A short story inspired by a work in progress
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I finally ventured out into the open air, but it sure as hell wasn’t the scene of devastation spread out before me.
Where there was once a street full of terraced houses there is now only rubble, well, everything’s rubble except the occasional wheelie bin and, bizarrely, a sofa in pristine condition sitting in the middle of what used to be the road. Bricks, stones, a few lengths of twisted metal, scattered about haphazardly or in neat looking piles, forming artificial hills that limit my view of the surrounding area. I half expect a pack of lumbering zombies to come ambling around one of those hills, hungry for my flesh. I shake off the idea. That sort of thing only happens in movies. At least, considering everything that has occurred recently, I hope that sort of thing only happens in movies.
An eerie silence hangs in the air, like I’m the only human left. I have to see what has happened to the rest of the city, and these new hills of rubble will give me a better view than I could ever have from the ground. I pick the closest mound, my first steps tentative. It would be a cruel irony to survive the war only to be crushed to death in a landslide whilst playing amateur Edmund Hillary. The rubble feels solid enough beneath my feet, so cautiously I begin my ascent, taking it nice and slow.
I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye and turn to see a bird, a robin, perched on what looks like a lintel, watching me curiously, its head cocked to one side. Probably wondering why the stupid human doesn’t just fly to the top instead of doing all of this climbing. I consider telling the bird to piss off then discard the idea. It will only ignore me, and besides, I know from my gardening days that robins are cocky little bastards and will only taunt me more if I let it get to me.
Putting the robin from my mind I continue my climb, choosing each hand and foot hold with exaggerated care. Despite my slow progress it’s not long before I reach the summit, but any sense of victory is stolen from me when I see what remains of the world I once knew.
It’s a beautiful day. The sun looks down from a cloudless sky and a cool, refreshing breeze ruffles my hair. More birds fly across the blue, a scene of tranquillity openly mocking the nightmare below it.
Armageddon, surely that’s what this is. What else could it be? Where once there had been majestic towers of glass there now stands twisted piles of ruin. Iconic buildings that had once stood proudly, many for hundreds of years, structures that had defined the landscape are now gone. I should be able to see the London Eye from here, Big Ben, but they have simply disappeared. Whether their remains lay upon the ground like some rotting carcass or whether they’ve vanished completely I can’t tell. Certainly some things have vanished. I can see bare patches of earth where buildings should have been, but now there is nothing. I can see the remains of a plane, a 747 I think, its twisted wreckage nestled comfortably in the arms of what had once been an office block. At least that isn’t a shock. I remember seeing the plane coming down just before we took shelter from the chaos. Idiots trying to fly through that, they must have been insane.
How did it come to this? How could they possibly have become so strong? How could he have changed so much?
Even now I won’t say his real name, not even inside my head. Admitting you knew him was dangerous, people had died just for that. Admitting you had once been friends…? I don’t want to think about what might happen to me then. Does that make me a coward? Should I tell what I know? Try to fix things? But what about Ellie? I never thought I could love anything so much as I love Ellie. What would happen to her if I spoke up? That settles my mind. I know nothing.
The robin appears again, this time a broken chimney pot is its chosen perch. It watches me, judges me. You’re human, it’s thinking, I’m sure of it, you have no one else to blame but yourselves. You and your stupid wars. Do what I do, fly free, eat worms, shit on peoples clean washing. If only.
This war was different though, I mentally tell the robin. They were provoked by people who feared the unknown, by people who didn’t like not being top-dog anymore. In some ways I can’t blame them for hitting back, it’s what happened next I have a problem with. They attacked our power first, nuclear, wind, coal, tidal, you name it, they hit it. And not just here, everywhere in the world. The lights went out, nothing worked, and then we did the rest ourselves. People panicked, started rioting, fighting amongst themselves, preying on the weak, starting fires, looting. Yeah that’s right, robin, looting. Behold the great superior human race. No electricity, no power; steal 3D TV’s. Fucking genius! And then our politicians, our glorious leaders finally stopped debating and dithering and got stuck in. Airstrikes. Labelled the enemy as terrorists and hiding in our streets, so they decided the best course of action to stop them from hurting innocent people was to drop bombs on innocent people, in the hope that they would actually manage to hit someone who could somehow transport themselves anywhere at any time.
Thanks, guys, really helpful.
People tried to flee the cities, but that didn’t help either. They mowed them down with flame, made the earth itself rise up against them. Then they started fighting amongst themselves, and some of us felt hope. Maybe some of them weren’t so bad, maybe some of them wanted to live in peace as they had claimed, as he had claimed. We had allies at last, men and women who could fight them on their own terms. The war was still bad, very bad, people still died in their thousands, millions, but now we had a chance.
And then “it” happened.
Sorry, robin, I can’t be much clearer than “it”. All I know is that it was brighter than the sun, hurt like hell and made me want to throw up everything I had ever eaten. There you go, “it”. A perfectly apt description given the circumstances.
And then I took shelter with my wife and a handful of others who had fancied listening to sense for a change.
And then there was Ellie.
So that’s it, robin, that’s all I know. Well, all I’ll admit to knowing anyway.
The bird looks at me for a moment longer, somehow sensing that my silent rhetoric is over, then flies off and quickly disappears from view. Probably off to tell all of its feathered friends about the stupid, warmongering human that can’t even fly to the top of a pile of rubble.
A sound catches my ear and I look down from atop my makeshift pedestal to the small crowd of people emerging from the same cellar I had come from. A dozen or so, blinking in the light, looking around with lost, haunted expressions on their faces. They’ll be wondering what to do. Probably expecting me to have all the answers. And then I see her. My wife. Hair dishevelled, tired eyes, a cut on her left cheek that will probably leave a scar. Beautiful though, as beautiful as when I first laid eyes on her. And in her arms, a tiny sleeping bundle. Ellie.
I carefully begin my descent, the sound grabbing the attention of the others. They look at me expectantly, waiting for me to tell them what to do next. I know what to do. Keep them busy, take their minds of the world around them. They need to build. I will make them build. We’ll find a space, a bit of land with clean water to drink, good earth to grow crops, gather livestock to provide us with meat. We’ll take each day as it comes, tackle each challenge set before us, and we will survive. Together, we will build a future for Ellie.