By Thady Nealon, Ireland
There it was, Goldilocks’ Tomb, nestling amongst the last stand of green trees, as if, somehow, that small area had been protected from the ravages of the forest fires, protected by some unknown force. Yet the Tomb itself lay open, empty, shattered stones the only remnants of the lid. A broken headstone lay nearby with her name engraved on the base, “Here Lies Goldilocks, A Follower of the Middleway”.
There was no sign of life, no other travellers or refugees, no message from beyond the grave, it seemed my journey had been in vain. I ran my fingers inside the base of the tomb and cautiously smelt them. A faint tang of ashes, but, of course, they could have blown here from the fires. I don’t know what I expected, that there would be a message, that other people would have found their way here, that somehow Goldilocks would rise again, that the clock would be turned back, that we would have another chance, that the Middleway existed. Foolish thoughts, desperate thoughts.
The cult of Goldilocks had grown over the last ten years or so as the savage impacts of climate change seared our planet and more and more people lost their livelihoods, their families, their lives. The planet protectors, the young people whose futures had been wasted, burned up, had adopted the mantra ‘not too hot and not too cold ‘, seeking a climate that was just right, just right for all of us, as they struggled to save us. But in reality, their actions were always too little or too late, foiled as ever by those in control. ‘Business as usual ‘, was the mantra of those entitled ones, the exploiters, fiddling the system as ever while our planet burned, while our time itself was set on fire, incinerated until we could count all our tomorrows.
And then, one day, I heard a whisper that Goldilocks had really lived, that her story was more than just a fairy tale, that she had found a middle way many years ago. The rumour was that when she died, she was buried in a secret location in the mountains north of where I grew up, on the outskirts of Sligo town, on the Western edge of Europe. I determined to find her tomb, to see if there was any message, any hope of saving our planet. To see if the Middleway still existed. If nothing else, it would be a last pilgrimage, a last journey with a purpose, a last adventure.
I travelled by foot on old roads, past abandoned rusty cars and derelict houses. Near the ruins of Sligo town, I met a troupe of wandering entertainers, two old men in worn shoes, torn suits and filthy ties and a third wrapped in blankets with a wreath of dead leaves on his head and a broken fiddle in his hand. They were dancing and singing with feverish enthusiasm but I couldn’t make out the words. “Look, look”, they shrilled when they saw me and one of them emptied a sack at my feet, lumps of black coal rolled on the ground. “Don’t be afraid,” the old man with the sack said, “don’t be scared,” and he danced a jig in the middle of the road, “it’s only coal.” I asked him who he was and where he was from and he started to tear his hair and sing, “I am a wild colonial boy, my name you’ll never see” and he scrambled about on all fours trying in vain to put all the coal back into the torn sack.
His older companion stumbled over one of the lumps of coal and falling on his back picked it up and kissing it, declared, “We love clean, beautiful coal. We love it. And you know that’s indestructible stuff. Indestructible. Absolutely indestructible. You can hurt a lot of things, I was hurt, probably hurt more than anyone. I know more about hurt than anyone on the planet. But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal. We love coal.” Kissing it again with his blackened lips, he placed it gently in the sack, and now sobbing uncontrollably, grimy tears running down his face, he slowly got to his feet. Their companion was all the time struggling with the broken fiddle, trying to play a tune, weeping and laughing at the same time, like a madman on a stage, not sure whether he was part of a comedy or a tragedy. Then suddenly, as if just becoming aware of me, he looked up with haunted eyes and declared, “We have killed my mother, we have destroyed her. I loved her so much, so much, but these, these,” and he waved vaguely at his two companions and dropped his voice to a whisper, “they have killed her, murdered her and now they plot to kill me too”.
His companions turned. “Have you any food?” they asked me, “Anything to drink? Someone’s been eating all our food, drinking our water, robbing us while we were off walking. Our friend here has not eaten in days.” I showed them my empty bag, my empty hands, and the ancient with the broken fiddle whispered quietly, “Too late, too late, but, ah, what fidelity“.
The trio started to head south, whispering and giggling amongst themselves, kicking the lumps of coal down the road. “Don’t go that way”, I called, “you will be caught in the fires. There is no way round.” “Fake, fake, fake,” they screamed back at me, “only hell burns,” and they shuffled out of sight, towards the thick wall of flames and smoke that had turned the whole sky orange.
Now, a couple of days later, here I was and the last embers of hope were extinguished, nothing but an empty tomb. Someone had been here before me, had raided this sacred ground. Whatever Goldilocks had known was gone, a way of life lost, life lost. The sound of the flames grew closer and the smoke made my eyes water. There was no place left to go to, there was to be no second chance, no resurrection, we were all consigned to the fires.