Galileo was right. Science is real, and Trump is clueless.

Released for your enjoyment in the spirit of the holidays, here is the first story in my soon-to-be-released Cli-Fi short story collection.

A Climate Carol

“Mr. Drummond, I’m getting ready to head out.  Do you need anything else before I leave?”

“Leaving? It’s only three-thirty! Did you finish those reports you promised to have on my desk before five o’clock?”

Jericho Reese bowed his head, and mumbled, “No boss. There’s an air quality alert, and the mayor is encouraging everyone to leave town as early as possible. I’ll get them to you on Monday.”

Drummond shouted, “Monday? What’s wrong with tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow is Earth Day. I’m taking the wife and kids out of the city for a picnic.”

Drummond seethed with the sound of that phrase….Earth Day. Just thinking of those two words angered him.  He looked out the window of his huge suite in Drummond Tower and gaped at his tanker, steaming up the Hudson River to offload its filthy cargo. The incoming ship would bring millions in revenue to one of Drummond’s many companies. In good health for a man sixty years of age, his exercise regimen consisted of riding in a golf cart at one his exclusive country club golf courses.

“Earth Day is a joke. Look at those losers carrying signs. Get those reports on my desk by five o’clock…Sunday afternoon, and I’ll let it go.”

Reese protested, a hint of pleading in his reply, “Sunday my son has a soccer game. I’m the assistant coach. I have to be there.”

Drummond, coldly, without hesitation, replied, “It’s a game of soccer. They run, they kick the ball. They chase it and kick it again. When the game’s over, they get a juice box and a cookie. Do they need an assistant coach for that? Besides, doesn’t your kid have a respiratory thing that keeps him on the bench? When I was his age, I was the best baseball player on my team.”

Reese ignored Drummond’s braggadocio. “My son has asthma. The severe air pollution in New York City exacerbates it. We’ve talked about moving to a country with cleaner air, but you refused my transfer request to Iceland. Have you had a chance to reconsider?”

“No, I need you here with me! Get me those damn reports this weekend or don’t show up for work on Monday! Is that clear?”

Reese slunk out of the office and down the hall. Drummond’s icy stare burnt a hole through the back of his shirt.

Drummond called his limousine driver Sammie Johnson.

“I’ll be downstairs shortly. Have a cold bottle of Diet Coke and a Snickers bar waiting for me.”

“Yes, boss. Are we going to the Whale?”

Drummond named his Long Island weekend get-a-way “The Whale” after the famous white cetacean from Herman Melville’s literary classic, Moby Dick. Drummond filled the house with memorabilia from the epic story. Visitors entering the house walked past a 90-foot replica of the famed white whale, complete with life-like scars from harpoon injuries.

Drummond said, “I’ll be right there. I just bought a company that sells Alaskan King Salmon steaks in Juneau, Alaska.”

Johnson said, “I’m sure it will be a tremendous success.”

Drummond tried to call his stockbroker. The screen went blank, and he slammed the phone on the desk in anger. The battery flew ten feet to the left, the guts of the device hit the ice bucket, and then Drummond’s forehead, temporarily knocking him cold.

When he awoke a moment later, he caught the faintest smell of pineapple. Fog filled the room. Drummond swatted at the air, sending swirling clouds in a spinning pattern, revealing a ghostly figure standing by the door.

“Hello, Wilson,” said the voice.

Drummond couldn’t distinguish any facial features, but he recognized the voice.

“Rock?”

“Constance Rock, in person, at your disposal. Well, not exactly in person. You’ll catch on in a minute.”

Drummond wasn’t buying it. “Constance Rock has been dead for ten years! I saw her die at Mt. Sinai Hospital with my own eyes.”

“I lost all my money because of you. However, that’s not why I’m here. Come closer. Take a good look at me.”

Drummond inched closer.

Rock said, “Quite a sight, eh?”

“What’s wrong with your skin?”

“I won’t be chosen as Miss Universe with this face, right?”

Drummond went to touch her face.  His fingers went right through the dirty skin that loosely covered her chalky bones, leaving no mark or blood.

“What the hell?” Drummond asked. “I bet that bastard Reese drugged my coffee. He’ll be going straight to court! I have the best lawyers!”

Constance stopped him cold. “He did no such thing. I ruined my life in hopes of attaining great wealth making reckless environmental choices. Look at me now! A freak destined to spend one thousand years in purgatory, covered in coal dust. An ironic twist of fate based on my stock portfolio while I was alive. However, it’s not too late for you.  Three spirits will take you on a journey to alter your path. Heed their words Wilson, or you will suffer the same fate as I!”

Drummond scoffed at the suggestion, “You’re not real. You were a loser in life, and now you’re a loser in death!  Be gone, Constance Rock!”

The ghost and the fog vanished into the air vent.

Drummond assembled the pieces of his mobile phone and called his chauffeur, “Johnson, are you there?”

“I’m blocking traffic. What’s taking so long?”

Drummond said, “An old business associate dropped by unexpectedly. She’s gone now. I’m on my way.”

Drummond walked to the sink and splashed cold water on his face. I can’t tell anyone about that!

 

######

 

Johnson pulled the limo onto Drummond Lane, past the long line of weeping willows towards ‘The Whale’.

Before Drummond stepped out of the vehicle, a bounding, energetic child, Lily Drummond, aged 6, ran to her beloved grandfather.

Drummond savored every minute of it. Taking the child in his arms, he beamed with pride. He gave her the attention he never received as a child.

“I have a surprise for you. Reach into my coat pocket.”

Lily removed a candy bar.

Drummond said, “Cut it in half. You have to share the wealth with your mother.”

“Share the wealth? That doesn’t sound like the Wilson Drummond I raised!” said Gurtie Drummond, entering the conversation from the front porch.

Drummond held his mother’s arm as they entered to a round of applause.

“Why are all you people in my house?” asked Wilson.

His wife, Marina, bedazzled in jewels, and twenty years his junior, greeted him with a soft kiss on the cheek.

“Welcome home, darling. I hope you don’t mind. I hired ‘Ribs with Bibs” to cater dinner.”

Drummond frowned, “I’m not in the mood for company or ribs. I wanted salmon and some peace.  I had an interesting experience as I prepared to leave the office.”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not discuss it. I’ll chalk it up to stress, or one of my employees poisoned me.”

Marina grinned, “I’m sure it’s not the first time one of them wanted to kill you.”

Drummond said, “I’m going to take a nap. I’m bushed.” He showered and plopped into bed.

Twenty minutes later, he woke to the smell of pineapple.

Drummond called for his assistant, “Bartlett! Get in here!”

Bartlett wasn’t there. A fine mist of clouds shrouded a ghostly figure hovering at the end of the bed.

Drummond yelled, “Bartlett, there’s smoke in here!”

A voice said, “It’s not smoke, and I’m not Bartlett. However, I am here to serve you.”

As he had done earlier in the day, Drummond frantically waved his arms to clear his view. “Who are you?”

“I installed the windows in this house many years ago. I’m waiting for my final payment. You owe me twenty grand.”

Drummond looked at the ghost, “You’re Frankie Kaseda. You didn’t get paid because the windows leaked.”

“That’s a lie.”

“You had a chance to take me to court. You backed down. What do you want from me?”

“I am the Ghost of Climate Past. We’re going on a trip.”

“I have dinner plans! Go away!”

Drummond collapsed on the bed, and the ghost returned them to Drummond’s childhood home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Drummond stood at the top of the second-floor staircase. “I remember a party my parents had one night and had a terrible dream. I went to the top of these steps, right where I’m standing and started crying. My mother told me that crying was for babies. I was six years old.”

The ghost said, “That might explain why you can’t properly express your emotions.”

The duo darted in and out of clouds and time. When they landed at Taylor Road Elementary School, Drummond saw a younger version of himself sitting on the bench of the baseball diamond.  He watched his teammates struggle to complete a routine defensive play. The third baseman fumbled the ball, and two runners scored.

The younger Drummond yelled, “You suck Buccirelli!”

When the inning ended, the berated and error-prone fielder confronted Drummond, and they exchanged punches. Drummond found himself on the ground, his pants torn, and his shirt stained with the blood from his split lip.

Buccirelli yelled, “We hate your guts for being a rich, snobby asshole that wrecked Cain Park.”

The ghost asked, “What happened that drew their ire?”

Drummond spoke quietly. “We lived near a big park. Cain Park. It had a basketball court, a set of swings, tennis courts, swimming pool, and a giant hill for sledding in the winter. One summer day I went there to play basketball. I brought the only ball we had. I missed the game-winning shot, but I swear to God, Mickey Shore fouled me. He called me a liar. We argued for ten minutes. I took my ball and went home. The other kids were mad I ended the game.”

The ghost said, “That’s it?”

Drummond said, “When I told my mother what happened she said I showed weakness and the other boys needed to learn a lesson about money and power.  My father bought the park and the land adjacent to it. He received a special permit to dig for oil. Right in the middle of the neighborhood! Everyone hated me for the being the kid that ruined Cain Park. I didn’t care. I was far superior to my peers intellectually, and I achieved great success as an adult.”

“You had the benefit of a nice head start from your father,” said the ghost.

Drummond angered, “I took his small advance and turned it into an empire! How many other people do you know that own a reproduction of a giant whale in their foyer?”

The ghost asked, “It that is the measure of your success?”

“The whale keeps me focused on conquering my enemies, just like Captain Ahab.”

“Does the whale bring you happiness?”

Drummond exploded in anger, “Take me back to my house!”

“Consider this a warning, Wilson Drummond. Change your ways!”

As quickly as it appeared, the ghost vanished.

 

#####

 

 

The new work week began with a shout, “Reese! Where are my reports?”

Jericho rushed in holding a stack of papers ten inches thick. “Here you go, as I promised.”

Drummond pressed the intercom button. His secretary answered, “Yes, Mr. Drummond?”

“Allison, what day is it?”

“Huh?”

‘It’s a simple request, sweetheart.  What day of the week is it?”

“It’s Monday.”

“Thank you, my dear.”

Drummond said to Reese, “I was very clear about the deadline.”

“Yes, sir, you were clear. The rain delayed the game.”

“I don’t give a damn about the stupid game.”  Drummond pointed his finger at Reese and shouted, “You’re fired!”

He pressed the intercom a second time, “Allison, Mr. Reese is leaving. He’s got ten minutes to clear out his office. Have security escort him out of the building.”

Reese and Drummond locked eyes. “I’ll be gone in five. You’re a sad, shallow excuse for a man.” He turned and stormed out.

The rest of the morning required Drummond to sit in on boring corporate meetings. He preferred charts and graphs to written reports. He grabbed an early lunch, consisting of well-done steak, a side of fries, and two scoops of ice cream for dessert. Drummond fell ill and decided to go home to rest.

His sickness wasn’t due to firing a valuable employee. Drummond never admitted an error in judgment. That showed extreme weakness. Industry insiders knew that if Wilson Drummond terminated your employment, it was due to his inability to handle bad news and looked to cast blame on others while accepting all the credit if the business went well. Drummond’s belly ached, and his fever soared above 100 degrees. He popped a couple of Advil and headed to bed.

Drummond shouted for his assistant, “Bartlett, I have an important teleconference at five o’clock. Make sure I’m awake by three.”

As he slept, his reoccurring dream returned. He was the captain of a whaling ship, searching the ocean for the elusive white whale. He stood on the deck of the HHS Drummond. The lookout in the crow’s nest yelled, “Thar she blows! Straight ahead! There’s the beast that torments you, Captain!”

The water sprayed on the deck, drenching him. The vessel rocked side to side. Drummond clung to the railing.

“Where is the creature now?”

The enormous white whale surfaced close to Drummond, absorbing the futile efforts of the hapless harpoons. As it returned to the sea, it crushed the boat into pieces.

“Dammit!” yelled Drummond, waking from his nightmare.

A voice said, “Is there a problem?”

The room filled with mist. The odd smell returned. A ghost appeared and said, “I am the Ghost of the Present Climate in the world.”

Drummond asked, “Do I know you?”

“Years ago you refused to rent an apartment to me because of the color of my skin. I had to move my family to a bad neighborhood. A man shot and killed my wife as she walked home from work. I found the bastard and got my revenge. Now I’m paying for my sins, spending eternity in this ghostly form. Trust me; you don’t want this existence. You must change your ways at once!”

Drummond mocked the accusation, “Nonsense! I’m sure I had a valid reason. Probably bad credit, or a criminal record!”

The ghost said, “You are running out of time!”

Drummond responded angrily, “I’m making a living for my family! Is that a crime?”

The ghost snapped his skeletal fingers, and they arrived at a small island in the Pacific Ocean. An outcropping of shacks lay near the shore. Four bare-chested men stood at the edge of the water, spears in hand, occasionally tossing their weapons into the frothy water. The largest of the men nailed his target and retrieved a Mackerel, barely large enough to feed his family of four for the evening meal.

Drummond said, “Why can’t they do better? Even a novice could catch a few with those long spears.”

“Overfishing from large corporations, like the companies you control, diminished the fish population.”

A thousand yards offshore a buoy bobbed up and down. As the water crested and fell, Drummond spotted the roof of a house next far out at sea.

“What in the blazes is that house doing in the water?”

The ghost explained, “Ten years ago that house sat on dry land. The water rises each year, due to climate change. That house belonged to those men. At this rate, the ocean will claim the entire island in two years.”

Drummond refuted the ghost’s claim. “The world needs energy. Global warming is fake news!”

Disheartened by Drummond’s ignorance, the ghost said, “Let’s continue.”

They stood in the middle of a busy street in Raipur, India.

Drummond asked the ghost, “Can’t you remove the clouds? What is that awful smell?”

The ghost said, “Those aren’t clouds, it’s pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.”

“Wave your magic bony fingers and clear the air! I can’t see anything! I can’t breathe.” Drummond coughed and put his tiny hands over his mouth.

The ghost said, “Air pollution will kill millions of people this year. Children will develop lung ailments that stunt their growth, both mentally and physically, and they’ll die prematurely.”

“This isn’t my problem. I have my worries, too.”

The ghost cautioned Drummond, “If the situation isn’t resolved soon, life as you know it will end in a terrifying disaster that even Steven Spielberg couldn’t conceive of.”

They left the stench of urban India and found themselves in the middle of the Amazon jungle. A thick shield of trees made it difficult to see more than ten feet in front of them.

A buzzing sound, like thousands of bees, vibrated through Drummond’s head. He covered his ears and asked, “Where are we? What is that noise?”

Drummond followed the ghost to a clearing.

“We’re in South America. We’re at the location of your largest manufacturing plant in this region. The sound you hear is the whirring of a hundred saws tearing into the barks of an endless row of trees.”

Drummond saw the stumps of ten thousand trees. The ghost removed a metal sign from behind his back and stuck it in the ground. The sign read, UNLESS.

Drummond tossed his hands in the air. “I don’t understand. What does that mean?”

The ghost said, “Didn’t you read Dr. Suess as a child?”

“My parents preferred the classics.”

The ghost shook his head in disgust. “Dr. Suess is a classic.”

Their next stop brought them to a glass-bottom boat in the middle of the ocean. Drummond appeared confused.

“What are we doing here?”

“That is the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. It used to be the jewel of Australia. Now, ocean acidification is killing it. The bright colors of the reef are fading, bleached away from the poison you dump in the water. You treat the ocean like a gigantic sewer.”

Drummond countered, “I help create jobs. That means more money for people to go on vacation.”

“Vacationers won’t come here! Nobody will visit Australia to see the Not-so-Great Barrier Reef. What are you willing to do to make the Barrier Reef great again?”

Drummond awoke to the sound of a car horn. Outside he spotted his grandchild pressing the horn of her father’s Land Rover.

Drummond yelled, “Lily, please stop that! It’s annoying and loud.” Drummond headed back to work to complete his massive deal with a Chinese company.

Two hours of tough negotiation, and 45.3 billion dollars later, he concluded the single most significant purchase of his life.

He buzzed his secretary, “Allison, to help me celebrate, let’s order Chinese food. Egg rolls, sweet and sour chicken, and for God’s sake, make sure there’s no pineapple in my order!”

Allison beamed with excitement, “My husband is taking me to Hawaii next week. He says the pineapple is amazing!”

Drummond frowned, “Ugh, pineapple. I can’t even stand the smell of it. Lately, it’s in my head all the time. Please leave me alone to bask in my glory. You’re talking to the richest man in New York. If this deal is successful, someday I might be the richest man in China, too!”

He ate his meal, opened the fortune cookie, and read it. “To attain personal tranquility, you must resolve old transgressions.” He crumpled the paper and tossed it away.  Drummond kicked back in his chair, exhaling deeply as the gratification of another successful deal sunk in.

“There it is again. Dammit Allison, couldn’t you be more careful?” Drummond bent down, searching for chunks of pineapple. He saw a pair of boney feet instead.

Looking up, he said, “Not another one of you guys! What grievance do you have with me? Did I forget to replace my divot on the golf course?”

The ghost shaped the fingers of his right hand into the “okay” sign, and then they were off.

They landed in a neglected cemetery. The ghost motioned Drummond closer to the grave directly in front of them. Drummond saw the last name on the stone. “The date of death… it’s thirty years from now. I didn’t think I’d live another thirty years. What you’ve shown me is good news!”

The Ghost spoke for the first time.  In a chilling voice reminiscent of Vincent Price, he declared, “I am the Ghost of Climate Yet to Come! We are well past thirty years from now. We’re one hundred years in the future. Look closer!”

Drummond peered at the name, and screamed, “NO!!!!!! It can’t be true! Tell me this is a lie!”

“It is true. The date of death is not a hoax!”

Drummond crumbled to the ground. “The name on the grave…is Lily Drummond! She was only thirty-six years old! What happened to her?”

He rushed the ghost, hoping to shake the story out of him. The spirit moved effortlessly out of the way, and Drummond lost his balance. He fell back towards the grave, landing inches from his granddaughter. The ghost cackled hauntingly.

Drummond demanded to know the details of her death. “Don’t you understand? If I know who did this to her, I can stop it from happening. I’ll kill the perpetrator when he or she is a child, therefore eliminating the circumstances that caused her early death! I’m begging you, please, tell me what happened to her!”

The ghost said, with a wry smile, “Wilson Drummond is begging for help. This unexpected twist is most unusual. Your granddaughter died of respiratory failure, due to complications of asthma.”

“Asthma?” Drummond’s eyebrows rose in recollection. “Jericho Reese’s kid had that! It’s terrible news, but at least there’s nobody to blame.”

The ghost enjoyed his next statement a bit too much, “In this case, I can say with one-hundred percent assurance there is someone to blame.”

Drummond’s anger returned two-fold, ‘Tell me goddammit! Who did this?”

“You did!”

“What do you mean, I did? I would never harm her!”

The ghost grabbed Drummond, and they flew away from the cemetery and landed near the Lincoln Memorial. Millions of people lined the streets, begging for government assistance.

Drummond asked, “What’s going on here?”

“Food is scarce, and the water is undrinkable. You allowed the EPA to remove safeguards that kept hazardous materials from entering the groundwater. You ignored the meteoric rise in the levels of greenhouse gases that warmed the planet. Soaring temperatures led to dramatic glacier melt that flooded cities throughout the world, including your fancy resort along the east coast of Florida. You dug for oil in the last vestiges of pristine land. Your fracking company caused a massive earthquake in Yellowstone National Park. Didn’t you think there would be a price to pay for your short-sighted policies?”

Drummond answered, “What does any of this have to do with my Lily? Tell me what happened to her!”

The ghost ignored him. “The Ghost of Climate Past took you to your childhood. The Ghost of the Present Climate took you to witness the world you know. I’ve taken you to the future. It’s the end of civilization.”

Drummond said, “You still haven’t told me why I’m responsible for Lily’s death!”

“For a billionaire, your IQ must be pretty low. When the Paris Climate Accord collapsed, you hired Lily to run your Chinese portfolio. She moved to Beijing and her lungs filled with toxins. The doctors performed a double lung transplant. She developed an infection and died a slow and painful death. Even your family fortune couldn’t save your precious Lily! Shortly after she passed, chaos followed, and this is what has become of the Earth. Historians blame your leadership.”

“My leadership? I was just a businessman. I can’t be held responsible for the decline of the entire world!”

The ghost laughed, “Oh, wait, this is the best part. I forgot to mention you became President of the United States. You won twice! Your opponent won the popular vote each time, but you received the higher amount of electoral votes. You should have seen the crowds at your inauguration! Huuuuge! You prided yourself in being the greatest president since Abe Lincoln. Unfortunately, history will judge you as the person responsible for killing more people than anyone in the history of the world. People despise you more than Adolf Hitler!”

The ghost gave Drummond a minute to let this news sink in. Drummond replayed the recent events in his mind.  He shrunk to a mere shell of the man that formerly bragged about his insignificant accomplishments.

“This is the future?” asked Drummond.

The ghost said, “This is how it ends.”

“Is there a way to change it? Is there time to save my Lily?”

The ghost looked toward heaven. “There is time to alter the future. You must act now, not in five or ten years. Dadum Tractum est.”

“Huh?”

“I thought you said you were a genius? It’s Latin for “past the point of no return.”

“Take me back home at once!” said Drummond. A single tear fell from his right eye.

Drummond awoke gasping for breath, lying on the floor of his office. Allison and two security guards stood above him.

“Mr. Drummond, are you okay?  I thought you had a heart attack.”

“Thank you for your concern. I can assure you I’m perfectly fine. Please help me up.”

I saw you on the carpet, and you weren’t moving. It happened within seconds.”

“Seconds? I was gone longer than that.”

Allison asked, “Gone? Where could you have gone?”

“To the future, and it wasn’t pretty. I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Call Jericho Reese. I need him back here, right away! Tell him I’m giving him a raise and purchasing new uniforms for the soccer team.  Don’t take no for an answer.  I must call my associate in China and tell him the deal is off. The three of you are witnessing the transformation of the old Wilson Drummond, industrialist, narcissist, and self-aggrandizer into Wilson Drummond, a friend of the Earth, always. Get Lily on the telephone. I want to hear her sweet little voice.”

In the corner of the room, the ghosts of Constance Rock and her assistants gave each other skeletal high-fives and left Drummond Tower for good, never to return.

 

Epilogue

 

Wilson Drummond did indeed change his ways. He donated his entire whale collection to the Herman Melville House in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Drummond sponsored Earth Day celebrations throughout the country for the next nine years. He became President of the United States and represented all that was great in America. He was a beacon of goodness for all to emulate, forming a coalition of governments to find solutions to clean the air, the water, and the land, without causing hardship for the world’s economies. Under Drummond’s leadership, new technologies spurred millions of new jobs in the clean energy sector. America considered him the second most popular president ever, behind a man named Lincoln.

His granddaughter Lily, proud mother of three, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of six, ran the “Wilson Drummond Cain Park Environmental Sanctuary” in Cleveland, Heights, Ohio until the day she died, at the ripe old age of 93.