Running Away : Short Story

It seemed everything kicked off that year. Financial meltdowns, war with Iran, and the year that conspiracy theorists were no longer called conspiracy theorists.

Trust no one, was the global mantra creeping round the minds of most people on the planet these days. And that is what Michael did. Trust no one. He glanced both ways down the street ignoring the CCTV drone that flew overhead. He could throw the mobile phone away but they could still track him down. Either through the satellites, or the CCTV systems now monitored by the very loyal, and fearful, Joe Public.

Millions of the faithful British public would log on to the Internet in the evening using their favourite software program, Neighbourhood Watch. They would sit for hours watching grainy images of people out shopping, or driving down the road, or tune into the unidentified voices of their fellow citizens. Any suspicious activity; an awkward shuffle, a dangerous word, and they would alert the local police straight away. People did anything for money these days.

Michael cursed to himself as he headed home. How the hell had society managed to flip so quickly? Fear was a great motivator these days, and after the atrocities of last year people no longer trusted each other. Sheila opened the door with a worried look upon her face.

‘Bloody hell Michael, where have you been?’

He went inside quickly checking the side streets before he stepped in. Sheila looked both ways down the street as well. Michael headed towards the kitchen out back. Sheila filled up the kettle and switched it on while Michael sat down at the table, again glancing out of the back window, for any suspicious activity.

‘You shouldn’t have gone to see that film,’ said Sheila, placing the cigarette in her mouth, its tip trembling along with her lips.

‘It was only a film against capitalism, nothing to do with terrorism. It’s still a free country. Isn’t it?’ said Michael.

‘It doesn’t matter. With a war on they are looking for any excuse to put people away. You don’t know what kind of people are at those meetings.’

The kettle steam bubbled into the air as Sheila took another drag on her cigarette. Michael’s crime against society was to go to a private screening called, The End of Capitalism. A documentary that suggested armed struggle against all politics was the only answer to the current crisis. Michael wasn’t your average revolutionary, or even that political. He was quite apathetic, but there were so many things wrong today it was hard not to want to do something about it.

The problem was no one could be bothered to do anything about it. The film had shown him that there were three kinds of people in today’s society. The ignorant, that followed the government mantra whatever it was; the scared, who knew it was all lies but didn’t want to rock the boat; and those that stood up and fought for what they believed in. If you were the latter and engaged in anything considered slightly anti-government, then it was highly likely you would be imprisoned by the police for being a state terrorist.

‘It was just a film. A fucking film. They can’t get me for that.’ He took the cup of tea from Sheila and allowed the very hot cup to burn into his hands. The burning heat acting as some kind of penance.

‘And the mortgage, what the hell was that about?’

Michael looked away from Sheila and out the window. He wondered whether he could even trust her these days. She was sounding more and more erratic. She belonged to the second group, the scared.

‘These banks have stolen millions. Why should they suddenly give a fuck if I refuse to pay my mortgage? They can have it back as far as I am concerned.’

Not paying your mortgage was considered quite revolutionary if you were part of the anti-capitalism movement. They didn’t want society to recover from the current turmoil, but they wanted to use the opportunity to build a new society without politics, money, or control. It was considered a great sacrifice to the cause to just refuse to pay the mortgage and bring the system crashing down. The banks were aware of this, and in collusion with the government, could now force you to pay the bills or face imprisonment.

The phone rang and Sheila picked it up.

‘Yes he is here.’ She took a drag from her cigarette. ‘Sure I will let him know.’ She put the phone down.

‘Who was it?’ asked Michael.

‘The police,’ said Sheila.

‘Great. What did I get? Ten years for watching a film.’

‘They wanted to ask you some questions. Maybe you should just pop down the road and visit them. It will look better.’

Silence descended between them as they both nurtured their own thoughts.

‘Nobody pops down the road to visit the police anymore. At the meeting they said that people were being taken to correctional facilities where they were either forced into work camps, or forced to join the army.’

‘It’s just rumours, Mike. You’ve become to paranoid. This security is for our protection. The terrorists now have hold of nuclear devices; just look at Iran, the world’s gone mad.’

There was a knock at the door. Michael looked towards Sheila, and Sheila just smiled.

‘It’s Mark. I invited him over to talk to you.’

He breathed out a sigh of relief as he went through the living room to the front door. Mark was one of his best friends. One of the few people who could be trusted. As he opened the door he was met by the fearsome sight of the Anti-Terrorist Branch.

Long gone were the days when you were greeted by a tall blue hat, with a silver badge and a face that smiled. Now it was a black rubber mask with glass eyes, that reflected your own image back, and a rifle barrel that was pointed directly at your forehead.

Michael did what he wouldn’t normally do, and ran. Instinctively he went upstairs and into the small bedroom.

‘Stop now or we will shoot!’ screamed the officers as they swarmed into the house. He ran as fast as he could. Sheila stood terrified in the kitchen as officers photographed and scanned her details into the system.

As soon as Michael was in the bedroom he closed the door behind him, and dropped the cupboard onto the floor to block the door. He opened the window and climbed out, quickly jumping into the alley below. He could hear the shouts and screams as he jumped onto his bike and cycled down the alleyway and onto the small path beside the river. He was glad for his years as a conspiracy theorist. He had already thought of all eventualities. Within a few minutes he was already far away from the police, cycling down dirt tracks they could not reach.

After a few hours of cycling he got off his bike. He could see a motorway station up ahead with a field and a forest behind it. He threw the bike in the river just under a small bridge so it couldn’t be seen.

As he hid in the bushes, he could hear the drones passing overhead. It was one thing to have seen them on the news in Pakistan, or Iran, but to see them on your own turf was strange. At one point it seemed like the whole world was heading towards some happy place, and then boom it was like World War Three.

It was dark now, and the only sounds were of birds tweeting, and the river’s water flowing. Michael walked towards the petrol station to make a call. He figured he had a few minutes before he was tapped, and then he would have to run. He walked into the kiosk aware of the locations of the CCTV cameras and dialled the number. The phone rang a few times.

‘Hello.’

‘Hi Mark. It’s Michael.’

‘Bloody hell mate. I’ve had the cops round here asking all sorts of questions.’

‘I thought so, and I know I don’t have long but I had to call someone.’

‘It’s not safe mate and I have nothing for you. I suggest you go on a long holiday, a very long holiday. Now fuck off.’

He put the phone down, and looked around him. That was bad. He knew Mark well and he didn’t rattle easily. He needed to find an escape route quickly before the helicopters arrived.

Behind the petrol stations were a couple of lorries. He walked up to the rear of one. The signage said ‘Scottish Whiskey’ and he crossed his fingers hoping that it was heading up north. He looked around and pulled back the tarpaulin and jumped inside before the driver came back. Just as the truck driver started his engine he could hear the whirr of a helicopter overhead. The lorry drove off just in time.

Where he was going he didn’t know, but anywhere was better than home. He sat in the back of the truck, his head leaning against one of the whiskey barrels. He wondered what to do next. Whilst at one of the meetings he had heard of camps set up by activists. They were far away from cities, mainly near the coast around Wales and Scotland, places that were harder to reach. He had one more number left to call. A girl he had met at the meeting. Maybe she would know.

Michael fell asleep after a few minutes, exhausted. He woke up the next day with a sore neck, and daylight peeking in through the tarpaulin. The truck had stopped and the driver must have fallen asleep. He looked outside at the road signs which read ‘Stoke on Trent.’ He jumped out and went to the shop to buy some more food then went into the phone booth and dialled his last number.

‘Hello.’

‘I have to be quick. I met you at the meeting and you mentioned a great place to go for holidays.’

He hoped she would click. She did.

‘The Bay,’ she said briefly, and the phone went dead.

He went back inside the garage shop and checked the maps for Wales then went outside and started to thumb a lift.

By nightfall he had made his way to Colwyn Bay. The town seemed deserted. A lot of people had left for jobs in the cities. Most work had dried up since the collapse, and the only benefits that were left were tied in with ‘community jobs’ in the cities. This mainly meant next to nothing labour while working for large corporations. But who would question it. With a ‘war’ on, that old propaganda tool, ‘British Spirit’ was fully utilised to shame society into accepting the conditions, or else.

‘Is there anybody here,’ shouted Michael, but his words were kidnapped by the wind’s howl.

‘Is there anybody here,’ he shouted again, and a person appeared at the bottom of the street. He walked quickly down the street towards the person. She looked scruffy and dirty, wearing clothes that were too big for her. She looked terrified.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘My name’s Michael. I’m on the run and I heard there were camps here for activists.’

‘How can we trust you?’ she asked, looking intently into his eyes.

‘You can’t, and I can’t trust you. So we have to take a risk. What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Rebecca. Come with me.’ She turned and he followed her into the darkness.

He expected to find some band of fearless warriors ready to fight for justice but she acted like the war had been lost. The girl led him to a country barn and he knocked on the door. The door opened to an angry face.

‘Who the hell is he?’ asked the guy.

‘He’s running from the police.’

‘How the fuck do you know?’

‘We don’t. I just have to trust my instincts,’ said the girl. The man opened the door and allowed them both in. Michael walked into the barn and into a warm room. There were about fifteen people sitting around the house with a smaller group huddled around a fire. Some were watching a film on a television powered by a car battery. One person was strumming on a half-tuned guitar, ignored by the rest. The rest all looked at him with that look of dread in their eyes. This wasn’t what he expected but he did his best to appear hopeful.

‘So this is where the revolution’s at?’ said Michael with a half-smile. The man who appeared the strongest and most vocal came forward.

‘There’s no revolution here. There’s no revolution anywhere. We’re just trying to get by. We have enough food, and live a quiet life.’ He was surprised by the hostility levelled towards him.

‘I thought there would be some activist camps. You know trying to kill capitalism and change the world.’

‘We thought that too but the forces we are fighting are far too strong to fight. They’re evil,’ and the man turned away to watch the television.

Everybody went back to doing their own thing, and ignored him. He was baffled by their reactions. It was late and maybe everybody was tired. He would ask more questions tomorrow. He found himself a place and decided to get some sleep. The imperfect guitar sounds soothed his exhausted body as he fell asleep.

Michael woke up the next day with a cup of coffee in his face. As he sat up he noticed the room was empty except for the big guy. He sat up wondering where the girl had gone.

‘I’ve made you a coffee. We are all moving, and I suggest you do too. Stay away from the beaches. You are better off back home. You are better off pretending to be part of it all. Play the game, because you can’t win.’

‘I’m sure we can gather some people. There are many groups involved in London. It’s not all lost.’ said Michael.

The man looked at Michael again. It looked like he wanted to cry. He looked as if he couldn’t take it anymore.

‘Just stay away from the beaches,’ and the man walked out the door.

Michael sat there with his coffee feeling a little confused. He finished his drink and went outside. It was a windy but sunny day, and the sea was not more than five minutes away so he decided to stroll down the path towards the beach. As he walked down the path he noticed a body lying beside the path. As he got closer he realised the person was in fact slumped over as if he had just fallen asleep.

He tapped the body on the shoulder but he did not move. He pulled the man back, and saw the red hole on his forehead and Michael froze. He looked up ahead and saw that there were in fact more bodies. He felt the urge to run but what if some of them were still alive?

Michael walked farther down the path and closer to the sea. With each body he touched, his legs started to turn to jelly. They were all dead and with the same red hole in the forehead. He looked across the beach and froze with revulsion. Hundreds of bodies were stretched out across the sands on their sides as if they were trying to run somewhere. Just as he went to turn and walk away he heard a buzzing sound like a dragon fly, and out of the corner of his eye a black creature, or should he say a beast, came into view.

Shaped like a dragonfly, its metallic silver wings whirred in unison, as it hovered from left to right. It was a creature not born from evolution but made by the hands of man. He stared into its glass eyes and felt the miniature orbs scan him, and relay the data back to HQ somewhere.

Michael was hypnotised by fear as he observed the sleekness of the beast, stood transfixed at the great evolutionary leaps human beings had gone through to produce such technical sorcery.

A tiny smooth hole sat at the centre of the drone’s glass casing. A slight pfft was heard, and he collapsed to the ground. A single rivulet of blood dripped out of the hole in his head, as he lay lifeless on the ground, with a thousand other bodies. The drone scanned the beach for other signs of life, then zipped up two hundred feet, turned south, and made its way back to the City of London.

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