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Friday, November 14, 2008

Fourth Millennium (11)

For Sunday Scribblings 137, Stranger


7 Beside The Seaside

A choppy surf, which left it’s residue of brown stained, white foam, broke onto the shorefront far below. For Starling, Nightingale, and Rose, it was their first glimpse of the ocean. From their viewpoint, atop the high, weather beaten cliffs that formed the rugged coastline, they were able to see for kilometres, into the distance, until the graduating shades of the sea, merged with the sky, at the horizon. To the three first-timers, it appeared as a continuous length of some magical fabric. It seemed to continue for ever, which in the case of the sky, chances were, it actually did.
The combination of the stiff breeze that whipped at their insignificantly small and delicate frames, from all directions, and the altitude of their position, which had joined forces, in a conspiracy to disorientate them, was taking effect. They were forced to clutch tightly, onto one another’s hands, and clothing, in their uncertainty as to whether or not they could maintain coordination and remain upright. This five-pronged, dizzying sensation of danger, excitement, uncertainty, risk, and confusion, was the closest they had ever come to the experience of freedom. They huddled closer, as though to demonstrate the depth of their trust in one another. It was fitting that this display of unconditional faith, occurred outside the limits of the familiarity of the Sector, where, ironically, rules, and even the restrictions they’d all been forced to to endure, acted as a kind of safety net, providing a comfort zone, to protect them from the perils of inexperience.
Several hundred metres behind them, a five metre high wall, which dominated the near distance, had been erected with the dual purpose of deterring further, unauthorised development, or any form of illegal land use, and preventing citizens from looking at the view. The ‘authorities’ feared erosion of the cliffs, and encroachment of the water, to claim the land, as well as the danger of citizens becoming inspired by what they saw, and entertaining notions of aquatic exploration. Previously, the wall had been continuously manned by ‘Service Personnel’, at regular intervals, for the purpose of observation of the population, in order to ensure the wall was never breached. Now, for unknown reasons, the approach to guarding the wall was slightly more relaxed. This was how Starling, by utilising his travel permit disc, once more, had gained them access to the forbidden area.
The salt air that drifted with the breeze, added to the strange sensation of weightlessness they were experiencing. It had the effect of clearing their respiratory passages, and causing them to feel giddy and light-headed, with the additional rush of oxygen this provided.
Seagulls circled and swooped, to catch titbits, served up by the cauldron below. Whether these invisible morsels were real or imaginary was impossible to tell.
The beach itself, which was the final frustration to the progress of the sea, was deserted, save for scattered clumps of stranded seaweed, and assorted debris, the tide had washed ashore.
The insipid rays of the late winter sun, cast their golden glow, to form shimmering bolts of treasure, on the crests of the relentless waves, which reflected their promise into the eyes of the awestruck spectators.
Further along the short stretch of coastline, a pack of dogs played chase, along the decaying concrete structure that spanned inexplicably, a hundred metres or so, into the watery void, before ending abruptly. It was almost as though, whatever it was, had been abandoned in mid-construction. The trio was fascinated, as well as confused, wondering why it had ever been built, and what possible purpose it could serve.
Nobody had any idea that boats and ships sailed the seas, once upon a time, transporting people, livestock, and commodities, to places far away. By the same token, nobody was aware that ‘places far away’ ever even existed. The fact was, they didn’t; not any longer. The huge continental land-mass on which they were standing was, ‘officially’ at least, all that remained of the earth’s former, many and varied habitats. The elements they were viewing and experiencing, plus a whole host of other natural phenomena, had seen to that, aided by mans self-destructive, ambitions of dominance in the third millennium.
This was all prior to the ‘Purges’, which had been intended, originally, to cushion mankind’s headlong fall into oblivion.
As with all ‘good’, political intentions that had preceded the ‘Purges’, there was a massive, human price to pay the successors of the instigators of the concept; the ‘authorities’. They were the one’s actually responsible for implementing the process of ‘salvation’.
All of this was unbeknown to Starling, Nightingale, and Rose, who continued to sway in the encircling breeze, savouring the unique sensation of escapism that the mere sight of this vast expanse of nothingness lying before them, brought to their collective imagination.
“I think I could die happily here,” began Rose, “but right now, it’s all making me feel a little nauseous. I’d like to go now, if that’s alright with everybody.”
Nightingale nodded his agreement, but Starling needed to stay just a little longer.
“Give me five seconds, please,” he requested.
The pockets of his slacks now contained an additional item.
Birch had said;
“See if you can work out what this is,” as he’d handed it over, almost a week ago. “It’s foldable, but you’ll never get it to crease. It’s water repellent, fire resistant, and never loses its colour, or gets dirty. It’s manufactured from a totally mind-boggling fabric that can’t be torn or cut…with anything; and believe me, I’ve tried.”
Birch had, in fact, presented Starling with a banknote.
On one side, it depicted an elderly man, wearing his hair long, like a woman; tied back with some sort of ribbon. Close by, surrounded by a circular frame, containing more of the strange symbols that were, in fact, words, was a rectangular shaped building that appeared to contain neither doors, nor windows.
More words appeared, spanning from left to right, along the top edge, and in the bottom, right-hand corner, was printed a series of numbers, that read: 37 6028 141 73. At the bottom left-hand corner, inside another circular frame, was the number 1, which also appeared, as a smaller character, inside a square frame, at each of the remaining three corners. By the man’s left shoulder, was printed the number, or numbers, 2955.
On the reverse side, in three further, circular frames were displayed scenes, respectively, from left to right. The first was of a traffic-filled road system, unlike anything that existed in the ‘Nation’. The second, a long, articulated vehicle that appeared to run on some kind of track. The third was also a vehicle, but this one seemed to be suspended in mid air, judging by the clouds surrounding it that so clearly represented the sky.
When held up to the light, a strange phenomenon occurred. Behind the three images on the reverse; or was it in front of them? It was difficult to determine; appeared an image of an unidentifiable animal. It was neither bird nor reptile, but a combination of both. Moreover, it appeared to be emitting a ball of flames, from its mouth, or beak. What added to the evidently hostile nature of the creature was that fact that it actually appeared to move, or at least hover, when held aloft.
The detail on the rectangular, pocket-sized strip of…whatever it was made from, was incredibly intricate. It was almost life-like, although clearly crafted by some amazing process.
Starling fondled the banknote with the fingers of his left hand, while doing the same to the coins that were grasped in his right. The sense of courage, combined with comfort and confidence he derived from their mystery, were enhanced as he pondered their origin.
“Thanks for that. I’m finished now,” he informed, after an interval of perhaps ninety seconds. Taking the lead, he raised his right hand to his face, breathing in the unusual, though clearly metallic scent that emanated from his sweating fingers, as a result of handling the coins in the warmth of his pocket.

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski
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