This is the fifth in a series of posts about some of the 2012 readings I did last year. I recommend reading the earlier posts if you haven’t already. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.
This one is similar to Parts 2 and 4, in that I fictionalize what it would be like if the crazies were right. Also, I begin from the same place, so the first few paragraphs will be identical to the story you read in the other two stories. I fictionalize the account of our intrepid college students encountering a true Earth-Fucking Pole Shift.
If It Were True
The snowy streets of Des Moines on a cold, blowing December night would not be the first place you’d think to look for a party. Well, it’s your decision whether or not to look, but you’d find a party, nonetheless. Drake University was in the midst of finals for its first semester, and a group of friends were gathering at their favorite pub on a Thursday evening to let loose after finishing their tests. The night sky was clear save for a few high, wispy clouds, and the wind-blown snow shushed against the large window panes
Kate and Nina already had a head-start on the festivities. The half-full moon was a few hours away from breaching the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new day. The Court wasn’t packed, but they stayed open late during Finals Week. Most of the other students were waiting for Friday night after the very last exam, or they were too young to be served the pints of ale and lager that The Court was known for. The wait staff had posterboard signs hanging on their bodies with “The End is Nigh” or “Repent” written on them. It was the evening before what some people claimed was the end of the world as we know it. The Ancient Mayan Calendar was going to run out, and the last day was Friday, December 21, 2012.
Kate sloshed the last of her first pint of the night around the bottom of her glass. “Did Phil say if he was gonna make it tonight?” she asked.
“Can’t say. He’s probably spending another night with Liz. I swear, those two are welded together,” said Nina.
At that moment, the pub door swung open, allowing a gust of wind and snow to swing the paper decorations and flicker the candles set at each table. Doug slipped in with the wind, while his roommate Sam followed, looking extra-bulky from lugging his backpack full of schoolwork with him. Doug scanned the room and spotted Kate and Nina sitting in the far corner booth. As he approached, a waiter with the sign, “Abandon All Hope” was taking their order.
Nina looked up and smiled at Doug and Sam. “And two more porters for these gentlemen,” she said to the waiter.
“I don’t know how you talked me into coming,” said Sam, “I’ve got my Thermodynamics final tomorrow at noon.” He shuffled his body into the booth, not knowing where to put his bag.
“You’ve been studying for that for a week,” said Kate. “You’re not going to learn any more. Besides, if you take it easy the night before a test, you have a better chance of recalling important bits of knowledge. I read that somewhere.”
“Really?” said Sam. The others nodded, showing they knew this was a proven, indisputable fact. “That makes me feel a bit better.” Sam’s shoulders relaxed, and he maneuvered to pull off his parka.
Their pints arrived just in time for Phil and Liz to cram themselves into the last remaining places at their corner booth. More pints arrived, and the table was all smiles. Everyone was looking forward to the winter break; peaceful days of not having to wake up at 8 AM for an early morning class, or Kate and Nina’s trip back home to their hometown in Wyoming to hang out with their High School friends.
As the clock crept closer to midnight, Liz brought up the End of the World and how it was going to happen tomorrow.
“I might prefer that to my Thermo test,” said Sam.
“No, I’m serious,” said Liz. “There’s a lot of people out there who think tomorrow will be the end of the world.
“But you’re not one of them, are you?” said Phil. “Those people are crazy. I’ve known you for a year already. You’re not crazy.”
“Don’t worry about it, Liz. Phil will protect you from…,” said Doug. “What is it that’s supposed to happen anyway? Isn’t it the Mayans or Aztecs that said that time would run out?”
“It’s the Mayans.” Liz took a swig of her stout, and ended up with a foamy mustache. “Their calendar ends tomorrow. They must have known something was coming, and that it would be coming today.”
Phil wiped off her mustache. “Or maybe they figured having a calendar go 500 years into the future was plenty good. At some point you can stop making calendars. You’ll have enough time to make another one in the future.”
Each of them around the table discussed whatever they knew about 2012; the beer making each of them ever more lucid and eloquent. All the while, the clock approached midnight.
“Look. It’s beautiful,” said Kate, pointing out the window. The six friends turned to look as the moon rose…
It began nearly imperceptibly. By this point in the night, everyone in the bar had downed a significant portion of The Court’s beer. Every person but the designated drivers were tipsy. But nobody expected to stumble at the same time in the same direction. Doug looked at the others in the booth with him. They had all seen the table slide as well.
Another lurch, the CD player fell to the floor, and The Court fell silent. Wind whistled and continued to pick snow off of the snowbanks and batter it against the glass front windows; a never ending sandblasting sound. Outside, shadows cast by the streetlights swayed in unison. The rising half-moon was ringed with the haze of airborne snow. It stood still against the dancing green and red curtain that arrived silently and ominously.
The unseen force knocked everyone to the floor. A chorus of sudden snaps and cracks echoed up and down the street. Screams from The Court followed. A mass of human bodies slid toward the front windows. Those windows popped into millions of pieces as the stresses of the tortured building could no longer be ignored. Liz and Phil, still clinging to each other, tumbled out the front, unable to counter their slide to the east. It was as if someone had tilted the direction of gravity.
But gravity was working like normal. It was being overshadowed by an altogether new force. This new force was a horrible, overlooked remnant of physics that scientists had hoped would never come to light within their lifetime. The Sun, in all its indifference, showered enormous masses of particles and monstrous beams of energy towards the Earth. All of this energy and mass was unstoppable, especially with the weakening of the magnetic field that usually protected the Earth. The tempest drove deep into the Earth, altering the very spin of the core. The rest of the Earth was beginning to follow suit.
On the surface, anything not bolted down was sliding to the east, and in some places, especially nearer to the equator where the shift in velocity was more pronounced, some things seemed to fly into the sky. Even things that were bolted down began to bend and crack. In Des Moines, on the street where our friends had gathered for a good night of camaraderie, buildings crumbled. It was not an earthquake-prone area, and building codes did not account for such events. Dust and snow whipped through the street, accompanying deafening crashes and grinding concrete. The street and all the buildings were pulverizing themselves against the strain.
In some places, pockets of people still survived. They had slid or run or traveled somehow in those terrifying minutes to open spaces. Phil and Liz clung to the trunk of a tree on the outskirts of town. They turned to watch the tallest buildings tilt and crash. Bits of glass and concrete pelted them, but both of them knew that to let go would mean to die, skidding away from one another. Had they been looking behind them, they might have noticed the moon setting in the east.
The force subsided, leaving only sturdy, short buildings standing, and very few people left. Liz knew there was no hope of finding her friends in that mangled deathtrap that used to be Des Moines. Their only hope was to move south. In December in Iowa, life depended on finding warmth. She and Phil walked, shivering until they came across an abandoned car. Phil, being an auto enthusiast, knew which wires to cross to start it without the key. It started and it warmed them. They wept.
It was still dark, and the lights of the city had gone dark. The aurorae had dimmed. They could see the full brightness of the stars, unobstructed. The black of deep space accentuated each one of them, like memories that refused to be forgotten. On the southern horizon, Phil noticed a red glow. Was it the lights of a town? Was there someone out there that could help? It wasn’t safe to drive until daytime, so they slept.
Dawn broke. Liz woke first, shaking Phil awake. They took turns driving south on I-35, or what was left of it. They occasionally stopped at a vehicle, siphoning gas and looting the rubble of convenience stores. The gas stations had burned through the night and left smoldering beams and tipped overhangs. The faint glow to the south was growing brighter and visible even by day, and they drove over hills that they were sure hadn’t been there before. It was slow driving, trying to find the best route around ten to twenty foot drops formed by the newly cracked earth. A few days took them out of the snowpack and into the merely bearable cold. Factories continued burning their massive supply of fuel and chemicals. A river flowed across the road, far from its banks and choked with floating debris and bodies of people and animals. With no bridge for this new obstacle, they found a shallow place to cross and dodge the debris. At one point, they even spotted another car on the horizon, but it was unreachable in the new terrain and it disappeared from their sight. At night, the glow to the south became a dominant red light, and a constant grumble could be felt through the ground when they stepped outside to walk around.
Then they encountered the wall of fire. The glow to the south was not a burning city. It was not a forest fire. It was a wall of molten rock spewing into the sky. The reversal of the Earth’s spin had created a tear in the crust, exposing the mantle below. Ash clouds billowed across the horizon. Magma shot up like flame. Boulders tumbled out of the sky, trailing smoke and debris.
No human had seen such a sight in thousands of years. Phil and Liz stared, terrified. They decided that their only option was to find a way around. It took another couple of weeks, but there was a way. The rubble of cities looked decidedly more pummeled as they went further south, and the convenience stores were more picked over or destroyed, too. Food was becoming a problem, and gas or replacement vehicles were becoming more difficult to come across.
They neared the coast, and massive devastation was plain to see. A tsunami had washed dozens of miles inland and piled boats and houses in random places, as if an oversized bulldozer gathered everything in its path and stopped here. At that point, they met another traveler who had the same idea; to travel south to escape the winter, to keep going in the vain hope that there was a place untouched by the event that ruined everything. They decided to travel together to conserve gas and to have another set of eyes that would be needed to hunt and forage for food.
Central America had been flattened and cracked. Where there was previously a rainforest lay rows of tree trunks flat on the ground, all pointing the same direction; the direction the tsunami went. New growth was beginning to poke through the layer of dead forest, but it was all tainted by an oily slick that clung to everything and smelled like an illness. Further south, cliffs and mountains beyond the horizon reached higher than anyone had ever seen. They had been thrust up by the violent change, and reached to heights above the air itself. At their base billowed even more angry clouds of ash and upward thrusting fingers of molten rock.
A mass of people gathered there, bounded by hell to the south, oceans to the east and west, and the destruction of their old lives to the north. Food was plentiful, thanks to an overturned container ship hauling tons of goods, including non-perishable food. Liz realized that this was not sustainable. They needed to find a new life where they could grow food that they could safely eat, uncontaminated by the chemicals and nuclear hazards that had spread over the land to the north.
Their only option was over the water, to the south. There was rumor in the group that Antarctica could have possibly shifted to a more habitable zone. Nobody was sure who started that rumor, but it sounded as likely as anything else. Also, there was a rival group forming nearby that seemed way too interested in their container ship. All night long, the rival group burned smoky, oil-soaked bonfires, chanting war cries that sounded suspiciously like unaccompanied mariachi band songs. They needed to leave before the rivals began raiding. And the rivals would never think to look for them in Antarctica.
So they boarded a ship, a large one that they were able to fit the people and their supplies on, and had enough fuel for the trip to Antarctica. The overturned container vessel supplied them with many things, including weapons and ammunition. The rival gang took notice of the movement, and decided that it was time to attack. They wore rudimentary armor, fashioned out of vines and twigs. They hurled rocks and made grunting noises. It was obvious that they were a lesser, unsophisticated type of person. Communication with the rival gang was useless. The weeks and months of survival in the de-civilized world had erased their ability to speak above single syllables and grunts. The twig-armor wearing gang, who seemed to want to take over the land occupied by the more advanced group, didn’t seem to understand that the advanced group was leaving.
Liz decided to take action. Though her group was more advanced, they seemed panicked by the new situation. She took charge, ordering warning shots to be taken to keep the grunting horde at bay. It worked for a while, allowing the remainder of the supplies to be packed aboard the escape ship. They were able to cast off, leaving the angry, screaming primitive tribe behind to fend for themselves in the ruined land.
The smart, sophisticated group was off. They decided to give their new civilization a name. One that would signify their status in relation to the rest of the world. Actually, it was Liz who named the civilization. She dubbed them “The Hamptons.” Also, she named the ship the SS Kardashian, in honor of her idol. Weeks went by on the high south seas. The compass on the ship pointed north, but by then they had all figured out that the poles had switched, and they were smart enough to know which way to go.
None of them were really experts at piloting large ships, but they read the manual and got the gist of it.
A few dodged icebergs later, they spotted land. It was clearly Antarctica, signified by the red and white striped pole sticking out of the ground with a big letter ’S’ on it. It had shifted on the surface of the Earth, too. It had moved to a more habitable location, and the ice sheets and glaciers had begun melting and sliding into the ocean. The Hamptons cheered and dropped their smaller lifeboats and made landfall. The land was scraped clean of any vegetation or soil by the massive ice sheets. Massive boulders created waterfalls and diversions for the streams of melting ice that still remained inland. Penguins wandered confusedly on the shoreline as the Hamptons wandered into their new home.
Liz planted a makeshift flag – which was actually the windsock from the Kardashian – into the rocky ground. “I declare this our new home. We will use our wit and resourcefulness to build a new civilization here.” Phil and the rest of the Hamptons looked at each other uneasily. Liz continued, “And my first order will be to declare myself Pharaoh of Antarctica. Build me a pyramid and worship me.”
They conferred among themselves, and gave their reply. They got back on the Kardashian, turned around and motored away to find a better place to live. They left Liz to rule the penguins with an iron fist.
She was the best Pharaoh the penguins ever had.