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Apocolypse Denial- Complete Short Story

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  • Apocolypse Denial- Complete Short Story

    Here's the short story decreed not good enough for Interzone. Enjoy!

    A Case of Apocalyptic Denial
    By Miles Reid

    Philip Leary shook his mobile phone in frustration. The thing wasn’t even two months old and already he was having problems with it.
    ‘Hello?’ he screamed into it, he heard a faint crackling, possibly a voice badly distorted from interference and then just gave up, switched it off and placed it back in his suit pocket with a grunt.
    ‘Technical problems?’ said a voice behind him. Jason Caine, one of Philip’s workmates patted him on the back cheerfully.
    ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t be so annoyed if it wasn’t almost brand new.’
    ‘Hey, I’ve been having problems with my phone recently,’ said Jason. ‘It’s those useless Chinese labourers; they’re getting shoddier every year.’
    The two men laughed, a cold wind blew through the car park and the two men pulled their coats tightly about themselves and shuddered.
    ‘Not the only thing getting shoddy,’ said Philip. ‘Isn’t it meant to be the middle of summer?’
    Jason shrugged, ‘Are Jean and I still coming over for drinks tonight?’
    ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a steak cooking in the oven even as we speak. It’s going to be something beautiful.’
    ‘Your… brother isn’t going to be there, is he? Only, last time we were around, his rantings disturbed Jean quite a bit. Put the wind up me too if I say so myself.’
    ‘Don’t talk to me about Larry,’ said Phil, ‘I’ve had to kick him out. If I thought he was bad before. These last few months have just been terrible. He’s taken up with that group, you know… ‘Them.’’
    Jason nodded,
    ‘Yeah, I know who you mean. Have you read those pieces of paper they hand out? Totally mad, all bogus conspiracy theory cult stuff.’
    ‘I know, I know,’ interrupted Philip, ‘I’ve seen him with them. Out in the streets wearing their clothes and handing out their nonsense ravings. It’s embarrassing to even acknowledge he’s my own brother anymore.’
    Jason smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
    ‘Forget him, he’s not important. Let him waste his life with his stupid little theories about the Universe and we’ll just get drunk, have a good time.’
    Philip grinned,
    ‘Yeah, let’s do that. As much as I love him, I can’t really go around trying to stop him ruining his life. When he finally wants to grow up, he’ll come running to me and when he does, I’ll help him because that’s all I want to do.’
    ‘Well better you than me!’ chuckled Jason, patting Philip on the shoulder as he got onto his bike and rode off. As much as Philip liked Jason, he didn’t really appreciate him making fun of his brother like that. He sighed and walked to his car, taking out his keys as he did. It was when he got to the car that he noticed the leaflet tucked neatly under his windscreen wiper, the words stencilled in red on a tatty white piece of paper.
    YOU ARE
    LIVING IN THE
    END OF THE WORLD
    WAKE UP NOW

    Philip tore the paper from his car, screwed it up and tossed it in the bin. He wondered for a moment if his brother had put it there, after all it was one of the leaflets of this latest group of crazies that he was belonging to. He opened his car door, sat inside and tried and ultimately failed to start the car. He was there a whole twenty minutes, turning the key and swearing in frustration as the car spluttered and died. Eventually, he got out, slammed the door and decided to walk home. He walked out of the car park, as he turned to look at the car one more time, he could almost swear that instead of the bright red Jaguar sitting there defiantly, there was a dull and faded car-shaped pile of rust sitting in its place. Philip shook his head and looked at the car again, it was the same as it always was, he must have been working too hard at the office and his mind was playing tricks on him.
    There were a lot more homeless people about nowadays, he noticed. People shuffling in their place all around him, for a moment, Philip was wondering if he had wondered into a dangerous area of town and that the people around him were going to jump him and try and make off with his wallet. Quickening his pace, Philip started to walk down the streets, passing a newspaper stand. His eyes were drawn to the headline on one of the papers.
    GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION DECLARES MISSILE BLUNDER ‘UNFORTUNATE ERROR’
    Even after such a short amount of time, people were still obsessed over the whole missile business. Well, sighed Phil, it was always going to be that way with these kinds of things. Even forty years on, people still obsessed about the Kennedy Assassination and fake footage of alien autopsies. The human mind seemed to thrive on believing any old rubbish.

    The ‘Missile Blunder’ was the closest the United States had ever gotten to a full blown nuclear war since the fall of the Iron Curtain. It had all been caused by a simple error. Philip had gotten over the whole event almost immediately, after all, he had lived, there was no war, and the missiles hadn’t fallen. But even so, the memory of those events had been burned into his mind; it wasn’t every day you were faced with the imminent possibility of Armageddon.

    ‘Larry, I think it’s time we had a little talk.’
    Larry sighed and put the screwdriver down on the table, he shifted around in his chair to look at his brother. Jazz music played quietly on a small radio sitting on the table.
    ‘Is it about the Anti-War leaflets?’
    Phil sighed,
    ‘No, it’s not about those leaflets. I don’t really care what you do in your spare time; you could go and fly to the Moon for all I care…’
    ‘Then what is it then?’ asked Larry, his hands fidgeting.
    ‘It’s just… you have too much free time. I don’t mind you living here…’
    ‘Well, it’s our parent’s old house, I have as much right to it as you do ‘
    Phil groaned and waved his hands about in the air in frustration.
    ‘I know that, don’t bring that up. All I’m asking is that you start trying to bring more into the running of this household than occasionally getting some pathetic job through that temp agency of yours! I can’t afford all the bills we have.’
    ‘I just, I just haven’t found my place yet. You understand?’
    ‘No I don’t!’ snapped Phil, ‘I’ve been working since I left college while it seems you just want to wonder from dead end job to dead end job…’
    ‘Oh, please shut up!’ cried Larry, jumping up. ‘Why can’t you…’
    Suddenly, the jazz music cut out and a new voice appeared on the radio.

    ‘This is an emergency broadcast,’ the voice spoke in the brief, clipped tones of authority, but there was a slight shiver in his voice, as if the voice was trying to keep from crying.
    ‘What’s going on?’ asked Phil, Larry quickly shushed him and turned up the radio.
    ‘What I am about to tell you is no hoax. As of fifteen minutes ago, our tracking stations detected missiles heading towards our country from an as yet undisclosed country. The military is doing all that they can, but all I can…all I can say to you now is that you hide. Take cover in your basements or hurricane shelters…this could very well be the end.’
    Larry grabbed Phil’s arm and dragged him out of the room. The two brothers moved through the rooms of the house until they reached the stairs for the basement. They silently descended the stairs and making their way through the piles of old junk and home tools, they reached the doors of the second room of the basement, the room that their father had specifically had built long ago. The two entered the room and Larry slammed the door shut. Phil slumped to the floor in a daze.
    ‘I can’t believe it… it can’t end like this…’ he stammered. Larry looked down at his older brother and had to resist the urge to slap him and scream at him to snap out of it. Phil was the older brother, he was the responsible one, Larry was just the drifter, the hanger-on. He sat down beside Phil and wrapped an arm around him.
    ‘It was all going to end somehow.’

    There was a long, dreadful silence as the two brothers sat, saying nothing and waiting for whatever inevitable fate was to come. Phil looked at his watch, an hour had passed and it had felt like five. Then, Larry’s head shot up, alert and listening.
    ‘Did you hear that? Sounded like a huge thud, some way off.’
    ‘I didn’t hear anything,’ said Phil. Larry stood up and looked up at the metal ceiling.
    ‘Maybe that was it, maybe that was the missiles exploding.’
    ‘I heard nothing, not a thing,’ snapped Phil.
    ‘Must you keep pacing around like that?’ screamed Phil, Larry stopped and looked at him apologetically.
    ‘Sorry, I can’t help it. I need to move about; I’m getting claustrophobic in here.’
    ‘Then we should go outside. We’ve been in here for the better part of six hours; I’m sure that whatever’s happened has already happened. I say we go outside and see what fools we’re are. I’m sure it was just a practical joke, a radio hoax of some kind.’
    Larry paced over to the door and started to twist it open.
    ‘Well, I guess so. We’ve no food in here anyhow.’
    After five twists, the door opened and the vacuum was broken as air started to rush in, Larry coughed.
    ‘It’s dusty.’ He paused and kept the door ajar, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’
    Phil stood up and grabbed the door and started to push it open slowly.
    The basement seemed to be completely unharmed, a few things had fallen over, but there was no real damage. Phil strode through the basement and quickly jogged up the stairs, Larry close behind. The house had been as tidy and as complete has it had been before they had entered the shelter. It was perfectly all right, the world had not ended, the missiles had not landed, maybe they had never landed at all thought Phil. He heard sounds outside and made his way to the back door, opening it and walking into the garden. All around him, his neighbours were wondering about, looking at the sky in confusion.
    ‘Hey,’ called Phil to Rod, his next door neighbour, ‘what’s going on?’
    Rod turned, ‘Dunno, Phil. There was this message on the radio, saying something about missiles heading for the country… but nothing happened.’
    ‘Yeah,’ Phil laughed, ‘Larry dragged me down to our father’s old fallout shelter. You know what he’s like. He’s crazy, I told him it was all some kind of sick joke.’
    From behind him, there was a scream and both Phil and Rod turned to see Larry collapsed in the doorway of the house. Phil ran over to Larry and took his shoulders gently.
    ‘Larry, what’s wrong?’
    Larry looked up, his eyes wide in shock.
    ‘It’s… it’s all destroyed! It’s all gone!’
    ‘What’s gone?’ wondered Phil aloud, he looked around, nothing was out of place. It was all as it always was.
    ‘Don’t you see it?’ cried Larry, ‘the missiles did fall… the buildings… they’re all destroyed. The fires, the bodies burning, it’s all over!’

    It had all been a mechanical fault; a few crossed wires at one of America’s top military radar observation centre had caused a bank of machines to show dots heading for the centre of the country. Dots where there were really no dots, imaginary missiles flying across the ocean. The staff at the observation centre had reacted in a panic, not bothering to double-check with another station, they had sounded the alarm. Unexpected for this moment, events were allowed to snowball out of control and had sent the entire country into a panic. The news media had been informed and the media had broadcast this news all over the country and the nation had panicked. Several hundred people had committed suicide, many had been hospitalised from heart attacks or failed suicide attempts, New York had to bring all of it’s policeman on duty in order to quell the rioting that had started in that city. But then there was the last and possibly much more unnerving result of this macabre joke. The one that had taken Phil’s brother away from him, the people who had gone mad.

    ‘What’re you doing?’ cried Larry, Doctor Midway flashed the torch in his eyes and turned to Phil.
    ‘Pupil’s dilated in fear, complete separation from reality. He’s not the first such case of this I’ve had in the last few hours.’
    ‘Really?’ Phil stood next to his brother, his arm wrapped around him in a vein attempt to comfort him. After it looked like Larry was not going to snap out of whatever had happened to him, he had to take him to a doctor’s fast. When he had gotten there, the queue was huge, some people had mere cut’s bruises, but the majority of people were like Larry, quivering wrecks.
    ‘It’s gone… all gone,’ whimpered one.
    ‘The fires, it’s all burning,’ wept another.
    ‘Phil, why are we here?’ moaned Larry, gently pulling on Phil’s arm.
    ‘Now, Larry, you aren’t well,’ said Phil as he would to a child, ‘the Doctor will look at you and make you better.’
    ‘How can you be so damn calm?’ snapped Larry, ‘it’s all gone. It’s all burning; it’s the end of the world.’
    ‘I can’t really explain it,’ said Doctor Midway, snapping Phil back to reality, ‘but the best way I can describe it is some kind of mass hysteria. For a brief time, we all thought that the world was going to end, we were all suddenly aware that life may very well end in the space of a few minutes. It didn’t, obviously.’
    ‘Yeah, obviously,’ said Phil calmly. He looked over at Larry’s shaking body.
    ‘But some people couldn’t handle that possibility. They were attached to life so much that when they were faced with the idea of it ending, their minds simply froze. Now they seem to continue living under some fantasy that the world as they know it is dead and gone.’
    ‘Is there anything you can do?’ asked Phil, ‘some kind of drug or anything?’
    ‘I can’t cure a sustained hallucination with a pill. The only hope that I can see him recovering from this is if he wakes up of his own accord.’

    ‘Hey you, listen to me!’ the man in the brown monks habit grabbed Phil, shaking him back to now. He glared at the man,
    ‘What do you want?’
    ‘I want you to wake up and join us,’ said the man calmly, almost politely. ‘The world as you know it is over. You must wake up and stop living in this delusion…’
    Phil swore under his breath, he couldn’t even walk down the street anymore without being accosted by one of these maniacs. He brushed the man away gently and continued on his way, but the man walked quickly after him.
    ‘Your job doesn’t exist, your car doesn’t run. These things are dead and just won’t let go.’
    ‘Piss off!’ shouted Phil, not turning back around. ‘I’ve heard your ‘truth.’.’
    ‘You have heard the truth, but you do not accept the truth…’ continued the man. Phil turned and pointed at the monk.
    ‘Listen, you little idiot. I’m fed up of having to listen to this rubbish. I have this from my own brother all the time, now. It’s not funny; do you think people like being told that they’re living in some kind of delusion? Believe me, they don’t and as much as I try to just simply ignore you freaks, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sorry for you. Now just… just leave me alone.’
    The man bowed.
    ‘Very well, I will leave you to your hallucinatory madness. I hope that soon, you will awaken to the truth about this world.’
    Phil stormed off and didn’t look back as the man walked away.
    ‘Wow, the chicken looks great!’ Jason licked his lips as Phil prepared to carve. He clicked on the electric carving knife and nothing happened. He checked to see if it was plugged in and it was. He tried again, nothing. He smiled and unplugged it, placing it back on the kitchen side.
    ‘Probably just a loose wire somewhere.’
    He grabbed a pair of carving knives and started to cut into the chicken. Jean finished off her glass of wine and smiled.
    ‘Hey, where’s that freaky brother of yours?’
    Phil fought back the urge to snap at her.
    ‘I don’t know. He’s probably outside in the cold with the rest of ‘them.’ It’s quite sad, really. Even though he was always a bit of a slacker, he used to be quite intelligent. Just a little eccentric in his beliefs.’
    Jean laughed,
    ‘Sure he was. Have you ever thought of putting him in a home? I’ve heard of some people doing that to relatives or friends of there after the… you know.’
    ‘Jean,’ snapped Jason, ‘I don’t think this is something that Phil really wants to discuss at dinner.’
    Phil served the chicken in silence, of course he didn’t want to talk about it, Jean couldn’t understand what it was like to have to see his brother act like he did. For him to see the world as a desolate, destroyed wasteland, he loved his brother and would give anything to see him healthy and recovered from his mania. He forced a smile and took a drink of wine, raising his glass in a toast.
    ‘Cheers.’

    Suddenly, the door burst open and a figure rushed into the room, dressed in a brown habit. Jean screamed and shot straight up in her chair, Jason sat in surprise, completely frozen.
    ‘Phil, we need to talk!’
    Phil slid his chair back and stood up. His brother’s eyes stared out from under the hood of the robe.
    ‘Why are you here, Larry? I thought I you had left to go and stay with your friends who ‘can see the truth.’’
    Larry smiled innocently.
    ‘Of course I did, but you’re my brother, Phil and I can’t leave you in this state.’
    ‘What state? I’m perfectly fine; it’s you who needs help.’
    Larry walked up to Phil and hugged him.
    ‘Phil, I know that you would try and help me if our situations were reversed. But I can’t abandon you because you won’t see the truth. You could hurt yourself and I don’t ever want that.’
    He thrust one of the leaflets into Phil’s hand. Phil saw the familiar mantra
    written on it.

    YOU ARE
    LIVING IN THE
    END OF THE WORLD
    WAKE UP NOW

    ‘I just want you to wake up, please,’ whispered Larry gently.
    ‘Wake up, Wake up?’ screamed Phil, ‘why don’t you wake up? You and your little cult of friends, going around telling us that the world ended. You’re the ones who need to wake up!’
    ‘But can’t you see the truth?’ said Larry, ‘the world DID end that day, when the missiles fell. They made our government fell into chaos, the country went mad and many people died…’
    ‘I won’t listen to this madness any more!’ cried Phil, covering his ears. Jason stood up and strode over to the two brothers, grabbing Larry by the shoulder gently and pushing him away from Phil.

    ‘Listen pal, I don’t care if you’re Phil’s brother or not. But what makes you think we want you to come here and rant and rave your delusions at us?’
    ‘Because you need to understand that the world you knew is dead and is gone. Only if you wake up can we make an attempt to start to rebuild. There are so many of you who just couldn’t handle what had happened… many more than those of us who can see the truth.’
    Phil pulled Jason’s arm off Larry’s shoulder.
    ‘Please, please just go, Phil. Go and join your friends. I think it would be much better for the both of us.’
    Larry nodded sadly.
    ‘I understand why you wouldn’t want the world to end. You had a good job, it paid well and you had a nice house and a good car, but now your car will start to break down and your phone won’t work. You have no power in the house, if you could see the world for how it really is; you would understand why I have to help you.’

    ‘Please,’ Phil’s eyes were blocked with tears, ‘just go.’
    Larry turned and walked out of the room. Leaving his brother behind to hold his friend and cry about his own creepy brother who lived in a delusion that the world had ended. Larry looked back at the dirty house with the broken windows and looked at the remains of the dirty chicken that Larry had removed from what was left of a shop that had been stripped bare. The embers of the dying fire that Phil had put together where the oven was to cook the chicken was not as hot as a state of the art over and he knew with perfect certainty that his brother would be sick in a few days time. Larry looked around at the debris of what had once been the street where he grew up and played. All around him, people walked dogs that were now long since dead and children played baseball amongst the ruins, believing it to be a bright, sunny day.
    He walked through the city streets where people huddled together to try and keep warm while blonde, attractive business woman jogged in grubby Lycra shorts. Ahead of him was a group of brown robed men and woman, trying desperately to help wake people up.

    ‘I tried and failed again,’ he said dejectedly as he reached the group. The leader of the group, a bearded, balding man embraced Larry tenderly.
    ‘I know how it is. My own children will not believe me. Everyday I prey that they will wake up from the illusion they and everyone else has woven about themselves.’
    ‘I will need some medication though,’ said Larry, ‘I saw my brother and some of his friends eating bad chicken and treating it like it was a fresh meal.’
    ‘Don’t worry. You’ll get plenty of medicine for your brother.’
    ‘Is this how it’ll be for us from no on? To take care of the people we love as they maintain a mad delusion that life as they know it is perfectly fine? To hope that one day, they will subconsciously accept the reality and wake up?’

    The bearded man slapped Larry on the shoulder softly and gently.
    ‘Maybe we are the unfortunate ones, to be aware that we are living in the end of the world. Did you ever think of that?’
    Larry looked around at the broken windows of all the shops on the street, the cars that had been torn apart to build crude shelters and then he saw housewives walking around with bags of dirty cans, thinking that they were on the way home from the supermarket.
    ‘Yes, but maybe it is better to know the truth than to live an illusion.’
    He sighed, yes, that was what he told himself at nights when the whole thing became too much for him. But even though Phil could stay like he was forever, forever going to a job that no longer existed and eating food that was no longer good, he would look after him and make sure that his brother remained safe until he woke up. It was his job now, to look after Phil as Phil had once looked after him when he had gone from job to job and never succeeding. Even though it had angered Phil, he would never let it get in the way of looking after his brother and now, Larry wouldn’t let Phil’s mad delusions get in the way of him helping maintain his brothers’ safety.

    Finally, he had found his place, but he hoped his brother will wake up and accept reality soon.

    Of course, maybe he would be the one to wake up first. No-one could really know.

  • #2
    I enjoyed reading this tale Manmiles, esp since the focus was on the potential psychological implications rather than the technical aspects of a post-apocalyptic environment.

    If adjustments are to be made I'd only suggest that you hold the twist/revelation of who is really living in illusion until closer to the end, or perhaps, leave that interpretation up to the reader, ie let the ending be ambiguous, although that would be harder to accomplish. Perhaps change the title so that it doesn't refer directly to the principle of denial, as that suggests the nature of the twist too soon.

    Comment


    • #3
      Good job !

      Comment


      • #4
        Yeah, I think a big problem was that the start is quite slow which may have worked against it. I mean, which SF fan in their right mind wants a page of people bitching about their phones not working?

        I did try for somekind of ambiguity, but it does lean heavily more towards the 'sane brother' living in the illusion while the 'crazy brother' could see reality. As I said, lots of needed improvemnets.

        Comment


        • #5
          The stuff with the phone helps to build up your effect though, so it's not extraneous to your tale, but contributes to the whole. Really you've got the whole thing down with your current approach I feel, just need to use a title which mis-directs the reader a little (to enhance the twist) and leave the twist until closer to the end of the story perhaps.

          Comment


          • #6
            I hate having to come up with titles. It's always been a problem for me.

            Hmmm... 'After the Rockets'?

            Comment


            • #7
              Or 'Wake Up', or 'Wake Up Now' from the leaflet in the story? I agree choosing titles is tough.

              Comment


              • #8
                Looks worthy to me.

                as a compliment to the writing, I even had a turn in my stomach over the fate of the two brothers, and all that talk about the End of the World.

                It read scary to me, in more ways than one. Not only are nuclear missles scary, but going mad or having to survive after an attack is creepy.

                "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
                - Michael Moorcock

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