‘We hope you continue to enjoy the mandated family phase in this truly heartbreaking time. Sadly, that’s all from us in the Newsroom. God bless.’ A depressing send off, I thought, for such an occasion. People needed some hope, not the concoction of depressing that this guy had served up.
Without warning, the screen fizzed out. I swivelled on the kitchen stool and caught my father with the remote in hand.
‘What are you doing? I was watching that!’
‘We were told to enjoy our time together, so that’s what we are going to do.’ Dad stated matter-of-factly as he placed the remote back on the island bench, ‘Let’s join the others in the lounge room, kiddo.’ By this time mum, dad and my baby sister were most likely perched up on the couch playing a variety of board games.
I looked at the remote and considered a rebellion. A revolt against dad and the anchor-man. I could grab it now and resume watching television. Start an uprising; greater even than the French Revolution I learned about in school before they had all closed down for good.
Appealing, I thought.
But no, dad’s right.
It wasn’t worth it, even if all consequences were mute in a little over three hours. I slid off the stool and meandered into the loungeroom. As I suspected my family were nestled on the couch, buried in their hundredth round of Uno. It was all too normal. Too regular. This wasn’t what I had expected, the way that movies had imagined the apocalypse had been very different. A civilisation in chaos. A world overrun by anarchy. Streets overcome with angry protesters, prone to violence as a result of a laxing law. But this? This was something else entirely. And this was miserable.
The unmistakable buzz of the compulsory countdown clock shook the walls. It whirred from the entertainment unit where the governing body had authorised it be installed a month back. It festered in the space like a disease. Tearing at this façade; the nonchalance that my father had insisted upon. It brought us back to the reality that we were all going to perish in a matter of hours. Three, according to the countdown clock. We had become fearful.
But this apprehension was only temporary because my dad always knew how to make us feel better. He displayed his skill again today to comfort us. It wasn’t long before dad had my mother in stitches and my sister smiling from ear to ear. We continued to play games for a while. A round of Balderdash. A game of Scrabble. And a few rounds of an Italian card game my mother had been taught when she was younger.
Another buzz was sent to alert every household to the time left, reverberating endlessly around our sanctuary walls. No matter how much I willed it to, that damn countdown clock refused to give in. Not only that, it seemed to have grown louder. Deafening, even. Looking around I hadn’t noticed anyone else watching the clock as intensely as me. It taunted me. Laughed at me. It consumed my every thought until…
Another sound. Something different.
A flutter at first and then a thud.
Something had hit the window, and hard. I ran up, my father in tow. He hushed my mother and sister in his characteristically ‘keeping the peace’ sort of way and placed his calloused hand on my shoulder; the all-familiar grip of reassurance. We peered outside, searching for the interruption. The streets were empty. Everyone tucked away, biding their time as we were. I imagined some families attempting to watch a movie while others indulged in their last supper. Some even drinking themselves to oblivion. Beating the apocalypse to the punch; a middle finger to whatever higher power allowed things to come this far.
There it was. The bird. Stunned, it squirmed in pain on the grass below. Hurt, vulnerable and no longer in control of its own destiny; just like the billions of people cooped up in their homes right now. I pushed past my dad and scampered out onto the front yard. I crossed to be at the bird’s side. I knelt down in the lush grass and cupped my hands together. They formed a makeshift shovel and allowed me to scoop him up gently. I held him loosely up against my chest, stroking his beautiful flock of brown feathers.
And I started to cry.
Subtly at first, fiercely as time went on.
I stumbled back into the house and wept at the feet of my family. My parents looked up at me from the couch, and I could see the sympathy grow quickly in their expression. My emotions had completely overwhelmed me and I could feel my frustrations grow wildly in the corner of my eyes and cascade down my face in cold streaks. But my dad always knew how to make us feel better.
‘Let’s make sure he’s alright, hey kiddo?’
My father fetched a shoe box; my mother, a tea towel; and my sister, a sharp pencil. Together we created a nest for the bird to rest. I placed him gently into the box, his frail body softening into cardboard. He remained there for a while, regaining his strength.
The time had come. We ventured out into the street. Joining many others who were waiting for the apocalypse to show its ugly face, our family all stood together and lifted the lid of the box. The bird swooped out and into the sky.
And that is how we spent them. Our final moments alive. Nursing a clipped bird back to health. As shadows crept in and our vision grew murky, we all watched and waited. Fixated on the bird as it disappeared into the distance. Into the last sliver of blue above. Unaware that it would inescapably meet the same fate as the rest of us.
Comment below what you thought about the story. It was written for a short story competition with a restriction of 1,000 words and no theme.
Let me know what you think!