There was disaster coming; that was obvious. Life had been almost ridiculously easy, and now things were going to get worse. Much, much worse. I couldn’t believe that I had ever thought otherwise. I couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought that there could be any other outcome.
But I had.
I had disregarded a thousand different types and variations of warning for years.
I had believed implicitly in the power of the Authorities to deal with any situation that may have worried me. My bookshelves were full of books, packed with scientific explanations, and I had taken out a variety of insurance that implied my life was worth money.
I did not think that my life, or more precisely, the manner in which I lived it was effectively an inexorably lengthy suicide, although, of course, it was. Small things were changing, but I had preferred to remain oblivious. I did not much miss the butterflies, and birdsong had only reminded me of mobile phones or car alarms anyway.
Disaster I thought of in inverted commas; “DISASTER”.
It was something that, if it were to happen, would look like extremely expensive special effects.
Because the world was big, and seemed to alter only in the details, I slowly became comfortable in many assumptions. I fossilised into what I saw as an eternally stable sediment.
In this state I engaged actively with property, clothing, money, culture, and had a vested interest in continuing to do so.
In this I was not alone.
Even though I had often observed newly-born swarms of mayflies smashed to pieces by a sudden and unexpected showers of hailstones, I often used credit cards. Even though I myself had mercilessly crushed legions of ants beneath my feet, I took out a mortgage on a house that I then renovated, decorated and bought furniture for. And even though I had seen on the television many harbingers of disaster, I carried on acting as if nothing was wrong.
All of this was an error.
No. Not just an error; it was an immense mistake.
When, at last and unequivocally, I had to admit to my deeply comfortable self that disaster really was coming and that its coming was inevitable, I took certain steps.
Everyone that I knew of lived in houses, and it rapidly became clear that all of these houses were either too old, too dangerously situated, or in any number of other ways inappropriate. We used our diverse and highly-developed skills to research the question of what to do.
We decided to build a new house that had none of the drawbacks of previous habitats. We selected a site and had the house built. The disaster was definitely coming, but money still worked as it always had, as did credit, mortgages, property, and all the other things we clothed ourselves with. There seemed to be no particular urgency regarding the disaster; only a dull sort of inevitability. Our new house fulfilled all the requirements we sought, but there was one thing we had not thought about.
One thing we had not got right.
We built a house with too many shadows in it. It wasn’t the sort of thing that you notice at first; oh no.
The shadows did not become evident until it was too late.
Of course. Not until it was much, much too late.
And soon it was clear to us all that the disaster was almost upon us. This we deduced from the undeniable fact that many of the things to which we had become accustomed began to stop functioning.
The telephones became unreliable, and there was often no money in the holes in the walls. There was no more petrol, which led to some very unpleasant scenes, both on the roads and elsewhere. People had certainly been guilty of selfishness before, but the stoppage of petrol made a lot of people act extremely thoughtlessly.
In addition to our frequent and increasing daily troubles, the always awkward-to-reach call-centre employees whom we relied upon for many things were frequently completely absent, and when the telephone systems did actually work we were usually rebuffed by recorded voices that enticed us through several options before becoming silent.
One evening the television had nothing to show us.
And then, almost suddenly, it was no longer possible to buy newspapers, or indeed many sundries including soap, dish-washing tablets, razors, lightbulbs, vacuum-cleaner bags, or toilet paper, as the family who had owned the shop had gone. We tried to find other shops, but the families who owned them had gone too.
We now had to think about the how of getting, rather than the how much to get. This was a strain. It occurred to me, not infrequently, that our civilisation had, of late, begun to make the simplest things extremely tortuous. We had perfected what now seemed a psychotic level of complexity around simple human activities like eating, keeping clean, and moving from one place to another.
Our supply of electricity became erratic. At the end of a day filled with minor panics of one sort or another it was apparent that there was no more of it at all.
That was where our real problems started.
Looking back, I can see that they began long before that. Our problems began a long, long time ago, when they were invisible, and continued during their gradual appearance.
The problems grew and were nurtured by our casual indifference, our sneers, and the ignorant manner in which we chose to live. Our gestating problems were the dark, inevitable spectre that accompanied us to the cashpoint, into work, to the supermarket, and into our gritty, tortured beds.
And after the end of the electricity, the shadows conspired against us.
The dark corners began to scare us more than the coming disaster. The disaster was imminent; that was clear from the disappearance of many things which we had assumed to be vital to our being. But the threat from the shifting shadows in our house was worse, far worse.
We began, almost imperceptibly, to panic.
However much we reassured ourselves that we were safe, that the disaster would flow over us, that we had stockpiled, that we were defended and guarded against every eventuality, the insistent shadows illuminated our vulnerability.
When night came, we fell to a brooding quietude, eyeing each other with suspicion, inventing justifications for our dark feelings.
We cloaked our hidden desires; we conspired with the shadows.
Nothing seemed to be happening.
The television, I realised, had been a sort of terminal that connected me to a wider understanding of events. And without newspapers it was impossible not to write my own internal headlines during my sleepless nights. Worry became constant; worry and enforced exile from everything I was accustomed to.
I had never envisaged a sort of loneliness that did not involve people. But in fact it was the lack of small items that I had previously taken for granted made me lonely. I missed tea, toothpaste, remote controls, coffee, ballpoint pens, margarine, AA batteries, and easy credit in high-street stores. I missed my favourite magazines.
And the dead silence that encloaked the telephone and the television made me lonely. And the hollow look in the eyes of the people – oh….
After the end of electricity, the nights lengthened.
We had to wait in the dark, listening.
Life had quickly become intolerable for some of us.
It wasn’t that I found my existence more tolerable than theirs; only that I felt that I had a sort of fortitude, a sort of – wisdom.
Nobody was happy.
The light in the house became less and less; the shadows, darker and darker. Still we waited for the disaster.
And when I looked, when people moved in front of the windows in the grey light, their shadows cast quickly clattering dark talons across the floor. This only became worse as the light faded.
I forbade them from moving, as it had become impossible to tell shadow from shadow. Or shadow from human.
Mine was a necessary act, an act which intended to prove that we had to be strong and united against the looming disaster.
The man had always been unreliable, but certain events had proved to me that he was a liability. If it had not been me it would have been another who would have had to take that awful decision.
Nobody witnessed anything; not that it would have made any difference if they had.
I was not ashamed, and after a certain amount of uproar I explained my reasoning and my actions to the others. But I did not go into the details; if I had told them about his struggling, and how long it took, there would undoubtedly have been problems.
We carried his carcass beyond the perimeter wire and left it in a ditch. Inevitably, there were people who objected, and they were next.
When disaster is coming it is difficult to see clearly, but somehow I could see through the shadows to the light.
A long period of unpleasantness followed.
As the people in the house became fewer the shadows seemed to increase in number and in density. Often I perused my fading bank statements, lost in a reverie of long-gone financial transactions. I disliked being disturbed. Yes. I disliked that.
The disaster was coming. That was clear.
There were shadows everywhere.
When I was at last alone, when the people were all gone, I waited for the disaster on my own.
On my own.