End of Days
The question I was asked most often about the End of Days was this: did anyone see it coming? Of course, I could only answer for myself. Though if historians still existed I am sure they could work the events back to a single flash point. The twenty-first century equivalent to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I don't think I remember any one event in particular. But I do remember watching the news on the television one evening in October, just after the weather had turned. I remember wondering how we could possibly be pulled back from the brink this time. All summer the news had consisted of war and famine and crisis following crisis. Our so-called leaders were either ineffectual with their actions or sat back and did nothing. And, as it happens, we weren’t pulled back from the brink this time round. I supposed it was bound to happen, sooner or later.
The world ended on a crisp morning in February. By that point the whole globe was ablaze. Colombia. Israel. Zimbabwe. Followed closely by Somalia. Brazil. Afghanistan. These, at least, were expected. Felt to be contained, in their own way. Then the southern Mediterranean lit up and no-one was anticipating that. Repressed hatred between religions, races, cultures. Neighbour against neighbour and everyone for himself. It spread to Europe quickly after that. And once Europe was gone and America was left on its own. Scared and angry, they were left with the only thing they knew how to do – attack everyone else first.
I lost everyone I had ever known that day. That morning in February. Friends. Colleagues. My sister. You could take one other person. That was the rule. Just one. I begged and pleaded and said everything I could think of to make her come with me. But she wouldn't. Couldn't, she said. Couldn't leave her husband and her son. I know I probably shouldn't have asked. But she was my only family and I wanted to be selfish this one last time. More than ever, it hurts to think that she would rather die with them than live with me. It's been twenty years and I am still not sure who I am most angry with.
My father had been involved in a secretive project in the 80s. Not anticipating these events as such but preparing for them nonetheless. A space for emergencies. An under-city they called it. Built beneath the English Channel. Each year new technology and tunnel space was added under the guise of maintenance to the Channel Tunnel. My parents were both long dead by the time anyone had any cause to use it. But my father's involvement guaranteed me, his eldest child, a space plus one. I try not to think about which of us my father would have chosen had these events happened earlier. Or rather, who he would have left behind.
Indeed, the first I knew of the project was when two gentlemen turned up at my door. Smith and Jones they said though I didn't for a moment believe them. To be honest I was surprised they had been able to find me at all. I had left London soon after the riots at Dover. And record-keeping, well, let's just say that it wasn't exactly a priority. They said I had a duty to go to the under-city. That I could be useful. That I believed, and I do like to think I have been of service here. But to do so I had to abandon people I had known and loved for years. I wish I knew whether that makes me a bad person. To abandon one duty to fulfil another.
The under-city is not so bad. Grief, still, is the strongest feeling down here but there have been moments of happiness. Not contentment though. Never contentment. The last time I can remember feeling that was when I was at Cambridge. Ignorant as to the future. Surrounded by family and friends and so much joy. I remember thinking at the time that these felt like the best days of my life. How I wish, deeply, fervently, that I could have been wrong. In the quiet moments before sleep I long for those wonderful, halcyon days. There is nothing I wouldn't give to experience that kind of contentment again. To see my nephew grow up. My sister's smile. Just to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by.
Eventually the radiation will clear and we will be able to go back up to the surface again. Be able to live again. But it won't be in my lifetime. The best we can do now is to keep the memory of the Earth alive. To teach the children born down here, to educate them about every aspect of human life. But it won't ever be the same.