O U T S I D E T H E B A S I L I C A
Written by Greg Kiss.
Incomparable as time is for the dead and the dying, some six months prior to Kiefs’ capitulation at the hands of The Shoemaker beneath a symphony of mist and stars, the automatic doors swung open before Eric Cross in the heart of the City of London.
Cross had been in an induced coma for a week so that they could monitor his brain activity and ensure that there had been no permanent damage done following his episode in the control room. He had again been interviewed by the Chief Medical Officer and Kiefs before his release and they were happy with his progress and his memory of the events, or lack thereof.
He was wearing the same clothes that he had arrived to work in nine days ago. Admittedly they had been washed and pressed for him but it added to the feeling that he had just carried out an impossibly long shift at work. Because of the nature of his work, the department had not allowed his family to visit in that time, instead permitting him to merely speaking to them on the phone since being brought out of his comatose state.
Stepping out into the street and running a hand through his thinning hair he felt a jarring sensation immediately. Something had changed. The tangible and intangible combining to form a harmonic drone. The usual smell of exhaust fumes mingling with the scent of the full litter bins in the summer heat had vanished. It was strangely sterile, and he felt a cold detachment from his surroundings as if wandering in on a stranger’s grief. Cross started off along the road lined with tall Georgian style government buildings casting a suspicious look at the pigeon in the road that emitted a low brooding coo in an attempt to attract a mate from his disinterested companions. At the corner he turned into the convenience shop to buy a drink for the journey home.
At first he stepped back, screwing his balled up hands into his eyes in a cartoon of shock. The whole left hand side of the shop had been replaced by a long row of brand new, silver refrigerators which contained only one product. Electric blue plastic bottles of energy drink, available in just one flavour lined the shelves and there were even several cardboard cut-out promotional stands for the same drink throughout the shop.
Got the urge? Go with it!
He stood and observed the scene with sheer amazement and then turned and approached the counter.
“Excuse me, do you have anything else to drink?” he asked the shopkeeper, as she leafed through a newspaper. She was in her mid-twenties, with black and red tattooed artwork of roses, vines, patterns and names stretching down her right arm and over the wrist. There was fresh evidence of a nose and cheek piercing which had been recently removed and had yet to heal. It seemed like she had made an overnight decision to conform and straighten up or something. The conservative Cross liked this.
“No,” she said absent-mindedly as she closed the paper slowly and looked up to meet his gaze with her cold blue eyes. “Nothing but Blue.” He looked down at the front page of the paper emblazoned with the headline ‘THE SECRET TO BLUE COLA’S OVERNIGHT SUCCESS’.
“Not to worry,” he stammered, taken aback by her icy expression. “I’ll just take one of these instead,” picking up a copy of the tabloid newspaper.
He wondered how long he had been out for and whether he had been told the truth by his superiors. He paid up and left the shop. He checked the date on the paper which confirmed what he was told when he came around in the hospital wing. Reasoning that he had been very distracted due to the project at work, it was entirely possible that he had managed to miss a whole popular culture phenomenon.
It was quiet in the city; the usual hum of traffic was completely absent and had been replaced by the percussive sound of footsteps. Thousands of footsteps. He approached the junction and started to quicken his steps, feeling unsettled when he saw it.
Newly erected advertising boards, hoarding and screens had been erected outside the basilica and even in the mid-afternoon sun they managed to cast an eerie blue light on the pale domed building and faces of the bystanders.
BLUE COLA! DRINK BLUE!
GIVE IN TO BLUE
NEW: BLUE LIGHT
He felt sick and for the first time considered that maybe he was still in a coma and this was all a figment of his imagination. He had to get home to his wife and children. They’d be able to tell him it was all real or not, he’d know if it was them or if they were just memories within his dream-state. He just had to finish the short journey to the tube station, get to Kings Cross and then he could sit on a train for 45 minutes, calm down and see this for what it was: a fad.
There were no cars or buses. The people walked in lines, evenly spaced and with great precision and organisation. Dressed and presented in the usual myriad styles, the people carried an array of strange objects. Cross noticed that one man even had a small motor which looked as if it had been removed from a lawnmower. It appeared to him that they were a huge line of ants raiding a picnic hamper and heading back to the colony.
The colony has already been poisoned, he thought, the blue liquid of the ant trap spreading across the human race.
He hastened his steps, weaving throughout the procession of people, as they ignored him. Suddenly he saw her. Still wearing her military uniform, Kiefs’ assistant, Briggs was walking towards him. He smiled and began to say, “They’ve let me out,” but she stared through him and sidestepped just as their paths were about to collide. His mouth dropped open as he turned to watch her pass, and before he knew it the next two ants in the line had done the same and she was gone.
He ran into St. Paul’s underground station, fumbled for a ticket and was at a sprint by the time he reached the platform. As he emerged from the stairway he saw the blue light again. Adverts adorned every surface of the station except the tracks. He stumbled through the immaculate lines of commuters, looking up at the adverts on the ceiling and fell across the yellow line, cartwheeling with flailing limbs onto the tracks.
Panicking, he jumped to his feet just in time to acknowledge the arrival of the westbound central line train. The penetrating squeal of metal on metal gave him the split-second warning for the imminent impact, his bones crushed and flesh mutilated by the train as it came bearing down upon him. The other commuters on the platform continued to hold the line and walk in time, failing to recognise the tragic death of the one among them.
It was just another loss to chalk up on the ledger. Another loss on A Day Called X.