by Kyle Lavelle
A naked, thoughtful ape clung shivering to a log of driftwood as it crested over yet another wave. The hominid was violent and tender. The water was frigid and jade in the leaden light. The shore vanished. From what could be seen above the waterline, the sad beast had hair only upon the top of its head that fell down around its shoulders. Its breath steamed over the driftwood. Its shimmer softened by a sun obstructed in the ash-weighted air. Slung like fallen skies, volcanic smoke rolled over still from the eruptions ten months prior.
The pale primate coiled its arms tighter. Bark pressed to its face as it lifted the slit of its eye to the heavens entombed in purgatorial grey. It was reminded: this was a reckoning. So it was described to the simian. But an omitted piece of the explanation was the eruption itself and its location, five-thousand miles southwest, where the ground first summoned the smog in a blast like a shame veil for what was sanctioned.
Enveloped in the fallout, all witnessed the repeated grey days and darkest nights known. This reborn night held no stars. Only once since the sky’s drop could the mammal spot the muddled glow of the moon. For over a year the forecast was a cycle of days in a fog dome; a wasteland benighted under an eclipsed sun, where hill apes sliced each other down while this creature cast off its cloths and surrendered to the water.
The floating brute was remarkable in battle, but when a polar wind pressed hard against its head, it wept. It let out a pathetic wail. It peeled its face off the log and took in its surroundings one final time. Buried in sky, soaked in cold ocean. Black and grey hung over earth and water like a dream of shadows. But the ape remembered: this was no nightmare, and he was no longer a mindless ape. So the man looked into the water. He searched the over-depths for his bride but saw only darkness. He cried out to her body in his language that had been mixed, then lost in time.
He explained to the water and breaking driftwood that he no longer had the strength to stay, nor could he bring himself to let go and sink. Waves crashed over. He inhaled. The wood split and the apeman released his grip and sank. He blew out his last breath and descended into the North Sea.
The waterway’s official name came over a millennium later. That coastland is called England by many today, but the nearest shores back then were known as the kingdom of Essex—Anglo-Saxon societies. The location of the blast that put them all to their knees—modern-day El Salvador.
This was Autumn in 536AD—the year of volcanic winter.