“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Mathew 5:5
It was late afternoon and the sky blazed with a multi-hued crimson sunset as Tom sheared through the wires of the fence. The wires were quite rusty now, he noticed as he looked down the long fence line. It reminded him of how much time had passed since the Great Reaping, which is what his small group of survivors had called the tragedy. He pulled the wires aside and strode towards the sound of the old metal windmill pump still clanking away in the far corner of the field. Even though he passed quite a few bleached skeletons of cows as he neared the windmill he saw a few live cows huddled around the trough that was still being fed small spurts of gushing water. One let out a loud “Arrrrrrghhhhh” and eyed him suspiciously. It was distantly answered.
As he scanned the rest of the sweep of the field he estimated that in total there were about a dozen cows still living. They stared at him with curiosity, it had been a long time since they had seen a human, but they did not appear to feel threatened by him, continuing to casually whisk flies from their backs. The windmill and good pasture had allowed them to survive the last 5 years or so since all the people had disappeared. It would have happened quite quickly out here in the country where the eating of meat had been sacrosanct. The farmer and the family died, usually in the space of a few days or weeks, leaving the livestock still pastured. Like ghost farms stuck in a timeless loop. Not so many of the sheep and cows had been as lucky as this lot, but animals are longer lived than people usually realised so he still found a few to set free to roam at large, maybe breed if they found a rare bull or ram. But first he had to cut down fences and open gates to increase their pasture. They may just remain near the water anyway, as long as the windmill pumped water.
It had been Tom’s self-appointed task to range out from the settlement of survivors and set the animals free. He patted a couple of the cows as he returned from opening the gates into the other fields and headed back towards his car. The dusk was deepening and the quiet of the night had begun bringing it with it a soothing insect chorus. No point in going further, a waste of battery charge to use the lights at night. Here was as good as anywhere else these days, everywhere was the same, silent and empty. Tom found the sounds of the cattle comforting, the noise of other sentient beings nearby in the darkness.
Tom lit himself a small fire and heated some canned tomatoes and chickpeas, settled some native tubers around the smouldering coals and remembered back to the beginning. “the meek shall inherit the earth” was a adage he had never really understood before the Great Reaping. It had always puzzled him how it was possible for the meek to inherit the earth. Mistakenly he had thought that meekness amounted to cowardice and the inability to stand up to dominating forces. Not being Christian or of any other faith except a general spirituality, he hadn’t pondered the statement too long. Now he thought he understood it completely.
The media and social nets at first had reported isolated incidents, but from all over the world. People began to haemorrhage internally and drop dead in the space of a few hours or a couple of days. At first it seemed random, and the fact that people were dying randomly around the world kept the authorities and scientists bemused. However, it was soon discovered that the pandemic was not from a disease that was born on the wind or transferred by touch or mucus like the Ebola that had previously been a concern. The virus, a lifeform similar to a virus consisted of the DND molecule of RNA strands that the mass-media called the “Deadend virus”, was incorporated into the individual cells of all of humanity.
People were told not to panic that a cure would be found in time, even as the loss of life continued mounting. But the cure never came, the Deadend virus was too quick. Even the scientists were dying no matter what precautions were taken. They did have time to discover though that DND had entered the human body through the gut. Originating as an ocean organism, it had made its way into the human food chain. After fish had been turned into stockfeed feed for cows and pigs, the organism had infected the cattle and pigs and then all the rest, silently sleeping within them, yet un-harming them. DND had quickly spread somehow into all the other livestock animals, and then into anyone and everyone who had eaten meat or any animal products in the final five years before the Great Reaping event. Lying in wait it had reacted with the DNA in the human genome where it switched genetic markers on and off, until finally creating a lethal combination. It some people this was a quick process, in some a slower, but for all people it was inevitable. The virus turned the human DNA against itself, and it was unstoppable.
The USA, Europe, Argentina, Australia; the big dairy and meat-eating countries were the fastest effected, the more meat and animal products a person had eaten in the final 5 years, the faster DND flicked those genetic switches. It had only needed a tiny trace of animal protein in any product for the infection to take hold. Unfortunately, at the time animal products were put into everything edible as a way of getting rid of much of the waste from the meat and dairy industry. Whey powder was dumped into every possible product, also animal fats and milk powders, eggs and gelatine, a person had to be dedicated to avoid whey powder alone. So it wasn’t long before all nations were losing population so rapidly that civil life fell apart. The nations of our worldwide civilization just stopped in the space of a few weeks. Then no more news was to be had.
Ironically, veganism as a life choice had been having a massive upsurge, boosted publicly by young squeaky clean bright eyed millennial facebook-utubers of the early twenty-first century. There were going to be some very smug survivors, perhaps even as much as 5% claimed the disintegrating media. But Tom remembered the last vegan meeting he attended that had been organised over the internet before it collapsed. They had met in a park in the centre of the city, one of the few spaces that had been kept clean of corpses. By then few people roamed the streets, no restaurants operated, although some bars were still serving a dying customer base, some people partying, some drowning in sorrow, most waiting out the inevitable. At that last meeting it was noticed that many of the younger vegans, and a few of the older ones had not come. Those that had swapped to veganism too late, or those that had indulged a cheat day, or just not been diligent enough in reading the miniscule print of ingredients on the packages of processed food. These too had died.
It had come as a big surprise to the vegetarians to find that DND was also carried by milk, cheese and eggs, which by this time, the philosophy hijacked by industry, had become a main ingredient in vegetarian food. Tom was thankful for his youthful rebellious ways as he had been vegetarian as a teenager but when he became part of the politicised fringe of the grunge punk movement in the 80’s he had become vegan. Firstly, for the atrocities of the meat industry, which only got worse as time went on, but also because after the scare of the madcow disease in the 80s, he decided to learn that lesson from industrial meat raising practices and foresworn all animal products since. He was old school, he was safe. He was pleased to see how many young children were surviving, raised from birth in vegan families, these kids would hold the future for humanity. A more compassionate future he was sure. Amid all the death and sickness, this little waning group of health and vitality stood out like an entirely different species. There remained a couple of hundred long term vegans, mainly women in the early twenties and above. Whatever new society would grow out of this chaos, it was going to be very different to the one left behind. To begin with it was going to be very female orientated, a good thing since the male oriented world had imploded.
It was decided as a group that attacks upon vegans by enraged omnivores was a growing problem, and the city would soon have further difficulties of older known diseases emanating from the rotting corpses mounting up in the streets and homes of the city. It would be best to move as a group to some suitable farm land where fresh vegetables could be grown to support the whole new community. Even though tins and packets of chickpeas, lentils and other staples of the vegan diet would last for many years, fresh vegetables were going to be of a growing concern.
Tom had been one of a dozen chosen to leave the city by car in search of good land that was already unoccupied and to report back. All could see that the end was near for a functioning society and the search needed to take place before petrol supplies ceased. He had travelled south towards the greener land, where aside from beach and foodie tourism, forests and pasture had been the mainstay of local industry. Here in a small town that had always been a haven of hippy-drop-out-free-life-stylers he found a few people still surviving as a small scattered community of organic farms, that had once supplied the city weekend market. Around Charlotte River township where there had been many small local producers of organic veggies, handmade gourmet foods such as cheeses, chocolates and cured meats there was both the fertile land and the infrastructure available.
The rest of the community from the city soon made the journey south and took over the small desolate farms. Fences were torn down and what livestock that had managed to survive were let loose to roam. The few local survivors and the new city people worked together to start raising enough crops to feed all of them. The city by this time had become a ghost of its former self and the few shadowy people still left were those that had been vegan before or those that had been born since the Great Reaping. Those he occasionally met he encourage to head south to Charlotte River.
Tom had been instrumental in organising the cutting down of the fences and the freeing of the livestock, but he had not settled into any particular farm, did not partner with anyone, and lived with a small mix of other older misfits in the town, where they worked at trying to maintain essential services and equipment. He was charged with trying to find radio contact with other survivors around the world, but over the years there had been fewer and fewer short radio contacts with other groups. India had been the last. Until now only silence.
As the new community thrived he turned his thoughts to the animals still left possibly surviving and suffering on the farms and stations to the north and inland, where the red dessert was vast and life more difficult. With this in mind, and a hankering to see what was becoming of the corporatized world that had died, suicided on its gluttony of greed, ease and luxury, he returned to the city where he sought after the experimental hybrid car at the university, and began to make sorties further and further from Charlottes River.
By the firelight, leaning back, watching the unpolluted night sky, the bright stars and the occasional meteor, and even more surprising the occasional satellite still passing smoothly overhead, he chuckled lightly to himself. The meek shall inherit the earth. But the cows are meek, the sheep are meek, and he had used to think that they were innocently slaughtered the way meek humans would always be. But Tom had come to realise that the meek did not mean the cowardly or the weak. That meek had always meant something different in the ancient days. Meek had meant those who were unwilling to create death and suffering for the other sentient beings. Meek meant a person who had a profound respect not only for the earth, but also for all the others that lived upon it. It meant knowing that there exists an equality between all sentient beings, that all have a right to exist in their own way without human interference, control and exploitation. A cow wandered quietly over and stood puffing just outside the fire light. The cows eat grass and they are wonderfully meek, the vegans eat plants and could also claim that title. Truly, as the prophets foretold, the meek had inherited the earth. Now a new earth could begin, one shared by all. Tom lay back on his swag and gave a tired sigh, a good day’s work and a lifetimes realisation concluded, he was content as he drifted off to sleep, outside with all other sentient inhabitants.