Rebuilding: Part One
In fifty years, in a hundred, Neopets will open their history books and read about the Invasion of Meridell, 300 BN. They will learn about how the Draconians stormed through the peaceful plains of grass and forest, devouring and destroying everything in their path.
They will learn that the Draconians were defeated. Meridell came out of it alive, and went on to thrive into a happy, flourishing community. The war was won. Battles were lost, villages were lost, but in the end, the war was won, and that's all that matters. That's all they will write down, all they will record.
In the future, we will disappear. No one will know about us. No one will care.
Because we're just one village. Just a few dozen Neopets, who have lived out our entire lives in our simple routine. We expected life to go on as it always had, because in this day and age, that is all we have to depend on.
And so our village was destroyed, plundered. It lies in ashes and rubble, a broken testament to lives that existed only yesterday.
But the thing is, we're just one village. We're just us. The other villages of Meridell have their own problems, and they will not help us. The only people who will do anything is us.
The only ones who will ever remember us is us.
And so we look into the future and know what will go down. We know that people will learn of the story of the Invasion, and they will remember it as a happy ending. No one ever cares about individual Neopets. Individual stories.
We pick up the pen and write our own story.
Someone builds a fire. We huddle around it, warming up our hands and our feet. The darkness encroaches. Any other day, in other circumstances, we would have withdrawn into our houses by now. Torches would have been put out, and we would have closed our eyes to the peaceful darkness.
Our huts are gone, our homes are gone, and the darkness is no longer a timeless sign of the night but a symbol for what we do not know will happen.
The night is dark so we cannot see. The wind, whipping around the young Neopets, is cold and we wrap our meager blankets closer around ourselves.
We stare with blind eyes out into the distance and can see nothing.
The sun goes up like it always does, always did, and always will. Even after such devastating loss, such a horrible change that we feel should have changed the cosmos, the sun continues as it does.
We get up, yawning, put out the fire. We, also, will never change. Mothers wrap up shivering children, bringing them away from the sparking embers. We get up because someday we've got to face the new day, face the light that shows us what is.
The ruins of our village are only a little ways away, but we have to squint to see it since the sun is in our eyes. Or maybe it's just because the sight hurts our eyes. We can see sticks and stones sticking up, where they had previously held up our homes, looking funny and lonely in the middle of nowhere.
We can sort of tell where the center of the village was. It is a large circle of dirt, of sand that stirs when the breeze passes through it. That was where we had held parties and dances, shared food and laughed. Where we had gathered every evening around the fire to tell stories until the sun went down.
We are now gathered around the cooling embers of last night's fire, and it doesn't even try to imitate the fire of those days and years.
Each of our families locate what used to be their home with their eyes. Their faces harden, and they know they shouldn't be sad. They know they should be relieved that they came out of this alive, that their children are safe and their friends. That this entire village has survived. After all, what is their home but stones and a few boards of wood?
They remember building it, they remember living in it, and it is their home. Even now that it does not exist.
A brown Scorchio is the first to stand up. He walks over to the village, such a long walk with everyone staring at him. He touches the remains of one of the buildings. When he does so, it is as if he has broken some sort of barrier, and the rest of us go to the village as well. What used to be a village.
One baby Acara begins to cry, and her mother attempts to shush her, but her wails rise up through the deafening silence from the rest of us so that she cannot be ignored. She's in her mother's arms but cannot be comforted, and her brother, a green Acara, looks as if he's holding back tears as well. We all are.
We wander through the village, sit down on logs that used to be beams of our roofs, a slow murmur of conversation rising up. Strangely, we do not talk of the village, of what has happened. We talk of other things, of the weather, of how your knee is doing, how little Rob's sniffles have improved? We shy away from mentioning anything important.
We sit under what used to be a broken roof that Simon was going to fix eventually. It is now open sky, and we pretend everything is completely okay.
Eventually, by mutual, unspoken, consensus, we find ourselves wandering to the little clearing in the middle of the village, talking, arguing, young Neopets crying. No one laughing. We sit down on tree stumps on the outer edges of the circle or bits of rubble or wood that serve as stools. And though the conversation continues, it hushes, as if we are waiting for someone to say something.
Finally someone does. It is Zachary, a tall, red Draik. Behind him, the sun is lowering into pink purple clouds and the sky is dimming. We know the night will come again soon, and this we fear. For without comfortable homes to return to, the night is raw darkness from which anything can emerge.
Zachary says what we're all thinking. "We need to do something." And it is true. We cannot sit here, mourning what is gone. We wish we could just disappear into the past and pretend what has happened has not occurred, but it is impossible. Time moves on and the day ends and the night comes upon us.
We need to create shelter for our children, someplace for all of us to sleep. Get us past this night and then we'll think about the next day.
"We can make tents out of whatever cloth we can salvage," Zachary says, uncertainty breaking his voice, but he bravely goes on. "And make another fire, in the middle here, to scare off the wild Bearogs and keep us warm."
The silence is deafening, but even though we do not nod, do not say anything, we agree. There is no other plan. There is no other choice.
Slowly we get up, grab the materials near us, go out to look for scraps of cloth to sew together. Once we get started, we get into it. Working is something we know. Working is something we are comfortable with. And so the conversation murmurs up again, but this time it is not forced, it is light with tense relief.
We put up tents, propping them on branches that hang low or large, upright logs from the ruins of our houses. They are temporary, and unappealing to the eye. But they will shelter us for one night, so they will do.
It is all too soon that the sun goes down and we must stop. We crawl into the tents, sleeping two, three families to a tent since we were unable to make enough for everyone. It is cramped and uncomfortable. But we have survived the day, we will survive the night. And tomorrow? We will see.
We grit our teeth and go to sleep.
In the morning, some of us wake up late. We quickly sit up and scold ourselves. We always used to get up at daybreak and get to work. What is wrong with us? We can't forget about our responsibilities, our lives, because this has happened. If we do, that is the beginning of the end.
Some of us, however, are already up. We have gone out and picked berries and fruit to eat, and are now cooking stew over the fire. We speak softly so we don't wake those who are still asleep. Especially the young ones, snoring softly; they went to bed late last night, crying with fear and stress. We will not wake them.
Slowly all of us are risen, and we eat the fruit and the stew. It is not enough. Though we are not many, when trying to feed so many hungry bodies we seem so much more. We ignore our grumbling bellies and put out the fire. It's time to work.
We've built houses before. Usually when a new Neopet wishes to live in his or her own home, or a house is destroyed due to fire, the entire village comes together to build together. It is fun; working throughout the day, talking, singing, playing music, the young Neopets watching and playing games a little farther off. We have done it before.
But this is different. This is not building a house. This is rebuilding an entire village.
We gather together. Zachary is again the one who makes the plan. It's not that he wants to be the leader, or that he is a particularly good one. It's just that none of the rest of us want to.
He draws in the dirt with a finger, messily scrawling lines. "I don't think we should imitate our old village; try to make it all the same. I think we should just start over, make it how it makes sense." We nod. That's what we're doing, anyway. Starting over.
The rest of us gather around the makeshift map, offering suggestions, drawing lines where we think they should be, clamoring ideas that rise up into the air faster than the smoke from the fire. Eventually, we end up with a large street down the center of the area where the old village was. At the very end the street expands and becomes the clearing we are in now. At intervals, paths break off from the center street to form what looks, on our map, like a tall fir tree. Dotted along the center street and the side paths are little rectangles that represent houses, each marked by the family who will live in them. They're just little marks made by fingers in the smudged dirt, but to them it means so much more.
We separate into crews, to make the job more efficient. One crew will bring in wood, stones, and branches from the forest outside, and dump it in this clearing. Another will be chopping up the trunks, making mortar with sand, dirt, and water, making the materials serviceable. The young Neopets will be going out and picking berries and fruit to quell our hunger. Some will be transferring the marks on the map to the actual area where the village will be, with little twigs and stones.
We chop, mix, work hard. We munch Half-Eaten Berries and pretend that it is enough. We sing songs that have been passed down for generations as we work, repetitive motions that are safe, steady, known.
At the end of the day, we look across to our work. Small twigs, rocks, and branches mark where we're going to start building tomorrow. They are a mock representation of what used to be, but they are something, and they give us hope. Hope that they will grow, and things will be fixed.
In the clearing, we have wood, cut neatly and arranged into a towering pile. We have mortar boiling over the fire. We have leaves and stones, collected and dumped unceremoniously off to the side. We are ready. We have a plan.
We're going to make it.
To be continued...