Two and a half years ago I was sitting, bleary eyed, on my sofa, waiting for the appropriate hour to wake and feed my then six month old daughter. I was watching an ITV documentary on the UK pension situation which demonstrated how most of the country would be virtually penniless once they reached retirement age. Whether it was the tiredness or the growing hopelessness of the impending crisis, from somewhere came a flash of inspiration. I finally had my idea for the novel I always told myself I would write.
All this time later, I have finally finished my first draft. It’s been difficult finding the time but I’ve done it. The novel – provisionally titled ‘Entropy’ – is a piece of speculative fiction, set in the near future (2048 to be precise). A future where the fledgling issues of today – unfunded pensions, world over-population, food shortages – have become very real nightmares.
The first draft of Chapter One is below. Note that it does contain some profanity so please don’t read if you are of a sensitive disposition. All constructive feedback appreciated – either through comments or direct reply.
Dylan Sharkey stepped off the train at Clapham Junction.
A lovely evening to fuck up your life he reflected as he forced his way past the motley collection of pan handlers, pushers and prostitutes that loitered around the platform looking to score business of one sort or another.
He knew the script in these places. Ramming his fists deep into his pocket, gripping tightly on his possessions to keep them from probing hands, Dylan dipped his head down to avoid any eye contact. He pushed his way towards the faded yellow exit sign hanging over a battered, decaying staircase. He descended warily, clocking that his path was being tracked by a pair of pleading blue-grey eyes at the bottom of the stairs. The eyes were attached to puddle of rags; a collapsed wretch writhing amongst the tatters. A man probably no older than he was but whose face bore the ravages of a life driven to exhaustion through the constant battle for daily survival. A man broken by the relentless march towards the new world order, left scrabbling amongst humanities’ putrid swill for the sustenance to prolong his life that one extra, meaningless day.
“Help a dying feeb out” The beggar revealed his bleeding, ulcerated gums perforated only by the occasional black or yellow stump protruding through the pulp. Dylan swiftly returned his gaze feetwards and strode onwards, not stopping to look back until he had finally passed out of the station’s maelstrom and out into the fresher air and relative calm of Battersea’s historic centre.
He was well aware of “The Junction” and it’s wayward, villainous reputation. Friends and associates who claimed knowledge on these matters had regaled him with their myths of whoring salary men and drug addled students on their way home to faithful wives and mothers in Brighton, Wimbledon or other such bastions of dullest suburbia. The tales always began with the lustful fool slinking off the train at Clapham and would end with abduction and body parts being sold off to various organ trafficking mafias. Dylan had never believed these fanciful fictions but now, as the pit of his stomach began to twitch like billy-o, he wasn’t so sure.
Looking around, he tried to recall the route he had spent all afternoon memorising. He daren’t expose himself as a Junction virgin so he casually leant against the nearest wall and scanned the vicinity. He took in the various drinking hostelries. Filled with local wide boys and the outsiders who had congregated to indulge in their vice of choice. The constant hum of laughter and revelry seeped out over the cracked and potholed streets, the soundtrack to a good evening’s debauchery. Interspersed with these booze dens he noted the rotting, boarded up shopping units. Their best days were long gone, now fit only for those so doped out of their faces they were oblivious to the mould spores clinging to their lungs, sucking their very existence from them.
After a minute of trying to look inconspicuous whilst scoping the place out he finally caught sight of the landmark he was searching for. A decaying, Victorian era clock tower perched on top of a dilapidated red-brick building. It appeared to have been at one time a reputable retail palace. Whilst the masonry was crumbling and the walls bore the name of every local scrote who walked by with a penknife or a can of spray paint, the building, even now, retained a trace of the majesty that it once commanded. It’s distinguished curves swept around the intersection and the original company crest gazed down from the top of the building. A&H – Arding and Hobbs.
As he mentally charted his course and set off up the hill, Dylan wondered what Mr. Arding and Mr. Hobbs would make of the area nowadays.
The mugging would no doubt be bad for business. But at least the boozing and the tarts would be fun.
He knew he couldn’t dawdle. He made his way past the bored youths casually booting stray debris up one end of the street and then back again. Past the inebriated businessmen phoning their wives. Past the fading advertising hoardings promoting beer brands that no longer existed. Past the handsome, lichen covered yellow brick houses which were once home to the stockbrokers, lawyers and bankers of decent London society but now housed only the rejecters of that society – the dope-addled artists, the pimps, the pusher men. Up towards his doom. Up towards the Common.
He knew he was getting closer as the houses shifted from being largely occupied to mainly derelict: Flats built only twenty five years ago abandoned and left to the mercy of vandals and any would-be squatters who had so far avoided the pleasure of meeting the Metropolitan Police’s Vagrant Protection Squad. Georgian townhouses long since burnt out stood forlornly, soot still ringing their windows like panda eyes. The dregs of the Junction didn’t even seem bothered enough to hustle up this way. The only evidence of human activity was the kids scampering up and down the piles of rubble that scattered the landscape, using them as their own personal ammo dumps.
Innocent little buggers. Haven’t learnt the penalties for getting caught in this sort of caper yet.
The thought stopped Dylan dead in his tracks. Oh shit, shit, shit.
It set off a chain reaction of alarm in his head.
How could I be so stupid, walking all the way up here with my commy still in my pocket?
He couldn’t afford to be caught going where he was going. He did as an abrupt volte face and started marching right back down the hill, his mind buzzing with potential ways to cover his tracks.
Dylan remembered that he had passed an abandoned corner shop – next to a pub – about half a K back. That was probably far enough away for his purposes. He sauntered in its direction, slowing his pace as he approached in order to scan the locality and make sure no-one was clocking his game. He had planned to do something like this but the adrenalin that was coursing round his system had made him disregard the most basic counter-surveillance precautions. If he could plant the phone as near to the pub as possible he could claim he’d gone in for a beer with a pal. Still not a great place to be caught visiting if they ran a location check but infinitely more defendable than what he was actually about to do.
He waited until a couple of ratty looking teenagers had entered the pub, leaving the coast clear. He sidled furtively up to the derelict structure and hurriedly vaulted over the neighbouring wall. This allowed him to slip unobserved around the back of the property and make his way to the rear. Approaching the door – despite the general air of decay around the place it looked surprisingly sturdy – he scoped a scattering of used syringes littering the floor.
I hope there are no junkies here, he cursed to himself, I fucking hate junkies.
Dylan had had more than his fair share of run-ins with dope fiends on his way back from a night out Usually they just consisted of mumbled threats and garbled demands for money but they had occasionally turned violent. His general policy was to leg it if they said so much as bonjour to him. He wasn’t sure that would work here if they caught him red-handed in their den though. He pushed on the door and was gratified to discover that the locks were frailer than they had originally looked.
It was a stinking pit of despair. The stench of damp cabbage mingled with burnt tar hung in the air. The bare wooden floor was strewn with corroded drug paraphernalia. In amongst the hypodermic needles lay rusted old empty cans that once contained spam, beans or soup but now only held the residue of whatever narcotic the resident hophead had been able to beg, borrow or steal. Dylan carefully avoided their jagged, rusty edges as he took his first tentative steps into the gloomy hollow.
There didn’t seem to be any evidence of recent habitation so Dylan felt more confident as he made his way further inside, swerving past an old shop counter that had more recently served as a place to cook up whatever shit was the special of the day. The muffled roars of violence and ritual bottle smashing told him which was the connecting wall to the pub. He picked his way there round the burnt out fires, scuttling earwigs and blood stained rags.
Another quiet night out in the Junction
His eyes searched for a place to stash the device that would betray him. Spying a rotten, loose, floor board below his feet he bent down, flicked away the beetle that was meandering across it and slowly began to pry it upwards.
A soft creak caused him to freeze. Was that movement upstairs? Was the place full of coked up maniacs ready to butcher an intruder on their patch? He strained his ears for more evidence. Maybe it was just one of the ubiquitous diseased mongrels that roamed the scummier areas of London and had happened to make this hovel its home. Either way he wasn’t going to stick around and find out. He shunted his commy under the disintegrating floorboard and bolted back out of the door from whence he came.
The fear was beating in his belly, his heart pounding so fast that his natural caution was overruled. Jump that fucking wall, leg it across the road spraying shit behind you, round the corner, up the hill and keep going. Keep going until no fucker can see you. Until no bastard can rob you, drag you into a dark alley, batter you, murder you and dump you in a burnt out house for the winos to find.
He finally stopped, shattered, against the side of one of the burnt out end-of-terrace houses. He hunched double, the vomit rising up his throat, and struggled to catch his breath.
After two minutes he had calmed down sufficiently for a modicum of clarity to have returned. Idiot, he admonished himself. You were hearing things, there was no bugger there. Now you’ve probably been spotted leaving the house by every two bit grafter in the Junction.
The thought of getting clocked by boozed up hustlers didn’t bother him unduly. He was moving too fast for them to recognise him and they probably didn’t care anyway. Skittish looking men fleeing from something were an everyday occurrence in the Junction. What bothered him more was the thought that he had been spied by one of the local Citizen Information Officers.
The police force were so under resourced they relied on a network of appointed citizen spies to help them identify and catch ‘enemies of the state’. Albie’s army as they were also dubbed – after Jodwell Alberforce, the minister who had conceived and established the concept – were not fair and free minded citizens doing their bit for the good of society. Rather they tended to be lonely, hateful individuals who fed off the pain of those they helped lead to the gallows. Ironically, the had proven utterly useless at preventing the relentless flood of petty criminality that infested neighbourhoods like the Junction. That didn’t make anyone any money. There was no glory to be had by the police for picking up vandals, burglars and brawlers so they didn’t pay out bonuses for anything as inconsequential as that. Instead, the big bucks were to be made shopping those who had contravened, or looked like they may some day possibly contravene, one of the core ‘societal directives’. The scum who would undermine the health and security of our great nation and betray us all.
Dylan’s friend Higgins despised them and actively encouraged vigilante revenge missions against those who had been responsible for “innocent” men being carted away to one of the new correctional facilities that had been built in the middle of the Dartmoor or the Highlands. He ran an underground website dedicated to exposing the identity of as many of them as possible.
Whilst Dylan had previously found ‘The Army’ merely distasteful, it was only now that he truly began to share Higgins’s rabid revulsion. He wasn’t an enemy of the state was he?
So why am I petrified of being gripped?
What to do now? In his mind there was only one thing he could do. He’d come here to see Shady and he was damn well going to do that.
Dusk was starting to fall as he skulked back up the hill, tracing the exact route that he know avoided the security cameras that were strategically positioned at each corner of the common. The underweb chatter was that only 5% of cameras actually worked but he wasn’t going to take any chances.
As he reached the top of the mount he was hit by the sight of the phenomenon that he’d always heard whispers about. The situation was never mentioned by the official channels and he’d never felt the need to validate the rumours himself. Now he saw it with his own eyes, the vast scale of it took his breath away.
An ocean of cobalt blue tarpaulin billowed out across the common. Hitched to the nearest tree, post or makeshift stave, the canvas covered the entire expanse where grass once grew, creating thousands of jury rigged shelters for the dispossessed wretches within.
The feebs. Rejects from society forced to eke out an existence in this most desperate of environments.
The acrid smell of burning plastic reached Dylan on the soft wind. Plumes of jet black smoke meandered upwards into the darkening twilight air. The wind started to whip up with slightly greater strength, causing the tarpaulins to flap around helplessly. The place looked like one robust gust would flatten it for good.
Dylan hoped that he hadn’t changed his life irreversibly, that there was a path back from what he was about to do. He scanned around, locating a suitable flap with which to enter the canvas maze, glanced up to the heavens, took a deep breath and slipped inside.