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Survivors by Tristan ap Rheinallt

I think it was George R. R. Martin who wrote recently (to near-universal acclaim, I imagine) that he’s getting more writing done during lockdown than he has for a long time. Closer to home, though, several people I know claim that they’re struggling to write, even though they’ve plenty of time on their hands. I share their pain. I’ve got so much on my mind right now that my ability to concentrate is at an all-time low, and I flit from one writing project to another without progressing any of them.

It occurred to me recently that the best place to start might be with material that already exists, so I’ve been trawling through the many short stories, in varied stages of development, that are sitting on my computer. This morning I came across a piece of flash fiction that I entered in last year’s Faclan competition. It didn’t make much of an impact at the time, but I read it again with added interest in view of recent events. It’s a bleak kind of a tale but I decided to share it anyway as the opening move in my campaign to circumvent my writers’ block. It’s called Survivors:

As Raindrop climbed the hill, she reflected on the morning’s lesson. Teacher had talked about the Bad Men and the Bad Things they’d done.

Raindrop knew already about the Bad Men, who’d sent vapours into the sky to infuriate the sun, and who’d poisoned the sea, making it rise in anger and consume the land’s edge. Then Nu-ku-lar, the monster with no face, had escaped from its cage. Some blamed the Bad Men for that too, but Teacher reckoned that Nu-ku-lar took even the Bad Men by surprise.

Raindrop didn’t like hearing about the Bad Men. Sometimes Teacher talked about the Good Children who’d tried and failed to stop them, and that was even worse.

‘How could the Bad Men do such things to their very own children?’ she’d asked once.

All Teacher said was that the Bad Men had the Bad Spirit inside them. It wasn’t much of an answer, in Raindrop’s opinion.

At the top of the hill, Raindrop came to a big rusty pipe lying on the ground. Once, she’d been told, this and others like it stood upright, and the twisted lengths of metal littering the hillside had made flower shapes at the tops of the pipes. Then, the forest of pipes had been a Good Thing, though Raindrop didn’t know why.

Sitting on this pipe, Raindrop could look across to the Land of Mountains, shimmering in the heat haze. Sometimes she would run along it afterwards, chanting Bad Words she didn’t understand, like en-two-oh and ess-ef-six.

It wasn’t the Land of Mountains that drew her attention this time but the shore, where people were moving. Fleetingly, she thought they might be returning from a fishing trip, but nobody ever landed their catches down there. Besides, the boats were unlike any she’d seen.

She slid to the ground and crouched among the desiccated grasses. Her pulse beat loud in her ears as she remembered past discussions.

‘Most of the Bad Men died in the end,’ Teacher had explained. ‘If Nu-ku-lar didn’t kill them, there was a terrible sickness – Pandemic, they called it. Anyone who survived Pandemic can make you ill just by touching you, it’s said.’

‘There are no Bad Men on this island, though,’ observed Raindrop.

‘Not yet, but who knows? One day, maybe.’

‘My gran says they’re hairy, with horns on their heads,’ said someone.

‘Nonsense,’ replied Teacher. ‘They look just like us, but that’s unimportant. If ever you see a stranger, it’s sure to be a Bad Man, and you must run back here as fast as you can.

’Now Raindrop was seeing Bad Men in the flesh, and her insides were twisted into a tight knot. As she stood up, she heard rustling in the nearby vegetation. She froze.

Then a boy appeared. Relief washed over Raindrop as she saw his friendly dark eyes and broad smile. Yes, he was a stranger, but no Bad Man could be so young and good-looking, or so obviously delighted to see her.

‘Greetings, fair maiden,’ he said, bowing. ‘Never did I imagine meeting someone as beautiful as you on this forlorn little island.’

His speech was difficult to understand, but there was no doubting that he’d called Raindrop beautiful. She felt herself blush.

Of course, the children had talked about what would happen should the Bad Men come. Some thought that everyone would sail away again in the Ark-ship, but Raindrop had seen the Ark-ship—or what was left of it—for herself. The Head Man’s son claimed his father had secret objects to kill the Bad Men before they came close enough to make anyone sick.

Raindrop couldn’t bear to think that this lovely boy might be killed by mistake.

‘What’s your name?’ asked the boy, coming closer. ‘I’m Makoto. Give me your hand and I’ll take you to meet my friends—but don’t forget, it was I who found you.’

Raindrop hesitated then, but only for a moment.

She began to cough before she was even halfway to the shore.

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