A gradual atavism held London in thrall. Relentless downpours and rising water levels had led to monolithic aluminum rigidams fencing in the Thames. A once mighty river eddied pitifully, tapping the barriers like an apologetic asylum seeker.
A glut of flat-packed messiahs ranted at Speakers’ Corner. People flocked to hear the gilded tongues of mendicants. When the promised miracles drowned in a puddle, these prodigal Judases were hunted down with zeal.
Without warning, the rain ceased. People gazed in wonder at the cloudless sky, basking in the warmth of the sun. The vast and minute cogs of the societal machine engaged once more. The council cleared away the corpses of the false prophets.
A multi-millionaire purchased the Tate Modern and promptly closed it for an extensive overhaul. The tabloids shrieked that a national treasure was being defiled.
Within a week, the Tate Modern was forgotten.
A new craze gripped the capital: M-Jumping. The tabloids fastened on like thirsty leeches. Adrenalin junkies were scaling barriers to gain access to the Millennium Bridge. The premise was simple: a running leap into the Thames, the current would sweep the person to the other side of the bridge where they would grab a rope and climb back up. Many died from drowning, either by missing the rope or from hitting submerged objects.
The media frenzy began when a leaper missed the rope and was eaten by a shark. It was caught on camcorder: the bladed dorsal fin, the look of horror, the scream and the man being snatched. The video took huge hits on YouTube.
Large grills were placed within the floodgates of the Thames Barrier.
Perversely, the number of leapers increased.
Everyone remembers the final ill-fated M-Jump. A synchronised league leap had been organised. The winning team would be scored on the amount of survivors and aggregate times for scaling back on to the bridge. The top M-Jumper, Dicarus, was going to perform a solo jump and when he was ascending, a siren would signal the mass exodus.
Dicarus had jumped and grabbed the rope without a problem. The klaxon blared and momentarily forty people were suspended in midair like obedient marionettes. Dicarus was halfway up the rope when it happened. A grinning shark launched itself out of the river. What was left of Dicarus still gripped the rope, he had no abdomen. Eyes glazed, fingers loosened and an indiscernible splash was his epithet.
It transpired that a large number of sharks had congregated due to the steady supply of food provided by the M-Jumpers. The Thames was awash with blood and mangled flesh. It was dubbed ‘The Millennium Massacre’.
Soon after, most of the bridge was exploded.
I was still trying to sort through the three months of mail that had been delivered in one go (actually it had been dumped outside the door of my flat and not all of it was mine) when I discovered I had a job offer. The electrics at the Tate Modern were being rewired. I had not rewired a kettle in five years let alone a building! Some incompetent clerk had not deleted me from the priority contractor list after I had jacked in my job to ghostwrite for braindead celebrities. Not that I had ever published anything in my name. Utter sufficient Brobdingnagian verbiage and anyone can exude an aura of erudition.
I accepted the job.
There were sleeping quarters in the Turbine Hall for the workers. I could not decide if the metallic bunk beds had a militaristic or incarcerated feel to them. A canteen had replaced the main shop. With the major structural work finalised, the workforce had dwindled to a minority who were working shifts. It was a strange to see so many empty bunk beds.
Every level of the Tate had been flood-proofed. The recessed flood breaks at ground level were occasionally tested. They would soar like impatient tombstones. Windowed areas had been reinforced with high-density glass. The disused oil tanks of the power station had been converted. Two were storage rooms replete with supplies and the third was the internal security nexus where CCTV and motion sensors were monitored. A high-tech hydro unit had been assembled underneath the old Switch House. In the event of a flood, it would utilise water to extract oxygen and to create electricity.
The works of art had been hung up again. Private viewings were permitted for those with sufficient influence, although they had to be accompanied by armed guards.
Darksome clouds swathed the sky. An unsettling twilight bathed London in a sepia tint whatever the hour. The streets were riven with unease and suspicion. Electric fences were erected around the Tate’s perimeter. A sense of foreboding nestled within my soul.
And then the rain started.
Fantastical sculptures appeared everywhere – metal, plastic, wood – it did not seem to matter. These offerings did not appease the gods, the rain became colder and harder. Pagan tribalism thrived and human sacrifices became the ‘Menu du Jour’.
It all happened so unexpectedly. I was testing some circuits when the alarm system blared out its visceral warning. I rushed to the security room. I could hear the ominous echoes of the flood breaks clanging shut.
The Security Chief, Steve, was barking orders over his intercom, “Fall back to the tower base, I repeat, fall back to the tower base!”
When I asked him what was happening, the reply chilled me, “The unthinkable.”
The CCTV images showed the perimeter guards running. Suddenly, a voluminous torrent of water swept them away.
Sensors indicated that the water level was rising exponentially. I ran back to check all the flood break electrics. One short circuit could end it all. The lighting was subdued, presumably at a default setting. A dark shadow seemed to flit across the Hall and I looked up to the glass roof and saw that it was shrouded with water. My mind struggled with the reality. If one single drop had glanced off me, I would have had a psychotic episode.
Only eight people had been inside when the alarm sounded. No one just popped out for a cigarette; several would be smoked while exchanging morsels of gossip. There was no emergency procedure for a flood, which was ironic given the nature of the work that had taken place. The perplexed smokers had still been dragging on their cigarettes as the security guards raced past them. Smoking does kill.
The muster was eclectic: one ex-electrician, two security personnel, one canteen worker, two cleaners, an artist and a visitor. I could sense that Steve did not consider the last two people to be of any practical use.
We all stood in silence. The aqueous shadows that were fluttering around the Turbine Hall unnerved me. I disturbed the calm with the profound “I’m hungry.” The rest murmured agreement and we trudged leaden-footed to the canteen. Steve glared at me when I loosed a guttural bark of a laugh that startled everyone. I shrugged apologetically. The visitor, an elderly lady called Constance, had opened her purse to pay for her food.
We filed into a room with a large window facing the river. I decided against asking if anyone had popcorn. It was as if a huge suitcase had been emptied into the water.
Maybe if nothing else had happened at that point, more of us would have survived. A succession of glass baubles with people inside lumbered past. No one said anything. The viewing capsules from the London Eye were rapidly filling up with water. It was pitiful to behold. The unfortunates pounded the glass with bloodied hands; their screams and shouts all the more hideous because we could not hear them.
Daily, Constance would ascend to the highest point of the Tate and stare intently through the glass roof. One day, I accompanied her and we both peered into the Stygian gloom. Without any prompting, Constance told me she was looking for a rainbow. When I asked why, she replied she needed proof that God had not forgotten us.
Seven nights passed without incident.
And then the killing started.