Today’s tale continues last week’s story.
I felt a rush of air and something or someone grabbing me, hoisting me, hoisting me up as huge claws and teeth were inches from my face.
A huge horse, a rider, my teenage fantasy. I was being hauled up behind the rider. In my fantasy I was lithe and young, rescued by the handsome hero to nestle safely in his arms and cling to the horse’s mane. In reality I was a forty year old mother who had been snatched away from reality into a dystopian future.
‘Hang on tight, I can’t stop’ ordered the rider.
Hang on to what? The man was encased in leather and straps and encumbered with weapons, so was the horse. Suddenly his arm swung up then down, there was a glint of steel followed by a primeval scream. I felt something warm splatter my face; before I instinctively closed my eyes I had seen the arc of blood. If I thought being in the bunker was a nightmare I now realised why Billings said the outside was dangerous.
It was getting dark, but there were lights ahead, a sign that this was a nightmare and I would wake up in my own bed?
The lights were not a return to normality, but flaming torches lining some sort of tunnel. I clung on tight to my rescuer; it was painfully uncomfortable, but better than being eaten by a strange beast. The tunnel sloped downwards and tiled walls were just discernible in the flickering light. Tiled walls that belonged to a civilised city, but where was the city? If I had only been propelled seventy seven years into the future it made no sense. The open wild land I had glimpsed so far had no signs of buildings. Buildings become ruins, they don’t disappear; London could not have disappeared.
I heard other voices, figures emerged from the gloom. We weren’t underground, but in a huge compound. Rugged walls, more torches and a couple of leather clad people with guard dogs.
‘What sort of hunting do you call this?’
A fierce looking chap stepped forward and grabbed the reins.
‘I have no idea who or what she is, but let Mazie take her to the hospitality room and get cleaned up and then I will be the one to question her.’
Hospitality sounded encouraging and two women sat me by a fire and put a bowl of warm water by me. With no mirror I could only guess what my face looked like; the rest of me was bloodied.
‘Do you have a name?’
Did I look so strange I might have been living in the wild, not on an evening out in London with my husband?
‘Lauren, Lauren Smith. I know who I am and where I come from, but I have no idea where I am now.’
‘You’re not from the bunkers?’
I shook my head.
‘Well you are certainly not one of us.’
‘Who are you please?’
‘Hunters of course, Survivors, not like them lot underground. You’ll have to strip off, we’ll burn your clothes, you can’t have the scent of blood on you, wouldn’t stand a chance out there.’
For a moment I thought they were going to send me back ‘out there’, then I felt an hysterical giggle rise in my throat. What would I wear to the theatre if they burnt all my clothes? They put me behind an animal skin screen, poured water into a tub of sorts and handed me a bundle of rough cloth which I had no idea how to put on. Shower gel was obviously not going to be an option.
The drink was welcome as I sat on a bench and saw the bearded face of my rescuer properly for the first time. He smiled, he could have been a chap on television presenting a living in the wilds programme, just a normal man a bit rough and ready.
‘Thanks, thanks so much for rescuing me. I know you won’t believe me if I did tell you who I am and how I got here, or at least I have no idea how I got here.’
‘You look so weird I would believe anything you told me, I mean what on earth were you wearing?’
‘Tell me first what year it is.’
‘2099 of course, can you believe we’re nearly at the end of the century, the strangest century in human history.’
‘I come from 2023, London. I was in a restaurant with my husband and I went through a door and ended up in the bunker.’
‘Okay, so I don’t believe you.’
‘In the bunker a woman declared I was a prophecy come true, come from the past to take you all back to change what happened.’
‘Streuth, of course, the holy book my mother keeps locked up. I never believed all that rubbish … have you come masquerading as Lauren of London to trick some of the gullible ones?’
‘I am not a saviour, just an ordinary person, but perhaps if I meet your mother she will realise I am not a prophecy.’
‘Well here she is, hey Mother, you didn’t waste any time coming to see the stranger.’
‘Of course not, great excitement out there, I guessed you would need my help. I hope you are treating her properly.’
‘Oh yes, I am very grateful to your son for saving my life and everyone has been very hospitable.’
I thought it best to keep on the right side of a mother who might be an important person in this strange community.
‘I have waited all my life for this moment Lauren of London.’
‘No you don’t understand. I am not a saviour, just an ordinary person who can’t believe she has been transported to the future, a future that makes no sense.’
‘Of course my dear, you don’t understand yet. We have a learning journey of months, maybe years, to go on before the great return. First we will open the Holy Book together.’
I was escorted royally to a wooden hut of sorts.
‘Welcome to my home Lauren.’
Inside she slid open a sort of hatch and produced a rudimentary key to unlock a small rectangular box out of which she took a book, kissed it reverentially then handed it to me. I nearly burst out laughing. It was a paperback book, yellowed with age, but I could still discern the lurid cover and guessed it was one of those romantic fantasy novels my sister loves reading.
‘Do you have other books?’
‘Oh no, all gone and what need to do we have of books, just this precious one.’
‘Do you read it often?’
‘I can’t read, my mother used to read it to me when I was little till her eyesight failed; then she carried on telling the prophesy and I learnt it from her, even passed it on to some in the bunkers. Please read it to me.’
I looked at the cover, Door to the Future, not a very original title… by J M Scribbletide, what sort of name was that for a novelist? I perused the first page to find a publishing date, 2028. I felt a chill, this was no holy book, but it was proof that it came from beyond my time. I turned a page and started reading it to the eager woman.
‘It was just an ordinary evening out with my other half, who would have imagined that ordinary me, Lauren Smith, was about to have her life changed beyond imagining…’