by Rianh Silvertree.
It happened one day.
One ordinary day.
Or maybe it was a bunch of days with smaller events that nobody flagged as significant.
There was the increasing coffee prices, then the dwindling of supply regardless of price. Then the replacement of coffee with Chicory; like in the war; it was a trend. Hipsters were subsequently blamed for the lack of coffee. but they hadn’t made it popular and thus caused the lack of coffee. The papers claimed that the low demand of coffee equated to lack of supply. Then there was the withdrawing of news stories. There were rumors about the coffee supply chain, revolutionaries, fascist governments, droughts in coffee bean nations. But it was the high price of diesel in a world of dwindling fossil fuels, and the increasingly turbulent ocean due to unstable weather patterns that was the problem. So the coffee nations had piles of coffee beans, and little else, and we had none. But that was all a rumor of course. It was the hipsters. Those mega scarf, giant glasses, skinny jeans, man bun hipsters.
And no coffee.
The traditionalists appeared. Proper traditional Aussies who drank Bushels’ tea from India, claiming that coffee in the first place had funded terrorism and that only true Australians drank tea. Until the same thing happened. And once again, it was clear the hipsters had drunk it all, and their quirky oddities made it into boutique teas and then suddenly there was only the one brand that was grown in Australia. And it was hugely expensive. What once had an iconic blue paper tag stapled to a thin paper wrapper, separated by a string, was now sold in satin wrappers, fancy faux-timber boxes, and exorbitantly priced.
Tea! No longer ordinary. No longer for regular folk.
People got used to their hot water with lemon. Lemtea they called it. And while it had no caffeine, there were other things to get a kick out of. Shrooms became popular. The market had to have something to replace the caff. So the shroom growers and chemists made mild shroom soda, for adults of course, and we all drank the shroom soda and remembered the quaint habit of tea and coffee drinking but it was so long ago. Months stretched into years. Shroom soda was the new thing. And we could not get enough of it. The flavours were fantastic and the effect, soporific. Blue Meanie, had a cute little cartoon character on the front, and kids collectible stuffies when it first came out. Golden Top, the shiniest can, came with collectible cards, and stamps and ‘power ups’, and soon, we could not remember a time when they did not exist.
People forgot about coffee and tea.
The chocolate riots would not be forgotten though. Thousands died in the riots. The taste, after a while, became mythical, almost. But a new generation of children did not believe in chocolate, ‘oh, you’re making it up’ they said.
Then the towns went underground. By then the seas had been dead for years; fish were something people told stories about to children, like unicorns and dinosaurs and chocolate. The beach was by then a wafting flotsam of radioactivity and stinking dead things. Not so much a sandy verge for the ocean anymore, but the edge of the water which lapped over the sunken suburbs and the sea side towns. When the first abandoned coal mine was pumped free from toxic sludge, there was a flurry of activity, loads of work-for-the-dole positions, and pretty soon entire towns were relocated into underground apartment and shopping-school complexes. The new towns were called Carmichael and Coppabella and George Fisher, named for the mines they were built within. The mining barons of old were rewritten as heroic forward planning visionaries instead of the money grubbing environmental criminals they were. Old townscapes were levelled and converted to solar panel shade-covered farm lands. People clamoured to volunteer to farm, because they missed the sun. The success of the Great Undergrounding was measured in job creation and technology more than happiness.
Outside was dangerous.
There were radioactive clouds and acid rain and marauding gangs. Civilization was a guarded thing. You were in. or you were out.
When I look back, the signs were there. We just didn’t see them for what they were. ‘She’ll be right’ they said, ‘the earth has a capacity for bouncing back’, ‘there is no such thing as global warming’. This is what the news channels told us. This is what the papers said, and later, the emergency radio, and later still, people repeated this poisonous rhetoric huddled in shelters, too scared to go out into the sun, frightened of the water in their taps. Then the kangaroos and the koalas died out, and the safe radiation levels were increased up and up and up. People said, ‘well, they are only animals and if the government says the radiation levels are safe, they’re safe’.
So we trusted them and the birds fell from the sky. The roads melted as did the tyres of the cars that ran on them. The abandoned cars randomly exploded as the trapped, fuel vapour reached critical point in the searing temperatures. There were freak weather patterns, 100 year floods every year, heat waves, cold snaps and snow in summer. It didn’t mean anything. And if it did, well it wasn’t caused by humans, it was a natural event.
Get underground. Drink your shroom soda. Wait your turn to see the sun.