Their world was ending.
They knew that from the toll of the church bells. They knew that from the stink of death. They knew that from the carts of seeping corpses being pushed through the streets. It was The Terrible Pox.
The Black Death.
Heat made the stink worse. The screams themselves became more terrible in the summer heat. Screams caused by the boils, and the black blood flowing through veins. The fetid vapours rose, and the drivers of the Death Carts puked from the stench.
There was nowhere to go, and no one to help. The monarch, the nobles, the bishops, and the wealthy, all fled to the country. They locked themselves into grand castles, yet they still died. The doctors, who knew no remedy, also died from their futile efforts.
Neither the poor nor the rich, the young nor the old, women nor men, were spared. They screamed and clawed to their death, and rats fed from their bloated bodies.
Towns and villages became armed camps. Strangers were turned back at the outer limits. Those suspected of the Plague were locked in their homes, sometimes to be burned. People were clubbed, a few were shot, many were buried before they were dead. There was no sorrow, and no mercy shown to any who were a threat.
The living were frantic to prove they still had life.
They ate and drank and danced and fucked as often as their bodies would allow. They were afraid to sleep, so terrified of that fake death with the real all around. They beat on drums, rang the bells frantically, shouted and sang and swore and cried. They rode horses wildly through the streets, until the beasts fell from exhaustion. They pillaged the vacant homes of the rich, looted stores and wine shops, and paraded in the jewels and fine clothes they had stolen. Women and girls and boys were raped and sodomised by strangers and kinfolk alike.
They did anything for action, anything to prove they were different from the rotting corpses in the carts, which trundled through the streets toward mass graves. They played all the more, and when some fell slavering in their midst, they were kicked into the gutters and forgotten.
It was a time for witches and charlatans. People would believe anything, take any quackish product, if it promised to save their lives. Ghosts walked the land while crops rotted from neglect. It was the end of the world for those who knew no better.
In my novel, The Fifth Corner Of The Earth (which I class as a contemporary history) five people, decedents of five people through the centuries, must come together to decide whether it is time to end the Earth – the proverbial End Times. But this time, one of those chosen is a woman. And women’s power is described.
She went along the hallway, turned down a longer, narrower corridor, and came to her brother’s room.
She knocked on the door, but when there was no reply, she called again.
“Please, Atropos. Come in.”
She lifted the latch and walked into the darkened room. She went down a few steps, and crossed the stone floor, until she came to the thick wool rug which covered the area beneath the bed. Her brother stretched his hand along the bedclothes.
“It is almost time for you to leave?”
“In the half hour.”
“You’ve been troubled.” He sat higher in the bed. “How are you feeling now?”
“That’s supposed to be my question.” She laughed nervously.
“I feel as I am – closer to death.” Markos pulled at the bedclothes. “We must not pretend anything different.”
“There’s always the chance – ”
“You’re talking to your brother – your younger brother to whom you have taught so much. Of course I know of `chance’.”
Markos started to cough, and doubled over as the sound filled the room.
“You see.” He forced a laugh. “As if on cue.” He held up his hand as she came closer. “They would have to give me new lungs, to do any good now. There is no place for `chance’.”
“Do you want a drink?” She reached for the pitcher of water.
“I want to talk.” As he again sat up, he pointed past the water on the table. “Get it for me, please.”
She stretched and took the black envelope in her hand. As she gave it to Markos, the sun insignia on the back glowed in the dimness of the room.
“Thank you, Atropos.” He lay it on the covers in front of him. “And thank you for the honour of asking my council.”
“Markos, I – ”
“It means a lot to me.” He held up her hand to stop her words. “You still have confidence in the advice I can give.”
“Of course I have – ”
“Ah, my sister.” He spoke slowly. “The dead and near dead have one thing in common. They no longer need to be humoured.” He touched her hand. “I don’t want to be a weight on your mind when you’re away.”
“How can I stop thinking about you?”
“I don’t ask that.” He smiled. “I hope I’m always in your thoughts. That’s how I’ll keep alive.”
“You feel too much, sometimes, Atropos. Is that part of being a woman?”
“I don’t know.” She forced a smile.
“I think it is.” He pushed one of the pillows more firmly beneath him. “I think it’s because you can bring life into existence – you can actually feel a soul develop inside you. Women have a touch of God within them because of that.”
Markos hesitated, his breathing more laboured. He looked at his sister intently, his eyes hot from fever.
“Men will always envy you that power. We envy you the power to create life, and the feelings it must give.” He smiled abruptly. “Our duty done, we really become quite superfluous.”
“You surprise me.” Atropos spoke softly.
“What have I got to lose by letting you know of my primordial envy? My fears and inferiority mean nothing at death’s door.” He looked away. “I no longer dread you will turn them against me, and look upon me with contempt.”
“Markos. I would never have done that.”
“I am like all humans, Atropos. I have doubt of my own worth held within me like an insoluble capsule. Your words can’t dissolve it – even the knowledge of death leaves it untouched.” He stroked his chest. “Death just puts it in perspective.”
“I don’t feel that way.”
“No, you don’t.” His hand stopped moving. “And I suspect the others whom you are soon to meet are spared this most human failing.” He closed his eyes. “I want to make certain you understand. We humans are forced to carry this sense of worthlessness around like a curse. Remember that when you decide about us.”
“But where does it come from?”
“That question … ”
Markos turned his head. He opened his eyes, and looked out at the blue sky framed by the small window. Sunlight would soon be streaming through.
“I am not going to live long enough to answer that question.” He looked back at her. “Come closer.”
“What is it?” She leaned over the bed.”
“Don’t worry about me.” He clasped her hands in a strong grip. “I’m prepared for what it to happen to me – and accept it. Tell me you do the same.”
“I know you are going to die.” She searched for words. “I’m not sure I can accept it.”
“Then believe me, my honest sister, when I say I am content.” Markos stared at her face. “Tell me that my death will not cloud your mind on your journey.”
“I’ll keep you in my mind and heart.” She momentarily lost her breath. “Always. My sadness won’t distract me.”
Markos sighed, and his hands relaxed. He then picked up the envelope which had fallen beside him, and handed it to her.
She took it, then bent and kissed him.
“Good bye, Markos.”
“God guard you, Atropos.”
For some reason, this observation (from – perhaps – an unreliable observer from one of my short stories) has been the most popular post of the last couple of years. Yes – even beating out Kafka. So I’ll give it another turn
“Circles are the answer.
“Just look at any circle and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, no one else is to know about the circles. They must be very stupid if they can’t see something so obvious.
“Yet, you get hints, don’t you – all the time out there. And in your own life – the way things happen so you never get anywhere. Never change.
“The earth, of course, and the sun – well, that’s something you can see. Either way you look at it, the one goes around the other in a big circle that takes in the whole sky. And the earth and the sun and the moon are round – all circles in their own right. So you have circles which are going around in circles, if you get my meaning.
“And if you look further – reach out into the universe as far as you can go – they tell us that everything is going around everything else. Smaller circles and elongated circles which take in such large distances that numbers become forgotten.
“Now, this means that everything, eventually, comes back upon itself. The beginning is really the end. That’s what most people would think – and that’s where they make their mistake.
“You see, things don’t start by beginning – they start by ending. It’s the end which comes first in a circle, so, instead of going back to where it started, it comes back to its end.
“That explains it.”
From: The Elephant Talks To God
The elephant surveyed the remnants of shattered trees, the gouged earth, and the still turbulent waves.
“You know,” he said, looking up at the storm cloud hovering overhead, “A herd of us on the rampage have got nothing on you, when the mood strikes. You trying to tear down in one night what it took seven days to create?”
“Six days,” noted the cloud. “On the seventh … ”
” … day you rested,” finished the elephant. “You gotta be patient with us lumbering beasts; after all, you didn’t give us fingers so we could count.”
“But I did give you memories.” said the cloud.
“I know,” said the elephant. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“And this display,” added God, “Looks far worse than it is.
Natural forces occur to keep my earth in a happy balance. Life is already reviving and reasserting itself.”
“Could you not be a bit more gentle?”
“My winds must go somewhere,” said God. “As you already mentioned, even elephants go upon the occasional rampage.”
“I’ve never done anything like this,” said the elephant.
“You’ve not seen yourself from the ant’s point of view,” answered God.
In my novel, The Rags Of Time, travel to the outer edges of Earth’s solar system has been accomplished. But the Moon still holds its sway – literally.
To celebrate the space outing of fifty years ago. I’ll post another segment of my written ascent through the heavens. My crew are returning from their trip to the outer reaches of our solar system. and something goes awry. There is no Huston to contact, but there is a problem.
The Captain, Eric the Red, turns to again look at Pluto.
“If it’s not internal, then it must be external.”
He shifts the image of Pluto to a larger screen.
“Although, quite frankly, that concept isn’t much better than its alternative.”
He tries to sharpen the focus on the large screen. After a minute of adjusting the controls, he shrugs his shoulders in failure.
“That indistinct picture is not due to our sensors. Have the other stations turn their view screens to Pluto. See if they get the same results.”
While Malcolm checks with the other observation officers, Eric the Red again runs a sweep of his instruments. As he thoroughly goes over each one, he pays attention to the responses received by his first officer. It is quickly apparent the same fuzzy image appears over the whole ship.
“Any ideas, Number One?”
“I think our movement is being disrupted.” Malcolm looks at the same sequence of instruments. “I’d guess there’s agitation in our centrifugal rotation.” He peers closely at the view screen. “It can’t be much. Our artificial gravity doesn’t seem affected.”
“You don’t look in danger of floating away.” The captain smiles. “So I doubt this explains my `light-headedness’.”
“No, sir.” Malcolm can not tell how serious the older man is. “The rotation alteration is minimal. It is just enough to make our cameras waver.” He taps the view screen. “Considering how sensitive they are, I would judge this force to be weak.”
“Any guess what it is?”
“No data suggests a malfunction within the ship.” Malcolm moves a dial a millimetre. “Which leaves an outside cause.”
“Well.” The captain leans so close his nose touches the view screen. “I think we’re being influenced by the mysterious Tenth.”
“Yes.” He turns back to his first officer. “With Pluto and Charon positioned the way they are, and our attempt to execute the Hohmann-ellipse to take advantage of the Film Technique, we may have added the weight of Iris to our backs.”
“The alignment shouldn’t be intense enough to – ”
“Iris is so perversely inconsistent, it doesn’t have to fit into our ideas of alignment to make itself felt.” The captain makes some inclusions into the library computer. “After all, we’re the ones entering its sphere of influence.”
“It is a minor influence.” The first officer makes some quick calculations in his head. “We could accept a reduction of our artificial gravity for the duration of the manoeuvre.”
“That’s a viable option.” Eric the Red looks up co-ordinates to enter into the computer. “But we can negate the problem without weakening our reserves.” He inserts a bar of information into the computer. “Run an evaluation of our solar cells.”
Malcolm walks to the banks of light-activated monitors surrounding the doorway. He takes a laser probe from his instrument pouch, and traces it across a screen. As the figures appear, he reads them aloud. Most are at full capacity.
“Do you see what I’m getting at, Number One?”
“Yes, sir. We use some of this power to counter the effect of Iris.”
“Exactly.” The captain smiles. “We don’t touch our reserve fuel, and we replenish the solar storage during our last month of earth approach.”
The captain pauses to read a number off his computer screens. He performs some equations on his hand-calculator, then turns to look at his first officer.
“If the Film Technique is successful, we’ll save nine to fourteen days.”
Eric takes a binder from under his work station, and flips through its pages. He enters data into both his computer and his calculator, and talks over his shoulder.
“If we use solar packs A7, A12, A17, K12, K13, O2, O5, S37, then form a Perpetual Loop between the GOT Terminal and the S37 Positive Outtake, we’ll only exhaust 252 of the solar cells. The depletions will be uniform, and restricted to known sectors.”
Malcolm is also doing calculations from the laser screens. He doesn’t look up as he speaks.
“That will give us more excess power than necessary to confront the drag from Iris.”
“Yes.” The captain closes the binder. “But with the Loop, we have the option of creating a surge to replenish some used cells, instead of venting the surplus.” He swivels around in his chair. “We should begin the manoeuvre at the first opportune time.”
“That will be five hours and thirty-seven minutes.” Malcolm crosses the floor to stand beside the captain.
“Advise the crew, and have them double monitor until we correct the interference of our rotation.”
(Image) https: //www.rocketstem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/AS11-0629-69H-977.jpg
As A Bonus – here is a link to:
In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.
08 April 1917
I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal.
It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.
I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone.
It fell to me to find the flowers.
Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.
I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them.
“Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.” “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.
Tiny white flowers.
I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.
The relief they showed.
I saw a sight that I believe I have actually never seen, though it is fabled the world over.
Standing on the front stoop to test the air I saw a robin on the grass. Robins are rather skittish and usually, when a human presence is so close, it will make them hop (and they truly do *hop*) away. But this one stayed put.
My understanding is that birds ‘hear’ the worms under the earth – that is how they detect them. I assume that is why they so often have their head in a cocked position. However, for this robin, the listening part of the chase was over.
As I watched the robin made a strike into the earth with its beak. It was then that an almost cartoon-like image occurred. The bird had a portion of the worm in its beak and began to pull. It pulled and pulled and the worm stretched and stretched. It made me think of someone pulling a threaded needle from the fabric they were sewing. The length of the worm became even longer than the robin’s body. With this constant and slow tug, the worm finally popped out of the earth.
Then the robin had a go at it.
The bird took at the long, brown earthworm and began to snip off pieces with its beak. It could not have been more effective if it had a pair of scissors. Substantial, beak-sized pieces which it swallowed quickly. The long earthworm became shorter and shorter, giving the robin less to hold on to. In under two minutes the worm became one remaining morsel hanging from the robin’s beak. It was only then that the robin began to hop across the grass. The last piece of worm disappeared inside the robin and the robin quickly took off.
One satisfied predator.
One less worm.