TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
All the townsfolk said she’d not survive out here alone. Yet, here she was, working the soil for the second Spring. After a frigid winter, she could finally dig her fingers into the warming Earth. She patiently sifted clumps, making way for the tiny roots her carrots would put down as they sought ancient nutrients left there by their rotted brethren.
One clump did not feel like dirt at all. Puzzled, she grabbed hold of it, pulled, and…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
The winter had felt longer than the previous one I had experienced. There were a couple of times here or there where I thought it would subside, but then it would swing back with a vengeance, forcing us to remain deep within the earth. We were all protected there, all warm enough and had enough to survive, so we would wait further until we knew it was safe enough to go to the surface.
The summer harvest had been good to us the previous year, so the colony was able to grow much more than expected. If it hadn’t been for the severity of the cold, we could’ve prospered again this summer, but the numbers we had gained were short lived and expected to drop before we could finally leave the tunnels. Taking out our fallen comrades would be our first task come summer.
After another bit of time in the home base, it was deemed safe for us to return to the surface. We rushed out through the intricate network of tunnels we had created a few years ago and breached the surface for the first time in what felt like years. The sun, oh how we have longed for the sun. Its warmth on our bodies and on the earth itself felt like a miracle and was praised by all. We took it in, but only briefly as we knew that with every passing moment, the cold from this coming winter was right around the corner. We needed to prepare and there was little to no time to dilly dally.
Even the removal of our comrades had a sense of hurry to it. No ceremony was performed, no condolences said, it was a job and it wasn’t worth the energy to do anything further than move them out and continue onto the next task. Time could not be wasted.
After all were removed, we were assigned to go out and scavenge the earth, looking for whatever food we could find and bring it back to replenish the empty stores. The tunnels were bustling with activity, a constant flow in and out of our home, to make it home again for the next freeze.
Everyone seemed to be pulling their weight, even the newest members. We were a well oiled machine and it seemed like, even at this early point in the year, that we would be fine.
As the days went on and the sun kept rising higher in the sky, we became more and more confident we would have enough. That was before the event, before forces out of our control came to the colony and wreaked havoc.
I had heard stories of it happening to others, saw the nomads from fallen colonies wandering the earth aimlessly. The stories were horrific, but there was nothing we could do but hope it would not happen to us, that luck would spare us.
It started a few suns ago, we heard the rumbling. It felt distant, but as time went on, it only intensified. No one discussed it, we were all still too focused on our mission, on resupply. Then, on the warmest day after the cold, it happened.
The rumbling caught up to us and the tunnels turned to chaos. I was directed to go deep and protect our most vulnerable while others were rushing to the entrance for defense. Brave as they were, we tried to do what we could but nothing could stop what was coming.
The moment I went deeper, the rumble felt inches away. We waited mere seconds before our home was suddenly ripped from its roots and exposed to the sun, the most unfortunate and devastating event to any colony. With our queen exposed and our network of tunnels destroyed forever, it would be near impossible to recover….
* * * * * *
“Ah, what do we have here?” Her hand sifted through the clumps of dirt at the end of her shovel. This clump didn’t feel like the rest and the scurrying of ants, scrambling to protect their queen was the reason why.