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Image by Liam Andrew

THE LIFE CYCLE OF A CITY

January 1, 2020

An environmental awareness premise. Didn't get longlisted, but it's probably good for character.
Rules for the 2020 Contest: City in a wild garden.
Write a short story (“flash fiction”, up to 750 words), set in the present or future (near or far) and inspired by the phrase “City in a wild garden”. You do not have to literally use this phrase in your story. You may interpret liberally any of the words in the phrase: city, wild, and garden. Plot elements must include cities, nature, and people. It has to be fiction (that is, a story, not an essay)—any genre, from science fiction to magical realism—and can be about anything: climate change; food security; utopias; wild nature; a love story; … anything.

The Life Cycle Of A City: Work

Axl took his time walking through his new surroundings. The droid told him it would take some time to adjust to his new environment and feel 'normal'. 

A scattershot of memories rocked around in his cotton wool mind as he slowly pieced his new reality together. The undeniable fact was that he was alive, and so was the city. Giant trees burst through cracks in the streets, moss covered the footpaths, thick vines engulfed the remnants of skyscrapers, and aerial roots joined the buildings like botanical telephone wires. In the time before, it had been known as the city that never sleeps. Now, it was truly alive.

The humans’ swift destruction of their planet was impressive. So much damage in such a short amount of time. An evolutionary blink. Towards the end, the world’s government deemed it necessary to place the surviving humans into suspended animation to return the environment to a state of equilibrium and make it habitable once more.

There was something about the absence of traditional city sounds that took some adjusting. He’d never heard birds in their natural habitat; their melodious calls filled him with joy. He sat on a fallen log and took a few moments to listen to the natural symphony, sounding better than any music he’d heard in his lifetime. He smiled as he closed his eyes and exhaled, a deep inner peace arose inside him.

 Before the big sleep, there was traffic, sirens, construction. Now the ambient sounds consisted of a vast array of insects and birds, and another sound he couldn’t immediately put his finger on. It was only when he walked closer to the source he realised what it was. A river. He edged closer, the sound of rushing water intensifying. He discarded his shoes and felt the coolness of the earth on his feet, the soft dirt moving between his toes. He strolled through the undergrowth. The plant matter and soil yielded under his feet. Soft and comfortable. Natural.

In Axl’s lifetime, the only sources of water were large desalinisation plants with reverse osmosis systems. He knelt beside the river and drank his very first taste of fresh water.  The cold refreshing liquid tasted sweet and soothed his throat that had been barren for several hundred years thanks to the intravenous feeding tubes.

Axl stood on the corner of Lafayette and Worth, close to what used to be the City Clerk’s Office, where he’d tied the knot more than 500 years ago. Isabella had died 3 months later of an asthma attack, the noxious fumes too much for her fragile respiratory system. Towards the end, air quality had become so poor that there were more emergency indoor days than not. Cancer and severe illnesses caused by environmental toxicity had spiked dramatically as angry, black clouds swirled above, releasing steady streams of poisonous rain onto the concrete jungle below. Through the canopy, he could now see for the first time, an azure sky that had finally appeared after half a millennium. He inhaled another breath of cool, fresh air deep into his lungs, feeling like he could finally breathe for the first time. 

He gathered his bearings and walked in the direction of City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge, which he thought had surely collapsed into the East River by now. On his wedding day it had taken about 10 minutes to reach City Hall, hundreds of years later, the thicket and undergrowth made it slow going. The city was now one giant botanical garden, teaming with life. 

He wondered what had become of the other landmarks that defined the city. Had The Freedom Tower collapsed under the weight of dense vegetation? Had the Statue of Liberty become a huddled mass? Had her copper skin rusted and cast-iron skeleton corroded? What of Times Square, Broadway, Grand central, or Minton’s playhouse? 

Gathered in the main square out the front of what used to be City Hall, stood the people responsible for the next stage of human civilisation.  He wondered whether half a millennium of suspended animation was enough time for humans to learn from their mistakes. 

As he walked towards the voices, he noticed several white objects caught in a fern. He plucked one out of the leaves and turned it over. A discarded energy bar wrapper. The littering had already started. The human race’s journey towards total annihilation had taken its first step. He stood, incredulous, stuffed the wrappers in his pocket, turned around and walked back into the forest. 

The Life Cycle Of A City: Text
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