The Descent – A Cautionary Short Story About Fracking
All characters appearing in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, or awaiting judgement in heaven, is purely coincidental.
ather Jack Fracket surveyed the wintry scene from a distance. He checked his Timex “Celestial TimeMaster” watch – it was 2:30 pm on January 16th 2020 and he had not long since left the deathbed of Mrs Elsie Thornton – known to the world as Auntie Elsie. Elsie had survived the fuel poverty she had suffered as a result of successive UK government’s inept handling of energy policy, but her long slow death from cancer had been hard for her family. Father Jack, who had always been an ardent supporter of fracking, felt a special responsibility and a gnawing guilt for her suffering. Elsie’s doctor had laid the blame squarely on the pollution from the fracking wells which had been drilled just 100 yards from her home 4 years before, and even in her last days, as she faded away in her bed at home, she had had little peace as the 40 lateral pad was still in noisy operation all the day and all of the night.
The realisation that he was looking at the road from above came only slowly. There was the lorry, full of flowback water, that had come hurtling around the corner at him without warning and was now on its side in a ditch. It was slowly leaking its load into the stream that flowed alongside the narrow leafy lane that wound out of the village of Roseacre. His “Rambling Reverend” touring bike lay in a tangled, mangled heap under the bumper of the lorry and he could just make out a pale, scrawny-looking leg poking out onto the grey patched asphalt. The leg terminated in a black sock in a brown open toed sandal. His sock and his sandal.
Suddenly the world dissolved into a spinning green vortex and he felt himself tumbling upwards through space. When his vision cleared he found himself standing in a large area, that was furnished like a court house. Strangely though, it seemed to be suspended in the air. The space was full of onlookers and in the middle was what he thought looked like an archangel holding a gavel.
As Father Jack stood up the space went quiet. The archangel, looked sternly at him and intoned “Father Jack Fracket – I am the Archangel Raguel. I am the angel of Justice and Harmony. The boss is too busy to deal with small-fry like you Herself, so She has given me the job of sorting the sheep from the goats. Now, your life up until about 2010 was not a bad one and we would probably have let you stay up here if you’d arrived back then. It seems you took a wrong turning when this fracking thing started. You now stand before this celestial court accused of deliberately misleading people, scaremongering and intellectual vanity. How do you plead?”
Father Jack trembled – he had never thought that playing word games and showing off in 140 characters on Twitter could threaten his chances of eternal salvation. He thought of the lively theological debates he had expected to shine at, up here in what he’d always pictured as a sort of celestial college quadrangle. He’d always imagined the Lord (or as he now knew Her to be, the Lady) giving him an avuncular (or should that now be materteral) pat on the head afterwards and praising his incisive arguments. He thought of those heavenly bike rides he had looked forward to, wheeling though the cumulus with fellow priests on bicycles as they discussed teleology, and climbed the hills of fluffy clouds. They would have skittered down the cavernous halls of air with whoops of pleasure, like undergraduates drunk on fine wine and the burgeoning power of their own intellects. Back in the eternal present all of this suddenly seemed a very long way away.
Father Jack squeaked “But the anti-frackers were HORRID to me!”
But Raguel was speaking again ” Father Jack Fracket – you didn’t tell the truth – you misled people about where they got their gas from. You made up stories about what council officials really said. You misled people on Twitter and your blog. But the worst things you did were to scaremonger using the spectre of grandmothers dying of hypothermia because of fuel poverty and you made false promises of cheap energy from fracking. You did this to try to discredit the people who were simply trying to exercise proper stewardship of God’s earth. In fact your misleading stories were instrumental in bringing fracking to the Fylde. You aren’t the only person to have died in a traffic accident as a result, and the boss says that She believes the misery that has been inflicted on the people of the area can largely be blamed on those people who misrepresented the truth for so long. She gave you free will and you made the wrong choices.”
Father Jack tried to interrupt as was his wont, but Raguel was having none of it. In a Stentorian voice he proclaimed “Enough! You have said too much already. My judgement is that you should be cast out of this place. Take him down!”
Father Jack felt himself being manhandled towards a chute and suddenly he was falling downwards at such a great speed that he lost consciousness. When he came to again he found himself in a dark and flickering landscape. He was standing next to a network of pipes , with an infernal noise crashing about his ears. He took a deep breath. The acrid fumes made him gag and he stumbled forward, only to fall over onto a pile of slimy mud. He heard a banshee-like wail and threw himself back just in time to feel the wind of a huge black shape that hurtled past at great speed, narrowly missing his trembling, weeping form. Above his head in the darkness, he could see flames licking at the roiling boiling clouds.
Tears streamed down his upturned face and he groaned pitifully “Is this Hell?”. And then a voice from far away above boomed “No, Father Jack, you are on a fracking pad in the Fylde – we decided to send you back to give you a second chance.”
“Brrrrriiiing” – the alarm bell cut into Father Jack’s consciousness and as he awoke, covered in a film of sweat, he realised that this had all just been a horrible nightmare. Out of habit he reached for his iPad which lay on top of the Bible by his bed side and opened his Twitter App. He began to compose a Tweet and then paused.
“Perhaps not” he said to himself.
Within 20 minutes of this post going live the absurd @aunty_fracker (AKA Aunty Pants on Fire and no relation to Aunty Elsie) went ballistic on Twitter. Hilarious!