I walk out of the front door, reflecting on what just happened. I think it is safe to say that I have broken the necessary ties to Roman which I admit, I feel awful about but I had to do it, there was no element of choice to the matter. I just wish I didn’t have to leave with him hating my guts.
I never noticed what type of building this was. It must be some form of abandoned warehouse or something because when I step outside, there is a scummy, stagnant river. How far did he walk with me?
I just have to make my way to some form of vehicle. The thing about petrol is it went off about two years in. It loses its volatility which makes it crap as a fuel. I guess that’s why it’s difficult to travel long distances; being vulnerable for such a long duration of time.
Who says there is no such thing as coincidence? That the universe is rarely so lazy? I can see a bike; it looks like it’s been rusted to hell but it will do. I have only ridden a bike once but you know what they say; once you learn, you never forget. Oh, the humiliation if I can’t ride the bike and fall on my arse. I probably deserve but I have a little thing called pride that I would like to hold onto for the long term. On reflection, pride and dignity are interconnected in some ways which means I have diminished pride because let’s face it, the dignity ship sailed long ago. Dignity, who needs it?
Well, everyone but that’s beyond the point.
I walk up to the bike; it’s even worse up close. There is not an inch of the bicycle that is not covered in rust and the beginnings of moss growing upon it. This is what I was saying about the whole pride thing; I have to sit on a bike that is going to squeak like a rodent on speed and look like I am riding a tree reject thing moss mound. I do not know how to describe it but I am not above feeling my arse deserves better than this. But, I have no choice. It doesn’t do well to be proud in this world and if this is the only mode of transport, then that is what it is and I have to accept that. Ew, though. Ew.
As I sit down on the seat, the sensation is awful. I get a sharp feeling on the back of my legs as a jet of putrefied water escapes. How many years of rain that lie in that seat...I don’t want to think about. All I know is it makes me feel like I have pissed myself again which is not a nice a sensation. The only difference is that urine is warm, at least, but this water is bitterly cold and sends a shiver down my spine. John used to say that when a shiver went down your spine, that was someone walking over your grave. I wonder if he feels it now; someone walking over his ashes. I clear my throat. Now is not the time to be getting over emotional. A lot has happened recently but I can mourn and grieve and all that bullshit once I get to the final destination. Then, I can mourn my losses and find out who I really am?
Am I a daughter? A killer?
An amnesiac, sociopath with limited understanding of the workings of human beings?
I can’t be a sociopath. I care too much. Scrap that, I’m more like a psychopath if we are to be specific.
It takes a few attempts to get the peddles to work but once they do, I finally feel like what I want to achieve is achievable. I have hope which is something I haven’t had for the longest time. Hope. It sounds so bloody fickle but it is a reality for me now. The world is going to shit at my feet but at least I have a hope in hell of achieving something for once.
It’s cold. I haven’t really had the room in my mind to comprehend how cold it is. I mean it is sometime in Spring, it must be, but it is bloody freezing. My jacket continues to be utterly useless but, and I hate to admit it, it makes me feel close to something. Sentimentality I presume. This did used to be my father’s, if I can believe what John said. Can I trust anything he said? I mean, did he do it for my benefit? To protect me from a life not worth living? Were my parents the real villains?
I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to and I can’t be arsed to. I can tell I haven’t been on a bike in a while, the burning sensation in my shins persists in occupying mind space. Oh, it burns. Like riding the bloody horse, just a different type of pain. Ha, what a stupid statement.
The horizon is bleak.
Clouds occupy every inch of the sky; they’re grey like usual. If they were white, that would be the first indication of snow and I will not even get into my hatred of that cold, wet, freezing frozen rain thing. Yet again, not great at describing such things. The weather. The old barometric situation. Meteorological influences. Funny words, am I right? Why are there so many words in the English language to describe just one thing? Why was the weather not just called the weather? Not really, anyone I can ask anymore. I think most of the people that made the dictionaries died in the early days. Probably died while running with their dictionary trying to stop their glasses falling off of their little eggheads.
Well, that’s what John used to say.
John was mean to the little bodkins because he wasn’t one of them. I mean John was a philosophical man, brilliant but ask him how you would create various carboxylic acids and use them to create synthetic esters and...nothing. Nada. No understanding whatsoever.
Side note; if you want to know about carboxylic acids and esters, carboxylic acids are formed when alcohols oxidise. Like when wine goes off and starts to taste like vinegar. If you were to react carboxylic acids with an alcohol in the presence of a sulfuric acid catalyst, it would produce an ester. They can be produced for their smells, naturally occurring esters are found in fruits. Oh yes, not just a hat rack.
There is something quite freeing about riding a bike. I mean, riding a horse is liberating in its own way but riding a bike. The wind fluttering through my hair. The baby hairs on the back of my head pricking up like the ears of a feral chihuahua. I am going at quite a speed. The wind burns my eyes, causing them to water. I feel like I am blind. I can barely see anything but this is amazing. I feel free, finally.
I’ve been riding for hours. I have no idea how far I have travelled due to the lack of the road signs. My nose is killing me, my shins ache and my vagina is on fire. So overall, I am alright.
I bloody hate road signs. The government removed them all to prevent the movement of people. People who lived in the countryside were unable to travel into the major cities and people who lived in the major cities couldn’t travel to the country. They had no idea of the mileages and the boundaries of regions changed. The city of London shrank significantly. The governments thought that this would aid the containment of the contagion. Look how brilliantly that turned out for them.
Nobody could travel. Quarantine in its most basic form. Nobody infected got out. Nobody unaffected got in. But like everything, where there’s quarantine or borders, there will always be people smuggled in or out.
John used to live in the heart of London.
“John, come on. I know all of that stuff. Tell me about London. What it was like to live in the city?”
I was always so inquisitive in regards to living in a highly urbanised area. The rush of living in a place where you never see the same face twice. Noise. Cars. Pollution. Life.
“Alright goose, patience. It was bloody awful. The people were obnoxious and do not even get me started on the traffic...”
I interjected, “You know that’s not what I mean. Tell me what it was like! You promised!”
“Alright. It was like living in a hub. A hub of life and activity. There was always somewhere to go, a place to belong or die trying.
This place used to be called Blackheath. It was a mass burial site for victims of the Black death in the 1350′s. It used to be right on the outskirts of London, just a half an hour train journey from central London. After the disintegration of the town and cities in 2015, it became a part of Kent officially. I lived in central London because my wife was training to become a lawyer and it was close to the Old Bailey. That’s why it took us by surprise. The news reports always went on about the sun solar flares getting stronger but why would we believe them? We’d spent millennia at the top of the food chain and yet we believed ourselves to be above nature; we deserve everything that happened.”
He wiped his brow and looked at me. He knew everything to say that would piss me off because, indirectly, he blamed himself and humanity for natural intervention. He was pining for sympathy or something like but he knew I wasn’t going to fall for his bullshit. He knew I didn’t want to hear his sob story, I wanted to know how he escaped from the centre of a quarantine city with no form of transportation.
“On the 18th of December 2019, I decided it was time to up and leave. I had lost everything and I had had to watch my wife suffer and die and I wasn’t allowed to find her a doctor. I had nothing left to lose but little Isla so the way ahead was clear. I found one of my friends on the outside, there may have been no phones but there was still letter writing. I wrote to him and we agreed the date; he would bring the car and I would have someone cause a diversion while I got myself and Isla into the car. The plan, fool proof.”
I could tell that he was visualising it; he always had this expression of exasperation and he let his vision consume him. No one else existed when he told a story and I guess that was always why I was so fascinated by him. He could forget the world just like a normal person could fall asleep. I envied him. He had a pool of memories from before; more than any of us kids had.
“I’m not proud of what I did that day,” he said “I did what I had to to get out. The day came upon us and I left everything I had. Isla was still a tiny baby so she had no possessions, just me. Eugene, my friend with the car, arrived as planned. He was having his papers checked by the authorities and he looks shady as hell, I remember. The car was being monitored. So I grabbed a hold of this boy, he must have been sixteen or seventeen. He was coughing his guts up. So I stabbed him. He was just the diversion I needed. I stabbed him in the chest so it was quick but he was the diversion I needed. They all crowded around him, comforting him. Then I got in the car and just faded away. That’s how I got away. Is that really what you wanted to know?”
I remember hating him for months after that. He had taken a life unnecessarily. John had always prepared us to fire a gun from the age of fifteen but never had he told us to use a knife. He said that if we had to kill, we had to make it as painless as possible for them. It shouldn’t be murder but euthanasia, like the Lennie situation. I remember I was thirteen when we had that conversation but it’s always been there at the back of my mind, nibbling away, and now that he’s dead...
I can’t help feeling that John didn’t have the right to kill that boy. He could have found another diversion to just injure him but no, he murdered him. I guess now I don’t have the right to question him. I have been inside the mind of a killer and I have to admit...it felt ‘right’ to kill that man in the manner that I did. I sped up the end of his life and made him suffer. It was either me or him and I am alright with what I did. In a sick way, I feel like I can find peace with that. Just like John did.
Did John kill my parents? I hadn’t thought about it before but is that why he took me? He killed my parents as a diversion and stole me away. Maybe hit me over the head so I wouldn’t remember? Is that what happened to me?
No. He wouldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t deprive a child of their parents but then again, that is what he did.
I place my hand inside my pocket and take out an old lighter. It’s a little white box looking thing with a picture of a bottle of...Malibu, I think it is. I gathered a few twigs earlier and set them down on the concrete in front of me. It takes a few attempt to get them to light but once they do, I feel bathed in light. Maybe it was a stupid move to light a fire out in the open but there are more important things.
I am freezing and there are no houses for miles around. To either side of me, there are miles and miles of fields. Cows. I can see hundreds of cows. I haven’t seen many of them; only when we went out hunting for beef or lamb which was every month on the middle Saturday. There was little need to hunt for meat any more than that; we mainly ate tinned stuff so fresh meat was a welcome relief for a few days.
I am hungry but if I wanted to, I could kill one of them and spit roast the meat but no. I have survived without food for longer and the Prontosil has robbed me of any appetite I may have had. I just need some water. I feel thirst, a burning thirst in the back of my throat but no hunger. I check in my backpack. I have half a bottle of water; thanks be to...the water gods or something. I cannot get the cap off fast enough. The moment I feel the water trickling down the back of my parched throat, I feel revitalised. I should conserve my water but I am likely to come across a river or something. Some form of running water, at least. I have at least an eighth left; there is no point in leaving such a minuscule amount left so I down the rest of it. I feel better but I am still desperately thirsty but it’s a manageable thirst to some extent.
I place the bottle back in the side mesh pocket of my rucksack. I move the rucksack around so when I lie back, it props my head up. A pillow. A lumpy, uncomfortable pillow. I lie back and stares at the sky. The stars. I’ve always loved the stars. The eternal constants. The sentinels, unmoved by circumstance or chance.
I wish everything was like that.