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Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas with the Crooked Cats - 'The End is Nigh'

Crooked Cat is a UK publisher who has produced many popular and best-selling books in a variety of genres – romance, thriller, crime, fantasy, young adult and horror – in e-book and paperback formats.

Christmas with Crooked Cats began on 29 November and runs through into 5 January 2015. On their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/
– you can access seasonal poetry, short stories and articles penned by a host of Crooked Cat authors.

So, to continue celebrating the season of Christmas with Crooked Cats, here is another timely story:

Wikipedia commons - Ethiopia


THE END IS NIGH

 
I really feared for my life for a second as they pressed towards me.’

A short story for Christmas – set in the future

  

Nik Morton

 
All the churches in the world were full. And the synagogues. And the mosques.

As an atheist I wasn’t surprised that all this prayer wasn’t working. Unfortunately, nothing else was, either. Science had no explanation.

For five years now there hadn’t been a single baby born. Not one.

Plants and flowers no longer bloomed. They didn’t die, they just never blossomed into flower, their leaves a dull grey. The fruit industry was moribund as the trees bore no fruit.

Some people said it was all caused by the massive leaching of hormones and chemicals into the water-table, some reckoned it was due to the many holes in the ozone layer, while others believed it was as a result of those three volcanoes exploding six Christmases back, their dark foreboding smoke obscuring the sun for over six months. Maybe it was due to the earth passing through the massive tail of a comet five years ago. Nobody knew for sure. International environmental terrorists didn’t help, either, blowing up all the oil refineries. Their smoke added to the nuclear winter of the volcanoes.

Most of the so-called civilised world relied on electricity and that was produced by burning finite resources such as oil and coal. Minor advances had been made with wind-, solar- and wave-power, but not nearly enough to support our vast cities.

In fact, all the big cities now had their own lugubrious characters walking the streets with sandwich boards proclaiming that ‘The End is nigh!’ Religious fanatics had a field day.

All this played havoc with my business. My name’s Ambrose King and I’d lived up to my name as I was now king of the air-waves, having established the biggest and best global media company in the world using solar-powered wireless technologies.

Whispers came to me via the internet connections, when they worked. It had happened several times before. False alarms, hoaxes and rumours. The story about the boy crying wolf came to mind. Still, I was idle, rich and curious. I was one of the lucky people with a private aircraft and the fuel to keep it going.

As the jet took off at night, the better to conceal my activities, I glimpsed a light through the over-arching murk that stained the heavens. Just a star in the sky. But it seemed brighter than Venus or Sirius and we weren’t due to be close to Mars again for many years yet. Probably a satellite – or a trick reflection caught in the thick glass of the window. I didn’t believe in UFOs.

It was dawn though the sky was a depressing grey, the sun barely penetrating the eerie miasma of dust and pollution in the air. As my jet flew over Palestine I glanced out the window. There were thousands of people clustered outside the small village and the streets were crammed. Television crews were trying to make their way through.
 
A few minutes later, after landing at the airport, I paid a small ransom to hire a helicopter. When we got back to that small village, another aircraft was already hovering over the flat roof-tops, its side emblazoned with GLBL-4 my TV crew, I thought with pride. Just outside the village was an oasis of date palm trees, which looked sad and forlorn, the leaves grey.

The pilots acknowledged each other and slowly, as my chopper hovered, I was lowered in a cradle into the jostling crowd.

I’m a big chap, about six-foot-six and manage to keep in trim, yet I really feared for my life for a second as they pressed towards me. But they were just curious. I seemed to tower over most of them. I was surprised how calm everyone seemed. I’d never seen a crowd so serene before. They all seemed to be waiting.
 
Kidding themselves, I thought. This was bound to be another false alarm.
 
They were all facing the door to a ramshackle building – apparently, the place had been bombed and part-bulldozed by Israelis a matter of two weeks ago during yet another desperate expression of intifada from the deprived villagers. The Arabic word intifada has several meanings, such as the shaking off or shivering of fear or illness or waking from sleep, and I thought I had seen it all before in our news reports, but I was wrong today.
 
There was no anger or desperation in the eyes of the men and women gathered here. I made my way unmolested to the door.

To one side of the door was half an oil drum, filled with dry soil and drooping grey foliage.

A scarred one-eyed man in stained robes pressed his shoulder to the wooden door and opened it for me. I ducked under the adobe lintel.
 
A variety of smells assailed my nostrils. Not what I’d expected, though. There was incense, myrrh and something else I’d known only once before, when I visited a convent. An odour of sanctity. Fanciful, I know, but I couldn’t describe it any other way. The aroma permeated my body, bathing me in a tingling sense of well-being.
 
The interior was Spartan yet quite clean, the earthen floor swept and hard. Colourful rugs had been spread and on these sat several women and two men garbed in richly embroidered robes. Behind them, a mouse-grey blanket hung down from the rafters; I could hear movement on the other side of it.
 
‘At last you have come, Mr King,’ said the Negro as he stood to greet me with a large pink outstretched hand. He was as big as me, with gentle shining eyes.

As I shook his hand I said, ‘You’re expecting me?’
 
He nodded. ‘News travels fast, even in these strange times.’ He grinned, showing huge white teeth. ‘Thanks to your global network, of course.’

‘Of course,’ I answered, bemused.

‘I am King Kassahun Ayele of Ethiopia,’ he said and gestured to the other man who rose to his feet. He was of Asian extraction, I reckoned. ‘This is the King of Thailand, Surakiat Chatusiphithak.’
 
‘Just call me Sura,’ the Thai king said, taking my hand.
 
Perhaps it should have clicked then, but it didn’t. I had little time to think, anyway, as we all turned our heads to the drab cloth screen on hearing a baby’s wail rising out of the corner of the room.

It was like a storm washing over us. I felt my face suffuse with blood and for a fraction of a second the skin round my eyes and on my cheeks seemed to be pulled back as if I was facing into a harsh yet warm wind. Our clothes rustled and the dimness of our surroundings suddenly brightened. Colour assaulted our eyes.
 
Outside the faint murmuring changed into a prolonged almost physical gasp of awe.

The powers of recuperation of the baby’s mother were great, it seemed. She stepped out from behind the now golden screen, the baby’s pink cheek pressed to her left breast. She wore simple white robes and a deep blue scarf covered her head, casting a shadow over her features. Out of the shadow her eyes glowed luminous and I could see that the flesh under them was puffed with lack of sleep. Yet she looked radiant and happy. After all, she was the first woman in the world to give birth in five years.
 
King Sura unclasped his embroidered cloak and draped it over the mother’s shoulders as she walked slowly across the room to the front door. King Ayele joined them and helped support her.

My throat was constricted and my heart was hammering as I followed the mother and child and the two kings outside.
 
Everywhere I looked, people were kneeling. A powerful silence had descended on everyone.

Then I noticed the foliage in the oil-drum by the door: it had regained a new lease of life, its shoots were green and it had already blossomed with the intricate beautiful star-shapes of blue and white passion flowers.
 
My heart pounded as I glanced towards the oasis and noticed the palm trees were shaking in a slight breeze, their fronds now bright green and vibrant. And there were clusters of dates under the fronds where none had been before.
 
The sky had cleared and was a gorgeous cloudless blue. The star I’d barely glimpsed on taking off was fully visible now, glinting.
 
And the sun glared bright and warm on this December morning. This was a morning of promise for the future.
 
Maybe this time we might get it right. As I realised I was kneeling alongside the two kings, I knew that I was no longer an atheist. I prayed that this second coming would give us all a second chance.

***

Originally published in The Coastal Press, December 2007.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

 
If you liked this story, you might also like my collection of crime tales (some poignant, some humorous), Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.





Also available:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=nik%20morton
 


2 comments:

Jack Owen said...

Sweet! Both content and construction.

Nik said...

Thanks, Jack, it's appreciated!