by Kieron Devlin
Now we are heading along a wide beige highway to our ultimate destination. I'm sure you appreciate the fact that we are in a glassy dark green stretch limousine with shaded windows -everything is done for your protection. The terrain in this part is arid and endlessly empty so there is nothing much to see, you can relax and listen to the following instructions, designed to make your journey as comfortable as possible. You may remove your ultra-violet filtered sunglasses while inside this white leather-upholstered car, but when we do finally get out, you must keep them on. The light outside is all pervasive: its ultra-violet rays are so intense that your retina will instantly cleave to the back of your eyes, permanently blinding you. It bears down horizontally on the roof like a hawk demolishing her prey. So do not look upwards. This is thankfully no open-topped, double-deckker bus. Be kind to your cataracts. You will find that the heat alone can be deadly, causing such rapid dehydration that your pharynx walls will adhere to each other making swallowing difficult. Carry your water supply at all times, and keep replenishing even when you think you do not need to.
There there have been unsubstantiated rumors of unknown pollutants in the atmosphere but since no tests are currently being done due to lack of government funds, there is no way of knowing exactly what components are contained in the air. There is no need for masks at least as yet. So settle back and enjoy. We can see most things that we need to from our comfortable positions inside. It is a special privilege for me to be your guide on this unique journey. I am so honored. It is true that we will perhaps be paying attention to things untypical, but then we will become accustomed to unusual things where we are going.
Notice that the roads are all empty as we pass this vast, spacious city. You can just begin to see it over there on the horizon. There used to be over six million cars, and a lot of them were abandoned by the road side. Lack of fuel. Just imagine that roaring, undulating, dull, rhythmic sound punctuated by the odd screech of tires as they took a curve too fast, or of the orchestra of car horns, as drivers jostled for position. And, I believe, on the rare occasions when there was rain in this city, it would change to a crackling, glossed paper rustling, swishing sound in flash floods. Drivers would drive into underpasses and find themselves swamped by a sudden reservoir-the drainage system was none too good-so it was a novelty in a predominantly dry country. Reports tell of drivers stranded on their own cars as on desert islands. Some however, daredevils that they always were, just drove in and unable to turn back, submerged their cars into water up to two-thirds the height of the car. They would begin to laugh but then discover that the pressure clamped them in, they could not open the doors or windows. They were air-locked into their own personal death capsules and had just a few more minutes to live. Early but inept models for our own business, you might say. Most other cars are just where they left them all those years ago, with their owners or without.
I'd like you to leave that image now and turn to the present quietness out there which is almost tangible to my mind, you can feel it. It's impressive rather than scary. It just shows how accustomed to background noise we are. When deprived of it, the sound of our own brain becomes awesome, we hear the inner workings of our organs, the triviality of our thoughts. We think: who took the sounds which are addictive away from these ears? Why is silence such a great din? It's a paradox indeed. Some hermetic valleys near here which encapsulate sound waves, sealing them in, multiplying them, give that effect too. The sound of no-sound is also a sound that has its own atmospheric impact, deadening the air into compressed palpable stillness. It makes your own presence there a kind of a superfluous intrusion, and the sound of your own voice when you do speak, ridiculous, cartoon-like, exaggerated, insignificant.
The strange coloring you see compacted and congealed into the road surface, mingled with tar, petroleum and asphalt, causing it to glisten vivid crimson, is not what you think, crushed bones and blood. According to our records a chemical containing iron ore was spilled on to the roads here. One of the many 'accidents' that happened. The accusations of a massacre were totally unfounded. Sources of such stories were usually enemies of the country who wanted to destabilize the hegemony for their own ends. Quite a different story to what actually occurred, as we shall soon see.
The highway sweeps around almost full circle now showing some of the tallest formerly postmodern uptown buildings to the left. These have now been designated as unsafe but, no doubt, if you climbed to the top, you would get a panoramic view of the entire isolated plateau and the chemical haze which envelops it lying thick on the horizon. We are now going over a flyover which is still serviceable after all these years of disuse. Don't worry. It is not about to collapse. The heaviest of lorries and trucks were allowed to use it regularly. They only slapped a preservation order on it when they realized its infrastructure was subsiding and that there were worrying cracks in the buttress supports. All that was mended before the great events. Below, two other great highways intersect. When they first built these highways people said they were unnecessary, too large, but within a year, they were already beginning to be overcrowded with more than just recreational drivers, youths who had nothing better to do would drive around and around causing traffic jams.
This residential area you are now looking at was considered one of the better areas to live. Unlike the mud-brick villages communities which had no running water or electricity originally-you'll find these areas are contaminated and can only be viewed from the outermost edges of the old city center-the marauding suburbs had large areas of land to play with and the villas that were built rivaled those of the rich and famous in Bel Air. Everyone wanted to be walled in for complete privacy and protection. Most of them have not yet been searched for human remains, but you'll see them over there to the right and in front of you as we approach the Military and Diplomatic district. These palatial villas must have been luxuriously appointed inside. The walls are a muted variation in the theme of beige, though some are actually rose-pink or canary yellow or peach-coloured. The windows above look like children's eyes peeking out from their hiding places. Above the entablatures and impediments, the roofs very often disappoint since they are mainly flat, offering the spectacle of rectangles flattened by squidges of aquamarine and cobalt sky. There appears to be no depth, no perspective, background and foreground merge into one overall mass piled on the surface. Many artists have struggled to capture that on canvass and only a few ever succeeded. Many have commented on the superbly intense quality of light that penetrates into every corner extinguishing all the shadows at noon and overstating them at dawn and dusk. This light has now become unendurable and would blind you soon enough.
The gardens inside the grounds of the larger palaces and villas, have been untended now for some years, but you can tell that they were immaculately maintained. That myrtle, jasmine, hibiscus bushes, used to be pruned and trimmed to perfection and lawns, rockeries and even fountains were manicured and pampered but rarely used except at night. The people here were generally the soporific kind during the day, they came awake at night and went to their beds at dawn. Row upon row of date palm and acacia would be painstakingly watered until finally there was no water left for their upkeep. The water supply became infected.
The final - and most exciting - part of our tour takes us to the unfinished underpass with its unofficial name as ' Paradise Road.' So the road is a little monotonous and very flat and rocky. There's very little variation in scenery for some time again. The plan for this road was tremendous in scope. It was a multimillion dollar project that envisaged cutting a massive underpass under a mountain range that marked out the edge of the great plateau. The cutting into the rock alone was going to take five years. It was abandoned due to lack of funds long before the ruin of the city but the cutting got far enough to lead people to the edge. We will drive as far as is possible then we will walk to what some people used to call the 'edge of the world.'
Yes, this is it. We must all get out here. The most important part of our journey is near. Leave your valuables behind, it's quite safe. You won't be needing them and they will be awkward to carry. It's OK, sir, we have no further need of the driver. He must return with the next batch of people in an hour or so. We must be gone by then. We can however relax and enjoy the view for a few moments. I'm afraid due to the highly sensitive nature of what you are about to see, no cameras are allowed at all. Leave them in the limo, I said. Sorry, but those are the regulations. Please note the warnings given to you about the heat the light and water supply and stay close together. It's just a few hundred meters now.
Snakes and scorpions still survive. And of course lizards but they will not bother us. Here you see the rock became impassable so we must walk around to the edge by this pathway. It can be quite uneven so it is advisable to watch your step, we don't want any sprained ankles or bruised legs, do we - my little joke, Madam. Take good care now.
Here, if you'll just step a touch closer, you may look down but keep your glasses on. This is where the appalling tragedy that beset this formerly great city happened. Yes, please gather around. It's not for the morbid temperament but we can afford ourselves a quick glance at these poor souls. If you are at all squeamish, it is better to just take a quick look and then step back. If you suffer from vertigo, also try to hold on to someone's hand. I have a set of paper bags in my pocket should anyone need them. And pegs for your noses.
To contemplate this scene objectively does of course take training and is my privilege. No rescue operation or clean up mission was ever thought feasible and so the remains were left to rot and the odd surviving buzzard or rat had a feast. If you look straight out from the edge, all you see are rolls and rolls of sand dune rippling away into an infinite distance. Yes, indeed it puts one in mind of the ocean - the absence of water produces that effect. It is now completely empty and completely uninhabited, though of course there used to be small farms and camps dotted along the ancient trade routes.
If you look down you will see the sad remains of countless thousands of people who came here to leap into the unknown rather than die of hunger and thirst or chemical and cellular meltdown. When the supplies dried up and transport to the coasts became impossible, even at that time, had supplies been able to reach the population, they would have become contaminated. The well-to-do of course mangaged to get away in private jets. The rest had to do what they had to do. There was an atmosphere of incredible panic. A newsletter was circulated that a pious but illiterate old man had seen a vision and that everyone had to gather by the edge of the plateau to wait for a sign, but it seems the old man got nervous and panicked himself when he didn't receive the sign he had so fervently awaited in his dreams. The believing crowd wanted him perform some miracle. There were angry scenes and clearly a lot of desperate people wanting to be saved by someone else, so they wouldn't have to make a choice as we do nowadays. The hope of it can almost produce the event so intensely desired. That miracle didn't happen. The old man slipped and seemingly nose-dived off the treacherous cliff edge, plunging to his death. The cliff is almost 1,000 metres high. No one has been known to survive a fall from this world edge. The rumor spread quickly among the crowd of thousands that his last words were to 'jump' and so when a few started to do so screaming that they hoped to save the rest by doing so. There was consternation, confusion, doubt, fear - all very inept methods by modern standards-but no other option since they had come this far away from possible rescue that it seemed like a noble thing to die in fear instead of consciously. They started to jump. One by one. Tremendous, isn't it?
What you see down there in that unfortunate sea of broken bones is a sight not many will ever see. But don't linger on it.
So the next part of our journey in reverence to the great old man and his vision, and in the interests of security is the bit from which no one can return. I hope you are all quite ready. There is no need to be afraid. It is now the normal thing and your contribution to our noble cause will be appreciated by many who are eager to come after you. They may even join you on the other side.
There is no one to take you back and you will not survive. I will go last as I have been trained to do. All other guides privileged enough to make this journey with you will also assist you in your chosen ultimate journey. No, Miss, there is no need to fear the pain that might accompany the impact on the rocks and bodies below. We take off from a separate point specially chosen. We have taken care of things by putting a small amount of morphine in your water bottles. Please understand that to be firm in these last moments shows that you are worthy of this great act that you are doing. Fear shows lack of faith. This gun I am holding is not to be used except in emergencies.
You are the chosen ones. Now please obey the orders and jump.
Background by ArtGekko