Last week, I wrote about intrapocalyptic fiction (my label for “not-quite-post-apocalyptic”) which inspired the stories in my next ebook, Absences: Dark Matters Volume 2. The first was The Birds, the second The Death of Grass. This week, I’m sharing excerpts from each of my stories as teasers ahead of the release date – that’s just next week, so get it tattooed now.
The second piece was inspired by The Death of Grass, and is one of the first stories I wrote after deciding I wanted to be a professional author. I finished the first draft in 2006, and I’ve revised it about once a year ever since – but never again! The story is also indirectly inspired by a moving experience I had in a previous line of work – I won’t go into details here, but please see the footnote after the excerpt.
Everyone got stupid after The News, and their busyness makes me itch.
I see it every day at the supermarket, people coming in and running up and down the aisles grabbing things they think they need, arguing with each other over what’s running low. But really it’s always things they want, not what they need. Things that won’t last, never the stuff that will. Which is fine, I guess, because it means more for me, but that’s kind of selfish and I don’t like thinking that way.
When the things people want started running low, the same selfishness in me hoped that they’d stay away, because that would mean less busyness to deal with. And they did, in fact, some of them at least, but the people who still come in are plenty busy enough to make up the numbers, and now I have to worry about what I’ll do if the manager decides they don’t need so many members of staff instead. The thought of getting fired makes me itch too.
Maybe one day it’ll become one of those things people ask, like when Lady Di died, or when the Twin Towers fell, or Nuke-istan, or when the Big One happened: Where were you when you heard The News?
For me, the answer would always have been a straight tossup between “at home” or “at work”. I was at work. Everyone was crowding into the little staffroom next to the manager’s office. The afternoon crew didn’t come out for the start of their shift, leaving the rest of us stuck at the tills, but rumours were already circulating courtesy of the few customers actually coming through the doors. Eventually someone kicked the next shift out and told them to do their jobs, so I was able to go and find out for myself.
All the grass in America was dying. It had been for a while, apparently, The News was just when the ordinary people were let in on the big secret. It wasn’t just garden grass, but the grains: wheat, oats, barley, all those crop fields covering the big empty states in the middle, dying faster than they could plant more, and what they planted next would go just as fast. Spreading across the country.
They showed ears of corn with the tips going black, then whole fields of the stuff being burned with flame throwers. They interviewed farmers running out of feed, so their cows, pigs, sheep and so on would starve. They showed huge open plains of black grass and thin-looking buffalo crowding to eat whatever patches were still green. It ended on a press conference with the American President, who said the other world governments had known for ages and he was calling on everyone to help. Then they showed it all over again.
The story cycled all day, then all week. Hour after hour of different people taking turns to comment, all saying the same basic things without ever mentioning the question that we all, I suppose, were really asking ourselves: namely, forget the buffalo, what about us? TV and casts and blogs talked about nothing else (and the newspapers too, probably), as every other subject seemed nothing by comparison. At work you’d show up, change into your uniform, then ask whoever was in the staffroom if anything had changed since you left your house. But nothing was changing, apart from the American President’s tone of voice. He’d seemed calm at first, but only a few weeks after The News broke he started making a lot of noise when all the help he was expecting didn’t appear as fast as he wanted.
“How long before he starts shooting nuclear missiles around?” I remember our manager asking one time, and someone laughed. Then the newswoman announced that, in America, McDonalds and the rest of the fast-food chains were having their freeze-dried stock confiscated for rationing purposes, and everyone laughed. Then she reported that the African grasslands were dying as well, and everybody stopped laughing.
That was six months ago….
…and if you want to know what things are like six months later, you’re going to have to buy Absences: Two Tales of Impending Apocalypse – it’s out on Monday, April 6th!
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Trigger Warning: Although this excerpt doesn’t contain direct references, the complete story touches on a subject that some people may find difficult to read about – self-harming. My treatment of this issue comes from a position of sympathy and I hope will not cause offence, but I would not want anyone who might find this problematic to stumble across it unprepared.