I bet most fiction writers have an idea or two for stories around the end of civilisation as we know it. Here’s a wee snippet from one of mine.
Sarah awoke at the sound of the crows, tardy harbingers of a doom already visited. She roused herself quickly, stalking carefully and silently round her open plan home in the roof space of the old stable. She checked the view through each shuttered window, looping once, twice, three times round the musty area to satisfy her caution. Two hatches allowed access to this space, one had a coil of knotted rope next to it, tied round one of the roof trusses. She lifted this first hatch a fraction and scanned the space immediately below, then angled it higher, folding out a short support to hold it open before thrusting her head down into the echoing space of the stable. She lay there for a while, anxiously exposed, listening hard for any untoward sounds. Finally, satisfied that nothing waited for her in the gloom, she backed into the roof space and crept across to the second hatch. This one was heavily bolted, and beneath it a neat set of lats nailed to another support beam allowed her to scale down to the concrete floor.
The stable was semi converted, now a comprehensively stocked garage, there were car ports within, divided in much the same way as horses would have been stabled in earlier times. The scents of fuel, oil and polish mingled in complimentary fashion with the older base tones of leather and hay. The vehicles, six in total although there was fully room for ten as well as an open work area with inspection pit, were covered with tailored tarpaulin, cinched in with drawcord. The ladder dropped down to the work area and Sarah stepped away lightly, still scanning the inside of the garage for intruders. She made her way silently down the ranks of stabled vehicles, checking down the sides of each. Reaching the last covered car she turned and watched the length of the garage, listening again. Satisfied that the silence remained complete, she stepped back to the second car in the line, the cover on this one was untied at the base. Towards the rear the lines that normally cinched it had been tied round a bar on the back wall. She lifted the cover up to reveal an open window and quickly checked that her arrangements were in place. This car sat directly under the first hatch, the knotted rope carefully measured to allow her to drop to it’s roof, she had even placed a thin mattress under the cover to cushion her fall. The sunroof remained open, and the key taped carefully behind the wheel. She carried the spare with her at all times.
Garage routine complete, she climbed a small set of steps, another throwback of the stable era when they would have helped a shorter rider onto a larger horse. In this case they helped ease her exit through a small window. Moving to the back of the building she hunkered down and jogged to the shelter of the surrounding trees. Once again she allowed herself to pause, scanning her surroundings. The mature pine forest that surrounded the house and grounds whispered it’s own voice into the atmosphere; the light creak of branches, the coarse scrape of the crows countered by the trill of sparrow and finch and the rustle of various mammals going about their business in the woods. This background susurration brought some comfort to Sarah, significant danger would have silenced them. Stepping carefully along an almost invisible trail she began to walk the bounds of her domain.
The Emmet house perched on a high ledge above the town, hidden deep in thick forest and surrounded on three sides by a forbidding mixture of cliffs and bouldered scree. The driveway followed the sinuous ridge which actually curved away from the town, the road traversing down the opposite side of the hill before bearing round to a break in the bluff to hairpin down to the main road into the town. Coming up here from town the visitor would be confronted by a confusing series of tourist viewpoints, access routes and fire trails branching away into the trees, the Emmet driveway being the last such branch from a wide turning circle. Sarah had spent sometime pulling brush and arranging log piles to conceal this final entrance and making the trails seem as disused as possible. It was, she felt, as good a fortress as she might create in such times.
Completing her route round the grounds she nipped across the main drive and followed a lower line of trees back towards the garage before cutting in to the main house. Ralph Emmet lived in stately isolation up here for as long as anyone in the town could remember, though there were few enough left that were original to the town now, lending an additional layer of security through ignorance. The main house was a sprawling two story pile; high ceilings and large open rooms, old dressed stone and parquet flooring, velvet drapery framed dusty columns of light that slowly faded the buttoned furniture in the empty rooms.
Sarah performed a quicker circuit of the house, checking each room for activity but conscious of her own exposure to anyone watching in the forest. She overshot the front entrance and let herself in through a side door nearest the garage. She paused again inside the house, listening to the silence again. Hearing only her own sighing breath she crept down the hallway to the large open kitchen.
Ralph had been her favorite customer before the end of the world changed everything. Their relationship had been as strong as any union between a college graduate and a reclusive scholar in early retirement. He had built his working day around an addictive love of coffee, and she served that addiction, accommodating his particular tastes at the local cafe and helping him to maintain and operate his own high end machine up at the house. That machine was now her only connection to the life she used to have, the foundation of her sanity. She fired it up, waiting as the beautiful machine built up pressure and temperature. Comforted by the familiar noise of the machine she wandered through the house checking her scenarios. In each room she had carefully set out the appearance of a thorough looting. Chairs were tilted over, doors opened to reveal empty cupboards, electrical equipment removed to loft storage leaving bare wires. Anyone looking in would see a deserted building with nothing to offer beyond temporary shelter. That was the hope anyway.
She silently circled the house inside, the only noises were the hissing of the coffee machine in the kitchen and the barely audible hum of the generator in the basement, cutting in straight away now that all grid power had ceased. She finished her tour in the hallway, staring up the grand staircase and listening again. She did not feel like exploring upstairs, despite being confirmed empty on many occasions it still made her uneasy, likewise the basement. If she ever needed to venture up or down she would keep watch outside the house for several days just to be sure.
The generator stopped again. Plunging the house into absolute silence. She looked up the stairwell a while longer, then crept through to the kitchen and her fix. She climbed onto a counter in the kitchen and retrieved her hidden stash of coffee. She ground the beans by hand with a pestle and mortar since the grinder made too much noise for her liking. She worked the machine with reverence, hooking the filter in and running the steam through the blend. Wincing slightly at the pressure noises but soon enough she was pouring a complex pattern of foamed milk across the top of a large mug. She set it aside and wiped the machine down meticulously then took herself through to the sun lounge for the only relaxing part of her day.
Time to get ready for the town. She returned to her home above the garage as carefully as she had left it. Looping round the grounds and sneaking carefully up the ladder to the loft hatch. There was a large trunk in one corner with a covered mirror next to it. She opened the lid and her face creased in distaste. Her going out clothes. She pulled out a stinking bundle bound in a spare tarpaulin from the garage. She rolled it out spreading the material to the edge of the hatch, in the centre a dark pile of rags now gave off a heavy, sickly scent, shit and decay. She gagged but got on with her routine. Stripping to her underwear she then pulled layers of dark underclothes over her, leggings and a couple of t-shirts, then some loose pants, a torn hoodie and finally a thick leather jacket, cracked and creased like an old map. She messed her hair about and bound it several ways with some foul smelling scarves then topped it with a leather flying cap. She squatted on her haunches in front of the mirror contemplating the final stage. A lumpen tramp with the face of a pretty girl stared back at her and she reached into the trunk to draw out her makeup kit.
Simple stage makeup would not be convincing enough. She had a set of nasty looking fake teeth from a joke shop which not only looked bad but pushed her mouth into a more ugly leer. A few fake boils went across her cheeks and she smeared vaseline into her nostrils which blocked out most of the smell and made convincing looking snotters along her top lip. Finally she pulled a small sealed tub from the kit and smeared animal dung liberally over her face. Where she was heading she wanted to get as little attention as possible, fake only took you so far, and fake exposed was dangerous. She checked herself once more in the mirror, the sight as always brought tears of desperation and fear and she gave in to the emotions briefly, the tear tracks helping to add further authenticity to her makeup. Then she made her way out of the garage and set off for the town.