FICTION (December 2018)

 

SMOGSEA  

By M.J. ALLEN

I S..D, C.. you h… me?

Is that…

BETTER?

OH, SORRY. NOW I’M TOO LOUD. IF YOU CAN JUST… IT’S THIS THING I WEAR… HOLD ON FOR A SECOND. STICK YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR EARS FOR A MOMENT, AND I’LL TRY TO TURn it… down.

There. That’s more like it. Sorry: it’s my diodes, or something.

They’ve been repaired, re-charged, or whatever it is. So many times that, really, the whole thing’s trash. My voice. My squawker, I mean. This box on my neck that makes sense – at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do – of how I talk. The screwed-up cords in my screwed-up throat.

But I’m not here to complain. Not to you or anyone. Complete opposite, in fact. You see, I’ve decided. Tonight’s the night that I’m leaving. Quitting. Getting Out.

Making my escape, if you want to be dramatic.

From Smogsea, I mean. My town. This place where I was born… and bred.

Going won’t be easy, I know. But I have to. I just… have to.

I’ve worked out a route. Oxygen at six gas stations. Tar Lane, Black Wharf, Ash Gardens, Old Farm, Greytree, Leadheath. Then up and over Green Hill.  Simple. SIMPLE.

Sorry. There’s my volume again. My box, I think. Or maybe this time it’s just me: telling myself. The excitement.

Really, I can’t think what’s been stopping me, why it’s taken me so long.

I guess, if I really think about it, they’re the same things that stop everyone.

Fear. Of what’s out there (or isn’t) for one.

Loyalty, too: the fact that this is my town. Never mind that it’s killing me.

I can’t deny there are things that I’ll miss.

Our team – the Smogs – for one.

I’m too young to remember, but I’ve been told that once – before things got like they are – we were ‘big time’: fixtures with sides from parts of the country that were clean, and maybe still are.

Now we’re F.S.L.

The letters stand for something else, something official. But most call it the Freak Show League. You can blame so-called comedians who take the piss through The Net for that – bastards who live in Posh Pockets and stuff their noses with their own private air.  (How I long to escape all of their mocking… all of their ‘jokes’.)

Twenty-minute matches against clubs like the Slummers, the Runts and the Rats.

Air, rest and liqui-fuel for the players in ad-stops every quarter.

Just lately, a bigger cloud than usual has been over our club. I’m talking about the death of our striker, the one and only Stevie Gray.

Extra-time in a cup-tie against the Dirtbirds proved too much for him.

He went down in their box with the goal at his mercy… swallowed his tongue. A searchlight picked out his fallen figure, sweating and shuddering on the six-yard line. All on live TV. In Mega Definition.

Viewing figures were massive: turbo-viral. An all-time best in in-play bets (on whether he’d live).

To be honest, it’s affected me. You see, Stevie was my favourite. I’d followed him for years: a record-breaking nine appearances in five seasons. A one-club man. Loyal. A Smog through and through.

I had a special reason. I once walked out onto our ground ‘The Bunker’ – as our mascot – holding his hand, fans chanting ‘Stevie! Stevie!’, as best they could.

I turned my squawker- the little one that I had back then – right up to speak to him, but he didn’t seem to hear.

It could have been our masks. It was one of those days when the air was bad… really bad.

After that (at least in my head… scuse a young girl’s foolishness) Stevie was… ‘my man’. In a way, his ‘going’ is one reason why I’ve decided to go, too.

On top of which has been the change, though some seem not to have noticed, in how things are here. One day a while back, the sun didn’t come up at all. We’re used to things being a certain way here, but…

The corporation called it ‘normal’ and said Smogsea was simply ‘falling into line’ – with ‘major towns and cities all over the world’. They made it seem as if this was something we should be proud of… major towns and cities.

Perhaps we should? Be proud, I mean. I don’t really know. But that’s when the trouble started: people attacking others.

In the poorer areas, gangs threw things at vehicles. The main target was drivers heading to Posh Pockets, places where the air and other things aren’t quite so bad. Or that’s what people say.

A kid chucking plastic was run-down by a woman in an All Terrainer Truck.

The boy’s body jammed under the terrainer. The ATT crashed off the road and into a homelet,  killing the family who lived there.

The woman was dragged out and beaten. Afterwards she was strung by her scarf from a sign over one of the highways. Welcome to Smogsea.

After that the corporation got really tough.

Drivers and makers of vehicles like those ATTs hit back hard. Bigger and stronger machines took their place. 

The resistance was crushed.

But that’s history now. And I’m going, like I said.

After Stevie, there’s really no reason for me to stay. My mum died having me – a long, long time ago (though I’m not quite sure exactly how long).

You see, something I’ve come to understand is this: for all of our screens and gadgets and stuff (my squawker and such, I mean), we’re actually sort-of… stuck… stranded… cut-off.

And when I say that, I don’t mean Smogsea from everywhere else. I mean here, among ourselves, where we are.

I think what we really need to know might be out there, but – whatever it is, whatever it was… it’s become… lost… like us.

My dad – yeah, I have a dad… he’s all for me leaving. Says he wants what’s best for me. But what he really wants is to be alone.

He’s in a bad way, to be fair.

I don’t see him much. He spends most of his time around the dodgier parts of town: trying to skank scraps of half-decent air.

He likes to make out that he’s ‘in’ with a couple of big traders. Guys who smuggle-in supplies, ‘refine’ it (with local stuff) and sell it on in gasps.

But he isn’t (important). Not really.

They bung him the odd second-hand snort after he’s grassed someone up, or as pay for some errand. Rest of the time he sells old puffs that he knows are nothing but scum. He’s taken a beating for it… more than once.

So, like I said, I’ve got some money – don’t ask me how – and I’m going. You’ve caught me in the act.

Stevie’s leading.

That’s how I see it.

Like that day when I was small… out on the pitch at The Bunker.

Unfortunately – and that’s putting it politely – the last gas station – Leadheath -proved a bummer.

‘Clean out!’ claimed the guy at the pumps.

He repeated it when I offered double the cash.

Then he laid his hands on my squawker, in a way I didn’t like.

He was thin, nothing of him. I pulled away, walked on.

I looked back, caught him staring from the doorway of the station. He’d hooked himself to a canister (a mobile on wheels), mask on his face, ratty body twitching, lapping-up his secret supply.

All of which MEANS – sorry (‘volume’ again… let me dial it down) – means (is that better?)… I’m having to get up Green Hill unaided… best as I can.

And that’s not easy, believe me. For a girl whose chest is as shitty as mine.

Even so, I’m doing it. I’m walking on.

And I’m telling myself. I’m telling MYSELF – you hear me? – that any MOment I’ll see it. From the top of Green Hill, I’ll see The Other Side.

But it’s cloudy. Oh shit – it’s cloudy.

No surprises there.

Still, if you can bear with me – for a few moments – I’ll tell you what it looks like. 

It’ll become clear, I im.gine. Won’t it?

God, it’s h.t up h..e. And c..d, too. At the s.me t.me. How can th.t b.?

Hell, my squawker’s going, I th.nk.

A b.t like me.

C.n you h..r me?

C.n y..?

C…

Stevie?           

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

M.J. Allen is a British writer influenced by the likes of Anthony Burgess, William Golding and George Orwell, with interests in modern history and the environment.  M.J. Allen’s story ‘The Lesson’ can be found at Horla fiction.

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