Hiding summer’s age no more
No more leaves in summer sky
Turning dark on empty car lots
When summer was my only friend
I always wondered what Spanish folk called the Spanish Flu back in 1918. The Flu? Spanish Flu? Or did they go for something like French Flu the way we used to say the Italian disease or Dutch courage?
Actually, I once looked up the word for “flu” in Spanish. “Gripe” is the word. I guess it isn’t pronounced how it looks. Ah, well it’s pointless thinking about it. Spain, that is, considering it doesn’t exist anymore.
Or any country to be fair. Well, that’s not strictly true. Iceland is still there, fishing around happily, cut off from the world.
Now Chinese flu, that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Bingdu. The Chinese Virus, handily monikered by the Hong Kongese, who soon perished.
That was a big one. Boy, was it big. My grandfather told me that it was a punishment from God. The waste and wars, the disregard for nature caused Him to smite us beginning with the Godless communists. Funny kind of commies though, I thought, seeing as the Party had collapsed two decades prior and the even more rapacious oligarchs had taken over.
But Gramps wouldn’t be told. He said the Chinese Virus was just the beginning. And he was right, the old bugger. I read the books at the library and it doesn’t seem real. A world where we had it all and threw it all away.
The islands in Hawaii covered in plastic bottles, the genocides of the Shia peoples, the burning of books, however symbolic that was in the digital age.
Strange now, that books survive whilst the computers, phones and touchscreens are consigned to history like the Communist Party of China or Tesco-Asda.
Which is funny as that’s where I am sat right now, in my local Tesco-Asda, in the car park eating a Super Oogo Noodles pack, cooked on my portable mini-stove, on my own surrounded by decaying buildings, rusting cars and other local nibblers.
I read a lot. What they used to call dystopian fiction. My favourite will always be The Stand by a writer called Stephen King. His portrayal of a collapsing society under a manmade virus is amazing. I often dream about the characters from that book. Harold and Nadine, Stu and Glenn, Mother Abigail and the Dark Man.
The other nibblers talk about creatures they see in the night. They think a devil is chasing them around and will kill them and all the other survivors.
I know better, there is no demonic presence going to eat us. Just Mother Nature. And let’s be fair she has given humanity an immense fucking kicking in the last few years. In a lot of ‘end of the world’ fiction there is a lot of violence over the scarcity of food and water. Not in what’s left of Britain.
After the Chinese flu came the nuclear annihilation. This wasn’t even a nuclear war, it was some of the abandoned nuclear plants going haywire once most of the population had died. Once a bunch of meltdowns occurred across the whole Northern hemisphere any semblance of normality was gone.
It was followed by a succession of other diseases that spread including the plague and Icelandic flu. This had nothing to do with the Icelanders who had closed their borders early and with great success. It was just another flu pandemic that wiped out most of the already low number of survivors.
In my city of 300,000 people it appears that only a few hundred survived. Taken as a rough estimate, it appears about 0.1% survived throughout the pandemics and meltdowns. With all the food in the supermarkets hoarded up, there is plenty to eat and drink. In fact, alcoholism is the next big killer as the nibblers spend most of their time loading up.
I can’t blame them, I spend my time reading and what good is that? Some of the youngsters speed around in supercars which looks great fun. I don’t have a licence and for some reason I’d feel bad about driving around without one, especially if I crashed and ended up with my leg hanging off and my arm flopping around twelve feet away from my body.
Am I someone who needs laws to obey? Is that the same for all humans? The nibblers could do with a firm hand to set them straight. But it won’t come from me. I actually enjoy watching them eating their packs of crisps in this weather. The silence is the big thing that marks out the post-flu world. Sound travels in a way you wouldn’t believe.
Even the nibblers in their groups often will sit in silence and awe listening to the world around them. A Ferrari being driven into town will be heard from miles away.
The sunsets also bring people to reverential quietude, the end of pollution mixed with the remnants of nuclear fallout lead to incredible red skies with streaks that range from blue to green on an evening.
Time has barely any meaning now. It’s the early evening tonight and half the nibblers are just waking up and having breakfast. In the nine years or so since society collapsed the numbers of survivors seems to dropping. I don’t know even know if people can still have children. Thinking about it I can’t remember the last time I heard a baby’s wail. It must be five years or so.
This thought makes me immediately sad and waves of emotion hit me like no time since parents died as Bingdu ravaged my hometown. Even though I knew they were gone once they were first diagnosed (the survival rate for the infected was virtually zero) the shock when they passed within twelve hours of each other was incredible. The sense of loss made my stomach hurt for weeks and I’m getting the same feeling now.
Many of the nibblers have drank themselves to death or gone off to an isolated spot to kill themselves. I can now understand why they do this. The enormity of the realisation that humanity is edging towards oblivion bears down on me. In The Stand, the survivors work together to re-form society, compelled by higher powers.
If the survivors have learnt anything it is that the only higher power is nature itself. Deep down, we feel that humans deserved what happened to us which is a terrible, sobering realisation.
I think back to when I was a nipper. I remember my large driveway at home as a boy and racing round in my go-kart. Dad would tell me to avoid the flowers on the edge of the grass while Mum would bring out ice pops, the cola ones were my favourite. Racing around enjoying the thrill of the speed and the feeling of being out of control.
Do humans have an innate, grim trait which leads us to galvanising self-destruction?
I place the noodles down on the floor and spot a white BMW M1 in the gloam of the car park. One of the young tearaways left it here a few days ago before tearing off on a motorbike.
I walk over and examine the car. It is in great shape although the back and right hand side have a few dents. I sit in the car and turn the engine on, it thrums to life immediately. Fair play to the Germans, they knew how to build a car. Shame they couldn’t have crafted a cure for Chinese Flu.
I drive the car out of the car park. None of the nibblers acknowledge me even though we have congregated in this area for years now. Away from the not-so-maddening crowds I start testing the BMW to its limits through the deserted city streets and head for the motorway.
After leaving town the long straights of the motorway stretch out in front of me. A sign of the advancement of society many years ago, they are now the arteries of a corpse.
I speed the car up faster and faster. A voice in my head tells me not to give up but I increase the pressure on the accelerator. The trees and sky blur into one like a speeded up video and I tell myself I am driving home. Where home is for me now I can’t say right now but I think I will have an answer very soon…
by Martin O’Brien based on Autumn Tactics by Chicane.