Culture in the era of climate change
Weird Tales No. 7
She was thin with gray stringy hair dangling over an old furrowed face. A hand bony, wrinkled, and shaking placed the lit candle on the table. She turned to face the opposite wall and paused as her silhouette, twice her size, swayed. Perhaps, that image robbed her of the sense of having a body, as if a thief had flung it onto that wall. Approaching that wall, her feet slid over the rotten carpet. She held her breath, placed her finger on the light switch, and stopped.
She had been an engineer working for a company developing solar panels. The breakthrough in efficiency in the conversion of sunlight into electricity had never come. Every technology to turn things around had been too little and too late.
Climate change was worse than anyone had imagined.
Twenty years ago a firestorm had blazed through her city, burnt everything that could burn into dust, and left everything else contorted into mangled sculpture. Ten thousand citizens had died, and tens of thousands more, in the aftermath from disease, hunger, despair, and violence. It was the same story all over the world. Like milk in a pot over a burning stove the world watched and commented as the milk rose then panicked when it overflowed.
Surviving communities were struggling to adapt to a world shoved down like a helpless infant into the Dark Ages. Homo Sapiens was hanging on with one hand around the branch overhanging the cliff of extinction.
She had cycled for hundreds of miles looking for a home unburnt and roofed with solar panels. A week ago she had finally found one. At that time she had flicked the light switch without hesitation. Dismay had nearly brought tears to her eyes, but resolution to repair the system had dammed the tears. Finally, tonight, her struggle over the decades to provide a beacon of hope was going to be tested.
What would she do if the lights didn’t come on? Keep looking for another house? She was so tired. This was her only chance to maybe make up for all those years. She gritted her teeth and flicked the switch.
She whooped with delight as the lights lit up the room. How many years had it been since she last saw such a thing? Over ten years she was sure. Exhausted from the emotions surging through her body she leaned against the wall, slid down onto the floor, and wept with joy and relief. She knew this was one small step, but it was one out of the wilderness and onto a road.
There was a town in the valley. She had seen smoke and guessed some people lived among the ruins, they would see the lights and come. For many years she had avoided contact, for violence was prevalent and strangers could not be trusted. Yet, she was willing to risk everything now. She would be waiting.
He was wiry with curly black hair framing his dark face. Dirt and grime marked his calloused hands and etched his clothes in black and brown as he bent down to pinch parasites off his miniature tomatoes. A rooster crowed. Time to feed his most prized possessions. Last summer half had died from the heat. Straightening up, he grunted as his spine crackled. He turned away from the approaching sunrise and his eyes widened as an unnatural dot of light emanated from the hill.
He was in the third grade of elementary school when the rain came down like bullets from an sky full of thunder gods. The banks of the river overflowed and the levees crumbled. Then the hills collapsed and boulders the size of trucks rolled and jumped through the streets and smashed into homes. Finally, the dam gave way.
His family survived the first two weeks. Then his father was killed and his mother and younger brother, weakened from lack of food, sickened and died. He was alone till an older cousin found him. They joined survivors and roamed through the country scavenging for food. Their numbers dwindled year by year till they settled in this valley ringed in low mountains.
Every year, every season was a struggle for survival. Memories of the bountiful past were suppressed. Talking of it was taboo. That dot of light was a blaze that stoked the fire of contempt and revulsion toward past generations.
She saw them come, a flaming snake slithering up the hill. She would welcome them and teach them how to use the power of the sun to mitigate their suffering. They would welcome her as teacher, friend, and neighbor. She would no longer be lonely and perhaps be free of guilt.
They were not far away when she heard the chanting. At first, she couldn’t make out the words, but soon the words sent shafts of ice into her chest that robbed her legs of strength so that she crumbled to earth. Then, she saw the rope, and the shouted words -Guilty of Witchcraft- trashed her mind.