Jack looked down from the top of the Pennines, East, towards Newcastle. It was sunrise at the retreat. He knew that soon the water would be coming in. He knew it was coming, but he couldn’t quite believe it. Everything he’d worked for, everything he’d given up; his jobs, his girlfriends, the things he could have done, would have done, should have done – it had all led up to this moment. Now it was finally here.
He’d seen clips of Tsunamis in Japan. There was a time when he would watch them on his phone, over and over, lay on his bed, stare at the ceiling, and try to imagine. If he found himself at a house party, he would play YouTube clips through the TV. And he would join in laughing; a Tsunami makes a quirky music video for Talking Heads. Over rocks and stones, when all the money’s gone. Jack’s head would roll back, and he would emit laughter, but his eyes would be fixed on the scene at Sendai. Water, like nature in general, is slow, deliberate, unwavering. When it wants to move, it moves, and it will move until it doesn’t. You can shout and you can scream, but nature will not be denied.
Jack looked into the valley and tried to picture the detritus of Newcastle rolling ponderously through the landscape. The vehicles, the bodies, the houses, the pointless trinkets; the dust, the mud; everything mixed into a creeping vomit that drones with the sound of a thousand car alarms. It seemed too implausible. The landscape was completely still, except for a single baker’s van, meandering through a dry stone walled country road. No exodus. No panic.
Jack could have gone anywhere. There was a time when he was ready to land in Quito, and take the first bus to the Andes. The land of Perpetual Spring in the valley of longevity. His Western looks would have made him god among the abuelas, who would throw their little nietas at him from their rocking chairs. Jack could have driven to Sweden, and disguised himself as a tourist in the final weeks before the travel restrictions. Or flown to Australia, or New Zealand, and sold luxury bunkers and getaway boats to the millionaires who’d flocked there to buy citizenship and convert Maori land into deluxe hideaways. Or he could have stayed in France, where he would have kept his stable factory job, with nothing between him and three seas, and a spider’s web of rivers that would break their banks and engorge the land, from Le Havre to the Pyrenees, from the Pyrenees to the Alps. There was always Eastern Europe, but getting there wasn’t worth the risk. As the police and armies were mobilized elsewhere, Europe had become criss-crossed with marauding gangs of strangers, who would ambush slow moving traffic, drag drivers from their cars, rape their wives and children, and shit in the road whilst yelping allahu akbar. Reaching the promised land that lay behind the Carpathians was fraught with danger. For Jack, who kept a Ukrainian postcard his parents had sent him on their retirement tour, Ukraine would remain a land left to his imagination; land of virgin gymnasts with pristine, snow-soaked skin, worked to the bone by strict babushkas, obediently trained in motherhood, dancing and writhing in pine forests at sunrise.
But no. It was England. Deflated, grey England. Concrete, CCTV, grease. Flat, like a stale pint below milk of magnesia skies. Flat, except for the Dales, Peak, Moors, Pennines – the island nations of the future British archipelago. Jack could have gone anywhere in the world, but he reluctantly came back to little England. Conservative, pragmatic, no surprises. His risk-averse side had got the better of him. Jack knew his tendency to make life more difficult than it needed to be; yet he knew he came into this world seeking a challenge. He’d got what he wanted. But this time was different: this was nature. And nature was presenting not just the challenge of a lifetime, nor a generation, but the challenge of four thousand years of human history. Thus, England was the pragmatic choice. England was Jack’s final destination; his front row seat for the show of the millennium. All the players were in position, for where each would be on this morning, each would stay for the rest of their lives, or be taken in the great harvest of death.
The viable young women of England had left the countryside. They’d shunned motherhood and were in the cities, seeking degrees, careers, and endless rounds of office betas to buy drinks and dinner. The boys of England – for there were no more men – were left in the countryside. They worked the farms, chopped the wood, mucked the barns and were left with the simple gals in jogging bottoms.
This presented Jack with a problem. He was used to doing things on his own; he took pride in foraging for food and filtering rainwater, hiking for days with nothing but parachord and a knife. But to survive, he would need men. And to thrive, he would need girls. Especially girls. Girls can carry the tasks of men, or if they can’t, they can be trained. But men can’t carry babies. So he needed girls with good genetics, weighed and piss-tested. On returning to England, his plan had been a zigzag series of chess moves that would lead to him two hundred and twenty meters above sea level, inland, with all the resources, knowledge, muscle, and procreation potential required to make his corner of the Pennine island nation viable. With the help pick-up artists, club promoters, model agencies, survivalists, medical associations, architects, and an influential antique book dealer, he had amassed a group of fifty-three humans who, collectively, would be able to survive and thrive on Penninia. Yet, none of them knew of the show of the millennium. None of them knew of the chaos impending. None of them, apart from Jack.
He looked back at the house – the yoga retreat cum survivalist camp. Tom, the ex-stockbroker and Los Angeles art dealer, was asleep in the deck chair; by the dying embers of last night’s ritual sing song. Tom could eat his bodyweight in avocado and rice, grumble about the price of his gold miner stock, and chop wood better than anyone Jack could think of. Cindie, the Danish-Japanese model was asleep in the other chair. She was so delicate, it looked like two deck chairs folded together, except one had turquoise pearlescent dyed hair and matching peacock feather earrings, and an iphone on the end of a necklace. The morning sun illuminated them both, and the marble bay in which they sat.
A soft breeze was blowing this morning, from the north. Soon the jet stream would touch down, and the two hundred mph winds would careen the land. It was a good thing a clearing had been made to the north of the house. Of course, everyone had been told that those trees needed to be cleared for firewood – and they did. But Jack knew that those trees could easily be uprooted by a hurricane. What happens when trees moving at two hundred mph smash into brickwork? As a precaution, Jack instructed the men to dig shallow ditches, lay in plastic sheeting, and cover the ditches with boards. Again, they were told these were for flowerbeds. But when the Earth moans and shakes, those human-sized ditches would be the safest places to be; even though the house was reinforced, he didn’t want anyone buried under real estate. Until the winds died down, the ditches would be the best earthquake protection around. The billionaires who think they’re safe under miles of earth will be spam in a can.
For food, the acre of polytunnels provided all the organic produce required. The promise of organic meals served to lure the SUVs of models to the house. In time, as each became heavy with offspring, the subterranean hydroponics system would be activated, and food – free from the radioactive ash and plastics that would encircle the Earth seven times – would nurture the future flag-bearers and way-showers of a new paradigm.
Jack looked back over the valley. He thought of his family. His cousins, married with kids. They were all beautiful people, with faces mashed and eyes smarting, crushed under the boot of full-time work, children, and obligation. He could have told them all about the show of millennium. But how – in all seriousness – would they have listened? Take the kids to school, take mum to the hospital, fill in the tax return, and fall asleep by the TV. If a Tsunami comes, well, you know, I’m sure the government will tell us what to do – yeh, right. Jack could feel his heart ache. Soon they would all be floating corpses. And his parents. His parents had been angels. We choose our parents before we’re born. Our pre-born selves, our souls, are ushered into a cosmic viewing booth, outside of time and space, and different family scenes flick past. As soon as we choose, we attach onto the growing fetus. We choose based on intent, but we know nothing of the complex society of Earth, and the myriad of counterproductive and self-sabotaging behaviors of guilt and shame, punishment and reward. Jack chose the parents with the most loving intent. Yet, we’re humans struggling to be real humans. Thus, on Earth, even loving parents are selfish and stubborn. Jack would scream about the impending chaos. For six years he screamed. The door was shut before it even had a chance to open. He wished he could have planted seeds. Instead he threw his ego around like a baby elephant; he tried to convince with logic and diagrams, and the harder he pushed, the more resistance he got. Right now, his parents were off touring the world; a game of roulette. Jack prayed that their plane wouldn’t be pulled from the sky.
We all just want to be right, don’t we? Well, not any more. Jack had learnt his lesson. Now he was letting himself be proven wrong, because nobody would know how right he’d been. As the world would soon be engulfed by chaos beyond imagination, none of his group could know how advantageous they really were, except Jack. When the grid goes down, when darkness reigns, Jack will be blamed. He was the one that brought everyone here, to the front row seats. This would be his masterpiece, for which he knew he would be hounded and shamed for. He’d considered this before. But as he looked back at the house, and looked at the valley, and thought of his lost family, his job that he left, all that he gave up, the pinball in his mind magnetized to the realization. That was the moment he truly understood his part in all this. Tears fell from his face as Jack shot up. Tom and Cindie jerked in their chairs as Jack beat his chest and roared over the valley: I’M READY.