Empty. The streets of London. Gone are the constant din of people and cars rushing from place to place. I can only hear the rustling of rubbish being blown across the road by the ill wind that grapples at my upturned collar. Looking around me, the usually busy shops on the sidewalk are shut and dark inside. In the distance I hear the lonely chime of Big Ben. Four O’clock in the afternoon and any last remnants of human activity had long disappeared.
One more hour to go before the coming of the comet. The scientists calculated that the chances of anyone surviving was approximately 6 billion to one. AHH to be that ‘one’.
I didn’t go with the last of the evacuation trucks.
After all, where can one hide when the whole world becomes nothing but space dust?
They could only fit so many on the space shuttles. Unfortunately, it was first class travel only.
I come upon a store that normally has a collection of different-sized TVs displayed in the front window all showing the same program. The TVs are all turned off. Peering through the shop window, I see a small portable television that is still on. The screen doesn’t show a movie or a commercial, but a digital clock display. The numbers slowly counting backwards. At the bottom of the screen are several words – ‘May God Help Us All’.
I stare at those words for what seems like a life-time. My life-time. Memories of my own existence flash through my mind as one would flip through the pages of a book. Faces of families and friends, experiences that made me the person I am. The person I was. Soon even that will be gone forever.
On a shelf behind the television there stands one of those world globes. Tears swell in my eyes for the first time. Centuries of hunger, violence, war, all threatened to tear apart the very soul of humanity. But still we survived. We polluted the planet, tore up its ozone-layered skies, and still the world kept turning, we kept living, breathing. But now in the earth’s darkest days, shadows are closing in.
The minutes continue to count backwards on the TV screen.
I look up as the skies darken over me.
A few doors down I enter a library. I would often visit here and lose myself in corner with a book until a tap on my shoulder from a library staff member was the only thing that brought me back to reality. But this time, the reality is that I am faced with an eerie silence. I can’t even hear the wind outside as the glass windows are probably sound-proofed. Nevertheless, the emergency lights are on and I make my way to the shelves. I always saw the library as a place of order in a world of disorder. Scanning the shelves my eyes come upon H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. If only he knew. Picking it up I happen to flick to the second page and a lonely sentence catches my eye.
‘We must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races’
Maybe he did know after all. Destruction is only human nature.
The lights flicker and go out but the dull daylight from outside allows me to find my way to the exit.
But not before noticing a plaque on the wall, it’s inscription reads:
‘A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.’ John Milton
I manage to make my way back to the shelf, grab H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and stuff it into my bag. Just in case John Milton turns out to be correct. After all, what did I have to lose but the world?
The wind is definitely stronger than before. I look up and down the street. A stray cat runs across my path and disappears down an alleyway.
Just then I spot a figure running across the road but it is too far away to see the face.
‘Hey!’ I yell into the wind but to no avail.
The person keeps running.
I decide to give chase.
I come to another alleyway of which I am certain he ran down here. The smell of restaurant garbage still lingers. ‘Wait!’ I yell once again as the figure appears from behind one of the bins and starts running but trips over a smaller bin. This gives me the opportunity to catch up to the man who by now is holding his knee in pain.
‘Are you okay, here let’s see if you can stand.’
I reach for his arm but he pushes my hand away.
I try again.
‘Leave me alone, he yells’.
Just then he begins to sob but somehow I don’t think it’s because of his leg.
‘We failed, we failed,’ he cries. His head in his hands.
This guy is insane, then again one can understand in these circumstances.
Looking at his face, this man looks somewhat familiar. Where had I seen him before?
‘Hey I know, you’re that science guy who was on T.V. warning us about the comet.’
‘You’re Professor Lindstrom, what the hell are you doing here?’
He doesn’t answer, he just keeps sobbing into his hands.
‘If only we warned everyone sooner, I could have saved more people,’ he utters in a quivering voice.
‘We could have saved you all.’
‘We’re so sorry.’ ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Hey pull yourself together professor.’
‘It’s not your fault.’
‘No one can stop it.’
I finally manage to help him to his feet, but just then a piece of paper falls from his jacket pocket.
As I bend down to pick it up, the professor shoves me aside as he continues down the alleyway and disappears around the bend.
I unfold the paper.
At the top of the page reads :
Project Earthshield Report 23
Top Priority Personnel Only.
Project Earthshield is to be abandoned immediately by order of Professor J. K. Lindstrom.
Continued experimentation using project satellite X-11 has resulted in alteration of projected course of comet L1 in sector 319.
Comet L1 new projected route is now Sector 0 (Earth).
Professor J.K. Lindstrom
‘May God Forgive Us all’.
A cold shiver runs down my back.
I look at he words again.
Comet L1 new projected route is now Sector 0 (Earth).
SECTOR 0 (EARTH).
I stand here, staring down an empty alleyway.
The paper blows out of my hand.
My stomach feels sickly as if I just swallowed a jar of honey.
Our own damn scientists have caused the destruction of the human race.
They’ve known about this for over twenty years.
Our own damn scientists.
‘Lindstrom!’ I yell, but no-one is here to hear me.
I frantically run down the alley.
‘Lindstrom, where are you!’ I yell again.
I turn a corner but no-one is there.
I slump down onto the pavement. Tired and angry.
Even if I did manage to catch him, then what?
Perform one last act of violence before the inevitable?
End the human chapter as it began?
A strong gust of wind hits me and shakes me from my moment of self-destruction.
I look across the road and notice The Old Red Cow, one of London’s oldest pubs.
Pulling myself together I stand up and dust the street from my clothes.
It is no use being angry now.
I turn and head towards the pub. Normally, these premises would be full to the brim with party-goers spilling out onto the streets as Carribean, jazz or rock n’ roll music filter through the lanes and echo down alleyways. I approach the building to find the door unlocked. Openning it up, the overpowering odor of cigarette smoke and beer hit me in the face and for a fleeting moment, I feel alive.
I glance over to where the main bar is and the bottles of expensive-looking liquor that stand un-openned on the shelves behind. Perhaps there is still some humanity left in this place after all.
I need a drink to make me forget about these last hours. Looking around the place, the tables look freshly wiped and the chairs placed neatly underneath. At least they didn’t leave in a hurry. As I can hear the howling wind increasing in intensity outside, I feel somewhat safe in here.
Making my way to the bar, I grab a glass, and take a bottle of the most expensive red on the shelf. Openning the cork sends out an empty echo around the room. I am truly alone.
What shall I drink to?
I hold the glass up.
What shall I drink to…
The street beyond the window has now turned a dismal grey. The buildings, now silent silhouettes, fading in and out of view as a dust storm seems to increase in ferocity at each passing moment. The automatic street lights flicker on and for a moment, I am inspired.
Let’s drink to salvation.
The wine is sweet but dry. The whole room shudders as a huge gust of wind pounds the building. But nothing is going to spoil this sweet moment of self-indulgence. With every sip of wine, and every savour of its texture, time seems to stand still for me. I imagine myself still standing with a bottle of red in one hand and a glass in the other while the world collapses around me. It might be getting cold outside but it is comfortably warm in here. Perhaps I’ll have another bottle of wine when I finish this one. What other way is there to enjoy the last moments.
As far as I am concerned, we could have made this place a better one to live in, but we screwed it up. For centuries we’ve been trying to destroy ourselves and finally we have done it. I hold up the glass one more time.
Here’s to fucking humanity.
I sip the last few droplets, peer in the mirrored wall at my blurred reflection, and hurl the glass towards it. Windows explode behind me as the dust storm invades my solice.
I run outside to face the on-coming rage…