Climate Narrative - A Short Story by Isaac Harlem

Posted by Brianna Boone
on 17 June 2019

Climate Narrative
A Short Story by Isaac Harlem, Class of 2021

Part I

I feel the weight of the world in the brick that I lift to complete the project that will change the way we think about the limits of what is possible. The gas lamps on the street flicker, almost in the realization that they are nearing their final days. Down below, a crowd of onlookers peers up into the sky only to get a glimpse of what I am doing. The brick that I hold has a significance, one beyond the fact that it is the last piece in a large puzzle making up the smokestack that I stand upon. This brick will be the last brick laid in the first coal energy plant in history. This brick will be the first thing placed in the building up of the achievements of the future. But the weight that the brick holds is way beyond just that, it has a heaviness that I can’t yet come to explain. Something so dark that it seems to contradict the brightness of the lights that it will power.

Realizing I am getting lost in thought, I raise the brick into the air. The crowd erupts and my boss, Edward Johnson, nods. As I lower the brick onto the wet cement binding the bricks together, I feel the clean London air rush through my fingers as if it is the last time. ‘1882’ the brick reads. The brick squishes into place and all of a sudden an odd feeling overcomes me. One might call it regret if it didn’t seem so out of place at this moment. Humanity has just leaped into a truly modern and industrialized world. What could be better than that?

I look up to a look of admiration displayed on the faces of my coworkers, not directed at me, but towards the smiling face of Edward Johnson. He beams with pride, in awe of the feat he had just accomplished.

“The amazing efforts put in by the construction staff and contractors to build the first coal power plant had been extraordinary, and beyond anything I could have expected. We stand here today looking down upon a city once confined by the absence of electricity. No more will we run out of gas. No more will we light candles to escape the once inevitable darkness of night. We start with the power of lights and who knows where our electrical journey will end up. One day, we may even be able to travel with electricity. I ask you all to imagine what we can do from here, the possibilities are infinite.”

Johnson reached to his left and flicked a switch, and almost instantaneously the crowd gasped as the light he held flickered on. It is at this moment that I realize the impact of the brick I had just placed. This action replaced closed doors with newly opened opportunities. For the better or worse, the world is about to change.

Part II

   I try to turn on the lamp as I stumble into my apartment. My blurred vision seems to betray me, and in doing so I manage to miss and knock over the lamp which sends it shattering across the tile floor. At this very moment, a tapping appears at the door. Attempting to stand straight, I approach the eye hole. On the other side of the door stands my landlord. I open the door and say in slurred speech, “Hello Mr. Thompson.”

“Hello, Bernard.” He replies with an annoyed look on his face.

“What do I owe for this visit?”

“Other tenants on this floor have expressed their concern about your well-being recently. They say you often return home late at night, stumbling through the hallways and often accompanied by a bottle in your right hand.”

“Oh, that’s just--,”

“You are aware that we have a strict policy against alcohol on these premises. It is noted on the placard at every entrance. It is an offense that can constitute removal from the building. This leads me to inform you that I have allotted you 48 hours to vacate the premises of this apartment. Goodnight, Bernard,” Mr. Thompson abruptly walks out before I can convince him otherwise.

By the time I find the door handle and open the door, he has already gone. I was not given the time I needed to explain, that although there is alcohol in my system, I justify it for good reason. Ever since my work on the Edison Electric Light Station last year, something has just not sat right. The drinks are just there to fill the void of what is unexplainably missing. It felt like I had destroyed the future, not just mine, but for the entire population of Earth. It was a feeling that I couldn’t shake or explain, however irrational it may be. I had no basis for this thought, no evidence or reasoning, just simple intuition.

Part III

The October air chills my bones even through the layers I have wrapped myself in. The pavement feels cold against my face, and the reflection of the street lamps in the puddles mock me saying, “You did this.”

“I WAS JUST DOING MY JOB!” I scream back at them. They never listened.

During the day when the streetlamps were not there to taunt me, the people did. If they weren’t ignoring my calls for help, they were moving to the other side of the street to simply walk past. Mothers hid their children while passing, occasionally whispering to them first, “Just walk and don’t look.” I can’t come to blame them though, because I can’t look at myself either. But still, every person that passed without notice added to the quickly deepening scratches on my body. Every person was a fresh wound in a new place. Each fearful glance leads me just one step further from return. Is living even worth it if that life is spent in solitude? But solitude might not even be the right word. Solitude sounds peaceful, almost healing. I think the word I am looking for is isolation.

Part IV

   I’m sick of being alone. This is my last stand. The last thing I will do, see, hear, taste, and smell. And this time, I won’t have been alone. They had a family. They had a partner. Two loving children. They were not alone. That is why I needed them. That is why I envied them. They weren’t lonely, struggling, or isolated. They didn’t know what it is like to be me. I needed to give them a taste. That was my chance. I have already destroyed the world, so what was one more person. In a way, I was saving them. Saving them from the horrors of the future. The horrors that I created. In a way, the deed has already been done. Now it is time to save myself. To smother oneself as one smothered the earth. Everything has been set up. The alley with the lamp post and the rope that will serve me my final seconds. The body of the privileged individual who gave themselves so that finally I could not be alone. The rats there to dispose of me once all has been finished. And the liquor that will ease away the impact of what I must do.

I climb the pole of the lamp, and the light flickers as it shakes with the weight of myself and my mistakes. As I climb I think of the pain that I have caused future generations. The coal power plant that I completed taunts me from a distance. I have a theory but no one to tell it to. The billowing gas from the stack laughs as it traps heat beneath its menacing mass. Its victims’ cries echo through my head like trumpets in a tunnel.

As I reach the top of the pole, I finally feel at peace. With one hand I grab the rope and place it around my neck, choking me as I have choked the world. I am hoping that I will suffer. I will suffer as everyone else will. A quick end would be pointless. I feel myself release from the pole and fall towards the ground. Suddenly I am yanked to a stop, dangling. I feel my vertebrae separate with the impact. I feel as if I have been stretched to a greater height. I gag as all the polluted air billows out of me. The pain I feel is unimaginable. It feels so good. It feels worth it. As my vision goes I know I am just seconds from the end. I look over at my lifeless partner, who so kindly kept me company. This is it. I am finally done. Finally, I have found peace.