Serene

The End of the World Diary Day 1, 30th November


Right, here goes, one message for posterity: an account of what happened for you folks who find this and wonder what happened.


First of All do NOT open the bottle. It's Serene, probably the most dangerous thing that we ever had the stupidity to mess around with.


I'm assuming somebody has survived; I'd hate to be the last man alive. Though from what I heard when the radio was still working maybe there isn't going to be anybody left to read this; last I heard everywhere suffered...


Thinking about it that's a worry; maybe there aren't any other survivors, maybe I'm the last human left alive on the whole planet. That's a scary thought; one I don't want to believe, there has to be someone, somewhere? Hey what's the future being alone: really alone? I'm not going to let that get into my mind; the whole of humankind can't have been completely wiped out: If I survived there has to be others, anyway it'd make a bad video game just me. Just the hero what would be the point? Still I'm no hero and looking out the window I don't see no apocalyptic landscape. All I see is sunshine and rainforest. Picture perfect; the view was why I bought the house in the first place. Come to think about it that's more disturbing than if it was a wasteland. Everything is as it has been since the very first day I moved in. The trees, the birds, it's all the same: no, not the same, some things aren't exactly the same. The goannas are getting bigger; least there are bigger ones out there than I have seen before. They're less frightened too, and getting more aggressive. Anyway I'm getting sidetracked, there has to be somebody. Still knowing my luck it's going to an Adam and not an Eve (that's a joke, Ha Ha).


My name is Michael Canarven; I'm thirty-nine years old. I live: at least where I am now is close to Cairns, in the far northern tropics of Australia, but if anybody does find this you'll know that already: at least the Aussie bit. Outside it's hot, real hot. It's been a real dry summer: a perfect, last summer.


Like I said I guess by the time you read if you didn't already know you've already worked out what happened, and probably don't need me to tell you: but just to make sure you have the whole; the real story of my last days I need to get it all written down. Maybe this is what they call, what's the name… Yea, maybe this is my Obituary.
There's a bottle in my pack: call it a souvenir or motivation if you like. Its also my escape; when things get too much. It contains Serene: probably the most insidious substance we as the human race ever had the misfortune to happen upon, and it's because of that, that I can't just assume you already know how dangerous it really is. You need to understand that it's not just me just being selfish. We: you, can't make the same mistake twice.


Now after what I've just written about Serene your gunna ask the question: why something found pretty much everywhere: least if you know where to look, from a naturally occurring source, that has been proven to be non addictive; has only the most minor physiological effect, and to all intents is perfectly harmless: end up being so deadly? Well the fact is it isn't, it's us; mums, dads, kids; people; it's the users and takers that are the ingredient that makes it so dangerous, and to get you to understand that I have to take you back to the real day one.

I can't recall the actual date; or even the month, but I do remember the moment. For the record it was something over three years ago that I, and I assume most people first heard of Serene. A few lines in the section of the paper reserved for quirky, semi believable type news.


I guess that's not how the scientist who had sought a cure for his daughters disturbing nightmares wanted it announced, but that's how it was. Just a few lines under the heading 'choose your dreams'? More bullshit media, that's what you assume don't you? Me too, but it intrigued me. Could we really do that? Could I do that? The thought fascinated me: okay, it filled my mind with, well lets just say not with the best of possible fantasies.
But most of the tabloid column filler stuff was made up, or sounded like it should be, so I turned the page.


In a way it's kind of amusing looking back now; not that what happened was funny, more that we spend our lives anticipating some event that will be significant, when the really momentous ones can slip by, and then only slowly reveal their significance. We know the ends; they come with a great big full stop; often in some traumatic event, but certainly we know something has ended. The beginnings, those almost irrelevant events that will fundamentally alter our lives, often pass us by unnoticed, and without fanfare. Just an observation, but if I had my time over, I'd make sure I stopped; morning, noon and night to think how our lives, mundane as they seem, are like mercury, constantly changing form and direction before our unseeing eyes. Anyway as I said, I turned the page.


Headlines, big or small come and go but this one buried deep, and while I didn't do anything straight away something prodded me a couple of weeks later to Google a bit more. It seems the man had been a chemist and his daughter had, had some pretty horrific nightmares. Wikipeadia told me that he; as a father does, at least one with his skills: began researching. Apparently he read everything from serious to bunkum equally thoroughly, and with an open clinical mind.


I don't remember for sure if it was herb or toxin, or whatever, but somewhere in the great mound of data that scientists create he found something; well actually he suspected something. A by-the-way comment some other chemist had almost absent mindedly added to the end of a science paper, saying that maybe psychiatrists would like to do further investigation on its effect on the unconscious mind. No one had, until this desperate chemist began.


From what I read it wasn't easy to do any kind of practical research, he worked for a company that had something to do with plastics: in fact according to the bio he was barely working as a chemist at all, just doing quality control stuff in a cramped office cum work area. He sure didn't have all the facilities or much experience to really investigate, but through a friend of a friend, who worked in big drug companies lab, who in turn had a relationship with a scientist who.... but that's not the point, the point is that he got something underway. At first at his own cost, but they did find something, and the scientist offered to help for free; free being a cut in any success. The chemist loved his daughter so he was prepared to agree to anything; all that mattered was that he got help for his child. The scientist arranged some animal trials. It was at this line that I stopped reading. I don't approve of testing anything on animals, and anyway how can we know what animals dream, do they have nightmares? Sure I know my dog used to run in his sleep but was he running away from a bigger dog in fear, or running to his food bowl in anticipation, it all seemed more pointless research so I clicked out.


Around a year later there was another article, this time in a much more respectable publication, giving a warning to parents of newborn's and toddlers about a so-called sleeping remedy, named Serene. I don't have any young kids anymore; they're all…


What drew me in to keep reading was that it apparently worked, and the article claimed overtired mums and dads were cleaning out the herbalist shelves? That upset a lot of people, me too truth known. Now I ain't got a problem with drugs, but feeding babies: no way.


Late as usual the government had stepped in to get a couple of researchers to do an emergency analysis. That didn't go well; all they found was that everything was as natural as claimed, and worse still there seemed to be no side effects. So what's the government to do, stop horses eating grass? Anyway this apparent endorsement made it even more popular, and several generic brands came on the market. This was when the big pharmaceuticals began to bring out their own variety, using all their clout to maintain it was as harmless as Aspirin. But as the journal concluded, Aspirin wasn't always harmless.


The magazine also gave it its own unofficial medical classification; Pleasure Syndrome: and a new nick P.S, which on the street soon became perpetual, sleep. I've often wondered if whoever came up with that lived long enough to want to eat their words; it was probably all they did eat?


Things pretty much snowballed after that. Mums and dads started popping alongside their children. Teenagers began having what they called Serenity parties. I had to laugh when I heard that; some party, everyone laying over the furniture and floors fast asleep? But I was way off mark, these kids were still partying in their dreams, at least they claimed they were. If they took a tab and then fell asleep touching or even close by others, they had a shared dream. That really made me laugh; that couldn't happen, it was illogical. Anyway imagine, a teen party without the next day tantrums and hangovers. Obviously the Serenity party was the dream. Still the kids didn't think so, and in the end I succumbed.


I never found out the reason, but I never did see any marketed directly to adults: maybe it was some advertising ploy, maybe kids doses made it look safer. I don't know, but the instructions on the bottle were aimed at children and recommended the child be in a safe environment, and surrounded by toys they loved. Then place one of the tabs under the child's tongue. It would dissolve in moments and the herb, or whatever it was, would be absorbed. I had no idea how many tabs I would need, and I ain't suicidal, not even now: well not yet, so I put the bottle back on the shelf, and instead asked around the younger staff at work. Sure enough one got me the party size, but it didn't look any different. Whatever I gave it a go.
The tab came without any directions, so I followed the advice I'd read on the bottle, especially about making sure I was in a safe environment.


The guy who had supplied me had smiled as he said. "Don't try any Superman dreams. A couple of weeks ago someone sleepwalked right off a fifteenth floor balcony." The smile faded as he rolled off the possibilities. "Other than that just lay down and think of a dream. Any dream. Like eating? Then dream of the finest meals, in the best restaurants. Like sex, well…." he smiled again, "It's up to you. Travel, fast cars; anything, just go to sleep thinking of whatever you want to happen."


So I did, but it was no dream. It was a nightmare. I was in a clear glass box, around me people were having a great time: the time I had wanted for myself, but I was a voyeur, watching without experiencing. Next day I saw the guy again and he said there were people like me, people who the experience had no effect on; apparently I have the wrong genes or something. There weren't many of us, hardly any at all, just a tiny percentage, of a percent.
I heard they called people like me the excommunicated; outside, but watching people in heaven; course the other name was looser.

Then at last the government banned the sale. It caused an outcry, but I thought that was great news; if I couldn't enjoy then why should anyone else? It came out that the government had forced the pharma companies to do in depth, overdue clinical trials. But I think what had finally got the government to act was that so many kids were missing school that classes were being cancelled: and adults were pulling more and more sickies; not just the odd one now and again, but lots, and in rapidly growing numbers. In fact companies sometimes didn't have enough staff on hand to open up. It didn't take a science degree to see that people preferred to live in the 'other' world they frequented more and more; and in preference to the one we do live in. Trust governments to only care when it affected the tax rake.


It was almost too late now as people slept rather than living. Then the deaths began.
At first, and most disturbingly it was the young and healthy that literally starved to death. Their calorie intake had fallen dramatically as their bodies adjusted to the almost continual at rest, sleeping state; some, the really hooked ones didn't stay awake long enough to eat, so the government was forced into more action and made taking Serene a criminal offence.


But by now it was far too late, as the drug gangs replaced the legitimate suppliers, forcing ordinary mums and dads to join the illegal trade, just to get those few hours in blissful sleep they relished, and had come to believed was so desperately needed.


I ain't no expert so I don't know what definition makes something a drug, or not a drug. Can something be neither, yet still hook you and make you a slave?


As PS tightened its grip there was no shortage of so called experts throwing around their opinions; but it all came down to the same options. Addicted or weak willed, Serene filled a space in everyone's life. It didn't create a craving; instead it created a place where everything in the world was right, even if it wasn't. A place where the good did win, a place where we could live the dream, and forget everything else, but we were too obsessed to see the consequences of spending our lives somewhere that could never exist.


And that's about it. Towards the end even the cops and pollies were joining in; then in hopeless overwork the doctors and nurses began wasting away.


The last I read about Serene, before I lost the feed into the net, was that it changed the neurons in the brain; creating loops where there should have been none, and once started it kept on reconnecting. It don't leach out or get watered down, it just carries on twenty-four hours a day, isolating and plugging the pleasure zone into the areas of our brain that live in fantasy; at the exclusion of everything else. It didn't create a dependency, it did something far more dangerous, it actually changed they way we think and act: the way society functions. It gave us a choice we were never meant to have, a choice we cant handle.


Chrissie Hynde used to sing about pleasure and pain. Given that choice; pleasures is what we choose every time; and we did, but life ain't all pleasure, there's a fine balance. We have to have a little pain; I know that now.
That was the last I heard of Serene: the last time the newspapers were printed and the last time the web was updated. For a while after there were still a couple of radio stations going, urging people like me to go to places where we could be together and maybe start again. Maybe I will.

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The End of the World Diary Entry 2