The planet was dead, and Dionysus must revive it.
Black clouds had suffocated the sky. As the wind howled, the sand swept across the dry, barren earth. It was a dead land, nothing but sand and rocks, stretching all the way to the now blurred horizon. Smog. The air is so polluted. Dionysus knew. He’d been travelling across the planet for days. Or was it weeks? He was so old he’d lost the sense of time. Indeed, under his green cloak was the soft, pale skin of a boy. Even deeper inside, it was an ancient soul that’d existed for billions of year. One which has spent most of these billions of years asleep. He mused bitterly.
Dionysus stood here, every fiber of him filled with foreboding. He raised his hands, both of them. “Grow!” he commanded. Then a green light exploded around him. The grasses were the first to erupt from the dry sand. Right after them, seedlings sprouted from beneath the soil as the grass spawned across the earth around Dionysus. The seedlings twitched first, and then grew taller, taller until they were at his waist. The wind was bleak. But amidst its growls, he could hear whispers:
“What’s going on?” one of the seedlings asked, directing her question at the cloaked boy now surrounded by grass and young trees.
“Children, this is no time to play.” Dionysus urged. “I’ll be leaving soon, for I’m now on a mission, so are you.”
“What mission?” another seedling wanted to know.
“To bring the planet back to life.” Dionysus said grimly. “All I need you to do is to grow and once you’re mature enough, produce children. Keep repeating this, until the dry dessert is a land of green again.” He peered up at the grey, heavy sky. “Do not worry. It’ll be raining in two days. The air is contaminated, so the water won’t taste very good, but no doubt drinkable. Further deeper in the earth, there’re bodies of dead animals, so you have nutrients. Grow your roots a bit deeper, and you’ll find them. I’ve done the calculations, you’ll have a hard life, but you’ll survive.”
“Who are you?” yet another seedling demanded.
“Dionysus.” Dionysus replied, his hoarse voice almost drowned in the slashing wind and the sand it brought. “My name is Dionysus. The Soul of the Planet. The Bringer of Life. The Reviver. The angel who awakes when all Life on the planet has perished, serving to make the planet green again.”
There were no more questions; just a second later, Dionysus whistled to conjure a strong gust that lifted him to the sky. As he soared upward, as the wind rushed through his hair and the seedlings he planted became naught but a shade of green below, Dionysus knew that he’d finished another part of his mission.
“Wouldn’t you want to say a proper goodbye to your little trees?” a male voice asked.
Right next to Dionysus, floating in the contaminated air, was a man, not much older than him. This man had a bright, handsome face. His wavy blue robe was flapping in the wind, so was his short, golden hair. Yet, the hourglass on his left hand sat still, only with its white sand snowing steadily from top to bottom, every grain telling a moment past.
“There’s no need, Raphael.” Dionysus asserted. “How much time left?”
Raphael didn’t have to look at the hourglass. “Three days exactly. Three days before you fall back to sleep mode, another slumber that’ll last millions of years. As I talk, three seconds have passed already.”
“It’s not good.” Dionysus frowned. “I have a whole planet to revive. Why won’t Creator give me more time?”
“I think it’s enough time.” Raphael answered. “You finished the mission in time the last time, within an even more pressing time limit. Eighty millions years ago.”
“But to me, life is nothing but millions of years of sleep mode, awake only to work, and yet millions of years of sleep mode again.” Dionysus growled. “And you… got to watch how all the great civilizations rise and fall. This isn’t fair.”
Raphael laughed. “If you think it is much fun to behold how civilizations enslave, wage wars and then kill off all Life over and over again, I’d be rather happy to switch position with you,” his face darkened. “We both have roles Creator shaped us to play. Your role is to wake up and plant Life every time civilizations wipe out all living beings from the planet, and then return to sleep mode once you finish your mission, remember?”
Dionysus didn’t reply.
Raphael patted the boy in the back. “Come on,” he glimpsed at his hourglass. “You have two days, twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes left, to plant the seeds that will eventually make the dead planet green again. We must go.”
With that, Raphael clapped. A strong current in the air roared, and the two soared even higher, higher than the thick, acidic clouds, and headed towards the next destination. The next spot where Dionysus would plant the seed of Life. Right before the desert disappeared behind him, Dionysus looked back, and brooded:
If I can have a little more time…
Through the dark sky, flanked with the spiteful wind and corrosive clouds, Dionysus and Raphael flew. While they travelled, the green-cloaked boy would sprinkle spores and let them carried away by winds, and the two went to many places: oily seas where Dionysus laid down pools of algae to clean the grimy water; frozen wastes where he planted seeds he knew would germinate once the blizzards ceased, and become great forests someday; graveyards of fallen skyscrapers in which he spread spores to grow gardens of fungi over the ruins of rubbles and glass. Raphael was always here with Dionysus, talking to him. Inside, Dionysus was glad that Raphael was here. For all of his existence, Dionysus only knew worlds of lifelessness, works, hasty goodbyes with seedlings he planted, and slumbers that lasted millions of years. Raphael had been his only company.
And Dionysus’s last hour awake finally came.
“You’ve done a great job.” Raphael said gently, while they sat on the top of a crumbling skyscraper, watching the twilight that floated behind the acidic clouds. Spores were fluttering in the grey air, each a child looking for something to grow on. Several hundred feet beneath them, yards of fungi and shrubs had flourished in communities, dappling the ruined city with shades of green. “I’m sure the planet will be full of Life again within ten millennia.”
“I should be happy to hear that.” Dionysus yawned. Taking a side glimpse at Raphael’s hourglass, he knew he’d finished his duties this time: only a handful of grains were left in the top. “… But for me, it’s about time to enter sleep mode.”
“I suppose so. Forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds left.”
It’s another sixty millions years of solitude for Dionysus. Dionysus brooded. Because the only purpose of his existence is to revive the planet every time civilizations kill it. He yawned again. Sleepily, he leant against Raphael.
Raphael only smiled, and let the boy rest.
Dionysus jumped and looked up.
Raphael caught his movement. “What’s happened?”
“I heard someone talking.” Dionysus eyed their surroundings. “Can you hear it?”
“Yes, you can talk to plants, but I can’t.”
“No, that wasn’t plants. It’s something else, I can tell.”
“Impossible.” Raphael dismissed. “You wake only when every last shred of former lives on the planet has perished. This is the way you work, like flowers blossom only when spring comes and snow melts.”
“It’s somewhere!” Dionysus slipped off from where he sat.
“Wait!” Raphael grabbed the boy’s arm. “Where’re you going?”
“Let go!” Dionysus yelled, trying to shake the man’s hand off.
“Stay!” Raphael told him. “You’re about to enter sleep mode…!”
Anger flared inside Dionysus. “I’m not!” from his hand, he shot seeds at Raphael. They quickly burst thorny vines that snaked around the man, and made him grunt in pain and let go of the boy.
And then Dionysus was speeding through the thick air, leaving Raphael behind him. “… me…” He shot his gaze around, then hurtled towards where the voice came from. Somebody’s talking. Dionysus thought. With a spurt of speed, he was off, diving at the ruined city looking for the source of that voice. Could this be it? The first time he met someone other than scared seedlings and Raphael?
Dionysus stopped dead in mid-air before a window. It was a room seventy feet above the ground, one of the chambers of the hive-like skyscraper. The glass was grey with dust, but he could hear a faint voice, coming from behind it. “remem…” burning with curiosity, Dionysus reached out to touch the glass, only for it to shatter at a mere poke. After a leap of surprise, he swallowed hard, and crawled inside.
His first reaction was a slight disgust: a terrible stench clung to the dark chamber. It was a scene of devastation. Metal and glass lay splintered at his feet. The wreckage of boxes made of plastic further down. In the middle of the room was a person laying face down over a table. That person was still, his hair gone and his skin a dry, dead shade of brown-grey – a mummy. And the voice came not from the corpse, but from a tablet he was holding.
Dionysus drew closer. That tablet was connected, via a wire, to a hole on the wall of the chamber. And it had a moving picture on it. “… rem…” a woman was speaking on the screen. She should’ve been pretty, with blonde hair and grey eyes. But at that moment, there wasn’t anything pleasant about her: far behind her, a volcano was erupting, filling the air with black smoke and fire. She was screaming out of the screen. “… me…” Tears were flowing down her face as she said it. It was a foreign tongue Dionysus didn’t know, but he could tell it from the look on the woman’s face: she was frightened; she was about to die; and the volcanic ash was about to cascade upon her…
The screen blinked into blackness. A few moments later, the scene began to replay.
Dionysus found himself crying.
“… Dionysus…” someone sighed.
Dionysus turned around to see Raphael, in a blue robe now tattered from the vines. With a downcast look, the man floated into the room, and glanced at the tablet. “… That is called a ‘video’. The planet’s former inhabitants used it to record events.”
Watching the woman consumed by the volcanic ash again, Dionysus whimpered, “Were they like this? … When they died?”
Raphael nodded grimly. “… It was terrible.”
Dionysus sank to the floor and wept. “I never knew…”
Raphael moved forward, and gave the frightened boy a hug. “It’s alright.”
“… I awoke only after they’d totally perished…” Dionysus mumbled. “I never knew it’s that terrible when they…”
“It’s alright.” Raphael comforted him. “They must be with Creator now.”
There was a long while of weeping and shivering as Dionysus stayed there, consoled by Raphael, watching the video again and again, listening to the woman’s last words…
And the last grain of sand in Raphael’s hourglass dropped.
Lotuses made of golden light blossomed around Dionysus, each singing a lullaby as if to lure him into sleep. Raphael stood back. Then the light transformed into leaves and petals that whirled around Dionysus. You’ve served your duty faithfully. They said. It’s time to rest.
Raphael ruffled the boy’s hair gently. “Good night, Reviver. Hope to see you again soon. Perhaps ten millions years later?”
Sniffing, Dionysus glimpsed at the video once more, and said, in his last moment awake, “… maybe I should never wake up this time.”
Li Boyang, aka Ralph, is a Chinese writer who writes fictions in English. He likes science, mathematics and weird stories. Follow him on twitter at: https://twitter.com/Li_BY_Ralph