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Picture from Loz Flowers: Colindale in Fog

An old enemy returns. It’s not insomnia, not really; just a couple of hours in the middle of the night when sleep is impossible and the world feels irrevocably broken. Noah calls on an array of comfortable fantasties to lull himself back to sleep; loose narratives based around parkour, sex and absurd ninja fight-outs, for the most part.

They used to work pretty well. Now that the world is collapsing for real, they’re not as effective—which is why he ends up by the window at four a.m., looking out through a crack in the filing-cabinet barricades. There are so many stars, just in one narrow arc of sky.

Some time before morning he falls asleep again. He wakes to a bright dawn diffused by fog, and to the fuzzy-edged silhouettes of enormous moths. Behind him he can hear Johnny’s daily ritual: an hour of flicking light switches, clicking through the stations on the wind-up radio, searching new cupboards for an extra packet of biscuits. The food hunt turns up something new every day or two, but the radio’s been silent since the beginning.

“When I had my first job interview here,” Noah says, “some of my friends made jokes about surviving the apocalypse. But I think they were imagining a pandemic rather than a plague of giant moths.”

“Well, they can’t really be moths,” Johnny says. “Moths at that scale would be impossible. We talked about it before. Squares and cubes, remember? You can’t just make something enormous and expect it to keep working the same way.”

“You get albatrosses,” Noah says.

“Not technically an insect,” Johnny says.

“Big flying things, you know.” He stretches his legs out.

“Well, exactly. Big flying things that aren’t insects.” And it’s time for Johnny’s second ritual of the day, the mid-morning whiteboard mission, all dot-pointed to-do-list solutions and flow-chart diagrams.

Noah leans back and offers his usual criticisms. There’s not much else to do. Early on, the first evening, they signalled from a window on the top floor, flashing torches in unison; but the thing about giant moths is, well, they might be giant but they’re also moths, and if you give them a reason to plummet towards you and headbutt a window, then that’s what they do.

No direct contact with anyone outside, then, but there must be other survivors. The ziggurat layers of the Centre for Infection are no carefully-designed stronghold, after all. Noah thinks there must be a group in the RAF museum down the road; sometimes they hear a put-put-put overhead, and Johnny says he looked out of the window once to see biplanes somersaulting through the skies and shooting at the moths. (Moth-like creatures, he’d corrected himself quickly).

They could run for it, Noah thinks, maybe head for the British Library newspaper collection down the road - if they made it, he could finally teach himself how to do cryptic crosswords. Instead he pushes the filing cabinet back in place, and helps Johnny look for a new red whiteboard marker.

Posted in Northern Line. Tagged with , .

5 Responses

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  1. Hurrah, hurrah, a new story!

  2. Yes, it remains to be seen whether I’ll manage to actually get back into regularity or not. But fingers crossed. And Colliers Wood and Covent Garden are half-done already, so I’m fairly optimistic!

  3. janine said

    great again, glad to see the new stories.

  4. Geoff, Woodside. said

    Holly, where on earth did you get the information about charcoal burning? I know a little about this and it is certainly not common knowledge. This story is superb! All the best!

  5. Gosh, hello there, I was just thinking about you and the school at Woodside last night. Hope all’s well.

    The charcoal burning - I read a few essays, and made a few guesses. I’m glad it doesn’t seem like nonsense to someone who knows more about it than I do!

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