As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rather partial to the music (and other audible outputs) of the band 65 Days of Static. Last week during a listening party for one of their albums, a few of us came up with what I thought was a rather creepy prompt for a story. I started it, but it got away from me and went in a direction I hadn’t intended (a bit ironic, given what it’s about). But tonight there’s another listening party, and I was determined to wrangle it back into place.
Here it is.
When the sinkholes first started appearing, I didn’t take much notice. I mean, a remote peninsula somewhere in Russia? I don’t even know exactly where. But anyway, it wasn’t of interest to me. I’ve been to Moscow, of course, but the Russians are tricky blighters. Hard to trade with. The food’s terrible, and if you don’t drink vodka, which I don’t – give me a decent gin any day over that paint stripper – well, there’s not much point being there at all. You can do all the useful stuff online. You hardly need to subject yourself to actually being there.
Right yeah, so I just didn’t pay that much attention, you know? The sinkholes were thousands of kilometres from anything. If a few reindeer herders fell in them, so what? And actually, even when they began moving west and getting more… what’s that phrase they keep using? Coordinated? Organised? it didn’t really register. I was in the middle of a big deal with a very sensitive client in Saudi Arabia, if you know what I mean. I simply didn’t have the time to keep track of what was happening in Siberia, for God’s sake.
I know all of it now, of course. I’ve had plenty of time to check back on how it started. How the sinkholes were random to begin with. They’d been appearing for years. Maybe something to do with global warming, that was the theory. But something happened. Or… no, I can’t think about that, it’s too utterly ridiculous. And they seemed to start moving deliberately westwards. Yekaterinburg. Other places. I remember that one name because I once dated a woman called Katerina.
Anyway, it wasn’t until that news report came out that the whole thing really got through – you know the one, the Moscow one. You’ve seen it a hundred times. We’ve all seen it a hundred times. You can probably reel off the commentary just like I can. That Russian scientist – a woman, and not half bad if you’re into that whole Slavic vibe – sitting in a TV studio and just flatly saying it outright.
“No one knows what is happening. There is a lot of danger out there. Thousands of refugees are fleeing before the sinkholes. The city and its infrastructure are descending into the Earth. Nobody knows why. Buildings just started sinking and we can’t do anything about it.”
But even then it didn’t seem all that serious. I mean, Moscow? It’s a long way from London. Ask Napoleon. Ask Hitler. And even what that woman said, and others. It was too ludicrous. Like a 90s low budget horror movie. You know, you expected there to be monsters. “A smooth black shape is emerging from the ground…” and, I don’t know, huge tentacles or something.
All the same, I realised I was starting to mentally cross that area of the globe off, as if there was a famine going on. Not the kind of place you want to visit.
And then… Well, again, you’ve seen those graphics. Plotting the path of the sinkholes. Random at first, scattered all over the middle of nowhere, then about two months ago they began to make patterns. Pairings. They started to look like… No point being coy. You already know it anyway. They started looking like footprints. Like giant fucking footprints. Like the footsteps of a huge fucking invisible giant.
So. Mass panic, mass hysteria, mass evacuation… mass everything, pretty much, but no answers. None that made sense. Thousands of theories, billions of gigawatt hours of electricity going into trying to come up with something. There was an invisible giant striding across the surface of the planet, starting out somewhere in the back end of Nowheregrad, and nobody had the faintest fucking clue why, or how, or whether we’d all just died and this was some particularly bizarre form of hell.
Those creepy round footprint sinkholes, hundreds of metres across, but always two of them, making a series of punctuation marks along a linear path…and getting bigger, the footprints, yeah, but the stride too. Like the giant was growing, sucking up energy from what it destroyed. Exactly like that, apparently. Fuck knows how they were measuring it, I’ve never understood all that science stuff. Ballistics, yeah, but not electromagnetic waves or whatever.
I mean, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You know. You were there. Glued to your screen just like the rest of us. Mentally eating popcorn if you were in Los Angeles or somewhere, a bit worried if you lived in the Middle East, but absolutely fucking terrified if your screen happened to be located in Europe. Maybe trying to go on with your everyday life, but with one eye constantly on that map. Fleeing for your life if you were in Belarus or Poland. And then one day, at least if you lived west of Dresden, you breathed a sigh of relief. Because the footsteps, those huge giant footsteps, those sinkholes that were now several hundred metres deep… they turned around. And headed back the other way, south east, and suddenly everyone in the Middle East was a whole lot less smug and the Bosphorus looked like someone had poured petrol on an ant’s nest. I don’t remember how many people died in Istanbul, but it was a lot.
And, see, the weird thing – well, yeah, I know, that’s a whole load of weird fucking things right there, but the weird thing from my perspective, and it’s me doing the telling… Well. I watched that shift in direction with a bit more self-interest than most of you. Unless you had family in Istanbul, obviously, but anyway. Because I’d been in London, watching the footsteps get closer. Going home every evening and chain smoking on the balcony and trying to ignore the columns of flame and smoke rising up into the sky south of the river. What with the conspiracy theorists and the crystal botherers and the religious nutters there was a lot of unhappy people, all with their own theories about what we needed to do to placate the… whatever it was. The media tried to give it names, but for some reason none of them stuck. Everyone just called it It.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Well. I’d been in London. And then I had to fly to Jerusalem. Even with some fucking invisible thing terrorising Europe, business still had to be done. More so than ever, for some clients. And Israel… well, they like to be prepared. Liked. I had a bit of a soft spot for the Israelis, been there many times and had a lot of fun in between some pretty hefty business meetings. But nobody’s going to be doing that again. Not ever.
I don’t think it would have done them much good, even if we’d had time to deliver what they ordered. The Russians had tried everything short of a thermonuclear device (and if you believe the rumours about what happened in Udmurtia they didn’t stop there either). Didn’t work. The electromagnetism chaps said it just ate the energy, whether kinetic or nuclear or whatever. Just helped it get bigger, stronger. Faster.
What was I saying? Jesus. How long has it been? Well, I got to Israel, did my deal and got out of Jerusalem airport just as it was obliterating Nicosia. Had to call in a lot of favours even to get on a plane, but I did it.
And then… the fucking thing did its business in Israel – really went to town, like it was an angry toddler in a sandpit, stomping all over the place and smashing it all up. It looks like the surface of the Moon now. All just craters. Sinkholes. Footprints.
So I’m back in London, feeling a bit like I’ve had a close call, even though, you know, that’s ridiculous. And I get a call from another client, and he’s in Guernsey for something, I forget what, and he wants me there yesterday. So I nip over to City Airport and as we’re waiting to board the map changes, the map that’s been running constantly on every screen for months now, inset into the top corner. And it’s changed direction again. West again, now. And…I mean… I can’t help it. I start to think “It can’t be. There is no way in a million fucking years that it’s after me. I mean, I know I’m a pretty impressive guy but what the actual fuck?”
But I tell myself not to be ridiculous, and the plane boards and I go to Guernsey, and it turns out he’s not actually there yet, but he’s flying in from Dubai in a day or so, his mother’s sick or something so he’s been delayed. So I check into my normal hotel that evening and sit there, trying to keep my mind off the map by chatting up women in the hotel bar and one of them says “Yes” and before I know it three days have passed and the fucking thing’s in Stuttgart.
And I think “Fuck this”, and I’m just about to get back on a plane and head for… I don’t know, Washington or something, when the client rings and he’s in the UK, but he’s on the Isle of Man. I guess one tax haven’s as good as another. So I’m straight on the next plane, you can fly direct, only when I land at that ridiculously small patch of tarmac they pretend is an airport, I’m not really paying attention because I’m trying to get my phone to connect so I can check the map. And I go arse over tip down the steps.
And I woke up an hour ago, and I’m in a hospital bed, I’ve got both legs in plaster up in those suspension things and I can’t reach to get out because my back’s in a brace, and there’s nobody about. I shouted for a bit, but nobody came. And then the noises from outside, from the corridor and from outside the building… Well, I stopped shouting. I don’t really want anyone to come here and find me, strapped into this fucking bed and only able to move enough to thumb type frantically into my phone.
I don’t even know why I’m bothering, only I need to do something to stop me looking at the map. Because of course they’ve left the telly on.
It wiped out Liverpool about an hour ago.