Writing Exercise: Five Versions of the Apocalypse

Summary

As part of my Limit Break mentorship, my mentor suggested I try a writing exercise: tell the same event from five different perspectives without explicitly mentioning what it is. I decided to write about a nuclear apocalypse from the perspective of both people experiencing it firsthand and those living with the aftermath. The idea of a young person collecting oral testimonies led me to consider using epistolary forms for several of the perspectives, which also allowed me to link different individuals across space and time. One of the other themes that came out of this exercise was post-apocalyptic internet-would it even exist? I did some rapid online research which indicates that it could survive, at least on a local level.

This writing exercise demonstrates my ability to create a succinct narrative with distinct perspectives. There is also a dog.

(I)

It’s the most important thing that’s happened, that much I’m sure. When I wake up I think about it, and when I go to sleep I can see the ash falling in my dreams. I’ve hoarded notebooks to write down everything I know about it but no matter how much I write the story is never complete.

Of course I was there. My father told me how at first I cried every day but eventually just became quiet. I’ve been quiet ever since. I don’t actually remember it, I was a child after all, so maybe that’s why I’ve been chasing other peoples’ memories as long as I can remember.

I don’t bother with any of those old machines that my Dad and his friends like to play around with. I don’t trust them. I just need some kind of writing surface and a bit of charcoal. What good are those computers now? He can’t even find any pictures of my mother, they’re all “lost in the cloud.” I know the cloud wasn’t really an actual cloud floating in the air, but sometimes I like to look up and imagine her face looking down on me.

Today I am interviewing one of my father’s neighbours. He’s late, but I’ve got a big pot of tea for company. He’s the last person on this street that I haven’t talked to. I hope he is worth the wait.

(II)

Interview with Mr. Regus.

“Make sure you write my name down, er, properly. Are you writing it? Oh, you’re writing down everything? Good.

First of all, you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about what happened that day. It’s all the stuff that, um, happened before that. I knew it was coming. Everything was heating up-no not the environment, I mean the, er…those politicians. Things had really gone downhill in, you know, America, and it had been bad for a while, but this time the threats were different. I remember a few weeks before, I was…sitting in the garden with Cassandra. The sun was on my face, it was a beautiful day, but I kept hearing that damn president’s voice in my head and a chill washed over me. I knew something bad was going to happen.

Anyway, I can see you’re not interested in that. So I’ll tell you about t-the, erm…day. It was a pretty average morning, well a nice morning. I had my two fried eggs and toast. I remember the milk had gone off. It was a pearl of a day-beautiful sunshine, dew on the front lawn. Then early afternoon, it-well, it started to cloud over. I was out in the garden, tending to a rosebush, erm…or maybe it was the lilies. Anyway, I went in for a glass of juice. The radio was on, so that’s when I first heard…it.

I was very calm. I stood there, glass in hand, watching my own warped reflection in the kitchen tap. I was well-stocked with canned goods. I had bottled water and other liquids. I was going to be ok. They were telling us not to go outside, which of course I never would have done, but then I realized Cassandra was missing.

To this day I have no idea how she got out, she was always such, just such a good dog. Oh, she was just a small thing, a West Highland White Terrier. You don’t know what that is? I have a picture here in my wallet. See? Yes she was very sweet.

So I had to go out looking for her, which turned out to be, er, a very bad idea. That’s how I got these burns, see? Next time they tell you to stay inside…you better stay in.

No, I never saw her again.

(III)

Dear Zelda,

Please forgive my handwriting, the cold is making it hard for me to hold a pencil. Remember when I won that calligraphy prize at school? If only Ms. Philips could see me now…

My cough is about the same, though Donna has it much worse. She’s been asking after you again, she’s worried about “how you’re coping.” I tell her that you’re doing better than either of us! How has your research been coming along? Remember you promised to send me the manuscript! I know it would be easier if I could get access to a computer, but it’s such a hassle and I don’t always get along well with the folks across town. And you know how Donna is, she hates me passing through Lower Stoke. She’s got a point-who knows what you’ll find there.

The last time I was there I met a very strange child. They demanded to know what I remembered of the day this all happened! At first I tried to get away but then they explained that they were doing an oral history project and insisted on interviewing me. Actually, they sort of reminded me of you; wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Here’s the thing, I don’t really want to remember what happened. Me and Donna don’t speak about it. There are things we had to do during those times that should never be written down, let alone remembered. So I told them a story, about how once upon a time me and Donna found this poor lost dog and took care of it and everything was nice in the end.

I’m glad you never had it as bad as we did. Surely people would understand-we were so cold and there wasn’t any food. Like I said, it doesn’t need remembering.

Stay safe, stay warm,

Tabitha.

(IV)

“Something wrong?”

I hastily fold the letter up and turn to see Adam with his trolley of books. I know that behind him will be Faith, the dog he rescued, his tiny shadow.

“Ah-no, why would there be?”

Adam shrugs, gazes round at the stacks of slowly decaying journals.

“It’s just another day in paradise,” I mutter, while Adam slowly shuffles away. I can’t bear to look at the dog.

Tabitha’s letter has me sifting through my own memories. What would I say if someone asked what I remembered of those early days of the new world, those that were so full with chaos yet so empty with grief? I know what I would say: I got lucky.

On the day it started, I was at work in the faculty library. When I heard about the first attack, I sat down at this same desk and barely moved for almost two days. Most people left, they rang their families and ran away. I stayed. It turned out to be a good move because the university cafeteria was well stocked and the campus has a backup generator.

Now, we’ve become a commune of sorts. The library is my domain-but that’s not just about access to books. Its about access to the computers, the university servers, and yes, the internet. I’m the gatekeeper to cyberspace, the spider guarding the World Wide Web-or least what’s left of it.

I’m researching the history of social media, trying to salvage what I can from what remains of the online world. When the numbness takes over, I like to sit and look at photos from cities that don’t exist anymore, and pretend that people still live there.

(V)

Jade_invisible

@jadebella88   

Sunshine selfie!

Image not available

Jade_invisible

@jadebella88

Huge explosion! There was a flash and my building was shaking!

Replying to @jadebella88

My mum isn’t picking up the phone, can’t get hold of anyone.

Replying to @jadebella88

People are now saying that video is a hoax?

Replying to @jadebella88

I’m supposed to be on the other side of the city right now. This doesn’t feel real.

Replying to @jadebella88

The sky is a strange colour.

Replying to @jadebella88

The power is gone, so I’m leaving. It’s so dark in here, and I think I can make it to my Mum’s house.

Wish me luck.

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