2020 Flash Fiction Submissions

Corona is a global epidemic that has come and solved for all peoples a black cloud which surrounded our world….

The economy, health, environment and politics of countries have affected many and many…

It’s a cloud:

It forced us to social distance .

It forced us to stop working .

It forced us to fear .
It forced us to stay in our home.

But…

Corona gave us a chance to review our relationships.

Corona gave us a chance for eagerness to work.

Corona gave us experience dealing with epidemics.

Corona gave us more time to solve our problems.

Corona gave us time for innovation and achievement.

Corona inspired us to success … It made us realize how beautiful our lives was . We realized the blessings around us .

What happens after Corona ?

Countries that have triumphed and limited the spread of the virus will write the history, there will be websites for all shopping stores, adopt 50% of distance education, all government procedures and forms are online such as identity - extending residence etc… More cooperative and giving societies, people-to-people, more interest in the environment….

This epidemic is a cloud that has rained a lot of blessings, so that families are reunited, friends have been reconcile and countries have raised their standard, improved education and facilitated procedures….

Corona was the key to a new era, era of technology and environment.

John Alein says, “The victors of the Corona crisis will write history”

I say that the real history will write after the end of the Corona pandemic a date in which we replace the papers with electronic documents a date that if we unable to attend in its practical meetings physically we made up that in online presence. The future is a history of technology I think corona is just the beginning of a successful technological era .

Space science will evolve further, and there will be possibility of living on other planets, and the health system will evolve and become stronger and more predictive of risk .

I heard and saw a lot of negative expectations about the situation after Corona and no doubt that the damage is great and exists but this does not mean that Corona will be the end of the life there are many epidemics came on the world before Corona, but people by nature adapts to the situation, no matter how difficult after Corona we will overcome it with the least losses and damage and we will rise to a new world impressive and able to continue under any circumstances.

My expectations for life after Corona is :
Trips to move to another planet .
Trains at the speed of light .
Highly developed vehicles .
A stronger and smart education .
More technology .
Stronger treatments for diseases .
A reserve full of animals .
A global body fighting epidemics .
We will be able to replace the damaged organs in the human body with the man-made ones .
A thriving economy .
Parks between the clouds .
Smart homes that work with all human actions, including cleaning and cooking And wash clothes and arrange them in cupboards .
A cohesive society .
Restaurant service robots .
Wonderful and spacious nature .
In conclusion , this pandemic has caused a lot of damage and we will need time to recover from its damages , but the doors to success will open gradually .

We will see what we did not see in the past … a very developed world … new innovative technology … a strong health world … a space of science and knowledge .
Bshayer Abdullah .

After the Maelstrom by Aik Ragas

I cussed when I almost lost balance while hurriedly running, never minding catching my breath as of the moment. My heart raced abnormally. My mind’s in haywire. Running like this almost every time seems like a new unwanted lifestyle for me.

The year 2019 is the last peaceful year I’ve ever had. I never thought that humans would go this crazy. I always detest movies where the characters needed to run for their lives. I always thought why would they fucking run when they can face it and be hell with it. And karma got its back for me, now I’m experiencing it on hand.

My pace doubled when I heard the sound of their vehicles nearing me. I’m sweating bullets as I swift to the other corner, panicking of where to hide. My palm tightens at the thing that I just stole.

“Ady! Where are you going this time? It’s almost midnight, Christmas!” My baby brother almost yelping. “Stay with us! Tell our cousins you’re staying!”

I chuckled, thinking of how sweet he is, wanting to celebrate his Christmas with me. “You know, my plan is sealed. Cannot be changed.” I caressed his hair. “I’ll be back tomorrow, it’s still Christmas, Drey.” I smiled at him.

A tear escaped from my eyes, blaming myself for why I declined my brother’s wishful plea. I stared at the bottle they chased me for. The little bottle I risked my life with. I never thought I would be this desperate for having this little one.

I paused a beat after reading the draft I wrote way back in 2019. Before the pandemic escalates, I was a trying-hard writer. That time, I want to write a science-fiction and ended with this one draft. I remember how eager I was before I left it unfinished. It was the holiday of December when I started writing it and when January came, I prioritized my studies and later, got unable to picture it out anymore. It was when news of wildfires spread out around the world, when people started speculating about the possibility of World War 3, and when the victims of the virus were widespread slowly by slowly.

I puffed a deep breath, launched myself from the back of the wooden chair where I was comfortably settled. I shut my laptop down and fetched the cup of Mocha Mudslide next to it. Once again, I comfy myself in my seat, relishing the summery feels.

From what I wrote back then, enouement of my veins came scurrying to my perceptions, from what I thought would ensue in the future and what really happens right now, in this present. The pandemic outbreak of 2019 offered despairs, giving no hope to everyone. Most people are mad, depressed, poignant, and hopeless. Who would have thought, that the aftereffect of that upsetting epidemic is this reassuring future.

Children are playing, laughs are everywhere. Trees are swaying and the greenery can be felt anywhere. Who would have thought, when most of the factories were stopped, and when peoples’ vehicles were less used, even after the losses, everyone would still appreciate how Mother Earth is healing.

The pandemic also brought people to care about their natural habitat. Because a healthy home means a nutritious living. Means a healthy life. Instead of constructing more buildings, most cities around the globe are developing more on making their community healthy; by planting trees everywhere, bicycles as a way of transportation, and the implementation of solar vehicles.

“Ronnie!” I got out of my amusement as I heard my name somewhere, I put down the cup I was holding and recognized who it is.

I smiled widely at Alleah, my closest friend. “Hey! What a miracle! You aren’t late!” I jested.

She placed herself next to my seat while eyeing the venue before she gave me a smile. “You’re early to have a nice spot here, my dear!”

“I wouldn’t want to miss it, of course, my dear…” I answered.

Alleah is kind of loud, but funny. Why boredom is out of place whenever I am with her. We talked and laughed until the event started. Alleah and I have been present in this kind of event for four consecutive years. It is annually. And now, it will be our fifth. The government decided on a specific date to commemorate the happenings of 2019 and 2020. It is a holiday, but not a celebration.

On that very same day, everyone would have their health general check-up. Although face masks became part of the wardrobe after that, most people choose to wear face masks on that very same day. That day is also to socialize more and befriend strangers.

The arrangement of chairs and tables in front of the stage, and the mass of people, expresses how this holiday became a new normal after 2019 and 2020. The opening remark is a solemn prayer for the victims. The emcee then explained what is this day’s holiday is about, the deep meaning of it.

My favorite part of this event is meeting new people and share stories with them. It is when the organizer starts to change your original seat plan and put you in a group with a bunch of strangers. Alleah waved her goodbye for the meantime as we assembled with a different set of five people.

We introduced ourselves like some first-day-of-school pupils. I empathized with them as they disclose their fair share of thought. I listened sensibly to their inspiring stories.

“And now, let us have Veronica,” said Patty, she is a tourist that happens to be part of our group.

My eyes widened a little and laugh a bit about my reaction. “Ronnie is fine,” I smiled at the new people I’m with.

“Hi, Ronnie.” They greeted in unison.

I cleared my throat. “Hi,” I sighed then chuckled nervously. “This isn’t my first time here, but I am not really much of a talker…” I give Patty a glanced and she answered with an encouraging smile. I continued. “Each of us, we have stories that were untold and hidden and most of those withheld moments, are the most precious ones.”

I composed myself more, reminding myself that to be able to talk in front of everyone, I must listen to my heart’s whispers. “We have stories that we’ve already told and stories that we’ve kept. We have stories that even ourselves, didn’t know how precious it was until it was gone and forgotten. Right now, some of our untold stories are trapped in those quarantine ages. And yes, it will be a pleasure for me to know some of your quarantine stories. The reason why I am here. That’s all, thank you.”

After the pandemic, I am still a trying-hard writer. I want to write more that inspires people, and also, I want to transcribe peoples’ feelings from those quarantine ages. No more news of wildfires spread out around the world, and people already stopped speculating about the possibility of World War 3. But, the victims of Covid19 are still here, with their unsaid tales. And, the only remedy for that is for them to be heard, to know that they are not just victims, but, the inspirations everyone would want to hear about.

Thanks for your story!

Winners will be contacted directly and published on our website and forum on 1st December.

1 Like

In the Cold, There Shines a Light

Between the freezing hills of the mountains nestled a little sweet potato farm that was once quiet. Below it, Mae adjusted the school books in her arms and hopped over the stream that cut across the thin path. Her boots hit the frozen ground with a crunch. Two of her cousins leaped over the water with unusual energy, school supplies stuffed messily into their bags and pockets.

“Come on! This is our last time here! I’ll race you to the top,” One of them, Chen, laughed, taking off up the hill. Wen followed, for once not so tired after watching the video lectures on the crest of the rocky hill that overlooked the eerily silent town. Mae glanced back from where they came.

“Maybe we should savor our walk this time,” She suggested in a small voice.

Her cousins didn’t hear her as they climbed to the crest of the next hill. Mae blew a strand of hair from her face and wiggled her toes. Today was the last day her feet would be cold when she wrote in her school book. A smile spread across her face as she thought of that and, securing the books against her chest, she ran after her cousins.

The cold wind bit at her cheeks turning them rosy, but she paid no mind to it. The faster she got home, the faster the wind would be gone and the faster she could eat her dinner.

Above, new utility poles passed, marking the change of times for her tiny rural home. She pumped her legs faster. They wobbled, stiff from sitting on the ground. Soon though, they warmed up, pushing her the final meters up the hill to the entrance of her home where the electrician’s truck was pulling out.

Mae came to a stop right before it, steamy breath puffing from her mouth. Wen stood by the truck window talking with the electricians.

“Well, I wish I could have seen you install it,” she said.

“Would you like these leftover wires?” The electrician laughed. Wen smiled.

“Thank you, sir,” Mae bowed to him, her papers almost falling out of her arms.

His eyes wrinkled up and though his mouth was covered by his face mask, Mae knew he was smiling.

“Here,” He handed Wen a bunch of discarded wires, small cut up ones that the little girl would probably spend hours fidgeting with.

“Is the internet up?” Mae asked, noticing Chen wasn’t in sight.

Another one nodded, “Now your grades should go up, hm?”

“Yes! Of course,” Mae and Wen bowed quickly as the truck pulled out onto the rough road.

Mae brought her mitten up to warm her nose, but Wen grabbed her hand and pulled her along. “Come on! I want to see the tv show something other than those old CDs.”

With a laugh, Mae followed her into the tiny house, scrambling to take off her dirtied shoes at the entrance. Inside, Chen already had the tv on. Mae laid her books down on the old wood table and watched, mesmerized as the screen flickered with bright fluorescent colors. Chen flipped through videos and dramas Mae had only seen down in the town with her friends.

“Does it work!?” Wen asked, hardly bothering to contain her excitement.

“Of cou—

“Play a lesson! Does it work?!” Mae exclaimed.

Chen tapped the shiny new remote a few times before the thumbnail of the lesson they had just watched popped up. With wide eyes he pressed it and on the tv, their teacher’s face lit up the screen, a board behind him just like before the pandemic.

But this wasn’t the same as before the pandemic. Before they had no internet. Before the only shows they could watch were the ones the kids from town shared with them. Before the house was quiet. Now it filled with the crisp voice of her teacher, who Mae had strained to hear on top of the hill.

She sat down, eyes unable to move from the light. No more distance learning outside. No more hour long walks just to get service. No more sitting out in the wind, her fingers freezing as she wrote in her workbook.

The pandemic may have taken them out of school, but it was also the reason the tv shone in an almost ethereal light.

Now, years later, Mae plugs in a cable to the modem. A little girl watches in curiosity as Mae messes with a clip before pressing the on button. A green light ripples across the screen. Mae glances over to the girl. Watching the girl’s face light up in amazement, Mae wonders if she had looked the same, face flushed and eyes wide as a new world opened up in front of her.

Adaptation: A Dialogue in 10 Parts

I

“I’m thinking Thai. Does that sound good?”

“Sure. Do you want to check to see which restaurants are open, and what the conditions are?”

“I can, but I checked the community website.”

“Good, but that’s been running about six hours out of date.”

II

“Do you still take attendance?”

“Sure. I take it once a day in person. Once a day by Zoom. Once a week for students using an asynchronous model.”

III

“Have you started going back you to the gym?”

“Not recently. I checked the climate fitness website, and found out how much carbon the drive to the gym burned—and how many calories planting trees, placing sandbags, and raking stream beds burns, and signed up for one of those on-call conservation crews. Now I get my exercise out in the world, and I do good at the same time I’m getting my exercise.”

“Good plan. Why do you look so sad, though?”

" 'Cause today there were no projects, so I signed up on the community projects site. We dug up some of those mass covid graves, to give those we lost a proper burial."

IV

“Grandpa, will you read me a story?”

"Sure. I’m still on my second round of treatments, so put me on speakerphone. Okay, hit the clicker if you need to pee. Ready? ‘That night Max…’ "

V

“Did you get the notice about megalodons in the bay?”

“Um, Dave? Those are extinct?”

“They were extinct. That rogue geneticist who got furloughed for not being willing to take the first round of vaccines finally cloned some, then ‘accidently’ released a breeding pair near the city. So, I’m fishing freshwater for now.”

“Dave, can I see that notice? Oh, I see. Did you take that class at the senior center on thwarting fake news?”

“Thwarting?”

“Hey, I didn’t choose the title. Martin used to be a journalist. He likes headlines. But he knows his stuff. Here, let me show you. Okay, look at the notice. Do you see how there’s no attribution? This didn’t come from anyone or anyplace official. Now, by itself, that’s not automatically a disqualifier, but it’s a sign. Now, look at the term ‘rogue geneticist.’ It is emotive language, unlikely to be included in any official communication. Where did you find this?”

“Nadine mentioned she’d seen it.”

“Nadine? The hot grandma who thinks vaccines cause autism?”

VI

“Okay, Sharon. Since you’re the newest addition to the neighborhood, you get to set the agenda for QuickDud!”

“For what?”
“David. Seriously. Stop trying to make ‘QuickDud’ happen. It is the Quarterly Community Disaster Drill.”

“Sharon, you decide. QuickDud: yeah or nay?”

“I’m…going to dodge that question. What’s this agenda? What do you want me to do?”

“Oh, sure. Just choose one card from the red pile—that’s Disasters—and one from the black pile—that’s Constraints. Okay, good. What’d ya get?”

“Umm…red card flood, black card…does it say ‘walk with cane’?”
“Yep. Let me send this info on the community network, and then I’ll explain. Okay. After the chaos of 2020, we—like many other communities—came together to figure out how we could handle emergencies better. We also tried to figure out how to become stronger as a community. QuickDud does both. Every three months, we practice responding to random disasters. Different school classes put in suggestions—that’s where you get the ‘The floor is lava’ card. Constraints means limits. Sometimes we want to respond to an emergency, but something limits our actions. Like the pandemic, when we had to distance and wear masks. And after we fight the flood. Or fire. Or grasshopper invasion—don’t laugh, remember the locusts of 1874. And afterwards, the pot luck dinner!”

VII

“You see someone in Coralville died of Covid?”
“Crap. That’s the second death this year. Let the CDC know they might want to track this batch of vaccine.”

VIII

“Grandpa. What are you doing?”
“You ever use a slingshot?”

“Not really. How do they—holy crap! Do you know how much those drones cost?”

“Like I care. They scare my birds.”

“Can I try?”

“Sure. No, not that one.”
“Why not?”
“Widow Greenfield can’t walk so good. That one carries her meds. See the red cross. Leave those ones be. Just take out the Amazon drones.”

IX

“Did you see the big NIH crowdsourcing contest?”

“National Institute of Health?”
“Ha. Makes sense, but no. Not Invented Here. It’s looking for the best idea, approach, or practice that the U.S. didn’t do during the pandemic, but someone else did. Find, document, and share the best idea that was Not Invented Here.”

"Huh.
“Hey, don’t snark. That’s where the Pat the Duck at the local elementary school came from.”

“Pat the…”

“Oh. Someone combined the Chinese practice of testing temperatures when entering buildings with what they knew kids like. The result was Pat, a plastic duck the size of a 7 year old, with temperature sensors all over the duck. Then the school started the tradition of patting Pat when the kids got to school for the day. The duck records everyone’s temperature, so they have more data of possible outbreaks.”

“That’s…new.”

“That’s the point.”

X

“Why does this quilt look so weird?”

“Oh, that’s part of the meaning. They didn’t make it from scraps of traditional cloth. It’s made from hospital scrubs from those who died saving others. And the shiny bits are people’s nametags.”

“That’s a big quilt.”
“That’s just the one from this state. Never again.”

“Never again.”

THE END

It is nature’s rule that after every dark night, a bright beautiful day welcomes us. Undoubtedly, corona virus has been a fearful dark night, since it has brought great misfortune for the humans. But, if we penetrate deeper, we find corona to be the punishment given by nature instead of a misfortune. And, if we understand nature’s instructions for us, the bright beautiful day is not far.

Once let us recall the ruthlessness and carelessness of humans; how we have been deteriorating the nature, giving pain to the innocent creatures, merely for fulfilling our selfish disastrous needs. Further analyzing the origin of COVID-19, it is also the consequence of humans’ heart wrenching act. If humans were vegetarian, the world would never have to face such pitiful situation. Moreover, Corona is not a virus, it is a justice done to Mother Earth. The reason why I am saying so is, Corona has improved everyone’s life except of humans; wildlife are freely roaming, nature is regaining its beauty, only humans are dying. Isn’t it miraculous that everything men tried to destroy are blooming, and the man himself is going into the mouth of death?

Thus, the first change I am positive to see after the end of COVID-19 is, realization and remorse by the humans. Sadly, humans have considered themselves the Almighty, and have adopted the characteristics of demon. They have always boasted about the scientific development, always tried to attack other countries and have spent trillions in the lethal explosive weapons. But, now it has been almost a year, however, they are unable to treat even a microorganism. This is the power of nature, my dear. Therefore, I expect humans to respect the nature, love all the creatures, be vegetarian and live peacefully.

Secondly, I vision people following a healthy diet and lifestyle. The world has witnessed the drastically higher death rates in the Western countries in comparison to South Asian countries like Nepal and India. Pondering on the reasons, diet and lifestyle came out as the main factors. On one hand, South Asian dishes mostly include wholesome grains, green leafy vegetables, fresh seasonal fruits, and their kitchen contains Ayurvedic herbs as spices. For instance, coriander, garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric etc. which are immunity boosters. On the other hand, Western diet mostly consists of frozen foods, fast foods, packaged foods, in short, preserved foods with dead nutrition. Also, the Western people, comparatively spend less time under the sun, than the South Asian, which decreases the level of Vitamin D in them. Furthermore, the Western people intake the supplements, which can never match the nutritional level of consuming the natural source of those vitamins. In this way, I expect people to understand the essence of a healthy diet and lifestyle, and follow it.

Thirdly, I see people changing the meaning of superhero from billionaires and movie stars to farmers, medical staff, police, army and media. Yes, we did not honour them previously with the respect they deserved, but still, in such critical situation, by staying away from their family, our medical staffs and police, have been risking their lives in the frontline, merely for saving general public’s lives. Also, our media has continuously awared and updated us about Corona, Dos and Don’ts. And, most importantly, during the lockdown and quarantine, no one thought of buying luxuries, everyone was anxious for the food supplies. Also, no one wished for Swiss watch, Lamborghini, Prada’s accessories, we merely prayed for full stomach. From here, I expect people will realize that life is in food, not in branded luxuries. Life is possible without luxuries but unimaginable without food, and they are the farmers who give us life by cultivating food. Ridiculously, by surviving on the food given by the farmers, we have been considering ourselves as a VIP and farmers as rustic. But, I am visioning that after this pandemic, people will be able to distinguish the real superhero and honour each medical staff, police, army, media and above all, farmers, since they are our real saviors, our real superheroes.

Fourthly, with the end of this pandemic, I feel people will find the true happiness in loved one’s company, equality and contentment with what we have today, not in abundance of money, good looks and discriminating behavior towards other people, because, Corona has not attacked the people categorizing them as rich, poor, male, female, dark complexioned and fair complexioned. Moreover, during the pandemic, the medical staff, security staff and media persons from around the globe came forward to heal the world, irrespective of their race, gender and complexion. At that time there was only one race, the race of humanity. Witnessing this, I hope people will realize that in reality, everyone is equal. We all are human and that identity is enough, there is no requirement of further discriminatory divisions. Similarly, Corona has also clarified the real worth of money, because, today money is not able to treat Corona, to save the millionaires and billionaires from it, and to remove the deep laid fear of untimely death from the hearts of the people. Today, COVID-19 has taken the lives of top rich VIPs but several poor labourers are still alive. Despite being poor, many of them have won the war against Corona but the rich personalities including Spanish Princess Maria Teresa could not make it. Was it because they did not have enough money for their treatment? Of course not. So maybe now people will realize that money is something, not everything. Further, it is a medium of satisfying our physical needs; it is necessary for survival, but, mere money is not happiness.

Lastly, in this mechanical world, Corona has proven to be a magical wand for bringing people close to their family and close to their inner self. Unknowingly, people were so hypnotized by work and money that they could never realize the declining emotional attachment with their loved ones. Despite being physically together, emotional distance was peaking. However, due to the lockdown imposed because of Corona, people were released from that fatal hypnotism, they were spending beautiful moments with their family. Also, they were able to enjoy the space from the outer world and understand their inner self. Impressively, people were engaged in meditating and studying religious books. All these have made humans realize the importance of family, self-realization and peace.

Thus, with the end of this pandemic, I am visioning a beautiful world where humans are loving the nature and its every creation, living peacefully by considering this planet as a common home and every life on it as a family member. I am visioning people following healthy diet and lifestyle. Also, I see everyone saluting our real superheroes, understanding that loved one’s company and staying content are the secrets behind blissful life, not money. Above all, I see a future where all the humans are understanding the real virtues of life, are filled with remorse for their ignorance and are welcoming the bright beautiful day unanimously by making a pledge to stay disciplined and not to violate the rules of nature again.

They had that look on their face. A glimmer of surprise in their eyes as if my arrival was not expected. Perhaps it was my appearance. I met this barber back in Pretoria who experimented a bit on me. The mask covers half your face, she said, do not let your hair conceal the rest. So she cut it all off. Well, not all of it. But enough to shock my family who awaited me at the airport. A year ago, my face would have turned dark red and I wouldn’t have gone outside without a hat. But now I smile and wave, greetings them happily. Of course, they can not see my broad grin, always hidden behind the mask. But one learns how to recognize happiness in their loved ones even with a piece of cloth from ear to ear.

“Oh dear”, whispers my mom, barely holding back her tears, “it has been a long year.”

And that it has been. A pandemic took control of our economy, politics, health and made us question every concept we worked on in the past. As a part of what they one Dy will call the “Corona-generation”, I could spend hours telling stories about how a seemingly harmless illness affected our lives. But I will not. Because we can examine the past months and evaluate and discuss but to what end? Instead let me just hug my mom and enjoy the scent of vanilla and honey which reminds me of my childhood when days were simpler.

“I’m back now, mom”, I respond laughing, “plenty of time to caress me.”

She won’t let go. We spent twelve months apart, she will relish every second for the next few weeks. So I guess something haven’t changed that much.

“Tell me everything!”
I know better than to refuse that demand.

“It was … inspiring. Truly inspiring.”
She will have to excuse my lack of words. How does one summarize this enriching experience? Briefly, I applied to an organization that provides volunteer works in countries known as “less advanced”. That doesn’t even begin to cover it. The people I met, the stories they told and the lives they lead taught me more about life than the whole 18 years before.

“At least I can now be sure you made a wise decision”, she sighs.

At first, she didn’t approve of hasty decision. One day, I approached her with a file in my hand that said “application to a volunteer teaching job in a primary school in Pretoria”. She nearly fainted. I had to answer thousands of questions which I never had an answer to. Why? Well, what can I say? It just felt right. During the third or fourth month I figured it out. And I came to the conclusion that a pandemic might have made us suffer but in the end, it showed us the value of togetherness. When I told my mom that over the phone she laughed. But its true. The hand drawn pictures my class gave me as a present prove so.

As I walk around the airport, I pass a group of students, probably of the age of 20 or 21. My mom doesn’t even turn her head, maybe she did not even pay attention. I know that she would have a year ago. They have stickers attached to their backpacks; a clenched fist accompanied by the lettering “BLM”. I don’t have to look around to be sure that just a few meters further someone will wear a similar pin, maybe rainbow-colored.

“The government simply cannot keep denying the deep systemic flaws!” one shouts angrily. I nod as I walk by them which they accurately understand as my sympathy for their cause. The funny thing is that back in 2019 when life was still “normal”, they might have received strange looks, a mix of scepticism and the disapproval of anything out of the ordinary. Nowadays only those who do not support pro-equality movements are labelled as “weird” or “standing out”.

I stop. Just passing by feels irresponsible. After all ignorance is the reason our society could have been divided in the first place and tolerated intolerance for too long. It took a global pandemic to show us the right path.

My mom stops and glances at the TV above our heads. It is one of those that hang at every airport. They always show the news but usually just for entertainment, no one actually pays attention. Now we do. “How could one ignore what’s on the news when it defines the standards we now live by?” they ask. Well, you managed to do that on a daily basis before when it didn’t concern you, I want to tell them. But as I said before, there is no sense in arguing about the past when we can focus on making improvements in the future.

The crowd that has gathered around us, or actually in front of the TV, attentively watches the newscast. Their wide-opened eyes hush from left to right as they catch every detail. Sometimes the corner of a mouth drops in pity or they raise their eyebrows in shock.

“The future is uncertain!”, I hear the anchor say repeatedly, seemingly anxiously.

Sure, I think, sure it is. But how great is that? So many possibilities, so much potential. Potential that was left untapped. Until a virus showed us that the issues we face, we face together. And every child knows that two can fight a fight much better than one person alone. Imagine that multiplied by 193. What power there is to finally beat the curse of racism. The virus did not end an era, id made us re-define our values. Re-examine them to a point where we could no longer accept the constant overlooking of neglected rights of minorities. Oh damn, I hate that word. Since the pandemic there are not inferior groups that are left alone with their own individual problems. Instead we fought the pandemic together and expanded that fight to the issues of inequality and injustice. Or maybe that just is my utopian mindset. But to anyone who turns that into an accusation I can just reply: Isn’t an utopian mindset and the idea of a utopian-alike world just a prospect of what the future can hold?

I finally make my way through and reach the exit. I step outside with an honest smile on my lips. Filled with hope and determination I wave to a stranger outside. He immediately returns the wave and wrinkles appear around his eyes; he smiles back. How can one doubt the future, when a simple gesture proves the potential this world still holds? Now more than ever before.

Beyond the Covid-19 pandemic our dreams will come true.

Julian, your school vacation is over. Get up and ready to go.
Okay mom. Dad will come here soon, won’t he, Mom?
Dad is still quarantining, the ship is in the middle of the sea, son. He said that if the quarantine was over and dad was not infected, he would start working on another ship, because he can’t stay home scared of Covid-19.
So Mom, Covid-19 is over now.
It has ended in some countries, but it is still in another countries, son. Having it somewhere in the world means that the risk has not diminished yet from the world. We have to adapt to it and control it.
That’s why mom we’re still wearing Masks and keep personal distance.
Yah son, if we live not like that, the whole country would be a morgue like a year ago.
Many of our grandparents died, Mom.
Yah son, we have to make sure that it does not happen again.
What is the story between the two of you, mom.
Daughter, I told your brother how to live with Covid-19.
It is good because he’s a coward. By the way. Julian, did you do your homework when schools were closed due to Covid-19?
Yah Kamila, You gave me the computer so I could be able to attend our online classes. No one in our class missed lessons. On the one hand, learning online is easier than going to school every day. You also did your duty online. So you don’t have to worry about going to office every day.
Yah Julian, Covid-19 caused a lot of bad things, but it has done various positive changes in the society. A lot of things in our society started to happen online. Every aspect of education, trade, employment. Then the social distance is maintained by reducing the concentration of people in the society. Fuel consumption was reduced due to the reduction in traffic on the highways. Environmental pollution. atmospheric and water pollution were reduced. Global warming has also dropped. Then climate change become slow now. Animals live freely.
But how many people in the world died, daughter?
We lost our grandparents, Kamila.
You’re both right. But we should stop thinking about those bad things. The dead will be honoured only if we defeat Covid-19 and rise up together.
Although the country was locked down, Covid-19 was difficult to control.
Julian, lockdown is just a temporary plaster. It is difficult for the government to do that for a long time. Wealthy people may have no problem with lock down. But the poor men lose their jobs and everything they had. But professionals, government employees and monthly wage earners may have no problems.
That is true. Kamila. all the small shops in this street happened to close. they have become bankrupt.
We need to help them to stand up, Julian. It is everyone’s duty. Covid-19 lost only our jobs but still we have our capabilities to rise up. The housewives who went out to eat began to cook at home again. Everyone has begun to cultivate the foods they consume in their garden. Everyone started to make what they need at home.
Not only that, but everyone also learned to help each other, Kamila. My neighbouring friend does not have a computer. When schools closed, he asked me for online lessons. I helped him to get those lessons.
Good boy. Not only this time but we must continue to practice these habits.
Thanks mom.
We must help the people of our country as well as the neighbouring countries. This has a profound effect on all the poor as well as the developed countries. So, even now, let us forget racism, religions, borders and wars and stand together as a world.
That is right Kamila, I’m hungry now. What’s for breakfast, mom?
Rice, vegetable curry and fruit salad. All the vegetables and fruits were harvested in our garden. The time has come to harvest that were cultivated during the Covid-19 period. I also gave a portion of the harvest to the house next door.
That is good, mom. When We were in the hospital because of Covid-19, They took care of us.
mmm. delicious curry. It’s good that we are vegetarians now, isn’t it?
Yah, From now on or I am happy about being vegetarian. We saw a lot of aspect because of Covid-19. At one point I thought that the sin of destroying the lives of animals was also the cause of this disaster.
Oh, may be. By the way. Mom’s food is delicious now. Am I right, Kamila?
Yah, Since the day our maid went away due to Covid-19, mother use to cook delicious foods. If dad was home too.
Your father travels by ship from country to country because he is not afraid of Covid-19. We have to live like him. We must grow our confidence like him.
Yah mom. I too agree with you, let’s start our garment factory at home again, shall we?
Yes daughter, we should get up from where we fell. Then we can give jobs to a few more innocent people and get them up too. We should create small entrepreneurs at the village level. Then more small scale entrepreneurs will emerge through them. Then the foundation of our country’s economy will be strong.
Oh my god. It is late to go to the office.
Not only you, brother is also late to go to the college.
Let’s go. Bye mom.
Take care, don’t forget to wear your mask every time.
Okay mom.
Trin… Trin… Trin…
Oh, phone is ringing.
Hellow… ah, darling, how are you.
children just went out. Always they remind you.
I’m okay, Sandra. Our quarantine period was over yesterday. The test confirmed that we were not infected with Covid-19.
Then martin, you can be with us. Please resign that job. We can improve our self employment. I mean our garment factory.
How to improve that without invest more money. So, I have to do this work in a few more years, Sandra. Don’t be afraid. You can keep continuing that garment as a small scale business at home. In a few years we can shift it to the town and improve it as a big scale business.
I can understand you, martin. Always you think about our future.
Yes darling, we should stand up against this virus. Don’t be afraid. Now I have to report to the duty. Sandra, You give me a call after children come home. Okay?
Okay Martin, I will call. Bye, take care.
Take care darling.
Thanks god, you rescue him.
Sandra……… Sandra………. Sandra………
Hi Fiona. Thanks for coming. Please sit. I wanted to meet you too.
What’s the matter, Sandra?
To discuss about our garment factory. I want to reopen it. I have already discussed about it with my family. They also agreed with me.
Then Sandra, let’s get started. I’ll tell some girls to sew.
Okay Fiona, tell them to come and start sewing again.
If you have any problems with money, you can request a business loan from a bank at a lower interest rate due to the Covid-19 situation.
No need Fiona. Martin sent me some money.
Let us stand on our own two feet.
Thanks Fiona. If everyone thinks like this, we will not be defeated even if a bigger enemy than Covid-19.

Thank you everyone who has submitted a story. Many stories have also been submitted by email.
We are approaching the closing date now but there is still time to enter the challenge. We are looking forward to closely reading all the entries!

1 Like

I remember the days when I felt so alone. I remember the days when my parents would make the dreaded phone calls with doctors. I remember the time when I suffered, thinking I was not worth being brought into this world. I remember the day when everything changed.
The day was a typical day, I came back from school, got a snack, and turned on the daily news.
“100 more corona cases in Colorado today.”
I sighed and turned the news off. I knew I shouldn’t worry, but my grandparent’s hospital bills became more of a reality each day, and so did my family’s money problems. The only thing that kept a smile on my face was my music. Music brought me hope and gave me the strength to get through each day.
I went to my room and laid on my bed listening to a melody of songs on my old iPod. I slowly drifted to sleep to the sweet melody of Beethoven.
I woke up to the sound of people chatting in the neighborhood. That’s odd, people should be quarantining. I walked outside to see children chatting. What were these kids doing? They were not wearing masks! Then I noticed something else. One of the kids had a holographic pen on the floor, and above it was a holographic picture of a dog. Holograms were only a thing in movies, right? I turned my back on the kids, bewildered.
Where was I? The one and only thing I knew was that this is not my neighborhood, not my friends, and not the life I knew.
I ran to the nearest gas station and sat on the pavement with my head on my knees. I started thinking the worst and tears streamed down my face. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I look up to see a teenage boy. He stared at me in his dirty, greasy, overalls. The boy gave me a soft smile.
“Honey, are you okay?”
He said in a deep southern accent.
I just nodded timidly. He slowly sat next to me.
“Hi. I am Andy. Now, what are you doing on the side of the road?”
“I’m Maya.”
I said, avoiding his question. His voice reminded me of the sweet melody of country music. I shook his hand and smiled, wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeve, and looked down.
“Come to my house and you can explain all about it. ”
He looked to see my worried face. Then he gave me a reassuring smile.
I hesitantly walked toward the house thinking of all the horror movies I watched. As I walked I thought I might as well just follow him, he is my last and only hope. We walked up to a hut. I looked up to see the roof slanted and the paint peeling.
“I know it’s not the nicest place, but I can share my dinner with you.”
Andy said, looking ashamed. I knew where he was coming from, my house had been downgraded to an old apartment after my grandparents were diagnosed with covid-19. My face lit up when he said dinner, but why would he share his dinner with me? I had a feeling he wouldn’t have much dinner to share.
Andy went to a room and walked out with a picnic basket and a scrubby blanket.
“Get ready for a walk.”
As we walked he told me that it was 2030.
I gasped, completely bewildered. 2030?!
“Corona existed years ago when I was a child. Honey, don’t you know that?”
I shrugged like it was nothing. I would tell him my story at the right moment.
“There were many positive effects of the corona.”
He said laughing like everyone thought that.
“What do you mean?”
I must have sounded so confused cause he stopped laughing. He looked at me not understanding and then we stopped at a cliff. We set up a blanket and started to watch the sunset. The sunset reminded me of my favorite operas.
“This is really beautiful. Thank you, Andy. Here is my story.”
“Andy, I don’t know what happened, I woke up and it was 2030.”
I said. Andy looked confused, but I moved on.
“Last night, it was still 2020. We were still quarantining. I could not go to school, and it was just painful, stuck in my house all the time. My grandparents were infected with the corona, my parents were overloaded with their hospital bills. My parents would make these dreaded phone calls with doctors. Music was my only hope. How can corona be positive?”
“Well as I was saying corona brought back wildlife, nature, created incredible technology, and mainly united the world. You see, Corona didn’t end with one person doing the work. Once the world came to a consensus on a plan and united as one socially distanced force against corona, we won.”
“People learned that working together was the solution to many problems. So, Maya, you have one job in this world.”
I looked up at him with longing eyes. I could see a smile sliding across his face.
“You just have to spread hope, to people at your fate, and you can be mighty good at that.”
I looked down.
“What if I can’t? What if I’m not good enough?!”
He looked at me and held his face to mine.
“You can, you will and I believe in you.”
I woke up startled. I saw my mom coming into my room. I checked my iPod, May 1, 2020. What just happened? Was I dreaming the whole thing? Had I just time-traveled?! No, I wasn’t dreaming. I could still hear the opera from the mountains and smell the sweet air. I could hear Andy’s voice. I looked up and decided on one thing. If it was a dream, or if it wasn’t, I still knew that all I could do is spread hope.
10 Years Later
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Maya Green to our stage. She will be giving a speech.” I heard the round of applause booming in the background, as I stepped onto the stage.
My speeches revolved around one story, it was the story, I may or may have not had, with Andy. Andy gave me the hope to move forward in life and gave me my motivation so I’m paying it forward. I know it was probably a dream because time travel doesn’t exist, but I can’t help but have a slight bit of hope to meet Andy one day. I just want to thank him. Thank him for the impact he made in my life.
I ended my speech by saying.
“I learned that you don’t have to physically change but your mind and perspective change you.”
I stepped off the stage and an old man approached me. He had greasy overalls and a sweet smile.
“Hello, honey! I am so proud of you.”
I ran into his arms and just whispered thank you, thank you. Because I always remembered the sweet country music I heard when Andy was around and the music was louder than ever now.

The Fresh Elements

‘Take your shoes and socks off,’ he said, stuffing his socks into his shoes and carrying them as he pranced into the open water, our two Border Collies already taking a dip; their tongues flapping to the side as they chased one another, spraying up sand that dusted their furry chests.

‘The back seat is going to be covered,’ I laughed, and he flashed me a grin from over his shoulder.

I looked around at a mostly empty beach. The restrictions had been lifted for some time now, but the bitter November air meant fewer visited the British coast; instead I knew they were filling every seat of the planes that passed in stripes between the thick, grey cloud above in favour of the warm, tropical beaches and pools of abroad – places that had been off limits for months, but longed for by many. Leaving behind their shower curtains a picture of a Spanish beach pinned to a wall in the back garden, where they’d spent blistering days of Summer sat around little bistro sets they got on sale, pretending to be anywhere but here, sipping homemade cocktails that just didn’t taste the same.

A salty, cold wind danced in my freshly cut hair, and I felt my skin prickle with shivers; it seemed so long ago since I had seen the sea and the sand. So long since I felt such a breeze on my skin – this must be what it feels like when they say about ridding yourself of cobwebs.

It was a lot like taking the first relieving gulp of cold water that your throat ached for after doing forty-five minutes of jumping around your living room trying to follow a fitness coach on YouTube, during which you realise that you can only do thirty minutes with three 5-minute breaks to catch your breath and curse the unhealthy eating habits and the extra shiraz you’ve been indulging on.

I sucked in the air, as if I had been starved of it, before taking off my shoes and socks, and hiking up my trouser legs – realising, but not caring, that I hadn’t shaved my legs in a few weeks – and ran for the sea.

I squealed out in glee at the icy water around my feet and ankles, and he laughed at me, kicking up a spray of water I turned away from; feeling the droplets shower my back in a breath-taking shock of cold.

‘Isn’t it great, though?’ He said, coming over to me. ‘What they’re doing about the sea?’

‘The fish?’ I asked, smiling up at him, and the joy that came from him was like a bubble of warmth.

‘The over-fishing, the plastic waste, the pollution, building new wind farms.’ He nodded.

‘I like the fact they’re increasing compostable materials used in café’s and take-outs from supermarkets.’

‘It’s actually great what Covid-19 did for the environment.’

‘Well…’

‘You know what I mean,’ he frowned.

‘Still can’t believe how clear Lakeside’s water became,’ I shook my head, but feeling the chill I huddled myself against him.

I felt the hum of his agreement through his chest, and I smiled. Not too far away, I heard the dogs barking, and we turned to look at them, and called them over. They ran across the beach toward us, racing one another, and I reached into my pocket – not the one with the compostable dog bags, but the one with the homemade dog treats I found from a small business in my local town. They had crumbled a bit now, but the dogs snaffled them from my open palms as they joined us at the lip of the ocean waves.

‘Good boys!’ I praised.

‘The beach is clean,’ he noticed.

‘Off you go!’ I released the dogs, and glanced behind myself. ‘Yeah, nothing like that hot July-’

He scoffed.

They were desperate, I supposed. Aching for some kind of holiday away from not only what had been normal, but the new normal. I don’t think many realised how difficult it would be to stay in the confines of their home 24/7. They used to joke about it to those who had chronic illnesses; must be great lying in bed watching T.V. all day , they’d say.

They didn’t now. Instead, a charity had started up to help those who had restricted access to the wonderful outdoors, could apply for discounts for eco-friendly holidays in the forests, or at the seaside. My grandma had always wanted to try one of those glamping Yurt holidays, and she did just that earlier this year – she loved it. Now we had one booked for next year with the dogs – it even has a hot tub!

‘My toes are cramping,’ I whined and laughed, and plodded out the water.

‘Get your shoes back on, and we’ll get back in the car,’ he smiled down at me, attempting to wipe wet sand off his heels.

With my socks and shoes back on, I looked back at the ocean. The waves were a gentle roll, kissing at the golden-brown sand, washing up shells and pebbles. I watched as a crab crawled beside a rock pool, and I smiled.

I thought I’d always see empty plastic bottles, cans, plastic food wrap, and the like… but here – like more and more places were becoming – the beach was clean, tidy, cared for .

The news had already reported an increase in aquatic numbers; Bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, monkfish, red snapper… even sharks, swordfish, and whales were seeing a promising rise. And that wasn’t the highlight of the recent news; all over the world we were seeing a slow but steady reduction of families and children in poverty; more people seeing their basics needs met by government schemes and charity efforts.

Many considered – in retrospect – the sacrifice to be worth it; from having to be holed up inside cramped spaces, unable to see family and friends – some even losing family and friends – to seeing such a change in eagerness to bring the future in with more abundance, and less damage,. The change wasn’t just to the ecosystem and nature, but to home-lives as well; to the ordinary, average person. So many had lost their lives, and their loved ones carried that loss with them, but as they came out the other end a new hope for the future restored their spirit.

The majority of people were championing the intrinsic value of nature, and not only was nature benefitting wonderfully, but so were the people. There was a decrease in use of anti-depressants, and a giant rise in hiking boot purchases!

We called the dogs back, and placed them on-lead.

‘I want to try vegan fish,’ I said as we walked back to the car.

‘What’s it made of?’

‘Banana blossom, I think.’

‘What is that?’ He laughed.

I shrugged, and I felt a hum of warmth radiate from within; the wind, the sand, the sea – I felt them restore my spirit; my head no longer ached from the tension headaches I’d been getting during lockdown.

‘Maybe a sausage for the dogs, though,’ I said.

  • end -
    1,182 words

On a different perspective

I have lost count of how many days it has been since my family has always been home. I feel like it’s been a year, or even maybe more. I’m not good at counting. I used to see them only at night when they come home or whenever they wake up and scramble to go to work but since the start of what my humans call “pandemic”, they are always at home with me.

Hey, I’m not complaining.

It was noisy at first and I loved being noisy with them. Sometimes they love it too but whenever they are talking with their computers, they would want me to be quiet. I once tried to see why they were talking to the computer and I saw another human! He was inside it! I was asking for help because he might be imprisoned by the computer but my humans just got mad at me. They probably liked talking with the computer man so I just let them be.

One of my favorite times of the day is whenever I’m with my youngest human, Robbie. He always watches cartoons in the morning since he was always at home and he loves it when I sit beside him. He loves giving me belly and paw rubs too. Back in the day, he would be going to school early during this time so I never really had a chance to play with him. But now, I see him talking to other computer men and studying with them. It was so weird! Robbie at first was having a bad time adjusting so I would sometimes sit beside him and he would rub me whenever he’s tired. Also, for the past few months, while waiting for breakfast, Robbie would play catch with me in the living room. There is not a lot of room to run around but I know how to navigate this house even with my eyes closed. Though there was a time when I accidentally broke one of the vases when I hit it with my long tail. They all got mad at me; they didn’t let me sleep on their beds for 2 days.

It was okay though. It was cold on the floor but I liked it.

They are also eating together at every meal now. Before the pandemic hit, it was just me and Bernadeth. She was our mother. When everyone was out for work or school, she was alone at home. After cleaning the whole house, she would cook her own food and sit alone at the dining table. I can feel back then that she was sad so I usually ate beside her at every meal but now that everyone’s home, I am left to eat on the floor. But Bernadeth would occasionally put me on her lap and feed me chicken meat or liver.

I always knew I’m her favorite.

Sometimes, one of my humans, Grace, gets bored inside the house and she would take me out for a walk. Even though she’s usually spontaneous, I’m not mad. I love walks! I know Grace likes talking to other people so she must be looking for someone to talk to whenever we go out but when I first went out with her for a walk, I got mad at a lot of people because they were all hiding their faces! They were all wearing something on their mouth and I can’t see them! How rude. Grace quickly calmed me down. I didn’t understand her but since I am smart, I just figured out that since everybody was wearing it, it must be important right?

It must be something like my collar.

Another one that I love is whenever other people would come to our house and give us food. At first, I thought they were invading our home when they came knocking on our gate but as soon as I saw the food, I knew they were friends. I mean, anyone who gives food is a friend, right? Sometimes, my humans would give them something too. It was like they were exchanging food.

I wonder if they also gave some of mine.

However, there are times when I feel like they are all afraid and uncertain. In the first few months that they were home, they would always watch the news. I don’t understand anything but I feel like they are waiting for something. I would get bored watching it so I always doze off but when tensions are high, I listen to them talk. They always watch how many cases there are already (I stopped counting at 6) and they are also waiting for a cure or something like that. They even told me once that it’s possible for me to catch the pandemic.

I knew they were joking but I didn’t laugh. I don’t want jokes like that.

Now, they are more relaxed. They still watch the news but it feels like they have already adapted with whatever happened. I see them finding ways to cope up with it. Robbie with watching cartoons, Bernadeth with cooking delicious meals for us, Grace trying to occasionally walk outside and of course, talking to the mysterious computer man, whoever he is. And me, I cope with playing and sleeping. Sometimes by eating too. I also love barking at random objects or creatures I see outside the window. I miss running around but I guess I have got to adjust too like what my humans are doing.

I know. I’m the best boy ever, right?

I know there is something bad happening out there. I wish I can just bite it away. When I see how my humans have been doing everything they can to go by this new normal thing for them, I can’t help but try my best too. I even stopped being a picky eater. I adjusted greatly to the circumstances. I wonder how others are doing outside. I wonder how my friends are. I miss playing with them. I’m sure we will do it again sometime soon.

Right now, I love being with my humans. I’m sure they also love seeing me all the time. I’m technically like a glue who holds together our family. They even bring home a lot of treats for me whenever they go out for groceries. I’m sure that’s a reward for me being good. So, no matter how hard hitting this pandemic is, at least I have a home with my human family.

Paws up, my friends. We will see each other again soon.

Word counts: 1,093

Here is my entry for the 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge. Thank you for your consideration!

The Oldest Banyan Tree by Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson (1197 words)

Great Grandmother sat, cradled in the roots of the oldest banyan tree. Her family prepared for the celebration around her; her children shouted directions in playfully scolding tones, her grandchildren collected food from the village garden and cooked rice in big pots, and her great-grandchildren zipped around like bumblebees, dirtying their knees and dress shoes. Three generations she birthed and raised. Great Grandmother smiled faintly and breathed the damp smell of Indonesian summer.

Her youngest great-granddaughter, little Buana, toddled over and nestled under Great Grandmother’s waiting arm, legs tucked into her chest. The two rested, observing the bustle of activity. A firefly floated lazily by. Great Grandmother remembered when they used to be endangered, their numbers dwindling.

Nenek, are you scared?” Buana asked.

Great Grandmother shook her head. Contented with that answer, Buana rested her head back on her bosom. Great Grandmother was a woman of few words, especially in her old age. She had more than her fair share of scars, and she worked hard to prevent her family from inheriting her trauma, wounds from a time before.

“Let’s go for a walk, little one,” Great Grandmother said, her voice hoarse. She began to rise, gripping a bough of the banyan tree, and Buana’s mother rushed over to help her up.

“Are you sure, Nenek?” Buana’s mother asked. Great Grandmother nodded and flapped her hand. She took Buana’s tiny hand between her weathered palms and patted it before walking slowly through the village.

They passed the community kitchen, warm and well-stocked, and the barter hall, where villagers traded and gifted their wares. The village was beautiful, full of greenery and art and smooth roads. Great Grandmother was glad; she remembered a time when no one had the time or the money or the will to invest in their village, before everything changed.

They stopped in front of a very old building. The steel walls were transformed with multicolored murals, and the steps were covered with candles and flowers. The gentle hum of machinery filled the air outside.

“I used to work here, many years ago,” Great Grandmother said.

“But, Nenek, nobody works here,” Buana said, puzzled.

“Not anymore,” Great Grandmother agreed. “They called it a sweatshop.” She tugged gently on one of Buana’s braids, and Buana wrinkled her nose petulantly. Great Grandmother cleared her throat. She had no tears left to cry for the horrors of the past, but today seemed like the day to remember.

“Before they had the robots, people made everything. We worked for twenty hours, sometimes.”

Buana gasped. “Twenty hours in one week?”

Great Grandmother smiled. “Every day, little one.” Buana squeezed her hand tight, and Great Grandmother squeezed back.

“When people first invented the machines, we were scared. We thought, if robots replaced us, made everything, we’d have nothing. No work, no food.”

Buana frowned. “That doesn’t make sense, Nenek. Everyone gets food,” she said, like it was obvious.

“You’re right. But before, the powerful, the rich—they kept all the money from the factories and hoarded it. If we worked for many hours every day, they gave us a little, and we could usually buy food. We had no choice.”

“What about Paman?” Buana asked. Buana’s uncle had been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident years ago. Even after receiving the best public healthcare, he remained paralyzed. It never hindered him; roads and buildings were always wheelchair accessible, virtual workspaces offered him a wealth of opportunities to contribute to worldwide innovation, and the abundant community pool took care of him same as everyone. He lived a happy life.

“In the past, your Paman would have suffered. People who could not work received very little. You had to earn the right to live.”

Buana said nothing. She buried her face in Great Grandmother’s linen skirt. Great Grandmother smoothed her hand over Buana’s hair.

“But that is not now. Your Paman is happy. We learned.”

Just beyond the factory stood the cemetery gates. Great Grandmother led Buana through the rows of gravestones, their faces tall and smooth. Most of them were from the Sickness. Great Grandmother remembered her friends dropping like the endangered fireflies, lights slowly blinking out, as they were forced to live out their last days laboring in the sweatshops. Now, their ashes mixed with fertile soil to support new life. Dozens of trees created a canopy overhead, many planted by Great Grandmother herself in living memory of those who passed.

At the center of the cemetery, a still pond reflected the afternoon light, surrounded by meditation benches. A statue stood in the middle of the pond. It depicted a woman holding bread with arms outstretched next to the mechanical arm of a robot from the factory. Hundreds of names were engraved at the base of the statue and on the nearby benches, commemorating the revolutionaries.

“People had to fight to make the world the way it is now, little one. To show the world that there is always enough food to go around. That taking care of each other is our sacred duty.”

Buana traced her Nenek’s name on one of the benches and looked back at her in wonder.

“Come,” Great Grandmother said, squinting at the setting sun, “Let’s go back now.”

The two were greeted with cheers and energetic music; the celebration began. Colorful paper umbrellas filled the air, and skilled performers started their puppet show, a rich cultural tradition that thrived once again in this post-Sickness renaissance. Basked in the pink glow of the sunset, Great Grandmother chuckled, shooing Buana off to play with the other kids. Buana lingered, squeezing her Nenek’s hand once more. She nodded gently, and the child wandered away.

They adorned her spot in the roots of the oldest banyan tree with pillows and streamers and flowers. She nestled in. Her doting family brought her rice and sweet potato and tofu with chili sauce. Her cup was never empty. Gathered around her tree, a joyful bonfire blazing in the center, the village shared in stories and prayers and raucous laughter.

One by one, each of Great Grandmother’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren approached her tree. They took her hand and wished her a final farewell. Buana was last.

“You’re not scared?” she asked again, tears wetting her round cheeks.

“No, little one. I lived a long life. When you live a life full of value, full of family and nature and art, you don’t need to fear the end. My life is complete. Death is not so scary.”

“I’m scared,” Buana admitted, voice wavering. Great Grandmother took her into her arms.

“I will see you again, my baby.”

Great Grandmother stayed in the arms of the banyan tree, long after the bonfire dwindled and the villagers cleaned up and put their children to bed. Buana insisted on sitting by her side. Glowing fireflies blinked in the night. Great Grandmother leaned back against the trunk of the tree, the tree that had witnessed it all. She felt its solid bark cradling her head. With the profound weight of a lifetime, her eyes had long grown heavy and tired. At last, she closed them, at peace.

Quiet by Adrian Ellis

It didn’t happen with a fanfare - it couldn’t - but it changed everything. The last wave of Covid-19 was the culprit, that final strain that swept through a world population already exhausted by lockdowns and the virus’s terrible lottery. It left widespread devastation but it also left a strange legacy; heightened auditory sensitivity.

At first, many people didn’t believe the virus had done anything. They thought that the sudden avoidance of noise had been caused by the lockdowns, the restrictions, the loss of traffic, that the grounded flights had created a prolonged quiet to which people had become accustomed. When the virus finally died out, and the countries’ rulers announced the all-clear, praised the doctors and ordered a return to normal activity, the truth became clear. The virus had left a physical effect; it had altered the auditory nerves of the majority of people. No class, clan or rank was exempt from this effect. Covid-19 had never cared if someone was in a mansion or a hut; it was an entirely egalitarian plague. That final strain, officially type-F, became known as the Tuning Fork because of the single note patients would hear when it infected them. That final strain had switched its attack. Instead of removing its host’s sense of smell, it gave them an amplified, hair-trigger cochlear. Everyone reacted. Instead of meek acceptance of the return to noisy normality, they gave the billionaires and politicians a firm, implacable ‘no’. There would no return to the old, noisy, angry grind, to the hubbub, rush and cacophony of twenty-first-century Earth. A comprehensive revolution took place. It wasn’t a revolution of barricades, of megaphones and chants, it was a revolution of silent action. Nobody could take the old noise, nobody would take the old noise. The changes were swift. Roaring, six-cylinder cars were abandoned en-masse. Bicycles were cleaned up and brought out. A few, electric buses and vans were allowed to travel but any sports car or SUV, driven by a petrol-head-in-denial was stopped, in its tracks, by barricades manned by resolute citizens wearing ear-protectors and implacable expressions. Train speeds were lowered until they could only purr along the rails like happy cats. Planes were grounded, or moved to remote airstrips. A quiet descended upon the world, a peace unknown for over a century. Human-generated noise became the sound of cycle-bells, the closing of a door, the sweep of a broom, the high staccato of laughter. Bird song filled the air, an orchestral accompaniment to every day. With the gas-guzzlers and Jumbo jets gone, the air cleared. Sounds travelled further. Everyone’s sensory world expanded. The old world they’d experienced, a brown tunnel of clamour, became a sky-blue amphitheatre, miles wide.

The new situation scared the billionaires. They told their TV and newspaper friends to talk of imminent breakdown, of economic collapse, to explain that everyone in the world had to just plug their ears and return to normal. It didn’t work and it wasn’t true. The economy didn’t collapse and no one starved. Instead, the Quiet did the opposite. Local artisan work flourished because the international freighters had stopped. Delivery jobs ballooned in number because huge trucks were banned. Health costs plummeted in the clean air and quiet nights. People’s aspirations changed. They no longer desired international travel or four-litre cars. Instead, they found bliss in tranquility, their daily lives, in their community and their environment. The pace of life slowed. ‘Just in time’ became, ‘in its own time’ but work was still done. Collectively, the world’s population transformed the energy sector. Fossil-fuel consumption dropped to zero. The scream of jet-engines was replaced with the low whoop of wind turbine blades, of waves lapping against the booms of tidal-power systems, of solar-panel arrays humming as their transformers drew their gathered energy on to a distributed grid. The Quiet had never officially been an environmental plan but it had succeeded where so many previous, noble environmental campaigns had failed. Earth had changed for the better.

Time passed. Many people regained their normal hearing. A new generation appeared that had no experience of Covid-19, but it was one that had gestated, been born and grown up in Quiet. They did not want the return of fossil fuels. To them, the idea of burning oil and coil to get energy, when renewables gave them all the power they needed, was nonsensical. Their aspirations, their driving aim, was the opposite; to reduce the ecological damage of their forebears, those earlier generations that had merrily burnt and polluted to power high-decibel lifestyles. They needed to do it immediately. Time was dangerously short. Negative feedbacks were already established, in the Amazon and the Arctic. These were driving more melting, more heating and more release of warming gases. It was no longer good enough just to pump less carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. A vast amount had to be removed as well, as fast as possible, to stop Earth’s climate spiralling downwards into atmospheric Hell. It was all hands to the pumps. The response and collective effort by everyone was both astonishing and heart-warming. Some wondered if the Tuning Fork had changed people’s minds, physically, but others believed that it had been the silence, the clean air and the calmness that had made the change. Humanity had just needed a moment of reflection, of uninterrupted thought, to realise what was important and what needed to be done. In the end, it didn’t matter exactly how the change had occurred; the result was the same. The world was working together.

For half-a-century, it was touch-and-go. The human race’s near-silent, global effort of carbon-capture, atmospheric cleansing and marine-seeding ebbed and flowed. Positive signs were seen, then a calamity would send everything back a step. Finally, in the 2050’s, earth’s scientists could see significant progress. Earth’s climate was finally shifting in the right direction. The worst had been avoided. The people of Earth rested, hugged, gave silent thanks, and smiled.

TRUE TALE

“Grandpa, when Mom was a child, did you also tell her bedtime stories?” the little girl asked. “Unfortunately not, sweetheart. In those days, we did not have time for such things.” her grandfather replied. Emma likes the ”true tales” best. Every evening, Grandpa David sits on the edge of the little girl’s bed and tells her about the fantastic old times. Emma is his only grandchild. The family signed up to the One Family - One Child Program the government introduced after the Great Pandemic.

Once upon a time, people travelled to other countries by airplanes, like we now go to the neighbouring village by bicycle. They hopped over to Rome for just a weekend to see the city, drink limoncello and eat grilled squid. All sorts of exotic things from all over the world could be bought in large, fancy shops - but there was a catch. Most of the goods, even food and clothes, were tainted with chemicals. Only the rich could afford the clean vegetables and meat coming from the local farms or shirts made of organic materials.

The virus appeared in early 2020. The first lockdown felt like a holiday. People went jogging, enrolled in online yoga classes and language courses, posted photos of home-baked bread and conspiracy theories on Facebook. Travel agents and airlines sent out optimistic newsletters and offered discounts for trips to take place a few months later. The music festivals were just postponed and not cancelled. Grandpa David and Grandma Sue worked from home office, while their daughters, Christy and Lisa, continued the school year digitally.

There was a real festive atmosphere in the weeks following the lifting of the first lockdown. The pubs were full even on Monday evenings, the stadiums were packed even for the most boring games, and on weekends, even the remote lakeside roads were congested by SUVs. Crowds were queuing in front of IKEA for the discounted shelves with unpronounceable names. Those returning to the offices rushed to procure new pants and skirts instead of the ones they could no longer fit into, after all the snacking and binging in quarantine. Teenagers stormed the fast fashion stores and bought up the stocks of winter coats and hoodies stuck in since early spring, as if they were all preparing for Arctic expeditions in late May.

The second wave reached the hospitals more prepared, but the people less so. There was nowhere to escape from the cramped flats in the rainy, fall weather. More and more restaurants and hotels gave up permanently, it was getting harder and harder to wake up the kids for their virtual classes and somehow home office also lost its charm. Freight shipments began to stall due to the airline bankruptcies and fears of the illness grew. Slowly, it began to dawn on everyone that the usual order would not return anytime soon, or perhaps never.

The turning point came around the fourth wave: By that time, confinement had become the normal state of things, and the short periods of freedom evoked a sense of irresponsible, deceptive relaxation. With the decline in international trade, goods have disappeared from stores. After toilet paper, durable battery, dishwashing liquid, butter and raincoat also became in short supply. It was around that time, that Grandpa David and Grandma Sue decided, like many of their acquaintances, to sell their town apartment and move back to Grandpa’s home village.

Living without malls, restaurants and crowds was a big change for the girls. Christy adjusted quickly. She learned to ride and fell in love with a good-looking boy working at the stables. The romance did not last, but her fondness of the countryside did. She now runs a successful industrial automation design company from her home office overlooking the gentle slopes covered with vineyards. Emma loves to sit with her mother and watch her work on the hologram simulations. When she gets bored, she can join her father in his study or her grandparents, who live just a five-minute walk away from their house.

Christy’s sister, Lisa, chose a different path. She enrolled in a space program, was selected, and relocated to the Mars at the age of just sixteen. Since then, she can only be contacted during the monthly scheduled calls allowed by the Space Agency. Despite the unpleasant climate, she is happy on the Mars. She keeps busy and was recently offered a great new job opportunity. If she accepts, she will have to move to an even more distant planet. Grandpa David and Grandma Sue are very proud of both their daughters.

Emma is still small, but she does not believe everything from Grandpa David’s stories. The most incredible of all was the tale, that in the past, children were separated from their families for most of their awake hours. Moms and dads left home early in the morning and spent their days in awful concrete cubes, called office buildings. The poor people who worked there, were forced to sit all day in the 2m x 3m cubicles allotted to them, and repeatedly press on some strange structures called keyboards. Those who pressed fast enough, were given a half-hour break once a day when they could eat their plastic lunches out of plastic boxes. Those who did the pressing slowly, had to eat at their desks. The workers were given a few days off each year when they could spend some time in the open air. They were even allowed to move around at such times, but most of them were so weak, that instead of running around, they were lounging on furniture called deck chairs. The training of the children started at the age of six. In the schools, they were forced to sit obediently in one spot for many hours, so by the time they grew up, their muscles were sufficiently atrophied and accustomed to confinement. Emma laughed for days at this impossible, funny tale. She was a bright student and she knew already that there was no better way to learn than by walking in the woods or by rowing on the lake with her friends and the tutors. How could one possibly observe the migration of the fish or the stars in a bare room?

She has decided to share the funny story with Aunt Lisa too. The call from Mars is due in two weeks and Emma always writes down in advance what she wants to report to her aunt. She is a little sorry for her, because Auntie is forced to live so far away from them, on a distant, barren planet, and thus always misses out on all the interesting things. Emma added Grandpa David’s “true” tale to her list, right after the birth of the foal, the three-tier birthday cake and the neighbour’s broken leg.

I loved elaborating on this concept, it made me hopeful myself!

Remembrance Day 2091 - words: 1041

It must have been around six in the morning when my room was permeated by this extraordinarily mouth-watering smell of pumpkin pie which, alongside the feeble light rays peeking through the blinds, managed to wake me up completely. My family had always enjoyed Covid Remembrance Day. We would get a day off from school, bake pies and other delicacies to bring to the annual town gathering, and just spend time together.
After putting a colorful knitted jumper on, I ran downstairs to greet my grandparents, who would always show up early on holidays to assist with the preparations. Lauren, my grandmother was a rather slim and fit 70-year old, still very sharp-minded and affectionate. She was sitting in the corner of our living room, her legs crossed and a big hardcover book on her lap that must have been at least a hundred years old. Around her were the rest of my family, each one of them gazing at the pages, so old that the flipping sound of the paper was almost unbearable.

“Good morning Raymond! Come, look at what I found hidden away in the attic” - exhorted Lauren in an excited manner. I went up to her and sat on the chair’s arm to her side. “This is my mother’s journal from when she was in her twenties. This is why we celebrate Covid Remembrance Day”. She then turned to a specific page in the journal which had a faded picture glued on. The woman in the picture was far-along in her pregnancy and she was laying on an old fashioned hospital bed. She didn’t look good at all with tubes in her nose and IV needles. However, the thing that stroke me the most about it was how overall scary the picture looked with three men surrounding the bed, dressed up in white baggy vests, their masks completely covering their faces, and multiple pairs of surgical gloves on.

“This is my mother, and that” - she said pointing at the pregnant belly in the picture - “That was me in there. My mother contracted Covid-19 and she could have died in that hospital. Let’s be thankful that humanity won the battle against that dreadful virus and we can now live in peace”. I knew what Covid-19 was, we used to have an annual lecture on it at school before Remembrance Day, but it had never crossed my mind that my own family could have gone through it.

The cars were already fully charged and packed with every piece of equipment we had been asked to bring to the town gathering, and I got to sit in the front seat with a tall stack of pies lying on my lap. Everyone would bring something to the table, whether it was food, chairs, or decorations, and people loved being together as a community. We would not spend much time at home on a daily basis, and this applied to both children and adults. After school or work, people would take part in a lot of communal activities, like knitting, baking, or learning a new skill through the teachings of someone more knowledgeable on the matter. You never felt alone or helpless: when you needed help, someone would reach out and lend you a hand, or a piece of advice. That night, while I was reading my great-grandmother’s journal, I was surprised to know that it had not always been like that. The world she described was one where people would greedily get ahold of toilet paper, yeast, and hand sanitizer that they would not share with those less fortunate. A world where money and economics were deemed as much more important than healthcare and human lives. That didn’t look at all like the world I lived in, and the Remembrance gathering was the perfect demonstration of it.

Upon our arrival, tables had already been set up, big colorful banners were hanging from the town square’s buildings and kids were playing in the neighboring park. Most people lived in the countryside and so the town center was not particularly big. Buildings and shops were distributed upon a vast green land so that people would always be surrounded by nature, every hour of their day. I enjoyed seeing the luscious trees swaying outside my window every morning at sunrise, and I could not imagine a different way of living life. My grandmother, however, once shared with me that some of her earliest memories, around three or four years old, were set in a small cluttered house, immersed into an ocean of millions of other buildings, all competing to be the closest to the school, the bank, the supermarket. I did not know what a supermarket was, and my grandmother herself was not sure if she had ever visited one.

All the inviting pies, the colorful salad bowls and the dozens of corn dogs that you could see on the banquet tables were all made with local produce. Of course, young people like me would occasionally have the foreign candy bar that we would get from friends and family returning from trips abroad, but people would mainly live off the products of the land and packaged goods from the local food company. We still had some plastic waste, but nothing compared to the pictures I was shown in my Environmental Education class in school. Apparently, the last global pandemic led to a significant reduction of plastic waste and pollution, petrol cars were replaced with electric ones and, according to my great-grandmother’s memoirs, the Planet finally had the chance to take a breath.

As the celebration drew to a close, I stopped to look at the stars to collect my thoughts. I couldn’t believe that just about seventy years prior you would have not been able to admire such a marvelous show of sparkling dancing dots far above your head due to the heavy pollution. I just couldn’t imagine not being able to hug and spend time with my grandparents, fearing losing them by the hand of an invisible enemy, and ultimately living in a world where you could not enjoy the company of others, the wonders of the outside world, or a big deep breath of fresh air.

(post withdrawn by author, will be automatically deleted in 24 hours unless flagged)