Excerpt: The Dying Party by Jeff Kelland

   Jeff R. Kelland is a 64-year-old native of Newfoundland who now makes his home on the banks of the Miramichi. He possesses a genuine concern for the welfare of people and society as a whole, and a fierce passion for the written word. Jeff is a talented, experienced writer of two novels and a prequel novella, innumerable essays, magazine articles, editorials, poetry, and prose that have appeared in a variety of publications over the years. He holds a first-class honours B.A. in philosophy and German, and a Master of Science in Community Health. Jeff is also a sought-after public speaker for various causes and conferences, a visual artist, and a veteran singer-songwriter and entertainer for over 40 years.        

Elizabeth Antoinette Flint was born the only child of two stereotypical hippie-types from Washington State. Among thousands of people on the flights forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11, bright-eyed newlyweds Chet and Amelia Flint were heading to Europe for their honeymoon. Instead, they ended up making the best of it where fate had put them – on a rugged pristine island in the North Atlantic they affectionately call “The Rock”.

            As the world was dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attack in New York City, Chet and Millie were catching the spirit of the famously friendly island and soon set aside their disappointment about the European trip. Heartily cheered on by the boisterous, backslapping natives, prodigious drinkers all, they made matrimonial merriment with the locals for ten days and nights. When it was time to depart, their bittersweet sadness surprised them both – a special seed had been planted in their bohemian hearts.

            Back to life on the Pacific coast, they tried unsuccessfully for eighteen years to have a child. Then, inspired by a popular Broadway musical about the homespun brand of hospitality Gander residents showed the stranded travellers that day in 2001, Chet and Millie returned to Newfoundland for a holiday in the summer of 2019 and never went back. Their search for a place where they could live off the grid turned up many nice spots around the province, and they finally settled on a cozy saltbox-style house in the little seaside village of Daniel’s Harbour on the island’s west coast.

            A few months later, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold around the globe, came an unexpected bonus. The change of scenery had done the trick and Millie was pregnant. As middle-aged flowerchildren who had all but given up on having kids of their own, they were elated. They insisted on an all-natural home birth with a local midwife, a harpsichord, two doves, and plenty of granola. And late in 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, little Lizzie came to be. With the blessed arrival of their long-awaited baby daughter in an idyllic pastoral setting they had both been dreaming about since the sixties, they were all set to start living happily ever after.

            That was almost seven years before The Announcement.

* * *

Lizzie shifts around in her chair, belaboring yet another sigh as Donnie sniffs and snarks his way across a room littered with shadows and random pieces of trash. Barefoot, scratching his ass through grimy gray sweatpants, shuffling through a dank stench that no longer registers, he kicks an oil-stained cardboard box aside and stands before the window. Raising both arms, he slaps his palms flat on the glass and allows himself to look out at it again. Fuck.

Over just a few days, less than a month ago, the day sky went from bright candy apple red to a dull flat crimson, progressively more blood-like in color and texture. All that week it had been streaked with black clouds, scattered, stretching across the sanguine stratosphere like random lines scrawled on a bloody page. He realizes that over the last three days it has been changing even more rapidly, and this evening it has taken on an ominous shade of reddish purple that seems to be deepening before his eyes.

            The horizon has been virtually imperceptible for weeks, ever since the last torrid wave came through, smelting another ungodly layer of death upon death. Now it is just a fuzzy white band of sickening haze that is becoming hazier with each passing day. He can see it through the rippling sheets of heat rising from the toxic soup that surrounds what is left of their shrinking, otherworldly piece of wasteland. There is still some difference between night and day, but not enough to matter much to anyone, and it has been a long time since anybody could go outside and expect to come back. Daytime is dark, the night slightly darker, both somehow strangely backlit. They sleep during the day, leaving the challenge of conscious awareness for the night when it is harder to see what’s happening outside.

            Across the globe the atmosphere is steadily breaking down, increasingly irradiated, no longer a sufficient UV filter for earthly life. With no real polar ice caps left to deflect the sun’s lethal rays, the Earth is superheating, and it is so hot now that its axis poles are just beginning to shift, with widespread seismic consequences. Volcanic activity has been rising sharply, and even long-dormant volcanos are becoming reactivated. Earthquakes flourish everywhere, triggering each other, setting off unprecedented chain reactions in the equatorial regions, the so-called “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific now literally so and visible from space. Thick, merciless waves of impossible heat are sweeping indiscriminately across the world, and dense clouds of radiation have started to form and maraud around the planet, riding the wind-driven air masses, poisoning what little there is left to poison.

Looking out on the relative calm of what was once the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Donnie is starting to worry about the changes in the horizon and sky of late. He thinks about the sickening walls of ever more toxic heat that have been passing over them in recent weeks, six now by his count. The first five were so slow they didn’t see them approach, instead gradually feeling them by the noticeable rise in the units’ temperature. But he remembers that the last one was moving much faster than the others; this time they could see it coming, and it was thicker, almost opaque. He knows it is only a matter of weeks, maybe days, before the worst of it finally gets around to the North Atlantic and finishes them too, taking all they’ve ever known and all they’ve ever been…

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