In the beginning, when mountains first clenched on the horizons and the seas still shook with fish, there was Gaia. You would have many other names for her in the epochs that followed. Shining One, Ishtar, Mother Earth, but in the first age, she was known simply as Gaia. A soft wind spun through the cave where she slept across a shallow pool, half woman, half tree. Gaia was ripe with an ancient wetness from which all breathing things are formed. Her splintered skin was hewn from bark and she had jutting fir cones for cheekbones. Clods of scraggy moss stitched the space where a mouth should have been.
She was the first God you ever worshipped. When you stumbled into her cave one shrill morning, the shadows of the clan behind you, all of the hairs lifted from your body. With each suck of your lungs you felt cleaner. Every part of Gaia fed into the earth and you saw that she would not have been able to wrench herself from it if she tried; ligament from bone, mother from child. The orange buds at her fingertips fired life back to the trunk and you were sure her braided legs kept the ground from falling.
Gaia lifted the clan out of themselves. Gave meaning beyond your porous skins. You decided that the sacrifices she required could not be of blood or bone but something infinitely more precious. And so you sat in silence, necks bent to her ebb and flow.
In the second age, you discovered your own power to create. Buried in riverbanks and outcrops of rock were shining metals, winking fragments of stars. You took it as proof that the heavens and the earth had once been connected and that you were divined to rule between them. You returned to the tribe and planted the metals shamelessly among them, a cuckoo in a stranger’s nest.
This strange new trinket bewitched the tribe. They took to carrying it around with them at all times, as close to the heart as possible, warming its sleek surface with their skin. When the time came to convert to a Heaven with a more recognisable heart they chose sagely, carving their own faces on one side of the metal and an animal on the other.
It’s two faces helped you to see your potential, what you could become if you could just get enough of it. You made space inside your chest and let it grow up inside of you. There was no light inside your body, but you gave the metal all the nourishment it needed. You thought about it constantly. It wasn’t long before the metals started talking back, clinking sweetly into your dreams. It began to shape shift, into jewels, furs and towers. Its power was unimaginable, and it began to write a scripture of its own beneath your skin.
You watched viciously over the years as your neighbours built sickles and baskets, far grander than your own. How had they done it? How much of the metal did they have secreted inside of them?
The hunger wore away at you and your heart became furled, a tight bud that no amount of sunlight could open. You were not alone in your envy. Like most weeds it sprouted uncontrollably, wherever there is a crevice waiting to be filled, its spiny leaves wrapping themselves around the bars of their ribs. Holding them tight.
You learned to hate with teeth. As the moon waxed one hoary evening you crunched over to your neighbours’ house, placing your stiff knife against their warm throats. You slashed their necks red, turned their insides out, and escaped with as much of the metals as your arms could bear.
Years ran away, each swifter than the last, and the tribe grew distant from one another. People stopped watching the stars and quietly misplaced their names. In this long winter of forgetfulness, money became the centre of the universe.
In the third age, money painted the world white. It got everything it could, except the night sky. Under the moon’s milky auspice, dreams would not come. You took your starved subconscious out on the women plucking cotton in the fields. Driving them harder and faster and goddammit I said quicker. The one with the child strapped to her chest was a sloppy worker; tangled fingers dropping her basket as she paused to tug her skirt. She moved with a deliberate carelessness, if you were kinder, you might have called it grace.
She has a back you long to lash. Curved and dusty like the dirt track you ride to Church on Sundays. You want to break her open and see what lives inside. Why she carries herself in that way. As if she belonged to the world in a way that your whiteness never could.
You took her as you did the land. Carving her up with efficient thrusts that captured much but gave nothing. You roared and spat on the ripped skin of her back, the sound of slapping flesh splitting the night like iced thunder. You spun her over. Read surrender in her cracked whimpers and chewed up lips. Saw in her eyes that she was an empty temple and learned then and there to pray that she never became holy.
As you swaggered back to the Big House, coated in your crimson power, you realised there was no part of this Earth you could not have. You tucked your shirt back into your pants and your hands brushed against your still-hard cock, crowing in the dawn.
It is midnight in the fourth age and the woman on the other end of the red phone is telling you something you don’t want to hear. The Earth is incapable of healing. No. You have fattened this idea of a redeemable Earth into a sacrificial lamb. Brought it with you to conferences, traded it for carbon bonds, the last husks of the Amazon. It is a succulent fallacy, one you have no intention of actually surrendering. Not then and certainly not now. Besides, your hands are tied — no longer your own, bought by snakes that wish, like vampires, to suck the earth dry.
The snakes are the new Gods. They have gone beyond money. Eaten whole governments. Punctured the Earth with their meticulous fangs over and over again. Let her black blood spew into oceans like melted liquorice, a tacky veneer for the plastics and the missiles that were just for practise. You see slithers of the snakes everywhere. In the papers, on the TV, bottlenecked in the mouths of politicians. And yet they only have ancient answers: blood, famine, and plagues of locusts to last a thousand years.
The people are tired; think themselves too soft and small, the Earth too large and old. They are losing their sense of smell. Everything worth having now can be consumed with the eyes. But it is exhausting to be so overfed. The cities rise higher and the lights burn brighter. The people do not detect the rancid odour of guilt that oozes from your pores, thicker and tarter than smog.
As you wrestle in your bed with no sheep to count, you wonder whether the snakes will hang on to their stronghold forever. Probably not. It’s more likely that forever is not a concept that translates, perhaps in snake years only the time it takes to shed one skin and leave it crisp and extinct on the floor.
The Earth, like any neglected body, grew more violent with itself in age. In the fifth era Gaia became sick of choking on silence. Started coughing up hurricanes in the place of screams. Set fire to her own skin in order to have you gone.
There were no MET warnings, no Richter scale for her rage. Gaia was a frenzied horse lashing back at you who had thought she could be broken in.
Those rich enough fled down the warrens they had dug out for such a time. It was very dark in the bunkers, closed in by the nothing.
Meanwhile, Gaia made light work of your cities, rolling tsunamis off the crest of her back with a half-hearted shrug. Your monuments bobbing like flotsam on a concrete beach. She did what you had always feared. She erased you, the particularly strange strain of life who had always felt the need to write itself into everything.
Satellites broadcasted the first half of your funeral, the spoilt mess that the invisible hand was supposed to clear up. Bleached reefs curled around charred landmasses, Yin and Yang, balanced at last in death. As the years spun slowly, each unnoticed or unhampered by the last, the satellites stuttered then failed; a scratchy line of static for any other alien life that thought that they, too, could live forever.