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Chronicles of the End
Part one: Loneliness
By: Jeffrey Buckner
On the front porch of a small-town general store, a woman sits staring at the empty road; a road that no car has traveled these last 2 years. The black, tempered skies threaten rain as the trees bend in the wind of an oncoming storm. Through the goggles of a gas mask she looks at its cracked, overgrown surface laying out her choices. She has to leave, but does not know which way to go or even why she continues to go. During the last 6 months, the earth, where she buried her reasons for holding on, has lost all signs of the graves she dug; 6 months alone, trapped, hungry, and delirious.
When they found this secluded general store, hours from any large town, where the locals seemed to have died or fled from in the first days, they felt their prayers had been answered. For a year they lived off the food in the store and the surrounding houses. They chose to stay in the store, as there were still bodies of people, pets, and livestock concentrated around the houses. The store’s freezer, now lacking power, was better insulated to keep them warm. After waiting for a few days to make sure no other people would come wandering through the area, her husband went out to look through the houses. She stayed behind with their 2-year-old daughter.
He left in the middle of the night just in case there was anyone around; he’d hoped to see them before they saw him. For an entire day she waited not knowing which way he had gone to look, or when he would come back. So she colored with her daughter, sang nursery rhymes, and tried her best to distract the both of them from the fact that they did not know if he would come back. After the sun went down she barricaded the doors and locked the storm shutters on the windows.
Shortly after her daughter fell asleep she heard a distant sound: something familiar, but not heard in the many months since this nightmare began. The steady clicking and whir of a diesel engine stopped suddenly down the road from the store. The engine struggled to start again but soon rumbled to life and continued it’s approach, finally stopping at the back of the store.
“Knock Knock” came the voice from the other side. The person jiggled the handle, pushing in vain against the door blocked by bags of concrete.
The woman crouched behind a rack of garden tools clutching a hatchet, not sure of what she would do, or could do, if this person got through the door. Her heart throbbing in her chest, adrenaline in her veins, tears pouring out her eyes she thought, What will they do to me if they get in here? What will they do if they find Ann? What if they don’t find her?
“Sarah, it’s me. Open up,” the voice called out from behind the door.
Her panic receded, like a fog dissipating in the sunlight. “Will?” she said in a quivering voice. “Is that you?”
“Yes, honey, it’s me. Could you let me in? I have something to show you.”
One by one she dragged the sacks of powdered concrete from behind the door and nervously opened it. Her husband, Will, was standing in front of a large diesel pick-up truck filled with food. She leapt forward and squeezed him tightly, tears falling down her face in rivers.
“GOD DAMN YOU!” she cried into his shoulder. “I didn’t know what happened to you, where you went, if you’d gotten hurt, if you’d…died like everyone else.”
She cried for almost an hour, though they couldn’t tell for sure: neither of them had a watch that worked.
That was 18 months ago. Now the road, like an abyss, stares back at her, forcing her to choose. She stands slowly and walks to the edge of the gravel and dirt parking lot. Looking down at the street, she sees a lone crack snaking its way from her feet to the centerline, heading east. It’s a sign…a coincidence…or maybe just a stimulus that provides direction. In any case, it’s enough to get her walking.
After the woman had stopped crying, she and Will made love for the first time since the world fell apart. On the sun faded vinyl of the truck’s back seat they remembered what their love was; that it was more then just survival. Afterward, they brought in the food Will had found, locked up the shop, and went to sleep in the freezer.
They worked on the truck to try to get it running steadily, but there wasn’t enough diesel in it to get them more than a few miles but even then the little fuel in it had been sitting for so long that it had started to clog the fuel lines.
Though it wouldn’t run, the truck became their getaway; their place to be alone and remember what it was like to be together not as parents, but as husband and wife. Every night for a week, they’d sneak away for some time alone after Ann fell asleep, but after a few weeks she began to has reservations.
“We have to stop,” she said as he kissed her neck.
“What do you mean?” he asked, hurt from the rejection.
“I love you, but sneaking out hasn’t been about us loving each other. We’ve been running away from what has happened.”
“What’s so wrong about that? Why is it wrong to want to forget how miserable we are for just a few moments? Everyday we survive with fear in our minds, not knowing if we’ll see the next. So what is so wrong with a little joy?”
“What if I get pregnant again?”
The question stops him cold, leaving his mouth agape, but no words able to escape.
“Well,” he paused “we could look around the area more. We could find more food down the road somewhere. I could take out one of the bicycles I found the other day and head down the road. There have to be other small towns or at least houses near here.”
“Will, just stop. There is nothing else.” She is not crying. Her voice is not quivering and her words do not falter. “Even if we do find some food, what then? How long do we have then? I don’t know how to have a baby out here, do you? No doctors, no medicine, not even a clean sheet or shirt since you won’t let us wash them when it does rain.”
“Sarah, stop. You’re scaring me.”
“Well it’s about time! I’ve been scared for so long I don’t remember what it felt like not to be. I can’t do this anymore, we can’t do this anymore! I won’t.”
With those words she left the truck, slamming the door behind her. Will knew better then to go after her. He slept in the truck that night. The next morning she came to get him. She apologized for what she’d said, but he could tell she didn’t really mean it.
A few weeks later, Will was out gathering wood to heat some of the canned goods. They could eat the food cold, but it was the little reminders of how thing used to be that brought him the most joy. He knew he shouldn’t have wandered so far away from the store, but he’d already used-up all the nearby fallen branches and tree bark. So when the storm rolled in, he had no place to take shelter. He was out in it for an hour trying to gather enough wood and keep it under the tarp. When he got back he was soaked to the bone, and that night he dreamed. He couldn’t remember exactly what is was, but when he woke up he was visibly shaken.
The next day he started to get sick. A high fever, but he wasn’t sweating, and he began to hallucinate. Sarah was scared that it was the food, but she and Ann were not having any symptoms. The surrounding homes had some medicine, but none of it helped. Will was slipping and Sarah knew there was nothing she could do about it. He was too far gone to realize what was going on.
After a few days, Sarah took Ann out to look for more medicine She knew it was a futile attempt, but she needed to get away. Watching her husband whither away before her eyes was too much for her to bear while trying to stay strong for their daughter.
When they came back after fruitlessly searching the same houses they’d looked through months before, Will was nowhere to be found. She could see his footprints leading away from the back door toward the eucalyptus trees about a hundred yards from the store. She left Ann behind with some crayons, food and water, just in case, and followed Will’s trail.
In the small grove behind one of the biggest trees she found Will sitting on the ground leaning forward. She bent down to check on him, but when she touched his shoulder he fell over. The knife in his chest was the one he always carried with him, and as he had no other marks on him she knew what he did. She noticed that in the dirt next to him was written, “I’m sorry” with a shape resembling a heart.
She didn’t cry. She dragged him to the back of the store and left him there while she tended to Ann. Once Ann had fallen asleep she took to burying her husband. The tools were dull and she wasn’t very strong, so a shallow grave would have to do. When the hole was finished, Sarah pulled him in and, as she covered him, each shovel full seeming to fall slower then the last. The only thing she could say was “I understand.”
As she walks down the road she hears a voice behind her, but she can’t make out what is being said. After 2 years she was sure whatever was happening was in the air. Early on they’d found a stockpile of guns and survival equipment in the basement of one of the nearby houses. They brought a few guns back, but with no animals to hunt they served little purpose other than some peace of mind. If anyone found them, they would be able to defend themselves.
She reaches the end of the road, which meets another road at a T intersection. She follows the right path. Whether it is because her instinctive reflex is to turn right or because she sees some glimmer of hope in the distance, she is not sure. Soon enough she comes across another small abandoned building. This one has a small creek and a water wheel, but it doesn’t appear to have any goods. It will provide adequate shelter for the night, though.
Since there haven’t been any animals for some time, so the water in the creek, except for the taste of dirt, is safe. It’s the first time she’s had water that wasn’t from a bottle in almost a year. Will thought it was the only water that was safe but the water here tastes so good; not like the plastic tasting bottled water she’s grown accustomed too.
The rain that the sky had threatened never came, and that night she dreamed.
After Will had passed, Sarah focused on Ann: the one thing that remained from a life she remembered, as if it were a dream. She would tell Ann all about how Will and her had met, the places they’d gone, things they’d seen. Soon she was telling her the plots of TV shows and movies that she could remember. They had books, but at night they didn’t have light to read them with. So they would tell stories, made up stories in Ann’s case, and just try to stay happy.
Ann was getting bigger, so Sarah took her to some of the houses where there had been children to find her some new clothes. The first 2 houses had older children with clothes too large for her. But the third house, a house surrounded by ash and oak trees, with a long white gravel driveway leading up to it, had clothes perfect for her. As Ann rummaged through the clothes, finding some with sequins and bright colors, Sarah looked at the pictures on the walls. In all the times they’d come to these houses, they never really looked at the people who’d lived there. She looked at the pictures of the family’s trips to theme parks, to the beach, and even those pictures with props taken at the mall. Watching Ann and knowing she would never know any moments like these ripped a hole in her. Ann came out of the bedroom to find her mom crying against the door at the end of the hall.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” she asked softly.
“Nothing, baby. Mommy is…mommy is just tired.”
“Why are you crying?” Ann asked as she walked down the hall and gave her mom a hug. Sarah couldn’t answer. She just held her daughter close and cried.
The sun shines through the window of the wheelhouse where Sarah had slept the night before. As she lies there half awake, she can’t recall any of her dreams. An unexplainable sense of purpose and direction fills her thoughts, and she knows what she has to do.
The small bag she has with her carries what little food there is left, some water, a knife, and a journal. She opens one of the cans of food with the knife; the label had peeled off, so she isn’t pleased to find out that they are green beans, same as the last 4 cans she has eaten. As she eats the cold green beans she takes a crayon out of her pocket and opens the journal. She reads the last entry in it from yesterday, somehow unable to remember what she had written just a day before. There are only 4 words.
I have to leave.
As she stares at the blank page in front of her, the blue crayon in her hand reminds her of the dream. A lake. There was a lake in her dream…the lake from the pictures in the family’s house. She remembers that the family had a boat and a tow hitch on their truck, which sat in the driveway. The lake had to be close, why else would they have it. The creek that ran next to the wheelhouse, it had to go to the lake, it had to be close. Maybe there would be food there. The blue crayon finds its way into her pocket again, leaving the page blank.
The hope of hope drives her. Her feet willed into movement by the denial of her own rationality. She knows that there is no redemption, no salvation, and no chance of going back now.
The creek runs alongside the road for a time, then meets with other streams, steadily growing into a small river. She sticks to the road as much as she can, keeping the river in sight, though at times it’s distant. When her water bottle runs out she fills it from the river. It seems to be about one in the afternoon to her when she stops to eat another can of food. She sits on the side of the road and opens the label-less can with her knife when she hears a voice.
“Mama!” she thinks she hears. Looking around she doesn’t see anyone, but she pauses for a moment to collect herself before prying the lid off the can. Lifting her mask while holding her breath she eats a handful of green beans. Their slimy lukewarm texture no longer bothers her, but the taste grows tiresome. She closes her eyes and pulls her mask back down to finish chewing and take a breath, when she hears the voice again.
“Mama! I love you, Mama.”
Sarah opens her eyes and sees her daughter standing in front of her. She’s in the clothes they had found in the house with the ash and oak trees along the driveway. Her eyes begin to water as the lenses on her mask fogs-up, blurring her vision. She almost reaches out for Ann when she blinks and sees nothing in front of her but the distant mountains. Her lip quivers as she swallows the last bit of food.
The hours melt away as she walks down the decaying road, trees and bushes giving way to cracked mud and sand dunes. The river she’s following disappears underground. Dusk approaches and her body aches from the trek; she looks for a place to sleep. The vast nothing around her offers no cover from the elements. She lays down on the slope of a small hill leading into a wash. The road has laid barren for a long time, but her instincts still tell her to stay off it at night. As she lies there, curled up to protect herself from the cold wind, her eyes grow heavy. She hears Ann’s voice again just as she drifts off to sleep.
Sarah finds herself standing in the desert wash where she had fallen asleep, not knowing how she got there. The air is cool. The sun is warm in the bright blue sky, and she doesn’t feel scared. There are bubbles in the air and she can hear music playing all around her. She starts to dance, feeling the warmth of the music wash over her. Stripping off her clothes one piece at a time, she feels the bubbles caress her skin before popping with the sound of a bell in tune with the music.
Finally, stripped to only her old bikini from their trip to Cancun, she sees that she has been watching herself this whole time, removed from her own body. The avatar of herself stares at her. She can feel what it feels, see what it sees, but it is not her. It stares at her through the lenses of the gas mask. Tilting its head slowly to the side it begins to pull off the gas mask.
As the mask comes off, the colors drain from the world, the music turns to that of breaking guitar strings, and the bubbles fall to the ground shattering like crystal. She feels as if all the air around her is being drawn into the reflection of her, and she can’t breath. Just as the mask is finally removed, there is a blinding light. She squints but cannot see what is behind the mask.
Sarah jolts awake, startled and disoriented. The dream lingers so vividly in her mind that she doubts it even was a dream. Looking around to see the same scenery she had just left in her sleep, bathed in the glow of approaching dawn, a feeling of Deja Vu crawls up her spine. Collecting her thoughts, she drinks the last bit of her water. As much as she’d rationed it there just wasn’t enough to last. She rises, and takes her first step of the day.
After gathering new clothes for Ann and leaving the house behind, Sarah tried to teach her how to skip. She needed something to distract both of them from her loss of composure. Ann would still ask about her dad and Sarah needed to keep herself from breaking down in front of her. Teaching her to skip took a few minutes, but by the time they were half-way to the store, she had it down. She even tried to sing along with the school-yard rhyme Sarah had started to sing subconsciously.
As they skipped, Sarah, in an absent minded moment, looked down at Ann, made a scary face and said “I’m gonna get you!” She waited for a few seconds as Ann ran off playfully screaming before chasing after her. They ran down the road laughing as Ann’s hair blew in the breeze behind her. When they got back to the store they played hide-and-go-seek in the small grove of trees across the road. That night they made smores with the remaining chocolate, marshmallows, and some crackers. For a night, they were happy.
Ann drifted off to sleep to the sound of Sarah humming the song “somewhere over the rainbow”. As she watched Ann sleep Sarah smiled, remembering when she held her daughter for the first time. She looked so content with the warmth of the swaddle and the smell of her mother’s skin. The joy bled from her heart when she looked around her, and in the darkness saw the increasingly empty store. She picked up Ann, held her close, and hummed a song whose name she forgot.
The lake has to be close. She’s been walking for days, but there’s no sign of the river or the plants you should see as you approach a lake. As the day drags on and the hot air stifles her breath, she becomes more and more light-headed. The ground had turned to broken rocks off the side of the road, and Sarah walked over to sit down on a larger piece of rock and rest her feet. She holds her breath as she lifts the mask to wipe the fogging lenses clear. As she slides the mask back over her face she begins to hear the sound of footsteps shuffling through the loose rocks. Then a voice, soft like a whispering breeze, floats through the air. She sees Ann standing on a rock across from her, with the same face she used to make when they would chase each other. “Mama, where you going?” Ann asked.
“Mommy is…mommy is going for a walk, sweetie. Do you want to come with me?
“No, mommy. I can’t.”
“Mommy misses you,” Sarah says as her eyes begin to burn with tears that won’t come. “I’m so sorry, Ann”.
“Don’t cry mommy,” Ann says as she runs over and gives Sarah a hug.
Sarah holds Ann close, savoring the sensation of her daughter’s hair tickling her neck. But the feeling of her daughter in her arms slips away, as if she were trying to hold water. When she opens her eyes and looks down, she sees her hands are covered in blood. The sound from her dream returns, the breaking strings, the air being sucked from the world, and the darkness surrounding her. This isn’t the dream. Her lungs pull vainly at the world to draw in life, but find nothing. Sarah’s legs give out from underneath her, and she falls to the ground gasping.
All at once the noises are gone. She can breathe again and finds the strength to stand. Sarah checks her hands and sees they’re dusty no sign of the blood she had seen a moment ago. With her crayon she draws on the rock where she saw her daughter, then continues down the road.
When Sarah awoke with Ann in her arms she realized it was still too early to wake her. The sun had not yet risen and the store was completely dark. Feeling for a pillow in the dark, she finally found one in arm’s reach. She pulled it close and rolled Ann onto it. It took a few moments for Sarah to remember where she was in the cooler and feel her way out to the main room of the store.
She walked outside and found the air to be pleasantly warm for this time of the year. Even more striking was how clear the sky was. All the stars were painted across the sky as if you could reach up and grab one. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had actually looked at them. Climbing onto the roof of the store wasn’t too difficult with the rickety old ladder at the back of the store, but not waking her little cherub made the challenge monumental. Sarah lied back on the gravel and tar roof and just stared up, head resting on her arms. Sarah hoped it would be forever, but at last the sun rose. As it climbed higher from the horizon she decided to go wake Ann.
Ann still lay asleep on her pillow with a lavender sheet covering her. Sarah called her name:
“Ann…Ann honey, time to wake up.”
Ann didn’t stir.
“Sweetie, come on. Wake up.”
Stubbornly, Ann still did not move. Sarah called her again as she reached out and turned her over.
“Annabelle, you need to listen…”
Just as she was about to scold her daughter, she saw her face. Like a porcelain doll, Ann’s visage stared back at her, eyes closed, hair neatly parted. Her features perfect, but lifeless. Holding Ann close, she screamed to the heavens of whatever god there may be and cursed each one. The rest of the day she sat in the cooler clutching her daughter as if protecting her from wolves. Sarah slipped into a dreamless sleep at some point during the night from sheer exhaustion.
The next morning Sarah buried Ann next to Will. When Sarah covered her daughter’s wrapped body with the last of the dirt, she became light headed and fell back onto the ground. At that moment, Sarah knew what had happened. She ran into the store and into the supply room in the back of the store. Searching some of the army surplus merchandise, she found the box she was looking for. It was marked “NBC” and had dust covering it. She opened the lid, holding her breath as best she could, screwed the filter in, and slid the gas mask over her head.
For the next few months she watched her food slowly dwindle and the earth where her loves lay slowly fade into obscurity. With no markers they are nothing more than memories, and her memories are becoming vaguer as the days bleed together.
The store is no longer the refuge and sanctuary it once had been. Now it stands empty but for the heartache that permeates its barren husk. With only a few provisions left, a bag is packed, a gas-mask filter is changed, and a water bottle with algae growing in it is dusted-off.
Someone named “Tim” had left a jacket behind from the old Unocal down the street. The army surplus supplies had a pair of camouflaged pants that fit her, and were in good-enough condition to last the trip.
Faintly heard whispers echoed in the store. The wind and the old building had a way of making her feel as if her mind was slipping.
Unsure why she did it, Sarah locked the back door of the store and walked out the front door. There she stood in front of the boarded up windows, staring at the road: the inviting darkness of the unknown.
Now Sarah knows she’s getting close to the lake. In the distance she swears she can hear the gentle slide of waves across a sandy beach; the palm trees gently swaying in the light breeze of a spring afternoon. She knows it has to be here: the paradise they all know is out there waiting for them.
As she walks down the last bits of crumbling road, the frondless, skeletal palms and sun-bleached shrubs do not deter her. When the irrigation systems went offline, most of the artificially lush areas had fallen back to the deserts and plains of old. This was no different.
The road led to what must have been a boathouse or yacht club. It must have burnt down in the fires that ravaged the formerly populated areas.
The water comes into sight and her spirit, her hope and her misguided fantasy all crash around her. The shoreline is no longer sand or rock, but the calcified remains of fish that had died and washed ashore. Some of their dried carcasses stare up at her from the ground. Their small shriveled eyes silently mock her, calling her the fool that she is. How could she have been so stupid as to think there was hope? What did she expect to find here?
As she stares out at the glassy water, she sees its murky depths as a reflection of the stagnant death that surrounds her.
“What now!” she askes. “WHAT NOW?!? Where do I go now?”
No one answers. She doesn’t expect anyone to give her the direction she needs. There is no one left. She stares out at the water for hours, until the sun begins to set behind the distant mountains. Then a voice comes to her.
“Mommy. You found me, mommy!” the giggling voice stammers out. “You peeked! No peeking, mommy!”
As Sarah looks ahead at the water, she sees, out of the corner of her eye, movement. She turns to see, through the tunnel vision of the mask, her daughter walking towards her.
As Ann comes up to Sarah she grabs her mother’s hand.
“I love you, mommy. I miss you.”
Sarah doesn’t speak. She can feel the hand grasping her own and wants to believe it is real, but she doesn’t know what is real.
“Mama. It’s ok, mama. I love you. Can we go play now?”
Sarah screams into her gas mask, all the pain she’d hidden unleashing like a torrent. Her sobs do not faze her daughter: she now stands stoically next to her holding her hand.
“Please, mommy. Let’s go play.”
“Ok, honey. Mommy will come play.”
“Take off the mask, mama. You look too scary. It’s not scary time.”
“No sweetie…it’s not scary time.”
Sarah lets go of her daughter’s hand for a moment and grasps the chin of the mask. Hesitantly, she begins to pull it off, expecting to hear the sound from the dream: that dreadful cacophony. As she pulls the mask off, there is no sound; just the silence of the wasteland around her. Dropping her gas mask and bag to the ground she again takes hold of her daughter’s hand.
“It’s ok, mommy.”
Sarah looks out at the water one last time. As her hand again begins to feel empty, she feels a long forgotten solace. A wave of contentment sweeps over her as if she were coming home after a long trip. As she embraces it, her body goes numb and her vision begins to narrow. The subtle sound of the breeze begin to dissipate and she’s only able to hear the sound of her heart beating slower and slower. All is dark in the world when her legs fail her. As she collapses to the ground and draws her last breath, she feels the gentle tug of 2 hands, as if they’re lifting her, and she is happy.
Days have passed when a figure crests the horizon. He is clothed as if he is crossing Arabia with T.E. Lawrence. The wind sweeps his canvas duster to one side. If not for the brown turban and scarf draped across his face and the scratched sunglasses covering his eyes, he would not be able to manage the gusts.
As he walks the shoreline drive of the lake, he spots an unnatural but familiar shape through the dust in the air. Approaching cautiously, he comes alongside Sarah. Just beyond her, he spots a bag. There isn’t any food in it, only a small journal and crayons. Taking refuge behind a pair of fallen palms, he opens the book and reads it.
The stranger walks back down the road Sarah had followed. As the remainder of the daylight drained from the desert, he came across 2 rocks. Sitting down on one to rest his legs for a moment, he sees something on the rock across from him. Getting up and walking closer, he sees a heart, drawn in purple crayon, with the words “Will and Ann. I love you.” He pauses only for a few moments. In the growing darkness, he doubles back to the freeway and continues walking as if he’d never stepped off it.
Chronicles of the End
Doctor Taylor’s voice recorder
By: Jeff Buckner
"Called to the London Aquarium by my friend, Dr. Michael Gary, to look into an alarming occurrence. All the large predatory fish, sharks, tuna, and rays, all suddenly died for seemingly no reason the night before. I arrived at 10:00 AM and met him in front of the large shark tank. We stood together as the last of the large predators, an adult tiger shark, swam by in the eerily dark, empty tank. He asked me what I thought about it. That they would suddenly die except this one.
I took samples from the fish that had died and sent them to the lab for testing, a simple analysis should be ready in a day or two.
I sent an email to a colleague in La Jolla, CA to see if they had any ideas what could cause this. I will see what they say tomorrow."
"I didn't sleep well last night. Odd dreams. Woke up at 8 am and left quickly to the aquarium, forgot to check my email.
When I arrived I found Michael in front of the shark tank again. He had been there for some time watching the shark swim. I told him I had sought the consultation of some friends at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California but needed to check their response. While we walked to the offices we heard the commotion behind us, the sound of people gasping, children crying, and the voices of a distressed crowd trying to stay calm.
We walked around the corner to another wing of the aquarium to see what the problem was. There were staff members running into a door to the right of the schooling fish tank and quickly shut off the lights. As the people walked down the dark hallways towards the exit or sitting on benches quietly sobbing or talking to one another Michael lead me into the back to see what was going on. The employees were arguing with one another about PH levels, salt content, oxygen levels and food when we walked up the stairs to the steel grate walkway around the top of the tank where they were.
When we looked into the water ignoring the clamor we saw the dark water covered in a sheet of silver glimmers in the pale light from the safety lights on the walkway. All of the fish had died, every one of them died almost immediately except one, which was twitching on it’s side amongst the blanket of it’s brothers and sisters. The small movement creating tiny ripples across the water and their scale's shimmer reminded me of the night's sky. I watched it for a few minutes until it stopped.
I checked my email and saw a response from California. All of their predatory fish had died at nearly the same time as the ones here. I informed him of the schooling fish die off and am heading to the basement now.”
"I worked through the night as all the remaining exhibits suffered the same fate as the first two. The entire facility was closed pending an investigation. Police were investigating the "crime scene", the staff were removing the dead sea creatures and packing them for further examination. Some of the staff were concerned about terrorists, but most thought it was some prank or attempt animal rights groups to make vilify the display of wild animals. I told them about the email from my friend but it fell on deaf ears.
In the basement of the aquarium I continued the autopsy of the larger fish to determine a cause of death. There would need to be some kind of major oversight or system malfunction to cause such a sudden die off in a closely controlled environment.
There appeared to be no signs of water contamination from the gill samples I examined. They showed no signs of shock or sudden pressure change. The water had proper oxygen and ph levels, no algae or fungal contaminations... cause of death could not be determined. The lab showed no foreign contaminants in the water or tissues samples I had sent out. It was the. I checked my email and again found that they were experiencing the exact same phenomenon as we were and just like us they were as lost as us.
I walked into the employee break room to decompress a bit, turning on the telley I flipped through the channels to the morning news. The top story, which they had already begun reporting on, showed images from around the world of beaches covered in dead fish. People were panicking; some calling it terrorism, others calling it government and corporate conspiracies, many called it god's wrath. It wasn't just the oceans. Rivers, lakes, home fish bowls, everywhere they were dying. In surreal horror I watched not knowing what to think. It was then I realized that my phone had been ringing. It went to voicemail before I could answer.
The news prattled on giving cadence to every crazy person willing to be put before a camera. They only broke away when reports had been received that the amphibians, aquatic and semi aquatic mammals at the zoo had suddenly died as well.
I do not know what is happening. I walked past the police dusting the access panels for prints and went back to the shark tank. The tiger was still there, circling.
I've been here for several hours just watching him, a powerful king gracefully prowling his empty domain. It seems so sad, but tomorrow I will have to try and get samples from him to see why he survived.
I can't hear the investigators or staff anymore. I'm going to see if they've found anything..."
Chronicles of the End
By: Jeffrey Buckner
Nice, France 6:55 AM
Jean-Rene Pelletier is sitting in his ambulance, feet up on the dash as he reads the morning news on his phone, the fish deaths all over the world and the religious groups all claiming it as a sign of their apocalypse. They’d heard the reports since yesterday, and it only got worse since then. Too shocked to be scared he continued to read and search and read again, his partner, Henri, returned from the café with breakfast pastry and some coffee to wake them up before their first call.
“Put that shit down” Henri said as he slammed the door. “Not supposed to have that on right now anyway, you get distracted.”
“But how can you not care about this?” Jean-Rene replied before taking a bite. “This is insane. They have no idea what’s causing all of these animals to die. They say if this keeps up the whole ecosystem of the ocean could collapse” he mumbled through a full mouth.
“Nothing you can do about it. Nothing any of us can do. So put that thing away and make sure we’re properly stocked before we get too far away from the station.”
Jean-Rene held his pastry in his mouth as he grabbed the checklist and crawled into the back of the ambulance and began taking inventory, the Plexiglas cases shining with fluorescent light. The radio crackled to life and squawked its first words of the day, “Medic 23 respond, code 3, corner of Rue Pertinax and Rue Miron, police report a single injury, non responsive”. Jean-Rene stumbles as he climbs back into the front seat and his partner starts to drive.
“Unit 23 responding” Henri replies.
“Could’ve waited til I was actually in my seat, asshole.” The frustrated Jean-Rene said as he brushed crumbs from his face, Henri laughing at him maniacally, the radio repeating the call in the background.
“Hey, I bought you breakfast… so quit crying.”
The narrow, one-way streets are not crowded this time of day, but the people drive slowly, seeing no need rush, even to get out of the way when they hear the siren.
When they reach the site there are 2 police cars on the scene. They pull alongside the victim’s car, which seem to have slowly collided with another that was parked on the right side of the road. The driver couldn’t have been going very fast, the airbag had not even deployed. But the woman was slumped over the steering wheel, as though she has simply laid her head down to sleep. Jean-Rene looked in through the window while Henri pulled the gurney out of the ambulence.
The police on hand had closed the street and were arguing about the scene while waiting for the investigators: “Obviously she had a stroke” one was insisting.
The other retorted; “No! Someone has to be trying to cover up a murder, they killed her and put her in the car to try and make it look like an accident.”
“That stuff never happens, besides there’s no blood.” Then, as if realizing the ambulance for the first time, they turn to the paramedics and yell; “Hey! Infirmers, don’t move the body until the investigators get here.”
Jean-Rene didn’t know what to make of the scene. The woman was most certainly dead, but there were no signs of trauma. While the police continued to bicker he opened one of her eyes to check the dilation, when they heard the sound of breaking glass. The police had started to run towards the sound and Henri was right behind them. Jean-Rene was soon sprinting towards the west end of the intersection to see what had happened.
When he rounded the corner Jean-Rene saw that there was another car accident. Henri was trying to get a response from the driver while the police moved the onlookers away. “Get the respirator!” Henri called out, “I can’t find a pulse and he’s not breathing!”
Jean-Rene ran back to the ambulance and grabbed some supplies, as he ran back he heard another crash… then another… and another from the surrounding streets. He ignored them as he ran back to where he left his partner. When he rounded the corner his partner was gone, as were the police. In a panic he ran towards the car and found Henri collapsed on the ground. “Henri!!” he screamed. “Henri, get up… what the fuck?” He began chest compressions and using the respirator. Seconds felt like hours as he frantically tried to revive his partner and tried to reach dispatch on the radio. After several minutes he ran back to the ambulance, and while trying to reach anyone at the station he noticed the people… the pedestrian onlookers. They had all collapsed where they stood. Bodies littering the sidewalk outside the police tape.
He dropped the radio and stood there, not knowing what to do. The sounds of car accidents in the distance, breaking class and twisting metal, echoed through the suddenly silent streets. Jean-Rene thought he must be imagining it all, that this must be some kind of dream. A gentle breeze flowed down the street as the distant sounds quieted and all he could hear was that breeze flowing past his ear. Then his phone rang…