Okay, so if I ever find out who cursed me to live in interesting times, I’m going to stick my foot so far up their butt they’re going to be able to lick the soles of my shoes.
Well, you have to remember how rapidly things all went to shit.
It was impossible to get enough information. The channels were saturated, but still. There could never be enough to satiate us. And it came in from all over the world. The case of a town that had been swallowed up overnight, just a mound of white, a huge puffball, and rescuers were trying to fight through the sticky, unforgiving web, trying to find people and get them out.
Switch to another station: surprise fun fact: eating this stuff wasn’t good for you. In fact, there were people lying in hospital beds on ventilators, and their bodies were all puffy, their eyes swollen shut. There hadn’t been any deaths reported yet - though they were coming soon - but it didn’t look good for these people. To my eyes they looked like bloated corpses already. The article made me feel queasy.
The one about a place in Russia, where they’d attempted to burn this stuff away, left me feeling even dicier. The flames had been massive, a searing wall of heat, and the smoke had been acrid, toxic, evacuation of people in a five-kilometre radius, and still dozens had died. The sticky coating left on the cityscape at the end had looked like melted marshmallow, like charred skin; but it had begun growing back within hours, and growing with enthusiasm, just mildly inconvenienced by the inferno.
You could see stuff like that any channel you turned to.
Zara made me sandwiches and told me, “Maybe you should take a break, huh?”
I shook my head.
“This’ll make you crazy.”
“I can’t shut it out by not looking at it.”
“Eat, at least.”
“They’re not going call you into work today?”
“Fuck no. Everything’s closed.”
“Library too. I guess, obviously.”
“When’s anybody going to do anything?”
“Do what?” she asked.
I tried not to think about the fire. “Somebody must be having meetings over something, somewhere making a plan. The government or the UN or something. Right?”
“So I wish they’d get off their collective asses and do something.”
Zara called her parents. “Just checking you guys are all right.”
“It’s unreal,” her dad said, apparently half enjoying the whole thing. Evidently it ran in the family. He tilted the screen to show her his gum-wrapped garden. “Can you believe that?”
“Is that the swingset?”
“And that’s the apple tree?”
“Have you talked to Grandad?”
“He’s fine. He thinks it’s snowing. He thinks it’s 1985 too. Don’t worry, it’s all going safely over his head.”
Zara said, “But he is safe, right?”
“Honey, yes of course.”
“And you guys?”
“Well, we don’t fancy leaving the house right now, but yeah, we’re okay.”
“Just keep in touch, okay?”
Zara’s conversation reminded me to call my dad. Mum’s been out of the picture forever. I didn’t know where she was, hadn’t since I was about twelve, didn’t even know if she was alive for sure. And now, I don’t even know if Dad…
But there and then, he wasn’t too bad. He was still living back where I’d grown up, a little valley town called Peanut – yeah, you can imagine the reactions whenever I had to tell anybody where I was from. And at my old place things seemed less dire. The gum was less thick, it didn’t look as hard and ropey. There were large tracts of green or grey where it hadn’t taken hold at all.
“What gives?” I said, jealous.
“You city slickers have it worse. I’m sure I warned you…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“I’m fine, but I’m worried about you two.”
“We’re okay,” I promised.
“Okay, look if you want to come and stay…”
Maybe. Maybe if at the time... Imagine rewinding and changing everything. If we’d just said “okay” and got in Zara’s car and gone right there and then? Never having been waylaid out there, never catching sight of Tamsin, never…
But coulda, woulda, shoulda, right? Who would be alive or dead?
But we weren’t at the point yet of thinking in terms of alive and dead, so I just said, “We’re good, we’ve been shopping.” Like Zara, I said, “Keep in touch.” Keep in touch. The last words I ever said to my dad.
I spent nights on chat rooms, soaking in all the dire predictions and conspiracy rants. I can’t say it made me feel better. Probably worse, in fact. Some sort of weird act of self-harm? Who knows?
Some guy (probably guy) called Crazytown told me: They’re calling a global death toll of three hundred and twelve so far.
You could always get me to bite: Comprised of what?
Well there’s the moron eaters for one. And the ones that died in the fire in Russia.
Swallowed town, I contributed, remembering the news article.
That too. And there’s been other bodies found. People out in the open where it’s been thickest, just found dead. Apocalypse Right Now, eh?
Other names started popping up.
FriedFish: Anybody hear about that guy with his guts all eaten out?
MobyRick: Well, who says ‘eaten’? Eaten is speculation.
FriedFish: There’s been more than one.
Tina112: There were three in Bahrain. But nobody will confirm it.
Crazytown: Planes are grounded. Apparently there hasn’t been a single plane take off in the last 24hours.
FriedFish: Bullshit. There isn’t enough room for all the planes in the world to be on the ground. They found that out in 1999. You can’t ground all the planes.
Crazytown: Yeah, that’s the bullshit. Planes can’t take off. It’s in the air, like spores.
Tina112: Infecting us?
Crazytown: Why not? What’s stopping it?
FriedFish: It’s not a disease.
Crazytown: Isn’t it? How would anyone know?
I ventured: Making plans? Survival plans?
Tina112: What, like an underground bunker?
MobyRick: Wouldn’t help. They’re not fully sealed. Spores are the size of pinpricks. Way smaller. They’d get in. It’d do no good.
Crazytown: It’s not the gum-stuff. It’s the people. You always gotta worry about the people. Not the zombies or the aliens or the killer disease. It’s always the people that’ll get ya.
Me: But if you were going to make plans? Hypothetically?
Tina112: It’s worse near the coast. Way worse. And cities.
Me: So coastal cities, not a good idea. I measured in my head the distance from my city home to the beach.
Tina112: Cities are coastal. Like seaports and shit. Like half the world’s cities are built on the coast.
Crazytown: And have you seen those iceberg-like gumbergs out at sea?
MobyRick: Have you seen the satellite photos? Oh my God.
FriedFish: (direct reply to me) Dude. Stockpile food and gold. That’s what I figure. And stay off the streets.
That last was proved right by morning. Zara got a call from Sally. Just checking she was all right. “You probably shouldn’t go out, by the way.”
“Aside from the obvious? There’s been some rioting and shit. There’s people getting mugged, and murders. There’s this thing where bodies are left hanging upside-down.”
“Looting. Turn the news on.”
“There’s too much news.”
“Tell me about it. But the streets aren’t safe. Just FYI.”
“When’s somebody going to do something about this.”
“Fucked if I know.”
We sat at the window and watched the road. Swathes of not-snow, untouched by human feet. It was like the snowfall at six on a Sunday morning, before the feet and hands got to it and turned it into grey slush. One set of tyre marks, already fading. There were other faces at other windows, framed by the light behind them. The sky looked hazy.
So, this is what the end looks like.
I think that was the moment when I started making plans in my head. They were nebulous and unformed, sparks of not-really-ideas. Places. Strategies. But was there anywhere even to go?
Out the window we saw a patrol of four policemen. Their feet left light, grey-white dents in the webby surface. They wore something kind of like plastic bags on their feet, and contraptions like gas-masks swamping their faces. They carried automatic weapons.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work