“Farewell, Mr. Tilbey” – Excerpt

a144e4_4980c845881a49c2832b4116fae7f8f8_mv2

Prologue

 

The apocalypse—the end of the Earth, the Judgment Day, the Great Cataclysm—was scheduled to happen on the 1st of September of that not-so-distant year at precisely 9am, and was accompanied by all the expected fanfare for something so flashy as an incoming extinction-level meteor: tides had risen and swallowed countries whole; landmasses had cracked and split; inclement weather and natural disasters had become giddy overachievers; economies and governments had collapsed; religious radicals and Doomsday prophets had had their justly earned “I told you so”; anarchy had somersaulted through surviving populations with due rabid enthusiasm; and all the while, The End had marched ever closer, to the beat of its own cosmic drum.

And then it came. This was it: the moment of truth. All around the world, people took a break from depression or anarchy or hysterical panic or the Zen of acceptance and held their collective breath to stare up at the enormous meteor in the sky and await their inevitable demise.

The really awkward moment came when The End changed its mind and stood the world up.

A full minute passed. Then another. Before long, it was 9:30, and the meteor was still a giant unmoving space blimp. Held breath turned into raised eyebrows, the more sensible rioters began to feel a little anxious about their lack of face masks and all of the public fires they’d spent the night setting, and the first TV newscaster to make it back on the air sat at his news desk in a tacky, half-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, beer helmet still askew on his head. A moment more of stunned silence passed as he carefully set the helmet down on his desk, finger-combed his hair with one frazzled hand and stared down at the scrap of paper held in his other. Then he directed a bewildered look towards the camera.

“So… we’re still here,” he said, before coming to his senses and hastily buttoning shut a few self-conscious inches of his shirt. “Details to follow after the weather and traffic reports.”

Luckily for that newscaster—the normally clean-shaven, suit-clad, ambitious Martin Wates—most of his national and international audience was otherwise occupied, or television-less, or dead, and so missed this lapse in his devotion to being the best in what was left of the business.

One of Martin’s most devoted surviving viewers was, as a matter of fact, uncharacteristically away from his generator-powered TV for that landmark broadcast. At that precise moment, Colin Barber was instead down by the lake of his inherited cottage property with his childhood and high school and college sweetheart Melanie Callahan.

There they stood at the end of the dock: a beautiful young couple, poised against the backdrop of a beautiful crystalline lake and distant tree-covered mountains. They still held each other and looked to the sky as they had done since a few minutes before 9, when they had begun whispering desperate declarations of everlasting love and regret for a life spent together, doomed to be cut short. But now it was 9:30; the declarations had stopped, the desperation and regret had tapered off, and without that particular combined glue to hold it firm, the embrace had loosened to simply being a place where their arms rested in shock.

For a long time, they stared up at what was supposed to be their certain death, and their certain death stared nonchalantly back down at them, bright and unmoving as a full moon. Then they looked at each other. Both saw in the other’s face all that they had spent the countdown to annihilation talking about: their years together as children and as teenagers, young and in love and the envy of their friends (whenever they weren’t periodically sick of each other, and once again split up); their graduation from high school and their time together in college, before the meteor had turned up on the world’s radar and had made further diplomas feel moot; Colin’s proposal, made on bended knee and with nervous furtive glances at the sky mere hours earlier during what was to be their final breakfast here on Earth, accompanied by the sad knowledge that a wedding, a lifetime together would never happen.

Only, suddenly it might—the star-crossed 20-year-old lovers may, quite unexpectedly, have their happily-ever-after. They stared into each other’s eyes and saw the uncounted years they may now have ahead of them, together, never to be separated.

Melanie smiled adoringly. Colin’s eyes widened and he licked his lips and shifted on legs that suddenly felt a bit numb.

“Mel,” he whispered, gaze searching her face.

“Yes Colin?” she asked, leaning closer for what was sure to be the sweetest of kisses.

“I think we should see other people,” he said.

And the stillness of that crystalline lake was broken by the flailing body of a star-crossed-ex-lover being shoved into it off the edge of the dock, the distant mountains still echoing his startled yell back at him by the time he resurfaced, coughing and sputtering his way through heaving himself up to sprawl on his back across the dock’s boards.

Colin’s head flopped to the side and as he blearily watched the furious retreat of flowing auburn hair and a stunning sundress, he thought to himself, not for the first time, that somewhere along the line he’d taken a wrong turn in life… and acknowledged sullenly that now it seemed he would live long enough to actually have to deal with it.