Part 1: Global Warming
“It’s getting worse down there.”
I didn’t need to walk over to the window and look down on the street to know that. I’d been listening to whatever news broadcasts I could still get my hands on, chatting over channels that were still open. What was down there was repeated, city after city, region after region – the intel started to get patchy after that, but I knew it was pretty certain we were talking global.
All the same, I felt compelled to walk over there, to stand behind her shoulder and look down through the window, over the glass and brown-stone ledges. Thank God we’re six floors up. The first through fourth floors hadn’t fared too well. How long ago now?
Zara slipped her hand up into mine, “Look at it,” she pressed her cheek against my inner elbow, her forearm rested on the windowsill. Below us it looked like the streets were in the grip of a thick frost or snowfall; hell, it looked as if they were choked by clouds. Weirdly and lethally beautiful.
I’d sat down and laughed the day I heard somebody say on the radio that this was the result of global warming. I thought to myself: what the fuck isn’t? Now I just wonder about the theory: all over the world at the same time. A comet? A solar flare? A biological weapon? I remember almost ten years ago when I read that book: The Day of the Triffids. Hadn’t that been a biological weapon? And now life imitates art? But then this other theory – the world is just warm enough now, it triggered them, this is their spring.
Not triffids then, but fungus. Or something like fungus.
“Why?” said the guy on the radio, “should we assume that his came from outer space? What makes us think we really know so much about the life forms on our own world? Why not consider that this might have been beneath us or around us or above us all this time, just waiting for the right conditions?”
I think I’d have preferred a triffid.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing moving out there. I’ve seen things. And people have seen things, people I’ve talked to, before the chat rooms start winking out one by one.
Ham radio? Do I look like a ham radio buff?
Well, Zara sat at the window; she had her luscious black hair all hanging loose over her back. And in other circumstances… Right now, I hadn’t the stomach for it. We were fucked enough. I tilted my head to see where she was looking, and I saw that a car was down there, trying to drive through the streets. I could have told them that was a bad idea. Yeah, the fungus was likely to get up into the engine and kill it, but the bigger danger was going to be the people. Yup, we the people. Because just under our polite, clean surface there is something feral and heartless that not only wants to survive, it wants to dominate and punish. They were probably trying to make a run for it, but the car was starting to seize up; by then anyway, there were dark figures moving against the white, they were quick and efficient, rolling those roadblocks into place, first in front, then behind, so that by the time the driver realised what he was up against, turning around was too late.
When the doors opened, I saw there was a family.
A mum and dad and a couple of kids.
“Crap,” Zara murmured.
And these kids, probably under ten. Dressed heavily. They must have all their stuff with them, on them, piled up in the car.
Are they going to run?
But it looked like the father was going to try to talk his way out of this. He held up his hands in a sign of submission or peace. The acoustics didn’t carry the words up to our window, but all the same we got the gist. The dark-clad bandits came swarming out, leathered up, carrying baseball bats, or machetes, or cleavers, or sometimes guns. Their shoulders were usually studded with metal, and there was usually metal in their hair, but you couldn’t really see it from here. I had heard they liked to stuff the lining of their jackets with thin sheets of metal – cut up oven trays and the like – to wear as a kind of armour. I had no idea if any of that was true.
This middle-aged, out-of-his-depth man stood by his car door, with his hands up. He was talking. He had glasses that were almost falling off his face.
One of the dark figures approached him.
He gestured, still trying to explain himself, trying to negotiate.
Run, I would have thought, but I don’t know if running would have gotten him much further.
The bandit stepped in, and he moved with languid, pre-ordained grace. The guy must have seen it coming, but he didn’t seem to know what to do in response. He barely even started to raise his arms before the baseball bat hit him in the face. I winced at the sight of it. More than that, I huddled into myself, all muscles braced against that distant impact. You couldn’t hear it, but honest-to-God, it felt as if you could. And the blood, you could see that, the way it smeared across his face, and the over the bat.
The woman tried to run forward, but she was intercepted by a couple of figures with metallic spikes – sharpened with patience, for a moment like this. She didn’t stand a chance, no more than her husband had. One of the figures strode forward and buried the spike in her gut; the other followed, slashing her face.
The children cowered.
All I could wish of them was: don’t move. stay still. stay unimportant.
And then what? The inevitable conversation:
“We can’t leave them there.”
“Well, we can’t fucking go outside.”
“They’re barely in school.”
“We wouldn’t last-“
“But we have-“
And I’d have that same thought, that terrible thought that flashes past my mind: just get it over with. I’d see an image in my head of the bandits marching up to the children and beating them to death, shooting or stabbing, or otherwise maiming them, beyond the hope of us being able to intervene and do anything. Beyond us having to make that decision.
Down on that white, sticky street, the black figures swarmed. They looked like insects. They swept past the blood-haloed bodies as if they didn’t exist. They wanted what supplies were in the car. No more air-drops. What you ate was what you took from somebody else.
“Stop,” I said to Zara, there was no point in seeing this.
She shook her head.
“They could take them with them…” She was an idealist.
“Come on,” I took her by one arm, and I could feel that her resistance was token. “We don’t want to be by the window.”
She joined me kneeled on the carpet, and we stayed there, braced, until sometime after we’d heard the volley of gunfire.
Right here: the end of the world. Roll up, roll up, roll up, see how it all ends.
White and serene, with red blood quietly soaking into the fabric of stringy, unknown fungus. Well, when I say ‘unknown’: we call it the Stretch. Or Gum. On account of how elasticky it feels. And sticky like webs. And all I want to think about – or rather, not think about – is where the spiders might be at.
Can it get any worse?
Oh yeah, definitely yeah. And we have to think about that.
And look, I wish I could say that a cold-blooded murder in the centre of town like that, on a suburban street, was something extra-ordinary. But it wasn’t the first one I’d seen; it wasn’t even the first one that week. And here’s what I was thinking: not a good time for that. Yeah, that’s where I’d sunk to by then.
Because I had to say this to Zara, and she wouldn’t want to hear it, but: “We have to get out of here.”
She looked up at me as if not quite comprehending.
“We gotta leave.”
“Like that family did?”
“No, not exactly like that.” The words scrambled out all wrong. I felt my skin crawl with shame. Nothing felt real. I couldn’t even get the words right in my head. “If we stay here, we’re going to die.”
“If we leave, we die.”
Good point. Still…“We’re running out of food.”
She shook her head. “We’ve got walls and doors here, choke points. We can hold off an attack. We’re not an easy target. Out there we’d have targets painted on our backs.”
“We’d dress in white, we’d-“
“It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s more dangerous to stay.”
“What about Mikey, and Ben, and Sally and Thora? What about Enid and Lucy? What about Tony?” An assortment of friends and family.
“We can’t assume…” I set the words up in a line in my head before I could say them: “We can’t assume they’re even alive.”
“They could be saying the same thing right now about us!” Her voice rose in the heat of emotion.
“Sorry. But they could. Look: the radio, online, they all said the same. Stay in place until help arrives, right? The army…”
Not a hope in hell. God knows, if they’d been going save us, they’d have done so by now. What in the fuck would they be waiting for? The army had been and gone.
“Fine,” she said, “I’ll say it then. Let’s die here amongst familiar wallpaper, with each other, in peace; instead of out there on the street with a metal spike through our guts.” She pushed herself up off the floor and walked away into our room. Her bare feet swished against the shaggy rug.
She wouldn’t hear more about it, not tonight.
But I’d done the figures. What we had in the cupboards was going to give us another couple of weeks at best. And sure, a human can live for something up to a month without food. But then? Because no help was coming. I believed that. It was hard to get my head around it, but I did believe that. And, of course, I believed what Zara said as well – we would be walking targets, in more ways than one. And I thought about what she’d said last.
Seated at the window I noticed that the bodies were gone. Not just stripped, but all the way gone. I recalled something disturbing I’d heard on what was left of the grapevine about cannibalism. Better to die in the company of greeny-blue floral wallpaper? I sat with my jaw in my hands, grimly trying to decide if she was right or not.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work