Flash Fiction Friday: Bushland
by: Avichai Brautigam
We mined the planet dead. Not in the sense that we burrowed, like dwarves, carving Morias and Morias into the crust till it all came apart; it was Bitcoin that did us in. Somewhere, in the moldy basement of some half-forgotten Department of the Bureau of the Ministry of the So On, someone received a report about energy usage, marked up in red ink–absolutely bloodied by red ink–that said, more or less, that the total amount of energy spent mining Bitcoin was equal to the yearly energy usage of the country of Denmark. No one must have thought anything of it, for no one since Shakespeare has thought anything of Denmark. In some corner of an unprinted advertisement in a forgotten sheet of the Times, a breathless junior reporter and/or unpaid intern set to writing the story up, trying to fit it into the three lines given to him so graciously by Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. No one read it, and it didn’t even make the news.
The next year, our basement schlub of So On got another report, this one dripping red ink onto the floor like globules of blood in the aftermath of a murder. It said, more or less, that the total energy expended on Bitcoin mining was now equal to the yearly energy usage of the US. Now that made the news! People actually think about the US–albeit rarely in a kind way–and they knew that the US used a metric shit-ton of energy, even if the US couldn’t measure shit-tons metrically. In the panic, some brave Pulitzer Prize winning journalist broke the story, like a modern day Woodward and Bernstein (the intern from the year before had gotten the boot from the Times and de Sales both). For this he was awarded the Nobel for Literature, since they give that out to anyone nowadays, even folk singers.
It was apparent to everyone that this state of affairs couldn’t last, but some meeting must have been held at the highest levels, possibly involving Elder Gods, and it was decided that this state of affairs could, in fact, last. There was money in it, and the price of Bitcoin could more than keep pace with the build-up of greenhouse gases. There was a positive correlation, and Americans adore positivity and affirmation, so we affirmed that the earth would henceforth be a sauna and everyone set to mining.
As the Warm-Up (that was the new, approved, and improved name for it) sauntered on, the outside world got unbearable. Underground, massive supercomputers chugged violently on, solving inhuman equations, and belching fumes. In the sealed glass domes of Wall Street, value accumulated like the rancorous ghost of Marx; in the brick-paved towns of Bumfuck, melting slowly away in the heat, preachers took to every corner, braving the fires of earth to warn of the fires of Hell. No one needed to do any imaginative work as Jonathan Edwards was dug out of the sealed vaults of Calvinist heritage and spewed to new crowds of the predestined.
In between the rutting of CO2 and methane, going at it like barnyard pigs, multiplying on and ever on, shutters were heard the world over. All of civilization (and America too) was being rocked by violent quakes. The scientists, done up in their lab coats and sweating cannonballs, stood in front of the cameras to warn that overuse of the supercomputers was causing the earth to rupture. Being good, sensible defenders of the status quo, they simply asked that the ceaseless mining be limited by 30%; to ask anything more would have been utopian. No one paid any attention, and the only people that paid were already mining Bitcoin, so the computers chugged on.
In any case, they were wrong about the causes of the quakes, as we later learned when an army of Kate Bushs–all completely identical and fresh off their 1979 performance of “James and the Cold Gun” in London–poured out of every cave, crag, valley, and depth to march on the cities of man. Mother Earth had dispelled, from all orifices in her pained crust, an unstoppable horde. Soon, we were getting reports by the day of cities lying in ruins, supercomputers flaming in the evening light, pale armies of identically-costumed Art Rock superstars, rivers of blood flowing in vast streams through suburban streets–the works.
Now I wait, on the porch of my little ranch house in Central PA, gun in hand, boyfriend by my side, and the wan buzz of a bug-zapper above us. I wait for the army of Rock goddesses, bearing rifles and intoning lines from Joyce, to enter my swamp of a suburb. In no way do I believe that this rifle will do me any good; I simply wish to be able to die with dignity alongside my boyfriend. For a long time, the night is as silent as that one in Bethlehem millenia ago. Then I hear them.
Running up that hill.
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