By Leda Garina

Translated by Lina Gorina

A Tale of the Dead Earth
Once there was a War, and the Earth died. Rivers, woods, and meadows died. Seas and streams, lakes and rivers died, and the water in them got black. There were neither animals nor birds anymore. There was no one there.

That War was waged by Men. They wanted to get as many factories, plants, and ships as possible. Then they fought over who was more right. And Women had to give birth to children to make more and more soldiers. And then Women couldn't give birth anymore because the Earth was dying. So women were burned in the furnaces where the bombs had been made. Because the victory depended on which party would have the last bomb. When the last shell blew off, there were no factories, nor ships or houses on the Earth anymore. No more men, no more women.

The last shell blew off. The sound of the last shout and the last groan ceased. And only a black wind was whistling over ashes, carrying it as black clouds. Only then Children appeared from under the ground. They were Boys. They were too small, to become soldiers. They've managed to survive by hiding in the underground cracks and holes. They had been sitting underground for a long time, afraid it might still be an explosion on the surface. They had been eating rats there. But there were no rats left anymore.

Boys looked around, afraid to approach each other, not knowing whether one of them would shoot, or throw a stone at the others. Their skin was as black as the wind, hair as dusty as the Earth. Then they understood that none of them had neither sticks nor knives. They started to think where to find food. They dug the ground with bare hands and turned the crumpled pieces of iron, but there were only ashes everywhere.

— And why did we even get out? — one of the Boys shouted. — We should've stayed underground!

— Let's play War! — another boy shouted and grabbed a piece of the melted-off metal. — It will be my gun!

— Wait — the third one shouted — I will try something!

He lay down on the Earth and put his palms a handful on it as though he was trying to warm something. He was lying like that for some time, and then from under his palms, the sprout appeared. A blade of grass with two green leaves. The blade began to grow very quickly and turned into a tree. And then the same Boy embraced the tree trunk, and there were flowers, and then — fruits. Heavy, red balls. The green branchy tree looked weird on the black Earth.

— I think, it can be edible — he said and plucked the first sphere.

Then other boys began to pull it out of each other's hands.

— It's like a bomb!

— It's like a mine!

— It's not like a rat!

— It certainly cannot be eaten!

But the Boy who had grown the tree took another fruit and broke it in half. There were transparent ruby grains. He took a bite and gave the rest to the others.

Yummy! — all of them started to shout, plucking other fruits. — Even though it doesn't look like a rat or a shell!

But the fruits ended soon, and The Children were still hungry.

Then the Boy who had made the tree grow bent over to the ground again and covered it with his palms. A new sprout appeared. The new sprout became another tree on which yellow fruits without seeds grew. They could be eaten with a peel.

The Boys ate the fruits, and then asked the one who made the trees grow:

— How do you do that? Why do the fruits grow from under your hands from the ground? Why is it not a rat or a shell that comes up?

— I give them tenderness — he answered.

— What is "tenderness"? What "tenderness" do you mean? Aren't you lying? How do you know it exists? — the Boys shouted.

— I know because am a Girl — he (actually – she) answered, – my mom told me!

The Boys were very surprised that she was a Girl because all of them were identical by sight. And that boy who appeared to be a Girl seemed in no way different from others.

— Can you teach us what to do to make food grow from the Earth? — the Boys asked.

— I will try — the Girl said. — Bend down to the Earth, cover it with your hands, and try to warm it. And the main thing — you need to feel tenderness to what is underneath.

The Boys fell to the ground at once, folded their palms in a handful, and waited. But they didn't succeed. Nothing happened. Only one of the Boys had grown a gun that, fortunately, could not shoot.

- You lied to us! - the Boys yelled. - Now we will beat you! We are warming and warming this ash - and nothing grows!

- Do you feel tenderness? The Girl asked.

- What tenderness?! - the Boys shouted again. - First, we will beat you, and then we'll force you to grow so many trees that we can eat, eat, and eat as much as we want!

- Wait, - the Girl said, - I'll teach you.

And then she came to the first Boy and hugged him. He did not know what to do, at first, he wanted to push her away, but after a while, he started laughing.

- So silly! - he said. He didn't know what to do when you've been hugged.

- While you are laughing, the Girl said - Tenderness cannot reach you.

- Calm down, - the other Boys shushed him, - Listen to what the Girl says!

Then the Boy, whom the girl hugged, realized that the others would not laugh at him, and stood calmly.

- Well, what do you feel? The others asked. - How's the tenderness?

"I don't know," he replied. - I feel the warmth.

- Here! - the Girl said. - It is important. If you feel the warmth inside, then you can feel it towards the others too!

All the Boys lined up for the Girl to hug them too.

- Are you warm? - shouted those who stood further down the line.

- No! - the one who was being hugged replied. - Oh, wait! It seems warm now!

The Girl hugged everyone one by one, and then said:

- Now you try to hug each other too! So you can not only get warmth but also give it.

The Boys said "no way" at first. But later the bravest ones dare to hug.

- Here, - said the Girl, - The main thing is not to hurry. The warmth won't spread quickly.

After a while, all of the other Boys started to hug each other. Everyone giggled and shoved at first because they thought it looked very ticklish and stupid. And then they froze, feeling someone else's warmth. And they tried to hug each other tighter.

- Now try to do the same with the Earth, - the Girl told them.

All the Boys sat down on their knees or squatted quietly and started to warm the Earth with their hands. Some of them sat close to each other in groups of two or three. There is more warmth from six palms.

And here the sprouts started to come up from under their hands. The Boys did not know what they were, but, if we were there we would easily recognize a maple and chestnut, wormwood, an apple, and cucumbers.

- Wow, - the smallest Boy screamed, - I have a rat!

From under his hands, a white fluffy animal with long ears hopped briskly and rushed away.

-No, - the others replied. -It doesn't have a tail, so it's not a rat. Don't touch it. It must also be a plant and it will bear fruit when grows up.

The Boys were happy to grow plants and see how each of them is doing.

Meanwhile, the Girl entered the black stream that flowed there. And she was standing in it for a long time. The stream turned blue.

The Girl came back ashore - where the Boys already had a whole garden.

- Now you know how to heal the Earth,- she said to the Boys, -You have to go around all of it. Go far, far away and warm it up so it is green again. I am very tired. I'll lie down to rest, and you don't wake me up!

She lay down under the pomegranate tree and fell asleep. The Boys didn't wake her up. A day passed by, then another one and another one.

Trees bent over her and grass did not rustle. And cornflowers sprouted through her body.

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