At the end of the world

Of love and other animals. Short fiction inspired by Imagà Imaginings Image Prompt #16

Imagà Imaginings ‘Rainy Windshield Painting — Echoes’ on canvas by Francis McCrory Art

It has not stopped raining for days.

A heavy, insistent rain bleeding from bloated clouds drowns the world in a cold embrace. The rain is so heavy that the wipers struggle to sluice the rain off the windscreen, their mechanical monotony a lament for the world we once had.

The dull silvery shine of the road rolls out in front of us, deceptively smooth. But we know better. There are potholes lurking underwater, waiting to take a chunk out of unwary tyres. Even here, on the perimeter of the Zone, the roads are dreadful. Our cargo is precious. The most precious thing there is, more important than our lives. This is what the Project demands of us.

Perry sits beside me in the artificially dry warmth of the cabin. He stretches back lazily, giving me one of his easy Sunday-morning grins. A lazy weekend from the time before. Breakfast in bed with the Sunday papers, the milky light of morning filtering through the gauzy curtains. It’s a nonchalance that hides a deep tension, a desperate hope that everything will turn out all right in the end.

It amazes me how Perry still looks tanned, even now when we haven’t seen any proper sun for months. Golden and rugged, like a creature from another time. I feel a quickening, a wish to take him and hold on for dear life even as the world decays around us.

The perimeter gates are within view. We’ve made it. Our long, tedious journey of thirty miles is almost over. Perry smiles at me and starts singing softly.

- We all live on a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine.

An old song that my mother used to sing. A running joke from the time we first met. A public competition to name a polar research vessel was won by a comedy entry, Boaty McBoatface. We’d had these endless play arguments about the suitability of silly names for serious ships. In the end I think they called the research vessel became the Sir David Attenborough, but a little yellow robot sub became Boaty McBoatface.

There’s something cheerful and reassuring about yellow submarines.

I join in, giving myself to the moment.

- We all live on — shit!

The lorry lurches sharply over to the left, bruised metal giving off a crumpled sigh. Behind us our cargo emits a bit of panicked rustling and squeaking. Tiny cries of alarm, not pain. Perry turns around to check that nothing untoward has happened, he cages remain upright, turns round to me and nods to say we’re good to go. I slowly reverse and then inch forward, hoping the vehicle can take it. It groans a bit as we crawl towards the perimeter gatehouse.

Perry fishes around for our manifest as a man rushes out of the gatehouse, carrying a light like some ancient mariner. The man takes our manifest, studies the document and frowns.

- You’re taking rats to a ship?

- That’s right. Perry replies. Not only rats, but several species of native wild mice. And we’ve also got rabbits, hares, squirrels and hedgehogs. Small mammals, all breeding pairs.

- Blimey, things must be bad if you have to take rats to a ship. Normally they make their own bloody way aboard. Guess you’ll be wanting the Project, then. Straight ahead, take the second right. You can’t miss it.

Our wounded lorry protesting as we feel our way towards the Project vessel, its vast repurposed bulk now visible ahead of us. There are even a few other vehicles about, their headlights probing the underwater light. Electricity and streetlights. Welcome to the Zone. If you squint, you could forgive yourself that this wasn’t a wet Monday afternoon at the end of the world.

Perhaps the climate will improve once the ice sheets stabilise. Maybe things will just get worse. Nobody really knows. The world is rotting, dissolving under the weight of all this water. Slowly perceptibly decaying into a grey-green sludge. The opposite of primordial soup.

In the end all we can do is trust in the Project. Our jerry-rigged, provisional, held-together-with-duct-tape future.

We are waved into a loading bay where stevedores offload our cages with an urgency I haven’t seen in years, keen not to expose any of our precious animals to the cold and the rain. Whilst they ensure that we’ve arrived with the same number of rats and mice as we started with, Perry and I lift our sea-chests from the back of the vehicle.

This is it. Perry puts my hand in mine, squeezing it tightly.

We look up at the Project vessel, the Ark. Only breeding pairs are allowed on board.

Our future home for whatever time we have left.