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Science Fiction Speculative

“I know you’ll be back Friday Peter, but I’ve missed you. Will you be late…”

Jenny’s voice was gone not even a dial tone from the cars speakers. I looked around wondering if I’d driven into some sort of dead zone when every light on the dash flickered on then off and the engine quit. The steering went heavy in my hands, the power steering no longer powered and the car started slowing.

I hunched my shoulders expecting any second to be rear ended by the SUV that had been close behind me in the fast lane of the motorway. Instead of the mirror showing the front of the black SUV about to rearrange the back of my car, changing it from being at the back to the front, it too was slowing. When I looked around, every vehicle I could see, in front, to the side, in the mirrors was slowing, some quicker than others and as I watched a small Honda slammed into the back of an articulated lorry, its front crumpling against the heavy bar that prevented it going under the back of the trailer until the windscreen was flat against the bar.

The M4 was busy in both directions. Ahead was the M25 -London Orbital- junction. The M25 was its normal stop, start crawl around the Heathrow section. A large shadow passed overhead and when I looked up a BA Jumbo was a scant two hundred feet above me, its wings arcing up and down wildly as the pilots struggled with the controls. I realised with horror that the engines of the giant craft were silent and the plane was dropping fast.

Its port wing tip struck the top of a small tower block and the jet swung left and down, exploding in a ball of flame and flying debris. It wasn’t the only one. As I tried to keep my car straight, fighting the unresponsive steering wheel, I could see more and more collisions on either side of the central reservation and more clouds of smoke and flames reaching to the skies to the south, west and east. Then on the motorway ahead, just under a bridge, a tanker jackknifed as it tried to stop. Its length swung across the four lanes of the motorway striking a number of stopped or slowing cars pushing them ahead of it. Some crunched into the central barrier while others were pushed into vehicles in front and to the side.

I guess it was inevitable with all the metal scraping on metal or the road that there were sparks and with damaged fuel tanks spilling their contents, fire. I watched in horror, fruitlessly jabbing the brake pedal to bring my car to a halt before it joined the pile up. In the end I managed to turn the wheel enough to put the front of the car against the metal barrier and I ground noisily and slowly to a stop. My car shuddered forward a few feet as the SUV that had been behind me ran into my car.

There wasn’t room to open the drivers door but there looked to be enough on the passenger side. I scrambled awkwardly over the central console and grasping the handle pushed the door open enough to slide out, all the time hoping that nothing else was going to be pushed into the growing mess of vehicles around me. As I stood up, I could take better stock of the scene. There must have been forty or fifty plumes of smoke in immediate view, some on the motorways, others rising from the towns and country surrounding Heathrow. To the west a growing column of fire and oily smoke was rising from the direction of the Slough industrial estate while to the south west another growing column was coming from the direction of Windsor.

Drivers and passengers were getting out of their vehicles in varying states of shock and confusion. The younger ones -unsurprisingly- had their phones out and were taking photographs and video of the carnage all around while others were stabbing buttons or holding their phones up seeking a signal. I opened the back door of the car and grabbed my jacket and looked at the briefcase on the back seat then at the phone in its holder on the console. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to need them any more but I took the phone, just in case.

There was a growing hubbub of querulous, angry, afraid, confused voices. Shouts and screams came from crushed and burning vehicles and I realised I could hear it all clearly. Normally by now, the sound of alarms, bells, sirens would be filling the air. This close to the airport a constant rumble of engines was the norm. Now there was a complete absence of engine noise of any kind. I looked across the motorway to the west. That way, a hundred miles west, was my wife. Just two or two and a half hours by car even at this time of day, but now…?

Arguments were breaking out amongst some of the people wandering around or stood by their vehicles. Some stared mutely at their phones or the carnage, others were shouting at their phones. I could see people slumped against their cars, many of them pale faced and crying or with heads bowed. I put on my jacket, dropped the dead phone in my pocket and clambered over the central barrier and weaved between the cars, vans and lorries, avoiding people. I climbed the short embankment on that side and then the six foot fence that kept pedestrians from wandering onto the motorway ignoring the few shouts aimed at me. I took one last look at the chaotic scene then turned my back on it and started walking west.

I’ve heard lots of theories, mostly the conspiracy type as to what happened a year ago. All I know for fact is that every single item of the modern world that needed electricity to work no longer did. Motors of all types, cars, vans, lorries, aircraft, trains and boats. Power and telephone networks, computers, smart phones, land lines, radios, TV, you name it. If it needed electricity it stopped and never worked again.

I have no idea how many people died in those first few weeks. So many people seemed to be wandering in a daze all of the time. Remember those films and TV shows where the world is full of shambling, walking dead?

Well it was just like that only the dead weren’t dead… not yet. For many, no internet, no social media or mobile communications meant the end of the world for them. They wandered around with their phones in their hands searching for a signal that was never going to be there.

It was the older generations and rural communities that often coped better. They had grown up without or were later in getting the internet or mobiles. Able to grow and rear food, cook it from scratch on open wood fires how to preserve it. They could cope with no electric lights, ovens, microwaves, with no heating, often they had a wood burner or fireplace.

Gas and oil boilers with no electricity to ignite a pilot flame were just junk, dangerous junk. People tried to light them forgetting that if they bypassed the fuel cut off then… there were a lot of big bangs followed by fires that enveloped whole streets, villages and towns. Then there were those who died from food poisoning from eating food that had gone off when the freezers and fridges stopped working.

The death toll in the first world was higher than in the third world countries at first. People in Europe and North America were too far removed from the start of the food chain to cope with not being able to go to the shops and buy what they needed. Too many had grown up not knowing or caring where their food really came from, that it didn’t magically appear in plastic wrappers ready to cook.

In Africa, Asia, South America and the Far East, where people were more in tune with the land and many still grew their own food, things at first were better, but water soon became a problem. It was either not being pumped from underground or was no longer controlled behind dams and water irrigation systems or filtered and cleaned. Diseases started adding to the problems and without power or transport, medicines along with food could not reach those who needed it.

The world kept on turning and seasons changed but people kept on dying. For a lot of those who died from lack of food, medicine, warmth -the basics of life- the knowledge they needed to survive had always been just a few clicks or key taps away. Only now…

The biggest, fastest and meanest killer now got into the act. Humanity is inventive and effective at helping their fellow man depart this vale of sorrow. With law enforcement non-existent, it was everyone for him or herself. Old established gangs decided to take what they wanted from anyone who had it and new gangs rose to oppose and then take their place.

It was probably worse in America than the U.K. In America, guns were commonplace while gun laws in the U.K. were extremely restrictive. Not that that stopped lots of people from dying when they had something someone else wanted. Guns were not the only way to kill though there were weapons held in some police stations, along with those in the few bases remaining to the armed forces. In most big cities the criminal element had long had access to weapons. The various gun and knife amnesties over the years had shown that.

I managed to stay clear of most of the mayhem. Maybe because I had a goal. Get home to Jenny in the shortest time possible. The collapse of society slowed me up more than I thought it would. I had left the motorway and headed across the fields in the direction of Windsor while most people were standing around in a daze. I walked across the bridge over the Thames south of Datchett and into Old Windsor about an hour and a half after leaving my car.

I made my way along the high street, stepping round people trying to get a signal on their mobiles or tablets and found a camping and outdoor pursuit outfitters and bought a large back pack, good walking boots, a pup tent, small gas stove and spare cans of gas and lots of lightweight meal packs. Water bottles, tin cup, mess tin pack, Swiss knife with every gadget I could get on it, first aid kit, water purifying tablets and as much other gear I thought I would need and could carry including a small hatchet.

Waterproof trousers, three pairs of socks, shower proof jacket and a thick quilted parka, scarf, mittens -it was mid September and nights were getting cool- t-shirts and underwear. It all made quite a pile on the counter and the sales assistant was busy writing it all down and trying to add up the prices on paper -no power to the till- I didn’t correct his additions when he made mistakes in my favour. In the end I gave him most of my cash and a cheque for the rest. He wasn’t happy about the cheque but couldn’t really come up with a reason to say no. All he saw was the commission he thought he would get. It hadn’t sunk in that was not going to happen, that money wasn’t going to mean much shortly.

I wore the boots, packed everything else into and onto the backpack, thanked him and headed out into the countryside west of the town. I kept my eye out for two other shops as I left the town. A music shop -guitar strings make good snares- and a kitchen shop. I really wanted a good set of kitchen knives. I was prepared and expected to live off the land as much as I could, staying out of the trouble. I knew I was going to venture near other people only out of necessity.

Two weeks later, -the end of September- rioting was the usual state of affairs where there was anything more than a hundred houses as people fought -and died- for scraps of food. Smaller villages, isolated houses and estates were being scavenged by large groups of mainly men for anything they could use, food, wood, drink, even clean water. Often these were a tougher proposition for the looters. Estates tended to be family affairs with numerous workers and plenty of shotguns and sporting rifles to defend what they had. These became communes of a sort as everyone associated with the estate and their families was involved in defending, running and growing food for all of them.

I didn’t clear the suburb towns to the west of the capital until the end of October. My progress was slow as the need to be circumspect when coming to any building or buildings meant a cautious reconnaissance and either seeking a way around or if all seemed quiet a stealthy slow approach ready to bolt at the slightest indication I was not alone. It was worth the nervous tension sometimes, finding even in a ransacked house, small overlooked items of food, matches, candles, other odds and ends that proved useful. A smashed guitar had given me the wires for snares and with them I supplemented my meager rations. Near Reading I came across a crossbow and quarrels in a stable block which I appropriated with a smile.

At the end of November I spent two days in a small dell high on the edge of Watership Down, not far from where Douglas Adams set his tale. To the north smoke rose in a number of lazy columns indicating the position of Newbury. I’d used some powerful binoculars I’d ‘liberated’ to watch the mob tearing the headquarters of a network provider apart. Their anger at no longer being able to speak to or text friends and family, film or photograph every mundane minute of their lives then tell the world about it had driven many into insane frenzies the longer they were deprived of using the network and internet.

To the south three towering columns of smoke and flames showed where the Fawley and Hamble refineries along with the Southampton container port were still burning. At night they were an impressive and horrifying sight. I was still nearly sixty miles from home and my fear for Jenny’s welfare was at the forefront of my mind. My only consolation was that the small village we lived in near Malmesbury looked after its own and was far enough from most towns to be a long walk in search of loot.

I still have no idea how the rest of the world coped, nobody has, despite the theories that get kicked around. We went from a totally connected world where information was at the fingertips of anyone who could get to a computer, tablet or smart phone to that scene from Kubricks 2001 where the ape’s bone goes up and up. Only this time it was in reverse. We went from satellites and space stations to grubbing in the dirt and scavenging for food.

When I think about it, those guys up in the ISS are the ones I really feel sorry for. Up there with a view of the world slowly disappearing under a cloud of smoke as civilisation burnt, realising that no one was going to bring them down. Two hundred miles from home and the first step out of the door…

I had to avoid most of the army camps and towns around Salisbury plains and the plains themselves during December and January. The smoke from all the fires had cast a pall over the world. We weren’t into a nuclear winter scenario, thank god. Somehow most of the nuclear plants were shut down without incident, but the world was burning from either intent or accident and there was enough smoke and particles in the atmosphere to hide the sun a lot of the time. That hit the temperatures just as we -the northern hemisphere- was going into winter. We had a lot of snow that year, dirty grey snow -not the pristine white of Christmas cards- with specks of soot in the flakes.

That winter did a pretty good job of reducing the inhabitants of countries north of the Tropic of Cancer by two thirds. Modern man just wasn’t equipped with the knowledge to survive. They relied too heavily on asking ‘Alexa’, or asking Google to tell them how to live. Those who did know how to thrive had to fight off those who didn’t and were more desperate if not forward thinking enough to realise they were killing off their chances of survival.

It was the end of the coldest January I had known when I reached the little Cotswold valley and our cottage. I used my binoculars to study the hamlet nestled at the bottom of the slopes on either side of the small lane that ran through the snow covered valley. I could see barricades at both ends of the hamlet and figures moving around. There was no smoke coming from any of the properties. I watched for a long time before making my way down to the road, cautiously approaching the barricade, hands raised.

That was a month ago. Someone on the barricade recognised me despite the beard and long hair and I was passed through the defences. Jenny stared at me in wonder when she opened the door of our home.

The dying hadn’t ended, every day was a struggle. We estimated three quarters of the U.K. had died, which could mean five billion or more worldwide. No way of knowing. Whimper or bang? You tell me!

October 15, 2021 20:26

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8 comments

Lily Rama
15:49 Oct 19, 2021

Amazing story! I really like the ending and the sentence fluency is on point. Good job! Keep writing!

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Edward Savage
08:05 Oct 21, 2021

Thank you Lily I'm glad you liked it.

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Amy Wright
15:01 Oct 26, 2021

The action scenes move well and I can really picture what's happening. Well done!

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Edward Savage
10:51 Oct 26, 2021

I usually write long, and this story is no exception, it struggled to be kept under three thousand words and I think at some point I need to go back and expand it, it definitely wants to - it keeps sending ideas lol -. Having worked in mobile, web and technology for longer than I care to say it seemed to be a good base for this tale, I hope people enjoy it

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Tommie Michele
19:58 Oct 23, 2021

I love this story, and it’s definitely relevant to today’s world and reliance on technology—I realized as I was reading that I would have no idea what to do in an apocalypse scenario like yours. I liked that last line, too. If I had one suggestion, it would be this: watch out for the passive voice. In some of your description right after the devices went out, I noticed a lot of “were” and “was.” Your descriptions were still awesome, but description is always more engaging when it’s more in the active voice. Awesome story, Edward! —Tommie...

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Edward Savage
10:48 Oct 26, 2021

Thanks for the comments Tommie, personally I wouldn't get too hung up on passive voice being wrong, that's a fallacy. I was writing about things occurring generally around the protagonist and in his past, and in this instance we don't care who or what is doing them or to what, in the tale they happened without any one person being responsible. Thanks again for the comments

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Keya Jadav
17:05 Oct 20, 2021

A well-developed story with excellent descriptions. Impressive, how efficiently clouds of chaos had been developed in the former part eventually moulded in well-dug science fiction. I agree with Lily, I loved the ending.

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Edward Savage
08:06 Oct 21, 2021

Keya, thank you for the comment I'm glad you liked the story. It was a struggle to get it into 3k words, it really wanted to grow

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