Loading...
Menu

The Meteorologist

 

The Meteorologist

Published by Red Crow 2016

Copyright Kelvin James Roper

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the author. Published at Red Crow by Shakespir.

Cover image and illustrations by Kelvin James Roper

 

The Meteorologist

One

i

For all the opposing convictions of the many astronomers, astrophysicists, and quantum theorists of the world, each arguing the different mechanics and states of the universe, there is one thing on which they concede unanimously: space is enormous.

Not just enormous in a physical sense, though of course it is, but enormous in it’s impossible convolutions. Unending, with no exterior, curved in on itself in a manner inconceivable, and inaculably replicated.

This last matter, in the late spring of 1912, was being pondered studiously by a German professor of physics named Einstein who theorised the existence of innumerable parallel universes expanding beside our own.

It was considered that he alone of all the astronomers, astrophysicists, and quantum theorists could unravel the mystery. Though quite unknown to anyone but a few (whom we shall encounter later) there was another far more adept than the physicist in matters relating to the layers of Creation.

He was an unassuming fellow in his late forties, residing in a run-down tower block in the slum area of Grantaburgh known as the Catchpenny. A member of the Climatological Society, he kept to his rooms, a disorder of books and forecasting instruments. His circle of friends was small, and he was known to all but a few as the meteorologist.

He tried to ignore the sextant as he sat at his writing desk, it hung in his periphery as a black beacon, and he lowered his head, trying to meditate on the prose of his missive.

He sighed a few moments later, unable to concentrate on the letter he was composing to his sister, whom was recently married and moved to Berwick. He had written little under three lines of salutation and could think of nothing else to communicate. The humidity was distracting him greatly and he felt as heavy as the collected sins of Westwall Gaol. His shirt hung on his chest like a parasite, and he loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar, hoping it would help relieve the thoughts of the sextant.

His thin grey hair was oiled and combed, though sweat had made the viscid product run, and he found himself continuously dabbing his forehead with a kerchief and cuffing his sallow eyes with his forearm. He felt haggard, as heavy as the hazy July afternoon.

His finally succumbed to the draw of the sextant. On days as muggy as these he was helplessly attracted to it, for it was on a similar day, nineteen years previously, when he had acquired it in the most brutal of fashions. Dark and discoloured, it was ugly to behold, and always enticed unwanted conversation from any who saw it, but it served as a reminder of the meteorologist’s deepest torment and would remain on the wall as an icon of his remorse.

Every hour the meteorologist checked the various apparatus upon his cluttered windowsill, and as clock struck four he was happy to be distracted from the sextant to do this. He stood from his writing desk and handled the spool of smoked paper that trailed from his sympiesometer while marking the atmospheric pressure. He checked the mercury that shone in spiralling tubes, then tapped the brass needle of the barograph with a start and declared in a hush that a storm was fast approaching.

Wasting no time he took his greatcoat, wide-brimmed hat, and his spade. He hulked down the winding stairs of his tower-block and across the city to the Eastern Gate, his boot laces trailing and the coral sky growing vivid in silent expectation.

His endless commission, his solitary charge, his private obligation, it always took place on that same spot outside the city Wall – ever since he was a young man of nineteen – at the foot of a burnt oak on the crest of a hill in the private cemetery known as the Elysium Fields.

“Muggy as a ploughman’s gusset,” he muttered to the cemetery grounds man, who returned a merry smirk that was all but hidden behind a thick grey moustache. Another man, tall and pallid, stood beside the groundsman, inspecting an orange rose. He regarded his timepiece and looked suspiciously at the meteorologist and his spade.

“I’ll be back before curfew, don’t you fret it none.” The meteorologist said.

“Policy alone will lock the gates at five-thirty, Sir,” the man sniffed, tilting his head and speaking to an amber rose, “whether I ‘fret it none’ or not.”

He disregarded the man’s words and thought instead of how beautiful the rose had been. Almost the exact same shade as the afternoon light behind the rising cumulonimbus, he thought, observing the magnificent anvils of shadow that were slowly pluming into the sky some thirty miles east. He sniffed the air like a stag and watched the imperceptibly slow formation of the distant thundercloud, reckoning the storm would pass by a few miles distant without incident.

He slowed his pace, content that his service would not be called for. He breathed a sigh of relief and spoke to the scratched blade of his spade. “No need for you today, I imagine,” he said, resting the bar on his shoulder. For a moment he stopped beside an ivy-laden figure of St. Peter and wondered whether he should make his way back to the city Wall, the outskirts of The Wilderness being no place to be caught after curfew. Even though the tombs and graves were empty of corpses, inhabited mausoleums being a right permissible only to the wealthy, there was no telling where the Wraiths of the Ferryman’s Pit would wander.

He turned and looked back toward the high sandstone wall and the various houses and depots set atop it. A red engine ambled at its summit, disappearing amid the dwellings and leaving only a belch of smoke in its wake. He continued, considering how a night spent in the cold and rain was a better risk than being sorry the next day. He couldn’t let another one escape into the city.

Leaving the gravelled pathways, he made his way up the slope of the wide field to where the blackened and hollowed husk of an oak twisted proudly on the crest. There was an expectation in the air, a silence that buzzed and made the wilderness resonate with vibrancy.

For several minutes he entertained thoughts of the following day and the responsibilities he must honour. Tea with his landlord in the morning; the old beast had acquired for himself a species of felicia eleocharis from some exciting character and had been insistent on displaying its blossom to the meteorologist the entire week. This labour was to be followed by an auction at the Climatological Society come mid-afternoon, in which he hoped to purchase a coveted first edition of the International Cloud Atlas. He had purchased a second edition in 1911, though had always craved a first, with its gold leaf and fine leather binding, not to mention the decoration within that had been replaced by sepia photoplates in the subsequent edition.

It was this thought of drab representations of clouds that was broken by the sight of a cumulus congestus rising above the crest of the hill, rousing itself and pluming to form a second storm cloud to challenge the first. The meteorologist blasphemed and watched the peak of the second cloud. It would take an hour or so to form, but already he could see the upper stratum swelling into an unmistakable incus.

There would be a storm tonight indeed, the meteorologist thought, and neither he, nor the city, would escape it.

Indiscernible before, his hurried gait suggested he had suffered an injury in some long distant event, though the limp didn’t restrain his focused march. He tramped between the graceful tombs and marble-white statues, no longer marveling at their contrast to the deepening sky as they bathed in the last dregs of lustrous, honey burnished light.

This alliance of storm-heads worried him greatly. There were countless lightning strikes every year, some three-hundred thousand in the United Kingdom alone, a baffling forty-thousand a day the world over if his colleagues across the Climatological Society were to be believed. By his reckoning the oak took more than its fair share of strikes, though even the bolts that struck at the foot of the blackened trunk didn’t always call for his assistance. Even knowing this, knowing there was little chance he, and his spade, would be called upon – the sight of the two swelling behemoths darkening the sky made his heart plummet.

The rain came as he left the mausoleums and effigies behind and began the steep rise to the summit. It was a delicate rain, one that filtered from clouds other than the two his attention was fixed on. A rumble of thunder announced the storm front was some twenty miles away, though by the speed of the wind the meteorologist considered it would be over him in less than an hour, forty five minutes if he was any judge of things which, of course, he was.

ii

He checked his timepiece forty minutes later to discover his assessment hadn’t been far off. He sat some distance from the stump of the oak, remembering how the tree had once been the most graceful in the area when he was a boy. Now, warped and splintered beyond recognition, he saw it as only a conductor of his shame, a probe that taunted him and had sealed his passage to Hell thirty-one times over.

He wasn’t a religious man, though a thunderstorm can rouse the amygdala into believing such self-indulgent obsessions, the studious qualities all but cowering before the gravitas flashing and bellowing above it. it This is as it was for the meteorologist, who found himself thinking of the majesty of the roars of thunder above. They seemed to be eruptions from God himself, raged curses from the Kingdom and directed to him alone. He tried to promise that this was the last time; that he would never mess in these strange affairs again, though if God were listening to his assurances he would also hear the smaller voice that hesitated and contradicted his oath. How could he stop?

The golden sky had been superseded by iron-grey and the lamps of the city were little more than pin-pricks from his vantage high upon the hill. The meteorologist watched the last engines of the evening leave the city on their lofty viaducts, their dark silhouettes and distant carriage lights soaring above the dense Wilderness below. He watched one trail of light in particular as it glided to the south-east and was swallowed by the low clouds that were consuming the landscape. Small blue fires flashed into being and drifted about the terrain at the foot of the magnificent city Wall. He felt himself stiffen at the sight of those lights, the Wraiths of the dead cast into The Ferryman’s Pit beyond the city boundary, though he convinced himself that they were too far away to hurt him.

A blaze of lightning and curse of thunder signified the true arrival of the storm. The drifting rain of the previous hour was replenished by a heavy downpour that soaked through the meteorologist’s great coat. He thrust the spade into the soft ground and rest a safe distance from it. He crouched and pulled his sopping coat close, ever watching the foot of the oak that flashed and trembled under the malicious tempest.

The black sky was full of spite for a half hour, forks glared and flashed across The Wilderness and the outskirts of the city. The meteorologist cowered against the storm and marvelled at its magnificence, fearing it and spellbound in equal measure. Then a blinding flash and accompaniment of thunder struck so close that it was nothing more than an ear-splitting bang and he instinctively bounded aside, thanking providence to have not been rendered to little more than a duplicate of the oak.

Silence followed for a few moments and it seemed as though the malice of the sky had been spent. Then the rain renewed its enthusiasm and lashed upon him by the bucket-load.

His feet lost their purchase of the muddy ground when he heard the cry. His heart sank and he leapt up, lumbering as fast as he could for the spade and wrenching it from the earth with a rich, wet squelch. He knew that howl as intimately as he knew himself and it sent a sub-glacial shiver through his flesh.

The cry was one of pain and, if it was possible to discern it, regret. It lingered in the air while the distant thunder bid adieu after its shipment was unloaded. The meteorologist stepped as lightly as his boots would allow until he was behind the blackened oak. He lay a hand on its scorched trunk.

He gripped the bar of the spade tightly. In the mud at the foot of the oak lay a prostrate man, naked as a babe, with a pitiable burn across his ribs that almost matched the bark of the tree. He tried to roll on his uninjured shoulder though the effort was too much, he fell back into the pool of sludge, crying once again. It was a wretched sound that made the meteorologist falter in his steps and swallow hard.

The man was similar to him in most respects. He seemed of comparable age, roughly the same height and stock, though he exhibited a more muscular physique than the meteorologist’s beer-fed paunch. He sported a tattoo on his unharmed arm, though in the failing light it was impossible to inspect it, and his formerly long grey hair was almost entirely burnt away.

The meteorologist searched the locale for the second item he knew would be present. The two were synonymous, and there it was; thrown asunder and crackling with heat: the sextant. Formally a bright and spotless instrument, the copper was now warped and blackened by heat, its once gleaming surface now mottled and the colour of oil.

The man squirmed in the mud for a moment, and then found the will to roll on his side. He contained a scream though halted and winced into his chest. He hissed sharply before looking up to inspect this new world. Rain poured from his brow, and his working hand wiped it away and hooked what little hair remained behind his ear.

Quietly he wept for a number of seconds, shivering in his nakedness, before he eventually turned and saw the meteorologist. He got to his knees and said something under his breath.

“What’s your name, lad?” The meteorologist asked.

Fighting his charred throat, the man spoke again, though whether in reply was disputable as it was in a language unfamiliar to the meteorologist. There was a Slavic character to it, he thought, and wondered if he noted a word or two of Germanic.

“Do you speak any English?” He asked as a roll of thunder curdled the sky and doused his words. “English?”

The man closed his eyes and raised his face to the rain, a trail of blood flowed down his cheek from a dark burn atop his crown.

The meteorologist stepped forward and gripped the spade in his hand. It was unfortunate the man spoke a different language for there was always a small enjoyment in learning where they came from. The man continued to show his face to the sky, as though he was well aware of what was to follow and welcomed it without complaint.

The meteorologist uttered a few words of apology before raising the spade and bringing it down hard across the man’s burnt temple. The stranger crumpled without a sound and convulsed sickeningly in the slush. The meteorologist winced and raised the spade again, repeating the act until there was no other movement but for the ripples in the crimson mud.

He loomed over the body, breathing heavily as rain pounded him in sheets. He turned and threw the spade toward the edge of The Wilderness before straining with the body and hoisting it across his shoulders.

Lowering his head to shield his eyes he staggered with the weight on his back until deep into the wild. There he would dig a grave throughout the night and lay the battered corpse to rest along with the scorched sextant, there erasing all evidence of the stranger’s brief visit.

Two

Once again, in the humid July afternoon, the cumulonimbus were rising in the skies above The Wilderness.

The meteorologist had been entertaining his landlord with an inspection of his newly acquired first edition of the International Cloud Atlas. It had been a long six weeks since he had won the lot at the Climatological Society but finally the heavy tome, with all its gold, leather, brass, and decorative script and had been delivered. The landlord had inspected it carefully over the rims of his half-moon glasses, and the meteorologist had beamed internally at the obvious envy in the landlord’s eye.

He had cut the meeting short, however, when he had been inspecting the instruments on his windowsill. The barometer read that all was fair in the stratosphere, though the needle of the barograph was plunging by a steady rate of a notch an hour.

The landlord caught the sudden change in the air of the meteorologist and joined him at the instruments. “I have one of these little darlings of my own, you know?” he said, helping himself to the smoked paper that trailed from the device. “It’s a curious thing that you still own one after all the progression the Climatological Society has made in the last decade or so?”

“I’m acclimatised to the simpler aids of weathercasting,” the meteorologist replied.

“Not an admirer of the Troposcope? Much more reliable than these trinkets of yours, wouldn’t you agree? I read that the Society is funding the construction of a Stratoscope, if you can believe it?”

“I have no argument with progress, Bailey, not for those who are educated in the art of using it. I, however, have only ever mastered those items that were available to me in my youth.”

“Indeed,” the landlord said, then looked up from the smoked paper. “I noticed a most peculiar relationship some months back.” He lifted the paper so that the meteorologist could see the scrawling line drawn by the needle. “It took some time to notice, I can assure you, but I noted on my own barograph that whenever the needle dives below 990hpa you rush out of the building like a March hare.” He leant over to current reading of the barograph and shook his head. “And here we are at 987hpa and you’ve come over agitated as a turkey on Christmas Eve. Do tell, old man, what’s it all about?”

The meteorologist made his way over to the cupboard and took his great coat and wide-brimmed hat. “Alas, old Bailey, you’re an observant fellow. But it’s nothing more than work for the Society.”

“But you take a spade with you every time, and never return until the following day.”

“I can’t talk about it, I’m afraid, no matter how much I might want to. It’s an experiment that could cost my membership if some enterprising character got his mind around it.”

“I wouldn’t let on!” The landlord said, visibly affronted.

The meteorologist tied his bootlace and stood erect, slipping on the heavy coat and reaching for his spade. “I’m sorry, Bailey. If you’ll excuse me?”

“Well, of course, but…”

The meteorologist had already vacated the room and was lumbering down the steps of the tower block two at a time.

Bailey crossed to the windowsill and wiped the soiled glass with his kerchief, before peering down to the shadow of his hastening tenant.

“Singular fellow,” he said to himself, before leaving and locking the door behind him.

The meteorologist couldn’t see the sky for low-laying cloud. A swathe of grey had blanketed the city for days, and there was no telling how far away the storm was or how quickly it would descend upon him.

Half an hour later he found the entrance to the cemetery grounds empty, save for a few mourners who were exiting the fields in expectation of an early curfew. He doffed his hat respectfully as he passed, and made his way through the marble effigies and stone tombs until he left the gravel pathway. Here the grasses had been left to grow untamed as they would until they became part of the unkempt wilds of The Wilderness.

The air was heavy, as it always was when he found himself making his way to the crest of the Elysium Fields, where the long-dead oak reached skyward, black and deformed by some long-forgotten storm. He thought of the many times he had made this same walk, on untold occasions, to carry out the same business again and again, or simply wait the storm out before returning home. He thought of the countless people he had encountered in the storm, the countless lives he had taken, and the look in their eyes as they realised his intentions. It made him feel sick to the pit of his stomach, and he cursed the fate he didn’t believe in to be made to carry out this service over and over again.

At the summit of the hill he turned and watched the city for some time, and considered that the storm might pass without curfew being called. The street lamps hadn’t been lit, there was no sign of any Wraiths at the foot of The Wall, and already the sky looked as though it was deciding to lighten. This consideration lifted his spirit immensely, and he turned to the burnt oak and placed his hand on its rough surface as though the entire journey had been a prelude to this achievement. He felt content as his fingers traced the bark of the tree, and for a moment was consumed by the polarity of life’s change and fixity, how the tree had been there his entire life and generations before him. It would outlast him, and be there in a distant future that would be unrecognisably different, and yet it too came from nothing and would return to nothing. It would be gone and no one, the vast weight of human knowledge, would ever know of its existence.

At the first breath of thunder his heart sank. Closing his eyes the meteorologist fancied his ears had deceived him, that it was actually the echo of some industrial hammer bourn on the breeze. For a little over a minute all that could be heard was the pattering of rain and the wind about the grasses. He willed that nothing more would follow. The interminable quiet made time stretch. Five minutes must have passed, he considered, before checking his timepiece. Another rumble sounded, much closer than the first, and he believed he caught a glimpse of sheet lightening in the distance.

He turned and crouched at the shallow groove in the earth where the strangers always appeared. There was nothing remarkable about the spot; it was nothing more than and dip in the earth and a few patches of dry grass. So many people had died there, however. At his hand and by his will that the deformed oak seemed to him the most important and personally sacrosanct place on the entire globe. He placed his hand in the small puddle that was forming in it, and a flood of exhaustion almost toppled him as he thought of the men he had executed there for the last nineteen years.

An idle thought flashed in his mind, as it had done on many occasions over the years. What if I discontinued? The voice always uttered, or something to the same effect. What if I let them come? But this internal voice was not alone, and certainly not the louder. A second voice warned of the consequences of letting them come. It’s not simply about numbers, is it! The voice chastised the first. It’s about who they are! That’s the fix, isn’t it!

Another roll of thunder broke the seeping gale. Getting to his feet he watched the spires and tower-blocks of the distant city, estimating the storm would be atop him in little under a half hour.

“Please not today,” he said, raising his eyes to the clouds. “Don’t let him come today, I don’t have the energy to… Do any of it!

Of a sudden there was no light to be seen. The colours of the world had been drawn away, except a dazzling green glow that danced about his vision like the oily sheen of a drake’s head. It streaked through him in an instant of instinctive panic before darkness rent his consciousness away.

He woke with a searing pain in his arm and pins pricking his face. He tried to move but his head swam and he jolted backward, wincing. He blinked. Rain… no, hailstones stung his eyes. That, at least, accounted for the pins that stabbed at his face. He shielded his face and slowly propped himself up. A rage of white lightning blossomed veins across the peregrine-grey sky. He leant forward and cradled his head in his hand as the throbbing slowly subsided. Thunder tore the heavens and shook the earth, and in that moment the meteorologist knew that he was not alone.

The realisation tugged at him to stand, though his balance was off-guard and he stumbled forward and fell on his shins. Clambering in the mud he turned and saw the man above him, holding his spade and preparing to bring it down across his skull. Hoisted by my own petard, he thought, and in the briefest of moments the swirling impulses flashing in his brain conjured an image of his end being a grand chronicle scribed by fate itself, written for the amusement of…

Lightning silhouetted the stark oak, the meteorologist gasped and held his hand before him. There was no-one there. He was alone.

“Thank God!” he sighed. He could have sworn there had been a man before him, and at once he was haunted by the idea that he’d begun to witness the souls of those he had slain. His heart raced and he felt the lonely grasp of dread about him. “I can do this no more!” he said to the mud, watching water drip from his nose. “I can do this…”

A moan of pain arrested his speech. Instinctively he checked the muddy pool before the oak, for that was where they always appeared.

It was empty.

I’m hearing things as well! he thought, tentatively getting to his feet. Each movement pulled at his brain like pincers were trying to extract it.

“Christ!” a voice screamed. “Oh, Christ! My…” the words were replaced by a howl that terrified the meteorologist and made him rush for his spade. He splashed in the mire and wrenched it from the ground. His back was to the oak, its coarse bark digging into his spine, and after a few moments he peered to see the half-naked man rolling in the grass, kicking away burning fabric from his body. He grunted as he kicked and doused the flames, and then lay naked in the teeming hail, face down beside a scorching hot sextant, gasping deeply.

The meteorologist watched steam rise from the body of the man, and thought to step towards him and brain him while he lay there, cold and unaware. He hesitated, however, and suddenly was overcome by a humanity that had escaped him these last nineteen years. He was so tired of the part he played in this mysterious phenomenon, so nauseated by his actions, that he would make good the assurance he had whispered to the mud, no matter what the consequences. Like reality dawning on a somnambulist, the meteorologist freed himself from the unelected position of executioner and removed his heavy greatcoat.

His boots splashed in the puddles surrounding the naked man who, though hearing him, was too exhausted to move.

The meteorologist laid the coat over the trembling, goose-pimpled flesh, then moved the hot sextant away with his boot before crouching beside the man.

“You’re ok, lad. You made it to the other side.”

The man groaned, and the meteorologist saw the blackened scar running across the ear and jaw.

“You’ve taken a nasty bonfire in the cheek, there boy. But don’t you fret none, this summer weather will cool it down for you.”

The man grimaced, though after a series of gasps he forced himself up. The meteorologist helped him, taking him by the elbows and laying a hand on his back. “You alright there, lad?”

The man coughed and nod, “Thirsty…”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any water. Just tip your head back and take whatever the clouds are offering.”

“My God… my throat. It feels like I’ve drunk a volcano dry.” He pulled the coat tightly about him and opened his mouth to receive a mixture of hail and rain.

A minute or two past before the stranger took the meteorologist in. He regarded him for a long time before asking, “who are you?”

The meteorologist thought about it for a while before answering. “When I was but a babe, I was left in my father’s charge. He was a labourer and couldn’t afford to lose his wage on baby-sitting, and so he scooped me up and into the perambulator before setting off to the quarry. I recall, even though I was little older than a year in this world, the rocks piled around me as though he had given me a blanket of stone.

“A few years later, a few days after my seventh birthday, the milkman’s horse gave me a kick when I tried to pilfer a bottle from the cart. It broke my leg and to this day I walk with a slight limp.

“some years later, whilst at school, I was the plaything of several older boys. They didn’t appreciate my bookish nature and let it be know by boot and tongue. There came a day when I could take it no more, and stuck one of them in the shin with a piece of discarded crockery. I was expelled from a state education after that and, as my family had no claim to funds, I studied to make a mark in my chosen profession alone.”

The meteorologist turned back to the stranger. “Do you now know who I am?

“Why,” said the stranger, “I do. You are the physicist Marden Valdemar, and by this I mean that you are me, for these recollections are also my own!”

“Alas, it is as you say, though I am no physicist. Meteorology is my field.”

“But I’m a physicist.” Marden said, scrambling to his knees. He placed his hands on the meteorologists face. “Is it so? Are you… are we one and the same?”

“We are the same.”

“We look so different. Your eyes are clearly green while mine are blue. My hair is tinged with grey while yours is swan-white. I am a sure inch your minor, and your complexion is so dark. How can we be one and yet be so completely dissimilar?”

“My friend, you cannot expect me to believe that you have unlocked the utmost geodesic challenge, curved the universe to your will and navigated your way across the empire of emptiness… and yet neglected to think of what you might find on the other side?”

“I thought about it, but… I never thought for one moment it would work. I was entertaining a fancy… I don’t even know what I did!” He looked aggrieved. “What did I do?”

For a moment the meteorologist looked desolate. “I couldn’t tell you. I’m one in a billion duplicates of you who never even considered how it might be achieved.”

“Then there are others?”

The meteorologist raised a brow and looked toward the city Wall. Marden Valdemar followed his gaze and saw the city for the first time. His jaw dropped when his eyes fell on The Wall, stark and black against the grey evening.

“Where I come from… My God, look at it. My Cambridge looks nothing like that!”

“In this creation it’s called Grantaburgh, though I’ve heard named by countless others; Castebrigge, Stanbryc, Affarbrygga… Cambridge I have heard a few times.”

“My Cambridge?” Marden said suddenly, as though the name had shaken him awake.

“Not yours! Think, man! You are the only one from your universe! That city you’re looking at there exists in a variety of infinite forms. Ten thousand billion are all Cambridge, and everything is exactly the same as the last, though maybe the ten thousand billionth is home a mote of dust that wasn’t present in any other. Ten thousand billion more exist where the only variation is an altered current on the river. Sometimes it’s something undetectable like that, whereas other times the city, or world has an altered name, or there is a mountain where there wasn’t one in your creation.”

“You keep mentioning others… Did more precede me?”

“Marden, they’ve been coming through since I was nineteen. Since then there’s been thirty variations of me who have struck the earth at the foot of that oak.” He waved his hand dismissively toward the battered trunk.

“Where are they now?” Marden asked. The excitement in his voice clearly declared he had never considered that there may be others whom had ever travelled as he. It had escaped him that for a single choice in the entire multiverse the deed must be enacted innumerable times over. There was not one version of himself renting chasms in the structure of the heavens, but an unknowable, frightening number.

The meteorologist turned his head and considered how best to express his answer. He couldn’t tell his extra-dimensional twin what he had done to the others, could he?

“Is it a caper?” Marden said, a smirk growing across his singed face. “Do you all get into scrapes and play merry Hell in that city of yours?”

“No, Marden…” the meteorologist got to his feet. “They could never stay, you realise? After the first, well… You see, his life was as similar to this creation as it is to me. His city was also the same as the one you see across the landscape before you. What the difference in our worlds was I should never know, perhaps it was an alteration in another land, or in the formation of fluff in a foreigners pocket… Or perhaps it was the course of a meteor a billion miles in the void of space… Whatever it was, he tried to usurp me! He grew lonely away from his family and after several months attempted to swindle my wife in to believing he were I, for we were each the spit of one another. He did all in his power to take my existence and appropriate it as his own, to such an extent and with an array of tricks about him I near lost my mind.” There was a silence between them. The meteorologist saw that his doppelgänger knew what he was about to say, he could see it in the look of anticipation that was so similar to his own. They looked at one another for a few moments more, but he couldn’t bring himself to conclude the morbid recollection.

“All thirty one?” Marden Valdemar said incredulously. His face had pinched in the last few moments and the meteorologist turned his face to the floor. “Then why not me?” he continued, looking toward the spade that rested against the oak.

A reel of thunder distracted them momentarily, and the rain began to beat them in earnest. The meteorologist shook his head again and tried to explain his position, he turned away as though the words might come without the scrutiny of judgement upon him, but still nothing came. A swell of anger strained his diaphragm; how dare this intruder condemn him, he had no understanding how incomprehensibly cruel it had been to fend off extinction at the hands of oneself.

“You don’t appreciate…” he said, turning back to Marden. Or, that is, to where Marden had been. Now the space was empty, save for rippling mud and swaying grasses. He looked for the sextant also. The two were synonymous. If he could find one he had found the other, but the charred instrument had vanished also.

The meteorologist took a step forward. “Marden!” he called, but it was too late; the traveller had slipped into the darkness of The Wilderness and out of the meteorologist’s sight.

“Swop me, Marden! Come out of hiding, man!” he called. For a moment he waited, listening for movement in the undergrowth – or some other sign of the traveller’s whereabouts. The swirling wind rustled the leaves and boughs into a swishing, creaking frenzy and made a mockery of his senses. He stepped towards his spade and, picking it up, watched the foremost bushes and trees of The Wilderness. This world was a new experience for the traveller, he considered, and there were many formalities and customs that could lead him to a life in gaol if he didn’t adhere to them. This thought appeased him somewhat, for if the traveller even made it through the night amid the Wraiths and bandits of The Wilderness, he might surely be unaware of the city curfew and find himself unable to pay the Tollers fine before landing himself in the debtors gaol.

With a curious satisfaction the meteorologist made the last decision of his life regarding the happenings at the crest of the cemetery hill. In the future he would no longer answer the readings of the barograph, and his landlord could ponder all he liked on the change in his behaviour. If the travellers’ wished to land themselves in his world he would let them do so, for the city was a harsh one to exist in, and a few days must deter a great deal of them; and as for the others, the ones who were savvy to the workings of the city? Well, maybe it was time he moved on to another county and let whoever came fight it out amongst themselves.

Thinking this he offered the shallow pool a decisive farewell, and wondered why he had never struck upon the concept before. He considered this was the first time he had left the pool behind him unsullied by the dark remains of violence. He turned from it for the final time, the thoughts of a peaceable future before his eyes, and so concluded the meteorologist’s commitment to the strange happenings at the foot of the blackened oak.

 


The Meteorologist

A man charged with the most deplorable commission. He stalks the humid summers to end the onslaught that always comes with the lightning. The blackened oak has been a beacon for his shame since his boyhood. His heart sinks with each fall of the barometer, and he looks to the burnt sexton on his wall, not that he need reminding of what must follow. He endures alone, for none should know and few would believe what comes with the fire that strikes at the foot of the blackened oak.

  • ISBN: 9781310786051
  • Author: Kelvin James Roper
  • Published: 2016-05-22 13:00:09
  • Words: 6556
The Meteorologist The Meteorologist