Tuesday 4th April, 12:00pm. 96 hours until the end of the world.
I can’t believe I’m going to get away with it, Adrian thinks to himself. For so long he’d been so sure he was going to be caught, that the net was closing in and it was only a matter of time until he was arrested and thrown in jail. But not now.
Since the announcement the police have had much more important things to worry about; as most reasonable people would expect, the looting had started almost immediately. Some people had basically started living The Purge immediately; smashing and burning shops, killing people, doing whatever the hell they wanted. What they’d probably always dreamed of doing but had refrained, due to societal pressure, or the fear of repurcussion, or something.
The police had much bigger, much more pressing things to worry about than Adrian, and his misdeeds. The police would call him a peadophile, but that term disgusted him. He wasn’t a paedophile. A paedophile was the bottom of the barrel, absdolute scum of the earth. Paedophiles did awful things to babies, young toddlers, children who were far too young to be able to understand or consent, far too young to have any idea what they were unwilling participants in, what was happening to them. And besides, for paedophiles there always seemed to be sort of a shared interest to it; from what Adrian had read, paedophiles always seemed to end up in networks. That’s what you saw on the news anyway: “paedophile network in insert-town-here busted by the cops.”
No, that behaviour was as abhorrent to Adrian as it was to the majority of society. And it was most certainly not what Adrian was engaged in. The girls Adrian spent time with were definitely old enough to understand what was going on, were definitely old enough to consent; they were never unwilling participants, in fact they always engaged with him as much, if not more than he engaged with them. He knew they enjoyed it, they wanted it, just as much as he did. And how could that be a crime? How could two consenting people enjoying themselves, involving no one else, neither hurting nor offending anyone, be so wrong?
Just because there were arbitrary rules that girls had to be 16 to be able to say yes to a man, that made Adrian a criminal? Technically yes, Adrian knew, which was why he was constantly fearful of getting caught. But in reality, he was just a man, who found girls attractive, and who was attractive to the same girls. There was no harm in it really. It wasn’t like to made pictures or videos and sold them online like the paedophiles did. He wasn’t doing any long term damage to the girls; they knew what they were doing, and if it didn’t work out, well that was a shame, and they may get upset, but it was no different than if they’d broken up with a boy their own age. It was all part of growing up, being in love and then falling out of love. It was something everyone went through, and it made people who they would grow up to be.
Adrian wasn’t under any illusions; he didn’t sleep with young girls because he wanted to help them. It was much simpler than that. He slept with young girls because he liked them, and they liked him. And anyway, they weren’t too young. Most of the girls he’d spent time with were virtually indistinguishable from their slightly older counterparts; these days, the difference between a 14 year old and a 16 year old was so small as to basically be negligible. And between a 15 year old and a 16 year old? No difference at all. If a girl was 15 today, and tomorrow was her 16th birthday, what was it that suddenly made her perfectly ok to sleep with? What changed in those 24 hours that stopped a crime from being a crime? It was ridiculous, and Adrian knew it.
He glanced at the clock on the wall to his left, and sighed. He’d wasted the entire break thinking about this; he’d planned to get a jump start on some marking, but instead had spent the entire 20 minutes in reverie, lost in his own thoughts. Before he’d even begun to shuffle the papers back into a neat pile, the bell rung and the kids started to file back into his classroom. He smiled at the sight of them, and sat waiting patiently for them to all take their seats.
Naomi pauses, her hands in the warm soapy water, and stares out of the window. There they go, she thinks to herself. Mr and Mrs Grosicki, and their young boy, Ben. From where she stood at the sink in her kitchen, she had a view of her neighbour’s driveway, and could see them cramming things into their car. Boxes of oddments, whatever furniture would fit, clothes and books and god knew what else. Young Ben stood there all the while, watching his parents frantically running in and out of the house, virtually throwing things into the car. Once the entire thing was full, save for the two front seats and one in the back for Ben, Mrs Grosicki sat Ben in the back and buckled him in before jumping into the front passenger seat. As soon as her ass hit the seat the car tore out of the driveway; Mr Grosicki was already in his seat, engine running, clutch down, waiting for his wife so they could flee.
Naomi wondered if she’d ever see them again. Then she wondered where they were going. They weren’t the first family on the block to pack up and leave. Since the announcement last week, she’d seen four other families acting very similar to the Grosickis; she’d watched, as she walked pushing the pram, as cars filled to the brim with a lifetime of possessions had gone flying past her, their tyres screeching as they turn left at the end of the street, and flew off towards the highway. The Grosickis made five families now departed; Naomi and her family were now in the minority. There had been nine families living on their quiet little suburban cul-de-sac. Now there were only four. As with the Grosickis, Noami had wondered if she’d ever see any of the families again. And she always wondered where they were going. Each family she’d seen leave had turned left at the T junction at the top of Cedar Drive, heading to the highway. She supposed the ones she hadn’t seen leave had done the same. But then where? There were rumours of safe havens, of shelters dotted across the country, but surely they’d be full by now? Or if not full, then at least have a complete list of people who were going to be allowed in. Naomi highly doubted there were enough spaces for the 300 million people living in the country. And even if there were unallocated places available, presumably they’d be given of a first come first served basis; the Grosickis, leaving full week after the announcement, had no chance.
The announcement had been a week ago, and the first two families had left Cedar Drive immediately. If there were going to be available spaces in shelters, surely those people would have filled them. Those families and others across the country who had acted similarly, who had left immedately after the announcement without a second thought. She felt sorry for the Grosickis. Unless there was something about them she didn’t know, they’d be turned away from whatever shelters they arrived at, and when the end came, if it even did, they die scared, alone, huddled in their car.
Naomi only felt sorry for them briefly though; did they really, honestly think the world was going to end this Saturday? Naomi was 37 years old, and this was the third time she’d been told the world was going to end. No wait, actually it was the fourth. There was that man in Minnesota a few years ago, who actually corralled a few thousand people onto his farm, and somehow convinced them to work for him, before the day of the apocalypse dawned, and nothing happened. She supposed most of those people had left the farm, had rather sheepishly arrived back at their houses, pointedly not discussing what had happened, just getting on with their lives as if they’d been on a family vacation to Florida, as opposed to the end of the world. Naomi could picture the Grosickis doing the same thing on Sunday morning. She could picture their car pulling into the driveway, much more slowly than it had pulled out. She could picture Mr and Mrs Grosicki, red faced, emptying their car in stony silence. She wouldn’t say anything. She’d always liked the Grosickis, and even if they’d left without saying goodbye, she wouldn’t hold it against them. When they inevitably arrive back home, she’d act as if nothing happened. Yes, that was the best way to go. Surely that’s what the entire world would end up doing, living in collective denial. It had happened before, and it would happened again.
Naomi realised she’d been staring at the space where the Grosickis car had been for a long time. She pulled herself back to reality and continued to wash the dishes. Jamie would be awake soon, and would be wanting lunch. She wanted to get her chores finished first, so she could spend the afternoon with him without any guilt.
Mark would never tell anyone, but he always preferred it when the church was empty. He loved his congregation, loved them absolutely and without fail, but they could be a trying bunch, a testing bunch, and as much as he loved a church full of warmth and light and enraptured bodies, he loved a church containing just himself that much more.
He supposed it was the peace that made it for him; for that was what he took God to be. Peace. Mark had never held much water for the bearded man in the sky vibe that most people seemed to assume God was. To Mark, God had always meant peace; both spiritually and literally. A quiet room, an empty field, a sense of completeness that one could only find from within oneself. This was Mark’s God.
These feelings of his had become particularly heightened since the announcement. At first, Mark had doubted his senses; to see what he, and everyone else, had seen, to hear what they’d heard, it had been enough to put doubt in his heart. The knowledge that was imparted on his brain from his eyes and his ears scared him, truly scared him, and for the first time in a long time he wondered about the sense of peace, about the man in the sky, about the fire and brimstone supposedly found far below, in the other place. His doubt hadn’t lasted for long though; he’d spent the evening after the announcement in his apartment, a little studio place just round the corner from the much vaster, much grander, much more modern church, and he’d reflected on it all.
Not just the announcement, not just God, but life, the universe, the past, present, the (potential lack of) future. He’d sat for hours, in his favourite (and only) armchair, sitting next to where the fire would be were he a priest in an old English parish, as he often dreamed he was, and ran it all through his mind, over and over. Eventually he had decided that rather than weakening his faith, the announcement actually strengthened it. Whether he believed it or not, that was a different matter altogether. But what it meant to him was clear: God is real, God is love, and love is peace. He’d had a glass of red wine once he’d organised and settled his mind, the first alcohol to pass his lips in a long time, before he went to bed and slept like the dead. He’d awoken the next morning feeling refreshed and revitalised. He was almost the opposite of everyone else following the announcement; where most seemed to be lost, he was found. Where most seemed unsure, he was certain. Where most seemed scared and upset, he couldn’t have been happier. Mark had finally, truly found his beliefs affirmed.
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The Last Days is a 91,000 word literary fiction novel about the end of the world, seen through the eyes of three characters who live in a small town in America.
Think Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, AM Homes, Edward St Aubyn – it’s somewhere in here you’ll find your audience for this novel.
The story takes place in 6 hour increments, and focuses on the last 4 days before the world is supposed to end – it’s not stated in the novel whether the world will actually end or not. The three characters we follow all have different opinions:
- Adrian Robinson, school teacher and paedophile, is certain the world is going to end.
- Naomi Bowen, housewife and mother of two, is certain the world isn’t going to end.
- Father Mark Markham, priest, is not sure.
The novel is told in alternating sections from each character’s point of view, as the potential end of the world approaches. It tells of their thoughts and feelings towards what is known as “the announcement”, how they act and react, since the announcement, up to the present.
As they live in a small town, it also shows how the characters interact with each other, as they all cross paths frequently.
The novel is a story about love, lust, and fear. It’s about how far a person would go to satisfy their urges, to find happiness. The novel is about lies, mistrust, and secrets. What can a housewife do when her daughter has been kidnapped (or so she thinks) and she wants to turn to her husband for comfort, but he’s having an affair? What can a teacher do when he’s in love with a 15 year old, and has convinced himself that it’s fine to be in a relationship with her, that he isn’t a paedophile, not really, just a man in love with a woman. What can a priest do when everything he knows and believes is called into question, and he starts to doubt what he has always known to be true? And what can he do when what happened to him as a child, is happening again before his very eyes?
The Last Days tackles some very difficult and upsetting topics; it’s meant to make the reader question things, as well as making them feel very uncomfortable as they read it. It’s meant to make us look inside ourselves, and question our morality and motives, and what we would do in times of great crisis.