A Short Story Inspired by WITHOUT WARNING by John Birmingham
[This next piece is “fanfic” that takes place in the world depicted in Without Warning –
– a novel by the illustrious – and dare I say it, charming? – Australian author, John Birmingham.
I reviewed Without Warning in this blog. I cannot recommend it more highly as a very good read. If you want to see the review, click here. /.
The novel was inspired by a question: what if the world woke up one day to find out that the United States (and adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico) were gone – and, in the novel “gone” is shown as a mysterious energy barrier surrounding the United States (called the “Wave”) behind which everyone has died and that kills anyone who tries to travel through it.
The novel is devoted to following characters who live in a world without America and describes what happens to the world when the US is suddenly gone and depicts what is left of the US – in Seattle and Guantanamo Bay – struggling to survive and rebuild.
I was interested in exploring how the Wave might affect people who are not part of any heroic scenario and who are, essentially, inconsequential in the scheme of things in every way a person can be inconsequential.]
AFTER THE WAVE: JIMMY’S TALE
It happened when Jimmy was in Calgary, rummaging through an alley behind a strip mall on 1st Street: he found a crate labeled “Novelty Nose and Glasses.”
Jimmy opened the crate and found it full of rubber noses attached to black plastic horned-rimmed glasses frames. His hands shook as he placed a pair on his face. He ran into an empty store and found a mirror and, as he looked at his reflection, Jimmy suddenly knew what he was supposed to do.
The Wave killed Jimmy’s parents. They were out of town visiting family in Calgary. Jimmy’s parents left him with his Aunt Mona. Then the Wave hit. Jimmy’s Aunt ordered him to stay with her in her house. But when the riots began, Jimmy left, hell-bent on protecting his home. He left his Aunt and ran across town to his house. He used the key hidden in the garden to get into the house and he went right to the closet where his father hid a gun.
“Guns are dangerous,” Jimmy’s father explained. “And no one is supposed to know we have this one. But I want you to know how to load it. Just in case.”
Jimmy loaded the gun like his father showed him and then sat vigil in the darkened house, ready to use deadly force to defend it against anyone entering without his consent.
He almost shot his aunt who came by in the morning to make sure he was all right. Three days later he returned to his aunt’s home, taking only his father’s gun and collected ammunition in a brown grocery bag.
Then the Wave vanished, and the need to find his parents overcame Jimmy. He stole his Aunt’s car and drove south on Highway 2, teaching himself how to drive as he traveled.
As he drove, he watched the needle on his gas gage slowly drop towards empty. He stopped at gas stations along the way, but none of the pumps functioned. He ran out of gas near Leduc.
Jimmy hiked back to a gas station he passed just prior to running dry. He found a Mercedes sedan parked at one of the pump islands under the canopy with the pump handle sticking out of the fuel fill tube as if, just before the Wave hit, the Mercedes owner left the pump to go into the mini mart to buy a cup of coffee while the pump continued to gush gasoline into the Mercedes’ gas tank.
The doors was unlocked. Jimmy ignored the crusty piles of clothing in the front passenger seat. By then such refuse was nothing new to the little boy, even if he had not yet completely accepted what it meant.
Food became a problem. The residual smell of rotting meat and decaying produce made every supermarket unapproachable. Eventually hunger superseded Jimmy’s revulsion, and, after that, it was an endless feast of junk food that evolved into a diet composed primarily of canned goods.
He found companionship. Jimmy stopped at every supermarket he passed and he fed the feral dogs and cats lurking near each supermarket, drawn to the death stench. There was plenty of cat and dog food in every market Jimmy plundered and, before he drove off, he broke enough windows to let the dogs and cats into the stores to scavenge what they could.
After two weeks in Calgary, Jimmy gave up searching for his parents. By then he knew they were dead – he knew that everyone was dead – but he kept looking for them, harboring the romantic notion that it was his duty to find and bury their remains. When he could no longer hold onto that illusion, he finally grieved his parent’s death and the end of the world. Great tremors battered his very small, very young mind and body as he sobbed and screamed, completely alone and utterly terrified.
The next few weeks were dark indeed. Jimmy discovered the numbing virtues of distilled ethyl alcohol in many varieties and the incredible pain associated with drinking too much of it. He somehow lived through the ordeal, and slowly began devoting his days to exploring any part of Calgary that caught his momentary fancy and wasn’t on fire.
In an alley behind a strip mall on 1st Street, Jimmy found a shipping crate he decided to open, and when he did he discovered it was filled with novelty nose and glasses. Jimmy never saw such things before, but he wasn’t stupid; he realized they were some kind of joke. He slid a pair from their clear, crinkly cellophane packaging, unfolded the black plastic frame arms and slid them onto his face.
He found a mirror and looked at his new refection. He didn’t notice his filthy skin and ragged, filthy clothing. All he noticed was his eyes staring out from the black plastic frames and the large flesh colored rubber nose covering his.
And, at that moment, Jimmy knew what he was supposed to do. He found a bag and stuffed it with nose and glasses. Then he drove about three miles north on Macleod until he reached those stupid statues.
There, on Macleod, between 5th and 6th, stood ten statues of what looked like people who were starving. They were three times as tall as Jimmy, standing in a circle, holding hands, and dancing.
Jimmy hated those statutes. He didn’t fully appreciate the concept of irony, but he instinctively understood what he was too young to intellectually grasp, and that basic understanding encouraged him to hate those emaciated, faceless, tall dancing human caricatures. Every time he drove past them he hated them more, until eventually he worked hard to avoid them.
But now he avidly sought them, and when he found them, Jimmy used a tall ladder to climb up and place a novelty nose and glasses set on each of those ten statutes. And when he climbed down and walked far enough away to see them all standing there sporting his handiwork, he laughed and laughed until he fell to the ground holding his stomach and rolling on his back on the grass. Eventually he stopped, only to start up again. Jimmy gleefully convulsed thus until long after the sun set.
That night, sleeping in a home he chose at random in the bedroom of people who were surely dead, Jimmy dreamed. In his dream he found himself walking down a path towards a shadowy figure sitting on a rock next to a campfire.
As Jimmy drew closer he saw that the figure was an old man with shoulder-length hair, a cropped iron-gray beard and wearing old nondescript clothes.
“Call me Wanderer,” the old man said and smiled. “I knew your father.”
“Ed Finklestien?” Jimmy asked.
“What? No, not Ed Finklestien. Mike Havel. Wait – wait a minute – aren’t you Artos?”
“No. I’m Jimmy.”
“Hold on a second.“ The old man stood, reaching into a pocket and removed what looked like a cell phone. He flipped it open and rapidly punched a series of keys on the phone face. The old man peered at the small, glowing display screen.
“Damn it,” the old man hissed and rapidly punched another series of keys, lifting the phone to his ear. “Cindy?” the old man said into the phone. “Yeah, its me. It happened again. No. Listen. Wait… look , I want her fired, okay? It happened again. I know. It’s a hard job. More alternate realities every day. Right. Uh huh. Yeah, the Assiti. Look, I don’t care. It’s the wrong universe again, God damn it. I want a new appointment secretary right away, okay? Okay.”
The old man angrily snapped the cell phone shut, shoved it back into his coat pocket and looked at Jimmy.
“Sorry, kid,” the old man said, “but this mystical experience is over.
Jimmy woke up. He was a little afraid and didn’t understand what happened, but somehow the dream stiffened his resolve to continue defacing statues. He drove back to the alley where he found the packing crate. He loaded up his car with all the novelty nose and glasses he could find and, with a long ladder tied to the car roof, with no regrets, and armored with a sense of purpose, he left Calgary driving south on Highway 2.
If you are interested in any other Without Warning inspired fanfic, go to
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