Sunday, 13 February 2011

Short fat Romeo

He was a short, fat Romeo, stood outside a tenement block whose residents were once all on welfare, shouting up at a rusted iron balcony. I couldn't understand what he was saying; the echoes on the estate distorted his whiny little voice, and the roar of traffic in the distance was still trying to lull me to sleep. I suspected he was calling out a name, trying to summon a friend, or at the very least an acquaintance, to hang around with him until it was dark enough to sneak back into his mother's flat and hope she was too drunk to care. There was no response from the balcony, not even a response from the tenements. I wondered briefly if perhaps he was calling for someone who'd lived there before everyone died, and then wondered for longer why I cared.
When did everyone die, and why hadn't I remembered that before? The thought stuck in my head like a soldier ant stuck in amber, angry and pulsing, trying to get free. Everyone had died, there'd been a chemical leak from the plant a half-mile away. A great invisible cloud of gas had gone up, floated along a little way, and then come down again as it reacted with water in the atmosphere. It had descended like a heavy wet sponge and suffocated the life out of everyone in the building.
Short fat Romeo was shouting again, longer sentences this time, but still too distorted to understand. I opened my eyes at last, looking up at a cracked ceiling. Cockroaches skittered across it, and for a moment I was confused, and then I remembered that I was lying on the ceiling and the cockroaches were skittering on the floor. My hand, the one that still worked and wasn't black and swollen, scrabbled at my chest and found the restraining strap. It released it, and I fell to the floor, squashing a cockroach or two, but more of them survived. Another rib cracked.
Short fat Romeo was shouting louder now, his voice stronger, and I started at last to recognise the words. Immediately I wished I hadn't; he was shouting in Enochian, the language of the angels, and I understood that he was beseeching Metatron.
It wasn't Metatron who answered, there's been no direct route to the angels from this part of London in over fifty years, but something did; something caused a cloud like a stink of swamp gas to lift from the ground and let oxygen bleed back in. Something prowled the rooms and corridors of that tenement, hunting for the preserved and corrupted bodies left there, and something breathed into them; a fiery, sparkling breath that lit strange lights behind their eyes (those that still had eyes) and stood them upright and bade them walk once more.
I clutched at my ribs with my good hand, and pulled myself up to my feet and made myself run. This was no place for the living now if the dead were returning. Behind me, short fat Romeo finished his shouting, unaware that he'd been heard.

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