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The Weight of the World

Short story By: Swineshead
Literary fiction

The machines stopped working at first.

Submitted:Mar 18, 2008    Reads: 479    Comments: 18    Likes: 10   

The machines stopped working at first. For weeks, the silent machinery we relied on rumbled and groaned as though troubled, as though their juice was running out, as though they were dying of old age. Then, one day in June, they all just gave out and gave up. The screens of our televisions turned into small, luminous- white dots in the centre of the pane. Cement mixers ground to a halt. Cars trundled along on momentum but then remained stationary as their engines spluttered to an early death. Factories became useless - empty tributes to past industry. Offices, over time, returned to paper-based work. Then the offices emptied. The world changed.

Even the sound of the world changed. An eerie silence descended over us as only the sounds of weather, human activity and animals could be heard. Mostly intermittent sounds of distress and a distant elemental rumbling. The world seemed to be unmoving - a static place where very little happened. Inertia on a grand scale. Walking around became difficult, almost impossible, as the ground sucked at every motion. When the taps were turned on, no water spurted forth. You were lucky to get a trickle of liquid so people began buying the bottled stuff. Then stealing it. The bottled stuff started to run out.

I couldn't tell you what happened on a global scale. I can only tell you what happened to me. The TVs and radios have been down for months and no news has filtered through as nobody can travel to spread the word. We're all stuck. Christ knows what's happening to the tides. There are fewer stars in the sky than there once were.

I'm a big man. Six foot three in my boots and stocky. You wouldn't want to fight me. Even now that my movements are slowed by the conditions, with the weight of the world on my shoulders I could still throw a punch at you through the thickness of the air that would floor you. If you came near my house, tried to loot water from my family like the packs of thieves we see daily, I would break your jaw the way I do every day now. It's a ritual. Wake up, look for raiders, take them out.

With the power in my body, I've been blessed that I'm one of the last movers. There are others like me. Mainly men. A few women. We can struggle through the pull beneath us, the senseless gravity that's polluting this planet. We can just about make it through the streets, each step like uprooting a tree. We raid supermarkets, steal the water, steal the tins of food and we hoard what we take, rationing it out to our families.

We walk through the streets which, when you stand and look straight ahead, seem deserted. But then you look down and you see the people who once walked freely laying down, faces pressed against the tarmac, hands pressed up against the invisible force against the paving slabs. You hear the occasional moan. There is nothing you can do but struggle on.

Sophie is on the floor. Jack and Alex too. They haven't moved in a long time now. The gravity sucks at them and they can't respond. They're like iron filings attached to a magnet. It's my job to provide for them while I still can - but the pull is getting stronger and my limbs are like an old man's now. With every forward motion I feel bone grind against bone, muscle chaffing against sinew. I won't be able to carry on much longer. Soon I'll be pinned to the floor like them. Soon I'll be face down in the carpet of our home, unable to lift my head. I guess we'll all starve to death when that happens.

It's funny. In a dark way it's funny that this should've happened. When we least expected it, the planet mocked us. I lost count of how many times we complained that life was dragging us down. We moaned, on and on that we shouldn't have to go to work - that we were too tired. We always talked, Sophie and I, about the elements of our life that made us feel stuck and trapped. The boys too - always saying they couldn't wait to get out of this small town and get to the city. They imagined that escape would result in freedom. Even then I found it ironic. They craved freedom from their school but really, when it came down to the bare facts, they craved adulthood, which would be more of a weight on them than they could ever have known. Funny how kids want to escape the freedom and boredom of childhood. They don't stop to think what's around the corner. The office-jobs, long hours, rent payments and early mornings.

I'm an optimist. I think the balance will be restored. Something will change. Either things will just return to normal or, if we're lucky, the gravity will flip the other way and we'll all float upwards - floating away from the earthbound suffocation.

Today - on the way back from collecting canned food and water - I saw an old man, crumpled in his garden, nose buried in grass. He was screaming - his noisy yelps muffled by the soil in his mouth. I went over to see if I could help him but after the exertions of the trip I couldn't lift him from his spot. Then I noticed something of concern. A pointer toward where we might be headed.

His nose was buried in the earth. The toes of his shoes had cut through the earth and half of his feet were embedded in the floor. When I checked his hands, they too were submerged. His fingers weren't visible beneath the dirt. I suppose this means it's getting stronger. We're not just going to be laying flat on the ground forever more. We're going to be sucked in, slowly but surely. We're going to be drawn back to the centre. Every skeleton of every creature alive sucked down, slowly down through the earth and the sand and the oceans and the tectonic plates, down into the red-hot magma boiling beneath us.

Jesus. There's a happy thought for you.


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