By Ashes-Onik
September 5, 2021

It had taken months. Months of planning, months of work, months of preparation and focus, but it was finally done. A terrarium, a scene of vibrant nature positively thrumming with life, lay ensconced upon the desk of two ambitious college students. This project was to be their thesis, prepared years ahead of schedule to get the best footing possible within the sheer stronghold of academia. It was as much a preparation for a brighter future for themselves as it was a labor of love for both individuals, as well as each other. From the moment their classes were announced, they spent their initial months' worth of free time assembling this creation together. Biology degrees had never felt closer in the face of this living vision board.

The initial stages instilled hope beyond hope in the pair of students. Their hill to climb was long and daunting, with footholds of discovery and hindsight narrow and treacherous. Knowing this, they steeled themselves for coming hardships and changes in their lives that college and life experience would bring; even the road to this point had been rocky, and they knew enough to anticipate life in all its forms. Each difficulty had been overcome, each milestone planted with a flag of their achievement, and this was to be no different.

'Flourishing' is the word they would use to describe the promising early stages of the project. The flora had readily accepted their new home in their choice of soil, water from a local stream full of tiny lives provided a cyclical ecosystem for the environment to cultivate itself as efficiently as possible. Sunlight from an adjacent window was the engine of this verdant machine, providing all the photosynthetic nourishment a plant could ask for. Despite the chaos of the outside world, this terrarium reached stability ahead of the students' expectations. Life has a funny way of taking root in the oddest of places, doesn't it? Myriad detailed notes were taken in notebooks placed on the shelves below the terrarium, always eager for more ink to drink.

Life continued like this for some time. The students lived and learned without restraint, elated with the possibilities that lay before them. They had all the time in the world and they were quite eager to sup from the fruits of endeavor. They looked upon the terrarium with the same lens of mystified curiosity they viewed their futures. All was well, and these moments were lovingly cherished and recorded in the notebooks dubbed 'green sonnets' by the student chasing a minor in theater. The other, studious and organized, wrote in a starkly factual format inspired by their enthusiastic engagement in biology. These two-toned books formed quite an impression to those that read and wrote them, and they seemed to take on a life of their own in this shrine to their willful progression.

About a year in, trouble started to brew. The tank of the terrarium started to become cloudy and sodden with moisture condensating on the inside of the container. The students had no fear, for they had planned for this eventuality. A painstaking effort was taken on the behalf of the endless life within the terrarium to migrate its contents to a temporary home while cleaning commenced. No call was too pressing, no need more ready, no distraction too alluring caused the pair to stray from their self-appointed path. This was their future, and they were wholly determined to reap the nectars they'd sown together. The cultures were reintroduced to their familiar home with time to spare, and no joy was left unsung by the silent organisms within as their roots found renewed purchase beneath a brighter sun than they'd ever known.

Time went on without incident for another year. During this time the students ventured further outside their small bubbles of established home space. They went to karaoke bars, climbed mountains, simultaneously drank in excess and swore off a further drop, as young adults are wont to do. Trouble was left to the wind without breath, as it's so easy to let float at this stage in one's life. The only cares they had in the world were themselves, each other, and living each day to the fullest, as was sworn upon arriving at the concrete halls of their bastion of cold learning.

Said learning got colder as time waxed on. An uncharacteristically cold winter blew in stark contrast to the sweltering summer earlier in the year. Passing comments were made about the weather by everyone they knew, and though some professed their idea of the cause, it was of no urgency to anyone else. Things were great - unrest and gloom felt so far away from the bright lives of the students and their peers. No cold would breach the insulation of solipsistic companionship for these two, not in a million years.

Candle-lit meals were shared in the room with the terrarium along with kisses and well-wishes. It felt very much as if the three had built a family together out of shared amory. This stability furthered the sense of possibility each of the trio had for themselves and each other, as well as all matters going forward. Things were brighter than ever upon completing their second year in the throes of success. Exams were done, the candles burned with passion to rival the sun itself, and there was nothing in life to fear as long as the microcosm of life held strong against the battery of life.

The next year, however, provided the greatest challenge yet for the new family. A bracing cold of winter had intruded further into the year than those past, and its sting was felt by all, even in the early days of May. Death's spear of quietude struck relatives of both the students. In mourning, they temporarily departed after giving the terrarium care it was due. A cousin and a father left on their greatest journies to rejoin the earth and the stars, never to return. Goodbyes were long, aching and solitary. A glass sphere made of light in the darkness of loss, the terrarium became a beacon of remembrance for the students and their families. Pride was shared and shared alike among the human mycelium of love, and togetherness flourished alongside the plants, overjoyed to see their loves once more.

Reflection upon life and its many cycles came in time. The students had differing and conflicting ideas about what they had been through alone and together. Things were tense for a time, healed finally with held hands on a dark summer night over tea at the familial desk. A lesson was taken from this experience by all present, that love and life will overcome all that would seek to divide it. Mended all the stronger, life continued as it had with all its pains and all its boons.

In spite of this lesson, or perhaps because of it, the students began to grow outward in parallel. They put their own roots down into the outside world in the forms of connections of experiential synapses. Love and thought were their soil, aerated by the churn of change. As they branched forward, they both began to take note of difficulty brewing in the natures of the world. Wildfires and floods raged with the equally impassioned calls to action against that would do harm to the source of all love. The students found solace in their causes, but even so, disaster was something that seemed too distant to redirect or prevent. No concensus was universal, and since no one else was so hurried, one could easily imagine things weren't as bad as some said.

The march of time thundered ahead undaunted by such concerns. Often-absent students made time for what they began to feel was most valuable in their own lives, only returning home for their less frequent classes. Experience had taught them that college wasn't what they'd imagined it to be. Disillusionment had shattered them to the wonders of the world as they began to feel all the tumult and torrent turn inward to drown their hope in the quakings of jade and trauma. It would be enough to divert anyone's direction, and these two were no different. All the while, the terrarium fogged and stagnated without the care and love it had been born into.

Disagreements between the students devolved into sniping distrust. The inner environment of their college home had snowballed into something unrecognizable, and the three parties knew it. What could be done to save the years of work and love they'd organized together? ...as it was decided, nothing. A savior of words and empathy wouldn't come to mend this ship tossed by savaging hurricane waves without the comfort of harbor. And so the students parted, with the biologist quitting the space with less resentment than the other had come to expect. Alone together, the playwright turned to her ailing terrarium, a sole caretaker to a neglected soul. The art of its languish tore at her, and the playwright closed the books of her plays inspired by the one she loved the most.

The leaves were sodden and limp, the water murky and festering with decay, and the soil had become a monoculture of loneliness with the absence of the biologist. Not having studied biology as fiercely as she now felt she should have, the playwright took to the now strange and unfamiliar presences of her peers in hopes of filling her neglected focus. A grand undertaking of restoration was given to the terrarium in hopes of brightening the world inside and outside of the remaining student and her glass sphere of rotten love. It was a close call, but the terrarium began to show signs of recovery in a shelled home of reclaimed initiative. It wasn't to last.

Seasons began to blend and split in ways they never had before. "It's too late," everyone said, "the world is burning and the smoke will blot out the sun." The playwright's tears watered the terrarium and her pillows equally in a swelter that air conditioning could never hope to aid. She'd long abandoned her education in favor of her craft and the love she had left for the terrarium, but somewhere within herself she knew it wouldn't be enough. Time after time, the myriad tiny lives inside the dome would sicken and ail in a cycle of dashed hopes. All of their energy would be spent on recovery; one step forward, two steps back. This was the end, and the playwright now knew it as well as anyone that cared to look outside.

The terrarium succumbed. The playwright grew old with the curses of lost love and unending guilt over time misspent over all her years. She had tried to regain some semblance of brighter times as the sun slowly burned darker in the sky alongside conflagrated earth. The container rested at her bedside when she finally succumbed alongside the greatest love she'd ever known. The terrarium had long become a sludge of black reminder, stained in rings alongside the glass as water had evaporated.

As per her final wishes, the playwright was immortalized in entropic moments of flame alongside her most crystalline love. The engine of the sun had combusted its last, followed by the terrarium and its carer. It was all gone. It was quiet. It was still. The world continued to rage and rage until it all fell silent, too. This however, like all things, was not to last. In ashen scars crossing the land and the their vestiges of seas, one small, brown seed cracked its shell to conjure a single shoot of green. Love, in all its cycles, had survived even this, and the terrarium lived again.


© 2022 Ashes-Onik