In the first few days of the event, rumours airborne and virulent spread and mutated amongst the rubbish strewn cities. Shaken from agnostic comfort, placard-toting multitudes clashed ejecting broken bodies on which bird and rodent sat now feasting and unafraid. The looting and pillaging variety of self-styled pragmatist canvassed department stores and supermarkets, liberating their treasures like a cyclone might liberate people from their homes. Amid wailing and gnashing of teeth, one man, in regards to the last packet of fun-size Mars Bars ever to be made on planet earth, engaged a surprisingly wily and strong Croatian grandmother-of-eight in a battle that he won, eventually, by stabbing her in the face with a packet of Tobelerone.
The most pervasive and popular rumour, was that capital-G God had caused the event to happen. Despite the roving doomsday cults, blood remained absent from the moon and the clattering hooves of the equine quartet failed also to materialise. Another rumour, almost as popular, was that a sinister and All-Seeing arm of the military-industrial-complex engineered the chaos from which they would emerge as the saviours of humanity – promising Order in return for the total control of every man woman and child. In facts that could not have been known to those arming themselves against these would-be future tyrants, many of the prime candidates were themselves trampled or wearing cultish bed-sheets, hoarding ill-gotten baked beans and wringing their hands as the last of their candles flickered into darkness.
Gerald didn’t pretend to know why it happened. The event. It had, and here he was. Within a week, cabin-fever and hunger gave Gerald the will to venture from his now sustenance-free apartment, littered with empty packets and containers, a domestic mirror to the prevailing aesthetic. He now slunk, black-clad, through his neighbourhood as a summer sun disappeared behind the collected artifice of what resembled, but no longer contained civilisation. Alerted to the presence of an argument and dropping sharpish into the cover of a wrought iron fence, Gerald chanced a look round the corner, thick-rimmed glasses and balding, squarish head obscured by an agapanthus. Two knife-wielding pragmatic types were getting ready to engage as leopard seals might, chins raised, free fin, or hand, splayed in confrontational bravado. From all fours, Gerald looked on and after a short but fearsome battle, the two men, resembling a certain type of quantifiably violent nature, brought about each other’s death with simultaneous knives in the chest and fell leaking onto the pavement. Scanning the immediate scene for, possibly, people, Gerald clambered up and tiptoed to the pair. One lay glazed and immobile, the other sat and bubbled indignantly.
Parked next to the bloodied pavement was a large, diplomatic-looking 4WD filled with what was immediately obvious as very high-end camping gear, tools and what might well have been, and were, neatly packed boxes of food. Gerald circled the vehicle with a growing sense of interest. This prompted some energetic bubbling from the man who, through a furious gargle, betrayed himself as the owner. Gerald cocked his head birdlike and looked down at the man with what he hoped was an expression of mild concern. This only seemed to make the bubbling worse and having weighed his options, Gerald decided to take the practical course of action, standing at a safe distance till the bubbling was no more. Luckily, his low-heeled boots prevented large amounts of seepage as Gerald rifled the pockets of the former bubbler, then keys in hand, backed away from the recently deceased and slipped, planting one hand in the red and the other on the dry pavement. He felt the gore go quickly through his trousers and the bottom of his shirt and he scrambled up as if covered in spiders, hopping slightly to shake the invisible arachnids. Holding out his one red forearm as if it were no longer his own, he wiped it on the median strip then did that left-right-over-the-shoulder self-inspection thing that everyone in the world has had occasion to do for one reason or another.
Gerald looked around once more and decided that all was clear, so rather than wear his half-soaked jeans he took them off and stood semi-naked in his bloodied underwear. He gave his arm another thorough back and front on the grass, then pushed the button on the keys for the 4WD which blinked in acknowledgement of its new owner. Gerald climbed into the driver’s seat and threw his jeans into a damp, crumpled heap on the passenger side. The next step was obvious. Get out. But to where? Somewhere with running water. Somewhere with shelter from the elements. Somwhere without starving, kaftan wearing nut-jobs and newly minted psychotics. This had all happened so fast, he wasn’t exactly sure what to do. And he’d never been camping before. Ever. Gerald was a child of the city, born and raised. He was 34. A social-media professional. He had 4,753 Twitter followers and 1496 Facebook friends. Each status he posted got an average of 31 likes. He had 3482 followers on Instagram. His blog, ‘Coconut Vegas’, where he reviewed and analysed various sub-and cultural phenomena, had a regular readership of nearly 9,500 world-wide. ‘Had’ being the operative word. Past-tense. Gerald’d carved out a modest but glamourous living as a minor-celebrity-blogger. Now it was gone.
Gerald’s life had been the screen and as a consequence, he was in that way familiar to certain demographics, totally and hopelessly addicted to the internet. There wasn’t a corner of the www that it wasn’t Gerald’s business to know. Everything from 11111111111111111111111111111111111111.com to Zor.de, to Christie Sims and her dinosaur themed erotica. He lived and breathed it. Every ‘liked’ status and re-Tweet. Every re-share. Every fan, every troll crushed, every witty remark on somebody’s photograph, every time he was published in the paper, every single hit-single on his blog. Gerald absorbed it all, it made him powerful, alive, bigger. He inhaled bits and hypertext and spat them out as content, opinion and analysis to be gobbled up by his hungry disciples. At times he felt as if he were himself part of the machinery, that his veins were the Ethernet cables and his flesh silicon, his brain a network of micro-processors transmitted omnipotent into the glowing interfaces of laptops and smartphones all over the world. He had readers in New York, London, Berlin, even Beijing.
It hadn’t been easy since it all went down. It wasn’t just hunger that had drawn him out of his cave. This very afternoon, the emergency AM broadcast loop that received on what amounted to his methadone – a vintage crystal-radio – went dead and the silence descended, penetrating him like the sickness, the bird, the invisible ants under the skin. He needed the internet, badly, but for now, immediate necessity dictated terms. He knew he was a junkie but he didn’t care. His enablers needed him. They needed him to be that person, so they, in dull moments over a beer could impress their friends with his wit and laugh together in worldly self-congratulation. In a sense, Gerald believed he’d conquered the modern world. He knew others thought purely in terms of captions and status updates, but he got paid for it.
Now he was sticky and sitting in a psychopath’s 4WD under dead streetlamps. Gerald turned on the cabin light – something which unnerved him as it prevented seeing out – and rummaged through the glove box. A map, good. Turn the keys in case you need to leave in a hurry. Quickly. A full-tank, excellent. Ignition. Lights on low-beam. The jerry cans on the roof were probably spare fuel too. He knew how to get out of the city easily enough so he looked over the map and picked a national park with a river. It would have to do. What would happen when he got there? He didn’t know but he was sure that staying in the city was worse. He estimated a two hour drive. Gerald stopped by his flat to throw clothes in a bag, towel, cutlery, his kitchen knife, odds and ends, he hurried. He daren’t leave the car alone for more than a moment. He farewelled the streets of his life for the last time, exiting through the ghostly outer-suburb of his childhood and out onto the uncertain freeway of his future. Two hours later, Gerald rumbled slowly down a well-kept dirt road into Stony Creek Gorges national park. He stopped in the empty campground near the river. Too late to do anything, he tilted his seat back and drifted off, exhausted.
The morning interrupted a dream where Gerald was on a panel show talking about a website where you can upload a photo of your face and graft it onto a celebrity of your choice. It was called ‘Look! I’m dating Brad Pitt!’ The sun was already hot and flies harried the tinted windows. Getting out of the 4WD revealed a rocky escarpment framed by tall, dry-smelling eucalypts. Twenty meters away, a river wandered by, it looked clear and cold but fresh. Dragonflies pottered in their dignified way. Gerald unpacked the car and found everything he’d hoped. Briquettes, grill-top, tent, mat, sleeping bag, tools, boxes and boxes of long-life food – enough to last months if used wisely, tarpaulins, ropes, mattock, spade, a watering can, twine, first-aid kit, a large box of lighters, pots, pans, an axe, tongs, kettle, stoker, a wind-up torch, a crossbow. He hadn’t needed to bring anything after all, except clothes and possibly his kitchen knife. Surely that would come in handy. There was one more bag buried amongst the haul, it was heavy and he lugged it onto the open and now empty boot, the rest of the bonanza spread haphazard about the place. Gerald unzipped it and felt, maybe for the first time in his life some sense of providence, of being looked after, of destiny, even. It contained several books with post-it notes marking what had been deemed important pages. Edible Flora of the Australian Bush, The Bushman’s Handbook, Survival Camping – by former S.A.S officer Mark Bolton, Seasonal Planting, Harvesting and Preserving, The Gardener’s Bible, Going Native, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. He smiled. Scattered in the bottom of the bag were maybe 100 packets of assorted seeds, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant, lettuces, potato, carrots, celery, kale, silver-beet, radish, pumpkin, cucumber, rice, wheat, beans, oranges, peaches and plums. There were others too, but you get the idea.
One month later, Gerald was thin, bearded and dirty but alive. His clothes, mostly black or white had lost or gained shades as appropriate. The barbeque pit was well used, though mostly for canned goods. The tarpaulins were strung artfully for maximum protection and utility. Having paid close attention to the wisdom of the books, Gerald had built what looked to be a fairly functional place of residence – no, he’d done a pretty damn good job if he did say so himself. If only his followers could see him now. #survivalist #goingbush # truevintage #beargryllsaintgotnothingonme. There were seedlings in germination and the beginnings of a vegetable garden. Sepia filter? #truesettler. He’d been extra careful with his food intake. So far he’d shot one Koala with the crossbow but the meat was so vile he’d charred it past the point of recognition. Nor was skinning things entirely pleasant, but it’s amazing what you can learn to do. Amazingly, improbably, everything seemed to be under control.
Gerald’s surprising aptitude for doing it tough had left him with a bit too much free time. His daily routine managed to keep him fed, but it only took a few hours and as Gerald saw nearly everything framed in the feedback look of his former life, he missed it more and more. His body ached for contact, digital contact, to be back immersed in the ocean. His inbox, full of hate mail, fan mail, jobs, links, his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Gerald spoke aloud, to remind himself he was still here. If you had assumed that the trials of post-apocalyptic survival would serve as a kind of purgative, a panacea, an apomorphine for his former life, you have through what may be the fault of the author, underestimated just how truly connected Gerald was. After two months in the wild, Gerald held symposia on network theory and whether or not a techno-deterministic interpretation of the Arab-Spring was merely the rehashing of a post-colonial narrative. The conversation went for several days and the log, and the pile of river rocks with which he’d chosen to debate, eventually came to see his side of the story. He built a cargo-cultish camera out of bark, tied together with string, its lens the decaying eye of the koala. He imagined himself as a panoptic security apparatus in charge of maintaining order for the rustic superstate of Stony Creek National Park. Subversive bushes and troublesome left-wing stringybarks were felled and burned in the interests of National Security. The garden, thanks to the literature, was coming along well and Gerald painstakingly arranged lunches and cornucopia to be photographed, #bushcooking #gourmetswagman #jollyjumbuck #outback #radvegan #organic #losingmyfuckingmind #dreamtime #anybodyoutthere
One morning, standing in the shallow banks of Stony Creek, shirtless wiry and bedraggled, Gerald noticed a most curious phenomenon. As he held his arm up in front of the water, it was as if, no, he could see through himself. He was fading away. Literally. Almost at once, Gerald’s burgeoning insanity grasped what a healthy mind would have understood only and incorrectly as hallucination, as the beginnings of madness, not as the actual, physical reality that this, apparently, was. Needing confirmation, Gerald held an emergency panel with Rocksencrantz and Logenstern. After spirited debate on the relationship between trees, forests, observers, quantum physics and the digital-self in relation to the wider community, they agreed, unanimously, that despite an ample supply of food and water, Gerald was in actual fact, disappearing.