public awareness, but Mr. Jones wasn’t interested in saving
He got into his off-road, high-tech Land
Rover, a beauteous and luxurious vehicle he’d acquired in
preparation for this day. The roads were still only lightly used.
The way was clear. He drove carefully, not hitting other drivers,
some of whom must surely have read the same omens. There had been a
gathering of crows the night before, floods in three corners of the
map, snow in the north, other signs more disturbing. He obeyed
every rule of traffic, the lights and speed limits, yielding rights
of way, signaling before every lane shift.
He left the radio off and
drove in silence. A copy of Rolling
Stone lay in the passenger seat. A bottle
of water trembled in the console between.
Finally, at the appointed place, Mr. Jones
pulled off the road. Yes, he was a little early, but still
surprised to find himself alone. There had been indications. Anyone
could have seen them.
He didn’t much like the idea of being alone,
but he was resigned to it.
Mr. Jones switched off the engine to conserve
fuel. He rolled down the window. A light, moist breeze drifted
across the lot. It amazed him, that he was alone here to be part of
this, that he may in fact play a role. But there were other places,
surely, like this one, where the same sacrifice might be made.
He glanced often at his watch, but time
became putty. He got hungry, but ignored it. He opened the bottle
of water, though he knew he should have saved it. Eventually, the
time drew nearer. With fifteen minutes remaining, Mr. Jones climbed
out of the Land Rover, locked it, armed the alarm, and began the
final leg of his journey, the last steps.
He waited at the entryway until some random
teenager with keys showed up and let him in.
There was no display. Release day, yet they
were relegated to a stack of other new releases, one boy band among
rock legends, jazz sirens, pop beauties, and movie soundtracks.
Five interchangeable kids stared at him from the front of the CD.
He took it to the front counter.
The girl there frowned when she saw what he’d
taken to her. Her nametag said Kerri.
“ Are you sure?” Kerri
“ Someone’s got to,” Mr.
Jones told her. He paid with cash. He said he didn’t need a bag. He
carried the disc to his Land Rover, unwrapped it in the front seat,
and popped it in.
At first, there was silence. Then the first
note exploded from the speakers. Then the world blew up, and all
life on the planet was lost.
To the very edge of the ocean, the forest
burns. To the place where the trees reach the beach, where the sky
touches the earth, where the water endlessly, ceaselessly, erodes
the land. The smoke is thick, struck through with eddies of barely
breathable air, but even that is hot and stark and tainted. The
fire crackles and cackles, screams and roars, rages with
uncontained fury. It consumes the leaves and the trunks and the
bushes and the underbrush.
From the very edge of the forest, a girl
escapes, coughing and choking. Two, three steps onto the sand, and
she stumbles. She falters. She falls.
On the ground, panting, heaving, coated by
soot and ash, still she claws at the sand. She pulls herself toward
Her clothes were white, if ochre now, her
flesh pale, her hair a deep brown and her eyes a brilliant green.
She’s in tatters, barely alive; she’s run a long way. She’s tired.
But she’d not defeated.
Fire reaches the edge of the forest and
scorches the sand, but advances no further. In the flames, a woman
stands, her hair red and her eyes red, her white clothes much like
her sister’s. She stands at the edge of the tree line. She, too,
has been running a long way.
The girl in the sand looks back and
“ I hate that smile,” her
red sister says.
“ You’ve never been fast
enough to catch me.”
“ I came close.”
“ No, actually, you
In this place where fire burns through the
forest, where sky and ocean
The Rogues of Regent Street
John Freely, Hilary Sumner-Boyd