What If ?
Tired of waiting for more
attention, the cat rose, stretched, walked across the still form, up on
the table, and onto the machine into which the man had been speaking,
where it disdainfully sniffed the little shiny cylinders.
With its curiosity
satisfied, the feline jumped to the ground, but in doing so, its paw
depressed a lever, causing the devise to click, whir, and click again. The
instrument began talking.
“I suppose it was bound
to happen: insidiously, rapidly, silently, and with perfunctory
“For the record, my name
is Malachi, Doctor Antonio Malachi, not that it means a hill-of-beans to
anyone because I'm probably one of a very few earthly survivors, which
isn't much of a consolation.
“I’m sitting in a lawn
chair at someone’s fancy cottage - if you can call it a cottage – because
it even has a swimming pool. Maybe that’s the owner disintegrating in it.
I just made certain I put the chair upwind.
“This is probably his
cat; a real friendly fellow. He followed me around the house all morning.
He likes his chin scratched, don’t you? Yes, you do. Feels good, eh? I
wonder if he knows how lucky he is?
"I'm glad the medicine
cabinet had some asthmatic bronchial inhalers because they will certainly
help my breathing for the little time I have left.”
A couple of harsh
coughs are heard and a puffer's hiss.
“That's better. You know,
it is too bad people didn’t appreciate - cough, cough - the earth's
fragile beauty, before they had completely trashed it. But money was
always the priority. Now, it’s too late - too late - everything is too
late, even for hindsight.
“My it’s peaceful here.
Look at that: across the bay, there are two vultures waiting patiently in
a huge pine tree. What an epitaph! Well, you won’t have to wait much
longer, you black bastards!”
A puffer's hiss is heard
“Yeah, not much longer
now. I’m coughing up blood, and the lesions are leaking profusely. It’s
the last stage. So while there is still a modicum of time, I will attempt
to describe what happened, if only for posterity and my own piece of mind.
“Although many theories
were advanced as to why the pandemic affected only humans, a truly
plausible answer was never developed. Unsubstantiated rumours blamed
everything from gene splicing to corrupt cloning experiments to a new
potent variant of the AIDS virus.
“In every country, the
embroiled fiasco of assigning responsibility quickly degenerated into the
basic instincts for survival. During the initial scramble to develop
counter measures, the strain’s extreme virulence killed the investigators
faster than they could isolate it.
"Time ran out -
cough - time simply ran out.
“In the great cities,
where the hot humid stench of rotting corpses pervaded every thing, the
infection spread swiftly and easily. Martial law was declared, but it was
totally ineffective because there were no marshals and absolutely no law.
“Within months, world
governments collapsed. Civilization deteriorated from simple looting to
uncontrolled chaos. Suicide became the norm. Tropical countries fared the
worst. I heard that areas like China, Japan, India, and Bangladesh, entire
areas became huge piles of putrefaction.
“The initial multitude of
crematoriums ceased to function due to the lack of operators. Fully loaded
cadaver ships went to sea but never returned.”
A wry sarcastic laugh
is heard, then more coughing.
“Ouch! It even hurts to
“There is no one alive in
any urban centres, just thousands of well fed dogs, cats, raccoons, and
millions of extremely fat rats. There are billions of flies everywhere -
on the walls, on the streets and in great black swirling clouds overhead.
It’s Nature's clean up crew at work.
“For months now, the only
consistent sound has been the squishy munch of maggots pulsating inside
mounds of clothing of which, as much as I hate the thought of it, I will
soon make another contribution.
“I understand that with
such an abundance of bodies around, carnivores have ceased pursuing their
normal prey, whose populations in turn have grown quite noticeably. What
an ironic twist to the natural scheme of things.
“Therein lies the
philosophical rub: Was man meant to be part of the continuum; or did man’s
greedy exploitation radically alter the earth’s environment?”
A violent bout of
coughing is heard, followed by the spitting up of heavy phlegm. Several
hisses of a puffer are followed by a rasping struggle for breath.
“People escaping the
cities carried the plague to the more remote regions. In a desperate
attempt at self-preservation, isolated villages became armed fortresses,
preventing outside contact. But the flies found them inexorably
transforming these settlements into walled ghost towns.
“Some people hoarded
food, barricaded themselves in inaccessible mountain caves, and killed
anyone who approached. But the flies found them.
“There may be some
individuals scattered around the Arctic and Antarctic regions, but they
won't last long. The flies will find them. The flies find everyone.
“I wonder what surprises
are in for the crews in nuclear submarines.
breathing can be heard.
“I, I suppose once the
human race is eradicated, the earth will return to the paradise it once
was. The forests and fish stocks should regenerate fairly easily.
Desertification will be reversed. Pollution in the rivers and lakes will
disappear. The skies have already cleared dramatically. Repairing oil
spills and mining companies’ tailings ponds will take longer, but it will
happen. It will happen.”
coughing fit is heard.
“I wish I could be around
to watch this transformation, the earth reverting to its natural grandeur
where all life works in harmony” - a loud groan of agony is heard – “in
harmony without man's interference.”
“It is ironic to think
that the only thing the earth did not need was mankind.
“What if we had heeded
“What if we had not been
“What if we” - a great
painful moan strains for breath – “got” - more gasping – “got
what we” - a great intake gasp is audible – “deserved?”
There is a violent fit
of coughing followed by a long sigh.
After a period of
relative silence, the flap of large wings is heard amid the growing din of
The machine falls silent.