Apocalypse No by Chris Green
At first, Ingrid and I think the explosion may have come from Dmitri’s place further down the lane. We live out in the sticks and Dmitri is our nearest neighbour. He is always tinkering with something questionable in his makeshift workshop at the bottom of his garden. With his moth-eaten suit, his wiry hair and his wayward gaze, he is the archetypal mad scientist. It wouldn’t be the first time he had had an accident with one of his experiments. But it gradually becomes apparent this is not just a local issue. The devastation is more widespread. The phones are out, the internet is down, we have no power, and the sky has turned black. The kind of black that absorbs all visible light. And it is deathly quiet.
Having eliminated Dmitri’s shenanigans, we have no idea who or what might be responsible for the burgeoning cataclysm. I make my way outside and find the 4 by 4 won’t start. Ingrid is tut-tutting. I tell her there could be more at stake than her missing her appointment at Cutting It Fine, and there’s a good chance her Amazon parcel will not arrive today. There don’t seem to be any other cars on the road. Half an hour passes. No vehicles drive past. Even out here you would expect a couple of dozen, even on a quiet day. But no sign of any. Does this mean that motor vehicles too have somehow been disabled? I have the feeling we are witnessing something apocalyptic. We are in the thrall of an all-consuming, mute darkness.
Like the 9/11 attacks and the coronavirus pandemic, I imagine we will once again be measuring everything in terms of before and after. Before the bang, everything works, after the bang, nothing works. While we are searching for the candles that Ingrid is sure we have somewhere in the house, I try to recall if there has been anything on the news lately that might help to explain what is going on. A nuclear build-up perhaps, an asteroid that was about to hit us, or some other dire threat to our way of life. Predictably, nothing springs to mind. With the coronavirus in retreat and a less volatile American president, things have been settling down recently. Could it be something they were too afraid to warn us about?
Our clocks and watches have stopped, so we have no way of measuring the passing of time. In our bleak isolation, we lose all sense of time. They say your eyes gradually become accustomed to the dark and adjust, but it is not true. At least not with darkness on this level. And you definitely don’t get used to the loss of TV and the internet. You begin to miss people more than you thought you would too. At least with the coronavirus lockdowns, you could speak to people on the phone or WhatsApp. And pass the time of day with those you met on your daily exercise walk. Naturally, we are worried about our Emma at University in Edinburgh. We were hoping she might be home for Easter in two weeks’ time. And what about Matt and Lucy in Melbourne with the baby on the way? How will they be coping? We don’t know, of course, that this is happening worldwide, Ingrid points out. I don’t want to dampen her optimism, but I have a growing feeling that it just might be. There is nothing we can do to find out the extent of it. All we can do is stay with it and somehow survive.
According to our best guess, the blackout conditions continue for nearly a fortnight. Days filled with morbid thoughts of when and how we might face the final curtain. When sleep comes, the grim reaper is there waiting in our dreams. Are we perhaps already dead? It feels that way. Perpetual darkness feeds unimaginable demons. It is wall-to-wall torment.
About halfway through our nightmare, Ingrid manages to locate the candles and we are once again able to light the house. But it is still pitch black outside. The illumination of the house brings a trickle of evangelists to the door gripped by an intense religious fervour. The darkness is a punishment for our sins, Reverend Dudgeon tells us, a clear sign from the Almighty that we need to repent. Ingrid and I decide we are not ready to repent just yet. We just want our normal life back. We want the car to start. We want the heating to come on at night. We want to be able to cook a nice meal. We want Facebook and Netflix. We want WhatsApp to be able to talk to Matt and Emma. More urgently, we want food. We are running out of the basics. Even the tea has run out. If the Almighty could come up with some provisions, we might be able to strike a deal.
By the time an unexpected slither of daylight appears on the horizon some days later, we are wretched and on the verge of starvation. Like a miracle, the electricity comes back on and the heating kicks in. Our phone batteries are dead and the internet seems to still be down, but at least, we now have power. The SUV hesitates a little, but at the third or fourth turn of the key, it starts. Gingerly, we make our way out into the big wide world to find out what is going on and attempt to locate much-needed supplies. Further up the lane, we come across a bunch of confused, desperate people. We stop to say hello and to see if they have any helpful information. None of them knows any more details about what it is that has happened than we do. As nothing like it has happened before, it defies all logic and human experience. But we are all on a shared mission to replenish our supplies, and hopeful that now we can get life back on an even keel.
At first, provisions in the shops are scarce, so we have to get by with tinned produce. The disruption to supply lines has been huge. Farmers more than anyone have taken a hit, along with wholesalers and retailers. Light, power and transport are crucial here. But gradually fresh food begins to appear on the shelves again, and perhaps for the first time, we realise how lucky we are to be provided for in this way. We now appreciate things we once took for granted.
We can now once again talk to Emma in Edinburgh and Matt and Lucy in Melbourne, which is a huge relief to us all. We look forward to reunions as soon as such things are possible. The internet comes back online but in a limited capacity. Gone is the political mudslinging. Gone are the overabundance of fake news sites and false flag posts. Gone are the conspiracy theory bots and the sites where opinion is passed off as truth. Gone are the endless ads for things you could never possibly want. Hopefully, this also means that the criminal activity that increasingly blemished the web’s reputation will also have been reduced.
We remain in the dark about the details of exactly what has taken place, and there seems to be a determination on someone’s behalf to keep it this way. We have no way of knowing who this might be or how they managed it. All we can glean from reports is that it appears to have happened worldwide, including in Russia and China. No data is available about the number of fatalities. But perhaps this lack of information is no bad thing. The historical tendency to dwell on disaster and misfortune is a trait that has few benefits. Going endlessly over old ground has been the mistake we have made all too often in the past. This explains why history has the habit of repeating itself. Surely no-one wants to revisit their ordeal. They want to move on. Few people we speak to are even curious now about what happened.
‘Are you still on about that old thing?’ Andy Mann, who services the SUV, says. ‘I saw it as a chance to catch up on some sleep.’
‘I’m too old to worry about stuff like that,’ Rosie Parker at the village shop says. ‘I’m too busy here for one thing, and I have my cats to look after.’
‘I’m pleased we’ve moved on,’ Pearson Ranger says. ‘It means I can pretend to go to the office again in the mornings.’
‘It is best to view the cataclysm in terms of before and after, and draw a line under it,’ Stanislav, the gap-year student who delivers the root vegetables and brassicas for the farm shop says. ‘Don’t you see? This is an opportunity for great change. Time to forge a new paradigm.’
Stanislav’s positive outlook is reflected in the flavour of the material social media algorithms now prioritise. Love and peace are being promoted again, along with protecting the environment. Let’s work together is the message. The daily newspapers are slow in reappearing, and when they do, they too seem to have tempered their morning vitriol. Instead of the screaming banner headlines, there are stories of human achievement and inside, features on self-sufficiency, tree planting, personal growth and transcendental meditation. Spiritual leader, Eckhart Tolle, has been given a regular column in one of the red-tops. Another is starting a flower power renaissance. I’m not sure who The Incredible String Band are, but there is a revival of their music, along with someone called Donovan. He’s a folk singer, apparently. And the Hari Krishnas will be visiting a park near you soon to fill your hearts with joy.
There has been a sea change in thought. Perhaps for the first time, people seem to want to get along with one another and not to be so ready to open up divisions. Maybe they never did, but were continually being told by ruthless manipulators from both sides of the political spectrum that it was ‘us and them’. 9/11 opened up the floodgates for hate and violence and reduced the capacity for tolerance. Back in 2021, Coronavirus appeared to offer an opportunity to change to a more sustainable way of living, but the opportunity was missed, and it was soon business as usual. With this latest before and after moment, we must be careful to maintain the change in consciousness that has taken place. We cannot afford to return to our destructive ways. This is it.
‘We haven’t seen Dmitri for a while,’ Ingrid says.
‘Old Tom Montgomery who lives at The Beeches down the road tells me Dmitri is working on an invisibility cloak,’ I say. ‘I hope it works out better than the other fellow that tried. The H.G. Wells one. What was his name? Griffin?’
‘I think so,’ Ingrid says. ‘They made a film of it.’
‘The Invisible Man. Several films and a TV series, I think.’
‘We watched one of them quite recently. Oliver Jackson-Cohen played Griffin. Elizabeth Moss was in it. The one with lots of CGI ……. Oh No! What was that loud bang, Kurt?’
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