Three people waited for us at the village's periphery, two boys my age and a man. Around them lay supplies. An iron pot. A large water skin. A sack of ground maize. Three metal-tipped spears.In the late nineties, I spent about three weeks in Africa doing humanitarian work, and by the end of that time I'd fallen in love with the continent. Zimbabwe especially claimed the largest measure of my affection, being both geographically beautiful and filled with some of the most gracious people I'd ever met. When it came time to go, I wondered when I could return and see again the faces of those I now called friends.
"A fine choice, Manyara," Moses said when he saw me. "He has a strong back."
He was tall and bald with yellow, rheumy eyes. His arms ended just below the elbow's bend, the skin a mass of crusted scar, worn nubs of bone protruding. He leaned in close to me, and a sharp, sour smell came off him. Then I saw what he clutched to his chest, a glass bottle cloudy with a patina of scratches and half-full of liquid. Mampoer.
"You must help," Moses said. "Everyone's life depends on it."
The creases around mistress Manyara's mouth deepened.
A few years later, prime minster Robert Mugabe put feet to his long-held Marxism and forcibly redistributed the nation's land. Hyperinflation soared to the point where the government issued a Z$100 trillion note in an attempt to maintain their currency's purchasing power, but ultimately abandoned it in 2009. A flood of refugees fled Zimbabwe for South Africa. Basic infrastructure suffered so much that cholera, normally easily preventable and treatable, killed four-thousand people.
It seemed like a good place to set a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy.
In "The Breaking," a cripple named Moses struggles to beat back ever-encroaching growths named krim as they slowly advance upon his rag-tag village. For help with the work he has only an orphan, a ditchdigger's son and the indolent child of a wealthy trader. Blasted and apparently barren, the krim look like dead, weather-beaten bushes. Yet they continue to spread, inexorable and merciless, and no one in the village heeds Moses' warning of a flame that will soon sweep through them, devouring as it goes. ...
"The Breaking" originally appeared Port Iris issue #5, but unfortunately the magazine has ceased publication. You can read the short here at ISLF.
A few notes before you dive in. Though krim is a neologism of my own invention, other terms and geographical references in the story are real, including mampoer, veld, Francistown, Bulawayo, Harare, Kabwe, sadza, mopane and maviriviri.
Many thanks to Ehren von Lehe, Bill Gozansky, S.D Smith, Chestertonian Rambler and Nathaniel Lee for their feedback on the piece. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Port Iris editor Casey Seda for steering me toward some much needed changes in the narrative. The story is better for it.