by L.L. HILL
ff the gravel remains of a dirt road, Felix's winter work boots left tracks in the mixture of thin snow, sand and peat material. No efforts at reclamation had been made in this new sub-Antarctic region. Soil, rock and vegetation still looked as though they had been shaken and flushed through a giant strainer. High iron content stained much of the visible ground red. Rocks pocked the ground and roots of small willow and birch were exposed by the extreme flooding. The ground was deeply etched in places by drainage channels that had flushed the upper ground soil and vegetation down to what had once been a river and was now a stagnating lake, plugged by the debris of a cataclysmic pole reversal.
Niagara Falls had ploughed seven kilometers upstream and still thundered unchecked over a two kilometer wide span that dropped almost half a kilometer as the Upper Great Lakes emptied into Lake Ontario. The Grand Canyon had spawned a twin, not as deep but longer. The white cliffs of Dover had made the English Channel run like milk as near a kilometer had washed away. Felix had heard of the extent of changes to these and other famous landmarks, but they had been irrelevant to more immediate issues of survival and now were not his area of study.
He knelt to measure and record a small pine that had begun to grow in the five post pole shift years. Its green foliage had drawn him off the road, but the young conifer already had a twisted stem and would not be likely to grow very straight or tall. Measurement completed and recorded, he placed a tag loosely on the tree.
Nearby, a patch of loden reindeer lichen sheltered beneath a pink and black granite glacial erratic boulder coated with map lichen. From the lichen free side of the boulder, Felix deduced that this was now a pole shift erratic and he made the notation of that before placing a tag in the ground next to the lichen.
There were very few caribou left, only an estimated herd of ten thousand out of over a quarter of a million had survived the massive seiches that had rocked every body of water as the Earth flipped. Already reduced by the early effects of climate change, that number was now believed closer to three thousand as the caribou struggled to adapt their breeding cycle to the reversed seasons as they searched for depleted forage.
Priority in recovery had been given to the larger populations in the temperate zone, third world countries were left to recover at their own pace. While all areas of the Earth had suffered greatly from extreme hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes that were the harbingers of cataclysm, no one was prepared for the horrific devastation of life and property that occurred when the Earth was wobbled by her layer of internal chemical soup and flipped to align with new poles.
Felix had sworn that he would never live within ten kilometers of a water body again. Nightmares still filled his sleep but they no longer woke him sweating and screaming. Yet his psychiatric review was so significantly better than that of his colleagues that he had been selected to make this preliminary inspection of this area of the new sub-Antarctic.
He now stood alone among rocks and boulders at the edge of a lake that had once been The Big River draining to Ungava Bay of the Arctic Ocean. It was now no more than a stagnant shallow lake rank with putrefying vegetation and decayed animal carcasses. At a southern latitude nearly the mirror of its place in the north, physical decay was slow. Green slime coated the bones of a caribou leg still attached to a hoof but torn from a body. Brown and green algae scum floated between bare grey branches of torn out trees. Balanced on a boulder, he very cautiously collected samples of the slime, the algae and the water, and placed another marker.
Specifically he was monitoring for methane, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, three of the most lethal gases that had burst from their toxic pea soup at the Mohorovicic deep within the bowels of the Earth, as well as from shallower concentrations in lakes when the blue water planet had rocked sufficiently far to flip its poles. Beneath his feet was the beginning of another five thousand year cycle, trapped vegetation that would decompose to become a petroleum pocket.
Generations of scientists had ignored the testimony spelled out in the strata of the Earth and in the myths of many nations. The loss of life on ships and planes in the infamous Bermuda Triangle had been sensationalized in the press even as one scientist had suggested the release of methane trapped in pockets in the sedimentary limestone as a cause. Too late had the similarity to the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald, sinking in a storm over a limestone shoal in Lake Superior, been identified. Science was still split on whether the sudden depletion of cod stocks was due to overfishing or due to gas release in their breeding grounds on the deposited sediment of the Grand Banks.
Felix believed that the atomic era, with its assorted lethal chemicals, had penetrated to the Mohorovicic and disrupted the normal cycle of the Earth, escalating both the event and its magnitude. The lack of foresight was still being vehemently discussed, primarily by those with the least amount of survivor guilt, it appeared to Felix. As he stood up, a small patch of scum free water bore his faint reflection on this cloudy day. His eyes still stared from grey sunken hollows.
His fiancé had died, trapped by debris flushed through city streets by a seiche. He had been unable to save her alone. When he asked passengers in a passing truck to stop to help, they had responded with anti-Semitic slurs and driven off. He was left to watch her die. He had walked for days without food to join a military refugee camp which prohibited discrimination. Rage had focused his grief into action, long days measuring the extent of the change wrought on the Earth.
Walking away from the lake on the sand under the boulder field he paused in mid stride above a pale green glass Coca Cola bottle, half buried in the ground parallel to the shore. Inside it was an hour glass of luxuriant green moss, the healthiest looking vegetation that he had seen for years. Kneeling against its sheltering rock, Felix carefully extracted the bottle from its bed of sand and peat and admired the famous flourishes of the Coca Cola logo above the bland full case lettering advising 'TRADE MARK REGISTERED BOTTLE PAT. D-105529'. Beneath that was a partially discernible emblem, possibly a year, 40 something and on the base 'BOSTON MASS.'. Small bubbles caught the light in the glass as he examined it and the moss from every angle.
Before Earth's flip he had seen what he thought was a bottle similar to this on a World Web auction that had bids exceeding five hundred dollars. Very carefully he replaced it in its cozy bed, extracted a sample, placed a marker and took a picture. Giving it a last caress with a gloved hand, he stood and examined the ground ahead.
Washed down from a low mound of rusted metal were rusted and partially crushed tin cans, their torn gaping mouths open as if in a silent plea. Scattered between the cans were strewn bits of broken glass from old Coca Cola bottles, thick clear and pale green shards mixed together with occasional thin brown shards from old beer bottles. An uncapped bottle mouth perched upright behind a clump of deer grass, but when he pulled it up a broken bottom was revealed. Disappointed, Felix carefully pressed it back into the ground.
The town dump site was still on the other side of the community and unlike former southern urban areas, which were now traumatized northern urban areas in a southern hemisphere, distance and cost had always prohibited a full recycling effort. After a massive catastrophe, garbage disposal was a priority and the breakdown of the transportation infrastructure had forced the maintenance of a recycling program previously enforced to reduce the size of mammoth dumps.
So great was the shortage of tin for reconstruction that even closed dump sites had been mined of their tin cans. When these had spewed forth noxious fumes, survivors had used a now conditioned tolerance for methane and hydrogen sulfide or had collapsed in panic attacks triggered by the odor in these new mines. One of those that had collapsed was a friend of Felix. He should visit her when he got back, he thought.
His local liaison had told him that a hundred years ago, the old Hudson Bay Trading Post had been located downstream and across the river. Just after the second big war in Europe, Americans had built an air base on the flat land. Felix could remember the memorial for the Great War as a child, the memorial for the second was lost in the flip. When the air base closed after only a few years of occupation, the community had relocated around the convenient air strips to form the new community of Kuujjuaq. That would fit with the possible date on the bottle Felix mused and he made a notation of that in his note book.
Partially buried in the sand at the base of the tin heap was the split black plastic casing and exposed lead inserts of a very old truck battery. Earth's flip had so greatly reduced the flow of petroleum gas products around the world, with oil fields damaged and transportation disrupted, pipes broken, ships sunk and refineries blown up, that all private vehicles were ordered parked. Only major urban areas had public transportation available, all other fuel allocation was to the military, manufacturing or recycling and agriculture.
The survival of this relatively small threat to the environment, after decades of frigid winters and an earth wide flooding, was quite the monument to leave behind Felix thought, as was the tangled heap before him. Other vehicle parts were visible amidst the rusted cans, a warped rotor lay near the battery and a large chassis still wearing flakes of drab olive green lay mixed with the cans. Wiring flowered in a tangle out of an odd shaped pipe, its plastic cracked over green copper. Other odd shaped bits of metal were interspersed amongst the cans.
After adjusting his pack, Felix entered the debris balanced on the chassis. Less than ten meters wide, he was almost able to make it to the other side on his metal beam. A water carved gully, almost two meters deep, had drained into the metal heap. As there was no reciprocal gully on the other side, Felix deduced that this junk pile had been dug deep into the beach, draining and reducing the force of the water flow and when it had filled with water, had washed out the glass and bottle that had led him to the main heap.
Pondering more from his perch on the chassis, Felix decided that it would be safe if he spread his weight across the chassis and began to scoop out cans, not just in search of another intact Coca Cola bottle free to take, but to find out what else had been garbage to Americans far from home a hundred years ago. He braced himself with one hand and reached over to the almost buried opposite beam of the chassis and lay down on the cans. Insulated from sharp edges and pockets of snow by his thick coat, Felix began to rapidly toss cans towards the inner edge of the heap.
No paper remained on any of the cans and though some were filled with smelly ice and water, of which Felix diligently paused to take samples, none had been thoroughly deteriorated by their decades of exposure. He pulled out a round headlight casing, cut wires still at the back and looked from it to his chassis to the rotor. Perhaps there might be enough old vehicle parts to salvage for a rebuilding project or for sale. Carefully he tossed the casing towards the lake and watched to ensure that it landed on sand.
Felix continued his quest, the dull overcast day not concealing a reflection on a light grey patch below. A can clinked down from the edge of his hole and he worked to widen the hole before digging deeper. Above him a coal black raven landed on the peak of the heap. Ravens had fed well for the last five years and Felix hurled a can at this one. The can flew over the raven but set it to labored flight.
Looking down again, the light grey patch had now become a goal for Felix. Testing the solidity of his base by shifting his weight, he turned so that he could now use both hands to toss cans. He had to pull a sheet of metal that looked like part of an old fuel drum up. The edges were severely pitted and holes were bored through. Turning it over, a very small section of yellow and black label was visible, too small to discern the warning. Felix hurled it behind him for later scrutiny and looked down.
It was now evident that he was looking at the top of a skull, a small almost square patch that skin and hair had peeled away from. Felix pulled out a flashlight, its beam revealing shoulders under the skull still wearing a drab uniform and surrounded by the remnants of the steel drum. Thousands had been buried in mass graves, unnamed and uncounted, Felix's own family members amongst them in the aftermath of the cataclysm, and strict martial law still governed the country. It was unlikely that this lonely corpse, as old as it was, would arouse great interest in law enforcement who were still caring for the living.
Putting his flashlight in his mouth, shifting his position again, Felix reached down with his pocket knife to cut away a sample, feeling the strain in his lower back and legs. The skin was dry leather but sliced easily with his sharp knife. Coming up was harder and cans rained down as he scrambled for balance. Putting his sample in a vial was an opportunity to catch his breath.
The raven had returned with a friend and they were hopping amongst cans tossed to the edge. Felix tossed another can at them and they hopped away. There was no different odor here than anywhere else in the heap or near the lake. He had dug here because of the convenient chassis. Why he had made this discovery and generations of ravens and other scavengers had not was perplexing, as was the deterioration of the barrel and the still partial mummification of the body. Perhaps the flood water had found a way into the barrel, reacted with the contents which destroyed part of the metal but not all of the body or clothing.
Normally a uniform wearer could be expected to wear dog tags, if they were worn a hundred years ago, but these might be corroded away. With only one way to find out, Felix shifted around again, tossing away more cans to get to his target. With a three point brace, he reached down, a gloved hand groping past an ear, feeling a collar and then a collar bone. The flesh felt folded and wrinkled as he moved his hand below the Adam’s apple. He felt a fabric pull in the collar. Reaching outside to loosen what he thought was the tie and feel down the front of the chest for the metal tags, his questing gloved hand was surprised to find metal outside and immediately beneath the collar. He grasped and pulled, hearing only a small tear of fabric as he raised his trophy.
Filling the palm of his hand was an old emblem of terror, a pocked black Swastika of an Iron Cross. Felix shuddered with revulsion, remembering the tales his grandmother had told him of her grandparents and how frightened he had been. And he remembered his lost fiancé. His fear and shame flashed to rage and he almost spat on the corpse beneath him. Instead, he threw down toward the lake an award that adorned those dedicated to hate.
Gasping and panting with emotion, he moved cans down over the corpse, now hoping that the ravens would leave this body alone. The seeds of something more than hate had been sown by the meddling of these fanatics and their experiments a hundred years ago. Too many of their survivors had infiltrated by invitation the U.S. Armed Forces. Whether the corpse below was of their number and whether their death was justifiable, Felix was now personally certain that the flip that had devastated the planet had a genesis in the bombs and chemicals developed for war. Without their catalytic influence, time would have been on the side of science and Earth's populace.
Checking that a small plastic garbage bag was held in place by cans, he left the site. He retrieved the Iron Cross that he had thrown away in rage. It was proof of his hypothesis and he now carefully bagged it before he returned to town to report his find. He was certain that he would be ignored, especially initially, but all the faces that haunted his days and nights would force him to continue.
L.L. Hill is an occasional writer, poet, illustrator and photographer. There are many areas of the world that she has been privileged to see and share in her work. She enjoys observing nature and capturing it in verse and word. Fantasy, science fiction and horror are her preferred genres. Find her at lauraleehill.com.
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