Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Torn

by Ben Cooper


Day One

Of course it isn't really Day One. I thought about the date for a long time, trying to work it out. I remember when everything happened, the 23rd of August, so I know it must've been the 25th when Dad made us pack our bag, bundled us in the car and brought us here. But after that I lost count so today is Day One -- of this journal, if nothing else.

Dylan keeps asking where Dad is. Obviously I keep telling him he's out getting Dylan's medicine. What else can I tell him? It's at least two days walk from here to town and who knows if the pharmacy or hospital have the drugs.

He might not have made it, but we're well away from the Rip. Those things weren't seen anywhere near here. They were first seen near Hastings the news said.

I have to go to the end of the drainage tunnel to write. We ran out of candles ages ago and I don't want to waste the batteries in the torch on this.

Being out here lets me clear my head too.

There's a birds nest in one of the trees. I've never been interested in birds and that stuff but it's nice to watch them. There's two chicks and two adults. A Mum and Dad I guess. One of them stays in the nest while the other goes out. When the other gets back it feeds the chicks and the other one flies off. Seeing them makes me realise that some things go on just like normal.

Writing gives me some space from Dylan too. He really can piss you off after a while. But I know he doesn't mean it.

Day Two

I decided to write in this book every day, even if nothing exciting happens. Exciting seems a weird choice of word. Notable would be better I guess. At college one of my teachers insisted we justify every word. She also suggested this notebook.

I've looked back at what I wrote from that first year. Two pages. Still maybe I can put it to some use now.

Writing. What good is it going to do Dylan and me? I should've done something more practical. Like woodwork or food preparation and hygiene. I should've joined the army.

I wish I hadn't spent this year studying so much. I realized today I'll probably die a virgin.

Dad still isn't back. It's been eight days.

I got worried yesterday about not being able to remember the dates. Dylan could hardly remember anything. His last fit was bad. I'd never seen him have one that long before. I wonder if that did something. Fried his brain a little.

####

When the Rip appeared we were spending the week at Dad's. We caught a train down from London. It got in at 19:34. He rocked up at 21:42. By then Dylan was practically hysterical. I tried calming him down.

"Dad'll be here soon." I tried his mobile again but it went straight to answer phone.

"I want Mum," Dylan said, luminous snot hanging from his nose in a thick strand. You can't reason with him when he's like that. I bent down and grabbed his arm.

"Just shut up." He pulled away but I gripped harder. "Mum's in London. Dad'll be here soon."

I saw an old lady looking at us, she said something to her friend then pulled her handbag towards her. Stupid bitch. She hadn't been on the train with him for six hours. I wanted to tell her to piss off but I couldn't, I had enough dealing with Dylan.

Dad turned up and Dylan's tears evaporated. Dad took him to the car while I hauled the bags. When I opened the boot there was an open crate of lager. I put the bags in and got in the front. Of course I had to move the empty tinnies first.

We had Chinese when we got in, even though he knows we hate that stuff. Then he went to watch football on the TV.

After a while the news interrupted the game. We heard him swear from upstairs so we crept down to find out what was going on.

That collider thing in Switzerland had fucked up. But not how they expected. They thought it would be a black hole that would end the solar system. Instead it was some strange "Rip". It opened up to a parallel dimension or something. Dad thought it was a joke but the pictures weren't.

I don't know how to describe the creatures really. One looked like a weird jellyfish, all flabby but with long tentacles. Thousands of them just pouring through. They killed everyone there. They grabbed people with their tentacles and absorbed them. It reminded me of biology classes, when you looked at a drop of pond water under a microscope.

The military were trying to fight them off but they kept getting pushed back. There were too many creatures and most of the army's weapons seemed ineffective. We watched it on TV for hours. Dad couldn't believe it. He kept sending Dylan to fetch beer from the fridge. By early morning they had covered Europe. The first ones arrived in Britain by mid-afternoon.

People went crazy. I saw a car run right over an old lady in front of the house. Dad called an ambulance but it never turned up. We didn't go out but the lady was dead, you could tell.

Dad tried calling Mum but couldn't get through. Dylan started freaking out and I couldn't calm him down. Dad started shouting.

"Shut up. Just shut the fuck up. Your Mum's not coming." He paced back and forth spilling his lager. "Fuck."

I took Dylan upstairs and tried to get him quiet. Eventually he fell asleep. Dad came up and told us to pack.

Then we came here.

Day Four

I felt really weak this morning. We haven't had any food for nearly a week now except for some blackberries I found. Dylan had too many and shit all over the side tunnel so we had to move out into the main tube. I couldn't bring myself to try and clean it up.

I decided I'd go looking for food. I told Dylan but he didn't want me to go.

"You won't come back." He turned over and faced me. He looked ill. I couldn't see his eyes in the light of the torch, just black pits.

"Of course I will. I'll gather some more berries. See if I can find something else. I'm sure there's a village just up the way."

"Don't leave me. Those monsters'll get you." He started crying so I gave him a hug. He pulled away and faced the wall.

"Fuck you, you ungrateful shit. I'll be the one that dies then, not you." I left the tunnel. I could hear him crying all the way down the tunnel.

I didn't go back but waited at the end until he stopped.

Outside I gathered up some of the berries again and put them in the kit bag. I didn't know where I was going. There's a small stream here that threads its way through the forest so I followed that. Dad said it used to be a tributary of the big river. The tunnels here were built to direct flood waters but eventually they just re-routed the whole river.

It was a nice day. I don't know what month it is. I guess it's April, maybe May. Anyway the sun was out and there was a soft breeze coming down the stream. I didn't find any food. I wasn't really looking, just walking and enjoying the quiet.

After a while I reached an old farm house. At first I stood back in the trees and watched. The last time I saw anyone other than Dad and Dylan was as we left the town.

####

As we drove out through the town we passed the supermarket. People were running all over the car park. A group of kids were jumping on a 4x4, kicking it. A stream of bodies were scuttling in and out of the front of the supermarket. The long window had been smashed in.

When we drove past we saw a woman and man, both middle aged, pulling a young woman and her baby out of a car. I recognised the man. He owned the estate agents in town. It looked like his car had swerved to avoid the woman's car and had smashed into a bollard.

The young woman was screaming, trying to close the door, but the man reached in and punched her. She slumped against the wheel and I remember the horn just blowing for ages until he dragged her out. He threw her on the floor, her nose and mouth a swelling red pulp. His wife yanked the baby out of its seat, its arm was all twisted back on itself, and threw it onto the young woman. The estate agent got in the car with his wife and drove off.

We just drove past. Dad didn't want to stop. There were more people around, every one of them probably just as desperate and crazy as the estate agent. I didn't blame him.

####

I couldn't see any movement in the farm house so I went down. It was empty. I searched all the rooms. Nothing. Plants and weeds had begun sprouting through the walls, everything was dusty. There were plates on the kitchen table with mouldy food on it. A thin train of ants were hurrying from the plates, down the table legs and over to a small hole in one of the skirting boards.

There wasn't much in the way of food but I found a few cans of peaches, two cans of corned beef and half a bag of dried rice. I took it all but I don't know how I'll cook the rice. I took a pan too but I couldn't find any matches or a lighter.

I opened a can of peaches and ate them. After half the can I felt sick so I drained out the liquid and closed the can over.

The queasiness passed after a few minutes and I carried on my way.

The walking felt good. Just being out in the air after months in that tunnel made me feel lighter. My legs were aching but I just kept on going.

It started to get dark but I hadn't really noticed. I had some food, the bag, the clothes on my back. I could've gone all night and then carried on the next day. And the next.

Then I remembered Dylan. He'd be waiting. Probably going mental. If he left the tunnel or had a fit that would be it. I had to go back.

When I got back the moon was squatting over the hill behind the tunnel. I could see clearly enough. All those stars. In London the sky is orange at night. Even at Dad's it's almost as bad. But out here it's just black with sugar dusting.

Dylan was quiet when I got in. He didn't say anything just moved up to me and got in under my arm. We ate half a can of corned beef and the rest of the peaches together. We ate slowly, enjoying the texture and flavours.

"Thanks for coming back," he said as we were lying there.

I didn't say anything. Just kissed the back of his head. I don't think he felt me crying.

I didn't have time to write this until the next afternoon. I've tried lighting a fire rubbing sticks together but nothing much happens. I don't know if you can eat dried rice.

Day Seven

I haven't had time to write the last few days. Dylan has been really sick. The morning after my last entry he came outside with me to try and make a fire again. I hadn't realised how thin he had got and his skin is almost yellow. I lifted my shirt up and I'm not looking too hot either.

One of the chicks in the bird nest had fallen out. We could hear it calling and we went over. When we got near the adults swooped down at us. Dylan tried to get close to the chick and pick it up.

"Leave it." I yanked him back. "If you touch it the parents won't take it back."

"What do you know?"

"Enough to know that," I told him and dragged him away. He kept watching the chick the whole time we were out but he left it alone.

He asked how the parents would save it. I told him I didn't know.

I was rubbing two sticks together when he said he could smell something. Rotten eggs, the smell before every fit. I turned around but before he could even sit down the fit started, I ran over to him and he was thrashing around on the floor, his mouth pulled back and spit oozing out of it, eyes half open but rolled back, I sat behind his head and clamped my legs around it to steady him, then I tried to jam the stick in between his teeth but I couldn't, I pushed my fingers down the side of his cheeks and managed to pry his mouth open and slid the stick in.

There was nothing else I could do. I just kept talking to him. He kept shaking and pushing against me. I laid my forehead on his and kept talking about nothing. About home, school, Mum. The fit lasted for what seemed like ages and then he came out of it.

He was really disorientated, much worse than the one he had before Dad left. I picked him up and tried carrying him back to the tunnel. We weren't more than a hundred metres from it but I had to sit down twice before we got in.

Since then he's had three more. Each time they last longer. At the moment he doesn't seem to know where we are and it's eight hours since the last one. He knows his name, how old he is, where he lives but after that things become hazy. He keeps crying and asking where Mum is. I tell him she's in London and then he asks where she is again a few minutes later.

I wish Mum was here too.

####

Dad left after Dylan had a fit. We'd been up at the tunnel for ages and Dylan's medicine had run out. The medicine doesn't guarantee the fits won't come but it does help.

The fit started as normal, with the smell. Dad didn't really know what to do. He just stood there watching. I sat next to Dylan and put my belt in between his teeth.

"Can't you do something?" Dad moved towards the exit of our side tunnel.

"No." I pressed Dylan's arms down. "We just have to wait. It'll pass. They usually last a few minutes."

But this time it didn't stop. I suppose it lasted for half an hour. When it finished I turned him on his side and covered him up. Dad had disappeared.

I went out into the main tunnel and could see him, a shadow at the main entrance. I walked up to him. The floor of the tunnel gets damp over night and I slipped over on the carpet of moss that stretches down to the entrance. I nicked my hand on something and it started to bleed a little.

When I got outside Dad was staring out at the trees. At first he didn't noticed me and jumped a little when I tapped him on the shoulder.

"It's finished." I took my hand off his shoulder. He looked at my hand.

"Is that from Dylan?"

"No. I slipped and cut myself."

We stood in silence for a while then Dad turned to me.

"I'm going to head back to town. I'll see if I can get some medicine." He took Dylan's pocket radio out of his jacket. "I heard last night that there are soldiers in the area. Maybe I can bring them back."

"Let me hear." I reached out to take the radio but he pulled it away.

"It was a long wave transmission. Weak. I can only hear it at night." He moved down from the lip of the tunnel onto the grass. "Look after your brother."

I didn't watch him go. Dylan needed me.

Day Eight

I spent today in the tunnel with Dylan. He hasn't had a fit so far but he's still disorientated. The last fit lasted about half an hour I guess. It's hard to tell in the tunnel but it was long. I think it might have damaged his brain. He's asleep at the moment so I've come out here to write and just get some air.

The chick is back up in the nest. I don't know how the parents did it but there's definitely two chicks in the nest. The parents are flying back and forth as normal.

As I watched them I felt angry. I wanted to pick up a stone and hurl it at them, smash their nest up. I did throw a stone but it didn't even reach the tree. It fell short, clicking against a rock.

I feel so useless. I can't think straight. I just want to be at home, in my room, listening to music, playing a videogame. I want to be at college and stare at Kate Smith's arse as she walks up the steps in the refectory. I want to go to the kitchen and eat half a tub of ice cream and get bollocked by Mum for ruining my dinner. I want to talk to Mum, tell her I love her, say thanks for putting up with all my shit, that I'll never have another cigarette.

I guess I never will have another cigarette.

Day Nine

Dylan died this morning.

When I went back in last night he had another fit that just wouldn't stop. I left the tunnel for a moment and I guess I fell asleep. When I woke up it was morning. I was damp with dew and a mist stretched over the valley, like some weird sea. I kept expecting to see the Ancient Mariner's ship pass by.

When I went in he was dead.

At first I thought maybe the fit had passed but I knew something like that wouldn't just end. The doctor had said so, Status Epilepticus he called it. Without drugs I couldn't have done anything.

I could've stayed with him though. They say people in a coma are aware of people talking to them and holding their hands. Why not an epileptic?

I cried of course. I don't know how long for. I lay next to him and held him. I sang that gay song Mum still sang to him. About all the flowers gone or something.

He was eleven, for fuck's sake. You're not supposed to die when you're eleven.

When I went back outside it was afternoon. The mist had burnt off and the sun was high up, no cloud, just a bright yellow orb resting on a blanket of blue. So much for pathetic fallacy.

I threw up. Well, I retched for a while, but nothing came up -- nothing to come up. After it passed I thought about what to do. I couldn't bury him, I had no way to dig a hole.

I wrapped him up in my jacket. I'd promised him he could have it when he grew up. It was just a duff biker jacket I got second or third hand. But he liked it.

I gathered all our stuff up into the kit bag and then came out here to write this.

It's getting darker now. I guess I've got a couple of hours of daylight left but I can't stay here. I'll head back to town and see if anything is left.

I'll come back for him but for now I have to walk.

Day Ten

I woke up early. It was grey and my joints ached from the cold. I'd hardly slept all night. I didn't feel safe out in the open, I wanted to reach out and feel the tunnel walls.

Breakfast was just a few blackberries, then I carried on towards town. I heard a noise, a car engine. I didn't know what to do, stay on the road or run. Two dark green trucks came around the corner. They stopped in front of me, their engines still running. I could see the soldiers inside. One of them jumped out.

"You all right son?" He stepped towards me, his hand outstretched.

"Paul?" I looked past the soldier and saw Dad. He ran over to me. "This is my son," he said to the soldier. "Where's Dylan?"

I don't remember clearly what happened next. The soldier took me to the back of the second truck and helped me into the back. Another soldier, a medic, checked me over and gave me some injections then laid me down on a stretcher. I could hear Dad shouting. Then the vehicle started moving and I fell asleep.

When I woke up the truck was still moving. Dad was on a bench next to me. His eyes were red and he looked tired. He smiled as I sat up.

"We got Dylan." He moved off the bench and sat next to me. The medic poured out two cups of sweet coffee and handed them to us.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Home. To London. Your mother's waiting for you."

"Are those things gone?"

"Not gone," the medic said, "But we've pushed them back. They managed to contain the Rip. Now we just need to hunt the rest down. Then we'll probably go through the Rip."

Dad told me to get some sleep but at the moment I can't. I'm watching the soldiers in the truck as I write. I hope they don't have to go through the Rip.

I don't think anything would be gained from it, only lost.

THE END


© 2009 Ben Cooper

Bio: Ben Cooper is 27 and lives in Exeter in the South West of England. Although he has not had any fiction published (until now!) he has had a life long love affair with sci-fi in its many forms.

E-mail: Ben Cooper
Website: Ben Cooper-SF

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