Nineveh Fades Extract – Part Two
The below is an edited extract from my novel, Nineveh Fades, or, The Bomb Shelter.
Over the days, she built up courage to walk towards the edge of her tower, taking one slow step at a time as if the air had become syrup. Her body felt like a rusted radio tower, the sort that might be broadcasting the message that they missed every minute of the day, her mother in particular, putting her head up close to the wireless, as if she was welcoming home a sailor in a large gas-mask.
Once, Lori and Mickey had found an old broken radio set few years ago out on Greenwood Cemetery. They had run to the grocery and had detoured down a back alley. They started to stick their noses into a dumpster and found the device all busted apart, wires stripped and reflective, copper, the way she wanted her hair to be. And they had jumped in fright when the front of it flopped open, revealing this strange green plate with the black and grey boxes on top, strips of metal that ran along it.
Now, in the dream, when she looked down over the edge she expected to see that same circuit-board pattern of civilisation, as if standing on the Empire State. Instead she saw sand: sand, sand, and more sand, the sea further out still, almost down another dip, as if there were a number of ledges with water poured in. A scorched sapphire blue, flecked with tourmaline, a beige blur as smooth as skin, forming brown paper terraces with a soft chocolate centre. These ledges ran the whole way across the horizon, except for one spot. At the edge between the sand and the sea there was a black dot. Whatever it was she felt drawn to it. Her feet took another step even though there was no space for them to go. But they clung to the edge like a bird’s talons wrapping on a perch. And she wanted to let go and see it, and she began to swoop down closer, flying through the air.
Perhaps the shape was some long-lost bomb washed up on the shore, one of those primitive early devices that fell from the sky, looking almost like a stubby black milk bottle with fins. But as she got closer she realised that this was not a bomb at all.
The black was the form of a whale, and yet it looked so close to the bomb in shape. Maybe the sailors who first saw whales had thought the same, that these were not animals, but munitions, cannonballs under the sea, fit to burn, and quick to bleed, and submerging, always submerging. Perhaps they were hunted because they reminded people of war, of death? But what of it now when war wasn’t like that anymore, when people might be annihilated any second, in a second, the possibility, at last, of the long-feared spontaneous human combustion, the fear of forgetting, of losing the dream of eternity in a mere moment. And if so, the bomb was all of a person’s fears rolled together and hardened, no chance to look back, no regret, no future, no past, and a glistening demonstration of heat, a billowing cloud that rose up into the sky like, well, a God, a pillar of fire, and the thought had not escaped anyone, had it, that all those moments of heavenly wrath in the Bible, might have really been future echoes of the atomic crown?
And yet now here Lori found herself close to this creature on the beach, this whale, feeling a desire to save it, no matter what it had done or might do; yes, she would save the whale before breakfast, before she awoke to another day of those long rows of lights, and tin cans, and sticky feeling in her head. The low, ever-present hum of the nuclear shelter. She would save the bomb. But how?
She looked past the body, to the sea further out, so empty and flat, just the occasional white coils coming up for a moment, as if the top of a skeleton bobbed up through the surface and was dragged back. Further still, the sky fell like a curtain, a screen of smoke, as if she was in a landscape painting, become perhaps the brush that might shape and smooth the scene but never truly touch it.
Ahead of this, the whale now looked like an enormous comma, fallen out of God’s scriptures and shaken to the Earth at the shock of the atom bomb, all that was left of every word that had been uttered, a pregnant pause. It pulled her, it called out to her, and it tugged on her heart. As she approached it began to grow in height and width, stretching out until it became nearly all she could see apart from the edge of the sea beyond it, and the sand beneath its belly.
Lori put her hand on the creature’s face. It was warm, and not yet dry. A snort of musty air came out somewhere behind its mouth, at the top of the head, and the face quivered. It was fair to describe it as a face: while it had not a person’s protruding features — no pointed nose, nor brow, nor lips, it was easy to see them if she wanted, to make of the smooth bomb shaped head all of the parts one might expect, as if painted on the fuselage of some warplane.
Now there was dull moaning noise coming from it all the time, it sounded so much like the noise inside the shelter, yet somehow further away. Lori stepped back and looked this thing over. How could she set something so big, so marooned back into the water? There could be no time for some elaborate scheme; surely other dreamers would soon head this way and embrace the find. She pictured them bringing out sharp stones from the cliffs, slicing it into pieces so better to carry it back to roast. She put her hands onto the side of the creature and pushed. The skin was smooth and fast drying. She could smell it then, enveloping her soul with its scent. Its face was firm; there was no give. Instead, the sand shifted beneath her feet. It could not support her efforts as she leaned in and tried to walk.
She gave up, slumping down onto the beach near the water, slamming her fists into the ground. She grabbed a hold of some of the sand that came up on her fingers, and let it go; the remnants clung to her. The water approached all at once and flooded underneath her, sliding between her skin and the sugary weave, lifting her off and moving her back up towards the head of the whale. It gave her an idea.
Lori began to run her hands through the sand as fast as she could, starting at the point where the creature touched the shore. Soon she had pulled out a small gully. She pushed deeper and deeper into the sand, her hands now finding a different texture, with strange strings that kept trying to tug at her and then dryer sand again before the moisture returned. She had some memory of prehistoric looking creatures called lugworms that lived down there, of the sand-cast chutes that they made, that they left behind as they dug deep from the surface to where it was safe, reaching out for her now, wiggling their fingers, beneath her somewhere, in Hell, as if the Devil had put on rubber gloves to catch hold of her.
Photograph by Dillon McIntosh