[First published on Writers’ Block, on March 11, 2016.]
It was all over the news. It was all I could hear my family talk about. Even outside, in our quiet, private neighbourhood there was an open sense of panic and unrest.
I couldn’t focus properly on what was being said on the TV, but the news ticker that continuously scrolled across the bottom of the screen read out loud and clear:
“BREAKING NEWS: Confirmed sighting of nuclear missiles aimed towards British Isles.”
From what I could gather amidst the chaos, it was very likely that our entire country and many others nearby were about to be destroyed. Then, the interview cut to a different screen as the T.V narrator in a dry and impersonal manner read out this message:
“A week ago, when North Korea’s president, Kim Jong-Un violated several decrees by the U.N and moved forces towards South Korea with clear intent on invasion and annexation, the U.N, in a heightened state of anxiety, spent 3 frantic days of deliberation before issuing their final ultimatum: Either Jong-Un step down at once, and surrender all arms or face immediate war. The United Kingdom, the United States of America, and several other government representative bodies all pledged allegiance to this writ, and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon solemnly vowed “severe consequences” if he did not resign from office. However, Jong-Un’s drastic response was beyond anticipation. Shortly after the missiles were detected in the sky, which was picked up by American satellites, he chillingly remarked in a televised speech that both the United Kingdom and America “will pay dearly for this thoughtless resolution.”
“Your citizens’ lives will all be destroyed as a consequence of the reckless actions of their government. For too long… [The United Nations], run by greedy, dishonest, and selfish money loving capitalists, has stood in the way of [North Korea’s] freedom, and exercised bullying tactics to keep her submissive. Embargoes, unjust decrees and threats of war. Now you shall all know annihilation.”
“-The missiles” the report continued, “are reputed to travel at a speed of 300mph and are approximately 30 minutes from reaching British airspace. They were launched suddenly, and without any kind of warning, from a military base located in the Pacific Ocean; only a few hundred miles from Europe. They were hard to track due to their inbuilt resistance to radar, and given the tardiness of the response of Her Majesty’s defence force, evacuation will be impossible. Britain faces immediate destruction within approximately 30 minutes.”
There was even a small timer in the bottom right corner of the screen that read “28:47 seconds”; giving a rough estimate of the time it would take before the missiles reached British soil. I didn’t know by that stage if the US government or British government had retaliated with a similar move, but then in the next half-hour or so, nothing would even matter anymore.
My family had invited our friends from next door over. They were all talking, but I couldn’t focus properly on what they were saying. I wasn’t in shock, nor was I afraid of death; I was just a little perplexed. For all the time I had been alive on Earth, everything around me just seemed to be perfectly still. Dull, I might add.
Now, in the face of this missile crisis, chaos was everywhere. Suddenly, mass hysteria was breaking out. I could only describe it as interesting. It would be something that my great-grandfathers, and their grandfathers, and all before them could not possibly even imagine. A whole country disappearing before their eyes. In a way, I felt privileged. Here I am writing a first person narrative of the end of the world; in which I will be a witness and the main character. I felt distinctly endowed with a newfound sense of freedom.
Jeanette from Number 17 had also come by. She was absolutely tearful, broken and wanted me to hold on to her. I thought I might as well, seeing as this was probably the last ever occasion it would happen. She was just so worried, so pale, so sad… and I couldn’t understand any of it. She held rather tightly, so tightly that I almost wanted her to stop. I was in a mood for private reflection and I didn’t want this.
Then Jeanette finally let go and started talking with some of my brothers and sisters. I was most relieved. At that point, I decided to walk outside. I looked into the sky, wondering where these strange, mythical weapons of mass destruction were. If I looked hard, would I be able to notice them? Or would they be too far away?
The sky was turning orange. It was awkward because the Sun was halfway through setting, obscured by thick clouds. It was as if our impending doom was forecast for all to see; written in the skies. I knew it had to be out there somewhere… even if I could not see it… it was out there. I just knew it.
At this point, I appeared to have spent so long gazing into the sky that I had spent nearly 10 whole minutes. My family were calling me in. Everyone from around the neighbourhood had gathered there. They wanted us to pray together. I supposed that if I had refused at that point, they would have all probably shouted abuse towards me and dragged me into the house to force me into it, so I did exactly as they suggested.
We were tightly packed together in the living room of the house, holding hands. Most of us were gathered in a circle, the others had formed inner circles. It was like something from a spirit channelling séance. Why was this even necessary… did they think that it would somehow stop this from happening? Absolutely pointless. We weren’t even a religious family at all. I don’t recall any occasion when we had ever gone to church. Maybe during my christening, but other than that… none. It was all a waste of time.
I was in a most uncomfortable and peculiar position. I was in the corner of the living room, behind the sofa chair. It was so everyone from around the block could fit together, and as I became increasingly uncomfortable I began to take some satisfaction from the knowledge that I would soon die.
Then after 5 minutes of solemn, and pointless silence, our prayer began. My hands were beginning to hurt. Jeanette’s fingernails were digging painfully into my hands. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to tell her to ease at this point because I knew we would never see each other again.
“Our father, who art in heaven…”
“Hallowed be thy name…”
Thy Kingdom come…”
Thy will be done…”
On earth, as it is in Heaven…”
Then, after a deep pause, and with tears running from her eyes, Mother continued.
“Give us this day… our daily bread”
“And cherish those…
Cherish those… those who? Those what? Had she forgotten the Lord’s Prayer? I didn’t find at all surprising considering none of us had ever needed to remember it. This was becoming a truly ludicrous farce.
“And forgive us our trespassers…”
This time, it was Father who cut in. He sounded very solemn, and I could tell from the tone of his voice that he was trying to resist emotion.
“As we forgive those who trespass against us…”
“And lead us not into temptation… But deliver us from evil…”
3:00. Three minutes left.
This time, everybody felt compelled to join in for no reason. I joined in too, just because everyone else was in the spirit.
“For Thine is the Kingdom…
and the Power…
and the Glory, Forever…”
A deep breath.
Then suddenly, once the congregation had finished, everyone scattered everywhere, because the missiles were in the sky. There they were. I was sat on the living room sofa, observing from the window. Two burning bright lights, flying side by side. At any minute now, they would dive downwards, and end every single one of us. I grew hot red with anticipation. I’d stopped paying attention to the countdown clock because by now I was excited. It was coming closer… any moment now, and this whole place would be history.
I quickly looked back, and the TV screen had changed. There was just a message that read:
“We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please Stand By.
Thank you for your cooperation.
There was nothing on it. Even the timer had disappeared. Perhaps the TV crew had engaged in their own kind of séance altogether.
And then I witnessed it all. The two missiles, as if in unison, both swooped down, leaving a murky grey trail of smoke behind them.
I remember hearing Jeanette scream,
“I see them! Up there!”
But she wouldn’t be able to elaborate on how magnificent they looked for long.
Finally, after what I clocked at 1.3 seconds, they hit the ground. And I felt the blast before I even heard it. I could feel myself; everything surrounding me disintegrating rapidly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was an enormous burst of light; I covered my eyes, and curled up into a ball, facing the wall of the lounge, over the sofa. The blast was so unbelievably loud. I buried my head inside all the cushions that were nearby, but still, my eardrums were ruptured.
Then everything turned white…
…Then faded to black again.
I thought this was the end. I really did believe I was going to die. But when I opened my eyes, I felt something rather heavy collapsed over my back, and lower legs. I grunted and heaved… but the damn thing would not budge.
After much movement, however, I managed to push free from my prison of debris. I looked back and noticed the sofa. The very one I had been sitting on. It was barely recognisable, most of it had been burned into the wooden frame, but it still held its shape. What I saw next was something no movie or fiction could have possibly prepared me for.
The entire town – no the city of London was levelled before me. All the buildings, trees, cars… gone; all flattened and destroyed. The buildings had all been reduced to a meshed concrete and debris, scattered all over the place. Some walls were still standing, and I could make out what appeared to be the silhouettes of four people on them. That’s where they were previously standing, I reckoned. Now their essence had been captured for all time, frozen in the brick and mortar.
There was no sign of my family anywhere. I called and shouted wherever I could, but I got no response. Jeanette… my brothers… sisters… Mother and Father… they were nowhere to be seen. The entire house I was previously hiding within was a pile of concrete, and ashen bricks.
In my head, over and over again, I could hear Jeanette’s scream.
“I see them! Up there!”
“I see them! Up there!”
It was as if she was making a determined effort to stay alive in my head. It would just go on, and on and on. Everywhere I went, it’s all I would hear, and it would not stop.
“I see them! Up there!”
From what I could piece together, the sofa which I had been sitting on had been propelled high into the air by the blast, with me attached to it. It collided through the upper levels of the house, flipped upside down, and was thrown to the floor. But, then the blast of the second bomb (that’s right – there were actually two, remember) pushed me further back and flung me through the air. Since most of the hazards behind me were destroyed by the first blast that came before it, I landed square in the living room of the next house behind it, so I didn’t get that far. I have read that due to the extreme power of atom bomb explosions, hardly anybody survives one… let alone two. How does that make me feel? As if I cheated death? Not really.
It was fate that I should last this long. I was destined to see this. It made perfect sense. It was written that I should see the devastation of London, and be its sole survivor so that I could tell my tale and leave behind my experience.
“I see them! Up there!”
It is something, I must say. All the buildings, and high-rise flats… the trees… they’ve all been demolished. Now I can see miles past them… I can see the clear horizons. Big Ben chimes no more. London Bridge has burned down completely. The BT tower is history. The London Eye, that was on several occasions, the host for many annual fireworks parties on New Years’ Eve, was burned to ashes by only two rockets.
My guess is that it probably doesn’t exist anymore. Now, in the centre of Greater London, there lie two towering landmarks that reign supreme: two mushroom clouds. They must be at least over 1,000 feet high.
In the midst of the chaos, I have become the New King of London. Now, this place belongs to me. I am the ruler, and I crown myself king. I have no subjects; nothing to rule over… and I have no enemies to do battle with, nor are there any people who may contest my authority.
Buckingham Palace no longer exists. Instead, this desolate wreckage of a city is my new palace. I don’t know how long I will survive to reign supreme, but I shall, for the time being, construct a makeshift shelter of bricks and rubble somewhere in the remains of Westminster Abbey. It shall be my royal bedchamber.
“I see them! Up there!”
In the midst of all this ruin, I did manage to find something. Amongst the wreckage of my own house, I did manage to retrieve my diary. It was still in excellent condition. The same could not be said for the rest of my family, nor London in general. If I look hard in the city I may be able to find food scraps in the broken down grocery stores… but then how will I know if they haven’t been contaminated?
I guess it’s only a matter of time before my time runs out. That is why I have chosen to write this. I need to leave something that I know will outlive me.
I guess this is goodbye. My only hope now is to wait for some air patrol to visit and check for survivors. If that air patrol never arrives, then I will have to join my loyal subjects. Which will I see first? I don’t know. But I do know that whichever arrives…
I’ll see them… up there!