Cover image of Hello World by Murray Ewing.


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Chapter 1

Hi, Mum.

It’s me, Tim.

I’m on the school roof. How are you?

I don’t know if you keep up with these things, but it’s 1984.

1984 is the year they used to think would be the future. You know, in that book, was it by Orson Welles, or H G Wells, or someone? (Can’t think of anyone to ask but you. Dad doesn’t read books, Joe only knows about motorbikes and heavy metal, and I only know about computers.) Now, of course, we know the future’s going to be the year 2000. This time they named a comic after it, not a book. (2000A.D. with Tharg the Mighty!)

Most likely, we won’t get there.

It’s flat up here on the school roof. I don’t want you thinking I’m clinging onto tiles or hanging off a gutter. It’s flat, with puddles, and there’s a manky old pair of football boots in one corner, and a hairy-looking tennis ball in the other, and apart from that it’s just me and the world.

Oh, and a pigeon.

I’m going to tell you about Penny, but first I need to think about nuclear war for a bit. I quite often think about nuclear war. (I don’t know, do you listen in?) I haven’t been thinking about it as much recently, though, so you could say I’ve got some catching up to do.

The thing about nuclear weapons is, they’re not just big bad things that go bang. They do go bang, but they do it on such a massive scale they have all sorts of side-effects and complications. Some are as bad as the bang itself.

Say they dropped a one megaton bomb on London right now.

(No one’s going to bother dropping a bomb on a little town like Eastead.)

There it is, hurtling down from the sky. All those people milling about in the streets below, minding their own business. Someone sees it and points. Others look up and see it too, but they can’t do anything. It’s too late. Faster and faster it falls, and then—

London is 29 miles away.

Lying here, looking at the sky, the first thing I’d know would be a shocking white flash, brighter than the sun at midday. I wouldn’t be totally blinded (you’d have to be within ten miles of the blast for that), but I’d probably end up blinking some pretty serious purple blotches. I might get a bit sunburnt, too.

I wouldn’t hear the bang that went with the flash straightaway. What would reach me next would be the Electro-Magnetic Pulse. This is a shockwave of pure electrical force that travels at 90% the speed of light. It sends a jolt of electricity through everything it can. TVs, hi-fi’s, fridges, computers, and Patrick’s dad’s brand new home video recorder would all go fizz-whizz. Aeroplanes might have their controls zapped and come plunging to the ground. It would even electrify things that weren’t electrical, like the metal pipes in the plumbing at home. Turn the taps on, you might get fried. Tzzd!

Up here, the only thing to feel the Electro-Magnetic Pulse would be my digital watch. (Which is a pity, because I like my digital watch. It’s got a calculator built in.) I don’t know what would happen to it. It might go blank and never work again, or it might fast-forward to the year 2000, which would be sort of funny. But who’d need to know the time after a nuclear war?

The bang would come a whole 2 minutes 53 seconds after the flash. (I worked that out on my calculator watch.) It would sound like a hundred thousand thunder claps going BOOM! all at once, and might make me deaf for a bit. In fact (I was told by Mr Brow, our Physics teacher), sound travels faster through solids and liquids than air, so I’d probably feel a rumble in the ground before I heard the bang, like a mini-earthquake.

That would be scary.

The blast itself would be scarier.

If I was one of those people in the streets right below it, or if I was within six miles of where it went off, I’d be gone in an instant. Vaporised, like a popsicle beamed into the heart of the sun. There might be a shadow burned into the ground where I’d been, but not much else. Not even a pair of smoking school shoes.

A little outside that, I might not get totally vaped, but I’d still be hurt as bad as if I’d stepped into a burning building. And there’d be a lot of burning buildings about. Cars would explode, so would petrol stations and gasometers. The blast would shatter every window for miles around, and fragments of glass would be flying about in super strong winds. You’d get cut to pieces if you weren’t in some sort of shelter. If you were in some sort of shelter, it’d probably fall on you.

Here, it would be different. There’d be strong winds, which might be carrying some pretty dangerous debris, like bits of broken glass or the occasional radioactive sparrow. Telegraph poles and electrical cables might get blown down. I’d have to cling to the roof not to be swept off.

But the worst thing would be what happens after.

When things calmed down, I’d get up, and I’d see it. The mushroom cloud on the horizon. It would be ten miles high and ten miles wide, like a great grey tombstone.

It would be deadly radioactive.

And after that, there’d be snowfalls of radioactive ash, and when it rained, it would be black rain, full of radioactive dust. You wouldn’t be able to see it, but radioactivity would be in the air, and it would get into the water, poisoning it. Soon, it would get into everything. The whole world would turn deadly dangerous. There’d be a nuclear winter, which is what happens when dust thrown into the air blocks out the sun for months or even years. Nothing would grow. We’d have no food once the tinned stuff ran out. Those of us who didn’t die of radiation would starve, or just give up. Society would collapse. There’d be no electricity or gas, no telephones. Governments would be of no use. (Dad says they aren’t any use now.) People would kill each other for food. Martial law would have to be brought in. We’d all be forced to work on special farms, harvesting the occasional glowing potato only to have it snatched off us by some bloke with a gun. Or, if we could, we’d retreat into our own little bunkers, safe from the world, but totally cut off from it. Till the radiation went away. Which might be, you know, a million years.

And of course they wouldn’t just drop a single bomb on London. I read (in The Radio Times) that if they launched every nuclear missile in the world right now, it would kill, instantly, half the world’s population. (I don’t know, does that include Wombles?)

One thing would be sure. Nothing in the world would ever be the same again.

Life would become nothing but a relentless, pointless struggle to survive.

Anyway, that’s what I think about sometimes.

I was thirteen on June 12th. I first spoke to Penny on September 24th. Today is October 25th, and I may never see her, ever again. Even if there isn’t a nuclear war.