Tags: prose

Please be as harsh as you like, brutal honesty makes me a better writer Chapter one When Cha

Please be as harsh as you like, brutal honesty makes me a better writer

      Chapter one

When Charlie Walter and Lucy Welsh kissed at the students’ union New Year’s Eve party on the 31st December 2012, Daisy Ellis knew that the apocalypse had come at last. As she saw Charlie softly pecking Lucy as the heavy thrum of dubstep shook her heart, she thought to herself, Well, better late than never. You see, Daisy was prepared for the end of the world. For months she’d been hoarding previsions, reading up on the matter, and now she would be the only survivor. The last human alive on planet Earth. But right then, Daisy wasn’t ready to spring from her post and run for cover – no, she was glued to the floor (metaphorically, of course, but now you mention it, the union floor was beyond sticky; it transcended “sticky” and moved into the realm of Prittstick). The strobe lights made everything look as though it was being played on one of those old magic lanterns, a series of moving images clicking by in a persistent haze, round and round again in circles, never changing, the same horse moving in the same direction, the same person waving continuously at you, the same two people kissing in the reeking, wretched union, whilst Daisy Ellis’ heart broke over and over again with them.

But let’s not focus on Charlie and Lucy. They are important in this tale of apocalypse, yes – but right now we need to follow Daisy as sheran up the stairs and out the door into the bitter winter air. The music grew dim and the sound of drunken shrieks outside grew in volume. Students throwing away three years under the guise of “getting a degree.” Everyone knows what that really means. Getting drunk, making friends, breaking friends, fucking and every three months writing a 2,000 word essay or sitting a three-hour exam. The pursuit of knowledge? No. Hedonism? Well, yes. But principally their aim is pure: self-destruction. They need not bother anymore; the apocalypse was upon them.

Pan back to Daisy: stumbling into a taxi with five people she doesn’t know. (More people equals cheaper fare, but Daisy was crying too hard to think much about her bank account.) She sat next to the driver, her head turned away from him so he couldn’t see her tears. Behind her the five strangers laughed and talked nonsense to each other, but Daisy knew better than that. She wouldn’t talk anymore and if you had any sense about you, you wouldn’t talk again either. Adjacency pairs are the death of you. Question and answer. Anecdote and response.Disease and the infected. Daisy paid her fare and slipped out of the cab in silence, and the driver muttered something to himself about how ignorant the youth of today are. And he was right, don’t you know? Generation upon generation, decaying as they go along, until now, until finally. . .

Daisy burst into her halls, slamming the door behind her, the anger in her finally beginning to reveal itself though her tears hadn’t yet subsided. She threw herself onto her bed, burying her head in her pillow and letting out a scream of fury and pain that ripped from a place deep inside. She screamed until all the sound escaped her, until she was dizzy and then she fell into a drunken haze. Had she been sober, she’d have known better. The apocalypse is no time to snooze. It’s time for action, for lockdown. Daisy soon learnt her lesson when Lucy Welsh tip toed in the room (the tip toeing is an affectation, an attempt to appear meek; Lucy is not meek; Lucy is not a good person). She crept to the bed and perched on the edge of the mattress and stared down at Daisy. Her mascara had smeared all down her face, her hair stood on all ends, she was blanched. Lucy was self-absorbed enough to believe that these are all aesthetic effects of the emotional trauma she has inflicted on Daisy that night rather than from the terror and delirium of being the last living human in the world. This was because Lucy only thinks about herself and rarely thinks about the world around her and even less about the people in her life. She might as well be the last person in the world – it would take her a long stretch of time to even realise this was the case, and even then she would only pine for other humans because there would be no-one left to stroke her ego.

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Feeling the bed sag and a disturbance in the air, Daisy awoke and opened her eyes to see Lucy’s face peering down at her. Daisy’s heart grew cold as she slowly remembered what had happened. Charlie, Lucy, disease, apocalypse. That is enough to make anyone’s heart grow cold, but Daisy is particularly sensitive, and with Lucy peering down at her, Daisy felt the hysteria rising from inside her again. She sat bolt upright and pushed herself away from Lucy, back against the wall. Remember she is infected, Daisy said to herself, even her inner voice hushed and solemn.

Daisy’s eyes darted wildly around the room, looking for escape. But Lucy was sitting less than a metre away from her on the lumpy single bed and she can’t move without touching her. Finally Daisy’s eyes locked on hers. Bloodshot eyes filled with tears met the perfectly painted eyes framed with false eyelashes of the dead girl. Lucy’s expression was blank and unfeeling. She wasthere through a sense of duty, keeping-up-appearances. No-one wants to be the bastard who upsets their best friend. Some remorse has to be shown, no matter how fake, in order to pacify observers. This was the way it was at university. And whoever thought it was a good idea to have a bunch of eighteen year olds living together, block upon block? Hormones abound, persistent drunkenness is a given, sexual histories criss-cross incestuously. Everyone knows everyone’s business, and though this may be the case in any social situation, it is intensified at halls, with everyone living together, next to each other, able to hear every word spoken in the surrounding six rooms. It is because this quirk of intensified gossiping that Lucy sat in Daisy’s room, trying to smooth over the situation.

“You know,” said Lucy, her voice languid and bored, “we’re getting sick of you running off crying all the time, yeah, Daisy? Well sick of it. I mean, where I come from no-one does that. No-one gives a shit. Everyone here is so dramatic –”That was untrue. From Essex to Manchester to Glasgow, drunken teenagers have been crying since the beginning of earthly time. “– and I can’t be bothered with it. Yeah? Yeah, you listening to me, Daisy?”

Daisy glared at Lucy but said nothing.

“I mean, so what, I got off with Charlie. You can’t claim ownership over someone. It’s not my fault that he likes me and not you, is it?”

Daisy stared hard into the eyes of the dead girl, the infected girl, the evil girl. There was nothing behind them. A gaping hole where her brain should be.A cavern where her heart should be. Her words meant nothing.

“I don’t know what to say to you anymore. You used to be fun, you used to be a laugh, and now look at you. I can’t remember the last time I saw you when you weren’t crying. You’re pathetic, Daisy. You got that? Pathetic. And if you’re not careful, you’re gonna turn everyone against you and you’ll be left with no-one. You fall out with me, who’s gonna be on your side? I can’t think of one fucking person. You’ll be all alone.  . . . I can’t be dealing with your shit. Why should I? I’ve got better things to do. Yeah?”

Daisy and Lucy stared each other out. Daisy bit back the bile rising at the back of her throat and resisted the urge to scream a string of insults at her, to throw herself at her and tear away the carefully constructed façade of civility that hid the bastard within. But disappointed by the lack of response, Lucy quickly grew bored. She had geared herself up for a blazing row. (Isn’t that what is supposed to happen when you systematically and calculatedly steal your best friend’s fella?) But Daisy just stared back at her with these pathetic watery eyes and a wobbling bottom lip and Lucy just thought, Yeah, the waterworks again, you mardy bitch. Friends, like boys, were disposable for Lucy. This best friend had run her course, well, whatever. What did that even matter anyway?

Lucy stood up, brushed herself off, and walked out of the room without another word.

Daisy waited until the click-clack of Lucy’s heels grew quieter and silence returned. The silence was what she needed. Silence meant survival. But first things first: she must sanitize.

She pulled out her anti-bacterial wipes, her Dettox, her bleach. A rookie attempt at sanitization, admittedly, but the best she could do on the budget of a student loan and Asda’s three-for-the-price-of-two offer. She ripped the posters from her walls, threw clothes out of her wardrobe, her toothbrush went in the bin, and with her room stripped bare she scrubbed each surface clean. Sweat poured off her body and next door her neighbour, a snooty middle-class girl with a nasal voice whom Daisy rarely made eye contact with, never mind spoke to, fumed as to what all the banging was about at five in the morning. But time was an illusion and Daisy had rid herself of the concept of “five AM” or the year 2012. Time is irrelevant when the disease is so all-consuming. Daisy understood all of this, and this is why she will live and everyone else will die. The oracle had told her so.

Her sanctuary sanitized and safe, Daisy turned her eyes on herself and ran to the bathroom with a bottle of shower gel, bleach and a bar of Dove soap. She slammed the door shut and locked it. She poured a small amount of bleach into the shower gel and shook it to mix it, and then she stepped into the cubicle and turned the water to the highest temperature, and immersed herself in the scalding water. Some people bleach their skin to become lighter. They have been taught that dark skin is ugly, afro hair is ugly, big noses and full lips are ugly. In reality, it is humanity that is ugly. But Daisy was unburdened by this worry; she was snow white and cossetted by her race and class. Daisy didn’t want to become whiter. Daisy wanted to burn.

Through the blistering hot heat of the water, Daisy could barely feel her skin being seared by the bleach. Now, she wasalready as pale as they come and with her white blonde hair and pale blue eyes, she was constantly being pulled aside and asked in hushed voices if she was albino. She wasn’t, as it happens. The bleach did its best to lighten her hair, but it was already snow white, and so it had little effect there, but it did make clumps of her hair fall out in her hands and blisters her scalp. Daisy clutched at the tufts of her hair unemotionally and let them fall from her hand and down the drain. She reasoned that section of hair must have been infected. Rather it than me. Her skin burnt everywhere and in a few days’ time it would begin to peel and reveal red raw skin underneath. Daisy scrubbed at herself until she bled and then finally she stepped out of the shower and dashed back into her room, naked, without a towel, dripping wet. She barricaded the door, shoving a heavy oak desk against it. Then she sat down in the centre of her room, soaked wet, bleeding and cold, and she put her head on her knees and she cried.

This was day one.

You see, Daisy Ellis was sick. It was a sickness of the brain and she had been sick for a very long time. But Daisy wouldn’t admit to it, and her family swept it under the rug. Saying, Oh, it’s just Daisy being Daisy and Teenage hormones, you know how it is and Just close the door and leave her to it. That was irresponsible of them but it wasn’t just a case of keeping up appearances and good old middle class denial. No, it was a case of the folly of humanity. You thought so little of people like Daisy that they are just a joke that trips easily off the tongue. A sickness of the brain was a joke to you. She was crazy, a psycho, insane – throw her in the loony bin. This only existed to create a divide between the “insane” and the rest of humanity. It created an “us” and “them” situation in order for you to mollify yourself that you’re safe; you won’t develop a mental illness. They’re just nuts but look at you. You’re not one of them. But a sickness of the brain is no different than a sickness of the body. Both must be treated, but Daisy Ellis was denied help. Her mother hid her away in the surging crowds of camp “us.” And as time stretches out before my eyes and I can see all of Daisy’s life, all that has happened and all that will happen to her, I know what path has led her here, crouching in her room with the door barricaded, trembling with fear that she will become infected by a disease that does not exist. She will live out twenty-seven days in a post-apocalyptic world although the apocalypse had not come and planet earth continued to spin on its axis and people continue to flood the cities for their miserable nine-to-five jobs as usual. I know Daisy’s entire life story, I know all the secrets of this universe; I come from nowhen, a place where time and matter don’t exist, but we are able to gaze into the souls of every living creature from – what you would say – the “beginning” of time to the “end” of time, but despite this, I have never seen a more pitiful soul that Daisy Ellis. I will speak for her because she will not speak for herself.

We must view the events before day one in order to understand Daisy’s illness. Her belief that apocalypse was upon them didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the world around her, from the sicknesses (both real and imagined) she saw in her life, from the way humans treated each other, from the vacuous words spoken to her every day. In many ways, I agree with Daisy Ellis. I think anyone journeying around in the spacetime she occupied would come to the same conclusion. There must be a disease. Look at the prejudices that burrowed into the minds of homo sapiens, a spectrum so wide andranging that there is a prejudice to suit all tastes. How’s homophobia for you, sir? No, how about sexism, transphobia, racism, ableism, classism, ageism? Any of them pleasing to the eye, sir?Yes, of course there was beauty in the world too, but for Daisy, no amount of fresh summer air and birds flying in the sky could override the pain and suffering that lay behind the scene. Not just her suffering, but the suffering of humanity. She was connected to those starving in third world countries, to all earthquakes, floods and mudslides, to the Asian boy walking down London Road with shouts of “Paki bastard, go back home!” behind him, to the plight of those in wheelchairs forever being dehumanized and conveniently forgotten about, invisible. She knew it all. The pain of the world ran through her veins and turned her blood cold. The only pain she didn’t understand was her own.

I will make sense of it for you now. I began at the effect, now let’s look at the cause. Let’s make time’s arrow fly backwards as I take you to the source of Daisy’s heartache.