How we survived; The dark bulb (Nano 2016, Chapter 1)

It takes a lot to unseat people from the natural order of things. People will tolerate war, they’ll tolerate rationing, they’ll tolerate shortages, and hardship. They’ll tolerate atrocity if they have to, at least for a while. But each has their breaking point, and as one after another they begin to snap like too dry brushwood, the world weakens. Each stress adds up, causing the fractures to merge and form fissures.

Some break when the radio stops playing. Others when the air conditioning is a few degrees off. But some won’t break until the earth crumbles in their hands, and takes to the wind just like their hopes. The loss of hope is the last breaking point for so many. They’ll die where they stand when the hope leaves them. Or they’ll rage against the end of the world.

It’s hard to see a revolution when it’s happening all around you. The rains slowed or stopped, and you don’t notice at first. The paper told you it was a problem, but the paper is full of problems. The protests start, and their inconvenience scratches at your windows, but you’d swear it was just the wind. The violence happens elsewhere; it won’t reach me. Safe and tucked within a country, bubbled by your state, softened by your city. Safe. Always safe.

Then the protests turn to anger, and the anger turns to property destruction, or to blood filled coups, and that was the point at which you started paying attention. Weeks and days too late, you decided that now was the end of the world. Ignoring the symptoms, ignoring the signs, literally ignoring the writing on the wall. It was coming for you too, the whole time. These ill winds whispered your name amidst the dry sagebrush, it whistled the song of your life in the pines. The drip drip of drying water fell in the canyon of your abandoned life.

You abandoned it with your negligence. You broke this world by ignoring it. You were the one that left your post, that abandoned your force, that deserted us all. That attempted to jettison from this ship we are all stuck with. You failed yourself, and you failed us all.

Lucius hovered over the blinking red button with shaking hands. He gave this address at the same time every night, and he was only halfway done.

“Any now the weather” he said, as he placed a needle on one of the few records he had left. He flicked his mic off, and set his headset on the desk. He’d been giving this address for over a year, and he’d never had a visitor. Never a caller, but that might be due to the complete collapse of the American southwest as he knew it. He’d switched from FM, to AM, to long wave, to long range, and blasted out his message on every frequency he could think of. But he never heard back. He no longer knew who he was broadcasting to, or if he was reaching anyone at all.

He could be sending his signal over mass fields of the dead for all he knew. Sun bleached bones in the deserts below, and nothing but carrion birds circling in the air above. By some miracle, his equipment still worked, and so high above the sea, he was somehow still cold, still protected by the mountain. He’d spent a week or two in the early days trying to reach anyone he could. He made up calendars for the years to come after his reached their last. Apparently it was National donut day today. It all seemed so arbitrary now. Perched high in the rocky mountains, waking every day in the house next door to the studio, trudging 300 feet through the snow to the abandoned store to liberate more ice cold food from nature. The hum of the broadcast tower his only music, the bite of the wind his only touch, the quiet of snow his only meditation.

Lucius was utterly alone. He had 4 minutes left in the song. He wondered often if he was truly the last man on earth. It wouldn’t surprise him at this point. They abandoned the town when it started snowing in july one year. This was after a year of people fleeing the desert, chased by the choke. They called it the choke before the other signals went silent. He never thought he’d live to see the emergency broadcast system falter, crackle, and wind itself slowly to death. Was it just order that had ceased, and there was nothing but chaos left? Or had all life been strangled from the earth by this choke that killed the plants. Why hadn’t it come for him yet? Was it an it? Was it death incarnate, all robes and scythe, and somehow it had just forgotten about him?

He hovered over the button again, and put the headphones back on. He carefully moved the well worn script back in front of himself, and made a mental note to rewrite it with more current observations. If he had any listeners left, he wanted them to know he wasn’t just an automated message. He was a living man, still alive, still broadcasting, and still inhabiting this world. If he was the last voice that existed on this now dead planet, he would make himself heard.

Click.

Welcome back to Rocky Mountain Radio, this is your host Lucius Spencer. I have been a radio presenter for close to almost two decades now, 14 years before the choke started and 6 years since. Each day I read this broadcast to you, fresh as I watch the snowfall outside, while tucked into my booth. This is the portion of the show where I answer questions, so if your phone line is working, and my phone line is working, please call in. The number is as follows…

While I’m waiting for your calls, I like to answer some questions that I believe you may have. Firstly, yes I am a living man, I am surviving up here. I stayed up here in the rockies because I believe that this will one day come to an end and the others will return. Secondly, I am still on the air because solar power still works, the booth and my home have been heavily insulated with anything I can find, particularly soundproofing material, which is very very warm. I repair everything I own, including the equipment here, and I have not starved because I sleep most of the day, and a local abandoned grocery store has provisions enough to last me for many years. Effective rationing, and the preserving effect of the cold will keep me in food for some time. There are several other grocery stores in this town, so I am well set.

Now the pressing question – why?

He trailed off, looking at his notes. He always gave the same reasons. When he compiled this list, the last people were leaving town. They took barely anything with them. The travelled light because they were running scared. As if the choke was a slow fog that they could outrun. He snapped back to himself, unaware of just how much time had passed, but sure that dead air on the radio was still frowned up.

I am here to remind you that we are alive. I need only reach one person, just one soul out there tinkering with a radio, just one person recharging a car battery, just one single human being walking the face of the earth that hasn’t heard another voice in a year, and it will be worth it. Because that’s how humanity survives. I don’t read humanity’s failings at the beginning of the show to shame you, I do it so we recognize that we’re all responsible. I’m sure all over this town, as it is all over this state, region, and county, there are empty homes. They are filled with the things that we wanted, the things that we needed, the things that we didn’t need but bought anyway. I’m not old enough to remember the war, but I’m sure there are some of you out there that are. You came back buoyed with hope, filled with the glory of martial victory, and you were ready to find comfort for the first time in your young lives. But we went too far.

We have scorched this earth, as far as I can tell from the reports that reached me before the other signals went quiet. Something killed the plants, or something changed that made the earth unlivable for the plants, something. And from what I read and heard, and saw myself, we did that. The nuclear testing, the industrial expansion, the suburbs… something shifted radically some time after the war, and we never saw it coming, but I am assured that it was us.

So what do we do now? How do we cope with this new world? Well firstly, we must return to some of the ways of the past, we must reconnect with each other, us scattered humanity. I air at the same time every day, I air for the same hour every day, and this phone line, which as far as I can tell still works, is open during that time.

He glanced at the dark little bulb, and picked up the receiver. The faint tone remained. No voice, no crackle, just the same faint, small, far away tone. But it was there. His ears didn’t ring, it wasn’t interference, that was a dial tone. This line was still open.

As always we shall close the show the same way. I remind you that the line is open, I am listening, I am waiting for your calls. We end with our traditional prayer, beseeching any power out there that’s still listening to deliver unto us the tools to free ourselves.

Help us now in our time of need. We admit our folly, and we recognize our sins. If this is our punishment, we more than deserve it, but believe us when we say that we shall change. We change each day so that we may be more kind to one another, so that we may be better, so that we may learn from each other, as we teach each other. We find ourselves lost, wandering in deserts, with no place to rest. We pray not for heaven, or for death, we simply pray for this earth. That we may have the freedom to retake it from the cruel wrath of nature that we invited. Please forgive us.

Lucius clicked the record on. It was the music of the nation. The singers sang so beautifully about the flag of America still being there, about the majestic mountains and the waves of grain that once fed the people. The record played for half an hour as he checked and re-checked the phone, as he looked out the window to check for the encroaching darkness. Between each song he came back in to announce the phone number again, and to remind people that there was another human out there, holding out against the end of the world. The bulb stayed dark.

He trudged home through the snow, changed into his indoor clothes, and tried to stay warm in the heart of his house. Surrounded by mounds of blankets and clothes he let his vision dim as the world did. He was asleep not long after. The dim dial tone echoed in his dreams. He woke once or twice, gasping, struggling to breathe, clawing his way back to life in the cold of the room. His eyes opened slowly as the cold dawn trickled through the heavy curtains. Lucius had seven hours until his next broadcast. Seven hours to collect his thoughts, to recollect his humanity, so remind the world that it had been destroyed. It was national Drive In Movie day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *