Traditional Values Vol. 1: Nationalism

Never before have we seen so many advances and changes to our world as we are seeing today. Climate change, the rise of biotech and infotech. The proliferation of automation and the move toward artificial-intelligence which could either improve our wayso of life, or challenge who we are as humans. The mainstreaming of electric cars and the growing awareness of plastic pollution. Widespread movements to give previously overlooked or unrepresented factions of society equal rights. The rise of Asian economies which may soon rival our own in strength, and may even become superior which could change the ways we conduct business and alter long-standing loyalties. I was even shocked recently to find out that China even has plans to build a base on the moon and mine our little white dot in the sky for hydrogen.

This is the stuff of science-fiction!

The point is: we are in a transitional phase and are suffering the existential question of how to cope with the challenges we read about in our papers and see on our television screens and social media feeds. When faced with an uncertain future, people often look to their past. To “traditional values” to guide them through the turbulence. But what exactly are traditional values and do they offer us any guidance for the future?

Nationalism

Nationalism seems to be on the rise in the West and has led to two of the most significant changes that we have seen in our lifetimes: the U.K’s vote to leave the European Union and the vote in America for Donald Trump as President. As an answer to perceived outside threats, two major powers have turned to isolationism.

Globalisation was a worn out word by the end of the referendum of 2016. As was elites. Sometimes we heard “global elites”. The European Union, as pushed by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry others, was a product of globalisation.

Leavers pointed to levels of immigration and told the people that it was the European Union’s open border policy that was to blame. Leavers pointed out the disenfranchised peoples of towns that had been left behind when the U.K turned from a material and production economy to a service driven economy. The European Union was blamed again for moving production facilities abroad. The decline of U.K fisheries, blame the E.U. Red passports, blame the E.U. Curved bananas, blame the E.U. Hospital waiting times, blame the E.U. Rise in crime rates, blame immigration, thus blaming the E.U.

So, can the problems listed above be solved by a move toward nationalism as was what happened in 2016?
In regards to immigration, yes, technically nationalism has the potential to cut numbers of immigrants or stop them altogether.

But is that really in the national interest? Or is it in the interest of nationalist groups? For instance, whilst the cutting might benefit those who just want see less faces of colour or to hear different languages on their streets (the nationalists) the nationalist approach itself does not do much for our economy, our public services or for our reputation as “global players” which was a phrase championed by Leavers during the referendum campaign and even now.

Whilst the phrase “global player” was used extensively throughout the referendum, the truth is that the actual action of leaving the biggest and most successful trading bloc in the world was seen by many around the globe as an act of closing one’s own doors on trade.

The NHS is dependent on nurses and doctors from the E.U and further abroad but since the Brexit vote we have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of people applying for university courses in nursing and a drop in job applications from outside the U.K. This is indicative of the trend that those from within Europe and outside the Union were no longer interested in investing in the U.K.

Nationalists might see this drop in foreign applications as a good thing as there is potential for British citizens to take the jobs. The problem however is that it takes years to train doctors and nurses and, in the meantime, care within the NHS would have plummeted. Ironically, it would be those older voters which chose leave who would suffer the most. With around 100,000 vacancies already within the NHS, this further reduction could potentially cripple certain elements of patient care.

As is being witnessed, the idea of being both nationalist and a “global player” is not compatible.

The main problem of the referendum, however, was that it focused anger outward toward the largely neutral E.U, when the truth was that the problems that the U.K faced were actually born and bred within its own borders.

Austerity due to bailing out the banks that had lead us into the financial crash of 2008. The rise in crime as a result of Conservative initiative to cut policing numbers so that there were fewer bobbies on the beat. (Remember Theresa May telling the police federation to stop “crying wolf” in 2015 regarding police cuts). Disenfranchisement of communities as the economy changed toward services and offices were centralised toward London. Those who were workers within communities who worked within extraction and production were never provided the means to retrain, and were instead left to become outdated.

A lethal combination occurred when the finger was pointed at immigrants for pushing wages down. The fact that immigrants were benign agents in the entire mess of things was rarely pointed out and the fact that it was actually exploitative practices being undertaken by business owners. Business owners have been largely left alone by the most recent governments, after all, it is good practice to be the party of business.
This goes to show that the so-called “global-elites” were actually the people within our own borders. Our very own Prime Minster of the day, David Cameron found to be putting money into offshore Panamanian accounts. For years we watched as the government refused to impose proper tax initiatives that would have seen large companies paying their fair share of tax which could have put toward social ventures for our children, thus keeping them out of gangs and preventing such a sharp increase in knife-crime. Not only were companies doing so, but the Conservatives were helping them maintain the status quo.

Britain has for years now been deeply entrenched in off-shore bank account activity that it the global master on managing assets and transferring money to keep it from the hands of nations. It is estimated that half of all global wealth could be locked up in off-shore accounts.

Image source: wikimedia

In the face of problems that originated within our own national system, people turned to nationalism to sort out the problem. That is a new one for me.

In 2013, the E.U offered to give a £22million cash injection into food banks in order to make sure that they were stocked and operational. This was turned down by David Cameron. Whilst our own government strangled the country, the E.U at least offered some kind of help. But that’s not all. The E.U has also been funnelling money into community projects including social groups and buildings, but this is rarely mentioned. The E.U is also a propagator of worker’s rights and is constantly moving to improve pay throughout its jurisdictions. When we are faced with military or cyber warfare, as we have seen from Russia during the referendum campaign and which the U.S witnessed during the presidential campaign, the E.U has close proximity to share information and make sure that each of its member states has the necessary tools to help fight back.

So, nationalism does not actually offer any real solutions to our national problems. Does it offer solutions to wider world issues? In an age of transnationalism, could countries learn from nationalist ideals?
Climate change is not an issue, it is the issue which will determine the very future of human civilisation. And climate change does not recognise borders drawn by man. A tropical storm does not stop when it hits the American coast. It ploughs through and wreaks untold damage. Plastic does not stop at the English Channel. It sweeps in and becomes part of our ecosystem. Just as much as melted ice does not stay in the Arctic Circle but raises water levels around the world.

And when islands start submerging and already challenged countries face drought and famine, we are going to see mass exodus unlike anything witnessed in documented history.
Unfortunately, nationalist interests have often disregard climate change in order to focus on more provincial initiatives such as kick-starting coal mining operations or doubling down on fuel extraction efforts. In the United States, nationalism is often synonymous with climate change denial as is evidential with Donald Trump’s repeated claims that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.

In regards to solutions to the climate crisis, nationalist approaches fall short. If nationalists really wanted to make a difference, they would join the global effort to battle climate change which would in turn mean that they are less likely to experience such a high influx of immigrants to their borders. Instead of becoming isolationist, it is within nationalist’s best interests to take part in a multi-national approach in order to combat the effects of climate change.

But then what would be the point in being nationalist when all we are going to do is have to work with countries around the globe and put measures in place which, whether we like it or not, would see the adoption of plans to take in refugees fleeing the effects of an unstable and changing climate?

Throughout history, civilisations have moved and shifted as the cattle migrates or as the living conditions change. After all, if the U.K were to become a dessert wasteland, would we not seek refuge in other countries? But we are the beginning of the catastrophic change where the decisions we make today will effect the next generation. We have the ability to make positive differences to the ways we tackle this threat. But are we capable of doing this as nationalists? Surely we are better prepared against the challenges if we work on an international scale?

Crawley Creeps, Vol.11

The kettle clicked and Troy busied himself making cups of tea. Marcus sat at the kitchenette table, dozing. Hitesh sat opposite flicking through a dog-eared health and safety manual.

‘I saw a documentary about some cargo trains in China,’ Troy said, putting a cup of tea in front of Hitesh.

‘You still going on about this?’

Hitesh cupped the piping tea and glanced at the electric radiator panel. The orange light was on but Hitesh had yet to feel any heat.

‘Yeah. Of course. I get scared thinking about it. It was huge. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’

‘All kinds of companies run trains up and down the track.’

Troy shook his head and slumped in a plastic chair. Marcus plucked his mug from the table. They drank their teas and went through a brief plan. When they were finished they cleaned their mugs and headed back out into the cold.

Marcus stuck a key in the lock of a large storage container, opened the doors and flicked on the light. A dull bulb eeked yellow and stained the space with shadows. Marcus pulled out a generator and wheeled it outside.

‘It’s fucking freezing,’ Troy said. He rubbed at his arms and jogged on the spot.

‘Let’s get working then.’

They rummaged and pulled out two work-lights from the racking and headed out. The generator stood in the weak glow beyond the doors.

‘Where’s Marcus?’ Troy asked. Hitesh looked over to the toilet cabin. There was no light on. He turned and looked down the sides of the container whilst Troy looked through the kitchenette window. ‘Not in there.’

Hitesh cupped his mouth. ‘Marcus!’

Only the sway of the unseen trees and wind brushing against the small compound answered. Troy walked over.

‘Maybe he’s taking a piss.’

‘Marcus!’ Hitesh called again.

‘Or playing a prank.’

Hitesh doubted it. Marcus wasn’t a joker. He was grumpy to the point of morose and the only time Hitesh had known Marcus to laugh was when his ex-wife asked for a divorce.

‘There,’ Troy said, pointing to the mass of shadows that was the treeline. Marcus’ orange clad form could just be seen slipping between the trees, away and up the steep incline.

‘Marcus! What the hell are you doing?’ Hitesh called.

‘We can see you, you bellend!’ Troy shouted through laughter. Hitesh wasn’t laughing. The orange form didn’t turn. Didn’t react. Just trudged upwards. The darkness swallowed him a few seconds later. Hitesh pulled his torch from his pocket and clicked it on.

‘He’s just pranking us,’ Troy said.

Hitesh’s beam caught something moving. Another. And another. Everywhere he pointed the beam was another one. A man carrying a dog lead and clad in a heavy wax jacket. Another man in pyjama shorts and a T-Shirt. A woman wearing a nightie turned transparent by rain. An old lady with a bend at the top of her spine pushing her almost double stomped the ground as she ascended.

‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ Troy whispered.

All the people were heading toward the top of the ridge.

Capitalist Dystopia

Is capitalist-dystopia its own genre?

Dystopian works feature many end-of-the-world themes. Nuclear fallout, volcanic eruptions, solar flares, the heating of Earth’s core (because of solar flares), the slowing down of Earth’s liquid magma, the uprising of machines, asteroids, alien invasion, climate change. And of course, my favourite: zombie virus.

Last year I read Paulo Bacigalupi’s, The Water Knife. A novel based (as the name would suggest) on corporate interests battling for water rights in a world which has been ravaged by climate crises, and is now facing drought.

The whole way through Bacigalupi’s novel I found my mouth parched by descriptions of dry and arid lands, of characters longing for drink and the constant awareness of rationing what little water is available. But more than anything, I was intrigued and appalled by the depictions of corporate greed and consequential foul-play.

Is this the kind of future with which we should become accustomed?

Spurred by The Water Knife, I read Bacigalupi’s other dystopian masterpiece, The Windup Girl. In this novel, Bacigalupi creates a world bashed and beaten by corporate espionage which takes form in the poisoning of crops, (leading to something horrendous called “blister rust”) outperforming one another by creating genetically modified food and by using money to influence politics.

In both novels (and throughout the Ship Breaker series), the planet has essentially been ruined for financial gain. That ol’ bird, Capitalism. Not the kind of capitalism that frees the shackles from the poor mind you, more the neo-liberal, unchecked-market kind of capitalism.

George Orwell showed us a world ruled by Communism and it could be said that Ray Bradbury introduced us to the world of rampant capitalism with the focus on fast rides and fun times, but the works of more modern writers feels less like a prophecy for the not too distant future and more like something that could take place with the signing of a few pieces of trade legislature.

For example, Catherine Webb/Clare North’s 84K shows a Britain at the whim of mass production and insurance companies who dictate what level of existence is given to people judged by how much money they earn or how much money they owe. Need I say more?

A more comic approach to rampant capitalist-dystopia is Max Barry’s Jennifer Government. Neo-liberalism has won and the world is split between corporations to the extent that all life is split between corporations to the extent that to be employed is to take the corporate name, for example; Hack Nike. The government and police, on the other-hand, have become something that more resembles charity than any real form of leadership. If people want crimes investigated, they must pay.

Science-fiction and dystopian-fiction does the wonderful thing of attempting prophecy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is more relevant now more than when it was written, especially given the advances in biotech taking us ever closer toward designer human beings. With that in mind, are we much removed from the capitalist dystopias as portrayed by so many other dystopia fiction novelists?
Motor insurance companies monitor drivers through apps in order to gain data. This is done with the premise of decreasing insurance costs depending on how you accelerate, decelerate, how sharply you brake and your average speed. We already allow devices to count our steps and monitor our sleeping habits in order to improve our overall health. Are we really that far from allowing insurance companies to monitor our health so that they can determine our general health habits? And how would that effect our insurance costs? And what other information can be garnered from such apps?

When it comes to corporate influence, are we that far removed from the landscapes of Bacigalupi and Barry when we already witness the political might of the NRA and oil conglomerates over presidential candidates in the United States? What is to stop such forces from gaining more momentum under Trump?

Capitalist-dystopia is so effective because it allows us to entertain the future possibilities of an ideology with which we are already attached. These novels should have the same kind of resounding clout as George Orwell’s warning of Communism faced by the world post World War 2.

#fiction #dystopia

Muse

The world is cheering. Air parted by clapping hands and screams of joy. I stand in the middle of the field along with so many others and stare as Muse soars for the celestial heavens.

A handful curse the ascent. A preacher has materialised from the wood work and is running a sermon on heresy. She’s got a crowd and they cluster round her like iron filings caught in a magnets grasp. Anyone who turns their eyes to the sky would see this was mans pinnacle achievement. Disbelievers be damned.

The Muse vessel is pushed by a billowing snake of hydrogen surging the ship into the sky and through the atmosphere. It was as if mankind had awakened some elemental being, born from the baked earth but destined to transcend.

A local production company had erected a huge screen in the middle of the field. It shows the Chosen Ones. Sixteen hundred colonisers sitting in rows. Cheers and smiles can be made out through faceplates. Tears of happiness and fear. Some raise their hands treating it like the single biggest and most expensive roller coaster ride the world had ever seen. Which, of course, it is. And why not? They have a ticket into the history books, they are going to have statues erected in their honour in every country on earth.

The first colonisers.

Lucy clasps my hand. Her eyes are skyward, her face a mask of anxious hope. Her sister, Freiya, is a Chosen One. Her name had been chewed over by the Muse mission databanks and ejected at the lottery. She had the right “genetic qualifications”. No history of hereditary disease in the family, no psychiatric problems. Good blood. Her father a Ghanaian athlete, her mother a diplomat for the Australian government. Mixed. Strong. My wife could have be one of them but they didn’t allow more than one member of any family.

Good.

I can’t imagine watching Lucy being shot away from me. To experience the frightful nothingness of space and to start anew on Tierron whilst I died here on Earth.

Muse is in its final arch. I can’t make out the vessel from this far down so I watch the new image on the screen. A zoom shot of the outside of the vessel. Sun shattering against the external mounted solar panels, friction scorching the outer hull. A diamond in the blue sky. My wife squeezes harder, the breath catches in my throat and I feel tears stinging behind my eyes. A voice comes over the loudspeakers.

‘Ladies and gentlemen. The Muse Project has le-‘

Explosion. Highly volatile fuel burns white across miles of airspace as if a star has erupted into being within our atmosphere. Stunned silence. A hiss of static from the dead camera feeds. A thud in my finger. Broken. But the pain is distant, as if it had happened to someone else.

I turn to Lucy. Tears tumble down her cheeks. I can see the quick intake of breath fill her chest before she screams. The sound is pure agony. I move to hold her but she drops to her knees.

Above, debris shoots to all points of the compass.

The screen changes. A face. Everyone knows him. He’s crying. His voice is coarse with pain.

‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ People’s screams and pleas and sobs ebb away as they turn to the screen, wrenching their eyes from the flower of debris descending back to earth. Lucy doesn’t look. She stays on the floor and screams into the dust.

‘The Muse Project…has failed.’ A hush blankets the crowd, a few whimpers that sound like wounded animals. The preacher on the far side doesn’t miss a beat and fills the stunned silence with a screech of laughter. I glance over, someone is moving toward her, shoulders hunched. I don’t care. I don’t feel anything. I turn back to the screen.

‘It is with a heavy heart…that I tell you now that this project was humanity’s last hope at survival.’

A ripple of confusion, a few exchanged glances.

‘You were told this was to be the biggest colonial effort that mankind has ever attempted, the next big step as humanity reaches into the galaxy. You have been told a lie. The Muse Project was an arc mission. A mission to send survivors to Tierron. A last ditch attempt to save humanity’s future…away from earth.’

A woman screams. A man next to her plucks up a camping chair and hurls it at a bank of electrical equipment. Everyone ducks as gunshots fire out. Pockmarks pepper the crying man’s face. He keeps talking.

‘The Agriculture Initiative has failed. The last remaining stocks—‘

Another man kickd the generator and the screen goes blank. I wrap my arms around Lucy’s waist and pull her to her feet.

We run for the treeline.

The world is about to tear itself apart.

Crawley Creeps, Vol. 10

Nora chased after Melissa. Pins of rain stung her eyes and pricked at her face but she kept on.

Melissa had never been faster than Nora. Through school Nora had been the athlete. High jump, hundred metre dash, Nora was always grabbing gold or silver (even when no one was counting but her) and yet Melissa was outstripping her.

But Nora was sure that the woman she was chasing wasn’t Melissa.

A glimpse of movement up ahead caught Nora’s eye.

A woman was being attacked by a dog who was yanking at her leg. Second by second Nora’s day was getting stranger.

The woman tripped and went down. Nora watched horrified as Melissa kicked the woman clean in the face. Even from this far back Nora could see the ribbon of blood twist up into the air.

Melissa didn’t stop. Didn’t even skip a beat. Just kept on running.

As Nora reached the woman on the ground she saw the true mess of her face. The pleading look in her eyes. Almost childlike confusion. Nora stopped. She couldn’t catch up with Melissa anyway. Her sister was too far ahead and still gaining speed.

Nora watched her disappear around a bend in the path and she was gone.

‘What the fuck is going on?’ the woman on the floor whimpered.

The woman’s face was a mess. Her nose had been pushed to the left and was pissing blood across her mouth and chin. Her dog, a small terrier, was standing off to the side near a bunch of ferns, trembling and uncertain.

‘Are you okay?’ Nora asked.

The woman wiped at her face and seethed. Stared in shock at the blood smeared on her hand.

‘What the hell was that?’

‘My sister. I’m sorry. Something’s wrong with her.’

The woman pushed herself onto her backside. Spat blood onto the path. Nora knelt down. ‘Come on. Let me give you a hand.’ The woman looked at Nora uncertainly before letting holding out an arm.

Nora heaved the woman up.

‘You…you said something was wrong with her.’

‘Yeah. Look, are you okay?’

‘What’s wrong with her?’ the woman asked aggressively.

Nora didn’t know what to say. She gawped at the woman. The stranger she had tried to help and who was now bearing her teeth, eyes wild. In that stunned silence, the truth bubbled up from the depths of her subconscious and burbled out.

‘I…she felt something.’

The woman blinked. Scratched the back of her head. ‘She felt it too.’

So peaceful. So quiet.

The oars break the water sending the boat limping across the lake. The creaking of old wood under stress and the lap of water are the only sounds.

‘I can’t believe we were here only last month,’ I whisper. ‘It wasn’t as quiet then, but it was peaceful. Relaxing. It was so good to get away from home for a bit. To clear our heads.’

I look about. Autumn reds and browns of soon-to-be-dead leaves just visible through wispy cotton-like air.

‘I didn’t want to go back to the city. I wanted to stay and just huddle up with you by the wood burner in that lovely little cabin you rented. I bet you paid a lot of money for that place. Lakeside. All the romantic trimmings.’

I give a small chuckle before snot fills my throat. I spit it over the side. Watch it dollop into the lake.

‘You shouldn’t have paid so much. We could barely afford our hole back in the city. But I loved it.’ The memory is sweet but it burns like acid after vomit. ‘But, back home we had to go. I’m surprised we made it to work the next day after those bloody train delays.

‘And what was the point? Why did we even try? Work was shit. Yawning in meetings. Not even taking part in the usual gossip in the canteen. Those bickering hens seem so far away now. Whispering all their secrets and theories over coffee and sandwiches. I know, I can’t lay blame. I used to do it too. We all used to go quiet when someone we were talking about entered the room, used to watch them from the corner of our eyes and the whole time make out as if we were talking about something completely different.’

I stop rowing, stick my hand in the canvas bag and pull out a bottle of water. I take a sip and it’s freezing. I savour the pang of cold hitting my teeth. I take a few more gulps and put the bottle back in the bag.

‘I bet it must have played on people’s minds. To have people talking about them, glancing in their direction. Come to think of it I don’t think anyone was free from gossip. I never noticed anyone talking about me though. I guess that’s the point. It doesn’t matter.

‘When I got home to you that night you were already asleep on the couch. I watched you for a while. And then we got Chinese. Ate in like fatties.’

I look to the shore and pull on the oars. My arms hurt. I’m getting pangs in my shoulders.

‘I noticed something was different that night. The man who dropped off the Chinese was shivering. He kept glancing over his shoulder as if he had been chased to our apartment. When he left I thought nothing of it. Probably had a bunch of deliveries to do. Just wanted to get on and get them done. And then the next day. We ate toast and watched the news. Break-ins and attacks across the city. A bunch of talk about a possible riot.

‘So, the next day, off we went to work. Parting at Clapham like we always did. Another thing I miss: you walking off with a paper under your arm and a coffee in your hand. I don’t think you knew I always watched you walk to the platform. I bet I pissed off a whole bunch of commuters when I did that, standing still and getting in their way.’

I look north. My eyes roam over the trees. The deep colours would be beautiful, in a different life.

‘That day…two people didn’t show for work. I needed Dennis there, something I never would have heard myself say, you know how much of a pain in the arse he is, but I needed him for the presentation. And Claire, three desks down, didn’t show up either.

‘At lunch time, people were looking over their shoulders or jumping at every little sound. Everyone was on edge as if expecting the world to explode under their feet at any moment. I called you. You said people hadn’t shown up either. I was worried then. Not because of the people…I heard something in your voice. You were always so strong…so sure. The only thing that scared you was that bloody great big spider on the kitchen counter the time you moved the bread bin.’

I laugh. A bark of weary muscles making a sound like a branch snapping under heavy snow. It spreads across the lake. Echoes and dies and suddenly I’m crying with the memory of Jake jumping around the kitchen like the floor was on fire, eyes wide and backpedalling toward the door.

I let down the oars with a splash and run my fingers through my hair. I take a moment to pull myself together and wipe cold tears from tepid cheeks. A twig snap. I turn to the north bank once more and watch a man walk from the woods. I make out a heavy knitted jumper and what I think are fishing trousers. Suspenders ‘n’ all. He’s missing a boot but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just stares out at the boat.

‘I hoped we would have this place to ourselves.’

I take a deep shuddering breath and pick up the oars. I feel the cold slipping into my limbs threatening to make me stiff. Movement is the only option. Just keep moving.

‘When I got home you called me over to the couch. You were watching T.V and you looked… well, I don’t know. You took my hand. Held it a little too tight. They were reporting on the rainfall that had hit London whilst we were here. Missed it by a few hours. And then people acting strange.

‘And then you showed me the video on Youtube. Some guy testing water samples in the sewers. Finding some unknown bacteria and the guy talking about rats going berserk. We barely slept at all that night. Woke up to the sound of screams twice and ran to the window. People leaving houses. A few of them were running. That one family… I remember the slaps of that kids feet on the road. You locked both deadbolts on the front door and wedged it with a chair under the handle like something out of an old movie. I always wondered if that worked. We never did find out.’

I look over to the man on the north shore. He is walking parallel to the boat. He just keeps looking out. I notice a shock of white hair. I can’t make out much of his face. His gaze feels like a weight on my neck.

‘They’re strange aren’t they? They disappear. Come back like that. Spreads even after the rain.’

I look about and wonder if it is in the air. In the mist. I don’t know. There is nothing I could do about it now anyway.

‘The next morning the video of the man in the sewers was taken down. Screams filled the street outside. Sirens went off every half a minute. In two days the entire city was at a standstill and there were talks on the news about it being widespread. They warned us not to drink the water. Since coming back all we had had was bottled water, teas and coffees at the office. So strange to think our shitty work schedule saved us.

‘So we left. Hit the road. Tried to go somewhere safe until it all blew over. Tried to come back here. You said there were fewer people up here. It would be better to go where there were fewer people. I agreed with you then. I agree with you now.’

The man on the bank stumbles. I watch as he pushes himself up, the whole time staring out at the boat. Like a leech when it smells blood. Just following the scent. I keep rowing. I want to stop. A lead weight is building between my shoulder blades but I can’t stop. I will never stop moving.

‘We made it most of the way here. And then we got to that fucking service station. All we wanted was a sandwich. Maybe a packet of crisps. We took our time didn’t we? Circled the car park three times and didn’t see anyone… Honked the horn. I thought that was good practise. A sure way of bringing them out… Why didn’t it work? The electricity was still running. The doors still worked. Maybe they waited. Do you think that was it? They waited? Maybe they are smarter than we thought Jake. Maybe that’s why no one knows how it’s spread. They wait and watch…’

I pull in a breath of frigid air. My arms pull and the oars break water, slap back down.

‘You wanted to use the toilet.’

I pull. Up, down, splash.

‘And when you came out of the toilets.’

Pull. Up. Down. Splash.

‘Ridiculous. Bloody, stupid…’

My body shakes once more with sobs but this time I let loose. I spit and shout and hope my words would shatter the day apart and wake me from this nightmare. The man on the bank has stopped. He watches, head cocked.

‘I hate you! I hate you! You took him from me! He was all I wanted! All I had and you had to take him from me! Why? Why? Why?’

I’m standing. The boat is rocking but I don’t care. Part of me wants to fall and succumb to the cold. Let the water slip into my nostrils and down my throat and fill me so that I don’t have to feel this burning hatred.

‘You made me do this! You made me do this to him!’ I scream, pointing into the hull of the boat where John lays dead and staring into oblivion.

The last time I had seen those eyes alive he had walked back out of the toilets. His mind lost. They had got to him in there. Something had got to him. I was crying when he ran at me. I was crying when I picked up a barrier post and swung it into his temple.

‘Please forgive me baby. I never wanted this. I never wanted this for you. I never wanted this for us. I thought we could make it out here. Where there is nothing. In the last place we were happy and free.’

I push my palms into my eyes and try to squeeze away tears.

‘This is the best I can do. I don’t want to bury you. It doesn’t seem right. You said you loved it here. ‘“I would love to see what’s under the waters here. They are so calm.”’ You remember saying that?’

His eyes stare at the grey sky.

‘I love you. Jake, I love you. I’m sorry.’ I move over and stick my hands under his armpits. I take a breath tinged with the smell of piss and shit from Jake’s death-voided bowels. I grunt as I lift Jake’s dead weight and try not to think of him walking away with a paper under his arm and a coffee in his hand. I try not to think of him holding me in bed. Pushing me against the wall as we make love. The thing that I am unceremoniously pushing over the lip of the boat is not Jake. I keep telling myself that but it doesn’t help.

His head and shoulders splash into the lake. With one last sob and a scream which ripped at my throat I push the rest of him over the side. He rolls in the freezing water. For one moment I think he would stay face up and staring at the sky, vacated blue eyes watching but he mercifully rolls over and stares into the depths.

I look up to the bank. At the spectator. He is leaning his head back as if beckoning me over.

‘No. No you are not getting me.’

I slump back and watch Jake float like a piece of trash. Arms and legs splayed. I watch for a long time until the weight of his clothes finally pulls him under. I watch white flesh disappear into black water and the whole time I cry and I want him back.

I look up to the man on the north shore still standing there. Still beckoning me over with his head back and staring.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.9

Diane ran as fast as she could. She wasn’t getting the kind of speed she got in her Nike’s. In her Nike’s she could sprint and pound pavement and dust, music pounding in her ears willing her to go faster. Or just keep going.

Instead her feet slipped around inside her wellies. Her running was gangly and awkward but she kept going, putting as much distance between herself and the man as possible.

Stanley ran by her side. He kept looking back. Diane couldn’t bring herself to do the same. The image of the man with the faraway gaze chasing her flooded her mind and kept her running instead. Time spent looking back was time he could gain another metre.

What was wrong with the man?

She couldn’t help but think of him stepping from the trees. Dark skin. Almond eyes. Slack mouth. That gaping mouth.

She felt the shiver run up her spine and she wanted to puke. Stanley barked and stopped. Diane took a few more steps before she looked back. Stanley was still. Diane glanced back the way they had come but the man wasn’t chasing her. There was no one back there. She slowed and stopped. Her body was slick with panic-sweat. Cold air stung her lungs and nostrils.

She took a few seconds to get her breath back. ‘Stanley, here.’

Stanley barked in defiance.

‘Stanley, come here.’

Stanley whined. Padded his feet. Barked. Why was he stopping?

Diane looked down the path and saw what Stanley had seen before her. What she had failed to see through fear-induced tunnel-vision.

A woman standing on the path ahead. She wore a green padded raincoat. Hood down. Her arms were hanging loose at her sides. Even at a distance of over a hundred metres, Diane could tell that the woman’s head was cocked, and her mouth hung open.

Diane tried to take a breath but it caught in her throat. Stanley barked. The sound came from some other place.

The cold rock of fear in Diane’s chest only shifted when another woman in a yellow jacket broke from the treeline to the side of the path. She ran over to the slack-jawed woman, grabbed her by the shoulders and screamed in her face. Diane couldn’t make out the words but the urgency was crystal clear.

The slack-jawed woman was unresponsive. She just looked straight on. At Diane. Through her. Diane felt like her body was being seen through. Bones, organs and mind laid out like an unravelled blueprint.

The slack-jawed woman made a jerking move forward. The other woman went sprawling.

Diane’s body spasmed in fear. The woman ran at her and she was gaining speed. Diane felt trapped. She looked behind her but the man in his underwear was nowhere to be seen. Stanley barked and slowly retreated into the ferns.

A warmth bloomed at the base of Diane’s skull. A strange tingling sensation. Unnatural but as welcome as sleep after a long, tiring day.

Stanley ran forward and sunk his teeth into Diane’s ankle. The tingle in her skull disappeared as a wave of pain shot up her leg. Stanley was small but he bucked back and pulled Diane with him. She screamed and toppled awkwardly onto her side. A moment later a boot collided with her face and everything went black.