Tuesday, March 31, 2009
My girlfriend and I walked out of Rachel Getting Married and decided to watch Gran Torino instead (Oddly enough I had a long dream about Rachel Getting Married actress Anne Hathaway last night). Moving right along, Clint Eastwood plays hard as nails Walt Kowalski in GT, a retired Korean war vet. The movie is set in Detroit after the car factories have closed down and neighbours have moved out - replaced by an immigrant population. Even so Walt hangs up his American flag.
Smokie: Are you fucking crazy? Go back in the house.
Walt Kowalski: Yea? I blow a hole in your face and then I go in the house... and I sleep like a baby. You can count on that. We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea... use you for sandbags.
What I liked about this flick is the realism - the realistic way Eastwood handles racism, and growing up (and growing old), and gangs, and religion. Charming too is Eastwood's (or is it Kowalski's) take on 'being a man' and 'man talk'.
Walt Kowalski: Now you just gotta learn how guys talk. You just listen to the way Martin and I batter it back and forth. You OK? You're ready?
Thao Vang Lor: Sir!
Walt Kowalski: Alright let's go in...
Barber Martin: Perfect! a Polak and AND a chink!
Walt Kowalski: How ya doing Martin, you crazy Italian prick?
Barber Martin: Walts! You cheap bastard! I should have known you'd come in, I was having such a pleasant day!
Walt Kowalski: What'd you do? You ruse some poor blind guy out of his money? Gave him the wrong change?
Barber Martin: Who's the nip?
Walt Kowalski: Ohh... He's a pussy kid from next door. I'm trying to man him up a little bit... You see kid, now that's how guys talk to one another.
Thao Vang Lor: They do?
Barber Martin: What, you got shit on your ribs?
Walt Kowalski: Now you go out and come back in and talk to him like a man, like a REAL man. Come on! Get your ass outta here! Come on back now. to Martin: Sorry about this.
Thao Vang Lor: What's up ya old Italian prick?
Barber Martin: pointing rifle at Thao: Get out of my shop before I blow your head off, you goddamn dick sucker! Go!
Walt Kowalski: Jezus Christ, Holy Shit! Hehe Take it easy, take it easy. to Thao: What the hell are you doing? Have you lost your mind?
Thao Vang Lor: But that's what you said. That's what you said men say.
Walt Kowalski: You don't just come in and insult the man in his own shop! You just don't do that. What happens if you meet some stranger? You get the wrong one , he's gonna blow your gook head right off!
Thao Vang Lor: What should I have said then?
Barber Martin: Well... why don't you start with... eeehm... Hi or Hello...
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, just come in and say... eeeehm... Sir, I'd like a haircut if you have the time.
Barber Martin: Yeah, be polite, but don't kiss ass.
Walt Kowalski: In fact you could talk about a construction job you just came from and bitch about your girlfriend and your car.
Barber Martin: eeeehm... Son of a bitch, I just got my brakes fixed and eeehmm those son of bitches really nailed me, I mean they screwed me right in the ass!
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, don't swear AT the guy, just talk about people who are not in the room... eeeh... you could talk about your boss... eeeh... making you work extra time when there is bowling night.
Barber Martin: Right, or... eeeh... my old lady bitches for two goddamn hours about how... eeeeh... they don't take expired coupons at the grocery stores. And the minute I turn on the fucking game, she starts crying how we never talk!
It is also interesting to observe how the neighbours grow on Walt and will probably grow on movie audiences. You'll soon find yourself caring about their trials and tribulations - and you might be surprised by how much. Why, because it portrays something we all know - the human condition.
An excellent and relevant film.
High-end filmmakers aren't just making movies these days. They're building virtual worlds before shooting a single frame of film, using digital tools that blur the lines between animation and live-action, virtual sets and physical soundstage, photorealistic cartoon characters and motion-captured human beings.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
A new film for Pixar
Genre: Sports Animation
Writing Type: Treatment
Best Studio: Disney Pixar/Blue Sky
Described as the next Walt Disney, John Lasseter responded by saying: "I have a hard enough time being John Lasseter." This man, behind such magical motion pictures as "Toy Story" and "Cars," seems to me to be inspired wholeheartedly by the child inside.
That's not so far from the truth. He has recently admitted that the spark for these stories came from observing his own children and (in the case of "Cars") the experience of taking a road trip with his family.
While Lasseter may not be the driving force behind "Ice Age" or "Shrek," all the movies mentioned here have one thing in common: a celebration of the innocence and wonder of the inner child (and all the imaginings we could associate with the inner child).
I've been thrilled by the pictures I have seen, having spent 10 days cycling from the Indian Ocean, across the southern inverted pyramidal landmass of South Africa, to the Atlantic -- from Mossel Bay in the East to Langebaan, north of Cape Town, in the West. During those 850 kilometers, the faces, the places, the poetry of pictures as seen from a bicycle is unspeakably exciting.
Since people write Open Letters to the President, how about an Open Letter to Pixar (specifically John Lasseter)? It's about what has delighted my inner child, and I call it: "Simon and the Cyclopede."
The Cyclopede, first of all, is the first animation of the peloton. Yes, you heard right. It's simply a bunch of cyclists meandering across a country or urban road. Well, it may be a simple thought, but the reality, and the rendering of it, is utterly utterly complex, and quite beautiful. First of all, there's the sound. A giant snake on wheels? A rolling, whispering forest? A steaming flock of color. If you have ever participated being in a rapidly moving peloton, or even watched the Tour de France, it's easy to appreciate the colors and lines involved in the creature we could call "The Cyclopede." It's the human equivalent of flying in formation.
Simon, of course, is the young cyclist who learns not only the delight of his carbon fibre machine (propelled using clean, human power, and one of the most efficient forms of energy in the universe), but he also learns about the value and power of the Cyclopede. Joining the Cyclopede means saving his energy, finding safety from the cold, hard wind and belonging to a group that takes care of its own members. And in the same way that ships were not built for harbors, Simon (and his friends) must learn when to work with the Cyclopede, and when to abandon it in search of personal victory.
There's that, of course, and then there is a yellow bus, marked U.N. Special Youth Group that breaks down in the countryside, not far from the small town where Simon and his friends, Lance, Duff, his sister Swan and rival, Harry live. All the teenagers in the bus, heading for a debate at the U.N. on Energy Conservation, must catch a flight over the next two days to attend the conference... The bicycle store in the little town of Amsterdam is a big one. Enough to supply all 15 candidates with bicycles. Now it is up to the 5 strong riders, to teach the others how to ride as a Cyclopede.
The same rules apply in life as they do in cycling. For how long do you stick together as a group, in the safety and security of friends, and when do you decide to break away?
The first group of 5 arrogantly ride off right in the beginning. They quickly disappear, but hours later are exhausted. Another group, struggling to control their nerves, suffer punctures, crashes and cramps. The group that manages to concentrate, trust their companions, manages to make it in time to catch their flight, and report to the U.N. on how human beings and machines can co-operate against the wind and weather to save energy in many interesting and innovation ways. Think of Boeings, cars etc, flying and driving in slipstreams.
The film also provides an opportunity to demonstrate, in a way only animators can, how the chain slides over its gears, how the frame flexes, how the wind buffers more against the rider than on the lightweight apparatus under him.
The team time trial should private plenty of visual clues and inspiration for the Cyclopede Effect, pixie helmets and booties lined up with a rolling countryside whisking, whirling, opening up and collapsing stupendous views.
Lance Armstrong can provide a cameo as the bus driver. France, New Zealand or South Africa can provide the background terrain.
Simon and the Cyclopede
Together We Can Do More
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The question for the two sides is, who will users blame — YouTube or the record label, in this case Warner?
NVDL: Recently millions of Rands worth of DVDs were destroyed in Johannesburg. While this sort of thing makes complete sense right now, in an energy deprived (and cash-strapped) future, not only will piracy be cost effective and energy efficient, copyright will become obsolete. The whole idea of it, endlessly rewarding some initiaitve by massive reproduction and distribution with high packaging and distribution costs...sorry, that's not going to continue. The internet is already turning the concept into a myth. While to some extent I support copyright (to ideas, source material etc), I think the lengths music companies are going to to protect profits is both impractical and greedy.
Countless other amateurs have been ensnared in a dispute between Warner Music and YouTube, which is owned by Google. The conflict centers on how much Warner should be paid for the use of its copyrighted works — its music videos — but has grown to include other material produced by amateurs that may also run afoul of copyright law.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
NVDL: This is amazing. Even more amazing is that people reference this extraordinary discovery with a fictional construct from a comic book.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
She fell on a beginners slope near Montreal during a ski lesson Monday and initially appeared coherent, but an hour later she complained of a headache. As her condition worsened dramatically, she was flown to a hospital near her home in New York City, where her family gathered.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
It’s a Charlie Kaufman movie, so you get what you’ve come to expect: a mopey artist wrapped up in a wonderfully sad love story which involves a multitude of off-beat supporting characters in a surrealist circumstance, one of whom is an effervescent female major love interest. It’s just unfortunate the sheer brilliance of Kaufman’s mind wasn’t focused by someone else’s lens.
The problem is that what we are receiving is unfiltered Kaufman, and we aren’t equipped to handle that.
Synecdoche is Kaufman’s Ubu Roi, and it’s just too hard to handle.
Caden Cotard is the prototypical depressed artist at the center of all of Kaufman’s work. The biggest issue is he’s too much of a mope. While all of Kaufman’s previous characters had brief moments of whimsy and joy, Cotard is enwrapped in the shit that is his life, and he doesn’t have opportunity to smile or be happy. While Eeyore is my favorite character in all the Hundred Acre Woods, there’s a reason why we rarely get a story that focuses entirely on him. Too much of the somber plodding sadness makes it hard to appreciate the beauty.
The other problem is that Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden. It’s impossible to separate Hoffman from this character. He’s the same blustering depressed bastard he’s been playing forever. It’s not that he’s not good; it’s just that I’ve had my Phil. Conversely, Samantha Morton gets a chance to really sparkle as Hazel. She’s even more bubbly and lovably cynical than Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine. Hazel strikes me as the kind of woman Clementine would have grown into if she decided not to stay with Joel after the credits, and ditched the punk rock. She manages to be alluring and shy, seductive without seeming to be aggressive, adorable and smart and basically everything you would want in a girl. If you aren’t head over heels for a Kaufman love interest, there’s a casing of ice over your heart. Morton is brilliant, actually capturing everything I loved about her character in Mister Lonely without being in a terrible movie.Kaufman really stretched beyond his means. The man’s the master of the meta-film, and he actually managed to pull off a meta-meta film that meta-struates all over the fourth wall. Consider this: The movie is about a director who’s somewhat imaginatively talented who crumbles under reality in the face of a project that’s beyond his scope.
NVDL: This was an interesting movie for me, because I am right now constructing a fictional account of real life (mine), and adding a few layers of satire to make it both more and less palatable. I think you need to be something of an artist to enjoy and commiserate with Kaufman. He wants to show everything - the whimsy, the irony, the dreariness, the loneliness, the love, the loss, the misery, the joy of living. He wants to mix it up and mess it up in the way life is messed up. Life is filled with hope and despair, disordered, something beautiful, often gross, sometimes grossly funny. It's confusion with a few stepping stones that make sense through the whirling humdrum of it all. At time in this movie I thought Kaufman was very wisely showing the sickness of society. That everything we eat is sick, making us sick. He veered off this topic into a mental malaise. There was also the disturbia lurking in the background - the violence and anarchy that is growing behind the walls. That was also profoundly accurate of where the human condition is headed. Whether the unbearability aspect was intentional, I'm not sure. But there is a point where the film starts to fall apart. It unravels becomes less relevant. I considered walking out of the film, just because I was becoming less comfortable watching it. I don't know if it was his intention to show this as a metaphor for life that sometimes seems so fleeting, other times it drags on unbearably. There are plenty of funerals in this film. The message is that specifics are not important, even if the specifics of our own circumstances are what we claim to define us. In the scheme of things, specifics don't matter. Nothing matters. Everything resembles everything else, and spills into everything else. Don't bother trying to understand it, or try to make sense of it. Just appreciate that each character is the leading role in their movie, and that none of the movies they're living matter. Nothing matters, and everything matters - and in that dichotomy lies an answer to the meaning we give our lives, and we impart to others.
Genre: Climate Thriller
Writing Type: Novel
1 minute Synopsis
A thirty-something South African holidaymaker/backpacker (who has been teaching English in South Korea) arrives in the Philippines for a holiday. Minutes after arriving in Puerto Princesa (North Palawan) there is a media blackout. Then, walking from the airport, a powerful Typhoon devastates the island. While these incidents seem 'freakish' the reader begins to wonder whether they are limited to just the islands of the Philippines.
The backpacker finds a small group of survivors but decides later on a 'every man for himself' strategy, and makes a break on his own. His efforts to escape are complicated by a young teenage girl who he reluctantly takes with him. Soon a bond forms between them as they try to escape the chaos of the Philippines, only to find - from Singapore to South Africa, pestilence, pirates, insufferable heat and oceans on fire have suddenly overtaken their world. Will runaway warming stop or will the world burn to a lifeless husk?
Submitted: First 10 Chapters [of 30]
Wanted: Someone to convert chapters to script/screenplay
Also: Ghostwriter to convert story to publishable novel.
This story was orginally inspired by Cormac McCarthy's The Road. HOLIDAY is less dark and less grim, and is similar in ethos to other weather thrillers such as Perfect Storm and The Day After Tomorrow.
Appropriate for cinema: Yes
Appropriate for television: Yes
Hugh van Luewen - Leonardo diCaprio, James McAvoy
Stella Siew - Ellen Page or similar
In this world there are no more patterns. There’s just chaos.
I've watched the stars fall silent from your eyes - R.E.M. - The Great Beyond
Incinerating, the moth caught in the exhaust plume glimpses a final glimpse of the black jet dancing demonically through the heat haze of the cigarette sky. Even as the burnt flakes of the moth eviscerate into the jet stream, the perpetrator continues to press a cold hard body against the smoky air. Far, far below its belly, far below feathery fragments of a falling Lepidoptera, a wide wave of foam crushes over a sugary shore.
A dark dragon roaring over more waters, the sky around it transforming from stained tobacco yellow to the color purple. Running along the inside of the dragon’s purple painted spine – painted by the light of the sky – was an echelon of people, something like cyclists seen from above in a cycling race, except they had nothing of the organic nature of the peloton. The holidaymakers had placed themselves with machine like precision in columns and rows, like numbers on a spreadsheet. Most of these numbers were asleep. Some were reading, but in Hugh’s case, writing.
Hugh closes the lid of light, with this thought: Most of all, I need a holiday away from myself.. CLICK. The notebook’s peppermint blue is extinguished. He glances at the passenger beside him who opens an eye then closes it to the airplane’s hollow sounding darkness. The ‘Now’ lasts for a few moments, then slips away.
A child could have drawn the deep gashes in Hugh’s forehead. His clenched hands pushed down on the computer’s ceiling. His eyes were closed, but not in an attitude of sleep, such as the Asian man beside him. They were pinched shut. Hugh’s thoughts had focused his face into its present consternation. And his thoughts were the clanging symbols of futility. He had, you see, on a whim decided to open a document he’d been polishing for several years, and after a few final flourishes and finishing touches, he had fiddled and fussed, and somehow lost it all. Now, with the edge of the Philippine’s dark archipelago crawling under the ailerons of the Asiana Airlines Boeing, and his two weeks holiday about to start, his entire being ached with pain and futility. The consequence of confirming to overwrite the file had meant he had lost the original. And with that loss, all the sacrifices, backaches, arguments – the entire retrospective – now amounted to nothing. He had taken a whole, fragmented it, and then lost the fragments. The story of my life.
Already he began to search for meaning in the loss. Already he attempted to find the silver lining. As he did so he realized the full extent of the loss. Daggers penetrated his chest. Images swam through his mind. The breath knocked out of him by the storm of emotional chaos that flushed through him now, in floods, torrents, and monsoons.
And all the while the aircraft continued to descend to the islands. The randomness, now, of his life, begin to scratch at him. The wrecked fragmented-ness of everything began to gnaw it him. An unpleasant emptiness swelled inside him, like a virus. Like a cascading disconnectedness that infected everything with its innate dysfunction…
If your life fails to work out, it must be because you did something wrong? Trouble is your fault.
He opened his eyes. The crude digital airplane on the LCD moved a fraction over a map of the islands. Fragments in the sea. Where these islands once a larger Pangaea? Is this entropic destruction of land a singular process in one direction – decay, crumbling, reduction?
If things always decay from order to disorder, how were they ever ordered in the first place?
The crude digital movements remind him of the graphics on Atari games he played as a child.
He glares at the screen. He finds himself moving suddenly, rapidly, towards a place he no longer wishes to visit. With all his work stolen from him, there is no work to celebrate. He would have to turn back and start again. Start over! Repeat what had already been done, repeat what had been accomplished! How could he convey it all as well once more? There was that one original moment of reflection, and it can never be repeated! (But, it occurs to him…surely…writing is a process of reflecting on an original moment already past and now recollected for the purpose of massive reflection…)
And to suffer those sacrifices twice? To venture through those troublesome memories, to spend the time negotiating the complex narratives again…Once is enough! Too much!
Heartbreak was in the eyes that now blinked in the direction of the notebook.
The aircraft landed, hangars and buildings flashed by the windows in rapid-fire. When Hugh stood up, his body felt twice as heavy. He contemplated leaving the notebook – a burden now – on the seat. He contemplated smashing it on the tarmac under the volcanic nose cone of the plane. He bumped against a passenger and, out of character, did not apologize. He was determined to be miserable. His wretchedness was encouraged by the fact that of the two queues, the one he chose moved half as fast.
He finally emerged in the terminal, utterly defeated, and unwilling to continue his journey. Bored, disinterested, disgusted with himself, he stood as an island unto himself. Disconnected. A fragment of the passengers group falling away, falling into exile. Soon he was one man in a room, with just the silent flashing of computer screens, and mounted on the walls, televisions broadcasting CNN. He looked at the television screens, saw they were showing clowns. He stepped closer to see. The headline script read: ATTACK OF THE CLOWNS. Irritable as he was, Hugh stood as close to the screen as he could, looking up. His eyes followed the rolling script at the bottom of the screen:
…police suspect the clowns' water pistols do not contain water but acid…
Hugh glanced beyond the rolling script; saw the pictures of the G8 summit, the anti-globalization posters, the clowns themselves, and the weapon ready forces marshalling around them.
He walked slowly through the airport. It was quieter, even the linoleum floors shone with a ghostly quality; he felt like he was at a portal, a doorway to another world.
The television images revisited him briefly as he sat down. He placed his backpack on the floor at his feet.
Very clever to dress up as clowns, he thought. Police pushing clowns around doesn’t only look ridiculous, it irks the child inside, it spoils the fun. And Hugh instinctively knew propaganda was being broadcast to crush their protest.
The building was now quite empty except for a few dark shapes already slumbering on nearby benches.
He decided he would also sleep on a bench, here, at the airport, and fly back to his teaching job in Seoul the following day. Perhaps he could stay up extra late and get a few chapters done in the first week. If he worked quickly, it would save him time and effort, for he’d be able to draw on short term memory.
But he couldn’t sleep. The mosquitoes feasted on him. After two hours he was sitting in the dimness, other bodies snoring around him. Whilst searching for chewing gum (chewing loosened the sulking mouth) his fingers found a Lonely Planet. He tugged it out, the rough soles of his shoes wedged in the bag causing the cover to tear in half.
He started with pictures, then jumped around, and finally his reading became more focused, more interested. Fatigue had anaesthetized the memory of the lost file. Now sleep was the priority. And second to sleep, passing the night.
Inexplicably, the almost motionless shadow, which every few minutes turned a page, and made almost no sound to disturb those Filipinos sleeping around him, stood up and broke away from the family of sleeping shadows…almost without effort; walked quickly out of the building. A waiting taxi immediately pulled away from a line of other quietly assembled cabs, and drove him away from the airport, and into Manila.
Having been told where to go, and noticing his unusual Westerner’s accent, the driver began to ask questions. “Where are you from? What do you do?” and so forth.
Despite the lateness of the hour, government troops, their automatic weapons gleaming in the polished night, were gathered at intersections throughout the city.
“Is something going on?” Hugh asked, turning to look at a checkpoint in the rearview mirror.
“Bah,” the driver said dismissively. “Tonight is not special. Many nights like this.”
The driver saw that his passenger was still looking over his shoulder at the receding unit.
“So what job you do?”
Silence, then Hugh turned and sat back. He glanced up, then out the window: “I’m a writer.”
“A writer! Bah.”
He glanced back at the driver, noticed the leathery sheen of the street shining on his face. It made him look almost alien. He made eye contact through the rearview mirror, then lowered his gaze through the windscreen wipers.
Manila, a dark city, with some tall building looming high like old bones, crept nearer. He didn’t want to go beyond this outer framework of the city. He was ashamed to be more intimidated by this city than Johannesburg – a city he had visited often before he moved from South Africa to find a job and something resembling a life on the tiny Korean peninsula. A place just a tenth the size of his country. A place so far away, so polluted, so far away from people like him that it sometimes felt like a lonely outer world. Johannesburg was a city that was supposed to be one of the most dangerous and violent in the world – and he’d been through it, crossed its fast busy highways often. But here it was darker, and wetter and warmer and the buildings looking like crashed spaceships. Derelict fragments from some empire; spires that had been gutted, the technology torn out and ruined by a manifest military presence…there seemed a greater threat of anarchy here than anywhere he had ever been.
The taxi driver seemed to have lost interest in talking.
Hugh didn’t want to go any further into the city. Each second was also further away from the airport, somewhere he had to be first thing in the morning.
“Is it nearby?”
“Yes, yes, very near,” the driver answered, irritably.
Almost interrupting himself, and in a more hopeful tone, the driver asked: “You will need a lift back to the airport?”
“Yes, first thing in the morning.”
“You call me okay.”
“Okay.” A moment passed. “So you are writer. Where does this word come from?”
“Where does the word ‘Okay’ come from? It comes from a war, a long time ago.”
The taxi turned a corner and pulled alongside the curb.
“It means ‘0 Killed’. O.K.”
The driver nodded.
Hugh handed over dollars. The driver looked pleased. He jabbed his index finger at the card he had put in Hugh’s hand. “I will pick you up. Tell the lady, then I will find the hotel. Okay?”
Hugh managed a smile: “Okay.” And closed the door.
The air smelt salty, like fish and blood.
Another door opened, and inside, wood and women gleamed in the low candlelight.
He sat down and eyes traveled to him, met him, and waited. A waiting game of hope, futility, shame, anticipation and desire – but this last one – a desire for what?
It was while one of them, an older woman, pushed and plucked against him that a thought emerged out of a cocoon of memory.
Hugh’s mother had killed herself, he realized, not because of her life, but because of all the hope and promise it once had. She had been a head girl in high school. And a beauty queen at university. And then it all ended when she fell pregnant. It had started as another promising chapter, but all good things came to an end, and the flames that once were, were eclipsed, and then dusted by the too-early humdrum of marriage. Her suicide was merely the confirmation of a much earlier ending of her fairy tale. And her standards, like Virginia Woolf’s, could not permit a life so far below the par she had set herself.
The prostitute bumped against him once more. He asked her, dully: “Are you a mother?”
This caught her off guard.
She continued to babble and slur and make suggestive remarks, but he interjected once more: “Tell me about your children.”
The other prostitutes glanced at them, somewhat surprised that she had managed so many rounds already without being brushed off by this young, western buck.
But then he did brush her off. The brewery that was her mouth, the fumes that shot bullets of spit onto his cheeks, finally made him wince. With a small hand gesture and a small shake of his head, she tasted again the bitterness of defeat.
He glanced over his shoulder at a beautiful woman – no, not a woman – a girl, of perhaps 17 or 18. He patted the chair next to him. The chair was filled by this girl’s companion, almost as attractive. He asked her about procedures and processes, and then costs. Finally he asked for the girl’s name, who was still sitting behind them, watching her friend and him discreetly. He paid the amount written on the serviette, underlined the name, and handed cash and the paper towel to the girl serving drinks.
Hugh stood up, turned, and called out her name. She glanced to two faces, who nodded, one waved scrunched up papers, before feeding them into a till.
And as arranged, a taxi was waiting at the door. Doors opened and closed.
In the lateness, deep in the gloom, he discerned a soldier holding the muzzle of a machine gun to a beggar’s head. The taxi drifted by, like a ghost. Hugh said softly, with eyes closed and a brain managing no more than the weakest of fizzle of thought: “‘If you murder you may come, as Pilate did, to murder the man who is God.Gerard Manley Hopkins.’”
She heard the murmured name.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said, hesitating, then reaching, shaking his hand.
“No, my name is Hugh. Van Lewen.”
“Valoon,” she repeated.
Again she whispered, to the window: “Valoon.”
Balloon. One balloon breaking off from the bunch. Rising. Rising. Becoming a colorful red dot. Then a soft pop. Fragments.
A fist of mist spread in front of her lips, then the silver slipped back into darkness.
They had not gone far when the taxi turned off the wet streets of Ermita into the beach gray basement of a skyscraper. Hugh noticed some soldiers leaning over a plastic crate, puffing cigarettes, and playing with what appeared to be beer bottle caps. One glanced up, eyes moved from him to the girl, and then softened – the moving vehicle pulled the image from the viewfinder. Now Hugh saw yellow parking lines on walls, and numbers. There seemed to be endless columns, like gray dominoes, holding the skyscraper aloft. He saw faded blue lettering: something illegible and ‘HOTEL’.
They went by an elevator (just a hole in the side of the building) and directly up raw concrete steps. After just one flight, they walked over a stretch of carpet, along a corridor of white doors with brassy doorknobs. Hugh could smell rotting, damp carpet from down the hall, where the wood paneling and carpeting gave way to the gloomy gray skeleton of the building. In the unlit depths he could see the exposed guts of the building, with its tin foiled sinews, green weatherproofing and the tangle of wires that had started the fires. While she stood at the door, he glanced even further into the gutted, blackened depths; the ratty innards, silver cables and white plastic pipes were poking out of the gloom like snakes. And then he stepped into their room.
The small man who seemed to have no problem chauffeuring them right into the bedroom, also stood on the bed now. He reached towards a rounded plastic button on the television, and turned it until it went ‘click’. A snowy blue picture emerged with naked people moving in some desperate dance. Hugh realized that the helpful fellow was the taxi driver.
“When you need ride to the airport?”
Hugh saw the man look briefly at the girl, and then the girl nodded as if this was okay.
“Okay I see you at 7.”
She closed the door.
Hugh stood for a moment, eyes sleepy, considering whether or not to take a shower. He felt hungry. Then he noticed she was lying on the bed. He put his bags in a corner, and turned on the bedside lamp. It flickered, purred with electricity, so he turned it back off.
“You can do what you like with me,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said, but without enthusiasm. He patted the blanket, perhaps testing for dust or whether an odor would coil out of the blanket, but none did. He lay down beside her, also on his back, staring at the ceiling, a glance at the television, then back at the ceiling. He noticed the ceiling fan.
“Can we turn this on? This feels like those Vietnam movies…”
She got up to turn it on, and as she lay down beside him, once more on her back, she said, “You don’t sound American.”
“No, I’m not. I’m a South African. But I work in South Korea. Tell me, have you ever been out of the Philippines?”
“Where are you from?”
“You can really do what you want to with me. Anything.”
He turned on his side, tucking his forearm under his ear: “Do you mind if I talk to you for a moment? I’d like to just talk for now.”
“Are you from Manila?”
“No, I’m from Luzon.”
“Your parents are from Luzon?”
A dark cloud suddenly moved over her face.
“Please, you can really just do what you like. Don’t you want to touch me…?”
He swallowed hard: “And your brothers and sisters?”
“In Luzon,” she said, her eyes watering now.
“Do you miss them? I mean, do you like the big city life?”
“I miss them,” she said softly.
“And for how long have you been doing this?”
The cloud burst softly but powerfully over her, and she felt ashamed. This one, she thought, is not like the others.
“A few months.” She was choking on her words.
“You’re really beautiful. I think a lot of men have asked for you, just like me.”
“Yes. Many men.”
“What sort of men?”
“What sort? Older men. Do you want to take shower?”
“A shower? These men, from which countries are they?”
She looked at him, cheeks flowing with tears, thinking he might be a policeman, but then remembering his bags, and his innocent manner.
“Which men are the worst?” he persisted.
“Germans, Koreans, British, Americans-.”
“No,” he said, touching her arm, “which men have been very bad to you?”
“German. The German man hurt me.”
“And your parents, how do they feel-“.
She interrupted him now, begging him to stop talking, and suddenly he saw her distress, that talking to her like this gave her no escape, no respite, no reprieve. Did she want him to sleep with her, if not for the sex, just to get it over with so she could go?
And his eyes moved over her, the body of a teenager, the face of a princess, the hair of mermaid; long, dark and flowing like the waves, but her eyes, eyes that had flashed and shone were now filled with blood and tears and hurt.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her, wondering what her real, immediate physical need was.
“Okay I am too. Why don’t you go out and get me a hamburger and a coke, okay?”
She offered a small smile. “And here’s some money for you, for the same, or whatever you want.”
“Okay,” she said. “You take a shower okay?”
“Okay, maybe I will.”
She stood there, waiting for him to undress.
He looked down at his own bare feet, his mouth moved in a wry smirk. It was a hard self deprecating movement of his mouth, there was no humor or amusement in it. Still looking at the ground he said, “You’re coming back right? You’ll come back with some food?”
He looked at her now and she nodded.
“If you don’t, though,” he said, taking a step towards her, and lifting a hand to her face, “then let’s let this be a goodbye hug.” He put his hand instead on her shoulder, and felt her rail thin body press softly against his big chest.
She went through the door, and soon after he stepped into the shower, and in the darkness of the room, the silence of the skyscraper, he found himself painfully alone, and wishing against the rain that it would stop, that perhaps she would come back, and he could quench the emptiness of his heart with a bosom she might want to give willingly. But he knew it was a foolish wish, and so, still wet, he lay on the brown woolly blanket, the fan whipping the dark air, and allowed himself to sleep for one hour at a time. Each hour he would set the alarm to go off one hour later, to make sure he would be awake and in time for the taxi and the airport.
And so well before 7 o’ clock, having slept hardly two hours, his woolly head and his dry eyes responded to a deafening hammering on his door. When he opened it, a fiery morning light blinded him. It came from the hollow end of the corridor, where the building fell to ruins into the side of a jungle, and the nuclear sun was burning the tips of palm fronds and blasting its way into the open door.
The heat was soon steamy, and the early morning throng had them surrounded as they drove to the airport. The taxi driver asked about the girl. Hugh pleaded ignorance. “I asked her to go out and get me some food. She didn’t come back”
The driver chuckled. “You paid and you didn’t get laid?”
Hugh looked out the window. Behind him was the tall building, the type you find in Las Vegas that have stinking carpets and are just days away from being condemned, and razed to the ground. How do I know this if I have never been to Vegas? Must have read it somewhere.
“These girls,” the driver said, waving a finger and grinning, “once you pay them you must watch them like a hawk. You own them for that time.”
Hugh glanced into his eyes, and they seemed to share a glimmer of understanding. Two men in a car, talking about women of the streets. But Hugh was surprised by something else, that a man could be this helpful and considerate to a man from another country, even if that man was preying on his countries women. Even so, there was a strange sting from not having touched her. Some satisfaction yes, but a sting of stupidity and frustration that he didn’t expect, and yet this man, this stranger, seemed to have said the wrong words to soothe him, but they had soothed him nonetheless. Perhaps all he needed was company, just someone, once again, to talk to.
The taxi sped towards the airport on dry, hot tar, while the cumulonimbus boiled and cooked, filling up the bright yellow sky.
In the steamy airport building it felt like an old kitchen that had been used all morning. The smells, the moisture, the tastes of wood and breath and herbs hanging in the air, suspended on labyrinths of silky cobwebs, invisible but nevertheless choking everything.
He felt very tired. He felt sleepy, but it soothed him, this sleep deprived oblivion. It provided him with a reprieve from his cynicism. And it allowed him a small window of life to move through time, unscathed by his sensitivity to painful disappointments.
He bought muffins, felt their strange reptilian surface for a moment, before pressing first lips, then teeth, then tongue against the warm sponge. He also ordered a steaming coffee, to help him have the computational ability to remember things like gates, seat numbers and departure times. Suddenly an impulse flashed in his mind to run, to spring. Was the flight due to leave at 10 to nine (now), or was it 10 to eight (an hour ago). He'd put it in the back of his mind to confirm this, had meant to do so in the taxi but had enjoyed his conversation with the driver too much. Feeling suddenly too tired to eat, he began to search for the ticket.
Need to go now.
He noticed a Filipino sitting by himself on a chair, a blanket over his shoulder, and a little girl sitting on his bag. He placed the tray in front of the old man, noticed his nose and the long lids of his eyes, but not the liquid balls underneath, and then walked away. Only once he reached the light blue door to the terminal did he turn around. The little girl was sitting on the oldman’s lap, eating the half eaten muffin. They didn't look at him. He stepped into the terminal corridor and as he did he heard his name.
For some reason the woman's voice, an Indian sounding voice, with very accurate enunciation, reminded him of something out of the movie Aliens.
He was hot, snakes of sweat spreading over his body, he had a sudden desperate urge to gnaw at damp, irritated skin under his wet underwear. He swallowed hard, felt cramp in his stomach, pushed against the throngs, knocked over a child but caught the little girl by the arm before she hit the ground. He held the arm aloft…it was not a girl but a cherub, a small boy with impossible red cheeks, and golden locks, a doll of a boy…and an elegant white hand moved to take the little hand in hers, and pull the whole body up to a vivid red dress and the burnish of brown hair. When he made contact with her eyes he felt a sting inside him that made him feel sick. Drunk, or drugged, or simply overwrought and overtired, he stepped out of this emotional web, and managed to throw his feet into a small free floor space beyond the mall of legs. He ran faster, but struggled against the harder bodies of a basketball team, and once he'd pressed through them there was another team.
'Last call…van Lewen…'
"I'm Van Lewen," he said, but his words fell into the web and hung there, the letters suspended like washing, while his lips moved, and others swam with and against him in this churning dream that was the airport building.
The blades, the fins, the tubes of missile shaped airplanes - jets - drifted beyond the windows like sharks, or mere buses of the sky, that roared and shook the grasses under their metal stomachs.
Finally through the vast flocks of perspiring people. The strain of getting through all the checks, the X-Ray, the security, the ticketing, the personal body search, and finally the umbilical to the blue Boeing yielded to a sense of inner bouyancy. But when he looked inside the cylinder, a fragment of the airport chaos rendered here – once again – into orderly rows, but he saw it too was full of people, some of them holding open newspapers, others handling small dark objects that were either cameras or headphones or communication tools. This fragment of ordered chaos would be flung towards some island fragment whilst other groups were whisked to other island fragments. He wished it would all go away. Settle. And slow down. It was all too much, and he was so tired of it all (and yes, of himself, and his busy busy mind).He walked down the aisle, noticed a young Filipino girl with a bald white man. She was smiling and feminine, and his land was on her leg.
Hugh strapped in his seatbelt, and right then the doors to the airframe were sealed. Hugh blinked as a voice and the aircraft began to vibrate against his head. His eyes were closed. The seat represented sleep. And a destination that was – after all – not Seoul.
A hand on his shoulder. A white hand. He followed the long feminine arm to the air hostess, who was offering him a small white towel. It took him a moment to register he was perspiring profusely. And another to notice that every seat around him was taken, even though they were flying – (he fuzzily asked the air hostess where to as he had forgotten) - to remote Puerto Princesa.
Hugh thought to himself: today every far-off place is easily reached by just about everyone. Am I getting away from anyone and most important of all, will I get away from me?
He closed his eyes and when he opened them again they were starting the slow arc of a downward spiral towards Palawan; the big Boeing was being buffeted by powerful cumulonimbus. He leaned over, a chemical dream still tinting his consciousness slightly, and he could see the wings shaking. He had never seen Boeing wings shake this much, and wondered how much they had been engineered to stand, surely not much more. White sheets of tropical rain pelted the windows, then the sun flashed the rain-silvered wings at him, and under them he saw huge brown scars, chocolaty smears raked into the green and yellow jungle of the island under them.
The lagoon was milky blue and filled with sailboats. They descended even further, his ears popping, so that he could see the buildings were all made of wood, all single storied. Then they dropped all the way out of the sky, bouncing softly at the nexus of a long narrow island chain. They were not far from Sabah in Malaysia, and even Indonesia was nearby now. Their craft stood on a strip overlooking the Sulu Sea, and when he emerged from the cylinder into the sun, his arms, neck and nose burned painfully in the tropical heat.
All the sights that I have seen - R.E.M. - The Great Beyond
He opened his eyes wide as he stepped out into the sun. The sleepiness was gone. He was well and truly awake. The warm wind burned the pixie tips of already slightly sun burnt ears. Stepping out, he pressed the two white buds into his ears, and pressed PLAY on the shuffle. For the first time ever, he turned the volume up until it hurt. Somehow, he knew what was coming. He knew it. There was no clutter: just a clear and perfect signal ringing in his head.
He looked up into the sky, as though perhaps the sky would change its mind at the last moment.
It was imminent now; he felt it approaching.
He walked down the steps wondering if he would ever fly again, wondering if the thought itself was absurd paranoia, but even so, he was somewhat amused that instead of appreciating this last flight, he had slept through almost all of it, even missed breakfast.
Another step, like the last tick of a clock. When the moment came, he recognized it immediately. It was as though the sparking atom had communicated itself across the Gulfs of the entire world, on a cellular basis, passing this consciousness on beyond the Sulu Sea, swarming through the islands of life in every other hemisphere.
It was dizzying for him, as usual, being more sensitive than the average human being to the subliminal. What could he say to this young woman in her red headscarf, walking beside him?
He still had the chemical residue in his brain of a dream on the plane, and he was still making sense of that, putting words to colors, while walking over the glowing cement. The train of passengers moved slowly towards the small airport terminal on the island. But even from a distance, it was obvious that tourists had been instantly transformed into refugees. And so very smoothly, with his mind’s eye turned inward, still piecing together the dream, his hand slipped into his unslung backpack, and around the hard body of his camera.
His slow motion walk carried him to the shade, and the growing circus of suddenly desperate human beings. His hands were assembling a lens and filter (for the sun, and dappled light).
He pressed the ‘on’ button.
It was so deathly silent among the gathering hordes that he was able to hear the soft electronic squeal of the battery loading up.
It was a moment repeated at airports all over the world. People frozen in their shoes, cell phone in hand, attempting to communicate with family, with friends, to gather more information, to make arrangements. But none of these people had a signal. And that confirmed the icy new reality. People stood helpless and silent and suddenly the moment manifested on all at the same time. Wasn’t it as if the atmosphere itself had sucked up all the errant signals and waves and in a blinding flash of furious anger, exploded a shearing white light back at us that melted our golden city, turning to dust a city of blood.
Hugh could feel their thoughts. You could cut it with a knife. He thought this unspoken conventional wisdom was a typical response to the inexplicable: to blame God for man’s mad deeds.
If it had been any other international airport the answers would have been more obvious, television screens would have been lit up with CNN. And shortly thereafter the status of every flight in the world would change from DELAYED to CANCELLED.
The peculiar silence here came from shock and awe.
He felt the skin on his arms prick as he lifted his camera.
Realities were fused, one by one, into the digital memory of the chip.
While clicking one electric memory after another, the dream unraveled itself softly. It went like this:
You arrive at an expensive restaurant you have always meant to visit, and somehow imagine the people around you that you have imagined, suddenly becoming real human beings, just as you yourself become real to them. Can Rome and Paris continue to exist without our being there? What about other places we pass through like zoos, prisons, schools, offices and airports? When we die is it any different? Do we live under the assumption that nothing can exist without our being conscious of it? Do we think our consciousness prevents us from being able to die? Does the world need one person’s consciousness to exist? And when we die, will the world need us to imagine it into existence, and will the world want to imagine life again for us on some other world like this one?
Just then the music from his iPod transitioned from Enya’s Orinoco Flow to Green Day’s Holiday.
He put the buds in his pocket, but could still hear a soft bleating coming from his pocket. He moved among them, watching their faces, and the bags, the burdens they would be carrying with them.
A solitary figure at the head of a dense queue put down the big plastic receiver of an old, creamy white telephone. He went to a board and pushed a mechanical handle that flapped metal plates into place on a modest overhead board. Metal pushing against metal, to produce a loud, demonic, jarring noise. It took Puerto Princesa airport little more than half an hour to do what every other airport in the world had done.
ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED
UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
Hugh led the mobs of people out of the building. He noticed military vehicles arriving, and 4x4 police vans, many of them, lights flashing, sirens blaring. Motor scooters were being fought over, so he decided to walk. Shouts, screams, shots, and he put the white buds back into his ears:
“…this is the dawning of the rest of our lives…”
He noticed cars rushing in the direction of the airport he was walking away from. He noticed the people in the cars had panicked eyes, and did not even notice him. Not long after that, the road was gridlocked with traffic, with some motor scooters moving between the paralyzed traffic.
It was a long walk, long enough for the weather to change. Gusts tore at his shirt. He wondered about the bags he had abandoned at the airport. Was there anything he would need? Perhaps his ACG shoes. The rest was just clothes, and he was prepared to do without those. The notebook? Perhaps now was a good time to begin to learn how to live without computers.
The warm wind pushed him. One more thing before I let go of that as well…
Further along the road he found a man with a bandanna around his head, wearing a Harley Davidson shirt, and sporting plenty of tattoos, stuffing his grinding jaw with what looked like a cheeseburger.
“Hey man,” he said in a lazy Texas drawl, “it’s just a hurricane.”
Hugh glanced up, nodded to him, turned around and took two steps backwards looking at the road behind him, and then with a last sidelong glance at the American, went on along Rizal Avenue.
As the hard rain began to fall he stepped into the internet café, and placed his Lonely Planet on the counter, brushing the rain wet cover with a leftover paper napkin.
“Is the internet working here?”
“Sure. It’s cable so it’s working just fine.”
“Can I have half an hour?”
“You can have all the time you want…”
“Can I have a coffee, and an extra napkin?”
“Anything you say buddy boy.”
He was the only person in the café for the first 10 minutes, and at some point at the computer realised with a shock how quickly he had gotten from the airport to here. Things are speeding up already.
Putting a handle on it didn’t make it any better. Maybe it just simplified things.
Simpler is good. Simple is better.
But by the time the mob arrived, Hugh van Lewen was completely hypnotized by what he was reading.
A hydrogen bomb had been detonated over Jerusalem in the early afternoon; 14:43 local time. What was peculiar was that that was all CNN knew. For several hours now no one had updated the news at CNN. Through Google he tracked the information at source, finding bloggers and citizen journalists close or practically in situ. There was a grainy photograph taken from a redirected flight bound for Tel Aviv. There had been a lot of reaction.
Things are already breaking apart, like a space shuttle at re-entry, but coming in too steep, and too fast.
Peculiarly the only streaming footage shown was of Lahore, also devastated. New York and London…still there. Every click of the mouse now took on a chilling significance. Another Google search, and a completely new set of results:
Google: blogs nuclear destroyed
Tehran joined a host of Middle Eastern cities.
The crowd outside were banging on the windows, an Irish female was conveying – shouting – the news as her boyfriend conveyed it to her. Her voice began to break.
The mayhem outside finally woke Hugh out of his reverie. He thought this next instruction tapped into the black keyboard would be the last time he’d ever use a computer, anywhere, ever.
He typed in the Google search box: Philippines typhoon tracker
He studied the information and then clicked on an image.
‘..unusual track…hard to predict…record intensity…gusts up to 340 km/h…’
When he stepped outside he stepped into another world.
The sky broiled with the leading edge of a giant arc that was sweeping across the Sulu Sea. Although only a few drops of rain blew occasional bullets against his face, it was still very warm. He was not certain what to do. His guidebook specifically said that Palawan was not in harms way. The track beaten by typhoons every season, the guidebook assured, was a great distance to the south and east of Palawan.
Unless things have changed.
Impulsively he waved at a motor scooter, and was comforted by the young man’s big white smile.
“Where you wan go?”
Hugh felt somewhat embarrassed. The locals must despise the tourists, must think for all their money, they are lazy and stupid and greedy for pleasure. He winced, and said softly: “The beach.”
“Oh, White Beach?”
“Huh? It’s called ‘Whites Beach’?”
The man laughed. “No, just White. It’s no far. Just one point five.”
Encouraged by the man’s can do attitude, he got in and they pulled away.
“You not stay long on White Beach okay,” the man said over the roar of the engine and the wind.
The man waved at the maddening forest around them. Hugh made eye contact, showed the thumbs up. He liked this guy. He had some grit.
But Hugh felt inwardly confused. Why? Why had he decided to this? He didn’t know what it was. He just didn’t feel clear about where he was, and he wanted the open space of a beach to see over the forest, to get his bearings. And perhaps seeing this storm rising over the sea, seeing the impact on the water and the waves, he’d get a feel for what to do because he hadn’t planned on staying in Puerto that night. He’d wanted to go to Sabang on the South China Sea side of the long Palawan dagger, and now he wanted a heads-up if that was feasible. He wanted to see for himself. It was a rare mistake.
The 1.5km felt like 10km. The motor scooter was struggling through mud, and then thick dune sand. On both sides the jungle had been violently slashed and driven back by machete blades. The dense jungle sheltered them from the strong winds, more than both passengers had expected.
The forest cleared, revealing the cool blue of the South China Sea. It swelled like a cleavage subtly into view, and for a moment Hugh was stunned by the sheer color of the vast gently undulating expanse. The water seemed to glow like a tropical drink set on the counter of a backlit bar. There were some huge blackening cumulonimbus in the background, but he thought he’d seen worse storms in continental South Africa. What he didn’t expect was this sea. It was as calm as a swimming pool, sometimes flattening into a shimmer of faint corrugations. The wind was behind them. The storm, he should have guessed, was approaching from the other side, towards the Turtle and Honda Bays on the Eastern shoreline, and of course, towards Puerto Princesa Bay.
“Do you think the storm will come here?”
“I think so. But there is time for swim.”
Hugh hadn’t thought of that, but the idea suddenly appealed. He walked over the warm wet sand, dropping his clothes on a wooden bench under a beach shelter constructed from long driftwood sticks.
The water was very warm. He sank into it, feeling conscious of his absurdly white skin and bulging stomach, but trying to enjoy it all the same. Startled fish skipped clear of the water. He felt something brush by his calf.
“Wow,” he murmured, “these waters are just full of life.”
He submerged again, swimming underwater, enjoying the soft salty water against his skin.
He came up, his warm body shining and soapy, and looked back at the beach. The motor scooter was throbbing. It was a surprisingly loud sound, but he guessed the flat beach and calm water amplified it a great deal more than normal. He waved back at the solitary figure on the beach. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a series of lightning bolts zap down at the sea. He was horrified to see that the electric spark had illuminated mighty pitch black silhouettes behind the closest storm. A warm gust pushed past him. Waves rose like horses around him. As he walked knee deep across the broad white sandbank to the narrow platinum band of wet strand, the strand was busy with jostling waves. The motor scooter bellowed impatiently. Suddenly he noticed the tops of the palm trees. It was not the palms, but the dark soup of airborne debris behind them, and the growing moan, that kicked his feet into an electrified run. Now the man was waving, and he’d turned on the headlight.
The man’s eyes were wild. He’d almost pulled away before Hugh reached him. The engine roared as they went back through the deep sand, and they nearly skidded over the mud into a series of bamboo spears poking out of the side of the cleared jungle. Once on the even dirt road, they found themselves entirely alone. They sped as fast as the motor would go over the lonely windswept road towards Puerta Princesa. The motor scooter was being buffeted violently by wind now, and dismembered leaves and branches were now flying across the road, the hands of trees gesticulating frantically. A large leaf slapped Hugh on the cheek. He pulled at it and the wind tore its soft leafy flesh to pieces. The large fan of a palm tree flew end over end, the fan brushed red cuts over their faces as it passed.
The dirt road seemed to be on fire, as milky white dust was torn off the surface. Then the rain whipped at them, and the world turned into a dark, roiling mass. It was in that moment that they suffered a terrific concussion: something very big, like an oversized pool cue, hit them from the side. Two men and their machine shot off the road and landed in the jungle. One man split like shattered watermelon, the machine lost its voice in a lung bursting bang that ripped it into a grenade of sharp greasy chunks of serrated metal. An engine became fragments, a body mere parts. The other person landed deeper between the trees, a small fountain spraying out of the side of his head (above his ear). Although unconscious, he travelled smoothly down a muddy path created by forest animals, and skidded one third of the way into a sort of burrow.
While he slept through the eviscerating nightmare, the jungle that kept him was carved and slit into hammers and spears, and for several hours, it was as though the wind turned itself into Machete; slicing and hurling javelins and spending its fury on rock and man and plant alike. Even silver fish that jumped out of the churning waters were diced by ferocious clouds of black and swarming debris.
And in time the black blood oozing out of his skull, and the black mud in which he lay were indistinguishable.
* * *
He wanted to slow down his thinking; his wish was granted. He would never realise to what extent the world had been broken that day, and the spirit of man – forever – because like everyone else (living) he wasn’t quite himself.
Sparks and stars. Pink flares and fireworks.
Is this a dream? Lights moved between the stars, and then violent pink fireworks roared demonically overhead for what felt like hours. They sounded like the screams of big animals, behemoths – elephants? And when he opened his eyes there was just the comforting crackle of burning wood, the hiss of wet wood on flame, and the warm blanket of smoke.
If he was in one piece he certainly didn’t feel like it. A single thought was difficult. A cacophony after the deafening concussions was now utterly out of the question. His head ached, and his body burned, but he felt if he moved he might awaken himself into a more acute awareness, and he wanted to sink deeper into the soft passing away of existence. No, rather slumber than having to face the world and all its pain (including his own). So he courted sleep, and he was not far from it. He drifted on that periphery of consciousness, like a child skipping on the edge of a cliff.
There was no day or night, just oblivion, and inexplicable lights. Pain came in waves, the sleep drug grew stronger, deadening each successive wave.
Perhaps they were helicopters, or satellites, or missiles at various times of the day.
…perhaps they were drawings or some television program…
…perhaps it was something from a radio…
…or words of the passenger next to him…
…is that you, God…calling me…
…but I don’t believe in you…any more…
But the sky was alive with lights, and the curtains of smoke only made the illusions more mystifying. When at last his eyelids opened and dark pieces of chocolaty Earth fell from his lashes, onto his nose, he thought he was looking at an eclipse. Had God turned the day to night? His fingers twitched in the mud. Instead of an elaborate eclipse, it was thick smoke still pushing itself hard against the sun. So it was day. Well, half day given the murky smoke shadows. It was also sweeping over him, urging him to cough and stinging his eyes. It was this squeeze on his lungs that drove him from the comfort of a sleep that would have undoubtedly become a permanent state if he had been able to remain there.
He knew himself to be incredibly weak. It took a great deal of strength to merely turn his body, to lift a hand to shield his mouth. His body screamed as blood that had not circulated for hours, now drove sharp pins and needles into incisions and scalded flesh. Around him was the ash of burnt bark. He climbed over fire hardened mud, emerging slowly out of his shallow grave. Hugh’s hands broke the soft ash that had once been powerful and muscular tree trunks.
From the top of the grave he saw the smoking landscape sweeping around him. Yellow flowers of flame were dancing with delight on a dry branch that had somehow been spared by the first firestorm. Lightning cracked, he hobbled in a pathetic attempt at a reaction. He realized that pregnant black cloud columns still remained, hovering behind the long gone typhoon like governors meant to maintain the status quo.
He coughed, and felt his ribs stab with pain. Blood began to ooze from the side of his head once more, and from a coin sized hole under his ribcage.
His throat felt dry. His nose was filled with snot.
He uttered a miserable non-word. It might have been ‘No’ and it might have been: ‘Huh?’ It was a wail: “Nhuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhh!” It was a primal sound, a sound to test his own strength. A signal to the environment that he was here.
He stumbled with the smoke; sometimes singeing the soles of his feet on a glowing coal. After two hours of moving slowly with the curtains he found the curtains opening to a yellow sea. It had a petroleum glow about it. The gray drapes allowed sick veils of golden sun to filter through. The beach smelled of rotten fish. Their silver bodies lay everywhere. The white beach sand was all black; covered now by what seemed like thick layers of waterlogged sawdust, wood pellets, bark and small branches. Here and there a solitary tree. Here and there a dead body. Sometimes an arm. Sometimes a chair. A dog’s collar. Here and there dead birds, a goat, a car tire.
He walked along the beach for a long time before he realized what he was doing. He just wanted to find another survivor. He noticed a few birds, seagulls, feasting on the dead fish. He saw an octopus scavenging in the shallow water; it bulged, swapped colors and skulked away when it sensed him.
He did not see any other person.
Silky blonde hair on one side of his head had turned into a burnt crust of hardened blood. The wound was banging painfully against his head while he walked, so he used a hand to hold it in place.
He realized the shirt had been torn and burnt off his back, that he’d lost his shoes and his watch. In his pocket he still had his iPod and a credit card, but that was all.
He stood for a long time in one place, and finally, registering the seagulls again, knelt unsteadily and fingered the water at his ankles for a fish. The waves heaved the silver bodies about. He glanced at the fish in his hand. It showed no signs of physical injury. He made a small grimace, bit into its side, and was surprised at how rough it was, and filled with bones. He ate two small fingers of flesh, then picked up another fish. This one was rotten. He tossed it aside, and gasped. He was suffering an emotional attack, and shock. He struggled to breathe. Pinched his eyes shut. Opened them, rubbed them, opened them again, pinched them shut again.
Could this be real?
Much later, he was standing exhausted from the walk, in Puerto Princesa, or what was left of it. He’d walked by the airport, one of the few buildings left standing, except that it had been destroyed by a terrible fire. A Boeing had been thrown across the runway and its wing speared into the building before exploding.
The rest of the town had been levelled, with barely an erect wall in sight. He thought he was near Mendoza Park (except place names didn’t seem to matter any more). He encountered a few small children here. These followed him for a while, until they saw the gaping wound under his ribs and realized he was far worse off than they were.
He spent some time scratching between building debris, and finally found what he was looking for. He pulled out a scissors, and sliced off the painful wad of black gluey hair. He tried to cut the rest as well, but lifting his arm hurt too much, and he was worried he might be cutting part of his scalp and start the bleeding again. He was about to toss the scissors away, then thought better of it and stuffed the scissor into his back pocket.
He found some shoes in the debris, and a pile of Nike shirts. The shoes were too big, but he couldn’t find anything else worth wearing. Then a shirt. He didn’t care about colors, he pulled the first one he could find out from under some bricks and metal poles.
‘Just do it’, it said in unusually small and modest letters on the back.
“Do what?” he murmured to himself. He was about to step away when his eye caught the strap of a daypack. He pulled it, but it was broken. He searched for another one, but it was even more damaged.
He found a shattered ATM and fished into the broken metal canister under the faceplate. He stuffed some money into a plastic bag lying nearby. Dead bodies everywhere. Some of these people had survived, they must have, but there had been no one to rescue them. Why had the government not sent a team to rescue them? Did they have better things to do?
It was warm even as it rained. He opened his mouth and licked his lips and chin. He found tins and broken fruit from demolished roadside stalls. He opened a can of coke, and put two more in his bag. A few steps further he found bottles of water, picked one up and threw out the one coke can. For some reason he stayed close to the road. He felt as though it might take him somewhere, anywhere, as long as he could move beyond all this. The bag broke open. He found two more and put them one inside the other, and packed the contents inside again, and went on.
Under his eyes it was wet and cool. He pawed his cheeks a little while he walked. He didn’t understand. His fingertips were wet, and not with blood, with water. Through his fatigue he imagined that it was raining again, except for once it wasn’t. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. Not tears of sadness, tears of strain, but in his mind, he was walking in salty rain.
The moment he noticed the first one he noticed the others. Three, six, eight…perhaps a dozen crocodiles. They were perfectly camouflaged in the forest debris and wet mud, and it was only the movement of one, that alerted Hugh. Now he saw their cold reptilian eyes glowing with yellow hunger.
He heard the mosquitoes, a cloud of them, whining right against his ears but he refused to move.
He was tired and sore and starving. He had eaten a few cashews he picked up from the ground. He’d covered perhaps 10km over several hours, looking for shelter, and any other survivors. He did not see a single car, or a single adult person alive. But having seen more of the destruction in the surrounding area, it was obvious to him now that a storm surge from the sea had swept over the island, and what that had not destroyed, the wind had lashed or sliced to smithereens.
Did any of that matter? He would die here, between the crocodiles. Who would have imagined such an exotic - 007 – death?
He stood absolutely still. It was the greatest predator the world had ever known against creatures that had stubbornly refused to become extinct. Did these crocodiles really think the tables had turned so soon? Did they really think they could pursue this creature that made handbags and shoes out of their skins, and ate them for dinner at restaurants around the world?
They answered this question in concert, for three of them suddenly moved rapidly and decisively forward, their long noses curving left, while their raised tails snapped in the opposite direction as they moved.
Hugh knew he smelled of blood, his new shirt had a bright red gleam under his ribs that had soaked down his side turning into a dark brown. He was afraid to run lest he tear the wound even further, and he wasn’t sure if he could. Waves of drunk weakness swarmed through him. His cool forehead had a lather of steam on it.
Instinctively, his eyes moved, surveying the area for a weapon. Nothing, just twigs and driftwood. He moved backward, and this response for the crocs was confirmation that this human being was scared after all.
“YAAAHH!” Hugh shouted, waving an arm, then wincing painfully and clutching his side. Fresh bright red blood seeped between his tightly bunched fingers. His eyes darted up. The loud noise seemed to have worked on the croc nearest to him, but others further away advanced, not wanting to lose out on the action. There were more than a dozen Hugh realized; in his peripheral vision the place was crawling with the big lizards, some of them perhaps three times longer than he was.
He was retreating, step by careful step backwards, and they were advancing, drawing alongside one another and opening their jaws wide to threaten their competitors.
He’s mine, they seemed to be saying.
The sole of his shoe squeaked on smooth metal. He looked down to see a smashed sign:
IRAWAN. He thought he remembered something about crocodile farms near Puerto Princesa.
He found a rock the size of his fist and hurled it. It missed the nostrils of the leading croc by a whisker. An odd growing noise. The croc surged; Hugh leaped into the air on pure reflex and jaws snapped shut on falling rain. He landed on the crocs foot, and was surrounded now by crocodiles. The crocs head turned and the side of his jaw bumped him against the calf.
Have I been bitten?
God I am so tired…
He heard a deafening sound, like an explosion. Man and croc froze in shock, then another explosion, and the back of a croc sliced open. In unison the crocs turned around and writhed away, like fifty slithering snakes.
Hugh stood like a statue, heart racing, the noise still roaring in his ears, and his side burning still from the effort of the leap. A hand shot out of nowhere and suddenly gripped his forearm. The shock of this sent a sick chill down his spine that made him want to pass out.
As though he’d suddenly become mentally retarded, he followed the brown hand along the arm to a khaki green t-shirt. His neck was bulging. He was saying something to him. Shouting. On his head he wore a military style cap, and yes, his trousers and boots were military issue too. In his other hand he held a still smoking shotgun.
The man was saying something but Hugh could hear nothing. He thought of the money in his backpack, and then felt a salty snake coiling on the back of his tongue. He tried to fight the nausea. He tried to resist it. But the snake grew saltier, he tried to swallow but his tongue was dry…and then he slowly collapsed, with the vivid Jeepney grumbling behind the military man, and children’s bug eyed faces staring at him as he fell…under the barrel of the smoking shotgun.
Now there was the constant groan of the truck, and flashes.
The Jeepney rocking violently on a rough almost impassable stretch of muddy road.
A child dabbing a wet cloth at his lips.
The man with the military cap shouting at a kid wearing Prada sunglasses to leave the man’s bag alone.
The innocent blue sky.
The radio turned up very loud. A man’s urgent voice in a tongue he didn’t understand.
The frown dug deeper and deeper into the man’s face. His jaw dropped again and again.
The children sometimes laughing madly, other times they were strangely sedated.
The heat woke him. They had stopped inside a jungle. It was raining softly now. The Jeepney was empty. They were all outside, helping an old woman trapped under a tree trunk…they got her out and found her one leg had been crushed to a pulp, and when they turned her head her one eye was missing. She made soft noises and then slept…or perhaps died. They lifted her into the Jeepney, then after some moments, pulled her out of the truck and set her down on the long grass beside the road. They covered her with palm leaves and drove deeper into the jungle.
The incessant clanking of fuel drums.
Stopping to pick up fruit or some other abandoned item.
It was a nightmare that seemed to continue for ever. The road did not end however many times he lost or regained consciousness. It was just the road, and the pain, and the rain, on and on, without end.
The fever burned him in waves.
The pain in his belly became a dull ache and then numb.
He glanced under his shirt and saw a gray splodge.
I am going to die…
This is not a movie. This déjà vu Daffy Duck mother fucking shit is real, and it’s happening to me. It’s happening to everyone here…
A child’s hand with the kidney shaped pieces of an orange, bumping softly against his lips. His body was dry and yearned for the juice, but his jaw was too weak to chew.
He said one word softly: “Water.”
And water was poured over his cracked lips.
I am going to die aren’t I?
Moving. Trees flashing by the windows. The passengers bobbing on their seats as the rough road continued on and on.
Does it matter if you do?
They stopped moving. A hand pushed firmly under his back. His eyes popped open: “What’s happening?” He saw the military man leaning over him, and the children’s faces leaning over the front seat. The man reclaimed his arm.
“We think you dead,” he said.
“We goto Sabang. There is safe place there. Big strong house. But no many survivors. Canyou understan this?” He was Filipino but there was a definite American edge to his accent.
He closed his eyelids slowly, opened them.
“Okay. You bleeding inside your body, my fren. You need doctor very bad.”
“How far?” Hugh croaked.
“Sabang no far, but this road very bad. Many underwater. So wait for water. Maybe long time.”
“News…” he whispered.
“Huh? I can hear.”
“You know news…of the world?”
Their eyes met. He saw the shadow in the eyes under the cap.
The man sat back and stared through the panicked wiper blades.
Hugh could hear the rain pounding the Jeepney’s roof. He heard the distant sssh of rain on mud, and the softer roar of a river in spate, tearing a road into chunks of mud, melting it like chocolate.
The man’s words seemed disembodied…like echoes…coming out of the roar of the engine and the rain.
“Do you wan hear bad news or God awful fucking news?”
The man glanced at the children in the back of the truck and his body began to shake. Those dark, angry, anxious eyes pinched shut and his lips quivered. He let out a short wail, his bulging bicep pulling a hand over his face. When his hand dropped away his face wore a mask of composure. Even in his semi conscious condition, Hugh found this transition disturbing.
“Riya Sanhigh soul and pyon yang, these cities all go in newclah bomb.”
He closed his eyes.
The world is going to hell…so…
… if I die now it’s okay.
The man’s face, his nose, was almost touching him.
Hugh’s eyelashes fluttered.
“London and…and New York?”
The man’s eyes seemed to be searching his for something.
The man’s head quivered. He was nodding.
“London and New York…they okay.”
He sat back, sniffing. “And we okay, okay.”
He noticed the tip of a child’s hand being proffered from behind, soft voices saying “okay” and more thumbs poking over his seat.
The man nodded. “It’s okay it’s okay.”
Okay. 0 Killed.
Outside, just in front of them the soft roar of a river in spate grew loader, and the road was tearing into chunks of mud, right up to the wheels of the Jeepney. The man reversed 20 metres and watched the road in front of them still melting away like chocolate.