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Julie sees the other members of the group starting to head upwards towards the Beacon. There is going to be another powwow. The time’s drawing close now, maybe this will be the last one. It’s already the afternoon of the 20th December. She zips up her jacket preparing to join them. Just a few hours more till Armageddon. Julie wonders how she can remain so calm; how any of them can.
Looking through the scratchy branches of the winter trees, Julie is only able to picture the desolation of the world. She blows on the window and rubs the glass with her hand to make the outside more visible, sees before her the bleak outline of Ivinghoe Hill. This is the allotted place where the aliens are to land their spacecraft. Julie wants to make a shift from the familiarity of the past to the glorious unknown which awaits her. But she can’t help thinking less about this bright future than about what is to happen to the world she knows. She can’t even imagine what the inside of a spaceship would look like, let alone the aliens themselves. She does her best to focus her mind on this future and see it clearly. Some of the others say they’ve been able to conjure up the new world in this way and they knew they were seeing sights that the aliens were sharing with them. And that’s another thing. She should stop saying the aliens. The rest of the group says the Saviours. Because that is what they are about to do, isn’t it – save everyone here.
It isn’t so much that Julie wants to be sceptical about it all. From the first she has taken the Mayan Prophecy seriously, has believed the world would come to an end on the 21st December. But she doesn’t seem able to come up with convincing images. For the spacecraft she can get no further than buttoned red plush seats, looking something like the shiny leather Chesterfields in her local wine-bar, and glass dials with chrome surrounds like the ones she had seen on a tour boat. For the aliens themselves she pictures short men with green faces, something between Shrek and a kind of pantomime gnome. She only seems able to visualise what she has seen many times before. It is not at all easy to think in completely new terms and she has no idea how the others appear to manage this. When she dwells on the fate of the world it is a different matter. Her imagination gets a kick start from the fear that races around her brain.
From about mid-November on Julie found that when she went to bed at night she could not sleep but lay awake for hours sometimes fretting about all that she knew and loved bursting into flame, turning to ash. And just scattering. Things that meant something to her. It was awful. Her scary thoughts were of two basic types. Seeing the killer comet come hurtling through the sky towards Earth. The Earth would turn dark, as though night was everywhere. Then all at once explosions would burst out everywhere, successive volcanic bursts erupting high into the air. For miles. Julie could see it in her mind though she didn’t want to. She could only successfully get rid of these images by focusing on what the world would be like if it did not explode into nothingness after the apocalypse but were to carry on. And these pictures were worse, much worse. Because although the world was not over in the first sense it was over in another way. For the human race and for life in general.
Without meaning to, Julie stares night after night at the ruins of what is left. She is frightened. She wants to see the new alien beautiful world which others see but all she can imagine is the destruction of the old one. It’s not at all creative, she chides herself. Just picturing the forms of annihilation is second only to blindness.
She suddenly thinks of Serena. Serena is Julie’s old school friend. Serena would be able to picture the future without any problem. And then Julie gets to thinking how ironic it is that Serena herself hasn’t come along. Then Julie has a sudden flash picture of Serena shrivelling up and dying. It makes her feel hysterical. She can’t imagine living in a future which doesn’t include Serena. Not so much because Julie really likes Serena any more, as she’d never felt that close to her since she had gone off with Julie’s boyfriend, Connor, but because Serena was the kind of person who had always seemed like a winner, someone who would continue to go forward despite all the odds. So it is shocking in the extreme, realising Serena is at the end of the road. Julie has to ask herself if Serena actually believed Doomsday was one day away. And then she groans at the sight of Serena burning up to nothing, becoming yet more worldly ash. Truly horrible.
Julie has a very deep fear. It is to do with what she thinks of as her lack of imagination. Because she can’t really come up with a convincing picture of a different planet she’s afraid that she won’t be going there with the rest of them. Trev, the group mentor, has always emphasised the importance of their meditations. You have to let go of yourself, you have to let go of your earthly home. Julie knows this but just can’t seem to manage it. She does try. Over and over. But somehow the very way she is trying is antithetical to the way you have to be. It’s too desperate, too clingy, and runs counter to the spirit which everyone should be aiming for naturally. What she’s doing is setting up a negative energy. As Julie zips her jacket up and pulls on her thick climbing boots she sees only too clearly for a second that she will definitely not be leaving with the others; can’t help seeing herself as doomed. She is part of the Doomsday conflagration. It’s an agonising thought but she can’t fight it off.
Trudging up the sharp stony path after the rest of them she wonders why she is still carrying on with this. Wouldn’t it be better to say to everyone, or to Trev at the very least, that she isn’t going with them on their journey. The wind is sharp in her face as she climbs and she doesn’t know whether it is that or whether it’s the thought of being alone that makes a few tears spurt from her eyes. Because she wants to belong to this group, and has really appreciated being welcomed into it. She has felt a part of things and wanted by all. There has been a sense of excitement about everything. Not only that but she has truly felt within herself the idea of connectivity that Trev talks about. She has joined hands with the others and circled round with them up on Ivinghoe Hill. She’s entered into the whole spirit of the group, and especially during the times of chanting, has experienced this huge release. It’s all been so life enhancing.
More than anything Julie wants to belong. And so the thought that she is marked off from the others, and separate, and going in an entirely different direction to everyone else here today makes her full of despair. What a terrible fate. When you want something so badly and yet you just can’t be the right person to make that happen. She wonders whether she is suicidal. Because that’s what staying on Earth will mean, won’t it? Certain death. But she reminds herself there is no real choice. She has to face the fact that she doesn’t meet the requirements. It’s like failing an exam, or a job interview. No it’s much more than that. It’s like failing and at the same time knowing it is right and proper for you to fail. Because you can’t find the right answers within yourself and you know you’ll never be able to find them because you’re set on a different course. So in a way it isn’t a real failure. You would have liked to receive the accolades and been someone who had passed with flying colours. It wouldn’t have been genuine though. It wouldn’t have been you, just a show that meant nothing at all.
But at the point of climbing the hill Julie is torn in two directions. Wanting to belong, and accepting that she doesn’t belong. So internally she berates herself, going on and on asking why she doesn’t, and what she can do to change that. What am I doing that’s wrong? she keeps saying. It must my fault. Why can’t I learn? And then she is walking round in a circle with the rest, holding hands, and the chanting is beginning its hum, blending in with the whoosh of the wind. It gives her a great feeling but she’s still aware this should be the time for letting go and moving into the new age spirit. And even at this heightened moment she can’t do it. Still, all she can picture is the dying world.
As though she’s studying the painting of a surreal landscape her eyes pan across the ruins of buildings overrun by creepers; see trees that have become scaly, lizard-like, with branches which could be withered fingers. With stumps like hooks, beaks, talons, all petrified into ghastly whorls. There’s a charred seaweed look about the land, a sense of autumn becoming winter. The stench of rank vegetation fills her nostrils. And everywhere there’s a deathly stillness. Julie sees a figure lurking in the dead-dry undergrowth. She doesn’t want to look but she can’t help it. It’s impossible to turn away. She zooms in closer, sees the raddled gargoyle face, with lidless eyes. All gone to rust, to stone. The figure is herself. She would scream out and cry, begging to be saved. But she can’t break the silence.
She’s done for then, only part of the past, or of a fantastical dreamscape. She is not of the new bright now. The group shifts round on the windswept hill, their voices rising in unison. Julie is one of them but not one of them at the same time.
In the early evening Julie leaves the group up at Ivinghoe Beacon and goes back down into the valley. She wants to try and think. As she passes through a small beechwood she hears a light scrunching sound near to where she’s walking. Feeling apprehensive she stands quite still. Then through the gloom she sees a fallow deer passing between the wintry trees, its antlers catching at the bit of remaining light in the sky. There’s a crackle of dried leaves and beech mast as the deer shifts its way along. And in that second she suddenly sees what must be. She comes to terms, accepting her destiny. She will be left behind when the rest of them are saved, because it has to be. Julie walks towards her car.
As she moves even the hard flinty ground beneath her feet feels precious. This is her world. She looks out across the distant hills, sees the huge form of the Whipsnade Lion, chalk-white in the gloom. This is where she belongs then; she is one of those who will perish. Julie sighs but feels a surge of joy at seeing she can’t be other than she is. She can only be herself.