Written by: Tom Willis (American & Canadian Studies, 2016)
I wake up at 6am every morning, even though I know the world has ended. If there were people to cross paths with, they would probably ask, “why did you go back to university when everything fell?” Why not, I’d reply. Why not? When the everything stopped, I drove to Nottingham. My hometown shined ironically in the rear-view like a leaving parade. But there was nobody on the streets. They’re all gone now, like most of us. Now, I am a ghost on campus without a hall to haunt. I am spy from the Delegate of Loneliness. I write this by gaslight. It’s the second day of the first semester. No – third day. I like to pretend the term is still happening. My head swills with alcohol, that German cough syrup. Mouth tastes grey. I’ve just about completely raided the cellars of the dormitory halls. That’s all I do now. I sit and I wait. Why not toast every passing hour while I do it?
Up. Brush teeth (the taste of mint dull as October skies). Dressed (partially). Eat toast (also, partially.) It’s been sitting on the radiator for a few days. I still adhere to my old academic calendar. I think I have a lecture to attend. What time – 10 a.m.?
I pass through the screaming quiet of the Trent building, it’s clock hands try to tell me the time, but it passes in a blur.
It stopped ticking a while ago anyway. On the lawn near the river Trent there is memories of vociferation. Vehemence. Polite, British anarchy. Academics and garbage men sit and profess politics professionally. A desperate cry for recognition, a resist to surrender autonomy. I must resist the urge to throw my voice. I have the 10 a.m. to attend. First, it was the rights of professors; then came the movement for equality; then, the fight and the survival for everything. It unfolded quickly. Dissent spread like a firework across the sky on November 5th. We fought until we had nothing left. Now there is nothing left to fight for.
A slideshow appears in my mind. The hundredth this week. A textbook is read allowed like scripture. American History, Romantic Poetry. My peers are swallowed in blue light from miniature black obelisks attached to their hands. Nine-thousand a year to stare at the black mirror. It ends. Lunch? I know how Lazlo’s dog feels now. Poor pooch. £3 meal deal from Boots; staple diet. I wish – I took them all months ago. Tonight, I’ll be forced to go shooting. Shots lined on the bar. One down, two down, three down, on the floor. I’ve never had to fire the rifle that I carry, but someday I might. I have a radio, but the only stories it tells are dreams of static. I keep it on the desk and I hope to hear a voice on the other end. The other side of the line. Wherever that is. A bell rings in my head and rattles my skull. The lecture is finished. I pick up the rifle and the radio and I step outside. Sometimes, as I walk past the Trent, the sun shines hard into my face and I forgot where the hell I am. The grass has turned brown like scorched earth, but I can look up into the sky and the sun beats down and my memory gives to the sky. Not today. I look across to the South Entrance of campus – a woman is entering, a baseball cap covers her face and I cannot make out the features.
See, everyone stopped talking right before everything fell. Not just countries inter-dependant on trade or information, but families and friends; lovers and enemies become the same. The world really stopped turning before everyone died. Well, nearly everyone died. When we turned inwards as human beings, when we gave into fear everything we knew fell to pieces. The Homo Sapien survived because of communication. It’s a tragic comedy of evolution that this regression would be the downfall of us all.
She walks towards me and I can feel the dust shift under her boots. She is not armed, but I keep my finger close to the trigger of my rifle. She stops in her tracks and lifts off her cap.
You came back here? To university. Out of all the places to go after everything fell. Here? Why?
She smiles. It breaks my heart. A smile, a small sign of a world past, that I thought was gone forever.
“It’s getting dark. Wanna go inside?”
“We can do that.”
We go into the Portland building and we set a small fire on the bottom floor, under the stairs. At first, we are silent. Nervous to speak. It’s around midnight when we finally begin to talk. She’s from Boston, she won’t tell me how she got here. We talk about baseball, about the green and red of Fenway Park. We talk like everything is normal and the merry-go-round is still spinning. We share the little food that I have left. She insists I take some of hers, but I refuse. I’m fine, I say. She tells me about her mother, she tells me of her father. Her voice sings to me and makes my head hum white hot in the early dawn.
In the morning, she takes some provisions with her, but she mostly travels light. I watch her turn the corner of the south entrance from where she arrived in the first place. I take one step in front of me and my lungs are about to scream after her. I want to join her. I want to go with her. But I stop. I stay silent. It’s around 6am. Or at least it feels like it. I always found it funny how the birds still sing in the morning, dancing around in the sky like a quiet hurricane while their chains pull them down from the clouds. I watch them for a minute then I walk out into another day.