Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Year Of The Comets

I guess I'll have to start this post with a bit of an explanation. I'm not a writer and I've never aspired to be one so the short story below took me completely by surprise. I got up one morning and this concept was just stuck in my head. The next day I had a one sentence ending. Just that. Nothing else.

I thought I'd be able to forget about it since I didn't have anything else to add. Nope. The story just wouldn't let go. Each morning there was a little bit more. One sentence, a paragraph. Slowly it started to take shape into something coherent enough to finally get it out of my head.

So I wrote this thing. It's disjointed, fragmented and might not be any good, but it's mine. It wanted to be told, so here it is. It's still a work in progress so some tweaks might be required.


A streak of light approaching from the left – it grows bigger, brighter. Night turns into day. A blink of the eye and it’s over. Stunned silence. Seconds drag by. The boom assaults the senses like a hammer blow; shattered glass falls from windows, people run for cover in confusion.

For a brief moment the world marvelled at the spectacle – a once in a lifetime event caught on camera by a throng of paranoid Russian drivers. The meteor didn’t do any real damage, not in the grand scope of things. Interest faded, and it was soon forgotten. Space debris just couldn’t compete with the latest celeb gossip and political scandals. For some reason it stuck with me. Weeks later I was still drawn to the video. I watched it over and over again. It’s etched into my mind now. If I close my eyes I can still see it play out frame by frame. That streak of light. That was the beginning. A tentative first shot probing our defences. We just didn’t know it.

Days blurred into weeks. Months passed. I kept going through the motions. The daily commute to work, putting in the required hours and vegging out in front of the TV. It must have been late August when astronomers began hyping comet ISON (Nevski-Novichonok if you want to be pedantic like the guy on TV) as the next big thing; a promising new spectacle to ogle at. I used to love astronomy as a kid, but somewhere along the way I must’ve lost my sense of wonder. Perhaps life just got in the way. I had nothing better to do so I dusted off my old telescope. Soon I was glued to the eyepiece again. The thrill of the hunt providing a buzz of excitement I last felt in my teens. I religiously observed the comet on its sunward dive. Watched it grow from a barely visible fuzzy ball to a naked-eye wonder rivalling the brightest stars. Then it changed its orbit. Comets aren’t supposed to do that. Ever.

ISON was headed straight for us. Bafflement. Uproar. I can dump a dictionary’s worth of adjectives in here and it wouldn’t even begin to adequately describe what happened next. Nobody could figure out what was going on. Nobody knew what to do. We were powerless. Wild ideas where thrown about. Nukes. Rockets. We simply didn’t have the capability or the time to do anything. All that was left was to wait, bide our time and pray furiously to our deity of choice.

I’d like to say that humanity came together in our greatest moment of need; that we helped each other; that in the end nationality, race and religion didn’t matter. That would be a lie. Panic ensued. Order broke down. Life was worth next to nothing. The things I saw people do to each other will haunt me forever. Cities burned. The worst of the atrocities were at our own hands. When it came to survival we were savages. Not that it mattered in the end.

I ran for the hills. Grabbed what I could, what I thought I’d need and I hid in the most secluded spot I knew. While the rest of the world fell into chaos, I fished. Who knew my old cabin would be the ideal apocalyptic hideaway. I was a coward. I’m not proud of that fact, but at least I had some creature comforts while waiting for the world to end.

Everyone expected a huge impact – one of those extinction level events that wiped out the dinosaurs. If we had to go, we wanted to go out with a bang. We didn’t even get that. The comet crept closer and closer and then it just stopped. A second, smaller moon to add to our collection. Did God intervene? We didn’t care. The only thing we knew was that the Earth got a last minute reprieve. Life returned to normal, at least as normal as it could get after the mass hysteria. People returned to their homes. Governments started to function again. Rebuilding would take time, but it could be done. Would be done.

It was three months after the Earth got its second moon. I was packed. Ready to go home, hoping that I still had a home to return to, when it happened. It’s difficult to describe. My ears popped and then everything just died. My car, my cell phone, the GPS. Every high-tech gadget, centuries of innovation and human ingenuity, instantly converted into a heap of junk. In the distance I spotted a plane tumbling out of the sky like a broken toy. A minute later a fireball lit up the sky to the West. I was knocked off my feet. Deaf. Gasping for air. Another streak of light and a huge flash to the East. Towards home. Then another and another. As the world burned around me I knew that the end had come. Not the end we were waiting for, but the one we were going to get all the same.

What was that cult called? The one that believed a spaceship followed comet Hale-Bopp? God, how I miss Wikipedia. The name doesn’t matter anyway. I guess the joke’s on us. They were right; they just had the wrong comet. Our executioners came galloping across the stars on a pale horse of ice. Unseen. Undetected. ISON was nothing more than camouflage, a final entertainment for primitive monkey brains. First contact, that staple of science fiction, came to pass. Except in this version there was no peaceful meeting of cosmic cousins – just brutal, ruthless annihilation. I don’t even know what they look like, these invaders, the new inheritors of Earth. Nobody who has seen them has lived to tell the tale. One thing is clear though. They are here to stay.

And humanity? Humanity doesn’t exist anymore, not in any meaningful way. Our days are numbered; pockets of survivors just disappear. There one day, gone the next; a few scattered belongings and the rotting remains of a meagre meal the only sign that they were ever there.

‘Endangered species’ held no real meaning. Who gave a damn about some obscure animal on the other side of the globe? I never did. When that dwindling species is your own it suddenly starts to matter. It’s all that matters!

The night sky is ablaze with comets, a multitude of tails streaking away as far as the eye can see. It’s a glorious sight - the harbingers of our doom flying in a parade formation that spans the entire solar system. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. They are relentless. They will find me; it’s only a matter of time.

I was never an eloquent man. Stringing words together in any sensible way was always a struggle. It still is, perhaps now more than ever, but this story deserves to be told. Our story must be told. We were here first, we lived, we loved and despite all our faults we mattered. Remember us...

The Year Of The Comets © KJ Mulder, 2013. All rights reserved.


  1. That was pretty good :)
    You should do more.

    1. Thanks. I think this might have been that one story I had in me, but I might be invaded by an idea again.

  2. You should lose 'moth to a flame' but otherwise good. Second half could do with a bit more detail - bit more filling out.

    1. The 'moth to a flame' bit seemed awfully clich├ęd to me. Should've left that out from the start.

      If I can come up with more detail for the second half I might flesh it out. As it is I changed the sequence of events somewhat just before I posted it.

      Thanks for the input. Really appreciate it.

  3. It's fun to think of your own modern versions. They were drawn like geeks to an Ipad launch.

    1. I like that. Might see if I can find something that works better, but on the other hand I think just cutting that bit did the trick.

  4. Great first attempt KJ! I actually like sparse detail, especially when horror are left to the imagination. I think the details you choose to include should be evocative/quirky/personal/devastating rather than general though.

    For example, instead of "shattered glass falls from windows, people run for cover in confusion" something more like "there is barely a moment to escape the shattering glass. Later people pick bloody shards out of their skin and worry about burglars walking in through empty windows."

    Or instead of "just brutal, ruthless decimation", you can briefly describe the actual decimation: "just our blood on the walls and bone shards in the rubble". Not necessarily that, if you prefer that the aliens leave no trace of us, but you get my point.

    I know you think of this as a one-off experience, but I'm curious to see if the writing bug has bitten you! Have fun :)

  5. They were drawn like tangled bats to a sapphire road... no, wait, I'm going to steal that one :P