ON PARIS

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris ... then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

#WEPff JUNE challenge. My #flashfiction - #GROUNDZERO. Dark take on URBAN NIGHTMARE


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 ... 

GROUND ZERO


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.

The radioactivity.

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.

For now.

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.

Wolves howled.

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
FCA

To read more URBAN NIGHTMARE stories, go to the link in my side bar, or click HERE.


Thanks for reading.







54 comments:

  1. Yet another fictionalised painful truth.
    Yet another powerful fictionalised truth. Tears will be shed and my anger will flare long before I finish reading the contributions to this challenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope not too painful for you Sue. Thanks for your read.

      Delete
  2. 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
    That's how it's played in one part of the world and in all others. Could there be a bigger nightmare than this? And we live it constantly much before 2050.
    I liked your powerful script Denise. That one para that speaks of unfinished board games had my heart.An extremely well written narrative.
    Sonia from https://soniadogra.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad it affected you Sonia. It's a very familiar scene. Thank you.

      Delete
  3. Very powerful story. And scary that it could become true. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Natalie! I think it has already come true. That's the thing with fiction, isn't it?

      Delete
  4. Chilling! This line says it all & exemplifies so many of our world's problems: Best to keep the secret.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So many secrets we'll never know. Thanks Jemi.

      Delete
  5. "They were sacrificed on the altar of political malfeasance.’" And it is happening today as Mayor's insist there is no reason to wear a mask. People are dying, over 100,000 already dead, and no one wants to acknowledge that. It's beyond absurd, beyond believability as followers of DJT insist, even today that it's all a political lie! You've done a beautiful job of detailing the horror. I'm sorry you've lost hope that change will happen, but I totally understand why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah well I wanted to somehow parallel what's happening with Covid-19 with a nuclear explosion. I see similarities. Beyond absurd for sure. Hope is that thing with feathers...

      Delete
  6. As a Cold War kid, stories like this shaped my own writing.
    I grew up with the fear of a scenario like this happening, and in my middle years am not lulled into complacency. It could happen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we're entering another Cold War. Let's get strapped up, ready to roll.

      Delete
  7. These are powerful words Denise. This story is scary enough on it's own but the reality of what could be is even scarier. This happens everyday, is happening right now. People are being "sacrificed on the altar of political malfeasance." Excellent entry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People are indeed being sacrificed for political gain. I can't believe the numbers coming out of the US. It's indeed a nightmare.

      Delete
  8. The first paragraphs reminded me of documentaries about Chernobyl. The visuals are so powerful through your words! Great reading experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sanhita. Not a very pretty topic, but I think not so fictional.

      Delete
  9. Ouch! "The health of the population was way down on their list of concerns." - how true. The government doesn't seem to care much even now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For sure. I totally believe it. There's always something far more important than the health of the population.

      Delete
  10. Eerie similarities of what we are going through with China remaining silent too long...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Readers can interpret any way that resonates with them. I'm certainly not sure China is any more to blame than other countries. Who knows if it actually started there?

      Delete
  11. Powerfully written, with overtones of allegory for the current COVID crisis...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly what i was aiming for Rebecca. Thanks for reading.

      Delete
  12. Full of gruesome/tasty images from the post card and the red fox to the sin wiping handkerchief and the howling wolves. Chilling, topical, vivid, and well-written. A true urban nightmare we should all be able to relate to - and shudder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love coming up with imagery Roland. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  13. I liked it. Especially the chanting crowd. At first I thought the volcano at Yellowstone had blown. But no. This feels so much more real now. 🌋☣

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't set it anywhere in particular even though the town is in France and they certainly believe in nuclear power.

      Delete
  14. Even if you hadn't said you were inspired by current events, it would be visible! I loved the line about him keeping the hankie to wipe away his sins. That was such a perfect line. Sad, true, stirring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. Just popped into my head. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.

      Delete
  15. Powerful and stirring! far too close to reality for comfort. Particularly loooved the ending -

    'Soon it would be a grim black and white postcard.

    With no one alive to post it.'

    Perfect!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Nila. Was actually fun to write. Glad you liked the ending.

      Delete
  16. Powerful writing here Denise. The story echoes what happened in Chernobyl apart from the protests by the red haired man - because nobody dared raise their voices then. Nuclear power certainly is a good topic for Urban Nightmare. This is a wonderful interpretation of the prompt.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi,
    The saddest part is that people's demands for more ignore nature's demand for equal distribution. We destroy the rain forests because we need more land for new houses or a new company. We erect more nuclear plants because no one wants to have a fireplace and have to cut wood. We humans looks for every and anything that would make us comfortable at the expense of Mother Nature and one day those very things we have designed will exterminate us, because we've removed the natural safety barriers.
    Great piece, Denise. I loved it. It made me think and share some of my own thoughts.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Pat for sharing your thoughts. Couldn’t agree more.

      Delete
  18. Scary story, great writing, do we ever learn from past mistakes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly no. We keep making the same mistakes.

      Delete
  19. Excellently written Denise ... I completely agree with you ... it's a nightmare - not sure which will get us first the (or a) virus ... or two men having a barney and setting the world alight. I live in hope ... a lot of hope. Take care ... Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anything is possible Hilary. Unfortunately. Too many brutes leading the world with the potential to destroy us all. I hope somehow common sense prevails.

      Delete
  20. You know what's scary? That I can't believe that this is fiction - it's so close to reality that it could be today's newspaper leading story!
    Powerful imagery.
    Carole Stolz

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. Today's newspapers are scary tomes!

      Delete
  21. Hi Denise,

    You hinted back in April that a piece like this might be coming from you in June. It's been in the back of my mind ever since, and I'm so glad to finally read it. I think your insights are spot on about how those who are in power are hiding the truth. What I find so tragic is how a lot of the deception is being integrated into the everyday minutiae of our daily lives. And because we are gradually becoming unwell as a society, we have less energy and lack the strength to find the correct solutions for ourselves.

    For example, over 40,000 Americans are predicted to die from breast cancer and some 13,000 from uterine cancer this year. But if someone were facing such a diagnosis and KNEW to google something like “Lugol's iodine” and “breast cancer,” having those search results might save their life. Or, to give just one more example, someone suffering a terrible infection and who is being given one antibiotic after another without any relief, if that person’s doctor knew about, say, something called Liposomal Vitamin C, they might not die a painful, tragic death. But I will guess that most doctors don’t know about Liposomal Vitamin C or Lugol’s iodine. This all might sound like crazy town, tinfoil hat talk until you’re hooked up to a IV drip of antibiotics in excruciating pain and you start looking around for evidence based medicine. But, then, some think that wearing a mask to protect them from a dangerous virus is nuts.

    So, yes, the danger is real. And a heaviness can weigh on my heart when I reflect on how much your piece seems to accurately describe the dynamics in current situation with so much insight. Thanks for sharing it.

    Karuna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Karuna, for your excellent comment. So much wisdom here. My heart was certainly heavy too when I wrote it.

      Delete
  22. Radiation is terrifying. Similar to a virus in that it cannot be seen, an invisible threat, but far worse in the way it ravages the body. Governments have a way of doing what best suits them. We've seen that much in the past. This haunting tale may be fiction, but it contains a lot of disturbing truths within it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The invisible is even more threatening. Not so much fiction I don't think.

      Delete
  23. Chilling, and all too credible!

    ReplyDelete
  24. A heavily modernized and chilling take at what may humanities future. Well done, Denise.

    ReplyDelete
  25. "Keep the people in blissful ignorance." Yeah, sounds about right. It's sad how accurate this story feels right now.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Powerful Denise. I love your metaphors, the stage, the handkerchief to wipe away sins, the postcard, the Crimson forest, all show not tell. Well done. A question though, why would renewable energies fail ? No wind, no sun ? A tiny lack of realism maybe, here. Otherwise very good anticipation fiction. Wishing you an inspiring summer of writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Renewable energies have failed in some Australian capital cities. Adelaide was in darkness for 3 days because they tried to go completely renewable. Not fiction. Not lack of realism.
      It's winter where I live.

      Delete
  27. The descriptions are so evocative, Denise. I wasn't immediately sure it was a nuclear explosion, but I immediately conjured images from Chernobyl, or those old films they made us watch in school. The descriptions of the abandoned homes also made me think of Pompeii.
    As for the politics, you have depicted a reality, not a fiction. Care for the people, the community was minimal during the Chernobyl disaster under the Soviet government. It's saddening to think that the response now might be even worse, given some of the current world leaders in power.
    As challenging as this allegorical tale is to read, it is powerful and compelling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Donna. Well we can see how they’re mishandling the current disaster.

      Delete

I love hearing from you! Hit me with your wisdom!