Beyond the End of Time Chapter 5
Author Ben Snyder
Excerpt from the historical and philosophical masterpiece Arthrid Civilization and Political Theory:
“Individuals exist primarily to serve the society in which they participate. Fundamentally, what benefits the the group benefits all members through advancement of larger ideals. As such, cooperation must be the basis for civilization. Autonomy is necessary in order to maximize individual contribution and maintain diversity of ideas, but institutions must exist to regulate this balance and advocate the larger interests of the community and ultimately the species.”
Julius awoke to Henry vigorously shaking him. He opened his eyes and looked around at the clearing. Elizabeth, already awake, stood alertly by the entrance.
“Wha-” Julius started to say, but Elizabeth shushed him and pointed out into the forest. Closing his eyes for a moment he cleared the sleep from his eyes and followed Elizabeth’s gaze. He could hear the crashing of bushes and the crunching of twigs nearby. From the noise, he guessed it was the approach of a large animal. Henry grabbed his fishing spear and Julius dropped to a tense crouch. The noises grew louder, the anxiety building to an unbearable peak
Something dark and tall burst through a bush in front of them and before Julius even had time to register the movement, Henry leapt into action. He vaulted the ring of ferns and swung his spear menacingly accompanied with a terrible shout. A terrified, juice-stained face peered back at them. Henry, nearly as surprised as the visitor, quickly lowered the offending implement. The newcomer was smudged with dirt and, hidden behind a sheaf of black hair, her small eyes darted like fish in a bowl. Her appearance lacked that comforting feeling of familiarity that he felt around Henry and Elizabeth
“Hi there! We don’t mean any harm!” Elizabeth called out amiably, unable to completely clear the strain from her voice. The newcomer glanced around suspiciously, neither rejecting nor accepting Elizabeth’s offer of hospitality.
“What’s your name?” Elizabeth persisted.
“Mary,” Mary said after a pause.
As soon as she had finished talking, two others broke out of the brush and into their small clearing. The taller of the two had frizzy hair standing on end and broad shoulders. He leaned forward aggressively, ready for conflict should it arise. The other was a shorter girl clutching a fruit and smiling slightly with excitement. Her whole body seemed elastic and full of energy.
“Who are you and what are you doing in our forest?” she stepped forward, her smile widening at her own audacity.
Something about her manner severely rankled Julius and he stepped out to meet her before Elizabeth could speak: “I’m Julius and behind me are my friends Henry and Elizabeth. And as far as I know, this is not your forest.”
“Well we came here first and claimed it.” She smiled even wider at this new brash remark.
Julius saw Elizabeth’s worried gestures and calmed himself before replying. Despite his anger, he understood that cooperation would be far more beneficial than fighting. From the uncomfortable expressions worn by his antagonist allies, he supposed they agreed with him.
“We've been living here for the last two days. I've never seen you here before.” Julius struggled to keep the steel out of his voice.
Julius’s efforts were in vain; the girl’s eyes narrowed and her arm shot out lightning fast to grab Henry’s spear. Julius now felt the true danger of the situation and lashed out like a cobra. His strike landed on the girl’s arm and she dropped the spear with a shout of pain. The boy behind her jumped forward and locked his arms around Julius, pulling him to the ground. Elizabeth screamed as the bigger boy pinned Julius against the dirt. Henry chose this moment to join the fray, and throwing soil in the boy’s face, he ducked under the girl’s outstretched arms and tackled him.
Julius, relieved to have the weight taken off of him, stood up and went for the girl. He slammed into her, knocking her into a bush to reveal Mary holding the spear and staring like an animal caught in a headlight. The spear sailed through the air, missing Julius and landing on the ground where Henry and the boy lay grappling. Julius and the girl locked eyes and he lowered his shoulder, tensing for another charge. Just then a small stone hit him in the side of the head.
“Stop it!” Elizabeth stepped between them.
The sheer force of her voice caused everyone to freeze where they were. Tension palpably drained and Julius felt as though the cloud of adrenaline blocking his judgement abruptly evaporated. Feeling very ridiculous, Julius stood up straight and blushed with shame.
“There is no need for fighting! I understand that everyone is worried or afraid, but someone could have been seriously injured. What would we have done then? We may be children, but that does not mean we have to act like them.” Elizabeth's voice burned with fury without becoming accusatory.
For several seconds, Elizabeth’s words rang in Julius’s mind. He could not help but admire her mastery of language. Henry and the boy disentangled themselves, rolled apart from each other, and stood up quickly without looking at each other.
Mary shuffled forward: “Elizabeth is right. We shouldn't fight.”
The other boy nodded in agreement and looked apologetically at Henry.
“Sorry, something happened that really put us on edge. I'm Richard by the way.” Richard glanced at the girl as if seeking direction.
“Juliet.” Juliet deflated, but her voice was tinged with bitterness. As soon as they heard Richard, Julius and Elizabeth leaned in, intrigued.
“What happened to you?” Julius spoke to Richard.
“Something strange happened to us as well.” Elizabeth now spoke to Juliet, who perked up as soon as she was included.
“We were swimming in the river yesterday morning” Richard began
“When suddenly we heard this weird buzzing” Juliet continued on almost exactly the same tone Richard left off.
“A huge insect stuck in the water came floating down with the current” Richard shuttered as he recounted its ghostly dance on the river.
“It almost grabbed me,” Mary added, not to be left out.
“We barely got out of its way in time,” Juliet concluded.
Elizabeth, Henry, and Julius all exchanged glances at the mention of the monstrous insect.
“We know exactly what you’re talking about. The insect attacked us as we were standing by the waterfall, and when we when we tried to escape it got stuck in the river.” Elizabeth succinctly recalled their encounter.
“Did you notice any other strange occurrences?” Julius’s brow furrowed as he again tried to pinpoint his suspicions.
“No, not really,” Juliet replied.
“Well, now that you mention it, there was that haze on the horizon,” Richard looked at them pensively.
“What if,” Henry spoke for the first time, catching everyone by surprise, “that insect is from outside.”
Henry’s usually quiet voice was swept away by the driving force of his question. A profound silence settled over the group. In hindsight, the idea seemed obvious to Julius; it had never occurred to him that the insect might simply have been from a different place. Clear there was more to the world than they had seen so far.
“And the haze could be too!” Mary almost squeaked with excitement.
“Then we should go and investigate what you saw,” Julius looked at the others who nodded.
“I know the way down the river. You can follow me.” Juliet have suggested half commanded.
Before beginning their journey they gathered a package of fruit as provisions and watching the five others working together, Julius could see a common purpose smoothing out their difficulties. Even Juliet seemed to be growing more comfortable around them.
Now walking along the riverbank, Julius felt the vertigo of approaching the cliffs of discovery. While Elizabeth and Juliet struck up conversation at the head of their small column, Julius noticed ominous black clouds to their rear. They seemed to boil and seethe in slow motion, the dark brew of some heavenly sorcerer. He considered mentioning it to the others, but decided it was too far away to warrant worrying them.
They made swift progress down the river, and by the time the sun had passed its zenith, an ethereal curtain of shimmering light became visible in the distance. Richard pointed it out to them, slightly perplexed at its change of appearance. The pace automatically increased as soon as their goal was in sight.
A grumpy rumbling from behind reminded Julius of the storm: “We should hurry, there’s a large storm on our tail.”
They all turned to see the first gray vanguards of cloud casting them in shadow. Far out, a bright bolt of lightning struck the ground.
“We should look at that shimmer and then get to cover.” Juliet gestured to a small a clump of trees just over the river.
Julius broke into a brisk jog at the front and the others fell in behind him. A strong wind picked up, propelling them over the frantically waving grass. The clouds now hung almost directly overhead and the shimmer began to disappear, eaten up by their darkness. Julius’s feet moved faster and faster, desperately trying to race the wind. The shimmer was now almost in front of him, he could reach out and touch it. His head hit something solid and the world went dark.
An earthshaking boom brought him back to reality. The first thing he noticed was the throbbing in his head and the scratches on his back. He winced and blinked his eyes, but he couldn't make sense of what he saw. The grass erratically retreated away from him into the gloom. Pressure in his arms caused him to look up and see two figures pulling him backward to the cover of a small tree
His senses returning, Julius asked his companions, “What happened?!”
Elizabeth started to answer, but the storm chose that moment to let loose its deafening deluge. The tree, already bent like a whip by wind shuddered under the power of the new assault.
He could only catch the words “invisible wall” over the battering of the rain. Each drop, propelled like a bullet by the wind, stung his face and arms. A hand grabbed his shoulder and led him into a dense thicket. The tangled branches sheltered them from the worst of the wind and rain but isolated each child with impenetrable darkness. A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the space with harsh light and he saw five anxious faces peering back at him.
In spite of the rivulets of rain trickling through the canopy and the horrendous cacophony outside, Julius felt intense relief to see his friends were safe and was overwhelmed with gratitude at their sacrifice in rescuing him. He retreated into his mind to wait out the seemingly endless storm. When the wind finally died down, the small enclosure was stiflingly hot from their breath and body heat.
“It’s over.” Henry’s simple statement was surprisingly comforting and Julius unfurled himself.
They were all so exhausted that they were barely able to stagger out from hiding and find a suitable place to rest for the night. Upon laying down, Julius immediately fell into a deep sleep.