Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fire, Ice and the Whole Wide World

The story of the end of our world

"You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow" - Cormac McCarthy


The fire of the sun rose fresh, its flames cutting sharp shards of white glass through the rain drenched air, filling the sweeping, flooding, turning river with blinding light. Luc van Lierde sat inside the cave, clinging to blankets, the soft gray feathers of coals a cool cushion in the dark corner behind his head. Light bounced off the waters, playing against the mountainside, sending splinters into the cave. He lay there, eyes closed, but wide awake. Cold. Thinking.
An hour later he was pulling on his trousers: camouflaged cargo pants. A brown sweat and dirt stained long sleeve shirt. He was cold, so he draped a dirty gray blanket around him. The light blinded him. His face and eyes pained in the cold and powerful light.
The habit was set. He emerged slowly, carefully. For long entire minutes, his gray green eyes trained over the glistening wet mountainside. He emerged very slowly and sat beside a withered bush that bounced and scratched beside him against the light and the dry cold wind.

Luc remained there a long time, unfocussing his eyes so as to pick up movement, a flash of metal or glass above the shimmering spectacle of water.
Below him the Moordenaarskuil River had become a monster that had devastated, like so many other once natural, once benign features, the surrounding landscape. Though it flowed swiftly like a super river, something as large and powerful as the Amazon, or Ganges, it was a deadly torrent filled with debris, and while he watched, distant trees fell silently into the maelstrom, and small cakes of hillside slipped into the water.

After an hour crouching, he moved carefully along a contour, a few short movements, then a few more, sticking low to the ground. He moved to the shoulder of Botlierskop, a pyramidal shaped hill protruding oddly out of the centre of an otherwise broad and now completely submerged valley, its strange steep slopes contrasting with the even and gradual sinking of other folded mountains. He glanced over the shoulder towards Mossel Bay. It was not easy to tell where the sea ended and the new enormous lagoon began. He tried to make out a single intact colored rectangle – which might be a distant house – but he knew it was silliness.
Emerging from the aircraft, he remembered, driving along the highway, they had seen the water. And the next day, finally, houses had started to rip, one by one,more and more, from their foundations like corn from a cob. The wind and the water raged from on and on, as Nature’s Infinite Fury was unleashed here also.
Roads were awash, the sky was a waterfall, people locked hands and the long human snake made towards higher ground. They had been tens, hundreds, and the rain just kept coming down. More and more were swept away. Then they had tried to save each other.

He noticed a small movement. He blinked. His eyes swiveled left and right.
His eyelids narrowed.
A young man, a teenager, seeing him now, turned tail and sprinted down the hillside, leaping to a boulder, and then disappearing. A branch wagged erratically, like a skeletal hand, as if to remind Luc where the young man had gone.

Luc’s left hand balled slowly into a fist. He allowed himself to breathe. The other, a scarred right hand gripped the cool wet edge of limestone outcrop. Pebbles crunched a small biscuit noise as he turned, still crouching, and skulked back to the cave. He made straight for a particular nook, and drove his fingers into a small crevice he’d excavated. He withdrew a spear, a dagger and a small leather satchel. Weaponised, he returned stealthily to his previous position.

He did not need to wait long before a head popped up quickly behind a distant rock two hundreds metres below his position. He allowed himself four small nods, the resolve hardening in him. Yes, it was as he had feared. But this was not the first time, and it would not be the last. Someone else knew about his shelter. He did not have to fear monkeys or rabbits or rats. He had to face, today, this morning, the most dangerous predator of all: a human being.

Next: The Hunt

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