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Stolen Skies – Part Five (Nanowrimo 2022)

I stumbled back to my cube in a further state of shock. Somehow, the englobement of our entire planet hadn’t struck me as hard as it evidently had other people. Probably a deep psychological insensitivity of some kind that my parents likely talked about behind my back all the time. I suspect it was a matter of permanence: things change all of the time, and if you freak out about every little thing then life must be a truly exhausting experience. I’m… not good at remembering what things were like before – I tend to dwell in the present. Doing so requires a little mental trick of readjustment I guess, in which my brain tricks me into thinking that whatever there is, right now, is basically how it’s always been. It’s not great for looking forward either, note the completion of three stages if education without a single thought for what the future might hold. Well, now it holds being trapped in a massive space-bollock and vanishing into the abyss. Perhaps I was right not to waste my time fretting about whether I’d like to work in a bank or in tweaking the tits on cows. But you know, that blithe unawareness of time passing can only go so far. For me, discovering that moon was gone turned out to be the key to unlocking a minor breakdown of my own.

I’ve always liked the moon. It’s good isn’t it? Waxing and waning and bumbling around the world, focus of myth and adventure. Shit to live on, quite good as a staging post to get people killed in space. More importantly, it was always just there. I could cope without the sky – I can go days without going outside. But the moon didn’t just exert its gravity against the Earth, it had some traction on my heart (metaphorically, obviously – if it was dragging blood around my circulatory system I’d be properly fucked). As a winsome, directionless teen (as opposed to the winsome directless young adult I became), I’d rather enjoyed gazing at the moon in all its pale glowing glory. A lantern on a dark night, a cold slice of bitter lemon reminding me that the world was indeed real and I should really interact with it, a big beaming face telling me the world was fucked but OK. And now… the future was catching up with me – no moon was suddenly a really big deal and the world positively vibrated around me with horror. I’d made my excuses to Edithine and staggered out of her cube block. The burnt out random crap in the streets and unemptied bins made sense: why do anything now? The world had changed irrevocably – probably – and there was no going back. I don’t know if you’ve ever badly fucked something up, a conversation, a bad decision – something that went wildly awry from your expectations. When that’s happened to me, it’s a physical and mental horror that the world and all my predictions about what happens and what people might do have proven to be utterly wrong. It’s like taking my mental model and hacking it to bits in front of me, and the butchery races backward through time, undermining all my previous thoughts and feelings. If this was wrong, then was I wrong every time, or have I just been dumbly lucking my way through a hopelessly fucked idea of reality the whole time? Because it’s not just that something has changed or gone wrong, it’s that sudden grasp that it could all have gone tits up at any moment, and what’s really changed is that the smiley-faced umbrella that shielded me from The True World has just been ripped apart by a hail of all-too-real micrometeorites. Or something. Many metaphors may apply. That’s just the mental and emotional turmoil. Physically it’s like being horrifically travel sick: my whole body feels like its vibrating and my organs are climbing over each other to escape out of the nearest convenient orifice – surely anywhere is safer than this misguided meat suit. Makes my teeth feel loose and like I’m sweating inside my skull.

Consequently, I was not at my absolute best when I left Edithine and like an absolute brainless moron took the convenient shortcut through the park between our buildings. That was another mistake. They used to say that the full moon drove people mad and made wild claims that murders and stuff were higher when the moon waxed large. Total bollocks, obviously – as someone once noted, you’re never more than two weeks from a full moon. However, I can absolutely assure you that the total absence of a lunar body makes people utterly batshit.

I was numbly vibrating my way along the path that winds through the trees (nice mix of birch and sycamore), likely muttering to myself and maybe even drooling a little with the psychic shock of our little shitball planet being flung out into the cosmos. I was not prepared for the sudden shower of magpies and other feathered fruits of the air falling from the trees like a shower of sharp, tickly bastards. Vaguely funny now, absolutely terrifying then. They were plainly enraged, scared out of their minds, just a flail of feathers and stabbing beaks. I batted them away, eyes squeezed tight to keep them safe, even as I could feel the blood welling up on my face and arms. They may have weird hollow bones, but you still have to strike them pretty hard to keep them off you. Also, I couldn’t see them. I have many good excuses for being defeated by city-dwelling birds. I made it through the feathered gauntlet and tumbled out along the path into one of the larger open areas. The birds seemed to be hanging back in the trees, as if the leafy boughs gave them the shelter that the sky could not. Wincing at the scratches and lines of blood across my arms and hands I tentatively fingered my face, came away with more blood. But still had both eyes: win. I rather regretted opening them. The middle of the park was some kind of bloodbath orgiastic murderthon. Dead birds scattered across the grass, a badger who appeared to be alternately eating its young and biting chunks out of its own fur. Cats and dogs stalked through the dead, pausing erratically to rip up some of the corpses and sometimes each other. In the flickering lamp light it seemed like a nightmarishly strobing horror film. I kept to the edges of the trees as best I could, trying to keep my distance between the murderbirds and the murdermammals. But of course, there were people in the park too.

I was ambushed before I’d fully circled the clearing. A pair of arms wrapped around me, swinging me about and tossing me into a broken wooden bench. It was only halfway fucked before I hit it – no one would be using it again. From the heap of shattered arms and back, I peered up at my attacker. He looked like he probably worked in a bank, or somewhere equally soul-destroying, before apparently taking vows of woodsmanship and tearing half of his clothes off. A long gash ran down the side of his face and neck, and I assumed he’d also travelled via the bird road. He was breathing heavily and had a worryingly unfocused look in his eyes. They’d taken on a cloudy brightness, and in the gloom caused by the faltering lights and the red-grey backlighting of the shell, they gleamed like cats’ eyes. Whole lotta fuck no right there. He wasn’t alone either. A woman, similarly bedraggled, lurched out of a hedge. It would have been comical, except I’d seen a lot of zombie movies when I was younger, and I saw that she was holding a kitchen knife, and that it – and she – were spattered with blood. I reckon the scariest thing was that neither of them said a word. I was tentatively hauling myself upright when the woman went for the man. Leaped in some ghastly, boneless way that propelled her knife-first into his neck. He thrashed and moaned a bit, but that was the last he’d do before falling to his knees and then onto his face. Well. I gave up on getting upright and settled for scuttling backwards on my hands and feet through the splinters and snapped wood. Alas, that caught her attention, yet, rather than come at me, just swayed on the spot. She had to turn into that irritating, flickering light before I could see her face clearly. Middle-aged, smeared makeup, eyeshadow turned to goth serial killer (or at least spree killed – I don’t like to leap to conclusions). Her eyes, glazed like the man she’d just stabbed, floated in their sockets, slowly rolling round to look at me. I must have managed some sort of protest, and effectively too, because she stopped halfway through taking a step towards me. She looked down at the man dead on the floor and I swear a tear rolled down her cheek before she made eye contact with me again and stabbed herself in the throat.

That got me moving, albeit with a massive splinter piercing my forearm. Didn’t slow me down any as I scrambled properly to my feet, tripping over the bench ruins, and did my level best to run like fuck through the park. I wasn’t deeply familiar with watching people die (though I’m sadly unable to say the same nowadays), and it had the electrifying effect of dislocating my earlier shock and replacing it with a quality adrenaline charge that saw me out of the park in no time. Without that boost I certainly wouldn’t have been able to vault over and around the other human bodies I encountered scattered in and out of the foliage. The street on the other side was deserted. The smell of burning was in the air again, and the road had a haunted feel – like it had seen some shit but didn’t want to talk about it, not without half a bottle of whiskey inside it. Hands shaking I hauled open the door to my building and into what I fervently hoped was safety. Once back inside my cube, I locked the door and dragged the heaviest items of furniture I had to block it solidly. Then I painfully extracted the massive splinter (or shard of bench – I’m not clear on when a stick gets small enough to be a splinter), but it came out with relatively little bother. Adrenaline’s good like that. I dabbed at the gashes on my arms and gently at the smaller rips in my face and neck with some cotton wool and antiseptic. That hurt more than being attacked by the little bastards.

Looking fractionally less like I’d been in a knife-fight with mice, I dug out the whiskey I could have shared with the street, hunkered down on my bed by the nice big window, and huffed zygoptic vapes like a damn steam train. I stared at where the moon should have been – I mean, where I guess it would have been, usually I just look up and it’s somewhere around, not that I knew exactly where it would be on any given day – and shuddered. I thought about the bodies in the park, and the killers turned victims of themselves. I put a call through to the emergency services, but just got hung up in a queue. Not a great sign. Eventually I left a message on their exasperated voicemail. I didn’t expect that anyone would be getting back to me soon. I flicked on the news and it was nothing but blood and fire. If I thought we’d lost the plot when the shell appeared, I don’t know what this was. Mass hysteria? Either way it looked pretty fucking awful. The wardrobe in front of my door looked nice and sturdy. I added a chest of drawers.

Big exhale. Slow inhale. The vape went down smooth, the whiskey smoother. In the grey twilight I accidentally spilt whiskey on my hand, which hurt like a motherfucker. Belatedly I then thought of ringing Edithine. No answer. No data is a lot worse than bad data. In this case bad data would have been something like “someone’s broken into my cube” – actionable information. Maybe the phones were down, maybe Edithine was out, maybe she’s been murdered by some non-moon-crazed psychopath. Fuck. I guess I could try again later.

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Stolen Skies

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