In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month Nanographicmo is challenging people to complete a 48 page graphic novel in November.
I’m not doing anything for National Novel Writing Month this year. I’m moving house this weekend, going to start on Point of Contactn as soon as I’ve got a drawing board and the light box set up and going to Beerfest next week, so I’m too busy. (Okay, Beerfest is an option, but it’s Beerfest,it’s part of my life.)
The people who bring you NaNoWriMo now also bring you Script Frenzy. The aim is to write 100 pages of script in April, be it for film, TV, stage or comic.
CAn I aim for 100 pages of script across more than one project (Venn, phone comic, vague idea for a heroic bloodshed type graphic novel)?
Notes Another partial chapter. I’ll have to go away and work out what sorts of things could be made from scavenged car parts.
For all the lack of cars on the move there are still quite a few parked up. They’re rather forlorn, as so many of them haven’t moved since the oil embargo hit. No doubt some owners are waiting for the day when they can drive them again, either through conversion to bio fuel or a miraculous return of the petroleum economy. But most of them just sit there because they couldn’t be sold.
Many have flat tyres from slow punctures and they’re all taking on a patina of dust and mildew. But I haven’t seen any smashed windows. With no market for the easily stealable car accessories there’s no incentive for car crime. No doubt a few will have been burnt out, I just haven’t happened on them yet.
When an owner finally tires of their old conveyance blocking the street and gathering dust they can send it to be recycled. It will probably end up at the Trafford Centre. The big shopping centre is now a recycling centre. The acres of car park are still filled with vehicles, but if you wander the rows you’ll notice that they’re only carcasses. Each one is being stripped of useful parts and workshops in old shop units are using them to produce all manner of useful artifacts.
Notes Another partial episode. Every one of the bits I’ve posted is going to be heavily rewritten, I know, but most of them wrapped up in their first draft.
The Flower Fairies started out as geurilla gardeners, but now they’re mainstream. Their ongoing mission is to turn car parks into meadows.
The Charles Street multi storey car park is wedged between a railway viaduct and student accommodation. It’s an odd location for a farm. Most days there’s a stall by the main entrance selling herbs and eggs and mushrooms. I pick up the basis of an omelette and ask how the farm works.
Compostable material is collected and brought to the farm. Here it is stored in the basement, where there are three sections of compost in various stages of mulching. The oldest is a rich deep brown mix ready to be taken out in the spring and used with next year’s crops. The middle batch was collected last year and has been left alone since the spring. It will get a thick layer of leaves when the trees start shedding and then be left for another year. The newest section holds this year’s ongoing collection of green waste.
Come spring the oldest compost will be shifted up to the roof, or into the mushroom trays on the ground floor, to be used as super soil. The emptied section will start collecting next year’s compost. There’s not a lot of space on the top floor, relative to a proper field, so the crops are high value- herbs and leafy vegetables.
The middle two floors are given over to the chickens. Internal fences keep them off the roof, but little chicken walkways let them come and go so they can scratch for food amongst the local greenery. Nesting boxes are set up on the exit ramps so that eggs can be easily collected. Every few weeks the chicken guano is shovelled out and added to the compost mix for extra nutrition.
The Flower Fairies don’t own the multi storey building. Nor are they leasing it. But the owners haven’t, for whatever reason, tried to wrest back control.
Other Fairy projects aren’t as complicated. They started out seed bombing derelict land then moved on to pulling up cracked tarmac and concrete to see what was underneath. Before long they were ripping up whole car parks and cultivating what was revealed. There’s the occasional abandoned vehicle to be found where they’re working, but they just plant around them.
There’s a warm body on top of me, it’s arms wrapped lazily around me, as I lie on my chest. I can feel the grass tickling my cheek, hear the gunfire and shouting from elsewhere in the forest. The body sighs, and I jump with fear.
My violent twitch before I roll over shoots Sally across the bed. But it doesn’t wake her. By the time I’ve realised my panic was over a dream she’s settled into her new position and has a contented smile. The sheets have flipped back to reveal her breasts. I stroke them for a while to see if that wakes her.
She refuses to stir, but maybe I augmented her dreams. I pull the covers up to her shoulders and kiss her forehead before getting out of bed.
The nightmares aren’t a regular thing thankfully. It’s hard to tell when my subconscious is going to spit out something horrific, but I’ve been having more recently. Thankfully Sally is a heavy sleeper. Eventually she’ll wake enough to realise she has the bed to herself, but for now she’s blissfully unaware.
It’s cold out from under the covers. I pull on a few layers then wrap myself in the spare duvet that’s on the armchair. This has happened often enough that I have a laptop within reaching distance.
I’m going through the disks of photos I posted back from Europe, finding the most interesting ones for possible publication. None of them is going to match up to my Paris photo for dramatic impact, but I’m finding some interesting stuff. I’m paring down the original photos, finding the ones I like the best, and putting them into a ‘Maybe’ folder. At the rate it’s filling up I’ll probably have ten times more images than I could fit in any sensibly sized book.
I open the next folder to be rifled through. Immediately I’m confronted by the image of a dead American soldier face up in a field of oil seed rape. There’s a small ragged hole in his forehead just below the rim of his helmet and a horrible red and pulpy mess all over the bright yellow flowers behind him that had been the contents of his skull. He looks annoyed about the whole situation.
It’s not hard to see where my nightmares are coming from.
The rest of the pictures in the album put the dead soldier into context. Driving along a stereotypically French road a Stryker team had been hit by heavier weapons than they thought the locals possessed. They had been making a charge toward the next town to raid and pillage, based upon reports that it was unprotected, unaware that they had been suckered into a trap. I had been in the town when the ambush occurred, under orders to stay put and not try to head toward the fighting. But they had led me out to what was left the next morning.
There are a lot of pictures of burnt out vehicles and dead soldiers. One in particular stands out. The last vehicle in the convoy, a Stryker armoured car, tipped slightly over and slewed across the road it is framed wonderfully by the receding trees. It’s not a beautiful picture, given the subject, but it is striking. It and the dead soldier in the field go into the maybe folder.
Theres another file amongst the photos. After photographing this particular battle I’d had enough time to take down the names of the dead, at least the ones whose identification was still readable. There were websites that celebrated every American death, glorying and gloating over them, and there were others that tried to pass the information along to relatives as quickly as possible. I always sent casualty lists to the latter. Whenever I had found a victim of the conflict, from whichever side, I had tried to get a name and pass it on, working on the assumption that it was better for people to know the bad news sooner rather than later. The soldier in the oil seed rape field had been Private Leon Erren, aged 22, of Kansas. I don’t know what family he had, or how much he believed in the insane mission he died for, just the location and date of his death.
What had brought young Leon Erren from the state of Dorothy and Toto to die in a surreally yellow field in a country too many of his countrymen couldn’t find on a map? What were the stories of each of the nearly one hundred men and women killed in that ambush? Who would mourn them? At the time I didn’t dwell on those thoughts, but now I have the freedom to contemplate them. I could total up the bodies I photographed and find out how many died in my little part of the war, how many tales could be told. Then I could extrapolate, or investigate, and find out how many died in total, to put my experience in context. One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Several million deaths? Maybe in a few years they’ll have a word for it.
There’s movement in the bed. Sally has woken enough to reach across for me and discover a warm but empty spot. She props herself up on her elbows and looks my way. She knows where I’ll be, and if she didn’t I’m lit by the laptops monitor. “Another nightmare?”
“And you’re looking at those pictures again aren’t you. That’s not going to help.”
“I know. But I’ve got to go through them.”
Do I scare her when I get lost in my war memories? It would seem not, because she slides out of bed and moves quickly to stand in front of me. I have just enough time to put aside the laptop before she’s forcing her way into my duvet. I wrap it back around her as she snuggles up to me. “Are you going to publish your pictures?” she asks my chest.
“I hope so. I can write about it all, but that mightn’t be enough. Some of my pictures have already been published, and not everyone’s paid me for them, so I could assert my ownership of them as well.”
“Is it all about money and glory?”
“No. A little bit is, I guess. But it’s also about trying to make sense of what happened.”
“If that’s ever possible.” She’s pulled the duvet over her head and is nuzzling my shoulder. I recognise this as horny Sally. She’s an odd girl, but I love her. “Come back to bed.” she tells my collar bone. “I’ll take your mind off the horrible pictures.”
“You already have.” I reach down between us, find the edge of her knickers and pull them aside. Her head pops out of the duvet, surprised but grinning.
“You naughty boy.” she says, working on my trousers and shifting her position, “On the chair?”
“Absolutely.” We kiss. Sweet dreams.
Notes This is actually a partial chapter. The longer version will have reunions with all the other guests.
The best clubs are in the buildings that would otherwise be most carbon negative. They bought back what they fed the grid to power their sound systems. The one we were in was powered by a barrage on the Irwell. And hosted by that demi god Clint Boon.
God, I’ve missed him.
That old staple of fading the music down whilst the crowd sings serves the low energy club night well. A version of I Am The Resurrection that’s practically choral has me in tears. I’m a bit pathetic about that kind of thing, so I try to hide from Sally. That doesn’t work, and she soon has me wrapped in the biggest hug her little frame can manage. “This was a bad idea.”
“No, this was a great idea. I’m just a big softie.” I kiss her, “Let’s go and see who else has turned up.”
Amongst the people who weren’t surprised that I was still alive, though he had not expected me to be back in Manchester, was Mark. He’s one of the organisers of this night. He put us, and a bunch of other people, on the guest list.
The music of the post apocalypse isn’t the grinding techno or overwrought Rock we were threatened with. After all the turmoil people want something familiar. For tonight the Boon army is wishing itself back back to the nineties and early noughties, with tunes from the sixties to the eighties thrown in for good measure. There are nights for other tribes as well, maybe there’s even one for the grinding techno and overwrought Rock fraternity.
The club is packed. It smells of drains and sweat and spilt beer. Weirdly, the smoking ban still holds. The majority don’t want their clothes to stink because of the minority’s disgusting habit and the club has a policy which reflects this.
Mark’s at one end of the bar, pretending not to be keeping an eye on the staff. With the crowd he doesn’t see us until we’re almost on top of him. Before I know it I’m trapped in a bear hug. I don’t remember Mark being so affectionate, but then I used to see him at least once a week, maybe he’s just missed me. “The war hero returns!” he holds me out at arms’ length, “You’ve lost weight. Did they starve you?”
“Lots of marching around the South of France. The food was fine and plentiful.” Most of the time. But I leave that observation out of the conversation.
Good host that he is, Mark turns to Sally. “You must be Sally. I didn’t know Keith that well, but I’m sorry to hear what happened.” They hug, a lot less physical than mine. “Have you been here long?”
“A few songs. I wanted to have a look around.”
“It’s incredible what you can do with an old industrial unit. Come on up to the Very Important Prick room and see who else is already here.”
Here’s a day by day breakdown of how I’m doing/have done with this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’ll try to forward date it to the end of the month so that it will stay at the top of the page until then and you can lambast me for the number of red days that appear on it.
Update At the moment (3rd November) the day to day widget isn’t working, so I’ve inserted my running total widget instead.
Update 5th November. It seems to be working now, So I’ve pasted it back in.
Several of the figures in my bank statement don’t make sense. I trace them across several pages to confirm that they are recurring regularly.
“What’s this fee about?” I ask my new financial adviser.
He runs a finger down the debits column and nods. “That would be tax.”
“I don’t remember setting up a direct debit to the tax man.”
“You won’t have. It’s just included in your banking fees.”
“How does that work?”
“Do you remember the bail outs? You left the country after those had begun?”
“Yes. So, the government owns the banks?”
“A controlling interest. They decided it would be easier to tax people from their bank accounts than by traditional methods. Especially with all the local currencies that have started up.”
I check the numbers again. “I’ve only just found out about this and I think it can go wrong in so many ways.”
“Tell me about it. It only affects people who keep their money in a bank. So there are a lot of over stuffed mattresses out there. However, most of the local currencies are still given to volatility, and hoarding is a great way to destabilise one. So it’s in your best interests to exchange your scripts and bank them after a while.”
“I guess it’s too hard setting up a foreign bank account at the moment to make that a worthwhile tax dodge.”
“As you are finding out as you jump through the hoops to make a currency transfer from abroad. How is that going, by the way?”
“It’ll happen a lot faster when I have a confirmed British account to pay into. What are they holding it up for now?”
“They want more details of your activities during the, ah, recent unpleasantness. They may yet demand biometric data. If they do, refuse. That system was compromised before it even went live.”
“I don’t think they ever got that information off me anyway. What’s this all in aid of? Are they scared I’ll turn out to be some sort of fifth columnist?”
“They are. Or a war criminal using a stolen identity. Or a common criminal escaping from the continent. You are none of these things, I hope. It would do great harm to my reputation to be caught working for the wrong type of person.”
“I’m one of the good guys, honest.” I fact, I was co-opted as an agent of the British government during the recent unpleasantness. Of course, communication was one way and I have no idea how I could get in touch with my handlers for whatever passes as a reference. So I’m stuck in this protracted legal battle to get my own money back.
“Do they just not want to give me back my money?” I have to ask, “It’s not a huge amount, but each account they can keep frozen is a bit more money for them.”
“That’s a commonly held belief. I doubt it is a conspiracy theory but a true conspiracy. Or as near as the bumblers in the Inland Revenue can get to a conspiracy anyway. I have dealt with a lot of frozen bank accounts in the last few years and they always pay out in the end. Do you think you can stay afloat until this is resolved?”
“I’ll find a way.”
In many ways my stock is quite high around town. I’m known to enough well connected people that I have a line of credit and promises of work. My landlady hasn’t demanded any rent yet, though she is wearing me out with payment in kind. And I still have cash in my money belt and a container full of stuff I can sell.
I can survive for a while without my bank account, but it would be nice to get it back. Amongst other things, I’m starting to get enquiries about my memoirs. Would I like to take all my posts from the war years and expand upon them for a healthy fee? Of course I would, but where would they send my advance?
How much would I put in a book about the secret war? Could I write about Sachs? The SAS men? What really happened in Apt? Or is it still too soon?
Secrets were still being revealed about the Second World War fifty or sixty years after it ended. I could hold on to mine for a while.
Reputations could be damaged because of what I could reveal. International relations could suffer. Britain is key in negotiations with the Divided States to bring America’s new civil war under control and reintroduce the country to the civilised world. Revelation of British Army involvement against American forces in Europe, despite protestations of neutrality, would likely bring the peace process to a halt.
On the other hand, someone’s going to make the revelations sooner or later. If I’m the second person to reveal covert British involvement in Europe then the value of my bombshell is greatly diminished. It’s quite a dilemma- my bank balance against peace in the former United States of America.
We thought we’d share a shower, to save water.
But we’re both so easily distracted.
Notes Not so happy with this bit. Sally’s progression from recluse to sex bunny will be a more gradual thing in the finished version.
“I want to ask you some awkward questions.” Sally announces.
“You’re suddenly very eloquent.” she pushes the pot of nettle tea to me, indicating that I should pour.
“Ive spent a little too long in my own head today. It usually reduces me to grunts.”
“It turns you into a man? How wonderful.”
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. But you have a lovely smile so I’ll forgive you this time.”
“Okay. Now I’ve lost my train of thought.”
“Oh yes. How many women did you sleep with in France?”
I actually have to think about that for a while. “Four.”
“And before France?”
“Eight. I think. I’d have to work my way through the names to be sure. What about you? How many men?”
“Eight. Well, eight and a half.”
“A hand job and then I dumped him when I realised he was a prick.” she fiddles with the tea cup, smiles that winning smile, “What I’m trying to ask is- have you ever had anything? Anything sexually transmitted.”
“Nope. They gave me a full check up, nether regions included, before letting me come back to Britain. Full flying colours. You know I have to ask you the same question now.”
“I guess it’s only fair. I thought I had something once, with this one guy. But it turned out I was having a mild allergic reaction to the spermicide on the condoms. I’ve had check ups every so often since, just because I’m paranoid. I’ve not needed treatment yet.”
“This conversation is managing to turn me on and turn me off at the same time. How does that happen?”
“You’re a man. My point is I want us to have lots more sex. But I only have so many condoms, and they’re expensive. So I’ve been thinking about other methods, where we don’t use them. Okay, now you look scared. Am I moving too fast? It’s just, I haven’t done this in so long. And I do tend to over think things. And I’m talking too much aren’t I?”
“I’m waiting for you to take a breath. It’s good that you’re thinking about it, because I haven’t been. What have you come up with?”
“Well, the Pill’s available again, but supplies are limited. I’m going to ask my doctor but I think I’ll be put on a waiting list. Until then we could try the rhythm method and only use condoms on the days when I’m fertile.”
“And how effective is the rhythm method?”
“Not as effective as I’d like, but it only has to work until I’m on the Pill or we buy a bigger batch of condoms.”
“And what if we get the timings wrong?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m trying to behave as if there really is a future for us all. But I’m not that sure of it that I’d like to give it to a child.”
“We’ll have to be careful then. How do we use the rhythm method then?”
“Well, I am perfectly regular, so that makes the prediction easier. Based on my last period I’m currently not fertile.”
“There’s only really one way to test your calculations. And we won’t know if you’re right for weeks.”
Notes I know Sachs’ accent is poor. I’ll fix it when I write this stuff up properly.
Sachs was my first deserter.
He’d walked into town the night before and handed himself in at the Mayor’s office. It took a lot of guts to do that. After the actions of the lost army its members were as likely to be killed on the spot as allowed to live.
Few in the town liked to admit to knowing anything but perfunctory English, so they had called on me to debrief Sachs. Officials would be sent to escort him into custody, possibly protective depending upon how cooperative he was, but they could take weeks to arrive. It would look good if the town could send back some intelligence on its own initiative.
There were two cliched farmers at the door, cradling shotguns, sucking on their Gaulloise and scowling at me as I approached. My rough French got me past them and into the quiet building, where there was no-one to meet me. There are offices on the ground floor. I tried a few handles and they were all locked so I went up a flight of stairs to the function room and Mayor’s office. The office door was open, the jolly official sitting at his desk. He smiled and waved me in.
Sachs was sitting in one of the leather chairs across the desk from the mayor, tucking into a breakfast of bread and cheese. I must have done a double take and looked around for more security, because the mayor shook his head and waved me in again. I took the other leather chair and studied Sachs.
He was unshaven, with perhaps a week’s growth of beard, and looked like he’d slept in his clothes for the last few nights. He noticed me and stopped eating. He extended a hand, “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
I shook the grimy hand. He had a firm grip, but didn’t try to test mine. Formality over, he went back to eating.
My French was good enough that I understood enough of the Mayor’s explanation. “Monsieur Sachs, I think, wants to get away from his army and tells us all about it. We thought it better if a native English speaker interrogated him.” I nodded understanding. “You understand you cannot blog this?”
“I understand. I shall save it for my memoirs.”
The Mayor chortled and passed a dictaphone and tapes across the desk. “Would you like some coffee?”
Against my better judgement I said yes. It was nasty and bitter, like too many I’d tasted recently. I pretended to be engrossed in cueing up the recorder so I don’t have to drink any more. “I’m ready to begin when you are.” Sachs says around his breakfast.
“When you sign up to serve you are pledging your life to your country. And you expect your country to not waste your life or risk it for anything trivial. Really, too often, you’re just following those orders without questioning them because you’ve decided that your leaders can’t possibly be wrong.” Sachs had finished the bread and cheese, and two mugs of the awful coffee, and now he had the energy to tell his tale.
“I’ve been unhappy with orders since before the President died. It got worse after the mad woman took over, when she started talking about how we were doing God’s work. That got the Jesus freaks all fired up They’ve been going on about it being a christian army for years. If mostly you’re fighting the ragheads…. er, I mean the muslims, it comes natural to react against them. But it was all other religions that were wrong, and all anyone who wasn’t their type of christian too.
“Now I was raised christian, but I was brought up to let people be. Other folks find God their own way, or don’t even need to. But the fundies in the army can’t live and let live.”
“Let me tell you what happened just before the break out. The orders had come down and we were all thinking about them. Most of the guys, me too, were confused. Some of us were going to follow the orders because they were orders. Some were too scared not too. The true believers were full up for it, and shouted down anyone else’s doubts. And then there were the others. The ones who said no and refused to follow the orders.”
Sachs took a look at his coffee, drank the dregs, grimaced and carried on. “There were them, and there were ten Muslims on the base. Well, some of them were Nation of Islam, I’m not sure how they count, but it didn’t make a difference. And there were thirty or so Jews. They… They disappeared, just before the break out. I heard they were crucified. That was the fundies trying to be ironic, I guess. It was supposed to be an example to the rest of us. Something to scare us into carrying on with the madness. It inspired some guys to cut out before the event, or start planning to escape as soon as possible. I was one of the ones who got out as soon as they could.”
“I dropped to the back of a patrol one day. We were in a forest and our commanders thought there were hostiles close by. I took the risk of that. I had some civvies with me and a few days rations. I dumped all the rest of my kit but my sidearm and ran. I avoided contact with anyone for as long as possible, using the forest tracks to head in the opposite direction to my unit Then I stole a car and drove west. It’s chaos out there. I wasn’t stopped at all on the road. When I got here I figured I was far enough away from the fighting to be safe. That’s why I gave myself up.”
“We’ll need to know everything about your unit. Where they were when you left them. Where they were headed. How many soldiers and what equipment. All of that stuff.” I pointed out.
“I’ll tell you as much as I can.”
Notes Productivity has suffered in the last few days as I’ve been flu-struck. I’m certainly not going to hit the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words, but I’ll keep going until the end of the month then take what I’ve got and use it as notes for the full novel.
We smelt the bodies and the smoke long before we spotted the tanks. It came to us on the wind wafting down the valley. We checked our guns and cut away from the road toward higher ground.
We’d been following the ripped up road and other damage that a column of tanks leaves behind ever since seeing what they had done to a village nearly fifty miles away. They’d skirted the farmhouse near the bottom of the valley. The farmer had heard them go past and, later, the distinctive rocket roar and explosions of a missile attack. We didn’t have a plan for what we would do if we caught up with them, but it sounded like someone had done what we would have wanted to.
As we climbed up the hillside and headed up river the tree line came down to meet us. Up ahead the valley narrowed so that the floor was only the width of the road and river and trees came down to the edge of the tarmac. I lifted my hunting rifle and stared through the scope. A ridge line still obscured some of the valley floor and smoke haze broke up the shapes, but as I scanned left to right I could see the shape of a tank. It was as if the sharp geometric shapes resolved from the soft curving ones of the trees.
The wrecked tank blocked the road at the valley’s narrowest point, its gun drooping and hatches open. The top half of a body was sprawled out of the turret hatch. Another tank had tried going around the destroyed tank, only to slide down the bank into the river and become stranded.
As we climbed the ridge more and more incapacitated vehicles came into view. There were seven tanks, three armoured personnel carriers and a number of soft skinned vehicles. The soft skins had been torn apart with heavy gunfire whilst the tracked vehicles had all been hit by one or more missiles. Bodies fanned out across the valley away from the choke point, cut down as they ran.
We crouched, and eventually crawled, to keep from being too conspicuous atop the ridge. We used sights and binoculars to survey the carnage, looking out for movement. “What do you think?” I asked Jean Luc, leader of our little band.
“I think they met someone with far better weapons than we have. I did not know the army was operating in this area. Start checking in the trees to see if there is movement up there.
I did a sweep of the tree line from the pinch point along the valley towards us. It wasn’t until I swept back that I saw the soldier sat on a tree stump staring through binoculars. He was wearing a French uniform, so I was merely creeped out when he waved at me. I pointed him out to Jean Luc, who studied the apparition through his glassses. “We shall go and talk with him.” Jean Luc announced.
“All of us?”
“You and I, I think.”
“It will give you something to blog about, will it not?”
We slung our guns over our shoulders and climbed to the top of the ridge. This was when our trust would be most tested, when we presented a full target to any lurking snipers.
We weren’t shot when we stood up, which was nice, so we walked along the contours toward the figure at the tree line. “It would not be beyond the Americans to steal a uniform to lure us out.” Jean Luc opined.
“You say the most cheerful things.” I spoke a mish mash of English and French with the rest of the squad, but Jean Luc liked to practice his English with me.
“I am trying to be more like you. Considering all the possibiliies.”
“I think too much?”
“Peut etre. Francais, oui.”
As we neared the French soldier I decided to keep quiet completely rather than try to convince him of my Frenchness through speaking his mother tongue. Jean Luc raised a hand in greeting as we got closer. The soldier nodded and went back to opening the American rations he had requisitioned.
“Good afternoon. I take it you are local militia.”
“Not so local any more. We were following those murderers. I take it you were as well.”
The French captain nodded, “We had been tracking them by satellite and set up the ambush. We thought we would hang around and see who you were as well.” He eyed me for a while then, pointing with his knife, asked, “So. Who are you?”
The captain waved and there was movement back amongst the trees. “We have an English man! Robert Jones!”
Jean Luc and I exchanged a look. This was an interesting development. The captain went back to his meal and we waited.
After a couple of minutes another figure emerged from the tree line. He too was wearing the uniform of a French Army captain, though he looked a little out of place, a bit larger than some of the other soldiers, maybe a little tougher. He saluted the captain and looked from Jean Luc to me. “Robert Jones?” The accent was pure Midlands.
“I have some information for you. Come with me.”
We headed into the trees, where the air was cooler and sat on a downed trunk. “Are you SAS?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. I do a very convincing French accent when I’m speaking the language.” he had dropped into French for the answer. I had hardly even noticed, I’d been in the country so long. He returned to English, with accent, to carry on, “I also have a photographic memory, so everything I need to tell you is in my head.”
“I wouldn’t have thought I was important enough to have messages sent to me.”
“You’d be surprised. There are a few dozen Brits at large in Europe that we have messages for as well as our main missions You’re important because a lot of people read what you post. You’ve become a trusted source on whats going on over here. One of the messages I have for you is that the British government supports you. Your site has been subject to dedicated denial of service attacks and other attempts to take it down. The government has, shall we say, taken you under their wing. You now have more bandwidth and upgraded security.”
“I’m not sure I want to be a propaganda tool for the British government.”
“That’s almost exactly what the briefing said you would say. I was told to let you know they’re not censoring or editing you and you keep all rights, if you stay alive long enough for that to matter. What you’re doing is quite useful. The message is- keep it up.”
“Oh. Right Somehow I don’t think they sent an SAS officer to France so they could tell me ‘Jolly good show, keep up the good work.’ You’re working with the French, obviously. I thought Britain was neutral.”
“Of course it is. That keeps the Americans from sending their troops through us to the continent. And it keeps a lot of them in Britain whilst their government decides whether to ship them back to the States or pull the same stunt with us.”
“Is that likely? They must be pretty stretched.”
“If you’re not with us you’re against us. Remember that? And the rest of the world is not with them. Most of their own population isn’t with them. This is the lunatics taking over the asylum in the worst way possible. So the British government is helping ship weapons to the Europeans and helping wipe out the Yanks in any way they can. All the satellite data this lot use came through me.”
“All of this, of course, is not for blog.”
“Absolutely. They told me you’re good at compartmentalising- their word- and said to mention Sachs.”
“They know more than I thought. Is there anything left down there to scavenge?” I nodded in the direction of the valley.
“Let’s go and have a look.”
I remember looking down at some point and noting that I was doing twent five miles an hour on my bike, on the flat. I only know what happened next because I kept asking until someone would tell me.
The driver pulled out of a side road right in front of me. He probably didn’t look, and he didn’t have anywhere to go. I remember the Rusholme traffic being bumper to bumper, the idiot was just using the cycle lane as a little extra space to nudge out.
I flew. Only ten feet or so, and I was brought to an abrupt halt by a parked car. The collision cracked ribs down my right side and I slid up the windscreen and ended up on the roof.
My helmet saved me from brain damage, but they had to cut open my chest to fix the damage. I was in hospital for six weeks. I read lots of books- and felt very sorry for myself for the first few weeks- until I came up with a plan. I was going to take some time to enjoy the life I’d nearly lost.
Two months after leaving hospital I was off around Europe on an interrail ticket. Three weeks later I was in the middle of a war
“Please tell me you’re not vegetarian.”
“If you’ve got meat I will eat it.” Sally replies. She’s wearing the paint spattered one piece again, wiping her hands on a rag. She’s had to rush all the way down the stairs from the top room.
I brandish the bag of squirrel and rabbit and she smiles. “Bugs and Nutkin.” I announce, “I thought I might do a stew.” I wheel the bike into the back room and lean it next to hers. She follows me and picks up a bag from the mantelpiece.
“I’ve got something for you as well.” she holds out a pair of keys, “Front door and back door.”
“Cool.” We stand there for a few moments, searching for something to say. Eventually I hold up the bag, “I’ll get on this, then.”
“Cool. I’m going to make the most of the light before it goes completely. I’ll be back down in a while.”
None of Sally’s knives is sharp enough to fillet the carcasses, but a bit of searching finds a sharpening stone. I get distracted from cooking by putting an edge onto all the knives, to the extent that when Sally runs out of light and comes down I still haven’t started making the meal. I look around to see her leaning against the door frame watching me. “I’ve been meaning to do that for ages. Do you need any help?”
“Could you start on the veg.”
Sally eyes the knife I give her with some trepidation, as if the newly sharpened blade might twist around and slice her palm through the handle. She lays it carefully on the chopping board and goes to wash carrots and potatoes. My knife slides through the onion that I’ve picked and then makes filleting the rabbit and squirrel simple. They all go into the pot with a little oil to sizzle.
Sally slices her first potato at arm’s length, but quickly becomes confident with her chopping abilities. Within a few minutes she has a board full of vegetable chunks for the pot. I stir everything up and she goes under the sink to produce a bottle of cloudy cider. “What do you think? Will it work with rabbit?”
“There’s only one way to find out isn’t there.” We pour in equal amounts of water and cider, put the lid on and leave it to simmer. Sally pours the rest of the cider into glasses.
We take our booze through to the living room. There’s only the one seat, a large sofa across from the fireplace. We sit at either end, almost facing each other.
There’s a strange piece of furniture in the corner of the room. “You have a television?”
“Yeah. But there’s never anything on.”
“Literally? Or in the old way?”
By way of answer Sally gets up and tuns the television on. She hands me the remote. “Apart from the news, there’s not a lot of new stuff on. The BBC keeps promising new material, but I haven’t seen any yet. Since the internet’s been back I’ve been getting most of my news from there.”
She’s partly right. A lot of this stuff is old, but not all of it. And I’ve spent most of the last five years with little or no television, let alone English language television. So I could watch this stuff for a day or three. But there is an attractive woman on the sofa with me, and I’m conscious that she’s sitting closer to me since turning the television on.
The scrumpy is very strong and I’m soon feeling light headed. “Where did you get this stuff?”
“It’s from the tree in the garden. There’s a group that brings a press around and sets up in schools or halls and presses any apples or pears you take them. I set up demi johns in the basement and brewed this stuff. This is the last of last years. You don’t drink it often, so it lasts for a while.” She curls her feet under her and leans over to take the remote. “Actually, there should be some news on now. Let’s see what’s going on in the world.”
The first piece is about the first people to make it back from the continent in the last few years. They’ve been doing it for years, of course, people shuttling back and forth across the Channel for various reasons. I was tracked down a couple of times with messages and care packages. Of course, when you’re in a war zone and more involved than you ought to be, care packages don’t tend to contain cake and new socks.
Sally looks askance at me. “So how come you aren’t in this report?” she asks, with a smile.
“I bribed a few people.”
“No. I just managed to avoid the news crews.” And I called in a few favours and somebody else bribed a few people on my behalf. I’m not sure she believes me, but I’m also sure she doesn’t seem to care.
Next up is a piece on speculation over who has control of the former United States’ nuclear arsenal. There are subs still not accounted for, and no-one really knows what happened to the intercontinental ballistic missiles in their various bunkers. Thinking about what that means, my balls crawl up into my body and I’ve got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“Are you okay?”
I motion at the television, “All the time I was in Europe. Everything I saw. Everything I did. I never once thought about all the nukes that could have been dropped on us. It’s like it was all for nothing. Some fucking idiot could still wipe out most life on Earth. And we know there are people that stupid and dangerous out there.
“I never thought of it.”
Sally is looking at me, nodding. “I have been thinking about it too much. With everything that went on, and then Keith dying I sort of pulled back from people. It wasn’t Keith’s friends who stopped talking to me, it was me who stopped talking to them. When every day could be your last you don’t want to form any long term relationships.”
“That is so fucking dumb. I have wasted years.”
“You’re thinking you should treat each day as a blessing rather than a potential ending?”
“Something like that. It’s time to start thinking about the long term and start making relationships again. Did Keith ever tell you I wanted to fuck you?”
“That’s probably because I never told him.” With that she leans in and takes my glass. When it’s on the coffee table beside hers she kisses me. Just a gentle peck on the lips at first, but she likes the taste and dives straight back in. She’s keen, and I’m certainly willing, but she’s taken me by surprise and I freeze. She pulls back, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
Now it’s my turn to lean in and kiss her, “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
She has grabbed the front of my T-shirt and bunched it up. “I’ve got so many condoms and I thought I wasn’t going to use them before they went out of date.” She tugs the T-shirt over my head and then stops. “Oh.”
The scar is an upside down L. It runs from my right shoulder most of the way across to my left, and all the way down my ribcage on the right side. Sally runs a finger along the top scar. “I’d forgotten about this. I never saw it before.”
“Five years in a war zone and my only scar is the one I took with me.”
“I don’t have any interesting scars.” She’s fascinated by the scar, tracing it with a finger of each hand.
“I’ll have to check that.”
“Okay.” She stands up, unzips the one piece and shrugs out of it. “How long till the stew is done?”
“A half hour or so.”
“Time enough for a quickie Come on.” She offers me her hand and leads me upstairs.
Notes This is very much notes which will be expanded on as I expand the story and work out the full timeline. Writing has slowed over the last of days. I’m looking at around 30,000 words, rather than the desired 50,000, by the end of the month.
Some people like to blame the Germans But they’re wrong.
It was going to go horribly wrong no matter what. The Germans just provided the flashpoint. When it became obvious that the United States President was ordering assassinations within the borders of supposed allies no-one reacted well. Germany still had a large number of American troops stationed within its borders and it immediately demanded their withdrawal.
Within hours of the demands being made a column of three humvees drove through a mostly muslim neighbourhood near one of the American bases and shot it up. There were no identifying marks spotted on the vehicles and the soldiers, likewise, were not wearing insignia of any sort. When German Police arrived at the base to investigate they were denied entry at gunpoint.
An impasse became a stand off as armed Police and then German Army units arrived. Diplomacy went nowhere- the Germans demanded access, the Americans demanded the right to investigate the incident themselves. Angry crowds joined the Police and Army and the German government changed their withdrawal demands- all American personnel had to leave the country immediately, leaving their equipment and vehicles behind.
On the night of the second day of the siege the firing started. No-one knows who pulled the trigger first, but the Americans had been preparing for it. Fully loaded tanks and armoured vehicles broke out of the base and shredded the Police, military and civilians who surrounded it. Within an hour the same had happened on bases all across the country.
The bombing of Paris the next day, and other attacks across the continent, allowed the American forces to form up and prepare to fight anyone who came at them. Beyond bloodshed there didn’t seem to be any coherent plan. Initially they struck south, then west before breaking up into smaller units and raiding in all directions. The tanks didn’t last long- helicopters and small anti tank units whittled them down as they were found. The smaller vehicles proved surprisingly hard to track, there are probably still some out there in hiding.
The American force lost people from even before the break out. Soldiers slipped into civvies and out the back of buildings, or failed to make it to roster points. Afterwards deserters sneaked out of camps in the night or dropped off the backs of columns. They didn’t all make it to safety. Any deserter tracked down by the American forces was killed as a matter of routine. Those who gave themselves up to locals stood a better chance of surviving, but there was still the chance that they’d be killed.
Still, even with the wastage, there were still squads of American soldiers wandering Europe for over four years. And the ones who lasted longest were the hardcore of fundamentalists, stranded far away from their disintegrated country and striking out at people they felt had contributed to its downfall.
Notes I know that some of these bits are going to contradict each other. I’m world building, and laying down the basis of the plot. I’ve also got an idea now of the format for the final version and this publishing order isn’t it. I’m writing stuff as I think of it and publisjhing it as fast as I can.
I’m going to need a bike trailer, if only to transport my stuff back from the storage. Luckily, Robinson knows where I can get one made.
I asked him about it as we set off from his house to go hunting. We make our way to the nearest section of old railway line. Lots of these old cuttings have been converted into paths. This one hasn’t been surfaced yet, but it’s been levelled and drainage sorted out.
“There’s a workshop in Fallowfield, in the market in the old supermarket. They’ll do everything from a simple fix to a full frame and rebuild. I’m sure they’d be able to build a trailer. Up here.”
We cut up the embankment and go through a hole in a tall chainlink fence, and then we’re in a ghost town. There are a number of cookie cutter estate houses in pinkish brick. From our right they devolve from finished buildings lacking windows and doors through walls without roofs to laid concrete foundations and collapsed trenches. The streets around the houses have been tarmacced as far as the trenches and point optimistically into a stand of trees. There is collapsed scaffolding and an abandoned, rusted and burnt out digger. “It’s the Marie Celeste of building sites.” I have to say.
“The company collapsed with the housing market. They couldn’t even sell the land and equipment to pay off their creditors. People sometimes squat in the more finished buildings, but they move on when they realise they can do better. There’s a big rabbit warren somewhere in the trees and when they get too frisky they come into the allotments. So I come out here and trim their numbers from time to time.”
We set up in one of the skeleton houses, its walls tumbled down in the direction of the woodland. Robinson takes the rifle out and checks it. He pops out the magazine and hands it to me to load. When he’s got the sight mounted he hands the gun to me, “Care to have a go? Get the sight set in.”
I stand against the wall, getting comfortable with the gun. The last time I fired a weapon still invades my dreams, but it’s easy to tell myself this is different. There’s a rabbit in the grass before the nearest tree. I point it out to Robinson and sight on it. He has binoculars that look like ruggedised opera glasses that he can watch the rabbit with.
Breathe in, bring up the pressure on the trigger and pull it as I breathe out. The rifle cracks and kicks very slightly. The rabbit hardly even leaves the sights. Its ears twitch at the noise, but it doesn’t move. “High and a little to the left.” Robinson tells me.
After a little adjustment I take aim again, chambering another round. This time the rabbit jumps and then falls over. There are another two near it. They seem startled by the sudden movement, but stay still long enough for me to get one. Even the one that gets away doesn’t go far, and I get it easily when Robinson points it out.
Within five minutes I’ve got six rabbits. I pop out the empty magazine and hand the rifle back to Robinson as I reload it. “Let’s go and collect them and see if we can get any squirrels.” he suggests. He’s been picking up the shell casings as I’ve fired and pocketing them for future reuse.
In amongst the trees we rest against a trunk and Robinson stands with the rifle at the ready as we listen for rustling in the branches. He flicks the gun up and fires. A small grey furred body drops out of the branches. Gun still raised, he scans the branches and fires another two times. Two more squirrels plummet from the foliage. There’s a lot of movement in the branches, squirrels moving so fast that Robinson can’t get a bead on them. He lets the rifle rest again. “Good enough for a morning’s work.” he announces.
Back at his house Robinson guts and skins the rabbits and squirrels with ease. He wraps one of each in waxed paper and bags them for me. “You’re a good shot. Get yourself a gun and you’ll not lack meat.”
“I might do that.” I don’t have a great history with guns, but there’s no point in going into that with him.
“You’ll impress your new landlady, anyway.” He has that special kind of grin and I wonder if there’s some gossip network he’s connected into.
On the way back to the house I hook a right onto another old railway cutting and head for Fallowfield. At the other end of the track is the old Sainsburys. It’s been taken over by a cooperative of local traders and craftspeople. The old car park is home to temporary stalls, a flea market of sorts, whilst the building itself houses more permanent structures. There’s a lot of recycled and repurposed stuff- it’s incredible what you can make from old car parts.
The bike shop is out in a corner, where the deli counter used to be. The preparation and storage room has been converted to a workshop and the shop itself is given over mostly to showing off the wares. There are a lot of the sit up and beg frames I’ve been seeing so many of, but also a couple of more ornate rides. The guy fettling the brakes on a recumbent looks familiar, even with all the metal in his face. He doesn’t know me, but he recognises my bike. “That looks like one of mine.” he says as I prop it against the counter.
“You built it for me about six years ago.”
“Go on! I’s looking good for six years old.”
“Yeah, well, it has been in storage for most of them.”
“Fair enough. What does it need doing to it?”
“I’m looking for a trailer for it.”
“Now that could be a challenge.” He comes around the counter to check out the bike. After a minute or so of checking the seat post and rear axle he smiles. “I think I have just the thing.” He pops back through the door and I can hear the clanking of frame against frame as he goes through his stash. When he returns he’s holding up the remains of a child’s pedal car. “I’ll put some cycle wheels on the back, cut off the steering wheel and the seat and the arms for the front wheels. Then a hitch on the back of the bike to attach it to and I’m sure I’ve got a plastic tub to bolt to it for carrying stuff.”
“We’ll see how much work there is. And it depends on what you’re paying with.”
“I seem to have a little bit of everything.”
“So long as you don’t want to barter dead things.” he points at the bag hooked over the handle bars. The waxed paper has leaked some blood and its pooling at the bottom. “I’m a vegetarian. I do take fruit and veg though. Or other barter.”
“I mostly have hard currency at the moment. And the other question is when can you make it for?”
“Next week. If you can leave a deposit.”
After a bit of haggling and the exchange of paper I have the promise of a bike trailer.
I still have plenty of time to get to Levenshulme within the window Sally gave me. The A6 has slightly more powered traffic on it than the roads around the centre. I recognise the smell of burnt ethanol mingled with the saliva generating aroma of biodiesel. Motor vehicles are still outnumbered by bikes though.
The address Sally gave me is on a street that runs parallel to the railway line. It’s a dead end with a park, converted to allotments, at the end. This street runs north to south, so it’s not so good for catching sunlight on the roofs. A lot of them, however have basic green roofs, boxed off and with sedum grass sprouting from them. I just hope the waterproof membranes are good enough.
The house has frames in the front garden, for peas I guess but bare now. There are still some onions and leeks in the beds around the frames though. It seems that every piece of earth that can be reached has been planted. I don’t know how many people are completely self sufficient, but a fair few must be getting close to it. It’s like the whole dig for victory thing from the second world war, only it’s going to go on for longer this time. We are, let’s face it, entering the post pollution society. Considering how far they’ve got in Manchester in such a short time I’m optimistic about what can be achieved elsewhere. This was the world’s first industrial city, responsible in a way for the advances that have led to so much pollution, perhaps it can make up for that by becoming one of the first truly eco cities.
Sally’s short and tiny, with a pretty face and short black hair. She’s wearing some sort of one piece that’s splattered with paint. There’s a moment of recognition, for both of us. She nods and smiles, a little coy, “The wanderer returns. Come in.” There’s a short corridor with the stairs at the end, but we take an immediate right into the front room.
I’m not the greatest with names, and I still haven’t placed Sally though I’m sure we’ve met. And spent long enough together for me to remember the face at least.
“You don’t remember me do you?”
“Well, erm, no. I recognise you but I can’t remember why.”
“I’m Keith’s sister. You spent a week helping me find a flat once.”
“You don’t remember? You did that sort of thing often?”
“Often enough, I guess.”
I have a horrible feeling I’ve got of to a bad start somehow, her pronouncement is so cold. “Last year.” she continues, “They said that he might still be alive, if they could have had the right drugs. But the world situation put a stop to that.” She’s started fretting, little movements like she’s pacing on the spot. She clasps her hands together, drops them to her side, puts them behind her back. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to think how I’d tell you about it ever since I got your email saying you were back in town. I think I fucked it up didn’t I?”
She tries the smile again, a little more nervous this time. I’m at a loss for words, which is bad. What she needs right now is reassurance of some form, but we stand across from each other, not quite ready to make a move. “Tea?” she asks.
“You have tea?”
“Nettle tea. I quite like it.”
She leaves the room and I take a seat. I have a feeling I made more of an impression on her than she did on me and wants to be remembered better than my sad old synapses are able. Thinking about it I do remember Keith having a sister, but I swear she was blonde. There are photos on the mantelpiece, maybe they’ll give me some information. One larger picture is a family portrait, Keith, a mousey Sally and their parents. Keith is sitting with the others around him. He does not look very well, what I first thought was a crew cut could be something worse. Tucked into the picture frame are a couple of other photos. One shows Sally in a baggy T-shirt on a beach, looking off to her left, the sea reflected in her sunglasses. In the other she’s with her brother, who looks much healthier, out on the town in a bar I think I recognise. The Sally in this picture is the blonde one I remember.
“Tea.” she announces as she comes through the door. “It will need a while to brew.”
We sit across from each other, trying not to watch the tea brew. “So. You said you had something for me?” I manage after a while.
“Keith kept some of your stuff. And your other friends put him in charge of looking after the stuff you posted back.”
I’d set up a post box, long distance, and passed the details on, and posted backups of my pictures and writing to it. I hadn’t even thought about checking what had made it, I’d just assumed it had been a failure.
“How much stuff?”
“There’s a shoe box of disks, just about. They’re in the basement somewhere, we can go and have a look.” She’s blushing, and I’m getting that feeling again. Looking for something to do, she pours the nettle tea. It’s quite nice. I’ve drunk worse, and stranger, in the last few years. “I haven’t checked the post box since Keith passed. There might be some more stuff in it. And I’ve hardly seen any of his… your friends since the funeral. Everyone’s so busy now, wrapped up in getting along. There’s my neighbours, I guess, but we just don’t seem to have the community everyone else talks about.”
“It can be hard getting to know people.”
“You never seemed to have that problem. Not from what I saw and read.”
“I’ve always had trouble talking to people, they don’t seem to have any trouble talking to me. I’ve never really understood how that works.” I pour myself some more tea. “Do you live here alone?”
“Yes. I have a spare room.”
“You’d rent it out?” This has headed off in an odd direction, but I was going to start looking for somewhere more permanent than the hotel anyway.
By the time we’ve finished the tea we’ve agreed terms and I’ll move in tomorrow. It’s not as if I have much to bring. “Shall we go and see if we can find your stuff?” she suggests.
We head down into the basement. I have to duck under beams that she’s too short to be bothered by. The basement has about the same footprint as the first floor, which makes it larger than I’d expected.. There are a lot of boxes along one wall and a work desk along what equates to the front wall. Canvasses are stacked on the work desk and leaning against the boxes- lots of paintings, oils or acrylics I think, of local buildings grand and small. “You did these?”
“I just started again. I think we’ve reached the point where people will pay for art again. I’ve done some shop signs as well.”
“Nice. I like the town hall.”
“Thanks.” She starts lifting boxes down. I notice that none of them are higher than she can reach. She’s stacked them herself, maybe she really hasn’t had that many visitors recently. “I think it’s in…. That box there.”
Sally hands me a shoe box. I lift the lid and it is filled with dvds, cds and thumb drives. I think they all got through, which is a hugely greater success rate than I’d expected. The ones I thought were most important, or most sellable, are backed up online or in other disks in various European banks, but this collection will add depth to them.
“Let’s put that in your room.” Sally suggests after I’ve stared at the inside of the box for a couple of minutes. “Then you can go and collect all your stuff.”
My room’s on the first floor, with the bathroom between it and Sally’s. It has a double bed, cupboards and not a lot of floor space. There’s a second floor, with a tiny studio making the most of the skylights. I can live here quite easily. Again, I’ve slept in worse over the last few years.
There are schemes all over town to promote self sufficiency. Manchester’s ecological sphere of influence is shrinking inwards. It proudly proclaims itself to be approaching carbon neutrality and trumpets the aim of becoming a net exporter of energy.
In the city centre the tallest buildings have all been eco-tarted in some way. Several years ago the Cooperative Insurance Services tower was partially clad in solar cells. The company also mounted wind turbines atop an office block, but it never seemed to get enough airflow and they were idle more often than not. They’ve obviously mapped the wind patterns around town since then because there are now several buildings with windmill blades spinning madly on their roofs. They generate a low hum that’s strangely relaxing. They did try to put a turbine on top of the Beetham Tower, the city’s tallest building, but they built it too big and the skyscraper wasn’t made for the strain. So they didn’t even mount the windmill on the tower and erected it in Heaton Park instead.
Solar is popular on lots of the buildings. Production of photovoltaics was interrupted for several years as it became hard to transport the raw materials around the world, but solar thermal has flourished. It’s not so hard to produce evacuated glass tubes, so a lot of buildings have arrays of them fitted on any south facing surface. Mostly they heat enough water during the day for evening showers or to keep the house warm during the night, but I hear that more than one workshop inventor is working on a Stirling energy to generate electricity using the heat.
Within a few streets, in any direction, of my hotel there are terraced streets running East to West. That acreage of south facing roofing has been put to good use. As well as providing a community heat source the system that’s been set up provides the heat to distill and clean the water supply.
Trying to scale back on infrastructure to better cope with circumstances it was decided that the cleaning of tap water wasn’t a priority. It was a waste of energy to have every drop pure enough to drink when most of it was used for other purposes. This meant boiling all your drinking water or finding other ways to purify it. Most houses now have a brown water tank- from showers, washing up etc. to be used in the toilet or on the garden- and a clear water one. The clear water tank is usually fed by evaporation distillation of tap water using waste heat from the house and solar heating.
I cycle around randomly up and down streets, as much to get used to the fixed wheel as to explore. As long as the back wheel is turning the pedals are turning. If my legs stop going around they’ll either lock the back wheel or get kicked off. If I lean forward it takes some of the weight off the rear wheel, making locking it up easier. Then I can lean back and put more force into the braking. It’s an interesting experience. I can see why no-one wanted to take this strange bike on.
At the end of one of the streets there is a two storey red brick building. An old factory, probably. I do a circuit and find the front door. It’s double wide and has huge stalks of corn painted on it. Above the doors a sign in exuberant graffiti writing pronounces ‘Ethanol!’. Set inside the bigger doors is a smaller one for individual entry. It’s cracked open and I can see movement through it. Despite years of experience and that old saying about the cat I can’t fight my curiosity and pop my head through the door.
It smells a bit like a brewery, a bit like the floor of a forest. There are big vats, with lots of plumbing, that go up through the space that would have been the first floor . The roof isn’t a roof. It seems to be a framework with tables on it.
“Here for a few gallons?” a woman in overalls asks me. “We won’t have a new batch for a few days.”
“This is a brewery?”
“And distillery. But don’t go drinking any of our shit. You’ll go blind.”
Now it all makes sense. They make ethanol biofuel. The big vats brew “beer” from plant waste- I can see a pile of straw and paper in one corner. I don’t see any sort of pressure cooker, so I guess they’re breaking it down with enzymes. “Are those things on the roof solar stills?”
“Yes they are.”
The solar stills distill the brew, strengthening it. No doubt, as there are several of them, they are set up in series, each one strengthening the product of the previous one. At the end of the process they should have alcofuel concentrated enough to run a car on.
“Almost a shame I don’t have a car to run on it.”
“Oh, you should try next door. They convert cars to run on this stuff.”
“Maybe when I’m rich enough. Sorry for popping in like that, I’m just nosey.”
Next door, as promised, there’s a workshop where they convert cars to run on ethanol. I never did learn what it takes to do that. There are five cars, all small ones, being worked on and a couple of motors mounted on frames and connected up to generators or pumps.
I carry on my learning reconnaisance, round and round the streets, until it starts to rain. Then I sprint back to the hotel as fast as I can. On the way I pass communal composters and a pick up from the ethanol shop collecting paper and other cellulose waste. There’s a workshop making new computers from old. Lots of stuff is being traded second hand and refurbished. Capitalism is alive and well, just in a very different way to how it used to be.
Notes More background on the narrator’s exploits before coming back to Manchester.
During every election, everywhere, there are always people who say they will leave the country if their choice loses. They’re usually lying.
After the last US election there were some who followed through on the threat.
I’m in the house of James Vanderbrook in the south of France. It’s practically a fortress perched atop a cliff with views up and down the valley. Since the road up the hill washed away there’s only one way up there. Visitors park their cars in a natural garage under an overhang gouged by a river that has since swung across to the opposite side of the valley. Then they have to walk up a steep but well maintained path, stopping at every switch back to pretend to admire the view but really to catch their breath.
What you can see of the house is rustic French. Once upon a time, before the road up washed away, this was a farm house. There’s a huge upland meadow behind it, enclosed on the other three sides by ridgelines and the mountain they come down from. Goats graze the meadow. They look at us in that superior way they have as we settle down for coffee.
“I’m American. I always thought I was.” declares Vanderbrook, “But not this America.”
“They’re starting to call it the Divided States.” I offer.
“How can they not. They used all this rhetoric about ‘Real America’ and all their opposites not having American values, all through the campaign. And that was bad enough. But after they stole the election it became obvious that they actually had policies based upon it.”
He tops up my coffee. It’s the best I’ve had in a while. The French don’t like to admit it, but this strange pseudo war that’s being waged across Europe has seriously impacted the quality of the beans they’re using. Vanderbrook obviously has a stash of the highest quality somewhere on the compound.
“It’s obvious they stole the election, by the way. I know that anyone who went on a news programme and tried to explain was treated as a nut. So people stopped leaving themselves open to the abuse. But it was stolen.”
“You’re preaching to the converted. I spent most of that Wednesday drunk. And I’ve only ever spent a fortnight in the US ever.”
“You and the rest of the world. I didn’t even give them until the changeover. I started work on leaving the country before the end of November and I was out by the handover.”
“Not straight away. I lived out of a suitcase for a while. I employed a hundred people. They, and I, were paying taxes. I could have left the country and carried on paying them, but if I left the country but carried on paying them then I was still funding the regime. So I worked on getting as many of them as possible out of the country and working for me abroad. Sixty three of them came with me. There are some in Ireland, some here in France, a lot in India and a few in other places. Some of them are travelling. Nowadays you can have your offices almost anywhere. It’s not quite as productive and sometimes I miss the chatter, but it works fairly well.”
“So you don’t pay any taxes in the States?”
“Oh I’m sure I do, but I’ve gone out of my way to cut the amount of funding I give to their madness.”
I don’t know how well Vanderbrook lived in the States, but his life here is idyllic. He has a gorgeous wife and live in help. Crystal clear water is pumped up from the river using power from the windmill and solar panels and his rural hideaway is in contact with the rest of the world thanks to a line of sight radio connection to the telecoms centre at the bottom of the valley.
“What brings you to this rather beautiful piece of nowhere?” Vanderbrook enquires.
“I heard about the mad American on the hill and I just had to come and see what they were on about.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint.”
“Not so far. Are there many other ex pats that you know of around here?”
“Around here no. But I work with folks who’ve moved to India, Germany, Australia…. Enough of us have left that it’s taken a hunk out of the United States’ tax take. It’s…. I don’t know. I’m not proud of contributing to the bankrupting of my home country, but I’d be even less proud of what they’d do with my money if they got their hands on it.”
They killed him, of course.
It would have been hard to believe that elements of the largest and best equipped military in the world would go feral. But that’s what they did after the attempt to break out of Germany. They had to discard all of their high tech equipment- there are still abandoned tanks and humvees to be found all around Europe- but they kept enough personal weapons to out shoot any of the local police they most often tussled with.
The gang that came down Vanderbrook’s valley- by that point they’d degenerated from squads or whatever to simple yobs- had no doubt heard about his castle on the hill and decided to punish the traitor. There’s no comfort to be derived from it, but the castle was to be the location of this bunch’s last stand. But there were others.
Maybe if I’d never met Vanderbrook I wouldn’t have acted how I did in Apt.