In the beginning, they were monkeys: The strongest won, leader of the barrel. They roved in
the canopy, the child on mother’s back, and slept in the arms of trees. They challenged one another. Dined on fruit and leaves. Whiled away their lives in the damp dappled light.
Then, slowly, they descended from the arbours, onto the ground. Then out and onto the plain, into the light, standing on two legs now. Out and onto the plain, clouds banked above them in the dome of sky.
They learned things, and built language. They roamed. Slept in caves. Drank from the stream, their feet warm on the stones. The sun went down behind the rusty mountains. Everything went dark.
They struck rocks together, They made tools. They hunted and foraged. They found the fire — they now made warmth, they now made light. The sun went down behind the rusty mountains, the fire burnt on.
They made baskets. Their brains grew bigger, they spoke to the children. They spoke to each other. They sang. They taught, and learned. They clothed themselves. The sun went down behind the rusty mountains and the moon came up through the darkness.
Some of them died. Some copulated. Some more were born.
They made spears. Beasts were slain. Glory to the hunt. They roamed across the plains, drank from the streams. Weather scudded across the sky. The sun went down behind the red mountains. They sheltered themselves, they stoked the fire. They made art.
Species vanished. Grasses shimmered in the wind. The sun went down behind the mountains.
There were more of them. They made better shelters, felled trees and used their wood, lived
in the villages. Still, there were leaders, head of the tribe. The sun went down over the lake.
Their brains still grew, and they had questions. They couldn’t find the answers, which scared them — so they made their own. They made magnificent myths and deities, answers for the sky and the rain and the dirt.
They had houses. They made more art, and they made games. They found medicines and drugs. They made bread, they used bows, they sang, they stoked the fire. They gave scraps to the wolves, who protected them. The moon came up through the darkness, and so did the stars. And sometimes there were storms.
Rain beaded on the bracken. They sat, crafting and telling stories that their parents had told them.
There were more now. They began putting seeds in the earth, and up came tender shoots in a few nights. No longer did they have to walk so far, no longer were they the subjects of the weather. They planted more, perfecting the process, trial and error. They farmed. The sun set.
They fed animals, tamed them, changed them. They drank their milk, ate their meat, wore their skin. They bred them. They traded. For the first time, there was more food than they needed.
The sun went down and came back up again, people died and were born, the plants grew. They made their houses from mud now. They made things from bones, from fibres, their tools became better by the generation, waves of knowledge lapping over each other. They made currency, bits of metal to show each other that they had power.
They farmed better, built better, thought better. They had more questions, so they made more
deities. Some people spent their lives just making tools, or just fighting, or just telling stories. Many spent most hours inside buildings. The sun went down.
They blossomed. Villages bulged into towns, hierarchies grew, still they farmed. They wrote, they made maps, and built better buildings. They made law, they agreed on ways to keep order, they made prisons. Who was once the leader of a small tribe was now the head of a whole state.
They built pyramids and pantheons. Religion boomed. There was absolute power. For the first time, there were people at the bottom too — servants and farmers, eating simple grains and wearing simple textiles.
They began answering questions differently. They made guesses, had better ideas, and taught themselves about the earth and the heavens. They made the wheel. They gleaned knowledge, and gleaned capacity at the same time.
They took their boats far across the waters, to new lands. They conquered, and took other people from their homes, took other people from their lives. The sun set in the west.
Some of them died, others were born. There were battles. Empires crumbled, new ones were set into motion. The moon kept moving, the waves kept lapping at the shore. Dogs barked.
They made the printing press, they made more science.
Kings and emperors and priests wandered on, the populace at their feet. Time passed. There was worship, there was disease and death. Everybody had their place. They made encyclopaedias and played music, and the sun shone through the window.
Then, they began to make more machines. There was more metal, more energy. It was new
and frightening, and science grew too. The child worked in a factory. A black dirt laid upon the cities. The sun set, jailed by smokestacks.
They made lightbulbs, made plastic, trucks, and aero-planes. They found better medicine. They knew every place. They fought vast fights. They made machines just for killing each other. They used science to loose destruction. Horrible regimes rose, and fell. Someone set a table.
Now brick and stone and cement covered huge swathes of earth. They made families and bought homes and vehicles and televisions. They worked to get currency. They drank from taps. The child went to a school. The moon came up through the darkness, and they went to it.
There were still ones who were sick, there were ones far away who were born but had nothing to eat. And there were still wars.
They made machines that could think for themselves and talk to each other. They shared a thousand photographs every minute. They updated their status. They felled the trees, and filled the ocean with plastic. Animals died. There was more power. They used more power. They did not want to share it. The sun set, and they didn’t see it.
We went down to fetch water from the brook. The night’s dew was fresh on the heather. The
air was brisk, and through it we could just make out extinct cooling towers on the horizon across the lagoon.
We slept in simple flotsam houses on the scrub, and spent our days sowing seeds over the ridge, or gathering detritus from the lagoon. We taught the children our ways, we looked out for the birds and the fishes and the bugs.
Rain came to the peninsula, and ran down the scrubby braes and into the lagoon. We tended to the crops, and then came in and ate. In the afternoon we sat, reading old books about heroes and microscopes and God. The sun set.
The next day brought a dull torridity. We stayed shaded and drank from the brook, listening to a sound that was crickets. At dusk we wandered down to the lagoon with our bags and lights. We waded in the gentle ebb and dragged in more tyres for the flood wall. Hours later we ventured home, bringing with us pieces of wood, bottles, a toilet seat, and the skeleton of an umbrella. The moon came up through the darkness.
By Otto Patton