Bewildering Stories

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by Tala Bar

Chapter 1: The Land
part 1

The Prologue appeared in issue 88.
Table of Contents


By the time Dar came to herself, she could not tell how many days and nights she had been walking through the ruined city. Her legs were numb, heavy as the frozen lava rocks strewn around; her body felt worn and frayed like her clothes, and her mind was paralyzed, the moment of catastrophe etched on it as by fire.

When night fell on the devastated city, the flames had burned themselves out at last, and the new volcano at the center of the former lake was quenched as suddenly as it had erupted, darkness wrapped around her like a heavy blanket. Not one beacon was left to light the earth, and only a few remote stars blinked in the remote sky. Dar fell where she was, lay in a fetal position on the hard, sharp-edged debris, not feeling the lumps bruising her body. She might have been dead to herself as she was to the world. But she was not dead. In her troubled sleep, which was the first real one in many days, her brain recreated the events, which had led her to that state, as live as when they had happened.

* * *

It was morning, and she had been working, as usual, at the Medic Center. The long years she had served as a family doctor had well prepared her both to the sight in front of her and to the feeling of deep sympathy and sense of outrage it had created in her heart and mind. She was examining a man of fifty, who stood and walked as if he were seventy. Dar glanced at the computer monitor, looking up his name again.

Moni was a new patient, just moved to the City from another part of the country. Actually, he told her, he had been relieved from his job on an early pension because of the state of his health. As she examined him with the help of computer simulation, she found his bones frail, his breathing hard and rough, his innards blackened into what looked like a lump of coal.

Even before getting all the particulars, she knew the overall cause of his condition. All the wonderful advancement of the most up to date medicine available to anyone, could not fight the heavy pollution saturated in the air he inhaled, in the water he drank, in the food he ate, and even in the very soil he trod on. The smog and haze, which permanently filled the space between earth and sky, blocked the full force of the sun’s rays from reaching human bodies and enriching them with the necessary vitamins. Any breeze blowing was never refreshing, because it carried with it tiny particles of chemicals that devastated healthy organs. Was that the fate waiting for her own sons as they were growing up? The thought flitted in her mind, making her shudder.

Dar’s two sons were not doing so badly, at least, for the time being. Shel was twenty, tall like his mother and darkly handsome like his father. On the point of choosing a profession, he was considering following in his aunt’s footsteps, taking up art in the way his father had never dared. Bard had preferred the security of being an engineer, to better support the family he had always wanted. Her other son, Gin, still at school at the age of fifteen, was a very serious emerging scientist, looking at the world through the spectacles of a researcher and a philosopher. At that moment, Dar thought that none of them had the practical mind to find a solution for the problem in front of her: how to help a man with an incurable physical condition.

Searching frantically through the computer files, which she had used as aid to diagnosis and prognosis, Dar was momentarily oblivious to what was happening around her. It was Moni, his frayed nerves too sensitive to ignore the alarming signs, who had drawn her attention to the first signs of what was to come.

“Did you feel that, Doctor?” he asked, hesitatingly. He needed her reassurance even for what he had felt himself.

“What?” She asked, lifting her eyes from the monitor.

Then she received a violent jolt, and nothing had ever been the same again. In a moment, the ceiling caved in on them, crushing the man in front of her. Moni no longer needed a cure, the cynical thought passed through her mind. She had never been cynical, the shock must have affected her in this strange way. A heavy beam was hanging threateningly over her head, and an instinct moved her to crouch under the computer stand. The clinic’s fortified window had shattered, and through the large hole that had been formed she could see the most awful confusion she had ever witnessed in her life. Flames and thick smoke, debris flying through the air, jets of steaming water, all accompanied by a mixture of screams, whistles and thundering booms. She could not tell where they were coming from.

“I must get out of here before the building collapses on top of me,” she thought instinctively, gingerly moving out of her relative safety to peer out of the window. “A cool customer,” Bard had always called her, half mocking, half envying. This time, however, her mind had the chilly quality of a stone.

Insensible of the blood oozing out of the scratches covering her face and body from fragments of the fortified, permeable glass, Dar stood for a long while, dumbly watching, as the earth heaved and rocked, dancing the jig of death.

The window had looked over the lake, on whose shore the City had been built. The sight of that stretch of water had always drawn her eyes whenever she had a chance to look. She used to be fascinated by the changes the lake had assumed during the different hours of the day, and the different types of weather materializing above it. Its utter blueness at high noon on clear days; the rays of the inclining sun sparkling off the ripple and blinding her eyes of an evening; its deep grey-green shade under heavy clouds... You could never guess how polluted that water was from its appearance; it’s been a couple of centuries since it was taken from the lake for drinking...

The earth shivered under Dar’s feet. That varied, always beautiful sight would never be seen again, she knew, though what she saw now was no less fascinating. For a moment it looked as if a storm was forming over the lake. Frothy waves rolled toward the shore, flooding the little boats in the marina. These were rocking violently, some thrown off their anchors like toys. As Dar was looking, the water suddenly gushed, a column of fire erupted from its center, and a high-coned hill burst out. The stormy water rose to new heights, poured over the heaving City that used to lie on the shore, flooding and half-covering the heaps of rubble, turning everything into a putrid bog.

She had seen earthquakes on the media, although she had never been involved in one. The City she had been born in and had never left to go anywhere was situated far from any known tremor center. But this was no passing tremor: it was total destruction. Tall buildings she had known from childhood had been uprooted from their foundations, smashed into masses of shattered glass, jumbles of iron bars and heaps of broken slabs of concrete; they intermixed with broken roads and fallen pillars, which pierced the sky like looming monuments. Cavities opened in the ground where facilities for transport, energy and communication used to be; water mixed with debris burst out of them to flood the mess, turn it into an unbelievable mass of gooey junk. It was not enough, though, to quench the flares of fire lit by streams of gas jetting out of the earth, filling the scene with eerie, ever moving lights... The Earth itself, it seemed, had finally acted against the destructive deeds of humanity.

It was obvious there was no room left for traffic to move through, if any means of transport had been left viable. There was no chance of fire vehicles, ambulances, or any other help arriving. Watching, dumb, from her vantage point of the third floor, Dar saw no creature alive who would need help, anyway. All she could see of human beings were different parts of crushed, smashed, dissected, distorted body parts, barely recognizable, strewn among the debris, chunks of masonry, glass, plastic, wood and metal. Trying to do anything to help was out of the question. Dar closed her eyes and immediately sounds reached her ears: heavy thuds, sharp explosions, and screaming... screaming...

A violent tremor shook the floor underneath her feet. The building rocked, Dar was hit on the head and lost consciousness. When she opened her eyes again, it was evening. Through the haze in her mind she looked out. It was unbelievable. She was no longer on the third floor, looking at her ruined city from above. She was lying now on the same ground level as the rest of it. Shaking, she rose to her feet. It was true. Either the earth had heaved up, or the building had crashed down. All she needed now to get out was step out of the hole that had been the fortified window – into what? What should she do? She had no idea why and how she was still alive, among the universal death that had surrounded her. Why couldn’t she just lie down where she was and die, like the rest of the City dwellers?

At that moment she knew she could never do it. If she was alive, she must stay alive, do all she could to get herself, at least, out of this mess, if she could not get anyone else out.

She closed her eyes, concentrating. Something moved around her, a breath of hot air; a heavy wind twirled and swept through her body, wrapping and lifting her up in the air, out and high above the earth. She did not dare open her eyes. Dar had never flown in her life, in any sort of craft; now she was flying without a craft, completely bare in the air that surrounded her, without any protection. From all sides she was hit by things that flew all round her through the air, on the wings of the same blast that had carried her. Heavy chunks of wasted material, mixed with a shamble of body parts, were played about by the willful wind, tearing at Dar’s body and her clothes. She was helpless, impotent, in a way she had never felt in her life. The flight lasted for an unmeasurable time, until the wind was gradually restrained, slowed down, and she was dropped to earth. It was a long way away from the center of the City where Dar had worked. For a long time she lay where she fell, gasping for breath, her mind numb.

Heavy silence prevailed everywhere. The wind had died down, and the air filled with an acrid smell. It burned her nostrils, scalded her lungs, and stung every part of bare skin under her torn clothes. She felt the world had crashed on top of her. Every thing she had known and believed in was gone; even her rational mind was unable to work now, at the thought of the way she had been saved.

After a long while she opened her eyes and tried to tell where the wind had taken her. She thought she knew it by the remains of buildings she had recognized. It was situated halfway between the center of the City and its suburbs. Perhaps, that was where she should go, where there were more empty spaces, possibly less heaps of ruins and debris that were no longer good for anything.

All of a sudden, she thought of her family. Bard, Shel and Gin. What had happened to them? The thought was gone as soon as it had arrived. What was the point of thinking about them? She might never know what they had been through, but she knew she would never see them again. There was nothing she could do for them now...

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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