Vignette:The Fisherman, At The End Of The World
The Fisherman, At The End Of The World
- Somewhere cold, where ice touches salt, and fur freezes taut to the cold night air.
Sometime hence, or yet to be.
ark rocks squat on the surface of the waves, and upon them in turn rides a figure, huddled under the star-washed sky. In the polar winter’s twilight, colors bleed into a muffled azure monochrome- a liquid aura of moonlight, pooling into hollow spaces. Like the deep strata lines run through stone, age-warped creases define wizened features. Narrowed green irises scan the dark wash below, gazing out intently towards the horizon. Matted black hair seamlessly flows into the form of the heavy leather parka, each cuff, patch and seam encircled by beads and trinkets.
Ancient ink and scars, dark and pale, whisper stories on olive skin. Suggestions of travels across the world-corpse, to distant reaches of the globe and exotic peoples. Battles fought, won or lost against the elements; sights of monsters and wonders. Oh, what sights they have seen! The substance of dreams, made flesh, written in blood. Calloused hands heavy from the labors of a lifetime, reach to the side.
The fisher brings up an old carved ivory rod, rude shapes worn smooth by time, and casts their line out, out, out. Out, swallowed into the depths of the world.
n oyster-shell barb catches upon something small, adrift in the waves. Bruised and frayed, the scrap of flesh reels back with a gruesome shudder. The fisher raises an eyebrow at the mauve relic.
A shake in the waves, the sight of a human hand- or what little remains of it. Blistered marks, scars and burns mar the grayed skin, clinging to a skeletal frame. Ghostly shackles weigh heavily against the buoyancy of decay. Grim evidence of a final escape.
The token reminder of a life once lived, twice taken.
Like fog, the great-timbered galleys descended upon these shores many times; arriving with the glistening tools of war, they left with the spoils. Bedraggled masses, crowds and lines of the dehumanized. Prisoners, slaves, filth- no term befit the terrible reality in store for many. Forcibly removed, worked beyond health or sanity. No wonder, then, many let themselves perish, growing sick, jumping over sides or simply withering away.
The mariner knew how their bodies would not reach the bottom of the ocean intact. Fish, birds, crustaceans, mollusks- all found the human carrion fair game: ravenous to all meats. Man, cattle or whale alike would soon be consumed, in a sudden bloom of life for the slow, watery deserts. Bones would drift to beaches and beds, they too eventually to be consumed by the smallest of life with the greatest of appetites. Even after being deconstructed to base elements, their blood would remain to cycle the salt seas from which it came. 260 million years, the mariner mused, was how long the foreign alchemists would say it took, just to dissipate the salts of their form from the ocean water.
Ironic, then, that the very same alchemists could use it to initiate these atrocities to begin with. The fisherman looked to the southern moon, to the western stars, where people could be reduced to those base elements. The strangers that could descend upon the vulnerable, soft flesh of the world, gnawing into it and draining its lifeblood until spent. Those elements burned through like firewood, laborers as raw resources. An entire culture, exploiting the death of the human spirit, converted to just numbers and energy.
‘Progress’, they would call it. As if somehow all this were inevitable, certain, destined to be part of their inexorable predation. ‘Logic’, they would call it. Ignorant of their stupidity, in denial of their amorality, they would solve it with theories. Elaborate constructions, hierarchies, delusions to justify their actions. Gods, men, beasts, all would be rendered down like fat from a carcass, torn apart and deconstructed until what little remained was rotten, bloated and aimless.
The fisherman threw the line back to the elements, their quarry back to the carrion-birds. Under the moonlight, sea foam became tears. The tides cried on forever.
aucous dull shrieks emitted as the line caught on something substantial- an unnatural sound, grinding and ringing. The line barely withdrew as it tangled around the dark, pendulous mass. It takes both hands hauling to draw the weight up, shining at the water’s surface.
The pitted surface almost obscures old serial numbers, a slick patina of algae encrusting smoother metal. Fractures and rough shearing marked where the shell once detonated, hollow cavities inside encrusted in strange reds and blues. Every remaining groove and indent belied the care taken in the design of this prospective mass murder weapon.
The fragment of metal would, even now, try to kill all life around it. Strangely named poisons with yet-stranger effects would leak into the surroundings. Despite this, the algae grew regardless, its minute living denizens forming a thriving neighborhood regardless, oxidizing and digesting all they could of the deathly fragment. Turning death into life, reversing the manufacturer’s abhorrent intentions. The mariner had once heard it took 700 million years for half the mass of their Uranium weapons to decay, the ones the strange men could use to set the entire world on fire. The humble fisherman was certain life had seen worse, lasted longer.
Yet in human lifespans they were reminded that, far past the horizon’s curve, the world was still just a lesser blaze. Countless conflicts, the gesturing of wars, battles, atrocities over factors both real and illusory. ‘Great’ powers of the world were wrestling like bull elephants in heat, crushing their way through alliances, people, homes and anything else they saw fit. Petty squabbles, on unimaginable scales. With every tool and weapon possible, they had armed themselves, taking to the skies, the ground, the trails. Even the seas and their depths were unsafe, from the organized destruction of humans by their fellows.
Self-destruction only seemed natural, however, as the mariner thought of the strange cosmologies of the foreigners. Great tales, whole tablets and sheets of complex runes, all somehow declaring judgment, the end of the world. Cosmic cycles of eternal rebirth and redeath, exchanging people and gods for the role of the algae and krill. Strange aims and prophecies that became self-fulfilling, subtle words holding power over millions, billions. The tongues of the strangers and their bizarre imperative goals, demands that they must fight each other with evermore ingenious tools of destruction. Incredible investments into every part of the art of killing, razing, pillaging.
Those people were stubborn as they were bloodthirsty, though. Somehow, most managed to live untroubled; unbothered by the foreboding prospect of their own constant potential for self-apocalypse. No matter how much they were stamped out, how great their sights became, how terrible they could reduce the state of their homes to- they simply grew back. Their lights became a slick sheen on the planet, their livelihoods indomitable. Stubborn, slow to reduce, they have lodged themselves like shrapnel into every face of the world.
So, too, does the shell piece become cast off onto the beach, just another stone on the shore.
icking about on the reel, this time the catch is a sodden amorphous thing, deforming at the slightest motion or current, wrapping itself along the line as it reluctantly surfaces. An item new to the mariner: tattered, translucent, gaudy. A plastic bag.
The sun-bleached, glossy surface is covered in colorful runes from some distant peoples’ sensibilities, gleaming with all the yellow, pink and white of a toxic insect. Deflated like some paper-thin glass cephalopod, it seems to lurk on dry land, secreted unassumingly.
The fisherman sees a time when no plastic existed, a time without the sterile deserts of waste dumped where it can be forgotten. The material will last a thousand years, the components up to 2500 million years, resolutely refusing to disappear until lost and entombed in the continents. Nothing can eat it, few dares making homes in it. Even now, the whales and fish and turtles may try, but as they might nothing manages to make life from something so sterile to lack death. A pure product of excess, of creation abandoned. The mariner pokes and shakes the thing, and wonders what possesses the foreigners to make so much.
To the strangers of the south, everything has a worth, even worth itself. They call this ‘Money’: with it, nothing else becomes sacred. Everything gains a price- food, water, services, lives, land, even success or failure becomes wrested from any perception of fate. Somewhere along the way, it seems these prices went wrong. Taking worth from the planet, draining it of life and exchanging it for synthetic fakes, establishing further lies to seal the deed. The money can only evaporate, burn, or be stolen if its imagined to be there in the first place. None of it even has to be necessary to live. There is no earning food, or keep. No payments are made in home, in belonging. Only money, only in the exchange of abstract wealth.
Even now, the fisher can barely imagine how many more of these are being made, left, washed and carried throughout the world. More than can ever be managed, more than there ever should have been. Steadily, slowly and surely, a film of glossy plastic is encrusting the seas, lurking in wait to cling to anything unfortunate enough to catch. Refusing to let go, it will be here forever, strangling, choking.
The mariner sighs. They pick up the bedraggled bag, crushing it into a pocket of the parka, and pack up their line. Sometimes the sins of others must be borne by everyone.
It has been a bad catch, this time. But the fisherman has much of it to spare- they are here forever.
At the twilight of the world, where everything ends up, sooner or later.