First story off the block. Wrote this quickly, without too much thought beyond a central premise and simple structural idea. Just write it down!
Science-fiction imagery is really appealing to me, especially when abstracted slightly to explore broader thematic ideas. Philip K Dick's short stories are great, but often quite literal - taking his dystopian imagery and pushing it into less tangible territory is an idea I think I'll play with a lot this year.
Cool, crisp air bites at his dry lips. He’s felt this sort of cold before, once. It wakes him up, resets his focus. His feet scrape along wet pavement, glistening under orange streetlights. He buries his hands, numb against the chill, deep into his pockets. Head down. Onward.
It had happened more slowly than anyone had thought. At first, people were fascinated. Gripped and moved by the bundle of energy that announced itself warmly on a quiet corner. People would come and sit and watch as it pulsed and glowed, flecks of debris and dead leaves picked up by its wake, swirling around its centre. Beautiful.
He hurries onward, negotiating crippled corners and strangled lanes. Slips on an old piece of slate, shakes it free from its place. The slate slides away from him, gathers speed, twists and pulls into the darkness, flinging through the air. He looks down to where the stone lay. A patch of earth soaks in moisture. It hasn’t tasted air in decades. Tenant now gone, it sucks at the freedom. He shakes his head, and follows the trail.
Scientists came and shook their heads. Politicians smiled and spoke and wandered away. The crowds grew and grew and eventually died. People shuttered their windows at the glow, desperate to sleep. They welcomed the change and just as quickly tried to forget about the unknown it heralded. Desperate to sleep. To sleep.
As he gets nearer, he can feel the zips and buckles on his clothes start to move first. They pull at his shoulders, tug at his feet. Soon, the bristles of his unconsidered beard quietly ripple. He is pulled forward on his path, a path chosen and dictated in equal measure. He clutches at the package in his coat pocket. Wills himself.
The first person that touched the bundle was a woman named Tracy. She had a job and a life and thoughts about food and a subscription to something she couldn’t remember paying for, and she touched the bundle because she wanted to know what it was like to touch something that warm. And she was welcomed into its glow, gripped by its embrace. Tightly, tightly. And the city began to crumble under the force of her gift.
It’s like a torrent of water now, washing past him. He stumbles, rolls along the last remaining walls of the district, alone and forlorn in their steady hand. It becomes too much, and he reaches out to grab something that can keep him from falling forward, stop him from being pulled by invisible hands. It’s a bent piece of steel, and it buckles under his weight, but stops his slide, leaves him time to consider. It is dry here. Light flickers and washes and turns over his face, burning away the cold. Ahead of him hovers the swirling bundle of energy, now several stories high – the remains of the city he grew up in floating around its core.
After Tracy, things changed more quickly. The scientists called it a sub-atomic collision, but nobody cared what that meant, or how much of what the men in glasses and coats told them was just a fever pitch at fighting off uncertainty. The truth was plain to see – the bundle was taking what it needed from those that took the same for granted. Buildings broke and tumbled towards the swirling mass. Cars flicked and crumpled and joined the fray. The bundle was a deep well, and the whirlpool was relentless. The bundle grew as more and more matter fed its hunger. Steel and concrete and wood. Many people escaped the bundle’s reach, but only to the fiercest did that feel like victory. Most people were lost to the current, swept up and made a part of the whole. Some thought them the luckiest of all.
This is the closest he’s ever seen the bundle. Even in those early days, he’d shrugged and glanced at it from his television, safe and warm and comfortable. Now, here, where nobody dared put a camera anymore, it was overwhelming. A small star, floating a few meters from the earth, remnants of banks and schools and luxury vehicles forming its swelling, spinning surface. Light peeks through the gaps, seeking final friendship. He can’t think straight. He is transfixed, and it’s only when his feet leave the ground and nothing but his calloused fingers hold him back from one last journey that he remembers what he came for. He reaches into his jacket, and pulls out a bundle of his own.
Afterward, everyone tried their very best to forget. To go back to sleep, as they had always wanted. But they would drive down motorways, and see old routes blocked and guarded and they would remember. Where there was once something complete, now there was just a reminder and an explosion. But, they never allowed themselves to feel the force. Rafts of names read out yearly couldn’t pluck them from their conviction. Never again would they let themselves consider that they weren’t writing their own fates. That something immutable would eventually snatch them away. That it would be their own fault. That it would be what they wanted.
Here, wrapped in his own bundle, tiny and tangible in comparison to the terrifying beacon ahead, was an idea. It was only an idea, but sometimes, an idea was enough. He had worked on this idea, fed it and built upon it and taken it down more paths than he could remember. Eventually, the idea had felt whole, had shone bravely, and he had put it into a tight bundle under the left breast of his winter jacket. He would save everyone. Remind them and forgive them and end it, all at once. He smells the brown paper of the package, runs the string across his face. And lets it go.
Could they forget? What if it wouldn’t let them? What if it happened again? Where would they go? Where would they be safe? And who would tell them what to do when they got there? Was this the start of something, or the end?
Sometimes, it’s better not to ask questions.
Sometimes, there’s no such thing as afterwards.
The two bundles meet, shake hands, nod knowingly. As the smaller bundle disappears, he closes his eyes, and counts to twelve. One, two, three, four. A sound. Five, six, seven. A feeling, past his head. Eight, nine, ten. Nothing. Eleven.
As his mind returns to him, he realises that can feel his feet on the ground.
He opens his eyes, and steps forward.
Here, ahead of him, the bright bundle has gone dark. Its warmth now cool. The detritus it has collected has slowed its swirl, barely clinging onto its master, waiting for its next order. The pull, the swell, those invisible hands - gone.
All is still.
He moves towards the bundle. Stands at its base. Ducks slightly as he moves underneath it. Closer than anyone has been before. Anyone who has been able to tell of it, at least.
This is it, he thinks. This is the end. I have brought about the end.
He looks straight up, through pieces of warped iron and glass. Tries to glimpse into the centre of the dying beast.
Blinks, as a piece of dirt falls across his eyes. Another, bigger this time. A low rumble. He has to squint into the debris.
Through the dying light, he sees a face. It looks familiar.
Image Source: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso0644a/ Author: ESO