Across the Dead Earth – The Story

Sit down, listen up…
we’ve all the time in the world…
It was a Tuesday the day the world ended. My Grandmother must have told me a thousand times.
People argue over the date, the month, the year, not that it matters. My Grandmother was a young
girl then, she’s now long since dead, my mother, born after the war, is dead too.
The Last World War some call it. Optimists. No one really knows who started it, or why, if there was
ever a reason, but once it started it was only ever going to end one way: the end of the world itself.
And what comes after the end of the world, inherited by those few survivors? Life, of sorts, I
suppose. A struggle to survive, scavenging and looting and fighting our way in small bands, groups,
gangs or families: across the dead Earth.

Of course America, China and Russia hit each other with nukes and exist now only as burned out
ruins, poisoned rivers and darkened skies, not much grows and only a fool would trust the
vegetation that does not to be infected with God knows what man-made evil. I don’t know if Europe
came off better or worse. The trees still grow here, but twisted and black, empty of any birds but
crows. I’ve only ever known crows. My Grandmother told me there used to be hundreds of different
types of birds, and that they weren’t all black. Some of them sang, she said. I don’t know whether I
believe that.
Buildings still stand, on the whole, outside of the Cities, though they are empty, haunted places. The
weapons they attacked Europe with were different: some kind of darker, sicker, more evil weapons:
disease. The mainland is peopled now by the shambling, shuffling half-living corpses the young
people call the Sollus. My mother’s generation called them Soulless, my Grandmother’s called them
zombies. Of course there aren’t many alive now that would even know that, not here. Before the
end of the world, something like 3% of the UK’s population were blood type B- or AB-. Today 100%
of the population of the F-UK have those blood types, and let me tell you, that wasn’t because of a
baby boom. My Grandmother told me “they” must have put something in the water, or in the food
supply, a radioactively activated poison, maybe building up in people’s blood over years and years,
every time they ate and drank. Or microchips released the toxin – my Grandmother said they used
to line the children up at school and inject them telling, the parents it was an immunisation. No one
ever even asked what against. They put their arms out, cheerfully, received their death switch
injection smiling, got told they were brave and given a lollipop. Then when the day came, someone
flicked a switch, and 97% of everyone on this Island dropped dead. I guess someone forgot to test
the obscurer blood types for immunity.

I don’t like to think of myself as a leader, but I suppose I am. You don’t live as long as I have without
learning a thing or two about staying alive. How to fight, how to shoot, and most of all how to hide:
from the gangs, from the looters, from the Sollus…from the Night…

We keep moving, my Family and I. Most folks do. The cities, London, Birmingham, Liverpool,
Manchester: they were all nuked, I guess 3% of the population of those places was still a risk in
someone’s eyes: they existed as ghost towns for a while, but eventually people crawled back, the
lure of tonnes of tinned food, of petrol, of weapons, of technology, proving too much. They are
warzones now: London a crumbling, ashen police state in parts, under the fist of those crazy young
men in black suits who think they are the Government and call themselves The State, criss-crossed
by Gang warfare elsewhere. They call the streets around the Thames New Venice. I don’t know
where old Venice was. I guess it didn’t survive.
Liverpool has a population of nearly a thousand, I hear, run by gangs who charge a fortune to enter
to anyone trying to find passage to Ireland or elsewhere on the Junkers, the great, lurching
rustbuckets that use every last drop of petrol we syphon from the hundreds of thousands of
permanently parked cars, bumper to bumper on motorways, skeletons in the seats…I can’t imagine
what it would have been like to be a driver in one of those cars, or worse, a passenger, when
everyone around you just…stops functioning. Birmingham, they call The Rag Market. It fits. Most of
the other big towns and Cities are too dangerous for people to live in. I wouldn’t step foot in
Mutantchester for all the tea in a Costco.
We move around the countryside, from place to place, taking what we need, trading, and, more
than anything else: fighting. Because everybody knows that there’s only so many tins. There’s only
so many cigarettes. There’s only so many bullets.

Illustrations by Filip Dudek