A selection of images including the cover to Titanic Terastructures, A Quiet Afternoon 2, Thirty Years of Rain, New Maps, Shoreline of Infinity, K-Zine, Flotation Device and Magical Crime Scene Investigation.
In the centre are two painted images, one of a frazzled ginger haired woman drinking tea and one of a Sikh gentleman holding a bucket and sword and facing pink tentacles

The 15th of December

The 15th of December

Brian M. Milton

   The 15th of December. Norwich. Not the place you want to be when the apocalypse comes calling.
People may be dropping dead in the streets. An unearthly hush may be settling over the town as the traffic halts. The fog may be rolling in off the fens like something from a Stephen King novel. But the Christmas tunes go on.

#

   I wouldn’t normally drink in a Frankie and Benny’s. But the Wetherspoons had a mini riot when the news came out and is no longer a pleasant drinking establishment. In fact I wouldn’t normally drink in here at all, even if the news were better. But I am away from home.
   Working.
   I often thought there was nothing worse, nothing more soul destroying, than that point in a business trip where you find yourself sat, alone but for a book, in a plastic chain restaurant in a provincial town at the far end of a road you have previously only ever heard about from radio travel reports. You sit there, slowly twiddling your generic pasta dish that you can find identically in any other plastic chain restaurant in any other plastic chain town in Britain, and take peeks over your book at the other tables of single business people, and realise that no matter how sad, pathetic, downtrodden and defeated they look, you look no better. Possibly worse.
   I have often melodramatically thought there was no way life could get more depressing than this. Unless possibly I started to sing along to the music they play over these displays of wretched hell.
Today life got worse. But I still have to listen to that horrible music.

#

   Everyone has seen the news over the last few weeks. People in paper suits walking menacingly. Scared foreigners in masks pleading at hospital tents. All very Swine Flu or Ebola. We have seen disease scares like it before. I, my friends, professional doubters on the internet. We thought we knew how this sort of thing played out and so no one was ready for the announcement of the incubation period. Or the mortality rate.
   Then to top it off by saying the Queen had died.
   Who has time for a coronation?

#

   Oh brilliant. Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie has just come on. One I actually used to like before today. We all wish we were at home for Christmas Mr. Lewie, now why don’t you just “Dum a dum dum” off and let me get this down.

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   I was in my hotel when it came on the news. It was obvious something was up when all my meetings at the County Council had been cancelled. I may not have the most important of jobs and often the customer would much rather be doing something else. But this was clearly more than the usual snub.
   There were hushed phone calls, strained looks, and then, just before lunch I was told to leave. I returned to my hotel, unsure what to do with myself. But the customer had agreed to pay for my accommodation for the next two nights. So I planned on a wee doze, catch up on some emails from work and then off out to enjoy the dubious pleasures of Norwich two weeks before Christmas.
   Then, just when I had decided to make the best of it, the bottom fell out of the world.

#

   I immediately thought of phoning home, but who would I phone? My mother barely recognises me on a good day so I would only confuse her. The guys from the pub? Ninety percent of them fail to notice when I am away as it is and get uncomfortable at any conversation that gets too far beyond “Do you want a pint?” or “Have you seen that YouTube clip?” As it is I am writing this to you and you are a cat so not much use on the telephone. Anyway the networks were jammed solid. Even the internet went down. I have grown so reliant on it for news that for half an hour I just had no idea what to do. I just sat in front of the television, letting it talk of road blocks, emergency field hospitals, no fly zones and quarantine procedures and went slightly mad. I even started crying for a bit.
   Eventually my stomach began rumbling and I decided that what I really needed was a drink. From what the now obviously looping report on the TV said I either had it by now or I didn’t as I had been here in Norwich, deep in the quarantined area, for long enough. So it was time to head out and the first place with a non-life threatening seat and a pint it was. But they are playing terrible music.

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   God! Do They Know It’s Christmas. With you bunch of Where Are They Now contestants warbling on about it no one could possibly not know it’s Christmas. At least that is one good thing to come out of this horror, no one will be asking that stupid question ever again.

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   Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Norwich has some nice parts to it. It is just that no works trip would be complete without a Travelodge on the edge of an industrial estate. No bean counter would ever countenance letting an employee stay in the nice part of town. Somewhere with a small bit of local culture. Perhaps the chance to see a local beauty spot or historical building. Of course not, the cheapest “hotel” with a national brand that can be negotiated with to get a special “the broom cupboard will do nicely” corporate rate is what they want. Preferably beside a retail park with a national chain restaurant. So they can check that you didn’t order the more expensive special.
You are not here for a “jolly”. You are here to work. Preferably longer hours than normal if at all possible.
   So it is that all towns on all business trips look the same. Which sucks away any sense of adventure at visiting a new place and leads to drinking in plastic chain restaurants.

#

   Exactly who, when faced with their own and the human race’s impending death, thinks that “I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus” is appropriate music? I have been here for more than four hours now, steadily drinking, and have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this question.
   True, it is not the only thing on the play list. This being a pseudo American Italian chain eatery there are many tunes known as classic. I would normally be very happy to listen to “Blue Moon”. Possibly even sing along to it after a few pints. But it does not create the right mood in the circumstances. I’m not sure any music would create the right mood. I’m not actually sure what that mood should be.
   At first it even felt a bit comforting. Gave everything a semblance of normality. Admittedly the normality of a horrible chain restaurant full of the usual loner businessmen and women away from home and hating it. But even that is a level of normality I would now love to return to.
   That normality began to evaporate quickly once the first person vomited up blood while “I wish it could be Christmas every day” jangled from the speakers. It was long gone by the time the play list had looped around for the third time and I watched a man collapse and die on the street outside to the strains of “Last Christmas”.
   It is less offensive than the club over the road. When I first sat down at this bar the lights in the club were flashing and the room appeared to be crowded with young things. Clearly they intended to party like it was 1999 but now there are just four of them shuffling around near the front door to the strains of some manufactured plastic pop rot from the Simon Cowell stable while I presume bodies expire in the darker corners.
   Or possibly not.
   That is one thing that has surprised me about the general reaction to the news. Despite the initial violence, helped by a skip of rubble just outside Nandos, most people seem intent on leaving this plastic chain entertainment area when they start to cough up their lungs. Where they think they are going I have no idea, possibly home or to a hospital, but at least it means that crying man here and me get left to drink in peace. Well apart from White Christmas. Again!
   On the third play of this particular seasonal favourite (That’s the Festive Season rather than the Season of Death. Somehow I think those seasonal favourites would tend towards the Industrial) I did go to the manager’s office. Just after the barman had gone out to vomit and not returned.
   Turns out the music system is controlled from there but the bastard had taken things into his own hands and, after thoughtlessly locking the door so I couldn’t turn the music off, only watch helplessly through the small reinforced window, hanged himself from the slowly spinning ceiling fan. Oddly enough his heels bang against his desk in time to Bing Crosby’s Little Drummer Boy as he rotates.
I have had two opportunities to confirm that so far. The second of which I took an odd delight in singing along while I watched. Strange how the mind works under stress.
   After that moment of surrealism I came back to the bar and poured myself another Boddington’s. I looked across at the only other person in the restaurant. Well only living person. They had not started smelling yet so weren’t causing me problems.
   Crying man was at the bar when I arrived, several hours ago when there were twenty people in, all drinking in the hope that they could confuse their lungs dissolving with the worm in the tequila. He had a bottle of vodka which by now had to be half tears. But he kept drinking it and kept crying over it and never said a thing. Not that I really want to talk anyway.
   It is just too terrible to think about. Those who did had gone mad as Wetherspoons showed. We all just sat together. All strangers. All overwhelmed. All occasionally singing along to Slade’s hit. But not talking about the disease. Or anything else once it became clear that everything could lead back to the disease.
   Slowly, people left. Some only making it as far as the corner before collapsing. Others staggering forth with determination in their eyes and a gurgle in their lungs, intent on reaching somewhere.
I have kept drinking the beer, desperately hoping it would numb me enough to suppress the fear gnawing away at my guts.

#

   It is now pushing one in the morning, there are no nuts left and my stomach just did a back flip. Normally I would associate this with too much fizzy shite beer. But tonight I’m not so sure. Certainly I’ve had way more fizzy, shite beer than is normally good for me. However the wreckage of humanity around me is reminder enough that tonight is not the night to worry about bad beer.
   What I really crave I can’t have. Not even sure I truly know what it is but it certainly starts with not being stuck so far from home in this plastic Anglian hellhole. But maybe it is now time for me to wander out like everyone else. I read earlier in the week, when such things still mattered, of a nice sounding Real Ale bar on the far side of the city. Too far earlier when the streets were busy but probably safe to do now. It’s pushing an hours walk and I would be in terrible danger of sobering up and realising what was actually happening to the world. But I really quite fancy a decent pint. Perhaps it will settle my stomach and ease this sore throat I’m getting.
   Ah fuck it.
   The Crying Man has soiled himself so I need to move seat anyway. Time for a walk. You were a great cat and I hope someone lets you out while they still can. I think I will tell my phone to send this email now and go. Goodbye.

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