Farewell, Mr. Tilbey

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*Excerpt Begins*

Part One: The End


The apocalypse—the end of the Earth, Judgement Day, the Great Cataclysm—was scheduled to happen on the 1st of September of that not-so-distant year at precisely 9a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and was accompanied by all the expected fanfare for something so flashy as an incoming extinction-level asteroid. Tides had risen and swallowed countries whole. Economies and governments had crumbled. Religious radicals and Doomsday prophets had had their justly earned “I told you so”. Anarchy had somersaulted through surviving populations with due rabid enthusiasm. And all the while, The End had marched ever closer, to the beat of its own cosmic drum.

And then it came. This was it: the moment of truth. All around the world, people took a break from depression, anarchy, hysterical panic, or the Zen of acceptance, and held their collective breath to stare up at the enormous asteroid in the sky and await their inevitable demise.

The really awkward moment came when The End changed its mind and stood the world up.

A full minute passed. Then another. Before long, it was 9:30, and the asteroid was still a giant unmoving space blimp. Held breath turned into raised eyebrows, and the first TV newscaster to make it back on the air sat at his desk in a tacky half-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, beer helmet still askew on his head. A moment of stunned silence passed as he carefully set the helmet down on his desk, finger-combed his hair with one frazzled hand, and stared down at the scrap of paper held in his other. Then he directed a bewildered look towards the camera.

“So … we’re still here,” he said, before coming to his senses and hastily buttoning shut a few self-conscious inches of his shirt. “Details to follow after weather and traffic reports.”

Luckily for that newscaster—the normally clean-shaven, suit-clad, ambitious Martin Gates—most of his national and international audience was otherwise occupied, or televisionless, or dead, and so missed this lapse in his devotion to being the best in what was left of the business.

One of Martin’s most devoted surviving viewers was, as a matter of fact, uncharacteristically away from his TV for that landmark broadcast. At that precise moment, Colin Barber was instead down by the lake of his inherited cottage property with his childhood and high school and college sweetheart, Melanie Callahan.

There they stood at the end of the property’s dock: a beautiful young couple poised against the backdrop of a crystalline lake and distant tree-covered mountains, picturesque and peaceful at this scenic southern edge of the northern town of Brittlebridge. They still held each other and looked to the sky as they had done since a minute before 9, when they had begun whispering desperate declarations of everlasting love, in direct wobbly defiance of their mutual encroaching doom. But now it was 9:30; the declarations had stopped, the desperation and defiance had tapered off, and without that particular combined glue to hold it firm, the embrace had loosened to simply being a place where their arms rested in shock.

For a long time they stared up at what was supposed to be their certain death, and their certain death stared nonchalantly back down at them, bright and unmoving as the full moon. Then they looked at each other.

Both saw in the other’s face all that they had spent the countdown to annihilation talking about. There were the years together as children and as teenagers, young and in love and the envy of their friends (whenever a blow-out argument didn’t see them split up again). There was their graduation from high school and trying to figure out what being “adult” meant together, while Melanie went to college, until the asteroid had turned up on the world’s radar and made further diplomas feel moot. And there was all of it capped off by Colin’s proposal, made on bended knee a mere hour ago, with furtive glances at the sky, accompanied by the knowledge that a wedding—a lifetime together—could never happen.

Only, suddenly it might. The star-crossed 20-year-old lovers may, quite unexpectedly, have their happily ever after. They stared into each other’s eyes and saw the uncounted years they may now have ahead of them, together, never to be separated.

Melanie smiled adoringly. Colin’s eyes widened and he licked dry lips, shifting on legs that suddenly felt a bit numb.

“Mel,” he whispered, gaze searching her face.

“Yes Colin?” she asked, leaning closer for what was sure to be the sweetest of kisses.

“I think we should see other people,” he said.

And the stillness of that crystalline lake was broken by the flailing body of a star-crossed ex-lover being shoved into it off the edge of the dock. The distant mountains were still echoing his startled yell back at him by the time he resurfaced and sputtered his way out of the water to sprawl on his back across the dock’s boards.

Colin’s head flopped to the side, and he blearily watched the furious retreat of flowing auburn hair and a stunning sundress. He thought to himself, for the first but not last time, that somewhere along the line he’d taken a wrong turn in life … and acknowledged sullenly that he may now live long enough to actually have to deal with it.

: | Studio lights—on. Lighting, bring up that intensity on Light 5.

: | News desk—center frame. Production, turn the coffee mug clockwise, face the logo forward.

: | Studio mics—on. Testing … testing … can you hear me, Martin? Good.

: | Studio cameras—stand by. Who put that live cityscape feed behind him? No, it’s a disaster. No one wants to see that. Put up stock footage, something normal, from before the shit hit the fan. There, that’s more like it.

: | Cue title screen—cue opening music. Martin, standby, we’re live in five … four … straighten your tie—thank you … two … cue bottom screen text banner …

Breaking News: “We’re Alive!” … Surviving Populations Declare International Holiday

: | … and you’re on, Martin.

“Good afternoon. I’m Martin Gates, and we have breaking news today: the world is in shock and rejoicing in the wake of an unexpected second chance as asteroid LP-201.7, designated ‘Alice’, comes to a halt mere minutes before its expected strike.

“Scientific experts who could be reached have all confirmed that Alice appears to now be in geocentric orbit, and survivors in cities across the globe are taking to the streets in celebration.”

: | Cue live celebration feeds A, D, and L, three-second intervals … Cue celebrant clip A …

“We’re just so happy to still be here! Me, my kids, my parents … we’re here, we’re alive, we’re going to be grateful for every minute that we weren’t supposed to have, that we get to have now. We’re blessed, it’s a miracle, a God-given miracle, we’re just … I’m just … sorry, look at me, crying on TV …”

: | … and celebrant D …

“God? Man, whatever that is or isn’t, that’s got nothing to do with it: we got lucky, plain and simple. But that’s not going to stop me from getting wasted and getting laid, and having the best d-*bleep*-mn day of my life. We didn’t get f-*bleep*-ing disintegrated today, buddy. Let’s get living!”

: | … and celebrant L.

“We celebrate today, rebuild tomorrow. We’re going to make it … we can have our lives back … we can have it all back … we can live again, like it never happened … we can actually live again …”

: | Back on Martin—close shot, and freeze-frame the confetti shower from feed D for backdrop.

“Countries, cities, sects, and surviving leaders around the world have unanimously declared this day a global holiday, the first annual Deliverance Day. When we come back: minute-by-minute updates on the best places to stock up your post-near-apocalypse supplies, especially where to find fuel in a hurry. Plus, don’t miss our ongoing live coverage of what is becoming the biggest worldwide party in history. Stay tuned, after these messages.”

*Excerpt Ends*

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