Negotiations Reached an Impasse

Dawn came to the motorway with a mottled red flush, bleeding through thick grey skies. Coarse yellowed grass growing in the tarmac’s scarred and pitted face drank in the meagre light, as the sun rose higher and it mellowed to a dirty orange like the rusted husks of the cars.

Some trees clung on in the forest by the roadside, gnarled and tough like old leather, their leaves grabbing all of the twilight they could. Many had collapsed into flaking wet wood coated in lichen and billowing with mushrooms, rotting in the dark undergrowth.

The remains of vehicles stretched both ways down the road for mile upon mile, a traffic jam with no impatient muttering or honking horns. Silence reigned also in the forest overlooking the road, broken only by the rustle of leaves and the calls of birds now distant from each other. Silence flowed along the breeze down the road out of the forest, pooling in the city.

Wind whistled through rubble and broken windows, a gale clearing the sky’s grey cataract to give a glimpse of the blue hidden above, waiting to be revealed. Sunlight shone down as it had before, warming the ground. It reflected from scattered fragments of shattered glass and sparkled on the fuzz of frost on the streets, casting deep shadows under the rubble.

Further into the city skyscrapers had been bent, twisted, shattered, like trees in a ferocious storm. The closer to the centre they were, the more their edges had been melted; smeared like putty; dripped to leave puddles of metal dotting the ground, gleaming in the burst of sunlight. Towers had been uprooted, welded together at the edges into wild and precarious structures overhanging tarmac and concrete which had also melted, and re-set into rough peaks and valleys.

The sun reached its noon height above the city centre, where there was nothing. It had been shredded and scattered in fragments over fifty miles, leaving a shallow bowl of scorched concrete and bare soil where not even lichen or moss grew.

A heavy bank of dark grey cloud cast its curtain back over the sun, restoring the perpetual rust-tinged dusk.

The other side of the city rose up towards a bank of steep hills. Frost rimed the yellow-green grass at their base, the new long winter making puddles on their summits freeze. The stream trickling down the hills’ far side, embarking on the long journey to the sea, now had icicle fangs in its little waterfalls.

Growing broader, deeper, and warmer as it went, the stream trickled through more forest steadily changing into a mushroom farm, with trees losing to the weak light as the remains of their trunks densely shaded the undergrowth. But as the stream became a river, the decaying forest gave way to fields released from the brown uniformity of cultivation, populated with green life – smaller and rougher than before, but continuing to feed and house stubborn wildlife.

Roads crossing the region stood quiet, nocturnal animals undisturbed by streetlamps as the sun set and night fell. Patches of clear sky revealed glittering bright segments of the milky way, undimmed by artificial light; while other areas captured all starlight in sooty cloud – cutting constellations into segments of light scattered among pitch black darkness.

The river meandered past a rusting derailed train, through an empty town with a tank standing sentinel on the bridge overhead, picking up speed as the land swooped down to the coast. It joined the sea at a beach with shells and fish bones slowly eroding in the surf.

Out over the roiling waves lightning whipped across the sky, bringing early flashes of daylight to the night, booming thunder against the world’s new quietness. As the first glow of light rose again in the east, the storm reached land. The first fat drop of rain splashed into the sand, releasing a speck of fallout carried back down from the clouds.

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