Tuesday, 15 December 2009
A Regular Visitor - a climate change story
A Regular Visitor is a Poet-in-Residence contribution to the climate change debate. The story was first published in 2004 under the New Fiction imprint in the The Unforgettable; a selection of short stories from "some of today's most promising authors". (ISBN 1 85929 106 6)
A Regular Visitor
by Gwilym Williams
Harry Walker the old cartographer, thin as a pencil, legs like a pair of dividers, nose like a beak, hair in the wind like a white sail, strode across the mountain tops measuring and checking. There was a lot of measuring and checking to be done. Harry's peaks were shrinking. The glaciers were melting and the summer snow had all but gone. His favourite mountain, Sun Mountain, was seven metres shorter.
On the map in his rucksack, printed in italics, were the words ice cave and a cave symbol. When he arrived at the cave, he found it no longer existed. There was only debris; fallen rocks, fallen trees and a small muddy stream.
His next stop was the village railway station. There, a new sign greeted him: Railway station closed - nearest station in town.
He walked to the bus stop and checked the timetable. The last bus of the day had departed two hours ago. He went to the phone box and phoned for a taxi. The taxi had to come from town. He waited for half an hour. It arrived. A diesel Mercedes.
'We don't see many strangers round here,' said the chubby, red-faced driver, stubbing out a cigarillo as they set off.
'I'm not really a stranger in these parts. I'm a cartographer. I come here every five years measuring and checking. You could say I'm a regular visitor,' said Harry.
'A what...?' began the driver.
'And I don't like what I see,' said Harry. He then explained how the mountains were smaller and how the ice cave had disappeared.
The driver grunted and turned on the car radio. There was some music and then ... We interrupt the programme to bring you a newsflash. A landslide near the mountain village of ... The driver twiddled with the radio and found another music station.
Harry closed his eyes and tried to relax.
* * *
Soon the taxi was pulling in at Bob's Fast Food Drive-In. The driver ordered a Super-King Burger with French Fries and a Giant Cola. He put the package of food on the front passenger seat and the drink into a plastic holder affixed to his dash near the ashtray. He ate and drank with one hand and steered with the other as they continued their journey. An ambulance in a hurry passed in the other direction. It started raining.
When they arrived in town Harry saw the lights of the train just leaving.
'Tell you what,' said the taxi driver, 'it just so happens that the wife and I do bed and breakfast. I believe the room is available.'
Harry looked at the rain which seemed to be getting heavier, listened to the taxi engine running, the meter ticking up the cost, the swish of the windscreen wipers and the moaning sounds of the blues singer on the car radio.
'I'll take it,' he said.
They drove round the corner and there flickering in the rain was a neon sign; Dave's B & B.
'I'm Dave,' grinned the driver.
'Harry,' said Harry.
'Meet Doris,' said Dave as they entered the small parlour where a heavy, washed-out, middle-aged woman was watching television and eating popcorn.
'Guest?' asked Doris, heaving herself to her feet. 'Take his bags up, Dave.'
'I have no bags,' said Harry. 'I only have this small rucksack containing my maps.'
'Maps?' said Doris.
'Yes, maps. That's my job. I'm a cartographer.'
'Making maps of here?' said Doris.
'Yes. I'll show you one if you like when I'm settled in.'
'Good, then come down and join us for a bite of supper.'
'We'll have the room nice and warm with the electric fire on,' said Dave.
* * *
Before long, the three of them were huddled around the supper table which was piled high with an assortment of sausage meats and chicken portions. In the corner the television was showing the weather map.
'More rain,' said Doris.
'Not eating, Harry?' said Dave, gnawing on a chicken leg.
'Just a slice of bread and butter for me,' said Harry, spreading out his map on the table corner.
'Is that where we are?' said Doris.
'This is where you are,' said Harry, indicating with his pencil.
'And what's this?' said Dave. 'What's this big blue squiggle? It comes right down by our house. Is it the new motorway?'
'No Dave, that's where the new river will be.'
'New river? I haven't heard anything about a new river.'
'No Dave. You won't hear about it until it arrives.'
Dave put his chicken leg down and peered intently. 'What's this then, by the golf course?' Dave's greasy finger prodded the map.
'Oh, that's the new lake,' said Harry.
'A new lake. Speedboats...'
'There won't be any speedboats, Dave.'
'There seems to be a lot of new things on your map,' said Doris, heaving closer, her sausage sandwich dripping ketchup.
'Yes,' said Harry, 'we're even going to have fathoms.'
'Fathoms?' said Dave, perplexed.
'Yes, to measure the depth of water.'
'Ah, for the new lake.'
'Yes, at least one new lake, but there might be two or three. This is only an initial survey,' said Harry, folding the map and putting it carefully away.
There will be many changes, thought Harry. After the avalanches and the rock falls and the formation of the new lakes and rivers, Doris and Dave will be lucky if they only have to move to higher ground. The whole area could be uninhabitable once the monsoon rains become a regular feature.
'Listen...' said Dave.
Overhead the thrum and clatter of a passing helicopter sounded low.
'It's a regular visitor these days, that emergency helicopter,' said Doris, unzipping a can of orangeade.