I am pleased to be able to share a section from a contributors story, this fragment from Fourtyoneteen.
Alice Bailey (working title)
When was the last time I left the apartment? It’s got to be seven years! And the end of the world was all it took? Well, the end of the world and the fact that I was no longer safer inside. Safe became caged and out here among the shadows, became my only option.
Crossing my legs I part fold and part drop to the gutter in a slump. I could get smaller, more insignificant, but my body won’t let me. More ache than human, held together by sweat and dirt and God knows what else. Oh yeah, need. The need to be clean, alone and very far from a gutter. Better yet, the need to be no more. Scanning for signs of people – nothing – I rest my head and hold its thumping weight.
Time for a breath – surely there is time enough for that? A smile pulls at my mouth as I realise that there’s not much of anything left now – including time. Looking at my feet all bloodied and brown, the city stuck between my toes and the evidence of this night waiting to become history. No. Waiting to become nothing. I like the sound of that. That sounds like relief to me.
Finally there will be no tomorrow, not even a word for tomorrow. Not even a dictionary to look up the new word for the nothing there’ll be. Whoa! The spin shifts my brain inside my skull and I push against my eyes to slow the speeding gravity.
I’ve been waiting for this, one really good excuse to check out from my light switching, food sorting, vitamin alphabetising, hand scrubbing, door knob jiggling, and everything-aphobic existence. Never needing, never wanting and nothing to look forward to, is exhausting. But now I am looking forward to something, the nothing of whatever tomorrow will be called.
“You alright?” His voice tugs at my mind pulling me out of the loop of thoughts, I can’t look up, I can’t move, this voice is close and getting closer. To deflect his attention I simply nod my head and wave him on, the universal language for all good, now bugger off.
“Well, you don’t look alright.” I see the curve of shiny black shoe as they march in my direction.
“Come on; let me take a look at you. I can help.” Just my luck, Good Samaritan meets Boy Scout. Pushing myself up on my hands, I stand and back back as quick as my body allows. Standing is closer to bolting, and I’ve got to be ready. Sliding one foot to the side and balling my hands, fight meets flight but I’m not sure which I’ll use.
His hands bounce before him like he’s playing a silent song on an invisible piano. I suppose that’s meant to be comforting? He’s uniformed, but the things I’ve seen people in uniforms do tonight have provided me with enough cause to add those who protect and serve, to the list of those who shall not be trusted. He steps quietly toward me, voice soft “It’s OK. It’s all OK.” I’m cornered and very far from OK.
Street lights above, a flashing pulse of colour from a vehicle, helicopter spotters carving through the still dark sky and my shadow runs around me like a psychedelic maypole in a dizzying whir. The spin pushes me back and I lose my feet.
That’s when he grabs me.
Hands are on my arms and a tight stretch pulls through my chest pinging messages of warning throughout my being. Breath gone, caught somewhere between my throat and a silent scream. Hands! Hands! Shouldn’t I already be dead by now? No! No touching! Shouldn’t things be grinding to a halt! Please, please! No more. I can’t bare it!
My eyes squeezed too tight, a child in a storm. The irrationality of, if I refuse to look perhaps he will leave. His hands tighten around my arms as he pulls me into the bus shelter. My feet drag, grating raw against the rough asphalt, the pain some relief, then I’m bent to sit.
“Hey Pauly, I found one.” He calls out. “I think she’s doped up, bring the oxy.” The sound of a sliding door and a second set of feet, this just took a turn into shitville, someone is touching me and the world is still beating.
The hard bones of the bench push against my back and I feel his hands loosen slightly; another hand is pushing hair from my face and pulling my eye lids. My jaw clenched till pain, I try to shut out all, but the assault is too much and the need to look pulls me out.
“Hey, she’s opened her eyes.” Pauly says. “Pupils look good.”
“There you are. I see you.” The first grabby one says. “Do you know your name love?”
Well, I know it’s not love, Grabby; names are for people who live.
“Do you know where you are?” Pauly asks in a tone reserved for simple folk. I look at him and I see what he thinks of me, I see the reflection of me in his eyes. He thinks I’m crazy, his problem is he doesn’t know how crazy.
“Come on. She looks OK.” Pauly says, turning toward the van.
“We can’t leave her here! God knows what will happen to her.” Grabby says.
“What do you propose we do Ed? You want to start collecting human shrapnel now?”
Grabby-Ed lowers his voice, “Look, she’s about three minutes off becoming a victim. Want to come back then and scrape her off the sidewalk?” He stares at Pauly and I can see Pauly is plenty pissed. Don’t listen to Grabby Pauly, let me go!
“Awww shit. OK OK, come on sweet heart, let’s get you into the truck.”
Love, now sweet heart, what the hell is this? Like hell I’m getting in that truck, I chose to exit alone. Pulling back on the grip I search the street for options. Come on golden ticket, I know you’re here somewhere. The bus shelter we occupy has wall one end, open the other – this of course is where Pauly stands, legs wide, arms crossed, cast like some angry toy soldier. His face set in a mood, his lips hiding within a fed up mouth.
He’s watching me, close, I see his left foot move an inch, the muscles in his legs tighten, and his arms unfold – he’s braced to chase. Shit! This guy’s been around, no golden ticket there.
Instead I look at Grabby-Ed; he’s all before me, all holding, all concern. I breathe into my face softening muscle and eyes, just a subtle change to my mouth the smile warm behind my lips. Locking into his gaze I stare, unblinking, unfaltering, apologising. The tight expression in his brow runs as his face adjusts. Thank you mirror neurons should only be a moment more. And then I feel it, his fingers loosen on my arms and the start of a smile snares his mouth.
“You’re a sneaky piece of work.” I hear from behind me, and Pauly clutches my elbows and pushes me past Ed.
That’s when shitville becomes downtown hell. Pauly uses his broad body to move me to the truck and running words a hundred to the minute in my ear, I hear it. Amongst the words four pulse at me like a wave of thunder rolling, the weight crushes the air from my lungs and the hope from my heart.
“… we’re trying to help you, you crazy bitch. You want to die? Just because the comet didn’t strike doesn’t mean you can just be wandering around the city alone. It’s a mess and you’re about to become food for human garbage.”
The comet didn’t strike? The comet didn’t strike? Is that what he said? Pulling around to look at his face he stops. He can see the shock, the panic the everything my face is saying that my mouth won’t.
“Oh shit! You didn’t know? How could you not know! The comet didn’t strike, it’s all OK, we’re going to live. That is if we make it through the chaos. Now just get in will you!” His hands push at me from behind, my feet dig in but it’s futile.