A Concrete Jungle
The Earth would not outlive the human race, this was evident. We raped, we consumed, and we destroyed. Even when we built, we ripped, harvested, and stole the resources we required from the being that bore us. Our influence spread like a plague. Cities began to grow, expanding outward like a festering wound. Skyscrapers stretching up like hideous blemishes on the skin of Earth.
Somewhere deep below the concrete was something akin to twenty-first century sewers. But instead of feces, there were plants that had adapted and evolved to grow in the darkness below the cities. These provided the Earth with the necessary oxygen to support life, what little life was left.
I lived and worked in one of the tallest skyscrapers in my city’s sector. To be quite honest, I don’t know the name of the city even though it’s been my home for thirty-some years. The apartments were on the topmost floors while the bottom floors were dedicated to rows of cubicles. We woke up in the morning, took the elevator down to our workspace, and then rode the elevator up to our apartments. There we dined on reheated food provided by the company and watched programs on our company-issued televisions.
I had never seen daylight; not because I didn’t leave, but because a thick, charcoal blanket covered the sky. All light in the city was artificial. Spotlights illuminated patches of the street, but they were not nearly enough to stop the oily shadow from seeping into every crack and crevice. The darkness almost had a presence, a substance to it. It felt sticky; it weighed people down, changed their dispositions. And I swear it screamed when the charcoal blanket was torn open.
I cannot recall how long ago the events leading up to now occurred; the amount of mental stress it has caused is insurmountable. I will throw myself from the roof of this building when I finish scrawling this note. I can hear the darkness pawing at the door; it won’t be long before the darkness finds me.
When it began, everything happened so fast. I was sitting in my cubicle about mid-day, revising lines of code I had just laboriously typed into the computer, when I heard a crash, followed by a bloodcurdling scream. I raised my head above the workspace dividers in time to see the silhouette of a person streak past the window. A group of us walked to the window. Suicides were not uncommon; we would do anything to break the monotony of the workday. But before we could see the fate of the jumper, the window exploded in a wave of glass and metal. A tangled mass of vines thrust through the window like the arm of some disembodied giant. The vines then peeled away from each other with a sickening squelch.
Launching out in all directions, the vines snatched workers off their feet and pulled them out into the air beyond the window. Men and women thrashed. Their grasping hands searched for handholds. They never had a chance. The vines were swift and ruthless, yanking the workers out of the building like plucking darts from a dartboard. One worker was unfortunate enough to find a hold before the vine pulled him all the way through the window. The worker was clutching a horizontal metal strut that separated the now broken window with both arms curved like fishhooks. The vine slackened and then jerked backward with such a force that the man was ripped in two, his top half remaining on the metal strut. His tangled intestines dangled from his upper half, looking just like the vines that killed him.
When the window exploded, I turned my upper half and covered the exposed flesh of my neck. The flying glass and debris cut the knuckles on my hand and peppered my gray suit coat with dust. I turned to see the vine-arm rocket through the space where the window had been only moments before. I stood there, unable to move or breathe, while the vines dragged my screaming co-workers away. I was jolted back to reality when a vine slithered across and wrapped itself around my left ankle. It slithered up my leg, encircling my calf and thigh like a python. Before it could clamp down and pull me away, I pulled a pen out of my front shirt pocket and thrust it deep into the vine around my thigh as if I was injecting epinephrine.
Deep green goo oozed from the wound as the vine uncoiled itself from my leg and withdrew. The vine emitted a high-pitched mewl, dragging itself away from me, a trail of goo following it. The putrid smell of the pseudo-blood pooled around my foot made me retch. Wiping my mouth with my sleeve, I looked up in time to see the recoiling vine slither up and out of my vision. As it withdrew, three more vines descended from an upper floor.
These vines were thicker than the first, easily two feet in diameter, tapering off at the end like tentacles. The vines entered through the broken window. Their tips scanned the room with unseen eyes, slowly moving from left to right, searching for something. The vine in the middle stopped scanning when its gaze settled on me. I stood staring at the vine, petrified. I began to back away, but my foot slipped on the fetid green goo left behind by the smaller vine. I fell onto my back, sprawled out in green vine-blood. I scrambled to get to my feet, but only succeeded in covering my gray suit in the disgusting fluid. While I scrambled, the two flanking vines stopped their scan and exploded forward as if fired from a cannon. I closed my eyes and accepted my inevitable dismemberment.
I opened my eyes when I heard screams behind me. The two vines had wrapped themselves around the arms of a husky gentleman, who was pleading to a god our society had long ago forsaken. The vines dragged the man down the hallway toward the destroyed window. His shoes just barely touched the floor, making a soft rustling noise on the carpet. The vines pulled him to the middle vine, whose gaze was still fixed on me. The middle vine hovered toward me and I stopped my scrambling, lying in a half-sitting position with my hands behind me. Its tapered end came to rest inches from my face. The vine’s tip was pointed straight at the bridge of my nose. It proceeded to snake across my shoulder, and down the length of my spine. The vine wrapped itself around my overweight stomach. My muscles tensed and rivulets of sweat poured down my forehead. The vine finished encircling my midsection and pulled itself up so it was once again inches from my face. When I was certain the vine would tense itself and pull me away, it began to unwind itself.
The vine quickly uncoiled itself from around my body and hovered over to its brethren holding the hefty gentleman. His sullen, black eyes met mine as the middle vine wrapped itself around him in the same fashion it had me. It stopped inches from his face, watching him. The vine made an odd mewling sound and tightened its grip on the man’s middle. He let out a shriek as the three vines pulled the man out into the blackness beyond the hole in the building. My arms collapsed behind me and I blacked out, sprawled in the wretched goo.
I don’t know how long I was unconscious for, but I woke up to silence. The emerald blood beneath me had congealed, but its stench was still rancid. I slowly rose to my feet. My lower back still throbbed from where I’d hit the ground earlier. Clutching my back like an elderly man, I slowly shuffled around the room.
I lived a sedentary life style. I worked at a desk, and lived in a chair. As I scanned the room, the sounds of my labored breathing were the only sounds I heard. The room had been torn apart by the vines during their assault. Cubicle walls had been flattened, computer monitors had been smashed to bits, and little pieces of machinery lay strewn about the floor. But the oddest thing about the room was not what had been destroyed, but what had grown while I was unconscious. The walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in an intricate pattern of overlapping prehistoric ivy. The stems were thick and woody as if they had been growing for ages.
The ivy had crept in through the gaping hole where the window had once been. Their leaves were thick and leathery, each as big around as a television screen. The ivy continued to creep around the room like inchworms, slowly covering every flat surface in the room. I shuffled around the room, careful not to disturb the crawling ivy. I needed to find a way off of the floor and out of the building before the vines returned
I couldn’t help but wonder why the vines had spared me and not the other worker. Was it the rancid stench from the goo I had covered myself in while I struggled? Or was it something else? The way the vine had stared at me was unsettling. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was peering into my soul, judging me. But judging me for what?
I shook away the disturbing feeling and looked around the room for a way out. I saw the elevator and walked toward it, still holding my throbbing back with one hand. I pressed the call button and to my surprise, the doors opened immediately. But any hope I had of escaping via elevator was dashed when the doors opened. A tree was now occupying the space above, below, and inside the elevator car in front of me. I stepped forward and peered upwards; the tree was thin but limbless and stretched far up into the dark recesses of the elevator shaft.
Dejected, I walked away from the elevator. The pain in my back had subsided, but was replaced by a dull ache in my head. I crossed the room; careful not to disturb the crawling plants at my feet for fear that something more malicious might descend from the floor above looking for any remaining humans. I reached the gaping hole where the window had once been and peered over the edge. Below me was nothing but an impermeable darkness. The lights on the ceiling above me shined down, but did nothing to illuminate the blackness beyond the window. The ivy that had crept down from the floor above was the only thing visible.
The complete and utter blackness that I was witnessing meant only one thing: the lights throughout the city had gone out. Though our society lived in a perpetual night, artificial lighting kept the outside somewhat visible. Everything outside could be viewed in different shades of sullen gray. But this darkness, it was frightening. I had never felt so alone, so helpless in my life. I was alone, surrounded by a foreign darkness that seemed to encompass the world outside of that room. I stared out into the void, looking up toward the sky, when I thought I saw a twinkling star poke through the charcoal blanket.
The twinkling star began to expand, tearing at the charcoal blanket, ripping at its seams. The world seemed to come to life as sunlight poured through the gaping wound of the sky. The world erupted in a cacophony of sound. Snapping branches, slithering vines, breaking wood, and worst of all, a sickening sound like a combination of boiling water and sizzling meat. The inky black below me seemed to evaporate.
I cannot even begin to describe the sounds made by the darkness. It seemed to pierce my mind. I covered my ears with cupped hands to no avail. I’m sure that should this account be recovered, my descriptions of the darkness will be dismissed as the ravings of mad man. While the amount of mental stress caused by the prehistoric flora is great, I am well aware of my surroundings, and I am sure there is something sinister inside the oily shadow.
Over the sound of the darkness’ screams I did not hear the rustling of leaves behind me. The room had exploded in a burst of foliage and bloom. The vines produced budding and rapidly blooming white flowers, while the tree in the elevator shaft had sprouted thick branches that thrust out into the room and through the walls of the elevator car. All around me the room was bursting with a life that I had never seen before. I was careful not to step on any of the emerald vines as I trekked through the room to explore the new environment.
As I approached the tree I could see light flickering from the around its trunk. I thought it was the sunlight pouring in from the top of the building, but as I neared the elevator car I could tell that it was coming from the bottom of the building. The acrid smell of smoke filled my nostrils as I peered past the tree trunk down to the bottom of the elevator shaft. I could see the swelling orange flicker of fire at the bottom as it began to inch its way up the tree. With my head pressed up against the trunk watching the fire approach, I could hear a deep whale-like bellow from the tree: a call for help.
The sound made me jump backwards, but as my feet left the ground, something wrapped around my waist. My feet never touched back down.
I looked down and saw a vine thicker than my portly stomach encircling my waist. My gray suit was still stained with emerald green blood. The vine tightened and I could feel a hot pain surge through my back. The vine jerked me backward, pulling me away from the tree and beyond the shattered window.
It was here, suspended over the city that I could see the true devastation the flora had caused. It had burst from the concrete below the buildings and had snaked up skyscrapers and power plants. The charcoal blanket had been ripped open after the plants choked smoke stacks around the city. I could see in the blinding sunlight how the vines and trees had capped the smoke stacks by clogging them with foliage. But as the vine continued to lift me up, I could see the same flicker from between the vines in the smoke stacks as I saw in the elevator shaft.
The vines were beginning to burn; the heat from the obstructed smoke stacks must have caused the newly blooming vines to combust. As the sunlight hit the prehistoric plants, they erupted in a greenery of life, which was now acting as the perfect fuel for the spreading fire. The smoke began to billow from the smoke stacks again, a darker putrid smog. Smoke poured from open windows as the plants within the towering skyscrapers burned. The fire leaked beneath the concrete and the fire spread as it always does.
The vine stopped its rising; I was never afraid it would drop me or crush me against the side of the building. It placed me on the roof and unraveled. I cannot be sure it was the same vine as before, but it seemed to look at me with sightless eyes and it mewled before sliding out of sight over the edge of the building.
I’m watching the city beneath me burn. The fire will reduce the plants to ash and soot. The charcoal blanket above me has already mended. The building will not burn with its cold steel frame. I cannot bear to stay here; I cannot bear to live in darkness.
Behind me the elevator door is shaking. I can hear the inky shadow cry behind it. It gets louder with every word I etch into my ichor-stained jacket with this emerald blood covered pen. It is dark on top of this building. It is dark in the streets below. Nothing blooms in this darkness.