My name is William Asher Morris. I am a child of the survivors and the last of the men. I am the future of my people, the only hope of the Earth. I am William Asher Morris and today I am turning 13.
I am becoming a man and proving to my people I can be strong, I can be brave, and that I can survive. I am proving to them that I can do what needs to be done in the face of danger to myself. I am proving to them that through me the future of humans is ensured.
Every man had gone out a boy and when he had returned he was welcomed, celebrated and given the wife of his choice. He was made a member of the council and given voting rights. He was free to pursue what happiness he could and entitled to equality among his peers.
Today it was my turn to face the Wasteland. I must go out into the dead forest, into the exclusion zone, into the radiation, to bring back something useful. I had to bring back something to give to the whole community to move us all forward together.
If I came back with something useless I would bring shame on myself and my future children and my family would be considered of a lower class for at least a generation.
To come back with nothing was not an option. It would be better if I died out there.
The day I left my mother cried and my sisters cheered for me. They wished I would bring back something as valuable as my own father had before me. If I could my family would continue to live among the most respected in the community and we would have everything we ever wanted. If I failed another family would take our place, and we would have to wait for more sons to earn it back.
When I walked beyond the boundary of the safe zone my father was with me in spirit and I remembered his words, spoken in defiance of the traditions, warning me of the way to go before he died many years ago.
The wind blew hard and felt rough with dirt on my skin and the smell of rotting eggs filled my nostrils. The oil fields were long dead but the chemicals they’d injected into the Earth still emitted their poison.
The earth was dead. The ground was cracked and dry nothing grew there anymore. I stopped along my path to look at the old plant in the distance. The plant that had melted down, so they say, and burned the land with radiation. The plant still leaked poison too but there weren’t enough people anymore to clean it up again.
The way was hard to find. The roads led nowhere anymore and the signs could not be trusted. There were no trees and the grass had blown away before my father’s father was born, so they say. Here and there were old buildings and homes but other boys had picked them clean years and years before me. I wouldn’t find what I needed among all this death.
I walked the way my father told me. He had brought back something truly valuable, he had brought back clear water. He had shown his people where the springs ran clean underground and now fewer people were sick. When he returned the whole village held him up as the new leader and all eyes were now on me to follow in his footsteps. Luckily, my father had the foresight to know I would need help to top that and he kept secret the other treasure he had found. He told only me and only on his death-bed.
I walked almost to where the clean water ran but followed the sun to the west. I walked for two days and ate and drank only what my family had packed for me to carry along the way. I had begun to wonder if I had made a wrong turn or if I had missed what my father meant for me to find. I had begun to panic and wish I had made my own way in the Wasteland to find something worth returning with. I was just losing hope and on the verge of cursing my father, and his father before him, when I came upon the high hill of cracked earth my father described to me.
I waited to climb it. I waited until I felt ready to see whether my father would make a man of me, or if I would have to die out here rather than return empty-handed. If my father had been wrong, if I had made a mistake, I did not have enough supplies to find a new way to go. I could not start again to find the thing my community needed to keep going. I would leave my family shamed and shunned. I took one more deep breath and began to climb.
I reached the top and the wind threatened to blow me off. I stooped to allow the gust of wind to pass and I caught something in the air. A smell I had never smelled before, something sweet, something that made me wish for clearer air so I might separate it from the rotten eggs and poison and take it in all on its own. The smell must be a good sign!
I stood up and looked to the other side of the hill and knew my father had secured my future and that of his wife and daughters. I stood looking over a deep valley of green grass and little yellow flowers. they swayed in the wind and were parted by a stream of water running out of the base of the hill. I had found something beyond the measure of any man before me.
I had found the next birthplace of mankind.
Author’s note: The plan for this challenge was to post small pieces of fiction that read more like excerpts rather than stories with a true beginning, middle, and end. I think instead, these have turned into something in between, some more, some less. Please bear with me, these are my first attempts at writing fiction. You can find them all under my AtoZ2016 tag.