'It's coming...it's coming!,
'Craaw!, craaw!, craaw!'
'It's coming...it's coming...it's coming!
I had fallen asleep and was dreaming of days long past. When I used to come here on holiday with my parents and paddle in a big, blue sea. And, afterwards, we would devour fancy ice creams while we all walked along the seafront.
In my mind at least, it had always been under an all-encompassing sun with a deep azure sky. There would be just the puffiest of white cotton-wool clouds scudding by on the faintest of faint breezes.
But my escape into a past I subconsciously yearned for, no matter how surreal, was interrupted by the sound of someone or something chattering.
'It's coming!'...'It's coming!, it's coming!'
Suddenly wide awake, I looked up from my position of slumber, which was on a surprisingly comfortable wooden bench under a tree on the more secluded side of the large park in which I had played many a childhood game of football or cricket as a boy.
I couldn't make out where the noise was coming from...it was quite faint to my ears. But as inaudible as it was, I detected a high degree of urgency in whatever was being said.
Once again I tried to discern from where the sound had derived...but there was no-one around...just me and a few black birds (possibly rooks or crows...I never could tell the difference from a distance!) in the trees opposite.
I was aware of a fluttering nearby and so I immediately looked down to a spot no more than a couple of yards in front of me.
And there, as bold as brass, stood a smallish, jet-black bird...a rook indeed, I later concluded after consulting an encyclopaedia.
The little bird immediately caught my gaze, shuffled a touch from side to side, moved forward a pace or two and said:
'It's coming you know!...It's definitely coming!'
Dumbstruck, all I could do was breathe my next breath.
Later, walking back through the village, with its old world thatched cottages (some of them charming shops selling this and that to the tourists that had always flocked here down the years), I tried to digest what that brave, black bird had just told me.
'The end of your world is coming!' he had said with a certainty that I didn't dare to question.
'The end of your world is coming!' the rook had repeated...he had a habit of doing that!
It wasn't a dream...I knew that!
There had been a wedding party in the park, spilled over from the nearby church and taking advantage of the warm, late summer afternoon sunshine. All dressed in the finery of such an occasion...I hadn't been dreaming!
I remember thinking how delightful the bride and groom appeared. Well-suited I thought...and secretly hoped they would be happy together for a very long time.
It was just a typical Saturday in the park. I'd spent many over time and although I admit to sleeping a pleasant, light sleep for a short while, I was very definitely wide awake when the rook, neatly attired with a red scarf around his neck (all capped off with a jaunty little black top hat!) began to issue his brief, apocalyptic warning.
I continued my journey back to the guest-house in which I was staying for the week without looking into any of the town's little shops or noticing anything else really...I was deeply preoccupied with the upsetting news I had just received from such a most peculiar source.
'Your time is over' the rook had said
And, although somewhat shocked, I wasn't overly surprised. Looking back on things, we humans hadn't made much use of our time on planet Earth had we?
War, disease, greed, hate, division, poverty, disharmony, destruction...they'd all been around for centuries...and we hadn't eradicated any of them...had we?
'This year is all you have' said the rook in that matter-of-fact little voice of his that at times seemed, to my ears at least, to be tinged with just the slightest trace of a welsh accent.
Who was I to question this most insistent little bird?
I had no doubt that his message was presented to me as a fait accompli and that he was speaking with the assurance of someone in full possession of the facts!
So, armed with the knowledge that the world in which we all lived was very definitely going to change for humankind (and quite finitely too!) in a few, short months, what did I do next?
Did I ring the government?
Did I contact the local newspaper?
Did I attach a board on my back arrogantly predicting 'THE END IS NIGHER THAN YOU ALL THINK!'?
No, I calmly made myself a cup of tea and sat down in the largest leather chair my room possessed!
The Last Christmas
I'd moved to the little seaside town, where I'd spent so many happy days as a child, less than four weeks after my contact with the rook in the park.
It seemed to make perfect sense to me. To play out the last part of my life in the place in which I'd always wanted to live...and where I'd been happier...more so than anywhere else!
I should have left London long ago. It's fast pace and increasingly rude inhabitants had worn me down.
So I'd rented one of the delightful cottages in the heart of the old village. I'd even paid three months rent up front, which had pleased the unsuspecting agent no end!
I would use what time I had, and there wasn't much of that remaining now, to go on long walks in the Winter countryside or along some of the stunning coastal paths the area boasted.
Whatever fate awaited me...and the rest of the populace...was set in stone...there was nothing I could do to prevent mankind's demise.
I had travelled up to London...one final time...to visit my mother and father's grave as well as that of my fiancee Elizabeth, who was so cruelly taken from me before we'd even had the opportunity to forge a life together.
That done, I'd spent this last Christmas eating and drinking whatever had taken my fancy...but also walking long satisfying walks (despite heavy snow falling from late on Christmas Eve to lunchtime on Boxing Day) and finally (yes! finally!) pulling all the loose ends of my relatively uneventful life into a perspective that would have to do!
December 31st...Humanity's Last New Year's Eve
The day dawned to a brilliant violet sky, in which an apologetic, watery sun turned the cliffs of the seaside town I had come to call home in the days since I'd arrived a strange and sinister off-pink in colour.
The gulls wheeled away, high up in the thermals above the bay, as they had done for countless years...their cries sounding even more foreboding than usual.
Did they sense what was about to happen upon the conclusion of this very day?
If only I'd pleaded with the rook for more time, I thought...just one or two more years!
But mankind wouldn't have put that time to good use would it? No! the rook was right...our time was over!
Knowing what I did...though not knowing exactly how things would end, I'd long since made the decision to end my own life. The rook's revelation had at least given me that choice!
At my usual bedtime of 11PM, on the cusp of Armageddon itself, I crushed more tablets than I actually needed and mixed them with some hot milk and a larger than usual nip of brandy, sat back in my armchair, downed my elixir of death and calmly drifted off into a sleep from which I would never awaken.
January 1st...New Year's Day
A curious breeze drifted around the town, blowing in off the sea and causing a copy of yesterday's newspaper to rotate tornado-like for a moment before it settled on the empty main road.
'GIANT NEW YEAR SALE TOMORROW 9AM!' proclaimed a large advert proudly on one of its pages.
In another part of town, a group of rooks (or was it crows?) were picking over the remains of the humans.
Young, old, healthy, infirm...all were gone now!
The birds were tearing at the recently departed with some vigour...tearing at eyes that would see no more...tearing at the flesh around mouths that would remain forever silent.
The feeding frenzy continued unabated for several hours. Mouthful upon bloody mouthful of human flesh, dripping with its very lifeblood, found its way into the ever-expanding bellies of the birds that first morning.
All the birds, especially the rooks, knew they were lucky to be alive on such a day and were determined to make the most of it!