A story I wrote that was first published on the Pulp Zine: http://www.thepulpzine.com/selene/
It was a day like any other, when the end came. It wasn’t great mushroom clouds, or aliens. It wasn’t what people prophesized, the Mayans or the scientists. It wasn’t asteroids, or the moon falling in on us, like a blue grey wrecking ball.
It was different, that day. It wasn’t a bad day. It was actually pleasantly sunny, for a change. On that day it seemed that the world, like a landlord who has lost his patience, and just decided that it was time for us to be evicted. Pack your bags, one way ticket, no refund on deposit.
All the bells in London rang at the same time. The tubes stopped – in tunnels, in stations, as though someone pressed pause. A great switch was flicked, and the lights went out. The lights, computers, iPhones and Blackberries. Emails went unsent and the trill of text messages were silenced. The earth got our attention and replaced the rumbles and the beeps and the beats and rhythm of man with the roar of the winds, the rustle of leaves and the grumble of its mighty plates.
The statue of liberty crashed into the water, seeming almost like a scene in an action movie; except not, because there was no orchestra to soundtrack the end, and no heroes that would save us. Tower Bridge crumpled, Big Ben shut up and the London Eye broke free, rolled a bit and then just flopped into the Thames. Just like a movie, everyone thought. Then it wasn’t funny anymore.
The seas swelled, they rocked, and moved forward onto the land, swallowing the people, but leaving the trees and mountains and sand and flowers unharmed, somehow.
The earth cracked, but it wasn’t with a great shriek of pain, but a battle cry, a yell as it exposed its molten core and soft soil underneath. It, too, swallowed us.
There were survivors, of course. But the earth had not finished. It yawned, alive, its churning lava like boiling blood, its mountains and ridges its bones and its seas its tears and spit. It roared, one last time, on that day, and then the sky, too, shifted.
The stars and the moon and the sun looked down on us all at the same time, focused on us as they hung in the pale grey blue swirling sky.
Every star could be seen that day – stars that had died a long time ago, observing us with ghostly calm and knowledge. The sky brightened and there was silence; it pulsed with great, violent heaves and great deep breaths and in a split second, a camera flash, we were gone.
It was a short flight. I closed my eyes and leant my head back. The coffee I’d had swirled in my belly and made odd squelching sounds. I hated flying, but it was the quickest way to get to my aunt’s house deep in the Highlands. I glanced out of the window. The deep blue winter sky was speckled with a few stars and a hazy outline of the moon. Although quite snug in the plane, it looked so cold outside. Bony fingers of ice framed the window.
I sighed and flipped open the newspaper I’d bought.
The plane juddered as I flicked to the sports pages and mindlessly scanned articles about footballers I’d already read. Or had I? This was a story I’d not noticed before. About a player I hadn’t heard of, in my favourite team? I squinted at the date on the paper but before my sleepy eyes could focus the lights went out, oxygen masks dangled, and the plane just seemed to stop; no explosion, no nothing. And we floated toward the ground, almost peacefully, as the moon sat in the sky, and the stars just watched.
A month after the crash, a lot of words became familiar to me.
Post-traumatic stress. Shock. Anxiety.
So. Much. Talking.
That’s what it was like after the crash. Lots of doctors telling me that I was very lucky and that I should appreciate that I lived, when no one else did. Lots of therapists trying to figure out why I wasn’t talking, or functioning, barely breathing, not asleep and not awake. But I hadn’t lived.
I couldn’t tell them the truth – that this world wasn’t right. I’d tried – I’d tried to tell them that the plane crash wasn’t just a plane crash. It wasn’t just the plane, it was everything. Everything switched off but nobody noticed. It was like someone didn’t like the ending so they rewound the tape and rewrote what happens.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
“What doesn’t,” a sleepy voice said next to me. I hadn’t realised I’d said it aloud.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “You should probably go now. I’ve paid already.”
“Whatever.” The sleepy voice sounded interminably bored. She flipped a russet curl out of her eye, got up and went to the bathroom.
Three months later and I found myself sitting on the kerb, cigarette in shaky hand, wondering exactly what I was doing. I didn’t even feel drunk anymore. The feeling of sobriety was far from my mind. When I was drunk it meant I could feel as unreal as the world around me. It just took so long to get drunk, so much more than before. Before what? The crash? As if a plane crash could affect your tolerance of alcohol. I scoffed at myself.
I’m so full of shit, I think to myself. I looked at my scruffy jeans and dirty t shirt. I was fairly certain I smelt bad, but I think the barmaid felt sorry for me and gave me cheap beer regardless. I looked at my jacket, threadbare, and my rough, dirty hands, scabbed and scored.
My nails still hadn’t grown back after I’d tried cocaine and then tried to scratch away the wall of Warren Street station, convinced that reality lay under the walls.
They said I was lucky I hadn’t tried to go on the tracks.
I said they were lucky I hadn’t found anything.
I stood up, a bit wobbly, sure, but managed it. I sat down heavily in a seat at the bus stop, and waited for the night bus. I must’ve nodded off, because what happened next was definitely the stuff of dreams.
I dreamt that a night bus did come, but it had no sign on the front. The doors creaked open in front of me. I blinked up at the driver.
“Is thish the ninety-eight?”
“This is your bus, sir,” the driver smiled. I nodded and got up, groggily flapping my Oyster card on the reader and flopping down into a seat. The bus pulled off at a fast pace, the force pushing me back against the back of the seat. There were only two other people on the bus; a pale blonde girl with headphones in and a sleeping Chinese man in the back corner. Neither of them seemed to have any reaction at all at the speed the driver was going – and didn’t even look up when the bus began rising off the ground. I gasped and leant over to the window, looking down as Oxford Street disappeared beneath me.
I stumbled up to the driver’s window. She glanced at me. Her eyes were yellow.
“Hello,” she said, turning her eyes back to the journey ahead.
“What the fuck is going on,” I stuttered. “Are we flying?”
“Yes,” she said simply. The driver turned and smiled, a rakish grin with large, pointed teeth. She flipped her afro, grabbed the gear stick and pushed it forward. “The fun’s going to begin soon. You might be alright. But I’m pretty thirsty, and unless you wake up soon, I won’t be able to tell the difference.”
The bus landed with a bump, and I looked outside, surprised to see us beside my front door.
“Off you go,” the driver said.
“Let’s move on, kitty cat,” said the Chinese man. “I’m starving!”
I don’t remember much more. Cold air outside the bus hitting my face. I turned around, the bus had gone, though I doubted it was even there in the first place.
I woke up early the next morning. The sheets were red and my fingers were bloody again.
Six months later, and it happened a couple of times. I’d be walking along, having managed to find a job and hold it down, albeit usually with a raging hangover and general disgust at my fellow humans, and I’d black out. Not just black out, either. Fall. Tumble. Alice down into a Wonderland of.. what?
Therapists said the feeling of falling through space was a result of the plane crash and residual mental trauma, and that I was reliving it. They didn’t understand. The space; that was real. The pavement, Sainsbury’s, the Tube, the sky, dogs, paper, chewing gum, pencils; that wasn’t anymore. Sure, it was in front of my eyes, and I could touch it, but there was a dreamy quality to it. If the bus stop suddenly shuddered to life, pulling its metal feet out of the concrete and began to trot up Kingsway, I’d scarcely be surprised.
Still, probably should up my dose, the therapists said.
Should probably stop seeing therapists, I thought.
Nine months later, and I was back on track. Something still wasn’t quite right, and I was having bastard migraines, but I’d stopped drinking so much and messing around with whores, so I figured that things were on the up. I’d stopped the pills, too. I was on the road to normal.
A sunny Saturday. Walking down Kilburn High Road, glancing in the pound shops at note books, buckets and large pots of Haribo. Should probably take some of that up to my Aunt. She loved Haribo, even though it was too sticky and tugged her dentures out. I popped into Costa, picked up a coffee, and carried on my way. Dodging discarded chicken on the floor, I tried to avoid the group of robed people singing very passionately about the Lord and Jesus and joy. (I said I was on the road to normal; joy was a push).
One of the religious folk, a wizened old black man, let out a yell, and fell to his knees. Part of the act, I assumed. He raised his hands to heaven, and then pointed directly, finger trembling, at me.
He made noises but no words. He cried, gasping for breath, grasping for some way of communicating whatever it was he meant.
The people with him stopped singing and looked at me.
One of them said it was a funny turn. They all looked apologetic. I carried on walking.
All the way up the road I turned back, and the man was stumbling, desperately trying to keep me in sight. I sat down on a bench and put my head in my hands.
A year after the plane crash, I met her in a chicken shop, probably named after one of the US states, but not the most famous ones. Probably Wisconsin or something. I can’t deny I was a bit worse for wear – what else would I be doing in a chicken shop at 4am – but I remember her so clearly. I remember she wasn’t drunk, or at least didn’t seem it. She was slumped over the plastic table, clutching a can of Fanta. Her slump was definitely sad, I thought, not Jagermeister related. She had a battered leather jacket over what looked like some kind of fairy princess dress (it probably was nothing of the sort, it’s probably fashionable, or something).
She peered up at my through her hair. I’d thought she was blonde, but it was almost silver. A girl at work had dyed her hair grey so I thought perhaps it was also some fashion thing. Her eyes though – her eyes! They were huge, though not abnormally so. The only way I can describe them is that they were like shadows. But really penetrating ones. Yeah, like I said.. 4am in a chicken shop.
Anyway, I sat down next to her and smiled. Are you waiting for food, I asked her. She shook her head.
“I’m waiting for my sister.”
“Oh? Was she out with you?” The girl shook her head. She turned the can over in her hands. “What’s your name?”
“That’s pretty. Is it French?”
She glanced at me sideways and I saw a hint of a smile.
“Sure. French.” She shook her hair back and looked directly at me, suddenly a normal girl that you might meet in a chicken shop. “So did you have a fun night?”
“Wasn’t bad, the usual, you know,” I shrugged and looked at three of my friends sitting on the pavement outside, one with their head between their knees. I gestured. “Look do you want to get out of here?”
“Why not,” Selene said, picking up her Fanta and standing up. “My sister will find me.”
We stepped outside into the February air, Selene clutching her can and me trying to avoid my friends’ gaze.
She gazed upwards. “Such a shame you can’t see the stars here.”
“Well you can see some. Like the North Star..” I trailled off. I had nothing star related, especially in the murky orange night sky of London.
“Come on. Let’s go somewhere,” and she took my hand.
We walked down some side streets in the East End, without a glance from anyone around. The odd fox slunk past, wondering what we were doing out at this hour, and I found myself wondering the same.
We turned once more through a twisting alley way and stopped outside what looked like a typical East End boozer. It was closed, the windows dark and the doors seemingly shit tight. Selene poked at the door and it swung open with a horror movie creak. She went inside, and I followed.
She set her Fanta down on the bar and picked up a bottle of Coke from the fridge.
“Aren’t you going to drink it?” I asked.
“Nah. It’s warm now.”
“It’s also February.”
“I like it cold,” she said simply. She led me up the stairs where the toilets would normally be, and the walls seemed to shimmer slightly in the moonlight. Suddenly I felt a jolt, and in the upstairs lounge was what appeared to be something out of Arabian Nights. Floating chiffon fluttered down from the walls, and lamps and lanterns cast shadows up the walls and dancing across the ceiling. Bodies were strewn everywhere, drinking, smoking. Some were in floaty dresses not unlike Selene’s. A man sat watching the fray; he wore a brown suit, with some spectacles perched on the end of his nose, sipping tea and looking like s stereotype.
A girl came up to Selene and hugged her. Her hair was golden and her eyes bright blue; her nose was tiny and upturned. She had a sweet smile and seemed far too innocent for wherever I was. I was introduced – I think her name was Emma – and it turned out she was the missing sister.
Selene dragged me further through the room which opened up inexplicably into a huge hall, with a large Roman bath in the centre. I looked around and sobered up. Or was more drunk, which might explain the random array of things I was seeing. A large black panther prowled in the background.
People lazed in the baths, smoking shisha and laughing. I noticed a couple of goths sitting around a table, playing cards. A foosball table sat in the far corner, and a very fat man was accusing a very slender man of cheating.
“What is this place?” I asked her.
She shrugged off the leather jacket and revealed her dress. Even her pale shoulders sparkled slightly. Her dress wasn’t sparkly; it glistened, like water. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with it.
“This is my local,” she said with a wry smile. “What do you think?”
“I-” I paused. “I’m not entirely sure I should be here.”
“Where else would you be?” she asked, and we walked over to a table.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Home? Helping my sick friend? It just seems everyone here is very different.”
“We are different. But so are you. You just don’t know it yet,” Selene said, sitting and passing me a glass, which I drained before thinking about what it was. She laughed at my confusion at the taste, which was a bit like honey, but not.
“It’s just honeymead.”
“..Ok,” I felt the drink spread throughout me; warm and making me feel a bit loose-limbed and spaced out.
“I think it might be time for you to go home though. It’s certainly time for me to move on,” she smiled. Selene leant forward and gently kissed me on the mouth. She was stone cold, but light, and tasted slightly of something I couldn’t put my finger on. Dirt? It couldn’t be, she was spotless.
When I opened my eyes, everything had disappeared. I was sat, slumped outside the chicken shop, in the odd time when the streetlights still burn yellow but the sun is glowing grey through the clouds. I glanced around and got to my feet. Strangely my head didn’t ache and I didn’t feel so dry and horrible in my mouth. I dug around in my pockets – keys, wallet, Oyster card. I pulled my hand out and it was covered in a light, translucent grey dust. Not knowing why, I put it to my lips and tasted dust.
I took a step toward the bus stop, but stopped as the church bell next to me began chiming. In the distance came the solemn note from Big Ben. Absently I thought that was a bit weird, but then became distracted by the thought of Big Ben’s real name – what was it, again? Frustrated, I went to pull out my phone to use the reliable old internet to find out the pointless bit of trivia that was consuming my brain, but it wasn’t in my pocket.
Cursing, I glanced around, and decided to try to retrace my steps to where I’d gone with Selene.
After walking a fair distance, I saw the alleyway that looked familiar. Eventually, I stopped outside the old tattered pub, and knocked on the door. No answer. A lump of blankets moved next to me, and a pair of old yellow eyes glared out.
“They’ve gone,” he said.
“Oh. I think my phone might be in there,” I replied.
“Doesn’t matter. They’ve gone. It’s only a matter of time for us, now.”
“Ah-“ I nodded. Crazy old man, I thought. “Do you know where she went? The pale girl. Blonde.”
He lifted a blanketed arm and pointed up at the sky. At that moment, I noticed that the clouds were spinning past as though there was a heavy wind, but there was no breeze I could feel, and no leaves rustled. I squinted. It looked like the planets were watching us, aloof, judging and silent.
I turned to the homeless man, but he had gone, and all that was left was a pile of dirty blankets. I looked back up as a mighty crack opened in the road in front of me, exposing a black chasm, with churning lava making a river down the double yellow lines, burning orange and scarlet across the tarmac. I wasn’t scared, in fact, everything seemed to make a lot more sense. I looked up at the sky, and smiled as the mottled grey moon looked at me, nonplussed.
A heartbeat, and everything was brilliant white, then black, then gone.