The Last Playlist: An Excerpt

4 Dec

Hello! Here’s another short story extract. NaNoWriMo may have ended but I’m going to keep writing until the entire short story collection is done.

* * * * *

Simon liked to reminisce about the day the town left. He always remembered it as a dark, misty morning. It hadn’t been. It had been the middle of August. The sun had already been up for two hours. It had been so clear that Simon was able to see the convoy for miles, through the woods that circled the outside of the town. He could even hear them for hours afterwards: the buzzing noise of a community disappearing.

It was another clear morning, the day he found it. He set about his daily routine. At daybreak, he searched for signals with his clockwork radio. It was one of the few instructions left, to check for signals. Simon still found it strange, to hear nothing. After a few months even the number stations had stopped broadcasting. But he still checked, afraid of missing a message that they were coming for him.

After searching all available channels, he bathed and shaved. He knew that it was a little wasteful, but he was determined to stay clean, and smart. Besides, there was enough residual water to keep one man satisfied for years, although as stale as it was. He knew that eventually he would have to return to the lake to get fresh water, but it was not an issue for now.

Simon went back to the clockwork radio, winding it again. No signals. Satisfied with a half hour search, Simon then continued his project. He had been a scholar, before the Discovery, and before the Exodus. He had not been a scientist. He had focused his attentions on the cultural works of man. Novels and plays, short stories and poetry. He had loved film, but that was now impossible. So instead, he went through houses, raiding bookshelves.

Before the town left, a decision had been made. There was no need for keys anymore. Any worthwhile possessions had been abandoned. They would not be coming back. Instead, the doors had been left unlocked. As the Guardian, Simon was allowed to come and go as he pleased. It was a privilege, but one that was allowed. After all, he had made the sacrifice. He was the one chosen to stay behind, amongst the filth and excess, whilst the rest of the town joined the Exodus, to find enlightenment.

Simon had been dignified, at first. He had refused to go in people’s bedrooms out of some kind of respect for privacy. He had kept his searching to necessities, only taking food and drink. But it had become boring, a few months in. There was nothing to do. His own belongings were stale – most of his collection had been digitally stored, anyway. All that remained was a few tired copies of Shakespeare plays. They bored him.

There was only one option from that point. He denied himself the pleasure of ownership – he was only borrowing books. He would sit in other people’s houses and read. The novels would not leave their owner’s property. Simon had favourites. Mrs Williams, on Deanland Road, had owned a fantastic Agatha Christie collection. Simon wondered if she had survived the journey south. It was unlikely.

He went from house to house, reading, each one a different library. Simon learned more about his neighbours this way than he ever had when they were with him. Frail Mrs Williams’ love for murder mystery, the prim and proper Ms Hill’s extensive anthology of erotic fiction, Mr Anderson’s wide array of graphic novels and comic books.

Simon liked to test himself, though. He had never been technical, before. He was a thinker. The only works he created were abstract, and frail. After discovering a collection of engineering manuals, he had decided to change. Fifteen months was a long time for a man to be alone with his thoughts. He needed to build. But first, he had needed to decipher exactly how things worked. So he went from place to place, deconstructing. He opened car bonnets – the few vehicles that actually remained – and took them apart. He put them back together, trying to get them to work, transcribing his progress every step of the way. His technical journal was long and rambling, covering multiple notepads.

Eventually, he started raiding the pile. He knew he should have felt ashamed, but the truth was, he wasn’t. Every few days, he stood by its side. A twenty-foot high, and double as wide, mound of all of the excessive, unclean items: technology that had to be abandoned for the Exodus, any signs of the old, decadent society that they had willingly abandoned. Watches, phones, computers, all thrown away with the rest of mankind’s detritus. Piles of money sat on the sides. The idea had been to use paper notes as kindling, but the truth was that the fire had not been all that successful. Most of the items lay unscathed, a few very mildly charred.

Simon had never had any intention of going near the computers. It was the highest heresy, now, to use one without absolute necessity. Father James had explained it to all of them, and it made perfect sense. All the trouble they had caused, all the death, all the mental destruction. That wasn’t the main reason Simon avoided them, though. The main reason was that there was no way to get one to work. There was no point.

So he sifted through the pile, throwing tablets and laptops to one side. Plunging his hands through shifting sands of mobile phones, e-readers, games consoles. That’s when he found it: something old, something worthwhile. A CD player.

It was a battered old Discman, LCD screen covered in grime. Out of curiosity, Simon pressed play. The player sputtered into life, whirring. The screen flashed up an error message – “NO DISC” written in awkward lettering. He noticed that the battery was nearly gone a second before it faded away into half-death.

That moment, Simon knew what he wanted to do. He suspected that he may be able to find batteries somewhere in town. He knew that there would be a number of CDs still around – the technology, obsolete, had not been seen worthwhile enough to truly destroy, in much the same way that the books had been simply left behind. He knew for a fact that there was a pair of headphones at his flat.

He knew where he could find any music he wanted to listen to, as much as he loathed the idea of returning there.

Simon had always loved music. As a teen he had spent most of his waking hours with headphones in. More than anything else – running water, fast food, the internet, or even human company – he missed being able to listen to music. So he made a plan. He would put together the last mix tape he would ever listen to. Perhaps the last recorded music that anyone would ever listen to.

The most important question was what song to start with.

* * * * *

And there we go. Another, more blog-like, post soon.

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