The Best Laid Plans…
I’m running for my life. Moments ago, I was struggling through crowds. Now I’m running. I was haggling and bartering and grappling over food. Now I clutch it close to my chest as I stumble and squelch through the muddy tunnels. In the grim light, families huddle together, making themselves invisible. They’re getting closer. It was my own fault really; they’d caught me hanging about and figured I had summat special. I don’t. I just want to be late. And now I’m running. My heart pounds as my lungs gulp in the rank air. Then, I see it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Home on the horizon. I struggle on. Their shouts echo behind me. I turn a corner, staggering up the stone steps. Grappling with my jacket and the pass card buried deep inside. I slip. The cold stone brutalises my shins. I pull myself up. Nearly there. I wrestle the card from my pocket and swipe it through the reader by the gate. Red light. Too fast. Try again. They’re almost upon me. The scavengers. The Black Friars Gang. Deep breath. Slowly does it. I swipe the card. Green. The lock clanks open. I pull open the gate and I’m inside. Safe. That’s the shopping done with.
* * *
Exhausted, I trudge into the shelter. The usual flickering lights and white noise greet me: the eternal drumming of the rain, the creaking and scratching of the sculptures and the endless chatter of the neighbours. I head past rows and rows of bunks, towards our corner. I just hope I waited long enough. “Oi! Yorkshire!” I turn. It’s Mickey from two rows over. “I see your Dad’s finally croaked it. ‘Bout time too. Give some Londoners a bed.” I’ve stopped listening. He’s right though. We never should have come. I get to our corner. A Cockney family’s making themselves at home. There’s no sign of Dad. Guess he was taken and Quicklimed round the back while I was out. No hanging about. Won’t take the risk.
I stand, watching them, the new family. They’re thanking God for their salvation. A home at last, away from the rain. My little sister used to say that the rain was God’s tears, like Noah’s ark or something. 40 days and 40 nights…it’s been over 40 years and still no sign of stopping. And as for the animals, they take care of themselves. Everyone does. A hand touches my shoulder. Old Jack’s come to see how I am. “He went quietly, you know.” Yeah, he shivered to death. Gone in a whimper. “Makes a change”, I say. We laugh, not quite sure if we should but what else can we do? “You’ll be alright, son.” He leaves me to it. I go reclaim my bunk and devour my meal for one.
tap tap tap tap tap tap
tap tap tap
“Who art in Heaven…”
I can’t sleep. The rain keeps on drumming, the rusting sculptures keep on creaking and the new neighbours are praying. They cling to their Bible, praying for desert as hard as their ancestors prayed for rain. I used to dream of deserts. Miles upon miles of warm, dry sand. Like in the stories Mum used to tell us. About when she was little and how they used to go play at the beach. Back when the sea knew its place and the sand still stood its ground.
A scraping sound joins the symphony of creaks and taps. That spider sculpture’s at the roof again. Trying to escape, that’s what I used to tell my little sister, Libby. The rain made them grow so big and fierce looking, that the Government got scared and locked them in here. But one day, they’re gonna claw their way back out and wreak bloody revenge. Ha, she wouldn’t sleep for a week! Mum said I have an overactive imagination. It’s not like there’s much else to do round here, just work, food and sleep. I’ve read all the books I could find, twice or more. Except one, I’m saving that. If I don’t have dreams, what else have I? That’s why I dream about mountains. I dream I’m flying high above the sordid cities and dripping clouds. I’m free to do anything. Free to be anything. I could be a doctor. Yeah, I could do that, like how I took care of Dad and…….Or a scientist. Figure out this rain and make everything better. Or…or a lawyer, no, a politician…I’d stop all this lark, rotten shelters and stuff. Save the world. Do better than that lot, sat up there in their towers. Or a writer, a journalist. I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I just need to get free from here. Free from just surviving. I reach under my pillow. The reassuring lump of my rucksack sits waiting. Good. I’ll go in the morning. Wish I could sleep.
I wake to the sound of wailing sirens. Fear grips my stomach. People dash back and forth, lugging sandbag after sandbag over to the door. The door! I bolt out of bed and over to the outside door, dragging my rucksack with me. A wall of sandbags bars my way. Whatever’s happening, it’s not good. “Move it, Yorkshire.” Mickey staggers past me, carrying a pile of sandbags. He drops them on to the wall. “You gonna help, or what?” He starts arranging the bags in place. “I need to go out.” I know it’s a long shot, but I have to try. “Go out? Oh, why didn’t you say so? Here, let me help.” Before I can move, he grabs hold of my arm and he shoves me to the ground. “Idiot.” A hand reaches down to help me up. It’s Old Jack. “You don’t want to go out there, son. Haven’t you heard? It’s the Barrier, see? It’s finally given up the ghost. Couple of hours and half of London’s going to be under water!” No. The experts said it had at least a couple of months. I have to get out. Now. I turn and once more, I’m running for my life.
There’s still a chance, if I can get through the Tubes…A crowd is gathered on either side of the gate, one side begging to be let in, the other, ignoring them as best they can as they stack sandbags between them. I fight against the waves of people, trying to get through, but it’s no good. The wall continues to grow and grow until the cries from the other side are muffled and finally blotted out. There is no escape.
I dash back to the main hall. There must be something. I can’t just be trapped here. Not ’cause of him. But there’s nothing. Just walls and walls of sandbags blocking our way out. The water’ll still get in though. It always does. Could use a boat, really. Shame he sold ours to get this beautiful place by the river. We’ve been stuck here ever since and I’m still stuck here. Mum and Libby died here and so did he. But I can’t. I won’t. The sculpture next to me moans in agreement. I look up, watching it claw at the skylight for freedom. I lunge at the sculpture and start shinning my way up before it’s even fully dawned on me what I’ve got to do. Slowly and painfully, I edge upwards, the rusting metal grating against my palms. The sculpture groans under my weight. I look up at the distant, rain-spattered skylight. I can make it. I have to make it. The twisted metal creaks and snaps and suddenly I’m falling. The sculpture crumples, slipping away from the sky. We crash to the ground screaming.
I awake to angry voices and accusations but it doesn’t matter anymore. Old Jack’s sorting everything out. Congratulating me for being so clever. Everyone’s at the sculptures now. With weapons and bare hands, they
steal its limbs to better seal our tomb. Genius. That’s what Dad thought, bringing us down here. London’s
where the rich and powerful live, so it must be safe. Never mind the experts. He never listened. That’s why I had to do it. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life stuck here ’cause of him, because he couldn’t admit he was wrong. Not even after Mum and Libs…It was gonna happen eventually anyway but that sort of illness hangs about and I couldn’t, not anymore. And it’s funny, ’cause here I am, still. Trapped on this sinking island. And soon the Barrier’ll burst and the rich and the powerful, they’ll be alright. Up in their high rises and helicopters. It’ll just be us down here and all those people in the Tube…and the rain. I take out my last book and sit down to read. I had so many plans.