Okay. Here’s a piece – a few pieces actually – I wrote for Geo-Writing, which was part of the Brighton Digital Festival. It’s a great idea – you get a prompt based on your location (most are in Brighton, but there are world-wide ones too), then write up to 300 words around it. I ended up grabbing a bunch of prompts, going west to east from West Street to the hospital, and writing a continuous story with them. Some prompts worked better than others, but I managed to get them all in.
I’ve titled them One to Six. The title links to the location on Google Maps, and if you hover over it you’ll see the prompt (except on mobiles and tablets, ha. Sorry!). So you can choose whether you want to know the prompt or not. Also, here’s a prequel by Foomandoonian.
Crouched behind a shuttered window at the old Travelodge, our makeshift base on West Street, I clutch my weapon as I peer through a gap in the boards. Dark smoke can be seen drifting over the buildings from the direction of the beach, where some of the Blighters have set up camp. Tom should have been back half an hour ago. I fret. We urgently need the medical supplies if we don’t want to lose more people. We need Tom, too. He’s a fast runner, a good shot, he knows the city. I also like him a lot.
I try to ignore the knot in my stomach. For the umpteenth time today I reel off the friends I’ve had to give up over the past three months. Thirty-four. A thought for each of them. Not a single one changed sides though! We’re proud of the pact we made and we never break it, no matter how heart wrenching it is. Shooting your friends in the face never gets easier. Even when they beg you to, with terror in their eyes.
I have to go out and find him! I could never forgive myself if I didn’t try. He may be holed up somewhere and need backup. We shouldn’t have let him go alone. I know the others will try to talk me out of it, so I don’t give them the chance. Hopefully we’ll both be back before they even notice.
I shoulder my crossbow and step out onto the street.
All is quiet, eerily so. This does not bode well. The Blighters tend to roam, without discernible aim or logic – until something attracts their attention. Then they all converge and nothing can stand in their way. It seems clear they have some telepathic link, a common driving force. When it springs to life they move as one. It is creepy to witness, truly frightening in fact. It would be one thing to fight dumb, individual creatures intent on killing you. It is quite another to be faced with one large, indestructible organism. You can shoot as many of them as you want, you never win.
I make my way through the labyrinthine network of the Lanes, they too deserted and silent. The Blighters are gone, and Tom hasn’t made it back yet… chances are good (or bad) that the two are linked. The stupidity of my solitary mission is beginning to dawn on me. Even if Tom is still alive and human – and that’s a best case scenario at this point – it will be two of us against several dozens of them.
Very carefully I emerge onto the wide expanse of the Old Steine. I need to thoroughly check the area before I cross, as I’ll be exposed until I reach St. James’s Street. Clear towards the south, nothing towards… but what’s that? It looks like a yellow balloon! It slowly bounces towards me on the sea breeze. Attached to it is a torn piece of paper with the words “Help Me” in Tom’s handwriting.
He’s alive! Or at least he was not too long ago. I try to figure out where the balloon came from. Easterly wind, so somewhere around St James’s Street. This is the route he would have taken to get to the hospital. But what detracted him from his mission? He was armed, plus he should’ve been able to outrun them. Unless they…
Unless they set a trap for him.
This would be a new and terrifying development. But not impossible. Haven’t they been acting differently? I think back to our last few encounters with them. Perhaps they moved with more purpose. Thought ahead. Yesterday, at the station, didn’t one of them lag behind? I thought then that he was injured or low on energy. In hindsight it seems just as likely he’d wanted to block our exit. Unsuccessfully, for sure, but quite a few steps up from what we’d seen so far. Our enemy is getting smarter.
What does this mean for me? I reconsider my options as I sneak across the Old Steine. I should head back – it is the only responsible choice to make. The others at the base must be told ASAP. It changes everything.
Just then something catches my eye. A bunch of multi-coloured balloons head into the air from behind a house.
It must be him! No question, I must go and help him. The balloons came from Manchester Street. He must be in one of the pubs or bars. This is when I realise the balloons have a logo on them. Latest. Of course. The music bar.
Peering gingerly around the corner of Manchester Street, I see a horde of Blighters crowded around the building. They seem to be patiently waiting for their trapped mouse to come back out. This too is new behaviour. But in this case it may well work in our favour, because I know of another way in.
I turn around and race towards the seafront. Taking the route via Madeira Drive I can get past them unseen and approach the building from the other side – entering through one of the houses on Charles Street. All I need is a rope, and I know exactly where to find one.
As I approach the Brighton Wheel, still holding up but starting to look weathered after several months unused, I can’t help thinking of the last time I was here and the scenes I witnessed. More people were alive then. Most were terrified. Many preferred ending their own lives to becoming a mindless monster. Apparently the Wheel had a particularly romantic appeal.
I shake off the memory and grab a rope from their maintenance stock before running back towards the houses. Breaking and entering comes easy to me at this point – all you need are the right tools.
Once I have chosen the best building and made my way up to the second floor, I face another problem, literally: a wall of firmly shut windows. Breaking one to gain access is bound to rouse not just Tom, but also the patient army downstairs. I need a subtler way to attract Tom’s attention.
I look around. What I see are the remnants of someone’s life. Someone who is likely long dead – or alternatively, standing outside waiting for my friend just one street from here. I shudder. I need something to throw.
Or something to shoot! The Q-tips on the nightstand will be perfect in my crossbow. The sound will be soft, but distinctly man-made. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for Tom’s face to appear opposite. I see relief, then worry – as he realises I’m alone – flitting across it in rapid succession. But there is no time for emotions now. Without a word, we put my plan into action. I quickly tie a knot to the end of the rope to give it the necessary weight, then throw it the ten feet into the now open window. Tom hauls it in and we secure it each end.
No more than twenty seconds later he’s made it across. We hug tightly for a few seconds, still without exchanging a single word, and quickly make our way downstairs. I feel a huge relief when we see that Charles Street is still clear. They haven’t noticed what we did! Tom turns left as we reach the seafront. It seems he’s decided we’re going to complete our mission.
I take in my surroundings as we jog along towards the hospital. I haven’t been this far east in ages. Kemp Town used to be my home; now it is a war scene. Abandoned cars block the streets, people’s possessions strewn all over amidst signs of looting, with a few bodies here and there among the rubble. An old man crumpled against a wall. Someone in a clown costume weirdly sprawled out on the ground. Two young girls clutching each other in death. They all show signs of decay, but are otherwise untouched. All wildlife fled the city just hours after that boat crash-landed. As if they knew. And, believe it or not, I miss those goddamn screeching seagulls.
We make it to the hospital without further incident. But what we find when we get there is disheartening. It has been completely ransacked. We spend almost an hour going through every floor, checking every storage room. There is nothing usable left. Not a single scrap of gauze. We put our lives in danger for nothing!
Our spirits are low as we emerge into the evening light, so it is not that surprising that we don’t notice our welcoming committee in the hospital courtyard until it is too late. Before we can turn around and flee back inside, they have us surrounded. Then they stop moving. They don’t need to, they have all the time in the world. They know we have no way out.
So this is how it ends. We didn’t just endanger our lives, we threw them away, with nothing to show for it. Even our discovery of the Blighters’ newly developed abilities will now die with us. But then, does it really matter? It seems clear to me now that there is only one way this will go. I think back to the early days and weeks, when civilisation hung on. Emergency briefings, press conferences on hospital steps… desperately keeping up the illusion that the Blighters could be defeated, that there was a chance of survival.
Tom and I can perform the next steps blindfolded; we have practised them countless times. We need to be precise, and we need to be quick. You get only one shot, and it must be immediately lethal. Before a Blighter can get to you and bite you.
We look at each other, nod. Tom counts down. Three, two, one, now. In one smooth motion, we draw and arm our crossbows, turn around to face each other, and shoot.