It’s home. This damp, tired little room that reeks of stale sweat, shit and fear. It hides us from the sky, which is something, not that I think it does us any good. This is it, the whole wide world reduced down to two-hundred square feet of misery and darkness, the dim light of a novelty LED torch, the slow bubble of slop buckets and on every surface the weird scratchings Hope has made.
Of all the people in the station, it’s Hope I saved. I don’t know why. I don’t even know how old she is or her real name. I know nothing about her at all and she’s not one for talking. Not since I met her. I think she was a writer, a secretary or a personal assistant. Her purse had a notebook in it, filled with scrawl, but I couldn’t read her handwriting.
Now she squats by the wall and draws on it, endlessly, with children’s chalks we took from one of the little station shops. She’s worn two sets down to nothing, covering the room with her spirals and swirls. Sometimes it looks a little like the sky, when it broke.
I saw it, when I ventured to the surface to see what all the panic was about. People were crowding into the stations to get away from it. Rebelling against what they saw, like insects running away from the light. The street was worse, half the people staring slack-jawed into the seething sky, others clawing at their eyes.
When I looked up, against all reason, the sky was a riot of colour and motion. Like the coloured images of nebulae and galaxies that they used to show on the television. The stars moved and slide, the sun seemed to dim. It made no sense and yet everyone could see it. Then space itself broke and from the fractures threads and tendrils came and began to pluck people up from where they stood.
There was something malevolent about them. The way they toyed with people, pulled them away on the brink of safety, pierced children to use them as bait. Some tried to fight, but for every tendril they destroyed two took their place.
I had the key to the back rooms of the station. Late at night there weren’t many others but me. I don’t know what made me take her. She was the nearest person stumbling by the door when I unlocked it. I suppose I just didn’t want to be alone but with a silent, staring maniac who never seems to sleep, I might as well be alone.
The buckets needed emptying. I’d been putting it off for days. A diet of snack-shop chocolate and cola hadn’t been doing us much good, especially eked out so much to make it last. It made the buckets even more foul than they had any right to be. That and even leaving the room had become terrifying beyond reason.
Boredom and fear. Eventually one wins out over the other.
I left Hope to her scratchings on the wall and took the heavy weight of the buckets. I clasped another torch between my teeth and elbowed out of the door. Dead escalators are hard to navigate in the pitch darkness, especially carrying buckets. There are shoes and bags, left in the rush. The people have long since disappeared but the civilised skins they shed in their panic are still there to trip me up.
The station is slowly flooding. Inch by inch, day by day. I don’t reach the bottom before I find the water. A foul brew of bodies, rags and the shit I’ve dumped here week by week, day by day while we survive. I don’t even see the rats or the mice here any more. A shame. A rat would make a welcome change from a Snickers bar at this point.
I empty the buckets and ‘rinse’ them as best I can. Sitting on the lowest step I dare to get my breath back before I head back up.
Something ripples in the water. Another body bobbing to the surface? No. Tiny waves lap against the shore and them with a gurgling slurp a bloated corpse is dragged beneath the surface. In the bluish LED light a shadowed shape beneath the muck shifts and twists and then, the panic finally pushing me to move, I turn, leave the buckets and run. Scrambling up the steps on hands and feet as fast as I can until I get back to the room and slam the door shut, weeping.
Nowhere is safe. Not really.
I slump against the wall and slide down, tears tracking lines through the dirt on my face. My jacket smears Hope’s drawings, something that normally freaks her out, but this time she just silently paces over to me and touches my hand.
It’s simple human touch, but it’s not something I’ve felt in days, weeks, however long we’ve been down here with no clocks, no day or night, no way to mark the time save by the number of times we sleep. I look at her and it’s strange to see her face so changed.
She has dark rings around her eyes from lack of sleep, and I do not blame her because the nightmares that come when I close my eyes make death seem like a good option. Still, despite that, she looks younger than when I first saw her. Softer, the innocence of a broken mind giving a softness to her face and body that was never there before. I caught sight of myself in a patch of clear water some time back, my body – despite all the chocolate – has been sculpted by hardship into the kind of slender muscle people would have paid a fortune for.
I touch her filthy cheek and sniff, blinking away more tears.
It would be like taking advantage of a child. She’s mad, insane, a mute with no voice and taking care of her gives me no right. But she is also soft, and warm and human and, for all I know, we are the last two people alive in all the world. Just to feel close and safe would be…
…she kisses me. Kissing away the tears as a mother would her son. Did she have children I wonder? Where are they now if they are anywhere? The touch seems to awaken something else in her and she makes an inarticulate sound and clumsily kisses my mouth.
I try to turn away, this isn’t right still, somehow. A betrayal of trust. I look after her, for no reason, simply because it is the right and human thing to do. The human thing to do. A warm, human, with no desire to kill me, with soft lips. Even the stinking breath and the stale-sweat smell of us is human. The air everywhere else has this strange, chemical, tide-line edge to it that chokes your throat like chlorine.
I don’t know that I’d have looked at Hope before everything went wrong. Here she’s the last woman on Earth and I am the last man. I have no illusions about my worth either, but we are here and she is still kissing me and I cannot resist. For my mind, for my body, for the sake of a fleeting moment of pleasure in a world of pain I let my reservations collapse.
Fingers cut through grime. Damp clothes peel away from soft and yielding skin. A human sweat, a human stink, a human taste. Was this what pleasure was like? I barely remember. Candy and soft drink would have been a pleasure back before all this, now its a chore. Warmth, softness, these have been lost to us for so long, both of us. I touch her back, slide my hands around her, find the suppleness of breasts to match the softness of her mouth and kneeling, her astride my lap, riding with naïve eagerness, we clutch and cling to each other in the old dance and damn the world beyond the walls.
She takes me and I lose myself within her. I take her, on her hands and knees atop our grubby blankets. She takes what I have to give and gives what I offer. Innocent eyes and soft features hide a ravenous body as starved of affection, pleasure and wonder as I have been. Every orgasm is a light against the darkness. Every gush of cum or wave of pleasure a defiant light against the darkness.
It makes it tolerable, down here, to fuck and rut in the darkness. To sleep together in warmth. A little camp-fire of affection and humanity, however flawed. Is this what passes for love now? Taking care of someone? Is this what we used to be? Hiding out in caves from the monsters. The brave ape-man protecting his mate and daring the world beyond to provide?
I can’t go out though. The world is dead, so far as either of us know or care to know. The food is almost gone and there is nothing more I can. Nothing more to find. There are things in the water that rises every day. No rats, no mice, not so much as an insect. There’s only us and a knife to my own throat is the only way I have anything left to give.