The alarms went off as soon as Richard left the lab without the proper precautions. But at that point it was too late. He had heard the saying before of your heart sinking, but had never thought much about it until then. The minute the alarm began to blare throughout the hangar, he felt his heart, it felt like it was actually falling through his body and into his feet. It was the strangest feeling. He was thinking so much about his heart sitting in his feet that he didn't register the screaming and shouting right away. I must be in shock, he thought. It felt like things were happening in slow motion, and that he was simply an observer looking in from the outside. Someone in a suit ran up to him and shook him by the shoulders, a thin, reedy, balding man with glasses. What was his name again? Frank? He delivered presentations with lots of graphs and charts, Richard vaguely remembered. He remembered struggling to stay awake during Frank's presentations.
Richard shook himself. What was Frank doing here? he wondered. He didn't have any reason to be in the hangar, and even less to be near the labs.
But then he was being moved along, pushed and pulled like fish moving up a stream, he seemed to be moving without doing anything himself. And then he was standing outside, along with hundreds of other people. They were all looking skywards, as if assembled for some fireworks show. Instead Richard watched as a strange thick white cloud began to form and mushroom out and up. It looked like a pile of whipped cream, Richard thought fuzzily, and suddenly was craving pumpkin pie. He laughed at the ridiculous thought and barely noticed the looks that the people standing close to him shot him. Dark, angry looks.
Richard stood there watching the pile of whipped cream move higher and higher, and day dreamed about pie.
Richard stood with the others, all employees of MeteoTech, staring up at the large whipped cream marshmallow compound floated higher into the air. There was the loud, low drone of planes, like the ones used to put out forest fires or drop crop dusting chemicals on fields. Even from here Richard could see the MeteoTech logo on the side of the plane. He watched as the plane intercepted the cream and attempted to disperse it with a dusting of its own chemicals. But the concoction was having none of it and continued on its way, entirely intact, towards its destination. “Well, there goes hell in a handbasket,” Richard said, turning to his colleague, the one with glasses that had urged him to exit the building. He glanced at the man's keycard he wore clipped to his breast pocket. Frank Gallagher it read. “Strange phrase, don’t you think?” Richard said, feeling slightly giddy. “Going to hell in a handbasket?”
Frank looked down from the sky to give him a sideways look and then turned his face back to the rising instrument of doom. “I think it’s actually a handcart, not handbasket,” was all he said.
And that was all Richard remembered until he found himself lying in the damp grass. He was surrounded by everyone else at MeteoTech who had run outside to witness the spectacle that was the chemical cloud. He sat up. Everyone was still and unmoving. Everyone was dead. Except him. He turned to look at his neighbour, Frank, except, to his shock, Frank wasn’t there. There was an empty patch of ground that was Frank-less.
A tingle of sudden fear ran up his back.
He stood and surveyed the graveyard that he was suddenly standing in. Everywhere he turned he was surrounded by bodies. Except for, of course, Frank. Where could he have gone? Richard wondered. And why just him? And me, he added. He turned and tiptoed through the field strewn with bodies. Bodies, he tried to convince himself were just sleeping.
He looked upwards. The cloud had dissipated and blanketed what he could see of the sky, turning the previous clear blue sky dotted with white clouds to just a uniform pearly white.
“Turn off the TV,” the news woman urged, as she stifled a cough. Her face was pale with the sheen of sickness on it. “Turn off the TV and go spend time with your loved ones. Your family. Go to your favourite place. Go,” the woman glanced at her watch. “If you make it, go watch the sunset.” She stared straight into the camera. “After I finish here, I’m doing the exact same thing. I just thought I should tell you. Remind you that this is it. This is the end. Please,” she pleaded, her voice becoming thin and shaky, holding back the emotion. Her eyes were beginning to become glassy with unshed tears. “Please do this. Don’t live your last day sitting on the couch. Or if you do, I hope you’re not alone. Go for a walk. Go talk to the birds, the squirrels. Go breathe in some fresh air.”
Richard McGillivray watched the camera go black as the woman walked toward it and then shut it off. A moment later she reappeared again, standing huddled against an ominous dark grey backdrop of the sky that seemed to swallow everything up. She wore a bright red fitted coat which only served to make her blond hair look brassy. She stood clutching her microphone as if it were some sort of life preserver. “Turn off the TV,” the woman repeated.
Richard had watched the message over and over again, mesmerized, like he was waiting for her to do something different suddenly, say something different. It was on some sort of loop. The TV station had just left it running, for whoever to catch. He changed the channel and the woman in red followed him, like an apparition, across every channel, whether it was a news station or not. “Huh,” he said, and then after listening to her one more time, shut off the TV.
He went out to the large concrete patio at the far end and looked out across the wasteland of rooftops towards the mountains. He was humming a tune that he couldn’t quite place. It was on the tip of his tongue. He stood, humming loudly. There was no one around to complain, after all. And then it suddenly came to him and he laughed out loud.
It was R.E.M. It’s the End of the World As We Know It. He chuckled again. Strange what your subconscious comes up with, he thought as he looked down at quiet, deserted streets. Usually you could hear the constant buzz and hum of traffic, but now all Richard heard was his own heartbeat. And a crow that was flying around, circling. Richard watched it. It was flying in large, slow circles, obviously eyeing up some carrion somewhere below. “There’ll be a lot of that around,” Richard thought with disgust. And with a wave of sadness he thought about his friends, his family…everyone, simply reduced to food for the crows, vultures and other scavengers. A crow swooped down and landed on the edge of the patio wall, looking at him askance with a large shiny black eye, as if wondering if Richard was somehow food like the rest of them.
“Not me, Crow. Not yet anyway. I’m immune, it seems.” How, or why, he wasn’t sure. It didn’t make much sense. If everyone else had fallen like flies because the atmosphere was being plugged up with a giant stopper then surely he should suffer the same fate? He shook his head. No use trying to figure it out. He was alive, that’s all he knew.
He glanced up at the sky that looked like a single piece of blank paper draped over the world. “They warned us about this, you know,” he said to his crow companion. The bird cocked its head and looked at him with the other eye. It looked to him like the bird was giving him a puzzled look. “That we would cause the end of the world?” he continued, as if he was explaining it. Richard looked out at the eerily silent world that stretched out below him from his vantage point on the 7th floor of the building where he worked. “I always thought it would be because of some war. That we would blow ourselves up. Not…what happened here. Not the mistake of just one person.”
The bird stared at him, taking a few tentative hops closer.
“How do I know all of this?” he gestured to the landscape below. “All of this that is now just yours again. You might be wondering how I know, since no one else did. The news, they got it wrong right to the end. Ms Red Coat, she reported that it was some kind of freak sudden global warming effect. Other people, conspiracy theorists, thought that somehow, someone, some world government agency, had put some kind of dome around the whole planet, making earth like a giant Christmas tree ornament or something. Which is impossible, really. If you think about it. Well, maybe not if it was alien technology. But we don’t have any alien technology, no matter what some of those crazy conspiracy theorists think.” He paused a moment, and looked at his watch. “You see those houses over there?” He pointed to a cluster that seemed to be precariously clinging to the mountainside. “Before all this happened. When you could still see the sun, if it was sunny, that is. The sun would hit that bank of houses there, precariously on the side of the mountain, and the houses blazed as if they were on fire. They were so bright you could barely look at them. It looked like the whole mountainside was made of bright orange jewels. And now look,” he said, dropping his hand, as if discouraged. “Now they are just dead and lifeless.”
The crow made a jagged, harsh noise. Accusatory. It hopped closer to Richard, stopping by his elbow.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Richard said, looking offended before wondering briefly if the bird knew what an offended person looked like. Maybe. He’d heard that crows were supremely intelligent creatures. “You know already, don’t you? That’s why you’re giving me that look. You know what I’m going to say?” He knew, even as he spoke, he was acting like a crazy person. He was talking to a crow for god’s sake! But he couldn’t help it. He’d been by himself for weeks. Or was it even a month already now? He’d given up trying to keep track of the days. He wondered each time he put on his shirt and tie, and pulled on his pants in the morning why he even bothered to come here, to work, every single day. But he knew the answer. It was basic high school psychology. He needed routine. No matter how ridiculous it was.
Plus, it was worth noting, not that there was anyone around to do so, he admitted. That he was trying to figure out a way out of this.
“You know why I’m trying to figure out how to solve this little,” he made some air quotes with his fingers, “environmental crisis, as some people were calling it initially on the news.” This time Richard couldn’t contain the sudden laughter that bubbled up and erupted from inside. He looked at the bird and the bird stared back at him. He gasped, hand flying to his chest in a melodramatic way. “You do! You know why. You’ve been able to figure it out. Even when it took me at least a week to work it out. And even when no one else really figured it out. Not really. It’s not really something you want to tell the whole world, that you’ve done something, that you’ve so royally fucked everything up. Your brain does funny things, you know, when you’re in shock. It’s kind of like it shuts off, and you’re on autopilot, and your brain refuses to acknowledge your existence. At least when you do something as major as I did. When you’re the person who single handedly destroyed the world. Destroys the human race. That does something to you, y’know? I’m pretty sure I have some kind of PTSD actually. If there was anyone around to evaluate and diagnose me, I’m sure that’s what they’d say.” Richard stopped and looked at the crow and nodded. “I can see you agree with me. That’s good. That makes what I’m about to say a little bit easier to say, because you seem like a reasonable p-….crow, Mr Crow.” He took a deep breath, looked down at his feet for a heartbeat to collect his thoughts and then back up to look the crow in the eye. The crow shook itself, ruffled its feathers and then with a small jump, it’s claws scraping at the metal bar that ran around the perimeter of the patio as a safety measure, flew off, in the direction of the houses that would have been ablaze with sunlight, had the sun been able to penetrate the toxic soup that was the sky.
“Hey!” Richard yelled after it. “Come back! You can’t do that to me! You can’t leave me right when I’m about to bear my soul!” He watched it flap slowly away until it was only a dark speck and then suddenly gone, disappeared in the sea of whiteness. For a long moment, he stared out at the blankness, until his eyes started to water.
His two way radio crackled, bringing him back. His two way radio hung at his hip in his makeshift holster he put together with layers of duct tape. He remembered making duct-tape wallets with his son that time that he’d found a tutorial on YouTube. Who would’ve thought something like that would ever come in handy?
He took the radio from its duct-tape home and turned it on. He scanned the channels, picking up nothing but the uniform low static, and then - What was that? The radio made a strange clicking sound. He pressed the button and spoke. “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Richard McGillivray. I’m the person who caused the end of the world. I repeat. I’m the person who caused the end of the world. He paused. “If anyone is out there, if anyone is listening, I just needed to tell someone that. I know it’s too late now, but…” he shrugged. “There you have it. I’ll check back in half an hour.” And he clicked off.
Check out part 1 below if you have to start from the beginning or part 8 to continue reading!