Over The Iron Desert (Part Two)
I am standing on the porch and cannot believe what I’m hearing; my life seems to be crumbling to dust. Sylvia touches my arm gently, her eyes are very round and very sad but the steely resolution lurking behind her pupils does not fade. “I’m sorry” she tells me.
“But I just don’t want to do this anymore... You’re a lovely guy and everybody knows it but I just don’t want to stay in this relationship, please don’t hate me... Can we still be friends?”
The grey clouds roll on behind her head and before the water begins flooding from their weighty bodies a tear forms in my eye and I feel it streaming down my cheek. I am humiliated and I hate myself. “Maybe” I tell her, in barely more than a choke. The rain begins and the pathetic fallacy does nothing to help my mood. She dawdles for a moment on my front door and tells me in an apologetic way: “I’ve really got to run! I’m sorry, I’ll call you!” and she puts up her hood and runs down the drive before getting into her car. I do not turn back into my house but stand there numbly for a moment, the tears are falling freely now and I vomit. It splashes onto the pavement and is quickly diluted by the rainwater. I bury my face in my hands and cry in a more unrestrained way than I ever have done in my life as I stand there wondering if the end of the world is coming.
Then I wake up, my front carved beautifully around Jessica’s. I marvel at how she has retained her womanly softness to the touch despite everything. There is still tear in my eye which I blink away, but I do not move, I allow our spoon to persist before I have to get up off this filthy mattress and return to real life.
Anthony stood up slowly and stretched. There was no real light outside, but then again there never was, he estimated it to be around 8 in the morning. It had been four days now since he had awoken to the universe he now inhabited, met Jessica and started off on their trek home. The progress had been much slower than he would have liked, but he supposed they were in no real hurry and he was now sure they were only a few hours away. He looked at her on the mattress on the floor and decided she would be ok if he left her for a few minutes, he pushed open the wooden door to the smallish abandoned shack they had decided to stop at. They had met a man the day before who had traded them a few sandwiches and some sugary orange drink that Anthony suspected was Fanta for helping him to plant some seeds in a long stretch of decent enough and seemingly uncontaminated earth he had found. After several hours work they had taken his supplies, thanked him and told him they may return at some point to lend further assistance. In an ominous move he had also given the pair of them a handgun and a clips-worth of bullets. He told them he had several guns and that he was just looking out for them. Neither of them really knowing how to use a gun they had accepted it with some trepidation, but thanked him nonetheless.
The food and drink had felt good last night and Anthony now nibbled on one as he made his way down to a relatively clean river they had located, a river that he used to paddle in when he had been a child. It was only a few hours walk from his old house, and a two minute walk for where the pair were staying that night. Dipping his feet into the cold water was refreshing and he stood for a moment, worrying about what was next. He had gotten used to the desolate landscape and the scarcity of basic supplies over the last few days but this tramping had all been in aid of getting home, what if there were no answers or relief to be found there? He shrugged off this thought and removed his trousers and jumper so that he stood there in simply boxer shorts and t-shirt. He crouched down by the bank and began to wash his face thoroughly. After a few moments he heard a twig snap behind him and as he turned around he was greeted with a punch to the mouth which sent him spinning into the water. He rolled over frantically and was seized by his neck and dragged upwards by a heavily built man wielding a vicious looking short sword, Anthony could feel his pulse banging against the large man’s fingers and managed to splutter
“What do you want?”
“Nothing fancy” he grunted.
“Just to rob you.”
The large man let him go and pointed the sword at him, turned on its side. He took a few steps back. “Your clothes” he demanded.
“All of them”.
It was an exceptionally strange feeling, standing submerged in a small body of water and being robbed of his clothes, but he was in no mood to try and test the man’s patience and so slowly and resignedly Anthony took off his T-shirt and removed his underwear too. He threw them on the river bank. “Now get lost” he scowled. The man’s sinister face contorted however and he chuckled.
“I don’t think so, you’re obviously sheltering somewhere near here and I want everything you have, so show me where you’re staying, right now”.
Dread filled his stomach, hot dread which seemed to weight a ton. Anthony stood there for a second before deciding to decide later on a more definite plan of action. He took several steps forward to the man with the raised sword and was within half a foot before a voice rang out.
“Let him go!”
The man span round and Anthony squinted, Jessica was standing behind a building a few feet away and now stepped out into plain view, and she was pointing the gun at the thief. “Let him go” she repeated. There was silence for a few moments and Anthony acted quickly, while the man’s attention was still divided. He threw his fist hard into the side of his face, flooring him immediately. He fell with a splash but still held onto his sword and in the panic Jessica shrieked “Don’t move!" But it was too late, the man had already pulled himself up with a furious roar, he gritted his teeth and drew his hand back. Before he had managed to swing it however there a sound like a whip-crack rent the air and the man jerked forward and like a marionette with cut strings he collapsed. Anthony’s breath was coming sharp and fast and he looked over at Jessica who was standing stock still. He ran over to her and asked her urgently if she was ok, she replied with simply – “Yes”. Neither of them were particularly shaken up by the necessity to kill, Jessica didn’t need much consoling after Anthony had revealed that the dead man was about to ransack their belongings and do god-knows what with her should he have discovered her asleep in their small lodgings. They stood there for a few minutes before Jessica looked properly at Anthony’s naked form and grinned. “Does this remind you of anything?” she asked him, he smiled at her and shrugged. “I’ll put some clothes on" he told her, but she gripped his hand and stopped him. “What?” he asked, as she drew in. His heart dropped in his stomach as she kissed him and although he enjoyed it he pulled away after a moment.
“You – you’ve been through a lot, you were nearly raped a couple of days ago, I don’t want to take any kind of ad – advantage” he spluttered. She smiled. “I trust you. I want to know you as thoroughly as I can.” Her look of sincerity was enough to convince him and he took her top off. “I think though” he tittered nervously “that we should take this back to the mattress. It does seem slightly inappropriate to do anything here... You did just shoot and kill somebody about five yards away”. She laughed dryly as he threw his clothes over his shoulder, then picked her up and took her back to the small shack down the road.
30 minutes later the pair were cuddling on the mattress again. “It’s funny”. Jessica mumbled. “I feel so close to you and it feels like we have our own private world...” Anthony laughed softly. “You know what I mean?”
“Yeah... We kind of do and well... it sucks”
“Yeah”. After a couple of minutes, Anthony asked Jessica: “What happens after 2011?”
“Yeah... We kind of do and well... it sucks”
“Yeah”. After a couple of minutes, Anthony asked Jessica: “What happens after 2011?”
“What do you mean?” She said with a quizzical frown. “Well...” he began “What stuff happened? War stuff aside”. He was fascinated to hear her relay what she knew about people’s careers and various bits she could remember from the news, but it came back down to the same problem as before - she was very young and had not been interested enough and what she could remember was not necessarily reliable. They spent longer than they usually did when they awoke sitting around and talking, and Anthony suspected if this was due to his worry about what he would find when he was finally home and Jessica did not attempt to hurry him along, she was happy to talk to him about whatever he wanted to know. She had discussed her passion for technology at length, her failed attempts at holding a relationship down, the way her father had walked out in her teens and her brother several months later, how every cat she had ever owned seemed to move on within a few months. Although the consequences of this inability to hold onto one feline for more than a few months had obviously been less monumental than the premature departure of both her father and brother, Anthony could not help but wonder if she put them all together in her head now and worried that it was somehow her fault.
After they had packed everything up they walked the last few hours in near silence; Anthony found the walk down the roads he once knew so well depressing now that it all lay heavily damaged or destroyed. When they got to the row of houses that had been Anthony’s old home he pointed it out and they stood and stared without really knowing what to say. The gate was hanging off its hinges and there were many roof-tiles missing as well as window panes, regardless of this it was a relief to him to see that the house was at least standing and after a long incalculable moment he sighed and nodded. “Let’s get this over with” he spoke in an attempt at a bold, unperturbed adventurer’s voice. They walked down the weed-strewn path and pushed the door carefully. Everything was as he remembered it, except for the obvious change that it was mostly ruined. He had resigned himself to the fact that nobody would be in the house, after all why would they? They had barely encountered anybody at all on their trek so far and it seemed very unlikely that there was anything to stay here for. This however only made it more alarming for Anthony when a gruff voice barked from another room “Who’s there!? I’m armed!” and into the doorway popped a man with a long beard, pointing a rifle at the two of them. “Dennis!?” Anthony gasped, and the bearded man squinted at him. The two brothers stood a few feet apart before Dennis laughed in a sort of barking manner. “Imposter!” he shouted, and Anthony could feel Jessica fidgeting nervously behind him. “No it really is me!” he protested, but this just seemed to anger the man. “If it’s you then I hate you for going and never coming back! If you’re an imposter then I’m gonna blow your head off anyway!” he snarled and before he could react, he fired the rifle in their general direction. He had not been paying much attention to where he was aiming in his distraction and the bullet went far wide, but the pair of them dived under a nearby sofa which was exactly how he remembered it to be apart from its decrepit state. “Please!” he shouted out to Dennis
“Please don’t make me shoot you, I need some answers!”
“You had all the chance! You could’ve come back years ago, it’s just as well you’ve turned up now though because I’m going to eat you!” he raved insanely. Hoping he could frighten Dennis into a more subdued state he took the pistol from Jessica and stood bolt upright with it, pointing it straight at him. “People came looking for you y’know!” Dennis bellowed at him. “You were the most sought after man in the country because some rumour got around that you were the saviour, that you could rescue the entire world from the destruction you see before you”. Anthony decided this nonsensical statement was just another manifestation of madness however and spoke in a calm voice in an attempt to stifle his trembling.
“Just put that rifle down. I need to work out what to do next, how to survive indefinitely and see if there’s any way we can help”
“Pah! Help? Help?” Dennis was almost screaming now, tears were running freely down his face and every ‘p’ sent spit flying everywhere. “Where were you to help five years ago? You fucked off! You left for no reason! Mum was taken! Dad spent years looking for you and now he’s dead too!” His rantings were growing less coherent and his shrieking broken up with gasping for air. “I hate you, you could have helped but you were supposed to be dead, but now you’re back? To HELP?” and with that he raised the rifle again and instinctively, as though he were born to do it, Anthony raised the gun considerably quicker and fired it twice. The bullets whizzed through the air and cut straight into Dennis’s throat sending him slamming back into the wall and sliding down it. Following this was the loudest silence that Anthony had ever heard, he ran over to Dennis who’s eyes were rolling but mouth still moving. He crouched down and sobbed silently but drew very close and managed to hear the last feeble words his brother spoke. “The book... under... my b-b-ed.” And he went limp, the blood running down his front and collecting in a sickening, expanding puddle underneath him. Jessica timidly approached and asked him gently – “What did he say?” Anthony considered for a moment before replying in a voice of forced calm.
“I never heard.”