The sun isn’t shining yet when Ashton wakes up. His room is still too dark for shadows and he has to search for the light switch in order to find his way from his bed to the door. Nevertheless, he knows he woke up right in time to get ready for work. He shuffles through the house on sock-clad feet, shivering when he reaches the hallway. There’s no time to admire its beauty, not that he was planning on doing that anyway. He can’t help his fingers from tracing the patterns in the balustrade as he walks down the stairs though.
He doesn’t bother with breakfast, still trying to figure out what to do with that goddamn galaxy, and hides deep into his coat and scarf instead. He decides to leave his gloves at home as an excuse for his shaking hands and opens the front door.
It’s no warmer than the evening before, but at least the sun is slowly rising while he pads along London’s neatly paved sidewalks. Above him, beautiful clouds are blooming, creating colours like purple and red that grow lighter and lighter with every step he takes.
He’s not sure if he likes it.
With the light the sun casts on the streets, he’s finally able to see the banners and posters that decorate every street and alley-way. Despite the conscription, the enlistment propaganda is still there. Drawings of soldiers, proud mothers and children, weapons and mean-looking Germans. They’re everywhere, at the baker’s, on billboards, in bus and train stations. The more recent the posters, the darker the message.
“Be honest with yourself. Be certain that your so-called reason is not a selfish excuse”
“Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?”
“You’re proud of your pals in the Army of course! But what will your pals think of you? Think it over!”
“To the women of Britain: Some of your men folk are holding back on your account. Won’t you prove your love for your Country by persuading them to go?”
Ashton can feel the galaxy stirring, like his very own rumbling hidden in his stomach. It sickens him that propaganda turned into blackmail and that young people like himself got tricked in to joining the war. He can still remember some of his friends saying they’d be home by Christmas.
They were home by Christmas. Just not the way their mum wanted them to be.
His eyes find their way to the dark tiles he walks on, too afraid to look up. Every inch of London is a reminder of what’s happening, but instead of absence and hunger, like in his hometown, there’s bright colours and smiling faces.
He prefers the tiles with their dull colour and watches them change as he makes his way to his office. He knows he’s in Michael’s, can tell by the clean shiny tiles, but he doesn’t look up. With no more than a half-hearted good morning he speeds past his desk.
He inspects the stack of paper work on his desk. It’s not as high as the previous one, so he won’t be working extra hours tonight. He glances at the sheet that lies on top, sighing in relief when he recognises its lay-out.
Payments. He’s writing pay-checks.
It’s been over a month since he last did this, so he figures it must be Michael’s task.
Ashton wonders how many pacifists there are if there was yet another list this morning. How many people can they possibly execute in two days?
He sinks down in his chair and sets his typewriter on his desk, his arms shaking under the weight. Not interested in wasting any time, he immediately starts his first letter.
As the hours pass by, his vision gets blurrier. The galaxy is stirring somewhere deep inside him, the gawking emptiness making him wince. All he has to do is sit entirely still, he figures after a while. If nothing is moving, he can work without seeing every letter twice. He doesn’t move for over half an hour, stays as still as possible when he’s shaking this badly.
Nevertheless, he can feel his face tingling. The sensation gets more intense when he dares to crack his neck, his trembling fingers leaving the keyboard momentarily to touch his skin. It’s unfamiliar and strange and Ashton can’t help but wonder if he’s coming down with something.
It doesn’t matter, he decides, and he goes back to typing. He’s already half-way, which is good, because his fingers are burning and so are his tear-filled eyes.
The calling of his name makes him turn around, the movement slow and hazy through his doubled vision. Michael is standing at the door, his hand clenched around the doorknob. He looks up, meeting Ashton’s gaze, and immediately let’s go of the faux-gold. His cold hands cup his face, but Ashton can barely feel it through the tiny needles that are currently piercing his skin. He vaguely wonders if Michael can tell that there are black spots dancing across his vision.
“I’m not letting you skip another meal, Ash. I brought you lunch.”
He figures he should probably worry about the unstoppable trembling and the fact that he’s about to start crying at work, but all he can think about is the fact that Michael noticed that he didn’t leave his office the previous day.
His mind is limited to one thought at a time and Michael is holding up a cheese sandwich so despite the rumbling, the only thing he thinks about is the food. Michael rips off a piece of the sandwich and presses it into Ashton’s hand, closing his fingers around it and guiding it to his mouth.
Ashton eats it immediately, appreciative of the wonderful taste and the way it silences his galaxy.
QUESTION OF THE CHAPTER: Which flyer do you hate the most? (They're all real)
i love cats