Everything is alien, unfamiliar, shrunken and flattened. I can see the shape of streets, the shape of the land beneath where before horizon was the rooftop of the house opposite mine. I would like to think that I was dreaming, hallucinating, I would love to believe it, but this isn’t a dream.
You see pictures don’t you, films of streets like this? It’s never where you live, always some other place. Some place where you know no one, where they might as well be actors for all the impact it has – because you see it so much on a screen. You’re inured to it. Watching the news you might feel a stab of horror, a momentary frisson of sympathy for those affected, but then you’re eating your toast, drinking your coffee, leaving for work…
Work! I don’t have to go to work! I feel quite happy about that at least. What better excuse could a person have? “Sorry, can’t come in today; the world’s ended you see.” (Insert pissed-off manager’s snide comments here)“Yes, ended. Awful sorry and all that. Don’t think the buses are running and my car’s under my house.”
It’s then that I hear the screaming. The explosion or whatever it was must have knocked something loose in my head because I don’t even hesitate before running in the direction of the sound. Usually, I’d have run very fast the other way or ignored it completely, because it was someone else’s problem. I’ve read about it; it’s called bystander apathy. That’s me alright – I’m a seasoned bystander and you couldn’t possibly find anyone more apathetic. But for some reason I scramble over the piles of rubble that used to be streets as if I’m Vin Diesel or Bruce Willis and there’s a terrorist with a big gun waiting to enact a dramatic final scene with me.
I catch a glimpse of a pink fluffy bathrobe and one pink fluffy slipper dangling from a frantically kicking leg, and no terrorists in sight, just the other slipper, which has fallen off and rolled down to land inside a saucepan. The woman, I assume it’s a woman, stops screaming.
“Don’t just stand there!” she says angrily. “Help me down!”
She has a point. She’s hanging on by one hand to a towel rail still half attached to a chunk of what used to be a bathroom wall and her feet are dangling six feet off the ground. I help her down, almost collapsing under her weight, which is pretty substantial to tell the truth. Once she’s on her feet again she adjusts her pink bathrobe and looks me up and down as if she expected something better but beggars can’t be choosers and she’ll just have to make do. She has a resigned expression as if she’s used to disappointment and is prepared to take it in her stride.
We stare at each other in silence, and it’s only when we hear more cries that the spell is broken. An old man is fighting with a wardrobe, both of us move to help him in the jerky way of people suffering from shock. His skinny legs kick us in the shins a few times before we finally manage to drag him to his feet. Whereupon he looks around with a sage expression and says; “I guess you two are angels? This is Armageddon, isn’t it?”
“No,” I say.
“Yes,” the woman says and we exchange irritated scowls. “You’ve got to humour them!” she hisses in a stage whisper, whereupon the old guy looks affronted.
“Not angels,” he grumbles. “I shoulda known. What was it then? Them damn sub-earthers? I always said them troglodytes would be the end of us!”