It was early evening. The military junta now ruling Britain had just flashed the news on their hourly radio bulletin that the last anarchic group terrorizing the country had been rounded up and executed by one of its militia units. Law and order was restored. The 6.00.pm curfew was extended to 9.00.pm. And Bonnie Finch was walking hand in hand with her husband, Tod, down to their own Cornish cove.
Except it wasn’t a long walk anymore. Only as far as the new cliffs at the bottom of their orchard. Cliffs that weren’t there 20 years ago when it was such a lovely amble over their secluded lands to reach its golden sands, their two children, Michael and Susan, struggling to carry the picnic basket between them.
Bonnie looked down as a powerful wave sucked more earth out of the foot of the cliff and carried it away to sea, thinking back to those glorious days when their own life was idyllic, with world opinion divided over global warming, and no conception of the impending doom now hanging like some dark cloud over the entire globe.
One particular hot summer’s day came into her mind, lying on a sun lounger in their cove watching Michael, then 10, and Susan, 8, playing cricket with Rod. He’d hit the ball towards her, and Michael and Susan swarmed all over her trying to catch it. She’d clutched them to her. ‘I love you both so very much,” she said with sudden intensity and gazed across at Rod, so handsome then (not that he wasn’t still) with his long blonde hair and trimmed beard, looking, she always thought, like a Viking.
“How I wish these days would go on forever,” she said, “and never end.”
“Never end …” Bonnie thought, returning to the present.
Michael was now working from the 4th Floor of a requisitioned Park Lane Hotel (now an office block, its first two floors submerged) taking a water taxi daily to oversee the massive project of reclaiming Central London from the now six miles wide River Thames, with the erection of a towering new barrier to pump it all back out. Susan was also doing her bit, but in a spiritual way, living in a commune on a Primrose Hill island, and chanting her beads with other believers for the holy rishi, Lamakadinga to work a miracle and turn back the ever encroaching waters.
Not just in London, but the along the entire coastline of Britain.
And the rest of the world.
What Michael was doing was pointless really, because in a few years from now, unless the holy Rishi, Lamakadinga, wrought his miracle, there’d be no more land left to stand on, let alone live on. Or grow food to eat.
Planet Earth would be one vast ocean.
It would be the end of civilisation.
Total and complete.
Bonnie looked back at the rear of their lovely home. Her “Manderley”, as she’d renamed it when they bought it thirty years ago. It had been her perfect, rambling country house. Nowhere near as large as Daphne du Maurier’s “Manderley”, or its lands as extensive. But lately, when she drove up the winding drive, its trees hiding them from prying eyes, she felt just like the narrator of the author’s famous novel – with Rod as ‘Max de Winter’ – fighting the ever-increasing presence of a vengeful, climatic ‘Rebecca’, striving to rise up from the cove below to ruin their happiness
And ‘Rebecca’ was going to win. Nothing could stop her. Extinction.
Another year and her idyllic home would be gone, its walls collapsing down the advancing cliffs. And like the captain of a sinking ship, she’d go with it. Not for her was the pipe dream of hordes of desperate people that with carbon emissions now drastically reduced, the miracle would happen, the waters would stop rising, and then recede. In droves, they were flocking (those who could afford them, that is) to buy £2-million, one-roomed flats on one of the estates mushrooming in England’s Peak and Lake Districts, and Snowdonia in Wales and the Highlands of Scotland.
But Bonnie’s memories were here, and would remain here until they died.
The question was when?
Below her another chunk of cliff fell away.
Waiting for the inevitable end of the world to happen?
Or now, by their own hands?
But remorseless though the end was, whichever way they decided, some part of Bonnie didn’t want to die. She looked up at Rod, only 55, Viking hair and beard grey now, but still so much energy for life in both of them.
Grasping her husband’s hand, “What are we going to do?” Bonnie asked.
“I’ll build us a spaceship,” Rod said.
That her inventor husband, whose constant and ingenious brainchilds had kept her in a lifestyle far beyond her wildest dreams from when they first married, then bought her “Manderley”, had so calmly said, “I’ll build us a spaceship,” should have come as no surprise to her. He was, and always had been, sci-fi mad. And a little eccentric, as even Bonnie herself had to admit. Look at his collection of films, videos and DVDs, for example. Every “Dr Who” episode from Patrick Troughton to the present “Dr Who”, Peter Capaldi. And every series of “Star Trek”, from Captain James T Kirk to his final successor, Rod’s shelved collection filled an entire wall of his study from floor to ceiling, including such favourites as Buck Rogers rescuing 21st Century Earth from the evil Draconian Empire, and Buster Crabbe playing Flash Gordon fighting Ming the Merciless in black-and-white, to Sam Jones reprising the role in colour.
She looked up into her husband’s eyes to see if he meant it, and saw the same fanatical gleam in them he always had when thinking up a new invention. No, he wasn’t joking. Like Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew, Rod would attempt to “boldly go where no man had gone before.”
Or blow himself, and herself, up in the process, to use another split infinitive.
So, what was she to do? Tell him, “Don’t be silly, you old buffer.”
Or pamper him?
For them to spend what little remaining time they had together with something to occupy their minds? Her last gesture of love to her darling man.
“Okay,” said Bonnie. “You build the ship. I’ll make sandwiches for the voyage.”
When she said, “I’ll make sandwiches”, she’d meant it light-heartedly, joking she was behind him all the way in his absurd idea. She’d not expected him to take her literally, not just for his “voyage”, but supplying sandwiches from the very next day when he was out of bed at five in the morning and, without even having breakfast, was in his big shed at the side of the house, hidden from public gaze, already working on it.
She knew it was five, because his sawing and hammering woke her up.
And had woken her up every morning since, despite her cotton wool earplugs.
Three months of it now, locked away in the shed from first light to midnight, with her having to leave his breakfasts, lunchtime sandwiches, and evening meals, on a tray left by his door, because, to quote Rod:
“I’d rather you see it when it’s finished and I’ll explain then how it will work.
The only silences, wonderful silences, were when Rod would disappear down the drive in his old, battery-converted Volvo Estate (it was 10 years since cars were last manufactured) towing his large empty trailer behind him and not returning for hours, trailer full of metal sheeting and steel supports – found on some scrap heap by the rusted look of them. But within minutes of him unloading the materials into the shed (which was always locked, the windows shuttered) and hiding himself away again, the sound of welding would emanate into the house on top of the sawing and the hammering, almost driving Bonnie to drink to escape it.
When she’d first humoured him, this wasn’t how she’d envisaged them spending whatever time they had left together. She’d seen herself being with him 24/7, as the modern expression went, keeping up the pretence working alongside him through the day. Their evenings sitting on the sofa holding hands, chatting, listening to music, cuddling up together in bed at night, and on Fridays doing more than just cuddling, sometimes even twice a week and occasionally even three or four. After all, you only lived once and their once hadn’t long to go, so what the hell, may as well make hay while the sun shone – as another expression went.
Instead of which she now saw him for only two minutes a day, if she was awake that is, when she’d hear him enter the house, creep upstairs and into their bedroom, step out of his trousers but usually keeping his shirt on, grunt “goodnight” if he saw her looking at him, and the minute his head touched the pillow he’d be asleep.
Then up again at five next morning, and another empty day for her would begin.
Meanwhile, their orchard had now completely gone, the clifftop was slowly but inexorably advancing across their long and once manicured lawn. Coming ever nearer and nearer, as was her intention to go with the house – like the captain of a sinking “Titanic”, which was how Bonnie compared it whenever she let herself think about it. Because “Titanic” was her favourite film, and despite Rod’s now almost complete unawareness of her presence, she nevertheless hoped there was an afterlife, and just like Kate Winslet was finally reunited with Leonardo DiCaprio on the ethereal liner’s flight of stairs, she hoped she and Rod would spend eternity together in a heavenly “Manderley”.
To add to it all, and despite their seclusion, Rod’s noisy activity and regular trips for materials
had attracted the curiosity of the Nosy Parkers from their nearby fishing village (its harbour and lower-lying cottages now seven feet underwater).
It must have been either the postman or the delivery-van grocer who’d reported back on Rod’s activities (her domestic left over a year ago, saying, “I’m going live it up, rather than end it all still charring”, and Bonnie had found no one to replace her) because there was an ever-increasing number of them now gathering daily outside “Manderley’s” large ornamental iron gates.
Today, Bonnie could stand it no longer. Walking up their long drive to confront them and ask them to go away, she saw with a sinking heart as she neared them that at their head was gnarled and bow-legged “Old Garge”, the considered village wit (or rather, half-wit) leaning on his equally gnarled and bow-shaped hickory stick.
“What’s going on up in the big house, missus?” he called out in his shaky voice. “Squire building an ark?” Cackling back to his gallery, seeking their approbation of his waggery, Bonnie changed her mind about facing them, turned on her heels and ran back to the house, with more of “Old Garge’s” humour following after her.
“When can we start bringing the animals two by two to you, missus?”
Hearing the welding, sawing, hammering, coming from the shed as she passed it, Bonnie entered the kitchen, slammed the door shut, picked up the phone, dialled Michael’s number and began pouring her heart out to him.
Michael cut her off in full flow. “Mum, I don’t have time for this. It’s just another of Dad’s crazy ideas – “ (forgetting it was to Rod’s “crazy ideas” he owed his privileged upbringing, Bonnie defensively thought). “We’re in the middle of moving our stuff up to the sixth floor. What’s more, it’s made us realise we’ll have to add another thirty feet to the height of the barrier before we can start pumping the water back. Talk to you again when I get a spare moment. Ciao.” The line went dead.
Bonnie just stared at the receiver, recovered and dialled Susan’s mobile (where she recharged
it, living out on Primrose Hill, Bonnie didn’t know – maybe by harnessing some of the holy whatever-his-name-was’s spiritual power?).
“Follower Susan,” her daughter’s voice answered.
“Susan, it’s Mum – “
“Sorry, Mum, don’t have time to talk. We’re raising our tepees into the branches of the trees, and busy building log platforms. The Holy Rishi Lamakadinga’s first, he’s chosen the tallest tree for the Mighty Power above to better hear his chanting. Talk to you some other time. Peace.”
This time Bonnie stared at the receiver for a solid half-minute before replacing it and storming out of the house to hammer on Rod’s shed door, only to see his Volvo Estate and empty trailer disappearing up the drive.
Four hours and five vodkas later, through the sitting room window, Bonnie saw him returning, with a trailer full of old television sets, computers, and rolls and rolls of electric wiring. On top of the pile were two old, padded-leather car seats – from a scrapped Roller, or a Bentley, by the look of them.
“Sod him,” she slurred as she saw him start unloading it all into the shed. “Let’s see what’s happening in the rest of the world.” Dropping into the chair by the radio, she turned it on in the middle of an hourly bulletin.
“ … Bangladesh has been renamed the Bangla Sea,” an emotionless male voice intoned. “As has the Mississippi River, now a hundred miles wide and separating the Western United States from the East – “
“Sod you too,” said Bonnie, switching off the voice and pouring herself another large vodka.
She gulped it straight down, and a minute later was out for the count.
When she woke up it was next morning. She had a hazy recollection of waking up during the night, finding the vodka bottle empty and staggering to the kitchen for a fresh one, to see the light still on Rod’s shed. Realising he wasn’t coming back to the house to even sleep, she’d again muttered, “Sod you, Rod,” and staggered with the bottle back to the sitting room, took a big swig from it and fell into another coma.
Now in the clear light of day, and despite a thumping headache, Bonnie realised what Rod’s latest load of materials, and his working through the night, meant.
His spaceship was nearing completion.
“Bring it on,” Bonnie muttered, still partly under the influence of the vodka, and using another modern expression.
From the rear of the house, she heard a crash as another large part of the lawn fell into the sea. There could now be only another forty feet or so before the cliff face reached the house. “It’s just a question of which way I decide to go. Crash with the house into the sea, or explode with a big bang in the sky in Rod’s crazy rocket.”
Rocket! she paused, getting a mental picture of one. But rockets had nose cones. Shouldn’t Rod have taken the shed roof off by now, with a cone pointing up at the heavens?”
Another thought struck her. Fuel! A rocket needed fuel. Where was Rod getting his from? And shouldn’t it have been delivered sooner than this?
Ah, well, Bonnie thought, heading for the kitchen to make herself black coffee and Rod’s lunch sandwiches – it was too late for his breakfast – I’ll ask him tonight before he falls asleep.
But Rod didn’t come in that night either, or the next two nights, finally emerging on the fifth day, with the purposeful look he always wore when he’d completed the prototype of his latest invention and it was time to test it, to see if it worked.
Taking a deep breath, Bonnie quickly pondered. Was this the way she wanted to go? With
Rod? Or with her beloved “Manderley”?
At that moment, another crash from the rear of the house, the creaking of timbers and the cracking of walls, told her the cliff had reached the house.
Just the thought of being swept out to sea, and maybe taking hours to drown, decided it for
her. Dashing out of the house, she grabbed Rod’s hand.
“Quick,” she blurted, “the house is falling in. Another few minutes and the shed will go with it. If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now.”
Rod wasted no words in reply, but ran with her to the shed, flung the door open, and at last Bonnie saw his spaceship.
Square shaped, some 10 feet by 10, and painted blue …
It was a Tardis!
A bloody “Doctor Who” Tardis time machine!
Rod had definitely flipped. This wouldn’t even take off let alone blow up. Getting into this mock telephone kiosk would be like entering a prison cell. Even worse, if it was watertight, and when the shed fell down the advancing cliff (which was imminent by the sound of it) the bloody box could bob about on the ocean for days, maybe weeks, and an even worse fate awaited her. Starvation.
Behind her, she heard part of “Manderley” crashing down into the sea.
“No way,” she said, turning to run hell for leather up the drive.
Rod grabbed her, bundled her into the shed and then the Tardis, strapped her into one of the padded car seats, strapped himself into the other and then, proving he’d flipped, produced from somewhere a long, striped, Tom Baker, “Doctor Who” scarf and wrapped it round his neck. Now where did the silly buffer get that from, Bonnie found herself wondering, despite her dire plight. But the question was instantly replaced by panic as Rod inserted a 13-amp household plug – an ordinary 13-amp plug! – into a socket on a panel in front of him, and everything around her, TV sets, computer screens, began humming.
Also in front of him was a simple digital panel showing today’s date: 02-06-2031. He changed the year 25 years back to 2006.
“Hold on,” Rod said, taking hold of a car’s automatic gearbox lever and moving it into the “Drive” position.
Gritting her teeth, Bonnie prepared herself to be electrocuted, like a condemned prisoner on Death Row.
On the other side of Manderley’s gates, the crowd heard the crash from part of the big house falling into the sea. And around the corner of the lane came a speeding old banger and screeched to a halt alongside them.
Michael and Susan hurtled out of it. “I got your message.” Michael said in in a rushed voice to one of the villagers. “We’ve driven through the night – “
“Where’s Mummy and Daddy?” Susan pleaded across him.
“Mummy and Daddy’s either in the big house – or in their Noah’s Ark”, cackled “Old Garge”, face all agog, anticipating some sort of rewarding catastrophe at last.
From down the drive came another mighty crash as more of Manderley collapsed.
Hurling the gates open, Michael sprinted through, followed by Susan, followed by the rest of the villagers, “Old Garge” in the rear, hobbling as fast as he could.
As what was left of Manderley came into view, it all fell with a roar into the sea, leaving only the shed teetering on the edge of the rapidly advancing cliff.
From it emanated a high pitched whine, getting shriller and shriller and shriller.
The shed blew up with a flash, blinding them all. As they recovered their sight, all that was left was a scorched concrete floor, walls and everything inside had been vaporised. Susan clung to Michael as they and the villagers stared horror stricken.
It was left to “Old Garge” to sum it up, as he rounded the corner at a tilt, leaning precariously on his knobbly stick, the opposite leg kicking out for balance.
“Ah, well,” he cackled, “when the end comes, that’s two buggers best out of it.”
Bonnie was lying on a sun lounger, watching Michael and Susan play cricket with Rod on the sands. It was a hot summer’s day, but for some odd reason, Rod was wearing a ridiculously long, striped scarf, like Tom Baker’s “Dr Who”. Now where did he get that from, Bonnie wondered, and why is he wearing it with the sun so warm – the silly buffer’s sci-fi obsession is getting more and more ridiculous. Still, as long as he’s happy.
Rod suddenly hit the ball towards her. Michael and Susan swarmed all over her trying to catch it. Clutching them to her, ‘I love you both so very much,” Bonnie said with sudden intensity, and gazed across at Rod, so handsome with his long blonde hair and trimmed beard, looking, she always thought, like a Viking.
“How I wish these days would never end,” she said, “but go on forever.”
“Don’t worry,’ said Rod, with the air of someone holding back a secret. “They will.”