If Man Is Dead, Everything Is Possible – Walter Milner

The holly bush was small, no more than three feet high, its glossy green leaves glinting in the low afternoon sun which slanted between the trees. It struggled for air and light, surviving on what escaped the great oaks and beeches and elms around it. The air had a dry taste of earth and moss and mushroom. The wood was quiet, with sometimes a rustle as a squirrel clambered up a tree, or the unmistakable sound of a woodpecker. When dusk approached the birds would chatter and argue as they prepared to roost.

At the top of a hill a group of wild boar in their coarse brown fur were rooting around for nuts and berries and seeds, and finding a few earthworms and frogs. It was a fertile place.

Once at the top of this hill had stood a radar station, a simple white cuboid of a building, topped with a wide flat radar antenna which rotated forever. Until it stopped. Now the station was just a ruin, a few sheets of metal and lumps of concrete and lengths of copper wire in the undergrowth between the trees.

Once this place had had a name – Kangerlussuaq. And it had had an airport. In fact, it had once been the principal airport in Greenland, with around five hundred people there. Just traces now remained. Once that hill above the airport with the radar station had been cold and dry, no trees, mostly pale grit and rocks, a few tufts of coarse grass struggling in a frozen arid land. Now it was fertile woodland. Greenland had finally become green.

Two thousand six hundred miles to the south-west was a place which used to be called Pomeroy, which was located in what had been Iowa. The land was a flat level plain which stretched for hundreds of miles. It was a desert. During the day the Sun was a burning searchlight trying to bake the land, and the nights were bitingly cold. It had not rained for many years.

The ground was a compacted pale gray gritty sand, almost sterile, caked with some chemical surface layer.  A few knots of desert grass, yellow-brown strands, toiled against death. Spiny ribbed cacti stood guard. Sometimes a lizard would scuttle across the ground from under one sage bush to another, scampering its feet over the burning land. 

Once Pomeroy had been a suburban grid of houses with green grass and vigorous trees. There were no fences or hedges or palisades between properties – everyone could see their neighbours’ houses, safe and secure without dispute. Cars and pickups were parked on the grass, children played on their bicycles, middle-aged men in denim shorts rode motorbikes. There was a Lutheran church, a Catholic church, a Methodist church. The rail line slanted across the north edge of the town and the grain silos stood beside it.

The rising temperatures had meant they’d made ever-increasing use of irrigation, then switched to different drought-tolerant varieties of corn, until eventually they could no longer stop it dying. Then with no corn there was no longer any reason to live there, so some people left and the schools and churches closed and the trains no longer came, and then they all left. The abandoned houses were looted, then there was nothing left to steal. They stood there, still and silent, dust on the carpets and fading photos of children on the walls. The houses had to endure the agony of not dying, for the dryness meant they were not even allowed to decay.   

One of the grain silos had collapsed, leaving a chaos of metal sheeting, beneath which a tribe of rattle snakes lived. In the early dusk when the Sun touched the horizon they would crawl out and taste the air for rat. Such was life now in Pomeroy.

Four thousand miles to the east, the place once known as London was very different. Sea level rises had meant the Thames had over-flowed its banks in many areas, changing city streets into lagoons out of which emerged buildings which were more or less decayed. Vegetation grew energetically, ferociously, in the warm and humid air. Things either rotted or flowered. The river flowed slowly, largely silted up, covered in algae and huge rafts of water plants, between which crocodiles lounged. The raucous calls of the howler monkeys echoed off the moss-covered buildings down the dank canyons.

In the submerged parts of the buildings in Whitehall and Westminster and Oxford Street, sunlight filtered in through what had been windows, making bright shards of light slant through thick green water. This was an ideal habitat for octopus, large and agile and clever.  They were starting to make sense of it all.  

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