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Saturday, 11 June 2011

The End, The End, The End... For Now At Least

Well everyone, the first thing I want to say is a big thank you to everyone who has read, followed, commented and donated. I couldn't possibly have finished this thing without you. You've been the best audience a writer could wish for, and I just hope that you've enjoyed the story.

I'm going to be taking a little break from writing for a while, since the day job is currently eating up a lot of my attention. But I'll be back--I've got so many projects I want to work on, including a follow on to After that takes place a few years after the end of this tale.Watch this space.

In the meantime, I'd like to ask a favour. I put my work online for free, for everyone to enjoy because I want it to be read. But, like any writer, I do need to make a living. If you can afford to, and you have enjoyed reading After, please consider donating using the little button on the right. Every donation is appreciated, no matter how small. If you can't afford to donate, you can still help support After by telling your friends, or sharing a link to the site. Thanks once again.

Love you all. Until we meet again...


Monday, 6 June 2011


An hour later we beach the little boat at the foot of the cliffs and splash through the shallows up to the sand, Lisa cradling baby London the whole while. It's cold on the beach, and I'm reluctant to leave behind the boat which carried us here. Somehow it feels like a place of safety, the only known quantity in this new world. But we set off along the beach anyway, heading for a path that leads up the cliffs. It's early still, and there are no signs of life.  We walk in peaceful silence, wary and tired.

When we reach it we see that the path is cut with steps, many of which have collapsed or slid. The baby sleeps as we toil upwards, stopping frequently to rest. Seagulls coast past, cawing forlornly as we climb higher and higher. And then we're there, at the top of the cliffs at last. A short footpath leads to a road that stretches off in either direction. To our left a small cluster of whitewashed houses forms a settlement, and it is for this that we aim.

I expected to feel afraid, walking like this into the unknown. But I don't. Somehow now I'm sure that things will be okay. I feel good, strong. I have fought and lived, and I will fight again if I need to. I'll do whatever is necessary to protect Lisa and London. I'm not afraid anymore. I'm not alone.

I take Lisa's elbow as we enter the little hamlet. I can hear voices, coming from up ahead, where the road widens out into a little square. We slow a little, and move to the edge of the road so that we'll be shielded from view by the corner of a nearby house. I creep forward just far enough to see the source of the voices.

Three men and two women are standing in the centre of the square. A couple of them are smoking, and the way they're standing at ease makes me sure that they're some kind of watch. Perhaps they've just spent the night on duty and are having a quick chat before heading home to bed. I notice that each of them has a rifle slung about their shoulders, but they hold the weapons at ease, and for some reason I'm not too worried. They don't seem dangerous, these people. Something about them, as with Sven, just makes me want to trust. Perhaps it's the fact that one of the women looks to be in her sixties, and is leaning on a walking stick. Or perhaps it's the easy way they're laughing and talking with each other.

I beckon to Lisa, and she comes forward and I take her by the arm and step out into the open, free hand raised. "Hello there," I call.

They all turn at once, but not one of them reaches for a weapon. Smiles cross their faces. One by one they raise their hands and return my wave.

I clear my throat. "My name is David," I say. "And this is Lisa. We came here on invitation from a man called Sven, who I met on the mainland." At Sven's name the group look to one another, expressions of delight crossing their faces. "He told me this was a safe place for humans," I say. "He told me I'd be welcome here, that you were looking for other survivors."

We stand and wait, the unasked question hovering in the air between us. One of the men separates from the group and strides forward. He looks about forty, grey just beginning to show in his hair, a long scar on his cheek. He extends his hand and we shake.

"David and Lisa," he says, as if memorising our names. His eyes search me for a moment, and then he smiles. He looks down at baby London, and his eyebrows shoot up into his hair. "Something tells me you've had quite a journey getting here."

I smile back. I can't help it. I squeeze Lisa against me. Happiness is flourishing inside me like a tree in blossom. "Yeah," I say. "It was definitely quite a journey."

"Well," says the man, "you can tell us all about it later on. For now though, you look like you could use some breakfast, both of you. Come on, we'll fix something up for you. Oh, and before I forget, welcome. Welcome to Holme."

Friday, 3 June 2011


We wake, me and Lisa both, to the sound of the baby crying. I'm stiff and cold, tiredness heavy in all my limbs. But it's light, and the water's gentle, slapping against the hull in a slow and patient rhythm. Lisa sits up a little and hushes the baby, pulling aside the blankets and bringing the little mouth to her breast. The baby girl starts suckling at once, as if she knew what to do all along.

"Look at that," says Lisa. "Clever little girl. Good little girl."

I stand and stretch and poke my head out of the cabin to find out where we are. We've drifted a little in the night, but there's the buoy with its pulsing green light, and there--my heart leaps with excitement--there is the island, unmistakeable, closer than ever. I can make out tall chalky cliffs and a beach of white sand. Narrow paths cut their way up the cliffs, and there at the top are a jumble of houses and cottages, trees and fences. It must be very early morning still. I can't make out any people.

"We're close," I tell Lisa, ducking back inside. She smiles. We both watch the baby as she suckles. When she's finishes, Lisa holds her out to me.

"Will you take her for a while? I just want to get cleaned up."

"Of course."

I can't remember the last time I held a baby. At one time, just months ago, it's not something I could ever have imagined myself doing again. She's so small. I take her out onto the deck to show her the island, but she's asleep, and so I just sit with her, marvelling at her. Her softness. Her fragility. All the horror that she's been through to get here without even knowing it...

"I'm going to name her London," says Lisa, emerging from the cabin, looking refreshed but still tired. She looks out towards the island.

"London," I say to myself. I like it. Keeping the old names alive. "That's a good name for a girl."

I stand, and Lisa comes to my side, and we kiss once more, and then simply stand, holding London, holding our baby and looking towards Holme.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


And then after what feels like an eternity, the little girl fills her lungs and lets out a squeaky wail of a cry. I see a short arm pull free of the towel and clutch at the air, little fingers finding the material of Lisa's clothes. Something seems to unclench inside me, and I breathe again, relief crashing over me like a wave.

Lisa gives a little laugh, and in that quiet sound there's more exhaustion than I thought possible. She cradles the baby against her breast, shushing it as it wails. So much noise from something so new, so young. I don't know what to do, and so I just kneel there on the floor, a slow, warm, soft feeling spreading through my body.

Lisa glances up and sees me hovering there, at a loss. She smiles, her face still covered by a sheen of sweat. In the pale green light she almost seems to glow. Her mouth moves.

"What?" I say.

"We need to cut the cord."

"Oh. Of course." I find string and scissors. This at least I know how to do. Gently and firmly I tie off the cord, trying not to look at the slimy mass of the afterbirth as I do so. Then I fetch the scissors. Lisa holds the little girl still and I grip the cord, place the blades against it. Somehow it is both flimsy and thicker than I thought it would be. It is slippery, hard to find purchase. Part of me really doesn't want to cut. I'm worried, terribly worried that it might somehow hurt the baby.

"Go on," says Lisa gently, seeming to understand my reluctance. "It's okay. It's got to be done."

I cut. There is a moment of resistance, and then the blades of the scissors bite through the cord, and it's done. I wrap the afterbirth in a spare towel, and step out onto the deck to throw it overboard. I pause there a moment, in the wan green light, feeling the salt spray fleck against my face and body, smelling the wide open water of the sea.

It's happened. The baby's here, alive, well. And yet there's still work to be done...still a few more steps before the journey is complete.

But I allow myself a moment there in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean. I shut my eyes and breathe out. And I let myself believe that the past--all the darkness and the fear and loneliness and the loss--I let myself believe that is behind us now, and that ahead the future is warm and good and safe for me and Lisa and the baby girl whose newborn wails are the sweetest sound I've ever heard.

I duck back into the little cabin and settle myself next to Lisa, pull her tired body against mine. She rests her head on my shoulder, and her breath becomes steady, the baby's cries calming to quiet gurgles.

Everything that matters to me in the world, just then, is in that cabin with me. I look down at the little girl's face, just visible among the blankets.

"Hello," I say. And just like that, we're asleep, all three.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Lisa struggles onto all fours again. With one hand she pulls clumsily at her clothes. After a moment I push her hands aside and help her pull her skirt out of the way. Embarrassment only lasts a moment--there's no time for any of that now. I hold her hand and pull her around so that she's leaning back against me. I can feel her whole body tighten with each contraction.

"It's coming," she says. "I can feel it."

And sure enough when I check a few minutes later the head is visible. The sight sends a thrill of horror through me. The dim green light from the top of the buoy reflects brightly off something that might be blood. Lisa screams at the top of her lungs, the sound of it tearing the night.

"It's okay," I say. And I'm strangely calm, even here in the midst of everything. Nothing's quite gone to plan, but it's happening now, after months of waiting, and what will be will be. "You have to push," I say.

Lisa slumps back against me, nodding weakly, panting. "It really hurts," she says. I feed her a small sip of juice from the tin, and then another contraction comes and she's screaming again, screaming so loud I'm sure her throat must tear. The green light pulses steadily through her pain, and I hold her, trying somehow, vainly to take some of that pain into myself, to do whatever I can to bring her through her agony.

And then suddenly, the head is out. I seize one of the towels and support the fragile little thing as gently as I can. In the dim light I can't make out anything but the shape of a head. I wonder vaguely, terribly, why it isn't making any noise...

"You're almost there," I say. "Just one more push. Just a little more..."

"I can't," gasps Lisa, sounding exhausted. "I can't do it." But then a look of pain crosses her face and she grits her teeth once more and with the next contraction the body slips quickly out. I scoop it up in the towel, astonished by how small and light it is. But something's wrong: it's barely moving, silent. I thought babies cried when they were born?

Lisa is lying back with her eyes shut, shaking. " you..." she manages.

"I've got--" I take a moment to check in the next dim pulse of light. "I've got her."

Lisa holds out her hands, and I pass over the small, silent bundle. Each moment seems terribly long, filled with nothing but the noise of the ocean slapping against the hull, a tide of dread rising rapidly in me like bile.

No. Not this. Not after all this time.

Lisa takes the baby girl and holds her against her chest. And I wait. I wait, breathless, uncertain. And everything, for a moment hangs suspended.

Friday, 27 May 2011


Experimentally, I let go of the wheel, and it remains in place. I turn and kneel down beside Lisa.

"Not long now," I say.

She groans and shakes her head. "Thirsty," she says. Quickly, I fish out one of the tins of fruit from the bag and open it.

"Here," I say. "Don't drink too much." She sips a little and then hands it back, and I set the tin down beside her. I pull out some of the blankets as well and then just sit there holding her hand, helpless, useless. If only there was something I could do...

And so it goes on for the next hour. I move back and forth between Lisa and the wheel every few minutes, checking our course as best I can. Although the marina and the coast become more distant the island itself hardly seems to move closer at all, and then quite suddenly it is swallowed by the night and I find that whichever way I look all I can see is water, and a blinking green light up ahead that I assume must be a buoy. With nothing else to navigate by, I steer towards it and hope. Meanwhile Lisa's condition has hardly changed. She's uncomfortable constantly, shifting position and groaning, barely opening her eyes. And occasionally a contraction will come, and she will scream, grip my hand, the sound of her pain going through me like a knife.

Out here the sea is rougher as well. Flecks of saltwater finding their way in through the door to the cabin. Lisa wraps a blanket over her shoulders against the cold. Beneath us the little boat rolls and tips on top of the waves. I'm hoping, desperately hoping each moment to see the looming shape of the island against the dark. I strain my eyes for it, fingers tight on the wheel. But all I see is that blinking green light, getting slowly, slowly closer.

"I'm scared," says Lisa once, after a particularly painful contraction. "It hurts so much I feel like I'm going to die from it."

Her words sent a jolt of sick fear through me, but I try not to show it. "You'll be fine," I say. "I promise you'll be fine. You and the baby."

And then we're alongside that blinking green light, and I see that it is indeed a buoy, bobbing there in the water like the only human thing in the world. It casts a pale light over our little boat, over me and Lisa, and in its glow I see how her face is shiny with sweat, how she looks as though she's aged ten years in just the last hour.

Another contraction seizes her and she doubles over in pain. And then her screaming changes pitch. She gulps air, eyes widening in fear before clamping shut once more. She holds out a hand. I kill the engine and the boat coasts to a halt as hold her on the cold metal floor of that tiny vessel, rising and falling on cruel waters in the middle of nowhere and nothing.

"This is it," she says. "I... I can feel it coming..." She grips my hand so tight it feels as though it breaks bones. "David," she moans. "Help me."

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


A row of pastel-coloured houses front the marina. The door of the furthest one stands ajar and I push my way inside. Ignoring the smell of rot that hangs heavily on the air I flit through the rooms, searching. I find a holdall lying on the floor in the kitchen, and into it I stuff towels and sheets from the airing cupboard, tinned fruit from the larder. A dead body lies fossilised on one of the upstairs beds, and I recoil in disgust from that room, searching the others for the things I need instead. Scissors and disinfectant from the bathroom. A ball of string from a desk drawer. I rack my brains, trying to gather all the scattered information I've read about how to deliver a baby, but I'm so anxious that I'm sure I must have missed something.

I head back towards the marina, nervously checking the sky as I go. It's getting uncomfortably dark, and with the night the old fears are returning full force. Doubts creeping out of the woodwork. I've brought Lisa all this way on the word of a man who I have no reason whatsoever to trust. What guarantee do I have that I'm not taking Lisa and the baby into a trap just at a time when they're at their most vulnerable?

Options sprint through my head, and I picture each one with terrible clarity. We stay put until the baby comes, in the middle of the night, and its crying draws the Creatures right to us... We try to reach Holme, but darkness falls before we're halfway there and we become lost, run into rocks in the dark, sink, drowning together in the cold depths of the sea... Or we make it to Holme and are met on the beach by ragged men with guns and knives... Or else we reach the island in time and I go running up to the town in search of help only to find a monstrous crater pulsing with life...

But I brush these fears aside. I know what I've got to do.

I arrive back at the boat where I left Lisa and climb down into it. She's in the cabin still, now on all fours, breathing heavily, her face set against the pain. I drop the bag and kneel down beside her.

"Lisa," I say. "I'm back."

She glances at me, and then shuts her eyes again. "David..."

"I've got everything we need," I say. "We're going to be okay whatever happens. How do you feel?"

"Hurts," she mutters.

I squeeze her arm. "I'm going to cast off now. Get us away from the coast. Okay? We'll be safer out on the water where they can't reach us."

"Holme?" she says, her voice strained.

"I'm going to try," I say. "It'll be dark soon, but it doesn't look like far. I think we can make it."

I try not to let her groans and grunts and noises of pain distract me as I untie the boat and start the engine. The deck beneath my feet throbs with the power of the motor. The controls are simple enough, a lever that seems to act like a throttle and a small metal wheel with which to steer. There's a whole array of buttons as well, but I leave them alone, unsure of their purpose. Easing the throttle up I see the jetty start to slide out of view on my left. We're moving. We're on our way.

The little launch ploughs its way cleanly through the junk that floats on the water all around the marina. I can't make out much of what's down there in the dark, but I hear things bounce dully of the hull. Then we're clear and the rolling motion of the sea becomes more pronounced. I turn the wheel, aiming the boat towards the distant, dark line that is our destination. It's barely discernible now against the lowering sky, and I know that within half an hour or so it will be lost. I can only hope the journey will be a quick one.