Of all days
– Entry to the Phoenix Point Writing Competition
© 2018 MattyRasker
Ben woke to the sound of his mobile vibrating across the bedside cabinet. It was the midwife at the hospital. His wife had finally gone into labour. He got out of bed, got changed, grabbed his packed canvas bag, and was in the car and on the road in minutes.
“Damn it. Of all the days.” He mumbled quietly under his breath as he saw the long, stationary lines of red and white lights up and down the motorway. As soon as the traffic allowed him, he drove across the junction and headed for the narrow country roads that crossed over the top of Portsdown Hill. It was a longer route, but at least he stood a chance of arriving.
He turned the radio on and listened to the tail end of a report about a strange phenomenon involving the disappearance of an entire community from a remote Scottish village, with witnesses describing the haunting sight of the villagers walking into the sea of their own volition and not returning. He had heard similar stories closer to home. He turned the radio off, continuing his journey in sombre silence.
As the road left the desolate countryside and traced the edge of the hill, Ben managed to grab a view of the Solent through the gaps in the treelines. It was as breath taking as it had always been, but he couldn’t help feeling sad at seeing a once bustling maritime city gradually succumbing to the ocean it once served. The Spinnaker Tower stood in the distance as a monument to a civilised world that was slowly dying. Thick, lead coloured clouds covered the whole area as they rolled in menacingly from the sea across the early morning sky. The scene made Ben wonder why he and Sarah decided to bring a child into such a dreary existence. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic, reminding himself that against all odds, humanity always showed resilience, surviving every disaster and every conflict it faced.
The main road at the bottom of the hill was gridlocked. Without hesitation, Ben swung the car into a cul-de-sac, mounted the pavement, locked the door and completed his journey on foot.
He joined an enormous crowd gathered around the main building of the hospital. Hundreds of angry, desperate people blocked the doors – it looked as though no one was getting in or getting out. He tried to force his way through, before giving up a few rows away from the main entrance. He watched those closest to the doors banging against the glass panels, while a line of worried looking but determined hospital security personnel instructing them in silence not to do so from the inside.
Stood next to him was an elderly man, his grey hair matted with sweat, struggling to breathe.
“What the hell is going on?” Ben asked loudly, leaning closer to the man’s ear.
He shrugged his shoulders. “No idea, but,” he took a deep breath, “I remember couple of days ago, while visiting my wife, rumour was going round about some disease.” He nodded towards the building. “She’s still in there. I have to get her out.”
“So is mine. Are you OK?”
“I’ll be fine.” He replied. Ben was not convinced.
They jumped and turned to the sudden sound of horns blaring. Five large Army trucks drove into the hospital grounds and unloaded a seemingly endless swarm of heavily armoured soldiers. They pushed their way through the crowd without remorse towards the main entrance. As they did so, they started to bark orders at the crowd, as well as each other. The end of a gun threatened those in the crowd who refused to comply. Ben dropped his mouth and shook his head slightly in disbelieve. Whatever this is, he thought, it is happening right here, right now, on this day, of all days.
Ben started to clench his fists as the thought of Sarah coping with childbirth by herself started to agitate him. He went into his pocket to retrieve his mobile, before cursing himself for leaving it in the bag that was still in the car.
“Come with me.” He said to the old man, grabbing his hand. Together, they pushed people aside as they headed towards the door.
“We need a doctor!” Ben shouted, repeating it as he pulled the man through. At that moment, three gunshots rang out. He ducked with the crowd. Another two shots. Ben felt a hand slip away. He turned and watched the old man fall to the ground, a trickle of blood running from an open wound in his head. Screams leapt up as everyone descended into panic. Without warning, the crowd shifted violently, throwing him back against the ground, his head landing heavily against the concrete. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift away from the surrounding chaos.
Five years have passed, and the sound of terrified people as he fell into unconsciousness that day still haunted his sleep. In one way, he was thankful that a soldier rescued him, having recognised him from his Army Cadets days. In another, the pain of never knowing if he became a father stuck like a lifelong illness. Joining the New Jericho cause gave him something to live for – finding his family gave him something to fight for.
Ben woke to the sound of his intercom vibrating on his makeshift bedside cabinet. It was the Commanding Officer.
“Grayson!” He barked. “My office, now!”
Ben changed into his uniform and made his way to the office. There, in the dim light of the room, Officer Bradley sat behind his desk, hands clasped together on a paper folder.
“Sir.” Ben stood straight and saluted.
“Stand down, Grayson.” Officer Bradley instructed, before continuing.
“Overnight, we intercepted an unusual message from an Anu Outpost close to the Welsh border.”
“We couldn’t decipher the entire message, but we did make out a name which, according to Corporal Jameson, you’d be interested in.”
He pulled out a piece of paper from the folder.
“Does the name Sarah Grayson mean anything to you?”