“Hi, my name is Finley,” she writes on the scrap of paper with a broken pencil Georgia gave her earlier. “You can blame Georgia for this, for what I am about to write, it was at her suggestion. Well, insistence, that I write it all down, how we came to this moment in time—” She pauses and looks out across the ink black darkness, straining to see anything moving, but sees nothing. It’s all gone quiet.
Too quiet, the incessant shelling having stopped a few hours earlier. No one knows what it means. Was it the proverbial calm before the storm, or maybe the eye of the storm? Did it matter which? The small pockets of resistance fighters, like her small group, were losing the war. She isn’t even sure what it is they are fighting for anymore.
Survival? That was a joke.
They were, according to Thomas, down to their last few scavenged tinned rations. And no one had found anything ‘living’ for several days. Nothing flew across the skies; no birds sang a morning chorus. No animal, if any still yet lived, scurried or foraged above ground. Not even the rats showed their faces. Those hardy creatures could survive through just about anything. They had vanished.
Finley knows they are living on borrowed time. Georgia knows it too. By the morning, the rest of them will know it as well.
A slight breeze blows and ruffles the last of her straw-blond hair. It started coming out in clumps days ago. She hides the fact during the day beneath a wool-knit hat that proclaims her a fan of the Ottawa Senators. She has no idea who they were or what team sport they might have played. But she’s thankful nonetheless for the warmth and head cover it affords her.
Drawing her attention back to the dirty piece of paper, Finley focuses her thoughts once more, trying to make sense of it all. But instead of writing, she stares at Charlie. Then almost laughs out loud at the absurdity of it. Here she is, a petite 35 year-old woman dressed in Army fatigues sat on a shattered wall. Writing her life story on a scrap of paper by torchlight. With a small plush monkey sat on her knee watching the proceedings.
“Do you think I’m going crazy?” She asks the monkey in all seriousness then grins. Charlie stares back, his dirty face no doubt mirroring her own.
Here then is her thread, she thinks, the one thing that leads her back through all the years to her childhood. A monkey. Not this particular monkey. This one is a tattered remnant that Georgia rescued a couple of days earlier from a heap of abandoned rubbish. A mot amid the wreckage of what was once a children’s hospital.
No, the original Charlie, a chimpanzee that had been twice the size of the child Finley, was long since lost. As were all the ‘Charlie’ monkeys she had owned over the ensuing years. Just like they all would be, all to soon. Not just her little group of bedraggled rag-tag fighters—dug-in amid the ruined skyscrapers of what was once a part of civilisations crowning achievement—but the entire human race.
The ache in her chest threatens to overwhelm her.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about, of course, she’s right,” Finley writes. “The more I look at what possibilities lie in wait with the coming of a fateful morning, the more fear grows in the pit of my stomach. So I’ll try, for her, for everyone, but most of all, for myself to remain calm, and focused.” Finley looks at the words written in a small, tight scrawl. They seem as alien to her now as do the invaders who have swarmed across the planet obliterating everything in their path. To these invaders, it wasn’t about destruction. It was nothing less than the complete and utter annihilation of every living thing on planet earth.
Why do I need to know where it is I came from, and what it is I’m fighting for to be able to do what needs doing tomorrow? That was the million-dollar question.
Because. It’s Georgia’s favourite word of the moment. Because we need to. Because it has to be done, and it might as well be us because, someone has to stop the invaders.
Because. This is for her mother. This is for her father. This is for all those who have gone before her. All those who gave so much in order for there to be a future for their children, and their children’s children.
How could she do anything less than they had when the need arose?
Finley chews her pencil and asks Charlie.
“What do you think, should the crazy lady just march up to the ugly alien and shake its hand?” It is all so plausible.
They had at hand maybe the greatest weapon they had to offer, against what seemed like an indefatigable enemy.
“That’s if it works…” Finley mutters.
“It will do…it has to.”
Startled, Finley knocks Charlie from her knee. Georgia, mouth curved with a lingering smile, sits next to her leaning in against her.
“Is that it? Is that all you’ve written?” The smile stretches.
“My life, in one chapter,” Finley says, realising she’s managed to while away a couple of hours. All the while Georgia was dealing with their crew, giving her some much-needed downtime alone.
An arm snakes across the back of her shoulders. She leans into the comfort that act offers. Her head going to a welcoming shoulder. She feels Georgia press her face into her hair, warm breath caressing the top of her head. The taller woman consoles Finley against the coming dawn and what’s to come. Time running out for them both.
“Didn’t Charlie give you any pointers,” Georgia finally says.
“No, not much, his spelling isn’t that much better than mine.” Finley sees the monkey lying in the dirt staring face-up at her, as if beseeching her. She moves, scooping him up, clutching him to her chest and leans back in against the warmth of her companion hearing the soft laugh.
“You know a girl could get jealous of that monkey.”
“Really? I never thought you the jealous type and, after all, it was you who introduced us, remember?”
“Hmm … that was a bum move on my part then?”
“Are too—” They stare at one another for one long moment.
Opening a button of her shirt, Finley slips the dust-cover monkey half in, half out. He looks as if he’s saying to the world, ‘Hey, look where I am!’
“And do I get to slip inside there too?” Georgia asks.
Feeling a rise of colour to her cheeks, Finley gives the woman, who means so much to her, her answer. A mouth-stretching grin. Taking Georgia’s hand, she stands. With Charlie stowed, she flips off her torch and slips it into her combat pants along with the scraps of paper and pencil. With a gentle tug of the rough-skinned hand she holds, Finley takes a step backward. Thinking, there are far better ways they could be consoling one another before the dawn’s early light.
“I might lead this bunch of reprobates, but in matters of the heart, you’ve always mastered me,” Finley says.
“Then I’d better lead you to where I’ve bedded us down for the night, before first light steals what little time we have left.”
“You’d better,” Finley says, falling in step with her lover, as they move off into a darkness, which swallows them, whole.
* * *
The overhead sun beats down from out a clear blue sky, adding to the heat haze that gives the vista an ethereal quality to it. A lone figure, bathed in the sun’s white light, stands atop the rubble of bricks, waiting. In her left hand she clutches her one and only possession, a small stuffed monkey. In her right, she holds a detonation switch that will end it all. Unleashing what they all hope will be humanity’s last chance—tiny engines of destruction—deadly bacteria. Deadly that is to the aliens, as they had found out weeks earlier. How ironic the scientists’ bacteria were harmless to humans yet, so deadly to the ‘Uglies.’
Vials and vials of it lay housed in the underground laboratory right beneath the point where she now stood. A laboratory they had rigged with enough explosives to make their own miniature mushroom cloud.
All Finley has to do is flip the switch and it will all end—for her at least—in one cataclysmic explosion. Raining down a biological terror from the skies upon the alien invaders now just visible through the haze, in the far distance.
She doesn’t turn and look behind, knowing she will see no one there. As the others of her unit, now under Georgia’s command, have long since left the ruined city. Georgia had made love to her in those last few hours together. As if memorising every last piece of skin, every curve and contour of her wrecked body.
Now, with her gaze fixed on the future, the future of mankind, she lifts her right arm to hold it out in front of her. Steady.
“Is it time, Charlie…what say you?” She brings the monkey up and holds him against her chest. The child in her needing the comfort against the dark as, with her right thumb, she does one last act of bravery.