CLOSING TIME

by Andrew J. Müller

"Destroy another foetus now,
We don't like children anyhow,
I've seen the Future, baby,
It is murder ..."

Leonard Cohen, "The Future" 1990.

Damon was running as fast as he could, clutching his precious bundle to his chest. The Undercity was dark, as it always was, even though it was the middle of the day. But today it was darker than most. The rioting had reached new heights a few months ago and had continued more or less without pause since then. Few cared now, the Security Forces had long since stopped trying to contain the unrest, indeed many of the rioters wore uniforms of one kind or another. Ever since the meteor had hit the world had collapsed into chaos beyond what it was experiencing anyway.

Destruction of an intensity never known had swept across from the Far East where the meteor had hit, deep in the Pacific. The Far East had immediately been swallowed by a wave so big it blotted out the burning Sun, no mean feat in the part of the world almost destroyed by global warming. Those who could had fled the area, those who could not had died. Those who had fled found themselves homeless and starving. A wave of displaced humanity struggled across the Asian continent towards Europe whilst the very ground beneath them stretched, cracked and flung them into its depths. An eruption of unprecedented scale had destroyed the Arabian peninsular and filled the Red Sea with lava, although the water had long since boiled away anyhow.

Along with the destruction of the planet came an anarchy which was destroying both the torrid world of the Undercity, and also effecting the cosy, clinical Overcities. When Overcity 12, which stood over what had once been Berlin, had been destroyed in a riot and crashed down the earth in flames the rich, privileged classes began to panic. The panic spread rapidly and the mechanisms of civilization began to fall apart.

It was amongst this spreading tide of armageddon that Damon and his partner, Shola, had decided to have an unlicensed child. They had applied to the authorities many times for a licence and had been consistently refused. As the anarchy got closer and closer to their home in what used to be south London and was now merely Undercity 15, they had decided that the authorities no longer had any.

They had made love in their squalid little apartment and a few weeks later Shola knew she was pregnant. Two months into her pregnancy the riots hit Undercity 15 and their apartment was burnt out forcing them on to the streets. At first it had been no problem, but as Shola had got more gravid it became harder to avoid detection. They had taken to sleeping in a community centre, because the security never went near there. Things had gone reasonably well until, five months into her pregnancy, one of the other boarders at the centre had informed the authorities and one night they had come and taken Shola and Damon as they slept.

Damon had never been to the Overcity before, but any thrill he might have felt was tempered by the fear and by the surroundings in which he and Shola found themselves. Everything smelt of antiseptic, and the people all had an air of deep sorrow and desperation. At first Damon and Shola had slept together in a ward of other people. Then Shola was taken away in the night. Damon had woken in a panic and ran rampant through the stinking, monotonous corridors. Eventually he had found Shola, but by then it was too late. She was already dead, laying on the operating table, naked, split open clumsily, with her unborn child removed from her. She had been left to die; her punishment for conceiving an unlicensed child.

Damon had all but destroyed the room in his rage. Blood poured from wounds on his arms and legs, his bare feet scrunching on broken glass on the floor as he left to try to find the child. He found the child, but again he was too late, she too was dead and had been dumped in a waste disposal area in the blue towelling in which he now carried her dead body across the burning wastes of what was the City of London.

He knew a place he could go, an appropriate resting place for his child and for himself. He also knew that within a few hours Overcity 15 would be crashing to the ground. Shola had deserved that revenge and he had seen to it that those who had killed her and their child would die too, in a raging inferno. Something desperate had clicked in Damon - he knew that the world was ending - that true Armageddon had arrived. He had decided to opt out.

Presently, still clutching his bundle, he reached the steps of the long-abandoned St. Paul's Cathedral. He knew that the ground floor was regularly searched by the security. But Damon knew a way up to the galleries that were supposedly sealed off. He climbed past the tarnished gilt work of the Apostle of St. John, passed the Whispering Gallery and into the void between the inner and outer domes. Here, where once thousands of happy tourists had climbed to get a panoramic view of London he built a small shrine to his dead child, and lay the tiny body amongst the rusting metal and pigeon shit. He said a small prayer he didn't believe and then began to haul himself up the internal metal work towards the high balcony above the Dome.

Damon kicked the grill away from the door which led out onto the balcony and stepped gingerly onto the crumbling stonework. The view was still staggering. Except now it was no longer the view of a proud and bustling City - now it was like a bird's eye view of Dante's Inferno. Great gouts of flame were spreading across the city. Already Overcity 14 was burning in the distance. Overcity 15 would soon begin to burn, and it was only a matter of time before the destruction spread and humanity vanished from the face of the planet they had ruined as quickly as they had sprung up. The sun was starting to sink low through the poisonous, smoggy sky casting an ever eerier light on the scene of devastation below him.

A brilliant flash made Damon turn his head. Overcity 15 had been reduced in size by a half by the explosion he had engineered. He could see molten metal dripping from the structure and thought he could make out people falling, burning and not, and disappearing into the smoke from the Undercity below. Stinging tears began to pour down Damon's face as the Overcity began to tilt and then slid, almost elegantly, down to ground level where it exploded mightily.

For a while Damon watched it burning, both satisfied and devastated. Then he spread his arms, like the broken cross above him, and dived forwards, past the great Dome of St. Paul's and into the maelstrom below.

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2009


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