by Keith J. Powell
Our gooses were cooked. Our ducks and our swans, too. And not just our waterfowl either, it was all the birds, even the canaries, which really should have gotten our attention when you stopped to think about it, which unfortunately we never did.
The air had become too blistering for them to fly, the water too piping for them to swim, and so the birds, either too stubborn or too proud to go without their plumage, baked in their feathers right there on the pavement, done in by their own vanity and the heat.
At first, the scent of baked poultry wafting through the air was a welcome change of pace from the noxious coppery smell of smog and exhaust.
We didn’t realize that the birds were an omen. At first, the scent of baked poultry wafting through the air was a welcome change of pace from the noxious coppery smell of smog and exhaust. The avian aroma made all of our stomachs rumble and growl like cement mixers. People walked around their air-conditioned backyards smelling the road-roasted game, listening to the roar of their neighbors’ stomachs, and thinking of the holidays and of progress. None of us really processed that we were in a crisis until the chicken nuggets ran out, and by then, of course, the world was doomed.
There had been signs preceding the era of the Great Cook, but we hadn’t seen them at the time. When California disappeared into the Pacific Ocean, for example, no one said boo. We had been expecting the Land of Fruits and Nuts to do something dramatic like that for years, the tremendous drama queen it was, and for that reason most of us were glad to see it slurped up by the salty waves of the Pacific. As for the East Coast, well, we had been feuding with large swaths of the Eastern seaboard for years, and didn’t actually realize it was gone until New York City was already doing its best Atlantis impression. We held telethons for the fallen cities; we weren’t callous about it. Monty Nathanbutter himself, host of Surgery with the Stars, emceed the gala affair and helped raise 8.7 million dollars to generate awareness of City Collapse Syndrome, as it was called at the time.
We had, of course, all noticed the days burning brighter, the night sky taking on a certain salmon hue. Top scientists at Oakley and Ray Ban assured us that this brightness was the inevitable result of our eyesight improving, and was a positive development as people had been stubbing their toes on chiffoniers in the dark for years.
The increasingly lengthy summers and their increasingly record-breaking heat had likewise not gone undetected. The temperature had been slinking higher and higher for some time until, finally, a cool day was one that was merely sweltering and a hot day one considered scorched. But again, this was easy to interpret away. Winter had not been polling well for years, so when it stopped showing up everyone concluded that it had just finally taken the hint and skedaddled. Long pants and dresses, turtlenecks and sleeves, and all other manner of puritan attire long considered gauche were abandoned. It sounds silly now, but at the time we thought the weather was only following the fashions, honoring the tried and true axiom that life imitates art.
Everything had a reasonable explanation, until the birds that is, until the chickens died out and the well of nuggets ran dry.
Once the birds signaled the true severity of the situation, our first action was to take a vote and decide on an approach. By a two-thirds majority it was decided that now was not the time for pointing fingers, and that our first course of action should be to take no action whatsoever in a deliberate and protracted manner. It was agreed that to acknowledge the heat would be to empower it, to reward its bad behavior and encourage subsequent atmospheric tantrums.
We did our best to go about our days as if everything was normal. Kara Melbourne, the darling of the YouTube circuit, acted as a spokesmodel for normalcy. With her perfectly coiffed trademark blond locks, Kara Melbourne gave us all tips on how to behave as if the sweat wasn’t sizzling into vapor on our skin the moment it was excreted. We made a big show of it. We smiled big smiles just like Kara’s and waved to each other on the street and talked in loud voices about a nip. After four months of this, and after Florida caught fire and a wave of spontaneous human meltings set the Midwest on edge, Kara Melbourne’s ratings plummeted, and we all had to acknowledge what our thermostats were telling us. Ignoring the problem wasn’t making it go away.
The air-conditioning zones came next. Most open areas had already had air-conditioning for some time. But, to guarantee the cool air stayed where it was supposed to, Wal-Mart was hired to erect enormous plastic domes over neighborhoods to trap the refrigerated blasts within. Conceptually, the domes were inspired; logistically, they were a calamity.
The domes were seen as anachronistic, as a throwback to a time when we lived at the mercy of the four seasons and their flighty temperaments. In terms of practicality, the domes were similarly disappointing. The thick adipose stink of daily living was trapped under the dome just as completely as the chilled air. The air quality under the domes plummeted from awful to putrid under the weight of the great sweaty hordes in a matter of weeks. The sound was another problem. It was deafening inside. All anyone could hear was the giant WOOOSH of air spewed by the mammoth steel air-conditioning units. People were forced to yell to be heard over the hullabaloo. This made television difficult to enjoy and led to a complete breakdown in the ability to whisper sweet nothings, ending romance as we knew it.
The segmentation of the domes was another drawback. It was hard to get about. Plans for a series of interconnected subterranean tunnels were drawn up, but ultimately rejected as cost prohibitive and unseemly, as no one was willing to tromp around under the earth in a tube like some kind of common hamster.
When the power plants started to give out, the situation really became dire. Mini riots broke out beneath the domes everywhere. A black market rose up with long powerful tentacles that reached into each of the domed segments, offering popsicles and Butter Rum ice cream to those who could scrounge up the exorbitant cost.
A vote was taken, and by a simple majority, it was determined that the time for action was now. The leading scientists of the day were consulted. A conference was convened. The discussions were carried live on FOX News, and the event received a million Like It comments on Facebook.
When the cataclysmic word came down from the top scientists that it was too late, that the world was cooked, and more disturbingly, that we as a part of said world were likewise cooked, pandemonium broke out. The riots resumed, this time with the vehemence and despondency known only to the condemned.
These were dark times, what with the murders and the hand wringing. Nike sponsored roving mobs that went around and smashed the domes. Fractured pieces of plastic littered the ground, making it impossible to walk around barefoot.
Next, we turned our rage on the air-conditioning units for having failed us in our hour of need. The mighty gray behemoths, lifeless without electricity, were torn down, the metal pounded into scrap and then bulldozed into the abandoned interconnected subterranean pathways. Goodman and LG, the companies that had designed the contraptions, were looted and burned, their grounds salted so that no company could grow there again.
A vote was taken and it was resolved that it was time for desperate measures. Twin plans were put into motion. Plan Threaten the Earth By Lowering a Bomb into Its Core called for the drilling of a tunnel all the way to the center of the Earth and the lowering of a hydrogen bomb in order to extort the planet to come to our defense. Its sister strategy, plan Pray For God To Save Us involved a round-the-clock effort by people of acceptable faiths to pray for direct intervention by the Almighty. Eventually Plan Threaten the Earth By Lowering a Bomb into Its Core was abandoned when it was discovered we only had the technology to drill eight miles into the Earth’s crust. Plan Pray For God To Save Us was likewise abandoned when consensus on the appropriate type of prayer could not be reached.
Dr. Carl Lux, a highly regarded fellow at the Institute of Bombs and Things, next emerged with his own proposal to save humanity. He unveiled a refurbished version of the Threaten the Earth By Lowering a Bomb into Its Core plan in which multiple warheads would be fired at the sun in an attempt to destroy the source of the sear. Dr. Lux’s confidence inspired a sense of hope for the first time since we had learned our fate was sealed. In the streets, our ireful shouts transformed into full-throated cheers of praise for Dr. Lux and his amazing work, and endorsement deals for the good doctor came flooding in by the dozens.
On the day of the launch, an excruciatingly hot day, even by the Great Cook standards, families everywhere braved the heat and came out to celebrate our reprieve from extinction. People spread out blankets for picnics underneath festive umbrellas in the long shadows of the missile silos. A mighty hurrah went up from the masses, as with a gargantuan shudder and boom, the rockets lifted off leaving a trail of gray-white smoke stretching up towards the heavens. We stood there waiting, hoping, our fingers crossed, the earth growing muddy with our combined sweat, our senses keyed and ready to seize on the slightest hint of a break in the heat.
But the break never came.
One by one we left the field, broken and dejected. Our mightiest tools of diplomacy had failed us.
With time running out and the mercury levels rising, people took to performing lewd acts in order to purchase a piece of shade, anything to get out from under the pitiless beams of the sun. In the shadows of tall buildings and department stores, we turned nostalgic and reluctantly reflective. Hunkered down in what little bits of canopy our bodies could buy us, we began to ask one another if we could have done something differently to spare ourselves this wicked incendiary fate. That’s when the solution to our annihilation presented itself. That’s when we cracked the mystery of the riddle of the problem that threatened to fry us in our tracks: Time Travel.
If tomorrow’s doom were inevitable then we would do an about-face into yesterday and make a strategic temporal retreat. An online poll concluded that with all time being relative and based on perception, all that was required to move backwards in time was for all people to begin living their lives in reverse, after which history would come to a stop and be inverted through our collective will, thereby ensuring humanity’s future.
No one knows where the idea came from exactly. The season two winner of Sex in Public Places Debra McEnerney claimed credit for it on her blog, but no one took her seriously anymore. The survivors of Detroit said the idea came from one of their own, a small eight-year-old boy named Todd Manly with a reputation for outside-the-box thinking. Most of us, however, believe it came to us collectively in a dream, a reprieve from the Almighty, a reward for the exceptionalism we so perfectly and loudly embodied.
Our training has been arduous. To walk backwards is one thing, to live one’s life completely in reverse something else all together. People have had to come to grips with the linguistics of time travel, the speaking what was said backward and in reverse order. There have also been the basic mechanics of motor skills to master, everything from how to unclean the dishes to how to unmake love for the first time. Sometimes the reality of what we are attempting is so overwhelming that we seize up inside in terror, and it is only through our desire to go on living that we find the courage to muster on.
Now, as we sit here on the cusp of mankind’s greatest victory, waiting for the countdown to begin to shift us into reverse, so much remains unclear. What does the past hold for us? Will it be as captivating as the future? Will we lose the ability to feel surprise? Will strange new emotions emerge to fill the void, emotions such as yoj or ssilb? Will old food taste as good as we recall? Will we really be forced to part with the technology we love so much or isn’t there some less inconvenient compromise to be found?
We choose to put these terrifying variables out of our mind and concentrate only on what we know. And the only thing we know is that our flight into the past will be a triumph. Time travel will succeed, because we have no other options. To fail is unthinkable, and so we do not think it. We embrace the future, our past, looking boldly backwards, onward, believing, making it real, in whatever way we can.