The world had already been told that the end was coming, we had heard it on the news via the radio, via the tv, via the internet. But we did not know whether to really believe it or maybe it was just more lies created to further someone's obscure political ends; to be honest we did not want to believe, and in any case, we really could not comprehend the enormity of what we had been told.
Because what we had been told was terrifying in its finality.
We had been told that "up there" somewhere the bombs had been thrown, so many of them that the nuclear fallout would engulf us all, that there was absolutely no chance of our survival. There was no longer contact with the upper hemisphere. My internet no longer worked.
We were told last night via the local Christchurch radio stations that the nuclear fallout was due to arrive here in Christchurch at about 9.30am; the Mayor speaking her message in measured controlled tones, (in effect because the fallout had already suffocated most of the rest of human life on the globe, she was now the world leader by default). But somehow this was all to unreal to us, we did not know what to do.
Because this had never happened before, we had no idea of how to act.
So we did our normal things. It was a weekday so we went to work, because if it was not true and how could it be, then we could not afford to take the day off work when we had bills to pay. We could not risk losing our jobs by skiving away from work. So here we were, in the factory and our children were at their schools.
A peculiar atmosphere pervaded the factory, feelings of uncertainty and tension. Some people worked as normal, hard and fast, making their bonuses, and becoming more and more annoyed at those of us who were working more desultorily, clearly uncertain as to whether they should be here in the factory at all, wondering if they should have stayed at home with their families. I remember I started to work at my normal speed, then slowed, and at length stopped altogether, listening instead to the factory radio.
At 9:15am the factory hooter blew. Over the intercom a disembodied voice told us to go and spend our last fifteen minutes of life outside in the last sunshine we would ever see. We filed out.
It was a beautiful spring day outside in the factory garden. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun still shone. We all stood around on the green grass, in small groups, wondering what to do now. Some of the women wanted to go back inside and thoroughly clean the factory. They wanted to leave all in order for the next people to work in the factory, in case we really did die. They were unable to comprehend that there would be no next people, that what was imminent was the finish, the end of all human life on this planet forever.
I lit a cigarette and wandered down beside the river, choosing to be on my own. I stood under a tree, near a bridge, and listened to the birds chirping in the trees, suddenly realising that they were unlikely to survive the fallout either. I could hear the sound of vehicles travelling along the nearby road just as they always did. And I thought about my children in the playground at their school, probably playing in separate areas. I thought about the three of us all dying in separate places and afraid. I thought about their fear. I realised how stupid I was to be here when we should have been together.
But then also, I knew that if I left to go to the school, and then the world did not end, and life did not finish, and the fallout did not arrive, then I would lose my job when the hooter called us back into the factory.
Another woman had walked down to the river now, and I asked her what the time was. She checked her watch and told me the time was now 9:25am, and I knew the school was ten minutes away by car, and of course I do not own a car, so now I could not get there in time anyway.
So I thought about my children who would have to die on their own and I fully realised my own incompetence and failure, and suddenly I really knew it was all true, and we were all going to die, and the birds and animals were all going to die, and maybe the trees and plants as well. I tried to visualise what kind of barren wasteland would be left, and tried to imagine if any form of life would ever exist on this planet again, and how many millions of years it would be before any kind of life could evolve. And then I could no longer bear my thoughts and i walked back up to the gardens and away from the river, back to where the other people were all still milling around, some talking together in nervous whispers, others just standing silently.
And then I turned and looked behind me and I saw the end arrive.
I saw a seemingly impenetrable, metallic yellowish-grayish mist come rolling in, a mist with a sound like static, hissing and crackling as it seemed to slide along just above the surface of the grass. As it travelled thickly along its implacable path towards us and all the landscape was blotted out behind it, it seemed therefore to increase in size, becoming ever thicker, larger and higher, blotting out the sun and sky too so that they could no longer be seen. I felt my own horror as I heard the gasps of horror from the people around me, and I saw people starting to run, even found myself foolishly starting to back away when there was absolutely no escape, no possible retreat, nowhere to go. And then a woman seized my arm from behind and pulled me with her into a small hollow on the side of the hill, as though to gain a few more totally pointless seconds of life, and then I saw the mist circling around at the entrance of the hollow. I smelt its foul stink, and I felt the stinging sensation of moist chemicals as the mist swirled onto my skin and burnt my eyes.
And I wanted to be holding my children.