Poor Poet's Scroll

"No sword
Of wrath her right arm whirl'd, [6]
But one poor poet's scroll, and with 'his' word
She shook the world." - Tennyson, 'The Poet'

I may not shake the world, but I do believe in the power of words.

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19. When the wild wind blows

When the Wild Wind Blows

Have you seen what they said on the news today
Have you heard what they said about us all
Do you know what is happening to just every one of us
Have you heard, have you heard? – Iron Maiden


The birds wheel in manic circles through skies leaden with dismal clouds. A fierce, dry air whispers through the blades of grass that gasp for moisture, a moisture that hasn’t been seen for months. Trees once green and lush now stand as if winter has rushed by, yanking off their rich leafy coats. It is not winter. It is spring but seasons mean nothing anymore.

A wooden hut squats in the shelter of the hills, and the owner stands leaning against the door. The hut he built with his own hands still stands, despite what nature has thrown at it. Winds, floods and forked lightening that sent most of the fields around him burning could not bring it down.  He’s alone, the only person in the solitary landscape. When he realised humans could no longer help him, he decided to move away and die in solitude, rather than be haunted by the screams of civilisation.

Once again, the wind ripples through the tortured landscape and the grass blades rattle, creating a sound score for a horror film.  The man lifts his wizened face upwards and observes the dark clouds that are shooting across the skies. a tremor runs through his body.  Silently, he peels away from the door frame and heads back into the darkness of the house, settling down onto a threadbare chair.  To any outsider, he would seem poor, struggling. The truth is money is just paper. Money will not save any nation from what is out there. In the past it perhaps could have, but not now.

He flicks on the small, battered television and it whines and crackles into life. Horizontal lines flow up and down the screen and the voice of the speaker is distorted. It’s an old set but the man knows when there are problems like these, somewhere down the line, the thing is already consuming. It’s started on its path to destruction.

As the picture sharpens then distorts, the man sees the familiar face of the prime minister, sat in a news studio, extravagant.

“They have warned us before about problems like these, about what we could have done to save ourselves and future generations. Does this advice still stand? Or should we now look for a way to survive?”  The interviewer sounds unconcerned. He’s doing the same job, asking the same questions as he has for years. He knows there’s thousands watching. Thousands listening. Thousands just killing time.

“No. It’s a problem that has been talked about for years and years, before our lifetime. It’s just another scare, another panic. My advice to those who are concerned is simply, don’t be. It’s not going to happen in our lifetime so why should we care?”

The man turns off the set, banishing the prime minister’s face.

“Liars,” he mumbles. He can see right through these deceivers, like looking at glass statues with their emotions on display, a wacky gallery exhibit. They are scared. They are worried but it’s got to a stage where they can do nothing. Hiding seems to be the only way to escape. Of course, they won’t.

He staggers to his feet, his back cracking, his knees unlocking. Wincing in pain, he pauses for a moment for the white heat to pass, then shuffles towards the door and into the car. Keys in the engine and he’s driving down the gravel track, away from the shadow of the hills into the open expanse, the hinterland.

In the distance, the city grows, from a spiky orb into a central hub of activity. Cars shoot out onto the freeway, as if the city has given them the boot. Smoke chokes the air above it, creating swirling, sweating clouds that statically slug about. As the man comes into the suburbs, he sees people walking about with masks to protect them from the poisoned atmosphere. He remembers that not so long ago, the air was free from these pollutants. That was a lifetime ago, yet it was still in his lifetime.

Greed sits behind glass windowed lights; designer items as tempting as chocolates. People rush in and out of these shops in a frenzy, never having enough time, never having enough. Behind the wheel, the man snorts. It’s not these things the people need.

He pulls up outside the supermarket and makes his way through the open doors, receiving a blast of sticky, stifling air that momentarily punches the air from his lungs. Rows and isles filled with banal items face him; taunt him as he steps inside. These rows of makeup, of clothes, toys are as insignificant as paper.

One thing is useful in this vast expanse of uselessness. The tinned food is stacked high. Sweetcorn, peas, tomatoes, meals. Clearly no one has touched this stuff, or if they have, it is a minority of the city’s population. The man carefully selects ten of each item he deems may see him through, the emptiness of his trolley being slowly filled.

As he moves to where water is kept, the stack of his tins in his trolley draws many responses from passers-by. A man with a six pack of beer in his hands strolls by, eyebrows raised.

“Woah mate, preparing for the apocalypse are we?” he jokes, rewarded with sniggers from nearby shoppers. The old man shoots him a withering look.

 “They will protect me much better than those cans will.”

The man looks disgusted and brushes past. “Weirdo.”

Shrugging the insult off, the man reaches for the massive bottles of water and loads them on top of the cans. Again, a mum of two toddlers, who sit blissfully ignorant in the trolley, shoots him a curious look.

“Don’t listen to the news, they obscure the truth. Prepare dear. Make sure you protect the young’un’s.”

“Do you think we are in danger this time? It’s happened so often, I’m not sure whether to bother any more. Each time there’s damage yes, but most people always survive.”

She’s so naive yet he admires her. Clearly, she has tried but is on the point of giving up.

“This time, yes. Those who accept the lies face grave danger. Those who don’t have a chance.”

He moves on, not wanting to say anything else, leaving her with these pearls of wisdom. Whether she will listen is debatable but he feels she is more aware than most in the city.

At the checkout, the woman gives him a look that immediately denotes him, labels him as ‘strange.’ She doesn’t try to ask, placing him into a category that she is scared off. Inwardly he sighs. If only she asked. One question and she would understand. Ignorance is bliss though and she clearly holds onto this accepted rule, despite its flaw.

He drives away from the city of fear, looking back in his mirror to one last sight. He may well never see this city again. For all the mighty structures that cannot fall, it is not safe. As for the people….they can be safe but only if they wake up.

His home looks even more isolated, even more solitary when he arrives back. It is not fancy. It looks out of place when sat beside all the modern evolutions of the city. Yet again, he questions the glamour, the façade of it all. A house is a house. A house is a home. Neither a house nor a home though is a shield behind which you can hide.

It takes frequent journeying to and from the car before he has brought all his purchases inside. Once done, he walks to the kitchen, and scoops up a load. Out of the door and into the atmosphere that is starting to scream with pain as unseen compression chokes it.  The man heads to the trapdoors that jut slightly out of the ground, and takes a key out of his pocket. It fixes with a click into the lock and he yanks back the stiff metal doors that squeal painfully loudly into the silent skies.

He fills the small underground chamber slowly but surely, lining the shelves until it becomes a colourful display of modern art. Hauling duvets and mattresses, he creates a small bed in the corner of the room. Photos are brought from the house; a woman features in a large portion of them. A small pile of books, so rare and precious these days since technology obliterated paper and replaced it with pixels.

When he has done all this, the skies are black. His windows exude the only light for miles; pinpricks of gold flooding onto the ground. It is time.

He picks up the small black and white cat that rubs against his leg and turns his back on the house, determined not to look back, wanting to avoid the chilling finality that has arrived. Carefully he climbs down into his shelter, closing and bolting the doors above him. Now he waits.

In the dim light he waits in a tense expectancy. He knows what is coming but he does not know its nature. Will he emerge into a world totally destroyed or a world battered but still standing?  These days, he does not know whether he will live another day or die in a moment…

A pounding starts on the doors, as if someone is begging to get in. Many times before he’s nearly fallen for this trick of the storm and gone to open the doors, stopped at the last minute by the terrifying underlay of howls, shrieks and cracks. This time, he falls again, climbs up and puts his hand on the bolts. A solid thud rings around the metal above him and he swears a small section dents inwards. For the first time he feels fear. The chamber is safe. It’s safe. It’s built for this. He cannot sedate the panic fluttering within his chest.

He presses his ear against the cold metal and hears the familiar shrieking of nature’s banshees, small thuds growing in frequency, the mourning winds. Fierce heat came in blasts, brushing over his face with searing vehemence. When the earth begins to shudder, he hopes that his death is quick and painless,

He backs away, retreating into the corner, his lips moving in frantic prayer, only imagining what is going on up there. Picking up the cowering cat into the corner, he holds it close, feeling the wild beat of the small heart.

It is playing a game with him. For long moments, it stops and the man regains hope, edging closer to the doors. At the last minute, the storm will drive him back down into shelter that has now become a prison. Oxygen seems to be thinning, through his own fear or the horror above, he cannot tell.

So he waits. Waits. Waits. Prays to a god whose existence faded a long time ago…

 

It has been silent for a while now. The man decides to risk all, edges forward, pauses. He is terrified. With a trembling hand, he reaches up and undoes the bolt, cowering immediately. Nothing but a white oblivion hits him which he confuses for death. The whiteness remains but dims slightly, so that he is able to see without blinding white pain in his retinas. He staggers up and tears flow unchecked from his eyes.

His house has gone, swallowed up by a colossal rift that zigzags like an angry scar through the landscape. In the distance, the hills have shrunk, now just mounds of earth. Every single blade of grass has been torn, roots and all so now he’s looking at a field that looks like it’s been ploughed. On the horizon should be the silver glint of the city but there’s now a flare of orange and plumes of thick grey. An acrid stench hangs in the air, unbearably warm; he can see the translucent shimmers rising from the earth.

Looking up, he can see a dark underlay above the sky. Space. The ozone layer is destroyed. It is about as practical as wisps of cotton stretched beyond use. He sits down, head in his hands.

Earth lives another day.

 

There will be a catastrophe the like we've never seen
There will be something that will light the sky
That the world as we know it, it will never be the same
Did you know, did you know?- Iron Maiden

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