‘Indefinitely discharged’ the form read, its red letters printed with a finality that burnt the sentence fiercely into the iris of my eyes. What a mess; I read the words back again as though they were likely to have been mistaken the first two times. I fingered the release and shipment papers I’d been handed, turning them over in my hands. The papers were ironically a task I used to handle myself. Unnecessary they were to us now, as they would be of no value where we were heading. I straightened and flattened the sheets uneasily, my hands unaccustomed to being shackled together.
The ugly cuffs looked jaunty and excessive against my small hands and the delicate silk shirt I was still wearing from the previous day at the office. I didn’t bother shaking them in frustration or trying to wriggle free as the other passengers on board were doing. Unfortunately I knew better than anyone that they were staying on until our arrival back on Earth and coming off no sooner. My stomach knotted and tightened a little more; the change in atmosphere and the unexpected acceleration twisted my insides into an extreme case of travel sickness. I resisted the urge to throw up. It was my first time travelling back to Earth after the relocation, I would’ve hoped for more leisurely treatment. The shuttle was claustrophobic, packed full of strange, wild faces. I watched as a mad woman banged her head repeatedly against the titanium walls, blood trickling down her forehead.
I remembered her face; in prison for the attempted assassination of my companies CEO, Dean Gray. She was more crazy than mastermind as I recall, another one of the many cover ups my company fronted I can see now.
“You’re trying to kill us, you must take us back!” she cried.
She wasn’t far off I thought bitterly; there was more to this deportation than was publicised in the city news, or filed in the company archives. I’d heard rumours about what really went on on the dying planet, horrible half rumours that whispered of experiments and inhuman brutality. Earth was a graveyard now; a place for criminals like me, or the poor or old who didn’t qualify for a pass to the new planet. Along with the nostalgic, religious or environmental nuts who refused to give up on their fading planet, there was something else out there now that if rumours were correct stalked the shadows and were no friend to those left behind. I shuddered at the unsettling feeling taking life in the pit of my stomach, if they were just rumours why was I so afraid? My anxiety was fighting hard with my pride to keep it together; I was unable to escape my overactive mind. I’d wanted so desperately to uncover the truth about Earth, so I kept digging deeper, pulling my resources. One of the reasons I ended up here I suppose. Poking my nose in private matters again Dean would say. Yet now as I was about to finally find out, I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to know after all.
I watched helplessly as the shuttle took off. The mad woman screamed and tried to clamber back on board; the guards simply shrugged her off coldly. I felt sorry for her. They’d just abandoned us in the middle of the old town of Manchester, with next to no possessions and not a clue what we were in for. I felt sorry for myself too. I walked into the town putting some distance between myself and the other felons. The streets were grey, decorated with ruin and burning with the desperation of a handful of survivors. Fear of the unfamiliar took over me; this was not the same streets I remembered. I looked around. Fallen trades, buildings, hope; this is what lined the city and fuelled the fires. The broken store windows and raided homes did not seem to shock the town’s inhabitants anymore. They went about their daily routines normally as if they were living in a place of peace and order.
I looked across the pavement; two kids sat playing rock-paper-scissors in the shade of an old cathedral ruin. I hadn’t seen this game for years. The boy in the red and dirt smeared t-shirt won and leant across the other, reaching over he picked up a paper packet and took out what appeared to be a small slice of pie. The last piece of pie I realised as he shoved it ravenously into his mouth. The younger of the two kids licked his lips; he was desperately thin, looking very fragile and sickly in the heat of the afternoon sun. What had this world regressed to? The thought of food made me feel quite queasy; I wondered when it was I last ate.
I grabbed a bottle from my bag and threw the last of the lukewarm water down my throat. The liquid trickled down and soothed slightly, giving me a new stretch of life. What time was it now? I checked my watch; realising that its time would no longer match to Earths. I was still a mile or two away from where I used to live, but the daylight was already dwindling. I didn’t want to be caught out after sunset that was for sure.
“Curfew is in less than half an hour,” the boy in the red t-shirt told me as he caught me looking at my watch.
Curfew? This was starting to sound more like the rumours I’d heard. I looked around and saw that people were beginning to rush about.
“What happens after curfew?” I asked the boy.
He looked at me confused.
“The bad men come out,” he answered plainly.
“Bad men?” I inquired, surprised by his casual response.
“Well, they’re not really men. Mum calls them animals, but they sort of look like people-”
“You’ve seen them? What do they do?” My head was reeling from this information. I glanced around again taking in this new strange world. My thoughts were interrupted as I saw an angry middle-aged woman storming straight towards me.
“Who are you talking to?” She grabbed the boy’s’ wrists and sent daggers in my direction. The boys shrugged their shoulders.
“I’m Anna,” I tried to tell them holding out a hand to shake. The woman ignored it.
“Get away from my children.” She pulled them away and frog marched them back into their house.
“Mum, she’s new; she arrived on a big ship.” I could hear the little boy say. He stopped and dug his feet into the ground. His mother looked at him surprised by this unexpected defiance. She then stopped for a moment, seemingly contemplating something before turning to face me. I jumped back defensively.
“You need to get in doors, don’t be caught out after dark. Find somewhere secure and somewhere fast. Okay?” She checked to see if I understood. She looked impatient. I nodded quickly.
The horror of my situation hit me; I needed to find some shelter fast. But people did not just let anyone into their homes, they don’t take chances anymore. Compassion and charity left with the peoples trust in their survival. I thought hard. Sam! My only hope was Sam; I’d sent him an email about my arrival but received no reply. He lived on the outskirts of town if I remembered correctly, well what was left of it anyhow. The outskirts had long since blurred with the boundaries of town, there was no safe land now, even the churches proved futile when the people fled to them for protection.
I hadn’t seen Sam since his wife died five years ago, the terrible circumstances that forced him to become reclusive and hide himself away. Sam had refused to leave the planet when his wife and child were killed by the first batch of the disease. Many others had stayed too. The poor who couldn’t afford to pay their way into the new world, criminals, the old etc. Mother had nearly made us stay behind when we were told grandma wasn’t eligible to get papers. But GG made us leave, practically carried us on the shuttle herself. News of her death reached us a mere two weeks into our settlement. She’d tried to fight off an intruder and was mauled to death. Mauled I remembered reading, surely grandma wasn’t attacked by a wild animal; the papers said intruder. When her documents were transferred to us I found in her possessions a diary of sorts. It must have gone undetected through security. She recorded the days in which she claimed the world changed. What horrors the night now offered, the massacres, their inhuman faces; I cursed myself for having left her on this planet. I wanted to know what these creatures she talked of were. I didn’t believe it was simply ramblings of a senile old woman. Why else would the authorities confiscate the diary?
I started poking around, looking through the companies logs of recent travels. She was right, it wasn’t mad men that the people were afraid of. It wasn’t mad men that destroyed the towns and massacred its inhabitants. These things weren’t men, well not anymore they weren’t. Half human faces, quick distorted movements, hair, dirt, blood, the smell. The descriptions went on. Snarls like animals, laughter like children. Savage, violent creatures of the night. Earth had become a wasteland overnight. GG’s words brought a tear to my eye. I put the diary away in my rucksack; I had to concentrate on finding the old farm entrance.
I used to holiday with Sam when we were kids some twenty years ago, down in the sunny Cornish seaside. I remembered it fondly; he used to pull my hair and when no-one was around we’d hide his grandma’s shoes, but times had most certainly changed. I looked around; the streets were filled with hurried steps. People moved quickly into their homes, forcing children inside, bolting doors, click, then bolting them again, click, click. I pressed on as my heart beat nervously, fluttering like a moth inside my ribcage. The streets began to slip into blackness. It crept through the gaps between buildings and the branches through the scarceness of the city trees; blurring details and plunging the city into a vacant graveyard, deserted all except those that lurked in the shadows. Out of sight but never out of mind. I prayed the rays of light would hold out a little longer.
A prickling chill took life in the perspiration droplets which trickled down my back. I could feel eyes on me, sense a heavy breathing that was not my own. I saw the familiar entrance to the farm up ahead, its splintered gate hanging from its hinges, its animals long since slaughtered, the farms purpose quite forgotten now. I threw myself at the gate grabbing hold of thorny branches desperately pulling myself up and over. Falling down with a thud my foot painfully twisted in some brambles. I struggled to free myself as they scratched at my face and became entwined in my hair. I writhed hopelessly on the ground, dirt spraying itself in my eyes. A body moved into my dulled and muddy eyesight. I thrashed as a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me from my entanglement. Screaming I was half lifted, half dragged across the ground.
“Calm down, I’ll help you. Stop struggling!”
I pulled an arm free and wiped the dirt from my eyes. I looked up and into the familiar face staring back.
“Sam?” A sob of relief escaped me as the kind face of a childhood friend came into focus. His face hidden beneath unkempt hair yet his eyes were undeniably his, familiar yet crazy.
“Thank God” I cried, tears disrupting my dirt smeared face.
“What God?” Sam spoke bitterly glancing quickly around and helping me up. I could hear noises, strange sounds which I could only describe as growls. I jumped up as quickly as I could and put the weight on my good leg, stumbling with help quickly into the house. Sam slammed the door shut behind us, bolting a vast array of locks. The windows were boarded up, blacked out. The fireplace cemented up, none accessible, sealed tight. The only light radiated from a kitchen down the hall. There were hushed voices coming from the room. The glow emanated from it and part lit up the walls showcasing endless rows of weaponry. Sam crouched down beside me, his hands cupping my face. I’d tried to let him know I was coming but who was to say he’d have gotten my message. It was a long shot; the technology was so scarce now with electricity being practically inexistent.
“I thought you were dead,” he placed his mouth to my forehead. “I thought you were dead when you took so long to get here,” he repeated quieter, pulling me forward into an awkward embrace as he moved me down the hall towards the kitchen, the unfamiliar feeling of safety returning to me. I glanced around the room; it looked like headquarters for a major operation. Guns, plans, protective clothing. I saw a handful of computers in action around the room. He’d got my message then.
He led me into the kitchen. Two dozen faces stared at me with great distrust. “Hi,” I said lifting a hand to wave gawkily before dropping it back to my side. I turned to Sam. “What is all this, what’s going on?” Sam turns to the crowd of people in the room and raises his weapon and voice.
“They hunt us like animals. Yet they were one of us!” Sam shouts, speaking to us all. “It’s time to stop cowering and stop dying-” I didn’t like where this was going. “It’s time we fight and take our town back.”