This piece was an offhand little bit of fiction set in the universe of Dark Tempus, a post-apocalyptic LARP set in England, UK. You can find the group here on facebook. Needless to say, this LARP offers so much fun that I almost split me breeches.
+ + +
When he woke up, it was with a start. A harsh and shrill noise had pierced the air and it wasn’t him.
He looked around. From his high backed chair he could see that he was almost completely alone in the old, musty room; almost, except for the taxidermied heads on the wall. One particular old creature with half-rotten horns judged its killer from high above the stone mantelpiece with a dry, unemotional look.
The rest of the room was littered with bric-a-brac and miscellany coated with a decade’s worth of dust. Bernard slacked his dry mouth to get the lingering bitter taste from it, his failing eyes scrutinising the beast on the wall with hate. His unkempt and shallow beard was aged but the grey was almost as old as the trophy. Both he and the creature’s remains were rotting; his wiry hair was fading, leaving patches of balded skin exposed to the cold. Wrinkles folded over in the corners of Bernard’s face and crow’s feet scratched their way out from the corners of his eyes. His hands were tightening every day.
Every day was a great difficulty for Bernard, making his rounds and his way as best as he could with what he had.
Every day happened inside of a wooden shell of a house. He once built it with unrotted, fresh pine timber and it was private, away from prying eyes; but it was only made a home with his wife, Teresa. The house was falling down and he had no way and no energy to repair it. The room that was once the dining room had collapsed so all Bernard could do was board up the exposed windows and doors with what he could salvage from the fallen roof.
He licked his lips with a heavy, dry tongue. Through his woolen fingerless gloves he pulled his fingers into his palms before reaching for the long gun resting against the trunks of the wall next to him. Bernard turned off the lamp that he’d left on last night, when he’d fallen asleep where he’d sat. The bulb had burnt out years ago.
Both he and the chair creaked when he propped himself up to stand. He hobbled his way over to the window to look through the boards and metal grill that kept him safe. The glaucoma made it difficult but Bernard could just make out the treeline beyond.
He looked over to the second chair that stood like a tombstone next to his. The yellowing sheet draped over the moth-eaten velvet and the covered subject like a funeral veil.
“I can’t see any those blights, Teresa,” he croaked to the chair. He looked out again. “I’ll make the rounds. Back soon.”
Bernard hobbled over to the open davenport near the door to the kitchen where cartridges spilled out from a fading box on the desk. Despite the effort, he snapped open the weapon in his hand and saw that he’d already left two chipped brass circles in the tubes. Not for the first time, he looked over to his faded, patchy chair.
Many a night he had rested his chin on the end of the steel barrel, the temptation to simply finger the trigger a little too hard ringing hollow in his chest. He’d stare milky-eyed out into the darkness, ears buzzing, until there was a creak a little too close for comfort. Bernard would manage to convince himself, forcefully, that he had to secure the perimeter once again. He had to keep Teresa safe. So he would creak upright, stumbling over to load his gun with powdered imprints staining his sagging chin.
He pushed the shotgun back together with a stiff grimace on his aging face. His eyes had drifted to the other chair subconsciously.
Bernard turned into the kitchen and reached for the door that led outside. Six sets of locks later, he opened the door just enough to shove the two long barrels through the splintered door frame.
It seemed safe.
The door widened with a yawn and Bernard shuffled out of his home and into the crisp morning air on floorboards that squealed in protest at his boot.
He scanned the clearing before the woodland down the barrel of his gun. The cold bit at his limbs and he felt its horrible chill beneath his thick and torn, woollen clothing. He quickly adjusted the cracked glasses on his crooked nose and licked his cracking lips, wheezing a huff out of his shaking lungs.
He took the steps to his door one at time, for his bones were old and his muscles certainly were not young. Bernard still couldn’t see any blight corpses but his eyes could barely unveil the wired fence just at the edge of his clearing and his feet laboured over the uneven gravel and grass.
When Bernard could see the fence beyond the blind patches he shuffled on the spot to look around it. In his old age he couldn’t walk every inch of the fence as he could have done, never the less he peered through his frames down its length before hobbling over to a corner of the rotting cabin. He leant into the corner and barely saw to the other side. Again, he slowly creeped – gun in his shaking, painfully tight hands – along to the next edge, trying to make as little distance as possible in order to keep his own arduous journey as short as he could and Teresa safe. As long as the fence still held, they would be secure.
It wasn’t until he passed the collapsed roof of his old dining room that he’d noticed something beyond the fence for the first time. Bernard wrinkled his nose to try and see further, the abnormally bright light of the outdoors saturating his vision. His heaving torso leant forward even over his hunch in order to just make sure of it.
Slowly, he made his way through the rusted gate; Bernard’s hands, without any dexterity, pulled and pawed at the padlocks that held the iron in place.
Anxiety grew and his heart beat faster than it had since before the cold season had started. He groaned bitter and excited mumbles under his breath, swearing at what he’d seen and licking his lips. He wiped the spittle on his chin and white stubble on his torn, crusted sleeve.
The chains came free and he swung the gate far beyond his reach, pushing the bond out as it slowly collided with the gate itself sounding a series of ringing. Bernard blinked his eyes to focus and ,as quickly as he could, heavily limped to his destination.
There, just in the crook between two trees, was the shape of a human body.
Bernard had not seen another person for over a year. The last person he’d seen, as a matter of a fact, was Teresa, and the last living person before that was at Caldera. He limped on the spot, looking down at the panting human.
They were scrawny, dressed in overalls and patches of leather as what must have been makeshift armour. He looked up at Bernard with hollow eyes and whitened, sickly skin. Bernard looked down at them, shuffling on the spot and opening and closing his hands in the excitement.
“Help,” they’d choked with small bated breaths, sending the gasps out as puffs in the frigid air. They shook, hands clasped down around a pool of crimson, trying to stop the bleeding. Bernard’s old bear trap wouldn’t open for their weakening hands. It was rusted from time but had managed to pierce the old, crackling greaves that had failed to protect their leg. Blood had already stained the ground around the trap and their hands were red, raw and bloody from their own scrambling, desperate attempts to remove the trap. They were weakening and Bernard was the only possible out. “Please, help me,” they repeated. A moment passed before they offered “I- I’m with Free Tra-”
“Free Trade Union,” uttered Bernard, wrapping his tongue around the familiar name. Finally, a conversation. He’d only ever conversed with Teresa. His ashened cheeks split with a less than toothy smile. His new friend nodded weakly. He gestured to the trap with a barely visible nod.
Bernard glanced down at the trap. He pushed a leg forward but daren’t risk a knee on the hard, frozen turf. He slacked his jaw and almost crouched, licking his lips at the wound that bled over the remaining blunt teeth. He looked up at the Unionist, anxiety levels rising and Bernard snapped his hand to his chest.
“What’s wro-? Help me, plea-”. They tried to speak, holding a hand out to Bernard but the old man only held his hand to his torso, rubbing his chest.
Bernard gathered himself having staved off the aching palpitations of his weakening heart. He managed to lick his lips again and huffed.
“Okay. Okay. I’ve got you.”
The victim looked relieved despite the sheer amount blood loss. He smiled and looked down at the trap in anticipation but his face turned even whiter. Bernard had pushed the tip of the shotgun against his knee and leant into it involuntarily, pushing the cold splintered tips into the flesh. Horrified, the man began his protests, panicking and calling out to Bernard, pleading for his life. Bernard ignored him and pulled the trigger halfway.
Bone and cartilage was blown sideways, a gored mess that threw the remainder of the Unionist’s body into fits of spasms – writhing in agony. The screams were unearthly.
But Bernard just stood there,pushing himself up and gazing at the dying wreck of the boy. He’d managed to grab the old man’s trouser leg, grasping on for dear life.
He toyed with the idea of putting a cartridge in his head but slowly thought better of it. A hoarse whisper questioning Bernard’s action was later followed by brief, coarse curses – the last unintelligible words of the boy. His spasming hand slowly released his grip and the old man kicked it away in disdain. In a struggle that took the remainder of the morning, Bernard pulled the thin corpse back to his home.
Bernard jostled the locks behind him and left the boy’s body besides the butcher’s block in the kitchen. he wiped his feet on the welcome mat that had lost its bristles to time and use. He would cut up the boy after a brief nap.
Bernard struggled into his croaking chair next to Teresa before brushing the smears of blood off of his trouser leg with a clubbed hand.
“Got tea tonight, love,” he told her. “Free Trade Union, so it is.” He smugly pushed his gun by the wall in triumph. Bernard licked the spittle onto his lips and huffed with brief difficulty. “So it is.”