Johnathan Jerome Quinn
June 30, 2089
“Here is the only place in this collection of stories where I felt it appropriate to include my own personal accounting, for the calamity that I myself witnessed was too strange and incredible to leave off these pages, for it was on June 22, 2089 when every single pre-Pollen human across the entirety of the Earth simply ceased to be.
I was a few miles north of Ventura, California, riding my Lectrocycle along Coastal Highway 1. I pulled off onto a scenic overlook for a break. It was an hour before nightfall and I noticed a few other travelers who shared my intention of getting some rest. I grabbed my rucksack and walked a few paces onto the beach, unrolled my sleeping bag, ate the contents of a decomp-MRI, then settled in.
There were twenty-five or so other people within a two-hundred yard radius, a few traveling alone like myself, and others assembled in twos and threes. These were all homeless refugees: people who had lost their properties to militias, fraudulent security firms, and countless other predatory acts. The feeling on the beach was that of an uneasy détente – a ‘you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone’ feeling. Some went about their business in complete obliviousness, while others eyed their surroundings with deep suspicion. The guy closest to me pulled a gun halfway out of his bag and warned me to keep my distance. I told him that he had nothing to worry about – from me, anyway. I turned my attention toward the sea and watched the red orb of the sun slowly descend, then deform as it melted into the horizon, and wink-out in a flash of green a second before it dipped below the vast Pacific. I then laid down with my hands clasped behind my head and watched the sky settle down into a deep and dark violet blue with its billions of stars arching their way across infinity. I nodded off.
It was the strong scent that jarred me awake, followed quickly by the collective moan and elation of my fellow travelers. The sky flashed and shimmered in a wild and iridescent array of colors and tones, while strange, terrible, and colorful clouds billowed and roiled in a furious tempest above, but there was no wind – not even the slightest breeze. The ocean was still and reflected the chaos above. Pollen had returned, but because I had not been exposed the first time, I was apparently immune from the calamity that transpired over the next few minutes. I turned my gaze from the sky and onto my fellow travelers. Their elation was immediate, and they greeted the return of Pollen with an enthusiasm that catapulted them to their feet, their arms desperately reaching toward the roiling and boiling chaos of colors above. They inhaled the perfume with deep and panicked breaths, and many openly wept with joy – then, as quickly as they’d jumped to their feet, they were quieted and stilled, frozen in place, their faces surpassing the pleasure and pain of ecstasy.
I felt nothing and was free to walk about and observe. I went toward my closest neighbor, the fellow with the gun, who looked to be in his mid to late 60s; hearty, shortish in stature, with a slight belly, and a face etched by wind and sea. The tears that stained his cheeks were the first indication that something strange had happened; instead of leaving wet trails, they left deep furrows, like a stream of water through wet sand. I spoke and asked him if he was okay, but he didn’t answer. Instead his arms crumbled and collapsed off his shoulders, followed by his head, torso, and thighs – only his calves remained upright. He’d been turned to dust – his blue shorts and American flag tee-shirt lay crumpled, partially buried under his sandy remains. I scanned the beach and saw that I was now alone, surrounded only by the blankets, bags, and small encampments evenly strewn and scattered like so much flotsam and jetsam. A gust of wind interrupted the calm and puffs of dust rose up from each pile.
I watched and bore witness to the end – the annihilation of humanity was orchestrated with a tenderness akin to a kiss – it was horrible.
I do not have the words to convey the terror I felt standing suddenly alone on that beach with the strong scent still permeating the air, and the terrible, multi-colored clouds roiling above. I only knew that Pollen had returned, only this manifestation destroyed every human being on Earth – or so I thought at the time.
I had heard so much about the Pollen of 2069. The friends I’d made over the years all had a where I was and how it affected me story, and all of them without exception, were happy and eager to share what they’d experienced, but one story sounded much like the other: they’d woken up, went outside, stared upward at the heavenly marvels, and experienced the intoxicating euphoria of the scent that stopped them dead in their tracks. Later they’d come to learn that they’d been rendered sterile, and although this made many of them profoundly sad, a gradual resignation settled in. I thought of their reactions as being similar to the death of a loved one – the pain is intense at first, then it eventually gives way to a mild and sorrowful nostalgia. This Pollen gave them a lightning-quick fix of that same euphoria, then killed and disposed of them seconds later in a most inexplicable way: they simply ceased to be.
It was a couple days later I learned that, like me, the post-Pollens had survived this second Pollen, and that all of their troubles with the most radical of the pre-Pollens—the fears, conspiracy theories, and mass murders—had also turned to dust and simply ceased to be.
I got down on my knees and reached for my neighbor’s clothes lying there in his dust. I pulled the wallet from his shorts and found his ID. His name had been Matthew Delvin and he was a member of a writer’s guild. He owned a house in Ventura. I decided on the spot to ride to that house and see what I could learn about this unfortunate soul who, just a few hours prior, had threatened me with a pistol.”
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