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This Story has been awarded the Second Position for Short Story Writing Competition.

After the COVID-19 the world changed drastically, everyone thought it would go away, but it didn’t. It stayed relentlessly for 20 years. The darkest period in mankind’s history. The virus itself took the lives of over 114 million people before finally, it ceased. Not to consider the countless that died from famine, drought, and the wars. No scientist was able to find the cure, nobody was able to stop the genocide and fear that wrapped the globe in its blanket. Humanity, despite its advancement in technology, deluged back into the dark ages. However, life did not stop.

It was dense, the cloud of white, almost impossible to see through it. A thick coat of fog-shrouded what seemed to be an endless landscape of trash. Hills and valleys, streams and trenches, canyons that stretched farther than the horizon all filled with metal. After all, it’s every bit of technology, every bit of the old civilization thrown away. Scraps of metal, old TV sets with their broken screens and loose wiring, cars, laptops, and the dreg from their leaked batteries, cell phones, and kitchen appliances.

Everything was here, and not just from a city or a country but from all across the land. This was the dumping site and it’s been collecting what was once essential living riggings for over 54 years now, the locals call it the Abyss. Deserted and alone, haunted by the innovation of mankind which had now failed them. No one came here anymore, not even the homeless, it sat silently untouched for years, idly sitting for on goers to see and ponder on what life used to be. However, today there was a ruckus, a commotion only a curious mind could make and this disturbance was echoing for miles  

She was relentless. Today was the day she hit gold and it showed on her face as dirt ravaged across her bare skin, Blisters formed on her hands and body drenched itself in sweat. The fog itself with the passing years had become permanent, but Hibbah knew what she was looking for was not far. She observed the patterns in the environment and it matched with what she studied. Climbing and pummeling her way through heaps of metal she finally came across flat land with craters filled with water. ‘Ponds’ she called them in an educational manner to her friend, Hossam, who had journeyed with her into the Abyss. They had never journeyed this deep, enticing fear and excitement simultaneously.

Hibbah noticed how in this area the vegetation was overgrown, using that to her advantage she crept behind some vines to observe the body of water more scientifically. Hossam was not a smart boy, but he was big for his age, he held his harpoon gripped firmly in his hand and followed, questioning every decision Hibbah took. For the most part, she kept him in the dark. Until she finally revealed they were looking for ‘Frogs’. Hossam had never seen one but Hibbah described the best she could using a mental picture she recalled from a book. Slimy reptiles with webbed feet that hop about. She was the granddaughter of a librarian. Most of her upbringing came with a diet of books. Reading was a necessary part while eating meals. Unfortunately for her, with the deteriorating need for reading and without production. Her family was facing severe poverty. So her father did what he had to do to keep the bread coming. He sold them all. Before that, she had congregated vast knowledge thanks to her amazing memorization. 

croak…

The two jerked their head towards the direction of the noise, but it was too hard to see anything because of the mist.

Croak.

This time it came from the east, what was this sound? It was so loud, they wondered how they’ve never heard this before. Hossam hardened his eyes and tightened his grip. 

CROAK!

It rang in their ear and sent a chill through their spines, whatever was producing this noise was right behind them! Both turned simultaneously in fear to find two massive bulging eyes peering at them. The creature had strong, long, webbed hind feet and slimy skin. The two watched in astonishment as its throat bulged out in front of them and retracted. Hibbah noticed how its body seemed to be painted abstractly in beautiful shades of green and yellow. Every bit of it was icky and it was the size of a grown human. She knew what she was looking at was indeed a frog, but her mind was swirling at how it was so massive. She had read them to be as small as a fist. The amphibian opened its mouth, its tongue curled up like a spring. Sensing danger, in a reflex of an instinct, Hossam stabbed the creature with his harpoon. Killing it,

Hossam carried the large limbs with ease. He had his harpoon slung over his shoulder and backpack around his arms. He kept the limbs firmly between his armpits Hibbah walked beside him, smirking at the scheme on her mind. Striking off notes from her notepad. They were almost about to enter the town when she finally gave her scientific conclusion that had been buzzing around in her head. She explained again in an educational manner, that with the massive growth in plantation, the animals started to develop stronger frames (skeletons). The frogs are cold-blooded animals—in a warm climate, a bigger mass can help insulate them and keep it from overheating. However, Hossam didn’t buy it. He blamed her for almost getting herself killed and that the books she read were of no use. Outdated and full of lies. That was alright with the girl, she was used to being mocked by everyone for her discoveries, antics, and science. 

Before they knew it they stood at the gates of their town. As they entered, one after the other. They were sprayed with a disinfectant and taken to their changing quarters where they took off their ‘outer-city’ garments and changed into ‘inner-city’ robes. They wore nice long draping robes, cuts in the arm for the long-sleeved shirt to come out of. An integral part of this dress was the face cover sewn at the neck. Hossams dress came with a hood. At the foreign object entry station, Hossam noticed a gathering came to witness the limbs first hand. There seemed to be a buzz going around town before they even arrived. The pair greeted the townsfolk in their traditional manner. Right hand over the heart and a verbal salutation. Touching each other in public had become a rude gesture, even if it was by accident. To touch someone was equivalent to abusive language. 

A couple of workers left the limbs in a trolley for a transporter to carry to Hibbahs house. Silently and obediently the transporter followed her as she strolled through the town. Everyone stopped to catch a glimpse, mostly gaping from their windows a good and safe distance away. The limbs were such an alien object that it grossed out most of them. The kids hid behind their mothers and watched with wide eyes, both scared and excited, and an air of adventure capsulated the town. Hibbahs’ purple robe fluttered elegantly in the wind, joyfully, she completed her journal entry right before she entered home. The porter left the limbs where she decided and she quickly ran up to her room. Pulling out a book from her tiny shelf. Which was full of stolen books and all she could salvage from her grandfather’s library. A grin could not stop ripping apart her face once she opened to where her bookmark had been. She gathered her remaining tools and began an experiment the town would never forget. 

This town which had no name as of yet was found in 2040. Hibbah was the first person to be born here. However, sadly her birth came at the expense of her mother’s life. The town is so new that it had only 3 graves dug up. The streets are divided into lanes that you could only cross at certain junctions. One lane was for going and one for coming. Each lane divided further into two. One for horses and the other for pedestrians. A rail ran across the center from which the pedestrians would attach hooks to their waist and walk. These hooks prevented anyone from getting 6 feet close to the people in front or behind them. Despite that mostly everyone stayed home. That was the norm. Each house selected a provider and being one was a matter of respect and responsibility. The provider would have free access to roam out of and inside the city to bring food and supplies to their family. There was no school built here but you could register yourself as a mentor and teach any trade you knew. The origin of this town began at the Arif residence later labeled as house no. 022. This house belonged to Hibbah’s family. Her father was the founder of this town. At house no. 022 night had fallen, and her clattering of tools had stopped. 

She had called a gathering of friends and a few of the elders of the town to witness what she had invented. There lay on the table a rusty filament bulb, still intact. To the side of it, the limbs of the frogs placed between two dissimilar metal sheets dipped in liquid. When she connected the alligator clips, it happened. In the dark of the night came the rays of hope pouring out of this glass bulb. Flickering in the eyes of the beholders. Electricity she shouted. I have produced electricity! Everyone was left awestruck and hypnotized by the beacon of light piercing their eyes. Even Hossam stood there frozen in amazement. The only thing he could do was chant. The gift has given, the gift has given. Suddenly everyone in one voice said it together. The gift has been given. Coming back to their senses they asked her how she had done it. Hibbah picked up her book and flipped its pages to show that in 1791 a scientist named Luigi Galvani conducted this same experiment to produce electricity. His experiment made the muscles of the frog move but after changing a few components she was able to transfer the current to the bulb. Another meeting was immediately called in which the majority of the founders were present. A heated discussion took place, with roars and soars of voices. Complaints, disagreements, and finally an agreement. That night, that very special night they elected her as the first ruler of this town, and the decision to name this place was taken. It will be called Hibbah, which means ‘The Gift’. Life suddenly was filled with hope. One spark of innovation is all it took to reignite the desire for research and education amongst a town of so few. 

Hibbah Arif


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2 Comments

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