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Explain It To Me.
Michael was doing his best to explain, but I’m a bit thick, so it took a while.
It had something to do with a comet passing very close to Earth.
The science world had been looking forward to the event for seventy-six years, which is a long time to look forward to something, but you know scientists, they like stuff to be exact and that is the amount of time this comet takes to do a big circle—— no, I shouldn’t say that, Michael wouldn’t like it; it’s not a circle it’s a whatsameacallit? An egg-shaped thing-a-me? An ellipse, that’s it, not a circle, but you knew what I meant.
Anyway, it does this big egg-shaped circle, and it comes back, and the seventy-six years is almost up.
Now, I kinda get all that; well not really, but I can see how stuff might come back, a bit like a boomerang, and I’ve seen a few of those. It’s really cool how they fly in a big circle. It drives dogs crazy, ‘cause they think that they can chase it but it keeps turning and if they had just stayed where they were it would have come straight back to them.
So, why was I telling you that?
That’s right; the comet.
Everyone’s all excited, and Michael is doing his best to explain something to me which is kinda cool ‘cause he knows how hard it is for me to understand stuff but he keeps on trying.
He never treats me like I’m dumb, even though I am.
He’s my friend.
Always has been my friend.
When his ‘smart’ friends would call me names at school he would tell them off and if that didn’t work he would punch them in the ear. He couldn’t hardly hit good but he knew that if they didn’t quit it I was gonna pound ‘em, and I could hit real good!
I didn’t like people pokin’ fun at me.
I got into a lot of fights and Michael was doing his best to stop me getting kicked out of school.
It was a posh school, and they tended to kick out anyone who did not fit in, and that pretty much described me.
My foster parents sent me to this school because they thought it might help me to not be so dumb.
You know how people are, they figure that if you throw enough money at a problem, it will go away.
Of course, it doesn’t always work.
The school Head Master told me that if I got into one more fight, I was out, even though my foster parents offered to build a new science wing.
I was tryin’ real hard, but stuff didn’t stick.
Michael called me ‘Teflon’ and I didn’t mind ‘cause I knew he was just being a mate, but it was an accurate nick name, nothin’ stuck; except when Michael showed me how.
So, this comet is on it’s way and everyone is excited but Michael is excited and worried all at the same time and it’s the worried bit that he is desperately trying to explain to me.
“If it does what I think it is going to do, it is going to pull the Earth off its axis.”
“So, what’s this ‘axis’ thing again?”
“You know how the Earth wobbles from side to side as it spins and the wobble causes the seasons?”
“Yep, you told me about that years ago.”
“Ok, so imagine if something made the Earth tip over a lot more. The Pole would be exposed to the direct rays of the sun and all the ice, not just some of it, would melt. This would make the oceans rise and many low-lying areas would go slowly under water. There’s a pretty good chance that it would all sort itself out over the course of a year but it is going to cause a lot of damage and a lot of panic as well as a lot of homeless people.”
“That doesn’t sound good. You should tell someone. Who do you tell about something like that?”
“I’ve tried telling them mate, but they don’t want to listen, and I can see their point. I’m a young science graduate with zero experience, and all the heavy-weight scientists in the world say that everything is going to be fine.”
Michael was making sense; he always did, even if it did take a while for me to understand it.
If Michael was right, the Earth was going to look very different when this was all over.
The North and South Pole would be in different places, especially if the Earth did not tilt back into its old position.
The ice would eventually reform and the oceans would eventually recede, but if the ice formed over land instead of over the water as it did now, the ocean level would drop and seaside towns would be a long way from the sea, which was the opposite of what everyone was expecting from global warming.
This sounded pretty cool to me.
I would be able to see all the exposed ship wrecks along the shore lines.
I love ship wrecks.
Michael bought me a book about ship wrecks, and it’s still my favourite book.
Michael’s got about a year to convince these half-wits that this is all gonna happen. He said that there is lots of stuff that is gonna have to be done to prepare for it.
I asked him if we were gonna need to build an Ark.
He just laughed and said that wasn’t going to be necessary, but we were going to have to feed a lot of people over many months until the Earth tilted back.
Michael was particularly worried about the children.
Kids are always the ones who cop it the worst in wars and disasters.
The small white van dropped her off with the following instructions.
“Make sure that the children turn left and head for the top of the hill.”
This was Sarah’s assignment.
The one she had been training for.
If the emergency arose, all the children were to be taken to safety.
Taken to higher ground.
Volunteers had been called for.
“DO YOU WANT TO HELP YOUR COMMUNITY?”
Sarah did, so she came forward.
When the van left, she was the only adult for miles.
Sarah had not been an adult for very long.
She felt the weight of her assignment.
The children must make it to safety.
Her corner stood at a reasonable altitude, but the children needed to be higher.
By the time the van had dropped her off, there were children all over the place.
It was a bit of a mess.
All day long she said the same words over and over. “Turn here and head to the top of the hill. Good people will be waiting for you.”
The same words, again and again.
From her elevated aspect she could see the rising water off in the distance, and every child who went past her and made the correct turn was one more saved.
This went on all day.
A continuous stream of diminutive humanity.
Many holding hands, but not a lot of singing.
Each child was carrying a small box wrapped in brown paper and tied up, rather expertly, with string. If her job had not been so important and if she had not been concentrating so hard it would have reminded Sarah of the line from that song, “and these are a few of my favourite things….’
Just as she remembered the line, ‘….when the dog bites…’, the little white van stopped and out jumped a dog.
An Australian Shepherd, if she wasn’t mistaken, and she wasn’t.
She wasn’t frightened of dogs either.
The van sped off.
No instructions this time.
Sarah thought that they had probably sent her the dog to help her with her task.
She explained to the dog what she had to do and she used the sentence, ‘herd the children up the hill’, because she deduced that the dog would know what ‘herd’ meant and probably had a good idea what a hill was as well.
Dog took to the task with gusto.
She loved herding stuff, and in the city, there were very few things that needed herding.
She had tried herding people, but mostly they didn’t like it, and there was a bit of yelling and throwing of stuff.
She tried bringing back the stuff that they threw, but that seemed to make things worse. Next, she tried cars, but they just ignored her, and it got a bit dicey a few times, so she packed that it.
But here, she was actually being asked to do the thing she was born to do.
She was gentle but firm, and on more than one occasion she had to use her nose to make some small human keep moving.
Small humans smelt good, all ‘pockets full of sweets’ and sticky hands, and they didn’t mind if you licked some of it off.
She enjoyed that part, but she tried to be professional.
It was starting to get dark, and eventually, the line of children dwindled down to nothing. Sarah was exhausted, but Dog could have gone on a bit longer.
There was a small park on the corner with running water from a rainwater tank and a toilet. Sarah didn’t fancy going behind a tree, but Dog did not mind, but even a dog wanted a bit of privacy.
They slept together on the soft grass, but not before they ate the food that the little white van had provided.
They never saw the little white van again, but next morning, at first light, the children started coming up the hill again.
Dog kept things going while Sarah washed up and used the facilities.
“Turn here and head to the top of the hill. Good people will be waiting for you.”
Days turned into a week.
Sarah and Dog survived on tank water and the contents of those little boxes wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
Children being children, would occasionally drop a box and forget to pick it up.
The boxes contained a type of Army field ration. Not very appetising but it was food, about enough to keep a child alive, but only just.
If you have ever had a job requiring a repetitive action, you will know that after a while your body carries this out without you having to think about it and your mind can concentrate on other things.
Sarah’s mind was thinking about those little boxes tied up with string.
They didn’t look like they had been prepared by a machine so Sarah was imagining a long table with ladies loading those tasteless food bars into those little boxes, wrapping then in brown paper and then expertly tying string around them and leaving that clever little bow that acted as a carry handle.
“Who taught them how to tie that bow?” Sarah thought.
Sarah also wondered why the little white van did not have any markings on it and why she wasn’t given one of those cool orange ‘fluro’ vests.
Maybe they had run out by the time they got to her.
Maybe her task was not important enough.
They could at least have given the dog a vest.
Maybe they would give her a T-shirt when this was all over.
One week turned into two and Sarah could see that the water was still rising but not as fast. She was tired all the time, and her clothes were very dirty.
She tried to wash them, especially her ‘smalls’, as her mum used to call them, but without soap nothing really got clean.
Sarah was not at all sure that she smelt good either, but it was hard to tell with no other adults around and she didn’t want to ask one of the never-ending line of children. Children always thought adults smelt bad, it was part of their thing.
Dog didn’t care how she smelt.
All humans had their own distinctive odour, it made them easier to find in a crowd.
Dog noticed that Sarah’s odour was changing.
She was very weak and not very well. Dog worried about her as she was the leader of her pack now and she wanted her to be strong and decisive.
Sarah got weaker, and the children kept coming.
There did not seem to be as many of them, but they still kept on coming.
Sarah lay down next to Dog. She needed her warmth; she was very cold.
Sarah did not wake up the next morning.
Dog nudged her a few times, the way she always did but she knew it was no use.
Her leader was gone.
Dog got up, stretched, went behind her favourite tree and headed off to work.
That night Dog lay down next to Sarah and guarded her body.
It was the least she could do for such a brave pack leader.
And In The End, You’ll Hear Me Calling.
The men covered her body with their coats.
Dog thought about frightening them away; it was his responsibility to guard the body of his pack leader.
It had taken several months for the water to recede enough for people to begin returning to their homes; or what was left of them. Most would have to be demolished and rebuilt, but unlike most disasters they’d had time to prepare.
Michael saw to that.
For a while, the press treated him badly.
They said he was a crank and doomsday naysayer, but eventually, a few scientists started to listen to his theory and perform a few simulations.
They worked out that it would all come down to the finest of margins. If the comet passed by and was a few kilometres closer than the scientists had predicted, then Michael’s prediction would come to pass.
We just had to wait.
Accurate measurements could not be taken until the comet was at least six months out.
Obviously, the comet had struck something during its seventy-six year round trip, and this collision has altered its course; ever so slightly.
Six months were not a lot of time, but some things could be worked out in advance. Humans were at their best when they had their backs against the wall.
When it became obvious that the young scientist was right, the call for volunteers went out. This was similar to war-time and everyone was encouraged to do their bit.
Sarah saw the posters: ‘Do You Want To Help Your Community?’
She was one of the first in her area to sign up.
She had heard stories about her great aunts becoming ambulance drivers and working for the land army during the war.
She knew that she had to do her bit, just the way that her female ancestors had done.
The training was strenuous, and she slept very well at night.
She enjoyed the company of the other young people, and a sense of adventure was thick in the air.
She was told that wherever she was sent, she would probably be working alone, so she needed to be self-reliant.
There was to be a whole network of support to help these volunteers do their appointed tasks but when it all kicked off the support network fell apart and the volunteers were very much on their own.
Dogs were to be an important part of the disaster relief effort. A call went out for people to bring in their dogs so that they could be trained for relief work.
Time was short, but dogs were quick learners.
Dog belonged to the Smith family.
They lived in the suburbs and like most humans they did not know that their cute little puppy would grow up to be a working dog who needed a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
Dog was driving the Smith family crazy.
They thought that a large back yard was enough for a big dog, but Dog needed to work. She needed to round-up stuff.
Sheep, people, cars, she didn’t care what it was she just needed to round them up and make them move in a certain direction.
She didn’t know why, she just knew that she HAD to do it, and it was making her very anxious because, apart from the times that she managed to escape from the prison that was her backyard, she couldn’t find anything to herd.
Dog loved rounding up the Smith children and the kids cried when they took Dog off for disaster training, but the adults were relieved to see her go.
Dog loved training.
All day, every day she got to learn new things.
Food and water were always provided, and there were treats for those dogs who learned the fastest.
Naturally, Dog got a lot of treats.
The day came for her to go into action.
They loaded her into a white van and drove her part way up the hill.
The van stopped, and the driver opened the door so that Dog could get out.
The van drove off, and Dog could only see one adult human and a lot of little humans.
She ran over to the young woman and waited for her instructions.
“Herd the children up the hill.” Said the young woman.
Dog didn’t like being stuck in that van but it was worth it because now she got to herd small people up a hill.
This was going to be fun.
By the time the sun went down and the small people stopped coming, Dog was getting hungry and little bit tired. She and the young woman ate some biscuits and curled up on the long grass and went to sleep.
Dog was happy to have a job, and even happier to have a pack leader.
Many, many days had gone by and Dog was hungry and tired.
She loved her job but it had been a long time since the children stopped coming up the hill and she had been working alone since her pack leader had gotten so tired that her body stopped working.
Dog had done her best to keep doing her job while keeping one eye on her dead pack leader.
Every now and then she would have to leave her job and bark a lot so as to frighten away the scavengers.
It made Dog’s job very stressful but she was loyal and true and she was not going to let anything happen to the young human’s body.
When the other humans arrived Dog was too weak to frighten them away but she relaxed when she saw that they only wanted to put their coats over the young human’s body to give it some protection.
They offered Dog food, and she was grateful.
Sarah’s parents kept her medal in a wooden box on a table in their sitting room.
A vase of flowers stood next to the small wooden box.
They gave Dog a medal too, and a new home.
She wasn’t going back to the Smith family and even though she would miss herding the Smith children she was glad that she did not have to live in that backyard.
Her new home included humans who understood her and a lot of sheep that needed constant herding.
Even at her new happy home she never forgot the young human they called Sarah.
They pinned a medal on Michael as well, which was fair enough.
It was his insight and bravery that gave the world time to prepare.
They could not save everyone and it would take many years to repair the damage but at least they had time to make some preparations and that was all down to Michael.
Michael insisted that his friend Ian had to be with him on the dais.
He told the media that it was Ian who gave him the strength and courage to keep fighting. Without Ian the world may not have had the time to prepare.
Ian knew that his friend was just being kind, but it was a lot of fun being made a fuss of. He told everyone that Michael was the smart one, and that he was just along for the ride.
Every superhero needs a sidekick, and Ian was proud to be by Michael’s side.