Saturday 3rd April 2027

EVAN

Evan glanced down at where the nylon handle of Little Cat’s harness slid back and forth across the scars on his knuckles. Dark fucking days before all this, he thought, and dark fucking days now. It could be worse though. It has been worse.

Having ascertained there were definitely no marauding death gangs around, Sarah had wandered off towards the water, something sentimental to do with putting a photograph somewhere. Evan was sitting with Richie and Little Cat, since he had somehow become the kind of person someone would trust with the care of an animal as well as the company of a human. It wasn’t as cold as it had been, but the coastal breeze still kicked up a wicked chill.

In this moment of transience, Evan’s past felt like a foreign land, a place he had passed through without any meaningful connections. Report cards filled with a list of A’s next to comments about disappointing attendance and a worrying lack of interest. Responsibility, invisibility, a hollow void of days on autopilot and a school tie that always felt on the verge of strangling him.

Chain-smoking on the roof in summer, his younger sisters on holiday with his parents, the stillness and silence of a home that never felt like his. Swallowing handfuls of pills and going to sleep. The crushing ache in his chest when he woke up again. He always woke up again. Under ‘overdoses’ his report card would have read must try harder.

Applying to the University of Edinburgh to get as far away as he could from his life. Getting accepted into the MA in Business Management, which he didn’t give a shit about but that seemed as easy as anything else to coast through for a few years. Not a word of congratulations, just more expectations. He couldn’t leave home fast enough.

Not so much giving up as taking the road not even considered, never mind less travelled. Bitterly laughing away threats of being written out of wills because it didn’t fucking matter anymore. The recreational chemical distribution market was still business management of a sort, and it provided him with enough of an income not to care about what he did or didn’t stand to inherit in a future that didn’t mean a fucking thing anyway.

Late nights and hands around throats, fists against jaws, the captivating music of shy, broken boys whispering please. And then this. All this. The end of the fucking world and bodies burning and car thieves and chaos. And Richie.

Richie, with that face, with that unshakable belief that everything would be fine because, for him, everything always had been. Richie, who didn’t know when to shut up, or when to just not start talking in the first place. As if on cue, Richie spoke.

“You know, I was here before, just before I met you. It was my birthday, not that it mattered. And not right here, but over there, on the bridge. The old road bridge. It’s actually quite a way away, now that I see it from here, all the way up on that—”

 


 

CHANCE

Jac was the first person he’d ever met who didn’t want more from him than he was able to give. Completely unexpectedly and somewhat unnervingly, that made him want to give more. Chance couldn’t remember ever having someone in his life who he could genuinely call a friend, who accepted him for who he was instead of what he could do for them or what they could mould him into.

He and Jac had fallen into a companionable silence while they walked, having abandoned the SUV out of unfortunate necessity and set off along the coastal path. It felt like comfort, something Chance had little frame of reference for but was beginning to recognise as a real human experience rather than a lie told by the rest of the world to taunt people like him.

His path through life had been dark, with blind luck on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Some people had tried to fix him but he had no desire to be anyone’s project. Relationships, if they could even be called that, never lasted long. He didn’t miss any of them. He didn’t even remember their names.

Other people had tried to steal from him, fight with him, or hide behind him, and he had no patience for any of that. He’d scrubbed more blood from the skin around his fingernails than he cared to recall. His hands were always cold and they never felt truly clean.

When he had left his flat in Newington for the final time, he hadn’t even bothered to shut the door. Without so much as a backwards glance at Arthur’s Seat and the Crags towering over the city, he had walked along South Clerk Street until he found what looked to be a suitable vehicle to drive through a world of chaos. He hadn’t spared a thought for the already deceased occupant he dragged out from behind the wheel. He hadn’t spared a thought for the people he crushed beneath the tyres since.

It would be too easy, too clear-cut, to say that he had become a different person, but he was aware of the beginning of a shift into a space he had never expected to occupy. A space called equal, accepted, trusted, friend.

Lost in thought, he didn’t even realise he’d been flipping his coin and catching it, over and over, as he walked—old habits die hard—until the moment Jac suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm.

Look.

 


 

RICHIE

“You know, I was here before, just before I met you. It was my birthday, not that it mattered. And not right here, but over there, on the bridge. The old road bridge. It’s actually quite a way away, now that I see it from here, all the way up on that—”

“Richie,” interrupted Evan.

“What?”

“Shh.”

“OK.”

Thirteen days ago, Richie thought to himself. Thirteen days ago I was standing on that bridge, almost ready to jump, almost ready to end it all. Thirteen days, less than two weeks ago, I nearly gave up. And now here I am, here we are, and everything’s different. Maybe it’s going to be OK, or as OK as it can be in the middle of all this. At least it’s going to be something.

“Evan, can I tell you something?”

“If you must.”

Richie looked at the ground as he spoke, hair falling across his eyes before being caught in the blustery grasp of an erratic breeze. His words tumbled out, tripping over each other in their hurry to escape.

“When I was here before, it was cause…I sort of tried to…umm, I was maybe going to jump off the bridge but some random guy showed up and stopped me, so I didn’t jump in the end. He went away again, just like that, without even telling me his name. It was weird. I know all this doesn’t seem like a very ‘me’ thing to do, and I suppose it wasn’t, not that you’d know that cause you haven’t actually known me very long but everything was just a bit awful, you know, and I didn’t really know what else to do so—”

“Richie,” said Evan, his tone different from a moment ago. More gentle. Raw.

“What?”

“Don’t you ever fucking do that again.”

“OK.”

They turned to face each other, wrapped in a silence filled with something like gravity, something like light. Before either of them could say anything more, they were ripped out of the moment by Sarah’s voice.

 


 

JAC

Keep them in heaven, where they belong. Please look after them and love them. Tell them I’ll see them again one day and I’m doing OK now. I’m going to be fine.

And please help Chance to not be sad. He doesn’t seem like he’s had much goodness in his life so far and I know the world is a mess, but he should get to have some happiness for real.

And God, please help me to be brave. Please make us not have to fight anyone. Please make us not have to kill anyone. Please…

Jac took a deep, calming breath of clean, fresh air and smiled. If they tried hard enough, they could almost forget why they were here, what they were doing, where they were going. If they tried hard enough, they could almost imagine they were just out for a walk, going to Mama and Papa’s for dinner, then going to the studio to paint into the small hours. Almost.

Whatever came next was unknown, but at least they weren’t alone. It could be worse. It had been worse. And it could get better. It would, they were sure of it. They projected forward a few hours when they would have found a boat, brought it to the shore and started making their way across the Forth. It was going to be fine. It was. It really was.

Chance was flipping his coin and catching it as he walked, lost in silence, lost in wherever he went inside his own mind. Jac looked up at the sky, a vibrant blue that still held the brightness of possibility, then at the forest and fields brimming with life, then at the water.

The last time Jac had been here, a year ago maybe, it had been a sunny day with a chill breeze, just like today. They remembered people walking, riding bikes, talking, laughing, no idea of the fragility of the structure of their existence. They remembered being in this exact spot that day, watching someone clambering out along the rocks towards the water, just like—

Before they even realised what they were doing, Jac’s hand shot out and grabbed Chance by the arm.

Look.

 


 

SARAH

Sarah’s hair whipped around her face in windswept tendrils as she focused on keeping her balance, climbing out along the rocks until she reached the furthest point that was still above water.

She reached into the pocket of her old leather jacket and gently took out the photograph of Marj and Cleo. If she closed her eyes, she could almost pretend that none of this had been real, that she would go home to Edinburgh tonight, then get up tomorrow morning and go to work at di Marco’s. Almost. She set the photo down on the rocks at her feet, and she spoke, voice shaking.

“Marj, I can’t go without saying something. I’m sorry this isn’t as eloquent as it should be. I’m sorry no-one else who knew you is around to hear it. And I’m sorry about the Silver Bullet. I couldn’t bring it with me. It saved my life though. You saved my life. And I know this isn’t quite the same as sailing around the world, but I’m going to leave this here so you and Cleo will always have the sea.”

Alright, she said to herself, let’s do this. As she turned to start picking her way back along the outcrop of rocks to Richie and Evan, something caught her eye.

People. Two of them. Sarah stopped in her tracks and crouched down, anything to make herself less immediately visible, right hand instinctively finding the knife tucked in her waistband. Just in case.

They hadn’t seen her. Yet. They were both carrying rucksacks and although they were walking side by side, they didn’t seem to be talking to each other.

One of them walked with a determined spring in their step, looking up at the sky, then around at the landscape, then out towards the water. The other, slightly taller, walked with a limp and was throwing something into the air and catching it again, over and over.

Suddenly, the smaller of the two stopped and grabbed the other by the arm, almost causing him to drop whatever he’d been throwing and catching. They both looked right at her, said something to each other, then started walking towards her.

Shit. There’s no point in hiding now.

Sarah took a deep breath and stood up, knife in hand, ready. Maybe it would be OK. But also, maybe it wouldn’t. Another deep breath, then, “Hey! Don’t come any closer. I’m armed.”

The one with the limp reached into both sides of his coat at the same time and pulled out something with each hand. A flick of his wrists and the somethings extended into metal batons.

Shit shit shit.

The other person shook their head and motioned for him to stop, before continuing to walk towards Sarah alone. Could a person walk cheerfully? Because this person was walking cheerfully.

“Hey, are you alright? We’re not going to hurt you, I promise. It’s OK. Please.”

The voice sounded almost familiar but Sarah couldn’t place where from.

“Don’t come any closer!” she shouted back. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t, but…OK, you don’t at all. I’m not asking you to put down the knife or anything. I’m just saying hello. I’m Jac. That’s Chance. He’s not as scary as he looks. What’s your name?”

“Sarah. Are you—”

“We’re immune. We’re not going to do anything to you. We’re trying to get away from here and we didn’t think we’d run into anyone else who was, well, who wasn’t going to try and kill us, I guess. Are you alone?”

“No.”

“You look alone.”

“I’m not. I’m with friends. Two of them. They’re armed too. They’re just around that corner so all I have to do is shout and—”

“Please, I don’t know what to say to convince you, but please, don’t be scared. It’s alright, we’re alright, I promise. I’m not saying don’t shout for your friends, but it’s OK. It’s OK. We’re not going to fight. We don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Jac shot a look back at Chance, gestured with a slight tilt of their head, and Chance somewhat reluctantly slid the batons back into his coat before starting to walk again, closer, slowly closer. The whole thing reminded Sarah of watching people approach a dangerous animal. Is that what she was now?

“Alright,” said Sarah. “Alright. I believe you.”

Chance smiled at her. It was the most out-of-place smile she’d ever seen on a person’s face. “Jac’s telling the truth,” he said, “But if it helps, call your friends. We’re not going to hurt you and you’re not going to hurt us, right?”

“Right,” said Sarah, fingers twitching around the handle of the knife. Without taking her eyes off Jac and Chance, she shouted, “Richie! Evan! Come here!”

 


 

THE BEGINNING