By some strange process, the continent of North America has become attached to the celestial sphere at the place where land and heavens meet. It is slowly getting detached from the crust of the Earth, like an old scab being peeled neatly from a healed wound, without any tearing at the edges.
And now I’m watching America being carried along by the turning of the heavens. I can clearly see its unmistakable shape and the features of the land: the whiteness of Alaska, the mighty rivers, the mountain chains, the major cities, the wheat fields, the Mojave Desert, the pine forests.
At first, while the continent is still at a shallow angle in the sky, the American people are enjoying their unique experience, smiling, laughing, some even waving to me down below. They are taking delight in their position in flight. Those cities at the edges of the continent are enthralled by their intimate contact with the sea of blue sky. Californians are especially jubilant and some of them are waxing down their surfboards, getting ready to ride the celestial waves.
As the heavens continue their inexorable turning and the continent rises steeper in the sky, it becomes more and more difficult for the people to maintain their traction upon its surface. The initial wave of fun and excitement gives way to the first signs of panic and despair. All the living and nonliving things that depended upon gravitation for their stability and viable existence now realise what it is like to have Newton’s Law as an adversary.
If not for the overwhelmingly desperate gravity of the situation, it would be almost comical to observe how the people are trying to respond to their predicament. It looks like a disturbed anthill on a gigantic scale, with millions of Americ-ants scurrying frantically in random directions, trying to save their colony from some uncouth hooligan poking at it with a stick, little bugs struggling against some capricious, unyielding force which is ruining their arduously constructed nest.
At midday, America reaches the highest point in the sky, hanging precisely upside down. The people are now in their most precarious position, frantically trying to hold onto anything that is firmly rooted in the ground, to blades of grass, to soil itself. Even when some of them lose all grip on land, they still attempt to find some protuberance in the fabric of the sky that they can grab to save themselves from this disaster, to give themselves just one more instant of life.
How must we appear to them? Are they envious of our safe location on the ground or do they look upon us as being immeasurably poorer for never having tasted the mysteries of the sky? What thoughts must be running through their minds now that the vastness of the heavens envelops them? Do all of their past troubles and crises appear utterly trivial now?
The light is ghostly due to the almost total eclipsing of the Sun by the continent. Some rays are still able to sneak around the edges of the landmass, but the diffracted beams look unnatural, alien in some indefinable way. America has always cast a long shadow upon the rest of the world. It is no different now, for the ground is covered by a giant umbra in the shape of the continent. Within it, I can discern the smaller shadows of the people scampering about; once they lived on Earth, now only their silhouettes remain.
As I look up at the sky, some people hold hands and silently gaze into each other’s eyes as they fall; others are kissing, hugging and whispering last words of love to each other. Quite a few are engaged in, well, more intimate activities. I look away, not wishing to intrude upon the privacy of their last significant moments together. Mothers are wrapping arms around their children, hoping to shield their offspring from the impact of the earth. Men are writing their final wills and testaments. Some are resigned to their lot; a few, white with anger, are raging against the impending eternity. Many are in denial, pretending that nothing untoward is happening. Others have gone into shock and are paralysed by terror.
There are deafening screams of that hysterical despair that only the imminent arrival of death can evoke, and yet, even though those screams pierce my being, I am no closer to understanding their meaning. How can I ever hope to comprehend what the American people are undergoing up above?
Oh the humanity, dropping from the once secure abode that has turned treacherously against them. But what can one do when one’s whole life has been reduced to the act of falling? How does one deal with their world becoming upside down? All the survival instincts developed over eons of evolution are now inadequate and irrelevant. All the measures that mankind took to protect itself against the elements and vagaries of fate have become lethal burdens instead. Houses, streets, clothing, electricity, all the trappings of civilisation—none of that creates protection from what has befallen them.
My anguish over their plight is so extreme that I can feel another being coalescing and hovering beside me, a being identical to me in every respect except that it is made entirely of pain, for there is not enough room in my body to contain all that sorrow. Yet, my despair is intermixed with an odd sense of envy. The plummeting people possess the ultimate freedom, the intensity of which I will never get to experience. Death throes have become the purest and most authentic life experience for them, for only on the brink of annihilation does life shed the frumpy dress that she wears during the day of our existence and stands before us in all her natural, radiant glory. Now they can savour life as it truly is, free of all the grime that besmirches its true visage.
There are kids putting on Superman costumes, believing that they will be endowed with the powers of flight, while some of the teenagers cannot suppress their competitive streaks and are racing to determine who can fall the fastest and hit the ground first and hardest. Young ladies, dressed in bikinis, are performing synchronised falling routines, to give beauty and grace to their descent. Young men, to show that they have courage, are somersaulting and twisting their bodies, as if jumping off a diving board. One man in particular strikes me in the relaxed attitude that he adopts: lounging on a deck chair with a can of beer in one hand, cigarette in another, as if he is a spectator in a front- row seat, watching a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza of apocalypse.
As if to make up for their existence being cut short, some people age in a highly accelerated rate, which enables them to cram the rest of their lives into the last few instants of being. One infant turns into a boy, then a teenager, then a man, and finally a greybeard in a matter of seconds. Weddings take place and are then consummated. I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, they’ll learn secrets of the sky I’ll never know. Parents teach their children the facts of life, how to act politely, how to tie their shoelaces. Boys turn into adolescents, have their first shave and diffidently ask girls out for a first date. I see friends shaking hands, saying, “How do you do?”, they’re really saying, “Goodbye to you,” and I think to myself what a horrible world.
The politicians of America are still engaged in their petty disputes, tossing heated words upon one another, oblivious to their rapid descent. They are passing motions, censuring, making character attacks. Ordinary people, too, are preoccupied with such concerns as not being able to use up their retirement funds.
Morbid curiosity compels me to observe what happens to the people when they strike the ground. But instead of their bodies looming larger and larger in my field of vision as they approach Earth’s surface, they become fainter and smaller still, until disappearing from sight altogether. They then reappear; only they are no longer their corporeal three-dimensional selves but instead have morphed into life-sized monochrome cardboard cut-outs. Even those enterprising few that managed to strap on a parachute also morph into cut-outs, with a cardboard silhouette of the parachute attached to their cardboard shoulders.
As I watch these cardboard figures approach the ground, another transformation takes place, with the cut-outs changing into small photos of those same people. These snapshots now shower upon me, a polaroid rain.
Still, I cannot help but stick my bony kid arms out in the hope of catching at least some of the people, but only manage to catch the photos. Although in a daze, I instinctively glance at them and see in these snapshots the vanished souls as they appeared in happier times, with their families, friends, pets; the way that they like to be remembered, and not how they looked in their desperate final moments. But although their lips are smiling, I can definitely discern a look of piercing admonition that the eyes of the dead often possess, beseeching us to explain why they were allowed to suffer so much and not be helped. There is also perhaps a shade of wistful sadness at not being a part of the living world any longer.
I turn one of the photos around, to see if any last words have been scrawled on its back and find four lines of verse printed in neat, childlike handwriting:
In the mighty nation girt by two giant seas,
Constitution of Laws becomes a piece of paper.
Its people too will float to the ground as such,
The country’s zenith being their nadir.
Every other photo that I pick up has exactly the same inscription written on its back. The handwriting varies but the words remain the same. Obviously this is the final message that the American people wanted to convey to the rest of the world.
I know I have read something similar to this before, something in my memory resonates with these words…. Yes, now I remember, it is a quatrain from the Book of Prophecies written by that renowned medieval seer. This particular verse has long been considered to be indecipherably cryptic. Now it makes perfect sense and I understand why this grotesque metamorphosis is taking place. Didn’t one of America’s past presidents, not that long ago, dismiss their Constitution as being just a scrap of paper? And when the Constitution turns to paper, aren’t its citizens next?
As the continent remains at the apex of the sky, buildings’ foundations start to loosen, roots of plants are no longer able to cling to the soil; the mighty rivers empty their banks in a downpour of unprecedented proportions. Mountains too begin to disentangle themselves from their foundations: there go the Rockies, followed closely behind by Mt Rainier and Mt McKinley. What a sight they are, these titans that once towered haughtily above the rest of the land. Now they are twirling unceremoniously, like pebbles tossed into a river from a bridge.
There go Mt Rushmore’s gargantuan busts; their granite eyes are shut tight, for they cannot bear to watch what has become of their country. A land that they put so much effort into creating, developing and preserving the unity of, has been broken into myriad fragments. The Statue of Liberty is falling disrobed, the torch extinguished, bewilderment and anxiety etched deeply upon her once-proud face. Lady Justice is following not far behind. The sword has dropped from her right hand, the scales, unable to maintain any balance, are seesawing wildly in her left hand and the blindfold has come off her face. But what is the point of her seeing clearly now, how can an evil of this magnitude ever be avenged?
After all the signs of civilisation and life vanish, the ground itself begins to give way and disintegrate. The earth slowly loses its compactness and adhesiveness, first dripping down in small drizzles and then in great lumps. Here and there, the liquid magma substratum is peeking through the locations where the entire continental crust has come off. Perhaps only now will America reveal its true nature, free of all pretences, just as people lose their facade and expose their real selves during times of crises.
I run around, picking up the debris, trying to salvage what I can. Is it up to me to rebuild this country from all the bits and pieces that are descending and covering me from head to toe? But attempting to put it all together again would surely be a futile task, like solving a jigsaw puzzle that has innumerable pieces.
As the continent continues to break up, it becomes a terrifying melting pot. A colossal downpour of bodies, concrete, trees, mud, water, cars, houses, rock, soil all mixed together into a horrible blend, threatens to engulf the world below and destroy our lives too. Eerily, I keep hearing disembodied laughter emanating from the falling deluge. It seems that in the turbulence of the maelstrom, the laugh tracks have become detached from the sitcoms and they provide a bitterly ironic commentary on the catastrophe.
Some of the light beams refract through the dropping water, pasting rainbows on faces of the falling people. This effect adds an incongruously cheery, multi-hued aspect to the grey, amorphous sludge of devastation.
Thankfully, some clouds appear and block these scenes of chaos, but then they quickly disperse. Again, I’m unable to look away from the largest disaster ever witnessed by the human eye. But what right do I have to observe the deaths of others, to look, God-like, upon the numberless agonies? Who am I, a small boy, to watch scenes of suffering so terrifying that even Death itself turns its bony face away in fright? What right do I have to continue living, while millions are defeated by the irremediable evil of extinction?
Is it just America falling or is it all of mankind? I feel like I am the odd one out, stubbornly holding my ground and remaining ludicrously motionless. How tempting it is to join the plunge, to become one with the deluge! The avalanche is calling out to me with all its might, it is so persuasive in its roar. Let me fall too! I want to plummet with them!
Oh the horror, the horror of it all! Surely this day will live forever in infamy. Where are You, God? In You they trusted! Don’t You have a special relationship with this land? Haven’t You always protected and looked after it? I ask only one thing of You and I will never ask anything of You again—expunge from the fabric of spacetime the moment when America became attached to the celestial sphere…. But God, Who sees everything, remains silent and does nothing.
A young mind should never have experienced such absolute evil. Yet here I am, drinking it all in, still heedless of my mother calling me to return home at once.
Such an unimaginable occurrence! And yet, despite it being utterly inconceivable, it is nonetheless occurring. Indeed, there is even a certain inevitability about it, just like the slow uprooting and the plunge of a mighty tree that has been weakened by age and storms.
Maybe it was meant to be this way and some good will come of it. Perhaps it was necessary to throw this country up into the air and let it shatter into a billion pieces, so that, when all the intermingled fragments of the cities, forests, rivers and mountains settle back on the ground, a better arrangement of America will emerge. I cling to this faint straw of hope, trying to use it as ballast in my mind’s turmoil of despair.
But my sanity can no longer endure the relentless onslaught upon the senses, and I can distinctly feel my inner self separate into two halves. One part is the idealistic child that I was before this day, a child who would never accept that such horrors could take place. The other part is a strange, unfamiliar being that I know not at all. It is he who perceives this hideous tragedy, for my former self cannot be a witness to this.
After an interminable span of time, the continent begins to move away from the zenith. The Sun re-emerges in the sky, whole and wholesome, able to shine again. For a moment, the sky seems to be empty and blue again, with its innocence intact, the way it was early this morning. But that sunrise was a million griefs, a million irreparable lives ago; morning took place in another epoch altogether, when things like this could not be envisaged.
A fortunate few have managed to survive the near total destruction of the landscape of North America and are approaching the horizon and security of the ground again. Thank goodness they will be able to descend safely and be lauded as heroes, survivors of the most horrific journey that any human being has ever had to undergo.
Alas, that is not to be, for when this godforsaken continent reaches the horizon, it collides sharply with the stubborn ground that is already there. Before my terrified eyes a cataclysm, even worse than the one I witnessed earlier in the day, starts to unfold. A relentless process takes place as two continents attempt to occupy the same location at the same time, and one of them has to lose out.
Northern Canada and Alaska are the first to go. Bit by bit they are torn apart as the stationary earth refuses to shift and stands firm its ground. Those who I thought would be the lucky survivors are crushed to dust. The process creates a horrible grinding noise, like a million fingernails scraping together across a gigantic blackboard, and it resounds across the span of the land.
I cannot help but rush to their aid, to try to save at least some lives. But after a few steps I halt, for I recall that the horizon is just an illusory point in the distance that keeps receding further and further as you walk towards it, and so I will never be able to reach the doomed ones.
By now, more than half the continent has been ground into fine powder, salt for the earth. The major metropolises of the United States, the founts of so much knowledge, art, music and creative energy are pulverised into nothingness. Icy pieces of Alaska intermingle with the glassy shards of New York City and with bits of Los Angeles tinsel. Would it ever be possible to reconstruct America from these clouds of dust? Cities, civilisations, entire countries have been rebuilt from ruins before, but this is annihilation on an irreversible scale. The land of endless possibilities, a country that once offered so much opportunity to everyone, is now itself bereft of any future prospects.
Boris Glikman is a writer, poet, and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. His stories, poems, and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs. He says: “Writing for me is a spiritual activity of the highest degree. Writing gives me the conduit to a world that is unreachable by any other means, a world that is populated by Eternal Truths, Ineffable Questions and Infinite Beauty. It is my hope that these stories of mine will allow the reader to also catch a glimpse of this universe.”