The second instalment of Rowan Wise’s Inkpot contribution to The Gown ‘2047: Faithful.’
The bay was calm and silent. A gentle breeze moved the water in little ripples shoreward. Here, inside the confines of Strangford Lough, the conditions seemed a world away from the choppy North Antrim coast. It was late afternoon and the sky, whilst overcast, mirrored the placid water below. Separated from the main Lough by an island and circled on the shoreward side by the bay was what had once been a sailing club. In the afternoon light viewed from the water the clubhouse could be seen and opposite were parked several Land Rovers. There were also a half dozen beached boats on cradles with reinforcing stilts. A slipway sat beside a jetty where several small lighters bobbed placidly in the water. Further out, moored to an anchored buoy there was a medium sized schooner. There were two other boats moored at different points and on cursory inspection one would have been forgiven for mistaking them as similar to the larger schooner. On closer inspection however these proved to be in very poor repair, masts leaning at impossible angles and hulls caked in seaweed. The impression of serenity which shrouded the bay was only disturbed by the occasional chiding of gulls on the shore whenever an argument over a rotten carcass broke out.
Ferrier pulled in to the sailing club and parked outside the clubhouse. After shutting the gate, which constituted the only opening in steel perimeter fencing, he returned to the vehicle and parked it beside the other Land Rovers. It had been a long day. After escaping the house in the morning Ferrier had driven all the way into Belfast without stopping once. His object had been to put as much distance between himself and the loud noise which he had been forced to create by using the hand grenade. Once he had arrived in the outskirts of the abandoned city he was able to slow down a little and take stock. Nonetheless it was imperative not to spend any longer than was strictly necessary in the decaying metropolis for there were many people there still and none of them would constitute good company.
He had stopped at a garage which looked as run down as every other but to the best of his knowledge was new to him. As he had thought there proved to be very slim pickings indeed, no food but people had been there before. Behind the counter there had been footprints evidently from some time ago as the damp stain had leached to leave an impression on a threadbare rug. In what had once been a store room the inhabitants had cut a hole in the roof as a makeshift chimney to let the smoke of a fire out. Corresponding to the ad hoc chimney there had been a circular burn mark in the concrete. In one corner where decaying plaster had collapsed in a dusty heap Ferrier found a jerry can full of engine oil. That had made the stop worth it. There had been other items of less practical relevance but interesting all the same. Underneath a collapsed filling cabinet, sheltered from the elements, Ferrier had uncovered a stash of papers. They had been covered in a film of mildew but nonetheless remained plainly legible. The text ran in large block capitals:
“GATHER BY ST ANNE’S BRING WEAPONS FOR YOUR SALVATION!”
Superscribed Roman Numerals stated the date 2025 under which someone, who clearly had realised on reflection that a year was unhelpfully vague, had printed in a deliberate hand 22:11:25. Turning the page over had revealed a crudely drawn cross engraved with the phrase Pater Noster. Ferrier had tossed the leaflet down in disgust. Idiots he thought to himself, fools who had put their faith in a “higher power”. It had not helped them since the religious fanatics fell away pretty sharply at the hands of the real toughs. For twenty two years this stash of propaganda had sat there whilst the world was ripped apart. An apt metaphor for the ignorance of spirituality he thought.
By the time Ferrier had used the clubhouse shower room and eaten his dinner from a set of pre-made meals, which it was his custom to make at the beginning of every week and then freeze, evening had set in. Loading his rucksack, rifle and the dog into one of the lighters he cast off from the jetty and rowed out to the schooner moored in the bay. The lighter had an outboard motor attached, which Ferrier always made sure to keep functional, however the noise it made was more than he liked and so rowing constituted a much safer option. On a calm evening like this it was not an issue and before long man and dog were safely aboard the ‘Faithful’. As the cabin was opened up ‘Faithful’ rolled a little causing the dog to slip across the floor. He picked her up. “Hey Cindy when are you ever going to learn to take the stairs slowly”. Cindy shot him an embarrassed look, “never mind”, Ferrier said putting her down gently on a bed in the small cabin at the bow, “we’ve had a long day”. He moved back through the cabin, deftly negotiating a set of wooden hatches and the little table, to the small galley and set about boiling water for tea.
Opening up a panel and flipping a switch brought on the cabin lights. Ferrier sat down on the cabin’s bench and spent a moment wondering if he ought to run up the diesel engine to charge the boat’s batteries. In the end he decided that would wait until tomorrow, he was too tired even for such a straightforward task. As fatigue swept over him the cabin became hazier until it’s homely aura faded out completely. The kettle’s plaintive whining woke Ferrier with an abrupt start. Immediately he switched off the gas and poured himself a brew. Switching the cabin lights off to conserve power he opened the deck hatch and stepped outside. The temperature had dropped considerably with the onset of nightfall and a brisk wind was getting up. Perhaps, he thought, this could be an offshoot of that Atlantic gale. Even so it was not going to get powerful enough to worry him in the shelter of the bay. The half moon sprang out from behind some fast moving cloud. Off to one side a brilliantly bright Venus peered out of the inky darkness.
The fall of human civilisation had some surprising benefits and the night sky was without doubt one of the best. Free from light pollution the unbridled beauty of the heavens revealed itself in its infinite majesty. For those few remaining thinking souls left stranded on the globe to witness the sight it was a tangible link to what humans throughout most of history had seen when they gazed skyward. The constellations were backed up by countless stars and all of it centred about a magnificent ethereal band that was the Milky Way. Light from this celestial spectacle illuminated the entire visible sky, silhouetting the trees and hills when it touched the horizon. Ferrier never failed to be awestruck by the sight on a clear night like this. He must have seen it hundreds of times but the effect never wore off. Settling into an easy chair, which he had requisitioned on a scavenging trip and brought out to ‘Faithful’, Ferrier finished the rest of his tea. Time passed by and he drifted off to sleep kept warm in the folds of a rug.
The third follow-up to ‘2047’ will be released next week, beginning 11th January.