tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 75

No Future Ch. 75

bybradley_stoke©

LXXV
Promised Land
Eugenie
2101



Not many were left in Eugenie's original posse after they'd been forcibly evicted from the mansion in which they'd been squatting in Hampstead. Ned had been shot in the back by the Security Officers while he was trying to escape by scrambling over the wall. Natalie had been bundled into the back of a van in which at the very least she'd be raped. Of the thirty or forty people who'd crammed into the Hampstead mansion after word about it had slipped out and others had settled in, only half a dozen of them were now in Eugenie's company. And it wasn't because she knew better than anyone else what to do. Ever since their eviction, they'd been wandering aimlessly beside the north periphery of the M11 motorway on which only the wealthy could travel and alongside which an electrified fence acted as a barrier to any invasion from rabid foxes and desperate plebs.

There was probably once a time when Epping Forest was a desirable part of North London in which to live, but there was nothing particularly special about it now. The plague and famine that ravaged London as much as it had the rest of England had been especially savage in the suburban sprawl between the railway stations of Theydon Bois and Coppersale Common. It was especially tragic given that this wooded district had earned a good reputation as a refuge to those who'd sought to live an alternative lifestyle set apart from the general poverty of modern England. Unfortunately, good intentions and utopian idealism had proved to be no protection at all against the ravages of the plague.

Alone amongst her companions, Eugenie felt almost at home in the fields and woodland of Epping; no longer trudging through Central London's dilapidated ruins. This was what she knew best. Plough-horses on open fields. Ragged beggars huddled by the roadside. Poachers who survived on the flesh of the rabbits, birds and feral dogs they'd caught in their traps. Improvised cottages where people who'd never before known the sweat and toil of a life on the soil now had to adjust through necessity to a life of bare subsistence.

"The countryside is real weird," said Tony. "It must be like home to you. All these fields and shit. How d'you find anything to eat round here?"

"We'll find a way," said Eugenie, who wasn't quite as sure of herself as her demeanour suggested.

"Perhaps we should go hunting for animals and stuff," said Tinkerbelle, who despite her name only resembled the Disney fairy because she was rather short and not at all by virtue of her Ethiopian ancestry. "I killed a cat once and ate it. It didn't taste good, but I was fucking hungry. It made all the fucking difference."

"I don't like the look of those boys over there," said Andy pointing at a gang of youths who were sauntering about in workmen's clothes and wielding improvised clubs. "We ought to get as far away from them as we possibly can."

Eugenie respected Andy's nose for trouble. He'd already saved several times their motley crew from calamity on the long trail from Hampstead through the ruins of Chigwell and the ganglands of Wanstead. As Eugenie was the only person in the company who'd ever lived in a country village outside of London, everyone looked towards her for guidance. The general view was that a childhood spent in the East Midlands country was essential preparation for the wilds of London's outermost parks.

"We'll head for those trees over there," Eugenie announced as she gestured towards the forest edge. "If those guys make a run for us we can easily find somewhere to hide."

The most discrete way for six young people to slip out of sight almost certainly wasn't to walk across an open field towards the nearby woods while constantly checking behind them that they weren't being chased, but they weren't many other options. The other avenues of escape were blocked off and, in any case, Eugenie was already concerned about where they should all sleep for the night. Perhaps there'd be a bush or tree they could sleep under. It would be more comfortable and probably a lot safer than what they most often had to resort to.

Fortunately, there was no need to make haste. The youths might be swaggering in a way that suggested trouble, but it was a necessary show for such gangs to flaunt their aggression simply to ensure that they wouldn't be seen as vulnerable and thereby invite trouble from other gangs. Eugenie wondered whether she and her friends, armed as they were with their own makeshift clubs, spears and slingshots, might not make a similar impression on the poor people of Epping. As they strode into the woods following the yellow and blue marker trails that were once there for the benefit of recreational walkers, it was notable how many onlookers made a deliberate diversion to avoid having to come into contact with them.

Not everyone ran away or was able to. When Eugenie and her friends hunted through the foliage for a good patch on which to lay down their torn and soiled sleeping bags, they disturbed someone who was far too ill to run away. This was a woman in her early thirties huddled into a tight curled ball under several threadbare blankets in the midst of an expansive ornamental bush that the deer hadn't yet nibbled away. She pulled her blanket tight to her throat and stared up with an expression of utter terror at Tony when he discovered her in the undergrowth.

"Don't worry, we're not gonna rape you," said Andy.

"You don't have to worry about us," said Amy who, although she was a girl, was also the largest person in the posse. Her style of dress was a deliberately incongruous mix of short cropped hair and a filthy lace-hemmed dress. "We're just looking for somewhere to sleep the night."

"You ain't got plague, have you?" Tinkerbelle asked with genuine alarm. "I thought this area was certified safe."

The woman shook her head and replied through encrusted lips and a hoarse throat. "I'm a survivor," she said. "Most people in the kibbutz caught it. So did I. The difference was that I survived. Most of those who got it didn't."

"So, what've you got, if it ain't plague?" asked Amy who instinctively raised a rag to her mouth.

"I dunno," the woman admitted. "It's not plague. I guess it must be a cold or something."

"I'm not taking chances," announced Eugenie. "I'm keeping back. There've been so many plagues and contagions these last few years you just can't be sure. Maybe it's a new thing going round. Now there aren't any cures anymore for the latest strains of flu, gon, cholera, typhoid or pox, almost anything can be the one that takes you out. Even measles or mumps might be a killer these days."

Nevertheless, Eugenie and her friends weren't going to just abandon such an obviously vulnerable woman. In any case, what she was suffering from had more to do with having to sleep on a damp blanket in the pouring rain rather than the plague. Her symptoms were totally different from what she'd have had if she'd had the plague. In any case, it was considered lucky to hang out with someone who'd survived a contagion.

The woman's name was Tamara and she'd been part of a settlement that had been established in the middle of the forest before it was ransacked and firebombed. The settlement had been a kind of commune rather like some of the better organised squats in North London, but it went by the weird name of a kibbutz.

"Why'd you call it that?" Amy wondered. "Was it something to do with someone called Kibbert?"

"No. There was no one with that name," said Tamara. "It's a Jewish word. It's a kind of self-reliant community that used to be pretty common in Israel."

"Are you a Jew?" Tinkerbelle asked innocently. "I didn't think there were any Jews left after all those nukes went off."

"It was your lot, the Jews, that started the war," said Tony with second-hand indignation. "I don't imagine you're at all popular with the Arabs and Pakis who live round here."

"I'm sure you're right," Tamara said, "but those of us in the kibbutz kept ourselves to ourselves and we didn't cause any trouble. Most of us weren't at all proud about our nation's role in the war, but that's just history now. There's been more than twenty-five years since then. I was only a child when it all happened and all I've ever known of Israel is nuclear fallout and radiation poison."

"So what happened to the kibbutz?" asked Eugenie. "Why's it no longer going?"

"It was the plague that did it," said Tamara. "We thought we might be safe when the latest outbreak began two or three years ago. We weren't living in a big city centre and we did what we could to keep ourselves away from it all. But like everyone else we soon found that the antibiotics being sold in the shops were useless when it started again."

Eugenie wasn't the only one in her crew with unhappy memories of the plague. There were the quarantined zones; the armed guards with orders to shoot anyone straying where they shouldn't; the hastily assembled signs that warned people away from infected areas; and, of course, the plague itself. Eugenie wasn't the only one who'd lost everything to the ravages of a virus that knew no borders, was immune to all medicine and was fatal to almost everyone who fell victim to it. Tamara's experience was almost worse than anyone since she'd actually been infected and at one time was sure that she'd soon be dead. At the same time as her, the others in the kibbutz, including Tobias and his girlfriend, also became infected and died within a day or so of exhibiting the first symptoms. Before it was over and Tamara was well enough to count herself as one of the rare lucky ones, the kibbutz was reduced to less than a third of its original number and was barely able to support itself. Those who'd survived were traumatised by the distress of having to bury and burn the bodies of the recently deceased and, until very recently, dearly beloved.

The story was a familiar one to Eugenie who'd come across many devastated communities on her northward trek from Hampstead. First plague and then not long after: pillage, pestilence and penury. Nevertheless, there were tasks that Eugenie and her posse had to attend to so that they could survive and Tamara's value, above everything else, was that she was familiar with the local terrain. She'd be able to guide Eugenie's crew away from hostile gangs or places where the plague was still prevalent. It would be ironic that now, when the outbreak had almost petered out, Eugenie were to die from its very last gasps. A fire was assembled from the dead branches and rubbish lying around. Eugenie and her friends huddled with Tamara around the light of its flickering flames as the balmy autumn dusk drew in. Not everyone was gathered together as it was Amy's turn to act as look-out for hostile gangs that might be hunting for easy pickings in the dark shadows of the night.

"It wasn't long after the worst of the plague had passed that the Muslim gangs descended on the kibbutz," said Tamara. "They call themselves Jihadists and I guess they believe that they're serving their faith by engaging in Holy War against the Jews. Of course, we'd joked about the jihadists when there were plenty of people in the kibbutz who could defend us. One joke was that our kibbutz was like a West Bank Settlement. This was meant ironically because it was precisely the defence of illegal settlements on land owned by another nation that was the trigger for the war that destroyed Israel. After the plague had done its worst, we were demoralised, miserable and easy prey."

The attack on the kibbutz was intense and violent but undisciplined and chaotic. Tamara managed to escape from the fray with nothing worse than a scar on her shoulder from a jihadist flick-knife and exchanged her survival for the coat by which she was grabbed and from which she managed to struggle free. She fled as quickly as she could: more concerned about her own survival than by the plight of her fellow kibbutzniks, but as she later discovered little mercy was shown to those she'd abandoned. The women were gang-raped with little regard for age and few were allowed to live. The men were spared the indignity of rape in most cases, but not spared either the terror or the torture that followed.

"Is it part of the Muslim religion to do that kind of stuff?" wondered Tinkerbelle.

"Of course not," said Tony. "It's just extremists. Anyway they're still pretty pissed off by the millions of Muslims who'd died in the war."

"I guess us Jews think we'd already suffered enough when living in what's left of Israel without also having to face the same thing here in England," said Tamara. "But you're right. It's not religion that makes people behave the way they did, any more than it was ever a Jewish commandment to bulldozer Palestinian apartments, fire missiles into foreign cities or launch Armageddon on the peoples of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine."

"Any excuse for a fight, eh?" said Tinkerbelle sarcastically.

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