Category Archives: Anomaly

The Anomaly – Part 2: The Visitors

City_in_the_desert_desktop_background1. Home

As darkness returned to the skies above Medax, Jeremiah Ward remained slumped across the back seat of Tamara’s speeding van. Through the open window a cooling night breeze gently buffeted his driver’s hair as they made for home. For a man who was preparing to meet his end only hours before he was suddenly feeling remarkably alive – tired, drained and relieved but alive. As the night stars continued to streak by a contented Jeremiah once more drifted into a welcoming sleep. It wasn’t until jarred awake by the ramps leading into his home’s underground car park that his eyes fully re-opened. As in the health club basement they once again stared up to see his saviour Tamara towering down over him.

Jeremiah’s stiff, sore and sunburnt body slowly uncoiled – Tamara’s offer of a hand gratefully accepted. Safe again in the comforts of his music Jeremiah started to relax. From his armchair at the window he could hear Tamara rattling cups through in the kitchen.

‘What happened,’ he shouted.

‘When your signal went I was close by. An hour earlier and I’d have been at the other end of the city and you would haven’t heard your music again,’ Tamara replied.

‘You are indeed my own guardian angel, Tamara. For that I will be forever grateful, truly’ he said wistfully. ‘Now I must ask again – please, what exactly happened? What did you give me?’

Tamara briefly looked concerned: unsure whether she should tell him what he didn’t yet know. However, he was looking better. Maybe she hadn’t simply replaced one slow acting poison with another.

‘You were barely breathing, Jeremiah. The sun was beginning to do its worst, a few minutes more and you would had more than a mild dose of sunburn to worry about. I dragged you into the basement – you were only feet away.’

‘How did you know there was a basement?’

‘Why else would you have been crawling in the sand? Why else do you go into the city? Anyway you were pointing straight at it, your fingers almost touching the cover. I could hardly miss it. As it happens for once your search seems to have been successful.’

‘Why? What was in there?’

‘Being honest Jeremiah I don’t know what it was. There was a box full of prepared syringes – it was a health club, thought they might be some form of vitamin boosters. Either way you were as good as done, I didn’t think there was anything to lose. So I picked one up and, well, you woke up. For that we should both be grateful.’

Jeremiah smiled. It did sound as if Tamara had no choice – she took what was to hand and made one last play to save her friend’s life. So far it had worked. As his body relaxed deeper into his chair he once more turned his gaze to the stars glistening through the window. For the last time today his eyes closed.

***

Over the days which followed his rescue Jeremiah continued to feel better. The coarse, acidic blood which had previously sludged through aching veins began to temper. He could hardly believe that the illness was in remission. From all but accepting his time was over he appeared to have been given the extension to life he craved. The only possible reason was the medication Tamara has given him in the dank surrounds of the health club basement. Could it really be that a desperation last throw, a path which was as likely to lead to death as life was the solution? If so what was it, and why was it in that basement? Jeremiah needed to know more. However, for the moment other thoughts were starting to dominate his waking moments. The pain of his illness was steadily being replaced by another pain: the pain of his memories.

Since the end of Medax only one thought had ever occupied Jeremiah’s mind – his illness and how to beat it. Now that he seemed on the mend, for the first time in three years he had time to think of other things, to allow other thoughts into his mind. However, those thoughts were just as painful, just as debilitating: the memories of what Medax once was, the people who lived there, its end. Each morning Jeremiah rose and sat in his chair. With the music continuing to resonate around his desert home his thoughts repeatedly ran back to Medax. The once shining crystal of the central deserts. A light that even D’Raza couldn’t truly match. There had been clues, on reflection people should have seen the signs.

Leaves once forever green going black at the edges, drops of sweat forming on brows previously kept cool by the ever present breaths of chilled, conditioned air. Small things. However, in Medax everything had routine. The trees stayed green, the people stayed comfortable. When this started to change there had been questions, queries, concerns. Those in control asked for calm. The people were reassured: minor issues in the cities environmental controls but they were being addressed. Our friends from D’Raza were aware and were monitoring the situation ready to assist if and when required. Jeremiah doesn’t remember anyone from D’Raza coming to their sister cities’ aid. More leaves turned black, sweat began to pour off even the most becalmed. The city was breaking.

Tamara briefly interrupted his thoughts.

‘Jeremiah, I’m going back to that basement. Whatever it was we found there seems to be working. I’m sure there was a full box. I’ll get it. You just stay here – I won’t be long.’

‘Do you want my glasses, Tamara’ he asked.

‘No, you keep them Jeremiah. I prefer to go on what I see, not what people used to see,’ she replied.

Jeremiah never really understood Tamara’s reluctance to accept help. She always appeared desperate to prove herself, to be independent: someone who could survive alone. She didn’t need to – they had each other, but Jeremiah knew better than to argue. As the conversation ended there was a nod between the two friends and with that Tamara was gone.

Where now the view from Jeremiah’s window was one of quiet those final days saw panic and chaos. The routes out of town were closed – people unable to leave. The recall went out to gather everybody in the centre – Jeremiah chose to stay as everybody else left. It wasn’t really clear what happened next. From his home in the outer suburbs he heard bangs as flashes of light rippled through the sky. It then stopped. Silence. For days Jeremiah was reluctant, afraid to venture out. Eventually as supplies were running low he had no choice. The memories of that first trip becoming sharper as the pain of illness subsided. The suburbs were deserted, the city in ruin. Explosions and fire had ripped through the centre of Medax. Bodies lay all around. One or two still clinging to life; one or two staggering around aimlessly in the swirling sands. They didn’t stagger for long. There was nothing Jeremiah could do. All he did was run; run back to the outer suburbs. He didn’t come back to the city, to revisit the scene for nearly three months. By then the bodies were gone, given up to the sun, heat and carrion birds. The city was now a grave.

2. Familiar Faces

Pausing to take a breath, Tamara began to hear the faint outline of voices, footsteps – the lock on the basement door rattled. Quickly she grabbed the familiar box of medication and rushed into the room’s furthest, darkest corner. One by one four men gingerly made their way down the loose, rusting ladder. For only the briefest of moments Tamara was sure she had seen these men before. Some fractured, fragmented pieces of her memories long lost flashed through her mind. But how? Why would she know these men?

Remaining hidden, breathing as silently as possible, Tamara continued to watch. The four men wandered around the room, seemingly disjointed and confused. Checking a notebook the oldest one of the group started a heated conversation with someone Tamara assumed to be very much his junior, in both age and position. From where she crouched Tamara was unable to pick-up everything said – just words, scraps of sentences.

‘It was here’

‘Are we sure?’

‘Where?’

Piecing together the clues Tamara soon realised what the men were here for – the medication. It must be. Time after time they searched other parts of the room only for a check of their notebooks to return them to the same point: the point where Tamara picked up the box she still clutched onto: the box which has given Jeremiah life.

As the men seemed set to leave the oldest of the group paused. With the other three collectively waiting on his instructions, his eyes scanned the room for one last time, one last sweep of its contents. His cold, steely glare then meet Tamara’s own. She was hidden, he couldn’t possibly see her. However, their eyes remain locked. His mouth opened slightly, as if to bark out orders to his underlings. Tamara hastily began to think of a way out, excuses, apologies, explanations. She braced for their approach. Instead his mouth only issued the command to leave – there was nothing more to see here. As they started to climb the ladder the group’s leader remained behind, last to leave. As he placed his left foot on the bottom rung he took one more lingering glance towards the space where Tamara hid. Soon he was gone.

Unsure, unnerved, Tamara remained in her hiding place. Only once the light that previously leaked through the gap between the basement hatch and the ceiling faded did she dare to move. It was now night and Jeremiah would be starting to worry. However, Tamara had always been an independent spirit. This wouldn’t have been the first time she had left her old friend wondering where she was, what she was doing. On the drive back to his home she would decide what to tell him. First though she needed to work out herself what had happened.

***

Jeremiah’s memory stained sleep was finally broken by the sound of his front door slamming shut. Yawning and stretching he watched as Tamara strode into the room. In her arms he could see she was carrying a large box, similar to one of those he’d briefly spotted in the health club basement a few days before.

‘You’re good to me Tamara. I don’t tell you that enough, but you know I’d be lost without your help.’

Tamara placed the box on the table before leaving the room to scrub off the dust which remained stuck to her skin. Leaning forward Jeremiah pulled the box towards his chair. As water trickled into the bathroom sink Jeremiah fully revealed the box’s contents. Inside were the syringes described by Tamara – syringes which contained an apparent cure to the ails which had troubled him since the demise of Medax. At the bottom Jeremiah caught sight of a white slip of paper. Pulling it free he found himself faced with what appeared to be a delivery note: a delivery note which specified the date of delivery to the Health Club as being two months before Medax fell into ruin.

Confused thoughts now raced through Jeremiah’s mind. Why would what seems to be a cure for something which hadn’t yet happened be delivered to a basement in the city? A basement belonging to the Bejan Corporation. It didn’t make sense. As he began to run possibilities through his head Tamara returned from the bathroom. She looked refreshed, but still worried. As if she too had seen the note. Either that or she had worries of her own.

‘Are you all right Tamara’ he enquired.

She sat down and began to relay the details of her encounter in the basement. The strange meeting of eyes with the leader; the knowledge that he had seen her yet did nothing; the fear that she was about to be parted from her old friend Jeremiah. As she finished she relaxed back into her chair. For a moment there was a shared silence. A silence between friends, both worried and confused by what each of them knew and had seen. Despite Tamara telling Jeremiah everything she had experienced he chose not to be so forthcoming. The mystery of the delivery note was something Jeremiah himself wanted to investigate first. He need answers before possibly adding more worries to an already burdened young mind.

3. Forgotten Faces

For the next few days life continued as normal – well, as normal as it could be in a city of millions now inhabited by two. Jeremiah stayed at home listening to his music while Tamara spent hours away searching for her own answers. She remained haunted by the man in the basement. She still had no knowledge of where she might have seen him, or how he would have known her. Jeremiah wasn’t sure where she went looking for an explanation. Like him she was now keeping things closer to her chest, waiting for more information before sharing with her friend. Jeremiah too had decided it was time for answers. Sitting at home wasn’t going to solve the questions raised by the delivery note. He did though know one place which might.

It was therefore to the industrial quarter where Jeremiah headed early one morning. Tamara had already left so no questions were either asked or answered. His now repaired glasses once again guided the way. He’d reloaded the city schematics, reconfigured the software – everything seemed to be working again: no blips, no dots – just the buildings of Medax appearing where they once stood in their prime. The one he was visiting was thankfully fairly much intact. However, inside was a different matter. His glasses would be needed to find the room he sought – a room he knew to contain records of some of the thousands of transactions the Bejan corporation actioned. It was this room he soon found.

Beyond a broken door, some filing cabinets lay on their sides, others remained almost upright. Drawers half open, exposed paper turning yellow – corners eaten away by the tiny biting bugs which buzzed around the hot sands. The syringes had been labelled ‘MX901’ so his first task was to find the cabinet containing the Ms. Soon he was flicking through a folder crammed full of officious looking documentation. Page after page of other verified deliveries. Deliveries of the same MX901 syringes to other health clubs – to other properties owned and run for the benefit of Bejan executives.

They knew! They knew!

What other explanation was there? Something had been badly wrong in Medax and those who could afford it were buying protection from what was to come. All the deliveries came from D’Raza. For the first time Jeremiah began to wonder if Medax’s sister city had suffered the same fate. Were they too lying in ruin? If so where did Tamara’s men come from? He’d come to this place to find answers yet all he’d compiled was a more confused list of questions.

Turning away to leave Jeremiah was suddenly face to face with a man – a small man, balding, pale, almost to the point of being washed out. He simply smiled at Jeremiah who removed his glasses and rubbed his tired, strained eyes. Looking up the man was gone. Shaking his head he replaced his glasses. As he did so the man once again stood staring straight at Jeremiah.

‘Keep the glasses on Mr Ward. They seem to help you see me,’ came a faint, croaky voice.

‘What? Who are you? How do you know about my glasses?’

‘We know everything about you Jeremiah, and your friend. We’ve been watching, but only now do you seem ready to see us.’

…the story continues in Part 3 of The Anomaly – ‘Whispers in the Sand’ (Coming soon)

[Story Index]

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The Anomaly – Part 1: Dream World

City_in_the_desert_desktop_background

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.

3. Rescue

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

[Story Index]