Colin rolled over in his comfy bed before deciding that he couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to get up. No point wasting his Saturday in bed. He quickly got dressed and wondered what he would do today. He was living in a small, cramped one-bedroom apartment above a fish and chips in the heart of Mullingar, a busy marketplace town of twenty thousand souls in the middle of Ireland. But it was cheap and close to his new place of employment, Westmeath County Council.
He could have stayed living in the suburbs, but decided that at almost twenty-three years of age it was time for him to become somewhat independent. And anyway, it was just getting awkward telling women in The Fence that their place would be better at the end of the night. Of course, his Mum still collected his dirty laundry. He wasn’t a zealot.
He switched on the television and went straight to Sky News to see if they had any updates on the Ukraine War. It had escalated massively in February when Russia tried to invade the whole country. Colin, like the rest of the world had expected a rapid collapse in the face of the Russian juggernaut. He remembered feeling anger at the projected loss of another democracy. But the Ukrainians fought back and the world imposed crippling sanctions on Russia. Now, barely six months later it was September and the Ukrainians with the aid of heavy weapons from the West had liberated most of their country and were about to take out the last major city controlled by the Russians – Sevastopol.
Colin couldn’t help but feel a bit queasy when he heard about this yesterday. This was a city that had voted to become part of Russia itself and they had a shared history going back hundreds of years. The new Russian dictator Aleksy Zhuravlyov (who replaced a poisoned Putin), a Russian ultra-nationalist had threatened an all-out nuclear strike if the city was taken. That if Russia could no longer maintain its dignity in the world, better for there to be no world at all. The Ukrainian President Zelensky who had nearly died months earlier and President Biden of the United States chaffed at the threat saying Russia was in no position to threaten anyone.
Sky News was a disappointment. Only the latest Boris Johnston scandal about him fathering another child with some unknown woman. Flick, flick, flick and onto CNN.
One of their reporters was in the historic centre of Sevastopol, which had apparently escaped the devastation other parts of the country had endured beside an impressive statue of a Russian soldier, smiling in delight stating that the last defenders had fled the city. The message was flashing across the bottom of the screen in red and white. Colin continued to eat his cornflakes before deciding that he needed a drop more milk.
He had turned his back to the tv, before rapidly turning back when he heard a sinister change of tone. The feed from Sevastapol had been cut and they had gone back to their Washington office where a solemn presenter began to speak.
- This is directly from the US military. The Russians have launched an all-out nuclear strike. The United States and its allies will respond in kind. Please take shelter. This is not a joke. You need to get to a shelter as soon as possible.
Then the message went on repeat. Colin knew that he had to act. A nuclear strike would only take thirty minutes at most to reach its targets. His hand began to shake as he rang his Mum on his mobile.
Mum, you need to listen to me.
Colin, what are you on about? You okay?
There has been an all-out nuclear strike. You need to listen to me. You, Dad and Sean need to go inside right now. Close the windows and curtains. Do not step outside for two days, drink water from the tank. You only have minutes.
Are you sure about this Colin? You do get a bit
Yes, tell Dad to turn on CNN. I’ll try to get.
The line suddenly went dead.
Colin hurried over to his front window and looked down on the street. It was relatively quiet with the odd ambler and car going back and forth. Panic had yet to set in but that would change quickly. It was very unlikely that Mullingar itself would be directly targeted, but the fallout and possible nuclear winter that follows would be a major problem, to say the least. One Sarsmat or Satan II missile was enough to obliterate all the major urban centres in the UK. At least some of that radiation would make its way to Ireland.
Knowing that time was of the essence, he stuck his wallet in his pocket and ran out the door and down the stairs and up the narrow lane to the street, Thinking it better not to alert others, he slowed down to a fast walk. He felt the warmth on his face and looked up at the beautiful blue sky, perhaps for the last time. Fortunately, the local Supermarket Dunnes Stores was just across the street.
Everything was normal inside with shoppers leisurely walking around enjoying their Saturday morning. He walked out the back to the car park where the trolleys were and took one before heading to the aisle where the tinned food was kept. He filled it three-quarters of the way getting a bemused look from a middle-aged woman before throwing some toilet rolls on top to conceal what he was getting.
The mood suddenly changed as he approached the check-out. First, screams in the distance and then a group of people ran in trying to take whatever they could. A security guard left his resting area beside the exit to try and stop them. Colin changed direction and simply walked out into the mall area. In the distance, he could see a number of cars pulling up in the car park. The other shoppers had gone quiet, stunned.
Colin walked out of the store and towards his apartment. There were a group of teenage girls crying in disbelief. But time was critical, every precious second so on he went. His heart was racing as he made his way down the lane-way and hauled the trolley up behind him. For a brief moment after locking the door behind him, he let himself rest. Then he went to the window and outside at a developing traffic jam. Drivers were beeping at first but rapidly they got out of their cars and began to fight.
Colin closed the curtains, best not to draw attention to himself and turned on the tv. All the foreign channels had gone off air. There was only RTE left and the journalist Caitriona Perry reporting from the newsroom in Dublin. Her eyes were red and her voice sombre.
There are reports of massive explosions all across Europe and The United States. Hundreds of millions are presumed dead and the worst is still to come. May God have mercy on us all. We will continue broadcasting for as long as possible.
The transmission continued with warnings to stay inside and to put wet towels under the doors. That the radiation would shortly envelop Ireland. The broadcast continued for a further hour before it abruptly stopped without warning.
A pang went through his body as if he had been stabbed. He now felt truly alone. He peered through the curtain. Windows were being smashed by a gang of yobs, and the day was still bright. The fools, they were wasting valuable preparation time. Sean went and rested on his couch and slowly drifted off from the day’s exertions,
He woke to the sound of screams coming from the street outside. Leaping from the couch, he went to peer through the curtains. What had been a beautiful, sunny day was now twilight, caused by a thick, opaque mist that had descended. The screams continued and his heart began to pound.
Running to his bed, he lay down and tried to cover his ears. The cries were coming from the apartment beside him now where a couple lived with their young child. There were roars of alarm that it was seeping in under the door, that there was nowhere for them to go. Colin knew that any attempt to save them and it was his death too.
So, he listened as their roars of anguish became whimpers to be replaced by an awful silence as tears gently rolled onto his pillow. Then an age seemed to pass, unrelenting darkness. From him occasionally eating to satisfy his hunger, he guessed two days must have passed before he woke to the sound of heavy rain beating against his window. Finally, there was some light. Then he heard some cheers of joy coming from outside. He felt a sudden urge to go join them, but he knew it was too soon. The radiation level would still be too high.
All too quickly, the rain stopped and it began to darken once more. A few hours later, the temperate began to plummet. He wrapped himself up in his bed to try and stay warm, trying to dream of better times before all this happened.
Days passed. It remained dark and cold. It was time for him to venture outside and make what was once a short trip from Castle Street to Beechgrove in the suburbs. It had snowed, if you could call the putrid yellow stuff that. There were no words his new world. On getting to the street he barely recognized the place. Among the rotten corpses that strewn the street, there were those clinging to life with large boils oozing a yellow substance covering their flesh. All the leaves were gone from the trees, their barks black. Even the building with their smashed windows and radiated walls looked alien in the dim sky.
Step by step, he began to make his way through the sludge trying not to think of what awaited him. Each milestone made him feel that bit happier. First, there was the McDonalds, what had a bright, yellow building now grey and lifeless, then the Dublin Bridge over a frozen and poisoned canal. Onwards, he trudged before finally reaching Beechgrove. It looked as void of life as anywhere but he had to hope, believe even. Otherwise, it would be impossible to put one foot in front of the other.
He grew increasingly nervous as he approached his parents’ house down a steep suburban hill. The rotting carcass of a woman, he once had known lay half-submerged in the yellow and dark sludge in the middle of the street.
It was freezing now, much colder than he had ever experienced before. His hands were going numb. He kept slowly trudging onwards, past the burned houses with broken windows until he turned and faced his former home. The thick sludge had covered what was once a beautiful garden and was beginning to engulf the bungalow in its entirety. The front door was just about visible.
Knock, knock, knock.
Bang, bang, bang.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me Mum!”
The door swung open and they embraced.
It was a bittersweet moment. Boils were already clearly visible on her famished face.
He walked in and she closed the door behind him. The only light came from candlelight. It was not much warmer inside.
“Where is everyone?”
“They didn’t make it Colin, I’m sorry. There wasn’t enough time.”
His heart sank but stoically he held firm not wanting to add to her anguish.
“Here, I brought some food.”
“Keep it for yourself, I’m not hungry honest.”
They went in to sit on the couch and Colin went to take off his shoes. His feet were a deep blue and boils now covered them. They continued on up his leg, he dare not look how far.
They embraced trying to keep warm as it grew colder still.
His Mum talked less and less into the night till not at all. At least he had been there for her at her end. It was his last thought as he too drifted away.