Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Over The Iron Desert (Part One)

Second (final?) part to come soon. Leave feedback if you like or let me know about any obvious mistakes in there. Thank you for reading!

Over The Iron Desert (Part One)

All of the lads had come out for Gary’s birthday and a lot of them had brought their girlfriends as well. Gary had just turned 27 and everybody knew his night out would be the event of the year, the group assembled in the pub at eight and intended to move on to a bar in town later on that night to drink ridiculous amounts and maybe do a couple of cheeky lines. Despite disliking being in the company of all those couples, Anthony decided to come along too. He had not caught up with Gary for several months now and he felt it was long overdue. He had packed a bag with a spare change of clothes in to take with him as he knew the long nights out did not always end where you’d expect them to end and he ought to be prepared in case he woke up somewhere completely alien to him. When the group got together in ‘The Hanged Bandit’ at just after eight there was 19 in total, they occupied a large section of the pub and they were being fairly raucous early on but after everybody had got through a few drinks the loud banter and shouting got much louder. Anthony was engaged in a conversation with the only other man there who had not brought his girlfriend along – Terry told him not to worry and that,

“You’ll find her eventually son, and when you do you’ll get very sick of her very quickly, don’t worry about that.”

Although it was an occasion and he was out with many of his old university friends and a couple from beyond that even, Anthony could not enjoy himself and it was most likely this reason that led to him getting bored at the relatively slow rate the others were drinking at and ordering himself three pints in a row. The first two of his drinks he downed swiftly at the bar much to the shock of the barman, and the third he sat back down with. Around 10 o’clock the boys were indicating they were ready to move on and Anthony did his best to agree through the haze that had descended around him. “Quick piss break though lads!”, Gary proclaimed. Another thing that Anthony tried to agree with. The majority of the group left their tables littered with pint glasses, tumblers and VK bottles and headed for the door while Gary and Anthony stumbled to the toilets. Anthony shouldered his backback as Gary clapped him on the shoulders and began saying things to him that he couldn’t quite make out. In order to try and clear his head he headed straight for a cubicle. He managed to put his bag on the floor and after a moment of trying to steady himself he slipped over and fell, hitting his head on the locked door and knocking himself out.

He blinked a few times and lay exactly where he was, his head was throbbing and he had an awful taste in his mouth. Wondering exactly how long he had been lying there he slowly got to his feet and noted that he felt dehydrated and his head hurt on account of where he had bashed it... But past that he didn’t feel particularly drunk or even hung-over. He stood up and brushed himself down thoroughly. He then moved his hand to the lock and noted with intense confusion that it had changed colour to a sort of brown. He touched it and it almost completely rotted away; the door swung open. When it did he nearly passed out again with shock; the roof had disappeared and some of the wall was missing, he realised he was standing in a shell of a room. The doorway led to nowhere and the entire pub was pretty much gone except for a few mouldering walls, here and there a table leg could be seen. He stepped out onto the pavement and looked around him, he saw more of the same all down the road, what he remembered as his town centre was now comprised of mouldering buildings and bricks, it appeared almost completely destroyed. A few signs he recognised were strewn across the floor under beams of wood, bricks and stone. He appeared to be looking at life through a grey filter of despair; a panic began to rise within him as he wondered what was going on and where everybody was for as far as his eye could see there was not a soul in sight.

He walked quickly back to the cubicle where he had come from and quickly found his rucksack, the presence of which soothed him considerably for some reason, it seemed like he had taken a part of home with him, and this at least was something. He knew that the taxi from his house to the pub was about 30 minutes (he had shared with a lot of people to reduce the high fare) and that walking would take an age, but then he considered that he had literally nothing else to do and if he could find the way then he may as well make the effort. He looked around at the ruins of the town centre; the old stone fountain lay in disarray with over half of it missing entirely and the rest crumbling to pieces. He managed to control the panic washing over him and set off at a trudge to walk home across the deadened landscape. The rubble was jagged under his shoes, the spit in his mouth tasted foul, (he knew he must soon find a drink) and the almost complete lack of a wind evoked misery to his core. It was impossible to tell what time of day it was and consequently became difficult to keep track of time or how long he had been walking but if he was forced to estimate, he would’ve said maybe two hours had gone by when he heard the screaming. A rotting door was knocked off its hinges and out of it flew a youngish girl (Anthony estimated her age to be 21 at the oldest) who was completely naked, head to toe. She was sobbing frantically and upon seeing Anthony she flung herself upon his startled figure and gripped him tightly. “Please” she gasped between sobs “they’re going to rape me.” He tried to gently prise her off him but despite her shaking her grip was firm and she would not let go. Anthony look behind her and in the doorway she had smashed off its rusted hinges stood two men of a medium height and a fairly unimpressive build. Their clothes were little more than filthy rags and their hair was long, tangled and dirty. Between the rasping sobs of the young girl there was no noise being made.

“Fuck off”. Anthony told them firmly, startled to hear his voice sound much more authoritative than he was used to and barely blighted at all by the fact he had not used his voice at all for god-knows how long. One of the scruffy thugs scowled and took a step forward but the other one touched his arm.

“Let’s leave it. I’m hungry anyway.”

The silence persisted and the one who stepped forward eventually scowled and simply spat on the floor. They both turned around and walked back into the building. The young girl let go of Anthony who she had been hugging tightly up to this point and met his eyes, he could see that she had bruises around her face and what wasn’t bruised was puffed up from the crying. “Thank you” she sniffed and they stood there awkwardly for a moment or two. “I have some spare clothes y’know” he offered, and she beamed at him. The change was remarkable and for a second, all her troubles were wiped away and even the bruises and swellings seemed less prominent and Anthony saw that she was beautiful. He took his bag off and handed her: boxer shorts (which she gratefully immediately pulled on), some jeans (he took his belt off and gave it to her to compensate for the size difference), a t-shirt, a hoodie, some socks and a pair of trainers. He tied the laces as hard as possible on her so as to minimise any slipping around in shoes a few sizes too large for her. He also discovered a bottle of water in the bottom that he had forgotten he had packed, he took a swig from it and so did she, thanking him sincerely. He smiled warmly at her. “You’re safe now.” He told her and she hugged him again, although this time in a more gentle and less ‘running for my life’ manner. They sat down against the side of the building and began to swap stories. “So I have to ask a few questions... Because I don’t even know how I got here.” He told her, and she replied

 “My name is Jessica <”Anthony!” He interjected, and they shook hands> and I haven’t really got any answers, I barely know what’s going on at all, after the explosions and all that I just ran for my life. I don’t know what’s happened to any my family or anything.”

 He stared at her for a moment before asking a question he had seen asked many a time before –

 “What year is it?”

 She raised her eyebrows at him. “2020.” She replied. The most shocking thing Anthony found about this information was not how ridiculously far into the future he had somehow been propelled... but how little. Her version of events was patchy and not helped by the fact that she was only 11 in 2011 (she turned out to be exactly 20 years old) but the main points were fairly by the books – war in 2015 had led to worldwide devastation and the eventual collapse of government and any kind of democracy. Her story was patchy and he was not sure how inclined he was to devote his total trust to somebody describing something she clearly wasn’t too knowledgeable about that had began when she was definitely too young to remember it properly. But as she was his only source of information and it seemed to corroborate the destruction around him, he accepted at least the main points of what she was telling him. She told him that there were reportedly still some pockets of civilisations and societies left and there were still merchants who sold things like clothes and food around, just that things were usually traded now, sometimes just in favours or manual work. This too seemed plausible enough and he accepted it without too much probing or questioning. Next came the harder part of the conversation:

 “What about you anyway? How do you not know this stuff? And asking about the year, you weirdo? I mean clearly you’re a time traveller, which explains it all.”

Her light-hearted mocking made him smile but he still sighed and felt the worry building up inside him; he really didn’t have a better story than that and didn’t really know how to reply. He decided to explain to the best of his knowledge exactly what had happened, that he had been out with friends and that that last thing he knew it had been 2011, the longer he talked the more foolish he felt; not that he had long to talk as not much had really happened beyond his waking up and walking around a bit. She questioned him about a few details and asked him what 2011 had been like, which he found an odd question and simply told her he remembered it being:

 “Hazy... and quite lonely.”

 The conversation dwindled out and Anthony asked her if she thought him crazy.

“Maybe. But I owe you a lot...”

And she snuggled close to him as the first hints of real cold swept over them. They sat there for a few more moments before Jessica asked him:

“What are you doing now then?”

“I don’t have anything to do really and about the only thing I can think of to do is to go home. Or where home used to be... I don’t know if I’ll find any answers there, I don’t know if anything will be clarified but it really is the only thing I can think of to do. It’s a personal thing probably... I want to see if any of my family is still there.”

 She didn’t reply to this and when Anthony stole a look at her she was looking morosely at the floor. “You’re welcome to come with me if you like” he told her quickly and she immediately looked up at him. “Really?” she asked, smiling again. “Really” he said. He explained his primitive navigation system of “just sort of guessing and following what looks familiar” to her and she giggled and said that sounded fine to her. They stood up and dusted themselves down and began slowly to walk. After a tentative moment he offered her his hand, his heart beating hard in his chest. She looked up at him and Anthony saw her face blush under the dirt and bruises. She grasped it tightly and he steered her onto what was once clearly the road and they walked down the middle of it in the direction Anthony was vaguely inclined to believe was homewards.

 The first real gust of wind he had yet felt was refreshing on his face, it rustled through her long hair and blew a few scattered leaves up into the air as they walked. They both looked into the sky and with a shock Anthony saw the moon, he had not even noticed its steady climb as he had been thoroughly engaged with talking to Jessica for what he now realised must have been several hours. Night had descended and the pair walked on into its heavy embrace and wondered where it would take them before their journey was complete, and what might lie in wait for them once it was. Anthony thought of speaking again several times but decided to leave it. The touch of her hand was comfort enough. 

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