A post-apocalyptic thriller by Richard Blake
Published 28th April 2016 by Caffeine Nights
Note: March 2018 – it's now eleven months since the whole of the mainland UK was carried back nearly a thousand years, to be dropped into the year 1065. Jennifer is sixteen, and she lives in Deal on the East Kent Coast. She survived the resulting starvation and collapse into tyranny because of her father's smuggling business carried on across the English Channel. In this extract from chapter one, she is riding through the village of St Margaret's back to Deal after another trip across the Channel.
Once through the village and on to Station Road, Jennifer went into top gear. It was a road of steep descents and rises. But, if she could build up enough momentum going down, she could usually coast all the way to the top again. The main obstacle to this was knowing when to begin swerving to avoid the hole in the road, where, shortly after The Break, someone had filled his car with a petrol substitute, and it had gone up in a ball of flame visible from Ramsgate.
Mostly, she had to keep her eyes on the road for broken glass and other obstacles. Every so often, though, as she sped downhill, she allowed her self to look over the trees and luxuriant hedges that lined the road. It was still barely six in the morning – English time, that is. But she could already see the long lines of people in the fields as they went about the work that had to be done, of guaranteeing the first proper harvest since The Break.
Another ten minutes, and she was at the junction with London Road. Turning left here would take her uphill to the Dover Roundabout where the A2 began. Right would lead down, through Walmer, to Deal. It was at this junction that the local Hill of the Dead had been created. There had been perhaps only five thousand bodies from Deal to be buried. The great majority of those who’d starved to death, or been killed in The Pacification, were from Dover. But it was here that the bodies had been heaped up and covered with earth. Jennifer stopped and looked again at the mound. It was only ten months since the army of diggers had finished their job. Since then, however, three seasons of the year had done their work. Smoothed over and covered in grass, the mound was already becoming as fixed and as natural a part of the landscape as the memorials set up to the lesser catastrophes of war.
It wasn’t even a year – but it might have been a decade, or a whole age, for all that had passed. Jennifer could remember the day, when, after endless assurances in the media that everything was under control, the shops had run out of food. Or, if there was still food, no one had been allowed the fuel to transport it. The looting of homes had begun within hours. It was now that those who’d previously broken the law, and accumulated weapons against a chance of breakdown that few really believed would come, could think themselves lucky. But they were the minority. The begging – by those who hadn’t stocked up, or had lost their stocks at gunpoint, or those who had neither contacts nor things that others wanted to buy – had been pitiable. The frantic pleas of the starving had been terrible to behold – terrible and, once the police began raiding anyone who, by giving charity, showed he had a surplus, quite unavoidable. It had toughened those who had. It had prepared those who had not, but who still managed to survive, for their place in the new order of things. And, once the gulf of The Hunger had been crossed, this new order had emerged as quickly and as logically as the movement of iron filings in a magnetic field.
Jennifer let her eyes rest on the Hill of the Dead. So many times she’d seen it. So many times, she’d passed it by with a shudder, or with indifference. Now, she watched as perhaps fifty labourers were allowed their time for the morning remembrance. There was Mrs Harding, the lawyer, digging tool in both hands, her lean and toughened body still wrapped in the rags that had been her business suit. There was Jennifer’s Science teacher. His face was in shadow under his hat, and she couldn’t see the branding mark left there after he’d been denounced for cutting down a tree to keep warm. There was the little man who’d used to sell expensive chinaware from a shop in Deal. They were the lucky ones – those who had once gambled on, and appeared to do well from, a division of labour that no longer made sense, and who had survived the collapse of the old world. They stood together in memory of those they had lost, their right hands clenched into fists and beating out on their chests the now customary pattern of despair. But the ruddy man on horseback now rang his bell, and it was back to the endless work of hoeing and trenching and weeding.
Once everyone was back to work, Jennifer looked over the miles of farming land that stretched before her. There was a time when she’d have needed to wait for a gap in traffic that raced in both directions. Though she looked from habit up and down the road, all was peaceful here. The only sound was of twittering birds too small to be hunted, and of trees that sighed gently in the breeze. She turned right, and, squeezing gently on the brakes, was carried downhill again. There was a minute of pedalling as she crept uphill towards the old service station where Slovak immigrants had once earned a few pounds by washing cars. After this, it would be an easy ride back to the coast.
As she reached the edge of the built-up area, she had to give more attention again to the road. The cars themselves had long since been requisitioned for scrap. But quite a few of the owners had made sure to vandalise their property first. Even before then, cars had often been ripped open by armed men to get at the petrol. The road hereabout still had the occasional cube of glass to be avoided. Braking, she lost most of her speed, and was now coasting forward at little more than a brisk walking pace