Imagining a Future Wednesbury
Students at St Mary’s Primary School in Wednesbury collaboratively designed a future high street and accompanying soundscape, via an interactive online platform, as part of artist Emily Warner’s project Digital Postcards. Read more about about the project here.
by Jamie K Rhodes
Soon it would be too late. Tucking the map into his back pocket, Smith lifted his glasses to mop his brow and gazed over at what he presumed was the clock tower. The tendrils of innumerable climbing plants had forced their way up and around its sides, trailing flowers of every colour and shape as they constricted the brick beneath. So much so, pondered Smith, that it looked as if it were a single organic mass wilting under the weight of the midday sun.
Smith pushed forward across the humid swamp, the verdant carpet of algae parting in his wake. Each heavy step he took loosened the decaying matter underfoot and released bursts of foul-smelling odours that spiralled upwards to claw at his nostrils. Looking down at the murky water, he caught the darkened shapes of whatever had been brushing up against his boots. Best not to check, he whispered to himself.
Back at the research station Smith had gone through the satellite imagery for each year since Wednesbury had been abandoned at the turn of the twenty-second century. While he knew that the trees and other vegetation had not taken long to march along former roads and reoccupy every available space, he had not expected the waters hiding below the thick canopy – something the blisters covering his sodden feet had been relentlessly scolding him for over the last day of the hike.
Wading into the shadow of the tower, Smith looked up and saw that even though here and there corner pieces had fallen away, exposing glimpses of the cavernous interior that echoed with the excited chatter of birds, it still looked surprisingly stable. He remembered the Commander saying that this settlement had been one of the last in the region to fold under the increasing heat and radiation of the Anthropocene, and Smith could not help but think that if the tower was hewn out of the same stuff as its townspeople then it was easy to understand why it still stood nearly a century later.
Peering into the darkness of the tower, however, Smith suddenly froze. His eyes had met two others that sat upon the silhouette of a huge bulk nestled within. In that moment Smith felt as if the swamp had fallen silent around him, save for the irregular clucking of his Geiger counter and the endless droning of dragonflies flitting in and out from behind the reeds.
Smith’s heart began to race as he noticed the bulk shuffling its way closer toward the opening, rhythmically bobbing backwards and forwards as it drew nearer. The creature’s true shape was slowly revealed as it poked out of the darkness and into the rays of sunshine cascading down into the clearing that encircled the tower. It was a bird with two intensely orange eyes that sat above a short, slightly twisted beak, and one which had mutated to a size larger than any specimen Smith had ever read about, let alone seen for himself in the field.
The creature abruptly stuck its thick iridescent neck out to peer closer at Smith below, sending him stumbling backwards and into the tepid waters of the swamp. The putrid mud that lined the floor slowly fed its way through the gaps in his fingers as he leaned back onto the palms of his hands, all the while keeping his gaze fixed on the avian terror looming above.
The creature blinked twice. And, as if satisfied with the situation, it pulled its neck back in towards its body and began to let out a soft series of cooing sounds that seemed to tumble around in its gullet. Scarcely a minute had passed before the bird glanced down at Smith one last time then swooped low across the swamp to rise up and away down the man-made gorge of half tumbled down buildings thickly festooned with vegetation, sending ripples across the surface of the water that lapped gently against Smith.
After sitting still among the endless sounds of the swamp and taking in what he had just seen, Smith suddenly jumped to his feet and patted himself down. There’s still time left but none to waste, he thought, as he cut back the vines smothering the entrance to the clock tower and disappeared into the darkness within.