterrestrial colors pierce the seemingly endless and unchanging dark green veil of leaves with an incredible brilliance, each of them humming their own part to their everlasting song.
I walk gently across the green expanse of the forest floor to the birds’ tune, which flows from the network of branches far above me and seems to encircle me, encase me, and fill the air around and inside me. It feels as if it will slowly pierce the darkest parts of me the longer I'm exposed to it, as if I'm immune to the horrors that I fear I will face in this unexplored region of an unfamiliar universe. But I am not immune. The bit of fear that refuses to leave me, and the uneasiness that ebbs away at the peace which the music allows, gradually grows stronger in the hours that pass.
I wander the seemingly endless forest in unfaltering awe for only a few hours before the beams of light begin to lessen and the warm air cools. The light fades quickly, and I sit down cautiously for fear of hurting the diminutive and fragile ground-cover beneath me. The days here are noticeably shorter, and I have no hope of falling asleep any time soon, so I don't try. I sit on my knees in the center of a clearing as the forest is enveloped in thick darkness and silence rings in my ears. I begin to long for the days before I was sent here, before there was a need to flee from Earth.
The planet I used to know is not what it is now. I miss the times when the seasons changed and the laughter of strangers rang through the streets. Instead of piles of smoldering ash and rubble, intricate buildings touched the vast, azure sky. I still long for the days that so many strive to forget, and I loathe myself for taking them for granted so often.
I find myself laughing sarcastically at the way it all began: the commotion and worry of global warming, the absolute chaos and endless arguments on how it would play out. But even knowing as long as we did of the problem at hand, the gradual heating of the earth could not be stopped or solved. So it continued. With Earth’s temperature rising steadily every day, people began to panic. Seeing now that this was no longer a distant struggle for tomorrow to bring, it became clear to us that our impending extinction lay within it.
So it began. Within weeks winter was no longer existent, and entire species were eradicated too quickly to keep track of; forests and cities burned and crops were destroyed in the immeasurable intensity of the heat that consumed us. The temperature continued to rise until we met our breaking point. We endured it until we could take no more, until we were on the verge of death, of giving up.
But there soon came a day when something changed. The outrageous heat that overtook the Earth caused something to shift. No one can ever be entirely sure of what happened to the planet on that day, in that moment, but the theory we've come to accept over time is that the heat somehow caused the planet to move. I still remember it. The low rumble that grew louder as it continued, and the violent way the earth shook. I remember vividly how there were screams which were scarcely audible over the roar of the ground beneath us. I remember being thrown, as everyone else had been, across the ground and shaken to my trembling knees. But then it ended, and with it went the heat. There was an almost immediate change in the weather, and they all thought we were saved. But while others cheered and cried and hugged one another with the happiness that can only follow escaping death, I was aware that something was off. Something was eating away at me and causing an inexplicable fear. I think the others sensed it too, the feeling that this was not yet over, that the worst was yet to come. “The shift,” as we all began to call it, was only the beginning of a new catastrophe. It caused the earth to cool even more rapidly than it had heated, and plunged the earth into a frigid and unforgiving winter. Needless to say, we were one of the last known species on the frozen and desolate planet. The vast majority of our plants, animals, and cities were eradicated. We were alone and helplessly afraid.
There were more wars than there ever had been. People fought for scraps of food and bottles of clean water; we were terrified, and it drove some to hoard supplies, while others risked their lives to steal them. Our world was collapsing, and I was sent to find a new one.
As the quiet darkness of the forest reminds me of my exhaustion, I begin to realize that this is where we start over. This is where our future begins, and our unfortunate past ends; our refuge and new beginning lies beneath the canopy of dark green leaves and within the hum of the birds.