Polly Dawkins was taking an afternoon nap the day the world ended. This had been an unusual occurrence just a couple of years before (as was the World ending, if we don’t count the dinosaurs.) Back then Polly’s usual afternoon activities had involved drinking copious amounts of coffee (from icky polystyrene cups) whilst staring fixedly at a monitor on her workplace desk. Polly had been ‘something in the city’ and had been doing something in the city (even she wasn’t quite sure what, or who for or, more importantly, why – but it involved a lot of mind numbing number crunching) for roughly 10 years, before a sort of epiphany occurred, on one clear blue-skied day, when she had been staring out of an office window (the one nearest her desk) – her blue eyes all shiny and glazed over; her distracted mind dreaming. She had seen hills and trees and glistening waterfalls and, down in a little valley, the cutest, fairy tale cottage you ever did see. ‘Why don’t you go and live there,’ a kindly but sonorous voice had whispered in her left ear. ‘Ok,’ replied Polly (in her head) I just might. After all, my brilliant career is just more than a bit pants and I don’t feel like me anymore. It’s time for a drastic change.’
Polly had also failed to find love. She’d come close, once or twice, but perhaps she was too choosy, too unaccepting of human failings, too independent. She was now 35 and had dutifully followed the life plan of an educated feminist. She had a career, she believed she had choice and, above all, she was free. This was all fine and dandy until one bleak Saturday morning, when she had woken up to find herself alone in her London flat, with an absolute yearning (which she kept very secret, even to herself) for a husband who would bring her a nice cup of tea, and who would perch on the edge of her bed and say: ‘Look here, Polly, why don’t you just quit the office job, pop out a couple of sprogs and I’ll take care of everything else from thereon in.’
Therefore, when a strange, sonorous voice had whispered in her ear, Polly had been in the right frame of mind to listen (even if she thought it might mean she was a teensy bit mad.) And so Polly took all her money and ran; all the way to Scotland, to a tiny rented cottage at the foot of a spectacular mountain. A cottage from which she intended to engage in meditative practices, designed to soothe the soul and bring forth an inner sense of peace. A cottage where she eschewed all things technological – not that her phone or laptop would have worked up there anyway. This hermit-like situation meant that it would be very unlikely that she would ever come across another living soul (but she would secretly hope to come across unexpected, prospective husband material) for the foreseeable future. Polly was, you see, rather tired of the human race.
To aid the meditative process Polly decided to keep a diary. Had she been able to use a laptop she would, of course, have blogged about her new solitary life but no, Polly went with old fashioned pen and paper and besides, Polly was as tired of the internet as she was of the people that filled it. The slower, more time consuming nature of writing everything down, by hand, was oddly satisfying and turned out to be the only way to go, when the world came to a sudden end.
Polly’s first diary entry had been alarming in nature. It read:
9th March 2016
Christ, what have I done!!!!!! I’ve quit my job; I’ve actually quit my job. What was I thinking? Can I live on my savings – and for how long? I must be mad. I wonder if they’ll take me back? Maybe I am mad. Maybe I could plead temporary insanity and go crawling back on my knees. No, that won’t do, no one in the workplace is indispensable. They say the first sign of madness is talking to yourself, which I’ve been a doing a lot of around here. Well, not entirely to myself. I have been conversing with the birds, and the weeds, in what passes for a garden in this, to be honest, less than picturesque cottage. I’ve even started talking to the mice, who seem to think this is their home. At first I squealed like the mad woman I’m becoming, every time I saw a long tail sticking out of the pile of old newspapers by the door (quickly got rid of the papers) or saw them scuttling along the stone floor, but now we’re on first name terms – Minnie is particularly cute. Amazing how your definition of what constitutes ‘company’ changes, when you’re living in a damp forsaken house at the bottom of a mountain. The question is, am I mad?
There were more entries, running very much along these lines, until a year later, when we come to the ones about how well her veg allotment is doing, and how she was storing the surplus in an old garden shed, and how you couldn’t beat the quality of the drinking water, provided by the little stream which ran past her cottage. And how she was making her own jam and chutney. And how a little store in the nearest village (which was miles away but Polly did have a tiny little car) provided flour for bread making, the sort of bread which would keep for simply ages; not to mention the rock hard biscuits, which would also keep for ages. All of which, as you’ve probably already foreseen, came in very useful when the world ended. Why, it was almost as if Polly subconsciously knew something the rest of us didn’t.
And there Polly was on the fateful day (October 31st 2018) taking her afternoon nap on her comfy couch in her now cosy living room. A couple of mice had just scurried along the top of a nearby armchair (they’d become very forward those mice and not at all nocturnal) but we won’t squeal, we’ll ignore them and, after all, they are Polly’s friends. The couch was more like a double bed, it was so long and wide and filled with gigantic and soft cushions. Polly had nestled down in amongst those cushions, her head resting on a particularly large and fluffily pink one. She was lying on her back, one arm across her eyes. The rhythmical sound of gentle snoring filled the room. Polly’s other arm hung over the side of the couch, dangling carelessly, its hand touching the fur of a small dog (the dog she’d got for company) which lay beside the couch on a rug; the dog was also snoring.
What a peaceful scene that was, especially when we also note that there’s a crackling log fire, a mere three feet away from the slumbering Polly and her dog.
Meanwhile, roughly 3,000 miles away, a crackling fire of a very different sort was making its way across vast swathes of the Americas. For, against all possible odds, a 3.5 mile wide asteroid had suddenly appeared, as from nowhere, and landed in exactly the same spot as the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Upon landing it caused worldwide forest fires, several tsunamis and quite a few earthquakes but, crucially, there wasn’t enough soot and dust to completely block out the sun. This meant that the few living things that were left (which turned out to be mostly water based creatures) had a miniscule chance of long term survival. Of course, this didn’t apply to the humans, who were an absolutely useless lot survival-wise; being that most of them had never watched Bear Grylls and, even if they had, had never bothered to take notes.
Now, the news that the world had ended never reached the UK. This was because the Americas had been destroyed, so there was no one left to take photos of the asteroid on their cell phones, or to film it glowing in the sky, or to post ‘Christ, the World just ended LOL’ on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Now, the scientists among you will be adamant that this scenario is quite absurd, and will further throw your hands up into earth’s oxygenated atmosphere when I go on to tell you that a couple of the tsunamis caused a global flood (in very much the style of Noah and his Ark) and, when this flood reached UK shores, the only bit of the UK it spared was the bit of Scotland where Polly lived. And I mean just the actual bit where Polly lived.
The other bit the flood spared was the top of Mount Everest, where a group of climbers sat marooned. This group was made up of strangers, who had all been subjected to the same sonorous voice as Polly, which had instructed them, a couple of years ago, to get into training for a once in a lifetime trip up Everest – the group included: a doctor, a builder, a carpenter, a farmer, a herbalist, a chemist, a physicist and an engineer – four men and four women, all single and who had all been somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo.
Meanwhile, worldwide, there had been absolutely no time for damage limitation plans, or for any general looting, or rioting, or the stockpiling of tinned food and bottled water, or the buying of gas masks and the searching for anything which would serve as a weapon (cricket bats, table legs that kind of thing) in case Zombies appeared (the cricket bats and table legs would have been quite useless here.) No, everyone in the entire world (except our survivors) simply drowned en masse. And afterwards there was complete and utter silence.
Except for some rather lovely singing coming from inside Polly’s cottage (Polly could carry a tune, even if she said so herself) and various cries of: ‘where did all the water come from?’ and ‘what the hell are we going to do now,’ emanating from the top of Mount Everest .
But we must leave Polly, and our Everest crew, and travel upwards, as far as the eye can see. Up and up we go, past the second star on the right; past giant nebulas and swirling galaxies; past a couple of black holes, until we reach the bit of space at the point before Time began. For this is where all the Gods live.
I’d like to say that the Gods all lived on top of something which looked very like Mount Olympus, where they wafted about in floaty gowns tied with golden cords, and weaved their way in and out of Grecian pillars but no, they all worked for the God equivalent of the Council, and they all had boring desk jobs. And currently the end of planet Earth was their number one topic of conversation.
The God of Statistical Improbability (Calculus), the God of Inevitability (Doom) and the God of Chaos and Confusion (Havoc) were in a meeting.
“Well I think that went rather well,” Calculus was saying (this may seem heartless but you must understand that, to the Gods, we are but as ants to be crushed underfoot.)
“I agree, Earth was in need of a re-boot,” piped up Doom. ‘It’s been going pear shaped for far too long.”
“Of course, it’s all the Creator’s fault,” chipped in Havoc, “but nobody dared say anything for fear of getting kicked into the Nether Regions.” (Doom misheard this bit and thought Havoc said ‘kicked in the nether regions’ and instinctively winced.)
“You’re right, of course,” said Doom. “I mean, what did the Creator expect? Building the thing in just 7 days, sticking around for a mere 2,000 years and then buggering off. This might only be a rumour, but did you know that one of the Winged Messengers mentioned that things were going downhill fast on planet Earth and the Creator said: “which one is that then?” He’d completely forgotten all about it.”
“Well, we had to do something,” said Calculus, “Earth has been giving out a really bad vibe for quite some time. Those humans have been getting way above themselves (the Gods, it must be said, seemed oblivious to the fact that they shared a lot of human characteristics.) The human known as Professor Binzel of MIT confidently asserted that there was no asteroid out there big enough to obliterate the planet. So I taught him a lesson; after all spare the rod, spoil the child. By the way, did you get word to our survivors Havoc?”
“Yes, a bunch of them are on Everest and then there’s Polly, oh and her dog…..to be fair to the humans, the one known as Brian Cox did issue a warning that ‘there’s an asteroid out there and it’s got our name on it’ but, like the prophets of old, nobody listened. I think we should call this one ‘The Big Cox’ in his honour.’ (Havoc was the only God with a sense of humour, even if it was very, very childish.)
“Who’s Polly?” shot back Calculus and Doom.
“You were given a list of highly skilled, reasonable, environment loving people on which the future of a re-born Earth rests,’ continued Doom, “there was no Polly on that list, or a dog.” Havoc looked a bit sheepish.
“Well, I sort of fell in love with her when she was looking out of her office window, it was her blue eyes.” (Polly would later think that this was kind of typical, that the world had to end before she’d ever find herself a husband.)
“And what did Polly do?” demanded Calculus.
“I think it was something involving a lot of admin,” replied Havoc.
“For the Creator’s sake!” screamed Calculus. “Right, Doom and I are going to have a discussion, if you could leave the room please Havoc – now!”
After about an hour, it was agreed, and sanctioned by the God of Major Cock Ups (whose word was always final) that Havoc would be banished for the crime of saving someone who was of absolutely no use in a post-apocalyptic setting, and that his punishment would be to become mortal (in the manner of a previous God before him) and that Earth would be his new home. Havoc pleaded if they couldn’t do it the old fashioned way, like they used to do with those ancient Greeks. Couldn’t he go down there in human form but still be a God? He and Polly could then have loads of little demi-gods who’d save the planet and they could forget about that lot on Everest. The answer was No.
And so it was that, about a month later, Polly opened her cottage door to find that a personable young man was standing there. It was love at first sight (well, it would be, given that he’d previously been a God) and Havoc (now Hamish) told Polly all about it (the end of the world) and Polly said she’s thought something pretty catastrophic had happened, being that she now appeared to be living on an island but, apart from that, she’d never been happier. You might think that Polly would have been upset that her family and friends had all drowned, but she was ever an independent and pragmatic person and, besides, she’d begun to think that the dog was superior company, in that he kept his opinions to himself.
Shortly after that, Doom pulled the plug on the flood and the Everest lot climbed back down. Of course, everything was very wet and in a very bad way indeed – there were dead bodies littered everywhere – and the Everest lot had a real job on their hands, but that’s another story.
Meanwhile, Doom and Calculus hoped very much that this lot of survivors would do rather better than the biblical lot. In fact, Calculus was of the opinion that they shouldn’t have saved any humans at all, but should instead have waited to see what evolution would have come up, with what was left in the seas. What they did do was send a Memo to the Creator, reminding him to include Earth in any future Council directives.