Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Old Friends
When Michael arrived his eyes adjusted to the dullness of his surroundings as he oriented himself. He could see the city had deteriorated, but he was grateful he was in a place he knew, even though the time might be different. Rob’s flat wasn’t far, just a couple of streets behind the block in front of him; it wouldn’t take him long to reach it.
As he left the desolate, dried out park he had found himself standing in, he observed the streets around him. Most of the buildings were boarded up and there were small fires burning. Some in the dusty bowl that had once been the city’s favourite recreation place behind him and others in the middle of the roads. There weren’t any people present, but he heard screaming to his left and the sound of people running.
Not wanting to be seen, he picked up his pace and jogged further into the streets in front of him. He tried not to consider whether the alleyways would be dangerous; Rob had taught him how to navigate them. Finding Rob’s place did not concern him, but he didn’t want to take any undue risks getting there – especially when he had no clue whether Rob would actually be there – he just didn’t know of any better place to start.
There were more shouts that sounded several streets away, but Michael didn’t want to chance it and he upped his pace, wanting to be behind doors as soon as possible.
In the alleyways he passed several people, and even saw two guys beating another, but he didn’t want to jeopardize his life by stopping, so he kept running.
The wooden door giving access to Rob’s courtyard had been kicked in and Michael came to a halt, stepping through with caution. When he climbed up the metal staircase to Rob’s backdoor, he was relieved to find it closed, although it wasn’t locked when he tried it. He stepped inside.
The place was in full dark, but the litter underfoot told him it’d been ransacked. He shut the door and bolted it behind him. In the hallway he tried the light switch, but only one bulb shone out, the rest having been smashed away. It was enough for him to see his footing as he went through the door to his left, although the lights in there failed as he flicked the switch back and forth. He shuffled to the outline of a standing lamp having better luck, when the warm glow shed light on the turmoil that had once been the lounge.
He called out, “Rob?” and the hairs on his neck raised as the soft sound of weeping reached him. He turned, unsure where it was coming from, until a shuffling behind the sofa clarified it. He stood tense waiting for whoever it was to come out, calling, “Rob?” once more.
He heard a cracked voice reply “Michael?” in return and he rushed over concerned that Rob was hurt. But it wasn’t Rob, and who he discovered filled him with a mixture of elation and despair.
“John? Oh my God, John? Is that you?”
“Oh Michael, yes it is, I can’t believe it, is it really you?”
John stumbled into Michael’s arms, weeping as he gripped his shoulders with no intention of letting go.
“Oh Michael, it’s so good to see you. Did Annie send you? Is she here with you?”
The hairs on Michael’s arms bristled as he pulled John away, looking him in the face.
“Annie, John? Was she here? Was she with you?” Michael searched John’s grime covered face, registering the cuts and swellings, and only imagining what must have happened.
“Yes, she found me, in an alleyway near here, where they dumped me. She brought me here, told me I would be safe. She smelt so sweet Michael, there were even flowers in her hair.”
“Dumped you? Who dumped you, John?”
Michael’s question caused John’s face to crumble and he let out a sob, as he tried to gather himself to speak.
“I don’t know who they were Michael, but they wouldn’t leave me alone; they kept dragging me with them and using me as a punch bag. I don’t know why, I don’t know what I did!”
More floods of tears came and Michael embraced him, patting his back, making soothing sounds; reassuring him that it was over now and he was going to be okay now that Michael had found him.
Michael’s mind raced at how he was going to get them out of this and how he was going to find Rob if he wasn’t here. The danger outside was palpable now he’d heard John’s tale, and he didn’t want to risk either of their lives. But he wondered why Annie had brought him here, if not for Michael to find him, and he considered staying put, as maybe Rob would do the same – if he was in the same time as Michael.
As he continued to pat John’s back the light in the room shifted. A glowing light streamed through the hallway from the back door, reflecting and flickering off the walls. Then they heard screaming, which grew louder and as it came closer.
John and Michael pulled away from each other and listened to the sound. Michael could hear words now, and a sinking sensation in his stomach told him the voice was familiar. He rushed to the back door to see if he could make out who it was and what was going on. Through the pane of glass he could make out a group of people running through the alleyways towards their courtyard, their journey lit with some kind of flaming torches.
They were chasing someone, trying to grab hold of them, and it was this person that was screaming. Then Michael’s eyes widened and he hastened to unbolt the door, all the hairs on his body erect.
“What is it Michael? What are you doing?” John was panicked by Michael’s intention to go outside, putting a hand on his arm in an attempt to restrain him. But Michael shook it off, only giving one word as he swung the door open.
He flew down the stairs, hearing the clattering of John’s footfalls as he followed, along with the screaming words, which were now clear as a bell as they hailed his name.
“Michael, Michael Where are you? Help me! PLEASE help me! Someone PLEASE!”
Michael responded. “Rob! Here!”
When Michael reached the bottom, the crowd behind Rob was closing in. Michael could see Rob’s clothes were dripping wet; his hair stuck to his head. He sniffed the air and with a sick feeling realised what they had planned: they were going to set light to him.
Michael ran to Rob, hoping to reach him before the men, but one of them hurled a torch, the flame flaring in the breezing as it catch the back of Rob’s shirt. Within seconds the flames had run up his back and set light to his hair. Rob stopped running, frantically trying to put himself out, his hysterical cries piercing Michael to the bone.
A cheer went up and the men applauded, clapping the thrower on the back as though he’d done a good job, before they running off again, no doubt to find another victim.
Rob was totally aflame now, his ear-splitting screams reaching new heights, but as Michael listened another sound joined it, and Michael’s nose wrinkled in disgust as he identified the Jester’s cackle.
While Michael stood transfixed, John pulled off his own trousers, the only clothing he had to available to swat at the flames and attempt to dowse them. It worked. Rob sank to the ground, his screams subsiding into sobs while John crouched next to him, tentatively patting him further to make sure everything was out.
Michael grasped the opportunity and crouched down too, only thinking of getting Rob back to his time and to a hospital. He put an arm round John and gently placed a hand on Rob’s shoulder hoping that it would be enough.
The second he did the Jester’s cackle ceased and everything around them shifted and shimmered into blackness.
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