Monday, January 23, 2006

The Beginning of the End

I guess the world is ending. No point in denying it; this afternoon I saw three corpses in the street, one of which was beginning to rot. I figure that I'll chronicle the whole thing, a blogs-eye-view of the apocalypse. I know I'm late to start but I'll give you a quick briefing.

Eleven months ago, in Melbourne, Australia, more than fifty people fell ill and an airport terminal was shut-down at the hands of what the media described as a "mystery illness." Though the incident gained substantial media coverage, there was no serious concern and the illness was eventually attributed to a chemical leak, even though definitive answers were, at the time, not found. It makes me laugh, but looking back over old news reports, it seems that the only thing which upset anyone about the whole thing was the fact that they missed work.

It was the first in a chain of such "mystery illnesses." The next wasn't for three months; it occured in Italy, this time at a zoo, where thirty people experienced symptoms, such as nausea and dizziness, and an elderly woman died. Then there were similar reports from Canada and Venezuela. Initially links were not made, but when the illness again struck in Australia, the situation was slowly becoming clear. These were not isolated incidents, nor the result of a chemical leak.

Still, serious medical concern was not given. Though it was recognized as a widespread issue, the death toll stood at only one at the time, and the symptoms were mild. The most baffling thing about the outbreaks was the fact that there was apparently no correllation between affected areas.

Exactly five months after the outbreak in Melbourne, however, on the 20th of May, 2005, those initially affected in the airport incident began to die. Their deaths came swiftly; a good proportion simply failed to wake up over the course of the week, others just dropped dead in the shower or at the dinner table. One unfortnate woman died at the wheel of her station wagon as she drove her three children to school; sadly, the young ones suffered a much less desirable death. Before the end of the week, 75 people were dead, most of whom were afflicted by or involved with the airport mystery illness.

This time it did not take long for people to catch on, and the media circus was unleashed. I remember staying awake untill three one morning, watching the 24-hour news broadcast. With events like the Iraq war and the tsunami disaster taking up so much of the media's attention over recent times, it seemed apt that this "mystery illness" recieve a similar treatment; after all, 75 people were dead and if this thing was what it seemed to be, many more were fated to follow. Unfortunately for the media the illness provided little dramatic imagery to fuel countless hours of incessant television coverage, so reports instead focussed on scientific (and often non-scientific) speculation, and the ever-more-rapid reports of new outbreaks. With the benefit of knowing what became of those in Melbourne, these reports were now being considered severe incidents.

From Tokyo to small English counties; cities, suburbs and small townships all across the United States; fishing villages in Indonsia, even an Antarctic outpost - the disease was affecting more people across the world every day. It usually happened in public places, striking groups of between 10 and, in some instances, several hundred people.

By this stage, those who became sick in Italy, and Canada had already reached the disease's terminal destination. Some hope was raised when the Venezuelan incident did not seem to follow through in the way that the others had; unfortunately, almost a week later than expected, this outbreak too was proven to be an eventually fatal one. I put the delay down to the mountain air...

People began to bunker up in their homes, though it didn't always help. News, or perhaps rumour, spread that apartment buildings were prime locations for the disease to "gestate", and as such, an exodus of many major cities began. However, trains, buses, and almost all forms of public transport were shut down, deemed as "too dangerous". The roads clogged themselves.

At this point less than three hundred people had actually died, but the atmosphere of fear was phenomenal. Everyone knew somebody who had gotten sick some place or other. Stories of infection in nightclubs, in hospitals, even tales where rows of traffic simultaneously wound down their windows to collectively vomit, reached people on a personal level, and crippled them. The first person I knew to get sick was my step-sister. I walked three kilometers to visit her at her house, but she had locked herself in her bedroom, almost insane. She kept screaming "Go the fuck away, go the fuck away." When I was about to go the fuck away she called me back and whispered through the keyhole, "You know this, but stay away from anybody on the way home. When you get home, stay home." I had a hard time not following her advice.

Scientists couldn't figure it out. They still can't. Theories ranged from a new super-virus to radation, from terrorist attacks to alien bacteria. Though the world's medical focus was almost wholly focused on solving the mystery, no inroads were made. The groups which had been hit, one after the other, began to die. Soon the number of fatalities had accumulated to a point where the individual incidents could not be seperated from each other. As the outbreaks had rapidly accelerated, five months on, like a second wave, so did the deaths.

I was infected three months ago. That gives me about eight weeks to live. By the time I die, I reckon about two thirds of the world's population will be gone. Right now the toll stands at around five percent, globally. It's worse in the cities, most people have left. I stayed. God knows where the rest of the world is. Holed up in tents on mountainsides, I imagine. Ironically, the most dangerous places to begin with, initially, have become the safest - public places in once-populated areas are now more often than not deserted. I've spent my days in the university library, and I rarely encounter anyone.

Well that's how it happened anyway. Who knows - maybe they'll find a cure. Even if they do, with all the chaos, I doubt they'll be able to distribute it. As far as I'm concerned, it's the end of the world.


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