By Jake Kale
Though the thought only rarely occurred to him and he expended very little energy pursuing it when it did, Ben had no idea at what point his paranoia had ceased to be paranoia and become real. That comment, that singular moment of insight in a career that would end before it had the chance to truly begin might well have been the best candidate. But even so, the transition had been so smooth he hadn’t even noticed it. Nor did he ever question it. It was accepted. The thoughts and the vivid, terrible dreams were so real they had to be the portent of an actual event, he felt it instinctively. He just knew, the way you knew that the sun was going to rise tomorrow—only Ben knew that, instead of rising, it would fall. He sometimes thought that this awareness of his, and maybe all psychic phenomena, was simply another level of reality that human beings had only recently evolved the ability to detect, another random branch on the genetic tree, like intelligence and sentience before it. And he wondered if, had circumstances allowed for humanity to survive, future generations might have refined it to the point that it could serve a practical, reliable purpose. He thought that that was the tragic fault of human race—so much potential but unable to live up to it.
Ben still thought of Vicky and Gillian occasionally. Though he’d never seen the student again Vicky had visited several more times, at first with Laura and later on her own. Though she’d seemed nice enough to begin with, if a little pushy, Ben had gradually gotten sick of the sight of her. He did not care for the “solutions” to his “problems” that she had proposed. He’d already seen what tablets could do to a person, so the last time she visited—the previous Wednesday, her first visit for months—he had told her politely but frankly that he no longer wanted nor needed her “help” and would prefer that she left and did not come back. Because she had tried to help him he’d considered telling her to be prepared for the trouble ahead, but he’d decided he couldn’t take the chance. She’d been nosey enough as it was. He’d wondered if talking to her at all had been a mistake, but so far it hadn’t come back to haunt him. No, the only person Ben would worry about from now on was himself. He’d tried to warn people, all to no avail. He’d tried to warn Laura.
And look how that turned out…
Ignoring the voice in his head, Ben made his shambling way back to his chair, kicking a piece of his smashed phone out of the way, sat down and strapped himself in, the restraints acting to lessen the shaking in his legs. As usual his fingers began tangling themselves together, and in order to distract himself and bring down his stress levels Ben fell back on the tried and tested technique of mentally cataloguing his supplies and safeguards. While it sometimes seemed as though he didn’t have much, what he did have had cost a pretty penny. The handrails had been the most expensive items. He got them through a contact of his BEC advisor, and combined the rails here in the cellar, in the hallway upstairs and in the living room amounted to just short of twenty metres in length, and had cost almost £5,000. Then there were the water bottles—he’d calculated he’d need 150 of them to attach to the walls in the cellar, but he’d ended up with twenty left over, so he’d ordered thirty more and decided to fix them to the walls in the hallway upstairs. The final total reached 180 bottles, and over £1,000. Every spare penny he’d had left went on supplies and other essentials. All told, Ben had spent something in the region of £10,000. He just hoped it would be enough.
Ben had planned for his survival meticulously, carefully working out what supplies and equipment he’d need, both to prepare for the reversal of gravity and to survive afterwards. When it happened he would remove his restraints and use the bed frame-cum-ladder, which he always kept next to the chair or the bed depending on which one he was using, to climb down to the ceiling, which would at this point become the floor—he’d have to try not to think about what was below it. Then he’d remove the mattress so he’d have something to sleep on, but he’d leave the chair where it was, rather than risk it falling on him or damaging the roof/floor. He could either sit on the mattress or on the plastic chair he’d had Laura’s ex bring in from the garden. After that it was just a question of passing the time. That was what worried Ben the most—how he would keep himself occupied so that he didn’t lose his mind. He had amassed quite a book collection over the years, but they wouldn’t last forever, and they’d be no power for him to watch videos or listen to CDs. He had considered keeping a diary, and had bought pens and a good supply of paper, which he still had. But he had decided that, even though it would occupy his mind, it would be pointless. What would he write about? And who would he write for?
Sometimes, the scale of the impending catastrophe overwhelmed Ben. It was almost beyond human comprehension—six billion lives, snuffed out in an instant. Every artefact, all forms of technology, all trace of culture and civilisation past and present gone. It would result in a mass extinction dwarfing that of the dinosaurs. Three-and-a-half billion years from the first stirrings of primitive, single-celled life to the cusp of true independence from Mother Earth, all for nought. Nothing would survive—every insect, every animal, every bird, every fish, every ocean would be gone. Every body of water, every natural resource. The entire planet left devoid of life, except for those few who through luck, quick wits or, as in his case, foresight, had managed to find shelter. When Ben thought about it like this, when he actually considered the implications of his dreams becoming real, he wondered if there was any point even trying to survive.
Of course, that was assuming he did survive. There were so many variables involved. For instance, how would the reversal of gravity affect climate, and temperature? Would the lighter atmosphere survive, or would that, too, be cast out? Would the reversal be permanent, or would it reverse again at some point? And the question he’d hardly dared to entertain—how far would this antigravity go? Would the affect be confined to the Earth, or would it expand into the wider solar system, galaxy, universe, multiverse? Ben remembered a documentary he’d watched several years ago about the expansion of the universe and how, rather than slowing down as scientists anticipated, it was actually speeding up. Everyone had thought that eventually the after-effects of the Big Bang would eventually wear off and the universe would start to contract, but now scientists were suggesting it might just keep going until it reached breaking point. In his darker moments, Ben wondered if that was what was about to happen.
Had the universe reached its breaking point? Was reality about to tear itself apart?
Was this the fate that ultimately awaited Benjamin Barry—to experience every atom in his body expanding into nothingness along with the rest of the cosmos?
He was usually good at blocking out the more disturbing thoughts—he’d had to be. He tried to retain a modicum of hope. He told himself that maybe, just maybe, he was experiencing these visions because eventually the reversal would reverse again, and he needed to be prepared to wait it out. It was far from a convincing argument, but if there was even a chance that he could survive the Antigravity Apocalypse he had to take it. In his more hopeful moments Ben thought that maybe the human race as a whole would somehow survive, and perhaps even profit from the disaster. Maybe the good old men of science would discover what caused it, whether it would happen again and, if so, if they could they predict it. They could develop survival strategies for future occurrences. He knew he was being overly optimistic, and that his foresight was probably nothing more than highly evolved instinct, a survival mechanism like the fight or flight response, no deeper meaning than that. But he could hope, he could do that much.
Pretty soon, hope would be all he had.
Falling by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.