"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
Coming next week - Carla Eatherington

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mad Jacko and the Flower Of Joy


I wrote this for an anthology, then discovered that the anthology, contrary to the submission guidelines, wasn 't about unhappiness and despair, it was a horror thingy. Personally, I find reality far more horrifying than vampires and monsters but there you go.  
Each to their own. 
Anyway, here's the tale.
__________________________________            
Mad Jacko and The Flower of Joy.
The ruddy face of a Brazilian rancher asks not rhetorically; “Don't you want us to have jobs?” as a pyramid of dead hardwood trunks trundles past in the background along a mud track, a wagon driven by an Amazonas tribesman who once stewarded the disappearing forest.

The interviewer nods. He is tall and sports a goatee beard. He works for the UN and he compiles reports on the end of the world. His nod of concurrence doesn't convince the cynical rancher.
“But your people deforested before the tenth century. Don't you want us to have jobs?”
The interviewer thinks. He knows his stuff. He’s mugged up. He is no fool. He speaks.
“Rain forests act as the lungs of the planet, the majestic trees recycling gases. If we kept the rainforests intact, nations could pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they can physically produce. Leave the forest intact and we could all fly planes to work. Helicopters. Jet packs. Shiny cars going ten to the gallon. We could have central heating boilers on around the clock. We could live our lives without guilt and fear. Your country erases a patch of rain forest the size of the UK every year. By 2030, half of the Amazon rainforest will be gone. In Indonesia, ninety percent of the rain forest has been cut down. Malaysia too. There are areas the Indonesians have turned into wasteland in just twenty years. Nations still produce the same amount of carbon dioxide, India and China in particular, but the trees that used to act as the planet’s lungs, recycling and absorbing the pollutants we produce, are being cut down.  Hardwoods are sponges for our pollutants and there are hardly any left.”
“But, don’t you want us to have jobs,” the rancher retorts, on his veranda, the silver smoke from his half lit Cohiba trailing into the blue skies. “Well, don’t you?’
The interviewer leans forward. He shakes his head. “Picture the Earth two thousand years ago as a non-smoker. Healthy and fit. Then the Romans started to cut down the forests for their ships, so by the year 1000, the earth was smoking four or five cigarettes a day. By 1700, after the Europeans had cut down eighty percent of their forests, and with the Great American Deforestation just about to begin, the earth was a twenty a day smoker, coughing and gasping for breath after exertions. By last year, after the industrial revolution, with the Indonesians, the Malaysians and the Brazilians cutting down most of their equatorial forest, the earth was now a sixty a day smoker with asthma and breathing difficulties.”
“This is not my problem, my friend.” The rancher says. “Don’t you want us to have jobs?”
“The Mata Atlantica is vanishing. Here. Where we sit. Just seven percent remains. They say that no tropical rain forest has come closer to extinction than this one. “
The interviewer leans back and wipes his brow. It is hotter than hell and the noise of the trucks driving past makes the noise seem much, much worse.
“We in Europe know the Mata as the Brazilian Atlantic Rain Forest. Its glories are intense and never ending. 20,000 species of plants have been identified in the forest, nearly half of which are endemic. Pressure on the remaining trees is overwhelming. It always has been. Because of people like you. The Mata provided the raw materials used to rebuild Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. After the Portuguese loggers had harvested what they needed, they realised what a magnificent resource they had discovered, the hardwoods, the irreplaceable mahoganies, and over the next century they proceeded to level it. So greedy were the loggers, ninety three percent of the forest had gone by 2009.”
  The interviewer grins. Stands. Gestures. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Human Being (Euro-Caucasian Genus). The most ruthless, greedy, unmerciful, voracious, violent, blinkered, destructive and utterly relentless parasite Mother Earth has ever seen.”

The rancher speaks once more. “The Romans deforested to build their Empire. The Saxon chieftains chopped your forests down to build their ceremonial huts. Henry VIII felled the New Forest to defeat the Armada. Britannia ruled the waves for two centuries on the fruits of Sherwood Forest. Don't you want us to have jobs?”     
     He sits down. He thinks, sips his orange juice.
     “Forest extinction. They say each edition of the New York Times in 1970 took the pulp of nine thousand trees to produce. So saturated with wood pulp was Baltimore Harbour, the sea was pronounced biologically dead. Nothing lived there. We know better now. Despite a millenia of accumulated scientific knowledge, still we chop, still we dismember the empire of green.”
     “It’s progress. You cannot halt progress. And it is my country.”
     “President Obama has sanctioned the clear-cutting of 328 square miles of untouched temperate forest, the Tongass forest in Southern Alaska. Economic grounds. He promised not to. Jobs, you see. ‘Don’t you want us to have jobs!’ asks a bearded Alaskan lumberjack. Clearcutting is like a daisy cutter bomb that takes a year to explode. When it does finally explode, the consequent devastation is substantial and irreversible. Clearcutting loggers leave nothing living. Adapted Chinook helicopters, with elongated hang-down chainsaws the length of football pitches dismember the ancient Tongass Redwoods. Flying machines once only imagined on Tomorrow’s World thrash and saw and chop and slash the trees which have survived in harmony with the soil and the animal kingdom for fifty thousand years.”
     “I need to buy one of those helicopters, “says the rancher. “It would save me a fortune.”
     “What a feat of diabolical engineering those bleak helicopters are! One can only marvel at the horror they inflict. Diabolical in the sense of devilish.”
     “But remarkably efficient in the job they are built to do, my friend.”
     “Homo Sapien is the sworn enemy of the forests.”
     “Now you are talking in riddles. We are the forests…”

     The two sit in silence for a moment, if it is possible to be silent in the bowels of Hell. Then the interviewer speaks. “Do you know Papua New Guinea?’
     “I don’t know. Is it near Chile?” The rancher replies, gesturing to his native boy to bring more juice.
“In inner parts of Papua, there are tree formations so dense and compacted, and individual trees so vast and ancient, they have never been seen up close; compositions, like the cosmos at the edge of forever, merely speculated and hypothesized, their existence estimated on chalkboards. Black trees, thick mahogany, twenty feet thick at the base and as high as a church steeple.”
“Very poetic. Are you a writer or a researcher?”
“There was a flower in Papua New Guinea that the natives called the Flower of Joy. It was fresh butter yellow, shaped symmetrically, like a moth, with a crimson blemish on each leaf not an inch in circumference, like a spatter of blood from a tiny wound. Stewarded, the flower was easily harvested and abundant.  Botanists noted it only grew on a certain type of soil found in Papua. The plant existed nowhere else. There's a specific nutrient in the indigenous moss and an ecological relationship between itself and the trees around which botanists still don't understand. Native Papuans knew about the qualities of the flower since time immemorial. They cherished it, nurtured it. Medicine men whispered it’s properties. A permanent cure for melancholia, the ultimate anti-depressant.”
“The Flower of Joy. Such a beautiful name…” says the rancher, not looking at his confessor.
“Last year, when no one was looking, an Indonesian logging combine deforested the thousand acres of rain forest the Flower of Joy thrives in. Thus, the flower is extinguished.  An Australian logger named Jacko crushed the last remaining flower as he walked toward his wagon, brimful with timber trunks the length of ships. Jacko, sipping beer, stroking his beard and imagining the unimaginable, trod it into the earth. The last Flower of Joy.
Jacko, the murderer of the happiness flower.
Jacko from the Northern Territories.
Mad Jacko.
Mad Jacko, the murderer of Happiness.
Jacko, the accidental slayer of worlds.”
“If he needs a job, tell him to contact me,” the rancher says, a sneer on his face.
The interviewer grins, continues, leaning forward, speaking softly, a buzzsaw crying in the distance. “Botanists didn't know until it was too late. At the time, they were sourcing funds back in Melbourne to protect the flower.That part of the forest was gone by the time they returned. While the dedicated researchers were trying to persuade academic bursars to re-fund their expedition, a tribal chief sold his thousand acres of forest to a logger in return for an aquamarine Nike tee shirt, a video camera, a George Foreman grill, and three BMX bicycles, one for each of his three sons. There is videotape of the sons riding the bicycles and the proud father looking on wearing his new tee. Tribesman took jobs harvesting the trees. Tribeswomen promised jobs in the new factory which will replace the hardwoods, trees which were old when humanity was young. Jeans, they whisper. Tee shirts, they giggle…”
“Don’t you want us to have jobs?” he says. “The natives must have clothes too…”
“The Flower of Joy won't return for twenty thousand years, not until Homo Sapiens is as blessedly extinct as the flowers and fauna are now. Try as they might, they can't grow rainforests back. The forests you cut down daily. They can grow palm for margarine and biofuel and engine grease and diet supplements, and pine for toilet paper and Fifty Shades of Grey, but they can’t grow mahogany once it has gone. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Only the Gods seem to know why. “

“Don't you want us to have jobs?” he said, one more time. “Don’t you want us to have a life like yours?”
“No,” the interviewer says, looking around him at the scorched earth, the unholy fire, the smoke trails like Towers of Babel into the glorious blue skies, the screams and the cries of the birds as they escape the axes and flames of the hunters. “I want you to look after the forests, to be perfectly honest.”
“It’s too late, my friend. You can’t save the Flower of Joy.”
He passes the interviewer the juice bottle. He thinks about it. Takes the glass…
       

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