The End of the World Show. Short story.


I walked into the newsagents where men stood mutely, arms hanging limply at their sides, listening without any apparent animation of their minds to the pop song that poured out into the shop:

“I know you’re strong my love, I know you’re tough enough to deal with it,”

A lush female voice cooed around the shop, embracing the cola bottles and bread loaves. I think her name was Dodo or something, which was oddly appropriate.

People spoke less and less in those days. They listened. They listened to the radio, the television and to the songs playing in shops. And when they heard a song that spoke to them they froze, their fear subsided and they were momentarily calmed. I picked up a bottle of milk and walked up to the counter ignoring the statuesque males who were being gently lulled by the loud speaker.

The price appeared on the screen and I duly fumbled for the change. Not a word or even a look was exchanged between me and the cashier.

It was almost an automatic process.

I left the shop and looked resentfully at the heavy orange sun that was slowly setting, it was strange how big the sun was these days, it was really beautiful but more than a little frightening, it had never hung so big and heavy in the sky before. Still I seemed to be the only one who noticed it because nobody ever talked about how strange the sun had become. It reminded me of something I’d read once:

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

I don’t know if the sun looking bigger had anything to do with the asteroid, I don’t see how it could have, maybe it was just that now when we looked at the sky we saw threat, and perhaps even the poor blameless sun became part of that threat. At the very least it was the sun’s job to draw asteroids into its gravity well so they avoid hitting the planets, planets like ours. This time it wasn’t doing its job properly. Apparently.

My name’s Barton by the way, I’m just over 50 years old which used to be considered getting old when I was young, but isn’t anymore. Age is irrelevant: it’s being alive and still in the game that counts. And I don’t really know how to do this writing thing but that doesn’t matter, nothing matters anymore. My parents met in Barton on Humber at the Little Chef. That matters even less, I just think I ought to qualify why I have a daft name, like something from a 30’s pulp fiction novel or something. It hardly matters, be reassured though, that despite my unorthodox Christian name, my surname is perfectly banal.

It appeared that we were a doomed race, that it was all over for us. That it was all over for us before we ever came into being. As a race we fought to find our place, we held that place of mastery over and security from the natural world, and our stewardship gave us much to boast about but little to be proud of.

Back then the television was still toying with people’s minds, it never let up from its devious games. The channels showed only a highly reduced selection of programmes but they didn’t quite know which psychological approach to try so they tried them all from moment to moment. There was death and destruction in HD showing war footage of dusty firebombed cities of rubble, or visions of terror and destruction for the future. There were crying women, angry men. Police, thieves and murder of all kinds of every channel at all times of day.

And then a few weeks later they totally changed track. There was a whole load of hastily recorded ‘Common Sense’ shows. Perhaps they had got the effect they wanted, or harvested enough data from two solid weeks’ of war footage. 

There certainly was no shortage of it and it seemed a shame to waste it. Even previously unavailable footage from the war in Iraq and Syria, showing the Americans’ strange secret weapons which people had never seen before. Sound canons which could pulverise concrete tower blocks and kill hundreds of people under rubble without even having to fire a bullet. Tactical nukes which made a terrible living mess of people not in the immediate centre of the bomb blast. Lazer weapons which when used against hapless Arab armies had the added bonus of so demoralising the force of soldiers which suddenly saw itself so completely out of its depth they may as well have been fighting alien robots from the future. Or EM weapons, concentrated bolts of EM energy which left nothing but splatters of foreign blood and fried and incapacitated heavy weapons. A good weapon equally adapted to human and machinery, cost effective and a no-brainer for those government departments signing off on cheques for the high-tech weapons development companies.

In the matter of nuclear warfare it was clearly better to die outright and quickly. Try to figure out where the bomb was going to land and just hope you found yourself in the bull’s eye. Nuclear war was messy and not very accurate, at least according to the footage. I think I understood the purpose behind these programmes. A quick and painless death is best.

The ‘Common Sense’ type of programming was about normal people living normal lives, mundane and difficult yet, at the same time, conspicuously removed from reality in that there was always the sense of some kind of moral retribution and a kind of justice catching up with the evil doer that almost never really happens in real life.

Noone got away with anything on TV, justice was always done, in next week’s show. The plot of the soap opera would feature light hearted banter in a public house; love triangles and a taste of infidelity and an occasion lack of good citizenship which was, after a suspenseful couple of days errant behaviour, swiftly and mercilessly corrected, usually by an accidental death much to the happiness and relief of the viewing public. That was slightly strange though, the manner of retribution was always somewhat out of proportion to the crime. And it was either a brutal gang-beating and lynching or an apparent act of God like a terrible car accident as recompense for someone stealing a car for instance. There was always a sense of natural, albeit, heavy handed justice.

These shows were they stressed, about normal people like you and me. I think I understood the point of these shows too and what they were trying to say. It was more behavioural conditioning. Like the excessive and almost ludicrous brutality of American police. They were training the public how to behave by what psychologists call ‘traumatic one trial learning’.

There were common sense quiz shows where the questions were very very easy so that everyone in the country might take part; there were common sense interviews with celebrities who were asked questions about their hair and their clothes but nothing about what they thought or anything requiring actual cognitive ability.

However one genre that had disappeared completely was comedy. There was no comedy anymore because people couldn’t laugh anymore, it was all too dreadful, there was nothing left to laugh at.

On May 8th, 2027, the Catalina Sky Survey discovered a moderately sized asteroid which was later designated as 2027 TX71 as part of the Apollo group. This 30km wide rock was one of many Near-Earth Objects that periodically crosses Earth’s orbit and passes close to our planet. This time the asteroid was projected to pass particularly close to Mercury at an acute angle and would allow scientists a rare opportunity to study any measurable changes in Mercury’s orbit and rotation and this data would be useful in considering the effect a similar asteroid might have were it to pass close by the Earth. We were told by NASA that there was no chance it would hit Earth or even come close since on this occasion, the orbit of Mercury would have a deflecting effect and would send the asteroid wide of the Earth on its looping journey past Mars and to the asteroid belt.

NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had stated categorically that there was a zero chance that it would come close enough to Earth to pose any problems.

However, 6 months later they revised their opinion somewhat:

“Of course, asteroids pass Earth by on a regular basis, and there is very rarely any cause for alarm. However, there is some anxiety about 2027 TX71 latest flyby, mainly because its distance could be subject to some serious variation.”

And then a month later:

“There is a chance that because of unforeseen gravitational interactions with Mercury, between February 2nd and 6th 2028, this asteroid will get far closer to Earth than the Moon ever does. The reason for this variation in estimates has to do with the trajectory of the asteroid, which scientists cannot entirely predict. This in turn is due to the fact that they have only been able to track it since its discovery, just under nine months ago.”

In those past few years the abuses of banks and governments had increased tenfold. Property prices were so inflated that one person, or even one couple could not afford to pay for their home with even a lifetime of work, so that it now fell to their children to burden the debt and find their lives bonded to a choice that they were in no way responsible for. However television and media did its job so well that home ownership and privacy and a family of ones own were still the ultimate accomplishments, indeed they were not even that, they were a lifestyle necessity, there was no alternative it simply didn’t exist.

Therefore people sold the rights of their unborn children in order to possess that which should not have to be paid for, namely a right to live somewhere. The trick was, that in all likelihood their homes would be utterly destroyed by the approaching catastrophe, their homes would be gone but thanks to the craftiness of the insurance companies, the debt would remain and they and their children would remain capital slaves even in the apocalypse. That wasn’t a very enticing prospect for some people and many had the sore feeling that they had been cheated, but they realised that they had always been cheated and they knew it, but they refused to do anything about it through fear. Now the ultimate fear was upon them. Not only the risk of not having a home but also of no longer having a planet.

Abuses of all kinds continued and escalated so that at no previous point in human history had there been as much bloodshed and death as occurred in the modern age. The proxy wars in the middle-east, instigated and covertly organised by the world powers in order to maintain desperate control of their secret colonies, had killed over five million people. There is no knowing what motivates these peoples’ desire for mischief and murder. Perhaps the secret rulers had long foreseen this catastrophe and thought by the shedding of blood they could appease the angry Gods who hurled asteroids around the solar system, or perhaps they realised that if Earth was going to be destroyed by events beyond human control then it was a race to the bottom and since human life apparently meant so little in the game of celestial pinball it would mean even less to the strange collection of secret organisation who pulled the strings of war and global bloodshed.

Maybe it was their intention in some sense to deserve the end of the world, so that in a sense the human race deserved the punishment. This was a particularly popular viewpoint among certain very highly placed fundamentalist Christians in the United States. But there is no evidence that anyone had any prior knowledge about asteroid 2026 TX68, though there were some who claim it had something to do with the Mayan calendar’s ‘Great Count’ which for some reason, appeared to be running late.

The truth was finally announced 15 years after the date that the ancient calendar and the internet had got so excited about. They had all been way off. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses had missed it, but then their approach to predicting the end-of-the-world tended to be a multiple ‘stab-in the dark’, get it wrong and hope nobody holds you accountable, and no one did, until now, missing the very thing they had claimed to be able to predict all along led to a loss of prestige for the strange organisation, and many of the pop-stars and film-stars who had turned to the group to hide from their sins, quit and went back to their sins for one last hurrah before the show was over and the curtain closed on them forever.

The announcement came over television by the then Prime-Minister and Grand Wizard of Great Britain, wearing his most sincere and sorrowful face.

“British citizens and people of planet Earth. You may have heard the dark rumours, the whispers and fears. I have been given the job no world leader or Grand Wizard ever wanted to tell his people. The fears I’m afraid are true, the rumours and whispers about the asteroid it seems are correct. Somehow it has gone off course, and for some unforeseen reason, has been directed towards our planet when it passed near Mercury’s orbit. It is to be believed at this stage, that because of the relatively high velocity of the asteroid and it’s size, that much of life on Earth will be lost when it collides with us.”

The prime minister, just as every other world leader, outlined the plan they had come up with to deal with the catastrophe, their plan was mass suicide through the distribution and consumption of peace medicine, since euthanasia had become popular amongst the terminally ill and even those who had been suffering from depression for longer than six months, it seemed a logical solution to all the messy business of waiting around to die. However, there was a lottery element to the peace medicine, since lotteries were so popular and the suspense of toying with statistical probability was a source of some comfort to many people and also because many voters still held old fashioned ideas that suicide was a sin, or at least, somewhat ungrateful to throw the gift of life back in God’s or whatever might be involved’s face. 

The peace medicine was an unpredictable and potentially fatal euphoric hallucinogen which once ingested took six hours to kill you. The hope was that those six hours of bliss would encourage friends and family to do the same.

There was a random element though, the pill, which had a 2/5 chance of either killing the taker, or providing the ultimate answer to life the universe and everything. The only problem is once the effects of the pill wore off you lost the clue and felt unfulfilled so guess what, you took another pill and another and so on until, the laws of probability made themselves felt and you died. I knew someone however who must have taken over fifty pills before running out of luck, boy he was a wise old dude, still it didn’t stop him taking the pills though. So a lot of young people went out happy, the pill actually suppressed the fear of death so it was like a happy euthanasia and you died as wise as a Buddha, though it just sounded like hippy nonsense to me.

Much of the population took part in the government prescribed peace medicine lottery. Which caused them to die peacefully and happily, if the odds were against them.

Also in order to further reduce the world’s population in areas where peace medicine was ‘haram’ and religiously forbidden or just not the sort of thing that would catch on, many new diseases were manufactured in China and parts of sub-Saharan Africa by tax-exempt humanitarian foundations. These successfully killed more than one third of the world’s third world population in the first three weeks following simultaneous world announcements by the world’s leaders, it seems they had long since developed something just for this occasion. 

Of course the mess was appalling, and many more died as a result of trying to deal with all the dead bodies. It was all shocking of course, but since we were all going to die anyway it didn’t really seem to matter that some died first. Perhaps they were the lucky ones, people murmured, as they fingered the peace medicine and decided whether to take it or not. 

Those in the third world didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter, and if they rioted and protested and voiced their suspicions in the crowded capital cities, then the police could use it as an opportunity to kill yet more. It seemed easier to kill as many people off before the asteroid arrived. Tidier perhaps. It seemed the secret elite wanted a peaceful apocalypse where as many people as possible were already dead.

The peace pills became so ingrained and well advertised that 80 percent of all people of the 1st world took them in the first week, and somewhat less than half of these people all died, happily enlightened. Leaving behind assorted straight edgers, squares, alcoholics, drug users and rather a lot of gamers and random adventurers who shunned the pills because they were looking forward to experiencing the apocalypse and seeing if it was survivable, and of course the powerful politicians and business men living underground and in special shelters who DIDN’T take them, it was likely they who manufactured and distributed them.

Drug users and alcoholics already had access to their drug of choice and they decided if they were going to die then they would die their way. Stoners however kept toking, they didn’t seem to mind the coming apocalypse too much, they only got panicked when they ran out of weed and hustled to find a dealer who was still alive.

I took one of the pills once, I was very very drunk and I guess I wasn’t really sure what my future held, if it held anything at all and taking the pill was tossing the coin, heads I live on, tails I die. I needed to know what fate held in store for me, it turned out to be life. Perhaps I was a fool to take it but I don’t regret it in the least, I understood much during that potentially fatal trip, I was floating between the two worlds, of matter and spirit. It wasn’t spoken words that I heard but some kind of beautiful wave sound which seemed to find its way straight into the very heart of my mind, showing me things I didn’t even know or parts of me I little suspected existed. It was amazing, and no I didn’t die.

The paper money was worthless as there was nothing that these people could sell anymore. They couldn’t sell security for they themselves had none, they couldn’t sell peace, except for the fatal tablets. As the small surviving pockets of humanity regrouped they discovered that they had been lied to and cheated for thousands of years, something too was changing in them. The planet now was largely busy disposing of the millions of people who had died, everyone in the UK who enrolled in the Peace Medicine programme were invited to special government freedom camps where they could take part in the death lottery and in the event of being either lucky or unlucky, depending on your point of view, they would either be disposed of in a manner fitting to human dignity and respect for the environment. Or else given a ride back into town.

Before everything changed, I would spend my days hiding myself, or trying to; hiding who I was, my true thoughts, because at such a critical and sensitive point in human history everything had to be rigidly controlled, particularly human interactions.

Friday night in particular always had a special significance for them. Whenever Friday appeared I was only too conscious of it, I always had been. The stress of Friday night was surpassed only by Saturday night but Saturday night was like floating in the womb when compared to the horror that New Year’s Eve evoked in me. You always had to be doing something cool and interesting and be surrounded with people and if you failed to achieve that on these ‘holy moments’ of prescribed socialisation, then you were a loser. Let me take you back to the peculiar thoughts that welled up inside me on the build up to 2028. The last New Year’s eve party before the end of time itself.

New Years’s eve was, with three weeks to go before the year 2028, a menace drifting ever closer from the visible horizon of the calendar, a menace which always did the same thing to me every year. I studied the calendar before me and surveyed it bitterly, December 31st 2027, I closed my eyes and bowed my head, trying to escape from what was before me, December 31st , a horrible time of forced joviality and licensed drunkenness, where big budgets and silly people on the TV tried to make people think that it all meant something and that all the screams of anguish and suffering of half a world could all be silenced with a few drunken rasps of the chorus from Auld Lang Syne, that was what I told myself anyway, that was my ‘public’ reason for hating New Year’s Eve, which played well to certain people, but of these there were few, I even told himself that this was why I hated New Year’s Eve, it was an ethical thing I carped, like being a vegetarian or an atheist, I just didn’t believe in New Year’s Eve and in my more excited excesses, I declared, very quietly of course, that I felt that New Year’s Eve was cruel and an unnecessary excess in today’s modern world, for me it was like waving the triumphant crusading banner of an all victorious Christian army through the threadbare and defeated towns of the world’s multi ethnic time refugees, shouting out to Muslims Jews Buddhists Hindus the whole world, that only WE tell the time. But this was just my excuse, but it sounded good, almost convincing if I and my friends were drunk enough, drunk enough to show everyone my little pearl and my friends drunk enough to wear it.

I opened my eyes and glared hatefully at the bottom right hand corner of the page: Friday, to compound matters, to the day into a super roll-over jackpot of misery, New Year’s day fell on a Friday night that year. ‘Still,’ I said, forcing a hopeful tone, to the calendar, ‘it’s not like it’s a real Friday, I mean, you don’t notice it’s a Friday, not really, the fact that it’s New Year’s Eve eclipses that.’ I thought of how when I was a child on holidays I would lose all track of time, and the days would lose all meaning, I would no longer dread Monday morning and say prayers to God to protect me from the bullies who tried to steal my packed lunch, that was part of my Sunday evening anxiety trail which started somewhere after Lost in Space and the Top Forty run-down on Radio 1 and whose course was marked by bath-time then, Chicken dinner with my family and Songs of Praise (which always made me feel slightly greasy and queasy, adding an extra refinement to the torture of a Sunday night, the chicken that is not Songs of Praise, although looking back maybe it wasn’t the chicken).

Then there were the Christmas holidays, after the school lunch thieves, the time tables, the homework and the mostly misshapen monstrous collection of human beings who were called teachers but were really like prison warders with as much trust and confidence in their burdens. After all this mindless drudgery and servile horror of school the Christmas holiday was like pure karmic transcendence, it was like reaching a timeless and infinite nirvana where you floated blissfully free smirking like a Buddha at your own freedom, the minutes that dragged you yawning through a French lesson were now eternities of bliss which could be filled with TV, chocolate and computer games. The minute hand of the classroom clock whose reluctance to move suggested the classroom was in fact an intergalactic spaceship moving at 99.999 percent of the speed of light, thus causing time to virtually stand still, which mocked you saying ‘You’re not going anywhere boy, you’ve still got twenty minutes of this crap to fidget through.’ Which to a 14 year old boy who hated French and who was on board a spaceship travelling at 99.99 percent of the speed of light, meant another life-time at least.

Now the clock couldn’t restrain itself after all its former severity, here it was now merrily whizzing away the minutes hours and days of this infinite timeless holiday, and still the Christmas geography assignment hasn’t been done. 

It all seemed so important, so complicated and now that school is about to be be buried under three miles of ice and snow as the asteroid impact returns us to an eternal winter, maybe one day it will thaw out and those teachers and those books will mean something again, it seems unlikely though. They only pretended to mean something when they stood, the mowing of the sport’s field, the school canteen endlessly churning out chips, what was the point? The differential equations, the locus of a circle, the rule of the hypotenuse, why didn’t they teach anything useful? Like how to survive the apocalypse? I know the answer. We weren’t supposed to survive the apocalypse because afterwards it would not be their world anymore, the world of teachers and policeman, detentions and endless plates of chips everyday, why should they bother with it? I suppose I like it better that way though, there are no guidelines to follow, nor golden survival rules, no advice, no interference nothing. No more Christmas. No more schizophrenic cross contaminated inbred religious festivals which do more much harm than good, take Christmas, that taught us that consumption and greed is an ideal state. Easter taught us that bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs are meaningful spiritual truth!

The houses during the festive period, all swimming in booze as soon as the first decorations went up in the street, whole families, men women and children, semi-permanently pissed for three weeks, playing the Who Wants a Fight board-game until someone has too much to drink and an ambulance has to be called. The children were the worst when they were pissed, they had to be treat like grown-ups of course but where do you start when there’s an eleven year old stinking of Green Emerald and waving a Cuddly Kitten TM flick knife under your nose?

The rules of the Who Wants a Fight bored game were fairly straightforward and followed the formula for such games that was first laid down in the mid 20th century and involved rolling dice and moving clockwise around the board while incurring and receiving various rewards and punishments according to the whim of fate and judicious game-play, these games had lately waned in popularity due to the highly structured nature of the game which was felt to prohibit spontaneity and the old fashioned insistence that players must play the game according to the rules.

Then someone in the product development department had a brain wave; sensing the needs of the anxious pre-apocalypse public to justifiably express their angst at their impending doom, and being acutely aware of their lost revenues from the public’s new appetites which squarely didn’t include staying in and playing board games, they responded by creating the Who Wants a Fight? Bored game. The game was initially designed to appeal to that ever growing band of mainly male consumers who spent their leisure time in activities such as drinking and fighting, although there were certain ethical objections to marketing a game which prescribed anti-social activities which were voiced at the time, these objections, perfectly reasonable as they were, may have found a sympathetic hearing in the general public were it not for the fact that they were given by vent by senior members of the church, the one remaining broadsheet newspaper and guests on radio 4 talk shows and so they went unheeded, indeed the very fact that such ‘uncool’ and ‘stuffy’ sources were espousing such opinions, while the morning papers and the tabloid TV celebrated the game’s creator as a great British maverick showing Britain the way it is and sticking up a finger at the toffee nosed spoilsports, served to radically and swiftly implant acceptance of the game in the general public’s mind.

The first rule of the game is that you must not follow the rules, this creates a strangely elegant and mind bending dichotomy given the seeming dogmatism of the rule which states that the same rule must not be followed, that is that rules should be followed, which thus means that the rules must not be followed. This one sentence so dominated contemporary culture, it is as if the meaning of life itself was somehow bound up in this one paradox, and this helped to gives an air of intelligence to the game, and a moral justification that there is hidden depth behind every shallow act or thought. Indeed, it was often a favourite topic of pub conversation, and beer would be spilt and often blows exchanged over the correct interpretation of this enigmatic paradox. Which was exactly what was intended.

We all walked and waded through streets neck deep in fear. That was our community feeling bonding us together in mutual distrust punctuated by a punch up, or dispelled by alcohol and a bit of a snog and maybe more.

Then there was football. It was a duty. The anxiety of those days, looking at the clock, when it was nearly 1 in the afternoon, and the match started at three, I’d have to be ready for Steve in half an hour, wearily and with revulsion I would open my bedroom drawer in a quest to root out my Town top, scarf and baseball cap. I hated the football matches, although I used to quite like football, particularly playing it, I’d suggested to my mates that they go along to try out for one of the non professional sides. We had set out in good faith and high spirits and had come back in bandages crutches and a splint. That put the dampeners on our soccer dreams, though I used to like watching a good match on the telly, that all changed ever since attendance at football games became mandatory in order to keep up morale in the face of the asteroid, well, not in law as such but if you missed a home game for any reason you’d better have a damn good, verifiable reason for doing so to tell your mates. My ‘mate’ was called Steve.

He turned up at my door at the appointed time and off we went.

“Should be a good game this, should hope so anyway, cost of a fuckin’ season ticket these days,” Steve said, then checked himself because he quickly realised that he was becoming negative, then he added:

“You don’t feel it though do you? I mean since they tek it out of your wages every month it’s ok.”

I hummed in agreement without turning his head from the rolling pavement.

“Should be a good match eh?” Steve persisted. I raised my head and glanced at Steve, I thought about what I’d read in that week’s local sports newspaper and I’d learnt the pre- match analysis by heart so I was in a position to take a position. So I’d say something like:

“Could be a very one sided affair Steve, Town’s new golden boy should get into the thick of things and dominate from early on in the game, given his pace and the flatness of City’s back four we could be looking at a couple of goals at least in the first half.”

“You reckon Bart?” he would say.

As a mater a fact I didn’t reckon at all, I knew that same thing would happen as happened every week, namely that Town would get stuffed because they were a bunch of shitty donkeys playing football in the most neglected donkey sanctuary at the end of the world and at the end of time.

Steve would agree, “Yeah you’re probably right,” he too had read the sports paper but didn’t have my memory for quoting whole pages of text, so my analysis always seemed correct, authoritative, it was also total rubbish.

‘Mates’ a group of other males whose job it was to keep an eye on you and keep your self confidence in check by reminding you that you’re one of the lads, the mates of course tell everybody they know, everything about you, this included the vast army of police officers and love workers who seem to know everybody on first name terms, it was 99 percent impossible to avoid friendship with a policeman, there were so many of them at that time because the government had previously deliberately reduced the number of policemen on the beat just to see what would happen. When crime shot up and the streets became squalid rivers of beer piss and blood, they suddenly flooded them with police, as if that was what we wanted. And so they always seemed to be calling around to check for burglars or domestic violence, and they’d just love a sit down and a cup of tea after three hours on the beat keeping the community safe and snug which it still wasn’t anyway but they weren’t Nazis after all were they?

I could always stay in and watch TV, I thought, not that I could do anything else if I chose to stay in since the TV could be turned off only by the local security forces and only in cases of extreme urgency such as induced epilepsy or a house fire. I thought of my poor aunt Betty, she had had an epileptic fit after watching fourteen hours of American drama on the Hysteria channel. She wasn’t an isolated case, it seems, from what cautious intimations I had been privy to. My aunt Betty had swallowed her own tongue and choked to death, It hadn’t been in the papers. So I sat down in front of the TV and sighed.

“This week on the news, your chance to win a holiday in paradise by taking part in our Lincolnshire butcher phone-in quiz,” the swim-suited newsreader was lounging by a pool in the sunshine, she smiled and there was a cut away to a lady with two toddlers being interviewed in a midland market town centre. She smiled at the camera and said:

“Why don’t you ask my Laura, she’s very bright and good at school.”

The interviewer asked the question:

“How many victims do you think the Lincolnshire Butcher murdered?”

“I think he killed 15.”

“Why do you think he killed 15 Laura?”

“Well, it’s my lucky number, I was born on the fifteenth, it’s my birthday in two weeks. I’ll be nine.”

“Oh how wonderful happy birthday Laura. And we’ll soon find out if and when the police release the figures.”

The TV returned to the lounging newsreader who was just sipping her strawberry daiquiri, she put down her drink and read from the auto cue.

“Well lines are still open… but let’s go over the case again!” At which point there was a cutaway to a dilapidated white walled farmhouse on the outskirts of a small village on the flat of the Lincolnshire planes.

“It was here that the Lincolnshire butcher committed his outrageous murders with a frenzy like something out of a Hollywood thriller.”

I felt sickened and realised that I couldn’t stay at home all night being subjected to this. I would long to go for a walk, like in the old days when I would lose himself in the grassy sand dunes, while the cool sea freshened the air with its song. Now it was out of the question. You were arrested for your own safety if you found out alone in an isolated spot. In these fraught times it was considered dangerous to be left alone with one’s thoughts.

“Neighbours have reported that the Lincolnshire Butcher was a very unsociable loner who liked to go for long walks, presumably to identify potential sites for murdering and burying his victims.” I sighed, my choices were: pub, cinema or TV, I hated the cinema though, it was like watching the news, the two were nowadays indistinguishable, both a mix of fiction with a few crumbs of reality. Everything had to have a narrative, a closure or a prize to be won, otherwise people couldn’t make sense of it.

Each moment closer to the final day seemed to show us something new about humanity, like the year of the strikes in the legal profession.

Everyone spent most of their lives suing their neighbours, the authorities, workmen even their own friends and families, many people even quit work so they could spend more time talking to solicitors and suing people as a consequence lawyers were being massively overworked and the legal profession had become a giant and many tentacled cash machine. Since the legal profession too was one of the few lucrative professions left at that tine there was a huge surplus of labour so conditions were being slowly eroded in order to bring down prices for the insurance companies. There were picket lines outside town halls and courts, the great Temple in London had become a hive of union militancy with the word ‘scab’ pronounced with the best cut crystal accents.

There were no facts anymore, just rumours, hearsay gossip and phone polls. Everyone had an opinion and everyone could say what they liked, as long as it wasn’t critical. Everyone had an opinion but the trick was that they were never substantiated by facts because the facts had not been made accessible or had disappeared or somehow been lost. I didn’t know, even the Lincolnshire butcher, the most gruesome and most exciting murdering in years, the facts of which will in all probability never be made public, we will never learn how many people he really killed, it will be decided by a phone poll. If the majority think he killed fifteen people, then he killed fifteen, if they think, perhaps after having being to the cinema, that he killed over two hundred people, then he killed over two hundred. 

There were no limits to one’s right to air ones views, so long as it wasn’t critical. So no-one knew how many were killed, in fact no-one ever knew anything, all knowledge in society was founded on estimated and guesses, or rough figures written down on the back of an envelope. It seemed that this was adequate to satisfy human curiosity and the human need to be right. Everybody could now be right, some people perhaps more right than others but each cherished in their mind their own personal universe containing the universe according to them. For example, for some people, the age of the universe itself was only 6,000 years, yet for others they maintained that it was over 12 billion years.

Some people believed in God, others held it as true that he did not exist. Some thought cider and blackcurrant the best drink others possessed a private universe in which lager and lime was the ultimate nectar. Everybody could be right all the time, the only crime was to deny another person this right, and to be critical. The right to criticise other people’s beliefs or the government or anything at all, could be exercised only at the expense of the forfeiture of certain privileges, for example, the privilege of being suffered to remain free and at liberty. One could be free and keep quiet, or say what one liked from within a prison cell, in order to protect people’s feelings.

Also negativity was prohibited. These were character traits which were considered harmful to society and so had been successfully subjugated and which when exposed was always within the context of disgruntled loner becoming not a prize winning novelist, as would happen in the past, but as a frenzied knife slashing murderer, or of one of the mentally ill lounging in the terminal wards being pleasantly drugged to death.

I had so far kept my condition to myself and away from the prying eyes and ears of the authorities but lately I suspected I was being monitored by my friends and the local police. It worried me, I had no desire to be reconditioned, it was a painfully and deeply humiliating experience. I’d seen them on TV. They were wheeled out as a precaution and a warning to other free-thinkers. They looked like ghosts, emotionally lobotomised, their thoughts had been channelled along rivulets of steel, in their minds the reflex and example therapy about which very little is known publicly except that it takes place in isolated buildings in the middle of nowhere. On TV the sun is always shining and there is a swimming pool but something told me it wasn’t quite like that, something very bad had happened to those people who could now only think in straight lines. I had never met one but a friend of his had once, only once, met one, once was apparently enough to serve as an example for the rest of your life.

On TV they were spooky enough but in the flesh they must have been horrifying.

The lesson was nevertheless wheeled out every Saturday, right after the ‘Break a leg’ show, the community welfare introverts was shown and the reconditioned members of society spoke about their wonderful new lives of enjoying going to the pub, eating breakfast the sleeping it off at weekends, and watching TV. The interviewer would suggest with a sly wink to the camera, that they go for a walk after the show or some other kind of prohibited activity. The eyes of the reconditioned community welfare introvert seemed to glaze over and look elsewhere, at something awful, his face would go white and a look of terrible pain and terror would come into his features.

The interviewer would finish interview with a few salutary remarks about the new government initiatives helping to provide jobs for the reconditioned such as counting the number of white cars in the street, of which there was a great many, the show would end with a protracted close up on the reconditioned introvert’s face who was by now lost in a linear world of escalating fear and horror and the closing soundtrack was the sound of their sobs and gasps as he tried to breathe.

It was supposed to be positive in its way, but the threat and punishment aspect were clear enough to scare the wits out of most people all over the country, for about five minutes, when they buried it in their subconscious and watched the next programme: “I’m rich, why aren’t you?” where they told everyone that riches success and beautiful men and women were the norm, and if we didn’t fit the mould then we were somehow functioning below our capacities. 

I used to so love the pop music of that time but looking back I see it for what it was, another social pressure, a peer pressure where a few exalted ones live a full life where every desire is instantly fulfilled while the rest of us bask in the shadow of these great ones, listening to their inanities and worshipping those false and empty idols.

Then they started using the pop group and rock bands to propagate their messages and then they had total control over young people.

Anyway those days are long gone. The days of roast Sunday chicken with crispy roast potatoes and stuffing, are well behind me, in a way I’m glad because I always used to get such bad wind.

Talking of wind, there was one last hope to fight the destructive asteroid which and that was HAARP. They claimed there might be a chance to fire enough energy into the upper atmosphere to destroy it before it hit the Earth. At least that was what they claimed. More rubbish and wasted money on ineffectual Star Wars weapons. Our species couldn’t do REAL sci-fi, they could only pretend and film it in a studio.

They claimed that science would once and for all liberate the human race from the bondage of our environment and would give us a mandate to conquer all. It didn’t quite work out that way though. HAARP stood for High frequency Active Auroral Research Programme, it was a leftover from Reagan’s star wars project and despite the fact that congress had refused funding it still saw the light of day. The HAARP project was the American governments attempt to blow our way safe and clear into the fifth age.

They did a test run of the proteus particle accelerators which created extraordinary energy potentials in the earth’s upper atmosphere, effectively boiling the Van Allen belt, the hope was that this mega energy surrounding the earth would protect us from the terrible asteroid by either destroying it or somehow impeding it.

They tested it and as usual it was another high-tech failure, not only did it fail to work in a way sufficient to protect us from the asteroid but the incredible energies in play ripped open a hole in the space time continuum just above Alaska and as a result the mountains of Canada are now in the hands of unknown creatures from another dimension who it seems tend to prefer an arctic climate. I haven’t met any of these creatures, not yet anyway, I’m not afraid of them, to be honest, they can hardly be worse than our own governments.

There were a lot of suicides, I obviously didn’t go that way, I guess I just wasn’t scared enough, I mean I’d been scared and had just enough shit in my own life that when the end of the world was announced it was like, oh is that all. For most people it was too unthinkable. I spoke to a few people and the lasting image of their fear was that there wouldn’t be any more television, I never watched TV when it was on and people used to be genuinely stupefied when I told them that I didn’t watch it, ‘What do you do in the evenings?’ they would ask, in a tone of voice that was utterly uncomprehending. Well, those people have all gone now and so has there precious TV, I don’t mean to be unjust but I know that they wouldn’t be happy in a world without TV.

Anyway most of those people took their own lives, it was pretty gruesome really, the television would instruct them how to do it, usually during their favourite programme. The long running soaps had their last ever episode accompanied by the death of twenty five million people, the cast too it seemed all did the same thing, live on air, that was what they pretended anyway but I doubt it, actors only ever act, they were all too canny and well provided for to end their lives.

I didn’t watch the soaps, maybe if I had I wouldn’t be here now writing this chronicle of a non existent world, it seemed that the as the predicted apocalypse drew nearer, the programmes would try to totally freak people out and play with their minds. Long dead characters from the soaps would just mysteriously return without so much as an explanation, as if nothing had happened. A character who ten years ago had been shot and thrown into the local canal, had his body positively identified, buried – the whole caboodle, would suddenly just turn up at the pub, order a drink and chat with the other characters as if he’s never been gone, he would even allude to things he’s claim to have done recently, and the other characters would play along, as if not only had he not been dead but that he had always been in the programme. My mother told me before she died, that the characters would change faces too, or at least the actor would change, near the end every episode would have the same actors but all playing totally different roles. I think it was an attempt to force people off their rockers, it certainly worked. Maybe they did the right thing, for them, sure, but not for me.

Still I did lose some good friends because even the young people who didn’t watch TV killed themselves en masse. It was a new club game which had apparently been transmitted through the youth underground which involved listening to audio special recordings which contained secret messages about the absolute and definitive meaning of existence which could only be correctly understood if heard while being on a pill. You could call the recordings a kind of brainwashing experience but there are two sides to every tale. They were invariably given names like, Deep Trance, Mind Warp or Psychotic reaction, it was pure military technology, stimulation of the brain to induce theta and delta states and suchlike. It was dressed up to look edgy and like counterculture, the whole thing with the drugs, but the whole thing reeked of government connivance, you only needed a good nose to smell it, so few of the young folks did though which explains why there are only a couple of million humans being left on the whole planet.

The problem with young people is that they don’t care, or they didn’t at least, as long as they’re entertained and feel like they’re dictating the agenda. So these cd’s and MP3’s were handed around surreptitiously, making us all feel cool and edgy and like we’re being autonomous and dictating our own agenda, when really we’re they’re being produced in military labs and downloaded by government paid hackers, until they find their way through that great military database and spying tool: the internet, into our brains.

There were other types of music too, with names like Words are Music and Let your Mind do the Talking, they necessitated the ingestion of a drug but this was non fatal. This particular combination appealed to a different sort of person, the activist. The type of person who listened to this music was not content to die but would be happy to convince other people to do so. The brain was programmed by the music when consumed with the drug, so that the music would in fact connect with the speech recognition parts of the brain and replay the message through the day, they thought it was their own voice but its was an implanted voice from the music, or rather it was the music but decoded. First the code key is programmed then the music activated words and actions in brain, and this person basically would so whatever the music told them to as they would think it was the voice of their own conscience and reason. I only know this because again, I have a nose to sniff this kind of shit out and I’ve spoken to many people since the apocalypse, who also have noses to sniff out the bullshit, who seem to think something of this sort was going on. These people were basically turned into government agents through the power of suggestion and would help with distribution of more music and more of the peace pills, and whatever else the government wanted doing in the community. I once heard about a man who stabbed his father to death. It was the music which told him to do so. Fortunately this is all behind us now.

They were funny times really, now that we’ve escaped from them, now we can laugh at the folly, well those of us who stayed alive, which amounts to about just under one tenth of the human race. Life on Earth: contagious controlled madness and mass hysteria, every week a new surprise and dirty trick.

Until the final dirty trick. The final day for life on Earth. The day we had all been waiting for with dread. Most people has already checked out, either 3rd world genocides, suicide clubs or peace medicine had got them. They were the lucky ones we were told. The death we faced when the asteroid struck would be slow lingering and terrible, experts weren’t sure how we would die, we might boil to death in our own blood as the asteroid ripped away our atmosphere exposing us the vacuum of space. Or else slowly starve and suffocate in a world which had become a perpetually ravaged choking storm. It was generally considered a fate worse than death, and most people chose the easier option of death. So the TV said. I never took much notice of the TV. It was always bullshit.

And so the final day arrived and we expected to see the asteroid finally coming at us from space and tearing into our upper atmosphere and ripping the life cocoon from this planet.

And there was nothing. Days passed. The TV had ceased broadcasting, all the important people were in their bunkers.

And nothing happened. Weeks passed, we survived. The Earth survived. We scratched our heads and then there were tentative announcement.

‘We miscalculated. Unaccountable errors. The asteroid has passed safely beyond Earth and is now heading into the outer reaches of the solar-system.’

And so it was. Life on Earth returned to normal, except conditions were significantly better and we were all better off since any pair of working hands was now a valuable asset and not the burden on the economy it had been in the previous time of high population.

I don’t know what humanity is supposed to learn from this, if anything, except no one watches television anymore. That’s for sure.

2 thoughts on “The End of the World Show. Short story.

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