What If ?

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          Tired of waiting for more attention, the cat rose, stretched, walked across the still form, up on the table, and onto the machine into which the man had been speaking, where it disdainfully sniffed the little shiny cylinders.

          With its curiosity satisfied, the feline jumped to the ground, but in doing so, its paw depressed a lever, causing the devise to click, whir, and click again. The instrument began talking.

          “I suppose it was bound to happen: insidiously, rapidly, silently, and with perfunctory decisiveness.

          “For the record, my name is Malachi, Doctor Antonio Malachi, not that it means a hill-of-beans to anyone because I'm probably one of a very few earthly survivors, which isn't much of a consolation.

          “I’m sitting in a lawn chair at someone’s fancy cottage - if you can call it a cottage – because it even has a swimming pool. Maybe that’s the owner disintegrating in it. I just made certain I put the chair upwind.

          “This is probably his cat; a real friendly fellow. He followed me around the house all morning. He likes his chin scratched, don’t you? Yes, you do. Feels good, eh? I wonder if he knows how lucky he is?

          "I'm glad the medicine cabinet had some asthmatic bronchial inhalers because they will certainly help my breathing for the little time I have left.”

          A couple of harsh coughs are heard and a puffer's hiss.

          “That's better. You know, it is too bad people didn’t appreciate - cough, cough - the earth's fragile beauty, before they had completely trashed it. But money was always the priority. Now, it’s too late - too late - everything is too late, even for hindsight.

          “My it’s peaceful here. Look at that: across the bay, there are two vultures waiting patiently in a huge pine tree. What an epitaph! Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, you black bastards!”

          A puffer's hiss is heard again.

          “Yeah, not much longer now. I’m coughing up blood, and the lesions are leaking profusely. It’s the last stage. So while there is still a modicum of time, I will attempt to describe what happened, if only for posterity and my own piece of mind.

          “Although many theories were advanced as to why the pandemic affected only humans, a truly plausible answer was never developed. Unsubstantiated rumours blamed everything from gene splicing to corrupt cloning experiments to a new potent variant of the AIDS virus.

          “In every country, the embroiled fiasco of assigning responsibility quickly degenerated into the basic instincts for survival. During the initial scramble to develop counter measures, the strain’s extreme virulence killed the investigators faster than they could isolate it.

           "Time ran out - cough - time simply ran out.

          “In the great cities, where the hot humid stench of rotting corpses pervaded every thing, the infection spread swiftly and easily. Martial law was declared, but it was totally ineffective because there were no marshals and absolutely no law.

          “Within months, world governments collapsed. Civilization deteriorated from simple looting to uncontrolled chaos. Suicide became the norm. Tropical countries fared the worst. I heard that areas like China, Japan, India, and Bangladesh, entire areas became huge piles of putrefaction.

          “The initial multitude of crematoriums ceased to function due to the lack of operators. Fully loaded cadaver ships went to sea but never returned.”

          A wry sarcastic laugh is heard, then more coughing.

          “Ouch! It even hurts to laugh.

          “There is no one alive in any urban centres, just thousands of well fed dogs, cats, raccoons, and millions of extremely fat rats. There are billions of flies everywhere - on the walls, on the streets and in great black swirling clouds overhead. It’s Nature's clean up crew at work.

          “For months now, the only consistent sound has been the squishy munch of maggots pulsating inside mounds of clothing of which, as much as I hate the thought of it, I will soon make another contribution.

          “I understand that with such an abundance of bodies around, carnivores have ceased pursuing their normal prey, whose populations in turn have grown quite noticeably. What an ironic twist to the natural scheme of things.

          “Therein lies the philosophical rub: Was man meant to be part of the continuum; or did man’s greedy exploitation radically alter the earth’s environment?”

          A violent bout of coughing is heard, followed by the spitting up of heavy phlegm. Several hisses of a puffer are followed by a rasping struggle for breath.

          “People escaping the cities carried the plague to the more remote regions. In a desperate attempt at self-preservation, isolated villages became armed fortresses, preventing outside contact. But the flies found them inexorably transforming these settlements into walled ghost towns.

          “Some people hoarded food, barricaded themselves in inaccessible mountain caves, and killed anyone who approached. But the flies found them.

          “There may be some individuals scattered around the Arctic and Antarctic regions, but they won't last long. The flies will find them. The flies find everyone.

          “I wonder what surprises are in for the crews in nuclear submarines.

          Gasping, laboured breathing can be heard.

          “I, I suppose once the human race is eradicated, the earth will return to the paradise it once was. The forests and fish stocks should regenerate fairly easily. Desertification will be reversed. Pollution in the rivers and lakes will disappear. The skies have already cleared dramatically. Repairing oil spills and mining companies’ tailings ponds will take longer, but it will happen. It will happen.”

          Another violent coughing fit is heard.

          “I wish I could be around to watch this transformation, the earth reverting to its natural grandeur where all life works in harmony” - a loud groan of agony is heard – “in harmony without man's interference.”

          “It is ironic to think that the only thing the earth did not need was mankind.

          “What if we had heeded the signs?

          “What if we had not been so greedy?

          “What if we” - a great painful moan strains for breath – “got” - more gasping – “got what we” - a great intake gasp is audible – “deserved?”

          There is a violent fit of coughing followed by a long sigh.

          After a period of relative silence, the flap of large wings is heard amid the growing din of flies.

          The machine falls silent.


© J. Graham Ducker    



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