Holiday Cheer at the End of the World

Pop Rocket, December 2012

The sound of clanking chains awoke Bob Scrooge from a warm, comfortable sleep. The hackles rose on his neck as his bleary eyes focused on the apparition at the foot of his bed. It rose nearly the nine feet to the ceiling, human-shaped but all of iron, rivets and burning coal eyes. "I am the ghost of the Industrial Age," it spoke in a gravelly voice to the dumbfounded man, "Awake, and see your past."     It rattled the heavy chains in its metal hands, and Bob found himself suddenly freezing in his thin rayon pajamas. His bare feet were on the slick, listing wood deck of a huge ocean liner, and all around him in darkness he heard the cries of people scrambling for safety in the few lifeboats left, or rapidly freezing to death in the water. "This is the unsinkable Titanic," growled the monster, "done in by human complacency and the myth of invulnerability." "What has this to do with me?" demanded Bob, shivering. "A lesson in humility, perhaps," the monster replied, "or hubris. But more than that, the coal that drove this ship and humanity's other machines has already preordained that your time will see rising oceans, chronic drought, monstrous storms and the beginnings of disaster for you all."     "I've heard some nonsense like that, but there's nothing we can do about the past," retorted Bob, "It's not my fault! Anyhow, our technology will find a way to keep it from being a problem," he sputtered, confidence fading. The apparition turned to him as the broken ship groaned and began its final descent, "That, sir, is much what the captain of this boat imagined before his collision with Nature."     A whirl of chill North Atlantic air caught Bob, and he found himself back in his warm pillowtop bed made in China. "Bah," he spat, "Bad dream. Must've been the pizza," as he settled back to slumber. But the sounds of clinking crockery told him there was a prowler in the house, and he rose and crept into the hall. Light blazed in the kitchen, and the sounds grew louder. "What's this, a raccoon?" thought Bob, and he burst into the room.     It was no animal, but a little fat man, no more than three feet in height and at least equal that in girth, dressed for a party and gorging himself, pulling food from the open refrigerator with amazingly long arms. "Ah, Scrooge!" he smiled in greeting, "You're awake at last! You've got some lovely leftovers here. Come dine with me!" He tossed a chicken bone at the sink. Bob noted the nearly empty fridge and scattered containers. "Who the hell are you?" the unhappy homeowner cried, wondering where he'd left his cellphone. "The cops will have something to say about this, bubba!" The imp grinned again, his mouth nearly as wide as his head. "Why I'm the spirit of the Age of Consumption, here to share your joy in plenty!" He belched noisily, and Bob found himself thrust into a crush of people.     It was well before dawn, and cold, but the teeming crowd was pressed against the glass front of a big-box store. "I loveBlack Friday!" cackled the imp, and in a rush the doors opened and Bob was swept into the store with the mob, people trampling store workers and each other in their frantic haste to grab for themselves the gadgets, gewgaws and nostrums that populated the canon of their true religion. "Get me out of here!" begged Bob, screaming above the din. "I never shop like this! I buy online!" The little fat man only laughed harder. "Fine, you're innocent!" he chuckled, gobbled a stray jumbo Toblerone and and placed a long, knarled finger beside his nose.     Bob turned his head to find himself standing on a hardpan desert under a burning sun. Around him were the abandoned wattle-and-daub huts of an East African village, surrounded by what must once have been fields of maize. But there was no blade of green in sight, the trees dead, the people long gone, not even a bird left to pick the bones.     "This is plenty?" snarled Bob, with more than a hint of sarcasm. The imp wiped the last of the chocolate from his cheeks. "This is what our appetites leave for the rest of the world," he said slyly, and pointed to the sun. "Feel that? It's getting hotter. As you lie comfy in your bed, you have already doomed your grandchildren to failing crops and system breakdowns worldwide as the heat begins to spiral out of control, beyond levels not seen for ten thousand years. So party on! The best times are here!" Bob covered his ears to the raucous laughter, squeezed shut his eyes and fell from the ceiling flat into his bed again.     He had barely time to thrash himself to a sitting position and get his bearings when he felt rather than saw the cowled figure by the window. It loomed black, silent and faceless. Bob cowered and whimpered, "I know this story. You're my Future, aren't you?" The figure only raised an arm, revealing the bones of a hand, the forephalanges extended accusingly. "What have you to show me?" quavered Bob, now frightened out of his wits. With a whoosh he felt himself drawn bodily into the empty cowl, falling into space.     Bob realized he was floating high above the earth, yet still he could see the details of the surface. Evidence of humans was everywhere, but try as he might he could find no people. Away from the sun no light shone where billions once thrived, on the day side the cities were fallen and ravaged by war, weather and decay. Mats of green and orange algae choked the little remaining of lakes and rivers, equatorial deserts stretched to what was once tundra, even the continents were barely recognizable for the encroaching oceans. A nearly Pacific-sized cyclone obscured a quarter of the globe.     Scrooge caught his breath. "What happened to us?" he wailed, "What did we do to deserve this fate?"     The dark figure whispered one word, the voice scratching like a dead stick on a window, rattling with disdain. "Nothing."

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