Sunday, 4 September 2016

Tales of Nuclear Armageddon

There are many stories about nuclear war. I find them utterly chilling, but irresistibly compulsive. To me they are probably the most frightening books or films that have ever been written. The scenarios of most are, or were, almost entirely plausible. And that is were their power lies.

Such powerful stories are what motivated me to write the very short story below. Titled 'Three Ancient Trees', it features a nuclear holocaust from the point of view of an unusual extra-terrestrial infestation that is feeding off the human cadavers that are brought to them by generation after generation of the local children. When the unthinkable does eventually happen the infestation, unlike the humans that serve them, has a means of escape.

The story is short enough that I can include it in its entirety below. Enjoy:

The offspring always played beneath the three ancient trees.
In the spring, despite the smell of decay, they would laugh and giggle with joy, the bitter cold of previous months banished from their thoughts.
During summer they would gather the large spiky seed pods from amongst the bones, tearing them open to reveal the hard seed inside.
When autumn came they would pile up the fallen leaves and then kick them high into the chill and strengthening wind, spreading the now sodden bones far and wide.
And when the gloom of winter returned they would place the bodies of their offerings at the base of the wide trunks of the trees, packing them tightly with snow, preserving them for absorption when the thaw finally came.
And they did all that without remorse and hesitation.  The dew-like droplets above made sure of that.
The droplets watched, all-seeing, as the bipedal offspring performed their tasks below, occasionally dropping onto them and sinking into their skins to motivate and persuade, to instruct and reward.
Functioning as one and as many, the droplets had for millennia feasted on the remains of those brought to them by the thousands of generations of offspring that had played below.  Once the trees had extracted the nutrients from the putrefying corpses at their roots the droplets would suck the nutrients from their leaves, euphoric in their effects.
Occasionally the parents of the offspring and others would come, and they would run from the sight of the bones and decay.  Some of the droplets would follow, riding the air as mist, reaching into those that would try and stem the flow of their sustenance.  The larger bipeds were always subdued.  They would not object to the work of the offspring, and they would never return.
As the centuries passed the number of offspring grew, and so did the number of nutritious bodies for the roots to absorb.  The dew-like droplets thrived.
But then the lights and the burning winds came.
Just after dawn one day, as the first of the offspring approached dragging a large nutrient-rich body through the deep snow, the horizon all around lit up.  Dozens of lights, like new suns, rose and swelled, erasing the clouds from the sky and sucking up immense swirls of hot dust.  The offspring scattered, many burning as the heat of the lights bubbled and blackened their skin.  Gusts, long and hard, blew away the snow.
The trees burned.
The droplets, airborne, swirled in the violent winds, before coming to rest on the scorched branches of the trees.
The offspring were gone.
The trees were dead.
Snow soon returned, speckled grey by the dust that now darkened the sky.
The offspring never returned.
The droplets were hungry.  They had no choice.  Rising through the frigid air as mist, they headed up to where the air was no more, and left.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Stench of Eternal Life

Stoors - stinking bison-like animals that decay like the dead when exposed to sunlight - would not be thought of as likely to hold the secret of eternal life.

But it's believed that they do. And Oornu and Uurna know that.

In the short novel, 'Bone Pit', Oornu and Uurna capture two and attempt to return them to their village. If successful they will be the first to do so, and will receive the praise of the elders and have their story told to the generations that follow. The danger, though, is immense, and both of them have underestimated it. As they travel home on the stoors' backs their suffering becomes tremendous and nauseating:
The sun was bright and high and the air thick with heat and humidity.
The tension and dread Oornu felt was growing.  He knew that the thick fronds of tall grass would provide protection for only another hour, barely enough time to reach the safety of the tree line that still seemed to be no closer than the horizon.  But reaching such safety in time seemed more unlikely with each passing minute.  Even without the direct stimulation of sunlight the stench of the putrefying hides of the stoors was close to becoming overwhelming.  His mate, Uurna, had already passed out twice, requiring a precious dose of jell each time to bring her round.  And she looked like she was on the verge of passing out again.
Uurna spoke, her voice weak and wheezy.  “Please.  We must stop.”
Oornu looked back at her.  He shook his head.  “We’d never make it to the trees.  We must continue.”
With a moan Uurna vomited.  The head of her stoor was sprayed liberally once again with semi-digested food, and this time blood as well.  It hissed and snorted as it tried to shake Uurna’s stomach contents from its face, its big black eyes blinking furiously as red-stained bile dribbled into them.  Weakened, Uurna struggled to stay on the creatures’ decomposing back.
She would not survive much longer.
“Please…”  She said, feebly, spitting more blood and bile.
Grassland that Oornu and Uurna must get the stoors across before midday

Despite Uurna's desire to give up, and despite their deepening weakness and pain, Oornu insists on continuing, especially when what he'd once known only as a legend seemed now to be absolutely true:
As his vision cleared he could a see wash of movement beneath him as the ground rushed passed – a blur of green and brown and grey.  For a few seconds he could not remember where he was, or why he was moving so fast.  Or indeed what the clattering and grating sound all around was.

And then something touched his face.

Oornu turned over.  Kneeling over him was Uurna.  She looked sick, and her expression seemed consumed with pain.  Somehow she managed a brief smile.

Oornu looked around.  The stoor, which had previously been a mass of rotting muscle and entrails, was now almost a clean skeleton, with only few strands of flesh and cartilage still attached to its thick spine above.  The stench of decay had almost gone.

Uurna pointed ahead.  Straining, Oornu sat up and turned, resting his hands on the creature’s heaving ribcage to steady himself.  There, a few strides in front, was the other stoor.  It too was nothing more than a stripped skeleton, and it was running with remarkable speed through the tall fronds of grass.  It was a remarkable sight.

As their own flesh starts to decay, and as they realise where the stoors are heading, they fear their lives are soon to end, without achievement or glory. They will be forgotten, their story never to be told to those that follow:
Oornu touched his lower leg.  His finger sank in through the skin, releasing a putrid dull green flow of puss.  He pushed harder.  The muscle on the front of his leg fell away revealing the white surface of his tibia.  He tensed up, his stomach tightening.  “This can’t be happening!”

Uurna sniffled.  “We are infected.  We cannot return to the village.”

Oornu looked at her.  “We must.  The medicine charmer will...”

“We will be killed.  You know that!”  Uurna said.  Her head sank.  “And the medicine charmer only brings comfort to the dying, nothing more, and only then to those of great age.”  She looked up.  “You know that, too.”

Oornu nodded once.  He closed his eyes for a few seconds, trying to focus his mind to find a solution.  But his mind was already consumed with anguish, and deep despair.  He felt breathless, nauseous.  “What can we do?”

Uurna obviously had no answer.  She looked ahead.  The tall fronds of grass were thinning, and the landscape was becoming open and rocky.

But, the hideous effect that capturing stoors has had on their bodies has an incredible, if possibly unwelcome, side effect. Their story may not be forgotten after all. In fact, it may well become the most amazing story every told...

Read 'Bone Pit' now and find out why.

Could the 'Bone Pit' be down there?