Author: Christopher DePree

Kate and I trudged up the hill on our evening walk, heading west of the house to get to the clearing. It was cold, and a thin layer of icy snow crunched beneath each step. The snow was not deep. A buzzard glided slowly across the sky above us, looking for a fallen deer or squirrel. We had smelled something in the woods. Maybe it had too. There wasn’t much canned food left to find anywhere. I heard the repeated crackle of gunfire to the south. Hadn’t heard that for a few days. Maybe some movement in the front lines.

The effect was always best around twilight when the rays of the sun, just over the limb of the Earth, would glint off the millions of shards of shrapnel in orbit, shimmering like sunlight on waves. Kate loved to see it.

No one is sure what started it, but the Kessler Syndrome ended it. The Event. The cascading impact of satellite collisions in crowded low earth orbits had been predicted for decades. I remember the military had been concerned about it. What if we couldn’t launch spy satellites? But whether it was a North Korean missile, or a badly programmed satellite in one of the ten mega constellations that had once orbited the Earth, the end result was the same. Our planet was encased in a cloud of metal pieces, most of which gravity and friction would not clear for a century or more.

“Look, Dad,” said Kate, pointing up. A vast, continuous stream of birds was passing to our west, flying from north to south. The sound was like the start of a storm, a staccato pattering like splashing raindrops, sharp in the cold air. They must have been small birds, their wings beating constantly to bear them up against gravity, propelling them forward. There were small breaks in the flock, but I couldn’t see the beginning or the end.

The Sun had set now and the western sky was an electric blue. I remembered taking digital images, we called them “flats”, in this beautiful light as a student before a long night of observing. That was just before The Event.

And here we were, locked in a cloud of debris encasing the Earth. Models predicted that we might be able to launch spacecraft again in another 50-75 years. In the meantime, people turned inward, separated and tribal.

“Dad,” Kate called again, pointing up. She stood, excited, red cheeked in her pink parka, a bit worn in the elbows. I had fashioned her some mittens out of old socks. I looked at the buzzard circling overhead. Not if I find it first.

Lights shimmered in waves in the sky above, flecks in a snow globe.