3 comments

Speculative

Switched Off.

2:00pm on the eighth of May. That was when he decided to switch off. Or rather, he decided to pack up and get the heck out of there. Switching off and going analogue was only part of it. His fiancée had just left him for another guy and he was laid off at work; they were planning to replace him with a machine. A four-year science degree, a Masters in biology, and a PhD; all for nothing. Who knew that a computer could measure soil acidity better than he could. They told him that he could probably get work elsewhere, but he just didn’t care anymore. He looked up to see the skyline of Sydney in his smudged rearview mirror, a blue outline against the deep red sunset. It wouldn’t see him again. Nobody would. They might as well carve his gravestone now.

RIP Edward Salter. Husband to nobody. Father to nobody. Died alone in a place far from here.

Little did he know that he would be the one carving their gravestones.

There were well-trodden paths in the Blue Mountains, and other parts that were vast and remote. Those were the parts that you did not want to unknowingly wander through, lest you get swallowed up by the endless gum trees and become fodder for snakes and spiders. Those were the parts that he was travelling to.

The road ended a long way before he stopped travelling; though it was hardly a road at that point. It could better be described as a path where the grass and trees didn’t grow, barely wide enough for his car to get through the shrubbery. But eventually he couldn’t. So he continued on foot. He had a large pack with all the essentials, a carry bag full of tools and equipment, and a rolled-up Styrofoam mattress hanging from a strap over his shoulder. His steel-capped boots were thick and rugged, his flannel shirt and track pants were shabby, but not nearly as shabby as they would soon become, and his beard was long and unkempt. It was barely summer, the snakes would still be sleeping, but even so, he’d wrapped his legs in thick hard plastic in case he stepped on a waking snake. The insects were easier to take care of. During his research he’d developed an ointment to repel ticks, mosquitos and other dangerous insects. And of course, he kept an ample amount of antivenom in the back pocket of his pack – lest he be bitten by the infamous Funnel Web spider.

He walked for two days – spending the nights huddled under a makeshift roof of loose twigs and leaves, and spending his days eating through the small supplies of dried meat and nuts that he’d packed before he left.

After two days he found an extremely small clearing and a cliff face with a cave. The cliff itself towered up high above the line of the gum trees and reflected orange in the fading sunlight. The place was completely secluded, he had only found it because he was lucky enough to stumble upon it. As he approached the mouth of the cave, the tree tops parted slightly to reveal the bright blue sky. Indeed it was perfect. That was where Edward would spend the next twenty-five years.

He lived in the cave for the first three years; only bothering to build a wooden door at the front to keep out wild animals. Instead he spend his time planting seeds, building catchments and carving wooden hunting tools that he would use to catch wild kangaroos and rabbits. He mixed chemicals to create fertile soil that would yield the essentials, built a water purifier to clean the rainwater, and managed to construct a furnace to melt down any metals he came upon which he would use to make and repair his tools.

Within ten years he had made a brick house and carved furniture and made a bed out of animal fur. His farm was prospering, and he had plenty to eat and drink.

It was fifteen years before the earth began to rumble. He could hear loud sounds from far away and fighter jets blasted through the sky overhead. He sensed something was amiss when he found animals wandering around lame and sick; and some of the running water began to give off a putrid burning smell. He’d stored up enough supplies to last him some time, and water trickled in through small crevices in the cave; so he blocked off the mouth of the cave with brick and thick metal and spent the next year in its midst, rarely leaving its confines except for very brief periods.

He decided to come out when the rumbling stopped, and after that things were quiet. Very quiet. He didn’t even see the planes flying through the sky anymore. He was curious; but even still, it took him another nine years before he dared venture back to civilisation.

It was a beautiful day when he did decide to finally leave behind his home in the trees. He tracked down his old car, but it was rusted out and full of cobwebs. Instead he hiked on foot for the next three days towards the suburbs of Sydney.

It was a day and a half before he came upon the first signs of civilisation. He found a bitumen road that was worn and cracked, with weeds and grass overtaking the grey. He soon came upon a small town with houses that were frayed and had smashed windows and walls that had crumbled and fallen. Moss was growing over the roofs and there was not a soul in sight. He hiked for a whole day under the hot Australian sun; until he made it into the suburbs of Sydney. Everywhere he looked there were signs of damage, piles of rubble and old rusted cars. The air was much more humid than it should have been for a city so far south.

He camped in one of the abandoned houses that night; eating meals of tinned food he’d found on the way. He continued on in the morning, but he barely made it into the city before he saw the sea. From high on a hill he looked down and saw the skyscrapers broken and torn and half underwater. The opera house was almost invisible and the harbour bridge was level with the water.

It was weeks before Joel was able to piece together what happened. He looked for old libraries that might house archived newspapers but many of them had been destroyed. Eventually he found one that was still intact and from there he had been able to get a small idea of what had happened. After that he built a small radio tower and began sending out a signal to any survivors. It was six months before anyone responded. Two people from Newcastle and a month after that one person from Adelaide. They relayed the full story to him.

It had started not long after Edward had left. The greed of humans and corporations had caught up to them. They longed so much to hoard paper notes but they destroyed their homes for it and it cost them their lives and their children’s lives. There were fires and storms and tsunamis and there were many new diseases. Many died in that period for there were great famines. After that nations rose up against nation as supplies became scarce. Missiles were launched, bombs were dropped and eventually nuclear weapons were used. Water became polluted and the small amount of resources that were left became tainted. It didn’t take long for the rest of humanity to fall off the radar.

There were now only a small amount of survivors and planet earth had been left to its own devices without the interference of humanity. For those humans wanted more than they needed and in the end they lost what they needed.

And Edward joined them soon after, for he died a year later in his old home that he had lived in before he’d left for the mountains. But Edward died happy. 

February 10, 2023 22:30

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3 comments

Wendy Kaminski
04:29 Feb 17, 2023

Great approach to the prompt, and a particularly enjoyable apocalyptic tale! My favorite kind, so thanks for the story this week, and welcome to Reedsy!

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D.J.J. MIZZI
15:44 Feb 17, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm usually a bit of a hermit when it comes to my writing. But I'm trying to get out of my shell. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Wendy Kaminski
15:45 Feb 17, 2023

My pleasure! :)

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