|I'm almost certain I was going somewhere with this fic, but I clearly never got there. One of my rare first-person attempts. I don't do it much anymore. First person is kind of fun, but it's hard to do well, and I've never tried to do it well. Take from that what you will.|
1999 was the year it was all supposed to happen. August or December, according to all the best sources, and probably around midnight. Then, on the twelfth stroke, God would come down on a blazing chariot, or all the volcanoes in the world would suddenly erupt, the polar ice caps would melt, and humankind would cease to exist. Unless they went back with God on the blazing chariot I mentioned. That's what all the sources said. Nostradamus, Revelations, pick your prophecy, that's how it read.
Well, they were wrong.
When the world didn't end on August ninth, nobody was awfully surprised, and the cultists who took poison or went up in blazes out in their smoky compounds were buried with the typical confusion of television broadcasts and weeping families. That gave everything a chance to settle down for a couple months until December, when everyone sat in their living rooms on New Year's Eve and waited for the lights to flicker and go out. After that auspicious date had come and gone with no major repercussions, the skeptics declared themselves triumphant and explained once again to an absent-minded public just exactly why the world wasn't going to simply end one day because a dusty old book said so.
Thing is, they were wrong, too.
The world ended in 2003, right about the middle of April, on a sunny spring day when no one at all was expecting it.
At least, that's the best we can tell from what little evidence is left.
1: The Way Things Are
My sister and I are archaeologists.
Not masochists, as popular opinion would suggest.
We attempt to trace the steady decline of the planet Earth backward over the past sixty or so years to the day it all happened, or the Fall, as the Edenists so creatively term it. That's about all the archaeology anybody can do anymore, with the state the world's in. Of course, we're considered masochists in view of the fact that most of what we do involves tramping from settlement to settlement, conducting interviews with Survivors. This wouldn't be so bad, except that Survivors are, by definition, over sixty years old. Not to mention the fact that most of the Survivors who are still alive were kids when it all happened anyway, and they remember everything as a blur or a haze and lots of screaming. There aren't very many Survivors, either, because most of the people who witnessed the Fall managed to contract some kind of virus or plague or fallout sickness that wiped them out in short order.
No, we don't have any idea what it was. Now you see where I'm coming from?
This is where we stand, after four years of research.
We know that most of the people who survived the original cataclysm -- no, we don't know what it was, either -- died of a mysterious illness that the Edenists eloquently call Sinner's Sickness. Yes, I know that I keep talking about the Edenists. I'll get to them in a minute. We know that the Survivors who recovered from this illness passed on a sort of immunity to their children, otherwise we'd all be dying from it. An alternate theory is that the disease itself got wiped out, but I have my doubts, since nobody did anything that would have led to said wiping out. If I recall correctly, the remainder of the human race indulged in wild-eyed panic when everybody started dying again. We know that there's not much in the way of water anymore. Where I come from, the best we managed was a large mud flat that our parents enjoyed telling bogey stories about. (This leads me to believe that the polar ice caps didn't just melt, they evaporated, but my sister tells me that sounds awfully silly. Like she should talk. We have a running bet on the matter.) We know that there are suddenly miles and miles of labyrinthine tunnels running deep under the Earth's crust. Well, we assume there are miles and miles of them. Most people don't explore too far in. But I do know that every community my sister and I have visited has a story about the tunnels -- and most can point out to me where they start.
We know the epicenter of the cataclysm was somewhere in New Mexico -- somewhere New Mexico used to be. I kid you not. At least, that's where the Survivors from New Mexico say it is. The Survivors from Colorado, Arizona, and Utah beg to differ. I once had to listen to a table-full of them argue about it for an hour and a half, and I reached this conclusion: the Epicenter of the End of the World was somewhere around the Four Corners area of what used to be the southwestern United States. Not somewhere flashy, like Tokyo, London, Rome, or New York. Anti-climactic, isn't it? Why the Four Corners, though? Since when was the location of the end of the world determined by state boundaries?
Coincidence? Probably not. Man-made world destruction? Pretty melodramatic, in my opinion.
There's a huge fault line there now, but the issue of whether there was one before it all happened is still in dispute. It's less of a fault line and more of a spider-webbing crack, anyway. Yeah, I've been there. Hard for me not to have visited, since I was born a couple miles away from it.
One other thing, though, and this is important. The last thing we know is that Earth shrunk. Don't ask me how, because I don't know. We only know the planet's smaller because we had a couple of maps leftover from before the Fall -- I think the Edenists only called it that because it gives them the opportunity to say things like that -- and after we'd done some wandering, we discovered that the distances didn't add up. We ran it past a couple of scientist friends we picked up, and they agree with us, albeit reluctantly.
Yeah, that's the part that's hardest to swallow. But it's true.
So you could say that all the human race has left is a shovel-full of unanswered questions. That's enough to drive people like me and my sister -- searching for answers to impossible questions like that, just because we have to know why. Makes it sound so noble.
Of course, we have a personal stake in the matter -- or at least I do. Doesn't everybody?
My mother was a Survivor. Yeah, I can already hear the cogs and wheels of your minds turning in protest, but don't sweat it too much; it all goes back to that personal stake I mentioned. My name is Clarity Imogene Osborne, but most people call me Claire. Because I insist that they call me Claire. Emphatically. With the rise of the Edenist movement, a lot of mothers saw fit to inflict those kinds of names on their daughters. My sister escaped relatively unscathed with Marion Belle.
Getting back to the matter at hand, my mother was not only a Survivor, she was a Survivor from very near the epicenter. I say was, because she's dead. Anyway, I'm going to throw some numbers at you that you're really not going to like. I'm twenty-six years old. My sister is twenty. We have a little brother who should be around seventeen this month. And if my mother was a Survivor, she would have been around fifty-six when she had me. Or something like that -- I'm not much at math. She didn't look much older than twenty-three.
How did she manage it?
First, let me ask you, if you were twelve years old and your mother, on her deathbed, hung a chunk of rock around your neck and told you to keep it with you always, what would you have done? Probably exactly what I did. You'd say 'yes, Mommy' with tears in your little eyes, and never take the damn thing off until about two months later when your neck got real itchy from working in the garden.
Well, let me tell you, I never tried taking it off again after that.