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The International Writers Magazine: Afterwards

Still Life (in a nuclear winter)
Mark Robinson

And the skies above the City bleed down upon the earth its overcast haze. Quiet below, sinking beneath the mist, a stale darkness pervades. With streets aloof, atom-bomb atonic. Red flashing twelve o’clocks light a humming wave of out-of-order signs and sequential blinking green men below the anodised phosphorescent burn of street lighting. The City was a sin atoned, realising their related misery to leave panic a take-over. The glitch in its life cycle; an axe in an itch frenzy; a scratch within an embrace of power. In this fair City.
Offline. No telephones work without a receiver or base station without a transmitter. Those hollow floating satellites alone like dead fish in a bowl. Down here our money’s not good enough, not anymore. Although it’s everywhere, it’s hard to keep count when someone’s shouting louder than you are.

Their numbers are meaningless with no computers left to account and credit cards work better as lock picks for door jams.

CD’s instil digital music we can subscribe to and, instead, are left to collect coffee rings and dust ingrained. Our memories are wiped of a virus we contracted, installed upon our brains by the programmers of our creation.
Media hungry obsessive’s counting their calorie intake between soap opera’s and reality TV because that’s what they’re told to do. Watching what they eat, while someone else is eating it for them on TV, putting on the pounds they shake off with supplements and silicone and sedatives and cell phone headsets.

This death mask face of fear and contentment, of toxins and Botox that exfoliate and suffocate your aura of where you know yourself. Remembering words you heard on a commercial to a tune you recognise from somewhere else in another voice, like a fairy tale that actually makes you think about avoiding bridges and woods and bears and wolves and sweets and strangers and people you met at lunch.

It’s all gone, everyone and everything you hate about the world is a memory you can’t forget. People that sat next to you at work or on the train, who watched the same soaps as you and used the same deodorant and said the same words as you, were still there but are now silent and smelling and idle and still not doing anything, anymore. Just like you. You’re all dead now. You and everyone else around you.

Your cars; your homes; your designer clothes with someone else’s name sewed into the hem; your jewellery and face creams; shampoos and conditioner; your LCD, high definition, wide screen, flat screen, hard drive, digital TV ready revolution are all for nothing; it all belongs to someone else who doesn’t exist.

Your loans; your debts and credit cards, with zero percent transfer fees on new purchases for stuff you never really wanted or needed anyway; your lottery winning tickets; scratch cards and online Bingo accounts; your saved games and mobile phone books; SD cards full of friendly faces of the dead; MP3 players loaded with illegal music tracks and shelves full of burned DVDs and copyright infringements, all lost in the dust of a melt down.

All the power gone to the severed head of one man. All the survivors dead. All of everything, suddenly nothing.
That’s the world you awake to this morning. This is your life. Your alarm call is the sound of other people’s anti-burglar systems springing to life when there’s no one left around to break in.

You hear this and think its Monday, it’s 12pm. It’s too late. It’s quiet. Between screams, it’s silent. Yet the ringing in your ears remains at exactly the same pitch.

If it’s Monday, then why was yesterday Tuesday? And why is it so dark outside when it’s day? My world, why is it so different this morning? Why is my Vodafone switched off when my stomach is still empty and my bladder full?
Did I miss this on the news? Will I catch it again later, on the hour or have to watch it again the next? Is my boss at work when I can’t get a dial tone? Or will his voice mail take a message? Will the food in my freezer still be okay if I reheat it? Will the best-before date still count? Will my statutory rights still be unaffected?

The coffee is still freeze-dried but the water isn’t working and the gas is not lighting. So you eat it with a spoon from the jar next to the kitchen window, counting the dead birds on your grey lawn. And think that at least dinner is still fresh for those creatures that live underground. Looking up at the sky but not seeing it through the smog.

Wishing you could flush the toilet as the smell is starting to get in the room you’re in. While you try to shave away a day’s worth of stubble in front of a dull mirror because the lights don’t work. Turning the dial on the old portable radio, waiting for a signal but getting nothing but elevator Muzak static in Dolby pro-logic.

Eating the food that’s perishable over the sink, waiting for the sky to clear so you can try the neighbour’s to check if they’re dead yet and maybe if the car will start. Then getting dressed because it passes the time, like waiting for a bus. And, trying the TV because, at least, Jeremy Kyle will know what to do. Before going outside and finding it difficult to breathe the cold air.
Finding your neighbour’s stiff in their beds and their IKEA furniture, splayed out like the catalogue cover draped across the coffee table. Blood sprays stencilled along the walls, which cover the colour and scent of magnolia. And the food edible in their freezer. And your car won’t start but the one next door does. And this car has better seats and a number one record on the TV and the boot space is enough to almost fit a full size adult inside on top of your suitcases.
And, as you’re driving, everywhere else seems to be the same; so you drive, following the road signs, but ignoring the cameras as they shoot out radar light into the empty seeping fog.

Maybe outside the City will be different. Somewhere in the Country there will be clean air and people to breathe it. Maybe the next service station won’t be a graveyard tomb of roadside survivor’s and over-priced meals that were reheated this morning just like you. And the hospitals; they’re all we have to care for the dead, a mausoleum with back-up generator flashing lights and pay and display meters, emptied by the hour.

Driving slowly past your office building to see if your space is clear and your manager’s is, too. Wanting to stop in to check your emails, but deciding not to, just in case the phone rings and it’s something urgent you forgot to take care of yesterday.

Weaving through abandoned traffic into a free way. Traffic signals obeyed, just slightly, as the junctions’ clear anyway. Rolling out into the beginnings of nowhere, watching the needle fall and garages pass. Seeing no one else alive. Waiting for the wait to end.

Shivering at the side of a deserted toll road or bus lane scared to death of being alone or being attacked by savages, desperately forcing yourself to urinate while there’s still some fragment of light remaining. Then realising, too late, that there’s still a hefty breeze and your dry-clean only trousers are now wet with piss and a huge amber sign behind you flashes your number plate to anyone who cares to see that you are illegally parked.

Getting back in to the car and driving for miles; switching through the radio station static airplay, searching for life apart from your own; cursing yourself for not renewing your RAC membership or returning your mom’s phone call; thinking back to that time when you passed up the opportunity to run away from it all and back pack around Eastern Europe with that hot Swedish girl you met on the train from work or that other girl, Kristy, you cheated on with some slapper that you really didn’t like and, when she found out that look in her eyes made you feel the worst you ever felt about anything. Even worse than this. That you’d give anything to go back and make it all right again; rewind the past to make it present and make it count.

And colliding into the first person you see driving into the City. A lonely girl, searching for someone else, anyone; another life to share with their own miserable little existence and regrets. Your Soul-Mate. Head on.
And as your vital life signs dwell and peter out, the horn blares dwindle with power and screaming dies out. The fog, it falls, and covers this all over. Forever.

And, it’s all gone; this whole day and repressed memory of a life worth faking. Of people and panic and the police and Councillor’s all trying to flee their responsibilities and pass the buck to the trainee below them or assistant that gets minimum wage for a short epitaph in the future history books of another civilisation of nobodies.

Scientists, somewhere near the epicentre, destroying the data they worked so hard to gather, all of them at gun point, tossing handful’s of printed pages into black flaming metal bins wishing their wives and children were still around to apologise to, while the women lay shackled to the desks or research beds wired up to monitors that may keep them alive, long enough to sell the rest of the world their secrets and breed forth another bastard race of wannabe’s and don’t wanna care’s.

Everything that everyone’s ever done is gone and what a waste of time and effort and energy it all was; all that time and money you spent on psychiatrists and therapy and cosmetic enhancements or adjustments; all those nights you lay awake and worried about the present, past and future; of the people you loved and lost and couldn’t really give a shit about, was all for nothing; a complete and utter waste of life and breath.

Those wish lists and life assurance; mortgage indemnities and cash back schemes; pensions and futures, stocks and mergers; that private clutch of porn magazines and dirty pictures you had hidden away in an innocent looking file, somewhere on your computer’s hard drive at home or, maybe, at work.

The war on terror, finally given a crushing blow, is terrorised and terrified, as they’re all dead, too. For real this time; not just hunched beneath some bunker or cave somewhere, lying on the white tile floor of a cell or buried alone in an unmarked grave.

The seven wonder’s of the ancient world and top twenty places to see before you die or things you should do before you’re thirty; all the myths and dangers about travel and people that have done it all have nothing more to prove, except, maybe they’re death was, somehow, worse than yours; was much more painful and traumatic experience which they should be congratulated on or documented or, probably even, compensated for.

Everything else is left to the worms to re-inherit or dolphins to reclaim; cockroaches, mice and the vermin left on the earth as it spins in its orbit all have the last laugh on a mankind that left it all to chance and missed the deadline by a knat’s hair.

Religion and wonder, science fiction and fantasy are all just titles of books of a race left to ruin; your God’s and sorcery and super-computers and secret surveillance societies and political conspiracies; they all still exist but are lost to the cause of something much more mundane and hollow, like reality.

This bird’s eye view of total desolation and complete annihilation lingers in the senses just long enough to feel the pinch of some once felt emotion that might have been regret. Floating higher, now, flying lighter toward the empty sun suspended above Heaven and God and everyone who’s ever prayed and now it’s all but gone.

The sky above the City bleeds down upon the earth its overcast haze. Quiet below, sinking beneath the mist, a stale darkness pervades.

© Mark Robinson December 2007.

The Councillor
Mark Robinson
‘I need your help. My wife; she’s cheating on me.’ There, it was out. Open.

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