Sunday, March 4, 2012

Third instalment

It took ten days to get round the animals. Long before the end of it I realised it was not realistic to keep doing so and those animals I could release I did, including those at the pound. There would be casualties but I just had to not think about those.

It was at the end of the second week, exhausted and angry at having to look after a whole town on my own, that I decided I would no longer leave IOUs to shopkeepers. I was owed and big time if anyone ever came back. It was beginning to dawn on me that no-one was going to return. Perhaps there had been a major nuclear accident and everyone was deep underground in bunkers. If I was going to survive I needed to take action.

It was then that I walked into the bookshop and took from the display this expensive leather bound journal. It did feel like stealing on that first day but since then I have helped myself to numerous bits and pieces.

I also decided to venture out of the town and see if any of the nearby villages had suffered the same fate. I was still able to use the bowsers and refilled the car. It was good to be zooming along the highway, no traffic to contend with and the liberation of driving fast.

The first village was a quaint, touristy place all boutique shops and cafes. I knew long before I got to the main street that it was deserted. I parked the car parallel to the kerb in defiance of the sign that said to park at an angle. I had thought of stopping in the middle of the road but I decided there was no harm in taking precautions.

Nothing and no-one. Dogs barked and I went on a search to let them out. Covered in doggy licks I ran back to the car trying to ignore the desperate pleading for me to take them with me.

I drove back and forth across the area all day searching for signs of human life. Once I caught a glimpse of something red behind a farm house but on closer inspection it was a half finished scarecrow.

Home again in the late evening, depressed and ravenous. I stopped at the supermarket and filled a trolley with microwavable food, chips, chocolate and other naughty food. A case of beer and half a dozen bottles of wine and I stomped out without thinking about paying (that would teach them).

I tried to block out my despair with an evening of booze, curry, exotic ice-cream and my favourite DVDs. Alcohol always works as an anaesthetic, numbing mind and body. I fell asleep on the couch and woke late in the morning with a shocking headache and nausea. A day in bed, why not? There was no work to go to, no-one to visit. I could go back to bed and with a bit of luck I might die there in my sleep.

I didn’t die of course and as Hamlet says, sleep knits up the ravelled sleeve of care. I woke to a new day and a new resolve to solve the problem or die in the attempt. I would need to travel further afield to find out what was really going on and I would need to be equipped to handle all sorts of emergencies. I decided I needed a gun.

Of course I had never held a gun, never loaded a gun and had never, ever shot one.  My first point of call in my search for a gun was the library. No point in getting a gun if I couldn’t use it. With the car piled with books that may or may not be of use I set off for the only shop in town that knew would sell guns.

Yes, chained to the wall, rows of guns. I searched for the key, whatever had happened to the people they had left everything behind, keys to safes and cars and cash registers. They had left food on plates, television sets on etc. There had been fires too across town presumably from stoves left turned on with cooking on top. I didn’t investigate any of these, I’m afraid of fire.

It was not easy choosing a gun. The library books weren’t much help and I grabbed all sorts of leaflets about gun products. In the end I took two, rifle type things and tried hard to match up the correct ammunition for them. It had occurred to me I should go somewhere in the bush and practise but in the end I lost my nerve and put the lot in the boot.

I would need camping equipment, first aid and medicines, blankets, warm clothes, cool clothes, hats and sun block out cream, foods that would keep, maps, books on survival, books on snake bite and how to change tyres on cars.

The collection of stuff at my flat was getting so big I knew it would take more than a car to hold it all. I needed a van, or perhaps a bus. Why not go the whole hog and get one of those fancy Winnebago things with its own toilet. There was a caravan shop in town.

The thought of shopping for such a luxury, expensive vehicle was quite thrilling. I would take my time over it, enjoy it, there wasn’t much else to enjoy. At least planning took my mind off other things like the fate of the pets I had let loose or abandoned, and the all pervading problem of where everybody was. But for half a day I was going to pretend I was buying a Winnebago for a sight seeing trip.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Second Instalment
There are always times in your life when you haven’t got a clue as to what is going on. Mostly the fears and doubts evaporate quickly and the way is cleared, or at least muddled through until life throws up another hurdle. I feared, on waking to my second day of solitude, that this time it was going to be a big one.

I set out in the morning to look for human beings, alive or dead. I was trying to brace myself against the idea of coming across dead people, trying to work out a plan of action. However, by the end of the day I was almost disappointed that I had not even seen a corpse.

I trawled the shopping centres. Lights were on, music was playing but nobody was about. While I was at the supermarket I picked up some groceries. I left the money sitting on the till with a hand written list of what I had bought and wandered back to the car.

It did occur to me that if no-one appeared soon that certain services would become unavailable: electricity, water, gas, fresh food. I let these thoughts simmer quietly at the back of my mind as I was sure everything would be rectified and back to normal in the next day or so.

The afternoon was spent knocking on doors. I encountered lonesome dogs and wandering cats. I filled some water bowls and promised to come back to see how these animals were fairing. I guessed some of them would be hungry. How odd not to take your pets if you had been evacuated, it must have been so sudden. But why had no-one tried my door? Was I so deeply unconscious that they believed my flat was empty?

I couldn’t eat that night, I was tired and worried. I tried my phone contacts again, I tried the internet again and the television and the radio. Over and over I tried them in an obsessive attempt to force an acknowledgment. When I went to bed I didn’t sleep, not properly. When I did doze off I had dreams of searching for people, friends, family members who were no longer alive, strangers. The responses in my dreams were bizarre. I was told everyone was leaving town but I had to stay, I hadn’t paid enough taxes. Another time I found myself running after a bus that was driving away. My legs wouldn’t function and my voice wouldn’t sound: I was left behind again.

Then I fell into those dreams where you find the animals had been left neglected. In these dreams you never know how long you have forgotten to feed them or water them and a great guilt engulfs you.

It was this last lot of dreams that formed my plan of action for my third day alone. I would systematically visit every house and make sure the animals were catered for. I filled the station wagon with tins of pet food, all paid for at the supermarket. I noticed the money from the previous day was still sitting there. I used a plastic bag from under the counter and put the money and my adding’s up and contact details into it and put it under the counter for safety.

I knew in reality I wouldn’t get to every animal in one day but I thought at least I could make a start and just continue until everyone had something. I doubted many pets would be left totally without water.

The dogs were frantic for attention. I braved all the yards and only received growly threats, no bites. It was heart breaking to see so many sad brown eyes. Food, water, pat and reassurance of further visits and I had to move on.

One or two houses had animals that appeared to be infested with fleas, several were chained up and these I released. I noted down the addresses and what they all needed. I’d visit the vet on the way home and buy medication. How long my account would hold out remained to be seen, but surely most people would recompense me when they found out the care I had given their pets.

The cats were the best off although I did find some locked inside their houses. I’m afraid I did break in and made sure they had water and food. I left a note each time. It occurred to me that I should type a generic note up on the computer and print it out, would save time the next day.

As I drove home, truly exhausted, I noticed the petrol gauge was getting to the half way point. How would I get petrol? Were the pumps at the petrol station electrically operated?  I would look into that in the morning.

I ate a huge meal not thinking about being on my own this time. I was too concerned about looking after all the animals in town. And then I thought about the ones out of town, the farm animals. How wide spread was this thing?

A plan of action was needed. I typed and printed my little notes, basically my name and address. These I cut into separate pieces for easy handling. A map of the town, long stuck under the telephone directory in a draw, was pulled out. It was a bit like a military campaign and this idea helped me cope with the things I didn’t dare ask.

The fourth day dawned and I was up to see it, packing bottle of water, snacks for me, carry bags, blankets and my list of things to do.

The petrol station was open, well I suppose it had never closed. The first bowser didn’t work, I guess it whatever button needed to be pressed hadn’t. It was another thing to investigate. As the doors were open I would be able to get behind the counter and try to work it all out. How hard could it be?

The second pump clicked in and I filled the tank as full as it would go. I left my little note with an IOU scribbled on the back. I had taken several litres of milk as well. Milk is one of those products that have fairly short expiry dates and I thought it better to give to the animals than have go off in the fridge. And who knew how long the electricity was going to last.

Picking up from where I left off I spent less time this day on the patting and comforting, it was about food and drink. I began to leave doors open for the poor things to go in for shelter and comfort and to go outside for toilet. Too bad if anyone got burgled, I was beginning to feel angry at the thoughtlessness of the people who had upped and left their pets like this.

The caged birds and the aquarium fish I did very briefly thinking that I would have to find an easier method if this was to continue. The odd hen coop I raided for eggs, these would only go rotten too. I could perhaps feed some of them to the dogs and cats.

If, by the end of the week and no-one had returned I would let the mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits all out of their cages to fend for themselves. I didn’t want to do it but I just wasn’t going to manage this routine every day. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that though.

In none of the houses was there any reference to what had happened to make the population disappear. Televisions were still on, radios and computers. I switched all these off and unplugged them.

Working late into the night to get round to every house I thanked God, who I didn’t believe in, that I lived in a relatively small town. My last stop before I went home was to the local pound. Thankfully it had only five occupants all together: three dogs and two cats. Perhaps I would let them free too before it was all over, we’d see.

Food, bed and into a deep sleep hoping against hope that I’d wake up and find it had, after all, been nothing but a dream.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Third Week

Today I stole something. I went into a shop and picked up an expensive note book and walked out without paying. Am I shocked? Just a little bit. I have never stolen anything in my life before, except once. When I was eight or nine I went to play with the daughter of a friend of my parents. She was an odd little girl, didn’t like her much, the way she treated her things, especially her toys.

We were playing in the tree house out the back, it was amazing and I was jealous. This girl didn’t seem to appreciate what she had, but then she had no mum so maybe that explained a few things about her. We had a tea party up in the branches with some of her toys: teddy bears, dolls with scribble on their faces and dirty looking. I must have been such a little snot because I didn’t want to touch them, they smelled of stale poo and vomit and dirtiness.

The game was okay though and in truth I quite enjoyed myself until I saw what the girl had done to one poor little doll. She was made of wood and had a sweet painted face. She was tied by the neck and was hanging from a branch. Her little arms and legs had been pulled so they were hanging loose from her naked torso. Her hair had been torn away as the other dolls’ had been. I was so sorry for her, horrified and sad and an urgent need to rescue her rose up in me.

For the rest of the afternoon I was distracted by thoughts on how to cut her down, slip her onto my person and get her into my own safe home. When my father came to pick me up I said I’d left something in the tree house and raced out to it before the other girl could come with me. I yanked at the cord around the branch, pulled the noose over her head and stuck her in the top of my knickers, not having any pocket.

I think the little girl saw me do it; I came out of the tree to her strange knowing smile. She didn’t say anything but I’m sure she knew. I didn’t care at that moment, I wanted to get away to my own place and put the doll into a safe, cosy spot. As we drove away relief swept over me and I pulled the doll out from under my dress and warmed her in my hands.

Was that right or wrong? I must admit I was wracked with guilt for a few days. Actually I think it was more fear of being accused of having stolen something from that little girl. The other part of me was happy at having rescued the wooden doll who was washed, dressed and given the best room in the dolls’ house. I still have her and I think she has repaid me with good luck.

Today’s theft was quite different. When I walked into the shop I looked around and called out for customer service, I even had money ready to pay for the book. There was nobody there, which was as I suspected. There doesn’t seem to be anyone left in this town, not one human being. There are no dead bodies; there is no sign of struggle or illness. There are just no people.

It is exactly two weeks since everyone disappeared without trace. I had been ill, bedridden for a week. I had been in a high fever, hallucinating and too ill to know which way was up. But one morning, two weeks ago I woke up feeling fine. No temperature, no dizziness, only a ravenous appetite.

My fridge was looking sparse but I managed to rustle up some toast and coffee with tinned milk. I showered and dressed, pleased to notice I had shed a little weight. My hair, however, looked like string and I thought it was time to get it cut. I would feel like a new person after it.

When I got into the street I was puzzled. There was no sound from anywhere, a couple of dogs howling but no vehicle sounds, no doors opening, no kids crying or shouting. Perhaps it was Sunday? Perhaps in my illness I had lost track of days.

As I drove through the deserted streets I noticed several dogs roaming around. Someone must have left a gate open. Garbage bins lay tipped over in the gutter spewing contents everywhere. Dogs were hovering around them, snapping at each other. Very odd I thought.

The hairdresser was open, the door chimes ringing cheerfully as I went in. There was none there. I waited thinking the owner or one of her girls had gone to get a coffee from across the road. I waited and waited.

The coffee shop was also deserted. The machine was sending out masses of steam. Something was wrong. I thought the machine was going to explode so I picked up a towel and turned it off. The hissing sound abated and left a ringing silence in its wake.

What was this all about? I was starting to get quite frightened. What did everyone know that I didn’t? Was it a big joke on me? Who would go to such enormous lengths to do that? How costly? How juvenile. I was getting angry, imagining this could be the only explanation until I realised the town centre had probably been evacuated. Gas leak, bomb threat?

I ran back to my car and drove home stopping briefly at the deserted corner shop to pick up bread, milk and a paper. I put money on the counter as I left.

The paper was the day before’s. It had nothing odd in it, apart from the usual ridiculous things people do and say to each other. The bread was also from the day before. What had happened that had made everyone leave so suddenly and why had no-one come to take me with them? Was I not important to anyone? Had I been forgotten in the rush for people to save themselves?

Indignation mixed with worry went around and around. Then I remembered that time wasting device called the telephone. Not expecting an answer from anyone’s home phone I tried a couple mobile numbers. Recorded messages saying the person I was calling was unavailable, please leave a message. I left several urgent ones to contact me to tell me what was going on.

Then I dialled 000, if there had been an evacuation I needed to be rescued, maybe no-one knew I was still here having been out of action for a week. Nothing but static.

Television. It came up with the test pattern. Internet. No connection available. What was this, a nuclear war, terrorist attack, invasion from Mars?

Then it hit me. I was obviously stuck in a dream. One of those that feel so real that you think to yourself: this is not a dream, this is reality and you cannot wake from it. But then, of course, you do with huge relief. If I had any control over my actions in this dream, which I appeared to do, I would go back to bed, back to sleep and either wake up in another dream or wake up into the real world.

So back to bed I went and after and hour of worry and straining to hear sounds of human life I did eventually go back to sleep.

It was dark when I woke again. It felt as though I was really awake this time, no mistake. I jumped up and pulled the curtains back. The street lights were on. I was right; when I first woke it had been a dream. There was life still; people were around me, everything was normal. Until I noticed that there were very few house lights on. One or two glimmered from the street but for eight o’clock it was ominously dark.

When I had a repeat performance from 000 and the television and still no signal on the internet I panicked. I ran into the street screaming for help.

A baying of dogs answered me and the caw of a crow. No human voice answered, no door opened, no curtain twitched. I was, it seemed the only human left in the town. I went inside and locked the door. I made more toast, which stuck in my throat, and thought about what I should do.