Purge by Nathan O'Hagan
A collection of 6 gritty short stories tackling issues of violence, paranoia, eating disorders, alienation and pornography, Purge delves into the contemporary experience, from the perspective of those on the margins of society.
I crawl into the small cupboard beneath the stairs and pull the door shut behind me. As I close the door I flick on the lamp I have secured to the wall. The bulb is dim, but provides me with enough light to find the bolts I have screwed onto the door. I slide them all across, and shove the wedge underneath the door. Through a small hole I have drilled in the bottom right hand corner of the wall, an extension cable runs from what used to be my living room, into the cupboard that has now become my fortress. Plugged into the extension are a radio, a small hotplate and my television. I place a couch cushion against the door, sit down on another, and switch on the television, to the BBC news channel. The news is the only thing I watch now. I have to keep constantly updated. There are so many dangers, so many threats, that only constant viewing of the news, as well as listening to hourly radio news bulletins, can come close to keeping you completely in touch. And even the news doesn’t tell you everything; they’re probably in on half of it. It’s hard to keep track of it all; there’s Al Qaeda, swine flu, bird flu, sexually transmitted diseases, global warming, food borne diseases, droughts, famines, war, teenage gangs, nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, rioting, police corruption, recession. To keep on top of them I keep a notebook, with a page dedicated to each of these and others, detailing specifically what threat each of them poses to the world, to this country, and, most of all, to me in particular. I make a few notes on the page about right-wing extremism and look up at the TV screen. A ‘breaking news’ item is coming through about a volcano in Iceland. A reporter is standing in an airport in Scotland talking to members of the public. Brief, only slightly informative headlines flash across the screen; ‘All UK flights grounded’, ‘mass travel disruption’, ‘giant ash cloud’. I feel my heart beating faster and faster. I turn the volume up with a trembling finger, and gasp out loud as the report cuts from the reporter to video footage of a vast, billowing grey cloud, spewing out of a volcano. I cover my eyes with my hands, but am unable to keep them there. I begin to mutter to myself “it’s just an ash cloud, just an ash cloud, that’s all. Just some ash.” But as the camera pulls back to show the sheer size and magnitude of the cloud, I begin to weep uncontrollably.
I slam the front door closed behind me and slide across the bolts at the top and bottom of the door, and the chain next to the lock. I turn the key in the mortis lock and go into my living room. I make sure the windows are locked, and close the blinds. It’s still daylight, but the sun will be starting to go down in an hour or so. I walk through to my kitchen and put my shopping in the cupboards and the fridge. I need to have my dinner cooked and eaten before darkness falls, so I empty a tin of beans and sausages into a pan, and put some bread into the toaster. As I wait for it all to cook I look out of my kitchen window at the walls of my backyard. I have never noticed before how low they are. A male of average height, standing on a wheelie bin, could easily climb over the top of it. The most common means of entry for a burglar is through a door or window at the rear of a house, especially when extra cover is provided by a wall or hedge. Something will have to be done about them, but not tonight. There aren’t enough daylight hours left. I secure the backdoor and windows and take my dinner through to the living room, locking the kitchen door behind me. I watch the news as I eat, a story about a father and son going on trial for planning racially motivated attacks in particular catches my attention. When the news finishes it is beginning to get dark. I leave my dirty plate and cutlery on the couch and head upstairs to my bedroom. I leave the light off and take my seat by the window, from where I have a good view of the street in one direction. Opportunistic burglaries are the most common kind; sneak thieves who need only a few seconds to grab whatever valuables are within reach, so it’s necessary for me to keep a look-out for as long as possible. It’s important that I remain unseen at all times, so in order to see both ends of the street, I have to change position several times, switching from one side of the window to the other every thirty minutes. Every two hours, I will allow myself fifteen minutes of sleep, lying on my bed, fully clothed. If anybody breaks in to murder or rob me, I don’t want to be caught in a state of undress. This will continue until morning. I will watch people go to work, pass through the street, and wait until I feel the street is sufficiently quiet, before allowing myself a couple of solid hours of unbroken sleep.
When I wake up, I have work to do. I go downstairs and gather up every glass object I can find. Glasses, bottles, mirrors, jars. I place them all into a heavy duty bin bag and smash them up with a hammer. I mix up the bag of cement from my shed and spread it on top of the walls in my backyard, and strategically place the pieces of broken glass, as well as lots of razor blades, into it before it dries. I sit in the kitchen eating my breakfast, surveying the yard through the window. It looks more secure, but not secure enough. A few months ago, a crack-addict broke into a house just half a mile from here, stealing jewellery and cash, and threatening the elderly resident. After breakfast I carry the planks of wood from the shed inside. I nail some across my back door, and some across the kitchen windows. The rest of the wood I take upstairs and nail over all the windows at the back of the house. I unplug the fridge and electric cooker and drag them from the kitchen to the living room. I bring through the contents of the cupboards, and board up the door, placing the cooker and fridge in front of it as an extra protective measure. Now the back of my house is secure, leaving the front door as the only real point of access/escape. I have reduced my security concerns by 50%.
After lunch I walk to the shop for more supplies. I decide that tinned and dried goods are the most practical option, as well as the least likely to have been tampered with or poisoned. Food borne pathogens are evolving at an alarming rate, and a Japanese company recently had to recall its products from supermarkets after a production worker claimed to have deliberately poisoned its products. They will also last longest in the event of nuclear fallout. As I get near my house I begin to panic. Street muggings were up by 7% in this area last year. Knife crime has doubled. There were almost 14,000 rapes in the UK in the last 12 months, and male-on-male rape has been steadily increasing for several years. I run the last fifty yards back to my house and lock myself in. I decide to start my night watch early tonight, so I take a box of cereal upstairs and eat it dry as I watch through the window. I become very nervous when a car drives up and down my street twice. The second time, it stops outside a nearby house and picks someone up before driving away, but I make a note of the registration anyway, just in case. A car bomb in Afghanistan killed 2 soldiers last week, and there has been an increase in attempted car bomb attacks on American and British soil in recent years. Later that night I watch as a man I haven’t seen before walks down the opposite side of the street towards me. As he is almost level with me, he turns his head to my side of the street, and looks up in the direction of my window. I drop to the floor instantly. A gun shot from that distance could easily take me out. Even a house brick thrown through the window has the potential to kill. I press myself against the wall beneath the window and lie perfectly still. I wait for about ten minutes and crawl on my stomach to my spare bedroom. I carefully peak over the window sill and look both ways down the street. It appears to be clear, but I can’t take any chances. The top floor of my house has been compromised. I carry my mattress downstairs and seal up the doors to both bedrooms, leaving only the bathroom accessible. I can’t be certain the man I saw won’t come back, so I sit down on the stairs with a hammer in my hand, and decide to stay awake until morning.
Something I have learned recently is that the smaller your world is, the easier it is to keep yourself safe in it. If you can break things down to the absolute essentials, it makes things much easier. We don’t really need a lot of space. By having more room, it doesn’t make physical existence any easier, it just makes it harder. You’re no more alive standing in an open field then you are sitting in a single room. This knowledge makes my decision to move into the cupboard that much easier. On balance, it seems like the only sensible option. Even in the event of a home-invasion, I will be relatively safe in there. There is a chance that my presence will go unnoticed (I have painted over the outside of the cupboard door to disguise it as part of the wall, and stapled layers of cardboard onto the inside wall to contain any sound I make), and even if I am discovered, I have made it as secure from the inside as I possibly can. I also have a can of rat poison, should the worst come to the worst. Before I go in I seal up the front door, and pull my furniture as close to the cupboard as I can, as extra protection against any potential bomb blasts. I have as many tins of food as I can fit in there, and access to the news. I can’t do anything about what’s happening in the outside world.
All I can do is be prepared.
Nathan O'Hagan is thirty-five and based in Northamptonshire UK. He has written articles for the online cultural fanzine God is in the Tv Zine. He has also written two unpublished novels.
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