I often wonder, you know. I sit in deep, gloomy appraisal and try to imagine in what form the end will come. An asteroid strike, maybe. An eruption of the great caldera beneath Yellowstone or a reversal of the magnetic poles. Some calamity great enough to wipe out this advanced and arrogant species as easily as you or I would wipe ants from a picnic blanket.

Hollywood will have us believe that the end is imminent at all times. An exchange of nuclear bombs will leave our greatest cities blackened and plunge us all into a winter from which we will never emerge. A black hole created in a manmade collider will rip apart the planet and the space it occupies. Gamma rays might shoot across the cosmos and put an end to us all in a 10-second burst from a collapsed star we can’t even see.

Big-time ends, baby. Not with a whimper but a bang.

But nobody is afraid of this stuff, not in great numbers, anyway. Suggest that a blast from outer space might do us all in and the most tremulous person you know is suddenly brave. Gamma rays, you say? Bring it on, son. I’m wearing SPF 3,500. I’ll live forever and look good to boot.

Hollywood hasn’t scared anyone since “War of the Worlds.” That was back in the dinosaur days of radio and the only ones running were hillbillies drunk on bad moonshine.

Now, if the media are carrying the message, it’s a different matter.

I know that most of you today are hunkered down in plastic bubbles, washing perpetually with antibiotic soap, but poke your head up for just one second. The swine flu isn’t going to take us down, even if the big-time news channels are marking maps with alarming red swatches and rolling dire numbers across your screen.

The media want to enlighten you and scare your innards right up into your throat, all at the same time.

But I can tell you that nothing so trite and familiar as an infection named after porcine will obliterate the human race. We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we are so damn smart, we will know the big killer by name when he comes. We will say, “Ah, this one,” and then flip through our massive catalogue of cures.

But try this headline on for size: “Bat Caves Closed to Fight Deadly Fungus Foe.”

It’s a real news item and yes, it could be bad. So bad, in fact, that we can’t even call on Batman this time, for obvious reasons.

The bat fungus that might send you scurrying back to your bubble is called White Nose Syndrome, and if you think the press isn’t going to run with that sexy name, why I have a million-dollar check from Ed McMahon I’d like to barter.

Right now, White Nose is only a problem if you happen to be a bat. And while I know several people I suspect are bats, none of them have shown symptoms yet. No, the real problem may come on the periphery, as pointed out by one of my shrewd and decidedly non-bat colleagues.

It works like this: While the bats are dropping all over the world, the rest of us react with little more than relief. After all, bats get tangled up in your hair and occasionally turn into Bela Lugosi. Good riddance to them.

But bats also eat mosquitoes like potheads eat Doritos. Lose a big part of the bat population and listen for the eye-watering hum of all the bloodsuckers buzzing around. Mosquitoes might triple in population within a year and the next thing you know, mosquitoes aren’t just ruining your barbecue, they’re spitting diseases like malaria right into your skin. While we’re all watching CNN for the latest figures on swine flu (or Fox if you’re watching to learn how the liberals are responsible), something called White Nose could be quietly mushrooming into a bona fide apocalypse.

This and more is how we are enjoying the middle days of spring. Sickness that originates with pigs, a possible plague that begins in a bat cave. And nastier things to come, of course.

By June, I expect more nebulous killers to be on the way. Perhaps the manufacture of the plastic used to bind the end of shoelaces has finally released so much of a specific toxin, it is affecting monkey sperm in southeast Asia.

With certain breeds of monkeys no longer able to reproduce, the population of black-eyed macaws will rise dramatically. It’s a pity, too, because those macaws are known to feast on a certain breed of frog that for millions of years has kept the population of poisonous Japanese hornets at manageable levels.

With those frog families decimated by the now overly abundant macaws, the hornets will rise up and roam freely across the planet and there you have it: Because you were so selfish as to demand plastic bindings on your shoelaces, we’ll all die in a rapture of stinging.

There are countless threats to humanity out there, percolating in Petri dishes, bouncing through the asteroid belt, standing tall in silos, or riding high in the atmosphere and trapping in the sun’s heat.

I have a strong suspicion that the very first squiggly thing that crawled from the great ocean 4 billion years ago (if you believe in that kind of thing) eventually got around to worrying about what might come along and eat it. Life doesn’t require much intelligence at all to worry about its own mortality. Without any apparatus for thinking whatsoever, plants of all kinds have nonetheless devised countless ways to protect themselves from annihilation.

Worrying is what we do here. Self-preservation is everything, and to preserve and protect, you have to indulge a little in paranoia. The very first human-like being to come across a flat piece of wood probably found a way to scroll THE END IS NEAR upon it in some form of rudimentary language. Other human-like beings came around to behold that early sandwich board and murmurs of panic rolled through the jungle. The sharing of knowledge and hence, fear, became that much quicker.

And that, my friends, is how the media came to be.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal crime reporter. You can share alarmist views and predict the end at [email protected]


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