“Those Who Came Before” by Mack W. Mani

Ochre skinned and hairless
they emerged from the canyon’s fault,
the starlight even a burden on their eyes;
newborn whole, they wandered east
and out of the badlands,
along what might once have been a road.
Soon, the emptiness gave way to ruin
and the further they went
the denser their thoughts became;
past wreck and rust and ruin
overgrown villages now densely
colonized swathes of green,
the landscape overtaken by nature,
time, and the surviving elements
of those who came before,
abandoned machinations of war
herds of stilted, unreal animals
and endless bullet casings
and on and on and never did
the desolate beauty end.
At night they would make their camps
among the reeds and lowland caves
sheltering wherever they could find it,
one night, they even huddled
in the gutted remains of a Guardian,
long rusted and half buried in the summer umbrage.
That night they dreamed
it’s dread dreams of wrought iron conquest,
the insidious circuitry of the thing
as incomprehensible to them
as anything under the sun.
And each morning at dawn,
they would warm themselves
in the swollen red sunlight
and watch the swarms of organ beetles
rise and fall together as one
against the pastel dash and play
of the eastern sky.
And with each relic encountered,
they inspected it in turn,
carefully and curiously
combing the dead places
like a child might wander
a graveyard on a sunny day,
looking for the oldest stones.

Mack W. Mani is an American poet and author. His work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Neon, and The Pedestal Magazine. His screenplay “You and Me and Dagon Makes Three” won Best Screenplay at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in 2018.
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