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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Clark Simon
 

«Stranger», Simon Clark

Simon Clark

 

One

“Where did you find him?”

“Down in Lime Bay, right at the water’s edge. He’d made it across in one of those fiberglass canoes.”

“All that way?”

“He’s a lucky man. There’s a good westerly blowing today. He said it carried him across in less than three hours.”

“How is he?”

“Tired. Got a little burned by the sun, but-”

“No, has he spoken?”

“Don’t worry, he’s a blue-eyed boy. He’s one of us.”

“Are you sure?”

“Right down to the accent. He says he used to attend school in Lewis before the shit piled into the fan.”

“Your people are looking after him?”

“They’re feeding him coffee and sandwiches. He looks as healthy as a horse to me.”

I’d tagged along with the crowds who were eager to see what that big, dirty old lake had washed up on our shores. The old boys and girls tried to look as if they were in control and taking this in their stride. But you could tell different. You see, a stranger was in town. A stranger was big news. They were excited. They wanted to feast their eyes on a fresh face.

Ben looked at me. “Greg, there’s no need for you to come.” He grinned, happy as a kid on his birthday. “He’s one of us.”

“There’s no harm in me checking then, is there?”

“Suit yourself. But he’s local. They say he’s from across the water in Lewis.”

“Lewis is deserted.”

“Maybe he was already out of town,” crowed an old dear who I can never fix a name to.

“Or maybe he got away before it happened?”

“Maybe,” I agreed. “Yeah.” A kid scowled at me. “So you leave him alone, right?”

“OK.” I shrugged. “No problem.”

Come to that, they all looked like a bunch of kids on their birthdays. Eyes bright, all eager-beaver smiles, rushing down the road that led to the beach. Where no doubt more smiling residents of this sweet little town of Sullivan were giving that hungry-and once hunted-kid nice fresh sandwiches and hot coffee.

If you ask me, the people of Sullivan were rehearsing for the day when a convoy of national guard, or regular army, or even the residents of fucking Disneyland turned up on the edge of town to tell them that everything was back to normal. That America was exactly how it was ten months ago. Yeah. Some hope. Some fucking hope.

Don’t get me wrong. These weren’t people who’d spent the last year crying over spilt milk. No, to me, they were all pretending the milk had never actually spilt in the first place.

It had, of course. It had spilt big time. BIG TIME.

I watched the crowd go jigging and arm-waving and talking and smiling at one another. They thought this was the first sign of a return to normality. Me? I went to perch myself on the hood of a Mercedes that sat gathering dust in the shade. The sun burned good and hard that morning in May. It was a day to catch you out. A stiff one blew off the lake making it feel cool. But the sun would broil six inches of skin off your face if you stayed out in it too long.

I sat there as blobs of sunlight slithered like drunken spiders across the ground. Ben calls it “dappling” when light falls through the branches. Crap on that. To me, it’s drunken spiders made of light dancing all over the place. I drew doodles in the dust. Mainly gallows with hanging men. But more than anything I burned to stand on the car and shout at that bunch of happy townspeople.

IDIOTS!

Most of them were old. At least the tomb side of fifty.

IDIOTS!

That sheer goofy optimism did it for me. They were too damn optimistic. Even though they’d seen most of their children leave town to head for cities where they believed in their heart of hearts that everything would be as it once was. With bright lights, busy stores, theater shows, and men, women and children crowding the sidewalks. Those territories out there beyond the hills had sucked those young people in, of course. Only it hadn’t spat them back out again. They were (in the words of the song) gone, gone, gone…

And without a spit of doubt, hearts chock-full of hope beat in those chests of men and women scuttling down to the beach as they asked themselves: Has my Petey come back?

Or:

Please God, make it my dear son, Ben. Please make it be him that you’ve brought safely back to me after all this time…

Keep praying. Because it won’t be him. None that left after the big BAD June the freaking first ever came back. All we got in the last few months were strangers. And you can paint that word bold and you can paint it black: STRANGERS.

Speak of the devil.


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