1. A New Day
Through the window Jeremiah watched as yet another night disappeared amidst the shimmering glare of an approaching dawn. Condensation formed and dripped down the three inch thick panes: it was already getting warm outside. On the cooled side of the glass his home reverberated to a crescendo of music – pulsing, deafening cascades of sound. There was nobody else around to hear; nobody to complain. His neighbours had moved away years ago. Everybody had moved into the city – even his Emma. Jeremiah had ignored the recall – he’d always preferred it out here, alone. He didn’t know where the music came from. All radio stations ceased broadcasting when the troubles started, but this music remained there in the middle of the dial. There were never any interruptions – certainly no human interruptions.
Jeremiah quickly dressed, there was no time to stop and eat. He hurried to gather up his bag for the day ahead. In it everything he needed to stay alive – his glasses, above all his glasses. Without them he would be utterly lost. One road, one street, one turning would be the same as the next. Without his glasses he’d never find his way to the city; he’d never find whatever it was he was looking for; he’d never find his way home – his glasses were in the bag, he was ready to go. As the apartment door slid shut the stirring strains of triumphant piano and soaring violin faded into nothing.
The rattling lift took him down the five flights to the parking units. In the few hours since it was last used his car had already gathered a fresh, thick layer of dust. Underground or in the open air the dust got everywhere in Medax. Since the troubles the city air had become noxious – throats would be ripped to shreds in minutes: the airways filling with miniscule particles of sand and glass. ‘Drowning on dry land’ was the best way Jeremiah could describe it. He’d seen it happen when the dead were still dying. Jeremiah though had access to an endless supply of dust masks. They’d probably been destined for the crews who used to spend countless hours in the baking sun keeping the city roads free of sand. Not a job Jeremiah or anyone with a choice had ever envied. Like many of his scavenged possessions the masks were stored in one of the apartments next to his. Since everybody else had left he had got into the habit of storing his things in what were once other people’s homes. They didn’t seem likely to be coming back.; he knew they weren’t.
Sparking his dust coated car into gear the shuddering engine was no more worrying than normal. On one of his next trips into the city Jeremiah would have to look into procuring new transport – this one was closer to its end than him. However, he had faith it would keep going for a short while at least – he prayed it would. The vibrations slowly subsided as Jeremiah reached for his glasses. As his car rolled towards the exit ramp, the scarred metal doors crunched and ground their way open. More daylight had invaded the sky since he’d disappeared into the garage. Even in his air conditioned car he could feel the heat rising: he needed to hurry. A firm press of the accelerator pedal saw the car lurch forward and out into the waiting sun.
Out on the main roads it was as ever deserted. Deathly quiet. Back before it all happened these roads would crackle with life, day and night. Even from inside the sterile metal box he called home the drone of engines and glare of speeding headlights would be a constant companion to his music. This time of day would have been one of the busiest: people rushing to reach the city before dawn, before the real heat of the day took hold. Some wondered why they’d ever built a city in lands so hostile and barren. Like all such questions the answer was rooted in man’s greed for money, resources and power. Jeremiah had never been one to complain or question. This sun splintered dust bowl had given him a job – one which he’d enjoyed; one which he wished he still had. Instead, his only occupation these days was to find something to extend his life. He suspected cancer, but Jeremiah had always been one to think the worst. Whatever it was he wasn’t for giving up just yet. Living out here in the baking desert had been one long swim against the tide of nature. After a while its inhabitants became the same: they wanted life even when it didn’t seem to belong.
Framing the dozen lanes of abandoned road were homes, factories, and schools – all long emptied of life. Most of these places had already been searched. A few books, photos, ornaments – items once precious to those who owned them, but of no use to Jeremiah. Vast, echo filled industrial units lay idle as once thundering machinery rusted away. It was just past the main intersection that he’d found the building with the masks. Sometimes he just liked to wander, but since his health had deteriorated there wasn’t any more time. What he had left needed to be spent where he still had mile upon mile to search: in the city. As dawn continued to creep over the horizon the first outlines appeared. Buildings thrusting into the lightening sky – spreading across his line of sight for miles in either direction. The once bustling, imperious city of Medax was approaching.
2. The City
Despite the savage conditions: the incinerating rays of the sun, the fierce warm winds, the biting cold nights – sprawling, low-rise swathes of the cities suburbs remained almost intact, choking in dust, but intact. Behind security guarded entrances sat white, flat roofed homes, still cowering beyond their razor tipped walls. Security camera’s which once whirred and zoomed at every passerby now trembled in the breeze. The inner suburbs was where the real money of Medax lay. Crime was rare in a city of its size; however, those with were paranoid about losing anything to those without. To their horror the rich found that their money bought them no extra privileges when the day came. Weak or wealthy, all suffered the same fate. Now the cameras are idle – only lizards and scavengers, like Jeremiah, daring to disturb the silence.
The suburbs gave way to the outer sections of the business quarter. Skyscrapers blended into the sun, shards of glass refracting light for miles around. The city still dazzled. Thankfully Jeremiah’s glasses protected his eyes from the worst. They made it clear exactly where he was going, where he needed to be. They soon guided him past the previously neon illuminated headquarters of the Bejan Corporation – whom Jeremiah served diligently for 23 years. Optometry had been his trade: eye tests, making spectacles and contact lenses for the corporation’s employees. It wasn’t the most exciting of careers, but one Jeremiah was exceptionally good at it. All the high ranking Bejan officials would seek him out – some executives even travelled the 1000 miles from D’Raza just to see him. Those D’Raza visitors had always appeared particularly confident, almost over bearing to Jeremiah. It was no secret that the real power behind Bejan lay across the central desert in Medax’s sister city. Jeremiah though suspected everything in Medax, not just Bejan, was controlled from D’Raza. It had made him and many others uneasy.
While Jeremiah’s countless trips to Medax had often uncovered pills and potions to help ease his pain, he now needed more – much more. He hoped he’d found somewhere: a thousandth review of the city schematics uncovered a building once used by the Bejan Corporation. It was described as a ‘Private Health Club’. A trawl through the invoices logged by this ‘health club’ revealed much more than vitamins trading hands. Jeremiah soon figured out that this club was nothing less than a front for high ranking Bejan officials to get their medical supplies at well below the going rate. Another example of the rich and influential trying to buy life. It didn’t work: they’re all dead. There was bound to be supplies, something, the best that money could have once bought sitting in a now unprotected basement. This had to be it.
Turning into Avenue 235 the previously hidden health club took form in the brightening morning sun. It sat squat in amongst a skyline of infinitely more intimidating, domineering structures. However, with his body struggling ever more each day this insignificant little building could be his last hope. Before leaving the safety of his car he prepared himself: a fresh mask, cream rubbed into every exposed pore, hat, gloves, spare masks, water. Switching off the engine he opened the door. Instantly he was assaulted by the brutal heat. For a few moments it left him gasping for breath. Staying in the car though just wasn’t an option. He had to get looking; he had to hurry.
Walking through the open doors Jeremiah’s heart sank: there was nothing to see. Inside and outside the view was the same: desert. The doors had been no defence against the swirling sands. Medax, like the other great cities of the desert, spent trillions of credits on protecting themselves from their own environment, from the heat. In its prime the city boasted lush, covered walkways of flowers, trees and exotic flora of all shapes and colour. Each second of the day, water once drained the roots of organic life which otherwise would have died within minutes. Huge desalination plants existed for the sole purpose of creating the water to keep the flowers alive, to keep Medax green. As the people disappeared so did the cities need to sustain artificiality. Flowers and trees withered to nothing. Where black tarmac roads once penetrated the tower blocks there was only sand. It was a miracle that Jeremiah could actually find anywhere he wanted to go. Maps were almost useless as streets became buried. However, he had his glasses and his memories. This was enough.
He knew that these places always had basements. All the buildings in Medax had underground storage areas: somewhere to keep their most important stock out of the heat. As he continued to suck in the filtered desert air, sweat began to flow over his body. Soon his back, hair, hands – everything, was dripping in his salted perspiration. This wasn’t unusual. The air in his lungs though was uncomfortably warm. The masks normally gave him more protection than this. Reaching for his bag he fumbled for his water. Panic soon overtook desperation as he couldn’t find either the water or a fresh mask. He’d only packed them moments before, they had to be there – they had to.
The entrance to the basement was close by: the schematics told him as much. However, as he continued to fumble through his bag he began to fear that he would never reach the dark, cooling shelter the club’s basement would provide. After all his battles for life, after surviving alone in this desert for three years, after all that, this: to get stuck in the sun like a dying lizard – his skin crisping, blood boiling, eyes popping. Within a day his body would be picked clean by the carrion birds that swooped from building to building, watching and waiting. Soon all that would be left would be a pile of clean bones, before they too were buried and lost in the sands. Jeremiah forgotten like the two million others who once called Medax home.
Jeremiah’s brain was scrambled at the best of times. He now had no idea whether he had or hadn’t packed the water and spare masks. The illness was taking a firmer grip. His blood felt thin, weak. Every day his thoughts became more easily confused; each morning more of a struggle to get up and out into the city. The car was only half a block away, but it might as well have been back in the underground garage at home. He was done for – he’d never find the basement. This was it. Whether it was death encroaching or the heat muddling his thoughts Jeremiah began to see blips, dots, traces of light flitting across the lens of his glasses. Voices, faces and even music. Jeremiah assumed the welcoming party was assembling. His entrance to the afterlife being prepared.
“No!” he shouted. Nobody was out here to hear his cries. “No, not yet. It’s not time,” he insisted as the wind whistled through the empty streets. It was then he remembered. For a moment his mind was clear; his thoughts decisive. He had one last play. One last shot at survival. Feeling his upper arm he searched for the bump. He found it and squeezed. Squeezed with all the strength he had left in his weakening body.
As the signal pulsed through his arm the hallucinations faded. Suddenly it was quiet. The last thing his eyes saw was a leaf fluttering to the sandy surface. A glistening, leaf sparkling with droplets of water. An impossible vision, a last wicked twist on the reality of a death in the desert. Jeremiah closed his eyes.
“Jeremiah, Jeremiah, wake up, wake up!”
Opening his eyes Jeremiah Ward thought this was the next place. It seemed fitting that after life in a desert his next world would be a cold, dark, damp basement. Above him stood a woman. Her close cropped black hair, glinting green eyes, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t.
“Emma, is that you?” asked a groggy, barely coherent Jeremiah.
“No, Mr Ward. It’s not Emma. Emma’s gone you know that. It’s me. You pressed the alarm. It’s Tamara.”
“Tamara, where, what…” he stumbled.
“You were in the city. Frying in the sun like an egg ready to blow. Lucky I was close by Jeremiah. How many times have I said you need to tell me when you’re in Medax. It’s not safe. Especially not for someone of your age. I can look for your things. You know that. You shouldn’t be out here. Not anymore.” Tamara continued.
“…but, my glasses. I can see. I have my masks. I’m only out for a few minutes. I don’t know what happened today. I…”
Tamara shook her head. “What happened today was that you nearly died you old fool. That’s what happened. Come on let’s get you home. I’ll stay with you tonight, keep my eye on you.”
Gingerly Jeremiah attempted to get to his feet. “Thank you, Tamara” he said, as she put an arm round the aging man. Slowly they crept towards the stairs.
As they emerged from the basement Jeremiah saw a city in ruin. Everywhere there was destruction. Desolation. Despair. There was no door on the health club. Jeremiah couldn’t even see where the door would have been. All around lay crumbling, twisted iron stumps: all that remained of a glass encased tower which once proudly pierced the clear desert skies. Craters overflowed with the charred wreckage of office blocks, homes and shopping malls. Here and there buildings still stood, defiant. However, Jeremiah knew that Madax was quickly disappearing into the dust. There was no stopping the sands.
“My glasses, Tamara, do you have them?” he asked.
“I have them Jeremiah. However, for once see things as they are – not how your glasses want you to see them. This is what is left. This is reality. There is no city, only ruins, death decay. Stop pretending, even just for a moment,” Tamara said.
As they reached her van Jeremiah slumped into the back seat. His glasses were the only reason he had hope. However, they were clearly faulty. They were glasses once used by workers who had traced leaks within the hundreds of miles of water pipes which crisscrossed beneath the city streets. Jeremiah had simply updated the schematics and library images from underground to overground. They now presented an occasionally error riddled, but in the main reliable reimaging of what was once there. They allowed him to get around, to find his way in what is now all but desert. Without them he is truly lost, no matter what Tamara says.
Jeremiah would be back: once his glasses were fixed, he would be back. Medax hadn’t given up all she had to offer just yet. There was still hope; there was still a battle for life to be won.
…the story continues in Part 2 of The Anomaly – ‘The Visitors‘