Friday, 5 October 2012

#FridayFlash - The Bus Stop at the End of Forever

The truck driver pulled over to the kerb. Lancaster climbed out of the truck into a raging storm. The wind whipped along the desolate stretch of road, driving cold rain into her face. The ancient truck heaved itself away, its blinking rear lights soon swallowed up by darkness.

She turned and looked at the decrepit bus shelter, its sole light still shining like a safety beacon behind broken glass. The only bright spot in either direction for at least a mile. I’m surprised the electricity is still on out here.

Lancaster pulled up her hood and forced her way forward into the rain. A fork of lightning tore open the sky, its white flare illuminating a large advertising hoarding across the road. It announced the arrival of a new housing estate, a supposed oasis of executive homes and manicured lawns on the edge of town. Flag poles lined the road into the estate, and gusts of wind snatched at the flags. The canvas snapped and whined.

Lancaster ran across the road toward the estate. The expanse of empty buildings unfurled before her as she hurried along the entry lane and down the slope. The edge of town development now lay on the edge of the exclusion zone – after the Outbreak, no one much cared about executive homes. Palatial as the properties were, they were too far away from the safety of civilisation – or what now passed for it.

Lancaster cursed the weather, the water already soaking through the canvas of her shoes. She squelched along the main street, heading for a cluster of homes squatting in a cul-de-sac near the edge of the estate.

A figure crouched beneath a makeshift lean-to at the top of the nearest driveway. Water flowed down the back of the tarpaulin, and the glow of a homemade cigarette burned within its shadows.

“Password?” The voice within the lean-to was gruff but not unfriendly.

“Hadron collider.”

The figure stretched a hand out of the shadows and waved her past. Lancaster nodded and hurried down the driveway towards the house. Its empty windows regarded the street with a mixture of apathy and boredom.

A man stood up from his position in the shadows beside the front door. His parka hood was drawn up, and a scarf hid the lower portion of his face. Lancaster fought the urge to roll her eyes – they took things too seriously out here. She wanted to shake them, to tell them that few would risk leaving the city, and that the rumours of gangs roaming the virus lands were just rumours, but she knew they wouldn’t listen. I reckon they’re enjoying getting to play at being soldiers.

“You’re Lancaster Black, ain’t you?” The scarf muffled his words.

“Yes.”

“What kind of a stupid name is Lancaster?”

She growled. She agreed the name was stupid – she hated that her parents named her for the town of her conception, but now she’d never actually visit, she’d almost grown attached to her peculiar monicker.

The rude guard waved her through and she made her way inside. She always shivered inside No. 43. The unfinished house seemed to echo with the unrealised plans of the architects. Her eyes followed the curve of the staircase, where more hooded people lurked on the landing. Lancaster ignored them and walked through the house to the kitchen.

The kitchen was a hive of activity, as people in camouflage clothing bustled around with foolscap folders and maps. A woman sat at the kitchen table, marking locations on a tattered road map with a wax crayon. Wavy brown hair hung over one shoulder.

“Hi.”

“Lancaster! You made it!” The woman looked up, a smile spreading across her lined face. Lancaster stared. My mother had that same smile.

“I can’t stay long, Auntie Em. They’ve moved curfew and I can’t guarantee getting transport back into the zone. But I had to deliver these myself.”

Lancaster reached into her bag and pulled out a set of keys. Everyone in the kitchen stopped to stare as she dropped them onto the table with a clatter.

“You actually got them?” The woman stared at them.

“Yep. I know everyone thought I was useless but yeah, I got them. They’re also copies so the First Minister doesn’t even know that his were ever missing.”

“You’re a genius, Lan.”

“I just wanted to help.” The way you never helped my mother.

Lancaster turned and left the kitchen. Auntie Em called after her but Lancaster ignored her. She’d done what was asked of her, and now it was time to sever her last family tie. If Auntie Em and her new family wanted to ransack the First Minister’s home as a protest about the lack of interventions in the virus lands, then that was their business.

Thoughts of her mother, dying alone in an isolation ward while Auntie Em’s cronies stifled the supply chain of the vaccine that could have saved her, occupied Lancaster all the way back to the bus stop. She looked up at its flickering light through a haze of tears and hard rain.

Lancaster glanced at her watch – still another three hours before curfew, and it was only an hour and a half walk to the city. She stepped under the protection of the bus shelter and pushed back her sodden hood. She sat on the hard plastic bench, angled to prevent the homeless sleeping on it, and closed her eyes. The pattering of rain on the roof made her sleepy.

I’ll just wait here for a bit. Maybe the rain will ease off. 

She thought of her mother, buried in a mass grave.

Or maybe I’ll wait here forever.

16 comments:

John Wiswell said...

And you wonder why you get typecast, Icy!

Felt like she deserved a day off. Maybe a year off. I wouldn't take forever off, though - I think she'd go madder.

Sulci Collective said...

I love the way with one line you reveal the indifference of society to its citizens, the line about the raked benches to stop people sleeping on them. That same callous indifference that finds its logical apotheosis in abandoning them to mass death at an unleashed virus.

marc nash

Tony Noland said...

The backstory for this is obviously way, way beyond a flash. I liked the way you just gave hints of it all.

Larry Kollar said...

The weather in this perfectly matched Lan's mood, I think. Loved the password, too. I was kept guessing all the way through this, wondering what had happened. I like how you sketched the backstory to a much larger piece in this.

Daezarkian13 said...

Beautiful, Icy.

"She looked up at its flickering light through a haze of tears and hard rain."

I'm having trouble getting that line out of my head. Well done!

modscheherzade said...

The name Lancaster, the password hadron collider, all hint at what brought her there - I'm curious as to why she decided to help that aunt at all, though, felt like she did it because she could. Enjoyed the way you brought this other world to life with a few carefully planned brushstrokes.

Peter Newman said...

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'd assumed Lancaster was a man at first and had to do a quick mental re-edit.
I thought you did a good job of detailing Lancaster so quickly although I felt the world was maybe too big to fit into a flash and I wondered if some of Lancaster's brooding reflections lost their full impact.
Nice balance of pace and description as ever.

Steve Green said...

I've always been a fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film, whichever guise it takes. There are some nice added details to thus too, the bench, the password, and also the girl's name, in itself a kind of story element.

ATOS STORIES said...

This was well told and the reveal of their lack of humanity superb

Virginia Moffatt said...

Really enjoyed this Icy...Nasty twist that her aunt effectively killed her mother.

Icy Sedgwick said...

John - I just wanted the story to fit the title.

Marc - I'm sure I heard that somewhere to explain why bus shelter seats aren't flat.

Tony - Yeah, this is serial territory if I was going to explore the backstory as well.

Larry - I don't often do something that requires as much backstory as this.

Steven - I like to put the odd 'unforgettable' line in my pieces!

Brinda - Thank you!

Peter - I don't like going over the 1000 word limit - I know some people think it's okay, or they think the guideline is flexible, but to me, 1000 words is the limit. Any more than that and it's no longer a flash.

Steve - I don't often do 'post-apocalyptic' but this was kind of fun.

ATOS - Thanks!

Virginia - Yeah, Auntie Em is a pretty horrible woman.

Cindy Vaskova said...

This piece seems too vast to fit into the flash category. I don't mean it in a wrong way, the backstory of it echoes through the whole piece making me to want to read more. The hints are well picked and work great. I don't know why you thought the piece didn't work, it's perfect. Lancaster is an interesting character. I wonder what she would do next?

storytreasury said...

wow. well done. So Auntie will have get the same fate as her mother huh?

Lyn Horner said...

I don't write flash, only long, so to me this is the beginning of a great post apocolyptic novel. One I'd like to read.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Nicely done. I rather like flash that hints at a backstory or that something bigger is going on.

flyingscribbler said...

I liked your observation of the sloping bench in the bust shelter. Very atmospheric piece Icy.
By the way, got any steampunk flashes for us? I love your steampunk.

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