In the closing of the world, when the great but empty powers, through a mixture of corruption, error, misunderstanding, and sabotage, threw their many nukes around the smoldering globe, the members of Skullvalley After Whistletown Booksellers retreated to another world, far from this old earth, where they’d been so long content in the company of creatures animal, human, and humanish.
Their world was now a rolling wasteland, and the few remaining survivors lived short, radiation-enfeebled lives in little tribes scattered across the pock-scarred face of a charred and poisoned nature.
From his giant observatory perched atop a sheer-cliffed mountain peak, Kempt monitors the images and data sent by his thousand land-, sea- and sky-roving drones (approximate delay: three years, four months, two weeks, three days, seven hours, twenty-three minutes, and nineteen seconds).
Susan and Amble stroll through the dark panther with their three young children, who – half human and half troll – seem perfectly adapted to this warm, wet, wide-leaf-shaded band of ancient rain wood. Panthers, here through an amazing tale of convergent evolution and /or celestial laziness, thrive in this soggy heat like nowhere in the universe. Every few minutes one can be glimpsed swiftly sliding from behind one great grey undulated tree trunk to the next. The oldest girl and boy – eight and five – chase after the smooth slipping shadows, but never get anything except – with a little arms-outstretched squawk – a face full of loamy jungle earth. The baby clings to his mother’s supple side. They are bathed together and bound through the warm soil-odored mists.
Thundration Whistletown, Archangelbert Skullvalley, and Bartelby Willard are in the wooden chairs, at the wooden desks, and pacing the wooden floors of the SAWB newsroom. There’s nothing to report and no one to report it to, but this doesn’t prevent them from moving quickly between rows of desks, clickety clacking orchestras of typewriters and bellowing high and muttering low about deadlines, scoops, and humdingers while the ink-spewing printing press rolls out the morning edition.
Timothy sits alone atop a darkgreen, waxy, fleshy, wide-arching jungle leaf, still damp with the afternoon’s rain and trembling ever so slightly beneath his ever so slight weight. He’s summoned his wife. She’ll arrive as quickly as light can. I don’t know if their magic can break that physical law or not, but she wants to take her time anyway. There’s this book she always wanted to write: A Compendium and Analysis of Comparative Magiks. Soon enough they’ll buzz together through the many climes of this fertile, overripe, virgin world.
The animals are not unlike earth creatures, but – excepting for the panthers – they aren’t ever quite the same either. A land without people and their heavy-handed progress, great mammals yet roam the savannahs, lumber the forests, and brave the icy mountain sides.
In time the Hall of The Mountain King, no longer proud to be a kingdom within a country, but instead sorry to be a kingdom within a total collapse, will relocate to one of the many beautifully chilly mountain ranges. But the non-magic folk are stuck on earth in their hovels and with the sickness they call, in their simple broken ways, ‘the melting’.
This is not my fault. None of this is the fault of your narrator, who never claimed any special wisdom, and whom the Fates granted neither exceptional insight, nor extraordinary power, nor heroic luck.
There was, they said, the Water Folk were want to say, an evil mist that floated upon the waters, carrying lonesome despair to every soul it gripped. I cannot speak to that. I really cannot say. But true it is that the Water Folk have been brought low by some inexplicable traumatic terror. Where once they’d dove and swam, played and spearfished all up and down the rocky banks of their Big Town in the Wide Bend of the Great River a mile or so before it merged with the Green Sea, now they cower all day long in their thatched huts, staring mutely at the woven willow-branch floors as the mighty river rolls on crinkly beneath the flat hulls of their permanently-moored houseboats.
They’d’ve starved long ago were in not for their loyal friends the Tree Folk, who, braving the swift current in small, flat-bottomed reed boats, pole their way to the wooden porches that surround the thatched-roof huts that float in the center of the river. The Tree Folk bring their ancient allies a pulpy, fleshy fruit that tastes a little too much of meat and not enough of fish for the tastes of the alredy-sulking, eerily silent and dull-eyed Water Folk. Sometimes a Treeperson will try to cheer up a particular friend of theirs among the Water Folk. A Treeman will slap a Waterman’s back. A Treewoman will sit down next to and side-hug a Waterwoman. A Treeboy or Treegirl will smile shyly and pour their round big grey eyes and into the narrower, longer, inkblack eyes of a former playmate. But the Water Folk just blink, or look away, or blink and look away. So then the Treeperson gives up and, round furry face reflected in the rippling blue-green-gray surface of the clear deep river, pole their way back to the safety of the many broad, bending branches that overhang the river and easily convey their lithe agile bodies to the canopy, where the Tree Folk reign unchallenged.
I guess the Water Folk eat the fruit, which has enough water to also keep them from dehydrating. I guess they dejectedly gnaw and slowly slurp the fruit when they are alone in the night.
Copyright: Andrew M. Watson