Jon awoke as the war began.
He couldn´t be sure, of course, because the television and radio had no doubt stopped working the same morning - being a naturally ingenious target for air strikes by the enemy - so it was hard to verify that the blast which awoke him was the first of the attack. It was also hard, under the circumstances, to see the importance of whether or not this was the case, but it made Jon happy to think that his instant reaction and adaptation to the emergency was actually instant: that should he and anyone else survive this whole thing he could honestly say he had known what it was as soon as his eyes popped open.
The actual impacting boom of the bomb must have been what had woken him because he missed it: Jon´s first impression was of the world shaking. There was a tight, hot ringing in his ears and his eyes bulged in their sockets. And, as he planned to proudly claim should he survive, Jon did indeed decide instantly what was occurring.
In order to feel secure in the belief that we are safe from one another, and that apocalypse is not approaching fast, one must watch a great deal less of the news24 phenomenon than Jon did. He was under no illusions. While he would not call himself a survivalist he was certainly aware of the likelihood of society crumbling within his lifetime, and to an unashamedly British extent had made mental and other preparations.
Within seconds of waking, Jon took action to ensure his safety in this dangerous new world of war - he ran the few feet across his bedroom and threw himself into the open ottoman. Despite banging his right elbow quite badly he was happy with the landing, and quickly pulled the lid down, careful not to dislodge the thick manila envelopes that were taped to the underside, or trap his fingers.
He lay for a long time in the darkness and listened to the roar in his ears. The shaking was gradually subsiding, but unevenly. He had seen the films, the sickeningly detailed films that seemed so popular these days - all world annihilation and nuclear war; they practically encouraged it - and he knew that there was no way he could hear the screams of people outside over the roaring, the laws of physics would not allow it, and yet for a moment he was so sure, SO sure, that just on the edge of his hearing....
Closing his eyes tightly against the darkness Jon decided to inventory, and he decided to do it as slowly as he could make himself, both to calm himself further and ensure that he was thorough and did not have repeat the exercise later. He groped around the envelope near his chest and found in its recesses a hand powered torch - it squeaked a little when you pumped the handle but he could not hear it now over the roar, and the light was steady without blinding him in these close confines.
Feeling a little calmed by the light he allowed himself to breath more slowly, and was saddened by the smell of ginseng and pomegranate fabric conditioner which was given off by the ottoman´s interior. How long, he thought, welling up a little, how long before such luxuries occur again? I have lived in mankind´s opulent times, but once this war is over, if anyone is left, we have many years of rebuilding and hardship ahead. Thinking this a meaningful sentiment Jon reached into the first envelope again and produced a spiral bound journal, in which he noted it. One might as well set out to survive, he reasoned, and if one should, the story will have to be told.
In the same envelope was a list of his equipment within the ottoman. He checked through them as he read the list to himself, sometimes slipping his hand into an envelope but generally patting the shape through the outside to save too much manoeuvring; now he´d been in here some time he was becoming aware of how small it was.
Water - he had two 2litre bottles of mineral water by his feet (on either side); he figured this should be enough - if he rationed himself, which, as a man conscious of the need to survive, he intended to - to get him through the first few days. In truth he did not intend to remain in here that long - there was a mission awaiting his attention as soon as it was safe to go out, and the hygienic provisions for bodily function within an ottoman were limited.
For the afore-mentioned bodily functions Jon had prepared a flatteringly wide necked plastic bottle (4 litre - it made sense to him given that he had 4 litres of fluid to drink) and that was it. He intended to retain solids until it was possible to expel them in a civilised or at the very least more hygienic fashion. Should this become impossible he had a contingency plan in the form of a triplet of sandwich bags (to be found in one of the upper envelopes - it would be difficult for him to twist down to reach one of the lower ones whilst in the throes of bowel cramps, which is what he had decided it would take for him to perpetrate this act and keeping it in a closed area with his nose) and plastic twist ties, one to be placed in the other until the odour was muffled.
Protection - Jon found it unlikely that even in the event of full war his little flat would be raided prior to his leaving the ottoman, but it paid to be prepared and to this end he had a meat cleaver imbedded in the lining by his right hand, ready to yank free, but safely out of his way. It had served him well for many years in his kitchen and it was comfortable in his grip, and had therefore been the obvious choice.
Food - whilst claiming no extensive nutritional knowledge Jon had put a lot of thought into what he should stock. Unwilling to be the sort of person who checks on his hideaway twice a day he had stuck to long lasting foods which he did not need to constantly replenish. He had taken into consideration not wanting to provoke his stomach and bowels whilst needing to maintain strength. In the end Jon had stocked vacuum packed dried apricots, beef jerky, and an astronaut meal pack he had seen in the back of a magazine for £9.99. It was like a TV dinner with little foil flaps you peeled away, only with freeze dried powdered chicken, potatoes and peas, with chocolate pudding. He was intrigued as to what it would look like but had only bought one, so had left the foil wrapping on. He had a suspicion it would not be as similar to NASA supplies as the clever "MASA" logo would lead one to expect, and was not intending to study the contents too much before consuming it lest it ruin the appeal. Aesthetically speaking it was his favourite piece of equipment because it fitted so neatly into the envelope, and he intended to save it if he could and take it with him if he went anywhere.
The mission, though, would provide for him for long enough to stay put and see what the state of the world turned out to be.
Jon´s little rented flat was above a corner shop, and it was to this corner shop that the mission pertained. It was certain that on this terraced network of streets the shop would be in danger of looting as soon as it was safe to do so, and he intended to be in there first. Unlike most would-be thieves who had to tackle the metal grills and sturdy padlocks and safety glass and grill screen covers, Jon would simply dig through the floor in his spare room. He would need to quickly establish a stepping system up to the hole, but then he could just empty the shop and storeroom into his flat, before doing his best to block up and obscure his entry. That was going to be the hard part, but as Jon anticipated a wait of some time in here before it would be safe to proceed, he was pleased to have something productively thought-occupying to save for later.
He had procured, at some personal risk, a fire axe, which even now rested behind the spare room door in a somewhat sinister fashion. He had always intended to figure out how long it would take him to go through the floor but never got around to it. Jon allowed himself a smile, thinking that in comparison to the things he HAD done in advance, it was a forgivable lapse, but he soon thought about all the poor albeit daftly optimistic types who would not have prepared a thing. He released the torch handle and let it go dark, listening to the now wavering roar in his ears and experiencing empathy with his fellow man; determined in this the very hour of modern man´s comeuppance that he would work to preserve those emotions which were best amongst his species: to those who had not prepared as he had and were sat vulnerable and terrified in their beds he offered sympathy, and to those who had already succumbed to disaster he offered condolence. Thinking in this manner made his haven feel secure as opposed to oppressive, and he almost snuggled into the soft lining, relieved to finally decide it was not as coffin like as he had suspected it might be. The envelopes and supplies helped - no one was this prepared for death. In his moment of comfort he giggled, but instantly fell to a crippling pang of guilt and his face pulled taught in the darkness as he fought back tears.
Jon forced himself to breathe regularly. His air supply was also his contact with the outside world, in that he would have to lift the lid a little on a regular basis to fill the ottoman with fresh air, but he had cunningly draped a semi opaque throw over the ottoman and tucked it in behind against the wall (an excellent idea; from the amount the room had been shaking it surely would have slipped off otherwise). This would hopefully allow the air and some light in, but keep his movements obscured in case anyone had broken in. While this was all well and good Jon reminded himself that he needed to breathe evenly and shallowly to prolong the air for as long as possible before opening it, thereby sensibly minimising risk to himself.
When he felt he was sufficiently under control he began to talk to himself quietly, unable to hear himself over the deafening and distorted tintinnabulation in his ears, but enjoying the normality of his lips´ movements. He explained to himself that he was doing very well, all things considered, and that a little bit of hysteria was perfectly acceptable so long as it stopped now because he was shocked, it was understandable. And he accepted these comforts from himself, and was quieted. Laying in the dark Jon listened again to the noise. It had a rushing wind effect that was distant but somehow internal, it was like a train rushing past his ears again and again but on the inside. He knocked against the side of the ottoman. With one bony knuckle. Harder. Again.
In this strange setting and in shock as he was Jon found it hard to remember how to tell the difference between hearing something and feeling the vibration of it. Because it was wood behind the ottoman´s lining he could feel his knock all along his body, including his head, which made it difficult to tell if he had tinitus and could hear it under it, or if the world had become very loud and he could simply feel the vibration of his knuckles on the wall.
Jon estimated his current time in the ottoman to be five to ten minutes, but was suddenly distressed to find that he was not wearing his watch. He had taken to wearing a wind up watch exactly because of this type of situation. When would he ever pass H Samuals´ again and think "I´ll just pop in and get a watch battery"? The world was ending for goodness´ sake: it was exactly what the situation required and he had left it behind.
Having calmed himself down previously he now found that he was not unduly distressed by this set back: his plan was not to emerge until all external evidence suggested that it was at least comparatively safe to do so; the watch had been for comfort and force of habit, but he realised sternly that the time had come to start breaking free of his habits and become unhindered by dependence on normality: ready to face this new world of survival. He would tell from the light through the throw over what time of day it was, and if he got it wrong, he would learn. He felt proud of himself for dealing with it all so positively.
It suddenly occurred to him to wonder from whom the attack had come. While England had few enemies of its own in these post-empire days he felt sure there must be those who would gladly see America´s lapdog put down. Jon stiffened slightly. Precisely because of his previous reasoning England would surely not be attacked without a simultaneous strike on the USA. Although he had on some level been aware of the enormity of what was happening he reeled as he actually pictured the whole of the western world coming under bombardment in chunks his conscious could handle: the White House shot from Independence Day; the playground vision from Terminator II; it was too much and he pumped the handle of the torch until his hand cramped up. Being able to see his surroundings again gave him grounding, and the nightmare images retreated to the world outside the ottoman, which he whispered over and over to himself was not his concern.
Jon's mouth felt thick and phlegmy and he decided to have some water. This turned out to be quite difficult. While there was room to stand the bottle and room to tip it, there was no room to sit up to receive the water, and no choice of angle at which to pour. After tipping the bottle onto the plateau of his shins, he worked on bringing the bottle within reach of his arms through a slow gyration beginning at the knee. He used the limited height of the ceiling to hitch up and grab the neck of the bottle, sliding it up past his boxers and onto his t-shirt. After a few minutes manipulation, he turned onto his side in a foetal manner, his neck strained taught as he kept his head as high as possible. Holding the bottle secure in his right hand - semi bracing his body with his sore elbow - he unscrewed the lid with his left hand, jolting for a second when his arm pushed against the lightweight lid and threatened for a quivering instant to push it open. He moved his arm fast and it remained closed, leaving him in the warm darkness still, but with tiny flashes of light bursting behind his eyes as his pulse raced. When his heart stopped thumping he finished unscrewing the cap and tipped the bottle to the side, clamping his mouth over the neck as soon as he could reach it to prevent spillage. The water was cool and he savoured that: after a few hours of his body heat trapped in here it would be tepid and flat tasting. It nearly made him cough as he was naturally unaccustomed to drinking sideways, but he felt it went quite well, and again congratulated himself on grass roots resilience. It was important to keep himself in good spirits.
After manoeuvring the resealed bottle back to its station, Jon took his time and got as comfortable as he could. There was much to be thought about.
He did not have immediate family to be concerned over - not that there would be much point in being concerned over them if he did have: unless they were singularly determined people, people with the distinction of character and judgement of the world stage that he possessed, they simply would not have prepared themselves as he had. He felt it was a symbol of his remarkable acceptance of the situation that allowed him to openly confront a thought which previously had almost brought him to tears, but which now made him grimly determined to follow up his good work by surviving at all costs. He had to be realistic, if he had had a family around, the likelihood was that they would no longer have been so at this juncture: i.e. some five to ten minutes after the beginning of Armageddon. It had always been a secret bugbear with him, that he should have no unconditional love in his life: it seemed unfair that someone so poorly equipped to make friends should pre-emptively be denied a family. He had always tried not to openly bemoan his lot, and now he found himself grateful for it: he had no-one to grieve for, no desperate search for a loved one to put oneself in peril, and he would be all the stronger for it. His solitude - although surely nothing compared to what would come now the known world was ceasing - had made him able to survive this, and he felt a thrilling sense of purpose in the realisation that what he thought for so long was killing him was making him stronger for later. Some entity up there knew - it knew his pain and helped him through it because he had harder times ahead; he had always resented the notion of Destiny but now it was thrust upon him he revelled in it. Could it be? That he was special? That everything that was wrong with him was really right but in the wrong setting? Could he have been built, been designed, been born ready for a different world? His constant failure and confusion at the hands of the other had reeked of basic social ineptitude and mental frailty, but what if - What IF this was his time now?
Jon wriggled unknowingly in the ottoman, his upper canines clamped onto his lower lip and his hands clenching and unclenching. With a little imagination he could turn the roaring in his ears into the thunder of applause, not the applause of many people clapping politely but that of a few dozen grizzled survivors passionately acknowledging his necessity to them. His mind began to reel with unsolicited ideas for speeches, and movie shots from his life as it would be.
After a satisfying length of fantasy Jon identified within himself the need to urinate, and was greatly annoyed by this. The world was ending, it was going to be up to him to pick up the piece from the way things were looking and not ten minutes in he was going to take up valuable space in his toilet bottle. Almost as he thought it he realised that he would be able to use the other bottles as he emptied them, and decided almost as quickly to deny to himself it had ever not occurred to him, being such a silly thing to overlook.
On the other hand, it reinforced the notion of self sufficient safety to know that he could relieve his bladder if he wished to, in a tolerably civilised way whilst in here and feel completely secure. He decided to hold it for a little longer, but could not get comfortable again and decided not to after all: he would be in here along time and it was guaranteed that despite everything else in Jon´s universe changing forever, as soon as he got truly comfortable he would need to pee. It was less difficult than drinking had proved, and he was relieved on both the obvious level and also to discover that he had released no more than about 400ml of fluid, boding well for bottle space.
Now he was more relaxed and his recovering mind was able to think of things on a larger scale, Jon began to wonder if the attack were interplanetary. As little respect as he had for the majority of people he was still happy to doubt that they had unleashed world wide chaos on themselves if another explanation was possible. And he had to admit, with the earth burning beyond his window and the sour chemical scorch of irradiated death only prevented from reaching him by the throw over the ottoman, he felt that anything was possible. It was not only possible, but now he thought of it, probable. After all; everyone on the planet was painfully aware of how trigger happy the current administration was, so surely no-one from Earth would attack the West? It could only lead to retaliation and that could only conclude the dealings of mankind at large. Could anyone insane enough to initiate this be in a position where it was possible? (A little voice whispered that although he wouldn´t initiate the Third World War he had to concede that as it was part of his destiny it was to an extent a situation that was working out well for him, and that he shouldn´t throw stones, but he brushed the voice away with a fly-shooing motion of his hand by his face and continued to ruminate.) He had considered the possibilities of hostile contact before and was pleased with himself once more for having had such an open mind in his old life.
This is where it became clear to Jon that it was absolutely essential that he conceal his raid from the shop. Because anyone entering there - as they surely would do being aliens, they would not realise that the ground floor was not residential - or maybe they would want the supplies themselves, there was no evidence thus far to suggest that the invasion fleet was incapable of consuming human food. And besides - if they decided to put survivors into encampments, which he felt was likely, they would need to keep these survivors alive until their purpose, whatever fiendish fate it might be, could be fulfilled. And for that they would need food: yes: it was obvious that his primary rival for the goods in the shop would be the attackers, and not his fellow men. Which reinforced his instinct for extreme caution on how to conceal his links to the shop. They may not have expected anyone to have the necessary preparations to survive the initial onslaught, and may not be checking every building. But when they burst through the door of the shop if there´s a ruddy great hole leading into my spare room, a basket on a rope made out of ties with a Twix and a half scribbled IOU in it, they're bloody well going to look up here!'
Jon smirked a little at what he identified through seeing action films as Soldier Humour - laughing at, or at least taking the piss out of, the danger the enemy presented was to be encouraged, so long as one never fell to underestimating them. But even as he was smirking he was worried: he had no idea what these things were armed with, or how many arms they had to arm. He was struck by an image of a dark green tentacle with little scissor mouths gaping hungrily on its surface slithering over the lip of the hole in the floor, one huge rolling eyeball filling the rest of the gap from below, rising into shadow as it blocked the light from below but almost glowingly white was the eye, and a soulless void of pitch its centre.
The power of this image was overwhelming, to the extent that Jon farted in terror as his stomach flipped, and he cringed; wondering if somehow over this terrible roaring the beast in the next room could hear his body cry out in fear, and was already shuffling hastily in his direction.
Beginning to pant Jon tried to recall if he had dug the hole yet. He had thought about it so much and he was so panicked and insensible that he was not sure if he had opened this portal to the enemy. Even now the whooshing in his ears could be concealing the thump of furniture overturned in the wake of a slavering demon determined to discover and devour him. He felt a pressure in his bladder again so suddenly that he squeezed the torch - just once - in fear and glanced down, certain for a terrible second that some slithery thing had somehow penetrated his haven and poked him there. The flash of light and the sight of the professional manila envelopes so neatly arranged, his clean water in the ethereally blue plastic bottles, in fact the ripe scent of his own anxiety all served to calm him with their ordinariness, and after some time spent in forced calm and concentration he was certain that he had not in fact opened a hole into the shop yet.
Trying to regulate his breathing again (he was relieved to discover, now he was focused on issues inside the box that his expulsion was not distasteful, merely reminiscent of its being a waste presence, but it nevertheless made the air warmer and less palatable, which helped him in a way to draw less in) he considered the speed of the human thought process and decided that although mentally he had achieved a lot he had only in reality - whatever that was, now - been in his shelter for about five to ten minutes. Surely if it was any more the noise would have abated at least slightly and it had only recently begun to waver, which proved it. It simply felt longer because he was deprived of so many senses and perspectives. He would have to acclimatise to it, and felt pleased to have looked beyond pure emotional response to his logical core and realised his perceptions had been altered by shock (and no doubt a little radiation, but he secretly hoped that this might, when distilled through the surface of his refuge, endow him with additional strengths with which to fulfil his destiny. As the world had found the next page of its story be inked in the style of a graphic novel, with aliens, destruction and radiation, he found it not unreasonable to expect some sort of perk for surviving it. He made several efforts, in the dark, to focus his eyes on the view beyond the lid, through the lid, but was disappointed to find that he merely gave himself a headache and had to stop doing it.). ´My emotions are my humanity,´ he thought, stiffening his posture and protruding his chin without knowing it, ´and these creatures will seek to turn our humanity against us. My logical side must take control now, and replace human instinct with cold intelligence.´
Knowing that this could prove to be plaque-engraving material some day and refusing to deny his current literary worth (when the world´s genuinely talented were being mown down around him in their millions: who was to say that after it was all over he might not be considered a great intellectual?) Jon shuffled around once more and committed this latest sentiment to his journal. He was very careful with his handwriting, which was difficult because the pen would not write well upside down, and he spent even more time scribbling on the back page and tapping the pen upside down on the floor to get it flowing than he did cautiously etching his quote onto the paper. He recalled seeing an astronaut pen advertised in the same magazine as the astronaut´s dinner, and was sad now that he did not buy that too.
The list of alleged benefits to owning a pen which wrote upside down seemed a tad stretched at the time, but Jon felt shame now at his cynicism toward his fellow man, and sadly acknowledged that had he been less suspicious of other humans his chronicles of survival under the threat of non-humans would not be such a struggle. Had the original issue not been the fundamental uselessness of the pen itself when used in this position he would probably have noted the almost irony of it as he felt it to be symbolic of why the world was found so unready for this, but as it was he saw it would be a waste of effort, and that he should save the ink.
He released the torch handle and let himself float once more in the darkness, only comfortable now if he lay absolutely still: once he locked into a position moving only made him aware of numbed and numbing limbs and the pins and needles in his feet. He inhaled and exhaled slowly, mentally noting that the air was much thicker than it had been but confident that as only five minutes or so had passed since he arrived in the shelter that he would be able to study the decreasing qualities of the air for the next few hours before having to refresh it. It did concern him that the air seemed to have changed so much in so little time but if in half an hour or so it was uncomfortable he would do it. He was surprised to find himself tensing at the thought of opening the lid, but it was only natural, he reasoned; mere minutes ago he had plunged in here breathless and panicked and had barely survived a terrible explosion; flames and screaming and shaking of buildings, great splits opening up in the earth itself under the pressure of the initial blasts - it was no wonder that after being exposed to all that he felt anxious not to expose himself again. He reassured himself that he was still reacting healthily but to avoid being ruled by his emotions resolved that the lid should not be opened to refresh until he had been in here two hours. Logic told him that while it should be monitored the air should be good for about that long, and he had already agreed to trust his logic. ´Ten minutes has passed,´ - his hand automatically went to his left wrist but found it still empty - ´and everything is fine, and there's no hurry.´ Murmuring to himself felt pleasant, and happy to indulge himself this small ridiculousness under the circumstances he made spit bubbles with his lips, and sang a few songs he knew the words to. It struck him that he should sing something significant, something which befit his position and predicament, but he could not think of anything, and as he could not hear himself anyway allowed himself to be lost in the movement of his mouth instead, falling to simply making nonsense noises which pleased his lips to present.
At this point it came into Jon´s mind that his hearing might be permanently damaged by the blast, and that he would hear nothing but this dull roar for ever. As soon as he thought it openly, as opposed to in the little creeping whispers in his mind he became convinced of it. Though he had denied to himself at first it was obvious really that this noise could not have continued the whole time he had been in here: almost ten minutes now of roaring chaotic static. If the level of devastation matched the level of the sound effects surely he would have been destroyed, precautions and shelter or not. No - it was clear to Jon that his ears were ringing with the head-pounding nothing-thumps of events already passed and that his audio facilities had been damaged.
A wave of despair crashed over him, and he felt betrayed. Why save him if he was to be incomplete? Then worse: What if had not been saved for any reason? After all it had been clear for most of his life that the Gods were against him so what more fitting way to drum it home for him than to give him clues as to his special purpose, lead his life in a direction which was so obviously preparation for a greater cause and then just - Wait. Now he thought about it, it was TOO obvious. They gave him a comic book hero´s tragic background and he fell for it; expecting and preparing for a hero´s life which was a lie! They had lied to him! Why tell him he was to be special when he wasn´t if not to be cruel, and to display disdain? And now when Hell - the tentacled demons he had seen in his vision were in fact Demons; it was now clear - surged up to wage war with Heaven and he would have served them - oh! He would have played the hero well for them - they cast him aside; robbing him of one of his senses, and forcing him to lay in this box, helpless, subduing the others!
He wept and sobbed bitterly, forcing his hands into his mouth until he gagged trying to stop the sounds of his cries; unwilling to let them hear his pain though he himself, crippled by immortals in their obscene vengeance for a sin he remained unaware of, could not hear it. He rocked for a long, long time; finding a rhythm in his limited space and maintaining it; back and forth, back and forth despite the tweaking cramps, until he remembered that he was in the ottoman voluntarily, which made him feel better, and realised that his bladder had become uncomfortable again; he was dully surprised when he finished by how strong his urine smelt. Although he was more adept this time with the bottle he found the effort exhausting, and he felt the catch in his throat as he dragged in and threw out the thick breaths he needed to manoeuvre. Relaxing back afterwards, his strength seemed remarkably depleted for what was, all told, probably nearly ten minutes in his sanctuary.
Assuming himself to be drained by the shock, but physically rested from the previous night (he had, after all just got up), Jon turned his head to a nicer angle and surrendered himself to the urge to sleep which had been creeping up on him. The disappointment had understandably upset him after such traumas, and perhaps he would feel better after a rest - from which he would awake with easily enough time to reassess what the next stage was for these cloyingly shallow sips of air, and open the lid. He had only been up about ten minutes so he wouldn´t sleep long now, and this numbed dread was sure to pass on quickly once he allowed his subconscious to have reign and adapt to it all. A blacker darkness slipped behind his eyes and Jon fell under; to dream of glory and persecution, and later of drowning.
The telephone began to ring, and his eyelids flickered.