“Come and sit next to me for a little while, my lovelies, moi golubki”, said grandma, as she gave both of us that deep affectionate look that always made us feel warm and cosy. As usual, she offered us a plate with freshly baked pirozhkis and a glass of icy cold kvas. She always made those for us, rain, or shine, and she always joked by saying that every time we come to eat her pirozhki adds one more day to her live. We loved our babushka for her kindness and wise sayings. We loved her for many other things too, but we absolutely adored her for her stories, which sounded so real that we honestly believed they were. This was one of them.
 
The Mueller Catacombs

When my brother and I were your age, she started, we didn’t have computer games to play. We made our own toys from whatever we could find around the house or in our father’s shed. We also spent a lot of time in the local park chasing butterflies and collecting beautiful leaves for our herbarium.

She closed her eyes, smiling, and continued.

Your great grandma once told us that our little local park in Subiaco was named after a very special person, Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller, a Germain explorer and botanist who discovered and named thousands of plant species found in Australia at that time, including the Macadamia tree. He examined previously unknown Australian Alpine vegetation and established a National Herbarium in Victoria, which can be visited even today. Many animals, plants and places were named after Baron von Mueller all over Australia and New Zealand.

Species named in his honour typically contained the root “muelleri” or “ferdi”, such as Eucalyptus Muelleriana, nowadays known as the Yellow Stringyback, and Terminalia Ferdinandiana, also called the Billygoat Plum or the Kakadu Plum. The Mueller-mania gave us, kids, lots of great inspirations at that time and filled our days with tremendous joy and everlasting fun. We tried to collect as many samples of these “muelleri” species as we could and made quite a progress, you know!

Babushka poured herself a class of kvas and went to take something from the mantlepiece. She then made herself comfy in her favourite armchair with large yellow buttercups and lavender prints on the old-style upholstery. She treated that piece of furniture as a family member. We knew that because she had a funny habit of naming things that were special to her. The armchair was called “Rosalia Petrovna” or “Sleepy Rose”. Babushka spent lots of time with Sleepy Rose reading or knitting. Sometimes she even called Rosalia Petrovna her personal beautician, which we guessed had something to do with her daily beauty sleeps that happened there.

One day a miracle happened, Babushka continued softly. On the last day of our summer holiday, my brother and I were chasing a strange-looking creature around the Mueller Park. It moved like a butterfly, but it wasn’t one. It was beautiful! We’ve never seen any such thing before and were absolutely mesmerised by it. Suddenly, the ground under our feet gave way and we began falling down a large and slippery tunnel. At first it felt much like the rabbit hole, through which Alice fell into the Wonderland. Except in our case, we didn’t land in a fairy-tale, we landed in another place, which looked dark and miserable.

A little while later, when our eyes adjusted to the dark, we saw a dim yellow light shimmering afar. After a short stroll we reached a strange looking entrance resembling a spaceship hatch. It suddenly slid open in front of us. We were absolutely terrified but could not resist the temptation to enter. As we walked in, we were greeted by a small group of people covered in white from head to toe. They all wore surgical masks, goggles, and plastic gloves. These people introduced themselves as the last human survivors on Planet Earth.

According to their story, Planet Earth became uninhabitable many years ago. All trees have died, all rivers have dried. There was no oxygen to breath. All animals and humans have disappeared. The surface of the Earth was ruled by the little plastic men, called Legi. They built plastic cities and plastic cars. They made plastic trees and plastic food. The plastic they produced had suffocated our Planet and destroyed all forms of life.

Men in white then told us that if we don’t want a future like that, said Babushka softly, we must alter something the “past”, where my brother and I came from. We haven’t had a chance to ask what did we need to do because next moment we saw a bright flash of light, and when our eyes had adjusted again, we found ourselves in the middle of the Mueller Park, holding this – our Babushka stretched her arm and gave us something that we felt was very special to her. This is what my brother and I were chasing when the crust beneath us gave way that day, she said. You can keep it, she continued, closing her eyes. She was slowly dozing into an afternoon nap.

We were about to tip-toe out of the room when, suddenly, she opened her eyes and whispered ever so gently, “We did what we could, my lovelies, moi golubki, and now its your turn”.

We stopped to have a better look at our present. On a palm of Mishka’s hand sat the most extraordinary creature we’ve ever laid our eyes on. It was gentle and exquisite. No wonder Babushka kept it secretly for so many years. Everything was perfect about it, except for one thing – it was made of plastic.