Author: Daanish Malik
The brutal rumblings of a scrap engine running on fumes sounded out across the ruined streets of a fallen London, the jeep’s carcass had the misfortune of navigating around wholly unusable wrecks with a sort of practiced precision. Its occupant, a lonesome Nick, was ever cautious of the crumbling buildings that loomed high above and the roads that lay ahead – wary of the hidden guns and knives of desperate men who had no qualms about killing their fellow man for their next meal. Wary of the jury-rigged explosives that lay hidden just underneath the layers of ash that choked the streets of this city. Far warier of the men in grey coats, faceless men much like himself who stalked the ruined metropolis for the red stars and hammers-n’-sickles that adorned Nick’s jacket.
Except there was nothing. No scavvers, no looters, no madmen, and certainly no grey coats. Hadn’t been for the last couple of miles throughout the skeletal remains of London Town, its decaying soul found in the ebbing flow of a noxious River Thames that Nick had trailed along for the duration of his journey. Letting out an idle yawn of stifled boredom as he turned yet another corner, he’d tap his magazine-laden flak jacket tucked underneath his coat, frayed around the edges, now and then with his gloved knuckles for the slight reassurance that the habit offered before reaching into his pocket and tugging out yet another shoddily-maintained cassette tape which he intended to pop into a poorly cobbled-together cassette player. He’d spend a few minutes of his dreadfully monotonous life listening to what tunes he could as he continued driving on and on.
Nick had practically memorized the lyrics by now, to each and every tape he had in his possession – which added up to five in all. Fuck’s sake, he wished he could scrape up cigarette butt right about now worth lighting (or savor the smoke of a proper cig if he was fortunate enough to get his hands on one), but the skintight gas mask he was donning over his face would’ve made that somewhat awkward, wouldn’t it?
Occasionally glancing into the cracked rear-view mirror for something of note, anything other than the maddening silence that pervaded this lonely stretch of road, Nick would merely sigh as he saw nothing. Clenching even tighter onto his jeep’s ragged and torn-at steering wheel before slamming on his squeaking brakes, lurching him forward violently as he grit his teeth in frustration. Glancing towards his loaded L1A1, which was laying in the seat next to him – barely having been tossed forward by the jeep’s sudden halt – Nick reached out for its barrel. Fumbling with his quivering fingers as he brought the muzzle directly towards his concealed face, ignoring the road ahead and the road behind for a brief moment – nothing but him and his rifle.
Staring down a loaded gun aimed right at his face – his eyes quivering behind his mask’s lens as though they sought some form of escape from his impending demise – a somewhat numb Nick had unconsciously brought it into his padded lap. His lean fingers trembled furiously as he found them wrapped around his rifle’s well-worn trigger guard and bloodstained muzzle, clenching down on the steel construction with the intensity of a desperate man dangling off the ledge of a skyscraper. Firmly tucked between his thighs was his L1A1’s solid nylon-ish buttstock, the following crudely etched onto it as it’d been fervently etched into his mind:
‘THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.’
Nervously chuckling to himself as though this were all a common jest among friends, Nick allowed himself some slight reprieve to trace the etching as the maxim came to fore within his troubled mind. With a defeated sigh, he loosened his grip on the cold metal aimed precariously at his face, which he’d been holding onto so desperately just moments prior as his taut body unwound. Then, without a moment to process why, he carelessly tossed the weathered rifle back into the stained seat next to his as though it weighed nothing, laughing frantically as adrenaline coursed through his veins from the toes in his steel-toed boots to his white-knuckled hands. His damnable pulse, pounding away at his skull and chest, proved deafening to a trembling Nick who was suddenly and painfully aware of it all. Fucking Marx, he was on the verge of tearing loose his smothering mask so critical to his survival and hurling his vacant stomach out.
He felt the ashes of generations’ past vaporized instantly trod upon and disturbed by the heft of his Rover’s treads. He felt the ashen clouds high above that light could somehow never pierce through to bring forth warmth to these barren lands, and he was aware once more with the force of a rail spike driven through someone’s skull of the agonizing futility of it all. That any hope for absolution, heaven or hell – any hope at eternity whatsoever in the eyes of God – had been annihilated by the atomic cowardice of humankind, leaving only a purgatory of ash on this barren earth for their sons and daughters to inherit. Not that he was supposed to believe in any of that crap anyhow, according to the infallible commissars, their sheer force of will, and their admittedly menacing revolvers.
Glancing back to his only constant companion since he’d joined the ranks of the proletariat in this empty, dying shell of a world that humankind had once called its birthplace, its home, and now – by humankind’s own design – its soon-to-be grave, Nick once more suppressed the urge to heave and rid himself of his nausea. As he stared at the wretched machine he called a friend; Nick pondered how many uncared-for lives he’d reduced to ash with its assistance, his head pounding rhythmically as he contemplated their unseen faces and unheard voices. Were they better off? To not feel the groveling of their malnourished stomachs for meager scraps? To no longer have to fight a meaningless war for meaningless ideologies in a meaningless world that refused to value their meaningless lives? To finally, truly rest? Perhaps Nick would be better off like that. But for now – now that he’d lost his nerve – he was once more stuck fighting fascists in a barren city and bringing about a glorious revolution against a non-existent oppressor, wearing his Bolshevik red coat in bold defiance of the colorless, ashen sky.
On the bright side of things, at least the coat made him an easier target.