This is the full version of 2070, which I previously published on my blog in two instalments (part one is here and part two is here). I’m posting it here in its entirety for people who would prefer to read it all in one instalment. This story is based on a dream I had last week, shortly before waking up. Many strands of the story have yet to be teased out – I think it could potentially be turned into something longer, which is an enticing prospect… I love it when fresh inspiration strikes! Anyway, this is the tale as it stands right now. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Michael keeps up a steady pace behind his father: a short, stout man with a full head of meticulously combed black hair (he is very proud of how thick his hair has remained, even in the throes of middle age) who is shouting out words of encouragement to everyone around him and urging them all not to panic. ‘The unit isn’t too far away now – just another few minutes of walking will get us there – and we’ll all be safe before we know it! Won’t that be great?’
His voice is too bright, his demeanour too cheery. A ripple of eye rolls and exasperated glances pass through the Islanders who hear him, but they choose to let it slide. They are well used to their mayor’s effusive behaviour and their minds are on other matters.
Michael’s grandmother – a woman of steely determination, in her 80s – walks a short distance behind him. Her pace is rapid, her brow is furrowed, her lips are tight. With one hand, she tightly clings onto a walking stick. With the other, she clutches a bag of treasured keepsakes that she would rather die than leave behind: her wedding veil, a cassette tape of songs she loved as a child in the 1990s, time-weathered pieces of art that her children and grandchildren have made for her in school over the years…
Michael has always prided himself on his ability to run, to move quickly and effortlessly around whatever obstacles lie before him. Not for nothing has he won the All-Island Schools’ Race Award twice in a row. His only problem is Murphy. She is trudging resentfully behind him, uttering low groans of protest every time he tries to chivvy her along.
“She clutches a bag of treasured keepsakes that she would rather die than leave behind: her wedding veil, a cassette tape of songs she loved as a child in the 1990s, time-weathered pieces of art.”
‘Murphy, come on,’ he implores her. ‘We need to get up there fast.’
Murphy lets out a deeply pained sigh, plonks herself down on the ground and stares at him with baleful eyes.
‘Dad. Dad! Daaaad…‘
His father turns around, looking slightly startled, and tuts. ‘Pick her up, Michael. The poor dog can’t walk like she used to, I’m always telling you that. See how Yvette is carrying Suzy…’
Michael glances resentfully at his older sister Yvette, who raises an eyebrow at him in return, smirking slightly. She is holding their puppy, Suzy: a spoiled red setter who is now panting happily, quite oblivious to the dangers at hand as she looks around at the people passing by. She has nearly reached adolesence and is far too old to be carried everywhere by now, in Michael’s opinion.
‘The only reason she wants to be carried is because she’s lazy.’
‘She hurt her paw last week,’ Yvette says scornfully. ‘You know that.’
‘Murphy would love to walk, if she could,’ Michael says disconsolately, staring down at his tired dog. ‘I know she would. She hates being carried.’
Murphy can only gaze sadly at him in return. She is, without question, his best friend. They’ve always stuck together. They were both born during the summer of 2058, right after the infamous drought that had wiped out five percent of the Island’s population and hospitalised many more…
An enormous wave crashes onto the cliff face directly below them. Michael shivers. Nasty storm conditions have been predicted to batter the Island over the coming days – as if the eruption wasn’t bad enough – and the evidence of that has been quickly gathering all afternoon.
‘Right, that’s it, come on,’ his grandmother shouts impatiently. ‘Michael – just pick her up, right now, and get moving!’
Michael hurriedly scoops up the elderly dog, despite her whimpers of dissent. ‘Come on, Murphy. It’ll be okay…’
As they draw nearer to the escape unit, with its rows of sleek escape pods lined up outside, he begins to feel slightly sick. He has been through several practice sessions with the pods in school – all of the Island’s children have – but now that he is faced with the reality of having to use one, he has forgotten everything his teachers told him. The last time the Islanders had to use these pods en masse was shortly before he was born. And as for the chutes – there are so many of them, pointing up into the sky…
His family have been assigned two chutes near the base of the unit. Michael’s grandmother leads the way, briskly striding to one of the pods nearby.
‘Let me help, Julianne.’
One of the unit assistants has reached out to her.
‘Don’t fuss, Harold, I’ll be fine,’ she says briskly, swatting his hand away as she lowers herself into the pod and straps herself in. ‘I’ve been dealing with this kind of thing since long before you were born! Yvette, Michael, Jonathan: I’ll see you up there.’ Within seconds, the door of her pod has come down and she is off, whizzing through one of their assigned chutes at breakneck speed.
“The last time the Islanders had to use these pods en masse was shortly before he was born.”
‘You go next, Michael,’ Harold urges him brightly. ‘Little Murphy will be going in with you, I take it? Make sure you hold on tight…’
Harold helps Michael to lower himself into another nearby pod and gently pushes it towards his family’s second chute. Michael is startled to see that the end of the chute has been fitted with a series of dark blue tiles, each one carrying an image of a seal, dolphin, or other marine creature. He didn’t think anyone would have bothered decorating them like that…
Murphy lets out a worried yelp as the door of the pod smoothly slides down, securing them from the outside world. Through the glass, Michael sees Yvette shooting him an anxious look, tightly clinging onto Suzy as she is ushered into another pod that will be placed into the same chute that their grandmother has just used.
‘Murphy,’ he whispers, as soothingly as he can, ‘I know you hate this, but please … you have to stay still. Please.’
The terrified dog writhes around in his arms, scratching at the glass and howling in desperation.
‘Please, Murphy. You know I’ll protect you, nothing can happen to you while you’re with me…’ He plants a kiss on her head and holds her close to his chest as the pod begins to pulsate gently. One last glimpse of his father – who, like Yvette, is looking anxious – and they are off: the chute walls whizzing around them as the pod picks up speed. Murphy is now emitting a piercing screech that he has never heard from her before.
Michael closes his eyes tightly as they hurtle onwards.
The risk of crashing is negligible: he knows that. One of his teachers told him that the walls of the chute are fitted with a magnetic lining that automatically repels the pod, so it cannot crash into them, even as it twists and turns at a dizzying speed. He knows, logically, that he is not about to die, but the constant turning – the sharp angles, the loops – are making him nauseous. Murphy is now clawing at his chest, her eyes wild.
‘I k-kn-know, M-M-M-uuurph-ph-phy,’ he attempts to say, stroking her head. The vibrations of the pod are distorting his voice. “It-t-t-t’ll b-b-beee oo-oo-kaaayyy…’
Before long, he notices that the chute is starting to widen. The pod’s movements gradually become slower and slower, and the chute wider and wider, until they find themselves floating into a wide orb-shaped chamber, still being suspended and maneouvred into the correct position by the magnetic lining of the walls. They are now moving towards a broad shelf on one side of the chamber, with a small archway set into the adjoining wall. Julianne’s pod is already there. Julianne herself is standing beside it, pulling her bag out and rummaging through it, with a slight frown on face, to make sure that everything is in place. Michael glances backwards and sees another opening beside the one from which he has just emerged. So his grandmother’s chute would have led her here too…
His pod hovers over the shelf for a moment – Julianne spots him and waves, beaming – before landing on it with a gentle thump.
‘We’ve stopped,’ he whispers slowly – hardly daring to believe it – then laughs uproariously. ‘We’ve stopped, Murphy! Everything is okay!’ With a sense of immense relief, he presses a button next to him that will unlock the door. As it begins to rise, he scrambles to remove his seatbelts. ‘Come on, girl … let’s go.’
Murphy is hesitant to leave the pod – Michael can see that she is still somewhat dazed. She plonks her head over his chest, places her front paws on his shoulders and stares reproachfully at him, clearly wondering what calamity is about to befall her next.
‘Oh, Murphy,’ he says gently, and scoops her up into his arms once more. ‘It’s okay. I’ll carry you again.’
‘Ah, Michael,’ his grandmother announces crisply, appearing alongside him and offering a hand to help pull him out. ‘Are you okay? Good boy. Take it slowly, now – don’t rush. Just stand up and step out at your own pace … oh, and here comes Yvette.’
“Murphy plonks her head over his chest, places her front paws on his shoulders and stares reproachfully at him, clearly wondering what calamity is about to befall her next.”
Michael turns around and watches his sister’s pod slowly emerge from the opening that Julianne would have used. He is amused to see that Suzy has pressed herself right up against the window. She is barking madly and wagging her tail. They cannot hear her barks yet – the pod door prevents virtually all noise from entering and escaping the pod – but Michael has witnessed Suzy’s excitable behaviour often enough to know exactly how she must sound right now.
The second Yvette’s pod has landed and the door has opened, Suzy shoots out like a rocket, eager to explore her new surroundings.
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
Yvette sits up cautiously, wincing as she does so. She looks dishevelled, weary, and somewhat pale. Julianne bustles over to her.
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘Alright, Yvette, just give me your hand –’
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘– I’ll get you out –’
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘Suzy! Will you shut up?!’
As Yvette slowly disembarks, her little setter continues to bounce around, barking joyfully, despite Julianne’s scolding. Michael feels Murphy tense up in his arms. He senses her annoyance. The two dogs don’t get along particularly well, and he understands why: Murphy is old and tired and no longer has the exuberant, over-the-top energy that Suzy possesses.
‘That is the last time I get into a pod with that dog,’ Yvette says weakly. ‘It really is…’
‘Now where is your father?’ Julianne muses, squinting in the direction of the chutes. ‘Ah! Here he comes.’
Jonathan crawls out of the pod on his hands and knees, looking dizzy. ‘Oh God … I just … I need … I need a minute.’ He collapses to the ground, groaning and struggling for breath.
Julianne sighs and bends down to rub his shoulder. ‘Okay Jon … just breathe.’
As Julianne tends to the others, Michael walks to the archway with some trepidation, still holding on to Murphy. Once he has stepped through it, he gasps: he has found himself in a wide, airy room which has been equipped with a few kitchen appliances, a small seating area and a generous supply of food – and just like the base of his chute, its walls have been inlaid with deep blue tiles, each one boasting a surprisingly detailed picture of a marine animal. He lingers by one tile which shows a manatee gliding through water: its skin has been so realistically painted that he almost expects to feel a soft, leathery texture when he reaches out to touch it.
‘What do you think of this, Murphy?’ he whispers, planting a soft kiss on the dog’s head. ‘Hm?’
Murphy wriggles a little, indicating that she would like to be put down. He lowers her to the ground, which she immediately begins to sniff. She wanders contentedly through the room, her tail beginning to wag as she investigates every inch.
One wall of the room has been entirely taken up by an enormous window. They are within view of the volcano: a terrifying prospect, but Michael knows that they are far beyond its range. The volcano is located on the opposite side of the Island to the escape unit, across the bay, and all of the Islanders’ emergency rooms are positioned high above the Island itself.
Jonathan enters, followed by Yvette and Julianne – Julianne is holding onto Yvette, who still looks somewhat worse for wear.
‘Well!’ Jonathan declares happily. He walks to the seating area and throws himself into an armchair, gazing out the window. ‘Look at this place! We’ll be happy here, until the danger passes.’
“They crowd to the window, where – in the distance, across the bay – they see the volcano begin to erupt.”
‘Indeed,’ Julianne remarks wryly. ‘This is one good thing about our home being melted to the ground and the entire Island being uninhabitable for God knows how long…’
‘Ah, Maman, that’s not what I meant.’
‘I know, I know…’
‘It’s starting,’ Yvette whispers in a hushed tone.
They crowd to the window, where – in the distance, across the bay – they watch the volcano begin to erupt. There is not much to see, for the moment: a few sparks, a few minute trickles, of lava have begun to escape. The vast majority of material that the volcano has emitted so far is smoke and ash. But Michael knows that the lava will eventually accumulate and consume everything in its path as it travels towards the town. Everything.
Tears fill his eyes as he reaches out for Murphy and pulls her close to him.