The Art of Derek Dohren
An extract from Chapter 12 of 'The Cats of the River Darro'
There was once a distant world that was in many respects very similar to our own earth. It had a comparable atmosphere and climate and was populated by life forms we would certainly recognise as having remarkable resemblances to those with which we share our planet. And it had humanoids too, people that by and large looked just like you and me.
Now for millions of years it was a very unpretentious place in the great scheme of things. Just another planet, orbiting around a rather humdrum star, in a medium sized galaxy. Honestly, if you'd ever come across it you wouldn't have looked twice at it.
But one morning something wholly bizarre happened on this the planet. The gravitational pull went a bit funny. Scientists couldn't quite put their fingers on what had taken place though many of them tried. In fact many of them made lots of money giving long winded lectures that didn't really explain very much. Church leaders too seemed to have a lot to say on the matter and many raised lots of money from their congregations while doing so. It was a sign from God they preached, though none of them seemed able to agree on quite what it was a sign of. In truth, the whole phenomenon was inexplicable whichever way you looked at it.
Nevertheless something weird had definitely happened. People found that if you stood very quietly and raised one foot just ever so slightly in the air, perhaps no more than an inch, you could feel a pleasant resistance to your weight coming up from the ground. With much careful practice, you could then transfer your body weight onto this raised foot and take your standing foot off the ground, and you could hover!
If you remained calm and measured, and didn't panic at the weirdness of it, you then began moving in the direction you were facing. That was even more off-putting at first, but you soon got used to it. Initially you didn't go very fast, perhaps no more than one mile an hour, but it was an incredible feeling. The moment you panicked or jerked your foot you came back to the ground and everything was as you'd expect it should be. But it was such a good feeling that everyone's instinct was to immediately try and get themselves hovering again.
Some seemed to have quite a knack for it and found it fairly easy to get airborne but for most it was a frustratingly tricky thing to get the hang of, like learning to walk or ride a bike, and they'd spend hours trying to figure it out. However, if you relaxed you eventually tuned into the right vibe. Then once you began moving you continued to move forward, and your speed would gradually increase. After ten minutes or so you'd be gliding along at the speed of a respectable walking clip. People would zip past each other in this manner, offering a 'good morning' nod and smiling at the silliness of it all but invariably concentration would be broken and they'd drop to a halt, perhaps even taking a tumble as they returned to firm ground.
Now, the really big problem with all of this was that once you were moving there was no safe way to slow down and some people enjoyed staying up for so long they began to build considerable speed. The only way to stop was to jerk your foot back to the floor and if you were going a little too fast it was like jumping from a moving bus or train. People began to get badly injured. The authorities became very concerned. If you hovered along the road for an hour or so then your speed could be up to something like twenty miles an hour and it became very dangerous. Often people finding themselves in this predicament tried to grab onto a tree branch or something, or directed themselves to the coast and hurled themselves into the sea for a soft landing. But inevitably people got hurt, and of course some drowned.
Scientists were now being paid lots of money to say it wasn't a healthy thing to be doing, though they still couldn't explain exactly what was happening. Church leaders, collecting tins to the fore, were preaching that the whole practice was ungodly, though why this was so they were unable to agree. City councils all over the world were forced to hang gigantic sponge mattresses off the sides of buildings into which people could safely launch themselves in the event they were going too quickly. This worked for a while and sports centres and athletics tracks were even allowed to hold hover weekends where you could travel round a track for a few hours going faster and faster before you directed your movement towards custom erected safety netting.
But it was all becoming something of a social problem. What no one had appreciated at the beginning was how addictive hovering was. Once you developed a habit, it was nigh on impossible to quit. Many had sustained broken limbs and other severe injuries and more and more people were being killed, yet increasingly the planet was becoming full of these hapless addicts hurtling about the place, going too fast to ever stop safely. They would collide with other people, with buildings, houses, whatever was in the way. Once you were going at over seventy miles an hour it was impossible to safely negotiate your way through busy towns and streets and many of these people, locked into their deadly trajectories, made their way out to rural areas where they simply continued to speed up and up until they splattered themselves against a tree or another poor soul coming in the opposite direction.
Governments naturally took a dim view. They had initially contented themselves with national television campaigns, public health leaflets, billboard advertisements, and all that sort of thing but such measures were inadequate. Very soon hovering was banned across the planet and anyone caught doing it could expect a lengthy jail sentence. But it was clear more practical action was required. Special forces were trained to nudge fast moving hoverers into specially designated 'safe' areas where they could smash into one another and obliterate themselves away from public gaze.
Hovering was now universally seen as a bad thing. Hoverers were ostracised and confined to the fringes of society. They couldn't get jobs or homes, and many of them turned to crime. They got themselves politically organised and some of them even began to form militant wings that threatened to violently overthrow governments throughout the world. The planet had reached something of a tipping point.
And then one day, as suddenly as it had started, the strange phenomenon stopped. The junkies who were hovering at the time crashed down to the ground in a final bloody mess. Scientists announced that they'd known all along that such a thing was going to happen (they even gave lectures on the matter) though people had no recollection of them ever saying such a thing. It was a sign from God preached church leaders, though there was no agreement about what exactly this sign was.
Time passed and people got on with their lives. Mattresses and safety netting were removed. Special forces were stood down. It all seemed a bit embarrassing now and people thought it an episode best forgotten. Within a thousand years no one on the planet even believed that such a ridiculous thing had ever happened. What had once occurred within living memory, had passed into the history books and from there had simply become the stuff of fairy tales and folklore.
In some cultures on the planet young children now played games where they pretended to hover. They sang rhymes about people smashing into telegraph poles at three hundred miles an hour. Respected scientists laughed smugly and said such things were impossible. Wealthy church leaders preached that the story was a warning from God, though they never did agree on quite what this warning was.