When the end of the world came there wasn’t much left we recognized. The landscape was barren, brown nothingness stretched further than the eye could see, towns and cities vanished into rubble, the skies were grey with no sign of birds or insects. What was left was the smell of his sex pushing into mine, the tenderness of his hands on my breasts, the sounds of our soft moans filling the empty air.
We survived because we’d been underground; the two of us on our own personal caving adventure, forcing our bodies into tighter and tighter spaces as if we were journeying backwards into the womb of mother Earth. When we emerged we stared around us, stared at each other and began to cry.
Later when the coldness of the night came we were still standing in the same spot, neither of us having spoken as if when the world had disappeared it’d taken all words with it. The sky darkened into a murky blue-black, if the moon was still out there it was hiding behind thick black clouds, nothing was left but shadows. It was then that we kissed.
Gently at first, our lips barely touching as if we still possessed the shy virgin bodies we had when we first met, but then the thing inside us, the anger, the fear, the hatred, the fear, the grief, the fear, burst free. I bit down on his lower lip until the warm blood flowed between our mouths. He put his hand around my throat and pushed me backwards. The breath struggled to fight its way out of my lungs. I smiled as my head pounded. He smiled back at me and released his grip. We pulled at zips and straps, shedding our clothes like excess skin, baring our flesh to the cold night air in defiance of life itself.
Our bodies were distorted mirrors of each other, pale white skin covering lean hard muscles, he was two inches taller, my hair was blonder and longer, but we felt as if we were the same. The slight curve of my chest, the hard pinkness of my nipples, the neatness of my sex compared with his protrusion, those were the differences, but when we made love I imagined we were one body, neither male nor female, and the way he looked at me at those times made me believe he thought the same.
Now there was nothing feminine about him, he was pumped with testosterone and so was I. We threw ourselves together like beasts. He tugged on my hair, strands ripping out of my scalp and tried to force my head on to his erection, I dug my nails into his balls and nipped the head of his cock. His hands pressed into my flesh pushing me on to my front, I pushed back against him, twisting my body, wrapping my legs around his waist. We bucked and thrust, clawing and biting and bruising the person we loved most in the world. We screamed and we cried our bodies pulsing with orgasmic energy.
When we stopped tremoring we curled up together, his head resting on my chest. I stroked his hair and breathed in his familiar scent. Neither of us slept, we passed the night in the space between dreams and reality not daring to think about what we’d do in the morning.
The morning arrived. Earth was continuing to turn on its axis, but there was no beautiful sunrise, the darkness gradually faded into greyness. The only thing that was the same was his early morning erection.
Smiling, I shrugged away from his embrace and sat astride him. He opened his eyes and smiled at me riding him, then frowned. With the back of his hand he caressed my battered body and I did the same to his. The contact hurt, but neither of us winced away. We needed the physical pain as much as the gentle caress.
‘What happened?’ he asked.
I shook my head and pressed my finger against his cut lip. It was too early for some questions. Later, days later, when we’d made love many times without ever repeating the ferocity of that one occasion, when we’d discovered there was no longer any accessible internet and our mobile phones were useless, when we’d driven as far as our petrol would take us, he asked again.
‘What happened?’ And I shook my head again.
At first we talked about nuclear survival and poisoned earth but soon we were drinking from brown puddles and chewing on dead grass. Over time we became experts at scavenging, digging through ruins with bleeding hands until we found the treasures we sought: dried food; tinned food; matches. We chose a van to start with and hoarded our finds greedily in the back, but at some point we got tired of siphoning so much petrol and moved to a smaller vehicle, digging holes for storage points (we had found tools by then so our chafed hands got a rest) and making complex maps. We never saw anyone, living or dead. Then the world changed once more.
He found a radio, together we messed around with it until we got it to work. Neither of us expected anything from it, it was a pointless activity to keep us amused and give us something to think about, like the countless hours we’d spent playing computer games in the time before. When it gave a loud crackle we laughed, when I turned the dial and we heard what could be a human voice, we stared at each other unable to breathe. Our work on the radio took on a new intensity, we swore at ourselves and each other until we found the human voice again and this time we could hear it; a woman in a light Scottish accent repeating again and again the name of a town, pleading with whoever heard this message to come there.
‘We have to go there,’ he said.
‘Because there is nothing else to do.’
We packed as much as we could in the car and set off. As we drove away from the area I thought of as ours, the place that had begun to feel safe, I mentally recited all the prayers I could remember from my Catholic school days.
The car didn’t make it. We were forced to abandon it and most of our supplies, taking all that we could carry in over-laden rucksacks and bags.
Hiking more miles than it felt our legs could take before we found another usable car that we managed to start. We held each other but we didn’t make love in those times, our bodies warning us that we needed to preserve all our energy. Secretly, I wouldn’t have cared, but I couldn’t say it to him, “We’re going to die, there’s no need to prolong it, let’s die exhausted from love rather than wait for the madness of hunger or whatever worse things could be waiting for us.”
The car didn’t make it, but we did.
A community of eight couples waited for us; they greeted us as if we were their saviors and bombarded us with their names. In their eight voices, with much overlapping, they talked about the miracle of survival, some sort of endurance camping trip in the highest of the Highlands, their plans to make boats and contact other people who made it through, which hadn’t come to much so far, but they were so pleased, so very pleased, that we’d responded to their radio message. We were the only ones who had.
‘So what’s your story?’ one of the male voices asked.
We looked at each other, opened our mouths, but we could not speak.
‘There’s plenty of time for questions,’ one of the female voices said.
‘What are your names?’ someone else asked.
‘I’m Daniel and this is Mara,’ my lover said.
He took the rucksack off his back and offered them the contents. I was amazed at the quickness of his generosity, to so soon trust these strangers with our world, but I copied him with an attempt at a smile.
They received them like manna from heaven but we soon saw our provisions were nothing to them. We were led through their home which was the old ruins of an abbey, and it was a home, there were paintings drawn on the wall, space divided into rooms with carefully placed stones and a kitchen brimming over with stores. Their foraging trips and whole organization was on a different scale to the scavenging that had kept us alive.
In the evening there was a roaring fire, someone had found and caught a brace of rabbits which were now roasting in its midst. They told us this was what most evenings were like. Everyone, apart from us, told stories and then as the fire burnt out, settled down to sleep not far from the glowing embers. A couple was left on guard duty, Daniel volunteered us to keep watch. I was relieved when his offer was gratefully declined.
A woman came over and gave us a sleeping bag; she squeezed my hand and smiled. ‘Don’t be scared,’ she said. ‘We’re all safer together.’
Warm wrinkles creased up around her eyes as she spoke. Her and her partner’s names, Joy and Rob, were the only ones I remembered. They looked as healthy and as enthusiastic as everyone else, but they stood out for being older, the confidence of their stance as much as the flicker of grey in their hair.