Eddie woke up. He felt tired, and more than a little hung over. But he had been out the night before with Karen. So feeling a little under the weather was perfectly excusable.
He tumbled out of bed, wandering over into the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. He needed to try to wake himself up.
“Uh.” he sighed. The water felt colder than normal. But it was helping to do the trick. But he would need a long draught of water, and a couple of Paracetomol, to complete the process.
He got dressed, pulling on the same pair of jeans which he had worn the night before. They would last another day. He’d do his washing on Sunday. Or maybe the next Sunday, at a push.
He did pull on a fresh tee shirt, though, but only after sniffing the armpits of the one which he had worn on the previous evening.
His head was still aching. The Paracetomol were being slow in ridding him of his hangover. Eddie decided to have a walk down to his corner store and get a bottle of cola. Something sweet, and cold, and with caffeine in, would suit him just right at that particular moment in time.
He pulled his jeans on, and the leather jacket which he had bought from the local market. He made sure that he had his keys, and some money, and his phone, and then he went out.
The morning sunlight was a shade too bright for him, and he kept his eyes down as he walked to the corner store. He wished that he had some dark sunglasses.
When he reached the door to the corner store he pushed on it, expecting it to be open. It always opened at six o’clock in the morning, even on a Saturday. So it should have been opened for hours by now. But the door was shut.
Eddie almost hit his nose on the door. He stepped back, and he stared at the door which now barred his way. His sleep-befuddled brain had not yet fully come to consciousness yet, and he could not work out what was going on.
It said ‘Closed’ on the door, the sign inside of the door having been turned over. Eddie looked for a handwritten not saying ‘Back in 5 min’. But there wasn’t one. The shop was closed. He tried the door again, but it was definitely locked. And it was dark inside the shop. He stared at the door, unable to understand what was going on.
He began to look around at the streets around him. And it was only then that he began to realise that something really strange was going on.
The sky was a strange colour. It looked grey, but a cloudless grey, as though all life had been drained out of it and the sky was dead.
Eddie could not see any traffic on the streets. It was only Saturday morning. But there she should have been some. But he could not see a single car moving along.
There was an explosion somewhere in the distance, way back beyond the houses. Eddie saw a thin trail of smoke slowly helix up towards the grey welkin.
Eddie ran over to one of those hoodie guys, a youth with his hood pulled down low over his head, as though he did not want to be seen by the world, and he did not want to see the world, either.
Somewhere, in the background, somebody plays an old ’78 record, some old jazz song. Except that it is not jazz, but some poem of who Eddie does not know the author.
The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Then there is the sound of a scratch, as the stylus of this unseen phonogram skips back a line.
Then there is the sound of a scratch, as the stylus of this unseen phonogram skips back a line.
By the world forgot…
By the world forgot…
By the world forgot…
By the world forgot…
Over and over again.
“What’s going on?” Eddie shouted at the guy in the hoodie. It was something which was not always a wise course of action. But the guy in the hood simply turned away from Eddie, so that Eddie could not glimpse his face, and laughed.
Eddie pulled the guy around. The hood fell back. The youth’s face was a blank expanse of pale flesh. There was no nose, or eyes, or eyebrows, or mouth. Yet the laughing still went on, even though there was no mouth from which the laughter could issue forth.
Eddie backed away. Then he ran, past the faceless youth, down the road.
As he was running, heart pounding, he suddenly realised that he had his mobile phone with him. He could ring his girlfriend, check that she was safe.
He stopped running, pulled out his mobile phone, and pressed the speed dial number which should have connected him immediately to his girlfriend. But the phone refused to connect. It simply refused to ring her.
He knew that it was the correct number, so he tried again. But still his mobile phone refused to connect with hers. And that was when he really began to worry about her.
He sensed that there was something really wrong with the world. It was not just the fact that the shop was closed, or the explosion, or the fact that he had seen a man without a face. Eddie sensed, deep in his soul, that something had gone wrong with the world. It had been fine when he had gone to sleep. But he had woken up into a nightmare.
He tried 999. He could ask the police what was going on. The police should know.
At least he got a dial tone. That was something, anyway. It rang, and rang, and he did not think that it was going to connect. But, finally, it was answered.
“Hello? Can you help me? What’s going on?”
“Ha ha ha ha haaaaa!” Maniacal laughter, without end, almost deafening him. Eddie hung up. Whatever was going on had affected the police, as well.
Eddie, with fear in his heart, decided that he had to see Karen. He had to know that she was safe, in this world gone mad. She was on the far side of the town centre, though. If it was this strange where he lived, then he was scared what the town centre would be like.
Eddie began walking towards the centre of town. Somewhere, in the far distance, there was the sound of another explosion. He saw another plume of dark smoke ascend towards the grey, dead sky.
Just down the road there was the smouldering ruin of a burnt out car. Perhaps that was what the sound of the explosions had been – cars going up.
He did not notice that the sun was not moving through the sky, but that it had appeared to have got stuck in the same position.
Close to the centre of the town Eddie saw more madness. He passed the Arthur Lowe block of flats, and he noticed that the flats were one fire, and that the there was a red fire engine parked outside. And just for a second Eddie felt relieved. At least the fire brigade was responding to this emergency.
Then he saw that the fire engine was not hosing down the building with water. Instead one of the firemen was holding a flamethrower, and he was working a jet of flame all over the building, as the people inside screamed in terror.
Eddie stopped and stared. He felt that he should try to do something to rescue the people in the building. But if he had gone close to the fire engine he would have come within the range of the flamethrower.
He thought about Karen. She was more important to him than these people who he did not know. He had to make sure that he kept himself safe so that he could get to her. She was all that he cared about in the entire world.
He moved on, towards the town centre, leaving the people in the Arthur Lowe flats to their fiery fate. He heard their screams as he jogged on towards the centre of the town. Eddie hoped that he would not come across many more scenes like that.
It was when he got to the main crossroads that Eddie almost got killed. There was a set of traffic lights at the crossroads. But all of the lights were set to red. they were not going to change.
Not that it stopped the traffic on the roads. And there were cars, here. They accelerated as they approached the crossroads, not caring what the other drivers were doing. It was utter madness.
One car sideswiped another, and sent the other spinning across the tarmac towards Eddie. Eddie had to dive to get out of the way, as the car slid over where he had just been standing. Cars slammed into cars as none of the maniacal drivers were slowing down. Eddie picked himself up, and sprinted across the road into town in a gap in the oncoming traffic, before any of the cars in the collision exploded. Even as he ran he could hear more and more cars slamming into the pile up at full speed, as though every single driver of the roads was possessed of a suicidal desire to immolate themselves in a head on collision.
Eddie ran on, through a world which had become insane. He did not know what had happened to change the world. But as long as Karen was okay… well, he would worry about the rest later.
Behind him, the cars in the massive pile up began to explode, one after the other.
The changes were not limited to merely that little part of the world which Eddie could see. Five miles away, a train entered a tunnel, one which should only have been two minutes long, no more than that. The people on the train, for the most part, had been through the tunnel hundreds of times in the past, without anything untoward happening to them. The only annoying thing was how the air pressure increased on their eardrums. It felt like they were going to pop.
Except that, this time, after two minutes the train did not exit from the far side of the tunnel. The passengers began to realise that something was wrong, and they glanced down at their watches, wondering just how long they had been in the tunnel.
People exchanged glances. They knew that the tunnel could not be this long. The train should have come out into the early morning sunshine ages ago.
Nobody wanted to do anything. Nobody wanted to be the first to admit that something was really wrong with the state of the world. But, eventually, a bloke in his thirties stood up. He muttered some thing about going to try to find the conductor, and find out what was going on.
He walked to the back of the train, expecting to find the guard there. But there was no sign of him.
The thirtyish bloke walked to the far end of the train, trying to get in to see the driver. But the driver’s cabin was locked, and a black blind pulled down, so that nobody could even look inside. He hammered on the driver’s door, but nobody opened it. Nobody even pulled the blind aside to look to see who was doing all the banging.
He went back and tried pulling the emergency cord. But nothing happened. The train did not stop.
People had pulled out their mobile phones. But it was pointless. There was no signal, not this far deep into the tunnel. They could neither ring out nor receive calls. The people on the train were totally cut off from the rest of the world.
There was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was no end of the tunnel. The train went into the darkness, forever. And the passengers would never be allowed to get off the train.
Inside the county hospital, things were far worse than on the train. The doctors were there, if they could still be called doctors. But the Hippocratic Oath had gone out of the window.
People who had only come in to visit had found themselves tied down in the operating theatre. Doctors held up large, glittering scalpels, as they prepared to perform autopsies on the living. Well, they would not still be alive by the end of the autopsy, anyway. And the doctors would know precisely what had killed the patients.
“Hacksaw, please, nurse, that leg just has to come off…”
Eddie jogged past the library. He did not bother to go in; and he did not realise that, on this strangest of strange days, that the library was actually open.
Nobody was in the library, anyway. They would not have had much to read, as all of the books in the library were blank.
He ran past two policemen, in full riot armour, beating up and old man with their extendable truncheons. Eddie could hear the old man’s bones break. But there was nothing that Eddie could do. If he stopped to help the old man then he might not make it to Karen’s.
Karen had been fine the night before. Eddie tried to keep that in his mind as he ran through the madness. She had been fine. So there was no reason that she should not be fine now, even if the rest of the world had descended into Hell.
The shops were all closed, but the televisions in one of the white goods stores were all on. The televisions were all showing the events of September the 11th 2001, when the planes went into the Twin Towers. The coverage seemed to be on some kind of a loop, showing the same footage over and over again.
Eddie walked past a couple more newsagents. Like the one close to where he lived they were closed. He had not really expected anything other than that. But he noticed that they had their placards outside, despite the fact that they were shut. The hoardings had some pretty strange news on them, though: he saw the message 666 And All’s Well, whatever that was supposed to mean. Another one said Free Torture Holiday With Today’s Daily Hate; and a third alleged God Bites Man.
Eddie tried to give no reason to those malicious words.
Eddie neared the flats where Karen lived. He went to cross the road, and saw the bus coming towards him just in time. The same maniacal expression was on the face of the bus driver that had been on the faces of the car drivers who had slammed their vehicles into the pile up at the four way intersection.
Eddie ran and dived into somebody’s front garden as the bus mounted the pavement and tried to run him over. He caught a glimpse of the screaming passengers as the bus screamed past, little old ladies wishing that they had never used their bus passes in the first place. Then the bus was gone, down the street as fast as a double-decker was able to go. Somehow the bus managed to stay on its wheels and not topple over.
Eddie ran across the road before somebody else tried to kill him. The outer door to the flats where his girlfriend lived was open. Eddie ran inside. He took the stairs two at a time as he ran up, to hammer on her door.
For a second he thought that she was not going to answer, and that something had happened to her. But she opened the door just as he had been about to knock a second time.
She was yawning, and her hair was tousled. She was wearing of his tee shirts, and not a lot more, by the looks of it.
“I was asleep.” she complained. “I was having such a funny dream. A nightmare, really. The whole world had gone to hell. But it’s gone now. I can’t even recall it.”
“It has.” Eddie said, as he went into her flat. But, looking out of her windows he could see that the sky was now light blue, with fluffy little clouds in it. People were walking along the pavements as though they no longer had a care in the world; and cars were driving along well under the speed limit, and obeying the Highway Code.”
Everything was back to normal. It looked like it had only been a bad dream, after all.