The world ended on a Thursday.
It wasn’t the Mayans, it wasn’t Judgment Day, it wasn’t global warming. The weeks leading up had not prepared us for the ultimate arrival of the end. Everything was calm, normal almost, until the news started broadcasting a spike in deaths in the east, which became more and more frequent as the days wore on. People started to panic, worrying that whatever was spreading in the east would come over to the coast, would infect England and then travel overseas to America. And then people started dying in Germany and Sweden, and I knew Jude and I couldn’t stay in London much longer.
My brothers and I had lived in Galway, Ireland all our lives, the four of us—myself, Connor, and the twins, Jude and Rhys; I was the eldest at twenty-four, Connor still a kid in my eyes at nineteen, and the twins like surrogate sons at eight. Our mother had died giving birth to the twins, but I had fond memories of her wandering about with a dowsing rod, sometimes lying in the grass and staring at the clouds for hours, and not so fond memories of our father, who had taken the severity our mother lacked and doubled it for his own. He did his best, and I’ll never hate him for that, but after his wife died, I couldn’t remember a single laugh or smile, and it wasn’t long until he passed, as well. That was when we got Rory, an Irish setter with a rich red coat, who Connor claimed was the best trained dog in all of Ireland. He responded only to commands in Gaelic, a language our mother had cherished, and he was five when everything began.
Jude and I had been staying in a flat in London with Rory—Jude had demanded we take Rory along to keep us safe, though I knew it was for his fear of leaving Ireland. Connor and I had decided that Galway wasn’t a home anymore, just a reminder of what we’d lost, and we’d been looking for a new home in London. But then the news started, and I couldn’t think of anything but getting back to my brothers, of bringing my family back together and keeping them close.
Connor and I had only one phone call before Jude and I began our trek out of London, and he’d agreed to stay in Galway while we made our way back home, making plans to find a ferry in Wales and cross over to Dublin’s shore. London was hit with the epidemic three days before we left—hospitals were overrun with thousands of people with various symptoms, some arisen through panic, some truthfully sick, but no one seemed to understand what the actual issue was, no one except Leah.
August 28, 2017
I look up as Jude approaches, yawning. He’s the spitting image of our mother, as the four of us are, with wild brown curls and brilliant green eyes, freckles dotting every available surface of skin. “Good morning. How’d ya sleep?”
“Okay. Anythin’ for breakfast?”
“Look in me backpack. There’s some granola left, I t’ink.” Jude just yawns and turns back to our small camp. I watch after him for a moment, frowning. It’s going to start getting cold soon, as summer fades and we get closer to the ocean. Sighing, I turn my gaze back toward the line of trees a few miles from our campsite where Leah disappeared to as soon as dawn was cresting the horizon. We met Leah only about a week ago; she’d been coming up from Spain, heading for Edinburgh, and she’d promised to explain what she knew about the disease in due time. We didn’t know much about her, just that she’d been doing research under a grant when the epidemic hit, and she’d jumped headlong into discovering the cause until she decided Spain wasn’t safe and she needed to get up north where her sister lived. She was excellent with a crossbow and did most of the hunting—until then, Rory and I had only just been getting by. She’d gone on a research mission for a year, living off the land along Asia’s southern coast to study the climate.
“I found a banana,” Jude says as he flops down next to me, “Can I have it?”
“Only if ya share,” I say, bumping shoulders with him and smiling. He returns the expression before peeling the banana and halving it. He hands me one half along with a small bowl of granola, and we eat together until Rory’s bark echoes across the empty space, preceding Leah’s sharp whistle.
Jude looks over his shoulder for a few moments before turning back and asking, “How much longer until we get to the coast?”
“Soon. We’re goin’ to leave the river today and continue north until we get to Gwynedd, and then we’ll see if we can find a way across the pond to Ireland.”
“But you said the end of the river was near the coast. Why don’t we jus’ follow it?”
“T’ink about it,” I say, taking his bowl and going to wash them in the river, “Where is Galway?”
“In the west.”
“And where is Gwynedd?”
“If we followed the Severn to the coast, where would a ship take us?”
Jude is quiet for a few moments as he thinks, and Leah’s nearly upon us before he answers, “Southern Ireland. So, if we go to Gwynedd, then we’ll be in eastern Ireland?”
“Aye, and hopefully we’ll end up in Dublin. You’ve been before, remember? Da used to take us with him sometimes when he had to go into the city. You and Rhys were still little the last time we went.”
“I remember,” Jude says softly, “You bought Rhys and me sweets, and then we went to skip rocks at the beach. Connor was mad because he wanted to see his girlfriend, but you wouldn’t let him leave.” I look over as Jude gets up, going to greet Rory while Leah slows from her run into a walk, smiling widely in my direction. She continues to take me by surprise everytime I see her, as wild and beautiful as she is. She said the moment she heard about the spreading disease, she went out to get dreadlocks, saying she’d never have the patience to deal with her lion’s mane if the world did actually end. And so she’s got a mass of blonde dreads that she always keeps up in a high, messy bun. She’s got a sidearm holstered on her left hip, another around her right thigh, and a knife tucked into her black boots; she carries her crossbow slung over her back, hitched over her backpack. She never stops talking, but we have yet to hear what we’re most curious about.
“Hey there, handsome,” she says, dropping to the ground next to me, an apple in hand, “Almos’ nine o’clock.”
“T’anks. How was your run?”
“Brisk,” Leah says, stretching, “Rory makes good company. I’ll leave ya to it, then. Jude!” she exclaims, getting back up, and I watch her jog over to him with a smile. She and Jude connected almost immediately, and I know that’s the only reason I’ve trusted her this far.
I remember her words, though, and look away from them to fish my cell phone out of my pocket, bowing my head and saying a quick prayer in my mother’s language before turning it on. A small laugh escapes me as it lights up and powers on, and I’ve only got half a battery, but we never have long conversations, and we only call once a week. It rings twice before Connor picks up, miles away in Galway, “Eoin.”
“Connor,” I say in response, so glad to hear his voice again, “How are you?”
“Good, good,” he says, but he sounds off, and I frown.
“Yeah, it’s all good. How are you? How’s Jude?”
“We’re okay. We’ve, uh—we’ve met someone who’s been helpin’ us. She t’inks she knows wha’ happened, but she hasn’t said anythin’ yet. Hopefully, I’ll have somethin’ to tell ya next time.”
“Yeah, next time,” Connor says, sounding a little breathless.
“Connor—is everythin’ okay?”
“It’s fine, Eoin, it’s fine.”
I want to pause, want to give him time to tell me, but we can’t stay on long, so I ask, “How’s Rhys?”
“He’s, uh—yeah, he’s doing okay. Listen, I can’ stay on long. Stuff to do, you know? I should go.”
“Come home, Eoin,” he says, and then he’s gone.
Jude is at my side the second he sees me lower the phone, and he’s full of a million questions I can’t answer, “Was tha’ Connor? Did you get to talk to Rhys? Are they okay? Did you tell him where we are? Did you tell him about Leah? Does he miss us?”
“Somethin’s wrong,” I whisper, and Jude frowns, falling quiet. I look over at him, suddenly realizing my words, and I quickly shake my head, forcing a smile. “Sorry, I don’ know why I said tha’. Everythin’s okay, Jude, I promise.”
“Wha’s wrong, Eoin? Wha’ happened?”
“Nothin’, Jude. Sorry, I was—I was t’inkin’ of somethin’ else, t’inkin’ of ma. It’s fine, Jude.” He nods, but I know he doesn’t believe me.
“Alrigh’,” Leah says when we stop for lunch.
I look over at her curiously, but she just shakes her head, so I frown and go back to Jude, digging out an apple and handing it over, who bites into it greedily. Leah remains quiet as I shoulder my backpack again, and then she starts walking away, so I follow after her, Jude jumping up and jogging after us until he falls into step; Rory walks a few miles ahead, scouting. “Alrigh’?” I repeat after long minutes of silence.
“I’m goin’ to ask ya a strange question first, and ya have to promise to answer honestly,” Leah says, not looking at me.
“Cross me heart.”
“Me too!” Jude chimes in, and I offer him a weak smile.
“Do ya know you and Jude’s blood type?”
“Uh, yeah,” I say, frowning in confusion, “We’re both AB.”
Leah lets out a huge sigh, finally looking over, “Ya don’ know how glad I am to hear tha’. Okay—okay. Work with me on this—jus’ listen, no judgment until I’m done.”
“Alrigh’. I’m listenin’.”
“Okay. So, my research team was under a grant to work with bionuclear chemicals for warfare, but tha’ was jus’ the public story. Our lead scientist instead had us workin’ on research to counterattack some of the mos’ dangerous airborne poisons—t’ings like Anthrax and all tha’. So, this story leaks—there’s a spike in deaths in the east. We know there have been various countries workin’ with bionuclear warfare, all over the world. I was curious, though—why only in the east? I did some diggin’ for a few weeks, and I t’ink I’ve gotten to the bottom of it. There’s this scientist tha’s been workin’ on an airborne chemical tha’ attacks the blood cells, but it was still in the prototype stages, and I t’ink there was some kind of accident and it was released not to a test group, but out in the world. So, you’ve got this prototype airborne weapon loose in the east, and it’s hitched a ride on the wind and is makin’ its rounds, but tha’s not even the most interestin’ part.
“It’s still in the early stages, yeah, so it isn’t attackin’ the blood cells like they though’ it would—it’s attackin’ only those with O blood type. At least, tha’s wha’ I though’ at first, but then I started noticin’ a pattern as it was gettin’ closer to home—it’s attackin’ those with O blood type the fastest, but then there are those with A or B blood type, and they’re dyin’ a lot slower. Their brain functions are gettin’ all screwed up, they’re gettin’ more deranged—not zombies, I can already see your boy brain goin’ that way. This is not zombies, this is bionuclear war on accident. Nature works in freaky ways, too, because now we’ve got people with AB blood type who are totally immune, the most uncommon blood type, of course, and tha’s not even the half of it.
“Those with A or B blood type are affected in different ways—for example, if you’re more prone to aggression, the deterioration in your brain affects you in a very violent way: ya start lashin’ out more, turnin’ feral and attackin’ those around ya for no reason; but, if you’re not prone to aggression, it takes the form of self-harm, as though it’s somethin’ inside of ya that ya need to get out, so the brain deterioration spins itself, makes it look like you’re just mental. So now, you t’ink about it, the world’s goin’ to hell. There’s roughly, like, 8% of people in the world that have AB blood type, of course, so humanity is goin’ extinct, slowly but surely. From what I could tell, O types go between one and two weeks, A and B types go between three weeks and two months. It’s not an exact science because it’s a prototype, damn it.” Leah lets out a loud breath when she finishes, reaching up a hand to run over her face. “Sorry, I get a little heated talkin’ ‘bout this. It’s the firs’ time I’ve really been able to tell someone else. Tha’ was totally an information dump, too—are you freakin’ out now?”
“Give me a minute, I’m sure I will,” I murmur, not meeting her gaze. All I can think about is Connor’s voice, breathless and weird, almost unrecognizable, and it makes the pit of worry in my stomach clench tighter, makes me feel tense and stretched too thin.
“Eoin?” Leah says after a few minutes, and I look over at her, frowning.
“Tell me again,” I say, and she just nods.
September 4, 2014
“I’ll be back,” I promise to Jude after I’ve got him settled near the small fire and Rory. Leah nods to me from where she’s sitting, and I return the gesture before making my way into the creeping darkness. I don’t go far, just enough that I can still see him but can’t hear the crackling of the fire, and I know Leah will look after him. I settle on the uneven ground and fish out a pack of smokes, lighting up and inhaling gratefully. I watch the sun makes its final descent as I pull absentmindedly on the cigarette, and it’s gone when the deep, rich dark of night has wrapped around me, cold and unforgiving. I light another cigarette under the glaring eye of the moon as I think about this morning, listening to the phone ring and ring and ring. I think about Connor, his breathless voice, and I want to scream.
“Damn it,” I hiss before fishing out my phone and turning it on. I know he’s not going to answer, that his phone is off, but I need to make sure. I’m about to dial his number when I notice the little notification, and I open it to a voicemail.
“Eoin,” Connor’s voice drifts through the phone, “I don’ know wha’ to do. I need you. I can’—I can’ do this on me own, Eoin. I need you. Rhys—Rhys needs you. I can’ save him, Eoin. Come home,” and then he’s gone again, and I do scream.
September 6, 2017
“Jus’ come with me,” she keeps saying, a record spinning in my head until it’s all I can hear, and Jude has to tug on my hand and yell my name before I can hear him.
“We’re here,” Jude says, and I swallow the bitter taste in my mouth and shake my head, trying to clear Leah’s voice and the way she’d walked away from us, promising she’d make for Ireland after she found her sister. “We’re here,” he says again, and I nod, smiling down at him.
“We are,” I say, squeezing his hand, “Come on. Leah said to look for a Mitchell O’Hallaran.” We make our way toward the docks, Jude standing close to me until I point toward a man that reminds me of our father, with a face hardened by poverty and death, with a strong, deep voice calling out through the docks. “T’ink tha’s him?”
“I hope,” Jude says, trying for a smile.
When we approach, the man’s voice falls quiet and he nods to us before saying, “O’Hallaran. You lookin’ fer passage across the pond?”
“To Dublin. You goin’ there?”
“Tomorrow mornin’, leavin’ at dawn. Passage is free, jus’ tryin’ to get people home, but make sure yer here on time, you hear?”
“T’ank you,” I say, shaking hands with him.
“’Course. Who sent you?”
Mitchell’s breath hitches, and he looks at us in shock. “Leah?” he repeats, and I nod, frowning.
“Yeah, she said she though’ you migh’ be usin’ your ferry to get people to Ireland.”
“Last I saw her, yeah. She left a few days ago, headin’ north for Edinburgh.”
“To look for her sister?”
“Yeah,” I say slowly, drawing Jude closer to me, “Do ya know her?”
“She’s me daughter,” Mitchell says, smiling widely, “I though’ she migh’ be dead. I can put you up for the night, if you’ll let me know how she’s been.”
“Yeah, of course,” I say, blinking in shock, “Of course.”
Mitchell lets out this broken laugh, tipping his head back, and I can’t help but smile, rubbing a hand over Jude’s arm, thinking about my brothers, so close.
September 7, 2017
In the morning, we’re sailing with a couple and their baby, a father going home to his daughters, and three teenage girls who were on holiday. Jude takes a seat by the edge, where he can watch the ocean go by, and I go to sit with him, closing my eyes when he holds my hand with both of his. Rory comes over and lays his head on my thigh, and Jude leans his head against my shoulder, humming a lullaby that I used to sing to the twins at night.
The winds are fierce that day, and Mitchell sails with a content look on his face. He’s at home on the sea, and I long to ask him what tore apart his family, spreading them all over until they were just drifting there, in between the sea and the sky and the land. I doze until Jude gasps and pulls on my hand, and I open my eyes to see the coastline in the distance, and I smile, squeezing his hands.
As we get closer, a good four hours since we left Wales—it’s longer now with only the wind to guide us—Jude leaps to his feet and leans over the edge, squinting to try to see our brothers. I watch him, waiting desperately until Mitchell finally docks and Jude fidgets crazily. “Alrigh’!” Mitchell calls, and Jude nearly flies off the ferry, stumbling onto the dock and taking off at a headlong sprint, Rory chasing after him.
“Cheers, mate,” I say to Mitchell, holding out a hand and he offers a rare smile and clasps my hand.
“If ya ever need anythin’, Eoin, just’ shout to the wind, and I’ll be ‘round. T’anks for lookin’ after me little girl.”
“She’ll find ya,” I say, and Mitchell just nods. I hop off onto the deck and shrug my backpack higher onto my shoulders. Near the end of the dock, where land meets sea, Connor is standing, and I feel all the tension that’s been building up crumble as his green gaze meets mine. He lifts a hand in a wave, and I start in a jog that builds into a run and ends in a halting walk, my mouth turning down in a frown.
Rory is pacing behind Jude, and Connor is fighting not to cry. “You’re home,” he whispers when I reach them, and he pulls me toward him, squeezing me tight.
“Connor,” I whisper, trying to keep the panic from my voice, pushing away from him and stepping back. Rory comes over to me, whining softly and pushing at my thigh, and Connor forces himself to smile, shrugging.
“It’s good to see ya,” he says, but I’m shaking my head.
“Where’s Rhys?” I ask, and Connor stops trying to hide his fear.