Beneath The Cloud
The following is the literary piece from my English coursework, I completed in college, last year. After reading Margaret Atwood's 'Surfacing' as our source book, there were a few themes we could choose from to create our literary piece, so I picked environmentalism. Margaret Atwood had put emphasis on the dominance that humans possess over nature and this lead me to consider writing about nuclear war because it could be seen as the ultimate power that humans can have over the world and the nature within it.
Beneath the Cloud
The world was desolate and broken. The sky wept in mourning, the tears bringing with them monotonous tones, painting the world into a black and white film. The sun offered no comfort, hiding away behind a thick blanket of clouds and the weeping ashes were unceasing, precipitating down over the shattered shells of buildings. The valley had been reduced to a grey, ominous desert and the river that once ran through, was choked by dark, gangly talons. Their claws caressed the waters surface, suffocating the minute flow. The trees were skeletal; their robes of once magnificent green stripped away. Beauty had been stolen and replaced by the ugly hand of war.
In the midst of the destruction however, a young man, named George, lay in comfort underground. He was prepared for such an occasion, for he knew of the hatred of humankind. He was ready for nuclear war. That was why he chose to be apart, he had distanced himself long ago, giving up hope on the world that was destined to destruct.
An underground greenhouse, his paradise and home. He was content with his own company, and that of the animals. He loved them and understood that they had suffered as he did. They had been abused and mistreated by humankind. Naturally, he was a vegetarian and lived off the crops he grew, with lifetime supplies of fungi that supplied him with sufficient protein, and unsurprisingly there were the chickens that laid eggs.
Although George was content with this way of life, if you were to delve deeper into his psyche you would discover unease and perpetual disturbance. He had disgust for the human race. He understood the ultimate futility of this nuclear destruction.
A beautiful world destroyed and what did that achieve?
A day since the first bomb had hit the ground and the last had yet to make its mark. When would it end? Thunder, after thunder, after thunder. Fire raging, wind ripping. He questioned what would this accomplish?
Every so often, he would press his ear to the ground and listen to the rumbling that slowly receded then amplified. Like dragons in a middle earth cave. Climbing and descending, descending and climbing. Thundering reverberations. He sat by the water feature and watched as the ripples fanned out across the surface as the ground shook. The fish swam erratically from the unknown terror. Where so many of their kind had perished, they swam unaware of the destruction to the world, nevertheless they shuddered, just as he did.
God’s words he thought; “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.". Whether there was a God or not, man had abused that power, destroyed the world and the beautiful creatures that lived upon it.
It was near midnight, when George heard the shouting. Curious that people were still alive out there, he climbed the stairs that lead to the world above and listened intently. A few men he deduced, manically screaming, all words indecipherable. A female too, high pitched cries between panicked sobs.
“Get away from me!” she wailed, amid broken breaths.
Abruptly, there came three shots. The shouting ceased but then the woman’s sobs continued. She was alive. There were quick footsteps and then another man’s voice.
“Are you okay?” George heard him ask gently.
Underground, safe from the harsh world upstairs, an idea tore at his conscious, 'should I help?’ Thoughts raced round his mind, 'Why should I?', he contemplated,' it is humans that brought about this destruction, they all have the capacity for such evil, but there has to be decent people out there, doesn't there?, Not everyone wanted to be part of this senseless waste. She could be hurt, they are probably both hungry. What about the radiation though? I can't go out there. I'll die. But I’ll be as heartless as the rest if I don't do something about it. I have to do the right thing'.
He was caught between waves of conflicting emotions.
The turmoil in his mind seemed to last forever, but could have only been mere minutes; as he tried to decide whether it was worth risking his life to make an honourable choice. He then remembered his protective suit that was used for caring for his collection of honeybees. Clambering down from where he perched, he ran into one of the store rooms to collect the suit.
A few modifications were necessary; stapling plastic over the face mesh and connecting gloves and foot coverings. He grabbed a first aid kit and climbed up the ladder leading to the hatch that separated him from the outside. Slowly unlocking the hatch door, he pushed it open just enough to see the woman outside lying on the floor, and a man kneeling next to her. They were both wearing makeshift protective suits. He peered about; trying to register the rest of the scene he had listened to minutes before. He swivelled to look in the other direction, his eyes adjusting to the darkness; he could then make out two other men lying lifeless on the floor. He fought the urge not to gag at the sight.
Unsure how to initiate a conversation with the couple, he opted for clearing his throat to get their attention. With no delay the man who had been kneeling spun around, pointing the gun at his head. “S… s… sorry didn’t mean to startle you” George stammered quickly.
“Show your hands now!” the other man ordered.
Shaking, he put both hands up, the left clutching the first aid kit.
“Drop it!” the man shouted.
Doing what was asked; he laid it on the ground in front of him and returned his hands to above his head.“It’s a first aid kit”, he mumbled, “I heard the shouting, I… t… th thought you might need help”.
The man observed him cautiously, then eventually spoke.
“I’m Jarred”, he announced, losing the commanding tone. “Sorry about that...misunderstanding there, you can never be too careful, the world’s gone to pot out here! No one’s playing by the same rules anymore kid!” he laughed humourlessly.
“Err... yeah, I’m George”, he stammered, watching Jarred’s hand on the gun.
Realising he was frightening him; Jarred slowly lowered the gun onto the floor then holding his own hands up to show he had nothing concealed.
In the silence, there came a rustling from the undergrowth. Jarred turned round, grabbing his gun, ready to aim, but he was not in time to prevent the first shot being fired. It hit George on the shoulder and he lost consciousness.
George woke later in his room, to the enticing smell of hot chocolate. Jarred appeared carrying two mugs. “I hope, its okay for you”, he said placing one on the table beside George’s bed. George turned to grab the mug suddenly aware of the sharp pain in his shoulder. “Ouch”, he gasped.
“I got the bullet out”, Jarred announced proudly. George looked down to see several surprisingly well done stitches. “Thanks” he whispered groggily. A woman emerged into George’s room. “Hey” she proclaimed exuberantly “I’m Melody” She had a large bruise on her left cheek and she seemed drained in appearance despite her lively tone. “How... y...you doing?” George stammered nervously.
“I’m fine, how you holding up?” she replied.
“G...good thanks”, he said quietly.
A couple of days past but George’s health curiously declined. He was vomiting and had lost his appetite. He spent most of the day sleeping but had no energy while awake. When he felt a clump of hair lying on the pillow, he was suddenly aware of what was happening to him.
“Jarred” George croaked “Jarred”. Jarred entered the room a sullen expression on his face.
“What’s up kid?” Jarred asked, trying not to let his voice falter.
“R...radiation sick...n...ness” George managed to articulate in a whispery breath.
“It’s okay” Jarred uttered softly. “It’s okay, kid... I know, don’t waste your breath”
Jarred gently stroked George’s hair as he closed his eyes. “We will always be grateful to you, for saving us”. George seemed to smile as he took his last breath. “You will not be forgotten” Jarred promised, as a solitary tear fell from his eye onto George’s forehead.
They erected a statue a year after his death to commemorate George Lumiere as the founder of their new underground world that had now increased in size thanks to the efforts of the 48 survivors now living there. Jarred had become leader of this new civilisation, fondly referred to as Light Land (the French translation for George’s surname). Melody was pregnant. The couple had already decided, if the child was to be a boy, it would be named George and if it was a girl, Georgina. Light Land was expanding as more survivors were found. All were people with kind hearts and souls, ready to start a better life. George had left hope for mankind, a promise of a better future, free from hate and brutality. A world with restored light.