The End Of The World
The sky was slowly darkening.
The world was losing its colour, as if Universal Sight was gradually being rendered blind, one hue at a time.
The vivid shades of green along the woodland floor were beginning to merge into one greyish smudge, the dark browns of the tree trunks and limbs doing likewise. The sparse collections of leaves on those branches and twigs fared better for now, their striking greens and reds and yellows and oranges continuing to shine in defiance of the increasing visual mundanity around them.
The thicker mats of fallen leaves on the carpet of grass below fared less well, their glowing appearances of the daytime becoming as bland as the sunlight which gave them life and lustre gradually faded, like the beam of a torch whose batteries were on the point of expiring…
Belly and tail held so low that they were almost pressed to the ground, the cat slunk uneasily through the long grass, the cold breeze ruffling the dark fur along its back. The feline paused every so often, ears perking up, and sometimes flicking randomly to send droplets of drizzle spraying off in random directions. Its head sometimes turned this way and that, almost as if anticipating the ambush of some larger predator from the surrounding undergrowth… but the only movements and sounds were those of the ground plants as they continued their swaying dance to the rhythm of the strengthening wind whipping them into an intensifying frenzy.
The cat shook its head once and then turned off to the right, looking to find shelter inside a nearby shrub next to a gnarled old oak tree, stepping almost gingerly over a protruding root in its path as it made for the welcoming opening of its intended refuge.
Not far away scampered a hyperactive vole, its constant scuttling an impatient contrast to the leisurely sloping of the cat. Its dance had a stop-start rhythm of a sort, the motions being lightning-fast as it whipped in and out of the dubious cover of the larger and floppier leaves around the trees, and the stops being brief, when the tiny rodent’s head briefly lifted, the whiskers trembling as if shot through with an electric charge. Thickening raindrops splashed onto the rounded face, and settled as tiny glistening baubles on the tips of the whiskers – before exploding into brief spray as the vole shot off again, in the execution of the next stage of its energetic performance.
It spied a nearby hole in the ground – another rodent’s burrow – and dashed to the entrance, pausing briefly to sniff, and twitch, and listen…
…and then, safety assured that the tunnel was empty, plunged headfirst into its dark depth, leaving the gathering gloom of the aboveground behind.
Far overhead, a bird wheeled and looped above and between the branches of the trees as it swept back to its nest; its progress constantly but fleetingly breaking the straight, diagonal shafts of the weakening sunlight which were spearing through those branches… but having less and less illuminating effect on the larger and thicker vegetation below as the day continued to die.
The rainbow in the scowling sky was already dissipating, its lustre fading; another overpowered soldier slowly losing the battle for survival against a remorseless, implacable adversary.
That enemy suddenly unleashed its big guns – and the smattering of windswept drizzle sheeting into and through the woodland abruptly became an apocalyptic torrent as the swirl of air became a howling gale, and the light sheen of moisture became a deluge.
On the ground, a solitary grey squirrel decided at that point that its optimism in extending its ground based search for its preferred carrion of fallen nuts and suchlike amongst the grass and the slushy woodland topsoil was no longer warranted, and shot straight up the nearest sturdy bole, seeking its own salvation from the suddenly hellish environment.
It scuttled along a tapering but lengthy branch before leaping into the air – limbs and tail momentarily extended and spread in a star shaped pattern – to alight on a twig of a neighbouring tree, racing along it towards the trunk. This tree was larger and thicker than the first – and there was an opening in its torso big enough to admit the scampering squirrel.
The opportunity was accepted gratefully, and the rodent dived forward… to huddle within its food-lined nest.
Home… and safe.
Though not yet submerged beneath the Western horizon, the pale yellow sun was, by now, way below the level of the treetops; its power evaporating in the manner of the now-faded-away rainbow.
To the east was a gathering black mass, creeping across the murky sky like a slowly-unravelling roll of carpet, the now-incessant gusting wind and lashing rain the perfect accompaniment to its ominous aspect.
And then the Orchestra of Nature unleashed the power of its percussion section: booming, clashing blasts of thunder ripping and rumbling from the looming clouds, pulling rank on the lesser chaos of the wind and rain.
Straight shafts of sunlight were joined by jagged shafts of lightning, momentarily highlighting the clouds as if revealing hidden celestial predators, and viciously thrusting down towards the woodland below, where the previous peaceful sounds of creeping, crawling, scuttling, swooping sentience had been replaced by the merciless clamour of the elements.
The rain intensified.
The puddles along the woodland floor were quick to become pools, the pools elongating into streams which then became rivers; rivers that first crept and then rushed along like herds of wild beasts, joining up, enlarging, expanding, becoming small lakes. The grass and other plants became river weed; only the amphibious lifeforms in evidence as everything else had fled in panic as the storm took hold… and gathered in force.
The cat curled up into a ball inside its bush, its face half buried within the shield of its crossed forepaws, its eyes glittering in the twilight as it glared balefully out at the tempest raging beyond its shelter. It flinched and shivered at each crack of thunder, each flash of lightning… and curled up just a little bit tighter each time.
The bird in the nest high above spread its wings like an umbrella to shield its chirping chicks from the torrential downpour. Its looser feathers flapped in the wind but the improvised canopy continued to hold, and the bird and its offspring would – hopefully – live to see another day.
The vole, in its underground hole, fared somewhat better. Although able to feel the vibrations of the maelstrom aboveground, it was better-protected than the larger animals up there, and thus largely unaffected by it. An instinct within its small body had recently been triggered, and since been growing in intensity: a need to slow down, to find somewhere to rest, and then to finally close its eyes.
Like the cat, the squirrel in its treehouse quivered at each bark of fearsome noise from outside. It had heard similar sounds before, in the strange land nearby… the land where the trees were thicker and squarer, and made of various shades of rock; and where the ground was long strips of flat grey or black stone, without much grass or many plants to decorate it. Those noises were made by the huge and frightening beasts – whose glittering eyes sometimes shone brighter than the strongest sunlight – as they roared along the great black strips of stony ground, stopping for nothing.
But these lights and sounds were different, and somehow scarier. They came from above, and conveyed a particularly sinister sense of menace.
The weather was also colder… and the squirrel could somehow sense that it would grow colder still. The nucivorous hunter had scuttled and scampered and grabbed and gathered and nibbled and scoffed almost frantically for many days now, and felt almost weighed down… and more than a little tired.
Like the vole, the squirrel also felt the need to finally stop moving, curl up and go to sleep again: another long and dreamless sleep from which it never knew if it would reawaken. It felt that time was very close now.
And perhaps that would not be quite so bad, given the horrendous… whatever-it-was… that was happening outside.
Between that and the worsening cold: to the cowering squirrel, it felt like the end of the world.
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