24 || Ola W. Halim


Image Credit: ©Your Weather


by Ola W. Halim


It's eight-thirty a.m.

Dr Javins is standing before the TV. 

The world ends in twenty-four hours, a gruff voice announces. The Doomoscope has finally reddened! 


Dr Javins watches the Doomoscope on the TV screen. It's still the same spire that has stood there, at the disputed centre of the world, for five hundred years. The same spear thrusting into the clouds, ripping the curtains of heaven. The same argyle pattern of rustproof rods, stinging nettles and elephant grasses flirting with its lowest rungs. But instead of the normal blank screen, the Doomoscope is flooded in effulgent maroon. And a chyron crawling at the bottom, reading 24. 

It strikes Dr Javins like a Hollywood heartbreak. 

—Your perspiration, the TV continues, your efforts, your dreams, your secrets, your worries—all of them are folding up in twenty-four hours, including you—

He feels his legs melting. He lets himself to the rug. 

—You're dying too—

But since it's possible to pay for anything via the finaphone, US-trained physicist Don Brandon has created a link through which people could pay for their sins. 

—but you're dying a free man—

He holds a punch against his chest. Breathing is easier like this. 

—but freedom comes with a price. 


The finaphones were launched during the Fifth Great War. Using them, you could withdraw and deposit cash. You could order pizza delivered by driverless smartvans. And vodka, and tequila—Dr Javins' favorites. You could interact with anyone via quasi-phyical video calls: reach out to touch your kid in Arizona, smell your wife's perfume all the way from Siberia. All without physically meeting them. 

It was the finaphones that ended the War. According to History, people just realised how they needed one another to, for example, build the Doomoscope. Dr Javins doubts it, though. He doesn't trust History. He doesn't believe generational chaos can end on such a cleancut note. Same way he doesn't believe that Marth, the conceptor of the Doomoscope, died twice: a temporary death and a permanent death. 

History says Marth first died fighting in the Third Great War. Half of the world had died in the War, History says; so, Earth was fed up with bodies. She started expelling corpses like a volcano would magma. Marth was one of the expelled. But his case was significant, because he was breathing when he was spat out. 

He became an instant celebrity, History says. He appeared on TV and revealed the pact he'd made with the Lord. —When unprecedented wars like this rock our world, he said, we know the Apocalypse is looming, and we're all fucked, but the Lord, in His Infinite Mercy, has provided us a solution again. 

To build the Doomoscope. 

Forty years. A million workers. The abrupt end of the War. That was what it took to build it. Scientists called it the most ambitious man-made structure that would only be rivalled by the Dyson sphere. Endless and winding, the shape of the London Shard, it reaches into the sky, passing the moon and stars, so it can receive signals directly from heaven. —The screen will only redden, Marth pronounced, when the apocalypse is imminent. 

Marth died twelve years after the first death. He was found in his room nibbling a spark plug. His pupils were buried in their tear ducts. Some people speculated he was receiving signals from the Lord when he was struck. 

The Great Famine came two years after the Doomoscope was launched. Locusts and grasshoppers as large as adults' palms invaded farms. Red ants tore irokos to shreds. Rabies caused dogs to gnaw at their chains. They broke free, galloped down the lanes, plunged their teeth into skins, and fed themselves chunks of human and animal flesh. Recalcitrant viruses called SuperGoogle invaded the Internet. World population slashed. 

Still, the Doomoscope's screen remained blank. 

More devastating events have rocked Earth. There had been the Fourth Great War, History's most sophisticated, otherwise called the Great Biological Tragedy. Someone crossbred bats and cats and created a virus which infected very old and very young people. Their nostrils dripped with brownish blood that came with smidgens of skin. Their lungs scowled for air. And they died characteristically gripping their Adam's apples. 

The Fifth Great War was the aftermath of the robotocracy that The Seven World Powers introduced. It started with YouTube protests, people calling out top government officials online. Were the officials steeling themselves to become robots too? Couldn't they foresee a lot of people losing their jobs? The protests got into the streets. Dog-eared placards brandished in the air like weapons. Earth cracked underneath thrumming feet. Voices screamed the world to a standstill. A secret sect nuked military bases in Islamabad and some sleepy Tuvaluan town, killing a hundred civilians in the latter. 

And, finally, the War: full-blown, bestial. 

Prophets predicted the end was near; still, the Doomoscope was blank. Some officials deemed it useless. In a UN meeting held in finaphone-enhanced Beirut, the president of the New Americas proposed its demolition since, obviously, it couldn't predict the end of the world. She was supported by three hundred other world leaders. At the Tokyo World Summit, they ordered History books be rewritten; Marth couldn't continue being a hero when he was merely a deceptive scoundrel. 

Many of the officials equipped to destroy the Doomoscope died by electrocution. Robots and AI systems stopped working while they faced the giant. So, the Doomoscope was left alone.

And now that Earth is recovering from Her wounds, on a Saturday morning brilliant with sunshine, the Doomoscope has reddened. 


Dr Javins' wife, Lady Diox, is on her finaphone paying for her sins. Dr Javins collects his phones from the settee and crawls out. Outside, the city is humming. Finaphones beeping. Radio statics hissing. Footfalls thumping. Voices yowling. 

Dr Javins leans against the balustrade; he's thinking about Klex and Derrione, his biggest sins. 

It wasn't his fault that Derrione died. But he killed her. She was scrubbing the table, bending, so that her buttocks pointed accusatory fingers at him. He turned away at first, but she thrust, again and again, those buttocks like two mounds of well-blown balloons—

Do you want some chocolate? the buttocks asked him. Why don't you get it? 

He got up to leave the room. Then it occurred to him. Diox had explained to Derrione why she sacked and hired five househelps in three months. —They kept tempting my husband. I hope you'll be different. 

Derrione had nodded. But her eyes? They spelt trouble. 

Now, her buttocks were daring Dr Javins. So he took the challenge. Pressed his hands to her mouth. Did her against her will. 

It wasn't as smooth as he expected. Oh, how beastly she was. How well she fought him. But he was stronger. He took her eventually. Left her groaning on the floor. Eyes bloodshot. Clothes shredded. Blood running down her philtrum. The table upturned, vase shards scattered on the rug like a war-scene depiction. 

She'd tell. Unlike others, she wasn't taking money to be silent. 

Dr Javins pulled out his knife.

—Just to threaten her. 

She cackled, even through the tears. 

—It wasn't even sharp. Just a bread knife—

She wrestled him. Again. Harder. 

—and nothing but a bread knife. 

Like a mad dog she wrestled him. Wrestled to gain control of the knife. Wrestled. Even though he wasn't using the knife. 

It was during the struggle the knife slid into her stomach and left large discs of blood on the rug.

—It wasn't a killer knife—

Oh God. 

—Just a bread knife. 

A girl he was trying to help, dying in his hands. 

—Just a—

Someone had seen them. Seen him. 

—bread knife.

Klex, the gatekeeper.

Dr Javins summoned him. Klex was young: nineteen or below. He had eyes transparent enough to see his heart. He trembled. His eyes were shifty. His teeth clattering. Dr Javins ordered him to dispose the body. To work in silence. Graveyard silence. To rinse the knife. Rinse and rinse and rinse. The knife caught Klex's fingerprints. If he told anyone, Dr Javins would send him back to the streets where he picked him.

Klex stitched his lips. Even when they discovered the body, he stitched his lips. Even when his fingerprints were found all over the hilt. Even when he was facing a stern judge, he did nothing but stitch his lips. Even when the judge hit the mace and the court celebrated a teen murderer who'd face justice, even when antsy journalists forced an eternity of microphones into his mouth, even when Dr Javins patted his shoulder and bowed his head and walked away, Klex did nothing other than stitching his lips. 

Klex was electrocuted ten months later, on November 23rd 3455, about twenty-seven years today. 

Dr Javins still remembers his last words:

I wanted to own a car, maybe, someday. A light blue car, like a clear sky uncorrupted by sunlight. 

Was Klex learning poetry? 


Dr Javins unlocks his finaphone and opens the payment portal. There's an animation of the celestial bodies on the background. According to statistics, a billion people have paid for their sins in three minutes. Dr Javins scrolls down the Sin Involving Death option and stares at its icon, a red cross with blood dripping down a green pool. 

He clicks. 

Manslaughter. Murder. Self-defense. Genocide. Matricide. Patricide. Feticide. Roboticide. Other(Specify). 

He selects Manslaughter

In the description box, he writes that he'd accidentally killed Derrione, his househelp, and watched Klex, his gatekeeper, die for a crime he didn't commit. 

He hits Submit

The service processes for a while, showing him pictures of Derrione captioned Yes, She Is The One and No, She Isn't The One, and he keeps clicking the first, until a response envelope hangs down the screen. He thumbs the circle for his Biometric Print and an envelope tears open. 

Sorry, You Can't Treat Two Sins As One. Please, Read The Instructions Again! 

He edits the description, cutting out everything concerning Klex, and clicks Submit. After the system has had him confirm that the pictures being displayed are those of Derrione seven times, another envelope arrives. 

Sin Name: Manslaughter

Sin ID (auto-generated): NGI789002VP

Date: 23/11/3455

Location: 2067 Googoplex Building, New Rhode, NGI.

Finaphone: fn.aspubc/NGI-4034561

Price: $2.4m.

He rushes back inside. Lady Diox is on a quasi-physical video call with their daughter, Qie. She's sobbing. Network is bad in Ontario because of the traffic. She has a lot of sins to pay for. —Why the eff can't you pay on proxy? Why does everything in this world involve some shitty Biometric Print? 

Lady Diox begs her to calm down and keep trying; her siblings have successfully paid theirs. She reaches to hold Qie's shoulders, to knead some calm into her body, but Qie backs away. Lady Diox caresses the table on which Qie's elbow had rested seconds ago. 

Dr Javins tiptoes into his room and flips through his bank documents. He has nothing close to that amount. He begins to place frantic calls. Seeds of sweat dot his forehead. No one has anything to give, of course. The only man who admits he has over five million dollars wants to know when he'd get his money back, since the world ends in less than twenty-four hours. He cuts the connection since Dr Javins can't answer. He calls the man again via quasi-physical video call, but he only gets a bear hug and the connection is lost. 

He shoves his bank documents into a bag and takes a long, last look at his room. 


The roads are clogged with people. People squeezing in-between vehicles. People running. Wailing. Cursing. Instant tellers fill junctions, clouded by phalanxes of customers shuffling back and forth, back and forth, like the jobless things they've been reduced to. There are no traffic wardens and road safety officials to regulate speed; no traffic hawkers to cling to door handles. 

A woman in a Benz beside Dr Javins pokes her head out and shouts that her daughters are all she's got, that her husband is long dead. Her voice hardly makes an impact. A man in rags holds out his hands in plea. His body is riddled with pores the size of onions. His left eye is half-covered in yellow pus. He moves close enough for Dr Javins to hear what he's saying. 

I don't have any money to pay for my sins. Nobody wants to help me. I only have cheap sins, but nobody wants to help. 

Dr Javins watches the man lurch forward. A lorry swerves into the intersection just in front and hits the man. Its driver reverses, pulling the man's head with the tyres, and they're soon out of sight: man, driver, lorry, onion-sized pores. 

Nobody notices the naked couple fucking on the kerbstones. Maybe they're strangers, not couples, it seems. There's something raspy and robotic about them. The rusty urgency. The flat-tyre desires. Nobody notices a woman who, after failed attempts to reach the front of the teller queue, yanks off her headgear and then her blouse and then her brassiere and takes to her heels, her tubular breasts flapping against her chest. Nobody sees a bus of schoolchildren ram into her. A piece of her fingers might hit someone, but they'd just brush it off and continue to push. 

And the bus children? Their parents? Oh God. 

Dr Javins honks, although it's futile. There are still unbroken throngs of vehicles ahead. The woman beside him is no longer there; instead there's now an SUV. Inside, a man turns off its engine and lays his head on the steering. More people appear on the asphalt, crouching, kneeling, sitting; all begging. Nobody looks at them. They don't even look at each other. 

Dr Javins honks again. It's one p.m now. A broadcaster reports that the world ends in eight hours. It's a miscalculation, obviously, but who has time to think? Dr Javins has eighty missed calls—some from his wife and children, some from staff at the hospital, others from unknown numbers. 

He doesn't call anyone back. He marks the text messages as “read” and shoves them into the trash folder. He's squeezing through a procession of candle-carrying singers. They're singing hosanna in the highest. Their eyes are far brighter than the candlelights, bright as quasars, but cloaked in sadness, deep as the Mauna Kea. Dr Javins wishes them well. He keeps meandering his way through people, through instant teller sheds, through animals let loose. 

Until he reaches his destination: The Colonial Buryground. 


Dr Javins buried a bag of money here during the short-lived Sixth Great War. He walks on tiptoe, careful not to step on flattened tombs and bone splinters. A cockoo calls some trees away, an eerie sound reverberating into the distance. Beneath a conifer stripped of leaves, a skull lies half-buried in the ground. Red ants crawl around its eye socket, weary of falling inside. 

Dr Javins crosses a log and turns left. He wades further, until the grasses grow thicker and taller, blades stinging his moustache. 

Then he stops. 

The mound is still there. He sweeps off intertwined grasses and yanks out a hoe. He continues to dig and dig until a slanted shadow falls across the shrub before him. He sees Klex when he turns. 

Klex carries his head in his left hand. A crooked mace protrudes from his neck. The knife—bread knife—Dr Javins used on Derrione sticks out his right palm. When he opens his mouth to speak, rinds of congealed blood rain. He's moving towards Dr Javins. Dr Javins flinches, grabs a club. The cuckoo calls louder. A twig snaps in the distance. A flurry of leaves receives it on the ground. Silence. Klex. Silence. Klex. Silen—

Please, Dr Javins mutters. Please, don't kill me. I'm here to obtain money to pay—I'm sorry for what I did to you. You don't—

Klex nods. 

—deserve it. 

He walks right through him. So it seems. Dr Javins feels inflated for a while. The hoe drops from his hand. Stabbing the wet soil, something like charred flesh leaps out. The soil is so red inside. So bloody. How many bodies has it claimed? 

Klex is standing on the other side, flipping through a book Dr Javins thinks is familiar.

He watches Klex—

—You didn't

—dissipate into air. 

—deserve this. 

In a corner of Dr Javins' mind is Derrione, laughing from a pot of fire which seems not to be burning her at all. She laughs so hard her teeth fall off one by one, each leaving a crater in her gums. 

Dr Javins covers his face with muddy hands. 

Please, let me go. I have only fifteen minutes left, please.

Only fifteen minutes. 

And the world comes to an end. 

Who told him he had only fifteen minutes left? 

He continues digging. Each sound emphasises the silence of the world around him. Five minutes later, he pulls up the bag and schleps it to his car. 

He has no time to count the money. It doesn't occur to him that he could use his finaphone. He does not think about how to pay for his sin against Klex. He does not think about anything except the end of the world. 

He parks by a quiet road and assembles all the money. He hopes with this added to his savings, he can at least pay for his sins against Derrione. He doesn't know, really. He just hopes. 

He produces his finaphone and clicks the Payer button, but the tray refuses to slide. He studies the screen: 

Network Unavailable. 


°Pay Later—

*Manual  (Tap ® To Set A Reminder) 

*Autopay When —phone— Establishes A Connection (Pre-enter Payment Details) 

°Connect To WiFi 

°Use TeleTransfer™

°Find a teller

Twenty minutes to go.   

But it was fifteen minutes back at the buryground. Is time drunk and crazy, like the rest of the world? 

Is it his Rolex? 

Or himself? 

He thinks, briefly, of the computer simulation theory and—

Twelve minutes? 


For the next ten minutes, he toggles between the ATMs and instant tellers all over the city. All crowded. People shove others to reach the front of the queue. People snatch purses and wallets from others and bolt off. Nobody goes after the thieves; they just stand and stare. 

On the radio, the Doomoscope is described as being red all over: the screen has splashed colours down the rods. 

On the radio: Some theologians, doubting Thomases, are saying the Doomoscope's lights are manipulations to defraud people, but can they exercise patience and consider three salient points? 

One, the Doomoscope has been proven over the years to receive signals directly from heaven. 

Two, the money people pay goes to The Account of the Saints, through an interlink of accounts, and is managed by the Heavenly Beings, of which Marth is secretary. 


Dr Javins turns the knob and the radio goes off. 

He stops at the bypass and tries the finaphone again. This time, the tray slides out and he flattens the notes to fit in the indentation. He thumbs in his Biometric Print. He doesn't confirm if the money is complete. He listens to the buzz as the machine processes his deposit. After a while, a strip of green light floods the screen, followed by the word, Congratulations! You can now pay for Manslaughter ID NGI789002VP! 

When the vehicles ahead begin to move, he turns on the ignition and squeezes into a narrow lane beside him, which is free, save few people sitting on the sand. Several houses are ablaze. Clouds of mauve smoke snake into the sky. He parks beside a woman on the sand, who is knitting wool, clearly oblivious of the commotion across the world. Or too crazy to notice. 

He swipes off the notifications of missed calls and SMS and quasi-physical video calls and failed telemeeting signals. He texts Diox: I killed Derrione and used Klex as cover. Klex is innocent. 

The clock dials are reeling fast. The embracing coziness associated with nights lingers on. 

The world ends in a few hours. 

Not in minutes anymore. 


The world ends in a few hours, yet the woman is still knitting. Yet this lane is calm. Calm, even though the houses are burning. The houses are burning calmly, as if it's normal for houses to burn. 

Dr Javins reopens the payment portal. He realises he has to start all over again, because the link has expired. He's about to press Pay when time shrieks to an end. 


Dr Javins tries to move, to look out the window, to push the door open, to scream. 

But nothing works. 

His thumb is glued to the Payer button. 

The celestial bodies on the background freeze. 

The knitting woman remains still, her arm hung in the air. 

The flames are like burning anthills; still, like a picture. 

The slabs of burnt concrete hitherto falling to the ground remain suspended in the air. 

An absolute silence enfetters Earth. 

Seven-thirty, still. 

It's morning when Dr Javins feels a jab by his side. The sun is a cantaloupe eye rolling in an ashen sky. Flakes of ash laze in the crusty air. 

Dr Javins reaches for the radio. US-trained physicist Don Brandon is Marth resurrected, or brought to life by uploading his brain onto a robot, or by simulation, or—the reporter doesn't really know, it seems. 

Brandon manipulated the Doomoscope to restore its glory, its significance. 

—People have forgotten the biggest invention of humankind, for fuck's sake! 

Dr Javins turns the knob. 

The Township Police is tracking Don Brandon for manipulating the Doomoscope for personal gains. 

Dr Javins turns the knob.

The Lord wanted to shake humans for a bit. 

Dr Javins turns the knob.

The end of the world will come in stages, like an earthquake: foreshock, mainshock, aftershock. 

This makes some sense to him. He listens. 

—We should all brace ourselves for impact, as they say. 

 The reporter giggles. 

—What's funny? 

Dr Javins turns the knob. 


The morning breeze, ice-fingered, combing through his hair. The reek of fermented cassava, or something like that, in the air. 

A notification. Diox: you'll def go to jail, you devil. 

More notifications. 

He ignores. 

He steps out of the car. The knitting woman is gone. No signs of crumbled buildings. Not of burnt stuff. The chaos of last night leaves no trace. But there's no one in sight. 

He produces his autoshot from his breast pocket. He sets the timing to five minutes, four seconds. He gets back into the car, straps the autoshot around his head, resting the beak against his forehead. 

He glances at his Rolex. 

It's eight-thirty a.m.

Ola W. Halim has been twice nominated for the Caine and Pushcart prizes. His work has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the Gerald Kraak Prize and Anthology. In 2022, he was selected for the inaugural Literary Laddership for Emerging African Authors. Halim attempts to tells stories not frequently told in new ways. 

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