Why did no-one else see the threats that the portals posed to their society? Those innocuous orange circles, no bigger than an eye, which peppered the landscape, immovably floating in mid-air. The discolouration had only begun after the portals had appeared, nothing else had changed, the portals must be to blame. But why was no-one stopping them, stopping the radiation from seeping through those burning eyes into their world and mutating people back into primitive forms? There was a malevolent alien intelligence behind the portals, but she could not make anyone, not even her husband, believe her. She feared for her husband, with whom she lived in their caravan, and her unborn daughter. It was only a matter of time. She waited for him to come home. Where was he? She looked out of the window of the small white caravan, seeing the wolves and bears coming closer, carnivore incarnate, through her reflection. Animals had made a comeback with the appearance of the portals, the big predators that sapient men had spent generations eradicating reappeared in years, roaming the grasslands where their forests had stood. The blue discolouration had formed intricate patterns on her face, just like it had for the others. Soon, she realised, her breasts would shrink back into her chest, returning to the primitive form… Her husband approached the caravan. She was outside with him, and she knew now it was too late for them both. His face had been moulded into a more apelike shape, like those of their distant ancestors, and he came at her with his newly rounded teeth. Her breasts were now gone, her chest and belly flat, infertile.Now she was one of the bears and they roamed the coastal plains, the unfeeling sea glistened as they aimlessly wandered the green expanse. She could not bear such a life, knowing what they, those cruel aliens who lived just behind the portals, had done to her. Where was her daughter? What did they want with her? She noticed one of the innumerable portals, a little distance from the group, its kaleidoscopic patterns infuriated her. If only she could break through, force the aliens to revert the world to how it was before… The other bears could sense what she was about to do and raced after her, and her former husband wanted to stop her, to tell her that it was a futile act, but she wouldn’t have heard him in her indignant rage. She bounded towards the portal, her muscular body rippling with the repetitive rhythm of her paws pounding the unchanging grass. She hit the portal, and all was nothingness.
She is outside the house. She has been living off what she can grow in her garden for years, while civilisation ground to a halt, and everyone disappeared. She is on her own. They are after her, the bears and the wolves- no lions or tigers in these parts, nor ever will be. She rushes back to the house, wondering if the floor would hold them if they broke in. The bears would probably fall through, but the wolves, as agile as they are cunning, would easily make the transition. All her lights are on, a beacon to others, any other human that may still exist. But no-one comes. Suddenly, she realises the danger these lights pose: surely they will simply attract the wolves? She pulls down curtains, locks doors, draws shutters throughout the house, hoping to buy time. Now she goes to my room, and sleeps on the white flat plastic techno-bed. She jerks upright: there is a car outside, its lights on, leaving this empty suburbia where the wolves have replaced people, mutated from them and through them. She opens the window, and leans out to talk to the old woman in the passenger seat of the car, illuminated by the lights still shining in the deserted houses across the street.“Are you leaving me here? Take me with you.” She notices an old man driving, the woman’s husband? “Have you been staying here with me? Why leave now? Where is there to go?”
“Come with us. We can find people for you.”She starts to lean further out of the window, suddenly the old woman becomes puzzled, before speaking again:
“No, we aren’t really here. The technology is in league with them. You will fall out of your window to the wolves; they don’t want you around, you threaten them.”The car is gone. The houses across the road are dark and empty. She climbs back inside.
She goes back downstairs. Alison is here, she has unlocked the two doors leading to the kitchen and delivered her weekly supplies, food, soap- the necessities. She thanks her, and after a brief chat, Alison leaves again, as quietly as she entered, to help the other isolated individuals trapped in their homes, unable to leave without the risk of being killed by the wolves, or worse, turned into one of them, a hideously deformed mutant of a person.We sit on my bed. We need to call someone, to find other survivors. My phone and mum’s are crap though. As I wish we had Dad’s phone to call someone, Dad gets a call. He picks up, while I open my laptop. A young man is on the other end of the line.
“Can you help us, get us to safety?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not really interested.”
Dad argues pointlessly with the boy who is as disinterested as all helpline operators. My laptop screen flickers, and then shows us ourselves.“Someone must have hacked in!” I exclaim.
The young man appears on the screen.“I like the look of you,” he says to my mother, “I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
Instantly, two bright white lights pierce through the fog and the night sky into my room. The helicopter is here for us.We fly over the city- it stretches from horizon to horizon, an expanse of uniform grey apart from the few buildings which are yet to be completed, created in an unfamiliar style, empty panels of different geometric shapes with thick borders, all in silvery-grey, form these skyscrapers that tower twenty times higher than the other buildings. One of these buildings reaches an impossible height, almost disappearing as it is at the edge of human vision. Slowly the inhabitants of this last vestige of humanity are filling the gaps with coloured plastic. This city is unfeasibly rich: how have they managed to reverse the trend across the rest of the world, where adulterated nature has claimed Earth for itself, and actually expand their culture?
The helicopter drops us off on the platform of one of the new-style buildings, high above most of the city. Mum is ushered off to a dressing room: she is to address as assembly of the citizens here, who have gathered in rows which taper away from the building, each row further out and lower down, until the crowd meets the ground. The seating forms a brilliant curve made of metal spheres and human flesh. Overseeing all is the gerbil woman, her furry face a pale pastel yellow. The stylists cover my mother’s face with a white mask they pull down over her head. It is made of a malleable material, and they mould it to match the contours of her face. Then they put on her makeup and attach a microphone to her dress.She leaves the dressing room to go to her interview. The gerbil-woman addresses her, her voice echoing down the endless rows of faceless people, holding them all in her thrall:
“Is it true that you were recently living alone, trapped at home and surrounded by the wolves?”
“How did you get here?”
“I called you, and then one of your helicopters brought me here.”
“See citizens, we, the innumerable, are kind enough to help even a single person! No expense is too great to stop us from aiding fellow humans!”
At that moment, an overpowering stream of water shot out at her, and swept from right to left, separating my dad and I from my mother and drenching the gerbil woman. The hose, held by the sloping crowd, was now being placed in a giant paper envelope, and, as my mother watched, it seemed to resemble nothing more than a giant flower.“What is the meaning of this?” screamed the gerbil-woman.
And then my mother realised: flowers had always been their weakness. The adaptations of the mutant wolves, who ventured out at night, and her darling daughter Esmé, fallen to the wolves, whose crooked neck kept her head away from the flowers. It all made sense. That was how she had survived so long in her house, because of her garden, and its tamed vegetable nature. As the realisation hit her, the gerbil woman and the alien portals vanished.
All was as it should have been.
All was as it should have been.