THE COMING OF AGE
The first thing I knew was the incredible shock of pain emanating from my nose. The second was how bizarre the sudden appearance was of a parabola of red dots on the pavement before me along with an increasingly large puddle of black-red goo.
I involuntarily looked up and directly into a snarling maw comprising two rows of ragged, ugly-looking teeth. It was this gap-riddled mouth that held my main attention as I stared forward in shocked disbelief. It was wide open in that square-shaped look of maximum and terrifying extent. As I adjusted my gaze the owner’s eyes came into view, wide and bestial looking. It was only after I had registered these first impressions through my haze of outrage and pain that I started to take in other details such as the diminutive size of the person confronting me and her grey hair. My quivering consciousness also took in the bloodied umbrella by her side. All of these impressions took a maximum of five seconds before I was again reeling from a searing pain emanating from the top of my head.
I swiveled around, almost losing my footing on the thickening puddle of my own blood beneath my feet, to find a gaunt figure of a man leaning over me. By this time I was spluttering, not only from the blood cascading over my jaws but also from my apoplectic reaction to these events.
It was then that basic survival kicked in and overcame any urge to protest or to hold these assailants to any kind of account. I ducked, swiveled and darted quickly to one side to escape the clutches of these two and any further blows they may wish to rain down upon me. Adrenalin was pumping into my veins like billy-o and it was certainly screaming flight rather than fight!
I could hardly believe the scene that greeted me then. The two who had assaulted me had turned to face me and showed no remorse whatsoever. Wiping my chin and upper lip free of blood with my forearm to prepare myself for speech I then screamed at the two old dears in front of me, “What the fucking hell did you do that for?!!!”
They didn’t respond, other than to take some rather resolute steps toward me.
My mind reeled. What was happening here? I quickly looked about to see who was around me and what help might be at hand. There were very few bystanders and I could tell by their gawky curiosity they’d be of no use to me whatsoever. I had been about to post a letter in the wall of the post office when my day had been so very painfully and shockingly interrupted, and I now scurried along the little walkway which bordered it and down the stairs. Having successfully reached main street I then ran down to the village square.
Help was far from at hand. As I ran in near panic toward the square I became aware of something vaguely wrong in the shapes and postures of those ahead of me. As my mind focused I realized that the usual banal activity and demeanor of the shoppers was completely disrupted. Demure little housewives were being wrestled to the ground and having their faces punched and hair pulled. Men in conservative suits were being rolled about on the ground and pummeled with both hands and feet. I saw one teenage shop assistant hauled out of her shop by her hair and her teeth knocked out by what seemed to be a claw hammer with the sale tag still attached to it.
I stopped in my tracks.
The people doing this seemed totally incapable of such acts. They seemed to a man and woman to be far too old, yet they seemed filled with some kind of inhuman strength. A group of rugby players on the way to a match, already wearing their team shirts, were being thumped unceremoniously to a pulp by several bearded old men who seemed to be suddenly endowed with superhuman powers.
How could any of this be?
I nipped sharply into the chemists against whose wall I had been leaning after a quick glance to ensure there was relative calm inside. Once in I skipped behind the serving desk, found some bandages and cotton wool and applied these to my head and nose. Suddenly there was a loud thumping and smashing from the far side of the shop. Two figures appeared rolling entwined in the aisle scattering assorted bottles of shampoo, aspirin and herbal remedies before them as they went. A crusty old tramp with matted grey hair and stained khaki raincoat was attempting to stick a very large hypodermic syringe into his victim, one of the counter girls. Quickly I looked around, searching for anything which could be used as a weapon. My eyes fixed upon a sales display of electric razors. As fast as I could I removed one from its packaging and approached the two wrestling upon the floor. I raised my hand high above my head and with one long swipe I brought the razor down upon the bridge of the old tramp’s nose. Nothing, he showed nothing. No reaction. Nothing. He continued attempting to get between the salesgirl’s flailing hands with his syringe. Clearly I had to find something much more effective. I needed scissors. I dashed frantically to the counter. There! Brandishing the biggest pair of scissors I could find I rushed back to the combatants. The noise of girl’s screaming was deafening and it did not diminish one iota as I stuck the scissors firmly into the left eye of the tramp. He slumped immediately on top of the girl, blood gushing from his eye. I caught hold of her left arm and attempted to drag her from under him. Unable to do so I put my foot on the right side of his chest and while pulling on her arm managed to free her.
The girl was in a state of complete shock. She hysterically shook her head back and forward screaming at the top of her lungs. I could do little further for her at that moment and, knowing what was likely to be going on outside, I left her to the relative peace and safety of the shop.
It was almost over outside. Corpses lay strewn across the precinct and slumped against walls.
I glanced to the childrens’ play park but had to look immediately away, it was just too gruesome.
There wasn’t a sign of life anywhere.
Where should I go? What should I do? What COULD I do?
Stepping over the bloodied and gutted bodies in my path I made my way to the bridge. Here I stopped and looked down into the river. Down below I saw the perpetrators of this outrage, all huddled in a mass by the river’s edge. They didn't seem human somehow. I had the distinct impression they were now acting as a single entity rather than as individuals. They did not react to me, seeming in some kind of dormant state, almost comatose, arms wrapped around each other, bent over, huddled in one great group entity.
I took the walkway through the woods toward home. Things there seemed oddly normal after the madness and carnage I had witnessed. The cool breeze was causing the leaves in the trees to flutter as tranquilly as ever. The water in the nearby river tinkled merrily as it passed. All seemed normal. I made my way to the wooden bridge at the far edge of the village in the direction of my home, and so reached the council estates beyond.
All was quiet here too. Though I saw there were many broken windows and often incongruous looking chairs and even tables standing upside down in gardens and clothes strewn on many lawns.
I reached home with a mighty sigh of relief, locked the door and collapsed in the nearest armchair.
I turned on the TV, desperate to find out what was going on.
I switched from channel to channel and only found snow, no signal. Then, suddenly, one channel appeared somewhat normal and I focused directly and feverishly upon it. An amateurishly scrawled message in red marker pen now confronted me from the screen: US NOW - YOU NO.
What did it mean? Why was it so incoherent, like some product of a damaged brain?
I continued flicking through the channels and at length reached an international station, seemingly unaffected by the madness, where I finally got the full picture.
“…We will continue to cover this breaking story. All scheduled programming has been postponed indefinitely.
US forces have been mobilized to the maximum deploying selective neutron annihilation. We are informed that the present situation has been anticipated. A cull is underway. All unaffected persons are advised to hide in as secure an underground location as they can find. A basement, bunker or improvised underground shelter is recommended. At 3 p.m. Western European time you must, I repeat must, be below ground level. Every animate form not at a safe level and located above ground at this time will be vaporized.”
It was 2:40.
My mind reeled. My house was built on concrete foundations. Where in hell’s name should I go?!!!
About half a mile away within the nearby woods lay a high school. There might be some basement or bunker there! Acting in blind panic I threw a chair straight through my living room window and barrelled out onto the street. I raced down the curve of the road, through the wooden fenced pathway and onto the parkland which stretched between my estate and the next. My legs screamed in agony to my brain but my still pumping adrenaline was still thankfully a match for their fatigue. The air pumping to my lungs almost seemed to be ripping the flesh from my throat as I hurled myself onward. I hit the road at the other side of the parkland running at full tilt and screamed into the woods and up to the school gates. Leaping over these I dashed across the lawn, under its ancient Cypress tree, and up to the school building. Each door I tried seemed to be locked. I backed up and hurled myself sideways through the nearest classroom window. Once in I headed for the main lobby. When there I spun round and round in panic. There must be some kind of basement structure... something! Then I saw the stairs descending at the far side of the lobby.
It was 2:58.
I rolled bodily to the bottom of the stairs and found myself facing a steel door.
I kicked at it and screamed in my mindless grief and frustration, my lungs fit to burst.
A little hand appeared and then in the next moment a small boy stood before me. “Come in. Quickly!” he said.
I didn’t need any encouragement.
Just as I got in it happened. My ears suddenly popped and then the pain that I’ll never, ever forget exploded in my head causing me to slam my fists against my ears, scream out in a paroxysm of agony, and fall to the floor. Everything went red before my eyes. But not only red, not only... everything was suddenly transparent. I saw straight through everything, the bodies of the children in that basement room, the tiniest structure in everything around me, the very bricks and fabric of the walls themselves and out to the trees and all else to the horizon.
By degrees the gut-wrenching pain and hellish supranatural vision slowly reduced to a point where we stopped screaming and writhing on the cold concrete floor and began simply to groan within our instinctively adopted fetal position.
It was over.
And it was also just beginning.
Most of the animals were dead - most of us would be vegetarians now.
The majority of humans were dead. All the old were certainly gone. We would need to create the past from our own memories now.
Evolution had set a limit on longevity. No one had known for sure but many scientists had long suspected it, and governments had prepared the final solution for the eventuality.
It is a common enough instinct in the wild. If times are hard enough, or the environment sufficiently degraded and overpopulated, the old will kill and eat their young. So it had come to pass. Through irradiated and chemically polluted food, through an environmentally perverted existence, made worse by experimentation on the ultimate solution, the nexus of purging had come.
In the cold dank basement, I and the surviving pupils suddenly realized all too clearly what the future held for us. In that moment there was no consolation that we had survived and no cheer in the fact that we now walked out into the wood, denuded as it was of all insect, bird and animal life.
Within that total and awful silence, at the beginning of what would come to be called the New World, we sank as one to our knees and began to weep, and we wept until we could weep no more.