It’s been four weeks since I found Escala. Fourteen people who made it through the blast, none of them showing any signs of mutation or radiation issues.
Their doctor hadn’t made it.
They had a ritual. Every day, they gathered in what passed for a town square and had circle time. I know, a pre-school ritual turned into a lifeline for these survivors. There was only ever one topic.
Where you wish you were instead of Escala.
Caroline, the woman that would have been Mayor if this had been a serious settlement, always went first. ‘When I was a girl, my parents had a cottage in the woods. We would go there in the summer, spend long days carefree and joyful while my parents held the fort at home. There was my brother, my sister and me. We all had different interests, but that little cottage catered to them all. My sister loved to bake. Not a day went by when the smell of freshly baked bread, or pastries, or pies didn’t float through the branches. There was a windmill just five minutes up the road and they’d always give Annabel her flour for cost. She paid them in smiles and would always take them the last piece. “One for the millers.” Every time Derren went for that final piece, that’s what she’d say. Usually she was chasing him away with a wooden spoon.’ She’d relax into the memory by this point, feeding it piecemeal to the hungry people sat around her. ‘Derren was always out hunting. Papa had given him a bow and arrow when he was a boy, and Derren had taken it to heart. He came back one day with a stag. Struggled back with it for a good couple of miles.’
She shook her head. ‘Derren never trusted guns. They were too loud, too unreliable. But the bow, that was always the way to get things done. He could hit a squirrel from 30 yards.’
She always paused there, to let the feat sink in. It didn’t matter that they’d heard this story so many times before, there was always an appreciative oooh from that captive audience. ‘Me, however, I was an explorer. Mother and Papa always kept that cottage stocked with pencils and paper, and I would explore and make maps. They’re probably all still there, locked up in that tiny little cottage in the woods.’ This is where a tear would make an entrance, if that nights performance were featuring tears. ‘But that’s where I’d be. Safe and warm in my cottage in the woods.’
She sat down to a round of applause. I joined in halfheartedly. I couldn’t understand this town, with their rituals. They were so caught up in the past that they could see nothing of the future, simply letting the time pass them by until another disaster came along.
‘… and that’s where I’d be if I weren’t in Escala.’ That guy wanted to be in the Everglades. The next fancied Birmingham, in the United Kingdom. Not that there was a United Kingdom to turn to anymore. A bunch of fractured states, fighting for scraps, that’s all that was left of that once great nation.
‘I’d be in Buffalo. My sister lived in Buffalo.’ The young woman across from Caroline said. Her raven hair covered the left half of her face, but her right eye was deep and intense. I often caught her staring at me during these sessions. As if she knew that I was waiting for the moment to say it.
One by one, each of the sheep went up to the slaughter. Cleveland. New Zealand. Ontario. Places and people and feeble reasoning, falling like dominoes until the only one left standing was me. They all looked at me, eagerly awaiting the rehearsed speech about the houseboat on a canal in Derbyshire. They weren’t getting that today.
‘Where would I rather be than Escala?’ I said, rising from my lawn chair. ‘Future Escala. I’d rather be in the town that this town could be. Look at you all!’ I gestured to the group, looks of confusion spreading across their faces. ‘Harold, I know you were a trained mechanic. Now you’re happy to whinge and whine about how nothing can get in or out? There are trucks everywhere. Fix one!’
I saw Harold murmur, fighting to stay in the happy-clappy impromptu town that had a Harold shaped depression inside. ‘But I left that life behind.’ He whispered, barely audible.
Audible enough though. ‘We all left our lives behind, Harold. We didn’t choose to, those lives were ripped away from us. But we have a choice, here, today. Listen to me. Escala has the potential to be a thriving heart, a harbour for those lost souls still out there. But we can rebuild this place into the place it should be.’ I could see that I was getting through, but it was like hammering jelly to a tree.
‘People! What if, when other towns sit and ask where they would rather be, they said Escala? If they sought you out, bringing lost loves and families together. There’s more than enough material for homesteads.’ I could see the raven-haired girl nodding, more enthusiastically with each word. It buoyed me along, getting me swept up in my own words.
Caroline stood up then, taking the wind from my sails. She was an imposing presence and without her, this plan was never going to work. ‘You’re right, Patrick.’ She smiled at me, losing years in the process. ‘We can make Escala the centre of a new community.’
I held my breath. Caroline was one to give orders after an epiphany. She didn’t disappoint.
‘Harold, see if you can get the delivery truck on main street started. Sharon, you and Melanie are to scout the businesses further up the highway. I want everything edible, drinkable and anything that will help us live. Carter…’ Her orders went on for a while. I couldn’t believe that this was all she had needed. The raven-haired girl (I really have to get her name) slipped away, having received her orders from Caroline.
I’d seen the potential in this place as soon as I got here.
There’s only so much circle time anybody can take. Besides, my old life could stay firmly behind me. I didn’t want anybody finding me.
The Idiot in Tin Foil