Following on from last week, I present to you – without any sort of nonsense or idle chatter – the second part of my investigation into faith.
If you missed part one, read it first HERE
To Lilith, the rain that poured from the sky was a mere annoyance. It drenched her to the very bones, sapped her strength away as it flowed out of her trouser cuffs. Before the sun was even in the sky, it had rained. And now, several hours later, it showed no inclination to stop. Lilith had never lost a battle of wills, but it seemed that this particular rainstorm was a seasoned opponent. It wasn’t the worst thing, though.
“What the heck are you doing out in this weather?”
No, not the worst thing by a long shot. This one looked nice enough, at least. But he wanted the same thing as the others. She didn’t break her stride. “I’m fine, thank you. I can manage.”
“But you’re soaked! Why don’t you at least come in and dry off? I’ve got a spare room with a nice, soft bed. You’ll be off again in no time.”
He was short. Shorter than her, in any case, but then most normal people were. She was just a little shy of six feet, like all the other actors, which was a pity. The problem was not her height, but the fact that most male leads these days were chosen for their looks rather than their ability. These days. She would have to stop thinking like that: the theatres were all closed now.
“Thanks, but I really have somewhere to be.”
Hm. Little guy, seems nice, sheltering under a newspaper. Hold on, under a newspaper? How long had he been out in this rain sheltering under a bloody newspaper? Where the hell would you even get a newspaper?
“That’s far enough, miss.”
Ah, yes. Here it comes. Since making the decision to travel to Brinchester alone, and on foot, she had encountered several such people. Lilith was about ninety per cent certain that, if she did as he suggested, she would be imprisoned, drugged, possibly raped, and forced into prostitution. Even in the old days, it wasn’t unheard-of, but since the world had started collapsing, it was more or less commonplace. However, Lilith was not yet ready for such a radical career change.
Acting, she had always thought, was desperate work. Becoming another person for a short while, living as them, rehearsing all hours of the day and night, only to cast off that skin, like every other, and do it all again in a few weeks…and that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the jobs stopped coming, you couldn’t pay the rent, you ended up sleeping with the director or trying for an office job. With zero experience. And a 2:1 in Drama. Good luck.
As desperate as it was, it had been enough. But then, England had begun to fall into the sea and, somewhat understandably, people had stopped going to the theatre. Westminster had tumbled into the Thames, along with most of the leadership of the country, but unfortunately, from there it had gone rather downhill.
Brinchester. That was the whisper on the air. In Brinchester, everything was fine. Running water; electricity; no gangs; a nice, high wall to keep the undesirables out. In a town like that, Lilith could make a living on her feet, just like she had always done.
She didn’t have the influence to board one of the few trains that were still running, so she was walking; had been for a few days. And in every town, there were men like this. The ‘nice, soft bed’ men. And that is why there was a knife in her pocket, another one at her ankle, and pepper spray in her bag.
Making a quick calculation of risk and reward, she decided on the pepper spray this time. She made a show of helpless resignation, locking his eyes with a bit of deer-in-the-headlights mummery as she groped in her bag. A little razzle-dazzle for the poor bastard, just to make sure he didn’t notice–
The bag was wrenched from her fingers. “This one’s got pepper spray, Danny. Pepper spray!”
“Perhaps you should hang on to that, Chapper. That stuff’s dangerous.”
Well, they had her. Lilith could sense an enormous presence behind her, presumably this ‘Chapper’ creature. Meanwhile, Danny – with a face as dark as the skies above – advanced towards her. She still had two knives, but she would have to move before the big guy grabbed her. Risk and reward. She thought quickly, then bolted through the rain, leaving her bag and most of her sleeve in Chapper’s fingers.
Six feet means long legs, good acceleration. She was fit, and she had the element of surprise. Lilith was under no illusions, however. These men were after her. She had hit them where it hurt: right in the ego. Twenty-five seconds to get lost, she estimated. More if she jinked a little through the side-streets, less if Danny was as fast as he looked. A lot less if any of the side-streets were blocked.
How many seconds was it now? She sprinted past disinterested groups of people, lining the streets with nowhere to go and no reason to go there. It was the same in every town. Would it really be different in Brinchester? She didn’t have time to think about that now. She cut down an alley, lungs burning, the rain masking any sound of pursuit. Any second now, the game would be up. A nice part of town, at least. If it had to be, this was as good a place as any.
Feet splashing through puddles. Fingers curling around a knife-handle. A desperate sidestep through a colonnade. Clutching hands.
A heavy, wooden door.
A bewildered-looking man with a backpack.
Collision, stars, darkness.