A Day in the Life by Chris Green
As he drives along Great Western Avenue to work at Trask and Wherry, Lenny Fusco is a worried man. So, he thinks, should everyone else be. He cannot understand why so many people are still going about their lives as normal. The people he passes seem not to have a care in the world. Haven’t they heard about the toxic dust cloud that is slowly enveloping the northern hemisphere? Haven’t they seen the horrifying pictures? Don’t they know that the cloud is heading this way? Don’t they realise there will be tens of thousands, perhaps millions of fatalities, and all in a very short space of time? Perhaps they are all just putting on a brave face. This is unlikely though, he feels.
With Ant, or was it Dec’s dramatic breakdown on live television, along with the collapse of the global telecoms giant with the 6G rights, and the shocking revelations coming out of the royal divorce hearing, the story has had little coverage on the mainstream UK news channels. But it’s been all over social media for days now with the volume of reports growing by the hour. Twitter, Facebook, Tik-Tok, and Instagram, all of them are full of it this morning. The pictures aren’t very detailed, but then you wouldn’t expect them to be. They are photos and videos of a thick bank of cloud, so you’re not going to see anything other than cloud. This prodigious build-up is a sickly yellowy-brown in colour and at its thickest, purpley-grey or even black.
As the deadly cloud makes its way up through Europe, conflicting accounts are being put forward on social media regarding its origin. It is a laboratory experiment gone wrong. It is part of a right-wing plot to take control. It is a leftist plot to destabilise the west. It is down to Al Qaeda. It is the work of a separatist group. It’s the Russians. It’s the Chinese. It’s an alien attack. It is divine retribution, and these are the final days. There are conflicting reports, too, of the number of casualties, but by all estimations, these are growing exponentially. There is consensus across all social media sources that the phenomenon is out of control. Yet as Lenny goes about his day, he sees little evidence that others share his concern. He finds the it’s not really happening or everything will be all right mindset perplexing and deeply worrying.
Throughout the morning Lenny keeps looking at his phone. He is not comforted by what he sees. The cloud seems to be getting closer. By mid-morning, he decides he needs to give it a break. He puts the phone away in his desk drawer. In the restroom on his break, he tries to explain what is happening to Brie, the new secretary he shares with Tom Golfer.
‘It’s an inescapable bank of poisonous cloud, he says. ‘And it’s heading this way. They’re calling it Omega. It’s the final letter of the Greek alphabet. ……. No, I don’t know why, Brie. Perhaps it is to signify the end of days, but whatever it is, Omega is something everyone is going to have to become acquainted with in the coming days.’
‘Whatever next?’ Brie says, burying her head back into her Daily Express. ‘Look at this, Mr Fusco! Prince George has a new puppy. Isn’t it cute? …… And it says here that Dupa Lipa is going to headline Glastonbury.’
‘What? Who?’ says Lenny. ‘Anyway, Glastonbury is not going to happen. Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been telling you?’
The gulf here is huge, he realises. Unbridgeable. Perhaps Tom Golfer should have let him in on the interview panel. Next time perhaps. Except there won’t be a next time, will there?
It doesn’t go much better with Craig in Sales. Craig believes conversations with colleagues should be kept light. Nothing must rock Craig’s boat. Life is something to be celebrated as much as possible. He likes his in-tray to be empty. He likes his evenings free so he can go to the pub and he likes to play loud rock music in the car. He likes to take Sophie on weekend breaks to London. He is planning a family holiday for them on the Costa del Sol. Next week, as it happens. He has heard rumours that very soon, it might be difficult to go, but has dismissed these as doom-mongering.
‘Same old,’ he says. ‘There’s too much negativity doing the rounds. But you’re always up for a bit of doom and gloom, though, aren’t you, Len? I seem to recall you were the same over Brexit with your project-fear, and look how well that’s turning out. What was all the fuss about, eh? You’re beginning to sound like Wet Blanket Ron. You need to chill, man. Lighten up. Everything is going to be alright, don’t you know?’
The gulf here too seems too wide to bridge. Lenny comes across this time and time again. People’s refusal to accept what is staring them in the face. There’s no easy way to convince anyone about anything they don’t want to believe, let alone know-it-alls like Craig. On a scale of one to ten about whether to persist in such cases, the answer would come out at around one, and with Craig, considerably less. He is living in cloud cuckoo land.
Doom and gloom, Craig had said. This was the exact expression his girlfriend, Emma had used last weekend when she walked out on him. She was fed up, she said, with his constant carping. If it wasn’t one thing, it would be another. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy themselves once in a while? Well, she would find out soon enough that she should have listened to him.
In the canteen at lunchtime, Katie from Accounts, and Lauren, who is covering for Tasha Sampson on maternity leave, thank him for letting them know about the dangers posed by Omega. They say now they can prepare to meet their maker. Are they being facetious, Lenny wonders? They will find out soon enough that it’s no joke. Tariq in IT tells him he will need to check all the available data and he will let him know what he finds out, but on the face of it, what he is telling him is unlikely. They wouldn’t be able to keep something that big hidden. Baz and Charlie in the Post Room echo Craig’s sentiments that Lenny is a miserable so-and-so and needs to get a life. Simon Bill, Nick Carr’s replacement in Security, just blanks him.
‘Frequency illusion is often referred to as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon,’ Nathan Soul in Advertising says. ‘What you are seeing here, Lenny, might be nothing more than an extreme example of the phenomenon at work. Fake news stories can easily be spread this way. For example, you might get a wild story posted on Twitter. The story is so extraordinary that it quickly gets picked up on by early adopters, curious about what might be going on and frightened they might miss something. Their followers pick up on it, and not wanting to be left out, tweet and retweet on the subject. Before you know it, the story is trending, which in turn adds to the interest and generates another wave of posts on it. It moves onto other social media platforms and beyond. Casual browsers like yourself see it referred to a few times and form the impression that it must be true. Giving it a name, of course, helps build the momentum and Omega, for instance, is quite a catchy name. Its frequency is now seen as evidential. You reason that this is something that, although it is unlikely, must really be happening. Why, you wonder, is it not being reported on the news? You and others come up with conspiracy theories about it being covered up. The cover-up becomes a story and very soon this too is trending. Whereas in reality, it is nothing more than the fantastic fake story that was originally posted. …… Does this perhaps sound like it might be what is happening here, Lenny? It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Look it up!’
‘But that doesn’t explain all the video there is on the internet of Omega making its way towards us,’ Lenny says.
‘One tends to gravitate towards like-minded people on social media,’ Nathan says. ‘Confirmation bias leads you to seek out information that will support your views. So if you have a leaning towards conspiracy theories, those are the type of posts you are most likely to see.’
‘So what you’re saying is you haven’t seen any of these posts.’
‘One or two, yes, but there’s nothing very substantial here to back them up though, is there, Lenny? All you have are random pictures of great clumps of cloud. There’s nothing to say that’s it heading this way or that it is even happening now. Or it could be that it merely reflects the weather over the continent. Giant ridges of low pressure. It may not even be the continent. Surely, it could be from anywhere. And who’s to say that it is toxic? Have you actually seen hard evidence of the casualties? You have to check these things out. There might be a completely innocent explanation. For instance, didn’t a volcano erupt on one of the Mediterranean islands recently? Wouldn’t that produce pictures similar to those here?’
Lenny cannot recall a volcano eruption. If there was one recently, it didn’t make an impact on his social media feed. But he has to admit that what Nathan Soul is saying is well-argued. He imagines Nathan’s years of coordinating the publicity for Trask and Wherry have fine-tuned his debating skills. He can talk the talk. Why then does it not put his mind at rest about the impending eschaton?
In the middle of the afternoon, Lenny is offered the opportunity to head up what Josh Wherry describes as an exciting new project, and an excellent career opportunity for him. At other times, this may have been true, but under the present circumstances, Lenny doesn’t feel if it is even worth looking at the brief. It seems unlikely he will be able to make any headway with it. It’s too late for that. He manages to stop short of spilling the beans about Omega’s progress to Josh. If he doesn’t know about it yet, he soon will. Lenny doesn’t want to be the one to impart the bad news. He is saved from further embarrassment when a phone call comes in for Josh which he says he needs to take.
If the internet has had one legacy, it is that it has considerably speeded up channels of communication. The exchange of information across the globe now happens at a pace that could never have been imagined even twenty years ago. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than on social media. Change happens here at a blistering speed. What is all over Twitter or Tik-Tok in the morning may have completely disappeared by the evening. When Lenny gets home, not only is Omega no longer trending, there is no reference to it to be found anywhere. What has happened to the threatening toxic cloud, he wonders? How can it have evaporated so soon? Might it be that Nathan Soul was right? Is Twitter little more than a forum for perverse views, or might he, Lenny, be just following the wrong people, fickle agents who change with the wind? Has he completely misjudged it? Has he been wrong about the spread of the Omega cloud all along? Could it have been a volcano? Google throws up a number of pages on the Cumbre Vieja eruption on the island of La Palma. Its been sending up its ash cloud for nearly three months now. Elsewhere Google acknowledges Omega as a conspiracy theory, albeit near the bottom of a comprehensive list of conspiracy theories headed by 9/11, the moon landings, and JFK.
Lenny is still pondering these developments and how best to adjust his thinking on these matters to fit with the likely facts, when the front door opens. It is Emma.
‘I imagine you have had time to think things over, Lenny,’ she says. ‘Now look! We need to talk about this this doom and gloom, end of the world nonsense. My friend Shona was having the same kind of issues with Dirk. He believed someone had cloned their i/p address and was using it to run a Hermes parcel diversion scam. I realise this is not of the same magnitude as your Omega death cloud. But she found out from her self-help magazine, about Jump4Joy, a revolutionary new therapy to combat negative thinking. It claims to rid you of paranoid tendencies within twenty-eight days and offers a money-back guarantee. Dirk went went along to the introductory session at Get a Grip. That’s the alternative therapy place in the Resource Centre on Jarvis Cocker Street. He brought home the primer, and got cracking with the groundbreaking positive thinking exercises it recommended. And do you know what? They appear to work. Although it’s still early days, they now seem to be getting along fine. Dirk now takes Shona out, buys her flowers, and they have the kind of sex life she says she never dreamed possible. Perhaps if you gave Jump4Joy a go, we might be able to turn things around and begin to enjoy life a little more.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved