FUTUREPERFECTED - unfolding before your very eyes.
ALIENATION | WAY OF LIFE
The rust-orange spires of Twisted Building punctuated the sky near the place where she lived. Its powder-like colour reminded her of the dyed fingers of a reveller’s hand she had once seen, in The City, in what now seemed the distant past. It had been nearly two years since she had first come to this place but it seemed like a lifetime ago. Twisted Building had been her landmark throughout that time. It stood at a distance, a dull brown initially but time had eroded its metal structure to the now familiar orange. It especially caught her eye when the sun cast low-glancing blows as it climbed up or disappeared down, behind The Grey Hills. It had become easier, living here. Acceptance. She had thought she would have been dead within a week but she had found she was resilient, resourceful, bitter. The grass was tall here, she moved stealthily through it. The sun had made it white, like living straw. Even though there was no-one around she still moved with caution. The warmth of the summer sun had lasted for a long period now, possibly two weeks. It was a kind of heaven compared to the cold first winter she had only just survived. All that seemed a second lifetime away. She thought of herself as a cat, with eight lives. Feet first.
The sun was still high in the sky, she had several hours of usable daylight left and so made her way through the grass, to the hedge, where she knew more blackberries would have ripened. They were near to fully-ripened two days ago but she had left them, as the sun had seemed set to continue for several days. Maximise the sweetness. A rustling in the grass dissipated to her left. She had been silent but animals sensed the presence of things. Up ahead, the grass broke and the green of the hedge spilled in, like some leaf waterfall. An image of The City seeped into her mind from memory, it dissolved away quickly, destroyed by circumstance.
Many of the berries were fully ripe and she picked them carefully and placed them into the bag she had made; a collection scrip. Her haul would be enough for several days. Birds in the tree above her, chattered, flapped, flew away and returned. She was aware that this could potentially give away her location but she had seen no-one for months, except for the ghosts but this was no reason to get complacent. She stepped away from the hedge, back into the grass and moved on silently. There were several places she visited on a regular basis; The Apple Trees, Wild Pear (although that had not been particularly good so far) and Nut Trees. There were others, all quite near to one another, she didn't venture far from them. It had taken quite some time for her to find the right locations, several temporary places had sufficed for a time and there had been several false hopes.
After collecting a mixture of fruit, berries and nuts she had made here way back home. It was still light, she had estimated about two hours of useful light left now, before twilight. She used to hate the dark coming but it held no terror for her now and she embraced the twilight time.
Back at her home she prepared for 'Twilight Time'. She got three small candles from her store box at the back of the van. She never used the back door, it was locked shut and had been from the time she had found it and moved in. She used the side door and had got adept at opening and closing it silently. With it open, she could sit and survey the small camp area. A small firepit in the open allowed her to boil water and warm any food she liked. Birds, for there were many birds in The Zone skittered off to roost noisily as they always did but it would soon quieten and apart from the occasional nocturnal animal and insects, she would be alone as night's blanket fell. Clouds were gathering and would hopefully bring much needed rain in the night. Her crops, grown in amongst the natural vegetation which was profuse, left unchecked as it had been for years, were looking dry. Her ferrying for water from the stream was an added chore during dry spells. Nature's help would be welcome.
The candles provided faint points of light that glowed and gave her home a warmth. There had been nights at the beginning when she had existed in the pitch black. Long, lonely nights. She had made candles out of vegetable oil initially, one of many skills she had perfected out here in The Zone until she had found a store of tealights. She sat and wondered. She wondered about The City, how it would have changed, it changed frequently she remembered. She stopped herself from getting melancholy by getting up and going over to the fire and poking it with a stick, the embers flared orange but then died into a white ash, just like her memories. A breeze was picking up, rustling the leaves on the trees above her, blowing bits of thistledown and pollen dust and making the night passage of moths difficult. She stepped back and climbed back into the van, closed and secured the sliding door silently and slipped out of her heavy clothing before climbing into bed, by the back wall across from the door. A branch from the tree that enveloped the van tapped lightly upon the roof, un-ryhthmically. This lulled her to sleep and the night played out its course to her oblivion.
When she awoke, it was raining. The spatter of raindrops on leaves, outside the vehicle window lent a comforting start to the day. Its now regular rhythm lulled her into staying under the covers for a little longer. She thought briefly about when she first found this place, how cold and abandoned it had seemed. She pulled the covers up, around her excluding the thought. It had been hot yesterday, dust had risen and seed heads from a myriad of plants had lifted into the sky, like a visible sigh. The rain would have dampened all this and the clouds that brought the rain would change the light, making less a wasteland and more a Shangri-la. She dozed for several minutes on and off but the day, rain or not would still demand its list of chores to be completed. Survival depended upon it.
The water vats would be filling which meant a trip to the stream was less important today but lighting a fire would require her to move to her sheltered site rather than the small fire pit, in front of the vehicle side door. The form of her home had evolved out of function. That and trial and error. She pulled back the door after unlocking it and water ran around its opening and dripped, splashing on the edge of the floor, seeping into the carpet that covered it. It was cooler than previous days and that was welcome. The firepit looked like some futuristic sculpture from a black planet. The ashes and part-burnt sticks had been moulded and sculptured by the rain. She walked over to her solar shower which was hidden by the front of the van. It would be luke warm today. A black bag, bulging with water hung from a branch of the large oak tree with a tube hung down, behind several boards of misshapen wood. With no-one around (well, hardly ever. She didn't count the ghosts, they had never been a problem) she had the run of the place and so was uninhibited, not complacent, she hadn't survived this long by being complacent. She stepped into the makeshift shower, discarding her underwear, by a small, protruding branch and uncapped the tube. She used soapwart to lather away dust that had collected in the previous day's dryness. The water ran via the channel she had dug around the floor of the structure, away into the undergrowth. She didn't spend long as the rain was still falling.
Back in the van she put on her heavy black trousers and boots, pulled on a cotton top that was ripped across the middle and then looked out a thin dark green woollen jumper. This was the first day she had needed the jumper for at least two weeks. She pulled on a waterproof coat. It was a dark olive, hooded jacket that nearly reached her knees and the hood totally obscured her face. She liked that. Stepping into the cool wet morning was like stepping into another world. The rain made the leaves shine and reflect under the cloud sky. Lush greens seemed to have suddenly come out from hiding, they weren't there yesterday, only dust-grey. Her home looked different. She inspected the water vats; two large plastic drums that sat at the back of the van. They were collecting rainwater from its roof and would hopefully be at least half full before the rain stopped.
Over by the sheltered site which was on the left side of the oak tree, behind the front of the van she lit a fire from dry tinder and boiled a pan of water to make thyme tea. The rain continued, dripping just beyond her shelter from the mix of branches and plastic she had rigged in between them. She ate some tinned fruit and nuts and had a spoonful of chocolate spread from the bottom of the jar. It was nearly out and so today, she decided she would make the trip to The Safe House. First task on the agenda however was to fish. She hadn't become ill from the fish thus far and it had become an important source of protein for her. The rain would bring the fish to the surface and hopefully make it a quick session rather than the long hours she had spent coming to very little fruition when she initially arrived.
She netted three fish; two large and one small. She took them back to the van, storing them well double-wrapped, out of the way of predators. The stream was about ten minutes walk, roughly North West from her home and she had spent about three quarters of an hour fishing which left her virtually the whole day to make the trip to The Safe House.
The journey to The Safe House was an altogether different affair to the walk to the nearby stream. It was a good hours walk (or so she thought. The concept of accurately tracked time was anathema to her, freed from the constraints of a normal existence as she had been forced to be). It was in The Zone, away from the Epicentre. She had passed many houses when she had first come to The Zone. They had all been in various states of disarray. Some had been outside The Zone and she had remembered thinking that the ones furthest from The Epicentre would be a better bet for uncontaminated food. That was presumably true but it hadn't quite worked out like that . The first house she had entered, which had been well outside The Zone had collapsed on her when she entered it and had almost buried her alive! She had arrived at another one the following day, nearer The Zone but still outside its perimeter. It had looked promising but she could still remember the stench when she had opened the inner door (the outer building shell had been destroyed by something, maybe the blast, maybe something else). Bodies had been left, they had decomposed but not totally. It was a hell-hole. She had ran screaming and could still see the pearl white teeth, lit by the crack of light that had entered as she had forced open the door. After that, she had wandered, her initial resolve failing in direct proportion to the distance she had walked. She had gone into the zone the next day. It was then that she had abandoned all hope. The sign on the broken fence, coupled with the information bursts and stories that had conditioned her over the years previously all told her that she would be dead within hours, well days and if not days, weeks. It may have been possible to survive a month but unlikely. In hunger and despair she had entered The Zone, through a break in the high fence next to the 'Do Not Enter, Extreme Danger!' sign. She had walked and then glimpsed a structure, off to the left. Little did she know at that time that it would be The Safe House. Decay was all around it, just like the other buildings she had seen. Little was left visible above ground, but it was below the surface that had counted.
It had not been without its horrors. It looked eerily quiet. Cold, unfeeling and dead. Everything away from The City, where she had escaped from did. It had had no dead bodies holed up, waiting to be accidentally stumbled upon (maybe everyone in The Zone had escaped in time she had thought. This was not true, she had found bodies later. The people here must have escaped though). No, it had no dead bodies but inside, down in the storeroom, it had rats. She had screamed at the rats like she had screamed at the bodies before but this time she could not run. She did not have the strength to run. there was nowhere to run to. She did leave the building but returned with brush wood, alight. She threw it in and waited for the egress of the rats as they fled in a dark brown river of fur and scale (those that were lucky enough). After every last one of them had fled she had been sick, well wretched bile. She had gone back in, afterwards, with an impromptu fire bucket, filled with water from a large butt outside the building that had somehow survived where the building had not. It had stood with a pipe, reaching up to a non-existent gutter, like a broken finger pointing accusingly at the heavens. The butt had been full though so had served its purpose. She had put out the self-started fire and the smoke and charring had eradicated any smell of the previous inhabitants of the basement. The Storeroom, for that is what it was, held racks and racks of food. The rats had spilled and fouled and soiled perishable things like rice and flour and pasta whether in paper or plastic but they had no way of ruining the tins and jars. And there were many tins jars. It was this that made her feel safe. It was the first thing that had made her feel this way. It would always be her Safe House.
She made her way over the stream across stones she had placed strategically, early on in her settlement here, to avoid getting wet each time she had made the journey to The Safe House and other destinations. Some bullrushes grew on either side of the stream which provided excellent fire-starting material, at the right time, when the brown, velvet heads had split and spilled forth their cream fibres. Ducks lived in the bank, overcrowded with all types of plant life and some now swam about in the rain. After about an hour after passing through grass and overgrown fields of some indeterminate crop and approaching rolling hills, the rain was still falling and she was warm from the exertion. The Safe House was still some distance away and she snacked upon nuts and seeds whilst moving. The route she took each time was similar but she varied it. She didn't want to make a track (although the infrequency of her visits meant this was probably not going to be a problem) or advertise herself to any predators or worse still, patrols. Climbing over the hills, as small as they were would expose her. She always sacrificed speed for stealth. Her dedication to this, her mastery of it comforted her. It gave purpose to each day. The fact that she was alone, free from human interaction meant she could focus upon this. She wore it like a protective guard.
After another twenty minutes or so, she reached the foot of the hill. It was here that she turned left and circumvented the grassy rise, strewn only occasionally with shrubs. She stayed in the seclusion of the grass and large overgrown hedge that ran, footing the hill. It meandered like some green stream and she sailed it, silently. There were runs where animals had obviously travelled and crossing in and out of these made her progress easier than it would have been. It did however take time as she stepped in and out and over branches, growing and fallen. It was humid under the leaf canopy and she was shielded somewhat from the rain that still fell.
She reached Restholme which was a rest place she used on her journeys. It was a natural low-slung branch which, although secluded, gave a view of the surrounding area she had traversed. Rain dripped and ran from the leaves above and seeped into the loam underfoot, raising a clean, earthy smell. The smell connected her with this place, it filled her mind and a sense of belonging took root and was nurtured there. A bird flapped and called out an alarm, its black shape disappearing into the tangle of branches. She looked around but saw nothing to worry about, then stood, refreshed after a drink of water from her bottle. She consciously made off in a different direction to the last time she had made the stop here.
She climbed the ten minute rise to the top of the hill, shielded somewhat by the hedge that run up, on her left. It had at one time demarcated a field but the sense of field had been swallowed up by the rampant green. The grass was long so her meandering traverse kept her all but seen, if anyone had been watching. Once at the ridge, she flattened herself to the ground and moved slowly, over and down the far side. Here was much the same as the other side she had just climbed but down, ahead to the right was the clump of trees in a sea of green field that hid The Safe House from view. She walked down the final rise and headed across a field toward the clump. The rain had eased a little to a very fine drizzle and she had to keep shaking it from her hood and cuffs but soon she reached the overgrown path that led into the dense clump of trees. Further along after a curve to the left, the ruined structure of The Safe House showed itself. She stepped left into the comparative anonymity of the path's border with its ramble of unchecked growth of bushes and small trees and continued. The inner door stood, shut as she had left it from her previous visit, the water butt to its left, still accusing. She skirted around the perimeter of the building and behind it, looked out toward the fence she had first entered The Zone by, in the distance. It was hidden from view. All was quiet, still, except for the fall of rain and drip of water from leaves. She circled around to the door and made to enter. No-one, nothing had been there, She could tell. She lowered down on bended knees to the left and picked up a torch, one of several she had made previously and stored hidden there for future visits. It was a stick with cloth wrapped tightly around one end, soaked in diesel. She took a match from her scrip (salvaged from The Safe House that first time. There had been plastic containers of storm matches, boxes of them. This had made her life easier) and struck it. The cloth caught and she moved quickly inside and down. The damp rose to meet her like an old friend, embracing her and kissing her on both cheeks. Oily smoke rose and cavorted with the peeling paint on the roof and walls of the stairs. There was no sound, except the soft fluttering of the flame. The rats had not returned. Shadows reeled and jumped around the walls of the store room. The devastation of the fire was evident but tins still stood in serried ranks, awaiting inspection and selection. She was a bad general, uncaring of her troops and just chose at random, no thought in the process. After ferrying cans to the outside in a few trips, she packed them into her backpack but stood it aside and took a rest from the exertion. She sat on a large boulder that stood at the beginning of the road that met the building from the right. The road's surface had been disrupted, broken by the growth of weeds and sapling and grass and it receded quite quickly into a mass of vegetation. She pulled her knees up and under her chin and wrapped her arms around them. The rain continued to drip from her hood, down onto the boulder and it ran in a stream over its rough surface. It found the path of least resistance like she herself did as she passed through the domain of The Zone. She had learned to bend with the land. In this way every day was a blessing, not an uphill struggle for existence.
In the middle of the relaxing calm, a faint but constant noise came into being, all the more noticeable because of the stillness of the place. It was distant but she needed no further prompting to disappear into the background. Something purposeful, not random. Multiple. A patrol? [Continues...] Copyright © 2014, murpworks.com