A Cast-off Skin
When they first installed the new nuclear reactor, they told us it was a more practical solution to our energy problems. No more coal, no more peat. A cleaner, more reliable source for our daily needs. Like a snake, we would be shedding the skin of the old age and stepping into fresh new modernity.
Certainly, once the new plant was up and running, the air smelled better and the hazy smoke that had blanketed so many of the days of our lives all but vanished. But the reactor was sometimes prone to belching thick vapors at odd hours. Sometimes these were strange colors, hues of crimson or turmeric. Sometimes they glowed and flashed, as though small thunderstorms roiled within.
Perfectly normal, we were assured. All part of the process of working the kinks out with these sorts of things. Nothing to remark on. Remember how prone to blackouts the old coal plant was?
We shrugged, and went on with our lives. What did we know about nuclear power? Certainly no one from our little village worked there. The plant was staffed entirely by outsiders, who lived in industrial buildings on the grounds and did not commingle in our pubs and shops.
The first spring rains that year were odd. The droplets felt peculiar on the the skin. Not painful, exactly, but they crackled as though electric.
Nothing to worry about, we were told. Just all of those old coal pollutants working themselves out of the atmosphere.
Our drinking water started tasting strange. A slight coppery tang, as though one had turned a penny around the inside of one’s mouth. Food cooked with it tasted similarly.
A bit of an issue with the pipes is all, we were told. They were old, and overdue for replacing. It’s being looked into. Nothing to worry about.
The food cooked in it tasted odd as well, but the it must be admitted that the skin of those who bathed in it took on a healthy golden hue. It was as though each of us had taken a Mediterranean holiday. And as for the taste, well, we got used to that. We’d lived our previous lives accustomed to the smell and smoke of coal, after all.
It was about six months after the plant became operational that the rashes began. First just one or two cases, fodder for the local gossips and scuttlebutt, but within a week it had spread like a pox, and we were all afflicted. It was a scaly, blistery affair that spread over the skin and covered the body.
A minor outbreak, we were told. Something similar happened in another village last year. Not worth getting too upset over. A few analgesic creams, some better hygiene practices, and we’d all be fine. Before long, this would all be a distant memory.
No one remembers who it happened to first. The rashes came with a fever which burned our throats and brains and made thinking difficult. Our skins itched and chaffed, and it was impossible to pick and scratch at the flaking areas. Occasionally at first, and then with greater urgency; our relief came with undeniable need.
Finally, our dried, rotting skins tore, sloughing away from our limbs and torsos like the peels of fruit to display our treasured new bodies within. Our scales so shiny, our muscles so strong.
Our teeth, so sharp.
As promised, we’d cast off the veneer of the old society, and stepped into the clean, simple modernity of the modern age.