Crow and the Infinite Wasteland – David Hay

Nothing natural was born, only mutations and mistakes, as his mother was never hesitant to remind him. His best friend was a gun. A gun whose history told of each man’s failure.  He lived in a Windmill built for tourists, outside what used to be called Blackpool now unofficially named Bargain Sands – a small community of outcasts; mainly teenagers and young adults who ran the town in a fashion not too dissimilar from one of the few arcade games still functioning.  All is violence his mother muttered to herself as she fashioned breakfast out of worn-out shoes, meal-worms and her second to last can of beans that went out of date five years ago. It was Emile’s favourite. He sat at their table made out burnt tires, driftwood from navy fleets long forgotten and plastic laminate that covered the surface and waited with a patience as disconcerting as it was admirable. 

Christmas lights that taught Emile his first colours dimly lighted the whole place. His mother, one Angeline Humbleshack turned on the local radio station that broadcast from the tower. It was DJ RockRat, a thoroughly unpleasant man, who played disco tracks and ranted against the threat of the blacks, the gays, the Jews and of course everyone’s new favourite whipping boy, half-humans.  His mother thought he was an idiot but as she had often said to Emile, hatred was an integral part of life, and it did no one any favours ignoring it. 

She added her spices, which she kept secret from everyone. Emile was convinced it was just moss and rust flakes but he liked the taste, so it made no sense to investigate. Angeline brought their food over. ‘It’s good to hear the enemy. It always reassures me how stupid they are.’ Emile nodded. It was easier to make gestures to his mum. Well perhaps mum was too strong a word. She was a woman who had taken pity on him after his mother tried to drown him in the acid sea.  She was a hardy woman as they used to say. A woman who weathered storms as well as any old mountain. She didn’t carry a gun like Emile, instead she wielded a handmade axe that she sharpened each morning after breakfast just before they washed dishes. There was something comforting in the blandness of her routines. Emile loved her as only a mutant offspring fuckup can but he wouldn’t cry if she died.  He knew that instinctively. He would miss her. She was genuine and even at his early age he knew that it was a rare thing.  But he wouldn’t cry. What were tears worth to a world like this? Nothing absolutely nothing came the echo that never stopped reverberating around his birdbrain.

Shouldn’t you be off to work she said as she put the dishes in the sink and got her axe, which rested against the pan cupboard, removed the sharping stone from her pocket and began her stretches which always preceded her moments of violent preparation. Emile nodded and put his normie clothes on; they were a black hoodie made from synthetic waste, two sizes too big to make room for his underdeveloped wings, which denied him the flight of his ancestors.  That was a humiliation worse than any pig-nosed, brain-dead puddle-sucker could come up with.  He opened the door to the city that defined his life. He walked quickly and tried not to think.

Bargain Sands was the biggest shit hole in the entirety of the region. No one had bothered to bomb it and even the waste pollution was only toxic enough to make your hair fall out and kill you before 40. If you made it past that grand age they killed you for being a witch or a malformation that deserved death like a working man deserved a beer. It was always hot, but it always rained. No one knew why. Scientists or experts didn’t walk this part of the coast if they even existed anymore. You could find the odd book that had survived one fire or another and Emile could read but it didn’t mean he could understand. Understanding required a teacher and they were just as rare. He picked up his lunch of Maggot soup, which even he hated, this tatty book of old poems, which kept him romantically depressed when bored and left for work with neither of them uttering a parting word. It had always been like that between them; a nod was as good as a monologue.

Emile left the windmill and began his 30-minute walk to work. He had plenty of time to think and he hated it. His saw members of various gangs, who vied for this section of the street or that high-rise or this collection of bungalows. There was no point to it. It was all shit and yet people still died and that just made the world seem moronic.  The Sinatras who wore ill-fitting suits and made mock cigars filled with whatever chemicals they could find that didn’t kill were the worst, for they were organised. They had a structure and defined hierarchy and their only pretensions were their dress sense. The rest was pure violence and no empathy. They didn’t prowl the streets like the Jack Rabbits or the Blood Rhinos or the fucking Peacemakers or the Men First Brigade. They were the biggest knuckle dragging moss-suckers, nose picking, petroleum eaters he had ever seen. But they were vile, so they had power. Beyond the top dogs and the bum feeders below there were two groups of interest to Emile. One were the Normies ironically because they were all mutant mistakes like him, the other was a group people talked about but never seen. They were exclusively composed of women, they didn’t deal drugs or prostitutes of either species, and they didn’t fight for land although rumour had it that they chopped a fair few men’s scrotums off over the years. They traded only for essentials. They called themselves the Feminazis and they were hated as much as they were respected. They were the only multi-species group and no one knew where their stronghold was.

Emile walked through what was once called the illuminations, which business and small traders rigged up at night to sell everything you could desire. Drugs, alcohol, brewed by the various gangs and containing their logos, food edible and poisonous, women, men, children, though even that was slightly frowned upon, weapons, light fittings, trinkets from the old world, tats of all kinds. A woman told the future from the radiation-infected water. There was a barber’s, a church of the new world ran by fanatics under the great tower.  It was a shack but everyone paid respect.  They worshipped what they called the Book of Divine History. It was a collection of writings cut and pieced together. Not many could read and fewer knew the author but Angeline had taught him the basics. There were bits of what was called the Bible, The Koran, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Bits of Martin Luther King, odd bits of self-help books, Scientology, Nietzsche, Lena Dunham, some of Toni Blackburn’s broadcasts transcribed – an immeasurable treasure-trove of contradictory advice. It made no sense, but no one cared, neither did anything else.  The world was fucked and people were just as fucked and if you accepted that there was a peace in that certainty of hopelessness. 

Emile was a scrap finder, sometimes somewhat ironically called treasure hunters, as never had he found an item of genuine wealth. The earth had been picked barren long before his form greeted the green hue of the sunrise. His boss, one Frank Hennessey wasn’t violent but he was racist. He had the pent up constipated look all hateful people have. 

Go to Plaza Street and see the old man Grimbo. He has a spot and wonders if we want a sure gamble. So you’re the tester. Go with him see what it is he wants.  If he wants his usual 10 cans of beans and a working pistol. He’ll get five and a kitchen knife and that’s it. No sweet talk, no deal upfront. All on delivery or none. Got that? I know you nuclear babies are slow, so do the civilized thing and nod.  Emile sighed and nodded almost imperceptibly.

Good get some deals and we be solid for a long time. Go get going then! 

He squawked as only mash-up racist, full of loathing, grief and shit. Emile feels like he’s on the edge. The edge of what he doesn’t know. But there is an end coming, he doesn’t know if it’s his or someone else’s but a book will close and a story will be complete.   

Grimbo was a sad act. He only had 8 fingers, he was slumped as if he was eternally trying to pick some change up he’d dropped and he wore a lime green trench coat and a fishing-style hat. His was an ageless grief. He traded in anything and he had no love for anybody. He would do anything for a price and even the scumbags of north street and clock view (I’ll explain them later) and his only friend was a blow-up doll. Emile only hated him because his life was pathetic. It made you sad but it didn’t make you sympathetic. He lived beyond the tower in what was an old hotel. He owned the entire top-floor. Emile walked to the garage behind the shop. There every scrap finder had a bike. Nothing fancy, no motors as there was little gas. Just muscle power and endurance. It had in crass letters of vermillion Hennessey’s. Emile felt branded every time he rode it.  It was all part of Hennesey’s grand PR strategy. He was about making himself big, successful, in other words a real prick. It was pathetic really. There really was nothing to be big about anymore even cruelty only got you either to be a cleric, a gang leader or if you didn’t mind condoning every unpardonable sin, President. 

Emile was well accustomed to ignoring the looks the normies gave him as he cycled to Grimbo’s place near the edge at the centre of the main quarter. This was where the elite lived.  The President’s thugs in trench coats and tracksuits wandered in groups in undisciplined drudgery with at least one accompanied by a hairless dog through the streets of primary coloured neon. They got enough food to live, as much alcohol as they desired and enough Junk or Trash depending on dialect, a coupon at paradise alley that entitled them to one fuck a week.  There was nothing that made his soul sick as Paradise Alley. If the world was hell now, that was the inner ring. Those women, men and an ever-increasing supply of children were put through things that made even the wastes seem tolerable and Beach Sands a truly heavenly creation. It wasn’t something to think about. The images haunted you through the day and would survive even sleep, if you got any. He avoided jobs there if he could. He always wanted to save one but that was dumb. The President owned it and every soul within it.  It was impossible to do the right thing in this place. Morality got you dead.

He knocked on Grimbo’s door and an oddly feminine voice told him to come in. It was strange to Emile that anyone would leave the door open. Only in the Main District could you afford such a luxury. Only the President could hurt you here and if he wanted you or anything you owned no lock would stop him. The flat illuminated by blue fairy lights. A mosaic of Dregs, the big brewery owned by el President, empty bean cans leaking orange ectoplasm, crumpled, hardened tissues full of his human sorrows and what looked like blood. 

Hello my boy of inhuman sky. Your boss sends me his freaks and he wonders why he’s small-timer. 

He spoke in a dislocated way, as if his words had no meaning and he only talked because his tongue wouldn’t stop. He was wearing his customary cat-skin suit probably a relic from some old pervert before the bomb and the new world was borne. And what a birth. If he was a mother, he’d pray his child was stillborn. He stood and with the jagged movement of the snake he came uncomfortably close to Emile. He knew he was going to be touched up. He already felt sick. He had sharp white teeth and a chemical tan.  He looked like he bathed in ash. 

 I have a job and it will make me and your boss rich men and you, well, maybe you can have you own place and a boy or two. 

When he smiled you knew the world was dead because of men like him. Emile didn’t react. Let others show you their hand before you show them yours. That was a gold-plated rule if there ever was one. 

Tell your boss I’ve found it the thing we heard of as kids is true. Just tell two words: Eyeless Veronica. He’ll know what I mean. I want half of everything he owns.

Fuck off.

Now nasty, nasty, let’s not get heated.

Why would Hennessey give you all that for two words?

It’s worth it to him. Believe me. I know everyone’s weakness, even yours you feathered freak. Fear is a sound investment. It seems to gather interest every year. Now on your way bird foot, there is enough filth in this room without you adding to it. 

There was anger inside that felt infinite. They’d made him a freak and if it wasn’t for his mother he’d have happily been one.  Little sermons from Martin about compassion outweighing hatred circled his mind. Ones about the three Evils of society, unfortunately the first one was lost and all we have is war and poverty. And that was the state of the world. It was just one big sin, endless paths of grief leading to a soundless drop in a deep well. The world was a ruin- hope, decency, divinity in flesh or without were a mirage and nothing more. To look at the green tinge of the horizon or to walk through the wastes with mouths full of ash, and know the absence of the future, is to know a despair deserved. Emile closed the door. He would kill Grimbo one day. It wouldn’t be murder it would be an exorcism. A momentary cleansing – to bask in and feel good.

But some other old perv selling junk, women, pornography or all three would take his place. A body was a vessel of finance and in Bargain Sands and undoubtedly in every other haggard community of rusting scrap that clung to the edge of the waste, people like Grimbo were as common as radiation sickness. But still some people had hope. God knows how but they did. Some of the men, who smoked chemical concoctions of their own design, releasing smoke of every conservable hue spoke of a city of green, where flowers reached maturity and opened to the corrupted sky and lived. There is a place they said where a man could find liberty and rest. But that was a fool’s dream; one constructed by old men to momentarily release them from the fear of death. Free from the endless catalogue of human hatred. No, it was these streets which brought Emile down. Not the horrors he had seen. It was how normal this corruption had become, that robbed him of a basic human necessity: hope. To be lost and have no hope is dangerous if you have a human brain. He peddled his tires scrapping with each sharp change of direction to avoid, chemed-up gutter dweller, watching the unnatural glow leak down the roads and seeing God in each acidic ripple. 

As went past the Underground Gala, where Fredrick sold human misery in in all its forms, a young woman, a year perhaps, two years older than Emile ran in front of his bike. He jerked his handlebars to the right and braked. He crashed and slid across the floor, his legs bled into the grey ground and his feathers formed abstract patterns in the blood and dirt. 

What are you doing, you idiot?

Emile didn’t move. His mind felt detached from his body. He had no name, no future no past. He had become an absence. He was free.

I said what the fuck are you doing?

He awoke. His brain drifted back into his mutant body. He breathed in deeply and the taste of ash overcame every sense.

What am I doing, you ran into me!

Well ain’t that a pretty picture. Go fill your head with chems and speak to the stars.

Deluded as every Wasteheart.

Emile struggled to pick himself back up. Each syllable emanating from Bargain Sands became laughter in his mind.  

Here take my hand.

Don’t you worry you’ll catch my genes?

Oh that old shit.  Only brain-deads and chronic perverts believe that. Here take my hand and let it be done. If we stay here too long we will draw too much unwanted attention.

Thank you, I guess.

What is your name?


How original. 

It is who I am.

I guess you can’t argue with that.

Well, I’m Alice or Marcus, depending on how the day sits on me.

How can you be both?

How are you both an Emile and human? 

This is a new world and nothing is stationary. And everything feels fucked but we should be able to at least be ourselves. Perverts run our city . Money is worth more than a child’s life. We’ll be lucky to see 40 and each day is a horror that should not be witnessed or endured but is.

You speak a lot don’t you?

Well, I don’t like to be silenced.

Where do you come from?

A place, that exists but is not known. Not by the likes of you.

A freak.


Goodbye Emile, I will see you I’m sure. 

She ran past him and he lost sight of her as she turned the corner and into the heart of the city. Two men that Emile knew only by sight came running after her. They were drenched in sweat and smelt of rotten eggs and dog farts. God was not kind when he carved their looks. Their skins was tight around their faces and glowed with burning sickness. 

You see where a girl went. Pink hair, black jacket, whorish mouth?

Emile felt no pity for humans. They had made their fate. They had created him. He was an accident of their purposeless despair. But something moved in him. It wasn’t a beginning; it wasn’t love. It was something else. Something had stirred him – some lingering humanity, some fragile connection to his ancestors of iron and flame. It was awful whatever it was. It made his feathers feel wrong.

She went towards the outskirts. She knocked me off my bike.

Without acknowledgment they ran off in the opposite direction. It was men like that who planted every seed of ruin thought Emile. They were dumb and savage and accepted every order without thought.  Human history was built on the shoulders of these unthinking men. 

Emile picked himself up.  Blood trickled down his feathers.

Fly into a window, did you? Fucking idiot said one youth, whose face was littered with the growths of puberty. 

He ignored him, as he ignored every barbed comment. Humans were nothing if not bullies. He picked his bike up. His body was covered by a dull ache.  

Emile cycled slow along the boulevards of Bargain Sands. The sun was falling steadily.  The hours were heavy with a meaningless despair. Some of the older inhabitants were sitting out in front of their caravans or partly ruined homes. The coming night brought in the ash of the waste. If it got in your eyes they would burn for hours. He took out his black goggles designed for swimmers out of his coat pocket. He could taste the chemical waste – it tasted like batteries and dried blood. Frank Hennessey would be on his 5th pint by now. He would be impossible. He went to the pier. The sea was coated with the orange haze of the sun and the green sickness of a long lost past. There was no reason, no explanation only the concrete reality. The pier and the surrounding beach were completely deserted. Some of the faithful came here for their sermons and he could see why. The corruption was limited by nature’s still lingering grandeur. It was holy in its mutated beauty. The faithful had it easy he thought. They had their answers and the world was a shadow of their future. Emile had no certainty. He was a mistake born into a waste – an absence – a pause in the breath of God. In twenty years his mum reckoned the trees would begin to grow, the flowers, the weeds – the various seeds of the great mother would populate these shores swollen with malformations. The sun was ceaseless; it never gave you a break thought Emile. If only he could fly, if only he could stretch out his underdeveloped wings and fly and make everything that was black, white and leave this earth, this putrid sludge puke for another world, another life, one free from the acid sky sweltering revulsion that clung to each thought.

But there was no escape. This was it. And crying wouldn’t stop the stars from falling. 

The pier was deserted. The wheel was tilted towards the sea. Gravity would soon complete its unquestioned duty and force its unnatural glow of the deep. He got on his bike and peddled slowly down the pier. The sun was readying to complete its daily pilgrimage and all Emile wanted was to sit on the couch, listen to his mother and fall into a dull dream.  

Hennessey was out front smoking a greeny and spitting crimson drops upon the pavement. This would lead to a disaster. Everything With Hennessey always did. Eyeless Veronica? As if those two words wouldn’t leave someone brutalised.  Hennessey looked at him but didn’t speak. It cemented Emile’s subservience. 

Grimbo has a message for you

Does he now? Every second costs chems. Spit it.

Eyeless Veronica.

Hennessey took a deep drag and tried not to look spooked. 

Does that mean anything to you?

What does he want?

He said half of your empire. I didn’t

Tell him he’s on. And you’re coming with me.


One, you need the money. Two you’re a freak, so it will be easier to get you killed if you double cross me and three, well, you’ve never stole from me and that my son is as rare as a virginal woman. 

I want my pay upfront. Double the usual.

No cut from what we find?

I don’t want to touch anything Grimbo gets excited about. The man breathes perversion. 

Ha! I’m glad I asked you even more now. You’re a pure tool from another time.

I’ll come pick you up when I’m ready. And please keep that woman of yours and her axe away from me. If she swings at me one more time, I’ll lodge it in her skull. He put his hand through his thinning hair awkwardly. Angeline would have his ass. And both of them knew it.

See you later. 

Emile put his bike and locked the garage. Two of Hennessey’s men were standing by, watching him with sneers of hatred. He returned the key and walked home. The sun was bloated and was falling deep into night. This was Emile’s favourite hour. You could lose yourself in these moments. The sun was too honest. It ruptured the days with a pitiless grief.  There were only two places in Beach Sands that he felt were worth cherishing; the windmill, which was a sanctum from the modern world, and the old picture house, which played all the films that had survived. It costs Emile all his wage, after food, rent and protection were covered. Culture existed for the hours the projector shone its transfiguring rays on the white walls stained yellow with smoke.  He would watch anything, no matter how turgid, how badly acted. Anything, anything was better than this place. This rusting sarcophagus on the edge of the infinite desert. 

Angeline was getting her gear ready for her monthly supply pilgrimage to the outer wastes. She never took Emile because he was in her words, ‘far too naïve to handle the wastes.’ She smiled and asked him to her steel-toed boots. I will be gone two days as per usual. Food is there when you need it. Don’t let no one in here. We’re paid up and there should be no trouble. But that don’t mean it won’t come. She looked at him contemptuously as only someone who truly loves you can. I won’t don’t worry. 

Worry wouldn’t that be nice if it was an exception not my every thought norm.  There was a silence, awkward, as it was long, that neither of them could fill. He opened his beak, but the sound was swallowed by her dense silence. 

See you in two days and look after yourself. Try not to die. 

Will do. 

She picked up her camping bag, her axe, casually held it on her shoulder before walking out of the door without looking back.  

Until Grimbo and Hennessey showed, his time was his own. A free house and a free mind. He bolted the door shut, carefully placed the stylus on the vinyl and pressed play. The soft crackle bloomed into a shower of euphoria and drenched his home with colour. Each track transported his mutated form through and finally beyond the confines his sanctuary, beyond this city of dust covered fairy lights, chem heads, gutters, prostitutes; the silent grief of the lonely and abandoned and finally the beauty of The Picture House and his mother. If he was a religious minded crow, he would attribute this transcendent experience to the great originator, the one spoke about in The Book. But he sought to break all constrictions and see wonder, no baptise it with a human name.  They had only two records, His mother had traded for them her working gun and two tins of dog food (a princely sum in the early years). He waited for the record to the end, before falling back onto the couch exhausted by his reverie.  

Henryk Górecki’s symphony No.3 side A had ended.  And with the dominion of silence now complete he felt an orgasmic sense of relief.  

Three loud knocks startled him out of his earthly Nirvana. He felt like he could he hear Hennessey’s heavy breathing from behind the door. Two more loud knocks extinguished what was left of the silence. A road trip with him, Grimbo and Hennessey. It was a nightmarish vision, full of perversion and anger. One if not all of them would die. Hopefully he would get to see the world outside of Bargain Sands and see the world his mother had denied him. He took his hunting rifle off the dining table and opened the door. There was Hennessey all kitted out in his Army wears and Carrying his Dirty Harry. Grimbo was in his Brown Ford Mondeo blowing smoke into the wind. 

Don’t judge me. It’s more low key. Were already gonna get shit for having a working car. But only the truly desperate will want this wreck. Grimbo has, how you say, made it his own. A slight shiver of revulsion creeped up his spine. Just look out the windows and you’ll feel a lot better.  He looked at his rifle quizzically. Not sure how much use that will be but we need all the firepower we can get our hands on. 

Emile was staring at Grimbo. You not brining any of your men?

Not on this one. I want to keep this private. You’ll be well rewarded for you silence. 

Good, lock up and get in then. We have a long way to travel and only this shit bucket to get us there. 

Where are we going?

The other side of the wastes. 

Are you going to tell me what eyeless veronica means?


Brimming full of confidence here boss.

Hopefully that fucker will get shot.

I heard that my lovely.

A dream. Life is a fucking endless dream.

I’ll drink to your memory one day birdbrain.

The air was thick and full of acrid vapour. Grimbo was lying lugubriously across the back seats. He had a strange pink wig on that covered the almost squamous skin of his pale, feverish face.  If these were his brothers in arms, his defenders against an increasingly uncertain future, then his doom was written in the chemical glow of the sunset. 

Hennessey was sweating profusely. He smelt like burnt chestnuts. Hennessey slowly manoeuvred himself into the driving seat. Emile rested his rifle against the front seat and sat down. 

This really is going to be a party said Grimbo.

The engine stuttered into existence.  The horizon became a doorway. Grimbo took out some photographs from his pocket. Emile half-expected him to lick his lips or do something equally revolting. However, Grimbo just stared at them and his expression did not once contain the fleeting ecstasy of lust.  The man personified lonely regret. The older he got the stranger he found men – the less they made sense. Whenever you cloaked them under some definite attribute, something that could be categorised and judged, they revealed something ultimately more pathetic than tragic. Emile couldn’t hate mankind as much as he tried, even though it would have made his life infinitely easier.

Grimbo why do you insist on bringing your perversions with you wherever you go?

They aren’t what you think. 

Show me.

No. Put your foot down This is going to be a long arduous journey.

Your presence in my space sickening. Hennessey was sweating. His expression was sculpted by hate. He smelt like a butcher’s. 

I don’t think you can judge me.

Fucking rat.

Don’t fuck with me.

Emile kept his hand on his rifle.

Grimbo let out a smoke-stained laugh.

You’re simply a peach. A peach.

Does anyone live in the wastes? Emile asked.

Hennessey pointed into the middle distance. Apparently somewhere out there is a green place, full of fresh water, fruit even, no chems, only organic highs and a society without a president or any leader of any kind, if you can believe that nonsense.

Communists said Grimbo.

And I don’t think paedos are welcome either, surprisingly Grimbo.

Neither are fat drug dealers.

Fair point. 

Talking about them is tantamount to treason said Grimbo.

Being his bitch must have its advantages. 

Well Hennessey I’m not a poor man.

Each of them was silent as they approached the edge of Bargain Sands. The darkening sky was tinted with curved lines of red, as if a giant claw had tried to cut through the atmosphere. To leave Bargain Sands was not a thing done lightly. The President kept it safe through a ruthless vindictiveness, which was peculiarly singular, even in this world, so free from any thread of decency. He was the God from the Old Testament talked about in the book. Nothing could appease his wrath and cruelty. Emile had only seen him once. Every year there was a ceremony is celebration of the President’s beneficent rule. If you didn’t cheer and cry you were taken away to work camps that were hidden around the borders of Bargain Sands. He was a tall man with sparrow like hands and a great baldhead that was so freakishly enormous it looked like it could create its own gravity. He made his permanent cockroach sneer seem as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He had been President for twenty-years; one more year than Emile had the pleasure of breathing in the jet-fuel breeze. He had survived coups, plagues and every STD currently known and probably some that are still waiting to be discovered. Rumour had it that he even funded his enemies, the ones planning their various doomed rebellions and then just before a bullet was fired, he would undermine this or that leader by making his involvement public. Each rebellion was crushed and often the morning would greet you with some poor comrade strung up on a lamppost with their eyes cut out, as was the local custom.

The sky closed in on the land eliminating distinctions. The landscape was enveloped in a silence that seemed unnatural.  Emile closed his eyes and tried to summon images and music from deep within his imagination. He tried to recall the fury of The Stooges who played as if their fingers were matches. Hennessey quiet as an old nun watched the road with such intensity that Emile thought the night might be in danger of birthing demons. Grimbo was flicking through his pictures. There was nothing as dense and sad as his look. If he wasn’t what he was, he would be tragic. 

Got any tunes Hennessey? The wastes are a fucking lonely place. I packed the only two CDs I have. Some bland beige shit by Coldplay and some Jazz. And I would have been locked up. Can you believe this? Emile shut his eyes and tried to pretend that none of this was happening. Fine put Coldplay on. The President has their whole back catalogue; soothes him after his daily atrocities. I’ve not played it since my daughter was here and I was stupid enough to believe in hope.

 You were always a chump. Look at me, never had hope, no care for anything and look where I am and where you are.

Ain’t that the fucking truth. 

Emile closing your eyes doesn’t make the world disappear you know. 

It does if I keep them closed. 

See this one here, he is the real chump. He’s young and he still clings to his dreams as syphilis clings to the limbs.  

Grimbo’s lips were chapped so badly that they had begun to bleed. It made Emile think of film he had seen when he was young, where a man in his fine robes bit into a tomato and its innards spilled with uncontrollable vigour beyond his lips and down his chin as his kingdom burned.  Emile was oddly fascinated by Grimbo. He didn’t look real. It was like the drawings he used to create as a child after a nightmare. They always had long thick rubber like noses like a medieval puppet. Grimbo’s was so expansive it seemed to form a beak.  Hennesey pressed play and the card filled with Yellow by Coldplay. Emile thought in a cynical and slightly unintelligent way that this band was why life had become meaningless. Before any of the disasters, Coldplay were banging the drum for destruction. Emile smiled to himself. Why was he only this witty in his mind? 

Grimbo took out a thick cigar, the kind they smoked in black and white movies of dames and detectives. Hennessey looked round enviously. Do you have a spare? 

I wouldn’t think you would take anything from a dirty old man like me.

I don’t think morality has interested anyone in a long time. 

We are sharing a car. A line has already been crossed. 

Ok, sure, in the spirit of brotherhood and fellowship. Grimbo opened his tweed jacket and took out another fat cigar. I traded a lot of chems for these beauties. No one appreciates sophistication anymore. Want one Emile. 

No, thanks. ( why was he being polite?) He took out two blunts. 

Is that what I think that is?

Himalayan Breeze, I call this

How the shit did you get that?

The President keeps all that for himself and his councillors. Even I can’t get my hands on that.

We all have our secrets Grimbo. Leave me with this one.

If I get a few drags, I don’t give a shit. I want a nice clean high. Chems make me feel like a dog’s arse, just as it’s about to shit. 

Lovely Grimbo. I’ll savour the cigar more after some of them big beauties said Hennessey. Emile looked at Grimbo’s lips once more and an involuntary image of them kissing gestapo kicked through every defence; every pleasant memory of getting high and listening to his mum’s vinyl. With reluctance, Emile handed one to Grimbo. He lit his, looked out of the window and inhaled as hard and deep as he could. He wanted the high to last if it could. He hadn’t mastered the technique and he didn’t want the other two to notice.  Grimbo was taking deep long drags while tilting his head back to face the roof. If he stared long enough he could see yellow stars of light that burst and formed long straight lines of gold. 

God, I missed this. If you can get this regular, I will pay you a pretty penny

I don’t deal. Just enjoy it. Pleasure is always fleeting. You should know that better than most.

The pleasures of life soon turn to sickness. When I was a boy, I only hated myself.

They turned onto a motorway, still drivable apart from the odd burnt out car, or overturned lorry that partially blocked the road. This was no man’s land. No one gang or group owned. The President gave up long ago, trying to colonise it. Various groups, generally teenagers fought over its various sections, a kind of savagery that was deeply pathetic. The groups changed their names as quickly as the weather turned. No one knew how to negotiate with them. This was a place that truly embraced the anarchy of the times. There was no pretence of civilisation. This was raw man, free from any laws or decency. It was a drug fuelled technicolour nightmare. 

Hennessey took his foot off the gas. 

I haven’t been on this road in ten years. 

You’re not going to cry are you?

What would be the point?

We all lost people on this road. It ain’t a tragedy if it’s commonplace.

It was to me.

Well live in it, if it’s all you’ve got but I’ll stick to my corrupted life. It is the only thing that is honest in this world.

Hennessey was no longer listening. His eyes were fixed on the horizon. The past was calling him forward. Nostalgia was clinging to his heart and his memories were bathed in every lukewarm hue he could muster. If he could stay like this for the rest of his life, he would be happy, but Grimbo’s incessant chatter interrupted every glorious mirage.

This was where everything fell apart for me. Most lives disintegrate under millions of details but mine came to an end here.

Very dramatic.

If I don’t kill you by the end of this trip, I’ll start believing in God again.

Threats, threats, threats but no action.

Only a coward doesn’t know that his number has already been punched.

On that day, I will smile, for I will no longer have to think.

How long will it take us?

Hennessey fixed his attention from Grimbo back onto the road. A few hours, maybe more. Depends on the roads. The sellers are the only ones who venture out this far. 

Well, let’s get going otherwise we will have to spend even more time together than necessary

Preach Brother, Preach.

The dilapidated car rusting, stinking of burnt plastic ignited into life and with stuttering lamentations began its ponderous journey across the wastes. In the density of night, Emile could imagine the world before the world fell apart. He could almost taste normalcy emanating from every safe home.   He heard a soft crackle and then a green explosion lit up the sky.  

Put your foot down.

Voices like cancer spread across the landscape. For the first time Emile noticed that Grimbo was scared. If this was the end, at least he had that consolation. A car full of lames careened down the hill and crashed into a burnt out Peugeot. 

What the fuck.

Hennessey reversed but another burning car came hurtling down and crashed effortlessly behind them.

They are never this organised. 

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

The cries became louder and although he could see little, Emile knew they were surrounded.  

Out of the darkness a figure appeared. It was impossible to determine their sex but they were tall and slender. Emile, no more confused than he ever was, blubbered in the dirt. A thought drips down with parts of the sky. The rain coated by green light falls heavy on the overturned car. Air hurtles into Emile’s lungs. Grimbo’s and Hennessey’s head were joined by an umbilical cord of blood. Hennessey’s portly frame of whisky soaked mincemeat shakes suddenly with sickening life.

Fuck, fuck, we need to get out of here.

Grimbo, wake the fuck up.

Grimbo’s consciousness slivers to the surface. His eyes flick open and close in rapid succession before his stare swallows the scene and all its implications instantaneously. A coward can only hide behind his perversions for so long.

No, no, no.

He wriggles to undo his seatbelt. Even in the apocalypse I’m a coward he spits as shadows subsume the metal carcass. Many hands reach in and grab Emile by his malformed wings. The rain irritates his skin rather than burns. 

Put him down over there. The real prizes are in the front seats – the dealer and the paedo – it’s a fucked-up Christmas.

There awake came a voice suited in disdain. 

If you struggle, we will hurt you a lot more than we already are. Grimbo once protected by the old world is yanked from the passenger seat and thrown upon the cracked tarmacked road.