Novel ‘The Three Dead’: First 998 Words

Hey, it’s not my fault the text I wrote only reaches 1K two words into a new sentence. You know, except for the fact that… I wrote it that way.

Huh. Guess it is my fault.

In that case, I hereby declare 998 the new 1000. Huzzah!

Anyway, I couldn’t decide whether the intro for my NaNoWriMo 2015 project was more of a prologue or a chapter one, so I have decided to take a third option and call it ‘Chapter Zero’.

And just like Coke Zero, this has nothing added to it–nothing by way of editing, proofreading, revision, etc.–with the idea that in about a billion years I’ll revisit this opening, polish it up and show you all the difference. Won’t that be something to look forward to, as we all meander unsteadily towards our graves?

Speaking of which, here’s the NaNo blurb for the novel of my writings, ‘The Three Dead‘:

*~*~*

“As you are, so once were we;
As we are–so shall ye be.”

Thus speak three skeletal beings to three young hunters cavorting in the forest. But when one hunter asks the question–does that mean the three dead are the future selves of the three living? Or are they unrelated others who died long ago?–the dead have no answer.

They have no answer because they know no answer; not who they are or were, how they died, or why they now walk the earth reminding the living of their eventual fate. Consumed by curiosity the three dead begin their journey to discover their nature and purpose as, unstuck in time, they wander the fourteenth century looking for themselves.

But they are not the only ones searching. Five friars out of Bavaria, two orphans of the Black Death, three students from the University of Montpellier and the three living themselves are among those investigating the appearances of these skeletons, while a party of ill-fated Englishmen carry a shroud to a mysterious buyer in the Alps, even as the world around them seems to be coming to an end.

Well. Perhaps ‘seems’ isn’t entirely accurate.

*~*~*

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/bd/30/57/bd3057c4e2b1823d883b71a5e9619ce8.jpg

Is it just me, or does wedding-cake hat-guy look like he’s pleasantly surprised to see the three strangely mannequin-like corpses? Like they were his old college buddies he just ran into unexpectedly in the street?

Well, with that deeply insightful comment out of the way, here’s those 998 or so words I was telling you about…

*~*~*

Chapter 0

 

Softly, a trickle of dirt no more voluminous than to have filled a thimble fell from the hollow socket where the Taller One’s right eye had been. Not that This One had ever seen the Taller One with eyes, but it was assumed there had once been eyes there, given the nature of their existence.

“Are they coming this way?” asked the Smaller One.

The Taller One turned his skull towards the other slowly, letting a few more grains of dead soil slip off his cheekbone.

“Can you not tell?” he asked in turn.

Had either the Taller One or the Smaller One had eyes, This One imagined that they would have locked them, as the living did. This One had something—a feeling?—that such a lock, which might as well have existed even if the accidents of it did not, was something it would be sensible to dispel, and so let their senses branch out into the woods themselves to answer the Smaller One’s question.

Until just recently it had been a fine, clear day. Although This One knew of ‘seasons’ they could not quite remember how the living labelled them, and so could not make a guess as to which one these woods dwelt in. This One was rather of the opinion though, that it was one of the two softer seasons—the ones that bridged the harsh bright with the bitter dark.

There was a cold wind rattling the leaves though. This One knew because, not two miles off, he saw—or felt?—one of the living pull their cloak around themselves with a shudder.

This One stepped up onto the root of a very old tree; finger-bones scraping against cracked bark.

“They’re following the beast.” Fox, This One remembered. Reynard. “Some ways north-east of here, heading west. It’s come as close to us as it’s going to get.”

The three of them should make the move to head them off, was implied in the announcement.

Both of the other Ones turned to This One as if they didn’t quite understand what they had meant. At least, that’s how This One felt the others had reacted, often This One wasn’t quite sure how to interpret what the other two did or said. They had what they assumed were feelings, yes; but who was to say how reflective of reality those were—if at all?

Fact was, it didn’t really matter. The three had a job to do, and they did it; usually without conversing even this much.

Usually…

How many times have we done this, again? This One wondered.

But that didn’t matter either. The Taller One soon pointed their dust-filled sockets out to the north-west where the living were, and the Smaller One followed suit within a moment. There was something comforting to This One about that.

“Dusk is approaching,” the Taller One announced. “There is a clearing they should reach as soon as the light falters. We should wait for them there.”

This One was happy to follow the Taller One’s lead. They withdrew their bones from the tree to wrap their shroud around themselves more tightly—they didn’t want to lose it to the forest with the speed they might move at if the Taller One decided to go quickly.

Then, as they adjusted the border of the garment that had been slipping off their shoulder, a few of the scarlet threads snapped where they had become brown and withered with decay. This One stilled at the sound of the tearing cloth. Their fingers gripped the fabric tighter, their arm relaxed. Out of habit, This One turned their head to inspect the damage, though they no more had eyes than the Taller One did.

There was no part of the shroud’s deep red that was not stained by the long wait beneath the earth; small streaks of the mess of insects clinging to every thread, and where the cloth had got so bad that you could no longer see the red in it there were many rips and patches frayed away.

But some of it still looked red. The feeling This One had looking at the new wound was, they would have said, the opposite of comfort.

The Smaller One noticed the matter too; perhaps had heard the tear. This One was embarrassed to be caught with their thoughts clearly lingering on it; considering their shroud was the most well-preserved of all their garments, and the few scraps of once-white cloth that clung to the shoulders and pelvic bones of the Smaller One quite clearly the least, though supplemented by their rosary and talisman.

It wasn’t as though any of them would say anything about it, of course. That wasn’t the sort of thing that Three Dead did.

“Let us depart,” said the Taller One. Whether they’d noticed the tear or not, This One couldn’t say—could only attempt to adjust the shroud by pulling at a sturdier part of the fabric, more gently than before. It seemed that it would hold.

They put it from their mind as they prepared to glide. When they wanted to, the three dead moved like water fowl landing on a lake, only at far greater speeds. This One was pretty certain they knew which of the many clearings in these woods the Taller One had meant; the fox they were chasing was poised to skirt its edges within a degree’s shift of the shadow on a sundial.

Would the living actually go into the clearing if they were focussed on the fox though, This One wondered. It had happened that the three had missed their targets on occasion and had to catch up with them again later; sometimes even days later. This One knew it annoyed both the others when that happened; the Taller One took their calling very seriously, while the Smaller One tended to follow the Taller One’s suit in that too.

“Hurry, cousin! The damned beast is getting away!”

*~*~*

(The Taller One, Smaller One and This One get actual names by the end of the chapter, don’t worry)

Yeah, it needs some work. But who likes work? That’s what I say, and it’s that attitude that’s carried me so far in life. I mean, I have a job and everything…

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The NaNoWriMo of Argon

https://i2.wp.com/d1lj9l30x2igqs.cloudfront.net/nano-2013/files/2015/11/NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner.jpg

As the image above is worth a thousand words, and I no longer have to keep up my daily wordcount by writing those thousand words, I shall return to fanfiction my numerous awe-inspiring original projects presently, after leaving my dear followers with an account of my experience of this fearsome month, written in the style of Jim Theis’ ‘The Eye of Argon‘ (http://ansible.uk/misc/eyeargon.html)

(I take no responsibility for anyone who may die laughing in reading ‘The Eye of Argon‘. Several of my barbarian comrades came very close)

*~*~*

The swirling pools of boiling gold that formed the scarlet orb, named ‘sun’ by some, withdrew its coils of heated shimmer in terror at the approaching dusk. Brave-hearted Rachelignr, the unsung Englisholian writer of barbarian fame bent the glistening sinews of her fleshy, manipulative fingers over the taunting keys of her crepuscular laptop, dulled and catastrophic thoughts abuzz with the permutations of thought related to her tangled, twisted, aggrogonious novel that lurked in the dingy shadows of her sinister and sacreligious id and ego.

“Mrifk!” she ejaculated, bustily–blubbering clusters of uncompassionate letters streaming like wisps of the most elegantly spun silk of the horned tarantulas that live craftily, luring naive prey to grotesque ends in the darkest corners of the Englisholian empire. “Thou NaNoWriMo approaches, wretch! Accept the defenestrating chaos of despair!”

Though she was, for many a day, ahead of the steep incline that set points–not arbitrary, but cunningly contrived along a parallel point–the creeping arms of sallow failure, grim and clammy in their mocking swamp of death contrived emporiously to wrap around her soft and lifeless limbs and guarantee her a place among her many slain comrades, strewn about the frigid haunts of the local CB2 Bistro, their entrails lain in pools of crimson gore.

In such a way did the teaming swarms of rainbow powdered fluff, efulgent with their horde of glassy eyes, pitch pupils jangling back and forth like the fair maiden Carthena’s luscious breasts in the arms of her barbarian lover, the unstoppable army of Plot Bunnies bore their mouth-knives, eager to bite into blood-gorged flesh.

“Thou shalt ne’er prevail, slut!” they cackled; their shrill and mincing voices legion in the unseen glow of the cerulean laptop.

Not cowed by their dancing tongues of prophesied doom, Rachelignr bashed her swollen digits along the malicious letter-makers and brought forth words an infinite amount of monkeys may very well have secreted with their mischievous ways.

“Away with thee!” she bellowed, lungs shaking, bosoms heaving, “Thou verminous rejections of Hell; thou shalt all taste death in the jaws of the violet oblong of completion!”

“Alack!” shrieked the mirthful lepus scourge, felt arms cast to the deaf ears of their abominable sky-gods. “Your slothful procrastination was orchestrated all along, reserving your strength for a final assault!”

“Aye,” agreed Rachelignr, “And may these fifty-two thousand words avenge the gnashing souls of my fallen, noble brethren.”

Exploding into explosions of pastel fibres the horde was brought to naught; the novel validated, and Rachelignr’s honour was avenged as airborne blobs of dead bunny devastation thickened the air.

“Rest in peace, Grignr,” she sighed.

And with that, the worthy barbarian and her overlarge chest of magnificent breastage departed NaNoWriMo victorious.

*~*~*

THE END

(OR IS IT!?)

Jumping the Dragon

Guess what TV show this post is about!

(And guess what my opinion of the latest episode was…)

Yep, it’s happened–for the first time in years something that happened on a TV show has actually upset me. Not just annoyed me; that happens all the time, but actually upset me. I’m even writing a stupid blog post about it because it upset me so much, knowing full well no one cares about my opinion on Game of Thrones.

You know, I’ve heard it said (usually in what I imagine to be a snooty, condescending tone) that Game of Thrones the TV show has become more like a fanfic of A Song of Ice and Fire than an adaptation. To some extent I’ve agreed with that, but then–I like fanfiction. I like Game of Thrones fanfiction. I’ve written Game of Thrones fanfiction for crying out loud. And I like(d) the show–though I haven’t ‘loved’ it since Season 3 started. Hell, I really liked last week’s episode.

But this week’s episode was the chapter of this particular fanfic where I hit the back-button, and unless the finale reveals that what happened this week was a bad dream-sequence–and seriously, I would forgive them even that hackneyed cliche if it undid what was done this week–I won’t be coming back for Season 6.

Two weeks ago I was defending the show, I know, but that was when a change was made that I thought was good. I like the alterations to Sansa’s storyline. I love the alterations to Tyrion’s. I’m glad Jon Connington and Quentyn Martell were cut from the show. But Shireen’s death this week was a bad change. A very bad change. And to the story-line which in the books is the one I care about the most. (Team Dragonstone FTW!)

Personally, I’ve never felt the show did justice to Stannis’ character, but I’d learned to accept that even though he’s one of my top three favourites from the books. However, what he did here is wildly inconsistent even with their own characterisation of him; and here’s the thing–I would have accepted it to be within his character, book or show, to sacrifice Shireen to Rhollor; if he was 100% sure it was the only way to save the world from the White Walkers–and only then.

But this? Two episodes ago he told Melisandre to fuck off for suggesting it. One hiccup later and suddenly he’s like, ‘well, throw her on the bonfire, I guess,’ just so he can capture Winterfell. It’s the same way they screwed up the sacrificing-Gendry (Edric in the books) storyline, only way worse because it was a greater sacrifice, for less gain, with even less assurance that it would work because there was too much other stuff going on this season for them to build up properly to it. It was stupid.

*Sigh*. Well, never mind. I’m going to find some other TV show to binge-watch so I can take my mind off it. Though I have to say, for the first time I’m now looking forward to Winds of Winter coming out despite my foreboding at how it would inevitably screw things up, because at least I know it won’t screw things up as badly as this.

I’m going to look like a whiny idiot next week if it was all a dream sequence…

Tools of Procrastination

Hey everyone, this isn’t my usual type of post, I just wanted to share these two test/quiz things with you in case you needed to entertain yourselves for a few minutes.

For my fellow readers: http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/technology-research-centers/ereaders/speed-reader/index.html

And for my fellow sci-fi/fantasy nerds: http://www.easydamus.com/alignmenttest.html

Hope the links work, and thank you to the people who brought them to my attention; here are my results–

Reading

(Really hope that works. [EDIT: It didn’t, so I re-took the test, screen-capped the image and pasted it. Got a better score the second time too!] By the way, I totally cheated by already knowing the book the sample came from)

And–

Alignment

(This one didn’t have an ’embed’ button, so I just screen-capped it. Funnily enough, when I looked at my results in full I found my alignment to ‘Chaotic Evil’ was pretty much just as high as my alignment to ‘Chaotic Neutral’. Go figure) XD

The ‘Needs’ of the Many…

Re-blogging this post I did like a year ago because I believe it just became relevant again, from what I’ve been seeing on Twitter. But I guess I’ll see for myself when I watch GOT tonight. 🙂

Rachelloon Productions

Yeah, I haven’t posted in a few days because I was busy watching cartoons—uh, I mean hard at work. Because I have a job and stuff. Anyway, I couple of days ago I was flipping through channels when I heard someone talking about Violence Against Women on TV, and how they wish shows would stop ‘resorting’ to it.

And I’ve heard stuff like this time and time again, usually under the stamp of how ‘unnecessary’ such action is. You don’t ‘need’ to make a villain use Violence Against Women for people to know that he’s a bad guy—or in the case of ‘Game of Thrones’, one of my personal favourites (and also favourites to complain about), to show what a horrible world they all live in.

Well, they’re right.

And?

Let’s be frank here. When people say you don’t ‘need’ to have people beat some women up in your…

View original post 460 more words

Miscellaneous Mutterings of Madness

So, about this time last year I started writing a post simply because I hadn’t written anything in a few days, and ended up writing myself into doing NaNo for the first time. Friends, that time has come again, only this time the post won’t end the same way, because I’ve already committed myself to NaNo 2014.

… A general update then.

I’d like to have another Troped! planning page analysis up this weekend and then finish Chapter Two by the end of the month–for obvious reasons nothing will be done in November, and you probably won’t hear much from me in general. I do have a special surprise for Halloween night, of course…

I’m also hoping to finish Chapter 26 of DUELS and at least start Chapter 27. The next Book Commentary to go up will be Starcrossed, that’ll probably be one of the tiding-over posts in November (though given the quality of Starcrossed it might just end up one of the ‘why do I follow this whacko again?’ posts) … What else? Let’s see…

#Gamergate is officially over–unless some part of you happens to still be attached to reality, where it’s going as strong as ever… ‘Gotham’ continues to be awesome… my local sweetshop has started stocking Snapple…

Nope. Nothing’s coming to mind.

Maybe I should just get back to plotting out ‘The Points’?

The problem with that is that it requires a lot of thinking–12 main characters in 12 universes are all very well and good while they’re still following separate storylines; when those lines converge and you realise that four versions of another character have been travelling to universes where they themselves are dead in order to kill people who may or may not be from that universe and the main character starts crossing over into other universes while other versions of him are travelling to his.

Still with me? Because the whole thing is beginning to look like a tea towel my dad once had explaining the rules of cricket.

And I loved that tea towel, which means ‘The Points’ is destined to be a huge success!

(But unfortunately none of those Points were that of this post, which remains pointless. Ah, well. You can’t win ’em all)

Anywho, give me a shout if you can find me on the NaNo forums–my name is the same as it is here, and this is the photo I use:

Mr. Toad

Pretty sexy, huh? Yep, that’s me–I’ll let you wonder for yourself whether I mean the small, dark amphibian, likely a juvenile of the common toad variety, or the hand it’s crawling on. This picture was taken in the graveyard of a medieval church in Norfolk, where all the cool kids hang out. If you didn’t know that, then you’re not cool.

Until next time, wherein it is my deepest desire that something actually relevant will be discussed.

The Window Cleaner

This is a short story I wrote just after I finished university in 2011 and thought that writing short stories might be an idea. It was not to be, as I struggled pitifully to keep ‘Rooks’ down to 120,000 words–about the top end word count for a YA book–and that’s after what I had originally envisioned as being a stand alone had to be turned into three books because of its length.

The point is that I am not skilled in the art of brevity, so even my short stories were scarcely able to be restrained by 2k or 3k word limits. But this is one of my successes (in that regard at least), so if you like short stories or something then read this while you wait for my book to become available on kindle. It’s more verbose than I’d write nowadays, but everyone grows. I mean, you should try reading the first thing I ever wrote–

The first thing I ever wrote…

Hmm. Well, I know what I’ll be treating you all to later on in the week! For now, enjoy ‘The Window Cleaner’.

*~*~*~*

 

 

Twelve years, seven months and seven days after that abrupt apocalypse had seen an end to all life on earth, there was a knock on my bedroom window.

Instinctively, my eyes pointed themselves in the direction of that window, and behind the dark blue curtains I could see the silhouette of a man in the afternoon sun. The shadowy figure was distorted and slanted by the direction of the light, but even after I blinked several times it did not dissemble and reveal itself to be a figment of my imagination, so I didn’t try to move.

There shouldn’t have been anyone out there, of course. That was the thing about there being no life on earth; objects that were not alive were unlikely, no, unable to knock on your window, so logically there was no one knocking on my window. And yet I could see a man-shaped figure right in front of me, ostensibly alive and as I said, knocking on my window. Given that there had been an apocalypse I suppose it could have been a mutant zombie vampire or something, although that would just be all I needed in my current state.

As I tried to think this through, there was another knock at the window, a little louder this time, and I could see the head of the figure turn around to look behind them and back again, as if seeking some kind of assistance. I was afraid, I suppose. I hadn’t spoken to or seen anyone in almost thirteen years, so I had good reason to be, but now that I think about it the person at the window was strangely un-frightening for someone who shouldn’t have existed. It was constantly moving its head, stretching out to try and get a better view of its surroundings in a way that I thought, as ill-positioned as I was to make this kind of judgement, made it seem confused.

It knocked a third time. I was quite sure I wasn’t imagining such sounds by now, so I flinched away from it as any sane person would have. The figure still refused to expose itself as a ghost of unreality, and I could have sworn I heard a voice say, “Hello?” come from roughly where the figure was.

“Excuse me,” I thought I heard it say. “Is there anyone in there?”

It spoke with a west country accent. I didn’t think that if I was having a hallucination it would speak with a west country accent, so I pushed myself up and out of my chair, brushing away the cobwebs that had been keeping me there. I didn’t go to the window immediately, I was too nervous to do something like that, but once there was another knock, even sharper than before, I folded my arms around myself and took a few steps forward.

My legs were awkward, slow to move and weak enough to make me worry that if I stood on them too long they’d snap. I cringed and held onto the wall for support, my skin crawling with each footprint I left in the heavy build-up of dust. I don’t think I’d left that chair in at least six months—there hadn’t really been any point in doing so until now.

It seemed to take far longer than it should have for me to reach the window. I still didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I only drew the curtain back far enough to get the tiniest glimpse of the other side, but I had to push it back immediately because I hadn’t seen the sun in about two years and had been unprepared for the shock. I hadn’t had much cause to look at the sun, and it was bad for your skin anyway. For all I knew I had only survived as long as I had because I had stayed away from it.

The figure had obviously seen me though, despite my not being able to see it in turn. It called out to me. “Hello? I’m sorry to disturb you like this, but can I talk to you for a minute?”

I shielded my eyes and pulled back the curtain again. The light was still strong, like the white-out effect of a nuclear bomb, but I persevered as I had always done and pushed the curtain so that the rings slid across the rail with a little rustling sound, slowed down so much it was almost a squeak.

Eventually, my eyes began to acclimate. I could see that the figure at the window was about forty, chubby and with no visible hair beneath the helmet he was wearing. He had one of those faces which made other faces look uncooked, with nervous little grey eyes and a plastic smile. His hands were holding onto a rope suspending him from the top of the building, which I supposed was how he was able to knock on my bedroom window despite me being quite a few floors up. I didn’t remember the exact amount. On the outside windowsill was a bucket with a rag half hanging out of it, and from that and his bright orange jumpsuit I guessed he was there to clean the windows.

Far be it from me to guess why anyone would want to clean windows after the end of the world—perhaps he’d found it difficult to kick the habit?

He smiled wider when I managed to look up far enough to meet his eyes. “Did I wake you up?” he asked. “Sorry about that. Can you hear me all right? Maybe opening the window would be better?”

His voice was indeed muffled, but I didn’t know if my hands had the strength to pull the handle down and push the thing out. I supposed it would be rude not to even make the attempt and I gave it a try. It was surprisingly easy for windows which hadn’t been opened since before the apocalypse. (I had never opened my windows. You never knew what might get in).

“Ah, that’s better,” said the figure. “As I say, I’m really sorry to disturb you, but I need to know—is this the Eliot building?”

I hesitated in answering him, firstly because I wasn’t sure and secondly because I’d stopped talking a very long time ago. This was simply the building I’d been holed up in for the last thirteen years, and I hadn’t left it in any time recent enough for me to remember what it might have been called.

My silence was clearly awkward for him however. “Um…” he said slowly. “Actually, maybe this is the wrong place…”

When I opened my mouth to try and answer him I swear I heard my jaw creak. “I…” I said. “I don’t know.”

“Oh?” He continued to look around, periodically returning his gaze to me but for the most part looking anywhere else but. “Is there anyone else inside?” he asked.

I frowned at the question which had such an obvious answer. “No,” I told him. “I thought I was the only survivor.” My curiosity piqued, I leant forward a bit to try and see if maybe someone else was out there. There wasn’t, of course, just the endless flat miles of devastated wasteland, charcoal and maroon in the light of the too-bright sun, stretching out as far as I could see and no doubt even beyond that. “What’s your name?” I asked the man.

“Jim,” he said, managing to bend his lips into a smile for a moment, “I’m Jim. I was just up here to clean the windows, but I think I might have got the wrong building. I’m sorry if I woke you up.”

I didn’t think any hallucination of mine would call themselves Jim either. I suppose that meant he was really there. “How did you survive?” I asked him. I think it had been too long for me to conjure up much excitement.

His eyes went wide and he was completely still for a few seconds, then he looked around once more and then back at me. “Same way we all do, I guess?” he said. He made it sound like a question, which was understandable. I too had long since forgotten how I’d survived.

“It’s not too dangerous out there, then?” I wanted to know because this incident was making me feel like maybe it was time I left the room again, even if only just the one more time, but I wasn’t going to do it if it was dangerous out there.

“Dangerous?” the word was spoken almost as a laugh. “I guess you could say it’s as dangerous as it ever was!”

A somewhat philosophical answer, I thought; not exactly the kind I was looking for. Still, I couldn’t expect myself to muster up enough strength to ask the same question twice. I tried to think of something else to say that might be useful.

It was Jim who asked the next question, about the same time as I became acclimated enough to the light to drop one of my hands. “Were you having some kind of nightmare?” he asked.

I shook my head a little, as much as I could. “No, I was awake,” I said.

“Oh.” He looked past me and into the room now, not even trying to disguise his peering. “How long have you been cooped up in there?”

It took me a while to remember that the word I wanted to answer him with wasn’t a word at all, but a gesture. I shrugged.

“Well, that’s probably too long then—if you don’t mind me saying so of course, I mean I’m only a window cleaner, aren’t I? Why don’t you come outside, enjoy the sunshine for a while, that sort of thing?”

“Bad for your skin,” I informed him.

“Eh?” he said.

“The sun,” I said. “The ultra violet rays cause skin cancer. Even a little exposure can cause damage.”

“Well, that may be,” said Jim, though he didn’t look like he believed it, “but you can’t stay shut away forever, can you?”

I don’t know, I’d been doing pretty well so far.

“Tell you what,” he said, glancing at his wrist, “it’s almost lunch time. Come on up to the roof and have a sandwich with me, eh?”

The roof? I’d never been to the roof of the building before, wasn’t even sure how to get there. Sure, I think I could have been forgiven for slacking off from my very important task of staring into space for weeks on end, but the thought of leaving the room honestly frightened me. Of course, I didn’t get much of a chance to explain that.

“See you there!” said Jim, and with a little wave he began scaling back up the wall, and I was too unused to speaking after such a long time to ask him to wait.

Thus I was compelled to go to the roof. To do otherwise would have been rude. It was easier than I thought to open the door to my room, I hadn’t locked it the last time I came in and although it creaked horribly it was actually even less stiff than the window had been. A few dust-ridden cobwebs drifted to the floor as I stood there, peering out at the corridor. My room had been right at the end. Fifteen point five, it said on the door, so I suppose that meant I was on the fifteenth floor. I couldn’t remember how many floors there were altogether, but I hoped it wasn’t that many more than fifteen. Taking the lift would have been incredibly stupid after twelve years without servicing after all, and in my experience lifts had been unreliable enough even before the apocalypse.

I shuffled slowly through the dust and bits of peeled paint towards the door to the stairs, having to use almost my whole body weight to push it open. The stairs were the hardest part—it turned out the building had eighteen floors and with my having been sitting in a chair for at least half a year or so before this, climbing them was gruelling. The top floor had a little door marked ‘access to roof’ with a bar across it, and on my third attempt I managed to push it down and get up to the stairs to the roof.

Despite having just parted company, I was still surprised to see Jim there, undoing the straps of his harness with a frown of concentration. He looked up and waved to me when the door shut. “Hello, there!” he called.

There was a box on the ground which was open, and I could see sandwiches wrapped in Clingfilm inside it from where I was.

“I, uh, didn’t bring anything,” I said awkwardly. I wondered vaguely where he’d got the bread from. Where he’d got anything at all from was a mystery, come to think of it.

“No worries,” he said with a laugh, stepping out of his harness. “I don’t mind sharing!”

I couldn’t think of a reply. While he poured a cup of steaming liquid from a thermos I inspected the rest of his lunch box. There must have been at least two sandwiches in there, the box was quite deep. A packet of crisps, a Kit Kat, a Pepperami—which I personally wouldn’t have eaten, I was pretty sure those things had to be kept refrigerated and since they probably stopped making them around about the time the world ended, that one would have been lying around for who knows how long. Then there was a separate box of what looked to be raw carrots, and a sprig of grapes.

Grapes were nice. I used to like grapes, I remembered. These were the red kind. I reached forward for one then stopped and checked to see if it was all right with Jim. “Go ahead,” he said, smiling at me. I picked one off the branch and sat back. I wasn’t really all that hungry, so I just concentrated on the feel of holding a grape, how cool it was, and firm, but I knew it was liable to be crushed if I pressed it too hard so I was careful. It was a nice shade of red too.

“Thanks,” I said, as soon as I remembered to say it.

“No worries,” Jim replied. He patted me on the shoulder lightly and a cloud of dust swirled into the air. I flinched at the impact, it was so unusual for me that I think I blocked it out immediately after. Then after a brief pause, the odd man started up conversation again. “Isn’t it nice to be out here in the fresh air?” he said.

I looked up at the yellow sky and red sun. Being in the fresh air after so long was indeed… refreshing, but I couldn’t help but be nervous about the consequences.

“You can have some of the carrots too, if you like,” Jim went on. “I hate the buggers. And a quarter of the Kit Kat, seeing as how that’s not good for me anyway, and I can spare at least half a sandwich and a few crisps. You like prawn cocktail? I wish I had another cup with me, I could give you some tea, but I have a bottle of water in the bag…”

He went on in that vein for quite some time, talking about nothing in particular and nothing that made any sense to me at any rate. My answers were monosyllabic at best, and sometimes I forgot to answer altogether. But it was strange, because sitting up there on the roof with the window cleaner from the west country whose name was Jim and who was sharing his impossible lunch with me put this odd little thought into my head.

It was a thought of little substance and less common sense, but it popped into my head all the same, and even though it might have been best to ignore such a frivolous notion, I couldn’t help but entertain it—even if only as idle fancy. I don’t think I’d ever had much sense.

And yet, as I sat up there with that strange man and listened to his chatter, it did somehow occur to me that perhaps it was not the end of the world after all.