One last walk in The Parks
Excerpt from the upcoming novel Impact by Andreas Christensen
Kirstie Holden was glad to be back in Oxford. She had traveled the world in her younger years, and she had learned that the sweetness of new and exciting would never surpass the feeling of belonging. Not in the long run. She smiled and patted her German shepherd fondly. It wasn ́t really her dog, but Shaggy didn ́t care. As far as the dog cared, Kirstie was Dianne ́s mother and that was all Shaggy needed. Unlike most German shepherds he wasn ́t overly protective and bonded easily to more than one human, a fact that Kirstie appreciated.
She walked along Addison walk, watching the water lilies bobbing on the surface by the riverbank, almost dormant, like they tended to as autumn became winter. The gravel under her feet stuck to her boots, and the crunching sound was loud in the quiet park. Almost no one had chosen to come out here, something that had surprised her. She would have thought more people would choose such a place to face what could very possibly be their last day. She took a deep breath, savored the taste of fresh air. When she exhaled a thin mist formed from her breath. She pulled her scarf tighter.
Most people were probably sitting in front of their TVs or peering at some gadget or another, getting the latest updates and projections. It wouldn ́t be long now. It was a relief to know that the long wait would soon be over. When Dianne had taken Brian to the community shelter, she had hugged them both hard and told them everything would be alright. But Kirstie knew better. As one of the last remaining ESA astronomers leaving Bern, Switzerland, before the gates closed shut, she knew all too well what would come, even in the best possible scenario. Which happened to be the least likely. No, she wanted nothing more than for her daughter and grandson to keep their spirits up until it all ended. Of course, having to leave her outside must have been awful for them, but everyone knew that nobody past forty would be allowed into the shelter, unless you were considered a special asset or in some cases, military. That was the same all over Europe. She might have been exempted back in Bern, had she pulled the scientist card, but all she wanted was to be home when the end came. Now she was content. The Parks would be the perfect spot to face whatever the day brought. Besides, who would have walked Shaggy if she hadn ́t been here? No old or middle aged people. No dogs. She patted him again.
«You should have been a military dog. Corporal Shaggy, how does that sound?» she chuckled, before adding, «But I guess you wouldn ́t last a day in the army, you silly dog. Too lazy.» She looked up. It wouldn ́t be long now.
«I guess that makes two of us. You know, my father was a navy man. Sailed the world, he did. That was never for me though. I was far too bookish.» they walked on. It wasn ́t as if she was walking toward something. She was just where she wanted to be.
Kirstie and Shaggy kept walking. The parks, officially known as the Oxford University Parks, although nobody called it that. It was either Uni Parks or The Parks, or less frequently University Parks. She wondered how many in this bustling city really knew much about its history or even how long this place had been a sanctuary of quiet in a city which grew into a million by the mid 21st century. But while the city had become a major metropolitan area, The Parks remained the same.
A flash in the southern sky startled her. Here we go, she though. Another flash, followed by another. She knew at once what had happened. It was breaking up. Way up there, in the upper atmosphere, the chunks of rock would be spreading out from their original trajectory, and sometimes the smaller pieces would explode and burn up. Those were the flashes. The larger pieces would continue their deadly flight.
The astronomer in her was calculating possibilities and probabilities, even though she wanted nothing more than to have some peace and quiet in her final moments. The flashes were all to the south and east of here. She didn ́t see anything else though. Just the light from the explosions. The main trajectory would be a lot further south then. At least on this longitude. Southern Europe perhaps, or even Africa. The rest of the world, there was no way to know. The trajectory could move in a straight line following the same latitude all across the world, or it could move north or south. It was just no way of knowing anymore. The folks at Bern would know, of course. But with most networks down, and not really feeling like it, she abandoned the reasoning. It didn ́t matter anymore.
She kept walking. It had been years since she had been here. While working at Bern, she had taken vacations, usually short, to see Dianne and Brian. And Chris, while he was still alive. She still felt a sting of guilt for not having seen eye to eye with him. Her son-in-law had been good to Dianne and a great father to Brian. There was just this wall between them, and she suspected she was at least partly to blame. She had always prioritized her work, especially these last few years, knowing what was about to happen.
He had said once, «Kirstie, when time is so short, it ́s even more important to put family first», and she knew he was right. It was just that in Bern, she was actually making a difference. Her work might save people ́s lives. Not hers and not her family ́s, and for that she had nothing but regrets. But some people might actually live through this and whatever would come after, because of her work.
The great flu had taken Chris. It had been such a blow to Dianne, and even harder for Brian. In three months back in late ́79, while the world fought amongst itself over the tickets off the planet, hundreds of thousands died from a pandemic that barely made headlines. And in two weeks in bleak November, a boy lost his father and a wife lost her husband. Kirstie had taken a week off to be with them, but by the time they buried him, she was back in Bern, working. She suspected Dianne had never truly forgiven her, although her daughter had always supported her decisions, even her decision to make her work first priority.
The ground trembled, and gravel jumped around her shoes. She stopped. It had to be an impact. No way to know where though. No way to estimate how big. Being on an island, she expected tsunamis to be the biggest threat, since direct hits in the UK were unlikely because of its small size. She patted Shaggy reassuringly, before they began walking again. Nothing to do about any of it, she thought, but there was a chill in her bones that didn ́t stem entirely from the cold weather.
She kept walking until she reached the Flower Bridge. It stood pristine, preserved in its original condition, and closed to the public for decades, except once a year, when people from all over Oxfordshire would gather to commemorate the fallen from the Magdalen College attacks. Thankfully, Britain had been spared the worst attacks in the great war on terror. There had been nothing like Seattle on this side of the pond. Magdalen was the exception though, and a wound that had permanently scarred the nation. The College itself had never been rebuilt - it would be sacrilegious, most believed. So every year, in an act of quiet defiance, the people of the county would come here, and walk silently across the bridge in a line that went for hours, everyone carrying flowers in every color of the rainbow. The flowers would be tossed into the Cherwell, creating a river of colors. Kirstie had only attended a few times, but it had been a majestic experience, a testimony to the strength of this people in the face of evil.
There was a deep rumble, and she heard loud cracks and booms from afar. She turned halfway toward the sound before deciding otherwise. She would face this her way. She took a step toward the bridge.
«Come on Shaggy.» she said quietly, comforting the dog. Shaggy looked at her with those sad eyes, as if asking what was happening. The rumble got louder, and Kirstie set her jaw and took another step, then another. Shaggy hesitated before letting her lead on, toward the bridge. Kirstie hunched under the boom and walked briskly until she reached the middle of the bridge. She could follow the river with her eyes, and she saw the water was stirring.
The rumble was overwhelming now, and just as she began to lift her arms to cover her ears, she saw it. Just above the tree-line, a wall rose quickly, shadowing her from the afternoon sunlight. She had imagined it would be blue, since the ocean usually looks blue, but it was a mix of grey and brown, dark colors that spelled doom. And so it is, she thought as the wall closed in on her. As Shaggy jerked loose and ran, all she could think of was Dianne and Brian - those shelters better be water tight.
The sea swept her along, as it swallowed her world.
This is an excerpt from the upcoming novel Impact.
In 2072 an object from outer space was discovered that threatened human civilization. A race against time began, and in 2080 the starship Exodus left Earth orbit, saving a small piece of humanity.
This is the story of those left behind.
Coming - December 2015
One last walk in The Parks
Cover design by Jason Gurley