Until all this happened, until the world fell apart and everyone went and fucking died, Richie had never thought himself the potentially suicidal type. Life had always been so easy, so much fun. Until it wasn't. Until everything went to shit.
He assumed he was immune, not that he knew anything about the science of all this, but he was still alive and most other people weren't. He knew immunity to the outbreak existed. He'd read a bit about it online, while online was a still a thing. Plus, Richie was accustomed to being among the lucky few in any situation.
His plan to drive across the bridge to Fife, to get the hell out of Edinburgh in the hope that the grass actually was greener, or at least less apocalyptic, on the other side, had been spectacularly scuppered when he drove his car into a lamppost for the second time in the space of a year.
Although he quite miraculously escaped with not even a scratch, his very expensive car had not and nothing he knew how to do would make it start. He'd continued his journey on foot, cursing himself for wearing new boots rather than old, comfortable ones that didn't make his feet bleed after walking for a few miles.
Richie was fully aware that his life so far had not prepared him for self-sufficiency. He was rather proud of himself for lasting as long as he had, mainly thanks to the fact that most of the residents of his building had panic-bought as much food as they could, then panicked again and abandoned their homes. When he reached the bridges though, he was just about ready to give up.
He had been expecting a simple crossing to a place where there would somehow be helpful people, plenty of food and probably better shoes. He had not been expecting both the road bridges to be piled with burnt out vehicles, and the rail bridge to be missing an entire section in the middle.
He had also not expected the stacks of corpses that greeted him, but then no-one expects a stack of corpses. He hadn't stopped to think about who might have stacked the corpses, whether or not they were still there, or what they might do to him, but he was glad of the various knives he'd tucked into convenient places in his clothes, just in case.
He'd bought the ridiculously expensive set of chef's knives when he'd moved into his penthouse, even though he couldn't cook to save his life. Now he figured they would be decent weapons, should the need arise. It had all seemed like quite the adventure when he'd first set off from home, fuelled by a line of something he'd been hanging on to, just in case.
His last attempt at traversing the Forth was to cross the old road bridge on foot because at least it had walkways that might be clear. The walkways, however, were as impassable as the rest and for much the same reason. He stood still for a long time, not knowing where to go or what to do, feeling suddenly, impossibly alone and utterly hopeless.
Everything was wrong. His previously endless well of optimism had finally run dry and the emptiness left behind ached in a way that was completely new to him. He wanted to tell someone about it, but there was no-one to tell. He wanted someone to fix it. Fixing things had never been his strong suit.
All this, all the mess and death and driving and walking and stupid bleeding feet, all for nothing. Having reached what felt like the point of no return, or at least the point of no potential improvement, Richie gave up. Sort of.
He set down his bag and his knives, then took off his coat, shirt and boots for no reason other than it felt like the appropriate thing to do, given the circumstances. Tidying them into a neat pile, he climbed over the barrier and looked straight ahead at the bright blue sky, cloudless and beautiful, calm above the chaos below.
Inhaling a deep, cleansing breath he thought, this could be it. I could really do this. It would be the biggest thing I've ever done but it wouldn't matter at all in the grand scheme of things. The thought of not mattering at all made him feel uncomfortable in ways that he didn't want to start thinking about right now.
The first thing he noticed about the hands that reached over the barrier to firmly grip his bare shoulders was that they were cold. Ice cold.
Shortly after, once he was back on the side of safety, he noticed other things. The scars on the man's face. The one that ran through his top lip, neat, possibly surgical; the one that split his left eyebrow; the fresher looking one across the bridge of his nose.
He noticed a yellowing bruise on the right side of the man's face and how pale his eyes were—translucent, reflective, maybe grey but maybe not, just pale. His hair was silver-brown-blond, every colour and no colour all at once, dirty and pushed back from his face.
For a fleeting moment Richie thought that if this encounter had occurred in different circumstances, before all this end of days business, if he had passed this man on the street or met him in a bar, he would have flirted with him shamelessly, bought him a drink, offered him a line of something.
He was fine with rough and older, and he liked strong arms and a few interesting scars. In another life, before, he would have said something suggestive about knowing plenty of ways he could warm up those hands.
In this life though, now, he flew into an uncharacteristic rage, the kind of rage reserved for people who prevent someone from doing the simultaneously most and least significant thing they've ever almost done. "Who the fuck are you? Where the fuck did you come from? Why the fuck did you stop me from jumping?"
The stranger let go of Richie and began to turn away, to leave him standing on the bridge instead of drowning, or dying on impact with the water below, or hanging indecisively on the barrier. The man's reply came quietly, steadily, in a voice as cold as his hands, "I flipped a coin and it came up heads, so here you are."
"And what? You're just going to walk away after you saved my pointless fucking life?"
The stranger raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders under the weight of his tattered clothes and said, "Yes."
Richie cast a glance up and down his body, taking in his threadbare sweater and jeans, hanging loosely on a frame that might once have been athletic but was now just a little too thin to look healthy, much like everyone else who had managed to stay alive for this long. Not that many people fell into that category, not now.
"Not to be a terrible cliché," Richie started, gathering his wits about him, "but are you seriously going to leave without telling me your name?"
The man replied, again, "Yes," and walked away, limping slightly, flipping a coin in the air, catching it and looking to see how it fell before turning left where the bridge met the silent, empty road.
"It's my fucking birthday, you absolute shit!" Richie shouted after him, as if this small slice of irrelevant information would make a difference.
Richie's words drifted and dissipated, absorbed by the silence of the air, unheard or ignored. And somehow, that hurt more than anything.
YOU ARE READING
Car ThievesScience Fiction
The year 2027. Edinburgh, Scotland. Disease has swept a deadly path through society. A nightlife mogul with a violent past, a sadistic drug dealer, an artist craving companionship, a privileged playboy and a fiercely independent motor mechanic strug...