Below are the first two chapters of the GIANT
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A boy cannot sleep and cries for his mother.
"Hush now. I'll tell you a story."
Stories are one of the few things that have survived from Before - the time when everything was still whole. The boy lives Now in a wasted world destroyed during the Fall - the collapse of society and a nearly endless spasm of killing.
The sleepless boy has never seen an electric light. Cures for tuberculosis, malaria, and polio no longer exist. So, for the boy, the story of the GIANT, who lived in a time of airplanes, television, and refrigeration, is quite a fantastic tale, much too strange to be believed possible.
Though, doesn't that make it better? Who wants to hear the sad stories of truth when sugar-crusted tales of fiction are at hand? This boy wants to close his eyes and pretend that there really is a dragon, a wizard, a knight. Something. Anything. Anything that will tell him there is more to life than dirt, toil, and funerals.
So his mother tells the tale that is the GIANT.
The boy heard the story like this: Once there was a wonderful land of terrific wealth and ease, but man grew lazy and unappreciative, so one day the GIANT came full of anger and crushed the tiny men.
The boy heard it wrong.
This is the way it really happened, during the first unrehearsed, and only, live performance of the GIANT.
This is the truth:
Record months for heat were turned in for March and April, but record heat in March only means an early summer, and who doesn't want to shake off the icy winter early? In April it was hot, no longer warm but hot, but still fine for picnics, walks in the park, and early sun tanning.
Then the weather boiled over from a treat into a burden. By the time May was gone not a day was spent where daily record highs weren't surpassed. Suddenly no one was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. The hum of the air conditioner was constant.
June was even hotter, and there was very little rain. There was no shade under trees because leaves were already withering under the unrelenting sun; a sick version of autumn. Instead of bright oranges, reds, and yellows, there was shriveled grays and browns. It would be a summer to tell the grandkids about. Oh boy, would it!
The cause of the torridity was debated to the point of exhaustion, but as the heat only increased, it became clear the time for blame had passed. Survival was the only issue that mattered; if the temperature continued to rise the summer would kill by the tens of thousands.
The drought that had plagued half the country for years spread. Video and images of parched land, empty wells, and dry irrigation ditches were becoming so commonplace that they lost their shock value. Water restrictions would continue. "For fear of large scale crop shortages," people were told. 'Large scale crop shortages?'
June was the month that the much talked about electric rationing started. It was for no more than five or ten minutes at a time, but they were a terrifying few minutes. All at once everything would go quiet: the babble of the television, the hum of the refrigerator motor, and the rattle of the air conditioner. All you could do was sit there and hope that the man at the power station would throw your switch back on.
It was also in June that the dreams started, millions of people all receiving the same visions.
'How long do I have to live?'
Only a few days, unless you can see the body.
This same conversation twenty, thirty times a night, standing in a clearing, in the middle of a towering city, in an empty field, in blackness. The end of the world, and always the same. When a husband would mention his dream to his wife, she would reply that she had the same dream. But the talk stopped there. Two people having visions of the end of the world was bad enough, no one wanted further evidence of the end. Not just yet.
Like the heat, the dreams became worse and started filling with bodies, killing, death, and the GIANT. For the dreaming, the GIANT was the morphine nurse in the hospice ward, the hammer blow to the mouse stuck in the glue trap. Bad news, but it was also relief, and who wouldn't take a little relief?
Only one person saw the GIANT alive, a man with a gun in California - the Hunter. The Hunter's bullet struck the GIANT and the creature fell immediately, collapsing into an undignified heap. The body of the GIANT and the Hunter were in a clearing of a thick, ancient forest. Some of the magic leftover from the creation resided in that place. From the familiar cloudless sky sunlight poured into the roughly circular, open ground. The tall grass shifted lazily in a faint breeze. There was the call of the birds, the rustle of the animals, and the lazy buzz of the insects. It was hot, blazing, everywhere else, but in that clearing it was just right. Don't change a thing.
The Hunter pulled a satellite phone from his bag and his fingers dialed the same number he had called a hundred times in his sleep. The dreams had given him the number to call, but had not told him whom he would speak to, and to his surprise, he was connected to a news station. The other end of the line told him a news helicopter would be there as soon as possible, but because the clearing was near the Oregon border, and nothing else, getting there took some time.
The tall grass of the clearing, driven by the blades of the helicopter, swayed unnaturally. The dead creature, unlike anything anyone had seen before, was laying face down and viewers at home could only guess at its expression.
The GIANT's form was roughly human, but several times larger. It was bulbous and swollen, but not unnaturally so. The GIANT's bulk was the same as a manatee or hippopotamus who seem to carry more weight than their frames should support. Its skin was pale, the color of a creature that had never seen light. Its flesh was wet and melting in the oppressive sun. It looked sickly and weak, and not because of its death. The GIANT's body elicited the same reaction as a fly covered child too fatigued by hunger and disease to brush away the insects.
Those who remembered their dreams of the GIANT were taken aback by their visions brought to life on the television. It was unreal, the dreams over the past few nights had been haunting enough, but to see their dreams played live on national television? There was no word to describe the sinking pit of dread in dreamers' stomachs.
The live video was everywhere on the television. Those people who couldn't remember their dreams fared no better as they were overtaken with a gnawing sense of déjà vu. "Where have I seen this?" They couldn't pluck all the details from their minds, but the forgetful could gather up enough to know it wasn't good. "Not good at all."
Soon, everyone came to understand what the GIANT meant. The GIANT was every kind of bad news. A eviction notice, the police calling to say someone has died in a car accident, the loss of a child. Just like a diagnosis of terminal cancer. "How long do I have to live?" Just a few days.
Too soon, it seemed, night came and showed the passage of time. Time had not stood still and now everyone wrangled with the situation in front of them. Grieving couldn't go on forever and something would have to be done with the body. That poor thing would rot out there.
A figurative curtain was dropped over the stage.
Promptly the next morning, the White House press secretary read a statement saying, among other things, that the area had been secured so that proper scientific study could be conducted and the health and safety of local residents could be assured. Images, information, and findings would be released as they occurred and were deemed prudent. As soon as the area was made safe, the media would be allowed access. Until that time the government would establish a video feed and supply frequent updates. The statement closed with an assurance that everything was fine - there was no reason to be alarmed.
No questions were allowed.
The press conference was unsettling, but had a spark of hope within it. That morning most people were still in denial - they desperately wanted the creature to be just another curious news story. A big curiosity sure, but still something that would go away in a few days. All those billions grasped at straws and hoped that the government was right. Nothing to be alarmed of folks, we're just being precocious. The thing could be poisonous. It could be carrying a disease that kills anyone near it. "Yeah, that sort of makes sense."
If only for a little while, people began to feel better. "You were just upset yesterday. It's silly to think the world is going to end. How could the world end?" "It was so hot yesterday, you didn't know what you were thinking about that thing." "Yes, everything's fine, I was just taken off guard by it all. I mean, did you see the television? It was everywhere, how could you not get caught up in it?" But what about the dreams? "Did I really have the dreams? Probably just imagined them?" "Confused that's all."
Briefly then, people relaxed, almost hoping there was some super disease in the thing. Hoping that the big blob was an undiscovered species and by that time next year there would be a worldwide tour of its skeleton. "Step right up folks. See the skeleton of the GIANT! Only a nickel a person. And the wee ones get in free."
The television also latched onto the same sick hope and ran with the infectious theory. Screens were filled with images of the country covered with a menacing blanket of red. A terrible disease let loose because some silly person picked up a germ from the creature. Words like Pandemic, Syndrome, and Plague were everywhere. "That makes sense, I suppose."
Like something from a book, the Andromeda Strain maybe, where a new disease grown on a satellite finds its way to earth and almost kills the world. One little germ spreads just like that. "Well, we don't want that happening, maybe they should seal the area off." If you worked hard enough, you could almost convince yourself.
On second thought, "It's not quite right, something smells fishy." Like something out of a movie, perhaps Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where the government knows that aliens are coming to earth so they tell everyone about a big chemical spill. Everyone clears out and they have the landing site all to themselves. "The government lies." Yes they do. The disease angle was wrong, tens of millions of home viewers were sure of it, and how can that many people be wrong?
The previous night had brought no cooling relief. Granted, the past few week's worth of nights were all hot, but at least the thermometer dropped. Once the GIANT hit the scene, that line of mercury kept climbing. It was going to be a scorcher and there weren't enough air conditioners for everyone. For those that were blessed with those magical devices (not true magic, but don't you try and tell those people that cool air wasn't some kind of magic), there was no longer enough electricity to make them all work.
And what about the high price of gas, and the drought - there wouldn't be food next year. It was real bad out there, too bad to cling onto hopes that the GIANT was anything but the final nail in the coffin. No hope left, it was only a matter of time.
Heat was rippling off the ground in waves of life ending radiation. Again the sky was cloudless, but the sun looked bigger than usual, looked angry, hot and raging mad. The sun had to be getting closer, it was just too big, and too hot outside. It was as though the earth had stopped circling the sun and was instead heading towards it. Mother Earth a mother no longer - like fleas on a dog's back it would get rid of the people even if it meant killing itself in the process. Suicide by nuclear fission.
In the play that is the GIANT, all parts, except for one, were given to unknowns. One role was given to someone who had achieved notoriety previously. He was a competent leader, a true statesman in all the positive meaning of the word. He was strong, passionate, and honest - people believed what he said because it was the truth. While the character's name could have been the Destroyer of Worlds, out of respect for his past service he is called the President.
The President spoke early that evening about more than the GIANT, announcing that oil from the Strategic Reserve would be released in an effort to alleviate abnormally high gas prices. He asked for energy conservation wherever possible, to lessen the nearly breaking strain on the nation's electric grid. He urged everyone to stay out of the heat. Save water, let your grass and flowers die for the sake of our food. Everyone watching grew impatient. "No! None of that matters now." They wanted to hear only two words.
"The GIANT," finally he said them, "is the subject that most interests people at the moment."
A chorus of voices watching on television answered him. "Someone has answers. Someone is going to tell me this isn't what I think it is." "He'll give us answers, he has to." "He's the President."
"There are a great many people working on the situation but unfortunately there have been some mechanical and equipment problems unrelated to the video feed that have none-the-less delayed the signal. Please accept our apologies for this." He looked sincere and apologetic. "I know how important this is for everyone, please be patient, this is a very unique situation." The President continued to say he had been assured, and passed on his assurance, that a feed would be established by the morning.
"The morning!" the chorus responded, but that was all the President had to say. He introduced a group of scientists that would answer more specific questions. People were deflated. The President didn't know why the GIANT had appeared, why it was killed, and what it meant for everyone. All loved the GIANT and, like a young lover, wanted to crawl inside the creature, but they could not so much as see a picture of the body. "Why?" Don't know.
The President walked off stage feeling oddly rushed even though he had said everything in his notes. Weren't more qualified people on stage to answer questions? They were, but it didn't quite fit. He would walk back on, speak some more - give the people answers. He turned to do so, then stopped. 'No, those people up there know more than you anyway. Don't be foolish. Keep your composure. That's how you'll get everyone through this.' He shook his head all the way back to the office. It wasn't right.
The President had been having dreams too, but he dreamt of more than the GIANT. He had never believed in premonitions or visions, but it seems that belief is not a requirement of participation. The past day he felt that everything he was doing had been done before, live events felt old - even his words seemed to be coming from somewhere other than inside him.
His dreams were filled with tumultuous storms, fire, and nuclear explosions. 'Surely, dear God, I will not do it. I won't do it.' But there's a voice deep inside that disagrees, a voice so strong that it can wave a finger at him. You're being naughty. The voice tells him, "you think you know better, but you couldn't be more wrong."
The one thing that had never abandoned him, confidence, had suddenly vanished. Like grandpa who tried to drive the car one last time and ended up wetting himself in traffic. 'You're getting too old.' Soon his children would send him to a nursing home. He was scared.
Dear God, the man with the power to end the world is scared.
There was nothing else new that evening. Televisions were left on, but fewer people were watching them, the masses were stirring. Pacing around their living rooms, fear was setting in. "How long do I have?" Just a few days. I'm sorry.