Published: Nov. 27, 2016
Authors: L.A Richards, S.W Best
Words: 67,110
Language: English
ISBN: 9781370421985
Versions: Kindle, NOOK, iBooks
Publisher: Bowker - Silver Dog Publications

 


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CHAPTER 2
Lingering Reality

In my nightmare, I am back at the evening of the Reckoning.  I don’t know why I’m there, but it is as real as the fear that keeps me alive in the new world.
“My God . . .” The words fell from my lips as I sit forward on my couch, my attention glued to the evening news on my 50-inch television.
In shock, I stare at the images played out in perfect clarity, helpless to stop an angry mob swarming the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
“This can’t be happening . . .” I mumble, taking a blind sip of beer to mask the sickening sense of realism turning my stomach.
But it is real, and it is happening.
I stare dumbfounded as black smoke and flames spill out of the windows of the Royal Palace.  The newsreader continues his live report, trying his best to make sense of the chaos as it unfolds.
I watch transfixed as the reporter announces that nobody is able to confirm if the royals got out in time. “Martial law has failed, and rioting is widespread across the United Kingdom.  The situation is getting out of control.  The police and armed forces are stretched.  Unconfirmed reports are coming in that soldiers are using live ammunition—”
“Live ammunition?” The words bounce around inside my head, refusing to register.  This can’t be happening.  Our nation is a democracy… No, I refuse to believe it, it must be a mistake.  Must be.
I watch as the stark certainty of the situation gives my beer a bad aftertaste.
With desperation, I switch channels with a stab of my thumb. “It’s all over the news. Every channel . . .” I say in a whisper of disbelief.
I switch to the BBC, but this is not the familiar, controlled broadcast.  Instead, people are running behind the news anchor and screaming.
The anchor stresses a warning, “—The public has been warned to stay indoors . . . I repeat, stay indoors. Do not venture outside until this situation is under control—”
His eyes widen with uncertainty as he places a finger to his ear.  He gasps sharply and stares into the camera.  “D-defences to the broadcasting centre have fallen,” he stutters. “There has been an explosion at television house and—” My face registers with confusion as the news is replaced by the emergency broadcast signal; something I’ve never seen before in my life.
“No. . .” I jump to my feet on instinct as the lights brighten from their relaxed state as an unknown power surge affects the main grid.
This is bad.  Very bad.
A sinking feeling grips me as I leave my beer and grab my touch-screen remote control.  I have to try to make sense of it all.
Nothing . . .
I stand, feeling my body begin to shake as my mind races with questions I’ve never had to ask before.  I speak these worries aloud as if hearing them would ease the pressure.
“What should I do? I’m not a trained soldier!”
I try to gather my thoughts as I look out through my eight-foot window to the impressive view, which stretches for miles.  Flashes of light within in the city catch my eye, like the celebrations of News Year’s eve.  But these are not harmless fireworks.  These are something else altogether.  I blink back surprise as these eruptions of light illuminate the grey smoke in different parts of the city.
In all the confusion, my eyes are drawn to a burning boat on the river.  The strangest sight I’ve ever seen—its ghostly wreckage leaving a halo in my vision.  I strain my ears to hear any warning sounds, but the glass is sound proof.
“Where the hell is the Army?” I say with naivety, my civilian brain battling to hold onto the safe life I had built around me. “They should be doing something about all of this . . .” The anger inside of me starts to bubble.  My life and all of my hard work is under threat by rampaging idiots.
With relief, I see a group of military helicopters in the distance, surveying the building disorder below them.
I then spot a small assembly of trucks moving into position on the Tyne Bridge.  They seem to be setting up what looks like a military controlled zone, cutting off access to the other side of the river.
In a panic, I pull out my mobile phone from my jeans pocket.
‘NO NETWORK.’
I switch it off and back on again in hopes of getting a signal. Nothing.  I try three more times to the same effect.
“Shhhhit!” With frustration, I stuff the mobile phone back inside my pocket, its usefulness now in question.  My attention is drawn back to the view as more fires appear, like warning beacons within the city.
“This is a nightmare . . . I–I must wake up.  This can’t be real!  This cannot be happening—” My words of paranoia are cut short as I see a streak of something shoot past my window, missing my apartment by inches.  I pull back from the window, fearing for my safety as I see it soaring harmlessly into the sky.  I put my hands on the window and lean forward trying to get a better look.
“A rocket?” I say in disbelief. “Who the hell has a rocket? No . . . it can’t be a real rocket?” I stutter in an attempt to convince my own brain that this madness is not real.  But it is real. The truth is staring me in the face.
As soon as the words leave my mouth, the apartment is rocked by a mini earthquake, cracking the glass in a violent split. “Holy shit!” I cry, placing my hands on my head and backing away from the window as a small chunk of the ceiling falls away.  I glance around my apartment in a panic, my own safety now in question. “I must get out of here.  Away and out of the city—”
The lights dim to a flickering trance and slowly succumb to the darkness.
“That’s my cue to leave.”
I don’t waste any more time.  My adrenalin kicks in as I run around the apartment; gathering water bottles, a First Aid kit, a survival knife, baseball bat, tent, and a sleeping bag.  Time is against me.  I wedge all my toiletries into a small travel bag and stuff them into the rucksack.
I quickly change out of my jeans, putting on the clothes used for hillwalking.  I am ashamed to admit it, but all these things are brand new.  I bought them last year as an attempt to convince myself that I was living my life, not just burning the nine-to-five candle at both ends.  It’s been on my mind to get these things out and use them, but I never imagined it would be under these dire circumstances.
I pause and snatch up my car keys, taking one last look at my apartment before I leave it all behind.  I have everything I need to survive.  But survive what? I'm not exactly sure.

***

When I leave my apartment via the stairs to the basement car park, I begin to question my plans.  Maybe I should just stay indoors like the News presenter said.
Soon, everything will be back the way it was before this mess, and people will be accountable for their actions.
But as I open the door to the car park, my feelings of foolishness vanish and I step out into World War III.  The atmosphere is thick with smoke and threatens to chock me.  No, this doesn’t feel like the London riots.  This is worse.  A lot worse.
People are running around as if possessed; overcome by fear and the will to survive.  I stop as they run by. It looks dangerous.  All I can hear is chaos and destruction.  So many voices, with so many emotions, all shouting out in unison for answers.
If there is a hell, this is it.
Is this the end of the world? In my mind’s eye, I’d pictured alien invasions, or at least a nuclear bomb like what I’ve seen in the movies, but this seems different.  This seems real.  Too real for a city boy like me.
The time for action is now.  I hurry past a group of men fighting over their abandoned cars; some smashed into the other in a last minute, desperate attempt of escape.
I don’t care about them.  I’m getting out of here.  I burst into a run, avoiding any that come my way.  My car awaits in my private spot; an immaculate, silver Aston Martin DB9. It's my pride and joy, and, fortunately for me, it has not been affected by the rising violence.
Once inside, I lock the doors and start the car with a pushed accelerator, tearing off in search of the exit.
I switch the control on the radio, searching for any live broadcasts, but I find nothing but static.  Sudden figures emerge from the smoky gloom and force me to swerve out of their way.  One punch of the horn scares them, parting them like cattle with the roar of my engine.
With confidence, I push the speed as I approach the bend and rise up to another level of chaos.  I skilfully manoeuvre my car around an abandoned van and take the ramp.  But in my haste, I foolishly misjudge the bend, scraping the side bumper of my precious car and hearing the cringe-worthy sound of mindless damage.
Any other time, I would have fainted in shock, but there is no time to waste.
I keep my foot down on the pedal, weaving in and out of crashed vehicles as my headlights cut through the smoke.
My only hope is that the barrier to the outside world is still operational.
I’m in luck.
The barrier has been removed—by whom, I’m not sure.
“YES!” I smile.  The end is in sight.
But just as my excitement has been ignited, a red Range Rover slams the side of my car like a battering ram, altering my course and sending me headfirst into a concrete support beam.
“SHI—” I plough into the immovable object, my face saved by the airbag.
My first wave of dizziness is combatted by my instinct to get free.  I pull the seatbelt from my body, trying to get free as my vision blurs and the horn wails in my ear like a wounded animal. After struggling for a while, I finally pass out.

***

I awake from my nightmare soaked and panicked.  My wife Elisia is there, holding our six month old Megan, named after Elisia’s mother, as she screams the house down.
“Can you keep her quiet?” I ask, panicking about the noise.
Elisia shoots me a cutting glare.
"You try it," she says as she bounces Megan. "It's your fault she's awake, you woke her up."
Her tone is as cold as the air around us, and I try to breathe as the nightmare fades and I settle back into reality. “I-I’m sorry,” I say with guilt, battling sudden frustration.
I reach for Elisia to make peace, but she moves before my fingers can touch her.  I sit alone and stare at her back as the sound of rain rattles above.
Various buckets catch the odd droplet, and they make a rhythmic sound as they mix with the sounds of the weather.
Elisia's eyes were what had greeted me at the entrance of the attic, and now I sit in our protected loft battling feelings of rejection and anger. It may not be the best, but it's our home.

***

The next morning, I make my way down into the dining room, where Diesel is resting on a folded sheet that made up his improvised bed.  Our daughter is with Elisia, tucked safely in slings around her mother's chest.  I look into the kitchen and see the leftovers of the rabbits in a bucket full of organs and blood.  A rabbit head stares at me, trying to provoke me for killing it, but I know he was one of the lucky ones.  At least he didn't starve.
I eat off a plate that has seen better days but still serves its purpose.  The food is scraps; some remaining rabbit meat mixed with berries and dried worms.  It is hardly a five star meal, but it’s better than the alternative.
I drink from a cracked glass of cloudy water, and the murky contents taste metallic.  I guess I should be grateful, but this morning I’ve reached my limit.
I play with my food, staring down guiltily at the contents, my appetite not what it used to be.  Anywhere else, a knife would be thrust into me for such a feast, but today, I don’t feel like celebrating.  I don’t feel like anything.
“What’s wrong now?” Elisia asks with a tone that’s begun to grate on me.  She’s tired.  We all are.
I stare at her.  It’s not her fault, but I take out my frustration on her simply because she is there.
There’s anger in my words, “I’m sick of the same old food, the same old crap!” A plate pushed away like a spoilt child.
Elisia doesn’t rise up to me.  She keeps on eating.
She doesn’t deserve this.  She deserves the old me.
She says, “Then why not go to the farm? Get us some proper food? We’re starving, Blake.  We can’t survive on scraps alone!”
“I know, okay?” I say, my anger breaking through.  I look the other way with the glass to my lips.  I will gain nothing from losing my cool.
I glance at Diesel, who has the sense to hide in his bed.
I return to the argument.
“Well?” Elisia asks, waiting.
I shake my head, infuriated by her stupidity. “Don’t you think I’ve thought of that already?  I can’t—”
She snaps, “Why can’t you? It hasn’t stopped you before?” she gives me a look that makes me doubt how much she really knows about what is out there.
I sigh, “El, I’ve told you before.  Things are different now.  New people have taken over.  It’s too dangerous to risk it.”
“Have you even tried?”
“What?” I feel my fist tighten.  “Of course, I have.  Of course I’ve tried.” I say with a look of disbelief. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means try harder, Blake.  Not just for us, but for our daughter, too.  She’s all we have!”
In a futile rage, I down the glass on the table, upsetting Elisia. “Haven’t you been listening? The new gang at the farm is better organised, in greater numbers, and armed with guns.  Real guns.  How can I compete with that El?” I say trying to get through to her.  I shrug my shoulders. “Unless you don’t want me coming back tonight…”
Elisia shakes her head. “Of course, I do. You are our lifeline, Blake. We’d die without you.”
“Then stop asking me to risk our family over some stupid ideal.  We have it good the way it is.  There are people much worse than us, believe me,” I say thinking back to my previous complaint.
“But why can’t we join them?  We could help out in the farm, earn our keep?”
Images rush through my mind of the horrors I have witnessed, but have never spoken of to Elisia. “El, we have Megan.  There are some people out there who wouldn’t think twice about harming our daughter, or you, for that matter,” I say, trying to scare her into letting it lie.
“Blake, you’re not trying hard enough—”
I stand up sharply, knocking over my chair, and Diesel leaps from his bed, barking the house down.
“God damn you! It’s too risky and you know it.  I am not endangering our family over some ...some fantasy!”
I stare at Elisia, the argument continuing as she tries to keep our baby under control. “It’s not a fantasy, Blake.  How dare you say that to me!”
I open my mouth, but decide to leave before I say something I’d regret.
I round up my things and call for Diesel with a whistle.
Elisia follows me into the kitchen. “Where are you going?  You promised we would spend today together as a family!”
“And do what, El?  Go for a nice stroll in the park?  Come on.”  I fix up my daily requirements and put them into the backpack, wishing she would leave me alone.  "I'm going on a salvage hunt, like I always do. For you, for Megan, for us.”
Elisia is confused. “But we can survive for one day—”
I cut her off with a look. “No, we can’t. Megan’s medicine is running low.”
She steps forward, desperate. “I know, but I’m going crazy in here.” she says as her voice takes on an accusing tone. “At least you get to go out and escape!  I’m left with the baby, trapped in the attic night and day!”
“Left with the baby?” I ask, feeling my head throb. “I would rather stay here, safe and warm, than to go out there every day.  But if you want to switch, El, be my guest.  Because a woman alone out there is the number one delicacy for passing gangs,”
“You’re wrong, Blake.”
I step forward, my finger to my eye. “I’ve seen it, El.  And believe me, you’re never the same afterwards.”
“You have?” She frowns, moving closer to me.
I turn away, not wanting to continue.  This argument has run its course.
Elisia grabs my arm, tears swelling in her tired eyes.  She looks older this morning.  Thinner.
“I just worry, that’s all.  I worry that you are never coming back.  You leave every day to do what you can.  That’s what you do.  But for me, this house is a daily nightmare.  I know damn well what it is like out there, Blake.  I’m not stupid.  I know it’s dangerous.  Before we met, I used to go out, too.  I used to dress as a man to avoid complications.  I’ve seen things myself.”
I sigh, riding out the tail end of the argument. “El, I know you’re not stupid.  I never said that.  You’re one of the smartest women I’ve ever known.  But I can’t protect you if you’re outside alone.”
I try to step in her shoes.  She’s scared.  She has a right to be.  It is not her fault.
I hold her, and her head rests on my chest as tears trickle down her cheeks.
“Elisia, I promise we will spend the day together, okay?” I say, feeling like a bad husband and father.  I touch my baby’s cheek with affection, causing her face to light up into a smile. “But my top priority is our survival, and that means Megan’s medicine from the lockup, okay?” I say looking into Elisia’s eyes.
She hesitates, and then nods. “Okay . . .”
I think about taking control, but I hesitate.  Maybe Elisia can be trusted to lock herself in while I’m out.  So I push the point, “Now stay here, and if anyone tries to get in—”
“I stay hidden. I know.”
“That’s my girl.”
I leave them behind and hear the door bolt shut. I carefully glance around as I cross the garden to the deserted train carriage.  The rising sun briefly hurts my eyes, but that’s the least of my worries.