Saturday, November 24, 2018

About that Climatic Apocalypse Thing

I hadn't looked at my global warming novella for a while but recent events led me to revisit it. Since writing it for the A-Z challenge a couple of years ago much that I predicted has come to pass. Trump is indeed the President of the United States. While less frightening and more ridiculous than my President Jackson, Trump has come to represent the ostrich mentality that pervades public life.

The official line of climate change denial, even as a government report warns of grave consequences, is both staggering and predictable.

But is it worse to deny what's going on than to draw up elaborate plans that are never implemented? Rio, Kyoto, and Paris came and went and climate change marched on unabated.

In the meantime, drought caused a massive migration that is linked to the origins of the Syrian war, thousands perished when a hurricane hit Puerto Rico and nobody cared and California was hit by the most devastating wildfire in its history.

All great empires fall, but the technological age is due to come crashing down sooner than most. Even the Roman Empire lasted 507 years. Going back 507 years takes us to 1511, a year when the Portuguese took over Malacca and Steve Jobs had yet to invent the iPhone.

It remains to be seen if humans will survive but this most ingenious of ape is also the most stubborn and impervious to change. If as Shakespeare said there are seven ages of Man, we are rapidly falling into the last, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything and certainly sans any common sense.

Yet in his haplessness man is more like another Shakespearian character, Hamlet who in his muddled quest for justice makes everything worse.

Man is entering his twilight and his descent is not going to be pretty. If the overall life-span of the planet is seen as a 24-hour clock the Age of Man will probably not even occupy a full second when all is said and done.

This is a sobering thought that may displease those who believe we are God's chosen people and as such are given the power to do what we see fit with the other species. Far be it for me to climb into the pulpit here but I would say unto thee - 65 million years.

The significance of this figure is it's the time the dinosaurs inhabited the earth pretty much from the top of the food chain given their oversized teeth. Give that time to sink it. The dinosaurs had brains the size of peas. They were bloody stupid but they hung around for 65 million years. Like our Great Leader, they also had small hands.

I digress. I'm not going to pretend my novella is a great work of art. It might make a couple of people think. It might not. Here's the latest extract.

The Levelling of Suburbia

The night Patrick took a call from Gabrielle was exactly 25 years to the hour since they last parted company. He didn’t realize it then. There wasn’t much space or time left in his city to be sentimental anymore and the day-to-day game of survival had played havoc with his human side.

Gabrielle with her sensible white skirts that smelled obscurely floral represented a half-forgotten world that hummed to the sound of crickets, lawnmowers, and greetings of old folks over the garden fence.

Her wholesomeness had made her passion and his sadness at their parting all the more surprising. Although fragments of Gabrielle clutched at his dreams, she often transformed into other girls. Patrick had not heard a cricket for years.

Patrick’s conviction that Gabrielle moved in a different and more gentle world made the call more surprising. He struggled and stumbled over his words as his brain played catch up. Her tone made the experience more surreal.

“Patrick. They were in your town. They’ve gone. I’ve heard nothing for three days.”

“I’m sure they are fine Gabrielle. It’s a big place. A city more than a town…”

Her shriek of a voice cut him short. It was the howl of a wounded beast, something he would never have expected from his high school sweetheart.

“Please Patrick.”

“Gabrielle. Where were they?”

“In Eastern Falls.”

Patrick’s mind had played tricks on him. He remembered San Francisco and their home in Eastern Falls but he forgot they lived so near to him decades ago. Patrick wondered why she had called him but he didn’t try to placate Gabrielle anymore. He had always liked her parents. They were simple country folk who had worked hard on the land before they made money. They approved of him and tried to see the positives in his negatives. Patrick had never met Gabrielle’s son but he had seen her kids on social media in the days when he still casually stalked her.

He felt something rising up in his chest. Like a need for valor to make up for the times he failed to measure up in the past.

“It won’t be easy to get into Eastern Falls but I know someone who has Fire Zone clearance. I’ll do everything I can. Where are you?”

“I live in Iceland now. I’m trying to get a flight back. I’ve been talking to them for two days but it’s hard for Outlanders.”

Patrick requested her contact details and hung up. Eastern Falls was only 20 miles across the city but nobody was going there. In the day after the inferno swept down from the hills, long lines of cars and refugees with little more than their shirts on their backs had headed out of the Fire Zone.

It was a routine sight in this part of California. The Eastern Falls fire was the 20th to burn in the state since July but this one had fueled rumors of mass casualties although the only story about the fire in the Free Press concerned President Jackson’s morale-boosting photo shoot with the firefighters.
Patrick podded at his phone as he drove west until Joel’s voice came out of the device.

“Jeez Pat, why do you want to go there?”

“I’m looking for someone. Can you give me clearance?”

There was a silence on the other side. Pat expected him to quote him a figure.

“You know it’s rough there. I’ll be liable if you get hurt.”

“It’s OK. I’m a big boy.”

Joel emitted a long sigh. “You saved my life during the Mexican War. I owe you one. I can’t say this is the type of favor I wanted to do for you, but if you insist. What’s the address?”
Patrick relayed it to another trademark long sigh. He looked out for the verification code on his phone that would allow him to get to Eastern Falls.

Two hours later, Patrick was on the road. The highway was empty traveling west but long lines of vehicles came out him. There were cars blackened by smoke. Some had bumpers and sidings warped and melted from heat damage but they kept going. He saw three kids drawing lines in the ash of the windows of a driverless van and casually wondered what had happened to their parents.

The people on foot were the most pitiful evacuees. He saw a family with their household belongs in an old Radio Flyer, dragging a wounded dog behind them. The children were screaming incessantly through their hunger.

And still, the ambulances came from the west, although Patrick couldn’t fathom who or what they would be carrying anymore.

Over the mountains ahead the sky was a whirling mass of blacks and gray spirals, a cocktail mixed for drinks in a diabolical bar at the end of the world. The fire had receded from Eastern Falls but it still marched up and down the mountains above the town, threatening to return with a change in the wind.

When he reached the city limits, Patrick encountered the walls of wire put up by the authorities. A thickset man wearing the slash logo of the Fire Enforcement Force marched over to him, placing a red hand like a stop sign in front of his car.

“Why are you here?”

Patrick had learned the hard way how to keep calm during such encounters.

“I'm seeking information about family members?”

The FEF official’s face became even redder.

“Only authorized people. Move on.”

Patrick held up his phone to display the verification code. The FEF officer still looked annoyed but he removed his hand from the car.

“OK proceed. Nobody is allowed beyond the Eighth Parallel.”

Two FEF officers opened the gate and Patrick drove forward. His breathing became labored as he took in the ashen air. Even here, the flames had licked at buildings. Stores were ripped open by fire and looters and charred pieces of paper blew across the road. The deeper he went into Eastern Falls, the more alien and forbidding the landscape became. Now buildings were harm-formed, warped or wiped out completely. Bodies lay on the sidewalk under tarps. Patrick screwed up his eyes and tried to reconcile it all with the fires of his childhood, the cliché of s’mores in the circle by the tent and his delight as a kid in making the perfect s’more – singed but retaining its form. He recalled the day he huddled around the campfire with Gabrielle and how he screamed when he touched a smoldering log. He felt both hot and cold at the same time at the thought. He imagined the pain replicated 200 fold as the flames consumed his body. It was a level of torture more in keeping with medieval than modern times and yet the people of Eastern Falls had burned as badly as most pained martyrs of the Middle Ages.

Patrick was disturbed from his reverie by the bleeping of his sat nav. He had arrived on Poplar Close. He saw scorched squares that were once lawns. Poplar Close had been no different from suburbia the world over. Houses that were too large built of materials intended to fail. His own parents had lived in a similar place, fooled by disingenuous words of developers who spoke of granite countertops and conservatories. Patrick wondered that such sterility could ever be passed off as a slice of paradise lost. Today the subdivisions were little more than fodder for the hungry fires. Still, the Westons had continued to live there. Perhaps their erstwhile poverty had lulled them into thinking suburbia was something better, a place to aspire to even as the local authorities cut off the water and the trash pickups.

Patrick drove down Poplar Close wondering if poplars had ever grown near the subdivision and when Eastern Falls had a waterfall. Shadows stretched across the road where the plumes of smoke still blocked out the sun. He wore his mask on but was still coughing quietly beneath it. Every so often, he swerved to avoid an obstacle in the road, a charred car, TV set or a bundle he did not want to examine closely. He was surprised to find the mailbox of 1238 Popular Close was still intact, sticking defiantly out of the ground at a crazy angle. The house behind was a mass of blackened beams. Patrick got out of his car and walked up the drive. A beam creaked within the house and fell to the ground. Patrick shut his eyes momentarily to vanquish the scene. Nobody could have got out of the house alive.
An image returned to him of the honeysuckle bush that was once 100 yards from here and the day he drank beer with Mr. Weston and joked about how watery it was as they tried to light the barbecue. The days when people burned for fun had turned antique in his memory.

He walked back to the car, his shoes crunching on cinders. Suddenly he heard an engine and a car inched into the close. He picked up his pace fearing looters had arrived who might kill him on the spot for his car. However, a middle-aged woman and a man got out of the car. They stood in the road impassively and stared at a forlorn pile of rubble where a house had been.

Patrick looked closer. Below the lines and neck fat, he made out a certain familiarity. 

When he realized who they were he almost forgot the grim surroundings and skipped toward them.
“Pete, Andrea, you remember me. I used to date Gabrielle. I’m Patrick. Remember how we hung out at the school.”

Pete and Andrea were brother and sister. Patrick assumed they must be in their late 40s now.
They were silent. They looked beyond him and through him. The silence hung long and low on the ashen air and Patrick didn’t think they were going to respond. Finally, Andrea spoke up.

“We have never met you.”

I Don't Queue : Does That Make Me Unpatriotic?

I'm bemused by the scenes from Westminster today. People are queuing for 24 hours to see a wooden box. OK, it's a fancy box surround...