Verdant

Normally people worry about deforestation, global warming and carbon dioxide levels rising astronomically throughout the years. But they never consider the other side of the spectrum where carbon dioxide levels are in decline while oxygen rises and trees are over populating the planet.
People don’t fear trees.
But they should.
They are what really started the apocalypse after all.

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2. Day 1,112

One

Day 1,112

“Hey, fuckmuffin!”

In a small, cramped and rather humid room, a young woman sits hunched over a bike, humming along to the random and persistent tune in her head. Clutched in one hand is a ratchet. The other, a bottle of WD-40. She drags the mouth evenly from one end of chain to the next, poking at cracks with an itchy trigger finger. Grabbing at the pedal, she drags it down with a concentrated grimace. Beside her elbow the wheel spins, smooth and even. She doesn’t need the annoying new arrival distracting her from her work. Sighing she shook her head to dislodge any sweaty auburn locks from her forehead and in front of her eyes.

“Tater tits!”

Rising to her feet, she cracks her back loudly and wipes her fingers on a nearby rag, smearing the grease on her fingers but not necessarily getting rid of it altogether.

She can hear the heavy booted feet thunder down the steps and she sighs yet again as the elephant feet make the lanterns shake.  If the feet got any heavier, if that was even possible, the lanterns would break. The trade and the rations needed to pay for them were at the moment nonexistent to her.

“Assbutt!”

Turning, she cocks an eyebrow at the sudden visitor and places her hands on her hips. The young man that entered was one with a buzz cut of brown hair and disapproving baby blue eyes. The room is half lit, they are underground after all so it wasn’t full of illumination, but the synthetic pulsing light of the lantern casts awkward shadows. The young man’s eyelashes cast rapidly changing and long shadows as he blinks swiftly, in hope of his eyes adjusting to the pressing darkness. He had never liked being underground, claiming it was too claustrophobic, so his appearance is a shock to her.

Her nose crinkles. “Do you have to swear?” The exasperation in her voice is quickly shoved away as the young man turns back to face the door and consult the sign resting there. It read rather ironically;

Welcome to day 1,112 of the apocalypse!

You have survived 3 years and 17 days!

The numbers are written by the young woman’s hand and are nearly illegible; however, the point still stands. The young man points at the sign and flicks it with a disgusted finger. “You’ve been holed up in here for three whole days! That’s seventy two hours in the dark Harley,”

The man hopes that the use of her name, and not a nickname or a designated swear word, is enough to grab her attention firmly by the reigns. It does the opposite of his desired effect; it gets her riled up, her shoulders hunching and muscles tensing.

“So…” She huffs, crosses her arms and smearing the old grease on her forearms. It causes her to leisurely flick at the dried dark patches on her skin.

“It’s not healthy for you,” he tries to take a few steps towards her but he notices how she curls up into herself somewhat and he halts his approach.

“You’ve only known me for 6 months Jace, don’t try to presume what’s good and what’s bad for me.” She starts to get defensive and she starts to idly push the wheel of the bike behind her to give her hands something to do. Due to this action she is partially turned away from Jace and doesn’t see what his actions are next.

The boy in question rubs a tired hand over his tired face and momentarily closes his eyes. After a tense minute of silence he crosses the length of the room and forces her to turn to face him, he grips her arms so she can’t get away from him without some considerable effort.

“I may not have known you for long but your health is a big concern, if not for you or me but for your father – “

“Don’t even go there,” she almost yells, her words echoing three times in the cramped room. She takes the effort to twist and squirm in his hands, transferring brushes of grease onto his skin. After some attempts she is finally free from him and promptly flees to the opposite side of the room. She is glad of the space, however small that it is, between them.

“Your father who left two days ago and needs you to be well for when he returns. You are understandably worried about him and you hole yourself in this darkness to be close to him in a way.” Jace doesn’t know what to do with his arms and is stiffly swinging them to and fro near his waist. He wants her to see sense, he needs her to.

In the aforementioned two days earlier her father had been hunched enthusiastically over a bike on the same table that Harley is facing now. She never knew what the bike was for, another errand of her father’s she thought, but she had known that it was important. Her father didn’t spend a week of near sleepless nights for nothing. She had turned to the man, her hands had rested against her waist as her hips slanted to the left, nudging the table. “Did everything go well?”

She knew that it was a stupid question but the father and daughter did always play a game of ignorance just for the informative conversation that was sure to follow.

Her father had rolled his eyes, then grabbed at a sheer sheet draped over a lump on the table, and he pulled it aside to reveal a sleek, silver racing bike. “Maintained and lubed,” he had told her tiredly. But the smile on his face made his eyes light up like crystal balls. His fingers came up to trace along the front tire, where a slim box had been fitted to the wheel. “Affixing the magnet gave me a bit of trouble, since glue and screws are pretty hard to come by, but I have my ways.”

Her father had grinned and Harley didn’t even want to know how he came across the rarities or what he had had to trade to gain them.

“Will rain bother it?”

“It should be fine.” Eyes fixed on the bike, he had sighed. “I always make creations that are fine, you know that.”

His brow had crinkles marring it and his hands had left the bike in order to take place on his daughter’s shoulders, “Something is bothering you.” He had not phrased it as a question because he knew his daughter.

“What if someone sees you on this they’ll…?”

“But they won’t; I’ll be careful.” Her father had adamantly assured her, even though they both knew that if anybody questionable saw the bike they would do anything to obtain it; such luxuries and beauties like the bike were rare to say the least.

It was the apocalypse, a time of severe crisis. In times of crisis, it was a simple and known fact that, the true self of a person came out. Whatever they did under pressure said a lot of who they really were.

Her father had reached into the deep pocket of his overalls and retrieved two Snickers bars, the wrappers crisp and smooth despite the faded label. “Consider this a gift to tide you over while I’m gone,” he had laughed but had informed her evenly.

Harley had laughed and taken the sweets rolling them in her palms. “Where are you actually going?”

Her father didn’t answer that and instead waved his arms to stop her as he adjusted the lights in the lanterns so that they shone brightly on the bike. He had known that he had to be careful, electricity was also in short supply.

“Wait,” he had urged her quickly. “I need to check the hub dynamo first.”

“Dad?” She muttered, playing along with the game of ignorance and she knew that it would bring a smile back onto his face.

“What?”

“English.”

The man had rolled his eyes, then had grabbed at the bike to turn it over. His fingers rested at the center of the back wheel, where a large silver hub has been affixed to the center axle. “This is your hub dynamo,” he told her. “When this,” he tapped the magnet affixed to the tire, “passes by this,” his finger snapped to the opposing lump glued to the seat stay, “then you get electricity – as you already know going by the look you're giving me right now – which then charges the hub dynamo and spins your wheel a bit for you and charges your flashlight.”

“Which means you have to pedal when you ride,” she had replied condescendingly.

“Yeah, sure,” he had drawled back snappishly. “Or you could just turn over your bike and spin the wheels a bit to charge it, which is easier.” Grabbing at the textured pedal, he rotated it in lazy circles. He grinned smugly as the lamp affixed between the handlebars sputtered to life. As he reached for the handle-break, he drew the wheels to a slow stop before he turned to his daughter with a grin. The lamp continued to shine, undeterred, for a few long seconds before it faded to a gentle glow and sputtered out entirely. “Provided I don’t crash into anything, I should be fine.”

Harley had simply just smiled with him as she replied “And if you do crash, you’ll repair it?”

He had shrugged, “Then I will fix it, ‘cause I’m just that good!”

They had both laughed then and her father had taken her into his gigantic arms, as he used to do when she was just a child and was telling her why he called her Harley.

“Where are you going, Dad?” Harley had asked again, persistent with her question.

“On an errand,” he had replied. His errands were always elusive, taking up sometimes days or weeks of his time and with him returning with more dust, ashes, and bruises than anything else.

Harley remembered that she had sighed and had wished to see her father’s face but as she knew want never got you anything. Hugging was just a way in which the participants could hide their faces. And so Harley had suppressed a silent tear and watched her father withdraw from her, pick up the bike and his supplies, and then leave through the hatch in the roof.

He had disappeared into the light and she didn’t know when he would return.

Now, as she stands facing Jace she is indignant, “it’s got nothing to do with my Dad.”   

“Sure, sure. And I don’t swear a lot,” Jace’s laughter carried some likeness to a dog’s bark. Again dogs are something that people don’t see every day in an apocalyptic world, where the overabundance of oxygen racks so much havoc on cells that it caused them great illness and then death.

“I don’t have time for these charades, Jace! Just let me do my job down here,” Harley went back to fixing things on the bike, throwing the dirty rag over her shoulder and doing her best to block Jace out.

“I hope you’ve noticed this by now but no one has time anymore, we are literally dying as the oxygen levels go up. But you spend the days up to your death in the dark rotting with bikes and oil, have fun!” Jace felt so much disappointment in not only himself but with Harley that he quickly left the underground room. Grimacing, instead of smiling as he usually did, at the light and sun that lit up his face, he makes his way to the village on the ground and then to the houses in the treetops. He is greatly in favour of light instead of darkness and doesn’t know how Harley deals with it. If he was ever honest with himself he would find that he didn’t know who Harley really was.

Underneath the ground, Harley feels tired; she is sick of feeling tired, sick of the darkness, and sick of the freaking apocalypse. Making her way to her father’s desk she looks at the map of Britain and the notebook that covered the seas.

In the partial light she can just about read her father’s script:

You have to consider, also, that source of ignition becomes much more expansive when increased oxygen availability makes fires easy to start. It isn’t an instant global firestorm incinerating the planet, or anything on that drastic level but it is bad.

On the heels of that: What happens when huge amounts of organic matter burn?  Huge amounts of combustion products: namely, soot and carbon dioxide (and the rapidity and efficiency of oxidizing carbon to carbon dioxide increase very quickly with increasing oxygen availability). Soot and ash are not friendly to life, generally, at least not until they're recycled into the soil by the very sorts of organisms that are most likely to be killed by high oxygen partial pressures. Much more to the point is the global warming triggered by that huge release of carbon dioxide. Despite the massive deposit of these contributors to global warming, flora is increasing in its growth rate and oxygen levels still continue to rise.

Underneath there is a list of the towns and cities in Britain which has been reduced to nothing but ashes. It is so long that it makes Harley feel depressed. She has to abandon her father’s favorable words and instead take refuge in the dark, without the illuminating lamps, and go to sleep.

As sleep overcomes her she realises that tomorrow she will have nothing to do but go topside and face the music, face the terror of the apocalypse.

Her last thought before she became lost to sleep is this: My name is Harley Davidson, I was named after a bike that my Dad first met my mother on, I am seventeen years old and I may die within any day now because of oxygen. I will join my mother in the ground and I will leave my Dad behind, who I don’t even know is still alive, if he is alright, or where he is. And I am so freaking tired, of absolutely everything. 

 

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