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Chapter 1 - Translation
Chapter 2 - Realisation
Chapter 1 - Translation
3am, walking home along the deserted orange-lit streets. Only one car had passed in the last 20 minutes. A three-quarters waning moon hovered in a hazy sky, occasionally partly obscured by clouds, invisible in the dark sky. A single speck of light was visible in the haze, sometimes appearing to move or flash, sometimes still. A plane, a star or a planet, wondered Matt. As always, his mind wandered along near-nonsensical connections to stop only on arrival at Lucy.
The perfectly figured, magnificently featured, and strangely agreeable Lucy. Strange that she would agree to be girlfriend to Matt, that is. With her body shaped not entirely unlike that of an hourglass, and her face naturally generating the effect targeted by most users of make-up, contrast. Pale skin, dark lips, lashes looking as though the very concept of mascara were based on them, eyebrows unplucked and rightly so, and long near-black hair, sometimes reflecting blue or purple tinges in the right light. Some men would find her intimidating. Hell, Matt still did, and he'd been her boyfriend for over a year.
Why she had stayed with him for so long was beyond Matt. Tall, and built in a fashion reminiscent of a hinged rake, he liked to jest that he looked rakish. His shortcomings on the physical side were hardly well hidden; nose too big, hair dyed black rarely enough to show roots a ratty shade of blonde most of the time, and styled however it chose, regardless of gooey substances employed in vain attempts to force it otherwise. Enough eyebrow to make it difficult to decide whether 'eyebrows' or 'eyebrow' would be the more accurate term, and skin that couldn't decide whether to be flaky or spotty.
If only she weren't so far away, thought Matt. If only we had less ties so we could have more time together...
"I love you Lucy." He thought, as forcefully as he could, trying to send the thought to her, before realising that at 3am she'd be asleep anyway. Even so, he imagined her reply, and a brief conversation.
The streetlights flickered off for a moment, snapping him back to reality. He was nearly home.
Lying in bed, awake, at 3 in the morning. A couple of hours' sleep was all she had gleaned, despite going to bed at ten. Now, wide-awake, she sighed, turned over, and put some music on quietly. A favourite track came on, one which never failed to make her think of Matt and smile in amusement. He would never believe how attractive he was, no matter how many times she told him - a charming and somehow comforting degree of modesty. The song drew to a close,
"...There's no-one else but you...
...I love you."
I love you... She imagined it in his voice, then replied in a whisper before she realised. "I love you too, Matt."
"I wish it were true."
She wondered why he wouldn't believe it true, then posed the question to the imaginary Matt of her mind.
"This is silly," she thought, not quite sure the thought was her own. "I need to have this conversation with the real you."
"Yeah, you need to start it." She admonished herself. "Do it next time we're together. Only a few more days."
Only a few more days. A phrase which occurred with sickening regularity, and one major inaccuracy; the word 'only'. Their time apart was rarely longer than "only a few days", but it was always too long.
Recalling the tone she imagined him using, she drifted into a warm slumber. "I love you."
The next morning, Matt awoke due to bladder pressure. For a few minutes he tried to ignore it and go back to sleep - his bladder rarely awoke him before the radio alarm, so it couldn't be much longer. The bladder prevailed, as he had known it would. He pried his eyes open in preparation for the long journey to the bathroom via the door. A moment later his brain kicked in, and noticed the brightness through the curtains; much brighter than it should be at times before the alarm. A glance at his watch as he sat up confirmed it.
"Shit." He groaned, succinctly, moving to the bathroom at a rate rather less hurried than it should be, given two hours late as a starting point. As a student though, two hours late is to be expected rather than reprimanded. The reason, he discovered on trying the bathroom light switch, was a lack of power to the alarm, and, indeed, to the rest of the house.
Having lowered his liquid content, Matt made a start on restoring it with a glass of water. A glance outside suggested that he wear waterproof, or, at worst, water-resistant clothes. Opting for the latter, Matt checked his pockets for keys, and stepped out.
A few minutes later he realised what had been nagging at his perception since he left the house. Nothing. Or, rather, a lack of things. Nothing had moved or made a noise, save himself. The effect was rather more poignant once he had reached the main road - not a single car, when normally there'd be queues at the time on his watch. The position of the sun seemed to agree on the time. Coming to the traffic lights, even they produced not a beep. The power was still missing, it seemed.
Feeling somewhat surreal, Matt looked around carefully. Trees moved in the wind, and over the garage a flag fluttered. In the distance, a single car was on the road, stationary, between two lanes, casting a weak headlight beam along the road.
Looking both ways by habit, Matt crossed the road to the 24 hour garage shop. As he opened the door, the silence was broken by the bell's tinkling.
"Hello?" he said. "Hello?"
Only an eerie inactivity in response. With a shrug he picked up an unhealthy snack and a canned sugar-filled drink. As an afterthought, he slapped the appropriate coinage on the counter, before departing.
The stopped car's doors were unlocked, and a key was in the ignition. Smirking, Matt got in, belted up, and turned the key.
The engine coughed weakly, then died. Repeat three times. Taking the keys, he unlocked the fuel cap and checked the fuel. Or, more accurately, he checked the tank. After a few minutes messing with plastic cans and fuel pumps, the car was running smoothly, despite its lights having been left on.
Feeling guilty, and foolishly paranoid for having stolen a car and for driving without a license, Matt drove off, heading for the highway.
Ten miles north of junction five on the M6 motorway. An eerie near-silence pervaded, on a stretch of road usually filled with the noise and fumes of six lanes of stationary vehicles with the engines running, filled with unreasonably angry people and the crackle of bad reception on their car radios. This day, the only noise was a solitary quiet hissing noise from the overheated engine of an unoccupied Ford, its front end artistically bent around a "no stopping" sign. Inside the car, another hissing, that of static being picked up by the expensive stereo.
If one were to look up, they might notice an unusual clarity to the sky. Still occupied by water-bearing clouds, the spaces through which the blue was visible were very visible. The sun seemed brighter, the clouds more defined. In the distance, one would be able to see... Well, that in itself was unusual - being able to see into the distance.
The persistent silence and stillness would, if in a film, have unobtrusive background music attached. Long notes on cello or double bass. One would expect the silence to be broken quite quickly by an explosion or a monster, especially after having noticed the pervasive hissing. It didn't happen.
Instead, the sound of an engine in the distance - a sound that would never be heard ordinarily, all distant sounds being lost to nearer, louder sounds. A second engine joined the first in breaking the stillness, with its own slightly deeper tone.
Both neared rapidly, their corresponding cars - a blue Mini and a deep metallic green Rover - appeared on opposite horizons, one screaming to maintain 90mph, the other humming loudly at 120.
Matt had stopped feeling guilty about theft and illegal driving, and had begun to wish he had stolen something better. Absorbed in such thoughts, he didn't notice the other live car for a second or two longer than he should. When he did notice, he eased off the accelerator slightly. As the car slowed, he unclenched his jaw, which had been tense to prevent the car's vibrations shattering his teeth against each other, then rubbed it in order to get it back to its normal relaxed state.
The two cars stopped opposite each other, in their corresponding fast-lanes, doors already opening. Matt and Lucy stepped out onto the central reservation and looked at each other, open-mouthed.
"Fancy meeting you here." smiled Matt, eventually.
"I thought you couldn't drive." challenged Lucy.
"I don't have a license." Agreed Matt. "Nor a car. No wonder the police kept stopping me."
Lucy laughed nervously.
"You don't have a car either." noted Matt, gesturing at the Rover.
"Well..." shrugged Lucy, "No-one seemed to want it..."
"No. No-one seems to want anything these days." Matt nodded. "What is the world coming to?"
There was a long pause.
Matt looked over at the hissing Ford. "Shush."
Lucy smiled, an expression belied only by her lower lip trembling slightly. "What do you think happened?"
"It looks to me," Matt began, "Yes... It looks to me as though the car... Hit the sign."
"Thanks." said Lucy drily.
"Seriously though," he said, "I have no idea. I went to sleep, I woke up, everyone was gone."
"Except us." He agreed, "And anyone else. It's not as though we've looked everywhere."
"So what do we do?"
"Get some food?"
"Matt?" she said, quietly.
Matt blinked, unsure how to react. "Um," he said. "Why?"
She shook her head, "Never mind. Let's go eat. I'll drive."
As Lucy drove, past wrecked cars with their engines steaming, and carefully off the road around jack-knifed articulated trucks, Matt set the radio auto-tuning for a signal. After it had been through the entire range twice, fruitlessly, he switched it off, and started rooting through the glove-box, and the sleeves in the backs of the seats.
"Garth Brooks... Shania Twain... Alan Jackson... Dixie Chicks... Some taste this guy has." He said, throwing CDs into the back seat.
"Hey! I like Garth Brooks. Well, a couple of songs, anyway."
"Is one of them 'Well I was a lonesome cowboy with a banjoguitar on my harmonica... girl'?"
"I haven't heard that one." she responded smartly. "But it sounds good."
He laughed. "I suppose we can get some proper music next time we pass a store. I hear they've got a sale on. Buy none, get some free."
"Do you know any good restaurants around here?"
"None that serve food when they're unstaffed, no."
"Point. Will you cook?"
"Sure. Instant noodles it is. Say, you know what you get when you play country music backwards?"
"Cisum y'rt-nuoc?" she hazarded, haltingly.
He smiled, "You get your dog back, your house back, your wife back, your job back..."
"Funny." She said, drily. "What do we need, to make food?"
"Camping stove, water, pans... that should do it. Oh, and food."
"This shopping center should do the trick, then."
It started to rain.
Chapter 2 - Realisation
|THE EAST MIDLANDS OBSERVER||June 12, 2001|
It was an unusual sight, and a little unnerving - the supermarket, silent, empty and dark. The fluorescent lights, normally a perpetual feature casting the aisles into a garish light, were off. The normally glowing white aisles instead were darkened and beset with ominous shadows.
Matt and Lucy pushed open the non-functional automatic door, and entered, shaking water from their clothes and hair.
"Lets stay away from the meat section," suggested Matt. "It's probably defrosting by now."
"Quite. Actually, we should probably have bread. It'll only last a few days, this could be our last chance to eat bread without having to bake it."
"This is horrible."
Matt grinned, "I'm quite enjoying it. It's like something from a movie. Only without the zombies."
"I hope it's without the zombies." Lucy responded, with a melodramatic nervous look around.
"Grarrh!" Matt suggested, "Brains!"
Lucy smiled wryly, "Come on. I'm hungry."
"Brains?" said Matt, querulously.
As they trundled the cart full of food past the vacant checkout, Matt stopped. "Maybe we should just eat here."
"Camping stove... No carpet..." he indicated the floor, "No rain..." he indicated the windows, with the heavy flow of water rolling down.
"I see. I suppose you're right."
"I'm always right." Matt said, with an impish grin.
Several minutes later, they were toasting bread over the flame of the stove, holding it out on forks, held by the very tip of the handle.
"It's quiet, isn't it?" whispered Lucy.
"Like a dream come true." agreed Matt, "I've always wished people would go away, and wondered how life would be."
"How is it?"
"Seems good so far. I'm not even missing computer games."
"What about your friends?"
"What about them? You're worth more to me than all of them put together. Fifty times over."
Lucy started to cry, hanging her head to partially hide it. "I miss my friends."
"Yeah. You would." said Matt, despondently, "I don't mean that much to you, eh?"
"It's not that!" Lucy snapped, irritably, forgetting she was crying. "I just like having friends."
*** to be continued when I feel like writing ***
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