Brighton. It had practically been wiped off every map. There were no sign posts anywhere, so I just ran in as straight a line as possible. I reached what looked to have once been a park and stopped. Taking in huge breaths and dumping my stuff, I sat down on the edge on tree stump. The grass was wild and it took me a few seconds to notice that I was actually in a graveyard. I felt a chill along my arms and the impulse to leave. However, my stomach, sides and legs were hurting and I needed to collect myself.
The cries of seagulls punched the air and I looked around for the birds, but didn’t see them. A surreal quiet hung about, making ever other noise seem a little bit creepier. I hugged myself and looked back at the gateway I had darted through. It was covered almost by the bushes on either side. Beyond was the road I had come down, across from it split off another road on which some tall trees faced another graveyard.
I drink some water and finished off the bottle. I left it behind me on the stump, as I got up and went to the gate. Looking around, I decided to carry on following the road I had come down and see where it led. The wheels of my suitcase and my slapping footsteps were the only other sounds to be heard. A small breeze stirred the trees from time to time, but that was it.
Brighton was deserted as if someone had announced a full evacuation. Really though and everyone knew the story, the town had died. Like so many places along the British coastline, it had fall out of popularity with everyone. Business and money had moved away then the people had slowly gone. With the restrictions on births and emigration, the population and peoples’ attitudes had dramatically altered too.
I walked on, passing spaces that had once been graced by buildings. Now, their bricks and memories were laying broken on the ground with nature claiming them back. A dismantled traffic light and road crossing came up as did a turn off to the right. I kept on going, trying not to take in too much of the town as the empty bleakness of the place was beginning to worry me.
I remembered once hearing something my dad had told me about places like Brighton and Blackpool. The State had decided not to waste money regenerating and saving these towns. There was no profit in it for them and they’d rather the population was as close together as possible. I think he also said something about them not being respectable enough. I’m not sure what that means.
At the bottom of a sweeping corner was a side road. I paused and debated which way to go. Without all the tall buildings in the way, I could make out the sea ahead of me. If I listened hard, I could even hear the waves. Smiling, I took the side road and followed it down to a clock tower. I paused and looked at the sand brick structure. It stood out alone and left behind. I could make out the remains of figures and decorative arches just above the base. It had looked pretty once and now it was a symbol of time run out for Brighton.
I went over to what had been a black stone seating area and rested. Around me was a wasteland of rumble. There was nothing left, but multi-coloured bricks, shattered glass and twisted metal. What I imaged to have once been a busy town centre had been reduced to an apocalyptic battlefield, just without the fire and soldiers.
Seeing the clock, trigged me to check my own. I pulled out the life event timer. The numbers showed I had an hour and forty-seven minutes left. Moving on, I had to really pull my suitcase over the destruction. Now though, I could truly see the sea ahead of me. It helped to throw of my tiredness aside and in a matter of minutes I was standing before a pastel lime green railing looking out at the beach and the sea.
Next to me was what had been a kiosk. Cream paint peeled off the sides and barred windows look rusted. It seemed to be the only building for miles. Looking out across the sea to the left, I could see a pier. However, to the right there also seemed to be one. I frowned and wondered which was the correct one?
Leaving my stuff next to a broken bench, I walked what had been the main costal path towards the right pier. There was something strange about the structure raising from the sea. It looked sort of hollow. I got closer, passing holes were lampposts had been and avoiding the large cracks in the pavement. Waves rocked the line of sand, dragging it back and forth like a child shaking a rattle. I’d never really seen the sea or a beach before, but that thought passed by in a flash.
I began to see that the right pier was actually little more than a collection of metal poles. I paused, realising that couldn’t be the correct pier at all. I glanced back, but couldn’t see anything behind me. I still had time, so I walked opposite and to what should have been the pier entrance. Tall metal fences still blocked the area off, though most had fallen down. The remains of what had been a white painted building seemed to indicate some kind of entranceway. I didn’t need nor what to get any closer.
I turned back and went to get my things. The other pier looked more intact, so I headed over there. It took longer to get to then I had first thought. The sea kept me company and I tried to ignore the emptiness to my left. Soon, I could see that the pier was all still there and that just behind it was a towering white-grey structure. Wondering what that was, my mind questioned if had something to do with my life event.
I got closer and finally arrived at the pier. The entrance gate, still complete with clock tower on top of it looked undamaged. I went up and peered through. I could see rotten wooden boards stretching towards a largish white building then darting to either side of it. It didn’t look at all safe. I withdrew and went to the side, where I could get a better view. Beyond the white building was a large open area that had the skeletons of a few different metal frames. I couldn’t make out what they had once been.
Instead, I turned to study the other structure I had seen. It appeared to be a large wheel from which pods hung down, a few were missing as well as a few poles. It had once been a giant viewing wheel, I realised, like the one in London. Why would they just leave that behind?
Puzzling, I went and sat down beside one of the pillars that was supporting the pier’s entranceway. Pulling out the timer, I saw I had hour and ten minutes left. I checked the note and decided this was defiantly the place. I’m not sure why I knew that, just that it was. Bring my knees to my chest, I heard my stomach growling.
I had time to eat. From my bag, I took a can of fizzy orange and tin of sliced peaches. I wondered and worried over things whilst I took a break. Afterwards, rested my chin on top of my knees and listened to the sound of the sea and the breeze creaking things. I had placed my timer at my feet before and I was half watching the numbers tick down.
It seemed that a lot longer amount of time had passed then the numbers displayed as they flicked to 00: 20: 16. In twenty minutes it would happen, I told myself. The sea wind made viewing wheel creak and that caused me to look up. A pod was swinging slowly. I shivered and huddled in my coat.
‘It’ll be over soon. Whatever it is,’ I mumbled into my knees.
I shut my eyes and just concentrated on the sounds of the sea.
The alien noise of someone else’s footsteps beat in my ears. For a few moments, I thought it was some other sound or else I was dreaming it. I opened my eyes, saw that the timer now read: 00:10:02. Looking up and about, I saw in the distance, coming down the road ahead of me were two figures.
The breath caught in my throat and my teeth sank into my lip. I stayed still and watched them coming closer. They came into focus as they approached and I saw that they were two men in white suits. Closer still and they had matching white shoes, sliver shirts and slightly darker ties. They had white top hats on their heads, which made me almost giggle a loud.
They came to the end of the road and looked across what had been a small roundabout at me. I stole a glance at the numbers: 00:06:08.
The men crossed the road and came to the spot I had actually stopped in before. We all looked at each other. The two men looked to be twins in their middle thirties, if not younger and they didn’t seem threatening. They carried nothing with them and had an air of importance about them.
After a few moments the one on my right spoke, ‘where are the others?’
I glanced around quickly then wondered if he had been talking to me.
‘There should be six of them,’ the other twin stated.
‘Where are the others?’ the first repeated directly at me.
‘I…don’t know,’ I started shakily, ‘I’ve not seen anyone else.’
The second man checked his watch, ‘it’s almost five to.’
‘You’ve seen no one?’ the first asked.
They turned slightly away from me and seemed to be whispering to each other.
‘What’s happening?’ I asked, a little too loudly, ‘is this actually my life event?’
‘What’s your name?’ the first asked.
‘Caz. Cassandra Melvin,’ I responded.
He nodded and joined his twin in looking around for other people. I stood up, feeling a little unsteady. My hands tensed into fists and I couldn’t force any of my questions out. I felt sick.
‘Nothing’s going to happen to you,’ the second man said, ‘don’t be so worried.’
I frowned up at him, ‘then what’s this about?’
‘You’ve been selected,’ he declared, pointing at the timer next to my feet, ‘we’ve come to escort you and explain everything to you.’
I felt a cold chill prickling my skin. I didn’t feel any comfort from his words. I bent and picked up the timer. The numbers were so close to zero now. I felt my heart beating alongside the racing seconds and though I didn’t want to take my eyes off the twins, I couldn’t remove them from the timer’s display.
Another minute ticked away and now there was only two to go.
‘Nobody else is coming,’ the first twin growled under his breath, ‘it’s too late.’
‘We got one at least,’ his brother countered back.
‘I’m not going anywhere till you tell me what’s going on!’ I half-shouted.
The twins seemed to shrug their shoulders at the same moment.
‘That timer is a spying device. The state uses it to select the very best of the best,’ the second twin explained.
‘For what?’ I nervously asked.
‘To leave earth and start populating a very liveable other planet,’ he concluded.
‘Luckily you getting selected, well done,’ the other man said in a condescending tone, ‘shame you have to go alone.’
‘At least for the first part anyway,’ the second cut back in, ‘then you’ll get to travel with everyone else who’s also been selected from around the country and the world.’
‘All that stuff you’re heard about people’s life events, it was all fabricated. The State’s been feeding everyone lies and controlling you all ever since it came into power.’
‘But you’re going to a much better world now,’ two said, cheerily.
Words jarred in my mouth and my tongue rubbed against teeth.
I looked down and my timer had finally hit; 00:00:00.