Section 10 - 1984
Short Story - Decline and Fall - G.T.R.
(page 2/8)

SHORT STORY: DECLINE AND FALL

The mist was cold and wet on his face. It dappled his fatigues with a pattern almost too fine to see. His feet and legs were soaked with dew that was still hidden in the predawn dimness.

In a few hours the sun will have burnt this off, he thought. Then the land would be revealed from beneath its gray blanket: a land of green.

As if to contradict this thought a wall of darker gray rose in front of him, irregular and jagged. Mimicing perhaps the concrete monoliths of another age, an age whose traces had all but vanished from the surface of the Earth - now swathed in life and not lifeless stone. And they had worked to remove the tarmac deserts, generations of men dedicated to turning the land to itself.

The ragged silhouette grew and became nothing more sinister than a wall of oak and beech, defined more by shadow than light. Lane followed the overgrown path into the trees and the coolness of the retreating night. The scent of moss and leaves mixed with the warning scream of a frightened blackbird that must have been hunting for worms somewhere nearby.

Some way into the wood Lane had to skirt a huge patch of brambles crowning a rabbit warren. The smell here was musty, a scent more of decaying leaves and humus than moss. Somewhere nearby the gurgle of a stream competed with the noises of waking insects. The light was increasing, colour was gradually slipping back into the world with the rising sun which was, as yet, still unseen.

Lane lent against a tree, his hand and fore-arm pressed up against the wet sharp bark. They were right, he thought. No doubting that; the deserts of cities, the oceans of ploughed fields. But to obliterate everything beneath a tide of vegetation? As if it were some nightmare that must be buried forever without trace. Are we being more extreme? he pondered. The question was rhetorical, for why else had he made this pilgrimage? The past was wrong, but the mistakes must be acknowledged, not hidden. The trees were thinning ahead and there was a suggestion of faded green in the air. Lane negotiated more brambles and then was clear of the wood. To the east the sun was a blurred patch of white on white, but Lane was still confined within a sphere of mist that seemed to move where-ever he did. Keeping the sun to his left he continued through the rye grass. The land dipped and rose in a slow swell, but all the time dropping away in front of him. The stream followed him, at a cautious distance, sometimes revealing itself from behind the mist at others only its gentle laugh was audible. Above, the sky was a watery blue and somehow higher than normal.

He was closer now, his goal was somewhere ahead, in the ragged whiteness. From the elevation of the sun Lane guessed the time was around seven, leaving some time before the demolition team arrived. The ground had become marshy beneath his feet and in his absorption in avoiding the muddy pools scattered around him he failed to see the monster rise slowly out of the mist. After a moment Lane looked up and, as he had before, stepped backwards in fear. He stumbled and promptly sat down, still staring upwards. The monster reared up into the emptiness, defying the elements. Somehow the mist and his isolation made him afraid of this thing, even though it was only a skeleton of rusted metal. Mud and water seeped into his trousers, prompting him to rise, still watching the criss-cross patterns of lines against the sky. Oddly, from this angle, the structure seemed to have no depth at all.

Lane moved forward, oblivious of the marshy pools he had so carefully avoided some minutes ago. The mist retreated before the structure, revealing its four footed base. The whole thing was tilted, slowly sinking into the valley floor. From one of its six arms, three on each side, a cable dangled, its ends jagged petals of rust. Lower down something was swinging from one of the many cross beams. Approaching closer still, the shape resolved itself into a goat. It was hanging by its neck. Lane was almost directly beneath the dead animal and could see the caricature grin clotted with blood. Before, he had found a dog, still alive and dangling by a hind leg from the structure but had dared not cut it down should he have angered the knot of people kneeling beneath the structure. He'd listened to them pray in the rain, to this temple of rusted iron beams and watched their faces until the dog had died sometime later.

Now, the ragged, weatherworn worshippers lay sleeping in a tight huddle around the concrete base of one of the legs. It was a strange temple to choose, he thought, a sanctuary without shelter.

Away in the distance somewhere the hum of the demolition team sounded. Lane turned and tried to locate the source of the noise. Instinctively he moved further beneath the structure. They would not dare risk human life (he hoped) in destroying it.

Sound is muffled in the mist and deceptive because suddenly an air-car exploded from nowhere and banked steeply around the monolith trailing a hooked steel hawser. Lane saw the hook catch a beam and the hawser wind round the waist of the rusted skeleton. At the same instant the ragged worshippers arose almost as one, faces upturned, afraid. Their temple groaned and showered them with flakes of rust. Their prayers and offerings must have failed to satisfy their God but they didn't wait around to discover why. Stumbling through the marsh they moved rapidly up the valley towards the darker line of trees.

Lane shouted after them, their desertion wouldn't help him but they didn't even glance back at him. The structure groaned again. The air-car was dropping downward and in sudden desperation Lane ran for the nearest leg and started to climb. The oxide coat was thick and rough, cutting his hands. Somehow he managed to scramble up to the first cross-beam and then nearly let go when a voice the size of a giant bellowed,

"Get down!"

Hovering at eye-level and some thirty feet away, the air-car watched him. Lane climbed higher and again the voice roared. At the second cross-beam a metallic, prehensile arm wound silently from the belly of the craft and groped towards the struggling human form. Lane caught sight of the iron hand an instant before it was upon him and instinctively leapt. With a crunch he hit a beam on the opposite side of the structure and clung on. There was a sound of shearing metal nearby. The arm continued relentlessly towards him. He yelled incoherently, dizzy with pain. The structure tilted sharply, saving Lane from the probing, inhuman hand, and nearly throwing him to the ground. fifty feet below. With a grinding snap the upper half of the structure slowly collapsed onto itself. A beam speared the air-car. The motor raced and the car side slipped down to earth, the hand flailing at the air. It exploded on impact. Lane, barely conscious, clung to his beam until he too was struck by a falling lump of metal.

He awoke to the soft caress of falling flowers. Blood had caked on his face and closed one eye. He lay amid the ruins of the structure. Beams thrust haphazardly into the air, bent and shattered in the approaching sunset. Around the debris the motley band of worshippers either stood or kneeled showering it and Lane with petals.

copyright G.T.R.

THE END