Tuesday, 30 March 2010
It’s the perception now, the common understanding, that everyone, everything went mad. That there was some sudden mass hysteria that struck everybody. But this is too simple an explanation, too cynical of one. It’s just a story used to try and make sense of what happened without exploring the reality. Quite the opposite is true. People didn’t suddenly go mad. A layer of reality was instead stripped away.
Everyone has become complicit to the lie, for the fear that it might happen again.
The first thing I remember from that first night was a dog howling somewhere outside. The neighbour’s dog, Beckham, was a barky little bastard at the best of times but normally silent at night. He only ever disturbed me when I was trying to sleep in on a Sunday, but tonight he kept on howling. I could hear his owners shouting at him. Normally I found this pretty funny, even in the deep throws of a hangover, as he would yap back at every word, but this time he sounded distressed and angry.
I ate miso soup and turned the telly up loud to try and tune the little runt out. A rerun of an inane game show, ‘What’s in the Box?’
I ate a few mouthfuls and cast an eye over my phone as it received a text message.
Look at the moon
I always had time for my friend Francis, except for when I was eating. Unfortunately he had the knack of calling or texting at the exact moment that I couldn’t be bothered to talk to him.
Look at the moon
I read again and tossed my phone back onto the sofa straight away.
Look at the moon
I finally relented and left my house, ready to coo in faux wonderment at its unusual size or overly red hue. As the door slammed shut, I craned my neck up, but was met with nothing but a starless void and the drawn-out pitch reds and purples of the London night. ‘The Dome’ as me and Alex Anders used to call it when 15 and stoned out of our minds on Whynch Hill Point.
You’re old enough to hear that.
I remember thinking I’d never really realised how hard it was to see the moon from my flat, despite being on the top floor. I walked up the road, not knowing which direction to look. The school at the end obscured anything in the skies beyond the most persistent of police helicopters.
At the end of my road I scanned the skies, but still nothing. Behind the constant hush of the traffic I could still hear the dog howling, now joined by others. I walked over to the hill to get a better vantage, but the sky was still empty. I began walking over towards the park as the sky would be more open. I leapt out of my skin when I was almost hit by a car. Apologising profusely at the angry driver, I returned to gazing at the sky, but became both frustrated and intrigued and went to call Frank back. I’d left my phone, so I walked back to my flat before I got as far as the top of the common. On the way a pigeon flew over head. I then noticed the flickering of what I took to be wild parakeets flocking and circling at night. A fox bolted down the pavement of my street, rushing past me, knocking my leg. I almost shouted before realising what I would have been doing. A fox came charging the other way, pursued by a hissing, screeching cat. Not a feral, mangy thing with tattered ears and a weeping eye but a pampered blue-gray Siamese with a faux rhinestone collar, spitting and howling and contorted in the throes of an ungodly murderous rage.
The flat was now near dark. I’d kept putting off changing the hall light. From somewhere upstairs I could hear a sharp metallic rattle cutting through the black. A bell cutting through the blank night.
“Hello?” I called, which was met with no response save for a continuation and repetition of the noise.
“Is... is anybody there?”
CLANG!!! CLANG!!! CLANG!!! CLANG!!! CLANG!!!
It was coming from the spare room upstairs. I grabbed the old rounders bat and, not knowing what else to do, slowly crept towards the noise. The closer I got the more intense and frantic the battering metal noise became. The door was ajar slightly and I could hear something moving inside. My hands tensed around the handle of the bat and my breath held in the half light of the hall, illuminated by a streetlight through a window on the floor below.
I counted to myself. On three I hit the hall light on, raised the bat above my head and kicked the door in screaming, holding my eyes almost shut. I stopped suddenly, but the momentum of the swing kept the bat going, knocking books from the shelf. I tried assessing the room in the darkness.
“OH SIDNEY, YOU ABSOLUTE BASTARD!!! YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME!!!”
Sidney looked up at me momentarily before continuing to run his magnet along the side of the radiator. I bent down and scooped him up, cradling him like a baby. Normally this would have had him purring almost immediately, but this time he just glared at me.
“What the hell has gotten into you? What’s the matter?”
Sidney hissed and scratched my arm pretty deep, drawing blood straight away. I threw him on the floor and he fled before my shoe had time to reach him.
I looked. I couldn’t see it.
What are you talking about?
From: FrankAt: 18.59
Just turn on the news.
After washing and dressing my arm, I went to the front room and switched on the telly and hunted for the remote to try and look for a news channel. I needn’t have bothered. It was everywhere. They’d already worked up graphics.
“...to be seen. We go straight to Simon Arnett at the top of this very building with more on this shocking story”
“Thanks Carla. What began as confused and garbled reports filtering in through blogs and tweets is now waiting to be officially confirmed by government officials as a global, or more accurately galactic phenomenon. There have been murmurings that NASA have acknowledged that this isn’t some kind of lunar eclipse or atmospheric problem, but the moon has, in fact, erh, disappeared from view. Now we’re waiting on more details of this confirmation and an official statement and perhaps verification by other bodies including that of our own government, but it has to be said that, ha, NASA aren’t normally wrong about this kind of thing so, erh, it doesn’t bode well, if those reports are correct. We’ve already received various pieces of viewer footage thanks to the YouNews section of our website. Please, please if you’re thinking about sending us in some more, do make sure that it’s not just of the blank night sky as we, hah, have more than enough footage of that. But here’s piece of viewer footage from viewer Jan Stephenson, who captured this on her mobile phone. Now, it is of a low quality but it captures what we believe to be the exact moment when the moon disappears, erh, from view”
The grainy footage began and I felt sick. The camera focused on someone about to light a firework. A middle aged man with a beer in one hand, lighter in the other, wearing a party hat.
“Woo! Oh hang on. Someone else is letting them off and all. That looked like a big one. Let me just film that”
The camera focussed on the night sky. Thick clouds hung in the air. The moon looked bright and large, but not unusual. A large cloud floated in front of it, obscuring it from view. A muted yellow flash, something exploding far away, behind the murk. The clouds cleared. The moon was gone.
“Did you? Harry! Harry! Did you see...”
In the background dogs began to howl. The footage ends.
“Now please remember that the footage has not been verified, but does appear to be the exact moment when the moon disappeared from view. Now there are still, unsurprisingly, a lot of confusing and conflicting messages relating to this so while we’re waiting for some more official word, I caught up with a few people to gauge their reaction to this bizarre and frankly frightening event”
“So tell me what happened”
“Well, I was just walking along, walking to the shops to get me dinner and all of a sudden I look up and there’s no moon anymore!”
“And did you hear or see anything?”
“Nah, nothing. I just wasn’t there anymore”
The camera cut to a young woman
“I was just outside waiting for a bus and I saw a cloud go in front of the moon, you know? And then when it came away, the moon wasn’t there no more. I didn’t really hear nothing, apart from, like, a lot of dogs, you know? Howling. Other than that, everything seemed the same”
“Now Simon, interesting reactions from the public there to this evening’s fast breaking, frankly shocking reports that the moon has, in fact, disappeared from view”
“That’s right Carla, when you walk around and talk to people, there seems to be a prevailing sense of confusion. People seem at a loss to know what to do”
“Simon, what confirmation is there that this isn’t just some kind of lunar eclipse or, dare I say it, mass hallucination?”
“Well, NASA have still to hold an official press conference, which should be in the next hour or so, but early reports suggest that their satellite imaging, which of course are fed from outside the Earth’s atmosphere and therefore not affected by things like heavy cloud cover or eclipses, cannot detect the moons presence. I should reiterate that these are early reports which have not been confirmed by NASA or any other body. Also, you will notice even during total lunar eclipses, there will only be a few seconds when the moon is completely invisible. Now we’re, I mean, we’re looking at almost an hour. Whatever has happened here tonight, is global and completely unprecedented”
“Now I don’t have a vast knowledge of physics, but were it the case that the moon suddenly disappeared, would there not be a massive effect on, for example, the tides and the movement of the oceans...”
“Well indeed, Carla, worse than that in fact. Depending on the nature of the moon’s disappearance, there is a chance that it could tear...”
“Simon, I’m afraid I’ll have to interrupt you there as we’re just getting reports through that the Government are to release an official statement within the next few...”
I watched, aghast, completely unsure of what to do with myself.
HERE’S WHAT ALSO HAPPENED THAT DAY:
• Hundreds dead in a train explosion in Pakistan. Suspected bombing.
• A young actor, tipped to win at the Oscars, found dead, face down in his bath tub.
• Another political scandal, accusations of bribery and information leaked to the Russian government.
They all shoved cats surviving washing machines and singing bus conductors out of the way for space at the lower echelons of today’s news, if they were reported at all. Suddenly nothing else seemed to matter anymore. Now there was something that couldn’t be hidden, explained away, or spun, as no one knew anything. The moon, the planet, the universe really was out of our control. It made everyone feel very, very small. Governing bodies were now less secure and comforting and this fear wasn’t something that they found they could manipulate. This wasn’t like super-viruses or climate change or terrorism, this was just a unified epiphany, an understanding of... outside of ourselves and our lives and other people’s lives and the planet... Nothing had happened... yet it was heartbreaking and horrific.
It may seem arrogant and absurd for me to speak for over 6 billion people, and you might be right, but you weren’t there. It really did seem like this. Of course, just because there was a shared realisation, it doesn’t mean that people reacted the same way at all.
I remember, after I’d shut of the telly, I was sitting for a while with the lights off. I could see lights from outside. Lots of flashing. People were letting off fireworks. There were fires. A car alarm turned into a screech turned into a police siren which did not seem to end. People were shouting, screaming, laughing. I grabbed the rounders bat, zipped it into my coat and stepped out into another world. It was an awful mimic of everything I knew, like something had grabbed a picture and warped it while my eyes were closed.
The world had exploded. In one hour, the world had exploded.
At the top of the road, the alarm to the Happy Shopper was squealing. The door hung outward from its bottom hinge and there was the sound of movement inside in shop. As I got closer, there was a crash and a man burst out clutching two bags filled with bottles of spirits. He stopped and looked at me dead in the eye before breaking into a run again. I could hear his feet echoing down the side street, through the sound of the alarm. One of his bags must have broken as the next sound was of loud shattering glass. The sound of feet did not stop.
I gazed up and the night sky as the noise trailed off.
I went inside the shop, holding the door with one hand, unzipping my jacket and grasping the bat with the other.
Oranges, courgettes, onions littered the floor. I almost slipped on overripe plantains, mashed into a paste on the grey patterned lino. The stacked boxes of crisps had been knocked over, the chest freezers that faced the door had been smashed. Frozen pizzas and crispy pancakes slowly defrosted on the floor. The till had been broken open and money littered the counter.
I tried shouting over the alarm.
I first noticed the feet. Then the blood. The man who’d sold me papers and beers and oyster top ups for the past year and a half, whose name I did not know, lay motionless in front of the counter, bleeding from his head. A broken bottle of beer lay beside him.
I ran over to him and tried to check he was breathing. At first I tried to check his pulse point, but quickly realised I was just aping television shows and had no idea what I was doing. I held my hand in front of his nose to try and feel his breathing, but felt nothing. I stopped, knelt down and listened to him. Listened to the slight, subtle whistle of breath coming from his nose. I stood up, took deep breaths and took a ‘tropical juice drink’ from the fridge, necking it. I remember, I couldn’t think of the instinctive actions for such an occurrence. For a moment, it was gone. My left knee spasmed and everything below my waist went cold.
Police. Ambulance. Of course.
I called and was placed in an automatic queue. I breathed deeply, breathing out for slightly longer than I breathed in. A trick for when I couldn’t sleep.
“Lines are busy at the moment. Please wait and we’ll deal with your call as...”
I put my phone down on the counter on loudspeaker, almost inaudible over the alarm, and turned my attention back to the man. I placed him in a half remembered recovery position. I helped myself to a packet of cigarettes from behind the counter and spent a moment smoking.
The message kept playing.
Five years not smoking, gone in an instant. It’s funny, I didn’t have any particular desire to smoke, either. I just didn’t care, either way. It didn’t matter anymore. After I finished, I had no desire for another. I dropped the butt on the floor and stared and the cherry as it died in the darkness. Perceptions of myself and other people, what they thought of me, what I thought of them. They were all gone with the night, with the moon. Stubbed out with the cigarette.
The man began groaning and slowly came around.
“Easy” I said as he tried to get up. I handed him a bottle of water, which he sat and sipped.
“You got a phone?”
He didn’t reply.
“Phone! You got a phone?”
He motioned to behind the counter. I called the police and hung up my mobile.
“Where’s your back room?”
He silently motioned the other way, to the rear of the shop.
“You got the keys?”
He nodded to the bunch of keys hanging from his belt.
“Alright mate, we’re gonna get you in there and you’re gonna stay on the line and talk to the ambulance people”
He silently nodded. I slowly took his weight on my shoulders and we staggered through the aisle, knocking bottles of bleach and wire wool onto the floor. He painfully fumbled the key at the lock of the storeroom door, scraping the sides. After his third attempt, I took his hand and guided it, opening the door for him. I sat him down and stocked him up with food, water and the phone, which was still on hold. As I began to close the door, he looked at me with a bewildered, needy expression.
“Please...” He asked
I leaned closer to hear his fragile voice.
“Four... eight... one... seven... two... four”
He nodded to the alarm panel flashing by the door. I punched the number in and the shop fell silent. I remember it being the loudest silence I’d ever heard, like the barely audible strained noise from the back of someone’s throat, but magnified to a deafening volume.
I gave him a salute and closed the door, picking up the bat and throwing a fiver on the counter.
I guess it must seem strange to you now to hear of me doing something like that, something that seems so callous in retrospect, but as I looked down at him I was overcome with a strange feeling of... I don’t know whether to refer to it as detachment or... It was different. Suddenly things were completely different. I still cared whether he would live or die, but suddenly it became so insignificant. Not in a selfish way, either. Just everything, your own needs, personal safety, anything.
I carried on walking. At the top of the hill, on the main drag, a double-decker tore down the road at maybe 60? 70? It seemed that fast, anyway, probably because of its size. It clipped a car, taking off its wing mirror and narrowly missed a man running across the road, but it didn’t stop. A car sat blazing. Someone had broken the window and set it on fire from the inside. What few people were about didn’t seem to care. Some stopped and watched, some passed it like an advert they had seen a hundred times before. The window of another corner shop was smashed in below the hand drawn “We Give Cash Back Money” sign.
I didn’t bother going in.
I carried on walking into town.
At the time I thought I wanted to see if some of my friends were OK. I tried ringing them but there was no answer. But looking back, I realise now that I didn’t actually care. I mean... Ambivalence is a word often misused for these types of situations, as a lack of emotion or caring, rather than as having two or more vastly differing opinions about a subject. It’s this incorrect definition which I mean. I didn’t care, but I didn’t not care. I just felt so removed. I wasn’t walking into town to see if anyone was OK.
I was just going there.
I walked down the hill towards the church and the cinema and the police station, wondering if the streets around my flat had been some small, isolated pocket.
The big, heavy oak doors to the town hall were open. People were wandering in and out with armfuls of books, stationery, office equipment and files, as if not knowing what to do with them, maybe grabbing them just because they saw other people doing the same. It became hard to understand the actions of other people. Normal thoughts about perception of the world, of society cropped up but then were replaced by a blankness.
The front doors of the church were wide open. People spilled out into the large green in front and round to the sides of the building, their gaze fixed towards the inside. I remember wondering how people outside could even hear what was going on, but I suppose now that it didn’t matter. Divine action was one of the only ways that many people could make sense of the unexplainable. Maybe it was even confirmation to the wavering agnostic. I don’t know. I crossed over to the side of the road the church was on and gazed in as I walked passed slowly. It was really bright inside. The lights and the candles made it look golden. The priest at the far end moved in such a passionate and animated fashion that for a split second, for one tiny moment I almost understood.
On the corner outside of the KFC, a solitary dealer handed out drugs. Most people, wandering around seemingly in the same haze I was in, passed by, leaving the man ignored. One person took some of whatever he was giving away, then another took notice. An unlikely candidate, a middle aged woman with a walking stick. She shoved passed the first man, creating a commotion. Other people took notice and approached the group, holding their hands out towards the dealer. He placed baggies in as many hands as possible before running out. People with their hands full didn’t leave as more came. The dealer was now shrugging and turning out his pockets in front of a group of twenty or so. Someone, a small grizzled man, struck him from behind with an empty stubby bottle, shattering it over his head. The dealer dropped and was set upon by the crowd.
I backed away and walked up, up towards one of the large supermarkets slightly recessed from the main drag. Any thoughts of ‘supplies’ disappeared as soon as I got there. I was far too late. The windows at the front of the shop were broken. Safety glass covered everything like a gritted drive. What cars were left in the car park had been smashed, seemingly for no other reason that the destruction itself. Car stereos, belongings were left untouched.
The supermarket was gutted, so empty that it looked sad, like it was an unkind comment away from giving up and collapsing in on itself. I didn’t even bother going in. Just like everywhere, a few people were wandering around, as shell-shocked as I. A man. A woman. A woman. A woman. A man. We all avoided eye contact. Not like we were walking through a rough part of town, more like people avoiding eye contact with parking meters or cash machines.
“What have you got then?” I remember him shouting. Something like that. I didn’t really have time to think. I ducked and the crowbar went flying over my head. It clipped a man’s shoulder and he dropped to the ground, crying in pain. I’d like to say, for the purpose of a more dramatic story, that I heard his shoulder blade crack, ringing out like a gunshot, and the sound of people’s feet running on broken glass, but I didn’t. I don’t really remember much of what happened. A mean looking man in a black bomber jacket, I think. Probably just annoyed that he’d missed everything in the supermarket. Maybe that’s why he had the crowbar with him. Maybe one of the cars was his. Who knows?
He swung for me again while I was on the floor and just missed my head. I might have moved. I remember being frozen, but I can’t understand why he would have missed. I got onto my feet while he picked up his crowbar and ran a few paces from him whilst fumbling with the zip on my jacket. I pulled out the rounders bat unsteadily, with shaking hands. He ran at me with his crowbar and I remember the bat dropping. I tried picking it up, but my hands wouldn’t work. A tall man dived at him, tackling him to the ground. The crowbar went flying. As the tall man punched him in the face I picked up both the bat and the crowbar. The man in the bomber jacket lay on the floor, shouting, bleeding from his nose, screaming and struggling under the weight of the much stronger man. I walked over to the men. The tall man looked up at me. He had the physique, haircut and mannerisms of a rugby player and seemed more lucid than other people.
“You ok?” He asked, reassuringly.
I ignored him and instead gazed at the man on the floor. Looking at his face, seeing his rage, I was overcome by a wave of anger. I raised the rounders bat and struck the defenceless man around the head. Two times. Three. The sickening sensation of living, bleeding tissue yielding under a blunt object at the other end of my arm. I could feel it through me. Meat and bone and cartilage. He fell unconscious. His blood seeped into the cracks in the concrete and the safety glass. I looked up and suddenly felt very human. Everyone stared at me with a look of disbelief and horror. They looked straight at me, straight into my eyes. At least, I think they did. I think they did. Maybe they just looked. I don’t know.
I tossed the bat down and ran towards home.
I realised halfway back that I was still gripping the crowbar with a pale, white fist. I couldn’t open it, I couldn’t let go. I stopped and stared listlessly at the sky again. Suddenly I thought of bonfire night a couple of weeks before. Eating bonfire toffees and drinking rum straight out of a hipflask and throwing wickless fireworks straight into the brazier and hoping the direction it would fire out wouldn’t be towards me and the warmth beneath cold lips, half our faces warmed by the fire.
My eyes were stinging and realised that the smell was a street or so away, here and now. On Auden Rd, the fire blazed. People stood around listlessly, some covered in soot, some sat by the roadside coughing. Something was crying from inside of one of the houses. I walked over and smashed the windows at the front. Smoke covered my eyes and beat me back. I walked over to the front door and pried at it, near the lock. The wood splintered into bits under the metal of the crowbar and I had to dig into the frame to get any kind of purchase. I called for help, but no one came. They just sat and watched. I desperately forced at the crowbar and eventually the door gave, but the flames were too strong. The smoke and the heat, I couldn’t see, couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. Half blinded and with tears in my eyes, I sat in the road and watched the flames.
After a couple of days I hardly put on the television anymore. Any time I did, it was a gamble as to whether anything was being broadcast. Scant information trickled through from what now passed for news. Society began to grind to a halt as everyone stopped caring. The excesses of the first few days died down as the novelty of lawlessness wore off for even the most enthusiastic embracers of newfound liberties.
The food I had in seemed to last longer. I was only eating when absolutely necessary, when it occurred to me. Even so, after a week it started to run out. This didn’t bother me so much, but I was on my last tin of cat food. I had seen Sidney less and less over the week, but he still retained some connection to the place, still coming back for food. As I emptied out the last can, he looked at me forlornly before beginning to eat and I felt the first distinct wave of emotion for what seemed like a lifetime. Since the man and the fire. I didn’t know what to do, but suddenly I decided that I needed to do something beyond just functioning. I went up to my bedroom and took my guitar from under my bed, out of the case and then left my flat with it in one hand.
I walked up and down my street testing doors. People had not only given up locking their homes but in some cases shutting the door properly. The front door of number 73 swung open. I walked through the hallway and could hear people in the front room, watching something. I opened up their keybox and took the key with a ‘Volvo’ symbol on it and then walked into the front room. The family, the Albert’s, were sat in front of the telly, silently watching a DVD box set of some comedy series. None of them spoke or laughed or looked up at me as I held the keys out towards them in one hand, my guitar in the other.
“I need your car” I said. These were the first words I’d spoken out loud for a week.
“I’m taking your car because I need it. I’m leaving this. It’s the guitar my dad bought me. He’s dead and I don’t need it anymore”
The Albert’s didn’t turn to me or acknowledge my presence in any way. The Father, Stewart, blinked three times, but did not avert his eyes from the screen. I left the house and the family to their canned laughter and got into their car, reading the address of the canning factory over and over.
“186 Church Rd
I can still remember it.
I eventually found the factory, all the way over on the other side of the city, out in the suburbs. I found an A-Z in the door of the Albert’s car. I don’t know if I could have found it. I had become so reliant on my smartphone, I’d stopped keeping a map of the city. The motorway, the north circular was desolate. Near deserted. Birds smeared across the asphalt, flapping upright dead wings in the breeze. A lorry lay on its side, blocking all but a single lane. It had shed its load of breakfast cereal, a lot of which had burst and turned to multicoloured mush in the rain. It didn’t matter; no one needed to get through. I let the car crawl past, staring dead on.
Here was no different from the south. Everything had begun to calm, but wore the scars of exactly the same response. People still wandered around and sat in the street with a look of detachment, but the violence was gone. It had been met with no resistance, no police, no governing body. Nothing but inanimate objects which weren’t going to get repaired unless someone took it upon themselves to. I took off my coat at the canning factory and prepared to scale the barbed wire. I didn’t have to bother. The front gate was left open, just like almost every other that I’d come across. Doors had become convenient for stopping draughts and little else. Gates now served no purpose at all. I took the crowbar from the back seat and idly dragged it along the ground as I walked.
The first building I came to was the main canning room. I could hear the roar of the conveyer as I approached. The strip lighting stung my eyes and made the outside look even greyer. The noise and the thick smell of drying reconstituted meat hit me at once and I gagged. As I waited for my senses to acclimatise I remember thinking for a moment how novel and ridiculous this all seemed, this giant machine for making cat food, still continuing despite having no cans or meat. I continued walking, dragging the crowbar behind me, passing a pile of cans and out the rear of the factory. After half an hour of wandering I found the store room. I had to pry the locked door open. It took about fifteen minutes and I almost broke my fingers. I’d never really done that kind of thing before the other day. Why would I have, I suppose? I filled the boot of the car and the back seat with cat food until the rear started to sag. I went back and threw the crowbar into the works of the canning machine. I don’t really know why I did it. I just seemed like an affront to everything else that was going on in the city, the world. The machine started making new, horrific noises, so I left. I didn’t care what would happen.
I drove home through the city, in case the other side of the M25 was completely blocked. The city was just like you know it was, just like everyone says. That much remains true.
As I was driving back I began to notice more and more areas with no electricity. When I got near home, all the streetlights were out. Makeshift lanterns made from poles, old paint pots and brooms were stood outside the church. I could see a light from inside and actually began to wonder again if there was something in this divinity racket. The wondering lasted just as long.
I parked up to investigate. The door opened and a face, an older, bespecticled man of about 50 peered out at me.
“Hi” I said
“Come in” he said, before I had the chance to continue
“You look cold”
He opened the front door. Inside the main hall, makeshift beds had been set up and the place was dimly lit with huge church candles. They were initially refugees from a fire on Ash Park Street. Seven houses, the end of the road to the school, had been gutted. It had been in the day, everyone had made it out alive, but they had lost everything. The Christians had abandoned the church after a few days, so they had set up there, making better use of it. They weren’t following anyone, they didn’t even really know each other. It was just out of necessity. They had no food so they had got what they could for the meantime and in the past few days, using some scant horticultural knowledge, had begun to farm the commons a mile up the road. There seemed to be no grand plan at all.
The man extended his hand to me.
I took his hand and shook it.
“Hi” I said again, stunned by the first normal human contact I’d had for a week.
I followed him in and he gave me a mug of soup they had made. As I ate the soup, warmth spread through my stomach, not just from the food. A tingling. I felt shy and bashful like I had kissed someone for the first time.
“I have cat food” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“I have a car full of cat food. I went across London for it. For my cat. He was hungry. I used to have a guitar and a crowbar. But now I don’t”
Rodger nodded silently and patted me on the arm. I sat down on one of the cots and lay down and slept.
I remember the first time I heard anyone made a joke, after what happened. We were tilling the commons, digging, planting and no one was really talking, as was the norm. We had moved onto another patch of grass, turning it over, oxygenating it, you know.
I didn’t. We had to learn it all.
Books in the library. Lot in those things.
Susan was trying to turn the earth, but couldn’t, and started to become frustrated. Her voice wavered as she coughed repeatedly and she threw he spade down on the floor. She picked up a trowel and attacked the ground before throwing it down and walking away, silently weeping.
“Trowel and error” said John, not quite under his breath.
Jane, John, Mark and I began to laugh. I know, it was an awful joke, hardly even that, but it was like understanding humour again. Suddenly there was a new element to existence, a completely superfluous one. We began howling, crying with laughter. I had to lie down on the earth and wait to stop shaking. I didn’t wipe the tears away. I just let them run. Sit and stream from my eyes, the sun wobbling and blurring into a joyous smear. Laughing until I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the wet earth under me, under my head and back and bare arms.
By this time we had moved out of the church and begun living on the commons. There was an old boxing club which we converted into a living area and we had built new buildings by its side. Mark and Tony had been contractors and took great pleasure in designing the new buildings, which acted as general communal, kitchen and bathing/washing areas. Our group had now extended to around 35 and alongside Sidney who I had brought over and Skip the dog we’d begun to keep chickens, liberated from a local city farm and a police horse we’d found wandering alone in the street.
Charlie. Charlie the horse.
We were still relying on canned goods that we had stockpiled, but the first of the veg was coming through. Carrots I think it was. It would be a long time before we would be completely self-sufficient, but every day was a step towards that end.
It took a few months, but the numbness began to lift like a veil. Like waking up from a dream, people say. Suddenly parts of our personalities returned, yet we all continued to work as we were. No one bucked against the situation they found themselves in. At night, people still looked longingly up at the sky, but this was something we felt would never change. There was slight mourning for our past lives as the realisation of this new world set in. This was inevitable. Our old lives weren’t so bad, we thought. Certainly more comfortable. But the mourning turned to remembrance, not melancholy. An accepting fondness for the things that were no longer here. TV, internet, easy meals, recreational drugs, news, celebrities. All gone now. All gone.
One evening, I was cooking. Jane had offered to help. I was cooking some kind of curry in one of the massive pots we’d taken from the school over the wood fire. We’d amassed a large collection of dried herbs and spices from all the various corner stores and unspecific curries have always been my speciality. No one seemed to touch those. Jane had been married to Alan ‘before’, but now they didn’t really speak. Not because they hated each other, they just didn’t feel the need, I suppose. I remember leaning past her to get some dried coriander and falling into a kiss. It was the first time I’d felt any emotion towards someone other than my cat. We kissed and kissed and couldn’t stop and spilt the half-cooked food all over the floor and made love there and then in the mess and we cried out and our moans echoed against the moonless sky.
Sorry, am I embarrassing you? I’m embarrassing you, aren’t I?
The next morning I woke up and Jane was gone. I sat and waited for a while, to see if she would return. After half an hour I realised she wouldn’t. It was the cold blue of the morning. Maybe half 5? 6? Dawn. I could hear something faintly in the background. A hush. A loud, screaming, half remembered hush. I went into the main sleeping area to find that no one was there. I looked all around the buildings. Everyone had gone. Roger, Mark, John. Even Charlie the Horse. Even Sidney. I took my coat and walked. Anywhere. I just walked, once again lost. I came to a clearing in the thick trees that bordered the commons and fell to my knees. I was at a road. The streetlights were on. The streetlights were on and there was traffic. There were buses running and cars and people rushing and I knew that everything was over. Everything was finished. Men were putting up new advertising on hoardings, people hooted impatiently and bought things from shops and got in each other’s way and no one walked in the middle of the road and my heart was broken.
I stumbled back to my flat. The door was open. Some stuff was missing, some new stuff was in its place. It looked like someone had been living there. It wasn’t in too bad shape though, maybe just a bit messy. I didn’t much care at this point.
I went into my bedroom and hid under my duvet.
A few months later, after I’d gone back to my old job...
That was odd. I just walked back in. No one said anything. A few people weren’t there anymore, but we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about any of it. A few months later...
I passed Jane and Alan in the street. None of us said a word. We wouldn’t even look at each other.
I often found myself looking up at the sky at night, almost involuntarily gazing at what had been pure and black and infinite and was once more a blue and purple murk. The dome, returned.
I can’t remember how long it was before I noticed that the moon was back, or really when. Just one night, after work I think, walking home. Early. I can’t really tell you more than that, other than it was still light. Maybe three or four in the afternoon. And that was it. Maybe it had been there for weeks and I hadn’t noticed. Maybe this was its first sighting. I don’t know. There was no mention on the news or anything like that.
It was back and I was back and everything went on, just as it was before.
Internet and cinemas
and pubs and dating
and ready meals and rolling news
and promising that you wanted to go
but you might be busy
and shaking your head
at the news headlines
and ignoring people begging
at the sirens
and police tape
which refused to abate,