By Jackie Bee
2020 (June 10, 20:57)
There’s a large green carpet on the floor of the make-up room. It’s so soft and fluffy I can imagine myself lying on grass, the yellow lamp over my head serving as the midday sun. Rational and self-respecting adults shouldn’t be lying on the floor like this, and if anybody comes in and sees me … but I know that nobody is going to come in. Not yet. It’s just that the carpet looked so inviting. Bury myself in the soft pile and fall asleep…
Lying on my side, I examine the fibers, stroking them gently. Muffled voices come from the other side of the door. The live broadcast will begin in a few minutes, but they still won’t bother me. The whole crew is in the studio right now, the host is being made up on set, and I have this room all to myself, although, I’m not using it properly. They’ll have to smoke me out of here before the show begins.
That assistant girl is about to walk in. Having brought me a glass of water a few minutes ago, she feels braver than the others.
Three. Two. One.
As the doorknob turns, I quickly sit up. Sitting on the floor is still more acceptable than lying.
“Can I bring you anything else?”
I admire the approach. Not “Why aren’t you on the set yet?” but just a polite offer of another glass of water.
“Nothing, thank you.”
I stand up and walk out. People go quiet; some of them look away, others stare. Every night they fill the corridor, but some keep pretending they just happened to walk by, minding their own business, nothing to do with me.
The assistant strides behind me, trying to keep up. She is wearing high heels and I am in sneakers, so the competition is not quite fair.
“Can I ask you a question?” she says. “A little one.”
“Not now,” I reply. “After the show.”
“Of course, sure…”
After the show the crowd will push her aside so we won’t have a chance to talk. Her question will lose any meaning anyway and will remain unanswered. It does have an answer, but I wouldn’t like to give it away. She’s a nice girl, and I hate breaking hearts, although I do it every day. It’s much easier to be cruel to huge, faceless mankind than to specific people. Especially skinny ones with big eyes like hers.
The host greets me briefly as I take my place, but there’s no time for conversation — the commercial break is over, and we are live.
“Thank you for staying with us.” He addresses the cameras, and then, half turning to me, “Hello, Selia. How are you doing today?”
“Optimistic, as usual.” His face switches to a professional expression, one that always fascinates me with its complex mix of expectation, irony, and readiness to become serious in the blink of an eye. Whatever I say, he will match it. “Well, the next five minutes are all yours. What are you going to tell us about?”
I stare at the camera, which is focused on my face. I’ll decide as I go along, but simple stuff is always good to start with. So I make myself comfortable and say:
“Let’s talk about the weather.”
2015 (October 5, 18:30)
It’s the end of the week, and everybody is trying to sneak home as early as possible. Around 5 p.m. the corridors are empty and computer screens go blank. I can hear the door slam every now and then, as the last employees escape to freedom.
I’m the last one here. I have a lot of work to do, and I prefer to finish it now rather than continue next week. But by 6 p.m. my head refuses to keep up. I barely have enough energy to go through my email, so I just give up.
I climb into my car. Driving slowly to the street, I notice the security man waving at me; at first I wave back but then realize that he’s just reminding me to turn my lights on. I blush and hastily switch the lights on. I’m so tired, it feels like my brain is numb.
Actually, it’s just a matter of minutes before my life changes forever, but I know nothing of that yet. I stop at a red light and rub my face to wake myself up. Then the light turns green, and a white Subaru to the right of me starts up with a roar.
2015 (October 5, 19:05)
The car turns over and slides down the slope upside down. I seem to be moving in and out of consciousness over and over within seconds. When the car slides to a stop, I quickly unfasten the safety belt and try to get out. The car rests on its side, rocking slightly; the driver’s door is blocked, so I stand on it and try to open the window on the other side. Then I realize that the whole windshield is smashed so I can get out easily. I’m in a state of shock and feel nothing but the urge to get outside as soon as possible.
I crawl out and find myself under the light of a street lamp. I notice some kind of stains over my hands — either dirt or blood — but feel no pain. Someone is yelling; I can see two or three cars parked at the roadside, and people are running towards me. Bending down, I manage to walk a couple of steps before one of them reaches me — a guy with a mustache. That’s all I can make out, that he’s a guy and he’s got a mustache. Quite a reasonable combination. He tries to support me by grabbing my shoulders, although I can stand well enough by myself.
“Lie down!” he shouts. “You may have injuries, don’t move!”
“We need to get away from the car,” I say, trying to avoid him. “It may explode.”
In movies they always do.
I manage to dodge him, but then, somehow, I find myself sitting on the ground surrounded by people. One of them is the owner of that white Subaru that was swerving from lane to lane all the time; at first he looks scared, but then starts screaming at me — “What kind of driver are you?” — though it was he who hit my car. The others start to yell at him — that’s good, I can’t defend myself right now.
A woman sits down next to me and says, “You’re bleeding.” I look at my hands again, but she reaches out with a tissue and wipes something off my forehead.
“That’s okay.” I mutter.
“Yes, yes,” she says. “What’s your name?”
“It’s going to be all right, Selia,” she says, suddenly looking all blurry and repeating, “Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep!”
I look away and see polar lights in the sky, and suddenly everything around seems to be covered with snow…
2015 (November 1, 19:35)
The restaurant parking lot is poorly illuminated, and the rough asphalt looks like one big pool of water. I run to the door and pause there to adjust my coat and arrange my hair to cover the scar. Despite all efforts, there’s still water in my shoes. Thanks to yesterday’s forecast for my tomorrow’s cold.
These blind dates are a kind of a puddle in their own right. You are sure to get your feet wet; the question is how much. At my age of thirty-three, when all the worthwhile men have been taken by luckier or quicker-thinking women, I have to be content with what’s left — momma’s boys, divorced misogynists, and hopelessly stubborn bachelors. I wonder what’s in store for me this time.
The place is dark and half empty but feels cozy. I look for the “young, serious, 5’9″, brown eyes, wearing white shirt” guy. And there he is – the only white shirt is waving at me, the only “beige coat, 5’5″, green eyes, dark hair, loves kids and animals, interested in serious relationship.”
The guy actually looks about thirty, and he does resemble the picture from the site. It didn’t reveal the glasses or the fact that he’s slightly balding, but that’s small fry.
An exchange of plastic smiles follows, accompanied by complaints about the weather and the mandatory compliment of “You look better than your picture.”
“The weather is just terrible, right?” he says.
“And they said there would be no rain…”
“I got here right in the midst of it; good thing I found an umbrella in the car”
“When I started driving, there was such a downpour I had to pull over and wait for a few minutes.”
“I saw two accidents on the way. People simply don’t know how to drive in the rain. Waitress!”
“Right, one guy passed me and he didn’t even have his lights on.”
“On days like this it’s better to stay home. But who knew? Waitress!”
A girl with a notepad approaches. He orders coffee, I ask for a beer.
“That’s role reversal for you!” he says and smiles. “If we were ordering food, I’d probably have taken a salad and you a steak.”
Oh, he can make a joke. Nice.
As we go on with our small talk, the gray noise grows louder – at first I think it’s coming from the people around, but then realize it’s in my head. As the noise increases, it’s getting harder to hear what Eric is saying. The scar on my forehead itches. I rub it slightly, trying not to draw Eric’s attention, but he notices.
“What’s that?” He looks closely. “Seems like a fresh scar. What happened?”
“Had a car accident three weeks ago. Another car hit mine, and I flew off the road.”
“Wow!” He looks at me anxiously. “Concussion?”
“Yeah, with some bruises and scratches, but I got off lightly, you know.”
“Than, maybe, you shouldn’t … I mean, beer and stuff?”
I wonder what he means by “stuff.”
He means sex, prompts the gray noise in my head. And he wonders if you haven’t gone crazy as a result of the concussion, if you’ll stab him with that bread knife that lies on the table next to the spoons and the forks. Eric is fond of himself and doesn’t want to deal with some crazy chick. Apart from that, he’s married, so he’s really not looking for trouble. He just wants some time off from family life. Last time he slept with his wife was a month ago, and his dream is to have sex with a stranger in a public place, but still he wrote to you, despite the “interested in serious relationship” thing, because he’s afraid of picking up younger and bolder girls, and you had kind eyes on the picture.
Gray noise goes quiet. Or maybe I force it to.
“Eric, are you married?”
He frowns slightly, then smiles.
“No,” he says, “You can see, there’s no ring. Why do you ask?”
“You look like a married guy.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“I prefer dating singles.”
“I’m single. If you don’t like me, just say so.”
“No, I do like you…”
I take another swig from the bottle, contemplating him. Yes, I do like him. When he’s not talking banalities.
The gray noise creeps in again – information, a whole ocean of it, raging around us, protected only by the weak dam of our limitations. My dam started leaking when the car flew off the road. I didn’t just hit my head, I hit it at some very unique angle. I don’t know if anyone has hit such an angle before, but my guess is that I’m the first. And now the leak was letting in all this unwanted information, which, it turns out, was filling the space around us – answers were crowding in, just waiting for the questions to be asked.
It started at the hospital when I woke up after the crash, pumped full of drugs, and the doctor had a headache. It took me a while to actually understand that it was him having the headache and not me. I just woke up and realized that there was a headache, but then, checking my sensations, found no pain. A doctor was talking to a nurse near my bed, so I asked, “Does your head hurt?”
He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Yes, but how did you know?”
I didn’t really have an answer, so I just closed my eyes and fell asleep — or maybe passed out.
What does Eric think about me?
She’s got pretty eyes. Nice boobs too. How far will she go on a first date? Maybe if she finishes her beer … should I get her another bottle? But how will she drive home in this rain after drinking that much? Why did she ask if I was married? A mark from the ring? She looks distracted. What’s with that concussion? Maybe she has problems with her head. Should I get involved with her at all?
Well, that’s nice of him to worry about me getting home. Also, he did notice my eyes.
“Have you finished your beer?” Eric points at my bottle. “Should I get you another one?”
I smile involuntarily. Selfishness seems to beat good intentions.
“No, thanks.” I stand up.
“Are you leaving?”
“Just to powder my nose.” I reply, and suddenly add, “Want to join me?”
Then we kiss in a narrow toilet cubicle, and he tries to undress me, his hands shaking, but this whole sudden fantasy-come-true situation seems to be too much of a turn-on for him. He’s done while I’m still fully dressed. Actually, I expected just that. It feels like being a scientist experimenting with monkeys – the result is predictable, all that’s left is to carry out the experiment and get the proof.
“Sorry, I got too excited,” he mutters as we return to the table. The bill is there already, so Eric leaves some money and helps me into my coat. It seems he’s eager to talk now, while I’m suddenly not in the mood.
Outside it’s raining again, and Eric holds an umbrella open for me.
“I’m sorry!” he shouts, trying to block out the noise of the rain. “Can we meet again? I just didn’t expect it! But it’s great, you know, it’s actually kind of my favorite fantasy, to do it in a public place…”
“I know,” I say, getting into the car.
“So, can I call you?”
“Sure. But I’m not a call girl, you know.”
“Of course, I’m not forcing you into anything…”
He waves, then turns around and runs to his car, jumping over puddles.
2020 (June 10, 21:01)
It’s quiet in the studio. Multiple spotlights glare and heat the set.
“Tomorrow it’s going to be cloudy in Tampico, humidity quite high but no rain,” I say to the cameras. “In the afternoon the sun will come out.”
“Tampico is in…?” the host interrupts.
“Mexico,” I say. “At seven thirty in the morning, a school bus driver will fall asleep at the wheel, hit a car, and the bus will fall off a bridge. Four children will be killed in the accident, another eight injured. The driver will die in the hospital later.”
“Tam-pi-co,” the host repeats, nodding to the cameras. “I guess a lot of kids will not be taking the school bus tomorrow in Tampico, Mexico.”
“Jonathan Smith, age eight, lives in Great Britain in a village called Sling. Today he was playing in a forest about a mile north of his home and fell down an abandoned well. Search groups should concentrate on that direction. He broke his arm; apart from that he’s okay.”
“Jonathan Smith, Sling, Great Britain,” the host repeats. “Let’s hope the boy will be found soon.”
“Irina Vorontsova, Russia, Tver. About an hour ago she began to experience discomfort, pain in both hands and shortness of breath. She intends to visit a doctor in the morning, but her symptoms signify the beginning of a heart attack. Without immediate medical intervention she will not survive the night.”
“Vorontsova, Russia, Tver.”
The studio is packed with viewers, but they keep quiet and look rather scared. Each time there are different people, and each time they turn into the same mass of pale faces, wide eyes, and arms crossed on chests.
The show used to last half an hour. It was the highest-rated show in the world, and it still is, even though it was cut to five minutes. Now it’s transmitted live to all countries by all TV channels, radio stations, and the Internet. Somewhere it’s midday; somewhere else it’s midnight, but everybody wants to know if something is going to happen to them in the next twenty four hours, if there’s going to be an earthquake, or maybe a train they bought tickets for is going to derail. Sometimes I just tell them about the weather. The papers say that power is making me cruel. But the truth is I just know it’s impossible to save everyone.
When I began to gain access to more and more information, it felt like I was going crazy. At first it took some concentration to get answers, but with time, information learned to creep into my brain without much of an invitation on my part. Sometimes I just found myself sitting and staring at the wall, trying to stop thinking, to disable all curiosity in me, to prevent new information from breaking in. It worked, but you can’t stare at the wall forever.
One morning I was standing by the window, warming my hands on a cup of coffee. It was gray outside, and the crossing near the house was full of children heading to school. Some waited patiently, others ran the red light, cheering each other on. Cars were crawling at an even slower pace than the people walking by, and every minute horns were honking impatiently.
One of the children caught my attention. He was heading to school like everyone else, but something about him seemed different. He looked like a first grader, and was being dragged by the hand by a tall man, probably his father. The atmosphere around the boy looked strange to me. The air seemed denser, like some kind of aura was surrounding him. Almost involuntarily I concentrated, trying to figure out what it was, and received the answer right away.
He was seven years old, the younger of two siblings, his mother pregnant with a third. After school he usually went home, had dinner, did homework, and then was taken to a pool for swimming lessons. After each lesson, he played with his friends in the water, jumping in from the pool deck. They were all fascinated with the high diving board, but none of them ever had the courage to jump from it. They egged each other on, and the bravest climbed up when the coach wasn’t looking, but the fear was too strong. As I watched the boy, I knew that tomorrow he was going to climb the diving board and jump. He was going to fall badly, passing out when he hit the water too hard, and his friends were would try to resuscitate him instead of calling for an adult. As a result, the boy was going to die.
I don’t even remember how I made it onto the street, still in my robe and slippers. Pushing aside kids, I ran to the place I had just been watching from the window. But I couldn’t see the boy anymore. Blue, gray, and red jackets flashed before my eyes, confusing me, making me feel lost. I ran in one direction, then the other, then I just stopped and concentrated on the question – where was he?
And then, suddenly, I was showered with a multitude of answers, instead of the one I was looking for. It seemed like concentration had opened the door to incoherent, patchy information. A girl of about twelve went by, and I found out that she hadn’t done her homework, and that her mother was a nurse, and when her mom worked night shifts something very bad was happening in their house. A teacher of forty went by, and I learned that her husband wanted a divorce, and she was planning to have a facelift. A boy of fifteen went by, and I discovered that he had a knife in his backpack, and if that guy from the other class said something to him again, he was going to use it.
People went by, bumping me with their shoulders, pushing me with their problems, with their information. It felt like being hit in the face, slap after slap. To distract myself, I looked at a building on the other side of the road, only to find out that it would be demolished two years later and a mall built in its place. I looked under my feet and learned that a million years ago this place was covered by sea, and in another million years it will be under the sea once again.
Then I realized it’s impossible to save everyone. And I closed my eyes.
2016 (March 1, 19:40)
Eric reaches over me, retrieves his watch from the bedside table, and fastens it on his wrist. He leans back on his pillow and stares at the ceiling, then turns to me again.
“I still don’t believe it,” he says. “That interview of yours in the news. That’s some kind of charlatanism. There’s no way you can know such things.”
“Wait a week and see for yourself…”
“But what if there is no flood? How will you explain it? If you want to be a charlatan, make fuzzy predictions: ‘On the day that the northern moon meets the southern wind, a natural disaster will hit our city…’ Then wait for an appropriate disaster and tell everyone, “That’s it! That’s what I was talking about!”
“Impressive. Ever considered doing it for a living?”
“We would actually make a good team,” he muses. “I could make up predictions for you. We could convince that journalist to take another interview. It could become quite a business…”
He darts a glance at his watch again.
“Time for you to go home?” I ask.
“No, why would I hurry?”
“To feed the goldfish?”
“It’s fasting today.” He lies back with his hands behind his head. “I’ve got plenty of time.”
“Then stay the night,” I suggest.
“But I’ve got to go to work tomorrow,” he says, “and I have nothing here, no clean shirts, no underwear. And you know I have trouble sleeping in a new place.”
“Last Thursday you fell asleep just fine.”
“That’s because you tired me out,” he says playfully, reaching out to kiss me. “If not for the alarm clock, I would have slept the whole night.”
“Why would a person set his alarm clock to 8 p.m. if nobody is waiting for him at home, except for a hungry goldfish?”
“Are you hinting at something?”
“I’m not hinting, Eric, I’m saying it openly. Go home to you wife, she’s waiting for you. So is your son.”
A pause hangs in the air as he looks at me appraisingly.
“All right now,” he says, sitting up. “Seriously, did you spy on me or something?”
“No, I just know. I told you that I can find out anything I want to know. And many things I don’t want to know as well.”
“And I told you I don’t believe in this crap.”
He gets out of bed and starts to get dressed, avoiding looking at me. I pull my blanket up, keeping an eye on him. His exasperation together with his abrupt movements look funny; he struggles for a while to get his foot into his pants.
“Eric, calm down.”
“No, what does it say about you then?” he exclaims, gesticulating with one hand and trying to pull his pants on with the other. “Back on our first date, you said you weren’t interested in married guys. And now it turns out that you know, one way or another, but you do. Still, it doesn’t bother you, does it? Don’t you feel guilty about my wife? She is nice, by the way, it’s just that we don’t get on as well as we used to.”
I don’t feel bad about his wife because I know that she cheated on him too. Sometimes, when they “don’t get on as well as they used to,” she slips away for a couple of hours to cry on her ex-boyfriend’s shoulder. Sometimes their conversations move into the bedroom, which might give Eric a sort of moral right to pay her back in kind, he just doesn’t know that himself. And now he’s wounded and upset about not being able to go on playing the role of the fancy-free bachelor any more — ashamed, too. Thinking that I didn’t know about his wife and she didn’t know about me somehow made him feel like he was not really cheating.
“You won’t come again?”
“Why do you have to ask if you know everything?” he jeers and sits in an chair to tie his laces. “Tell me, oh wise one, will I come again?”
I turn on my side and stretch.
“Yes, you will show up a few more times. But then it will get difficult for us to meet secretly, since I will be more famous. After the flood I will give more interviews, then I’ll receive a few minutes on the local news on a daily basis. At first people will laugh, but after realizing that I never make mistakes, they will start taking me seriously. All this will snowball…”
“Wow, you have big plans.”
Maybe I should make him believe, after all.
“Eric, do you want me to tell you about your biggest fear?”
He leans back on the chair, hands on knees.
“You are scared of frogs. When you were three years old, you sat on a riverbank and threw stones into the water, which startled a frog. It jumped out of the grass onto your leg. It looked like some kind of monster to you, and you cried. It took some time for your parents to calm you down, they couldn’t even figure out what had frightened you so much. You have been afraid of frogs since then. You even avoid going near rivers without realizing why.”
As I speak, his expression changes. His sneer dissipates; now he looks puzzled, disbelieving, and a little scared.
“That’s one of my earliest memories,” he says at last. “What color were the shorts I was wearing that day?”
He goes quiet. Sits, without moving and doesn’t say a word.
“And you can answer any question?”
“I think so.”
“Does God exist?”
“Eric, I’m not going to answer that.”
2020 (June 10, 21:03)
And back to the weather.
“The hurricane raging now in Haiti and surrounding areas will peak at eight in the morning. About two thousand houses will be destroyed and all means of communication will be damaged in many areas. Among those who choose not to be evacuated, twelve will die.”
To tell the truth, it’s already too late for them to change their minds. Besides, many of them have already been cut off from the world and can’t even hear what I’m saying.
In the past, when the program lasted half an hour, it consisted mostly of questions and answers. At first it was hard for me to choose predictions by myself — after all, there were natural and man-made disasters, crimes and accidents happening in every country in the world all of the time. How could I choose what to tell people about, what to try to prevent? Even if I decided to make predictions twenty-four hours a day, I still wouldn’t be able to cover even the smallest bit of what was happening on the planet. Knowing that, I was lost, trying to pick the most important events.
My instinctive choice was to cover incidents that affected many people at once, but even then the decisions remained subjective. I was constantly accused of being biased, of mentioning some areas more often than others, of neglecting third-world countries, of having racist preferences. When I prevented acts of terrorism, the press began to argue whether it was ethical for me to interfere with the struggle for independence in countries I had nothing to do with, and then when terrorists did strike, accusations of cruelty and indifference poured in.
It was impossible to please everyone. I understood that quickly enough, and cynicism began to replace my initial enthusiasm. I announced that I would only devote a few minutes of the program to predictions of my choosing, and the rest of the time I would answer questions from the audience.
It turned out that so many people had questions that the network crashed immediately, and questions had to be delivered in the old fashioned way, in paper envelopes.
Out of millions of letters, a few hundred were randomly chosen each night and brought into the studio in a black bag, from which I pulled out ten to fifteen letters to go through during the show. Each letter had to contain one question, no more than three lines long, written in English. If I opened a letter and saw more than three lines, it went straight to the trash for deviating from the format.
People were presented with a unique opportunity to receive answers to any kind of question, but the majority of letters concentrated on obtaining information relevant only to the writers themselves. People wanted to find relatives they had lost touch with years ago, to find out why their father had left home, or who stole the mail from their mailbox every day. Teenagers asked which profession would suit them best, how their parents would react if they came out, whether they should have an abortion or keep the baby. Sometimes I even received housekeeping questions, which could be answered by a simple Internet search without my involvement. A few months after I started answering the questions, renowned psychologists and sociologists began to publish books, trying to analyze why people, given the opportunity to learn the secrets of the universe, preferred to ask about trifles. What did it say about our civilization? Are we that superficial?
Sometimes I did come across interesting letters. People wanted to know what triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs, who erected the huge sculptures on Easter Island, whether aliens really existed and visited our planet. I answered some of such questions, refusing to answer others, knowing that the truth could lead to serious collective shock, and each refusal inspired a new wave of speculation regarding the limits of my knowledge.
The only question I couldn’t answer was the one that Eric had asked. Did God exist?
I had asked this question and received an answer but couldn’t understand it. It was like trying to read an encyclopedia in an unfamiliar language. The information was there, but I couldn’t put it into words or even into recognizable images in my mind. I thought the answer was probably “yes,” but this yes was extremely far away from anything that traditional religions taught.
I tried to explain it after receiving this question for the first time. But some regarded my answer as a negative and the ensuing skepticism resulted in numerous riots in different countries. This, in turn, almost caused a world-wide economic crisis. I was requested by several international organizations to issue a refutation and to be more careful with statements on such a scale. I had to go back to this question again and emphasize that I couldn’t answer it unambiguously. That was enough to calm the storm, and since then I have considered my statements more carefully.
I answered questions for about half a year when a letter from a Mexican woman arrived. Her name was Johanna, and her question took up only one line. She wanted to know when the end of the world would take place.
Sure enough, she wasn’t asking about the end of the universe; it was the end of the world as we knew it that was important to her. I actually found her question fascinating, and I was surprised that I had never thought about it myself. I concentrated and received the answer.
The date shocked me, even though, by that time, I had acquired such a thick skin that few things could affect me. I expected a cosmic scale but received a specific date awaiting us in just a few years. I looked at the camera, contemplating whether I should answer or not. It was clear that if people learned their time on earth was limited, all mankind would descend into anarchy. But, on the other hand, why did that matter if they were doomed anyway? Should I tell the truth and allow them to spend their remaining time as they chose, or leave them a few more years of comfortable routine, sparing them the knowledge of the danger hanging over us?
I refused to answer, adding only that we had enough time. The next day, the newspapers made a whole sensation out of it. Turns out that I had touched my nose while answering, and in body language this signifies that a person is lying. One newspaper even ran a “Did she scratch her nose?” headline on its front page.
It all seemed so absurd. I was tired of the questions, the headlines, the knowledge. The following evening I announced that the program was going to be cut from half an hour to five minutes, and I wasn’t going to answer any more questions.
Since then the program has existed in its five-minute format, and I have stopped reading newspapers and listening to whatever they say about me on the news.
But now, with less than twenty hours left, didn’t they have a right to know?
“And, finally, the main item for today.”
I have my doubts until the very last moment. It is, perhaps, the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.
2020 (June 11, 17:10)
By morning none of the personnel remain in the hotel. It seems the tradition by which the ship’s orchestra keeps playing even as the ship goes down is relevant to ships only. People ran away, and who could blame them?
Judging by what I see from the window, there is still some disorder on the streets, but in comparison to the mayhem that went on throughout the night it’s getting better. During most of the night, crowds stampeded the shops, trying to stock up with goods, drugs, and weapons, while others stormed the airports, hoping to depart for somewhere — though there was no place to go.
At some point planes stopped taking off. Phones didn’t work. Television and radio broadcasted government announcements urging citizens to take shelter and not surrender to panic, but very few bothered to stop their stealing in order to listen.
By now, the waves of those wishing to run away have died down, and through the side window of my room, I can see empty streets packed with deserted cars. People ride bicycles or go on foot now. Only those who have succumbed to their fate remain in the city.
Two guys pull a huge television screen out of a shop and load it into a shopping cart. A young woman appears out of the trashed window of an expensive boutique, balancing on high heels and holding a few paper bags full of clothing. In the cafeteria at the corner of the street, all the windows are smashed and most of the tables and chairs turned upside down. At the only table standing, a young couple is sitting. They talk, laugh, and with one spoon feed each other a pie that by some miracle has survived the night.
The question “What would you do if you had one day left?” is suddenly relevant on a universal scale.
Many chose to stay at home, play with their children, look at photo albums and tell each other things that should have been said long ago. Movie theaters show old movies in succession and are half-filled with audiences. Out of the big panoramic window of my room I can see the ocean and people on the beach, lying on the sand, playing, talking, and it looks like just another ordinary day.
Perhaps telling them my last prediction was the right thing to do.
However, many disagreed. During the night, a crowd stormed the Meridian Hotel where I was thought to be staying. They didn’t find me. After each broadcast, my look-alike went to the Meridian while I was secretly taken to another hotel — less swanky, but good for privacy and with an excellent view of the ocean.
Eric is with his family now, on another continent. I miss him, actually. I know that he tried to call, but the phones don’t work.
He wanted to ask one question: “Selia, it’s not true, is it?”
And what if I had got it wrong?
Impossible. I never make mistakes.
“Selia, excuse me … but it’s not true, right? It simply can’t be.”
I turn with a half-forgotten feeling of surprise —after all, I usually know in advance everything that is going to happen.
It’s just an elderly businessman who is staying in the room next to mine. I’ve been hearing his continuous muttering on the other side of the wall since morning — talking to himself, praying. Now he decided to pay me a visit. I haven’t locked the door. Why bother?
“You know the truth.” I turn back to the window, as my feet register the first slight shake of the floor.
“But how can it happen so suddenly? There are detection devices. Surely scientists had to have known; there must have been some time to act, to prepare…”
Some knew, that’s for sure. Cataclysms of such scale don’t occur without a warning. Some guessed, some knew for certain. There were folders with “Confidential” stamped on them, in which the forthcoming disaster was predicted quite accurately, but those responsible for making decisions chose to keep it a secret. Why spread panic if nothing can be changed?
But they couldn’t predict the consequence the way I could. Bunkers with necessary supplies were prepared, evacuation plans were shared with the chosen ones, those who were meant to survive the worst and rebuild civilization from ashes. In fact, I was supposed to be among them, having received a secret government offer.
I refused. By that time, I just didn’t care about anything anymore.
One more shake, almost imperceptible.
My guest doesn’t even seem to notice them. That’s not surprising, since the first earthquakes are supposed to begin far out in the ocean. Then tsunamis will hit the coasts of several continents, one after another, with more and more destructive force. Simultaneously, a series of earthquakes along the coastline of North America will trigger an eruption of the huge Yellowstone volcano. Apart from destroying everything on a large section of the continent, the eruption will be accompanied by the enormous quantities of volcanic ash. The cloud will spread and block the sun worldwide. Within several years, this will lead to the extinction of many species on the planet.
The end of mankind will not be immediate. Thanks to our knowledge, people will hold on for a few more decades, but they will never succeed in rebuilding a global civilization. For the various disconnected groups of people, it will be increasingly difficult to cope with living conditions so different from the hospitable climate and clear atmosphere that will cease to exist in just a few hours.
“Why didn’t they know, then?” my neighbor goes on. “After all, scientists… research…”
A strong jolt shakes the building so unexpectedly that both of us are suddenly on the floor. Through the window, I hear the shouts and cries of the people on the beach. My neighbor starts muttering to himself again, not even trying to get up. I make it to my feet, balance on the vibrating floor, and get to the window. People are running away from the water. Primal instincts are stronger than the understanding that there’s no place to run. Fear drives them to seek shelter.
I watch, captivated, as a huge wave rises slowly on the horizon.
Very soon, I will know nothing again.
Jackie Bee lives in Israel, works as a computer programmer and loves to spend free time writing fiction. You can find her on Facebook.