Outside the rain pelted down, fiercely lashing across the deserted streets of Tullamarine.
* * *
Inside the blind, shambling Nyarlathotep -- the Haunter of the Darkness, the black Messenger of Karneter, the Howler in the Night, the blind, faceless Crawling Chaos -- slowly-stalked Randolph Carter across the dream plains of unknown Kadath. In the distance the fearful banshee cry of lumbering, faceless Night Gaunts broke the eerie silence and through the swirling voids of timeless, dimensionless apace elephantine shapes winged grotesquely overhead. Approaching the Gate of Deeper Slumbers, clutching the silver key in his right hand, Randolph Carter could see the sprawling shape of the dark, insectile Dimensional Shambler closing in on him, could hear its buzzing voice shrilling over and over again into the blackness of the night, 'I am Nyarlathotep!'
* * *
Outside the streets were deserted. Vehicles stood abandoned near the kerb. The façades of houses looked like brick or wood faces brooding for the owners who had deserted them, or who lay dead within.
Inside the orange tram Damian York slammed the science fiction magazine shut with a cry of, "Bullshit! Utter bullshit! Life isn't like that! Bombs! War! Death! That's where real terror comes from, not from mythical Lovecraftean demons!"
Leaning back in the seat he sighed heavily and repeated, "Bombs, war, death!" He remembered back to the day the first announcement had been made.
* * *
Swathed in a silver-white lead-lined suit, Damian had been carefully manipulating long-handled tongs, lifting metre length bars of uranium metal from a conveyor belt to a nearly full lead-lined container, when the announcement came over the intercom: "The Prime Minister has just confirmed that in the advent of war breaking out between the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United States, the Tullamarine Nuclear Processing Plant will be converted to produce nuclear warheads for the USA."
* * *
It had been a little over a month later that Damian had been approached by his life-long friend and immediate supervisor, David Ward, a small, balding man, whose stupid grin and monstrous potbelly belied an I.Q. of nearly two hundred.
"War has just been declared between the Soviets and the Americans," said Ward.
"But how? Why?" asked Damian, horrified.
"Don't ask me, who knows haw these things get started," said Ward. "We all hoped that nuclear one-upmanship would end with the collapse of the old Soviet Union back around Christmas 1991. But after it was revealed that Boris Yeltsin still had KGB spies operating in the US the cold war started up again in the late 1990s. And things have been going down hill ever since.
"The details of the current fiasco are still very sketchy, but it seems that the Americans shot down a Soviet plane that strayed into U.S. air space and the Soviets retaliated with a nuclear strike against Washington D.C."
* * *
Outside the empty streets began to fill. Previously the lawns and driveways had been deserted, now they were covered with prostrate bodies. The corpses of men and women lay on the ground or slumped across hedges, in cars, upon patios. The bodies of young children lay across bicycles, amid toys, and near lifeless dogs. Where the driveways and roads had been empty, cars and trucks now lay overturned, or smashed together. Small corpses lay in and around an overturned school bus; the driver hanging suspended out through the shattered front windscreen.
Inside the orange tram the seven process workers sat staring in disbelief at the body-strewn streets, half wishing the rain would return to blot out the sight before them. Damian York stood beside the driver in the small cabin, staring out in horror at the streets around them.
"There's got to be someone, somewhere still alive," said the blond youth driving the tram.
Detecting a trace of hysteria in the young man's voice, Damian said, "Perhaps they've all been evacuated to Inner Melbourne." But even as he spoke Damian knew that it was a false hope.
* * *
David Ward's account of the start of World War Three had been wrong in only one detail: there had been no nuclear strike against Washington. In fact the two superpowers both did their utmost to keep to conventional weaponry. While major sea battles were waged around the Bering, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; major air battles were fought over Siberia, and the Eastern reaches of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Alaska, and Canada.
After more than a year of fighting the two superpowers were deadlocked and the World War might have dragged on for decades, like the Vietnam War, with no clear winner. If only Libya, half the world away, hadn't decided that this was a perfect opportunity to get revenge for the U.S. air-strike on Tripoli in the late 1980s. Over the last fifteen years Libya had slowly been amassing a secret nuclear stockpile. So, using an old Soviet-built Tupolev-bomber, Libya dropped a single plutonium bomb on the United States. The bomb detonated in North Dakota, devastating that state, along with much of Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota, as well as the southernmost reaches of three Canadian provinces: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
The use of a CIS bomber had the desired effect: the U.S. congress immediately approved a three-missile retaliatory strike against the CIS. One of the missiles overshot its target and detonated relatively harmlessly in the Kara Sea, off the Arctic Ocean. The other two missiles were on target, detonating in Tiksi, in the far north-east of the CIS, and in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, completely razing the city and sending shock waves all the way to Moscow, nearly 800 kilometres away.
Although the population was calling for American blood, the CIS leaders kept a cool head and restricted themselves to strikes off mainland-USA, destroying the American naval base in the Philippines, the U.S. satellite-tracking station in Pine Gap Australia, and a scientific base in the Arctic Circle.
As a consequence of this low-key retaliation, for more than three months conventional sea and air battles continued to predominate, with only the occasional use of nuclear weapons whenever one side or the other began to lose ground. But after three months, for no apparent reason, both superpowers began to scale up their use of nuclear weaponry, as though they had grown tired of dragging out their shared doom and were impatient to hammer the final nail into their collective coffin. The war raged for more than six months after the dropping of the first Libyan nuclear warhead, but gradually the prophecies of the greater doomsayers began to be realised: the human race moved steadily toward extinction right across the face of the Earth.
When the warning came to evacuate the Tullamarine Nuclear Production Plant, Damian York and the six other surviving production workers set off on foot toward Melbourne. They had no cars, all private vehicles had been commandeered long ago for military use.
A kilometre along the way they found an orange tram abandoned on its rails in the middle of the street.
"With a little bit of luck we ought to be able to ride into town," said Damian. Climbing aboard, he added, "Who thinks they can drive this thing?"
"Why bother?" asked a young technician, putting to words what they all thought. However, they scrambled aboard and in the end it was the young technician who drove the tram.
They had been rattling along for less than an hour when the last plutonium bomb exploded outside Ringwood, nearly twenty kilometres south-east of Tullamarine. The blast razed the Tullamarine production plant and hurled the tram from its tracks like a Tonka truck hurled across the room by a spoilt child.
The tram was thrown through the front window of a long-deserted weatherboard house. Inside the tram the seven process workers were tossed about like clothing in a tumble dryer. The young driver and two passengers were mercifully killed outright.
The others lay battered and bleeding in the tram, or among the debris in the front bedroom of the house, numbed from terror, too shocked even to scream from the agony of broken limbs and shattered bones.
Badly shaken and bleeding heavily from a gash in his left cheek, Damian York rose slowly to his feet and looked about the wreckage. The derailed tram lay upon its side, one end protruding from the window of the bedroom. Dragging himself wearily across the raw of seats and bundles of bleeding flesh, Damian inched his way to the back of the tram to gaze out through the shattered rear window.
In the distance a huge mushroom-shaped cloud soared kilometres into the sky. The air was laden with the roaring whoosh of the cloud, as the expanding molecules sent ever more and more gases up into the yellow-grey helix, building up and adding to the growing mushroom.
As the thermal heat lanced across the land, melting glass and metal, bonding steel and human flesh together, for an instant the cloud wavered, took on the shape of a dark, faceless demon, whose many tentacles were tipped with giant crab-like pincers.
In an instant the thermal heat melted Damian York's eyes, and his face began to run like the features of Poe's M. Valdemar. Just before his eardrums burst from the maddening roar of the cloud, in his last instant of life, Damian York was still sane enough to reason; to try to scream through the mouth that had been welded shut, when his ears told him what his eyes no longer could; when he heard the demon cloud speak. Heard it, like a mourner for the loved dead, say a few last words over the corpses of the last of the human race: "I am Nyarlathotep!"
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia