Dark Night, White Elephant

It was a dark and dismal morning the day I didn’t arrive at the convention, but I was fairly sure there was something strange going on. For starters,  although it was close to when sunrise should be, there was not a sign the balcony.  I could see the warning lights atop the dome, the flashing hazard lights of the olympic construction site, and the confused flickering of streetlights sure they should be turning off about now.

To the south I could see canary wharf and my first hint that this wasn’t any ordinary mysterious darkness cloaking the capital, because there appeared to be a white elephant sitting in the middle of town.

Now, I live in Hackney, so even from the top of my tower block it would be difficult to see a single elephant, white or otherwise, that far away surrounded by so many buildings, in the eldrich darkness. This elephant made its visibility more obviously apparent by being somewhere between fifty and a hundred metres tall, and glowing softly.

The power in our flat appeared to be out, and my mobile was out of battery. A small amount of time with a wind-up charger later, it informed me that it couldn’t find a cell tower and furthermore searching was why it had no battery. I thanked it for its service, and turned it off.

The block of flats was absolutely silent. No noise save the tramping of my boots as I decended the spiral stairs to the ground floor under the flickering florecence of the emergency lighting. The lobby was dark and empty, the security guard absent from his dark desk, the lifts still and closed, the doors locked shut. My passkey didn’t work, obviously, so I found the fire escape to the rear and clanked though it.

My bike was where I left it, and I started to cycle towards Oxford Circus, where I guessed the prodigious pachyderm posed. Absent the low rumble of traffic – for there were no cars moving on the roads – the silence of the streets lent London something close to a dream-like quality, my only companions in this dark world the occasional pedestrian bundled up against the sudden chill.

I’m not a practiced cyclist; and despite living here for almost four years a lot of my mental geography of London is based on small island districts of streets centralised upon tube stations, pubs or resturants, but once I got close to the centre I started to get the glow of the elephant above the houses and shops to guide my way. I had been a little wrong about the location, and the Elephant was sitting on a pile of rubble where Tottenham Court Road tube station had been until fairly recently. It was huge on a scale that becomes hard to describe, but as it sat in the flattened remains of the shops that would have been on the site it dwarfed the buildings around it. The soft glow that spread from it appeared to come from no specific part of the animal’s giant body, but spread out over the skin. It sat, appearing somewhat dazed, gazing balefully up at the hulking block of concrete that makes up Centre Point, the ugly skyscraper at the foot of Tottenham Court Road. Near the top, lit by the elephant, a huge gaping hole was obvious, as was the new threat of the top half of the building snapping off at any moment.

Even this square was eerily silent where I had expected crowds, people, TV cameras. There was a man in a suit not far from the elephant’s giant foot, and he beckoned me towards him.

“I expected more people”, I said.

“There’s a radio broadcast, people are being told to stay away”.

“Still. People are more curious than this, surely?”

“It was kind of more than a request. It affects most people, but not you.

My name is Benjamin Stack, I work for the govenment.”

“What’s happening?”

“Not sure. Whatever it was, it seems to have crashed”.

“So it does. How did it get here?”, I asked.

The streets were not close to wide enough for the creature to have walked down, and the position of the crash some hundred feet in the air produced the frankly terrifying image of this huge animal somehow flying. Unless someone could demonstrate a magic feather, I was sceptical of this.

“It appears to be attached to the thing blocking the sunlight”.

Ben pointed, and I looked, and from the shoulders and haunches of the dazed beast, I could see a faint outline of silvery thread going up far into the sky. Lent Stack’s binoculars I could see them go as far into the sky as the glow lit them.

When I heard the crash of falling masonry I pulled away from the ropes into the unmagnified world, just in time to see the massive animal stand up. For all that its environment shuddered and crashed, the elephant stood quietly and stayed still for a few moments before curling its giant trunk around one of the cables and pulling decisivly twice.

The ropes tightened, and lifted, and the enormous elephant elevated, drifting upwards slowly and rocking side to side as some of the more powerful winds buffeted him.

“How is that working?” I asked.

“The thing that is blocking the light appears to catch solar winds in some way we don’t understand. We’ve seen them floating around before, usually over less populated areas. This one seems to have come in far too close. It’ll be a light year away by the time anyone else wakes up. Now, if you could come with me, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions…”

I went with Mr Stack, still confused, while bright shafts of sunlight started to appear on the far east horizon, as the elephant’s strange craft left our world. Looking back on it years later I realised it was perfectly natural.

What other way for such a ponderous pale pachyderm to wander the universe…

… than with a white elephant sail?

September 6, 2010

One response to Dark Night, White Elephant

  1. SheBit said:

    What have I told you about eating cheese before bedtime?

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