Ferdi, sitting on the hill smoking little brown cigarettes held between fingers that had been painted with black polish. He wore the black hood too, eclipsing his face, hiding his ordinary charcoal hued sweater and cut off jeans, a trick, like when they projected images of the Virgin Mary on banks of smoke in an effort to spook strangers. His face was really quite young, cherub-like with ruddy round cheeks. Far from intimidating, brown curls hung over his brow and small even white teeth hid in the trenches behind soft rosy lips.
He could not have functioned very well as a guardian if his face had been allowed to come out like the sun to light up the hillside with its innocent charm. The magicians were under the hill and the believers still awaited the coming of bubble-headed saviors in saucers. The world was really composed of those two kinds now, believers and magicians, the hordes of uneducated human animals that wandered the wasteland and the keepers of the last bastion of technology and civilization.
This particular post was mostly unthreatened, an unknown entrance to the kingdom under the hills. Nothing elaborate was required to keep the unwashed away, just this boy in his frightening black robe. Any person wandering far from home, herding sheep or searching for plunder would think twice before approaching this sinister apparition smoking on the hillside, black boots pressing into the tender green grasses. They would see a magician, a sorcerer, a demon, or a ghost. The cloaked form would inspire the imagination.
These were dark times. It was a new dark age, made dark, paradoxically, by a bright sun. Less than 10 years ago the world had been a veritable Atlantis, a place where you could speak instantly to anyone you wished, send them a photograph or video with your cell phone, hold a library of thousands of books in the palm of your hand, transfer currency you would never see from one bank account to the next, obtain goods with nothing more than a small card fashioned of plastic.
The end of the world had been anticipated and delayed time and again, the last time as the Mayan calendar approached its end and the followers of Christ, as usual, expected his return. One of the most heavily trodden alternate dimensions of online obsession revolved around such predictions of destruction. The seas would boil, the dead would rise from the grave, the son of God would return to deliver his followers to the kingdom of heaven.
There were blurry lines, points of deviation arising from a common fixation on the year 2012. Where one audience subscribed to the predictions of the old testament, another awaited a race of alien Gods that would return on a planet with an irregular orbit, or a reversal of the magnetic poles would cause a shift in consciousness that might restore humanity to the aboriginal dream time.
Theories abounded, were espoused upon web pages and in videos posted to popular media sites, in electronic books that swam in the ether ready to be downloaded into your portable hand held device. Then in 2010, a good two years too soon, a real force intervened in the destiny of the human race. The good old sun, center of our solar system, the star once worshipped by primitive humans, had been quite forgotten by modern man. It was hardly considered by the civilization whose nights were electrified with artificial luminescence, whose food came on trucks from nowhere having been grown by professionals in far flung provinces.
Its behaviors had been well observed and documented by scientists. Grab any astronomer out of his observation tower to ask him and he could have told you that the sun experienced cycles, periods of relative peace and periods filled with wild solar storms. It had at times affected the earliest radio broadcasts when sun spots erupted into flumes of charged particles that interfered with the signal. Then the sun slipped back into low gear. During that time, the years in which the sun slumbered, the people of the 21st century came to rely heavily on new high-tech systems for the basics of daily life, systems which were highly sensitive to solar activity, but which thrived in its absence.
Years passed and the sun continued its existence quietly until 2010 when it entered a predictable but unconsidered period of stormy weather during which its molten surface and the civilizations of Earth were thrown into turmoil. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications were all knocked out by intense solar storms that erupted on October first of that fated year.
All of those who had been anticipating an end found it at last. A civilization that had been in the works for hundreds of years was deconstructed in a matter of weeks as panic and desperation took hold. It was the fall of Rome all over again, but this time the barbarians were the Romans themselves, tearing their own homes and lives apart in a frenzy of uncontrolled hatred and fear.
Ferdi, with his cherub cheeks and chestnut locks had been ten years old at the time. If the system had failed a week earlier he would now be a member of the horde rather than a magician. His father had been a physics professor at UC Berkeley, his mother a young artist come cult member after their separation.
For two strange years after the divorce he had lived with her, with rituals held in the living room once a week where strangers in lavish costumes paraded around barefooted. It was their feet that he was most acquainted with, peering out at them from under the locked bedroom door where he would lie petrified and curious.
At first it had seemed quite tolerable as he had loved his mother, but after he learned, (through a Google search conducted with his Iphone) that the notorious Order of the Solar Temple told its followers that the highest levels of initiation involved meetings with extraterrestrial beings, and that children had been murdered under suspicion of being the antichrist, he begged to be sent to live with his father.
That decision had shaped the course of his life. It was the sole reason that he lived now in the decaying bosom of science rather than at the thriving heart of superstition. It was the reason that he knew what had happened to the world he had known, unlike so many other ten year olds who had come home to be roped into mass suicides by their parents, or who had possibly barely escaped starvation and the brutality of others to become citizens of the new earth, never knowing what had happened, or suspecting that the rapture had come and gone and they had been left behind. He knew what had happened because he had been able, as a ten year old, to grab a weeping astronomer by the arm.
Nate Fisher, with his alpaca wool sweater and coarse red beard shook his head mournfully over a shot of whiskey,
“We knew this could happen, I helped write the report. We knew this could happen. And nobody listened.” Tears fell into the drink so that the small glass overflowed slightly. They were in the depths of Professor Ashton’s astonishing green home built into an Alameda county hillside. It had been designed to blend in with the shape of the land and most of the house interior was nestled underground.
Ferdi felt safe within this home whose off the grid power supply kept it warm and lighted and whose design made him feel like a rabbit secured within its hole. In the next room his father and Professor Ashton were talking quietly with Able Strong .
“..motors that use liquid metal for liquid contact…” Able’s trebly voice carried through the wall.
“…would have to be quite hot...” came fathers reply and after his the high feminine voice of Professor Ashton cut in.
“…done with Mercury…”
“…get a hold of him?” father asked
“…transistor…a week or so…luck…”
“We knew.” Nate Fisher sniffed morosely.
And then Ferdi had asked him that all important question.
“What did you know?”
Sitting on the hill smoking little brown cigarettes held between fingers that had been painted with black polish. Under his dark hood, Ferdi let his mind drift. Out along the green horizon a figure emerged. He watched it, ready to radio for assistance if necessary. As it drew nearer he rose to his feet so that he would be more visible.
He thought he saw the figure look his way. It stopped and then turned sharply away and slowly vanished again. Ferdi sat back down and sighed.
The world was really composed of two kinds now: believers and magicians, the hordes of uneducated human animals wandering the wasteland, one of them his own mother, and the keepers of the last bastion of technology and civilization. Grab any astronomer out of his observation tower to ask him and he could have told you… but now it was much too late for that.