A foul stench had permeated the air for days. Even down in her little burrow with her little pups, the sourness of it chased her. Mama Mouse had lived in this particular hole for many generations of offspring, and this new scent was enough to keep her senses alert throughout the dark periods in which she usually rested.
It was hot and acrid and dusty this time of year, and her babies were too small yet to leave. So she left them unattended for an afternoon to forage, steering clear of the new greenness that had sprung to life as suddenly as a single dark, that swiftly filled the large expanse of dead dirt space between her quaint burrow and the sharpness the tall animals had built. Something about the greens rankled the fur on her back, and she avoided them as she would the snakes that wriggled their way into her burrow on occasion, seeking out her helpless babies to consume. These greens were fast, like predators, and Mama knew better than to trust them.
She was farther away than she’d have liked when the sour scent changed. A breeze picked it up, lifting it over the untended desert, across the long blackness the tall animals laid down for their screaming shiny monsters, towards Mama who hovered in the shadows looking for critters and seeds in the dirt. It was the smell of death. Mama knew it better than most.
It was those greens. Those things that should be food but instead brought a foulness that senses only as keen as her own could detect. The tall animals, as miraculous as they could be, were dumb to these things. Still, Mama raced back, propelled by an instinct to protect her young, knowing they were already dead, yet going anyway.
Inside her burrow, tucked so reliably in a blank space of land the tall animals rarely traversed, in a place meant to be secure, laid her lifeless pups, strangled by a noxious odor that wet the eyes with pain. Mama had hardly the time to glance at them before retreating, another primal sense moving her paws beyond her grief.
Her burrow was lost. Everything in it, lost. Mama gazed from a safe space some distance away at the sharpness that had shielded her burrow for so long. Tall animals lived inside it, all in matching skins that they made. Mama observed the dead walking and talking and moving in their matching skins, oblivious to it all. All animals knew death, though some seemed to like it more than others, despite its ruthlessness to all things alive.
Above, something that might like to eat her cawed, circling. Mama scattered, claws scratching the foul breeze that chased her, leaving the tall animals to their inevitable end.
Crow considered the mouse below simply due to the speed of its movement, then forgot about it. Far more interesting things were afoot. Crow noticed the minute yet continual wriggling of the strange plants below—wriggling of plants that did not belong.
At first, Crow thought these were just another construction of humans, considering their reckless ambition to interfere with anything their hands could touch, but these plants were too precise. In a matter of days they had not only sprouted small buds from the Earth up, but begun emitting the most obnoxious odor Crow had ever encountered. She would only cross them from the safety of a high tailwind, sailing over them from a safe distance.
The intrusion initially irritated Crow. This was her favorite place to perch, watching the humans in their cages. These humans decorated themselves in the same bright colors, shuffling about in lines, sometimes bound by the hands or feet, and sometimes free to run about but only in contained areas. The bright humans were smaller than the rest, too, which Crow appreciated. Of the ones inside the caged area, the smaller humans were generally more agreeable to creatures like her than the big ones, who were drab in color and rather prickly most of the time. Crow made sure to perch in areas that only the little ones looked toward, and her gamble was sometimes rewarded with crumbs and other unwanted trinkets the humans tossed at her. Her favorites were the shiny silver wrappers, but the little ones weren’t always keen to give them up, though it seemed to please them when she stole away with whatever they’d discarded.
So the encroachment of this new plant left her excitable and tired, having circled above it for a few days now, only landing to sleep and pick off scattering rodents that too seemed to sense doom on the wind. And for the hustle and sprinting and circling, the humans seemed to have not noticed. Crow hadn’t landed inside the cages for two days now. A few of the small ones tried to lure her down, but she refused. A big human rode out into the field with one of its machines, prodding the plants with his feet and hands, only to retreat inside again without a bother. It surprised her, yet then again these humans were more adept than most at manipulating intolerant conditions. Where Crow would take flight for better lands, humans bent the lands to their will. Crow admired their dominance, no matter how tenuous.
It wasn’t until another night had passed and the plants had crept up to the cage walls, snaking their tendrils in tight loops through the shiny grey of it, smothering the sharpness of it, that the alarms inside the human cages set the air alight. Crow launched from her perch (a tree with green bark far enough away that the odor didn’t sting) with terror. She knew the sound, having heard it before on multiple occasions. The cages screamed and screamed like an animal, and only seemed to do so when there was trouble.
The humans had finally sensed the danger. Far too late, Crow suspected, to do anything about it. Though they had surprised her before.
Flying overhead, the big humans scrambled back and forth within the cages. Many more than Crow had ever seen in one place within these confines. All of them traveled in the same direction, towards one area in particular, disappearing inside one of the buildings in which the little ones lived. Crow needn’t get any closer to understand why—panic was universal, and she, a crow, had a particular knack of sensing it. Being a scavenger made her acutely aware of death’s tangy aroma from very far distances.
In and out, in and out again. They looked like startled cats from this distance, but the humans were not what held her fast attention. The plants were moving again, this time with more visible strength and purpose. Vines scaled the cages and crept snake-like through the enclosure with a swiftness only an animal with wings could escape, and though Crow’s interest was now piqued beyond measure, she dare not land anywhere near these things. She wasn’t even sure how long it would be safe to fly above them, whatever the distance. These weren’t like any plants she’d even seen before, and while her curious urge was overwhelming, nothing could overpower her will to survive.
After a few more circles above the cages, Crow flew off while her energy still maintained, moving furiously upwind of the poisonous breeze, screaming alarm to any creature with sense enough to heed it.
Nothing was heeded, to the delight of the cockroaches. The plants took everything, snuffed out life within a mile radius in a matter of weeks. But roaches are survivors, and as such made a habit of seeking refuge in destruction, certain they would come out of it just fine. As it turned out, this juvenile detention center, recently abandoned of life, was prime real estate and they were not a species to waste a good opportunity when they found it.
They crawled in and out of rotting eye sockets, slacked jaws hanging from rotting tendon and muscle, barely clinging to the skull that used to support them. They crawled through the bars of the jail cells to the bodies, crawled on the concrete floors to the bodies, crawled up the walls and along the bones of bodies forever frozen by the grip of vines. They crawled through the withering stomach cavities of bodies and over the pile of bodies that had locked themselves in a small room, toppled on top of one another as they died, their guns splattered just out of reach. They crawled through the holes of those that had been shot, through the choked and the strangled. They crawled through the degraded flesh, no longer supple and ripe, but a soupy muck that stuck the remains to their graves like cement.
Outside the facility, their brethren crawled through homes once fortified—the people gone, their animals nothing but bones inside the droppings of other larger things, likely decomposing somewhere else.
The plants wouldn’t have registered at all with the roaches, if not for the smorgasbord they brought along with them. That, and the silence. Cockroaches were attuned to the hustle and bustle of life—they thrived in the heavy clomping of existence, slipping in and out of shadows and cracks, running up walls and in the crevices other things refused to travel. It was a good life, very good indeed, but this was exquisite.
It had been quiet for weeks. Many weeks. The plants arrived in a flash, killed in a flash, spreading and spreading until those that stayed behind were consumed and those that stayed alive had long fled. At first the humans screamed, then they roared, then they built tall walls to keep the plants at bay, ones that lurched high and menacing, walls that trapped the people inside so that they could not run away. They died, and the silence came. It was then that the roaches flooded toward the area, the quiet snaking its way to them like dinner bell tinnitus.
The roaches arrived, nothing to stop them.
And the plants heaved and belched, swelling in spots that writhed as the roaches traversed the thorny vines that connected them. This ground was a poisonous fertilizer, growing nothing but pain and sorrow, and the plants responded in kind. And roaches crawled and ate, ate and crawled, crawled and ate, until one day when the plants awoke.
It was that day, many weeks since, that the ground began to make noise. It began to move. Something unearthly that had taken shelter there, beginning its fetal squirm. And the cockroaches, being the survivors that they are, knew right then that it was time to get the fuck out of dodge. The buffet had closed, the food picked clean, and the ground under their feet was growing angrier by the moment.
It was only then that anyone should have been afraid, for to see the cockroaches run was to witness an event that nothing—not even they—could survive.
Precious life is often born from dark places, and this is no different. The plants had done their duty, drilling through upward through the earth, pungent with the sulfurous place of their birth. They wended and broke at the weakest point—a place so thin it could have cracked with a whimper.
These vines were the hems of the Valkyries, the angels, the sirens, creatures with many names. These thorns built their swords, the roots their armor, the ropey stalks their eyes and their voices that rubbed together in whispers.
The Earth cracked away under the force of their might, their bodies upheaved, dragging the corpses of the dead with them into the sky, placing kisses on the cold cheeks of the innocents before sending them to their final place of rest—a place the Valkyries did not know and could not predict. The rest fell carelessly into the abyss, bones splintered in the descent.
The unstoppable force of the plants, sprouting from nowhere and obliterating any and all detractors, had now birthed a plague. The Valkyries, birthed of blood and marrow and rust and sorrow and dirt and consideration, had finally wretched free of their shells. They were topside. They were tired, thrilled, stealing heavy, venomous breaths before charging forward in the same methodical, careful manner as their creation.
The Valkyries laughed at the paltry walls meant to keep them, then screamed a song that cracked new places in the Earth, more stealthy green buds ready to emerge into the sun.
And the world could do nothing, but watch them come.