We set off when it was still dark in those magic hours when most of the world is still asleep. It’s a cold day, and rain is in the air, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to spoil this trip. The kids are last to wake up. April and I have to almost usher them out of bed. David is seven, Edward is nine. Both of them are excited, and once they are fully awake tear around the house chattering and bickering as they prepare their things. Edward complained about the phone rule again, but not for long. He knows when a decision is made its final, and no amount of arguing will change it. We want this to be a family occasion free of things such as Facebook and Twitter or football scores of his beloved Leeds United. Begrudgingly, he leaves the overpriced smartphone on the kitchen table with the others.
April and I have already been awake for ages. Her making drinks and sandwiches for the trip, me giving our Ford explorer one last look over, checking the oil and water, making sure the tire pressures are right. We somehow bundle the boys and supplies into the car without waking the neighbours and are on the road just as the first birds are singing in the new day. The morning air is bitter, and a light drizzle is falling, but it should clear up later. Lots of driving ahead of us anyway. We're heading away from the city, getting some clean, country air. It will do us good, all of us. We leave our house behind, and I notice we all look at it as we drive away. It sits like a dark shadow to our right, an empty shell without the lives that inhabit it. The road curves away and then it’s behind us as we pull out onto the open road.
Traffic is sparse as it’s so early, and it’s easy to make headway. We flash by junction signs and exits leading to cities we have never been to. Nobody speaks for a while, but that understandable due to the early start we’ve all had. At least, the drizzle has stopped. The sky is already a pale yellow gold where the sun is starting to rise, and although there are a few scrubs of cloud, it should clear up nicely. A glance in the rear-view mirror to check on the boys and they seem content enough. They are staring out of the window, watching the secret world of the early morning slide on by as we head south. They are quiet, but it’s understandable. Today is a big day for all fo us. April is in the passenger seat, a frayed tissue clutched in her hands. She's still crying, but silently now so as not to alarm the boys. She looks so frail, so fragile. There is so much I want to say to her, then realise none of it will help. Even if it could, I don’t think I could force out the words, so I concentrate of the mechanical act of driving and try my best to ignore her plight. We’ve reached the motorway now, and like everywhere else, the endless line of concrete stretching ahead of us is almost empty. Lands’ End is still around an eight-hour drive away, but we ought to make good time with the roads so quiet, more so if I push over the speed limit a touch.
I’m partly looking forward to showing the boys Land’s End. I went there with my father when I was a similar age, and I still remember the spectacular views. Hopefully, it won’t be lost on them. This digital age means children are desensitised to the beauty of nature. At least with the phones left at home, they might appreciate what I’m trying to show them. It should be quite the view based on how the day is brightening up. I've actually always liked this time of year. October with its barren trees reaching from a carpet of orange-brown leaves on the floor always has a magical feel to me. I like the chill in the air, how you can taste the bitter cold with every breath, a firm warning that summer is done and winter is on its way.
We stopped at around eleven thirty at the services in Bristol just off the M5. Everything is closed of course. Shutters down, lights off, just like everywhere is now, but we counted for that. We pulled into the car park next to an eighteen wheeler which looked to have been there for a few days. A few of those golden leaves from the surrounding trees had lodged in its huge chrome grill and left a carpet around its massive tires.
We got out and stretched our legs. The boys asked if they could go look at the truck, to which I agreed. Their excited yelps were the backdrop as April and I unpacked the picnic. Sandwiches, pork pies and miniature sausages, with Mr Kipling cakes and biscuits for after. We also had bottles of pop for the boys and a flask of coffee for April and me.
Even though it was chilly, we sat at one of the wooden tables outside Burger King, its steel shutters rattling in the breeze. April and I sat opposite each other, one of the boys beside each of us. Although she had stopped crying, her eyes were still raw and she ate without looking at me, taking uninterested mouthfuls of the ham salad sandwiches she had made. I watched for a while hoping to make eye contact, maybe just to let her know I was thinking about her, but she didn’t look at me. I took the hint and looked around the car park, still unable to get used to how absolutely silent it was. There was no sound of traffic, no drone of engines. If not for the song of the birds, their nests visible now in the skeletal trees, and the skitter of leaves on the ground, it would be easy to think we were in some kind of enormous vacuum.
Edward asked how long until we get there. I told him, three hours, maybe less. It doesn’t escape me that April tenses up as I say this. She sets her sandwich down and looks away towards the deserted slip road. I can’t see her eyes, but I’m pretty sure she’s crying again. I look at my paper plate and the remains of my sandwich. There is nothing else to say.
Within thirty minutes, we are back on the road again. The traffic or lack of is still being kind to us, and our progress is smooth. As we set out, I wonder if we should have filled up on petrol, then realise it's too late now to go back. The gauge reads just under half a tank, which should just about get us there. There is a definite sense of purpose now as we get closer. This road trip has morphed into almost a pilgrimage. Our bellies are full and the heater is keeping us warm against the bluster. The cold cityscapes are starting to give way now to nature. Greens replace whites and greys, and the mood in the car changes. The boys are pointing out of the window at sheep and cows as we get nearer to our destination.
I’m tired from driving, but we’re close now and I’m glad we decided to do it.
I was worried that it would be crowded when we arrived, but there was nobody else in sight. The boys scrambled out of the car and looked around them taking in the beauty of our surroundings. The furthest edge of England. A point of land atop crumbling cliffs, giving a glorious and panoramic view of the ocean. The boys asked if they could go take a closer look, and I told them they could, but not to stray too close to the edge. April made a sound at that. A whimper or a laugh, it was hard to tell which emotion from the single note. I held out a hand to her, and, at last, she looked at me. I saw fear and love, emotions that I didn't realise until that instant were more closely linked than I imagined. We walked hand in hand towards the edge, the boys a little way ahead of us. The boys did as they were told and stopped well short of the drop. April and I stood behind them, and as a family, we basked in the beauty of the scene.
Waves lapped and crashed against the rocks at the floor of the dizzying drop beneath us, and seagulls chirped and squawked overhead. We stood there for a moment, just taking it in.
“It really is beautiful, in a way.”
I glanced at April. It felt like such a long time since I had heard her speak. I didn’t feel any need to answer. The view spoke for itself. Beyond the green scrub of land, the ocean stretched to the horizon where it met the sky, itself a lighter shade of the same colour. The twin white smudges in the sky looked like the unfinished work of a master painter, the bare canvas beneath his greatest and most beautiful work. One larger than the other, a pair of blemishes on a perfect scene. Closer inspection showed a mottled streak trailed them both as they neared the atmosphere, the twin harbingers of the destruction of all mankind.
Edward said it didn’t looks as big as I had said it would be. He seemed almost disappointed, although that could have just been his childlike reaction to such a monumental situation. I reminded him that the larger of the two asteroids was as big as the state of Texas, the smaller the same size as Mount Everest. I told him that although it didn’t seem like it, both of them were hurtling towards the earth at almost fifty thousand miles an hour, and in just a few hours would impact and destroy all life on earth. I reminded him that there was nothing that could be done to avoid or stop it, and nowhere to hide from it when it came. He nodded and said nothing. We all knew why we were there, what we had to do. I squeezed April's hand, and she looked at me, lips pursed together, eyes streaked with makeup. I reminded her this was better. This way we would decide our own fate. We pushed between the boys, each of us taking one of their hands. In a line we stood, watching the instrument of our destruction as it made its unstoppable and relentless journey. We were in tears now, all of us. I asked them if they were ready, that they could take as long as they needed. Nobody objected. Nobody backed out. As a family we walked to the edge of the crumbling clifftop, staring straight ahead like we had practiced. We didn’t say we loved each other. We didn’t have to. We looked at the light in the sky that would bring the dark, then as one closed our eyes and stepped over the edge.