The End by Chris Green
At first, the sound is little more than an intermittent background hum. I put this down to tinnitus. But, the hum does not go away. Over a period of a few days, it becomes more pervasive. Eventually, it is a permanent drone. On her return from her counselling conference up country, my partner, Nisha tells me she can hear it too. What can be causing it, we wonder. The fridge freezer perhaps? An electrical overload? An alarm from an outbuilding? …… It is none of these.
‘What about Charlie’s radio transmitter?’ Nisha says. ‘That’s not far away.’
‘Charlie’s ….. uh, shed was the first thing I thought of,’ I say. ‘But there’s nothing at all coming from there. I’ve been round a couple of times. Charlie seems to be away on holiday.’
We live in a detached house in a quiet rural area so we conclude it cannot be noise from a building site and it is too loud to be from distant traffic.
I discover that others are hearing it too. Mrs Oosterhuis in the cottage down the road says it is upsetting her Mikey. Mikey is her Jack Russell. Bill and Gill who live at The Old Rectory say it keeps them awake at night and Ron and Anne at Rose Nook say they have taken to wearing earplugs. The animals at the nearby Rescue Centre are behaving strangely too, the dogs especially. It’s not just Mikey who has taken to yelping and whimpering. Animals sense something is wrong. Mr Chislett in the newsagents says the humming sounds like a swarm of bees. A plague of locusts suggests the lady in front of me buying her equestrian magazine. She tells us about her experience in Egypt in the eighties. We debate as to whether the hum has a constant frequency or whether it oscillates. I tell it sounds like the E chord at the end of A Day in the Life played at full volume and without the fadeout. The pair look at me blankly. Whatever its pitch might be, we agree it is getting louder. When I go in to pick up my prescription at the surgery, the customers waiting in the reception area are talking about the hum, describing it variously as a buzz, a thrum, a rumble. The pharmacist says that some folk have taken to wearing industrial ear defenders when they go out. He tries to sell me a pair.
Everyone now seems to be hearing it but no-one knows what it is. There is nothing on the news about it and nothing in the papers, just the usual blather about indiscreet arms deals, political brinkmanship and celebrity indiscretions. Why is it not being reported? Someone must know what is causing it. I trawl through the conspiracy theory sites online. I feel there is bound to be something there like there is with weather manipulation or chemtrails. Even if it’s just an unsubstantiated theory, someone will have come up with an idea about what is going on. But to my astonishment, there appears to be nothing, not even the token suggestion by a sci-fi fan that it might be a big black monolith beaming a signal to mankind. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think that people had been posting prolifically but the posts had been systematically taken down.
‘Try not to become neurotic about it,’ Nisha keeps telling me. ‘It will probably disappear just as unexpectedly as it started.’
I think she is wrong. I have a sense of foreboding about it but I know what she will say if I share this thought with her.
I decide to go to see my friend, Vic on his houseboat. Vic often knows about things that are going on that others don’t. He is a mine of information, a veritable WikiLeaks. But this time even Vic is flummoxed. He too is concerned about the background drone. He says he has taken to playing Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age to drown it out. But he tells me he has not been able to come up with anything about its source, perhaps it’s an invisible alien landing craft hovering in the sky waiting for the right moment to invade.
Aura in the New Age shop that has opened in the village says each of the planets has its own vibration. She demonstrates the different frequencies with a series of cosmic tuning forks. Each fork, she explains, tones to the precise frequencies of each planet’s orbit around the Sun. None of them, however, match the hum. Perhaps the orbit of our celestial body is slowing down, she says. Ravi, the leg spinner in the Lower Dickley cricket team says at first he wondered if it might be a universal Om, but Om has a positive vibration whereas the sound we can hear has no such qualities. If everyone can hear it, it could be a force for unity, says Interfaith minister, Desmond Haynes. I think he’s clutching at straws. It’s more likely to be confirmation that things are falling apart. Look at the state of the world. Where is the contentment?
‘My phone’s gone dead,’ Nisha says. ‘Right in the middle of my call to Astrid.’
‘It probably needs charging,’ I say. Technology seems to have it in for Nisha. She constantly experiences these kinds of difficulties. Last week it was the timer on her tablet, before that a virus on the cooker. Perhaps it was the other way around although she manages to lock her car keys in the car even though it should be impossible. It’s a good thing she has someone around to fix these things.
‘I’ve just charged the damn thing,’ she says, thrusting the Samsung at me. ‘Not ten minutes ago.’
‘You’d better try the landline,’ I say. No-one I know seems to use a proper phone these days. I wonder why we still pay for the service.
A few seconds later Nisha reports back that the landline is dead too. As if somehow it’s my fault.
‘That’s a bugger,’ I say, worried that the day might now take a turn for the worse. ‘I’d better go online to see if there is any information about a fault.’
As I say it, I realise that there is not going to be any internet either. The lights on the router are flashing red. I try for about twenty minutes but it will not reboot.
Next door, Mrs Oosterhuis has no phone or internet either. Nor do Ron and Anne. Our daughter, Lucy comes around in a panic to see if our TV or internet are working. Hers are not.
‘Everything seems to be down around our way, internet, phones, TV, the lot’ she says. ‘And it’s chaos on the roads too. None of the traffic lights are working and no-one knows who has the right of way. And there’s been a massive pile-up at the Jim Morrison roundabout.’
Predictably our TV isn’t working, nor the radio. Just static on both. The omnipresent hum though seems to be louder. The cups on the kitchen work surface are beginning to vibrate. It’s as if the source is getting closer.
‘What do you think it is, Dad?’ Lucy asks.
‘No-one seems to have any idea what’s causing it,’ I say.
‘I’m scared, Dad. It’s all a bit Black Mirror, except it’s for real.’
Seeing my puzzled look, Lucy explains that Black Mirror is a satirical sci-fi series.
Staying put and doing nothing doesn’t seem to be an option. Out here in the sticks, we feel isolated. We need to find out what is going on. The only way to see how far the communication outage has spread and maybe find out what is behind it would be to go to Chesterbridge, the nearest large town. This is thirty miles north. We set off in the Range Rover. As expected, the car radio is full of static but as we make our way along the road the ubiquitous hum strengthens. There is very little traffic on the road, just the odd military vehicle from the base at Edgemoor.
‘It’s the middle of the afternoon,’ I say. ‘What the fuck has happened to everyone?’
‘It certainly wasn’t like this coming from Milton Sodbury just now,’ Lucy says. ‘Hence the pile-up at the roundabout.’
Milton Sodbury is a small town to the south. The traffic chaos that Lucy encountered coming from Milton Sodbury will be down to the failure of computer systems, running traffic lights, satnavs and other tech devices. So why the absence of traffic on the road to Chesterbridge? It’s an A road. There seems no logic. As we drive on in watchful silence, we see that vehicles have been abandoned by the side of the road. Every hundred yards or so there’s an abandoned set of wheels, a car, a van, a lorry ……
‘Ought we to be heading this way?’ Nisha says, finally. ‘I don’t like it one bit.’
‘I don’t like it much either,’ I say ‘But we’ve got to do something.’
‘That was a dead bear we just passed,’ Lucy says.
Common sense suggests we should not be doing this. Everything about the journey seems portentous. It is getting noticeably colder now and although it is only two o’clock, it is already getting dark. The phrase, devil and the deep blue sea, springs to mind.
‘Let’s turn back,’ Nisha says, as we pass an overturned motorhome.
The hum was one thing. Once you established that there was a perpetual hum, you could learn to live with that as a norm but this is getting weirder and weirder. We don’t know what to expect next. What manner of devastation is taking place?
‘Look up there!’ Lucy screams, suddenly.
It takes me a little while to realise that it is a plane falling out of the sky. I can’t imagine what else I think it might be. Clearly, it’s much too large to be a bird, it’s the size of a Boeing aircraft, for Heaven’s sake. But here it is plummeting rapidly on a trajectory to a spot the other side of Brickley Hill. It’s going to crash. Hundreds of people will be aboard and they will die. They will probably be screaming.
My mind is a blur. I can’t remember the exact chain of events but I am no longer in the Range Rover driving to Chesterbridge. My narrative has moved on. I am now in…. I am in…… Where am I? I realise I am alone. Where are my ……. my family…..Where are the people in my…… in my stor……. my….….stery…. mystery? A deathly silence pervades the ravaged landscape. The hum has ……. stopped. There is no hum. I’m not sure if it’s the future or the past. But, it can’t be either. It must always be now. I just can’t put it all together at the moment. It feels like a kind of limbo. What has happened to the hum? Perhaps Desmond Haynes was right and the hum was the very thing that was holding the familiar world together.
The landscape behind me seems to be disappearing as if someone is rolling up a carpet. Amongst the devastation before me, a black crow is calling. A harbinger of doom? Up ahead in the distance is a large ramshackle structure, a depository of some kind perhaps. There is nowhere else to go. So, with a degree of trepidation, I approach the derelict building.
‘You are not going to like it in there, old man,’ says a gangly figure in torn black clothes. He has one eye missing and a shock of jet black hair hanging down one side of his pale face. He seems completely out of context.
‘Why?’ I ask.
‘I am just telling you that you will not like it,’ he says. I look him up and down. His form seems insubstantial, his features other-worldly, ethereal. Reason and logic seem to have broken down. What is this place?
‘But, there is nowhere else to go,’ I say. ‘Nowhere! Look around!’
‘Exactly!’ he says. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head, old man. There is nowhere else to go and there’s no going back, is there? This, my friend, is it.’
‘What do you mean? Who are you?’
‘Questions, questions. There’s no time for questions, old man.’
‘Where are Nisha and Lucy?’
‘Your wife and daughter will have gone to another ……. terminal.’
‘What is in there? What is in this …… terminal?’
‘Emptiness. A void. Non-existence.’
‘Yes, old man. Your time has come. This is The End.’
© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved