And old story, one of my first short stories written as an adult. Never been published.
He held her close and tight. Outside the bombs were destructively booming, and the ground shook of buildings collapsing. Just earlier she had held a gun to his head, threatened to take his life.
“I won’t let you go, I won’t let you go,” he said. Not even in the end of the world. They didn’t know what to do. Should they run, or stay hidden? The gun burned in her hand. She was hungry, starving actually.
The bombing bore the city down. They sat near the subway, away from falling skyscrapers, and prepared to run back up the stairs in case the tunnels should cave in. She missed her cigarettes. Once the bombing would stop, they would try and loot the shops for food. And possibly locate her family.
He only stared into space. He thought about war. He thought about her. He thought about how angry he had been when she had terminated their baby. He thought now that it was good, well done! Because were she pregnant now, then… he didn’t even know. Only that it wouldn’t be good.
They saw people running about, like ants. But there was no shooting, yet. That was a source of hope, there in the midst of the danger. Because that meant there were no soldiers. If they were to survive the bombing, then they would not have to worry about getting shot by soldiers. Not yet anyway. The roof was crumbling, the last lights burst out. She held her gun nervously.
They needed the gun for protection. People went crazy in times like these. She heard noises from behind them; there were others in the tunnels. In these situations everyone looked homeless. Probably because now they were homeless. The only possessions they had was what they could carry. And nobody bothered carrying much, it would only result in robbery, it would provoke others. It could even result in murder. The rules of society had changed. Newcastle had changed. England had changed. She heard people talking about moving towards the countryside. She thought it ridiculous. What they really needed to do was leave the country. Scotland was still neutral ground. If they could get into Scotland, they could get a boat somewhere else. The Netherlands were nice and obscure. Norway and Denmark were too political, afraid of provoking the raging states. They would not accept refugees, and were refugees found they would be executed.
He listened intensely for guns. He was scared as the bombing had started but now, much calmer. Just a little earlier she had held that gun to his head and he had not cared if she’d pulled the trigger. It’s incredible how these things change so quickly. Because now he burned to live.
France, she thought of France. There was not much left of France. Neither of Germany. Would they provide shelter? Or would they simply not care? What was beyond those countries? Europe was bits and pieces now. How stupid of England to think they’ve escaped the war, that this could not affect them.
“We’re not going to survive, are we?” she said, but he couldn’t hear her. His eyes were blank, focused. She thought maybe Russia, but then again no. Dangerous. Too fucking dangerous.
When they met as children they used to play ‘zoo’ in her backyard. They used to place stuffed animals amongst her mother’s plants. Never in cages. He smiled at their humanity, and shuddered. There was no humanity left. They were the frightened animals, not in cages, but still locked up. Captured. He guessed they had it coming. And for a brief second, he thought of his stuffed toy, a dog, he remembered. He threw it out when he turned thirteen. The boys at school used to call him names, and those names had nothing to do with that toy. Yet he thought himself coming to manhood by throwing it out. Like waste.
She was so hungry. The smell of burning reminded her of barbeques and she stopped herself sad, because she would not attend anymore barbeques. And she felt her stomach twist, because the meat that she smelled was human.
They had to be practical, the metro tunnels would not hold much longer. She squeezed the gun, and opposite of what she had always thought, she felt nothing like a character from ‘The Sopranos’ or ‘Goodfellas’ or these blasting gang films. The gun was heavy and uncomfortable, and so cold her hands started to hurt. She always thought that a gun would make her feel empowered, and she was somewhat disappointed that it didn’t. Especially not with the blasting of bombs taking her thunder. She felt really fucking obsolete and tiny, tiny, small.
He worried about his record collection. She had smashed some of them, when they had argued. He guessed he deserved it. He was the one to let that slut go down on him. And he was too ashamed to tell her. So when she found out he deserved to have his limited Rammstein LP broken in half. She had hated them anyway, though he secretly thought that she actually did like them, but was being racist. He realized now how stupid and immature that thought had been, and could not believe it had driven him so. It was as if he had been fooled, by himself. Like a part of him had turned into one of those brats that had ridiculed him in school. And funny, he thought. He always imagined himself smarter than so.
She looked about, and the ground was shaking. The booming was deafening. The smell of burning, devastating. The smoke got into her eyes, made them water. She thought about how many of her family were still alive. She would have liked to think that her parents did get away. She knew that her grandparents probably didn’t. Her brother, well he might have been strong, but he wasn’t very smart. He was probably dead. Or soon to be, at least. Her heart strained at the thought of this. Her pets, all doomed, because her house had caught on fire, and eventually collapsed, as if the bricks were made dominoes. Collapsing into this skeleton of possessions, all ruined, all gone.
He pushed her on the shoulder. They were hungry. And the planes had gone. The thunder too was silent. Would they come back? Would the soldiers appear to erase the last of the survivors? They were hungry. People around them started to move, carefully, towards the surface. Everyone was hungry, and all knew, that food would now be limited. It was time stack up.
People burst into stores and newsagents. People smashed the windows of the few still standing shops. Gather clothes, money, anything!
She thought the clothing shops stupid. Because clothes today were stupid, they didn’t hold a day before the first seams would come undone. What use would they be in the long run?
She even saw people running with television sets, stereos. What was the point of that? Were they planning to live in the ruins of Newcastle, watching telly? The truth was people took what they could get, useful or not.
He dragged her into the nearest bakery fighting through the crowds. She pulled him out, it was too packed. They smashed the window of an obscure newsagent, and opened the door. They were alone. There was food, mostly sandwiches and crisps. He emptied his rugsack on the floor, cd players and cds dumped right on the floor. His precious notebook, now to be left behind, and soon trampled. All those words he had held so dear. Now no one would ever read them. He considered sparing it, but she refused. The stories were gone, she told him. Gone, he mumbled.
He filled the sack with sweets, bread, cheese, yoghurt, crisps, painkillers, cigarettes, and alcohol. Loads of alcohol. The strong stuff. Vodka, whiskey and rum. Quickly, very quickly.
She smashed the cash register. More people were coming, running towards the unseen shop. She grabbed the change and they ran out the back door.
“Scotland!” she said.
“Eh?” he replied.
“We have to head for Scotland!”
“Nah, they won’t let us in!”
She stopped. Then what else?
So Scotland it was.
The city was awfully quiet, dead bodies covering the streets like knocked down bins, burning black, trashy. They wandered in the shadows, and if they met someone, they didn’t talk. People were gathering by the fires, but most of them knew they had to get out. Because soon the soldiers would come.
They followed the rail, carefully, towards north. At day they stayed low, hidden were they could. The roads were silent, abandoned.
She believed any survivors of her family would have come to the same conclusion. Scotland.
At night they smoked and drank carefully to keep warm. The sweets gave them a sugar high to keep walking.
One evening cars came, driving towards Newcastle. Soldiers. They shot at them as if they were pawns in a carnival stand. He was hit in the thigh, the bullet passed his flesh, ripping it open like ham. She muffled his scream and dragged him down in a ditch. In the mud and amongst the waste of snacks, wrapping papers and bottles, they were safe. The water reflected leaked petrol in the setting sun.
She drenched the wound in vodka while he was biting into a piece of wood. The rough stone ground was cold, and she bound the wound with her scarf. He ate the painkillers, downing them with rum, leaning onto her. They pain was muffled, only a bit. He would lean onto her in agonizing steps, breathing heavily, straining her patience with moans.
The pain was unbearable, and he was slowing them both down. It grew worse as they spent all the painkillers, and all of the alcohol. Food ran out, though both ate sparingly. Soon he could no longer walk. The wound turned green, spreading an awful stench. She had realized long ago that he would not make it to the borders. But she didn’t dare to leave him.
They caught birds, and ate them lightly cooked or raw, depending on how they safe they felt. He was sweating, and she came to terms that they were lost. And then he asked her to go on.
“I can’t leave you,” she said, knowing that she wanted to.
But he insisted. Before she would, he asked her to help him. He would not survive this wound, but death lay far ahead. And remorsefully she lifted the gun to his head, again. He told her he loved her, and she told him to shut up. She didn’t want to do this, least of all with him talking. Least of all with him talking about love. She closed her eyes. And pressed the trigger.