2 Miles Outside the Inner Exclusion Zone
It’s busier than usual, but it’s not a usual day. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and everyone has to look their best for the parties, the first five minutes anyway. I hate waiting but I need to slow my breath. There’s one, two, three, four, five people in front of me, gathered around the seats waiting for one of the three tall leather chairs to be ready. I won’t be partying late into the night, even if I had somewhere to go, but tomorrow will be even busier, more men waiting to have their hair cut and spiked into a style they think will be the most likely to attract a mate. Not me. I’ll be getting an early night. I start a new job on the second. I start a new life.
Everyone’s chatting, an excitement in the air for the celebrations, but I avoid the stares, the questioning glances. I don’t want to answer the projected questions. Instead, I grab the local paper and check the date. Two days ago. A weekly rag. It won’t have anything about what I saw last night.
I look through the tall windows, or try too. Their bluster has steamed up the glass and all I can see is the moisture collecting in lines and running down to the floor. I check my phone, looking through the shattered screen and remember it’s top of my list to replace when I get my first real pay cheque.
I look up from squinting at the dull, unlit image, the silhouettes of words I can’t make out in enough definition to be of use. I can’t tell if it’s the fence I saw last night, or something else completely, could be somewhere on another continent. I look up again, realising what I’d seen, a guy in shorts and t-shirt striding in. I want to scream it’s nearly January, but I don’t. Instead I watch as he bumps shoulders with the barber, then jumps onto the counter shouting and laughing about something no one else in the room understands.
I look around the room, my gaze casual so I don’t risk meeting their eyes. They think he’s a prick too. I’m not being unreasonable. Right? They dominate the room with their chatter, football talk resonating, others joining in. Their faces relaxing, only mine staying fixed in the scowl. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’m alone in my thoughts.
Now they’re all talking, but not saying a word. None of what they’re saying has any meaning. No one has mentioned the fence which went up last night. No one has mentioned the soldiers gathered around the entrances, speeding through the lanes in Land Rovers, rifles over their shoulders. No one’s mentioned the people who’ve gone missing. Everyone I’ve spoken to know someone who knows someone who’s not been in touch in the last few days. Everyone knows someone who’s heard the stories, rumours of course.
Not these guys it would seem. Or they’ve just chosen to ignore it. To be ignorant.
I want to get up, get out of the seat. I want to raise my voice and ask if anyone else saw the fence around half the neighbouring village. If anyone knows where the people living there have gone. If anyone knows why there’s nothing on the news. But I don’t. Instead I sit and tune out their chatter, watch the drips race each other down the glass wondering what terrible thing lies the other side of the fence. Wondering what happens if it gets out.
The rumble of chatter stops as ears listen, scissors stop sliding together as faces turn, eyes flicking around the room as we wait to hear the sound again, wait to confirm. Another manic scream rattles the glass, they’re up on their feet, blind to what is past the misted windows. The door opens, chill air rushing in as they stream outside.
I’m the only one not standing. I’m the only one not squeezing through the doorway, the only one not adding to their fearful calls. The only one searching for the back exit as my pulse barely rises.
What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?
Could you survive the end of civilisation?
Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.