Hey all! It's time for the June challenge at WEP. URBAN NIGHTMARE is the prompt. We've been asked to go as deep and dark as we want. I took this opportunity to write from a third-person omniscient point of view, not one I usually choose, but it worked for my flash fiction.
Of course I'm influenced by the COVID-19 outbreak and the shenanigans of those in 'control' of populations who have often been sadly let down by expediency. I liken the current outbreak to outbreaks in the past, where the people suffer and those in control seem to get off lightly.
Here is my story ...
The silent apocalypse began on June 17, 2050, at 3.24 in the morning.
As the sun rose on Ground Zero, the extent of the disaster revealed itself.
Death and deformity would be its legacy for thousands of years.
The town. Once a tourist mecca. Now reduced to a postcard no one would send their loved ones.
Obliterated. The earth. A smoking volcano. Alive. Lethal. A smoking sarcophagus.
Not a light brightened the darkness. No sign of life except for a red fox taking advantage of the absence of man as it loped across the desolate landscape. Silence reigned except for the chirping of birds echoing down once luxuriant avenues. Ghostly voices shouted from empty streets, auditory mirages heard only by God Himself.
Abandoned vehicles piled beside roads, in the carparks, underneath apartment buildings. The aircraft hangar contained helicopters and small planes left behind after the hasty evacuation that began at midnight when the night workers raised the alarm.
The story was told inside the apartment buildings. Abandoned meals. Unfinished board games. Clothes over heaters. Unmade beds. Photo albums. Shelves of books. Each room, an empty stage set at the end of a play. Waiting for the next act. The raised curtain.
But the curtain would never rise again.
It had changed the color of the trees. People who lived hundreds of kilometres away in the closest town to the disaster dubbed it the Crimson Forest because of the foliage and the blood-red tape which looped from tree to tree, its nuclear symbol flapping in the gentle breeze. ‘Keep out! Danger!’
Dawn. Site inspection. Scientists in hazmat suits. Geiger counters emitting rhythmical electrical sounds like a coded message from another dimension.
But the people didn’t need to know.
Radiation crept further toward them with every gust of wind.
Best to keep the secret.
Assured via their digital devices that it was business as usual, the people of Pérougé continued their life outside the exclusion zone, oblivious to Death already seeping through their bones, their cells, their blood. They enjoyed the amenities their town offered – restaurants, cinemas, theatres, sports centres, amusement parks. They were proud of their shiny new hospitals, little knowing they’d soon be overflowing with those presenting with suppurating sores, weakness, unexplained bleeding.
The authorities downplayed the accident. Of course. That was the way things were done in 2050. Had always been done, really. Keep the people in blissful ignorance. Imagine if they heard of the Geiger counter readings. The scientists themselves were confused enough. Maybe that latest batch of counters was faulty.
There were nuclear reactors popping up all over the world. If word spread of this disaster, a whole industry would be brought to its knees. The government wouldn’t allow that to happen. Even now “volunteers” were searching inside the reactor to ascertain the cause of the explosion.
The health of the population was way down on their list of concerns. The people had demanded nuclear power when renewables failed them. No one wanted to shiver through darkness when the sun refused to shine or the wind refused to blow. Fossil fuels were yesterday's news. It was the people’s fault. They’d unknowingly set off an unstoppable chain of destruction.
Under strict orders to silence the chattering masses, Mayor Blaise called a Town Hall meeting to allay the people’s escalating fears.
The mayor puffed out his chest and addressed the townspeople gathered in the spacious hall. ‘People of Pérougé, this is not another Chernobyl. Our knowledge of nuclear plants has grown exponentially since the 1980s.’
A woman hugging a tiny baby to her chest stood, interrupting his prepared speech. Her voice wavered when she asked, ‘How bad is it?’ Her baby began to cry. The mother began to cry.
‘Only one reactor has been compromised, Madame. Stay outside the exclusion zone and no harm will come to you.’ The mayor wiped his forehead on a large handkerchief kept expressly for the purpose of wiping away his sins.
A grey-haired man pushed himself from his chair and stood unsteadily, using two walking sticks for balance. ‘What about Chernobyl? I heard—’
‘Chernobyl! Chernobyl!’ The crowd surged to their feet like an angry sea, fists pumped the air, faces suffused with anger. ‘How long did the authorities hush that up? Thousands of people were infected, died. They were sacrificed on the altar of political malfeasance.’
The mayor held his hands in the air until the crackle died down. ‘Don’t put credence in urban myths – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima... Nuclear disasters of a past time. They were indeed nightmares. But Pérougé is safe as is every town, city and country outside the exclusion zone. Your apartments are safe. Stay inside. Shut your windows until the radioactivity at Ground Zero recedes. We assure you, the radioactivity is contained.’
‘Bullshit!’ A man with fiery red hair called from the back of the hall, fighting off two burly security guards who tried to drag him outside.
Mayor Blaise lost it. He ripped his prepared speech in half and threw it onto the floor. ‘Sir, sit down. Listen. Did you see a nuclear cloud? No! Proof that modern technology is working to keep you safe.’
The red-headed man refused to sit. He tugged and pulled and resisted all efforts to shut him up. ‘Do you think I’d trust you and your fancy committee in your fancy suits feeding us a barrel load of lies? You're in and out, a whistle stop tour. You don't live here! I have my own Geiger counter. It’s old, but reliable. It's been in my family since Chernobyl. Depending on the wind, it surges to well above an acceptably safe level. You’re using us as guinea pigs. Safe, be damned.’
Truer words were never spoken.
Darkness besieged the gates of the town.
Soon it would be a grim black and white postcard.
With no one alive to post it.
WORD COUNT: 994
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Thanks for reading.