Authors: Lochlan Bloom
Published by Radial Books 2014
Lochlan Bloom has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
A CIP catalogue record is available for this book from the British Library
By Lochlan Bloom
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
His body was so close I could touch it. His skin cold, already covered in a fine layer of grey. He was no use to me. No use to anybody now. His flesh was still firm beneath a thin robe that did little to cover his dignity. At one time I had dreamt of us being locked in a room together, to be alone with Daniel, but that was long before. I felt nothing, a blizzard of nothing.
We had been held in separate rooms since they captured me. The only people I had contact with were the guards and they never opened their mouths. Five days of silence, trying to soften me up, let my imagination take hold. What they didn’t realise was that my imagination had long since been blunted. I had only one goal left.
Escape was not a worry. I would get away or I would die. Either option I could face. The waiting was thing, that was what could kill my nerves. But an opportunity would present itself, a blunder, I could feel it, some minor oversight that would allow me to slip away. I had observed them, estimated their skills and I knew I was their superior. It was simply a matter of time. My only concern was that each second that ticked away would make it that much harder for me to find Abel once I was free.
Outside I could hear the storm blowing through the buildings, engulfing the shabby collection of bricks and wood that made up this settlement. Whatever had once been here was buried now, never to return. The coruscating wind swept away anyone foolish enough to brave the elements. I should have felt relief, to be safe inside.
Had Daniel said anything about Abel? The fact that they had placed his body in my cell could only be an ill omen. What had he told them? Evidently they felt there was no more useful information to be extracted from poor Daniel.
The door was locked tight and for the first time I felt a surge of panic. I did my best to stifle any outward reflex, slowly lowering myself down to squat next to Daniel’s body. They were surely watching me. What were they expecting me to do? Or did they no longer care about either of us?
They clearly knew enough to see that Daniel was expendable but why put his body in my cell? Was it simply to scare me. I had counted on more patience from their side. Perhaps they didn’t know about Abel. I reached out and put the palm of my hand against Daniel’s cheek.
When I had first awoken in the dim light of the cell and found his body there I had at first taken it for that of an animal, a dead offering, covered in dust, a sickly-grey funeral shroud. Unbidden my hand moved down across his neck and felt his hard chest beneath the filthy gauze-like robes they had wrapped him in.
There was no sign of bleeding from the exposed side of his body but his arms and torso showed deep, violet bruising. Someone evidently knew what they were doing. I traced the contour of his stomach muscles, resting finally on his groin.
Slowly I felt in between his legs, my hand cupping the swell of flesh - a thin line of blood eased out of the fabric and stained my fingers. I recoiled in horror. I tried not to imagine what disfiguration lay beneath my flaccid fingers, tried to remember happy times when we had been together.
He had an unbelievable strength in his arms. I don’t think he ever realised. There were times I could hardly breath. He knew how to throw me around. His hands clutching at me with a tender desperation, calling on me to satisfy him. Sweet asphyxiation. Empty from the bottom of my lungs. Not the usual way to go these days. No dust clogging my airways. No sediment to occupy my alveoli. I tried to imagine, what it would have been like if once I had died in his arms.
I would have to let all that go I knew. Once I passed the threshold of this cell, in whatever way that ultimately happened, then Daniel would no longer exist. Already he was a carcass, amongst the dust and grime of this make shift cell. Soon I knew he would have to become nothing, not the strength in his arms, not part of a shared moment, not even a memory.
It was not something that was so hard to do. I had done it a thousand times before. Since I had left the relative safety of the city it felt I was walking in a constant valley of death.
I heard the guards cow-like footsteps plod outside the door. There was a commotion outside. They sounded unnerved. For the first time it occurred to me that the presence of Daniel’s body in my cell might not have been pre-meditated. For the first time I considered that there might be some larger chaos stalking the building.
The guards came into the room.
‘What’s that?’ they said, pointing at Daniel’s inert body.
I looked at them darkly. They wanted me, I could tell, no doubt they discussed what they would do to me as they smoked cigarettes out of earshot somewhere else in this decrepit gaol. The taller one was handsomely built. I could imagine myself straddling his rock-like thighs. Still, they were both lucky to have survived out here, with so little intelligence between them. I could only presume that a lack of critical faculties must have served their masters purposes.
They left. I heard talking. My mind stuttered to keep up as I felt a shimmering need to get out of there. I had left everything behind to find Abel and here I was wasting time sitting in a cell with a dead lover. I stood. My head splitting. I needed something to straighten me out. I was in the corridor. They must have left the door unlocked.
It seemed too easy. There was no less sound here than in my cell but suddenly the place took on an eerie starkness. Like a moonlit mansion once all the guests have gone. The corridor was even filthier than the cell, dust filled gaps between the brick work and I could sense that the air- cleansing was struggling to keep the atmosphere free.
What if they have all left? I asked myself.
The corridor led to a backroom with a boarded window. Ashen light filtered in the gaps. Had I been in this room before? Four chipped seats sat around a table, with some bottles and papers atop. Next to the window was a door that had likewise been reinforced with boards. It clearly led outside. Out into the maelstrom.
Hunting around the room I found a scrap of material and wound it around my head creating a head covering of sorts, a filter. I would need it out there I knew. If they had left I was in real trouble. Without a vehicle there was no escape. I was miles from anywhere and without any way to signal this place would quickly be subsumed in the dust. Another lost place, another ex-place.
I tried the handle and it moved effortlessly. A vicious skirl of wind and sand whipped in through the gap. Was I losing my mind? The chance of surviving on foot out here, without a vehicle was next to impossible. A picture of Daniel’s groin, blood seeping out, flashed in my mind. I stepped back, choking slightly, the thin covering across my nose and mouth proving inadequate. The noise of the storm filled my head, a ringing, screeching clamour.
Turning back into the room I saw the guards behind me at the far side of the room. They watched me steadily making no move in my direction. Observing.
‘What did you do to Daniel? I screamed at them above the roaring sound of the wind outside.
They started at the sound of my voice as if caught unaware but made no move towards me. They watched me as if awestruck but I didn’t have time.
‘Where are the vehicles,’ I felt a fury rising to bursting point inside me. The helpless creature I had been these last days gone.
The blizzard sucked at every sense. Filling the void between my fingertips and the rest of the world with a million disordered atoms. I stumbled away from the building, pulled by some dangerous instinct. Was I really free>? If I lost sight, strayed too far into the maelstrom I knew I was lost forever but something like a voice guided me.
My eyes were forced shut by a thousand lacerating particles of dust.
It was thick. Choking. I arrived on the borders of the town at dusk. I had been driving some time since I left Daniel but how long exactly was hard to tell. Days? I tell myself sometimes that it is the dust that has eroded my memories. As if it has somehow seeped into my head, clogging my brain with dirt. Details are blurred, twisted, ends no longer join up. Already the details of my escape were vague. None of it hung together properly.
Would my captor’s simply leave the door to my cell open? After torturing Daniel? After killing Daniel? It made no sense. I could hardly trust that version of events. There was no point in them holding me only to let me go in such a way. If they did not think they needed me, why had the guards not taken advantage of the opportunity to at least relieve their needs upon me.
It didn’t make much sense as I thought about it but then there could have been other steps, factors I had misremembered, intentionally forgotten. Where had I found the keys to this vehicle for instance? Surely no-one could have given me those without a fight? Had I even seen Daniels body? Or convinced myself he was dead simply to assuage my own guilt in some sick way?
But I had been there once before in that city, years before. It looked different. Everything had changed with the intervening years. The first time I had been young. I was enthusiastic. I was optimistic. I am tempted to say naïve but that is not the case. I had a different outlook that first time, that is all, a perspective which I now can no longer fathom, but I was not naïve.
I parked my vehicle in the space outside a looming building that I took to be a hotel. The wind as always was whipping the dust in great clouds between the buildings. As I entered I noticed the entrance area was covered in a layer of sediment, and obviously had not been looked after in a long time. The entire place was a remnant from a time when people cared about things.
The receptionist leered at me.
‘You want a room,’ he said, a large sore stood out on the side of his face. ‘I’ll give you a special rate.’
I looked him over. He had lived in this filthy place for too long. His clothes, his face, his hair everything was filled with that thick dust that clogged the air.
‘No.’ I asked him for directions to my destination. He blinked twice, rapidly.
‘You won’t get there,’ he said. I could tell he was put out by my presence. He didn’t believe me. That someone like me would be capable of reaching somewhere so difficult, so obscure.
‘You don’t think I’ll get there?’ I asked.
‘It’s not that,’ he replied, ‘the roads are closed. Since they declared the state of emergency.’
It was true what he said, the roads would be closed, but I had battled through worse. In any case, I had no choice Abel was behind the lines, I had to get there.
‘Just show me the way.’ I laid the map on the desk.
The receptionist was a cretin. He clearly had no idea how to read a map and yet he traced his finger over the contours, humming and hawing, in any case.
I bought some supplies from his meagre store. Enough to last me for a few days. I didn’t know how far it would be before I came across the next settlement.
‘You can stay here for free,’ he grinned at me. ‘We’re quiet here at the moment. There’s a spare room you can have for the night. Rest a bit before going all the way up there.’
I looked at him steadily. No doubt it was quiet. I could scarcely imagine anyone in their right mind choosing to stay in such a lamentable place. He clearly seemed to think he was offering me a bargain. God only knew what sexual payment he was calculating in return, what price he would attempt to extract if I were stupid enough to accept his offer. He lowered his gaze, embarrassed.
I had a good vehicle. I had taken it four days earlier and I had driven nearly constantly since then. The man I took it from was no doubt dead. I pictured his body quickly enveloped in a layer of dust, disappearing from the world.
As I drove away from the hotel I recognized the town. Memories crept out of street corners. I had lived in this region for a spell. Six months one summer. It had a been a bright place. Clear as diamond but cold. That’s what my memory told me. There had been a crystal blue sky that stretched on forever and sharp stars at night.
I had been there on a scientific mission, researching polar winds. It had seemed so exotic to me then. The locals had been salty, tough customers, they didn’t suffer fools gladly. I had felt at home. I didn’t suffer fools gladly either.
We had come to this town to get supplies. Months we had spent in the area collecting data. Wasted effort, as was so much now. I had known a boy then. I remembered his arms. Thick, strong arms, he had held me effortlessly. That at least had not been wasted. I imagined myself nestled in the arms of an oak tree, the boughs protecting me from the steely cold outside.
I wondered, was he now dead? No doubt. For all his strength and sturdy arms he lacked the intelligence it took to stay alive these days. The determination. To make any headway in this world was a battle. To achieve even the simplest things could take an entire day sometimes. To raise the necessary energy to get things done was not always easy. It was not like it used to be.
It felt like a dream, another place. The air now was thick, unbreathable. I had a respirator but I didn’t like to use it. I was sure Abel didn’t use his either. I preferred to take my chances. In a small way, this was my refusal to accept that the air was not going to return to the way it was.
Debris and wreckage filled the streets. Detritus left over as people evacuated the town. Items that quickly devalued to junk the moment that no-one was there to covet them. In the dimming light, I made a cursory check of the obvious locations but, as expected, any weapons had long since been taken.
We had lived far out in the wilderness. Our small research group. The boy amongst them.
‘Look at that,’ he had said pointing out the window. ‘Does it not make you feel so tiny. Nature.’
He was filled with an almost childlike wonder for these things. For him Nature was a giant, unfathomable being that was essentially good and noble. I didn’t have much of an opinion in those days and normally tolerated his exclamations but I had just received a letter from Abel and was in a disagreeable mood.
‘It won’t last long,’ I said. ‘We are destroying the planet.’
He had seemed genuinely distressed at this thought. ‘We can save it. Is that not why we’re here? This research, it will make a difference, let people know.’
When he wasn’t holding me in his arms there was something irritatingly guileless about him. ‘I doubt it,’ I said. ‘People don’t want to know. Who wants to hear that sort of thing.’
‘But look,’ he motioned across the sweeping headland and out at the ice flows in the deep green sea. ‘If they could only see. It’s so … majestic.’ He struggled with his words.
‘Come here, hold me,’ I said. He was better when he didn’t speak. Sensitivity did not suit him.
I don’t know where that line came from, about destroying the planet. I had never particularly believed the environmentalists and as it turned out they were wrong on nearly all the specifics. That the end result was strikingly similar to their prognosis was nothing more than a coincidence.
A wind swept across the town and I drove out, on into the hazy darkness. There was a long way still to go before I reached Abel. He was no doubt well protected, out of harm’s way. I was seized by a vision of him, his face, severe. It would not be easy to get there.
I looked again at the tattered map. I did not even know where he was. I remembered when automated maps still worked, geolocation, satellites. It was part of that same dream that kept recurring, a dream that I viewed down a long dark tunnel.
In any case I had something better, ever since I had arrived in the region I had picked up his smell. I know it sounds fanciful, and objectively of course it was impossible, but I was bonded to him. I had a sense, a smell, he had been there. I was on the right track.
Despite the huge distances and the improbability of finding him in this vast mountainous country I felt confident, sure that I would track him down. He would not have failed to leave a mark in any case. Once I got close people would know of him.
The wind picked up, making the countless particles dance malevolently around me. A storm was coming. As darkness fell, the vehicles headlights picked out the thick suspense in front, a polluted sea. How long had this wind blown? It blew from a different place now than when I had first studied it, so many years before. How long would it stay?
The nights lasted longer these days. The thick clouds of dust that filled the atmosphere served to blank out the light of the sun as soon as it neared the horizon. Some days there were only a few hours of daytime. At this latitude, where the sun sat low in the sky half the year, the land was practically unliveable throughout winter. Along with the near total darkness the temperature fell sharply. ‘