Authors: Jeremy Bates
What was I saying—? Ah, my reflection. Strangest thing, I
didn’t much recognize myself. It freaked me out a bit looking in the mirror and
seeing a stranger. I recognized my eyes, my features, sure, but they weren’t
the same somehow. There was something missing—no, something changed. A new
hardness, I suppose, carved from anger and despair. Can such emotions alter
your physical appearance? More than likely it’s all psychological. I’m seeing
what I’m feeling. It makes me wonder if prisoners experience this too. After
being cooped up in a six-by-ten-foot cell for twenty-five years, do you really
see the same man in the mirror you saw when you were free to do as you pleased
when you woke up in the morning?
Hmmm… I reckon that’s an apt metaphor for me: a prisoner.
Because I am, no doubt about it. I might not be locked behind bars, but I may
as well be for all the freedom I have. It’s not like I can’t go outside. I can.
But not with Sullivan and Walter. I can’t go anywhere with them. People have a
kill-or-be-killed mentality these days, and most wouldn’t hesitate to feast on
my boys if they got the chance.
I should apologize for my writing.
There’s no real rhyme or reason to it, is there? No structure, no theme, no
purpose even. Stream of consciousness, I think they call it. But, hell, I’m not
a writer. I’m just a bloke putting his thoughts to paper.
And why the fuck am I justifying myself? No one’s going to
read this, right? Or are they?
Are you reading it right now?
Oh, jeez… I’m wiping tears from my eyes. Tears of laughter.
Or madness. I don’t know. I don’t fucking know…
I reckon it’s about time I describe
how it all went down—the end of civilization as we knew it and everything.
It was a Tuesday morning in the Outback—
Wait, first I’m going to paint a picture of what it used to
look like out here, because for semi-arid desert, it was amazingly, wonderfully
beautiful. It got hot, sometimes in the summer unbearably hot, but there was
never much humidity, and that meant the air was clear as crystal. On almost any
day of the year you could see all the way to the impossibly distant horizon
where it met with the biggest, bluest sky you’ve ever seen. I often hiked
outside the town limits, where the red landscape was sunbaked and cracked,
marred only by twisted mulga trees and saltbush and irregular undulations, and
where only the hardiest mammals—prehistoric-looking emus, red kangaroos,
wedge-tailed eagles—could survive, and where, when I closed my eyes and just
stood there, I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face and hear the whisper
of the wind in my ears. It was a place like none other, nature at its most
desperate, and damn do I miss it—
But I digress. The day the asteroid struck. I was living on
my own then. The ex—Suzy was her name—she had full custody of the boys. I spent
the morning doing some shopping at Woolies. Mostly foodstuff, but I needed
toothpaste too; funny how you remember shit like that. Afterward I went to
Macca’s across the parking lot and was eating an Egg McMuffin and reading the
when everyone in the joint was suddenly on their phones. There were
a couple TVs mounted to the walls, and they often played American news programs
for whatever reason. The volume was down, but I could read the tickertape well
enough, and it made my blood turn cold: “BREAKING NEWS–ASTEROID ON COLLISION
COURSE WITH EARTH?”
I was glued to the tube for the rest of the day. The
reporting got more and more surreal as new and more alarming stories broke one
after the other. It’s hard to describe how I felt. It was almost as if I was
getting sucker punched in the gut once a minute, every minute. I couldn’t get
my head around what I was hearing. The only time I felt remotely like this was
when my sister, Leanne, died two and a half years before. She was one of the
rare souls who left Broken Hill and made something of themselves. She studied
at the University of Adelaide, earned a degree in environmental sciences, and
became some sort of consultant to Big Business. She married an executive, had
three kids, and moved to the suburbs. Every Christmas she made the five-hour
drive back to Broken Hill to spend time with me and Sully (whom Suz dropped off
for a couple hours in the afternoon). On Leanne’s final trip—she’d been
ecstatic to see Walter, who was only a few months old then—her husband Jeb was
driving along the A32, a hypnotically long, arrow-straight stretch of highway.
Police couldn’t say anything for certain given there was no animal carcass, but
they suspect Jeb must have swerved to avoid a goat or ’roo, or maybe a wombat.
The SUV collided with a tree. All five of them died on the spot in a mess of
blood and severed limbs. I got the call later in the day—and felt how I did
when the news pundits were telling us we had three weeks before we would
experience the worst natural disaster since the age of the dinosaurs. The
difference between the two scenarios, however, was that I could accept the
death of Leanne and her family, or at least rationalize it. People died, loved
ones died, that was life. But I couldn’t accept or rationalize an asteroid the
size of Mount Everest careening into the planet. It was like trying to
visualize what existed before the Big Bang. It was beyond my comprehension.
I felt despair. I felt denial. I felt an irreversible sense
I wasn’t grieving for a single family. I was grieving for
the entire human race.
Our time was up. We were done. Given our humble beginnings
in the trees of Africa, we had a good go, we made something of our species, we
made something of our species, we were on the verge of
greatness, perhaps godliness in another century or two, but like they say, “All
good things come to an end.”
My hand is tiring—I’m not used to using pencils—so I’m going
to take a break.
I just performed an inventory of the
fallout shelter with my hand-cranked flashlight. Still have plenty of the
basics such as sugar and salt and oil, but down to about half my stock of
canned and freeze-dried goods. I have plenty of heirloom seeds, which are disease-resistant
crops that continue to produce seeds season after season. But without sunlight
they’re about as useless as an ejection seat in a helicopter.
Water, thankfully, is not a problem. I haven’t had to open
any of the five-gallon bottles. We’ve been drinking the water from the
freshwater tank. It’s not fresh anymore; it’s filled with acid rain. But one
gallon of liquid chlorine bleach disinfects three thousand gallons of water,
killing all the pollutants and pathogens that might be bathing in it.
Walter and I had soup and crackers for dinner. Sully made an
appearance, but only to take his bowl into his room.
I still have no idea what he does in there. He doesn’t let
me in. But he never used to be an indoors kid, never read books or magazines,
so he doesn’t have any of that stuff in there. Most weekdays you would find him
at the skateboard park with his mates. On weekends he played rugby and
basketball. He has the body of an athlete. He’s only sixteen but six feet tall,
lean, with broad shoulders. He probably would have made a good rower—well, if
he hadn’t grown up in the middle of the Outback, that is.
He’s a handsome kid too. Dark shaggy hair, dark eyebrows and
eyes. He definitely got his looks from his mom. She was something, Suz. I fell
for her back in high school. It took me weeks to work up the nerve to ask her
out. She said no. But I was persistent, and I finally got her to go with me to
the movies. That was the year I dropped out of school, started in the mines—and
started making money.
I was the first one of my mates to own a car, which
probably helped me win her over. Not to mention all the gifts I used to buy
her. Mostly jewelry and shit but I also got her
This is stupid. This diary. Why the fuck am I writing about
the Suz? Fuck Suz. Who the fuck cares about her? I’m going to throw the fucking
Been three days since I last wrote
in the diary. I’m reneging. I don’t think I’m going to throw it out. I was
watching Walter sitting in his crib earlier. He was in one of his happy moods,
smiling and sucking on everything, and I had a terrible premonition I’m not
going to see him grow up. Actually, I don’t know if that’s a premonition, or
simply common sense given the state of affairs of the planet. But if something
happens to me before the sky clears and some sort of order reasserts itself,
and if Sully gets his shit together enough to raise Walter on his own, then the
diary might be the only thing the boy has to remember his old man by.
I’m on the roof. The sky’s the usual
otherworldly gray, turbulent and rumbling. My face is numb from the cold. I’ve
just rubbed some warmth back into my hands so I can pick up the pencil.
Where was I before I’d started going on about Suz…?
Ah, right-o—the day the ’roid hit.
An amateur astronomer was the first to spot Asteroid Shiva.
But her Chicken Little warnings went largely unheeded for several days until
amateurs by the thousands, followed by academic observatories, also began
yelling that the sky was falling. They bounced signals off the rock to
determine its distance, velocity, light output, all that mumbo jumbo. And their
conclusion? There was a twenty-five-percent chance it would hit us.
Their collective voices hit a critical mass the day I’d been
in the McDonald’s, which was when the media finally took the threat seriously.
They demanded confirmation from NASA, which until then had remained silent. The
head of the space agency verified at a press conference later in the day that
an asteroid was indeed coming to bear on Earth’s orbit. Because it was within
radar distance, trajectory analysts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory could
pinpoint its size and speed with remarkable accuracy. It was five kilometers
across and traveling at about seventy-five thousand kilometers per hour, or
about seventy times as fast as your average bullet. Their analysis of its
flight-path calculation was no less accurate, and their conclusion—the chance
of it striking the planet wasn’t one in four. It was an absolute certainty.
They could even predict the impact point to the nearest kilometer, and the
impact time to the nearest second.
It would strike central China in a little less than
I’m going to switch tracks and say
something about Suzy again—your mom, Walter, if you ever read this. It still
hurts when I think about her. Crazy, right? Billions of people are dead, and
I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself because my wife left me. But like I
said, Walt, if you ever read this, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, like
I didn’t try to help her.
I’m not going to get into detail about why we divorced.
Suffice it to say, part of the reason was my becoming a survivalist. Another
part was my shifts in the mines—seven nights on, seven nights off, which meant
I was either never around, or around too much. But the biggest reason we split,
I reckon, was the simple fact we grew apart, like many couples do.
She ended up leaving me, not the other way around. She was
seven months pregnant with you, Walt. I came home one morning from work, and
she was gone. All her stuff, gone. There was a note on the table saying she
wasn’t coming back. She didn’t answer her phone, but in a place the size of
Broken Hill it wasn’t hard to find out where she was.
Staying with a bloke named Lucas, who turned out to be a
deadbeat drug dealer living on the south side of town.
A fucking drug dealer! Blew my mind. Apparently she’d been
seeing him for a few months behind my back. And the screwiest thing? She got
custody of your brother and yourself on the account she had a steady bank job,
and I was known to hit the bottle a bit too hard.
Nevertheless, her opinion of me changed, and changed fast,
with news of the impending asteroid collision. Even in the weeks before the
impact, food and water were in scarce supply. People probably don’t know this,
but supermarkets only stock enough food to last about three days. And you’ve
seen what happens in blackouts or whatnot—the shelves go bare within hours. So
in the case of a world-altering catastrophe, when law and order and electricity
might not return for a year, if ever?
Suz came by one day, full of apologies and platitudes,
asking for food and water. I made her a deal. If she gave me Sully and
yourself, Walt, I would give her food and water. She was game, and we did the
swap. I told her she could stay with us too, but she was bizarrely loyal to the
Anyway, a week before the impact Lucas rocked on by, asking
food and water. Now, this was a survivalist’s biggest peril.
When the shit hits the fan, people come to you. That’s why I never blabbed
about my pet hobby, or joined some community of like-minded individuals. Do you
know who I’m talking about? The blokes who yakked about the end of the world
with a naïve glee, who envisioned themselves in firefights with incompetent
government troops, feasting on rabbit, sleeping under the stars, the ones who
spent thousands of dollars on camping equipment and a battery of weapons, the
ones who thrived on the illusion of security.
I wasn’t one of those guys, Walter. Those guys are likely
all dead. Because when things get down to running and gunning, your prospects
for long-term survival are slim. Even elite forces like the Navy Seals avoid
running and gunning. They operate from a base. And that’s why I spent years
hardening the house, building the fallout shelter. It’s the safest place for us
to bug out. It’s not only stocked, it’s unassuming, and that’s our most
powerful asset: concealment. Look at the animal kingdom. Reptile, insect,
mammal, herbivore, carnivore, whatever—the first line of defense is always
camouflage. That’s the hard truth of life. If you want to survive in a
kill-or-be-killed world, your best bet is not to draw attention to yourself.