Tag Archives: story

1141: Give Me A Reason to Race

Page_1Why are there no racing games with stories? No, wait, scratch that, why are there no racing games with good stories? Or at the very least well-told stories?

It is surely not a difficult thing to do. You take the basic game structure from Wing Commander and replace all the space combat with racing cars around tracks and/or city streets. Then you profit. Why has no-one done this?

The few racing games out there that do have storylines of sort are generally half-assed efforts where all the plot is delivered through badly-written text put into the game as an afterthought, or they simply don’t carry their potential through far enough.

I can think of a few recent examplesMotorstorm Apocalypse, though I didn’t play it, reportedly had a plot of sorts, but it fell into the former category above. Motorstorm Apocalypse, lest you’re unfamiliar, had you racing around a city that was blowing up and falling to pieces — surely an ideal situation for a rudimentary Michael Bay-style plot with some characters and shouting. It wouldn’t have to be a complex plot, just something to break up the racing with some motivational scenes that gave it some meaning.

Split/Second had a go, too, with its TV show-style presentation, incredible electro-orchestral cinematic soundtrack and episodic structure. It stopped short of actually giving the game’s antagonists, the “Elite Racers”, any degree of personality (or indeed faces), though it did end on a cliffhanger (which will now never be resolved — thanks a lot, Disney).

Recent Need for Speed games have taken a pop at it too, but tend to lose interest after the introductory sequences. The closest example I’ve seen to what I’m looking for is Need for Speed The Run, but apparently — again, I haven’t played it — neither the racing nor the plot are particularly up to much. (I must say, I am curious to try it, though, purely to see how close they get to what I’m imagining in my head.)

There’s also a Japanese eroge called Moero Downhill Night Blaze that reportedly combines a visual novel with racing action, but judging by its required system specifications, I’m not counting on it being an especially spectacular offering on the racing front. (I do intend to play it, though, as the whole series sounds like fun in story terms, even if the racing ends up sucking.)

And then there’s Midnight Club Los Angeles, which occasionally has Grand Theft Auto-style cutscenes, but not nearly enough to carry a coherent plot.

I’m honestly bewildered as to why no-one has tried this properly yet. We live in an age where video games are more “cinematic” than ever, and yet the racing game genre is still following the same old conventions it’s been using since the PlayStation 1 era — and possibly before. I would pay good money for a racing game with a good, well-written plot — given that I never, ever complete racing games (Split/Second is, to date, the only exception), an unfolding narrative with interesting characters and a degree of overblown drama would be just the incentive I need to up my game and see the experience through to its conclusion.

If I had any clue how to make such a game — or indeed access to a team to make such a game — I would do so in a heartbeat. Sadly, though, I have a sneaking suspicion my desire to see a game like this will remain nothing but a far-off dream.

#oneaday Day 682: Wasteland Diaries, Final Part

[Read from the start. If, you know, you want to. Excuse any typos or errors along the way -- this was written along the lines of NaNoWriMo: get it done, (maybe) fix it later. It was also mostly written at ungodly hours in the middle of the night. AND NOW THE CONCLUSION.]

I have come to a decision, and I’m ready to stick to it and live with the consequences, whatever they might be. It’s a scary moment, but also a liberating one. By freeing myself from uncertainty and committing to a course of action, I feel that I can positively move forward and take on the future head-on.

Earlier in the morning, Clarkson had called me and said that Adam wanted to see me. I’d had an instinctive feeling when I woke up that today would be an important day, and that feeling’s only been growing ever since then.

I’ve made an effort. I’ve done my hair, put on a little makeup for the first time in I can’t remember how long, and I’ve found something nice to wear rather than PJs or a horrible, faded old T-shirt. If it’s a big day, I should look the part, and to do so I’ve found a dress I always liked. I’ve lost a bit of weight ever since all this started, so it hangs a little loosely in some parts, but it stays up, at least, and is probably the most respectable thing I own.

I set off down the street in the direction of the hospital, wondering how the day will unfold. While I’ve committed to my own course of action, I’m well aware I’m only one of two people in this scenario, and it’s entirely possible that things might not go the way I expect. In the end, nothing is certain.

I stop proceeding down that chain of thought because it leads to hesitation, uncertainty and nervousness, none of which I can afford right now. This chapter of my life ends today, and I’m not going to let self-doubt stand in the way of all that. I will do my part to strive towards the future I want, and then I’ll just have to see what happens.

It starts drizzling with rain as I walk down the street and, inevitably, I’ve forgotten an umbrella. Fortunately, the rain doesn’t built to the levels it has in the past few days, but it still soaks my hair, putting it at severe risk of doing that fuzzy thing it always does in damp conditions. I may as well have not bothered sorting it out.

I quicken my pace and before long have arrived at the hospital. I follow the familiar path up to Adam’s room, and find Clarkson waiting outside for me.

“Hello, Evie,” he says, a serious expression on his face. “Go on in, he’s awake.”

I push open the door and walk into the dimly-lit room. Adam is lying in the bed, propped up into an almost-natural sitting position. He looks tired, still.

“Hi,” he says, his voice cracked and weak. “Glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” I say, sitting down in the chair next to him and taking his hand. “I–”

“Wait,” he croaks, interrupting me. “Please, let me talk first.”

“Okay,” I say.

“Evie,” he says. “I’ve come to a realisation after the very strange experiences I’ve had.”

He pauses, swallows and licks his lips before continuing.

“After you… told me you weren’t ready to be a mother, I jumped to a conclusion,” he says. “I jumped to the conclusion that it was all about me. That you didn’t want me, that you didn’t see a future with us both in it.”

“That’s not what I thought at all,” I say quietly. “But I understand why you thought that, and why you did what you did. I’m sorry I did what I did in the way I did. I’m sorry — I’m sorry I killed our baby.”

He smiles and shakes his head.

“When I ran from you, I felt like the world had been destroyed,” he says. “I felt like you were the one who had destroyed it. Everything ceased to have meaning, and I felt that there was no place for me in a world like that. Everything, everyone was dead to me.”

He pauses and coughs a little. I move to help him, but he just shakes his head, dismissing me. I sit back down again.

“I know now that I was wrong,” he growls, his voice weakening. “I know now that it wasn’t you who was being selfish, it was me.”

There’s a silence for a moment. I can’t deny it, even with the guilt I feel over causing all this.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he says, as if reading my thoughts. “You didn’t cause this. I did. My own stubbornness, my own stupidity.”

I see his eyes filling with tears. I let him speak.

“You weren’t the one who ended my world,” he says, “I was the one who ended yours. I’ve put you through all this. I’ve made you suffer. And for what? It’s not fair. I can’t keep doing that to you. I can’t ruin your life any more. I can’t hold you down. I can’t keep you back. You’re not my property. You’re not mine to command.”

He changed. He’s like a different person. No — he’s like the person I first fell in love with, not the hollow wreck of a man who’d been plummeting towards rock bottom even before all this happened. It’s good to see him back again. And a feeling of relief sweeps through my mind.

“No,” I say, smiling. “I’m not. But I’ve learned something, too. What we are is a team. We work together. We decide things together. Neither of us has to be alone. Neither of us has to make the difficult decisions by ourselves. What’s done is done, and I hope you can forgive me, but I can assure you it will never happen again.”

“I know,” he says, quietly. “You were the one who led me back to reality, Evie. By following you, that’s why I’m here. You were the whole reason for my journey. You saved me, whether or not you intended to.”

“What journey?” I say. “What do you mean?”

He smiles and closes his eyes. I feel his fingers wrap around mine.

“This is the end,” he says. “And the beginning, all at once.”

#oneaday Day 681: Wasteland Diaries, Part 29

She was there, and talking, and I heard her, and then she was gone and I felt sleepy. I drifted off into slumber, but this wasn’t like it had been before. This was restful and relaxing. When I woke up, I felt invigorated, though my body still felt stiff, and unable to move, and I was still strapped to an array of beeping, whirring machines.

An older guy with a kindly face came in to see me. I recognised his voice, though I wasn’t sure from where. He did some tests. I felt him fumbling around on my body, but it didn’t hurt. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was doing as I couldn’t lift my head up to see.

“Don’t worry,” he said to me. “You’re probably feeling a little disorientated right now. And that’s perfectly normal. So is that feeling of numbness and stiffness in all your limbs. You haven’t moved for a good long time.”

I tried to reply, but no sound came out.

“You keep resting,” he said. “You’ll be fine from here.”

I wanted to believe him. This room that I was in was claustrophobic, and being stuck on my back wired up to gadgets and gizmos wasn’t helping me. I felt anxious, and suddenly keen to be outside.

I wasn’t even sure where “here” was. The memories of my desperate flight up the stairs away from the beast were still with me, though details were fading. Had that really happened?

I frowned. Feeling in my face was starting to come back, so I wiggled my eyebrows comically as I pondered the meaning of what had transpired. I must have looked ridiculous, but fortunately the man had left by this point.

I was confused. What was real, and what was fake? She had been a prominent part of what I’d just been through, but then she was there when I woke up too, and it didn’t seem to add up.

I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. I felt as if parts of my body were slowly coming back to life. The sensation was distracting enough to divert my thoughts away from the confusion of my situation. I twitched my toes and my fingertips, though moving whole limbs still felt like an impossible task. I moved my nose in a sneer, and back down again, and wiggled my eyebrows again for good measure. I opened my mouth and tried to make a sound, but my throat was so dry it simply came out as a zombie-like gargling. I wanted to laugh at how absurd I must look right now, but it too much effort.

I heard the door go again and opened my eyes. I tried to move my neck, but it didn’t go anywhere. Before long, the older guy’s face was before me again. I think he was sitting or kneeling next to the bed on which I lay.

“Adam,” he said. “Welcome back. I’m sure you’re very confused, and you have many questions, and equally are finding it very difficult to answer them right now. So let me try and explain what has been happening to you.

“You have been in a coma for some time now. You took one hell of an overdose, but fortunately your ladyfriend was able to call for an ambulance and get you here in time to save you. She wasn’t with you when it happened, as you’d had a falling-out, but you’d sent her a text message — a technological suicide note, as it were. She did the right thing and saved your life by calling us straight away.

“Since that time, you’ve been unconscious. We’ve been monitoring you closely, and it’s clear that your brain was very active during that time — dreaming, in a sense. Not all coma patients dream — it depends on how much damage the brain has suffered, if any. But we could tell that your brain was still alive and well, if not what was going on.”

A dream? That would explain the vagueness of the memories I have of what I’ve been through, and why they’re fading so quickly.

“Evie came to see you almost every day,” he continued. “She never gave up on you. She’d spend time with you, talk to you, read to you. She gave up her life for you. It’s not often you see that amount of commitment to another person.”

“Guilty,” I eventually managed to murmur in a choked voice. “But… My fault.”

“No-one’s to blame,” he replied. “Or if either of you are, there’s no sense in assigning blame at this point. You’ve reached the end of one thing and the beginning of another. This is a turning point. Whatever happened before doesn’t have to matter now. You can start afresh — if you want to, of course.”

Although details of my long journey were slowly disappearing into the darkest recesses of my memory as we spoke, I still recalled the conversation I’d had with Evie over that table, and how I’d responded to her admission.

“ALPHA AND OMEGA WILL UNITE,” that strange text message had said. It had stuck in my mind because of how unusual and out of place it was, but now I understood.

The beginning and end will unite. It meant so many things. What I had thought would be the beginning of a new life with Evie and the baby turned out to be the end of everything. The end of the world was the beginning of my journey. The end of my journey was made up of the events which had caused it to begin in the first place. And now that chapter of my life was ending, causing a new one to begin.

I was ready to face that future. But was Evie?

As I felt my strength returning and my body awakening after its long slumber, I knew that the next day would be the true day of reckoning.

#oneaday Day 680: Wasteland Diaries, Part 28

I look down at him, gazing into his eyes for the first time since the whole nightmare started. They’re tired and bloodshot, but I recognise them like I last saw them yesterday. They look calm, at peace — or perhaps it’s just the tiredness. He’s squinting at me, as if even the little light in the room hurts to look at.

“I’ll give you a moment,” says Clarkson, vacating the room. I hear the door lightly thump shut behind him, and we’re alone.

I’m lost for words. I don’t know what to say. Those eyes are looking at me in that way they always did, piercing my soul, as if they knew my every innermost thought. Of course, they didn’t, which is what led us into this whole situation in the first place, but–

I blink and push the negative thoughts from my head.

“Adam,” I say at last after what seems like an eternity of the only sound in the room being the regular bleep, bleep, bleep of the equipment he’s wired up to. My voice cracks a little. “Adam,” I say again.

He keeps looking at me, but he says nothing, and doesn’t move. The only sign of life in him right now is in those eyes, and even then the spark within them is weak.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Look, you don’t have to say anything. I know that I’m the one who put you here. I know that I’m the one who caused this nightmare to happen with my selfishness and foolishness. And I want you to know that I’m sorry.”

His eyes keep looking at me, but now I see them fill with tears. He doesn’t make a sound, but a sparkling droplet emerges from the corner of one eye and rolls down his cheek before plopping onto the sheet.

“I know there’s things you want to say to me, Adam,” I continue. “And I will hear all of them, listen to all of them. I owe you that much.”

I stop, and find myself sobbing, though I’m not sure why.

“I don’t even know if you want me here,” I say, tears blurring my vision. I blink them away. “After what I did I’d understand if you’d be disappointed that the first person you saw when you woke up was me. But I– I never gave up on you, Adam. I know you gave up on yourself — and on me. I know you felt like your world ended when I said those words to you. But I–”

I can’t finish the sentence, and only partly because I’m not sure exactly what it is I want to say. The tears are flowing freely, and trying to say any more only comes out as choked sobs. I take his hand in my own and lift it up. There’s no resistance in his arm, and his fingers don’t grip my hand in the way they once did. I squeeze his hand all the more tightly to make up for it.

I hear the door open behind me, and Clarkson comes back in quietly. He places a hand gently on my shoulder. It’s a comforting feeling, and it reminds me of my father.

“Okay, Evie,” he says. I’m only vaguely aware of his voice. “I think it’s time that we let him rest for a bit.”

I nod, trying to compose myself and failing.

“He’s been through a lot,” continues Clarkson. “And I’m not sure any of us will understand quite how much. Perhaps he won’t, even. But he’s on track to make a full recovery. I can’t say how long that will take, but it will happen. Then your life can begin again anew.” He hesitates a moment. “Assuming… you both want it to, of course.”

Do I? I can’t answer that right now, but the amount of times I’ve stood by this bedside imagining what this very moment would be like surely speaks volumes. Or does it? What if I was just coming here to deal with my own feeling of guilt? It was my sin that put him here, my sin that destroyed his world, his future.

Am I willing to give him what he wants? I still don’t have an answer to Annie’s question. I’m confused right now, not thinking straight, waves of emotion washing over me, making my knees tremble and my pulse race. I’m barely even aware of where I am or what I’m doing, and am surprised to find myself outside the room sat on one of those uncomfortable chairs, Clarkson kneeling before me.

“Evie,” he says. “I know this has been tough, and it might not be quite what you’d expected or hoped for. But I thought you would want to be there as soon as it happened.”

“Yes,” I say in a voice little more than a whisper. “Yes, I would. I do. I will. I– oh, whatever, I… Thank you.”

“Now,” he continues. “You’re clearly exhausted, and so is he. Despite being unconscious for so long, it’s pretty obvious that he needs some proper, uninterrupted, normal sleep before he takes on this brave new world he finds himself in.”

I feel Clarkson’s eyes on me and I’m suddenly aware that I’m barefoot, clad only in my robe and pyjamas.

“How about I call you a cab?” he says. “You’re in no state to be walking home like that.”

“No money,” I say weakly. My blood suddenly runs cold, but I calm down slightly as I pat my pocket and realise that I fortunately did have the good sense to at least pick up my keys when I raced out earlier.

“Ah,” says Clarkson. He stands and fumbles in his pocket before drawing out a leather wallet and lifting a crumpled £10 note from within. “My treat,” he says.

I’m overcome with gratitude. I want to cry again, but I really don’t have the energy. I take the £10 note and just look at it dumbly.

“Look, Evie,” he says. “What happens between you two from here is your business and your business alone. But I want you to know that I have faith that you’ll both do what’s right. I’ve seen the way you look at him every time you’ve been in here, even when there’s nothing new to report. And it’s inspirational. Few people have the strength of character to keep going like you have. That’s worth a lot. And I’m sure he knows that too.”

I’m glad someone has faith in me, because although I know he’s back, suddenly I feel very alone. It’s all on me to draw this sorry business to a close.

#oneaday Day 679: Wasteland Diaries, Part 27

“So that’s your answer?” said my voice from somewhere in the darkness. “Interesting. Well, if you get the chance, let’s see if you can stick to it. Now, though, you have more pressing matters.”

There was a rumble, and the floor shook. Evie had disappeared immediately after I had answered what she’d said, but I was still sitting on the chair. The table was still in front of me, and the earth tremor was strong enough to knock it over. I leapt to my feet and planted them firmly on the floor to keep my footing as the ground seemed to buck and writhe beneath me. My heart was still pumping from the conversation we’d just had, and my senses seemed heightened, alert. I was in full-on “fight or flight” mode.

From somewhere in the darkness came a terrible roar. I couldn’t see what it was but I recognised the awful feeling of rage behind it. I knew that right now, I didn’t want to be anywhere near that thing, so I started running. All around the pool of light that had held the table and chairs was darkness, so I didn’t even know if I was running in the right direction. All I knew was that I needed to get away from that awful sound, that howl of anguish, that outcry of fury.

I kept running, looking only ahead of me, not daring to glance over my shoulder in case it was there. Before long, out of the darkness loomed one of the horrible fleshy walls, and in it, right in front of me, a door. This one had a handle, but it flew open before I got to it and allowed me through. Presently I found myself in a corridor much like that through which I had arrived in this strange place, only this time it was sloping slightly upwards — to freedom?

I couldn’t tell, but I had to keep moving. I raced up the shallow slope of the long staircase, taking care not to trip on the steps or slip on the puddles of liquid on the floor — blood or water, neither were something I wanted to skid on and injure myself or, worse, end up in the maw of whatever beast was pursuing me.

I ran, the adrenaline making my pulse thump in my ears and pushing my body forward at a speed I barely thought possible. The red lights on the walls seemed to swirl past me in a blur, and still I ascended, breathing deeply and panting as I did so. But I had to keep going.

The beast roared behind me once again and I knew it was in the passage with me. I chanced a look behind me, but the staircase descended into darkness behind me — it looked like the lights were going out as I passed — and I couldn’t see what it was that pursued me. I wasn’t going to wait around for formal introductions, either, because it didn’t sound like it wanted to talk — more to tear me limb from limb.

The walls blurred past me and in a strange inversion of what I’d witnessed on the way down, the fleshy, living walls gradually gave way to cold steel. And off in the distance, I wasn’t sure, but I felt like I could see a white light. Some of it was filtering down the corridor, giving the otherwise red-tinted scenery a hint of colour.

I knew I had to reach that light, and I had to do it before the creature caught up with me. A frustrated howl sounded behind me, and I could tell it was drawing closer. I couldn’t stop, though my breath was giving out, my legs burning with the effort of climbing and my heart beating so hard I felt like it would burst through my chest.

I let out a shout of my own — not in an attempt to intimidate the beast, but in an effort to spur myself on and make it through this final stretch. I could see my goal ahead of me in the distance, up yet more of these infernal steps, but it didn’t seem to be coming any closer, and all the while I felt the beast gaining on me. As I struggled to keep running, my mind started to turn to thoughts of what the creature might do if it caught me, whether there was even the slightest chance of me surviving if I didn’t keep moving.

Of course there wasn’t. Nothing that makes a sound like that is willing — or able — to negotiate. That sort of otherworldly roar is the stuff of fiction — or nightmares. But it was here, and it was closing on me.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw a pair of glowing red eyes in the darkness — or was it more of the red lamps? I didn’t know, or care at this point. I spurred myself on and pushed onwards, ever further up the endless staircase towards the brilliant white light in the distance and the possible freedom it held. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what the light represented. It didn’t matter that it might turn out to be nothing. I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t give up. Not after all this. I wasn’t going to let things end this way. Everything would have been for nothing if they had.

The beast roared again, this time right behind me. I was too terrified to look back to see how much space — and time — I had left, but I was close to the light now, so close. There were only a few more steps remaining. I was going to make it. I was going to be free. I was going to escape this horror. I was going to–

I felt the beast’s claws slash at my back and I stumbled forwards. The pain was unbearable. It felt like acid-tipped spikes had torn through my flesh. Tears sprang to my eyes and I cried out, but I regained my balance and kept moving.

I looked back. I shouldn’t have, but I did. It was upon me — a writhing mass of pure darkness, two flaming red eyes glaring at me as it bore down on me, nothing but death on its mind. In the smoky blackness I was sure I saw images, but I knew I couldn’t get drawn into them, for that truly would be the end. Instead, all I had to do was–

The beast interrupted my flow of thoughts by lunging for my leg, trying to grab me. I leapt forward, straight into the white light.

It was a strange sensation, like leaping through a silk sheet while someone shone a floodlight in your face. I was blinded. The beast was nowhere to be seen. My ears filled with white noise. I was disoriented. I couldn’t tell which way was up. I fell. I tumbled. I span. I called out, but the noise was too great. I was in the middle of everything and nothing, so insignificant in the midst of the chaos around me. I screwed up my eyes and waited for it to pass as I fell through — what?

Abruptly, the sensations and the terrible noise stopped, and I was lying on my back, my eyes still closed. It was surprisingly comfortable after what I’d just been through, though I felt like there was something stuck up my nose. I tried to move, but my muscles were stiff from the climb, and I only managed to twitch a finger.

Then I opened my eyes, and there she was.

#oneaday Day 678: Wasteland Diaries, Part 26

Annie’s question haunts me.

“What are you going to do? Are you going to give him what he wants?”

As I lie awake staring at the ceiling — a familiar sight by now after many sleepless nights — I ponder it. Will I give him what he wants? I’m still not sure if I can, particularly after all this. When it happens — if it happens at all — I want it to be because we’re both ready and able to support both ourselves and the little one — oh God, a little person, an actual real human person…

I screw my eyes up and pull the pillow around my ears as if muffling the sounds of the outside world will also muffle out the thoughts whirling around the inside of my head. I’m going in circles, around and around and around. I don’t even know if the possibilities I’m considering are even, well, possibilities. But my brain, on edge as it is right now, is flitting from one extreme to the other of what might happen when — if — he comes around. And for all I know, that might never happen. Although if that were so why did his–

I growl to myself, more to break the silence than anything else, and the sudden noise in the otherwise almost completely silent room distracts me for a short while. Then it’s back to that sound of emptiness. In the near-silence, all the other sounds seem amplified. There’s the whirring sound of the fridge, the gurgling sound of the dodgy boiler, the sloshing of water in the pipes. Outside I can hear the occasional car going past, the occasional shouting drunkard in the street. These are all sounds so familiar to me by now that I just tune them out usually, but now they’re providing welcome distraction from the thoughts in my head.

Before long, though, they fade into the background once more, and I find myself asking the same questions over and over again. Will I be welcome back into his life? Do I want him back in my life? Could I give him what he wants? Will he give me what I want?

After all, we actually both want the same thing. The only difference is that he wants — wanted — it now, I want it when things are more stable. I couldn’t bring up a child in the situation we were in. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it at all, it’s that it just wouldn’t work, and it would end up tearing us apart. The ironic thing is the way I handled it all ended up tearing us apart anyway. Perhaps if I’d just talked to him, we could have worked it all out, come to a compromise.

But it’s too late to think about that now. He’s lying there, unaware of anything and everything. I don’t even know if he’s dreaming, if he’s aware of what’s going on around him, if he’ll even remember me when he comes back. His reaction showed me that he was on the edge, that his life depended on me, on us.

Do I want that? Do I want him to be dependent on me? I’m not sure I do. I can’t be responsible for the happiness of one human being so completely. Can I? It’s what I’d have to do if I was a mother, so why not–

My thoughts are cut abruptly short by the shrill, piercing ring of the ancient telephone in my flat. It used to belong to my parents and is seriously retro, but I could never bring myself to part with it. Right now its mechanical ring is echoing around my brain. It feels like the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. And it’s frightening.

Phone calls in the middle of the night are only ever bad news. But what could it be? Could it–

I don’t have time to sit around thinking about it. It’ll stop ringing in a moment and despite my fear, I have to know what it is. I leap out of bed and run to the phone in the hallway, snatching it up to my ear and breathlessly muttering “Hello?” just as the person on the other end is saying something to someone else, probably wondering where I am.

“Oh, hello,” comes a familiar voice, their conversation cutting off hastily. “Is that… Evie? Evie Anderton?”

“Yes,” I say, panting. It isn’t far from the bedroom to the hallway but I feel like I’ve just run a marathon.

“I’m sorry to disturb you so late,” says the voice. “This is Dr. Clarkson down at the hospital.”

So that’s his name.

“Hello, Doctor,” I say. “Is… everything all right?”

There’s a pause.

“I… I’m not sure over the phone is the best way to do this,” Clarkson says. “If it’s not too inconvenient for you, I think you might want to get down here quickly.”

My heart leaps into my mouth, and my gut ties itself into a knot. What does he mean? What could have happened? Why is he calling me? Why is–

“Please hurry,” says Clarkson. “I’m sorry I can’t explain more. But if you’re coming, come quickly.”

I slam the phone down without saying goodbye, hastily grabbing the keys off the table in the hallway and bursting out into the street without putting any shoes on. It’s cold outside, and it’s raining heavily. I pull my robe more tightly around myself for warmth, but it doesn’t really matter to me right now. I have to get there.

My bare feet splash through puddles on the floor, spattering the legs of my pyjamas with droplets of water, sticking them to my ankles. But it doesn’t matter. I have to get there.

I round the corner, ignoring the funny looks I get from the few people still wandering the streets at this time of night — mostly drunks and tramps, I guess — and follow the familiar route through the streets to the hospital. The rain is worsening. There’s a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder almost immediately. The storm must be right overhead. But it doesn’t matter. I have to get there.

I burst through the front doors of the hospital and charge straight past the reception area. I hear someone calling after me, then a murmured call to security. But it doesn’t matter. I have to get there.

I take the stairs two at a time — I can’t wait for the lift, I have to keep moving — until I’m on the floor I’ve been to so many times by now. I charge past a tired-looking nurse in the corridor before he can say anything, and see the door to the room I’ve been in so many times in front of me.

Clarkson is sitting on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs outside the room. He stands at my approach, a warm, fatherly look in his eyes. I want to cry, but there’s no time. What has happened?

“Follow me,” he says solemnly, pushing open the door to the room.

I follow him, knowing nothing except one thing: for better or worse, what I’m about to see will mean the end of this particular nightmare.

#oneaday Day 677: Wasteland Diaries, Part 25

As I wept, I remembered everything. I remembered Evie’s face when she told me what she’d done. I remembered that feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. I remembered bursting into tears, Evie wanting to comfort me but me wanting nothing more than to run away.

The red lights went out with a metallic “clunk” sound. When they came back on again, the bloodstained crib was gone, and in its place was Evie once again, standing in the same immobile way she had been before. After a moment, though, her head moved up and her eyes opened, looking straight at me. There was a faint red glow in them that was deeply unnerving.

The expression on her face was one of sorrow and regret.

“I’m sorry, Adam,” she said. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

I felt the sense of rage building in me and this time, I didn’t want to stop it. I felt my body tensing and tightening, and my vision clouded. I felt myself losing control of my movements, but I just watched as my hands reached out to grab Evie by the throat. I picked her up and she struggled for a moment, then was still. I raised her into the air as if she weighed no more than a rag doll, and flung her lifeless body at the wall of this horrific room.

Before her body impacted the wall, the lights went out again. The feeling of rage subsided and suddenly I was glad I hadn’t seen what would have undoubtedly happened a second later if the lights had stayed on.

“Are you sure that’s how you really feel?” came my disembodied voice in the darkness. “You’ve had plenty of time to reflect on all this, after all.”

“What do you mean?” I replied, shouting into the darkness. “That was the end of everything! With that one selfish act, she turned what should have been the beginning of the rest of our lives into the end!”

“Did she?” came my voice in response. It seemed to be coming from all around me. “This world was your creation, not hers. You were the one who ended the world, destroyed everything, turned everything to dust. You were the one who was so angry you wanted nothing more than complete and total annihilation of everything both you and she once held dear. And yet despite all that, what has the purpose of your long journey been?”

I hesitated a moment before answering, and suddenly it dawned on me what he — I — was saying.

“I’ve… been looking for her,” I said. “I’ve been trying to reunite with her.”

“And why is that?” came the response.

“I don’t know,” I said.

The lights came on again, but this time, they were not red. They were the lights in the corridor of my flat. I was watching as a passive observer, but this time I was not in my wrathful, destructive form. I was staggering around, eyes clouded with tears. I bumped into several things in the hallway before stumbling into the bedroom and collapsing onto the bed, sobbing. The tears kept coming and I felt like they’d never stop.

Shakily, I raised my head from the damp pillow and looked at the bedside cabinet. Atop it was an almost-full case of pills. I reached for them and–

“Stop,” I said. “I know all this. Don’t make me go through it again.”

The scene faded and I was back into darkness again.

“Very well,” came the reply. “Now, answer me one question.”

“Anything,” I said, my voice trembling. This was getting to be too much to take. I felt my head would explode with the pent-up emotion that these scenes and my emerging memories were provoking. “Anything. Please.”

“Why are you angry?”

I considered this for a moment, my heart still racing, my pulse thumping in my ears. It was difficult to concentrate, but I had to. I just had to.

“I was angry because she took our future,” I said, finally. “She took away something precious from me. She brought about the end. She–”

I paused. Was it her fault? Was I remembering this right?

A light came on, a single bare bulb, illuminating a table with a chair either side of it. On one side was Evie, on the other side was me. I watch the scene unfold, knowing what happens next.

“Adam, I have something important to tell you,” said Evie, looking into the eyes of the other me.

“What is it, sweetie?” the other me asked, taking her hand. “Are you all right?”

“It’s–” she paused for a moment, trying to compose herself. “It’s about the baby.”

I saw the other me tensing up across the table from her. I started to feel the familiar knot in the stomach. Suddenly, I was the one sitting across the table from her, looking into her eyes as she started to speak again.

“Adam,” she said. “I want this to work. I really do. And I want to have a family with you. But–”

“But what?” I said, a feeling of nausea rising in me. “What is it?”

There was a silence.

“I’m not ready,” she said, breaking it. “We’re not ready. You’re out of work, I’m going to be out of a job before long. I’ve still got some money from my inheritance, but that’s not going to last forever. Bringing a child into this would just be… wrong.”

I didn’t respond, waiting for her to go on. The oppressive silence descended across the table again.

“I… spoke to the doctors,” she continued. “They said it wasn’t too late to… reconsider, but that I’d have to make my mind up quickly.”

I knew what was coming next. And it suddenly dawned on me that the most important choice I’d have to make was about to come up. When the next words she was to say came out of her mouth, would I flee like I once did, starting this whole cycle of anger, depression and destruction anew? Or would I stick by her, accepting what she said and moving on with our lives until such a time as we were “ready”?

“Adam, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I… I can’t go through with it. I made a choice. I’ve… terminated the pregnancy.”

Time seemed to stand still, the fate of the world hanging on my answer.

#oneaday Day 676: Wasteland Diaries, Part 24

On the other side of the door was a darkened room. Red lights adorned the walls, just like they had in the corridor, but the walls still had that disgusting fleshy appearance. As I stepped into the room, I realised that the floor was wet, covered with a room-width puddle. I almost retched as I remembered the puddle out in the corridor, and hoped against hope that I wasn’t walking through a room carpeted with blood.

In the centre of the room was a pedestal. I couldn’t see what was on it, so I carefully walked closer, trying not to listen to the damp splashing sound my feet made on the wet floor.

As I came closer, I realised that there was a small, shining object on the pedestal, and as I drew closer still it became clear to me that it was a golden ring — a wedding ring?

Pausing a moment, unsure what to expect in this strange environment, I considered reaching out and touching the ring. There was nothing else in this room, and as I looked back at the door through which I’d entered, it slammed shut behind me. Like the first door in the corridor, there was no handle, lock, bolts or hinges on this side — not that getting back into that corridor would have helped, anyway. Whatever was going on here, it seemed that I had to proceed through whatever challenges lay ahead.

With trepidation, I reached out and picked up the ring. Nothing happened when I did so, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a smooth band of solid gold, and looked about the size of my finger. Not knowing what else to do, I put it on my ring finger slowly and carefully. It felt strange. I felt an uncontrollable urge to fiddle with it. I was uneasy.

Then the lights went out.

“So, it’s time,” came a voice in the darkness — an all too familiar voice that I was somewhat surprised to hear talking to me. It was my own.

“Time for what?” I asked, still absent-mindedly fiddling with the ring on my finger. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” came the voice that was not me. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point, after all, but I think you’re ready.”

“Ready for what?” I say, annoyed. “Stop talking in riddles!”

“You have some choices to make,” came the reply. “Some difficult choices. What you did bought you time to think. But that time is coming to a close. And it’s time for you to determine what you’re going to do.”

I still didn’t understand what was going on, but I figured that the only way to get out of this situation would be to follow the strange voice’s — my voice’s — instructions.

“Fine,” I say. “What are these choices?”

“Oh, it’s not as simple as that, and you know that,” came the reply. “But very well. Let’s start.”

A door appeared in front of me in the darkness. Instinctively, I walked towards it and pushed it open. Behind the door was a small room, lit again with the red lights. Standing in the middle of the room was Evie, her eyes closed, seemingly unaware of my presence.

“Evie?” I said, walking towards her hesitantly. “Evie?”

She didn’t respond. I touched her cheek with my hand but still she did nothing. She was completely immobile, but her skin was warm. She was alive, but she was — what? — asleep? I wanted to stay with her, to make sure she was safe, but at the same time I could see another door behind her on the other side of the room. The one I came in by had closed behind me, so I was trapped.

“Choose,” came my voice. The door at the far side of the room creaked open. Evie continued to be unaware of my presence. Should I stay here? Or should I continue onwards? If that door closed again I might never get out of here. My thoughts were rapid, fleeting. I was panicking.

I looked at Evie’s face — that beautiful face, somehow even more enchanting when she was asleep — and found myself torn in two directions. On the one hand, I needed to move on, to escape. On the other, I couldn’t leave her behind in this place, whatever had happened to her. I had to–

Choose,” came the voice again, impatiently. “Will you stay here? Or will you move on?”

I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to escape that place. Kissing Evie lightly on the cheek, I left her behind and headed for the door, proceeding into the next room, which was dark. The door slammed behind me and I was left in pitch darkness for a moment, and then a metallic “clunk” signalled more of the red lights switching on. Their glow was somewhat menacing and oppressive. The lack of any colour other than red in that strange place gave it something of a claustrophobic feel. I didn’t want to stay there any longer than necessary.

As the lights came on, I saw that there was something in the middle of this room, too. It looked like a small cage, or possibly a–

No. It was definitely a crib. I shivered. What was this? What kind of sick mind would put this here? I felt my skin crawling. I didn’t want to look inside that crib. I had a horrible feeling I already knew what was in there, but I felt like I was being pulled towards it by an invisible rope around my throat. I couldn’t stop myself from walking forwards, and before long I was upon it. I didn’t want to look, but my eyes were inexorably drawn towards it. I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t. I had to look. I had to see.

And I did.

The crib was empty. The crisp white sheets were smooth and unmarked save for a few tiny spots of blood in the middle. It’s exactly what I thought I’d see.

I leant on the side of the crib and started to weep uncontrollably as the last of my missing memories finally came flooding back to me.

#oneaday Day 675: Wasteland Diaries, Part 23

“It’s really good to see you, Evie,” says Annie, smiling at me from across the table. “I was beginning to give up hope on ever spending time with you again.”

“I know,” I say. “And I’m sorry. Things have just been so… you know.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Well, no. Not really. I can’t imagine what must be going through your head right now. But still. It’s… No. It’s fine. I’m just glad you’re here now.”

I take a sip of the wine that Annie bought me. It’s been a long time since we had the chance to hang out together, but she remembered what I liked without prompting. She was always good at the details. I was always the sort to charge into situations blindly without paying attention to the finer points of what was going on. And I guess that was my problem that got me into this position in the first place.

“How are you feeling?” she asks, her eyes wide. She’s so beautiful. How has she been single all this time? I must look a complete wreck. That must be why she’s asking.

“I’m holding up,” I say. It’s not a complete lie. While I’m still prone to bouts of depression and uncontrollable crying, I do at least feel like I can go out into the street and face people that I want to see rather than people that I have to see.

“Hmm,” she says, running her finger around the rim of her glass, frowning at me. “I hope so. I’ve been so worried about you.”

“Sorry,” I say again. I feel like I should apologise to everyone. Of course, “everyone” now represents such a small number of people that it wouldn’t be a particularly big challenge to do so. I’ve driven everyone away, retreated into my own little world ever since all this happened.

“Stop being sorry,” she says, admonishing me in a friendly way, a gentle smile on her lips. “It’s all right. You can get through this, Evie. Whatever happens. But I think you know that.”

“Yeah, I do,” I say. “I made a choice, and I’m having to deal with the consequences. I couldn’t have predicted what those consequences could be when I made the choice, but now I’m having to deal with them. I might have another choice to make soon, or it might just be another consequence. But… I think I might be ready for it.”

“Attagirl,” says Annie. “You sound like you might be. I think that’s the most words you’ve spoken to me at once in a good long while. You sound stronger.”

“I am,” I say.

Our food arrives. Annie tucks in to her chicken and bacon salad, while I pick at the rice of my chilli con carne idly, occasionally lifting a few grains into my mouth.

“You’re not hungry?” she mumbles, her mouth full of a lump of chicken.

“No, I am,” I say. “I’m just… thinking.”

“Well stop,” she says, swallowing. “I know pub food isn’t exactly haute cuisine, but food’s food, and look at you. You look like a beanpole. Get it down you.”

I smile and laugh weakly. I’m lucky to have her, my last remaining family member. The Anderton line stops with us, unless–

I banish such thoughts from my head and take a big mouthful of the chilli. It’s spicy, but not overly so. It tastes good after the crap I’ve been eating for the last while. Cooking just hasn’t felt particularly high on my list of priorities while I’ve been living in that shithole, and besides, with the amount of times the power goes out each week, it’s unlikely I’d be able to keep the oven on for long enough to cook something interesting.

“So,” Annie says, pushing her bowl away. She’s finished already. “I’m sorry to bring this up, but… how are things?”

“You mean with Adam, right?”

“…Yeah.”

“They’re… I don’t know, Annie,” I say, swallowing another mouthful of the food. It’s good. “I keep feeling like I’m reaching him — this last time I was so convinced that he was there, that he was responding, that he was listening to me — but every time it just seems to all come crashing down again. They’re doing some ‘tests’, they say, but they won’t say what.”

“To be fair, Evie, if they told you, would you understand?” she asks, smiling that warm, gentle smile again. “They are doctors, after all.”

“You’re probably right,” I say, smiling back at her. “I know there’s nothing I can do. I just feel so… you know… responsible for this whole situation.”

She takes my hand in hers.

“Look, Evie,” she says. “I know you keep blaming yourself for all this. But you said yourself: you couldn’t have predicted these exact consequences. It’s a choice you made — a choice you had every right to make. It’s not your fault that the fallout from it was so terrible. You can’t go on blaming yourself for what others do, or what those things they do make you feel. That’s all on them.”

“I shouldn’t have lied,” I say. “I should have just been up front with him about it. He told me what he wanted. I just didn’t know how much he wanted it. I should have–”

“Coulda, shoulda, woulda,” she says mockingly. “Come on, sis. Looking back on things won’t help. The past is behind you. You can’t change it. So there’s no point dwelling on it. It’s not as if you get a ‘do over’ to try again, is it?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head sadly. “No, you don’t.”

There’s a silence for a moment. A waitress comes over and clears our table.

“Everything all right?” she asks, balancing our crockery on one hand and placing some dessert menus down with the other.

“Fine, thanks,” I say quietly. She nods and walks away.

“Let me ask you something,” Annie says, mercifully breaking the silence. “It might be a difficult question, but I think you need to consider your answer if you haven’t already.”

I take a deep breath.

“Okay,” I say. “Ask away.”

“If… if he does come back to you — and I don’t want you to get your hopes up too much — then what are you going to do? Are you going to give him what he wants?”

I ponder this for a moment. All this was caused by my own selfish desires, going against what he wanted. I resented him a bit for putting me in this position, but I felt I owed it to him to be there and be the first face he saw when he came back.

“I honestly don’t know,” I say. “I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.”

#oneaday Day 674: Wasteland Diaries, Part 22

I remembered everything I thought there was to know about myself — who I was, who Evie was, what she meant to me. There were still some unexplained questions, however — what was I doing in this ruined, dead environment? Try as I might, I still couldn’t remember whatever cataclysmic event had plunged the world into its current state. All I remembered was that bright flash, and everything fading to black — then I’d woken up on that deserted street.

My newly-recovered memories didn’t explain that strange, rage-filled power I seemed to have, either. How was it possible for me to cause such destruction? It couldn’t be possible. And yet I’d seen it happen, I’d seen the results. It didn’t make any sense.

“No, I suppose it doesn’t,” came an unfamiliar voice, reverberating through my head in the darkness. I wasn’t sure if I was actually hearing it, or if it was a figment of my imagination.

“Wh– who are you?” I called, unsure where I should direct my voice. “What do you want?”

The lights were still off and, fumbling around in the darkness, I couldn’t seem to find any of the furniture in the bedroom that I’d previously seen. Perhaps I was just misjudging distances.

“Come,” said the voice. “There is much for you to consider. You have grown strong on your journey. Perhaps it is time for you to face your demons.”

I gasped. What was this strange voice talking about? Who was it? What demons?

There was a mechanical “clunk” sound and a dim red light came on in front of me. It was above an unassuming-looking metal door. The door didn’t give any indication of where it might lead, or even if it would be a good idea to step through it, but something about the tone in the strange voice suggested that I didn’t have many options.

I reached for the handle on the metallic door and it opened in front of me before I’d even touched it. Beyond was what looked like a long corridor, lit at periodic intervals by similar dim, red lights. The floor looked to be a shallow staircase leading downwards, though I couldn’t tell how far it led, as it disappeared into darkness before long, the illumination from the red lights only carrying so far.

I stepped over the threshold of the door and it slammed shut behind me. I jumped at the sound and instinctively turned around to try and open it again, but it was no use. This side of the door might as well have been a wall. There was no handle, no keyhole, no visible hinges — it was made for keeping whatever goes through it inside.

I had little choice but to begin walking down the eerie, silent corridor, my footsteps on the metallic floor the only sound to be heard. The voice, it seemed, had left me in peace for now, to discover what lay at the end of this hallway for myself. Its absence didn’t make me feel any better, but I was in no hurry to hear it again, either.

As I walked, the gentle slope of the staircase continually leading downwards for what felt like hours, I began to hear a sound. It was faint, distant at first, and I wasn’t sure what it was. It was a dull, regular thumping. As I walked ever deeper into the depths of whatever structure I was currently inside, the sound gradually grew louder until it occurred to me that what I was actually listening to was a heartbeat.

I’d heard my own heartbeat before, but this was amplified so much that it seemed to make the walls shake. It was as if a nightclub sound system was broadcasting nothing but a heartbeat with the volume turned up to the max. As I continued ever onward, ever downwards, I became acutely aware of my own heartbeat alongside that which I heard in the corridor. Being aware of the sound and of my own unease caused my breathing to quicken, and my pulse to rise. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, but it seemed like the loud heartbeat in the corridor mirrored my own pulse, increasing in speed as my nerves frayed.

The corridor had plain metal walls ever since the start, but from where I’d got to now, faint markings started to appear. I looked at them, unsure what to make of them. They were lines drawn over the walls, seemingly at random — or possibly cracks. In the faint red light of the lamps that adorned the walls it was difficult to tell, but it was plain to see that the walls were very slowly changing the deeper I went.

Further down I continued, the patterns on the walls growing in intensity and the material from which the walls were made seeming to change, too. I didn’t look too closely, as all I wanted to do right now was to get out of this corridor.

It wasn’t until I slipped on a damp patch on the floor that I realised what was happening to the walls. Reaching out to brace myself on the wall and prevent myself from falling, my hands found not metal but something altogether more fleshy and unpleasant. I looked down at the damp patch on the floor that I’d slipped in — it didn’t look like water. I couldn’t tell for sure in the red light, but it looked suspiciously like blood. And those markings on the walls — which, now I was aware of them, seemed to be pulsating and glistening with their new-found life — looked rather like veins and arteries.

I started to panic. I’d never been great with blood, and now it looked like I was descending into the innards of… what? Someone? Something?

I began to run forwards, hoping beyond hope that this corridor would end soon, leading me to an exit that offered daylight — even the dry, barren, dead wasteland was better than this terrifying place.

Then, it was there. Up ahead of me, a door. A way out. Finally I’d be able to escape this horror.

As I hastily slammed open the door and saw what was on the other side, though, I realised that the horrors were just beginning.