It was the day of my 37th birthday that I made the decision to destroy the world.
If you’d known me you’d be surprised that I could have come to such a decision. I was the ultimate grey man, boring and inoffensive. Maybe the fact that I never mixed socially would have provided a clue. Although not much of one. Of all the people around me only those I worked with had any idea I existed at all. Even to them I was only the man they rang when their computer stopped working. I always spoke politely, but never more than what was needed to do my job.
Eventually they gave up inviting me to drinks in the evening, or lunches at the local pub. Occasionally a new starter would break the wall of silence and make an attempt to include me. I always declined and those who had worked in the office for some time would nod wisely and with a little condescension. If you needed your workstation fixing I was the person to call, for anything else it was wasted breath.
Outside the office where I had worked for so many years I was just a face in the crowd. A face seen in the local supermarket at the end of every week. On Sunday I would treat myself to a roast dinner at a cheap restaurant within walking distance of my small flat. Even there I remained in isolation. I spoke to no one except for the customary please and thank yous required for minimal social interaction.
I kept my flat bare except for essential furniture. No pictures or photos adorned the clean walls. No mementos occupied any shelves. I occupied my time watching television and surfing the Internet. The news provided my only stimulation. I revelled in the vileness of it. The ways humanity tormented itself was the only colour in the grey dullness of my life.
If you had known me in my younger years I doubt you could have connected the young me to the stale man I became. Back then I appeared happy to involve myself with the people around me. I say appeared because it was all an act. I’ve always wanted to hide myself away, but as the youngest in a large family that wasn’t permitted. My mother doted on me in a suffocating fashion. My father judged me in the manner expected of a man from an earlier time. My siblings bullied me and generally made my life hell.
It all meant that I never had time to myself. No escape where I could just absorb the day’s events, to collect my thoughts. I secretly started to despise the familial horde. On the rare occasion I let those feelings I received punishment, as the smallest and weakest my only option was to endure it. Revealing the hurt or any weakness only invited further torment.
So I learned to keep my feelings hidden, buried so deep they would never show. This proved a valuable lesson useful when I started school. For some reason I started school later than the other children. Although the difference was only a year or so, it was enough to mark me as different. My age unfortunately didn’t give me a size or strength advantage so I was bullied. It didn’t bother me too much; I was already used to being picked on by my brothers and sisters. At least the kids in class couldn’t match the cruelty and strength of my siblings.
As the years progressed I rebelled against my self imposed exile. I came to understand that those around me forced me into that isolation. With my rebellion I came out of myself. For my teenage years I became known as the class clown. It got me into the occasional trouble which always resulted in recriminations from my mother and beatings from my father. Nothing extreme I hasten to point out. I’m not justifying my decision by blaming my family. I’m not a psychopath and I’m well aware people have experienced a harder life than mine.
So why did I come to this extreme decision?
The simple answer was people. They crowded around me, smothered me. Wherever I went there were people, too many people. At home my parents, brothers and sisters gave me no space. At school, the crowds of teachers and swarms of children plagued me. I played the game, pretended to be someone I wasn’t and survived.
In this time I discovered anger. I only revealed it once. One of the other kids picked a fight with me; this was before my clown phase. He mocked me, called me a freak. That was nothing out of the ordinary, but on this occasion my rage sprang into being. A phoenix from cold ashes it erupted in the kid’s face. I broke his nose and knocked out a couple of teeth. They suspended me from school and my father dealt the expected punishment.
Revealing my anger, no matter how unintended only ever made things worse. By extension that meant any emotion. So while I learnt to fake humour and camaraderie, I also learnt how to bury everything deep inside. I hid it and I hid it well.
The clown disguise lasted until I left college. I amazed myself at maintaining the pretence for so long. Thankfully adult life rescued me. I still had to provide a facade, to fit in. But as long as I did my job and paid my taxes, the world left me alone. The days were hard, but I buried all the frustrations and desires deep. The lessons I learned as a child continued to stand me in good stead.
It’s a shame that our society doesn’t allow loners, in more civilised times hermits were respected, revered even. Maybe such an option would have saved everyone from my decision.
So I made my decision, I would destroy the world. I know that seems extreme, but it wasn’t just for my benefit. It would be a mercy for every living thing. I knew that they all hid the truth from themselves. Like me they had no place, they just pretended because they were trained to. To just rip away that disguise would be unjust; extermination would be the only merciful option.
This wasn’t the first time I pondered the end of the world. Throughout my life various prophets and doom merchants predicted the end times. Each of those times ended in disappointment. The world continued. The human pollution flowed on. I came to believe these warnings existed only to taunt me. I buried the disappointment deep.
So back to the day of my decision. Thanks to the Internet as soon as I made the decision I started investigating. The first step was how. How could I destroy the world?
It turned out that actually destroying the world isn’t that easy.
The most obvious option was nukes. I’ve always found something quite amazing about watching a nuclear explosion. One of the great things about the Internet is the sheer amount of video footage I could watch. And I watched it, time and time again. I watched nuclear tests in the Pacific, tiny atolls blasted clean by the intense fireball. One video showed a vast bright spark, the day sky turned black in contrast. This miniature sun sucked a vast tower of water into the air. You could tell it was massive by the old WWII battleships that looked like toys on the sea.
The water spout formed the shape of a squat mushroom. The blast wave surged at incredible speed across the water, a supersonic tsunami before the water sucked into the air collapsed back into the ocean. The weight of the falling water created another wave, slower this time but still powerful enough to smash the scorched wrecks of the old warships.
Awesome was a word used too often by Americans and even kids these days. They’ve used the word so often it became diluted. In this case it was the most apt word possible. But awesome as this single nuclear detonation was it wouldn’t be enough. Even if you combined every nuclear weapon from every country (I was only thinking of the how at this point, I would worry about the practicalities later) in the world it still wouldn’t even come close. In fact a single large volcano contained more devastation than the world’s entire nuclear arsenal.
That fact made me think. It made me think that the world wasn’t going to get off that easily.
On the Internet I discovered that I wasn’t the first person to investigate the destruction of our planet, although probably not for the same reason as me. The depressing conclusion was that actually destroying the planet was pretty much impossible. The only vague possibility would be to smash an asteroid into the planet. Apparently that would be possible with today’s technology. Possible but would probably cost trillions of dollars.
Despite the implausibility of it I savoured the scenario. A billion tons of rock and metal plunging through the atmosphere. Fire would scorch the air. Its mass would compress the air in front of it creating a shockwave that would foretell of the devastation to come.
What would happen next depends on where the impact occurred. My favourite scenario was the asteroid landing in the ocean. The impact would cause immense waves to speed at hundreds of miles an hour in every direction. Anything that the waves hit would be destroyed by the mass of hurtling water. The friction heated rock would throw superheated steam into the atmosphere, killing everything or thousands of miles.
But it wouldn’t destroy the planet. The Earth had already survived dozens of such impacts.
With some disappointment I set my sights a little lower. Instead of complete destruction I would reduce my task to annihilating life, especially humans. This seemed more manageable. Nukes became an option again, although gaining access to every nuke in the world would be tricky. Maybe I would only need a few, trigger a war and let the various militaries do the job for me.
My revised goal opened new possibilities.
Biological weapons also presented a viable option. Nature itself had created plagues over the years that had struck humanity hard. The influenza outbreak after the First World War killed more people than the war had. More recently AIDS spread like wildfire across the globe, killing millions. I read about the various really nasty viruses emerging from Africa. Viruses like Ebola and Marburg that wreaked havoc in the victims. But even these terrible killers couldn’t do the job alone.
My research lasted for weeks. I examined countless ways of killing human beings. All of them lacked the total eradication of humans that I sought. All the while I continued to watch the news. The TV was always on spewing its bile into my ears as I scoured the Internet for the solution.
Sometimes I wondered if just leaving humanity to it would do the trick.
On one evening after work I encountered some cheap philosophy that made me think. The website with its gaudy text and even gaudier background asked a single question. It was a simple question.
How do we know if all that surrounds us is real?
The answer seemed simple. If I experienced it, then it must be real. It was a silly question. But that silly question wormed its way into my head. Everything around me was real, but only if I experienced it. If that was true, were the people around me real? Did they experience anything? Did they help make each other real?
Or did I?
I didn’t like to think about that, so I buried it deep along with everything else. It turned out that the hole inside me where I hid everything away was not a bottomless pit. It flowed over like a burst sewer. The filth, the desire and the hate I bottled up bubbled into my waking mind.
With it, this bitter poison brought new clarity. An improved perception of the world around me. I tried to continue my research. To bury myself in something outside of me. The lack of a solution spurred the unwanted questions.
Why were the people around me so perfectly designed to torment me?
That question twisted in my head. I couldn’t decide whether they were creations of my own mind, or if they were real but being changed somehow to make them a scourge of my existence. Either way I needed an immediate solution. By now I couldn’t function in the outside world. Everyone watched me. The littlest things would frighten me. Now I remained in my flat, relying on pizza deliveries for sustenance.
The answer was now obvious. It might well had been printed in neon mile high letters in the sky. There was only ever one way I could control the world around me. Whether I created the humans whose existence tormented me, or whether they tormented me for their own reasons, I had a way out.
I took that way out. I made that final escape and in that final moment I realised that I had destroyed the world. Only it wasn’t everybody else’s world, it was only my world. But at least their world would be safe.