It had been luck rather than judgement that had enabled Matt to avoid the round-up. He had decided to walk through the night rather than bivy down as planned, and had thus come upon the soldiers discussing the next day’s orders as they pissed into the hedge by the side of the road where their truck was parked. It had made sense to him at the time, to stay away until the dull rumble of the loaded vehicles faded into the distance. He had not known that their departure announced the beginning of the end.
When he eventually returned to the village it was deserted, houses sealed against entry. The animals had been let loose, left to fend for themselves. Matt wondered idly if dog really would eat dog in order to survive.
He entered his house through an upstairs window, climbing onto the back porch roof and forcing the latch on a sash with his killing knife. He considered the risks of staying if this turned out to be within a detonation zone, but could not go online to access the required information. An active IP address in a cleared space would be noticed.
Matt showered and ate, relieved to find that his supplies remained untouched. He could last here for many months if left in peace. The old radio had proved a godsend, enabling him to keep up with the reality of the situation after the government took over the media to prevent a panic. With the process in motion he now needed to know if it was safe to stay in one place. Taking the illegal device from its hiding place he switched it on.
The song brought back so many memories, yet who would be playing it at a time like this? Exhausted by the effort of staying alive Matt had all but forgotten that so much had once been taken for granted, that the pursuit of happiness had been considered a right.
A voice on the airways interrupted his reverie. ‘Okay boys and girls, that was Adele reminding you all of better times. Hold on to that. This operation is bigger than we thought and we still don’t know who the true enemy is. Stay vigilant and trust nobody. If you have news to broadcast send it through on the quiet channel and our recording equipment will pick it up. We will transmit updates on the hour. The government has completed it’s round-up and most people have been moved north. We have not yet received any information on what they plan to do either in the camps or on the cleared land. We are relying on you to keep the rest of us informed.’
Matt stood up and moved to the window. The moonlit field behind his house was still, yet he could feel a presence. ‘Don’t be a fool’ he told himself, ‘Since when have you been afraid of the dark?’ Then the clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground. He watched as creatures rose up, forming from nothing into dark beasts, the sight of which sent an ice cold shiver down his spine. They could sense him. ‘How do I know that?’ he thought.
The blast of light was so unexpected he reacted instinctively, throwing himself to the floor and crawling under his heavy desk. In the midst of so much activity the silence was incongruous, yet his subconscious told him that there were screams of pain emanating from the battlefield outside. The horror of a massacre threatened to overwhelm him, yet he was sensing rather than seeing what was going on. ‘I don’t understand!’ he cried.
And then, eventually, came a stillness that was more frightening than all that had gone before. Matt crept to the window and looked out at nothing, a dark pool of nothing where there had been crops and hedgerows and trees. Shaken, he retreated to his cocoon under the desk, trying to make sense of what had just happened, failing to place any of it within his understanding of what was possible.
When the sun rose the next day the utter devastation was incomprehensible. The burnt, cratered earth stretched out to the far horizon on all sides, hills and valleys erased to form an endless desert of scorched earth. His house was the only one left standing; they knew that he was here and had allowed him to survive. Who and why? He considered the radio and then remembered: ‘Trust nobody.’