Climate Of Change
Without electricity, dusk comes thickly in, creeping into the edges of my vision as I dig potatoes and reminding me of the shortness of the days. Summer is long gone; the grey clouding whispers and hurries me home, for it's at dusk that my day outside ends. I fret, as I do every day just now, that there are simply not enough daylight hours left for me to do everything that must be done to prepare for winter.
This winter will be harsh; I can tell by the extra fruiting Earth is giving. What birds are left will have an abundance of food, but perhaps not enough for them to survive the cold. I've built homes in the barns and filled them with warm wool. I've strengthened the barn walls on every side, for the winds that howl here will do so with more force than ever this year. My instincts are always right. if you're in tune with Earth, you're in tune with all of Her systems.
And they called me crazy.
But no matter, because they're mostly all dead now, and I'm alive. That's what happens when you don't listen to all the crazy people. For a while it was like I died, too, but that first winter was easier than it could have been. Mild and wet, I had time to adjust and a whole year to get ready for the next. This, my third, will be the worst yet, but I'm ready.
By the time darkness comes I've got wood in, stoked the fire and got a stew bubbling; made ready my bed and latched all the windows, put the bar across the door because... just in case. The whispers in my head might one day come from outside. It's guilt, I know. Guilt that I didn't try harder to make them listen. Guilt has a voice and a spirit and lives here with me. But so does Contentment and certain Joy at how I have survived and at how the wind blows and how my food grows. They live together with me, uneasy bedfellows tucked deep under my pillows.
What do I miss? Not much, now. It took a while to stop looking for the light switches when I first woke; to remember that a cup of tea took longer to make. I still miss hot baths but they are not impossible; just time and energy-consuming - mine and my woodstore's. I have one every few months and try not to remember the warm spicy infusions I'd lain in for hours, topping up and topping up the hot when it cooled against my skin... What luxury we had, and didn't even notice. Strange fact: it's more of a luxury now. Luxury is something you don't have any more. Electricity. Supermarkets. The internet.
I don't dwell on this stuff. I live in the present as much as I can, unless the present gets a little too close, like it does in the storms. Without my roof I'd have nothing and no way to properly fix it so it's maintenance, vigilance and care. It's weighted and solid and has seen me through a force eleven (that's the new force eleven, you understand.)
Looking forward is the only way to go and it's easier without alcohol and television and books to remind me what's out there. What I could have, what I need and therefore want, how my life will be so different if if if. I don't miss that manic grabbery of Black Friday and SALE! and Christmas greed. I don't miss the taking of what half the world didn't have in the first place. I don't miss hearing about war and ISIS and bombs and refugees so desperate they did, in the end, become bad people. Everyone did. All of us good people who worked hard and had no more to give and no room and free healthcare that we could never share - we all became bad too. I'm dwelling on stuff I shouldn't dwell on. I look forward.
I eat my stew and place some aside for breakfast. Tomorrow the base of it will be the beginning of my next meal, like a tribe I can't remember the name of did time ago so long I can't remember either. I struggle to keep my words in the right order. I talk to myself, so my voice doesn't go. I talk to animals, when I see them. I talk to my 360 horizon from my Watch Tree and tell it not to let anyone over the edge.
My island. My future. One I deserve after everything I did, everyone I tried to tell. And the guilt that I took nobody with me - well, I'll live with it and know it's because they should never have called me crazy.
I don't know how old I am any more. I was thirty-two when it all began to go wrong and I was born in 2008 and now it's 2058 - I think. The bad years confuse themselves in my mind and I no longer know how long the war was, or how long the storm years were. I have tried to count up but I get confused and I lost my diaries that I was going to have published when it was all over. Ha! So I might be fifty. I still bleed, so maybe not.
It's a morning like any other. I get up when it's light and not before. My face is probably unlined from all the sleep I get and all the smiling I don't do, but I threw my last mirror into the sea some time ago. I catch my reflection in windows in the dark but as the glass breaks this opportunity is getting less. I don't like it; I look like a ghost - a suggestion of who I remember overlined with hair and layers of clothing. Better when all glass is wood.
I go out to wash and pick an apple off my tree (seventeen apples this year - this tough little tree is surviving and giving) and take a walk to my Watch Tree. It's habit, to make sure I am still alone.
I hoist myself up, loving the feel of my body working, careful because a break would be the beginning of the end for me, and see something on the horizon. Immediately I hide, although whatever it is, is too far away. It'll be some kind of human flotsam - one of the last planes, a bit of ship, something not human. But it comes closer and I see it has a sail.
No time. I leap down, hurting my knees, stumble back to my bothy, get my guns (oh yes, I am peaceful, until it comes to thinking about who survived and what they might do to me) and barricade the doors with the strong bars. In all this time I've never had to do this but I practise until it can all be done in just mere minutes, like now, when it only takes me ten, which I know is time for the boat to land and walk up here and bang on the door and and and
And I am panicking. I still my heart by breathing long and deep like a diver and centering myself. My hand on the wood of the barrel is strong and safe. I can look after me, like I always did like I always will.
There is no knock. Nothing happens. Eventually my breathing gets too loud in the complete silence, and I get up from my cramped position in the centre of the room, where I crouch ready.
I go to the door. And take off the bar. I walk outside. Step by step like this I am safe. There's nobody and I think that probably I was hallucinating but the only way to check will be to go down to the beach and take a look. I don't want to do that. If I don't, I won't sleep due to the imaginings.
The beach is down an old slipway form whaling times the other side of electricity - before it was here - and it's slippery with mud and leaves from my stunted trees. I can't see anything at first and I am starting to have a word with myself for maybe being crazy after all, but then I go round the bend where it gets steeper and see it.
It's a boat, real as the rocks. It's rough, the sale looks to be made out of six others, all stitched together like a giant's patchwork hanky. It's caught on the rocks, lurching as it rests, rocking a shape inside from side to side. I grip my gun harder and watch. The shape has limbs and a head and there's a mess of stuff around it. But it's not moving.
I am awfully ashamed of the first thing that comes to me, an unwanted and hateful thought - meat. I hit myself around the head and shake it, because, NO.
I approach. It does look dead. As I get closer I see it's a mass of rags with skinny limbs sticking out. There's a head under a bird's nest of hair. Around it are empty boxes, material, an old rug, a mangy pillow. Some bones. A fish's head. When I'm close enough to touch, I stop and speak a word. I don't know what I say. What do you say to someone who's dead? It does not stir so I poke it with the butt of my gun. No movement, but there's a soft noise, like a child asleep.
A child? I lift the rags off the face and see young skin, sunburn, dirt, cracked lips. I stare and stare. For how long I don't know but eventually somehting kicks in and I pick up the bundle - so light, too light - and take it home. The boat I leave where it is. I don't care if it floats away; I have no need of it.
Inside the house the same thing that kicked in earlier makes me make hot water and soup. I wash and undress and redress and find myself singing. The human is a child of teenage years perhaps. She doesn't stir. I try not to hurt her soft skin under my rough hands, but cannot help scratching her a little as I clean the muck off her cheeks. She does not move. She is thin like one of those cows we used to see paraded on our screens with GIVE GIVE GIVE scrolling away underneath (so we gave, but nobody gave to us, when the time came), with ribs sticking out and knee bones and elbows like hammers. I make her warm and put her in my bed and try to feed her soup. It drips down her chin but some must go in because she moves her lips, just the tiniest bit. Something flutters in me, a feeling I don't know. Something warm and good. And terrified because what if I kill her, accidentally? She must be close to death. Out of a dusty box in the rafters I find a book on survival and read about being gradual so after a few sips I stop, and wait.
All night long I sit and look at her and in the cold light of morning I will her to live. I feed her more soup. It is evening before something happens. I have assumed she will die because the feeling of hope is too much to bear. I left people for a reason. But there's a flicker across her face, a twitch in her eyes. She opens them and I see her focussing on me. I wait for her fear, but she fixes me with amber-flecked blue eyes, the colour of the sky, and I see relief. And recognition. A mirror, looking back at me.
We smile... together.
The World Leaders, their aids and bodyguards went up and down the central boulevard of the Innovations Arena. The rain drummed on the skylights overhead, but the ceiling was very high and the glass was fairly thick and the rain could not be heard by the World Leaders, not above the clopping of heels and the slapping of backs, the jokes and the laughter, the Hey Theres and How Are Yous.
What the World Leaders saw in the Innovations Arena was much of the same. There were plans to provoke volcanic eruptions with nukes, releasing enough sulphur into the atmosphere to blot out the sun and cool the Earth. There were plans to bail on the planet altogether and either live in an orbiting satellite or colonise Mars. There was even a supermodel spread over a carbon capture and storage obelisk trying to catch the eye of the president of Bangladesh, her nipple tassels twirling like wind turbines.
Much passed the World Leaders by, but one display was causing a clot in the steady flow of them. An independent inventor was drawing a crowd, a man beneath a banner that read ‘The Amazing Treeman’. The inventor wore a red latex lab coat and stood beside a thing concealed under a greying white sheet. Slowly the inventor lifted the shroud, unveiling the thing by degrees, and soon a pair of light brown brogues could be seen. Apparently the thing wore shoes. The inventor’s reserved showmanship was extremely magnetic - the World Leaders couldn't help but stop and watch - and when a good sized audience had formed he whipped off the sheet and cried:
‘Behold! The Amazing Treeman!’
And the World Leaders gasped. Because what had been revealed was a human skeleton sat on a chair. In shoes it leered with gloomy eye-holes and limp lower jawbone. Quickly the World Leaders moved on, some shepherded away by bodyguards speaking into collars.
The World Leaders and their aids and bodyguards went up and down the central boulevard of the Innovations Arena. It was hot out, but inside the tent the air-conditioning was working like a dog. What the World Leaders saw in the Innovations Arena this year was much of the same. But there was more of the same to choose from now – and some of the same was a little bigger than before.
But one display was causing a clot in the steady flow of World Leaders. Yes – our old friend in his red latex lab coat, his thing under the sheet and his banner (‘The Amazing Treeman’). The inventor was as magnetic as he was at COP21, slowly raising the veil, the exact same set up as before – and you may be thinking: Now, why the Hell would World Leaders fall for the same trick twice? But if you are, you forget that World Leaders must employ a certain amount of willful amnesia to be able to sleep at night, especially in relation to events such as these bothersome climate change conferences. (Plus some lose elections, are overthrown, assassinated, et cetera.) Soon a pair of light brown brogues could be seen and something clicked in David Cameron’s brain. Like a cockroach. He said:
‘Ah. I remember this now. It’s a prank. Nothing but a skeleton.’
But the inventor whipped off the sheet and cried:
‘Behold! The Amazing Treeman!’
And the World Leaders gasped. Because it wasn’t a skeleton sat on the chair this year, but a man. He had yellow-brown skin and sat uncomfortably in a starchy shirt. Strapped to his face was a nasal mask, its translucent tubes leading to a silver canister labelled CO2.
‘This,’ said the inventor. ‘Is my son. Once an ordinary boy – he loved to climb trees, ‘til one fateful day he met a wasp’s nest and fell from a high branch to a mossy stone. Broke his neck. Alone in a great forest, slowly dying, nighttime falling, wolves circling – all seemed lost. But then the oak who dropped the boy took pity on him (an oak who took also root in radioactive waste, I later discovered) and began to cry sap. As my son’s heart gave out to the cold the sap dripped into his mouth and by morning he was reborn...’
He took a breath.
‘Half man, half tree. The Amazing Treeman!’
‘Bollocks!’ heckled Putin from the back.
‘No, it’s true,’ said the inventor calmly. ‘And I’ve managed to synthesise the sap in a lab – give me a few years and I’ll have enough for every self-identifying man, woman and child in Europe.’
‘Why would anybody want to be half tree?’ said Trump, but he seemed intrigued.
‘Well,’ said the inventor. ‘The amazing thing about my son is that he absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and breathes out oxygen, like a tree. Also he eats the sun for breakfast, lunch and tea and will live to be hundreds if not thousands of years old. Climate change, hunger and ageing – all done away with. And the only thing YOU have to do is convince folk to swallow a glob of bitter sap.’
The World Leaders looked at each other. They were all thinking the same thing.
This changes everything.
During Summer the people of the UK were treated with the radioactive sap and before Fall everybody was reborn a Treeperson. At first they felt wonderful, but then Autumn came and they experienced terrible skin problems, yellowing and flakiness. The Winter then was cruel, cold and windy, and by Guy Fawkes night nothing was left of the Treepeople but bare boughs, leafless skeletons in hospital beds or skulls resting on hand-bones in silent classrooms or fleshless bodies on settees huddled together before dead TVs.
The deserted roads were littered with heaps of fallen skin.
The Father of the Treepeople and his band of loyalists, who hid in a bunker when the sap fell in glittering chemtrails, collected up the bones of government and used them for firewood. They redistributed the other bones so every Treeperson had somewhere nice to be. While the Queen was a skeleton the Father of the Treepeople carried her gently to a council estate and tucked her up in bed.
Then Spring came and the Treepeople were renewed. Skin returned in fullgrown thickness, the trick recorded only in rings in bone.
The Father of the Treepeople hung up his red latex lab coat and took the throne.
Mac moved rapidly from the bedroom, showered, changed, and threw a coffee down him, so quickly he burnt his mouth, creating a small blister over his bottom lip. As he sped down third avenue, across the steep inclines- the Chevrolets suspension over reacting to the periodic bumps in the road- the swelling on his lip grew. He rubbed at it, conscious of the throb their while sitting at the fourth set of lights. Smoke rose from street-food vendors stoves, and modern, fast food pungency flew around Macs convertible, steering his non existent appetite to nausea. He wish now he’d had time to close its roof now, and take advantage of the clean, odourless air conditioning.
‘ Kalyn’s going to have a fit’ he said aloud, looking at his Rolex. He swept his blonde locks back while glancing in the rear-view, noticing beads of sweat, a days stubble. He also looked at the swell on his lip, an enlarging redness ready to pop, he thought. Mac increased his speed as much as possible, intermittent lights the only restriction preventing a speed limit violation. However, the rear wheels of the Chevrolet span excitedly as he sped away each time. He reached in the glove compartment, removed a bottle of water then tossed it to the floor after realising how warm it felt. Mac cursed loudly. The August morning sweltered against the congestion, and fog-less but stinking emissions stuck to the air like glue. Mac looked at his watch again, considered calling it a day and heading back. Kalyn can put this off till Monday, he thought. On that his mobile rang. Kalyn’s voice.
‘Where the hell are you, Mac’ she squealed through the hands free.
‘ Slept in, Kalyn, sorry and the traffics mad’ he replied calmly, to support his mood that didn’t need any encouragement.
‘ Another late night, Mac. You know how important this is’. This response aroused thoughts of vodka, candlelight and lust. He smiled. Just a little.
‘ I’ll be there in ten’ he said ignoring her remarks, and hung up. Fucking bitch, he thought as he turned on to 15th street. Then he dismissed this anger. A bitch she might be, he decided, but a fucking bitch, no. He drove around the divisions of one-ways, and side streets- a well known short cut he’d figured out on google during afternoons when a brief period of quiet had interrupted his busy schedule. The dismissed water bottle rolled around the passenger floor, as Mac negotiated sharp bends, the maze of side streets, roadworks, and heat that intensified over the city. He was conscious of the blister, that had popped, and warm pus trickling from it towards his chin. He stretched his tongue over the wetness to catch it, feeling ridiculous, as an old lady carrying a grey poodle stared at him through the windscreen. She hobbled as if in apparent strain against her huge mass, that spilled from her orange T-shirt. Mac stared back, conscious of his actions. Then she was gone, into a side street. He approached the huge building next to the Montserrat restaurant, a place Mac discussed all manner of plans over cocktails and late lunches that dwelled in to evenings, further cocktails, fewer plans. He parked his chevy, remembering to close its roof and stick on the air conditioning to comfort his return. It was Saturday morning, and Mac didn’t want this to take very long. But it did.
He embraced the chill of the building, the cold air easing against his clammy stickiness. The huge tinted glass panes looked out on to the silent chaos- green verges of a meadow in the distance awoke sedateness, a comforting reminder of tranquility. Mac went in to the mens, snorted a line, freshened himself up- his lip looking surprisingly less red, and went to meet his counterpart. She awaited him in the vast office, more glass, less wood these days, and the air conditioning even cooler in this room. Something Kalyn liked.
‘We’ve lost it’ she said, almost quietly, as Mac was still closing the door behind him.
‘What?’ he replied approaching her, now less aware of her distressed appearance.
Kalyn looked at him, his presence alarmed her. She may have been looking at his lip, but wasn’t about to comment.
‘Oh yes, Mac we’ve lost it. All of it.’
‘What do you mean all of it Kalyn? What are you talking about?’ He went over to the fridge and pulled out the vodka. He removed two tumblers from the glass cabinet, and poured two generous measures.
‘Oh come on Kalyn, that’s impossible,’ he said, handing her the drink, and knowing that, in fact, it was very likely.
‘He called this morning’ she said, taking the glass. ‘ Said that time was up, and that the deal was off. He said its all off.’
Mac swallowed his drink and re filled. The cocaine refined his thinking, especially in these circumstances. He was grateful for it, particularly when a big deal was about to be lost. In this case he feared it already was, which meant the hit he’d taken moments ago in the mens was essential for his management of the ensuing crisis. At least, that’s what he thought.
‘We promised him, this’d be sown up this morning, Mac. Where the fuck were you?’ She also swallowed her drink- red lipstick remained on the lip of the glass. Mac thought it looked like blood.
‘How on earth can he have folded’ he said ignoring the question. ‘ He shook on this last night. I spoke to him yesterday afternoon. We settled.’ Mac thought he sounded quite convincing. The phone rang. Kalyn ignored it. She poured herself another drink, then filled Macs.
‘He said he wouldn’t be screwed around. Said he’d wait ten more minutes. Right here, Mac right here. This very morning. He said unless you were here he wasn’t going to hand over a penny.’
Mac swept back his hair. The coke may have been working, but the real sense of truth began to sway the urgency to disaster. They both knew the monumental importance of success here not to mention their win. Something that’s once in a lifetime. Something that comes along if you’re just a bit lucky. But Mac knew different.
‘But we shook on it, last night, Kalyn. He’s changed his mind by the look of it.’
‘Mac,’ she said. ‘ You shook on it after lots of bubbly, and lots of this’ she concluded, pointing at her glass. ‘You were having a jolly old time. But he was just whoring you. Rossi is a big player, Mac. You seem to forget that. He doesn’t mess about.’
Mac walked to the windows, the noise of congestion barely audible from this height. The office felt safe up here away from all that heat, he thought and he wished for another hit. He knew an awful lot of money had been lost here. Friendships too. He took the bottle from the table and shared the rest of the contents.
‘ Whoring me’ he said, mostly to himself, musing over this word, unable not to be amused by it, while the dope blended sufficiently with the vodka to subdue his thinking. The previous evenings events also contributed to this. Mac knew he was just 32, but good looks, fast living, and a searing heat wave was a dangerous cocktail for successful business. He didn’t care though.
‘Yes whoring you, Mac, meaning soften you up, trying to get a knock-off. Do you understand?
Mac was stunned she’d heard him mutter loud enough to hear.
‘Bye the way, Mac, his wife was on the phone.’
Mac silenced. What the hell does she want, he thought.
‘What does she want?’ he replied, attempting to sound puzzled.
‘How the fuck should I know, I don’t know the woman.’ She yelled, spilling her drink from sudden reactive movements associated with temper. ‘ What the hell is going on, Mac?’
He looked at her, perversely admiring her anger, aware that this was not the time or place for such thoughts. But so what, he thought.
‘What have you done, Mac,’ she asked. ‘What have you been up to?’ Kalyn walked towards him, her heels clicking and echoing against the cold marble floor. She put her glass down on the glass desk. Mac caressed the vial in his jeans pocket, rubbing his fingers around the small metal container agitatedly.
‘Nothing is going on, Kalyn. Nothing,’ he replied, observing her make-up, and a small amount of mascara that had smeared against the flesh next to her left eye. The phone rang. Kalyn walked back to the desk and snatched up the receiver.
‘Who’s this,’ she asked, knowing that it’d probably be Rossi’s wife.
‘Hold on.’ Kalyn handed the receiver to him.
‘Hello. Who’s this,’asked Mac. Kalyn’s eyes didn’t leave him, hands on her hips.
‘I’ll be there soon.’ he said and replaced the hand set.
‘ I want some answers, Mac. I want some answers now. What the fuck is going here. What have you done?’
Mac knew this was it now. No more cards to play- not that he’d had many to start with. He pulled the small container from his pocket, along with his car keys that fell to the floor. This, he never noticed. He started to prepare a line on the marble surface of the small coffee table set to the side of the main desk.
‘What the hell are you doing,’ she screamed, going for him. Mac pushed her away. She lost her balance, fell against a small statue of Abraham Lincoln, and to the ground.
‘Mac’ she stifled, a trickle of blood ran from a nostril.
Mac sniffed up the white powder then turned to her. He knew this was it but couldn’t have cared a damn for all its worth now. Instead, he admired the way Kalyn lay against the Statue of Abraham Lincoln. Her power diminished. Her big deal smashed. Their big deal smashed. But now it didn’t matter. At all.
‘I’ve been fucking his wife for months,’ he said ‘Many months. I’m glad he’s fucked off. He tried to get greedy, Kalyn. Kept asking for this and that. I was the whore here, Kalyn. Not him. He thought he had one over on us. He didn’t. I’m the whore to his wife as well. Maybe I should tell him that.’ He laughed.
‘You asshole’ she said. ‘You’ve no idea what you’ve done.’
‘I don’t know why I rushed down here this morning. For what?’ he said, ignoring her. ‘ I could have stayed in bed with her, had a lie in, romance, a late lunch, you know, Kalyn.’
He stared at her and smiled. The smile was cold, almost ruthless, without emotion. Kalyn managed to get herself off the floor, and went back behind the desk.
‘But you know all about that, don’t you Kalyn? Course you do.’ He prepared another line, and snorted greedily, not that cocaine is snorted in any other way.
She flung the empty vodka bottle off the desk, but Mac, despite his unsteadiness, batted it away, where it landed and shattered across the marble.
‘Get out of here, now,’ she yelled, mascara melting down her face.
He did, after throwing his empty glass towards her. It missed. A few moments later, Kalyn noticed the keys. She picked them up and quickly headed towards another exit.