Memoirs of a time traveller
- The deep
- What the water gave us
- The sick and the dead
- Deeper and deeper
- Dragging up the past
- Die die die
There were seven of us when we went. We were so excited. Two of us had been picked through a selection process out of hundreds of thousands of applicants. There was the man who designed it and the assistant who helped him build it and then there were the three guys that had we’d heard about but hadn’t met until the night we were leaving, MI6 or something. We didn't get told much. It doesn’t matter now.
When I arrived it was like I'd almost forgotten the real purpose. Temporarily I was more excited about going up to the top of the Shard. I was looking forward to seeing the views and meeting the celebrities, royalty and stuff who were waiting for us at the party on the 35th floor.
To be honest the evening was over in a flash and considering everything that has happened since I find I can barely remember a thing about it, just a vague memory of warmth, good food and interesting company. The minutes leading up to getting into the time machine I remember in perfect detail. We’d been over it time and time again, practising, hearing the scientists describe what they thought we might expect to experience. The more honest ones amongst them didn’t mind admitting that they didn’t know what to expect really, that they, truthfully, had no idea what effect it would have on us, what we might see… no idea about anything. They only really had some theories which were so vague and also wildly different from each other as to be useless in my mind.
The inventor said he could have made it look like anything, as long as it was some kind of metal box that could fit all the equipment and stuff in it. Why he’d chosen an old fashioned caravan was a mystery but I could kind of appreciate that it was quite cool, in a bit of a predictable way.
Getting in, the countdown, the noise, the headache, the blacking out… for a split second we felt a kind of acceleration, everything was speeding up at an incredible pace, but nothing more.
It was the first serious attempt that had been made to create one and this was the first attempt to use it. We wouldn’t be coming back, they didn’t work like that. And you couldn’t set an exact date, they didn’t work like that either. Or at least this one didn’t. We were told that it was going to send us about 20 years into the future in a matter of seconds. That was all this model was capable of. We’d all chosen to go, knowing (or at least believing) that our friends and family would have aged 20 years and who knows what else might have happened in what would feel like the blink of an eye for us. My biggest worry was over whether the building would definitely be still there. We knew that we would “land” (for want of a better word), in exactly the same place as we’d set off, the designer seemed absolutely sure of that.
What if the shard gets blown up in a terrorist attack before we land? We’d drop all 35 floors worth of empty space and be smashed to pieces! These were the kinds of things I worried about but I was told to stop asking about it more than once!
I had that horrible sensation that you may have had before as well; when you are asleep, or just very gradually waking up and something is bothering you. Maybe not everyone experiences this but sometimes I wake with a stomach ache or a fever. I feel uncomfortable, I roll around, I know something is wrong but it takes a little while before I realise what it is. At first you’re just annoyed but it gets worse until you become fully conscious. Enough to be capable of asking yourself what is wrong. As I gained consciousness, I could feel the wind, the first thing I said to myself in my mind was ‘it’s windy, why is it windy?’ that was all, just those words.
I was completely dazed and confused. My mind started racing, where was I? What had happened? Everything was blurry, my eyes weren’t opening properly. I couldn’t remember what had happened at all; drunken night out? Kidnapped? What? Any possible option probably meant that I'd made a very foolish decision somewhere along the line.
Then the noise came into focus, if noise is something that can come into focus. What was that roaring and crashing noise?
I sat up suddenly, my memory coming back like a tsunami hitting my consciousness all at once. I lent on my arm pushing myself up and twisted around.
What the hell?
The machine was in pieces there was debris everywhere, I had a cut on one thigh but it didn't look too serious.
Very little remained of the fancy party room that we’d left from, back, what now must have been, 20ish years ago… (What a strange thought!). A looming dark sky was above me but it was not the night time. A very dark grey thick cloud, unusually thick, covered the whole sky. Kind of like how it can go during a thunderstorm. There was only light rain, a very constant drizzle hitting my face sideways, being blown by a powerful wind. I was absolutely terrified. At least the building was still standing, I thought, at least as far as this floor anyway, what a miracle! Only as far as this floor, like the rest had simply been sheared off. What a miracle!
Another minute went by of just staring straight ahead, eyes unfocused, not looking at anything trying to take it all in, paralysed. Finally I began to turn around, trying to place myself amongst my surroundings and gain some context for this shocking awakening. Where was everyone else? As I looked I saw that only Claire was visible, lying in a twisted heap a few metres behind me, no one else was to be seen at all.
“Hey!” I said over the wind… “HEY!!”, again, much louder…
She moaned loudly in pain.
I crawled over, water dripping off my hair, arms shaking. “Hey” I said, much more softly now “you okay?”
“What the fuck? ...What the fuck?” Came the quiet response. Although it may not have been directed at me.
“How long have you been conscious?” I asked
“I don’t know. Maybe an hour. I can’t move, what the fuck is going on? Have you been able to see anything?”
All I knew was that something dramatic had happened. Something bad. I let myself fall onto my left side next to her “what is that noise? It sounds like waves”
“Have a look. Stand up and see if you can see anything. Why isn’t anyone here? Why are we alone?” Evidence that she was feeling like I was.
I stood up.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight.
I literally cowered, ducked down and covered my eyes.
Never had I had such a strong physical reaction to a sight.
The tops of one or two of the other tallest buildings were visible above a vast turbulent sea stretching out as far as I could make out. Crashing up against this huddle of twisted decaying buildings.
The water was tinged red and was full of debris. The waves were breaking up against the sides of the buildings but there was nothing else to be seen, in any direction. All the noise, the crashing, scraping, roaring became more terrifying the moment I could see what was producing it. It all seemed to become so loud it was deafening.
I couldn’t look.
“What? What?! What is it?” Claire demanded. “What the fuck is it? What can you see?”
“U….. u…. u… I… the… just the world... everything... what’s happened… ?” I sat back down, head in between my knees.
“Just tell me!!” She screamed over the gusting wind.
“I'm going to have to help you up, I can’t fucking tell you, it’s fucking awful, I don’t even know what to say” I kneeled up, put my hands under her arms and helped her to her feet as I got to my own.
“Oh my God… oh my God” She shook her head and then stopped and looked at me, paused and began to speak, decisively. “Let me put my arm over your shoulder. We need to get closer to the edge and look down, I want to know if there is anything down there or just this water”
“How could there be anything?” I shot back “it’s going nearly to the top of that building over there, that one was over 100 meters tall, I can remember it!”
“Shut up and help me walk!” … her eyes stared in front of her, our clothes flapping against our bodies.
We hobbled towards the edge, looking out towards the horizon, if anything it was darker the further away you looked, the darkness of the water and the clouds meeting at the horizon made it difficult to distinguish where exactly one started and other finished. The wind and rain battered against our faces. There was so much debris in the water that the noise of the waves was louder than I’d ever heard waves before. It was truly the most terrifying experience you can imagine, like walking too close to the edge of a deep canyon an only realising it a step away from the edge. The only difference being that in that situation you could jump backwards. I wanted to jump backwards. Away from this whole reality, it felt dangerous to be anywhere near any of it but there was no way to go back. No way to go anywhere. This was not just a sense of impending doom, I was used to that, it was in my nature. This was a sense of absolutely imminent, chaotic, out-of-control doom. What was going on???
As we got closer to the edge we got back down on our hands and knees, there was a few inches of broken glass left of the windows in certain places but apart from that there was nothing, it wasn’t like going out on a viewing platform of a high building with a big guard rail and safety glass. It just dropped off. We weren’t in any kind of shape to be trying to walk near the edge, my legs were still shaking and Claire needed my support to even stay upright. We crawled, brushing aside the clutter that was strewn across the floor to make space to put our hands. As we got to the last few feet I got down onto my stomach and pulled myself to the edge so that my body was lying flat, facing down and my head alone was just sticking out over the edge.
Claire looked at me, “how many floors down is the water? 10? 15? The waves look like they’re sweeping right through one of the floors, a lot of the glass is gone.”
“yeah…” I mumbled, wondering where she was finding the strength to act and talk this way. She was trying to gather information as if she was forming some kind of plan. I suppose she’d been conscious longer than me, I’d only had 5 minutes to take any of this in. “What has happened? What could possibly have happened?” I moaned.
She looked at me, on all fours right next to me.
“Look I’m wondering that two but it doesn’t matter right now does it? What matters is what we do next. What matters is deciding what we do about this. The way I see it” she continued “is that this is bad and there’s clearly nowhere obvious to go. Either we just throw ourselves off the edge now and be done with this awful future or we can pull it together and try to get downstairs, maybe find someone else or some way out”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing “I’m not throwing myself off anything! I can’t even process what’s happening here, give me some time at least!” …Pause... “Fine let’s try to get downstairs if we can”.
The way down the stairs wasn’t easy, we had to climb over all kinds of crap at first but once we had turned the first corner it was basically empty, and after the next corner it was pretty much pitch black. Our hands feeling along the side of the walls. We went through the very first door we came to. We wanted to see what kind of state the building had been left in. If it was a mess, we decided, then that would be a clue that whatever had happened had happened gradually, maybe people had time to loot the place. If it was pristine then we’d know what this was a sudden incident.
The doors pushed open, and we entered a corridor, it was part of some kind of office suite. There was a little kitchen area, empty, a bathroom, empty, and then finally a huge open planned office, completely empty. What did that mean?
Why there was nothing at all there, in any of the rooms, was confusing. There weren’t papers all over the place or furniture overturned like you might see in a disaster film, it was just eerie and empty. The noise of the outside was now distant. It felt like we were inside a ship. The building shook slightly from the impact of each wave.
“Oh come on, help me out a bit here” Claire rolled her eyes.
“What does that mean?”
“We’re in this together, why don’t you make a suggestion? Don’t just ask me as if I’m in charge here or something!” I stood there awkwardly.
“Well we’d better keep checking other floors I suppose”
“Let’s go” she said, almost cutting me short.
She was walking by herself now and was already hobbling back towards the door. I followed.
It was the same for each of the next 5 floors, we didn’t spend long on each, just a quick look. Absolutely nothing there on any of them. The windows were all intact until we got to the fifth one down, some of those were broken reminding us that we were getting closer to the water. It was cold, it was loud and it was windy in there, and I shivered as the breeze hit my wet clothes again. I was so aware that the floors above us were the only vaguely warm comfortable space we had any real chance of accessing. A tiny remnant of the world we were used to that hadn’t been reclaimed by the water. Even if it was just empty office space!
“Let’s just go back up one floor and stop to think for a second” I said, back out in the stairwell, in the darkness. I still felt like I needed to rest and process this ridiculous scenario.
“No. I’m going down as far as the water”
“Why? What do you expect to achieve?”
“I just need to look at it up close, I think it’s going to help understand what’s gone on here”
What was the point in arguing, why bother? I just went too. We edged our way down the stairs, not bothering to check the floors below, just heading down and down until at the top of a flight of stairs we could hear water swelling around not far below us. Neither of us dared go any further.
“We can’t see anything useful out here in the darkness” I said, nervously “there is another door here, let's go inside”
If I’d been counting right we were 12 floors down from where we began. As soon as we opened the doors the cold wind hit me, it was howling around the whole floor and there was a disgusting smell. Out of the first corridor into an office and we were hit by spray instantly. My eyes closed and my arm came up over my face. When I looked up again Claire was already half way across the room, absolutely determined to get near the windows (which were almost entirely shattered). It smelt like rotting, like you’d get sick just from smelling it.
We arrived at the windows, the highest waves were breaking splashing up as far as just a meter or two below us. I finally admitted to myself that I hadn’t wanted to see the water, I realised that I was scared to be so close to it.
What the water gave us
Tentatively peering out to my horror a large amount of what was floating in the water, as well as cars and trucks and other assorted unspecified crap, was people. Flailing around, bloated and grey there were thousands and thousands of people.
“uaahhuaa” – I let out some kind of noise and fell backwards onto my ass. Claire’s face turned to me, mouth open. Then her face screwed up in disgust.
“What does this tell you?!” I screamed.
“That the water is full of dead people! What the fuck do you want me to say? Ahhhh!” She raged in frustration, hobbling right past me and began pacing.
“Okay… okay… something awful happened, some big disaster. Everyone drowned, the sea levels rose suddenly… so, maybe not global warning… what else could have done it? …” I was speaking to myself really, I knew it, I was staring at the floor, mumbling.
“FUCK!!!” Claire was back in the window space, screaming at the top of her lungs “FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!!!” Then one more scream five seconds later but the tone had changed dramatically, one of those screams that started silent but turned into a chilling high pitched wail “aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!... SHIT!!!!!” she recoiled in terror, falling next to me just as I was trying to stand up. We were inches apart, just close enough to hear a whisper “they heard me” she whispered and scrambled to her feet, hobbling towards the door. I chased, “what? What do you mean? Hey! Who heard you?” no answer.
We were out the door, running up flights of stairs as fast as we could, I stopped asking questions, knowing I wouldn’t get a response. In my mind this was only revealing that the one person who I had been kind of depending on so far was actually unstable and crazy. Maybe it had all got too much. She was counting off the floors. “This is it, in here!” We burst through the door, back onto the first intact floor, breathless and in pain. The door swung shut. Claire grabbed my shirt, pinning me against the wall, “when I shouted they heard me!”
“The people in the water, they heard me”
“They were dead, Claire! Wasn't that obvious to you? They were dead people floating in the water”. I was sounding condescending now, annoyed that I’d hurt my leg trying to get keep up on the stairs. “Look, how could you even know that they heard you, what an insane thing to say, just calm down”
“When I shouted they all started moving”
“No they must have just been rolling around on the waves or something, surely?”
“No... I know what I saw. Hundreds of them were turning, looking for me and they started thrashing frantically” She was hysterical, tears running down her face.
I could feel the colour draining from my face, I could feel the sweat on my palms, I could feel my eyes welling up in fear. “no” I was shaking my head “no, no what? … no”.
We stood in silence. I believed her, I wasn’t hard to convince when given bad news. “Let’s go!” I said, “come on let’s go”
“Let’s go where? There is nowhere to go”
She was right.
We opened the door of a bathroom and closed it behind us, instinctively trying to hide from the threat. Were they really dead? Were they coming after us? I couldn’t think straight from fear. In a blind panic I felt in the darkness for a cubicle and locked myself inside.
I could hear Claire sobbing outside. The sobbing slightly echoed in the bathroom, minutes passed and I began to feel a strange unexpected peace, I could hear my breath, I could feel the cold ceramic of the toilet with my hand. I could hear my heart beating. I felt safe, like being under a duvet. “Claire, come in here”.
I opened the door, she stumbled inside and I locked it again. I was calm now, I’d come through panic and out the other side. Into some kind of nirvana.
When the piercing shrieking outside got loud enough to be undeniable I could feel my pulse raise, I was aware of this but now somehow removed from the situation. “They’re coming” I said, soothingly, as if I was trying to be reassuring. Why was I accepting of this? I knew why. Because it couldn’t really be happening. When you feel like you’re watching yourself on a screen as I often did, somewhere miles away, safe and secure it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bit unrealistic. It is happening, it’s part of the story!
The door outside, the one that entered the office suite swung open so hard I could hear it hit the wall.
I looked up I had a sudden urge to climb. Without thinking about why I climbed onto the toilet and put my hands onto the tops of the cubicle walls, pushing myself up until I was sitting on the corner where two sides met. My head had to duck, I was right by the celling. Still not really knowing what I was doing I pushed upwards, the ceiling tiles came out of place easily. I stood up on the side of the cubicle, my head poking right up through the hole I’d made in the ceiling, there was a good few feet of space. It was still pitch black. There was no way I was going to be able to stand on these tiles, but it seemed like it might have been fairly realistic to be able to stand on top of the dividing wall between the bathroom and whatever was next door.
The shrieking was getting louder but this was all happening in seconds. “Claire, take my hand, now!” I managed to pull her up through the darkness. We were now holding onto some pipe work in the ceiling space. “we should be able to step on top of the dividing wall, it’s going to take a little bit of a leap of faith, come on!”
We stepped out into the darkness.
My foot was going straight through, I fell side on straight through the ceiling of the next room which was another large office space. Claire came down falling on top of me. My shoulder was dislocated, I could feel it instantly. I rolled over to get up but they were already swarming in, running across the room. Bloated, grey, mostly naked bodies. The noises they were making and the looks on their faces made them look enraged, what had we ever done to them? I thought … what a stupid thought…
We scrambled to our feet and ran but saw no way out, we were cornered. The windows were intact, the glass was far too thick to break and there was no door. More and more were piling through the door at the other side of the room, the noise was unbearable. We looked at each other, we looked back at them, the first of whom were almost upon us, there was absolutely no doubt that this was it, they were going to kill us. I just knew and I could feel it, they were angry, they wanted to rip us to pieces…
“The lift!” I screamed.
Behind us as we had stood up was a lift entrance and the doors were already a few centimetres open. One of my arms was swinging uncontrollably from the shoulder as I sprinted towards it, hoping Claire was with me. With my one working arm I managed to pull the lift door open. Grabbing Claire around the torso I pulled her inside. We tumbled down the shaft together.
We hit water.
The sick and the dead
To my intense relief the grey bloated... things... were not tumbling down on top of us. In addition to this small mercy the water inside the lift shaft was still and did not contain debris.
There we remained in the water. Minutes passed. Holding the cables of the lift. The urge to speak was strong but the difficulty of thinking up anything to say was stronger. At one point I almost signed 'what a day' but I just couldn't bring that kind of banality into this situation.
The topic of conversation inside my head was fixed squarely on how death would come for us, now that we had avoided a meeting with those who had already perished.
We would not live long enough to starve, or to die of thirst (I had involuntarily tasted the salty water as we landed in it, we would not be quenching our thirst with this). We were going to die of hyperthermia instead. Probably within a few hours. At least once we had become numb this would be a peaceful exit.
Long watery silence.
Only a little bit of light was making it down to us from the open door up above.
Maybe I wouldn't say anything else at all. Maybe I had already said my last words. Maybe I would just let us die in silence. At least I'd never have to account for whether it was a weird thing to do or not.
Then the cable moved.
“This cable just moved!” Wow, I was already having trouble moving my jaw from cold. Also, the cable had just moved! And I had broken my silence.
Underneath the water, far below us, the lift was coming up.
It touched our feet, gently. Raising us out of the water, moving more slowly than a lift usually would, especially in such a tall building. We continued to rise, as if we were ascending to heaven. We crouched down on top of it, moving up into the brighter light coming from the open doors.
Claire was just looking at me. And I was looking at her.
As we neared the doors I became aware that there would be no way to close them. The peace broke and we quickly moved over into a far corner to avoid being detected.
For 2 or 3 seconds we could see directly back into the office we had come out from. The dead were still present in the room but they were silent now, standing mournfully still. The lift glided past in silence. We had gone unnoticed. Now it was dark again.
“Well this was fucking unexpected!” - Claire had recovered herself from the shock. I was very pleased. I needed her to be this way again.
The lift finally came to a stop now we had to find a way out. Our presence in this world had not yet been detected by anything living. We were going to have to make ourselves known.
We stamped on the roof of the lift. “Help! Help us! Help” we cried almost in unison. Muffled voices came from below.
In a moment the lift moved down. Just a meter or so. And the doors opened. Light came in. The water was still dripping from my clothes and hair. I was beyond cold.
I crawled to the edge, desperately and awkwardly, putting weight only on one hand, hoping for the brief warmth that we might all feel from the surprise of meeting other people. I think I even grinned. Stupidly.
Maybe it would be someone who remembered the time machine, maybe they'd figured out when we would be arriving, maybe this was a rescue.
The lift was in such a position that the opening for us was up near the ceiling, but easily big enough to escape from and the lower half of the opening was down further than it should have been, forcing the occupants to climb up to get out.
Wide eyed I thrust my head out of the gap, I was face to face with them. Two skinny, bearded older men and a woman along with one younger boy, probably in his teens, also very skinny. All staring up. Claire hung back, peering out of the darkness just behind me.
“Hey!” I said. Instantly feeling like I was being too giddy.
One of the men spoke. To my surprise it was in another language. One which I could not identify. He was speaking to the boy.
“He would like to know, who are you? How did you get here” said the boy, in English but with a very strong, again unidentifiable, accent. His clothing was ragged, his cheeks were sucked in and his eye sockets were all sunken.
Maybe this was not a planned rescue, I conceded in my mind.
“We came down from the roof” I answered. Concerned not to get onto the subject of time travel yet. Who knows what these people knew and did not know.
My concern was misplaced. It quickly became obvious that they had no desire to stop and have a full conversation about how our seemingly unlikely meeting had come about. At least not here and now anyway.
The men were climbing back down into the lift itself as I climbed down from the roof, clumsily but thankfully landing on my feet. I could see that they were picking up a body and heaving it out. Claire was getting down from the top too, her legs hanging over the edge as she lowered herself out. I helped her, so as to avoid her falling onto her injured leg. We were weak. Cold, tired and both hurt. We still looked better than this skeletal group.
“She is sick. She needed air and sunlight” said the boy, noticing that I was looking at the pale body of the woman being held between the two men. They had hauled her up out of the lift. The implication was that she was still alive. It wasn't easy to tell.
There was a definite business-like air to the activity, everyone doing their bit, quickly, and glancing around the room constantly as they picked her up, the three adults sharing her weight. They spoke to each other in the tone that their actions suggested. Short bursts. Although I could not understand the words their speech implied they were only talking practically about what had to be done, their faces looked grave but determined.
We were on the top floor. We followed them up in silence, back onto the roof. Not much sunlight here I thought.
The boy was stood still, watching, arms folded, a little way apart from the rest. Claire took this as an opportunity.
“Where have you come from?” She asked him.
“What do you mean?”
“You just came up out of the water riding in a functioning lift. Where have you come from? What's down there?”
The boy stared at her, his mouth opened slightly, but he was slow to speak.
“You have come from the dry land” he informed us, clearly believing that he had just worked out what was going on “Why are you asking these things?” mouth still hanging a little bit open. The others were still tending to the woman.
“Look. We haven't come from any dry land. We came here in this, see all this shit lying around here? We travelled here in this” Claire gestured at the wreckage. “believe it, or fucking don't believe it but we just arrived here from, like, 20 years ago. It's obvious that a lot has happened and I've got to be honest with you I need some answers!”. She strode towards him.
Her raised voice had alerted the skinny men and the conscious woman. Their heads turned around awkwardly from what they were doing. The oldest man began what seemed to be him telling the rest of the group to carry on. They were dressing a wound I think. He stood up and was walking towards us, his hand brushing away hair that had blown into his eyes.
The boy looked to the man and began translating the story so far, their heads down, but with eyes mainly on us until the man put his hand onto the boy's shoulder. “he's reassuring him” I whispered to Claire. Reassuring myself. “You know what else?” I said and she leant in a little, as we mirrored the boy and the man “they weren't that surprised too see strangers that means there's got to be a fair few living people still living”.
We were brought into the huddle around the sick woman who was lying on the floor. The man was rapidly explaining something to the others. What he said caused them to stop what they were doing. Some sharp words were exchanged.
“You must come with me” said the boy.
Ordinarily you would become suspicious in this situation. The reason that we said nothing at all, got up and simply followed him back to the lift was something that could only be fully obvious to us who were there: We were stood on top of the tallest building around, surrounded by a turbulent ocean, the remains of only a handful of other ruined buildings were visible under a dark sky which was now getting darker fast. We were in the unusual situation whereby we had no reason to fear anything that could be done to us. Death had seemed certain on a few occasions already today. I can only speak for myself but I would have accepted either death finally coming or answers, either one quite happily. Claire said nothing yet but I felt tension building in her silence. She followed in line.
We returned to the submersible lift. The doors closed and a red light came on. The boy rolled up a plastic sealant that covered the door and secured it closed. A lever was pulled and we began to descend. The red light reflected on our wet faces, we stared ahead blankly. The boy did not know where to put his eyes.
As water trickled in through the cracks he fixed his eyes on me.
Deeper and deeper
“Do you know where you are?” he asked
“Yes I do, but I don't know when we are” I said to him, feeling like it was safe to be straight with him now that we were alone.
“You travelled through time but you do not know when you have come to and I do not know when you have come from.”
“You knew that?” Claire asked him.
“The brother informed me. It is the first time I have met you. One of them can remember you from long ago”.
“Before all this?” I asked, excitedly, “before we left?”
“No, from the last time you visited” the boy did not anticipate the confusion and shock this would provoke.
Both of us pushed off away from the walls we were leaning up against. We stood poised to receive more information.
“Yes! And? Keep going! Explain that!” I was getting impatient now; feeling like I would have made a much greater effort to explain anything I knew to people in such a bewildering situation as we were.
“Look you're going to have to assume that we haven't got a fucking clue about anything. Tell us what's happening. What do you mean last time we visited? What happened here? How long has the world been this way?” Claire snapped at him.
“What way?” said the boy quietly, cowering a little.
Claire grabbed him by the neck. The water was now up to our ankles. She splashed through it with him slamming him against the far wall of the lift “Tells us everything, right now you little shit!”
He was whimpering.
“NOW!!” she roared.
This felt wrong but I stood looking on, like a voyeur, unable to take my eyes away and in no mood to stop the proceedings . I was desperate to know what he would say.
She relaxed her grip a little.
He spat out an answer rapidly “You have come here many times. You have not been here since the oldest brother was young but in his story he says that you have been coming here for as long as people can remember. Many hundreds of years at least I think”
“When did the sea rise up to this level? Do you know that?” I asked him.
“No” he said shaking his head just a little bit, nervously. His eyes staring back. “No. I do not know”.
“What about the people? The dead people in the water? They chased us earlier, they nearly got to us”
“They are ghosts, from long ago. You came close to them?” He looked impressed. “We are afraid of them. We do not allow them to come close to us. They would rip us apart. They would eat us. You should not disturb them”
This was too much. My hand came up to my forehead. I stared upwards into the red light.
The lift stopped. The doors opened and the foot or so of water spilled out into the tunnel ahead. We were clearly below the surface. It was a long corridor. The floor was tiled, the walls were a little bit rough but more or less straightly cut into the rock. Electric lights were fixed to the roof every few meters. It was low level but it was possible to see clearly enough.
This was a relief. This was a place of safety. And a place of anticipation.
Eventually after some time walking through the tunnel we reached a metal door in the side. The boy pushed through it and held it open for us to enter. We walked into a larger space, a room, empty but surrounded by doors which were all gated with bars. Like the centre of a prison wing. The light was still dim but it was clean and warm.
The boy appeared to have recovered from his ordeal at Claire's hands in the lift.
“This is our home” he said, holding up both arms, the palms of his hands facing upwards. “There is only one other who resides here right now, her room is down here on the left” he pointed as he began to walk towards the occupied cell/ bedroom... whatever they were... “I have been told I must bring you to see Karina, our mother. She will be able to speak with you and settle you”.
Karina's 'cell' was comfortable. The barred door was wide open. There were books everywhere, on shelves, on the floor in little stacks, some on a counter top opposite her bed. She had a large bed almost the size of a double and much of the walls were covered with a sackcloth type fabric. Karina was sat in an armchair which was up against the back wall, facing us. She was a little larger than the others, she appeared to be in her late 60s or 70s. Her greying hair was long and hung down in front of her shoulders down to her stomach.
The boy stood there in the doorway, we were just behind him.
His mouth was opening. He was forming the first sound of a word he was about to say when an alarm sounded.
Karina's eyes widened slightly, she had only had time to stare at us for a second no one had managed to get a word out. The boy turned, paused for a second and began to run back towards the entrance to the corridor.
“I have to see to this” he shouted without turning around.
“Get inside” instructed Karina, in a warm but firm motherly tone. “Close the door... Yes. Now Lock it”
I realised that her accent was an English one, of sorts.
Claire was bolting the door shut, I took a few steps into the room to give her space to do it, facing the old lady. This was easily the most homely environment we had encountered here but I felt awkward. The emotions of the day were catching up, I suddenly realised how tired and thirsty I was. I felt like I'd just been pushed out onto a stage with no introduction.
“Can I get you something? Water?”
“Yeah, me too please”
“You just sit there, let me get it for you”.
We were handed tin flasks from the counter top across from the bed containing cool metallic tasting water.
“Have some of these biscuits too”
“Oh, okay thank you”
“Yeah, brilliant, that's great, thanks for that”
Claire was the first to speak. For the first time since before we left she was calm. I'd forgotten what her voice sounded like when it was softer. I worked on re-setting my shoulder. Karina was settling back into her chair.
“Sorry we didn't get a chance for introductions, I'm Claire and this is ****. I have no idea how this is going to sound to you but we've just arrived here... In a time machine... On the roof... [longer pause] like I say, I have no idea how that's going to sound to you. [another shorter pause] Do you know anything about us?”
“Yes dear. Don't you worry about me. I am not shocked by this. By your presence here. But I think you will be. You may have questions... Let me try to settle your minds. Ask me about some things that are bothering you. Your eyes are narrow, your foreheads are wrinkled. You've been concentrating hard, you are tense. Relax. Let us talk.”
Shoulder = fixed.
I looked sideways at her but then straight ahead at thee wall as I spoke. “We were under the belief that twenty years would have passed since we left our time. That's not the case is it?” I asked.
Claire nodded, looking at Karina, agreeing that this was the first topic we wanted to cover.
“I'm afraid not”
“Have you seen us before?” I asked
“Yes dear. 42 years ago you were here before. And many times before that. Your visits have been recorded. I am the only one who reads and writes in this place. I keep the books, I'm slow I can't do much else these days”.
She was on her feet again, bending down, her arm holding the edge of her chair picking through a small pile of books on the floor at the foot of the bed. She handed us the one she had been looking for. It was a journal, backed in felt. On the front was written:
Tentatively I opened the first page. It was the beginning of a log.
As I leafed through each page had a number at the top with a dash and then the words 'A Visiting'. Below each was a short paragraph or two detailing the events of many previous visits. Claire leaned over. There could be no doubt that we were the subjects on which this book had been composed.
Some times more of the original crew had survived, often it was just the two of us. Sometimes our bodies had been found lifeless on the roof – sometimes badly decomposed. Presumably on these occasions we had died at some point during long gaps between their visits to the surface. Quite often we'd been found sheltering on the highest intact floor of the building.
Having darted about the pages chaotically I decided to return to the beginning. 102.
“what year is it now?” I asked, turning my head upwards towards Karina.
“It's March of 546”
“546? What do you mean? It was 2016 when we left?”
“ahh yes. Some of my oldest books do cover the old world dates” she said “the first year in our system was the year after the climax of a terrible war. Many years ago, to us, there was a war so great that the old world was destroyed. This corresponded with the year 2027 in the old dates.” She sounded studious and quietly authoritative. Clearly someone well versed in ancient history.
I was adding the numbers up in my head, brining in fingers and looking upwards and slightly to the side trying to calculate it.
“557 years” she said “I'm sorry to be the one to let you know. Your world is long gone”.
The yawning began, I couldn't concentrate any more. Sleep was coming whether I liked it or not. We were put into two adjacent cells, on Karina's advice we bolted the doors from the inside.
Dragging up the past
I awoke at some point after a sleep. It felt like a long sleep. There was no way of knowing. Maybe another 557 years had passed. I sat up, my feet came down onto the ground and I sat there for a bit, just thinking and waking up. Like any other morning.
My body knew when the time was right and without having to think about it I stood up, unbolted the door and walked outside the cell. Claire was sat cross legged on her bed with a pile of books. Completely engrossed by the look of it. No one else was around.
“Morning” I said. Ironically.
She didn't look up.
“Come and look at this” she said.
She closed the book she was reading and flopped it down onto the bed in front of me with a little flair of drama. Karina let me take a few to look at.
“That's from before” She said “From our time”
I looked down at a blotchy history book with a weird name; 'Peace and Wars 1878 – 1950'
“You tell me if you are aware of any of the events that book describes” she challenged. “tell me if any of that looks familiar?”
One hand on the spine of the book, the other flicking through the pages.
It didn't look familiar at all.
“Where are we? You tell me how can that be?” Claire asked. She had the tone of someone who had been ripped off and was about to march back into the shop and complain.
Our voices had been heard, Karina appeared in the doorway.
“No one else is here” she said.
She was worried.
“I thought they must have come back in the night but I've checked. No one else is around”.
My heart was in my mouth. Not because I had any knowledge of what was usual or how worried we should expect to be but because we had neglected to tell anyone that the dead were occupying one of the floors a few down from the roof in huge numbers.
I swallowed. Lots of times. Karina walked away purposefully.
“Claire we forgot....”
“I know” she interrupted
“Fucking fuck, shit, we've fucked this up”
This was the first time I'd felt responsible for anything since arriving.
“What are we going to do?” I whispered,
“Nothing, what can we do? Don't say a word about this” She told me in no uncertain terms. “Lets go and see if we can find her”.
Die die die
We found Karina walking slowly down the corridor towards the lift. She was almost there as we came up behind, jogging the last little bit to catch up with her. She heard us and turned around.
“I'm going to have to go up” she said, definitely, like she was expecting us to try to stop her.
I still had no bearings for what was okay. Maybe she went up there all the time. Maybe this would have been considered outlandish by anyone else.
We reached the lift and she pulled a lever. The discussion was over.
The doors opened. The sight was horrific. The two men, the conscious woman and the boy were dead. Lying there, much of their torsos all ripped/ bitten apart. What was really shocking though was the zombie still eating them.
It leapt out at us, running. It's head protruded out ahead of it's body, arms down by its sides, mouth open like it was just going to run straight into it's prey and take a bite. I shoved it sideways. I'm reasonably strong and I went all out. It was enough to knock it off course.
“Get it!” Shrieked Karina, not in fear but as someone shouting orders.
It swerved back, letting out wild terrifying noises. Claire's foot came crashing down on it's thigh, enough to get it on the ground. I think I even heard a bone breaking. I started to kick it in the side, over and over again. Ribs were breaking, it's skin was tearing it still struggled, trying to move its mouth towards my legs. One last stamp on its head and everything stopped.
The lift had 5 more of the dead in it, but they were dead, dead. Mainly slumped behind the bodies of the others.
Karina was less upset than I'd expected. I wondered how well she knew them. I didn't know how living arrangements worked here.
“We have to go. It's going to take some time to get out the other way. Come on”. She was walking away, back down the tunnel.
“Where?” I asked, standing still. It wasn't like the previous day any more where I had followed blindly not caring what happened next. I was calm and rested. I had tasted safety in the most terrifying world imaginable.
“There is another way out, we have a long walk. Supplies are very low. The others would have done this journey today or tomorrow. I don't want to be down here alone with nothing. There is no guarantee that anyone else will visit here for some time”.
We walked for hours, I think. The further we went the worse the quality of the tunnel got. Soon there were no more tiles on the floor, after that the lights went, we only saw one very irregularly revealing that we were in a much more cave-like tunnel now. The floor remained mostly even though so we made good time.
Like any long walk you get time to think. Conversation was non-existent. My mind went over and over the facts of the situation. What was known, what could be speculated. Was this another dimension? Another planet in a far away corner of the universe? Was this a place with different rules – like ones where the dead can attack you? Where ever we were the Shard was still present though... was that even the Shard? It was barely recognisable if it was, maybe I'd just assumed that much... So many questions... I was in no mood to talk through all of them with anyone else right now. I was doing my own thinking. Getting lost in thoughts, it was actually kind of nice.
“Okay. We've arrived. This is the beginning of the steps. This is the way up” Karina told us.
We began to climb a staircase. It went straight up but the steps were not steep. The ceiling was low. There was no light coming from the top. After a few minutes. Karina stopped. She was feeling for the door, whatever she was doing it was making a grinding noise and as she pushed the door open and bright light flooded in I could see that she was turning a wheel which had kept the door locked from the inside.
(I'm still writing this - I put it on the internet so I don't accidentally delete it or drop my laptop in a river or something).