Narratives

Full English

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on Seat of Mars on July 13, 2015

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mars-earth

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Jack opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He wondered where he was. The room was bright, with white-painted walls. It was well-lit by the morning sun, which slanted through the blinds and fell in contoured stripes on the duvet covers. Beside him lay Cat, still asleep and lying on her side with her back to him. He watched her as she slept, seeing the gentle rise and fall of her shoulder as she breathed. From outside the house came the faint staccato cry of the gulls, carried on the breeze above the low murmur of the surf on the beach.  He gazed out of the window, seeing only blue. The light seemed brighter here than in London, he thought. It wasn’t a harsh light, and neither was it hot, but it did seem to glow in a way that he thought unusual. He lay there for a while wondering if other people noticed such things, or whether it was just him. Pondering whether to get up or stay in bed a while longer he reached out and touched his girlfriend on the shoulder. His hand slid down her tee shirt to the curve of her side and rested there. She didn’t move, and continued with the soft breathing that Jack knew meant she was in a deep sleep. He rolled over onto his back once more and fixed his gaze on a circular LED light set into the ceiling. This reminded him of something and, presently, he rose and padded softly out of the bedroom.

 

 
 
Down in the kitchen he filled the kettle and flicked the switch. There was no reassuring red light to indicate that it was working. “Still?” said Jack out loud. He tried a light switch. Nothing. They had arrived shortly before midnight. If Jack hadn’t once stayed in this house before they might never have found the small village sitting in darkness at the end of a road not much narrower than the van. The key had been in the key safe and they had fumbled with a pocket torch to open the door. The old granite fisherman’s cottage had been modernised and done out with blonde wooden floors, quartz kitchen tops and designer furniture from Stockton’s. Of course, none of this had been visible until Jack had managed to locate a box of candles in a cupboard under the stairs. “Let’s go to bed,” Cat had said. “I will show you what we do in Argentina when the power is down.”
 
And she had.
 
Now, staring at the cold kettle, Jack was puzzled. He was well aware that other countries experienced power cuts and blackouts, but as far as he could remember he had never experienced one before in his own country. He went and stood at the bay window looking out over a neat patio space edged by borders filled with honeysuckle and fuchsias. The space ended in a triangle of blue sea flecked with small white waves that twinkled in and out of existence moment by moment. Jack's suitcase still lay in the hallway and he unzipped it, flipping open the lid to reveal a jumble of hastily packed clothing and toiletries. Selecting a pair of shorts and a fresh tee shirt Jack slipped on some sandals and, pausing briefly to check his hair in a mirror and grab his wallet, turned the handle of the front door and stepped out.
 
The village street was quiet but for the sound of the gulls and the raucous chirps of a family of sparrows that were squabbling in a tangle of ivy that had grown up the side of the cottage. Hollyhocks drooped down over the sides of the road, shedding their purple petals on the tarmac as bumble bees lumbered unsteadily through the air around them. Jack walked down the hill in the direction of the beach. A few over-sized cars were blocking the narrow lane and Jack glanced back at his own vehicle, checking that he had managed to park it considerately in the darkness the night before. At that moment a jaunty-looking couple of retirees appeared as if from nowhere and walked quickly past him, uttering the obligatory ‘morning’ as they passed by. “Morning,” Jack replied, and with a swish of gore-tex they were gone.
 
Further on down, on a bluff overlooking the beach and the bay, stood the café.  It was a glorified summerhouse, adorned with driftwood to make it look like a beach cabin. Outside it a daily menu was written on a surfboard fixed into a square of concrete. Jack could see people sitting on benches in the garden drinking tea. As he got closer he could hear the chug of an engine and smelled diesel fumes mingling with the salty smell of the ocean. A woman wearing a black apron and a baseball cap stood behind the counter and greeted him. “Morning – what can I get you today?”
 
“I’ll have a coffee,” said Jack, and then scrutinising the menu board added “and can you do me a full English?”
 
The woman glanced back and called out to a girl, perhaps a teenager, cooking in the open kitchen behind her on a gas stove. “Can we do a full English?” she asked. “Yes,” said the girl. “We don’t have any sausages though.”
 
“We haven’t got no sausages,” conveyed the woman, smiling broadly to reveal a gold tooth. “All out of them for now, but I can fry up some extra rashers of bacon.”
 
“No worries,” said Jack. “That sounds great.”
 
The woman looked over at the surf board menu and tapped the keys on the cash register. “That’ll be six forty-five, my lovely. Milk and sugar are over there and we’ll bring it over when it’s ready.”
 
“Thanks,” he said, and paused to turn. “What’s going on with the power? We just arrived last night.”
 
“No idea!” said the woman, leaning forward on the counter, her hands splayed out. “We haven’t heard nothing since half-seven last night when it went off. Not a dickybird on the radio either other than some BBC sounding fella saying over and over that they’re working to get it back again. Sounds like a recording, if you ask me, and that’s exactly what I said to Steve, and he said it probably is and it’ll be up and running again soon enough. If it wasn’t for Ted over there and his gennie there’d have been no way we’d be open right now, I tell you.”
 
“Oh,” said Jack, looking around at the fridge and the lights and the coffee machine. “Is it just round here, do you know?”
 
“We’re just as in the dark as you are, my lover. Far as I know it’s just round here, but then if that was so then you’d expect the telly to be working wouldn’t you?” she nodded at a small television set in the corner of the café. “Nothing, just black. Very odd, I says.” As she said this she handed over a cup of coffee on a porcelain saucer. “And like I said about the radio, there’s this fella comes on every half hour or so and says they’re working on it and that we shouldn’t go panicking or nothing, and then they keep playing God Save the Queen over and over. It’s downright creepy, I says to Jade, in’t it?”
 
The girl in the kitchen looked up and nodded. “Well creepy.”
 
Jack took the coffee and sat on a bench by a stone wall. He could see down onto the beach below where a few people were already lying on towels and a man with a windsurfing board was pulling on a wetsuit. His eyes rose to the horizon, where he could make out the long form of a cargo boat in the far distance. He watched it while he drank his coffee but it was impossible to tell whether it was moving or not.
 
“Full English?” It was the girl from the kitchen holding up a large plate, thumb-deep in assorted greasy food items.
 
“Thanks,” said Jack as she placed it down in front of him. “Anything special going on round here today?”
 
The girl looked slightly bashful, hesitant; as if she’d had men like Jack from upcountry asking her out in the past. “Well, Golowan’s still going on in Penzance, you can catch that.” And, seeing the nonplussed look on Jack’s face added “it’s the midsummer festival. Parades, music, that kind of thing. Oh, and lots of drinking. Gets bigger every year. It’s a right laugh if you’ve never seen it before, but don’t think you’ll get a parking place easily.”
 
“Great,” he said. “Maybe we’ll check it out.”
 
After he had eaten he went down to the beach and walked by the water, which was going out and leaving an unmarked sandy beach in its retreat. The sea was calm and conditions were perfect for kayaking. He tossed a couple of pebbles into the water and held his hand up against the glare of the sun, hoping to spot a dolphin or a shark. He knew the sharks came in at this time of year, although he had never seen one on any of his previous visits. Failing to spot anything larger than a seagull he walked back to the cottage and let himself in. Inside, Cat was still asleep. He brushed his teeth in the en suite, trying to be as quiet as he could. In this weather he was eager to get his kayak down off the top of the van and get out onto the water.
 
“Where have you been?” asked Cat, one sleepy eye open. “I woke up and you were gone. Thought you had left me.”
 
“I’ve been down to the café by the beach. The power’s still off, otherwise I’d have made you a coffee.” As he said the words he hoped they didn’t sounded too apologetic. It was his holiday as well, after all.
 
“Power still off?” purred Cat, her voice husky from sleep. “What is wrong with your country? Sometimes I think we should go back and live in my country. My first world country, and leave your cold, unfriendly country, with your funny-shaped people and your funny food behind.” She snorted a little, as though the idea amused her.
 
Jack knew she was teasing him. She was always teasing him. One of these days he was going to tell her that it annoyed him when she did so. But not today. “I’m going to get down the kayak. The water’s perfect for it and there’s not a cloud in the sky. You can get some breakfast at the café while I get ready.”
 
Cat eyed Jack for a minute and sighed. “No, no, no,” she said chastising him. She switched to a mock cave-woman voice. “Boy can play with his toy when girlfriend not here.  Right now, girlfriend here and in bed.” She pulled back the covers and beckoned him over. He did as she asked, although she detected a hint of reluctance in his manner.
 

“Now,” she said, lying back on the bed “prove to me that not all Englishmen are wimps.”

The Seat of Mars

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on The Seat of Mars on June 26, 2015

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Seat of Mars

Please check out my new fiction story Seat of Mars. The story concerns a sudden breakdown of society and all the bedlam that ensues. A new chapter will be added every Sunday.

Think of this story as a bookend. This is one end, starting in the present day, and at the far end is my story Saga and the Bog People, which has just been published in the After Oil 3 anthology. This story, and subsequent ones, will fill in the interim 500 years between now, and that distant future society I envisaged set in Greenland.

I hope you enjoy this story – feel free to leave feedback and comments. When I have completed enough of the story I will publish it in paperback and ebook format.

To view the blog click here.

Discuss this story at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war, 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
Which serves it in the office of a wall 
Or as a moat defensive to a house, 
Against the envy of less happier lands,– 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
Shakespeare,  King Richard II

 

 

1. 

It was a quarter to midnight. Cat, her face half-lit by the screen light, cursed quietly to herself. Her boyfriend shot her a cursory glance but remained silent. The pitch of the engine had risen to a tinny whine as the old van struggled up the seemingly never-ending hill. Reflector lights set in the tarmac, glowing green in the darkness, floated past like will-o’-the-wisps as he stepped down hard on the clutch, dropping another gear. There was a slight jerk in the forward trajectory of the vehicle and the engine pitch went up another half octave. He glanced nervously at the temperature gauge just as she looked up from the screen. She frowned and looked out of the window for the first time since Devon.

“Where the bloody hell are we?” she said, noticing the absence of road lighting and other cars. Willie Nelson crooned faintly on the van’s stereo, hardly audible behind the noise of the engine.

“Bodmin Moor,” said Jack. “Ever heard of the Bodmin beast?”

The darkness was unrelenting, although a faint halo behind the silhouette of a distant hill suggested a rising moon. She ignored his question about beasts. “There’s no signal,” she said eventually, her face creased with consternation. She was sat with her knees up under her chin, bare feet on the vinyl cover as she pawed away at the tiny screen which rested on an exposed corner of seat.

Jack sighed inwardly. “I doubt there’s transmitters up here on the moor.”

Cat took this in. The last time she had been somewhere with no signal was in Greece the year before. She thought back to that time, remembered seeing the old man and the donkey walking down the street, taking pictures of him with her phone. She hadn’t known there were places in England with no signal. It reminded of her of home, but not in a good way. That holiday had been with someone else. It hadn’t worked out. Perhaps it was some kind of omen.

“We’ll be over the moor soon enough and then it’s all downhill from there. Should be a signal soon.” He tried to sound reassuring. This journey seemed to be taking forever.

She had been engaged in a group chat with a clutch of friends who were, at that particular moment, strung out in various bars and restaurants across London, Madrid and, indeed, the world. Tina, who worked in the finance department, had just taken a selfie with a waiter, who looked Italian or maybe Spanish. Wot do u think!! said some text below the image of the blonde girl and the tall dark Latino. It remained there on the screen, static, right underneath the ‘no signal’ warning. She looked out of the window but saw only blackness and her own reflection. In the distance, high up on the moor, a single light hovered indicating a lone farmhouse. A thought occurred to her.

“There will be a signal where we’re going, won’t there?”

“Course there will,” scoffed Jack. “It’s got wifi and everything.” Even as he said these words a flicker of doubt crossed his mind. He tried to remember whether the place indeed had wifi, or whether he had just made an assumption. Would the girl be angry if there wasn’t? He sensed problems, even now. This week was supposed to be about getting away from London and their over-full lives. The two plastic kayaks strapped to the roof of the VW attested to that. You don’t just drive for eight hours from London and expect everything to be the same, he thought.

“What is that white?” said the girl.

“Crap,” said Jack, easing off the accelerator. The fog was like a wall and they drove straight into it. It cloaked them, muffling the sound of the engine, a blankness so sudden and all-enclosing that for a moment it felt as if the wheels of the vehicle had left the road and they were now moving through the clouds. Cat pulled her heels further behind her on the seat and wrapped her arms around herself. “When will we be there?” she asked.

Jack glanced at the clock on the dash. “About an hour,” he said, even though he knew it would be more like ninety minutes and then some. This was their first time away together. Unless you counted that night in Brighton, but that was with friends and most of it had been lost in an alcohol blackout. He liked Cat. They’d been together for four months and people at the company they both worked at said they made a good couple. He, the slightly dreamy one who worked in Strategy, and she the exotic catch with the exotic accent who’d come all the way from exotic Buenos Aires. She worked in the HR department of their global marketing and tech agency, had climbed the ladder well in the time she had been there, and showed promise within the company. He wondered what he had done to deserve such a catch. In his estimation, whenever he looked in a mirror, all he saw was a slightly dorky young man, unable to shake off the provincial blandness that his Leicestershire upbringing had instilled in him. Despite six years in London and his best efforts, his accent still retained a slight Midland twang that reasserted itself every time he went home to visit whatever friends he had who still lived there; the ones who had not managed to escape.

Escape. Maybe that’s what this week was about. Getting out on the water with Cat. Eating mussels overlooking the bay in St Ives. Evening walks on the cliffs watching the sunset over the Atlantic.

He caught her reflection in the whiteness of the windscreen. She was still frowning, and looked tired. Her small face was revealed between curtains of tangled dark hair, the dark shadows in the van’s interior emphasising the pout of her lips and her long curled eyelashes. He turned back and focused on the road and the whiteness. It felt as if they were not moving at all.

There were so many things that had puzzled Caterina Ana Gutierrez about this country in the two years since she had landed at Heathrow with a suitcase of clothes and a head full of plans. Her father, who owned a firm that designed steel rigs for the Brazilian oil sector, had made sure she would not have to worry about money while she was away. A year’s rent was paid up front in cash to secure an apartment near Hyde Park, and before she left he had put in her hand a credit card and folded her fingers around it. “Just for you, mi preciosa,” he had said. It was there in case of trouble, and the limit on it was sufficiently high that it could be used to get on a plane “to anywhere” if the need arose.

She loved her life in London. Loved the restaurants, the parties, her flat, her friends. She was equally as comfortable shopping for cast-off jeans at Camden Lock on a Sunday morning, as she was picking out cocktail dresses at Harrods. She kept fit by jogging around Hyde Park most mornings, spent weekends clubbing and was on a mission to dine at as many different ethnic fusion restaurants as one life would allow. Just the previous night she had been at a Rwandan/Ethiopian place eating gored gored and kifto with her friends. Life had never tasted so sweet.

Spending a week in Cornwall was something she had had to be talked into. She had been with Jack for some time, long enough to realise that he didn’t feel the same way about London as she did. When she’d asked him what he wanted for his thirtieth birthday, a week in Cornwall had been his reply. Something to do with him going there as a child, a way to remember his parents, who had died quite young, and re-live his childhood. Fine, she thought. She’d looked it up online. It looked nice enough. Lots of beaches and pictures of stone cottages and boats. It looked a bit primativa, and she wasn’t sure why anyone would want to spend so long away from London – wouldn’t a weekend be enough? – but there was a Tate gallery there, as well as a smattering of Michelin-starred eateries, so maybe there were some signs of civilisation after all.

The terrain had leveled out and all of a sudden the fog cleared, revealing the landscape around them beneath a three-quarters full moon. It was a clear night, and the stars in the dark sky seemed so close. One star shone brighter than the rest in the western sky. “Mars,” said Jack, pointing through the windscreen. “You can tell it’s not Venus because it’s slightly orangey, if you squint.”

She looked. It didn’t look that orangey to her. Typical of a man to say that Venus is Mars, she thought. He shifted up a couple of gears and the sound of the engine steadied and quieted, revealing Willie Nelson once more. “I’d rather see you up than down,” he sang to a sliding steel guitar and harmonica accompaniment. “So leave me if you need to, I will still remember angel flying too close to the ground.

“Good god, can we turn this depressing crap off?” exclaimed Cat, punching the knob on the stereo. Jack felt a spike of resentment once more. But it didn’t last, because the feeling of getting over the moor was a natural mood lifter. It was as if a liminal threshold had been passed, a severing of some invisible line that had reached out from London and held the old VW in a tractor beam since the M25. They had crested the moor and the A30 began to angle down into a descent. A truck passed by, going in the opposite direction, its headlights picking out the white forms of a few sheep sleeping in a field.

But something wasn’t right. At first it was just a feeling, an intimation that something was amiss. They continued to drive along in silence. Cat fumbled with her phone. “Still nothing,” she said. They rounded a bend as they approached the town of Bodmin, population 12,778. The cars became more numerous, and some appeared to be going too fast. Friday night fast, reasoned Jack.

Cat, restless, leaned forward and punched on the stereo again. Willie had only a moment to croon So leave before he was ejected, the CD flung unceremoniously into the glove box. She turned the radio tuner and watched as the little digital display raced up the frequencies looking for something to latch onto. After a moment it halted and the sound of static came from the speakers. There was a voice somewhere in the background but it was speaking French. She pressed it again and it ran all the way through without finding anything. She tried AM but that just resulted in an eerie looping noise that sounded like something from a cheap 1950s alien movie.

“Jesus, don’t they have radio either in Cornwall?” Giving up, she punched the off button once more and settled back in her seat.

The main road, which had taken them over the moor, and would take them all the way to Land’s End if they continued on it, brushed against the outskirts of the town. More cars. They were passing under grey steel shapes that were at once familiar and yet puzzling. The moonlight illuminated the pale cuboid outlines of a housing estate on a hillside, making it look like so many grey boxes lined up and ready to be shipped off somewhere with their human occupants still inside them. It connected all at once in Jack’s mind.

“Lights,” he said.”

“There’s no power.”

An Interview with Cassandra

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Chimera Myth on April 9, 2015

cassandra_retouched

Discuss this Story at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner

The prophetess Cassandra was cursed to be always right in her prophecies, but never to be believed. That places her on a par with modern climate scientists. (image: Cassandra as interpreted by Marvel comics)

I don’t have to tell you that this story is a work of fantasy, but several details are taken from modern historiography, for instance the Hittite king Mutawalli, the possible contemporary events of the battle of Kadesh and the fall of Troy, the habits of the Babylonian temple priestesses, and more, including a little attempt of inventing a Sumerian root for the name “Cassandra”, whose etymology is unknown. You may also like to know that this story came to my mind, nearly complete, while I was mounting some bookshelves at home; maybe I have to consider it as a gift from the Goddess Ikea.

____________________________________

After that I had googled “summoning spells” on the web, I found one that I liked. I needed some peculiar stuff to perform it, including crocodile liver, platypus’ whiskers, bat’s earwax and more. But once I got all that (via Amazon.com), I thought I could try. And, immediately, there materialized in front of me, right in my office, a translucent image of a dark haired lady wearing gold jewels and a curious dress. No less than the ghost of Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess. And I could interview her!


Ahem….. Lady Cassandra, I humbly welcome you here….

Oh…. Where am I?

I summoned you, Lady Cassandra…. you are far in the future. More than three thousand years.

Three thousand years in the future, you say? You must have some really powerful magic, here. Where did you learn it?

Well, we have something we call the “Internet”

A library? Plenty of scrolls you must have in there.

Not exactly scrolls, lady Cassandra, but you can find a lot of things in it. But I must say that I am not a great expert at summoning ghosts; it is the first time I try.

You have to be careful with these spells, you know? It is dangerous stuff. You could have summoned some Galla demons of the underworld and they would have shred you to pieces. You are lucky that you summoned me in your first try. But the Gods of the underworld must like you – really! They even granted me the gift of being able to speak your language. A curious language, by the way; it doesn’t sound like anything I knew before. Where does it come from?

We call it ‘English’, lady. It comes, well, it comes from the lands of the North. 

Oh…. from those barbarian lands? No wonder that it sounds so weird, Well, never mind that; evidently the Gods like me to speak this language. But enough with this “Lady Cassandra”. Why do you call me like that?

Well, after all, you are the daughter of King Priam.

The daughter of King Priam? You believe in that story?

Well, it is what is said about you. Are you that Cassandra…. ?

Oh, yes, I am that Cassandra – the one they say was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. A lot of things have been said about me, I know; some are even true. But the daughter of King Priam? No, no…. It is just a legend, one of the many. Actually, I came to know Priam very well; and I was in Troy when the Achaeans destroyed it. But I am not Priam’s daughter. You see, I was born in Babylon…..

Born in Babylon? Really? Lady Cassandra, this is surprising!

Well, Babylon is where I was born. And I was born as Kasanna before those silly Greeks mangled my name turning it into “Cassandra”. But I wasn’t born as Lady Cassandra. I mean, I have been in the underworld long enough that I can drop all those silly titles. But if you really like to call me Lady Cassandra, it is fine for me. So, who are you, by the way?

Oh.. you see, I am nobody of any importance. I was just reading about you, and I was curious.

Enough that you risked to be shred to pieces by a Galla demon? You have to be a very curious person.

It is my job to be curious. I am called, well…. we say, “scientist”

Something like a priest? You make prophecies?

Sometimes I make prophecies about climate….. you know, how climate will change in the future.

And are you believed?

Oh… well, that’s a big problem.

I know, I know! It happens all the time. Anyway, if you are so curious, I figure I could tell you a few things about me. I don’t think that the demons of the underworld will leave me chatting with you for a long time. But as long as the spell lasts, why not?

Thank you, Lady Cassandra. It is an honor to be told this story

So, Let me see…. I have to start from the beginning. As I told you, I was born in Babylon. And I became a shamhatu of the temple of Ishtar. You probably don’t know what a shamhatu is; well, she is a hierodule of the temple. A temple girl, just that. It was my job. The job of the temple girls is to celebrate the goddess of love, Ishtar. We also call her “Inanna” in the old language, in Sumerian, that is. And we do that, you know, it means to have sex with the king, celebrate the sacred marriage of Tammuz and Ishtar – or, as they said in the times of our Sumerian ancestors, Dummuzi and Inanna.

So, I was studying to become a priestess. It was my career, to learn the old language of the Sumerians, to recite the hymns, to perform the sacrifices. It is a complicated job, you know? You have to study a lot and then, when it is time to perform the sacred marriage rite, you have to look all coquettish with the king, wear jewels, sexy clothes, all that….. Ouf…. Not all kings are nice… But all kings like a lot to play the role of Dummuzi in the sacred marriage rite. And a priestess plays the role of Inanna, the goddess. In a way, it is fun.

Now, in my times, the big man, the king, was someone called Muwatalli the second, an Hittite. His father had conquered Babylon earlier on and, at that time, in Babylon we were part of the Hittite Empire. So, the king of the Hittites would come to Babylon once in a while, just to make sure that everything was quiet and that everybody pays their taxes to him.

So, he came to Babylon, this king Muwatalli, from the capital of the Empire, from Tarhuntassa. Quite a retinue he carried with him. Soldiers, slaves, ladies in waiting, concubines, servants, cooks, all the rest. And he arrived in time for the rite of the sacred marriage. And you can imagine who was the hierodule who had the task of performing the rite that year. Just the modest me; Cassandra – or rather, as I said, Kasanna.

So, I performed this rite with King Mutawalli. Not a bad guy, I’d say, although he had this idea that everyone should call him Nergal, which means the God of War, but kings have these bizarre ideas. Anyway, he must have been impressed by our rituals. You know, in Babylon, at that time, we knew how to impress people! Fancy dresses, songs, harps playing, all the rest. But I think he was more impressed by the way the priestesses could perform divinations. Kings are always interested in divinations – they must feel very insecure all the time. Or so I think.

Anyway, King Muwatalli was impressed enough by the whole circus that he wanted to take me to Tarhuntassa. People used to say that I was a nice looking girl at that time, but I am not sure that he wanted me for my looks. I think he was thrilled by the idea of having a personal Babylonian priestess at his court – available any time. Whatever, I had no choice, anyway. I remember that my Ensi, the high priestess of the temple, told me that I had to be careful, because I had learned a lot of things in the temple, even how to make prophecies, but that of prophetizing is not an easy job and that I had not learned yet how to make myself believed, and so I risked to be misunderstood all the time. She was right, of course. But I was young and I must say that I was excited at the idea to go with king Muwatalli. You know, I could have given a son to the king, then he would have married me and I would have become Queen, or Empress, or something like that. I knew that it wasn’t likely that it would happen; and it didn’t happen. But – you know – a girl can always dream!

So, let me keep going. I went with King Muwatalli to Tarhuntassa and I became one of his concubines; he had a lot of them, as kings use to have. He also had a wife, or perhaps more than one – I am not sure. Anyway, I was not to be his wife. Just a concubine. Which is fine, after all; you know, the job of the concubine is not very difficult. You just have to be ready when the king wants you, which is not so often, because the king has a lot of concubines. It was little boring, sure, but after a while you get used to that; you spend a lot of time chatting with the other concubines, eating, drinking, and laughing. So, that could have been all of my story; to get old in the king’s harem; it is the lot of concubines, But, instead, my destiny was to be completely different.

As a concubine, I was a little special, because I was from Babylon, and I had been a hierodule of the temple of Ishtar and the priests and the priestesses of Babylon have this fame of being able to make prophecies. So, one day, the king summoned me, and I went to see him all dressed up nice, kohl on my eyes, good perfume all over, and gold jewels on my wrists and ankles. But that day I found that that he didn’t want to play Dummuzi and Inanna with me. I saw right away that he was worried, very worried. So, he told me that messengers had come from Egypt and had told him that the Egyptian army was marching North in full strength, toward the lands of the Hittites, led by the young Pharaoh Ramses the second. So, he asked me to make a prophecy for him. A prophecy about this battle.

What could I do? When a king asks you something, you can’t refuse. So, I wore the dress of the prophetess, had a liver from a freshly killed goat brought to me and I made this prophecy for him. And it was not a good prophecy. I saw a lot of dead people, plenty of smashed chariots, and the remains of the Hittite army retreating. I told him this, and he got angry at me. He said that he didn’t believe me and that he was going to lick these Egyptians as they deserved. And that he would teach this stupid Ramses a good lesson. And that he didn’t believe a word of my prophecy.

It was what my Ensi had said. That nobody would believe my prophecies; actually she had said it was a curse, and maybe it was true. But what could I do about that? King Muwatalli assembled the whole Hittite army, all the chariots and the infantry, and he marched south, to meet the Egyptian army at the city of Kadesh.

From Tarhuntassa, we saw the king leaving and, a couple of months later, coming back. But half of the army was not there and the king was not happy, not happy at all. Of course he told everyone that it had been a big victory for him, at Kadesh; that he had really licked those Egyptians and taught a big lesson to that young Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses the second. But the survivors told different stories of people being hacked to piece and drowning while trying to swim across the Orontes river, pursued by the Egyptians. Later on, there came messengers from Egypt, who said that king Ramses had come back home telling of the great victory he had won against the Hittites.

So, you can understand how things were at the court of Tarhuntassa after the battle. The king was worried that the Egyptians would attack again, that the provinces would rebel, that the nobles would try to overthrow him… a mess. And about me…. ow… you can imagine that. It is no good having been right about a king’s disgrace. I was afraid that King Mutawalli would kill me; he didn’t, but for sure he didn’t care any more for me as a concubine. But at this point there happened something special.

Not that I was supposed to be told about these political things, I was just a concubine. But everything becomes known in court after a while, and so I learned that there had come a messenger from King Alaksandu of Wilusa. You probably never hear of these names, but you can surely understand if I say, instead “king Priam of Troy”. So let me call him Priam, even though the Hittites called him Alaksandu.

Now, this messenger arrived, and he said that King Priam was in trouble because this king Akagamunash, ruler of the Ahhiyawa was planning to attack the city of Troy. Even these names, you probably never heard of. But they are known also as king Agamemnon and the Achaeans; people living across the sea from Anatolia. So, this messenger said that King Priam had always been a faithful vassal of king Mutawalli, and that he would remain a faithful servant forever, and that his sons would be forever faithful servants of King Muwatalli, too, and he kept going like that for quite a long time. Then, while still paying homage to the victorious king of the Hittites, he – king Priam – said that he badly needed some help from King Muwatalli and that the great Hittite ruler was surely able to chase away these barbarian Achaeans with his powerful army as if they were ants pushed away by fire.

That message made king Mutawalli even angrier and more worried than before. And that came to be known all over the court of Tarhuntassa. He had no army that he could send West to defend Troy. And if he tried to defend Troy, he would risk another defeat, or to leave the Eastern provinces unguarded, and that would have been truly the end of him. But if he did nothing, he risked the whole left flank of the Hittite Empire. So, he had this idea: to send me to king Priam. I don’t know if that was to be taken as a joke or if he really thought I could help the Trojans – maybe yes, you know, these Babylonian priestesses have strange powers. Anyway, the king had his scribes write a pompous letter to Priam, saying that because of his faithful service he wanted to reward him with a precious gift, a gift of great value. And he was sending him this wise woman, Cassandra from Babylon, prophetess of renown and that he – king Muwatalli – was sure that King Priam would appreciate the gift for what it was worth.

All that I came to know later. What happened is that the king summoned me in front of him and he told me “Cassandra, you are going to Wilusa” – And I couldn’t understand Hittite so well, so I said, “What?” And he laughed and he said, “Aren’t you a prophetess, Cassandra? You should know!” Silly humor of kings, but let me say nothing about that.

One month later, I was there, in front of the walls of Troy, with a caravan that had traveled all the way from Tarhuntassa. And I was in front of King Priam, who came out of the door of the city to meet me. I still remember his face. He was expecting an army to help him, and all what he got was a dressed up concubine escorted by eunuchs and slaves. Oh, that he was disappointed!! But he put on a brave face, and he escorted me into the city with all the pomp of the occasion.

Now, King Priam was too old to be interested in playing Dummuzi and Inanna with me. But his sons were young enough, and I was the new girl in town, and I think that Priam didn’t want anyone to quarrel because of me. There was a war that was going to start, and he didn’t want Trojans to kill each other. So, he placed me in the temple of the Goddess they had in Troy; Athena Parthenos; who was supposed to be a virgin. And the hierodules, there, were also supposed to be virgins. Now, it is a bit strange for a hierodule of Isthar to be said to be a virgin. It would be like saying that Nergal, the God of War, fears blood! And about all the other hierodules; virgins? Well, let me say nothing about that. But, anyway, the king placed me there, and there I had to stay. And not just that. He adopted me, telling everyone that from then on I was supposed to be his daughter and that any offense against me, just an attempt to jeopardize my virginity, was supposed to be an insult to the king and to the whole royal court. At least I didn’t have to worry about too many things.

So, while staying in the temple, I learned a little about the city and about all the buzz there was about this woman, Helen. One of the sons of King Priam, Paris, had snatched her away from her husband, a big Achaean boss called Menelaus. This Helen was supposed to be extremely beautiful, but I can tell you that she was kind of overrated. Anyway, it was none of my business about whether this Paris and Helen were playing Dummuzi and Inanna together. But it didn’t seem to me that it was such a good idea to steal this woman from her husband, who was a powerful Achaean King. Now the Achaeans were buzzing like angry bees and that was the reason why Priam was expecting an invasion.

Sure enough, not long after I had arrived, there appeared a big fleet of those Achaeans, right in front ot the city of Troy. They landed, and out of the ships they came with chariots, swords, and all what is needed for war. And all Trojans, including the hierodules of the temple, went up the walls and looked down to the plain in front of the city and – my gosh – there was a huge band of those Achaeans there. Truly an awful lot of them.

Later on, that day, King Priam summoned me and he asked me to perform a divination for him. And I told him, “King, I don’t need to make a prophecy for you; haven’t you seen how many of these Achaeans there are?” And he told me not to be silly and to make this divination. So, I got a goat liver and I performed the ritual and I told him what I saw. Which was a lot of blood and the city in flames. And, of course, he wasn’t happy. He got angry at me and he started screaming things I didn’t understand. So, I told him, “king, don’t you think it was a silly idea that your son, Paris, snatched away this girl, this Helen, from her husband? Now he is here with all his friends and he wants her back. So, why don’t you give her back to him, and so you save the city?” But he muttered something like “the honor of Trojans is not negotiable!” And he left, angry, saying that he didn’t believe a word of my prophecies. As if that was new.

Not that Priam was especially stupid. He was old, he couldn’t really tell people what to do. But there was this idea in Troy that the honor of the city was at stake and that they had to fight, even though they might have avoided it. I know this because I spoke with other people of the city, including one of Priam’s sons, a guy called Hector. He seemed to be smarter than the average, but still he didn’t budge from that position. So, what could I do about that? I didn’t insist, because they had started looking at me askance, as if I was a traitor or a spy; after all I was a foreigner. Don’t misunderstand me. These Trojans were not bad people – actually I liked them. But they had this idea that there is no other way to solve problems than hacking at each other using swords. I told them that swords create problems, don’t solve them, but they looked at me as if I had been a Galla demon, just materialized in front of them.

So, there started the this war. In the temple, with the other hierodules, we couldn’t see what was going on, out there, but every evening, when the warriors came back to the city, we heard stories of the battle. We heard of this guy having killed that guy, and of another guy coming up and killing the first in revenge. I figure this is the way wars are; not very interesting for a hierodule. Anyhow, and I must say that the Trojans put up quite a good fight, though badly outnumbered. And they trusted their walls, they thought they were safe behind them.

There is a legend that says that the siege of Troy lasted for ten years, but it is not true, it lasted just for a season – what do you think those Achaeans would have eaten if they had to stay in the plain for ten years? But never mind that. One day, someone came up to the temple and he told me, “Cassandra, come and see!” So, I walked up to the battlements and I saw a big wooden thing right in front of the walls. And everyone was asking “what the heck is that?” and they asked me because they knew I was a priestess from Babylon and I had seen a lot of things. And, of course, I knew what it was, I had read about those things in the temple. So, I told them, “it is a siege engine!” And they looked at me with bovine eyes and they said “What?” And I told them, “it is made to smash down the city walls!” They looked at each other, shaking their heads. They didn’t believe me. What’s so new about that?

Sp, they kept discussing about that big wooden thing and they came up with this brilliant idea that it was supposed to be a  horse and that it was a votive offering for the God Apollon. And I tell them, “Look, you idiots, you must set that thing on fire before it is too late.” I was trying to do my best, after all, they were not bad people – I liked them. But they just looked at me, askance and again, they started muttering that I am a foreign and that I should not be trusted. What could I do about that?

So, I went back to the temple, and night came, and I went to sleep and I woke up when I heard a lot of noise, people screaming, and the smell of things burning. I understood immediately what’s going on but, again, there was nothing I could do about that, just noting how silly these people were. And, again, I was sorry for them. Then, at some moment, the door of the temple was smashed open from the outside there came in an hirsute idiot wearing armor and carrying a sword. You can imagine that I was afraid, so I clung to the statue of Athena, but the idiot tried to pull me away – I mean, so stupid: if he had wanted to play Dummuzi and Inanna with me, he could have just asked in the proper manner. So, I got even more scared and I clung to the statue more, and in the end I got a dislocated shoulder, quite some bruises, and the hirsute idiot carried me away.

You can imagine how angry I was, in addition to the dislocated shoulder, this idiot had managed to desecrate the temple of the Goddess. So I cursed him for good, using some curses that my Ensi had taught me; while telling me that I should never use them, but I did. He was cursed for good and he had lots of troubles. Later on, the Goddess had his ship sink at sea, and he drowned. In a way, I was sorry for him, but that was how things went.

So, while Troy was burning, I ended up playing Inanna and Dummuzi with the king of the Achaeans, someone called Agamemnon. I said that I was a good looking girl, so he wanted to take me with him on his ship, when he sailed back to his city, Mycenae.  Before leaving, he asked me to make a divination for him; which I did. And I told him that I saw blood and murder, and he just laughed and he said that his loving wife was waiting for me and that he was very happy to go back and that everything would be fine. Nothing unusual for me.

So, we arrived in Mycenae, and Agamemnon took me with him to his palace. His wife, Clytemnestra, didn’t like that — not so much because of me, but because she had a lover, and she didn’t want her obnoxious husband back. So she killed Agamemnon by stabbing him while he was taking a bath – loving wife, yes! –  and then she ran after me with an axe. She almost got me, but I managed to run away. Later on, the legend spread that said that she had killed me. That was not true, but I was perfectly happy with that. I had had enough troubles with all those stories and I much preferred if people thought I was dead.

That was not the end of the story, but I’ll skip several details of what happened after I ran away from Mycenae, chased by a madwoman yielding a battle axe! Let me just say that I managed to meet another Achaean who was also coming back home –  Odysseus his name. He took me on board of his ship and he played a little of Dummuzi and Inanna with me, then he asked me a prophecy for his return home. I don’t have to tell you that I saw bad things there, but he didn’t believe me – of course. But this Odysseus was nice enough to land me in Byblos, in Lebanon. There, I found a ride on a caravan that took me back to Babylon.

And there I was, a few years had gone by, but in the meantime my Ensi priestess had died and they recognized me, and they wanted me to become the new Ensi of the temple. But I didn’t want to – I had had enough of prophecies. I married a tavern keeper in Babylon, I had children and grandchildren, I died very old. I had a happy life and now I am a ghost. And that’s the end of the story of Cassandra – actually known as Kasanna in Babylon.

Just one more detail; I think it may interest you. One day there came someone to the tavern, an old Greek. He was blind and he had no money, but he said he could sing for me in exchange for some good beer. So, he did, and he sang the story of the war of Troy. It was nice, but I told him that it was wrong in many details. I tried to tell him that Cassandra was not the daughter of King Priam, and that the siege engine was not supposed to look like a horse. But he didn’t believe me – imagine that! So, I told him that he could have his beer for free, and might the goddess bless him. And that’s truly the end of this story.

….. Lady Cassandra, it is a nice story to hear. Thank you very much. So, you even meet Homer…

Yes, I remember that Homer was the name of that blind Greek. I think he became famous.

But, Lady Cassandra.. You said that your name in Babylon was…. how did you say?

My name? Kasanna…. it was my name in Babylon.

What does it mean?

Oh… it is an old Sumerian name. Kash is beer in Sumerian and Anna is heaven. So, Kashanna means “heavenly beer.”

A very nice name.

Thank you. Do you like beer?

I do. Although sometimes it gives me headaches.

Not the beer I served in my tavern, in Babylon. I am sure that it didn’t give headaches to anyone.

I don’t think they make that kind of beer any more…. unfortunately. Do you like beer Lady Cassanra?

Well, I used to. The beer I served in the tavern in Babylon was very good. But, you know, as a ghost……

Oh…. sorry, I didn’t mean…

No, it is all right. It is the way the Gods have arranged things to be. Everyone has to become a ghost. Sooner or later.

But, Lady Cassandra, I was thinking that I might ask you something…..

You want a divination, don’t you?

Well, if possible…. I am not sure I can find a goat liver for you, but…..

Oh… don’t worry about that. As a ghost I can make divinations even without a goat liver. And what would you like the divination to be about?

That’s very nice of you, Lady Cassandra. So, you know, we have plenty of problems, here. But there is this one we call “climate change”…. I am not sure you are familiar with this concept.

Ghosts have special powers, you know? So, I know what you are talking about. It is very dangerous, indeed. More dangerous than having the whole Achaean army lined up in front of the city doors. So, let me make this divination for you.

Well, maybe it takes time…

No…. as I said, we ghosts have special power. I just have to think about the matter, and the prophecy comes. And, you know, I am sorry, I am really sorry…..

Why?

It is not a good prophecy. It is even worse than for Troy. Everything on fire. People dying, blood everywhere. But many, many more.

But am I not supposed to disbelieve you?

Oh… no, that curse was for when I was alive. Now that I am a ghost, not any more….. I think you believe me. I can see that.

Not that I am happy about that, but….

It seems that people in your time are even more stupid than the Trojans. They just had to give back Helen to the Achaeans to save the city. All what you have to do is to stop burning that awful black stuff you keep burning. Is it so difficult?

Apparently, yes. It seems to be very difficult.

I see….. I am sorry that I upset you.

It is all right. I should have expected that.

I am really sorry. I see that you are very upset. I should go back to the underworld….

No, no… there is no hurry. But, Lady Cassandra, do you really think your prophecies…. I mean, do they always come true?

They do. It is the will of the Gods.

Ah……

See, I was sorry for the people of Troy, and I am sorry for your people, too. You see, maybe you should pray to the Goddess Inanna, maybe she can help you.

I think I should try that, yes…..

Really, I guess it is time for me to go…… Ghosts are not supposed to chat with the living for such a long time. And good luck, you really need it.

Thank you, Lady Cassandra

Morning Hunt

Off the keyboard of K-Dog

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Published on Chasing the Squirrel on February 24, 2015

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The grass field was fifty feet below the potato garden. He locked the gate behind him as he always did. His air rifle pointed down towards the ground. He stepped down the rock path through bushes, carefully placed the bushes provided seclusion.  They hid his path and guarded the fence. High pressure sodium lamps along the fence top shown over grass. He looked for shape or movement. The first rabbit was easy and soon into his cloth bag. The second one was caught after a short walk in the concealing wood opposite the grassy meadow. Two in the bag and now back through the hidden gate in his fence, an hour before dawn, lights off.

His land everything from the edge of the bushes by the fence and inside. The sloped bank of rock and bush and the wide valley of grass field, wood and creek to the opposite slope a half mile away, public recreational area. His rabbit farm.

He always listened quietly before opening the fence gate. Coming or going he was cautious, taking care not to be seen. Better to drop the bag and take the long way around than be seen. Going to the back of his shed against the fence any noise that could possibly be human and hunting or enjoying its fruits would wait for another day. Today had been quiet, nothing amiss through his peepholes going and all was quiet coming back. The hunt had been a go and had given meat.

He quietly slipped through his hidden gate locking it from the inside his shed where the gate opened from. In the shed he dressed his kill and hung it making it ready for a later meal continuing to listen. Now he unlocked the shed door and glided through his potato patch back over to his house. His .177 pellet rife was quiet and accurate and hunger improved his aim. His hollow point ammo deadly. Public parkland in a city that now had no time for parks fed his family. He was quiet; not noticed, telltale robust health disguised by heavy clothing.

In the house the pellet gun would be put away and the regular gun checked. Curfew would end at sunrise and it would be safe to walk the streets. Neighborhood control would keep order with militia arriving if large crowds appeared. Unsavory and curious types were dealt with privately. Property was protected. He would head out for news and a chance for rations when he saw the neighborhood watch patrolling the road outside.

News had been getting better. Fewer people had been dying recently. Deliveries were keeping up with demand for the first time in months. Things were getting stable and a third of the local population was still alive. His neighborhood had done well. The properties were large and gardens had been tended the months when food prices had soared.

Soon vacant houses would be razed to produce more agricultural land. The country had changed and it had only been a year since American had collapsed from what had once been a land of plenty. Now with die-off nearly complete food security was achievable.

All it had taken was the trucks to stop running but now with food deliveries under military control trucks ran once again. Diesel was allocated to emergency services, police patrols, food delivery, construction equipment as needed. Some of the land soon to be cleared would be growing biodiesel along with food and the power grid was working fine. The claims of its demise had been exaggerated. It had only been a year and from now on its maintenance would be a priority. He had not needed his generator except for the single time the wind storm had knocked things out for weeks. It had been a serendipitous wind storm though; lights out. It had been a good time for night travel to be difficult. Desperate mobs filled the land. They walked as long as they could before they dropped and died. Devastating everything in their path. No neighborhood wanted wandering mobs; but the mobs had not been able to plunder in the dark. By the time power was restored all the wandering were dead.

The plan was under military control. Each region had an agricultural plan and land for biodiesel allocation fell out naturally from the plan. Global tumult would not interrupt food delivery a second time when the plan was in place.
Throughout the rest of the world populations were being thinned. Pervasive drought combined with no fuel for transportation devastated crop yields everywhere. The world had starved. In America only in the most rural of areas did dogs survive.

Death of Dreams, Death of Literature

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on January 16, 2015

Where have our dreams gone? The death of Western literature

The novel by Vladimir Dudintsev “Not by bread alone” was published in 1956 (*). It was a big hit in the Soviet Union with its criticism of the stagnating and inefficient Soviet ways. Together with other Russian authors, such as Vasily Grossman and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Dudintsev was part of a wave of novelists who tried to use literature to change the ways of society. That kind of approach seems to have withered out, both in the countries of the old Soviet Union and in the West.

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At some moment, between the second and the third century AD, the Latin literature died out in the Roman Empire. Not that people stopped writing; on the contrary, the late Western Roman Empire saw a minor revival of Latin Literature; it was just that they didn’t seem to have anything interesting to say any more.

If we consider the high times of the Empire, around the first century BC, it is likely that most of us would be able to come up with at least some names of literates of that time: poets such as Virgil and Horace, philosophers like Seneca, historians like Tacitus. But move to the late centuries of the Western Empire and chances are that you won’t be able to come up with any name, unless you read Gibbon and you remember that he cites the 4th century poet Ausonius to evidence the bad taste of those times. It seems that the Roman Empire had lost its soul much before having disappeared as a political organization.

Often, I have the impression that we are following the same path to collapse that the Roman Empire followed, but faster. Ask yourself this question: can you cite a recent (intended as less than – say – 10-20 years old) piece of literature that you think posterity will remember? (and not as an example of bad taste). Personally, I can’t. And I think that it could be said that literature in the Western world declined in the 1970s or so and that today is not a vital form of art any longer.

Of course, perceptions in these matters may be very different, but I can cite plenty of great novels published during the first half of the 20th century; novels that changed the way people looked at the world. Think of the great season of the American writers in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s; think of Hemingway, of Fitzgerald, of Gertrude Stein and many others. And of how American literature continued to produce masterpieces, from John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac and others. Now, can you cite a later equivalent American writer? Think of a great writer such as John Gardner, who wrote in the 1970s and is today mostly forgotten. Something similar seems to have taken place on the other side of the Iron Curtain; where a number of gifted Soviet writers (Dudintsev, Grossman, Solzhenitsyn, and others) produced a literary corpus in the 1950s and 1960s that strongly challenged the Soviet orthodoxy and played a role in the fall of the Soviet Union. But there doesn’t seem to exist anything comparable any more in Eastern European countries that could compare with those novels.

It is not just a question of written literature; visual arts seem to have gone through the same withering process: think of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) as an example. Can you think of anything painted during the past few decades with an even remotely comparable impact? About movies, which ones were really original or changed our perception of the world? Maybe with movies we are doing better than with written literature; at least some movies didn’t go unnoticed, even though their literary merits are questionable. Think of  “The night of the living dead”, by George Romero, which goes back to1968 and has generated a tsunami of imitations. Think of “Star Wars” (1977), which shaped an entire strategic plan of the US military. But during the past decade or so, the film industry doesn’t seem to have been able to do better than hurling legions of zombies and assorted monsters to the spectators.

Not that we don’t have bestsellers any more, just as we have blockbuster movies. But can we produce anything original and relevant? It seems that we have gone the way the Roman Empire went: we cannot produce a Virgil any more, at best an equivalent of Ausonius.

And there is a reason for that. Literature, the great kind, is all about changing the reader’s view of the world. A great novel, a great poem, are not just about an interesting plot or beautiful images. Good literature brings forth a dream: the dream of a different world. And that dream changes the reader, makes her different. But, in order to perform this deed, the reader must be able to dream of a change. He must live in a society where it is possible, theoretically at least, to put dreams into practice. This is not always the case.

In the Roman Empire of the 4th and 5th century AD, the dream was gone. The Romans had retreated behind their fortifications and had sacrificed everything – including their freedom – in the name of their security. Poetry had become merely praising the rulers of the day, philosophy the compilation of previous works, and history a mere chronicle. Something like that is happening to us: where have our dreams gone?

But it is also  true that man doesn’t live by bread alone. We need dreams as much as we need food. And dreams are something that Art can bring to us, in the form of literature or other forms; it doesn’t matter. It is the power of dreams that can never disappear. If the Roman Literature had disappeared as an original source of dreams, it could still work as a vehicle for dreams coming from outside the empire. From the Eastern Border of the Empire, the cults of Mitrha and of Christ would make deep inroads into the Roman minds. In the early 5th century, in a southern provincial town besieged by barbarians, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, completed his “The City of God”, a book that we still read today and that changed forever the concept of narrative, perhaps the first novel – in the modern sense – ever written. A few centuries later, when the Empire was nothing more than a ghostly memory, an unknown poet composed the Beowulf and, later still, the Nibelungenlied appeared. During this period, tales about a warlord of Britannia started to appear and would later coalesce into the Arthurian cycle, perhaps the core of our modern vision of epic literature.

So, the dream is not dead. Somewhere, at the edges of the empire, or perhaps outside of it, someone is dreaming a beautiful dream (**). Maybe she will write it down in a remote language, or maybe she will use the Imperial Language. Maybe he will use a different medium than the written word; we cannot say. What we can say is that, one day, this new dream will change the world.


(*) A brief comment on Dutintsev’s novel, which I bought and read in an English translation as a little exercise in cultural archeology. Read more than half a century after its release, it is difficult to see it as still “sensational” as it was described at that time in the Western press, which had clearly tried to cash an easy propaganda victory against the Soviet Union. As a novel, it is slow and overdrawn, although that may be a result of the Internet-caused attention deficit which affects most of us. In any case, the novel has defects. One is the protagonist, Dmitri Lopatkin, so heavily characterized as a perfect altruist to make him totally unbelievable as a real world person. But the book is still charming in its description of a Moscow, which is no more, but which remains perfectly recognizable, even though so much changed today. To see the characters of the book in action, you can watch the movie made in 2005. I already commented a short story by Dudintsev in this post.

 (**) From a group of remote islands known as Japan, a man has been producing one masterpiece movie after another; Hayao Miyazaki. To understand the decline of the Western forms of narrative, you have just to compare two animation movies which came out together in 2014: the nearly ignored  “The wind rises” by Miyazaki and the blockbuster “Frozen” by Walt Disney Studios. It is like comparing Augustine and Ausonius and the ongoing collapse of the Western Empire is all there. 

Narratives of TEOTWAWKI

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 21, 2014

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http://edwardhotspur.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/unicorn-skittles.jpgSince I have been involved in Doom Prognostication and Analysis since 2008, floating around various websites from PeakOil.com to Market Ticker to The Automatic Earth to The Burning Platform, as well as my own Yahoo Group of Reverse Engineering and now the Doomstead Diner, I have of course been exposed to probably every possible Doom Scenario that you could conjure up as plausible.

Besides that, since I am a confirmed Full Doomer, I also periodically review the latest in Graphs and Charts that Financial Bloggers post up, or that Climate Bloggers post up.  Overall, just about all this graphology is uniformly depressing newz.  You have to be a believer in Fairy Dust and Skittle Shitting Unicorns to accept any of the MSM Charts which show “Economic Recovery” anywhere, as my friend Jim Quinn from TBP demonstrated once again recently tracking the Collapse of Retail Sales here in the FSoA.

Hard to imagine how folks will be doing too much Shopping as they drop out of the Labor Force by the Millions:

http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?&chart_type=line&graph_id=0&category_id=&recession_bars=On&width=525&height=315&bgcolor=%23cccc99&graph_bgcolor=%23FFFFFF&txtcolor=%23000000&ts=8&preserve_ratio=false&fo=ge&assad=1&id=CIVPART&transformation=lin&scale=Left&range=Custom&cosd=1980-02-01&coed=2012-10-01&line_color=%23660000&link_values=&mark_type=NONE&mw=4&line_style=Solid&lw=2&vintage_date=2012-11-02&revision_date=2012-11-02&mma=0&nd=&ost=&oet=&fml=a&fq=Monthly&fam=avg

While both Economic and Geopolitical Doom are both present in Copious Quantities, the current scariest long term possibilities come from progressive deterioration of ecosystems and climate change, which by Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last’s analysis are not too far off and lead to the Uber Doom scenario of Near Term Human Extinction.

http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/homo-sapien.jpg

Trying to make sense of the ongoing Collapse and where it might lead requires more than just Graphs & Charts, it requires a narrative which makes sense, is plausible based on current known parameters and trends, and it has to be “accessible” to most people in language and imagery they can understand and relate to their own lives.  Most folks are not Economists, Climatologists, CPAs, Petroleum Engineers or Nuclear Physicists, and any of those are virtually never expert in any other field than their own.  So even experts need a cross-disciplinary narrative to get a good global picture of what is going on here.

Ugo Bardi recently brought up in a few of his blogs on Resource Limits how Science Fiction informed the late 19th, 20th and 21st Century narrative that most people accept as true, that Technological Progress will continue in perpetuity and that the Industrial Culture we have lived under for the last 200 years will not just continue, but become ever more complex and pervasive across the globe.  This type of Sci-Fi permeated its way right down to the Cartoons many of us Science Buffs watched as children.

http://www.dirtytoiletpaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/the_jetsons.jpeg

There are numerous other ancillary narratives that go along with this, for instance that Modern Medicine and Science can cure any disease, that Standards of Living will continue to improve for everyone as they join the Industrial Culture, and that Human beings are too small to affect the earth and its ecosystems.

http://islamicbanking.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/foreclosed-homes.jpgJust about all those narratives are demonstrably false now.  Country after country falls off the Economic Cliff, basically on a daily basis, and the smaller ones with little access to central credit creation find it ever more difficult to access the energy necessary to keep running an Industrial society.  Standards of Living aren’t improving anywhere, even here at the center of Credit Creation of the World Reserve Currency of the Dollar they are falling as more people each year fall out of the tabulated “workforce”, fewer well paying jobs are available, more McMansions go into Foreclosure and fewer miles are driven in the Happy Motoring lifestyle.  Ecosystems are collapsing everywhere, phytoplankton are down 50% over the last 30 years in world Oceans and species are going Extinct at a rate unprecedented in the Geological Record, even faster than the mass extinction even of the PETM, or Pleiocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which took out the Dinosaurs.

EBOLA GOES EXPONENTIAL

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2014/08/20140806_ebola1.jpgAccess to advanced Medical care isn’t improving, Obama-care is a joke, anti-biotics are failing as drug resistant “Super-bugs” evolve, higher percentages of people are born with Autism and other neurological and physiological problems and food becomes ever less nutritious and ever more dangerous as GMO foods are introduced into the food supply.  Besides that, you have the specter of the Ebola Virus spreading Exponentially in Africa, a disease for which there is no cure and a 40% mortality rate at least these days that is what the WHO is reporting.

Denial is rampant through the society of Homo Industrialis, in large part because there isn’t a good narrative to compete with the Sci-Fi Narrative of never-ending Progress and a better life in the future.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51uZwKWaZML.jpgIn this Podcast, Ugo Bardi, Jim Laughter (author of Polar City Red) and I chat up ideas around one type of New Narrative, “Cli-Fi” or Climate Fiction.  Through Fiction, you can explore ideas and make comprehensible what is not generally comprehensible just by reading charts and tables, which in fact most folks never look at at all, they just take the word of “experts”, and every possible side in every scenario has some expert they can enlist to justify their POV, so the hoi polloi tends to believe the side with the viewpoint and outcome they WANT to believe is true.

Cli-Fi is only one of the possible Fictional Variants that can be explored here, Econ-Fi is another one since it still looks like Economic Collapse will lead Climate Collapse by some margin.  Energy-Fi is another one, since how we might adapt to a lower per capita energy world of the future has many possible narratives attached.

This podcast looks mainly at Cli-Fi scenarios, both Medium and Long Term. Hopefully at a future date we will explore some of the other ones as well.

In any event, break out the Microwave Popcorn, sit back and contemplate TEOTWAWKI with me, Ugo Bardi and Jim Laughter.

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