By Alan Green
It all started in a relatively low-key way. Gossip rags got excited about celebrities sleeping with unlikely people. Students rushed out of their lectures after suddenly realizing that they were naked. There was a strange spate of people being buried alive. Gruesome beasts were rumoured to be stalking the streets. A few people claimed to have learnt how to fly like Superman. Aliens landed in Hyde Park in the middle of the night and asked to be taken to our leader. Dragons were sighted nesting on top of skyscrapers and circling them in the moonlit sky.
Such tales were easily dismissed as silly season nonsense, the ramblings of nutters and cranks or in some cases simply weird coincidences. We all resolutely ignored the threat. When the unthinkable happens the easiest way to deal with it is not to think about it. We all stuck to our mundane routines and paid no attention to the slow unraveling of reality.
Goblins partied in the bars, raptors stalked the malls and the gods danced in the streets but we still didn’t take any notice. We went home after what we laughably called a long day, flopped onto our beds and drifted off to sleep.
Night after night we slept, as if sleep was the most natural, most harmless thing in the world. All those cosy nights tucked up in bed, breathing gently in and out, occasionally snorting, looking as innocent as newborns whilst we undermined the universe.
I was no better then anyone else. In the morning I stepped over the bogeyman sleeping on my doorstep. On the bus to work I refused to meet the eyes of the gorillas. In the office I closed my ears to the photocopier’s threats and I had a great time killing my boss again and again. When I was walking home I had to swot the fairies away from my face but I told myself that they were just weird bugs. When I nipped into the newsagent to buy a snack my long dead grandma offered me a cupcake. I ran out of the shop but I convinced myself that it was just a nice little old lady who happened to look like her.
I saw a man sitting in his garden pond. He was slowly being eaten alive by sharks. They kept taking huge chunks out of him but he just sat there smiling and smoking a cigar. He was so calm and cheerful looking that it was easy to pretend that I hadn’t seen the sharks. I’ve seen worse things since then but the man in the pond stays with me because I can’t help feeling that I could have saved him. I should have at least tried but I was too busy trying to protect my precious sanity.
I suppose for each one of us there must have been a moment when we found that we could no longer close our eyes to what was going on. For me it was the walls that did it. I woke up one morning, staggered out of bed and reached out to steady myself. My hand sank into a throbbing mess of diseased flesh. My bedroom walls were bleeding. It was an image that had lurked in my dreams since I was a child but this time it was real.
It was the giants who convinced the government to finally admit that something was wrong. Even politicians couldn’t ignore hundred foot high men stomping about the place, muttering ‘fee fie foe fum,’ ripping the roofs of houses and eating the terrified inhabitants with noisy relish. The army was sent in to save the day. They did their best but they were effectively outnumbered infinity to one. The enemy got thousands of reinforcements every night. There are fewer new invaders now. There are far fewer dreamers and those of us who are left are struggling to steer clear of the land of Nod.
When it became obvious that the end really was nigh lots of people turned to religion. I flirted with it myself but it didn’t work out. Jesus kept turning up at church services. That was always a bit embarrassing for the devout. Occasionally the Father would pop in and throw some lightning bolts about. Once I saw Him making balloon animals. I didn’t bother praying after that.
It all began in a low-key way but it will end in darkness. It will end here, amongst these fields, in this squalid tentless refugee camp; tents would be too much of a temptation. There are probably other places like this, other groups of scattered survivors but we are all only human. None of us can resist exhaustion forever. Some time soon we are going to start falling asleep.
Yesterday an old man kept dozing off. Some of the younger lads dragged him away into the shadows. When I tried to find out what had happened to him they told me that they had ‘dealt with the problem’. I’m not going out like that. I’ve saved a bullet for myself. When the struggle to stay awake becomes too much I’m going to escape into a deeper sleep. Whatever dreams may come once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil at least they won’t turn up here and start slaughtering people.
We huddle around our fires, downing cup after cup of coffee and talking incessantly. Never letting each other leave the little circles of firelight and yelling at anyone who rests their eyes. We are desperately trying to stay awake because we know that this is the way the world ends not with a bang or a whimper but with a snore.