Alone Apart

The Swell Season

Banksia bushes sprawled down the side of the house and raced into the dense Australian scrub at the end of the yard. Their flaming flowers were heavy in the dying sunlight, and seemed to dance as the fat bees clambered around them. Sarah focused on the banksias blinking through the computer screen, trying to remember the sweet scent of their nectar. It was comforting to see her country one last time, but nothing could stop her heart from breaking.

“It’s over…” the man on the screen said, and then the image froze awkwardly in place. Sarah dragged herself away from the banksias and looked into her husband’s unblinking eyes, before finally losing her grip on her emotions. When the tears came, they poured out like summer rain and cascaded down her cheeks.

Sarah reached out and touched the computer monitor, and for a moment she almost felt her husband’s face rather then the cold glass. Then a deranged cackle from outside her locked door dragged her back into the present, and she pulled her hand away from the screen as if she’d touched something unpleasant. For the thousandth time, Sarah wished she’d never come to this hell hole.

The heavy window beside the computer looked out upon the white emptiness of Antarctica, and to Sarah it always seemed a little bleaker after seeing the green and gold of her homeland. There was nothing out there for thousands of kilometres, and as Sarah slumped back in her chair, she wondered whether there was anything beyond that. Everything – home and here, past and present – bled together through her tears, and she threw back her head to scream along with the others who were fighting their own nightmares in other part of the facility.

A sharp crackle brought Sarah’s attention back to the screen, and she saw her pixelated husband mouthing words. The picture quality was so poor that she could hardly make him out anymore, and the banksias were nothing but a smear of olive and crimson. His words came 10 seconds after his mouth had started flapping, and were muffled and clipped.

“They took out Sydney,” he said, before freezing for a moment. Even with the terrible video quality that had raced up into space and back down to this lonely corner of the planet, the terror on his face was evident. “The bomb took everything. And us, soon we’ll be gone too. God, Sarah, I wish we were together for these final moments.”

The video shuddered to a halt at the same time another scream rung out from the depths of the frozen facility. It was Yuki, the only other woman on the base, and her horrified wail was soon joined by the wild howls of a dozen men. They sounded like wolves celebrating a successful hunt, and Sarah knew they’d be at her door before long. She hung her head. How quickly society falls apart.

“I… love you,” the fading image of her husband stammered from the screen, and it froze in place for the final time. The Australian sky was angry and purple, and as Sarah leant in to the monitor to kiss her husband on the lips one final time, she knew that he was already gone. And then, mercifully, the screen went blank. She returned his words, a whisper that would never be heard. Now she was in her room alone, knowing she’d never return to her homeland, never again see the man she loved. The howls were getting louder now, and crawling closer to her door. The way they screamed her name made it sound foreign and horrifying. It was time to leave.

After slipping into a light blue jacket and snatching a gravy-stained steak knife from a plate by her bed, Sarah took a deep breath and walked out of her room for the final time. She gasped when she saw one of the men standing outside, wearing nothing but a slack-jawed grin beneath a set of crazy eyes. He’d been a researcher once, but the end of the world had stripped him of his humanity. She could smell Yuki’s terror on his skin, sense the hatred and madness that pulsed through his body, and the moment her lurched towards her, Sarah plunged the knife into the side of his neck, pulled it out, and then buried it deep into his heart. The world rained with blood and shook with the gurgling laughter of the dying man, but Sarah experienced none of it. She’d already scurried out the door and into the eternal white of Antarctica, leaving the rotting carcass of human civilisation behind her.

Sarah pushed her way north, in the vague direction of her home and her love, a writhing blur of blue and red in the apathetic snow. Then she fell, and nobody ever thought of her again.

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