I don’t know when I first heard about the day the world would end. There certainly was no government announcement; in future days it seemed like it was a topic the government shied away from. The knowledge seeped through social media quietly, infiltrating our collective consciousness until there was no doubt about something that we didn’t want to know. The date was far enough away at that point to not seem imminent; perhaps someone or something would intervene. It was scheduled for late autumn, which did feel like an appropriate time for the world to end, if that was what was going to happen. But it was only early spring, how could one believe in the end of the world when the daffodils and tulips were blooming, the kowhai were bright yellow and the magpies were dive bombing me on bike rides, to protect their fledglings?
So, through spring and into early summer, we didn’t really believe in the End Day. It was just another date in the calendar. Those of the optimistic type, or the complete denialists, put events in their calendars out beyond the End Day. Those of us who were more conservative, or who didn’t like to be disappointed, put people off who suggested post-End Day meetings. We said something vague, along the lines of, “How about we schedule that at a later date, right now I am not sure how that part of the year is panning out.”
I am not quite sure when people started dying. I think it was mid summer. Once again, there were no concrete announcements but the news of deaths moved to a degree of frequency that one could not ignore. No-one died noisily or spectacularly, they just didn’t wake up. When I was still sceptical, and wondering if this was simply another social media inflation of events, I ran into a long haul flight attendant who was a friend of a friend. We were chatting in the check-out aisle of the supermarket, keeping things nice and superficial, like we were all trying to do by that time. Suddenly she announced, “You should see what’s happening on the international flights, I really don’t want to work them any more.”
Like many other people, my international flying agenda had been significantly limited since COVID smashed into international tourism like a freight train. You could fly overseas again, but the hoops to be jumped through were significant. You needed to make sure your vaccine passport was accredited as up-to-date, you paid an eye watering sum for your ticket, you paid another eye watering sum for insurance and you waited to see if your flight was cancelled just before departure or, worse, just before your return. Moreover, your insurance still might not cover you in the event of COVID illness, or a countrywide lockdown, if the insurance company found one of the ever-increasing loopholes that they were weaving into the system. It was enough to make one stay home in New Zealand, the best backwater in the world.
“Oh what sort of thing is happening?”, I asked, without great interest. “Lots of passengers are dying”, she said. It happens around 1am, local time of wherever we departed from. “They stop breathing and there’s nothing we can do. When it started we tried giving them oxygen, but it didn’t make any difference. Now the airlines are making sure that the planes aren’t too full so we can lie them out in the back rows till we land.” This conversation was disconcerting, to say the least. I extricated myself rapidly, claiming an appointment I had forgotten and abandoning my supermarket trolley. I visualised plane loads of people, all quietly stopping breathing, and decided I would be better to curb my imagination.
Once people started dying, people also began to stay home. There was no evidence of any contagious disease, but one felt that it would be better to be safe than sorry. As with not flying, staying home was something we were well acquainted with thanks to COVID. We had become very practiced at working from home, Zooming into meetings and holding internet-based parties. Shopping for food, and any other necessary items, was easily done electronically and contactless delivery was nothing new either. Given that I was living in the country, the presence or absence of neighbours was never very apparent, so through that late summer still nothing seemed to change greatly.
Nothing changed, that was, until systems started breaking down. Power outages became common. When they happened, there was no point in ringing in to report them, because you could stay on the phone for hours; sometimes the power came back on before anyone picked up at the other end. I ordered in substantial supplies of diesel so I could run the generator when the power stopped. How much diesel should I order? That really depended on whether I believed in the End Day. I didn’t want to believe in it, but it had to be said my attitude was moving from sceptical to reluctantly resigned.
The next thing that happened, of course, was that people I knew started dying. At least, I think they started dying; I couldn’t really tell because they just didn’t pick up the phone or answer emails any more. Mum’s retirement village went completely off line, no-one answered in any part of it. What could I do about this; nothing, it seemed? Everyone I could still talk with said that the army were blocking the roads between regions of the country, and shutting off suburbs within cities to prevent movement, panic, and rioting. I had a memorial service for Mum where I played pictures of her all day and listened to the classical music that she loved. It was all a bit lonely and I really wished I had got a new cat when my old one died. I still had my chickens, they didn’t appear to be affected by the state of the world, though they had gone on their usual autumn moulting strike and weren’t laying eggs. The lack of eggs was definitely an issue as the Countdown delivery van could no longer be counted on to arrive when I ordered groceries.
The Last Week came. The trees and shrubs were looking stunning in their autumn foliage, gold and orange and red colours filling the air and carpeting the ground. The weather had definitely switched into cold mode and the mornings were crisp and clear with frost on the ground. I thought sadly of how my normal autumn activities would have been filled with planting new areas of the garden, looking forward to their future growth. I didn’t feel like doing too much, to be honest. The few people who still answered emails (no-one was wanting to Zoom any more) were all refusing to talk about the End Day and I couldn’t think of any interesting topics to discuss. I counted down the sleeps, seven, six, five, four…
By the time the Day Before the End Day rolled around, I couldn’t get an answer from anyone in the world. The remaining people were probably all hunkering down like me, if they were out there at all. On the End Day itself, I read a bit, wandered about a bit, played my guitar a bit and then started from the beginning again. I didn’t feel hungry; I never like cooking for myself all that much and what was the point of cooking food if you weren’t going to wake up in the morning?
The sun dropped behind the wind break to the west at 4.30pm. Was that the last sun I was really ever going to see? Was that the last time the sun was going to exist? Would anything in the universe exist tomorrow? Or was the opposite of the Big Bang going to happen? Was there going to be the Big Quiet, when everything contracted into nothing and stopped being? What did it matter if I wasn’t going to be around to experience it? Unbelievably I felt tired enough to go to sleep. You would think that you might want to live all your last minutes right out to the end point, but that wasn’t how it turned out. I had had enough, because there wasn’t all that much to hold out for at this point anyhow.
In the morning, however, I woke up? I woke up? How could I wake up? How could I exist? I felt alternately confused, disappointed, frustrated, hopeful. How could the sun be shining? And then…
Of such stuff are (my) nightmares made!