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Nick Cracknell

THE QUIET APOCALYPSE

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FOR BO AND JIMMY 


PART ONE

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98%

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I don’t know exactly  how long I have been here, but it is at least four days.

That’s how long ago I woke up anyway.

If you are reading this it might be that you have found me alive, or that I am long dead and this is the only record of what went on here.

Like everything else around me in this place it is, currently, totally unknown.

Indeed, I may not know exactly  how long I have been here, but at least I do know where ‘here’ is. Or at least where all the signs point to it being…

According to the literature I have seen so far, comprising mainly of tourist brochures and activity leaflets advertising pursuits like kids’ waterparks, camel trekking in the Timanfaya National Park and car hire, I am in the holiday resort of Playa Blanca on the island of Lanzarote.

At first I couldn’t be totally sure as I couldn’t get out of the hotel grounds before it started to get dark, and I definitely didn’t want to start exploring after hours in my condition.

Speaking of which, my head wounds have been healing remarkably. There seems to be no lasting damage other than some yellow bruising around my eyes and nose and a crusting of dried blood at the top of my brow where skin meets hairline. I surmise that the cut there must have been made with some form of blunt instrument, possibly a wooden rolling pin or baseball bat or something, as the skin is split evenly with no ragged edges, and there appear to be no other signs of trauma apart from a raging headache.

I have no idea how I received the injury, but I don’t think it was self-inflicted. I don’t remember being so drunk that I forgot the events of the night before, which leads me to believe I was attacked in some way, or perhaps involved in some kind of accident which caused me to experience a significant period of unconsciousness.

Depending on how long I was out, I may have been here for days or even weeks, although I sense it is a lot less as I don’t appear to have lost any weight. I certainly didn’t feel excessively hungry upon waking, but my thirst was unslakeable.

I have also attempted to think as rationally as possible in order to fully grasp the dilemma in which I find myself. Said dilemma can be broken down into the following criteria:

I am seemingly alone. I have seen no other signs of life in the five days of my sojourn thus far. No people, no animals, not even aircraft overhead.

I woke up at the THB Sun Royal  aparthotel in the resort of Playa Blanca, on the southern tip of Lanzarote. And that is where I have remained so far. The reason being that, although I am almost certainly the only person here, there is an ample supply of food and water (and alcohol) in the store and in the canteen.

I am seemingly in sound body and mind.

I have no idea how I came to be here, or why.

The first day I spent taking in my surroundings was quite informative. After the initial confusion of waking up in a foreign environment, with a visible injury and no idea as to how or why I was there, I went about establishing how good or bad my circumstances were.

The biggest advantage is that all the electrics are still on. I am able to boil water, cook food and see in the dark. The bad thing is none of the televisions (or at least the ones I have tried so far) seem to be receiving a broadcast of any sort. Nor is the computer I located in the reception area of the hotel complex able to connect to the internet.

The clocks have all frozen at 2.04. My watch also has frozen, and the analogue date function has stuck on the number ‘4’. Presumably then, whatever happened here did so at 2.04 either am or pm on the 4th of July.

It must be July, as my last memory was driving home from work at around 6pm on the 3rd July, and unless I was unconscious for over four weeks  and somehow kept alive then it is unlikely to be August…

Trying to think rationally then, it seems I was therefore only unconscious for, say, 24 hours. Which would make sense due to my aforementioned lack of hunger and wound condition.

Taking that into account I woke up here at around dusk on 4th July, a matter of hours after the events which caused the complete abandonment or evacuation of every living thing in this resort.


---

That is a lot of presumptions, but presume is all I can really do at the moment. I have often found that my first presumption is the most accurate, so I am going purely on gut feeling and those facts that have presented themselves thus far.

For the sake of argument, if we say the day I awoke was the 4th of July and that was Day #1, then today would be Day #5. The 8th of July.

But back to the start.

I awoke just as the sun was going down in the sky, on a bed in one of the many apartments that comprise this resort. A flicker of a battery symbol with the figure 98%  was emblazoned in front of my eyes; like the effect of looking at a bright light for too long and then shutting your eyes and still being able to see it.

The pain was intense, and as the numbers in front of my eyes faded I sensed something was amiss. I felt injured. My head was blazing and my eyesight blurred, and it took significant effort to stand up and ascertain where I was.

The apartment was, I have since learned, like every other of the 300-odd ones present. All are painted white, all contain a communal sitting room/kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. The room had been cleaned, with fresh towels laid out and two bottles of cold mineral water in the fridge. I instantly gulped one down and almost immediately brought it back up. It tasted divine, but my head throbbed in protest at its iciness and my stomach was completely unprepared for the rush of liquid. I went into the bathroom and caught sight of myself in the mirror. The bandage around my head was fresh and I could see no blood leaking through anywhere so I decided to remove it.

The linen stuck slightly as the last of it unwound, pulling a few strands of hair and some dried brown blood with it, and exposed the gash that had obviously rendered me oblivious. It looked clean and uninfected, so I decided to leave it exposed to the air rather than reapply the bandage. There were no sutures so I assumed it wasn’t that serious, although I could feel my brain had taken a hell of a shaking inside my skull.

The main door to the apartment was closed but unlocked, with no key in sight, and on stepping out I found myself on a small patio looking out onto a square of identical terraced apartments arranged around a central swimming pool that was shaped like a misshapen ‘B’.

I am, by nature, cautious to a fault, and perhaps it was the sheer silence around me that caused me to stop myself just as I was about to holler a loud ‘Hello?’

There was utter silence.

And I mean utter .

Not even a breath of wind. I knew then and there that I was completely alone in this environment, as no human could ever exist in that sort of absence of noise. Humans make noise, therefore they are. Thus I instantly discarded my first hopeful notion that this was some kind of surprise party, and that my friends and family were going to leap out from various apartments or behind the tall silent palm trees that were spaced evenly around the pool and grounds.

The pervading silence drew me on. The pool was as still as you would expect without a breeze to disturb it. I resisted the urge to leap in and splash about like crazy, but I did test the temperature with my foot.

Oh, before I forget, I was also completely naked and strangely undisturbed by this fact.

The water was warm and smelled faintly of chlorine. It was clear and clean. Nothing unusual. I giddily looked around for signs of life, already knowing I would find none, and took in my surroundings.

The apartments were arranged in a square formation, terraced in rows of ten, with pathways leading out at each corner to some other part of the complex. They were stacked two high, and the upper rooms each had a protruding balcony that jutted out over the apartment underneath to serve the double purpose of outside space for the upper room and a sun shade for the lower one.

I located the shop in the north corner of the apartment square. The door was open and lights were on. A rotating stack of postcards featuring photos of Playa Blanca and its beach were my first indication as to where I was. The confusion was overwhelming, but I kept myself steady and tried not to panic. My first goal was finding some painkillers to stop the intense throbbing in my head.

The shop was obviously meant to cater for people too lazy to leave the hotel complex itself and venture into the town. It had everything from sun cream and toiletries to tins of chili and pasta and even a section of blow-up toys for the pool. I located the drug aisle and broke open a carton of paracetamol. My Spanish is not great but thankfully drug names seem to be roughly the same in Spanish as they are in English. The law-abiding person inside me made me look around to see if there was a cashier or security guard watching me as I broke the top off the container and feverishly swallowed three of the tablets. I instantly chided myself for not looking to see if there were any faster-acting tablets that would give me more instant relief. There were, but as I didn’t want to overdose I kept hold of them until I could find something with a pocket to put on.

There was a rack of beach shorts so I dug out a pair roughly my size and put them on but could find nothing to go on my top as yet. Why I felt the need to dress myself I don’t know. Even hunter gatherers covered themselves in skins so I suppose it was base human sense ingrained over millions of years of evolution that pushed me to clothe myself even though I was totally alone.

The chilled food section had a selection of salami and cheese and some delicious looking olives stuffed with garlic, but I wasn’t hungry so left them in situ and made a mental note of where they were. The cashier’s computer was still on, so I tried to minimise the ringing up screen to see if there was an internet icon anywhere, but it was such a basic machine it seemed to only perform that one function.

I walked around the aisles to see if there was anything else I could use. I picked up a small first aid kit but realised I didn’t really need it so set it back and again made a mental note of its whereabouts.

There was a rack of newspapers in various languages, Spanish, Bild  in German and The Sun  in English. All were dated 3rd July and none contained any useful knowledge that would explain what was going on.

There was a cigarette vending machine, and although I haven’t smoked for seven years and my head was screaming I allowed myself the indulgence of sneaking a couple of Euros from the cashier’s tray and acquiring myself a pack of Lucky Strikes. It felt odd smoking inside the store, and again the responsible person inside coerced me out of the shop to resume my explorations.

I continued through to an open communal area containing two pool tables and a lift in the middle of a winding staircase down to a lower level. A huge skylight above the staircase flooded this area with natural light and I was able to see to the floor below but nothing of interest seemed to be there. There were two more computers in the far extremity of the room in an obvious attempt at creating an internet corner. I shook the mouse on both and the screens linked into life.

My heart leapt a beat when I saw the Google Chrome icon on the desktop and my hands shook so much it took three attempts to double-click on it, but when the screen appeared it just said ‘unable to connect to the internet at this time’. What affected me more was that there was no date or time display in the bottom left of the screen like on normal desktops. Why would anybody have gone to the trouble to remove this function from a PC?

A sense of foreboding crept over me and for the first time I wondered if this was all some kind of weird experiment designed to test human reactions and responses in an uncertain environment. A wave of nausea swept over me, and I must have collapsed or passed out as when I awoke it was pitch black outside and the temperature had dropped considerably.

Although I was not cold, I was alone in an unknown, silent environment, giddy, hungry and in a brightly lit room open to the elements in the dead of night. I had to stave off a panic attack by breathing as deeply as possible and counting to twenty. It seemed to work, but my head was still pounding and I noticed I was still gripping the fast-acting paracetamol so I quickly popped two and stumbled back to the store to grab a bottle of water. The lights were all still on and the cashier’s till was still lit up, and something in me made me go over and switch it off to preserve electricity. I almost laughed out loud when I realised what I had done.

After another cigarette I started to feel very light-headed, and an intense fatigue seemed to grab hold of me. It was all I could do to retrace my steps beside the dimly illuminated poolside back to my room before collapsing on the bed I had woken up on and falling into a deep, deep sleep.

95%

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I have never known a thirst like it when I awoke. It raged, so I stumbled to the bathroom and without thinking turned on the tap and glugged down the liquid that cascaded out without even stopping to consider if it was potable. My stomach cramped and I realised as I caught sight of myself in the mirror that the weird battery icon was flickering in front of my eyes again, like before, only this time it said 95%. Somewhere in between going to sleep and waking up I had lost 3%. The thought stuck in my mind leaving a residue of unease as I headed out of the apartment. I couldn’t place its significance.

The sun was high in the sky and it must have been a least midday as I stepped outside to the grim realisation that I wasn’t just in some weird nightmare. The heat was palpable and I again resisted the urge to leap into the pool, instead heading straight to the store to grab some more bottled water. The silence was still uninterrupted and when I accidentally knocked the stand of postcards over the crash appeared almost deafening. The pain in my head had abated slightly but I noticed I had wet myself in the night for the first time since I was a kid.

I still didn’t feel in the least hungry but put it down to mild shock and forced myself to nibble on a few olives. After that my appetite seemed to surge back and I ripped open some cheese slices and salami and ate the lot, washed down with a carton of ice cold milk. Two or three seconds after I closed the door to the refrigerator it clicked on and started a low humming as it compensated for the heat I must have let in when retrieving the milk. I realised it was the first independent sound that I had heard since waking up that I hadn’t made myself. It sounded wonderful.

Whether it buoyed me with a sense of optimism I don’t know, but I felt the need, indeed the urge, to set my exploratory sights slightly further afield.

The open plan games room in which I had collapsed the night before opened out onto a sunny terrazza with 25 or 30 plastic tables laid around complete with sunbrellas. Every table was empty except for a single ashtray on each. I felt the need to check every single one, but the fag butt that would have indicated the presence of humanity here at some point could not be found.

I went into the cafeteria at the western end of the terrazza and found a slush puppie machine still churning its icy, fruity contents around in an endless tombola. Again, what caused me to reach down and pull out the plug to stop it I don’t know. It was another independent noise, but one I felt I didn’t need to hear. The place still had electricity though, which indicated to me that somewhere on the island there must be a power plant operating somewhere, which might mean a staff to operate it. The lift too was working, but I was damned if I was getting in it.

This terrazza overlooked another swimming pool centred in more rows of apartment blocks and at the eastern end of what I assumed would be the main entrance and reception to the hotel. I skirted round the lift and used the row of stairs to descend to the pool on the other side. At the bottom it was clear that immediately below the terrazza was the main refectory, a huge room accessed by double glass doors that had been locked shut, but looking through which I could see the restaurant could comfortably house over 50 tables and chairs, and running down the entire length of one side of which was the most extensive buffet imaginable.

I tried to open the doors but they wouldn’t give, so I shook harder in the hope they were only locked by the central door key and not bolted into the ground. No good. If I wanted to get in there I was going to have to break them down. I decided now was not the time and headed towards the main reception.

The pool directly in front of the reception was identical to the one outside my room on the other side of the refectory, with an accompanying children’s’ pool beside that had been drained for some sort of works.

As I expected, the reception area was also completely empty. There was a table in the corner with numerous leaflets advertising trips to Timonfaya National Park, aqua-scuba, parasailing and other watersports, and chartered bus tours around the island. Another computer sat solemnly in the corner by a room marked ‘luggage’ but it was completely dead when I tried turning it on.

I went to the check in desk, leapt over and looked out at the room as if I were welcoming a new batch of tourists freshly arrived off the bus. Paperwork was strewn around a central desk with names and dates of arrival, and notes beside each one indicating to which rooms they had been designated. I scanned through all the names but didn’t recognise any of them.

Then a thought occurred to me. I checked the manifest for Room 704, the one I had woken up in. A family called Schuler had checked out on Thursday 3rd July but after that the room was due to be empty for two weeks until the Schoffenhausens arrived on the 16th.

In the back room behind the reception desk there was another computer, buzzing in standby, but it contained only digital records and order slips for the refectory. Again it didn’t seem to have any internet capability.

A cupboard containing around 300 room keys had been hung on the wall above a coffee dispenser, and helpfully there was a key at the bottom marked ‘master’. I took it and put it in the pocket of my beach shorts.

I returned to the refectory and grabbed a plate of food as I was starting to get very hungry. There were baskets of bread, obviously a couple of days old but still fresh enough to eat, and trays of baked beans and little pork sausages that hadn’t yet spoiled in the heat as it seemed the restaurant was climate controlled. There was also a liberal salad display with plenty of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onions and some delicious green chili peppers steeped in vinegar. I stayed away from the meat which looked like pork in a cream sauce.

To the immediate left of the entrance to the room there was a row of drinks dispensers. There was chilled apple and orange juice, Coke and Fanta, and four taps emerging from a fake wooden barrel that promised red and white wine, beer and sangria. The thought crossed my mind that I may have died and ended up in purgatory or even heaven. The temptation to pour myself a vat of white wine to wash down the food was great, but I resolved to remain clear headed at least for the afternoon as I was thinking about leaving the hotel to explore the surroundings.

I walked around with my plate trying to decide where to sit, and the absurdity of the situation suddenly hit me again. What the hell did it matter where I sat? I plumped for a table in the middle of the room so I could see all exits and entrances equally.

Afterwards I went into the kitchen which was decked out in stainless steel and seemed to have every appliance necessary to cook a buffet meal for up to 500 people. There was a huge walk-in freezer stacked high with cuts of meat, frozen vegetables and a larder full of frozen bread rolls. I figured if I did have to stay here for a while I would definitely not go hungry.

On my way out I paused at the wine dispenser and thought ‘to hell with it’. My head was still thumping but I figured it couldn’t get any worse and I had a ready supply of drugs so I popped a couple more and poured a large white wine.

I took myself over to beside the pool and sat down on a sun lounger. The silence was infective. There

was not a single sound except the gentle lapping of the water. I finished my wine and again reflected on my situation. The sheer ludicrousness of it was mind boggling. The alcohol and the heat made me drowsy and I must have nodded off on the lounger.

I wish I hadn’t.

92%

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Alarm. Oh shit.

The sound drilled through my skull as I awoke to a siren blaring in the twilight. The noise level was crashing considering the silence it had replaced. Utterly disorientated, I leapt up from the sun lounger and feverishly scanned the complex to see from where the sound was coming. As my eyes adjusted to the light level I noticed the phantom numbers flashing again in front of my line of vision, then dissipating almost immediately like a firework leaves its trace on your eyelids for a moment after exploding.

92%… 

I didn’t have time to consider it as the alarm was shaking my bones. It was like a bloody World War II U-Boat siren or something. An enormous, piercing, prophetic AWOOOOOGA  that must have been audible five miles away. My mind raced, then panicked, then went strangely calm as sometimes happens in situations of extremity when the mind takes over and keeps you sane.

Apart from my initial desire to stop the sound I was also thinking, what if it drew something towards it? I still hadn’t been outside the hotel complex and so had no idea what was out there. For all I knew, hordes of flesh-hungry zombies could be shuffling with extreme ambition toward this awful night-splitting din. It seemed to be emanating from the rooftops as the sound dipped and ducked like an aural zephyr depending on where I ran. It was echoing off the walls of the apartments, bouncing between the square formation and had nowhere to go, which only served to amplify it. As I ran around experimentally trying to locate the source I noticed it seemed to be loudest as I approached the reception area. Scanning the roof, which was made up almost entirely of glass and shaped in a pyramid formation to allow maximum light penetration, my eyes hit upon two small speakers mounted on the side of the supporting strut that held up the glass sheeting.

Bingo. 

I pushed through the entrance doors to the reception and searched frantically for the staircase that would allow me to ascend to the second storey, but I was damned if I could find it anywhere.

The noise was becoming unbearable and I was convinced that if I wasn’t alone on this island I would soon know about it as who or whatever was out there flocked to investigate. Something inside me told me that I needed to cut the alarm pretty sharpish for that reason. But mostly for my own sanity.

I was still in a state of shock at this point, clutching desperately at numerous straws that would provide some reasoning or explanation for what was happening to me. My head had started throbbing again and it was all I could do to stop myself from leaning over and vomiting all over a large ficus plant in the vestibule. Try as I might I could not see any stairs. The reception was two storeys in height but was open to the ceiling above. And that was made up of the enormous glass pyramid, so there was effectively no need to ascend in here.

In other words I was going to have find a different way to get on the roof.

I raced outside to the swimming pool area and located a pathway between two rows of the terraced apartments. At the end of the pathway was a short flight of stairs that led up to the second storey of apartments. I hiked on to the wall that led round the side of the apartment that I guessed joined on to the upper level of the reception area, and managed to grapple up on top of it. I have never been particularly good with heights and standing above the whole complex I felt light-headed as I looked down to the swimming pool area below. The noise was considerably louder up here. Standing on top of the wall I precariously inched my way towards the glass pyramid roof. There was no purchase so it was a pure balancing act on top of a wall the thickness of a breeze block. There was a light wind but luckily it wasn’t strong enough to affect my balance.

Gradually I got closer, my back aimed at the fall behind me. If I dropped it would be 25 feet straight onto concrete tiles, a guaranteed broken leg or two and maybe even a broken back. The idea of spending the night in the dark unable to move and prone to whatever was heading my way did not fill me with anticipation.

Shuffling sideways across the wall it took me about 90 seconds to make the 30 yards to the support strut that held up the pyramid roof and, more crucially, the alarm speakers.

The sound was impenetrable at this point. I could barely concentrate on putting my feet where they needed to go, but eventually I reached out and grabbed hold of the steel strut. The speakers were, of course, about a foot beyond my longest stretch and I cursed myself as I realised I hadn’t even brought anything to hit them with. I laughed ironically as I realised I would have given every worldly possession to have a baseball bat in my hand right then. Stretching as hard as I could without losing my balance I was still about nine inches short of the speakers which were by now almost comically loud. The sound drilled into my brain and I felt my eyes blurring with pain. It shrieked and whined, a constant nasal pitch that cut through the air like a knife. I strained extra hard in my reach but it was no good. My options were either to turn back and try and locate something to bash the speakers with, or to climb up the steel strut with nothing between me and 25 feet of air but the plate glass on the pyramid.

Shit. 

Then I noticed the power wire running into the top of the speakers. It was stapled down to the strut but there was a small loop where it left the support and ran into the top of the left hand speaker. If I could somehow hook my finger through that loop and tug hard enough I could maybe sever the connection and cut the alarm. That, however, was going to involve a jump.

Drawing a deep breath, I focused my eyes on the loop of wire, willing my fingers to go where they needed to go. As I crouched down to get some momentum for the leap the distance between my outstretched arm and the speakers got greater, so I took a second to re-adjust my aim.

Then I jumped.

My hip came down on the strut at the very second my index finger slipped through the loop of wire and tugged it from its housing, and for a second I was perfectly balanced. Then the wire came out. On the plus side the noise stopped instantly, and I was so grateful that for a split second I forgot my predicament. But because I had no longer got a grip on the wire my only point of contact was my right hip on a steel beam no more than six inches thick.

Gravity took over as it had every right to do. My body weight pulled me over and I realised with horror that I was about to land on the plate glass of the roof on my back. The strut was only an inch or two proud of the glass and so the fall wasn’t far, more of a repositioning, but I gasped as my shoulders impacted on the glass sheeting, waiting for the crack and the weightless fall to the deck below that was sure to come.

Somehow the glass held me. I guess I must have lost a bit more weight


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that I had expected. I was lying on my back 25 feet above the reception area, on a sheet of glass, somehow suspended. My mind whirled as I looked for a way to get myself out of this predicament. The gradient of the slide was just great enough to stop me from slipping.

At first.

But I was still dressed only in beach shorts with nothing on top. Normally the traction of the skin on my back might have been enough to stop me from sliding down the glass, but that didn’t account for the heat and the exertion that had caused some pretty severe sweating to occur in that area. I groaned in realisation as I began slipping down the glass towards the edge. My hands desperately grasped for some purchase, but all they found was the inch of steel strut that was proud of the glass. My grip wasn’t strong enough.

In the silence that had returned since I’d disconnected the alarm my scream was all that could be heard as I slid off the roof and the ground rushed up to meet me.

Then all I knew was blackness.

90%

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The numbers came before consciousness.  

Dimly I was aware of the flashing as I lolled in the darkness. At first they were too blurry, as if I was viewing them through water, then a rush almost as if I had surfaced and a prick of light formed in the distance.  

90% 

It got closer and closer as I felt myself come around, blazing proudly in my line of sight, emblazoned upon the darkness that surrounded me. Then as always they faded away to ghostliness, leaving only the spectre of uncertainty that I had come to accept but not yet comprehend. 

The world was a blur but I could sense a rhythmic bleeping, pulse-like, in the distance. I could sense the heat presence of other people, the warm draught of a body close to mine, passing by it and disturbing the air pressure ever so slightly. 

I was aware of voices, maybe two males in low conversation and a higher pitched female in the background providing some sort of commentary. My body was numb; I couldn’t feel or control any of my limbs in the blackness. Only a constant, uncomfortable pressure existed on my chest, as if someone had laid a large flat stone on my sternum. I could breathe, but with every breath a dolorous pain rolled into my lungs and the pressure on my chest seemed to force the air out again as quickly as I could take it in.  

The throbbing in my head had rescinded to a dull ache now, and although I was definitely not fully conscious I seemed aware of all my other senses. A sharp smell lingered in the air, like the tang a dentist’s drill leaves after it has performed. It hung over another smell; a pleasant, clean odour like a room that has just been disinfected.  

I racked my brain for some semblance of logic that would clarify the situation.  Was I alive or dead? Was I alone or in company? Was I awake or asleep? Nothing seemed to make sense in the blackness in which my head swam. Unseeing but aware. Unaware but feeling. Unfeeling but sensing. I sensed, therefore I was. That’s all I was. The world was a mixture of scents and sounds but no sights, fused together in mutual darkness. 

The voices seemed to grow louder, but at the same time they seemed farther away. I was drifting, rolling on some unknown surface towards consciousness and just as I thought I was about to break through and finally, deliciously, gain the knowledge I sought the world exploded again in a massive deluge of pain, my chest expanding as if fit to burst, and the light that grew from the pinprick at the back of my vision expanded in a split second to be all-encompassing.  

And then, once again in its beauty, I knew no more. 

86%

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I awoke again in darkness. But not the darkness of oblivion, that of night. Again the figures were already fading by the time I realised I was awake. This time an eight and a six succeeded by the percentage.

Down to 86%, but what the heck did this mean? 

I was lying on my back, in the open air, looking at the stars above as they slowly disappeared. Gingerly I attempted to move and to my amazement I found I could sit up easily. There was no pain. Only the slight tang of the night cold on my bare skin. Even my head was relatively clear.

Taking in my surroundings I felt an almost serene calm. I was lying at the foot of the steps leading up to the reception area of the hotel complex, exactly in the spot I would have expected to land after sliding off the glass roof.

Had I been hallucinating when I heard the voices?  

Or was I stuck in some kind of sick nightmare?  

There was nobody around me, no voices within inches of my face as I had felt in my sleep. No pressure on my chest. No smell of disinfectant.

I checked my body all over but could sense no broken bones or serious cuts, only the stiffness in my back where I had been lying on the concrete, obviously for a few hours as darkness had descended and only the sound of a light breeze and the rippling pool broke the interminable silence.

I rose to my feet and stretched the stiffness from my back while looking above me at the ledge. I simply couldn’t believe I’d emerged from a fall like that unscathed. I checked myself all over once again to be sure, but not even a scratch. I remembered the fall, time passing almost in slow motion as I slipped off the glass sheeting and into mid-air. I hadn’t twisted around so I must have come down on my feet or at least my side rather than landing on my head. That sort of accounted for my lack of injury but not for my period of unconsciousness. I didn’t recall the impact so considered the possibility that I had fainted in fear or shock before I hit the ground. Unlikely, as I’ve never fainted before to my knowledge.

It was inexplicable, but then so were my circumstances in Lanzarote.

Then I remembered the alarm. Surely a noise like that must have attracted some attention? Seemingly not, as I remained alone and had obviously been out a good few hours now that night had fallen.

I stood in the spot I had landed for a while, just thinking, trying to fathom some sense from it all but nothing came to me. My head seemed blank, like I had woken from a drunken, dreamless sleep with no cognitive thought for hours.

I moved over to the edge of the pool and peered at my reflection in the water. The head wound was still there and my eyes were blurred and bloodshot, but I was still me. I splashed the cool water on my face and over my shoulders and back. It smelled clean, chlorine-scented. Part of me wanted to take a huge gulp and I realised I was still incredibly thirsty, so I headed into the refectory. The lights were all still blazing and the room was eerie in its emptiness. At the drinks machine I filled a plastic cup with ice cold drinking water and downed it in one gulp, then filled it again and moved around the room sipping slowly. The food was still there, still unspoiled, still temptingly warm from the residual heat of the day.

Why hadn’t it gone off yet? 

Surely three days in the heat of Lanzarote, even in an air conditioned room, would cause food to start ripening? Yet there were no flies present. No ants or bugs of any sort crawling over it. It remained as it had obviously been served, in long rows of stainless steel containers, tilted forward slightly to make apportioning more accessible for the diners as they selected their meal.

I ripped apart a small baguette and dipped it in a bowl of creamy salad dressing. It tasted fantastic, so I tried the blue cheese dressing and the thousand island too. They were all as good as each other, and I spent a few minutes selecting various morsels and trying them out. It occurred to me in a moment of paranoia that they could be poisoned and I’d double over in agony and die within hours. But why would anyone have gone to the trouble of putting me here if they wanted me dead? The thought again occurred that I must have been entered in some scientific experiment to test the effects of solitude on the psyche. It just didn’t make sense so I figured what the hell and continued eating a very fine potato salad and some rabbit stew that tasted as good as any home cooked meal I’ve ever had.

After my impromptu meal I felt the need for a drink, and pulled myself a huge cold tankard of beer from the drinks ‘barrel’ in the far corner. The beer was like the tonic I needed to shake myself into action, and after a refill I decided to head back to the reception area and locate the entrance to the complex, or what would actually be my exit.

The reception area resolved itself into an exit in the shape of more glass, this time a vestibule in clear glass sheeting that had automatic sliding doors to the outside. I peered through and could clearly see a road running past the outside of the complex illuminated by streetlights. The road was populated by various parked cars along the sidewalks, utterly still in the night air. The glass exit doors would not open, even when I stood under the motion sensor and waved my arms about to try and jaunt them into action.

Weird, I thought. Why would all the other electrically operated devices be working except the entrance/exit doors?

I remembered the lift in the games room hadn’t worked either. Perhaps they were just the victim of a lack of maintenance.

I tried inserting my fingers into the small rubber sealed gap between the two doors but they were too tightly sealed. I didn’t fancy smashing the glass to get outside as the thought occurred to me that they might provide a vital barrier in future should I need to keep myself within the grounds of the hotel. For now I resolved to leave them shut and locate some sort of crowbar or jimmying device to wedge them open.

As a matter of course I checked behind the reception desk to see if there was an open or release button for the doors, but nothing presented itself.

I scouted around further for a maintenance closet in which some fastidious janitor may have kept his tools, but again there was nothing but a door marked left luggage, and when I found the key for that behind the desk it revealed nothing but an empty room with floor to ceiling shelves meant for supporting the luggage that the hotel guests needed to store upon arrival if their rooms were not yet ready.

The two beers had made me feel good, slightly drunk but still perfectly compus and I found myself slipping into that median world between intoxication and sobriety. It was a familiar feeling, and one I tried to avoid when on my own as it always made me reminiscent, almost nostalgic. I found myself curiously devoid of emotions in this instance, and figured I deserved another beer.

Heading back out into the main square I skirted round the refectory and headed up to the level above where I had encountered the café and games room. The café was still lit, and I was somewhat relieved to see that the Slush Puppie machine was still inactive after I had pulled out the plug. Something told me if that had started up again of its own accord I would have freaked out and seriously started to doubt the legitimacy of my isolation. Rounding the bar I poured myself another large beer and went outside to the terrazza. I sat on one of the plastic yellow chairs at the plastic yellow tables and inhaled the night air. I wondered what time it was. I’ve never been very good at determining the time of day or night by looking at the position of the sun or the moon, and my geographical awareness of compass points is pretty poor too.

Noticing the ashtray on the table I remembered I had a pack of Luckies and fished them out. I lit one and inhaled a lungful of blue smoke, took a mouthful of beer and felt strangely content.

If this is my lot then it could be a damn sight worse.  

I suppose hell is being trapped in one’s most uncomfortable and unfamiliar environment for eternity. It is therefore relative; hell for one man could mean heaven for another.

I discounted the possibility that I could be in hell. For a start, I’m not religious and have never believed in its existence anyway, but being a solitary person by nature being alone has never really bothered me. Nor has the sunshine. And I am partial to a beer or two. So how could this possibly be hell?

I had finished my third beer and went inside to pour a fourth. I had a good buzz on by this stage, augmented by smoking, and the idea of a midnight dip was appealing. I hadn’t washed since my arrival, and a good dunk in the pool felt just the ticket. When I had splashed the water over me at the poolside I had done so without thinking about the possibility of the water being contaminated, but it seemed as clear and clean as if it had been dredged that morning.

In my beer buzz I had forgotten all about trying to get out of the complex with the availability of free beer literally on tap. With my beer I went out the pool edge and procrastinated.

Should I start exploring now?  

Firstly I had to locate a tool to jimmy the glass doors open, then even if I did get outside the complex it was the middle of the night and I was getting pretty drunk. I decided I would put it off until morning, and resolved to get myself in gear the following day to seek out some answers as to what the hell had happened to me and why I was here.

All this thinking on top of the beer and I was becoming tired, almost lethargic. I reasoned it was because of a combination of stress, a significant fall and a blackout, and that my body was actually under a deal of strain. Not to mention the head injury, although that by now had healed over well and wasn’t causing me much discomfort.

I stood and stared into the water, the reflections of the palm trees shimmering on its surface, amplified by the bright lights of the reception area and restaurant. It had a mesmerising effect, and I almost drifted off to sleep standing up. That sparked me into action, and taking a deep breath I launched myself head first into the pool, still carrying my beer, almost without thinking.

The coldness beneath the surface seemed to prick my whole body with thousands of tiny needles, but almost instantly I adjusted to the change in temperature and felt as alive as I ever had. I surfaced and a huge laugh burst from my chest. I felt euphoric, free and awake for the first time in this place, and the water seemed to wash away any sense of foreboding I had up to that point.

I dove under again and propelled myself the whole width of the pool underwater, noticing that the silence beneath was even greater than that above the surface. The only sound was my own heart pumping in my chest and the blood rushing to my ears.

After my swim I felt invigorated, but still exhausted. I swallowed another small beer in the café and played a couple of games solo on the pool table in the games area. I tried the computer again in the corner for signs of connectivity, restarting and rebooting it, but again nothing.

The beer took its effect and I decided to head back to my room. I took the back route past the pool outside reception and through a maze of small pathways, all lit and maintained pristinely with small cacti bordering them. The whole place had an air of extreme seclusion. I couldn’t quite get over the silence. Apart from my own actions I hadn’t heard a single other noise bar the wind, not even a cat’s meow or a dog’s bark, not even a cricket singing in the bushes.

Something terrible must have happened here, I thought. Something that I survived.

That gave me a renewed sense of resolve and instead of locating my room I realised that because I held the master key I could simply sleep wherever I wanted. I could sense dawn was breaking as I threaded up through a row of apartments and located another staircase. Caution prompted me to take a second floor apartment subconsciously, and at the top I took a random left right left until I stood in front of Room 314. It seemed as good as any.

I let myself in and turned on the lights. The room was empty. In the fridge there were two identical bottles of chilled water, so I opened one and headed to the bedroom off the main living area. The bed had been perfectly made up and the sheets were clean and soft. I climbed in and was asleep almost immediately. I didn’t even bother to lock the door.

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After a breakfast of bread, grapefruit and baked beans I began my hunt for the janitor’s closet. The Sun Royal complex was made up of two distinct sections within two outer rings of apartments. The outer ring bordered the main road at the eastern end and scrubland was on all of the other three sides. The scrubland was fenced off by a wire mesh fence, 10 feet high all the way around to prevent ingress of animals I suppose, and apart from a section at the south east corner at which only a six foot solid wall separated the apartments from the main road the whole complex was pretty secure.

The inner ring of apartments all fronted onto the pool areas, with a pool in each section separated by the café and games room on the top level and the restaurant on the bottom level.

I figured any maintenance area would be kept well out of sight of the paying guests and I was right. It was located behind the restaurant and accessed by the spiral staircase in the games room which I had encountered on my first evening but had thought led to nothing.

The numbers this morning flashed 83% when I awoke in Room 314. I had only had a couple of hours sleep as the sun was still in its ascent when I emerged but I felt fully refreshed, if a little hung over. Instead of skirting around the pool to get to the restaurant for breakfast I simply plunged into it and swam to the other side, then hurled myself out dripping and straight into the refectory. I considered pouring a sangria but resisted and a couple of cups of superb coffee got me in the mood for the search.

As I descended the staircase I noticed that this was definitely the most neglected area of the hotel. Dust was strewn on top of piles of chairs, and there were various unopened boxes casually piled in corners which meant this was not an area for casual habitation.

The maintenance closet was built in under the stairs, and the door had very helpfully been left unlocked and indeed wide open. Rooting through a pile of oily rags I found some very useful tools, a powerful torch, and, bingo , a crowbar. I uncovered a heavy duty workman’s belt with various pockets and pouches for holding them in. I put it on and stuffed into the pockets a pretty serious looking foldable knife (a little blunt but serviceable), a chisel and a can of oil.

With my new found equipment I headed back up the stairs and out of the games room back to reception.

The sun was blazing and I paused for a moment to take stock of my options over a cup of ice cold sangria from the tap in the café bar. It steeled my nerves and I realised I was actually getting pretty apprehensive about leaving the hotel compound. However unknown my situation was, at least I was seemingly safe and well stocked within. Leaving was almost admitting to myself that something was wrong, and I was having trouble doing that. I felt giddy, a bit shaky, but having the crowbar galvanised me and I felt more equipped to deal with an exploration now I had some kind of weapon at least. I sank another sangria and that helped even more.

Back in reception I stood in front of the glass double entrance doors and took a deep breath. I didn’t wish to smash them open since they may offer some sort of protection, however feeble, should I need to make a rapid retreat back inside the hotel. Try as I did I couldn’t find the resolve to go to work and actually start prizing the doors open. I must have stood there for a good few minutes, just starting at the doors and wondering what was going to happen if I stepped outside the grounds of the hotel.

Eventually I summoned the balls to step up and insert the crowbar in the rubber joint that separated the two heavy glass doors.

They came apart quite easily; they must have been on some sort of ball bearings because once I opened a gap big enough to slip my fingers in the doors slid apart with only a small amount of effort on my part. Steeling myself I took my first tentative steps outside of the hotel.

I don’t know whether it was my overdeveloped senses playing up but the air seemed thicker on the street; impossible of course as it was exactly the same air as I had been breathing inside.

There was a heady scent to it, like all the plants on the island had decided to exhale at the same time, a cloying scent of aloe vera and tarmac and hotness. It was pleasant, but a little foreboding at the same time.

Unsurprisingly the street was deserted. It was long and straight, probably half a mile long, and the hotel was bang in the middle so looking both left and right I wasn’t presented with any concrete ideas about which way to turn.

Directly opposite the entrance to the hotel was a collection of whitewashed apartments, but then nothing but open scrubland for what I guessed was about two or three miles until the skyline was broken by a range of mountains, brown and resolute in the morning sun. Due east of those in the direction of north I could assume a coastline, so I turned right towards the sea not really knowing what I was looking for but instinctively heading towards water instead of inland.

The pavement was made up of oblong white ceramic tiles to minimise heat absorption, but my bare feet were still getting pretty warm in the sun. I was still wearing only my beach shorts and now my tool belt. I walked slowly, listening for sounds and desperately trying to detect movement both in front of me and in my peripheral vision, half-hopeful and half-terrified in case I actually spied something.

A few hundred yards on there was another set of apartments within a block, all whitewashed and almost identical to those in the THB Sun Royal. This was Sun Park, billed as a ‘Summer’s village for the over 50s.’ The front doors were glass as well, and I squinted through. The reception area was as dead as I expected. Not a single movement within. I pried at the doors with my crowbar and again the doors came apart easily. I stepped inside and instantly the air was cooler. There was no glass pyramid making up the roof of this entrance area and the sun had no way of penetrating. The reception desk stood unmanned. I tried the computer in the corner but was presented with nothing but a blank screen with various Excel spreadsheets and no internet connectivity. The panoramic doors to the rest of the resort were shut tight and I felt absolutely no need to start exploring this hotel so simply turned and exited back onto what I now knew to be Calle Janubio from the street sign up ahead.

Why I felt a twinge of disappointment at the emptiness of Sun Park I don’t know. It was hardly as if I expected gaggle of mature, white-teethed pensioners sauntering by the poolside nursing cocktails and discussing politics, but that was what the poster board at the entrance advertised and I felt slightly short-changed that it hadn’t delivered.

I smoked a Lucky Strike as I walked, savouring the taste of the tobacco in the late morning heat. There were rows of cars parked all the way down Calle Janubio, all empty, and I tried random doors to see if any were open. A few were, but there seemed little use in getting in them as there were no keys in sight. I wondered if any would start if there were.

I realised I was woefully unprepared for the end of the world. I didn’t even know how to hotwire a car. They may have been sat there for years, unused and roasting in the heat of the sun, day in, day out. I wondered how long it took for fuel to go stale and lose the properties of combustion. I remembered a lawnmower I used to have which I had tried to start up after a year or so of being stuck in my garage, which only finally got going after I emptied the tank of the stale fuel and put a gallon of fresh petrol in. If I could perhaps get one of these cars to start it would give an indication that they hadn’t been unused for that long. Now wasn’t the time though.

I came to the end of Calle Janubio and to a crossroads which intersected with Avenue Papagayo. Opposite me stood two imposing hotels, the Princess Yaiza on one side and a much less impressive brown concrete construction called the Hotel Hesperia on the other. I was able to see the sea now, crystal blue and hazy in the heat, lying between the two constructions. I crossed Papagayo and walked through the car park of the Hesperia. The silence was total; the only sound was a slight breeze rustling the leaves of the palm trees that formed the border around the hotel grounds.

Something led me up to the entrance of the hotel. The double doors were wide open, and the breeze had blown an ice cream wrapper inside where it was caught in a rotational spin at the mercy of a through-draught. There must have been another door open inside somewhere to have been creating it.

The reception area was darker and cooler again than the over 50s village. A small fountain gurgled in the corner and I knelt beside it, splashing my face with the tepid water that collected inside. The walls were adorned with juttings-out of black volcanic rock in an attempt to break the monotony of the concrete. Someone had clearly had the idea to make the whole reception appear like some kind of underground bunker, probably trying to make the most of the drabness, but the rocks only looked like growths and put me in mind of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man.

I passed through to the dining area. Again, there was a buffet laid out, stainless steel trays of meatballs and pasta, a soup terrine, huge unwobbling mounds of blancmange and bowls of fresh fruit and yet more pickled chilies. All untouched, all seemingly only a few days old. The meatballs were cold but there was a gas heater under the soup. I managed to locate some matches behind the counter and lit the burner. The smell of bottled gas permeated in my nostrils for a split second before the flame ignited and started to heat the terrine. I waited five or six minutes just staring at the flame while it worked, then the soup started bubbling and the aroma of mushrooms and cream filled the room. I grabbed a bread roll, only slightly stale, and dunked it in the soup. It was delicious.

Suddenly I wept. I don’t know where the tears came from or what they signified, but I stood on the empty canteen with the soup boiling and salty drops running down my face. What was happening to me?  My whole world had been snatched from me, my family, my house, my job, and here I was, alone on the island of Lanzarote, eating week old soup and balling my eyes out.

And that’s when I heard the phone ringing.


---

My first thought was I must have been imagining it. I stopped breathing as if I had been thumped in the chest with a whacker plate. It was definitely there, the shrill double burst of the ringer, followed by a second’s silence, then repeated. It was clearly audible even over the bubbling soup. Instinctively I jolted into action, dropping my bread roll and darting towards the canteen exit in the direction of the sound. The sound got louder and more shrill as I reached the reception area but I couldn’t at first locate it. I had to stand stock still for a precious second before I could accurately pinpoint its origin. It seemed to be coming from through a door behind the reception desk, similar to the one at my hotel. I leapt over the desk and into the back room, where I saw a desk littered with paper and in the corner the phone itself, a red light blinking in time to the rings. My hands were shaking so badly I struggled to grab the receiver but I managed to get it out of its cradle and up to my ear.

At first I couldn’t make anything out. There seemed to be some kind of bleeping in the background, and a low voice but not talking direct into the mouthpiece, it was a background conversation of some sort. It was a female voice, an adult voice, but it was talking so quietly I couldn’t make anything out.

Then somebody spoke direct into the earpiece. It was crystal clear, the only human voice I had heard in days. A child’s voice, maybe four or five years old, lilting and incredibly beautiful. I only made out one word before I fainted clean away.

It said “Daddy?”

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In the drea


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m I was paralysed. I lay on my back unable to move, sweat pouring from me and pooling on the floor under my bare back, whilst shadows stepped over and around me.  

Were they people?

I couldn’t tell. They were puffs of black smoke, shadows that moved like remnants of coal fires dissipating up a chimney, cold and unrecognisable.  

Could they not see me?

The smell was back, the tangy scent of bleach, like when you step into a leisure centre and you instantly catch a whiff of the swimming pool, chorine infused with human perspiration. It was a blur to me. I knew people were there but I couldn’t discern their shape to tell whether they were male or female, old or new, friend or unknown. I swam in and out of sight, but when I could see it was still just a blur. Some of the time I was aware of the voice from the phone, the little boy or girl saying ‘daddy’ over and over, and I knew it was directed at me but I couldn’t answer. I tried to speak and the words simply failed in my mouth, they didn’t even form in the back of my throat but I knew what I wanted to say. It was as if I was having some kind of out-of-body experience but I was still trapped in my own body. It was an in-body, out-of-body phenomenon. Then the numbers began flashing again, bigger and bolder that ever before, a luminous flashing ‘80%’ that filled my whole field of vision, and with it this time a rhythmic bleeping in the background.  

Then something new happened. They started to countdown, slowly at first, from 80% to 75% to 69% to 64% to 60% in the space of what felt like a single percentage per second. A single beep accompanied each decrease, as if it were a bomb counting down to the moment of detonation. Then suddenly, terrifyingly, it got quicker. The numbers sped up, or accurately sped  down, faster and faster, and the beeping got louder and louder, and I was suddenly aware of what it meant. It was my life counting down before my very eyes. The numbers grew bigger the lower they got, 36%, 29%, 22%… 18%… 12%… and as they hit 10% they turned red and the light behind them became blinding until the noise and the light became total and I charged inexorably towards death and the bleeping became one giant shrill screech and the light finally consumed me and everything I knew. 

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The stench of burning filled my nostrils as I came round. I was lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, wisps of black smoke curling around the light fittings. The phone receiver was still in my hand, curled around my arm as I had gone down. The floor was rock hard and cold, and I gingerly raised the receiver to my ear as I remembered the reason I had blacked out. Instead of hearing that sweet voice again, there was nothing. Not even a ring tone. The phone had fallen on the floor as well and cracked open. A chip board emerged from the central seal in a kind of mocking salute that seemed to say ‘you will never get me to work again.’

I got to my feet as quickly as the stiffness would allow and tried to gather my senses. I had fainted in sheer shock at hearing my daughter’s voice, and I was sure it was my daughter, how could a father mistake their own child’s voice?

Then the burning smell registered in my brain and I sensed the change in the air quality. It was coming from the restaurant, and in a moment of horror I realised I had left the gas burner on and it was still boiling the soup.

Black smoke poured out of the entrance doors to the restaurant but I could just make out the shape of the buffet and the large copper soup terrine that I had eaten from earlier. How much earlier I couldn’t be sure, but it must have taken a good half hour for all that soup to burn away and the terrine to start getting very angry at the persistent gas flame underneath it.

I definitely needed to get in there to stop the flame before it started to spread, but the smoke was thick and billowing and I needed some sort of filter to block it out. I grabbed a table cloth from a tourist display in the lobby and plunged it into the fountain nearby. Once it was thoroughly soaked I wrapped it around my nose and mouth as tightly as possible, took a deep breath and ran back to the restaurant.

The smoke stung my eyes and made them stream with water and I could feel tendrils of it creeping through my rudimentary mask, threatening to stop my lungs as I kicked past tables and chairs in a blind frenzy. I barked my shin against one and cried out as a bolt of pain shot up my leg and resolved itself somewhere in my chest.

I reached the copper pot and saw it had turned red hot in the flame, the soup inside long melted away and just a charred mess welded to the sides as the heat continued to cook it. Shielding my eyes from the heat I managed to reach under the table it sat on to get at the gas canister underneath. The tube running up to the hob under the terrine had already started to melt, and I realised that if I had remained unconscious for even a few more minutes it could have gone completely and exposed the contents of the gas canister to the open flame. I didn’t want to think about what kind of explosion that could have caused.

The handle atop the canister was also red hot and I had to lean down and loosen a portion of my tablecloth mask to wrap round it and try to turn it off. It hissed in protest as the wet cloth closed around it and I felt the heat rapidly start to transfer to my hand. Whether it had melded shut with heat or whether it was just a quirk of fate I don’t know, but I couldn’t get the damn thing to turn and shut off the gas. Meanwhile the feeder tube was getting slicker and slicker as the rubber melted away. I surmised I needed either to shut the thing off or get the heck out of there in the next 30 seconds. I twisted the handle with all my might, but it would not close, and when I felt the searing pain as the heat worked its way through the wet cloth and started to bite into my palm I knew I had to give up and get out. With one last ditch attempt I tried to kick the soup container off its housing, but was screwed in place and didn’t budge an inch.

The smoked clawed at my lungs, acrid and choking, and I kept low as I made my way to the exit. Visibility was slightly better in the reception area, and thankfully I had left the lobby door open when I had come in earlier.

I emerged into the bright sunshine of the afternoon and just as I sucked in my first lungful of fresh air a huge bang forced me to instinctively duck and hit the ground, seconds before a wave of heat and smoke and flame blew out of the doors behind me.

Had I been inside I would have been toast.

I stayed low until the heat subsided, crawling away from the entrance to the hotel on my hands and knees, half dazed and half choked. The heat from the blast combined with the heat from the midday sun meant the sweat was lashing off me, and my eyes were still stinging from the smoke as I made my way to the far end of the car park.

As I reached the pathway that led down to the beachside I glanced behind me to see a grey cloud billowing out of the Hesperia’s entrance lobby. A combination of smoke inhalation and mild shock caused me to hurl my guts up on the spot. It was then I decided I had never needed a beer so badly in my life.


---

The path opposite the hotel led down to the beach and the salty tang in the air got stronger. It began to clear my lungs of the smoke I had inhaled. Behind me I could hear the hotel raging as it burned over my shoulder I could see a black cloud rising into the sky. I felt inexplicably detached from the incident already.

So what if the hotel burned down? What good did it serve any more anyway?  

There were no people around to stay in it. My mind was focused solely on getting to a bar so I could have a beer or two and think about the phone call. When the voice had spoken it had sent a jolt of electricity down my spine as if it had leapt from the earpiece directly into my body.

My daughter. My little girl. Where was she? How had she known I would be in the Hotel Hesperia at that time? Why had she called me there instead of coming in person? Where were the rest of my family? If they knew I was here why weren’t they coming to get me?

I had only heard the one word spoken yet I was convinced it was her. My little girl. I could picture her beautiful round little face as I always did when I was speaking to her on the phone and not in person, grinning and showing her slightly squiffy teeth which she was so very excited about falling out in a couple of years so her ‘big’ teeth could take their place. She only ever wanted to be a big girl. Why was I thinking about her in the past tense? My mind must have been run ragged by the events of the past few days and I wasn’t thinking straight.

Myriad thoughts flooded my mind as I emerged from a tunnel and into the broad daylight again with the beach stretching out in front of me. Empty. Sun loungers lay pointed at the water in perfect rows, inviting the tide in, then turning it away a few hours later, day after day, month after month. I wondered how long this place had been this way. Had it only been five or six days, or had this beach ever seen human activity? Sure, there were towels scattered on a few of the loungers, beer bottles half drunk on the plastic tables next to them that people had probably paid an extra Euro or two for the privilege of having somewhere to stand their drinks during the day instead of on the roasting sand, countless cigarette butts on the pavements, but were these simply manifestations of my subconscious? Had my mind simply put them there because that is what I would expect to see as part of a beachside environment?

I now doubted the very existence of everything around me. My nihilistic tendencies were causing me to reject what my eyes could see right in front of me. All I wanted was to get off this island and get back to my family.

Anger coursed through me, I could feel my veins widening at the futility of it. I needed a plan. Some plan of action.

I began to run. I think it was out of exasperation. Suddenly I wanted to know instantly what was in every building, every hotel, down every side street in this ridiculous place. I already knew there were no people here, but if I could prove that fact then at least I would then know I could rely on nobody else but myself to get out of this situation. I wanted to find someone, anyone , tear information out of them, make them talk and tell me why this was happening to me.

Emotion got the better of me and I collapsed on the sandy beach, reaching to the sky and screaming in vain. I don’t know what I yelled. ‘You can’t do this to me’ or ‘somebody help for god’s sake!’ or some shit like that. Whatever it was, nobody heard and nobody came. Only the waves answered with their inexorable lapping. I lifted my face towards the horizon, sand clinging to my tears, and gazed at the vast blue expanse of ocean in front of me. I could see another island, it must have been Fuerteventura, rising out of the blue sea maybe two or three miles away. Could I swim for it?

I could just wade into the water now, I told myself. I wasn’t in the best physical shape but hey, at least I was wearing swimming shorts. How long would it take to swim three miles? Was it even three miles though? Distance is hard to judge on the water. It could have been 10 miles for all I knew. What if I cramped up or got attacked by a shark?

I was overanalysing the situation. I should just jump in, what did I have to lose? But a part of me knew that no matter if I made the swim in one piece and got to the island across the sea, I would be in no better a position than I was now.

For there would be nobody there .

Hope had deserted me.

I collapsed on my back in the sand and stared at the bright blue sky. I desperately wanted to be asleep, or unconscious, anything so that I didn’t have to deal with this stunning sense of isolation and solitude. But I had spent a good portion of the last five or six days out like a light, and my body was pumped with the adrenaline of the run. So I sat and regained my breath, with the sun on my bare back and sand in my hair.

One solitary cloud hung above me. It looked a bit like a plane, and a bit like a shotgun. At that moment I would have given all I owned for either.

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The hotel burned for three days. There was no way I could stop it. At first it just seemed to smoke and smoke, with plumes of black cascading into the perfect blue sky. I watched it while sitting in a bar on the beach, wondering whether to have beer or sangria or start on something a lot harder.

By my third beer I could feel the heat cascading off it, the air itself seemed to be melting even though I was a good 500 yards away. I drank, losing myself in the roar emanating from it. What the heck was burning? I asked myself. It was just one almighty block of concrete.

At around 4pm an almighty explosion seemed to rock the whole beach. Then the flames assumed their totally unchallenged hold and the Hesperia seemed to audibly sigh as it became engulfed. The boiler unit must have caught, or the heat had reached a store of gas canisters or something. Whatever, nobody was going to want to stay there anymore and it was all down to me. I felt curiously detached from my actions. Was I a criminal? I hadn’t reported the incident after all. Who could I report it to? All the phones were dead. I heard no alarms as fire engines came rushing to extinguish the blaze. No sirens as police came to administer control. Nothing. Just the crack and whoosh of an enormous ball of black flame less than a quarter of a mile away. Once or twice what breeze there was changed direction and the plume threated to engulf the beach, but at the last moment it steadied itself and continued its rise straight up into the azure heavens above the hotel.

I spent those days in a kind of wild daze, alternating between periods of desperate mania and extreme calm depending on how much I drank. Mostly it was until I blacked out, hoping that something would happen to me in my stupor that would either end or clarify my circumstances. Nothing did, and when I awoke each time, whether my mattress was the golden sand of the beach, or the wooden floor of a beer shack, or the hard unyielding boulders that lined the promenade, my mind was no more at rest than when I had gone under, and the pain that filtered through my brain like the march of the fire ants was the only thing that made me aware I was really alive. Even the numbers had disappeared, the flashing percentages that taunted me each time I came round. They had disappeared along with any semblance of hope I had held on to, and so I existed solely on a plain of nihilism, unwilling to either deny or accept this… this Pripyat  that smothered me in its arms, uncaring, but also unwilling to let me escape from its grasp. And each time I woke, I yearned for the numbers to return, the only things give me some indication as to when this whole nightmare would end.

And on the fourth day, as I was people watching on the promenade, they did.

72%

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Talk about heel dragging. It must have been my tenth day on the island of Lanzarote that I decided I needed to formulate some kind of action plan. What that would be eluded me but I had been going all Edgar Allan Poe on myself, so to lighten the mood I began traversing the streets of Playa Blanca in the belief that if I walked around for long enough something would present itself. But as Mr Dylan may or may not have written before arriving at the actual lyric, how many roads must a man walk down before he knows what the fuck to do?

Calles came and went, some of them sprinkled with the ashy detritus that had once been part of the Hotel Hesperia. It occurred to me, as I sat in El Restaurant Tipico Espanol eating a side salad of lemony squid and spicy aioli, what if there had been guests in the upper rooms of the hotel? My mind grasped at the thought of women and children clinging desperately to balconies as the flames crept toward them, eventually being forced to leap to the ground below to escape the heat. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t finish the bottle of cold Sancerre I had found chilling to perfection in the commercial fridge at the back of the restaurant, and had to hotfoot it back the to the smouldering hotel to check for bodies amongst the rubble. A momentary lapse of reason. Had I actually hoped I would find one? Maybe.

When I found nothing but ashen lumps of concrete amidst the structure I laughed out loud. The sound bit sharply through the dull, lifeless fizz of burning rubble around me, and for a brief moment, a rare shard of hope that lodged in my throat and wouldn’t go down, I imagined somebody else had issued it; that another human had been silently watching me stand amongst the lifeless concrete remains and had been unable to stifle a bark of humour at the sight. Scanning the terrain, I saw nothing but tendrils of black rising upwards to pollute the undefiled blue sky, turning orange as the day gave up and evening stepped in.

I thought about returning to my hotel. I could use a shower and after my three-day bender I needed a sense of familiarity (however strange that may sound) and perhaps a comfortable bed to sleep in instead of sand. But something drew me back to the main drag that ran through Playa Blanca for one last recce before I turned in.

There were rows of souvenir shops along Avenida Papagayo . For a while I just walked in and out of these gaudy money-traps, semi-naked, with my tool belt about my waist, trying on baseball caps emblazoned with varying messages. Most simply said Lanzarote , but I found one that announced I LOVE BIKINIS  and decided in a moment of brazen manliness, very unbecoming of an educated man trying to cling to his 30s, to wear it. It gave me a sense of placement, an acceptance that I was but a tourist here even though I was the only one. I suppose you could look at it as a gesture of self-deprecation, of suppliance to my surroundings. As if I was giving in and saying, OK, fine, keep me here if that’s what you want . I was torn between acquiescing to and defying the unseen power that had placed me here.

Was I beginning to feel a curious attachment to this place or was I going mad? Potentially both, I thought. Playa Blanca was definitely not the most attractive tourist resort in the world, but relatively speaking it was still a haven. How many families had stood where I was, in the cramped aisle of a Spanish tourist shop, perhaps scolding excited children as they grabbed at the displays of rubber water pistols and cheap sunglasses, picking up giant loofahs and making jokes about their resemblance to cocks, maybe just trying to escape the heat outside for a few delicious seconds to bask in an icy blast of air conditioning.

I needed a glass of wine or something, I find I think better with a drink, and I needed to sit somewhere and come to terms with this bout of Stockholm Syndrome that seemed to be drawing me closer to this abandoned paradise.

I walked in silence down to the promenade. The sun was setting and casting a beautiful golden glow over the sand. The waves lapped and the breeze cooled. The lights along the strand flickered into life, as they had done the last three nights that I had spent as a vagrant, which at the time I hadn’t even consciously acknowledged. The stuff we take for granted! Never before had I thought to question where the power had come from, even back in my own country. It was just assumed that every evening, as the dark drew in, lights would automatically come on to illuminate the streets and make life as easy as possible for those who expected it. Were they automatic? Who turned them on? I pictured some small old trabajador sitting in a shack somewhere on the island, beside an electric grid station, who was employed every evening at around 7pm to glance up from his novel, check the time and lean over to press the switch that brought light to the streets of Lanzarote, then go back to his chair until sunrise. Perhaps called Juan. Juan the Light Man.

I approached the bar in El Gordo and ordered from an unseen barman, as if I were Jack Torrance.

“Una botella de Rose, por favour Miguel.”

As Imaginary-Miguel nodded approvingly, uncorked and poured I casually glanced around the bar to check out the other patrons.

They were mostly the obligatory Brits Abroad, red faces poking out of football shirts and shaven headed kids eating chicken nuggets, so I took my wine out onto the Promenade and imagined myself doing what the Spanish do best. People watching.

The alcohol made me lethargic, almost tunnel-visioned, and I stared as the people strolled by in the early evening balm. Couples young and old holding hands, parents pushing prams with sleeping children, more trabajadors in paint stained overalls sitting on the stone walls above the beach, smoking and laughing and shouting animatedly at each other, waiters bustling around tables that extended out of open-plan restaurants and encroached onto every spare bit of the promenade that was acceptable, delivering steaming trays of cockles in wine sauce, pork escalopes and huge paellas, old men sitting on benches doing exactly the same as me, drinking wine and watching the world go by. The sound of voices was everywhere in my ears, the scent of perfume and food and sea salt stung my nostrils. People laughing, people shouting, people existing as people had for hundreds of years on this strange volcanic outcrop somewhere off the coast of Africa, but above all people! It was a vision of life as I had known, and perhaps never would again.

And then, just as a gorgeous camarera with flowing black hair and a note pad approached me to take my order, I snapped out of it.

And there I was, alone again, on the promenade, the waves making their incessant march and retreat on and off the sand below me in a world that nobody else inhabited, and I cried. I cried huge salty tears that streamed down my cheeks and plopped into my rose, and I still don’t know why. They weren’t tears of despair, or tears of pain, or tears of sadness. I think they were just tears of disbelief.

Still crying like a schoolboy who missed his mummy, actually blubbing by now, the force of emotion pouring out of me like shit from a sewage pipe, the urge to urinate came over me. Rather than go there on the cobbled street I resolved to act like a human and find a bathroom. I presumed there would be one in the restaurant outside which I now sat, wishing the dark haired waitress would reappear, but as I headed inside something caught my eye. It was a flicker behind the bar, a blue neon light stuttering on and off in the shape of an arrow. It was pointing to the far side of the restaurant. It seemed so out of place, being just an arrow rather than one with a sign above it saying Aseos  or something helpful, that I felt compelled to obey it and look where it pointed. There was nothing but a row of indoor plants that separated the restaurant’s main floor from what I assumed to be another dining area that had been closed off due to lack of business that evening. The urge again came over me to investigate. It was becoming a dangerous habit. The last investigatory impulses I had followed through – the hotel alarm, the phone call in the Hesperia – had led to nothing but trouble. Life-threatening trouble at that. But the impulse was too strong.

If I don’t trust my urges in this place then I will get nowhere, I thought.

The row of plants shielded very little as it turned out. Just a back room with nothing in it but a row of tables and a full-length mirror on the far wall. At first I paid the mirror no attention. Maybe it was the sight of myself with 10 days of stubble and wearing nothing but a pair of board shorts and a tool belt. There seemed little in this room that would be of any use to me, but as I turned to head back to the main restaurant again I caught something in the corner of my eye. It came from the bottom left corner of the mirror… again a kind of blue neon flickering. At first I thought it may be the reflection of the arrow sign from the restaurant, but as I chanced a second glance I saw what it really was.

They were flashing numbers, like the countdown on a bomb. I stepped nearer to get a better look, squinting my eyes as I did so to bring the numbers into focus. It was a small rhythmic pulse that flashed every second or so: 74… 73… 72… 71… 

I stood transfixed, not knowing what they meant or what was going to happen. As the numbers got lower, 62… 61… 60…  they started to speed up. By the time I reached the mirror they were flashing down at the rate of three or four a second.

As they continued their inexorable drop into the 30s I became aware of an accompanying sound. A low humming, increasing in volume, like the sound of a generator in the distance. It got louder and louder, and in that moment I knew I had about five seconds before something terrible was going to happen.

Glued to the spot, I slowly stood and faced myself in the mirror. The droning sound reached a crescendo, and the very air around me seemed to shake. It was pointless running, but the very second before the sound peaked and the numbers simultaneously hit zero I jerked my body to the left as if to avoid an oncoming missile charging towards me.

It probably saved my life.

Like the sound of a head on collision, the mirror burst open and showered the room with a billion shards of glass. They tore through the restaurant, slicing open curtains and plants and whatever else got in their way. As I dived for cover one glanced my eyebrow and happily took a small chunk of skin away, and as I landed heavily on my hip the blood began to stream down my face as the nightmare sound within the mirror manifested itself.

As if escaping the bowels of Hades, a swarm of black bees burst through the shattered mirror on the wall. The hole created by the broken glass seemed to yawn in protest at the volume of them. My eyes widened in horror as the room around me filled with thousands upon thousands of these hellish drones, clogging the air and stifling the oxygen from around me. I staggered to my feet as they swarmed over every inch of my body. I could feel their tiny hairy legs scrabbling for purchase on my bare skin, creeping up my shorts and sticking in my hair. All the while the epic hum of a million insects arrested my ears, throwing me into an inescapable echo chamber of confusion. I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as possible trying to remain calm but I knew I was screaming; screaming at the top of my lungs and yet I couldn’t even hear my own outburst above the pandemonium.

Frantically waving my arms I stumbled through the mass of tiny black creatures, some no bigger than a fingernail, but by God  the number of them! Pursing my lips to stop them flying into my mouth (which would really have sent me insane) I tried to breathe through my nose but the little critters were omnipresent, there wasn’t a spare inch of air in the room that wasn’t consumed by black insects, and my first cogent thought was that I was going to choke to death on them, clutching my throat as they raged down my neck and stung my windpipe and lungs into seizure. I reached out wildly, desperately clutching for some kind of weapon, anything that would help carve a path to the door. I grabbed a plastic dining chair, and began to beat the air around me with a blind panic, but each swipe of clarity I created was instantly refilled by black as the bees continued to pour out of the mirror.

I don’t know how I made it to the door, blind luck must have been smiling on me, but I tumbled through it and out onto the boardwalk just as the last of my air was deserting me.

I landed heavily on the cobblestones on my shoulder and heard a crunch which was too loud to be anything but bad, and for the briefest of seconds I felt nothing. I just lay there in horror waiting for the pain to strike, and when it did it arrested my whole torso and took back the breath I had just regained. I howled in pain, but here was a strange thing – the bees that were now cascading out of the restaurant seemed to stop dead and hover, as if searching for the cry of anguish. Then they changed course as if seeking it out, and a line of them about a metre thick headed straight for me. As they reached my shoulder they seemed to pause, suspended in mid-air, as if testing the air around me. Then they descended and my whole upper body was suddenly swamped by hundreds and hundreds of tiny bodies. I could feel them coursing over my skin, worki


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ng in unison so it felt as though I was being stroked by a huge loofah, thousands of insect legs rubbing at once. Their stingers were cocked, as if waiting for some sort of signal, suspended millimetres off my skin. Then again without warning they all froze, not a single one moved for the briefest of moments.

I stared in amazement at my body which had been rendered totally black, coated in a thick dark moss by insects that had come from nowhere out of a fucking mirror, and in that split second of silence I knew what was about to happen. Before I could draw breath to scream, each and every bee on me plunged its stinger down into my skin, littering my arm and upper torso with a million poisonous injections. My scream erupted from me as I processed the sheer horror of it, but instead of the burning, searing heat I knew was coming, the pain in my broken shoulder actually began to deaden.  I could feel it sliding away as if I had been given a dose of morphine, and what I felt then could only be described as a kind of wonderful euphoria and sense of wellness. Life started passing in slow motion. The bees simultaneously withdrew their stingers and began to rise soupily into the air, creating an effect like floating treacle all around me.

Then I swear they all smiled .

I could see their little proboscises wiggling at me as they hovered inches from my eyes, and my head began to swim with a pleasure I never knew possible. Every nerve in my body seemed to be alive with it and a feeling of wellness passed through my whole frame as I lay there.

To a bystander it must have been an astonishing sight; a semi-naked man propped up on one shoulder staring with a moronic grin into a swarm of black bees hovering in front of his face.

I felt invincible, like I had drunk from the holy grail, the exotic elixir of life was flowing through my veins as I lay with the bees. They rose again, in perfect harmony, like swallows dancing against the yellow twilight sky, softly buzzing in the haze before they were gone.

My eyes watered with the beauty of it, and as the bees collectively flew away into the distance my whole frame weakened. I felt as though I was sliding into a cool, fresh linen bed after a week of sleep deprivation, and yet again consciousness deserted me as the nectar coursed around my system.

The last thing I saw as I gave in to the ecstasy of sleep was the bees drifting away in three groups, etching onto the sky the figure: 70% .

68%

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Purgatory. That’s where I was, I swore. This was some kind of Catholic purification ritual that I had been unwillingly entered into after death. It was the only explanation. Didn’t the Jews also believe in a state of life between death and heaven or hell? I was sure it was a common religious belief and racked my brains to recall my sixth-form theology classes.

It played in my head enough to make me try and hunt down a library. If I could figure out where I was maybe I could work out what the damn flashing numbers meant every time I woke up. Even if the books were all in Spanish I might be able to discern enough from them to explain the idea of a soul being forever trapped in a median world between life and death. It was what motivated me as I ate a breakfast of cold sausage, grapefruit and bread rolls in the cafeteria.

Inexplicably (but then what was explicable  in this place?) I had awoken back at the Sun Royal, this time in room 213 in the front section right beside the reception area. My shoulder was still tingling, not in pain but with the kind of pins of needles you get after sleeping in one position for too long. I had no recollection of returning there, and I awoke feeling utterly refreshed with the familiar numbers swimming away out of my eyeline. This time 68%. They were going down a few percentage figures each time, and each time it put me in mind of the ubiquitous battery icon on a cell phone. The flashing signal that posed two questions: one, how long have I got left, and perhaps more importantly two, when does one start panicking? I was certain it would hit me when the numbers dipped below 50%. Why? Because then I would be halfway through my ‘charge’. And by simple deduction, by gauging how long I had been here so far, I would be able to tell roughly how long I might have left.

If things continued the way they did, what would happen when I hit the big zero? Would I just drop dead where I stood? Would I go to sleep and never wake up again? Or would I awake to find myself back home, in my own bed, with my little girl shaking me awake in the middle of the night to wipe her bottom? Maybe the numbers would just reverse and would start increasing instead of decreasing. In which capacity would I be stuck here for eternity, in an endless run of zero to 100% and back down again?

You can see how the mind, faced with an uncertain certainty, fixates on things. I sat chewing my sausage lost in thought. On the plus side at least I had, seemingly, some sort of end in sight. What that end would be, I had no idea, but I knew that something  would happen when I hit 0%. Edmund Dantes never had that. Nor did any other indefinite captive in history; no indication of when their servitude would cease. They were just stuck in dark holes with no prospect of release but their own death. And maybe that was what I was facing, but again, looking at it positively, how many people can say with utmost certainty how long they have left on earth? If the numbers continued decreasing at the rate they were, I estimated that I had around 20 days left before my charge ran out. And was I going to just sit around and wait for that to happen?

No. I had to find a way out. And if that meant exploring the island top to bottom then that’s what I would do. But first, I had to put my mind to rest. I had to figure out not where this place was, but what  it was.

I figured I would need some supplies so headed up to the shop on the first level behind the games room. I budgeted for a couple of days initially, if I was away for longer I was sure I would find food and water in any of the other supermarkets or restaurants on the island, and certainly within Playa Blanca as I had already discovered. I needed clothes – I was still wondering around wearing just my swimming shorts and tool belt, and had in fact been going topless since I first woke up all those days ago. I had developed a pretty nasty case of sunburn on my neck and shoulders as a result of my three day bender, so grabbed a tube of aloe vera ointment and a couple of T-shirts in the ‘clothing’ aisle. That was another thing: whoever or whatever placed me here had made it very easy to remain on the site of the hotel. The shop was filled with pretty much everything I needed to survive without ever having to leave the grounds of the Sun Royal. Food, still unspoiled, sat in the restaurant. The bread rolls were a bit stale but the beer was chilled to perfection. There was ample bottled water almost everywhere I went, from the chiller in the store to bottles in the fridges of presumably every single one of the two or three hundred rooms on site. There was fruit, salad, even the milk in the fridges still tasted fresh. How long did milk take to go off? If kept cold I surmised a week, maybe even longer, but I had been here for almost two weeks and the stuff the store still tasted udder fresh.

I found a rucksack by the tills that must have belonged to one of the hotel employees. It was worn, and had been lovingly taped back together where one of the seams had split, but there was nothing inside that gave away any information as to who had once owned it. I stuffed it with a few bread rolls, a two litre bottle of mineral water, some cheese, a pack of salami and a tetra-pak of four apples. I changed my swimming shorts, throwing the old ones in the bin beside the checkout, put on a pretty garish yellow T-Shirt and stuffed the other two in the rucksack. I suppose it was survivalist instinct – I intended to leave Playa Blanca at some point, but didn’t know if the rest of the island would have been left in such pristine and habitable condition. I packed light, but calorifically; high fat foods that I could ration if I found myself in a less hospitable environment. My tool belt was still stocked with my foldable knife and chisel, but somewhere along the line I had misplaced my torch. I would need another one in case darkness set in and I was miles from a streetlight. That I could obtain in town. I selected the least touristy sombrero from a rack by the door, and a pair of cheap sunglasses completed my ensemble. I looked exactly like what I was – a sunburned tourist in a foreign land. On my way out I noticed a display of maps and added the most comprehensive one I could to my rucksack, hardly ordnance survey quality but it showed the main roads and towns that ran across the island.

For good measure I tried the computer in the lobby again for internet connection, just in case, but there was of course nothing. I tipped my hat nostalgically to the Sun Royal as I walked out of the lobby, not knowing whether I would ever return and feeling a tinge of sadness at the thought. Whatever this experience was, it was an experience nonetheless, and this three-star whitewashed labyrinth had been my base, indeed my home, my shelter, my salvation even, since I had arrived.


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I found the library by chance about an hour later. It was hidden down a back street called Calla de la Laja, in a completely different place than was indicated on the tourist map of Playa Blanca that I had been following.

I had been browsing through a dusty store called Tian Lu which promised ‘Articulos Orientalos’ and ‘General Merchandise’ on Calle el Coreillo looking for anything that might be useful. A wide-brimmed Chinese sun hat to replace my sombrero was all I found, but through the back of the store there appeared to be an area selling ice-creams. It was hotter than usual outside and the thought of a cold creamy one was too good to pass up.

As I moved through the aisles of assorted crap I suddenly heard a noise coming from behind me. It was a dull thud, like a single footstep on a wooden floor, and seemed to come from towards the entrance door. Fear washed over me in a terrific wave. I froze still, hardly daring to breathe, in case I missed a second footstep. The shop was darker than any of the others I had been in thus far, and my eyes had still not fully adjusted to the change having come in from the blazing bright sunshine outside. My eyes squinted as they tried to attune to the gloom and identify the source of the thump. I stood stock still, breathless, for what seemed about 30 seconds but in actual fact was probably a lot less, before panic seized me. I guess I still hadn’t sobered up from the alarm incident, and was haunted by the vision of an army of undead zombies pursuing me through the streets.

I turned and ran. In my state of semi-vision I stumbled over a stool and crashed onto the floor by the cash register, barking my knee on a wooden stool and inadvertently yelping in pain. I swore I heard heavy breathing approaching but snapped to it and realised it was just me. I pulled myself up half-expecting to see whatever it was that was pursuing me bearing down with a maniacal roar. I hauled myself to my feet, knee screaming in pain, and ran through the door to the rear of the store into the back room, straight passed the ice-cream maker and into a cold and completely white-tiled utility area. I realised with mounting horror that it was a dead end. There was one thin window at almost ceiling height, and still gripped with panic I leapt up onto the work surface and went at it. Mercifully it opened easily and without stopping to check behind me I began lurching through the window. It was slightly less than the width of my body, but the last couple of weeks had mercifully seen me lose quite a bit of weight and sucking in my stomach I was able to wriggle through, all the while imagining some horrific monster about to grab at my heels and drag me back in to splash my blood all over the white tiles.

Quite a sight I must have looked from outside. Half in and half out, kicking and screaming as I fought to get out of a space no right-minded person would have got themselves into. I scraped my stomach on the window ledge but finally got over half my frame outside, meaning there was now only one way to go.

Down.

Six foot down onto the concrete curb. Scrabbling with one hand wedged under my groin and grabbing the window ledge for support I rotated myself around to get my legs out. By this stage anything that had been chasing me would have had ample time to grab hold of me but that hadn’t yet occurred to me in my state of panic.

Inevitably, as gravity took effect, I slipped out and landed heavily on my back, the pavement jolting the wind out of me. As soon as I landed I realised how stupid I had been, and let out a hysterical bark of laughter as I lay and got my breath back. I sat up on my elbows and shook my head to orientate myself.

That’s when I saw the sign saying Bibiloteca.  The wooden door was white painted like every other on the street and looked like it would take a few hefty shoulder barges to break it open. Just as I was bracing myself for the first I stopped myself and checked the handle. It turned and the door swung open. It made sense; who would burgle a back-street library?

I felt a sense of trepidation as I entered. Libraries were places of quiet of course, but the fact that everywhere else around me was so silent seemed to heighten the spookiness of this empty building. There was the inevitable and reassuring smell of dusty paper, and books lined every wall on shelves that looked older than the building could possibly have been. Somebody had taken care of this place. The floors were spotless, the sofas in the reading area plumped up, the information desk tidy and organised. There was no computer, but an elaborate shelving unit that seemed to hold millions of cards for checking books in and out. It was like stepping back in time. I had no doubt it had been run by a fastidious old man or woman, who took the utmost pride in keeping their library impeccably organised. The kind of people whose wrath you would incur by deigning to return one of their precious inventory late. Posters on the walls in Spanish no doubt advocated the benefits of reading.

I was unsure exactly what I was looking for as I traversed the many aisles. I wanted to learn more about this place, to research why it might have been abandoned.

It seemed to me there were four main reasons why an entire town could be deserted.

It had become uninhabitable due to some sort of environmental disaster, flood, earthquake or such like. This included the most obvious example I could think of, Chernobyl, but that was due to a man-made disaster: nuclear meltdown. Playa Blanca had not been devastated in any way, so I ruled this option out.

It had become the centre of some sort of military activity and had become contested, an invasion or something. But there was no evidence of martial presence anywhere, no guns, no tanks, no bomb damage, and of course no soldiers , so I ruled that out too.

It had outlived its usefulness as a trading post. I ruled this out too, as it was obviously a popular tourist resort and had been catering for holiday makers so recently that their names were still in the log books in the hotels I had been in.

Everyone was dead. Whether due to disease or famine or alien activity. Maybe the whole world was dead, and I was the only one left.

It was option four upon which I ruminated the most. It seemed most likely that it was either everybody else that was dead, or it was just me. I kept coming back this idea of purgatory, and when I found a section on religion I must have become immersed as I didn’t even realise darkness was setting in outside and I hadn’t locked up. It was the door banging shut that jerked me awake the next morning.

65%

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Again the disorientation. Again the flashing numbers. But this time coupled with the shock of being jolted awake by a loud noise. I sat bolt upright and the pain instantly hit me as my screaming limbs protested at being wrenched from their comfort. I had fallen asleep on a wooden desk on my arms, and my back spasmed as I sat up.

The main door to the library had slammed shut. I had forgotten to close it before I drifted off. Begging the question, how had it done that? Another mind trick like the footstep in the shop yesterday?

Tentatively I made my way to the front door, suddenly aware yet again of the incredible silence that pervaded the room. There appeared to be some noise emanating from the other side of the door on the street. It sounded like dragging feet or something.

The zombies have finally found me, I thought.

I realised there were no windows anywhere in the building. It was a mid-terrace, designed to be kept shaded from the blazing heat outside by rejecting any form of opening in its fabric. So I couldn’t even see outside to determine the source of this latest nerve-shredding sound. There was only one way to find out.

Slowly I turned the handle and, taking a deep breath, yanked the door fully open expecting to be greeted by rotting, groaning faces and a good ripping apart. There was nothing but a steady wind. It seemed to increase in speed slightly as I took it in.

The dragging noise I had heard was a newspaper blowing around in a circular vortex on the street outside. Talk about an anti-climax. The door had slammed shut in a draught, that was all it was. I audibly sighed in relief, but then I noticed that the sun had vanished behind some fairly ominous looking clouds in the distance. Something about those clouds made me retreat back inside and seek shelter. The temperature had dropped considerably, almost to the point where I was cold for the first time since being here. I rifled through my rucksack and slipped on another T-shirt as I repositioned myself at my desk and tried to recall what I had learned the night before.

The books were splayed out in front of me, illustrated with rich classical drawings depicting fiery landscapes and winged angels and one of Dante staring at a mountain. The inscriptions were obviously all in Spanish, yet I was able to understand quite a lot by plumbing the depths of my memory for the remnants of school Latin classes.

The overriding theme behind purgatory was the concept of the soul being purified in order to enter the next phase of existence, which in Christianity is either heaven or hell. Mostly, it is regarded as a state of mind, but in medieval times it was conceived as an actual place , a sort of limbo between life and death.

It made perfect sense to me, I was sorry to discover. By no means was I a religious man. Years of Anglican education, going to church four times a week in the British school system, had instilled in me a deep boredom of and for Christian traditions. But it hadn’t totally erased in my mind the belief in a higher power, of a more glorious afterlife for example, and I could not shift this notion of post-mortem suffering before everlasting paradise.

Or damnation.

The kicker was that the dead person had no say in the matter. If I was stuck in purgatory, and I remained divided on whether or not that was the case, it was down to those I had left behind to determine my fate. Whether Buddhism, Catholicism or Judaism, they all held fast to the belief that praying or making offerings to the dead somehow assisted them in their journey to their final abode. More worryingly, the Greeks apprehended that purgatory consisted of ‘temporary punishments agreeable to every one’s behaviour and manners.’

One phrase struck a chord. According to Origen, some sort of early Christian scholar, “He who comes to be saved, comes to be saved through fire.” A fire that burns away sins and worldliness like lead, leaving behind only pure gold. I had experienced my share of fire on the island, from the perpetual and searing sun to the inferno that had destroyed the Hesperia hotel. Was this a baptism of fire?

I looked down at my arms. They had turned from a livid red in the first few days here to a deep nut brown now. I was tanned, I had lost what little weight I needed to before I came here… I was looking pretty good. Perhaps this was the cleansing process. Perhaps my soul was undergoing purification at that very moment?

There was a lot of literature about indulgencias , the most literal translation of which I assumed must be indulgences, or a sort of religious get out of jail card. From what I could ascertain, if you were granted indulgencias  through the prayers of others your time in purgatory was shortened by a certain amount of time: cuarentenas , or quarantines. These could be increased by pious actions. Interestingly, quarantines were thought to be measured in periods, for example the 40 days of Lent. In reality it sounded like a money-making tool for the medieval church. But with some quick calculation I thought 40 days sounded right around the time my percentage would hit the big ZERO.

Whether I believed all this or not, the correlations between popular religious belief in this idea of purgatory, even in fiction, were laid out before my very eyes. In Comedia Divina  Dante’s purgatory is a mountain somewhere in the southern hemisphere, and is the only land there. That sounded a heck of a lot like Lanzarote to me. All I could see was water and mountains…

Ultimately, I was no closer to determining whether I was existing in an indeterminate state between life and death, or was simply stuck on an island in the middle of the Atlantic at someone else’s behest.

I smoked as I emerged onto Avenue Papagayo, sipping from my water bottle and inhaling the scent of the man-free streets. The air was definitely thicker, like the way it cloys just before a rain storm. It got me thinking, how would the world smell if humans had never populated it? Without roads, buildings, or cars? I got a sense that this place was returning to how nature intended even at this early stage of its abandonment. The air hung heavy with that unmistakable scent of heat on road. It seemed purer than it should have with no car exhausts to pollute it.

As I approached the still smouldering Hesperia, the stench of burning humanity crept up my nose, and cleared again almost as quickly as I continued down the path to the sea and the incoming breeze carried it away.

Something occurred to me, and my pace sped up as I anticipated investigating it. I was looking for garbage, literally, as I didn’t think I had seen any and what the mind doesn’t see it doesn’t register. Indeed, what the nose doesn’t smell it forgets, yet something about the smell of the air as I rounded onto Avenue Papagayo caused me to double take.

What do all towns and cities have in common? Go to any city, and even in the most upmarket area, if it’s hot enough you’ll get that nasty, cloying stench of human refuse on the wind. Maybe not all the time, but try and walk a few blocks without it and you’ll be sure to pick it up. You might not even register its presence as it’s so common, but it will cause you to curl up your nose without even realising it.

Here, there was nothing like it. The air was clean, almost fragrant, with a floral whisper and overtones of ozone from the sea. I drew deeply into my lungs almost hoping to catch the spoiled tang of a back alley bin on the breeze, but got nothing.

And that was what disturbed me.

I ran behind the nearest restaurant, the Plaza Café, and sure enough there were two large green dumpers behind it. They were chained shut but I could prize them both open just enough to confirm my fears.

Both were empty. Not only empty, but clean . In fact, sticking my nose into the gap and inhaling I could smell nothing but hot plastic. No rancid cheese, no mouldy vegetables, no build-up of that repugnant bin juice that always made me gag every time I had to empty my own trash. It was as if these bins had never been used for the purpose of garbage disposal at all.

I felt numb. What was going on? Had there never  been people here?

The one sure-fire way to determine human presence in a place is by what they leave behind. We can’t help it, we are consumers and wasters. What we waste gets left behind everywhere we go.

I sat on the pavement and tried to put the pieces together. I was surer now than ever that this was some kind of experiment and that I was the guinea pig. I saw a film once, I think it was German, about a group of volunteers put into a fake prison and split into guards and inmates. The inmates have to follow certain rules and the guards have to enforce them. It was a study in human psychology. I can’t remember exactly what happened but everyone ends up killing or raping each other. Maybe that’s what I was being put through, some sort of weird sick experiment to see how I’d react under extreme stress. But then how to explain the bees? Were they some sort of hallucination? Was I being drugged without my knowledge to increase the effects of the solitude?

Suddenly I felt a burst of epic anger welling up inside. I stood, threw my arms up and screamed so loudly I felt my throat tear.

“BASTARDS!!!”

I drew the word out for almost a full eight seconds. In the silence that followed the echo I felt purified. The outburst relieved me and I felt the anger withdraw and a serene calm take its place.

What was the point in panicking? Stressing myself out wasn’t going to help the situation. I resolved not to give them the satisfaction. Whoever was watching me, if anyone, would not gain the knowledge they sought. I refused to be their guinea pig. I scanned the street for hidden cameras, but saw only two standard CCTV jobs further down towards the end of the avenue. If this really was some kind of Truman Show rip-off they weren’t doing a great job of the coverage. Without thinking I slapped myself across the face, thinking the shock would wake me up and make me stop fantasising that I was the centre of some Orwellian assessment. The reality of my situation was still unchanged, regardless of whether or not I was being observed. I was still alone, and stranded in this place.

The slap did help. I lit another cigarette and gathered my thoughts. It was time for decisive action, no point in pondering it anymore. I needed to take matters into my own hands, and not leave myself at the mercy of fate. Why eek out an existence here for a further 20 days, waiting to hit 0% and thus acquiesce to the inevitable? As if denying my own determination I crushed the cigarette and went back into the Plaza Cafe to search for a drink.

With a cool bottle of white wine minus three healthy swigs stuffed in my rucksack I made my way back out on to the Avenue Papagayo looking for inspiration. It came almost immediately, and I silently cursed myself for being so short-sighted. All this time I had been wondering how to go about hot-wiring a car, but the answer was staring me full in the face across the intersection from the cafe.

I shook my head at my own lack of proactivity as I approached Autos Solyplaya, outside of which sat a large billboard saying ‘Rent A Car’…

Getting inside was easy, as the metal rolling gate that was supposed to secure the shop interior had been left open, and it was just a case of rolling it up and kicking the wooden door in. It gave easily, and I was thankful I didn’t have to smash one of the large windows that fronted on to the street. I saw no reason to make excess noise even now, but mainly I didn’t fancy the idea of getting a shard of glass in my eye and having to hunt down a doctor’s surgery. The thought occurred to me that I should probably seek one out anyway and load up on antibiotics, emergency bandages, antihistamines and the like, as the first aid kit I had brought from the hotel was rudimentary to say the least. I wasn’t a hypochondriac by nature but it paid to be prepared. So far I had fallen off a roof, dislocated my shoulder and survived an exploding hotel, and the thought had crossed my mind that I might be immortal . Finding out would be interesting if something more serious happened to me, and for a second I wandered if stealing a car with the amount of alcohol I had put away in the past few days was a good idea.

First things first, I had to steal the car.


---

Inside, the shop was as plain as you would expect of a car rental office. One desk sat in the centre of the reception area and a rubber plant stood proudly beside it by way of decoration. The computer on the desk was dead, not even pressing the on button stimulated the screen to life, so I hovered around trying to locate the key bank. I located it in the rear room; a square white box on the wall that I jimmied open with a chair leg to


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reveal four of five rows of various car keys. Never having been accustomed to a great deal of choice in life I just grabbed the first set that hit my eye line. The symbol on the black grip revealed that they belonged to a Toyota. I headed back outside immediately to find the car. The most obvious thing to do was walk outside, press the button and see which car beeped open. As I was learning though, not everything was as simple as that in Lanzarote. The keys I had selected weren’t of the remote keyless kind, but plain old manual openers. I didn’t even think they made those anymore.

Every set I selected was the same. What in God’s name? With a deal of straining I wrenched the key cupboard off the wall and hefted it outside to try and open every car on the street. As I passed the desk in the main reception room I noticed the drawers were not locked and thought a quick rummage might yield something of use. Besides the expected piles of rental paperwork there was an additional set of keys in here, which I noted with anticipation featured an auto-open infrared button. With even greater joy I noticed that the leather tag attached to the set of keys sported the Porsche logo. Must belong to the owner of the franchise…

Out on the street I scanned the pavement for signs of the Porsche in question, but all I could see were the standard white Toyotas and Seats that made up most of the rental inventory. A thought struck me, why would the owner of a successful car rental joint park his precious Porsche with the riff raff? He or she must have a private parking space somewhere, probably out the back. My suspicions were confirmed as upon searching round the rear of the building there, in its own designated parking spot, was a weather-beaten but quite beautiful 911. I pointed the key, held my breath, and pressed the open button. Nada. The red light didn’t even blink on the keys. I tried the key in the door and with some surprise discovered it was already open.

I knew even before I turned the key in the ignition that the car would be as dead as leaves on a pavement. I knew even if I replaced the battery, spark plugs, alternator or any other part of the engine that controlled ignition that when I turned the key the result would be the same. Yet I held firm to one idea; maybe it was the fuel that had gone stale.

Consider this: any fuel in a car that had been sitting in the relentless, pounding heat of the Canaries for more than a couple of months would surely have lost its qualities of ignition. How long had this car been sat here un-manned and un-started? It could have been weeks, even months or years since someone had sparked this baby up. There was the part of me that knew that, like the garbage bins, it had probably never been used at all. It was just a shell, a dummy corporation, a prop that had been placed here to make me retain the hope that there were, or had been, other people here at some point.

A man could go crazy contemplating the implications. So instead of allowing myself to get caught up in another deep session of existential ruminating, I resolved to test out my fuel theory. I let off the handbrake and with no small degree of difficulty began to push the Porsche out of its spot and onto the main road. Five minutes later I had it round the side of the car rental office and at the junction onto the main drag, Avenue Papagayo. As luck would have it, this avenue was luckily on a fairly decent slope, heading from the church opposite at the crest of the hill all the way down the main street to a roundabout at the bottom about a quarter of a mile away. It was just a case of pushing it on to the Avenue, jumping in and coasting down the hill, sticking it in gear and popping the clutch while turning the ignition key and hoping something would catch.

But in my excitement at finding the car and testing the fuel theory I had totally neglected to check the most important thing. The brakes. So when as expected the Porsche didn’t sputter into life on the decline but remained resolutely lifeless I got a heck of a shock upon slamming on the brakes when absolutely nothing happened. By this stage the speedometer said I was going 20 mph. But there was still a good three or four hundred yards before the road ran out and I hit the roundabout. I didn’t know it yet, but the roundabout wasn’t really that at all, but a slight circular raise in the road filled with gravel to indicate the presence of traffic control. Beyond it was a pedestrian walkway leading to more shops, separated by some fairly immovable looking concrete bollards.

Shit , I thought as the needle reached 30mph. I began to weave in the road to try and slow the car’s momentum. There wasn’t much room to do this, with the pavement on one side and a line of parked cars on the other sandwiching me in, and all I succeeded in doing was maintaining a speed of around 33mph rather than slowing down. I pulled the handbrake, which did about as much good as asking the car politely if it would mind slowing down a bit. I pumped the brakes again out of instinct but they were clearly linked to the car’s on board computer which of course required power to work. I was going into those bollards regardless, which was going to do wonders for the Porsche’s chassis.

There was a huge metal anchor in the centre of the roundabout, so I couldn’t even go over it in the hope that the gravel centre would take a bit of pace off. I skirted round it and went over the bollards at around 36mph with a crunch that suggested the car came off worse, and slammed into a standalone wooden hut displaying ‘Informacion Turistica’. This didn’t offer much resistance except to deploy the airbag, and with a mouth full of powder and zero visibility I ended up ploughing through an arrangement of metal chairs and broadsiding a restaurant called Sabina  before finally coming to rest.

I eased myself out of the car and checked myself over but apart from a slightly stiff neck I was absolutely fine. A brief inventory of the Porsche however revealed that the chassis was totally twisted out of shape, and along with three burst tires I felt this 911 had seen its final journey in Lanzarote or indeed anywhere for the foreseeable future.


---

Three hours later I had hiked almost two miles in increasing humidity to the outskirts of town and back where I’d managed to fill two jerry cans with fuel at an out-of-service filling station.

I was soaked through with sweat but feeling pretty proud of myself. I’d broken into the SPAR opposite where I’d crashed for a bottle of paracetamol and a glug of whiskey to ease the pain in my neck. In the rear service area I found two large stainless steel refrigerated canisters of milk, each with a long plastic tube poking out which fed into an automatic coffee machine (also out-of-service) within the supermarket. After removing the plastic tubing I set about trying to find a fuel dump. There was bound to be one somewhere but it was unlikely to be central to the shopping precinct. Instinct told me to walk north out of the town. The shops thinned out and the roadsides became emptier and, sure enough, after half a mile or so at the end of Calle El Veradero  I spied the tell-tale canopy of a filling station on the horizon.

There was a small accompanying shop with a till and a few car related accessories, but most importantly two plastic jerry cans for holding fuel. None of the pumps worked of course, but lifting up the metal lid on the forecourt I was able to access two of the large underground storage tanks that held the fuel. One was only half full and the plastic tubing wouldn’t reach the fuel level inside, but the second was full. After some impromptu sucking I filled both jerry cans and headed back into town to find a suitable vehicle. I had no way of knowing whether I was transporting diesel or petrol, so figured I’d have to find two cars, one of each.

I spent an hour examining the row of cars outside Autos Sol-Y-Playa again, and identified a diesel Seat Ibiza and a Toyota Yaris that ran on unleaded petrol. They wouldn’t be much good without keys though, and more time was wasted matching up their number plates to the myriad sets of keys back in the rental store. After another hour spent sucking the spent fuel out of their tanks, I feverishly poured the ‘fresh’ fuel I’d collected into each car, one jerry can for each.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking; the fuel in the filling station had almost certainly been sitting there just as long as the cars on the roadside and was highly unlikely to have any incendiary properties either, but there was a chance it would work and I was willing to try just about anything at that stage to get some answers. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead yet to even consider what those answers would be even if I did get a car to work and was able to drive around the island.

What did I think I would find?  

That the next town along would be bustling with holiday makers swilling beer and sunning themselves on the beaches? Hope does strange things to the mind. It anoints you with that willing suspension of disbelief, and then so quickly removes it once the reality hits home.

For one brief glimmering second of wonder I thought there was a spark of recognition from the engine of the Yaris when I turned the key in its ignition. Maybe it was the heat playing tricks on my mind but I could have sworn the needle on the rev counter moved a fraction of an inch as it registered the process of internal combustion in its lifeless engine. I was of course fooling myself. Nothing happened, nothing ignited, I would be driving nowhere on Lanzarote in either a Yaris or an Ibiza. It was like trying to strike a dead match.

I sipped some more whiskey and sat on the pavement. I smoked a couple of cigarettes and involuntarily emptied my head of all thoughts. I went into a kind of trance of disappointment. The wind was upping, and the dark clouds I had noticed when at the library seemed to be rolling closer.

A storm was coming.


---

I hadn’t really noticed it until now, but Playa Blanca sat in front of a large mountain range. The guide book called it Hacha Grande.

Big Axe.  

The clouds that now rolled over the top of Hacha Grande were deep purple and very angry looking. The wind had picked up considerably to the extent that when I stood up from the pavement I had to steady myself by grabbing the door of the Yaris to stop from being gusted over.

A strange feeling had come over me, a sense of wooziness that was more than just the side effects of the whiskey. I felt weak at the knees, lethargic, almost as if all my strength were being sucked out of me by that wind. I felt like the clouds were growing in volume in direct proportion to the strength leaving my body.

More clouds of dust and dirt from nearby derelict spreads of land, cleared for future hotel developments, began to swirl and create mini cyclones that whipped around me and off down Avenue Papagayo. I needed to get inside and fast. I had never seen a storm grow so quickly. I considered the option of getting back to the Sun Royal. It was probably a good half mile walk, but the speed with which the wind was growing made me doubt I could get there in time. I broke into a jog.

The wind didn’t seem to be coming from one direction but was constantly changing, so that one second I was running directly into it and making virtually no progress, and the next I was being buoyed along by invisible hands that pushed me from behind. Salt spray lashed at my face, and glancing to my right I saw the sea raging in and consuming the beach. The waves were doing something very strange. Instead of rushing in perpendicular to the beach they were landing in totally random formation, as if controlled by some arbitrary force underneath them. They came from left and right, smashing into the wooden huts that usually served beer and ice cream to thirsty sunbathers, spray and foam hurling itself into the air almost to the height of the surrounding buildings. Once even it seemed that the waves that had already landed on the beach were reforming and hurling themselves back into the incoming deluge. Thirty or so meters off shore huge geysers spurted out of the surface and leapt skywards like reverse whirlpools. It was like a scene from Moby Dick, and I could hardly believe that this was happening so close to where I was standing. If I had been on the promenade I would surely have been washed in to that murderous sea.

I tried to pick up my pace to get to the turning onto Calle Janubio  and thus start heading away from the beach instead of parallel to it. But as I did my situation became even worse. The clouds that had risen over the Hacha Grande had now slid down the side of the mountain and hit land, and were eating up the half mile or so of scrubland that separated the mountain and the Sun Royal. They actually seemed to be consuming the land as they came; great purple Pac Men swirling around each other and approaching with alarming speed.

Then something happened that made me sure I was hallucinating. The mountain, Hacha Grande itself, started to move like a wave. Its ridges began to rise and fall in peaks and troughs like the lines on a heart monitor. I had that distinctive disinfectant stench in my nostrils again, and the world around me started to fade to black. I deliberately barked my shin on a nearby tree stump and screamed in pain, but it kept me conscious and I started to sprint towards the Sun Royal with all the strength I could muster. I knew I had to get inside the grounds before those clouds hit me.

The clouds continued to swallow up the ground and were no more than three or four hundred metres away now, the same amount of ground I had to cover to get to what I hoped would be the safety of the hotel complex. The ground seemed to shake with the weight of the moving mountains (were they collapsing?)  and I stumbled more than once on the perfectly flat tiled sidewalk. I felt like I was in the middle of the world ending.

Then suddenly the rain started. Big, heavy, pounding droplets that weren’t there one instant but bombarded from the very firmament of heaven the next soaked me to the core within seconds. The disinfectant smell got stronger as the clouds approached. They were close enough now that I could see finger-like tendrils of vapour preceding them, almost as if reaching out like antennae to gauge whether it was worth the clouds continuing. They swept over the dusty ground ahead of them in anticipation of reaching man-made construction, and in that second I knew that’s what they wanted.

That, and me.

Less than 10 meters from the glass doors to the reception area (thank god thank god thank god I left them open after jimmying them ) the first fingers reached me. I swore I could hear a small, high pitched laugh as they wrapped around my legs. I waited to be yanked into the air and consumed whole by a purple Pac Cloud but I pushed on, my legs feeling like they were wading through treacle. I was within touching distance of that wonderful safe vestibule when the cloud reached me. For a split second I felt totally calm, resigned almost. The preceding desperate dash to safety and the knotted stomach tension that went with it disappeared, no longer relevant, as my fate had now been decided. I realised my feet were no longer touching the ground. I was suspended, inches off the pavement, the purple cloud underneath my feet blurring the white tiles into unrecognition. Without warning, I felt a sharp burst of pain in my side, like a shark had attacked from nowhere, as I was propelled through the doors. I felt the glass shatter around me in a million tiny shards and my whole body being thrown inwards. I braced for the impact of the ground but didn’t even feel it when it came.

My last thought was that the shattered glass looked like a galaxy of beautiful stars. Then, again, blackness.

62%

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Some unknown force didn’t want me to leave Playa Blanca, that I was now sure of. Had I been successful in getting a car started it wouldn’t have mattered. That clouds would undoubtedly still have got me as I raced out of town, and I would probably have ended up rolling the car into a ditch or a jagged gully of lava rock and been ripped to shreds… instead of waking up in the Sun Royal again, on my bed in room 704, seemingly totally unharmed.

Whatever was going on, it was… unnatural .

Look at it rationally. There was the food situation. After coming to, this time with 62% of my time remaining, I headed to the reception area to assess the damage caused. Again I had no idea how long I had been unconscious, but the sun was almost all the way across the horizon in the east so I assumed it must be late afternoon. Late afternoon when , I didn’t know. The restaurant was as I had left it. Everything was still fresh, and just as tasty as it had been the first day I discovered it. I was hungry, but not ravenous, so I estimated I had been out for a maximum of a day or two.

The reception area looked like it had been hit by a bomb. And in a way it had. The glass doors had been completely shattered (by my body no less), and shards of milky glass lay everywhere on the floor. The decorative plants were lying on their sides, gravel strewn around them like blood at a murder scene. The sofa had been upended and lay upside down. Papers were everywhere, presumably from behind the desk. The computer had been blown off its perch and the screen had smashed. The cloud was nowhere to be seen. The evening was as clear and sunny as any other I had experienced on the island. The disinfectant smell that had accompanied the cloud had totally dissipated. The air was thick again, muggy, with that pleasant zing of aloe vera plants and foliage. I inhaled deeper, hoping to catch a waft of decay or human sweat, car fumes or spoiled food or anything that would signify the presence of other life. Just aloe vera and the faint tang of chlorine from the pool.

It was Groundhog Day.  

Why Lanzarote? Why not Ko Pha-Ngan or a nice little atoll in the Seychelles? I mean there’s nothing wrong, geographically, with The Canaries in general. But there’s a stigma associated with them, isn’t there? Bleached white Brits turning into blood red Brits in 30 degree heat, knocking back weak lager and gobbling Full English breakfasts while their offspring weave in and around the tables like sugar-pumped sharks… wasn’t that the deal?

That’s what I’d been given to believe anyway. The irony is, take away that visceral stereotype of the Western Tourist and what’s left is achingly beautiful. I should count myself lucky, I suppose. My knowledge of the islands was woefully lacking because I’d never been gripped with the desire to find out more about them, and this was solely down to my own prejudices.

Given the nature of my predicament, wasn’t Lanzarote, with its moon-like craterous landscape, year-round clement weather and isolated position in the middle of the Atlantic perhaps the perfect place to live out the Apocalypse? If the rest of the world had turned into a zombie infested, disease ridden, post nuclear hell planet, then yes. If at this very moment the Prime Minister was a mile underground in London, relying on air and water filtration and canned beans until it was safe enough to emerge in a few years and attempt to rebuild society then, by comparison, my situation was positively chipper. On this island, there were no marauding cannibal gangs trying to roast my head for meat, no biological or chemical agent or clouds of radiation to make my flesh melt off at the slightest breath, no blood-driven, rage-consumed mutants around every corner, hibernating by day and hunting by night, no herds of man-eating dinosaurs, no survival of the fittest, no bunker-dwelling, shotgun-toting Judgement Day peddlers, no lawyers…

Lanzarote just… was.

At least, I hope it was. I could be proved very wrong of course. Was my skewed vision of the end of the world drawn from watching too many post-apocalyptic Hollywood representations? Any one of the above scenarios (well, apart from the dinosaurs and part of me still believed… wanted to believe … that Jurassic Park could happen) was a very real possibility given the state of the planet. If humans were really hellbent on destroying civilisation then it was only a matter of time. If global warming was to be the downfall of humanity then it had better get a damn move on, because as things were it wasn’t rising sea levels and melting glaciers we needed to be worried about, but fingers on nuclear buttons. Chemical attacks in unpronounceable regions of countries many people couldn’t even point out on a map.

Maybe that’s what had happened. It was perfectly possible that I wasn’t on this island at all, but strapped to a gurney in a makeshift field hospital, convulsing and hallucinating the whole thing. Maybe the guy on the stretcher next to me was having the same recurring nightmare, except instead of drinking rum and going slowly crazy on an abandoned Atlantic island he was climbing Kilamanjaro with Marilyn Monroe or caddying for Jack Nicklaus on endless rounds of Augusta National. Happiness is relative after all.

So was I in a dream or a nightmare? Was I happy here? Should I be counting myself incredibly lucky, or a victim of a cruel trick of fate. Only time would tell, and I just hoped I would know a hell of a lot more by the time my number (0% ) was up…

Happiness is relative.  

Health, I had. Nourishment, I had. Pleasure, I had. I was free to explore, eat, drink and sleep my way to whatever awaited me in however many percentage points I had left. I wasn’t bound by responsibility, no bills, no family, no job. Should I be taking advantage of this fact while I had the chance?

When my time was up, would I awake back in the same little flat I’d lived in for three years, dreading the daily commute back to the same office I’d worked in for the last 13 years, drinking the same vending machine coffee and eating the same cardboard sandwiches, listening to my esteemed line manager Rod attempting to flirt with the HR girl Brenda, all the while wishing I could methodically push a sharpened pencil up his cavernous left nostril, the one that was so inexplicably and maddingly larger than his right?

Or would that just be it? Would the lights go out?

Or would I wake up somewhere else, with another 100% to live out, but in far less propitious circumstances? Instead of Playa Blanca in the quiet season, as a float driver on the Somerset carnival tour?


---

There had to be a way out. For my own sanity I needed to explore more of the island. I had been so caught up in the car idea that it never occurred to me there were other modes of transport that could get me out of Playa Blanca. And they were bloody everywhere. I just hadn’t registered them in the forefront of my brain. Maybe the bang on my head that I’d sustained being propelled through the glass doors had knocked it there.

I headed into town again and sure enough there was a long rack of bikes of all shapes and sizes tethered to individual iron railings by the beach front. Outside the Jungle Discoteca  I selected what looked to be a fairly sturdy road bike, not too professional looking, and went about hacksawing the chain lock. It took about 20 minutes to get through and sunset was almost upon me by the time I got it loose.

Afterwards I felt liberated and headed into the Harp Bar  right by the disco where I poured myself an ice cold draught beer and sat on the terrace to watch the sun go down. Out of instinct I kept my new acquisition next to me in case it got stolen. It needed a new saddle, the existing one had obviously seen a fair few miles, but I surmised I wouldn’t be going long distance on it and I could put up with a sore ass if it meant discovering something (anything ) more about my predicament.

Did it matter though?

At some point I was going to have to consider the very real prospect of my own mortality. I had been here for at least 13 days. In my earlier calculations in the library I had deduced that if the numbers kept on reducing at their current rate, I had around 20 days left to figure something out. That gave me a small sense of relief, for 20 days was actually quite a long time. The numbers only appeared when I woke up, either after sleeping or being rendered unconscious. There seemed to me no differentiation between the two, the numbers were counting down pretty consistently, around 3% or 4% each time. So all I had to do was avoid sleep and being knocked out or blacking out. Easy.

I chastised myself again for thinking too much. I was always a thinker, a procrastinator, rather than a doer. As a child I was blessed with more than a modicum of intelligence but never seemed to actually put it to use. I remember my teachers telling me that I had ‘the brains’ and if I chose to use them I ‘would go far’. It seems I never did, as I didn’t go far. I ended up working as an actuary for an insurance firm. Just one more termite in the enormous mound of human life.

It hit me. I had never really achieved anything of note. I had fathered a child but rarely saw her. My only attempt at marriage had failed just one or two levels south of spectacularly. I was a tiny cog in a wheel that would roll on regardless of my removal. The world would be no better or worse a place for my disappearance from it. It would simply shrug, exhale and keep on rotating as if nothing had happened.

Why then had it put me here?  

It had to be some external, supernatural force that had done so. I had abandoned the idea that this was an experiment now, some kind of freakish Truman Show investigation that would determine how a person would react if you pushed them to the very limit of what their psyche could deal with. The storm, the mountains moving… nobody could have controlled or created that except a higher power. I had never been religious, but there was too much hard evidence to ignore. Part of me, the realist part (which made up a large part) still shrugged off the theory that this was anything more than a big practical joke. I’d seen the movie. In a few days I’d be looking back at the footage and laughing with whoever had arranged the whole thing. After thumping them in the crotch probably.

The sun dipped below the horizon as I finished my beer and decided to pour another one. Inside the bar was a small stage with a couple of bass guitars hanging from the wall and half a drum kit set up. I stared at them for a moment, procrastinated, decided against it and went back outside.

My bike was still there.

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The next morning I set off.

It was a beautiful, clear day. I packed a few bread rolls in a rucksack along with some chilled cheese slices, a few apples, two litre-bottles of sparkling water and, as an afterthought (but not really ) a bottle of brandy. I had no idea where I was going or where I would end up that night so I threw a big red blanket in as well, just in case I was destined to sleep rough.

My hands were shaking as I pulled up the zip, and I realised I was nervous. Whether it was the thought of leaving behind the ‘safety’ of Playa Blanca or the anticipation of what I might find on my journey I didn’t know. But it was an odd feeling. Like the seconds before you are called in to an important interview.

A hum of adrenaline coursed through me in the early morning sun. I had left early, not by design but simply because I hadn’t slept that well. The morning sun had barely risen and there was the slightest chill in the air as I pushed myself along, my thighs burning at the slightest incline. I realised how unfit I was when I had to stop at the top of Avenue Femés. This was the unofficial town line I realised from the map. After I crossed this roundabout I was heading into unchartered territory, boldly going where…

Shut up, I told myself. You are cycling a main road, not teleporting to Planet P-29.

This was the moment of truth. If I really was being held in Playa Blanca then something would surely happen now to prevent me from crossing this roundabout. Would it be anaesthetic bees, an hallucinogenic storm, a zombie alarm or an exploding hotel?

Only one way to find out…

I stepped on the pedals and with a sense of trepidation moved forward. I checked my right and left in case a car emerged out of the blue and slammed me back over the town line. I looked above me in case a huge devil bird came swooping down to grab me in its claws and deposit me back at the Sun Royal.

In the end nothing happened, and I simply crossed the boundary onto the main road leading in to the body of Lanzarote. For the first time I felt a vague sense of anti-climax.

I had chosen to take the lesser LZ-702 toward the village of Uga rather than the more main


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road, the LZ-2, for the reason that it stopped at more little villages along the way.

More chance of finding someone else alive, I told myself, without really believing it.

The going was very easy, the roads were in fantastic condition and totally flat. I covered the first few miles in about 15 minutes at a sedate pace. Then a two mile sharp incline brought me to the village of Femés. An establishment, the Restaurant Casa Emiliana , welcomed me at the top of the hill. It was boarded up and looked like it hadn’t served a meal for months, maybe even years. I didn’t even bother stopping to check inside.

The rest of Femés was just as disappointing. Lots of small whitewashed houses with a few cars parked outside them but not much else. I selected one roadside house at random and parked my bike.

Casa No.4 , read its sign, looked as dead as the restaurant. The shutters were closed, and it looked as though it could do with a fresh coat of the ubiquitous white paint. The door was locked, but it was wooden and not strong and came off its hinges with barely a hefty kick at the lock.

Inside the smell was of a home that had been shut up and uninhabited for a number of years. None of the electrics worked, and the kitchen cupboards were totally empty. Appliances had been left open to air, and the oven looked as though it had never been used at all. It had been lived in at some point though; there was an ashtray with a few butts on a coffee table in the main living area, and towels and clothes laid around the floors in a couple of the bedrooms. In the bathroom there was a dried out bar of well-used soap on the ledge of the bath. In the garden there were a few semi-circular stone walls, which I realised later when I came across fields and fields of them were for growing grapes. The small walls sheltered the fruit from the harsh winter winds that swept in from the Atlantic.

It looked like a house that someone had tried living in, then gave up after a few days and sought more convivial surroundings. Femés seemed to me the kind of place that would look and feel like a ghost town even if it were fully inhabited. I felt sorry for Emiliano, wherever he was, for trying to run a restaurant business in such a place.

About two miles further on I came to another village, even smaller, called Las Casitas. It was literally a few houses scattered off the main road, most looked to be in some stage of construction. Cement mixers and breeze blocks sat unused by the side of the road. Why would anyone choose to build a house here? This was truly the middle of nowhere. It was partially sheltered by dusty hills that rose either side of the road, but you couldn’t even call this scrubland. There was absolutely nothing growing in the soil except a couple of cacti. Geographic isolation was the only reason anyone would settle in such a place.

A few of the houses were built into the side of these hills, with garages taking up the ground floor and the living accommodation perched on top. One double garage was sitting open and had two cars inside, both old Toyotas, and upstairs I found the keys to both in a house that had been lived in a great deal more than Casa No.4 . But it was still abandoned. No electrics were on. This struck me as strange as in Playa Blanca everything was running, fridges, coffee machines, tills, beer pumps.

Why was nothing working in the sticks?

Naturally, neither car started. I smoked a Lucky and drank half a bottle of water in the teeming sunshine. I’d only been on the road around an hour and a half and the sun wasn’t nearly at its full height in the sky but already it was getting unbearable. I would have to find some shelter for the midday hours, but with the abundance of these little settlements that wouldn’t be a problem. Next on the line was Uga, which looked to be a more substantial size than these piss-pot shanties so far.

As I came out of the Las Casitas something caught my eye on a hill a couple of miles away. It looked like a line-of-sight radio tower, probably for transmitting local radio across the island. It was definitely worth checking out though. Even if the electrics were down, if it was a transmitter station it might have a back-up generator or even solar power.

Being a bit of a geek at school, I had for a while been fascinated by radio and had even built my own homebrew ham radio from a kit I begged my father to buy me for Christmas. I made my antenna by stealing a 20 meter length of copper wire from my uncle’s workshop and suspending it around my bedroom ceiling.

I still knew a bit about transmitting from a course I’d done at university, but by that stage I was more interested in amateur dramatics and getting laid to seriously pursue it.

A tingle of excitement ran through me as I imagined dialing in and DXing (geek-speak for contacting far-away stations) some kid in Singapore or Montevideo. The only trouble was that the tower was up some pretty hardcore off-road track by the looks of it. I would have to walk it or risk serious puncturisation on my bike tires. I cursed myself for not having included a puncture repair kit instead of a bottle of bloody brandy in my rucksack.

I adjusted the sack on my back and started up the trail. Distances can be hard to gauge in strong sunlight especially when there are no large landmarks to go against, but I estimated it would take me about a half hour to reach the antenna and, hopefully, the transmitting station it served. I couldn’t see at this stage if there was a building underneath it which would indicate the presence of such a station, but my instincts told me it was almost certainly there.

The walk was hard going, uphill in the searing heat and over stony ground that my flip-flops were not designed to enjoy. More than a few times I had to stop to rest and swig on the water. I told myself to take it easy. If something happened I wouldn’t last long being at least 10 miles from any civilisation, if it could be termed that. I had the first aid kit I’d grabbed from the pharmacy but it wouldn’t do much good for a sprained or broken ankle. The thought of spending the night out here on a cold and dusty escarpment with no shelter didn’t fill me with anticipation.

Damn I wished I had a car!  

About half a mile from the antenna I saw the building. Just one, which was a good sign and a bad sign. Transmitter stations can be housed in several buildings or just one. Several would have meant this was a main station, generating its own signal at high power and covering a large area. One building alone meant this was probably an unmanned relay station, operating at low power to service, or fill in pockets of poor reception for, the main station. That was fine. If it was unmanned there was more chance of it having an emergency power supply. There would almost certainly be a manual override as well, so any maintenance men could carry out repairs.

Transmitter stations are just that – transmitters. They take a signal from the main station and bounce it onwards towards its ultimate destination. The only trouble is, although they can send as much signal as they need, they don’t have any capacity to receive. The antenna itself and the systems inside were useless to me unless there was a two-way communications device like a CB radio inside. This was what I was hinging my hopes on.

Having reached it, it was clearly a very basic outfit. It was basically a 2 x 2m shack constructed of the local volcanic rock. The antenna mast was around 30 metres high, which with the flat terrain would have been more than enough to be in the line of sight of several other relay stations. There would probably be a number of them all over the island. There was an even smaller hut next to it of the same material, which housed an emergency generator. It was fuel powered, so useless in other words, but what really got my heart pumping was the small array of solar panels on the flat roof of the main building.

If these were connected, and I had no reason to believe they weren’t, I might be able to get the radio up and running to broadcast.

The next problem that presented itself was the metal door. My shoulder was strong enough to take a wooden door off its hinges but a steel plate door was something different. I looked around for a big rock or something heavy that would serve as a battering ram. The plateau of the hill was totally flat, with nothing in sight for miles except dust and the occasional stalwart bush trying to suck as much moisture from the parched ground as it could. Not so much as a boulder in sight. Plenty of fist size rocks but nothing that was going to worry this door. Gingerly I pushed up against it and gave it as much of a shoulder barge as I could without hurting myself. Then I tried a little harder. And again. The door didn’t even shake on its hinges and I was in serious risk of breaking my collar bone if I shoved any harder.

Damn! Foiled again. 

What could I use? I was not going to give up, not when a means of communication with the outside world was so close within my grasp. I looked around the building, even inside the generator housing. It yielded a small spade, the purpose of which I didn’t give a second thought, but which was also useless. I jammed as far in the gap between the door and its frame as it would go, which was about half an inch, and attempted to crowbar the door open. The end of the spade simply went ‘nice try, mate’ and snapped off.

Despondent, I had a swing of rum. I’d left the crowbar I’d found in the janitor’s closet back at the Sun Royal.  Not it seemed my only option was to head back to one of the villages and seek out another one to jimmy this bastard open. I got about fifty metres back down the hill before something occurred to me. Surely not, I laughed to myself, but headed back up to the station and tried the door handle. With a loud creak the door opened.


---

The inside of the station was so dark and cool I could have been a mile underground. The tiny room smelled of oil and was clearly not meant for human habitation. There was a bank of two high frequency equipment racks as tall as a man with more buttons and knobs than a commercial cockpit. There were three white boxes on the wall which I presumed was the switchover unit from mains power to the generator or solar bank. There was a small chair in the corner and a desk at which sat a PC monitor which would contain the software for the automatic control communications when the system was online. Beside that, PAY DIRT! A CB radio… My instincts were right.

I examined the equipment racks first of all. At the rear was a pretty mighty looking selection of wires that ultimately culminated in a power distribution unit. This itself fed into a grounding bus bar and from there into a power socket on the wall. I flicked the ‘on’ switch round the front but of course nothing happened. It was still connected to the mains.

I went outside and hoisted myself up onto the roof to check out the solar panels and see if they were at least connected. There was a small yellow box sheltering underneath them, the inverter unit, and they looked in pretty good shape. A wire fed directly through the roof roughly above where the switchover unit was. This was a good sign. The only problem was that the array was pretty small, it couldn’t be giving off more than a kilowatt of power which would be good enough to run a kettle or a TV but I reckoned would struggle with the high powered equipment inside.

I re-entered the station, breathed deeply and flicked the power switch on the solar unit. For a split second nothing happened. Then the strip light above me blinked into life, blinked off again, then came on permanently.

I hooted with joy.

I leapt in the air and almost cracked my head on the ceiling.

It worked!  

I was sore amazed, as the bible quoth. Quickly I hit the light switch to turn off the strip as I could see fine with the daylight coming through the fully open door and didn’t want to run down the supply.

I turned my attention to the CB radio. CBs are used mainly for short-distance communications between individuals rather than commercial use. They’re like powerful walkie-talkies that anyone can use as they don’t require a license. They usually have a selection of 40 channels but because they run on a two-way system only one station can transmit at a time. The other stations must listen and wait for the shared channel to be available. They’re used all over the world by truckers, delivery men, and anyone who needs to regularly communicate job site and main office. The working range can be anywhere between one to 20 miles depending on terrain. I was confident that with the line of sight location of the transmitter station this CB would transmit the maximum range.

I ripped the PC monitor plug out of the socket and plugged in the CB. Thankfully it was a fairly modern one with a digital display and automatic scanning feature. It blinked into life over an agonising ten seconds. If I kept everything else turned off in the station I saw no reason why the solar panels couldn’t infinitely sustain the CB during daylight hours.

I had a plan. It was the longest of long shots and counted on there being somebody else within a range of 20 to 25 miles on the island. Somebody who had access to and knew how to use a CB radio.

Looking at the map there were a number of built up, sizeable towns within that range; the resorts of Puerto Del Carmen, Costa Teguise and, perhaps most importantly, the capital city Arrecife. I reckoned the odds were about one in 14 billion, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.

The big downside was that I didn’t have any recording equipment. In a perfect world I would have a tape recorder into which to speak a message and then broadcast on loop from dawn until dusk in the hope somebody picked it up.

I was going to have to broadcast my own voice indefinitely, and that meant a lot of speaking. First things first though, I tried a spurt message.

I tuned the CB to channel 19. Out of the standard 40 channels this was the middle band and therefore had the best antenna efficiency. It was able to transmit the furthest.

I spoke loudly and clearly.

Mayday. Mayday.  This is an emergency broadcast to anyone picking up. If anyone is listening please respond. Current location two miles south of Uga in elevated transmitting station. Will stay here until further notice. Please respond on channel 19. Out.”

I repeated myself a few times. It was impossible to tell but it seemed like the CB was working. Sitting idle there was a slight hiss, which disappeared when I pressed transmit and spoke. This indicated that it was transmitting and potentially able to receive an incoming broadcast.

I waited for half an hour while sipping a little brandy. It felt nice to be in the cool shack out of the heat. The sun looked to be at its highest point so I assumed it was around 1pm. Lunchtime. I realised I was famished and wolfed down three bread rolls and some cheese while scrolling through the other channels. My heart leapt up my gullet on Channel 13 when it sounded like I heard something other than static. It could have been my ears playing tricks but it sounded like a car starting, or perhaps a large crowd all talking at once. It was there for a fleeting millisecond and then disappeared. I kept tuned to 13 for the next twenty minutes but the sound did not reappear.

I spurted the message again a couple of times on 19 to no avail. After a couple more sips of brandy I started to drift off with the low static hum in the background, but luckily just as I was about to slip into sleep I slipped off the chair and woke myself up.

I wondered if my percentage would decrease if I had a little siesta. I decided it was worth writing off a couple of percent to find out, as if I could have daily lunchtime nap it would make my life much more pleasant. The real reason was I wouldn’t then have to worry about having a couple of glasses of wine at lunch. I decided to put off the experiment for now.

I sat, scanning the channels for what seemed like a couple of hours. I re-broadcast my mayday message every half an hour or so, then when I started to get really bored I did it every five minutes on each channel. By around four o’clock I’d probably spoken the damn message a hundred times, and realised it wasn’t doing any good. I needed that looped recording device.

It had been a pretty productive day in all. I checked the map and saw I was equidistant between Playa Blanca and Puerto Del Carmen, and played with the idea of heading to a new town for the night. In the end I decided to stick with what I knew. I would head back to the Sun Royal, have a slap up meal and a few beers, and then in the morning would hunt for a digital Walkman or something that I could use to record my broadcast and play it back on loop. I had a half hour walk back to my bike and with the downhill run I reckoned about another half hour max to cycle back to Playa Blanca.

I switched off the CB, gently closed the metal door and began the hike back to Las Casitas feeling pretty pleased with myself. Things might not be looking up, but at least they weren’t looking quite so down  anymore.

At least for now.

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I awoke with a sore head after taking a few too many beers with supper. Playa Blanca had welcomed me back with open arms…

The hotel hadn’t changed, not that I had expected it to, and I had a long hot bath to soak away the day’s ride before heading into town to get some dinner. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just eat at the hotel, but I felt a sense of achievement after venturing deep into the unknown bowels of Lanzarote and finding what I did, and I wanted to treat myself.

I had a few glasses of rose at the Bee Restaurant (the mirror was still smashed but there was nothing behind it except a big wall), a spread of beef carpaccio which I found in the fridge in the kitchen, and an enormous plate of blancmange and fruit salad. I hadn’t eaten enough vitamins since my arrival here and I felt maybe I should start eating a bit more healthily as well as getting some cycling exercise. Then I cancelled it all out by drinking five or six strong beers in the Harp Bar  while playing bass guitar and attempting to bash the half drum kit with a set of wooden spoons. I think I must have smoked about a pack and a half of Luckies as well.

The next morning after a shower and a couple of double espressos I headed into town again to seek out my recording device. It was pretty simple in the end. There was a store called Royal Electronics  which sold not just Walkmans but actual dictation gadgets as well. I checked a few over and chose one with an auto-repeat function, then I grabbed a loudspeaker and wire adaptor and a huge pack of batteries and I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

I packed food for a few days since I knew I could be away that long. I ditched the half bottle of brandy and replaced it with two fresh ones, grabbed the crowbar I’d regretted not bringing yesterday and stuffed everything inside some spanking new panniers I nicked from a bike shop. Now I wouldn’t have to wear the damn rucksack on my back apart from when on the hike up to the transmitting station.

The sun was rising steadily as I set off, and an hour later I was back at the station with my bounty. It was as I had left it; nothing or no-one had attempted to sabotage my radio plan. I had almost expected to find the place torn apart, wires hanging from every device, all rendered useless by the invisible force that kept me on the island.

Maybe I was  free to go where I wanted. All this time I had been thinking I was being kept prisoner here, but nothing had stopped me leaving except stale fuel. If I relied on my own manual ability instead of technology, as I had with the bike, then why couldn’t I get off this island? Papillon did it, so why couldn’t I? That gave rise to another train of thought. If I could lash together enough coconuts could I float myself back to civilisation? I almost laughed out loud at the thought. I already had the feeling, nay the certainty, that the nearest island, Fuerteventura, was as deserted as Lanzarote, but what if it wasn’t? I had been assuming, while wallowing in self-pity, that it must be. Focus on the radio for now, I told myself. Think organic thoughts…

The CB powered into life as I switched the solar array on. There were a few white clouds in the sky but I doubted they would have much impact on the KW output even if they did obscure direct sunlight on the panels. The sun was so strong that there might be a slight dip in output but nothing that was going to stop forward progression here.

I loaded the speakers with batteries and recorded the same message I had spoken yesterday with a few more details into the digital recording device. It sounded clear as a bell when I played it back. I set it to loop and placed the speaker in front of the CB microphone. I tuned the CB to channel 19 and hit play, resting a small volcanic stone on the microphone so it was constantly depressed and transmitting.

The drawback was of course that while I was transmitting I wasn’t able to receive any incoming response. That was the conceit of the two-way radio. So my plan was to broadcast solidly for half-hour stints, then opened up the channel and allow a ten-minute response period before beginning with the broadcast again. Anyone listening would soon realise the pattern, and as long as they were patient they would be able to hit me back after a maximum of a half-hour wait.

I had told myself that I wasn’t leaving the station without getting a response of some sort. If that meant waiting weeks (or until my percentage hit zero) then so be it. I had nothing better to do, after all. The realist in me knew that I could only take so much rejection, and I gave myself three days maximum before I went mad and decided to try a new line of attack. That’s why I had subconsciously packed food and water for a limited amount of time.

I had also resolved to stay at the station just in case someone was unable to respond to the broadcast and instead set out to try and find me. So in my message I tried to describe in as much detail as possible the location of the transmitting station.

It would mean a few uncomfortable nights in the open air, but I had my brandy and my blanket. So much for luxury I told myself.

I settled in for a long day at the office.


---

The CB finally failed around fifteen minutes after the sun dipped below the horizon, and it was surprising how quickly darkness came on after that. It had been one heck of a long day in the saddle, the message going on repeat for around 10 hours straight. There had been no response in the 10-minute allowance periods, but I didn’t want to lengthen these as I needed to keep broadcasting for the maximum amount of time. In fact, the next day I decided I was going to reduce the response periods to 10 minutes after each hour of broadcasting, rather than each half hour. The more time the message was on air the more change I had of it being picked up.

There wasn’t enough room to stretch out in the station itself, so I clambered up onto the flat roof and sat there for a while smoking Luckies and sipping brandy and admiring the view. I could clearly see Playa Blanca from up here, and wondered what was going down in the Harp Bar  tonight. Maybe the place came to life as soon as I left. The film crew who had to spend day and night secluded in hidden camera locations packed up their gear and got on the hard stuff. Maybe they posted a junior crew member up at the boundary roundabout to keep an eye out just in case I returned unexpected…

I reflected on how extraordinary my surroundings were. Just over two weeks ago I was commuting three hours daily to a crappy job in central London. Now I was sitting on a remote radio outpost not far off the coast of Africa, with not a single person within miles, jostling for bed space with a solar panel array.

After a few more swigs of brandy I wrapped the blanket around me and went to sleep under the stars.

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Dawn woke me after a patchy night’s sleep. It felt like around 6am. As 54% faded from my vision I lay and looked at the sky for a while hoping to see an airliner trail or a flock of seagulls, but there was nothing but bright azure above. I was pretty stiff from lying on the hard felt roof and it took me a few minutes of stretching before I could make the jump down to get the day’s work going.

The sun wasn’t above the hilltop yet so there wasn’t enough power to operate the CB. I would have to wait, probably an hour or so. I longed for a decent coffee and kicked myself for not bringing a camping stove. Instead I ate some bread, olives and a salami sausage which looked like it would last until the end of time. If I hadn’t consumed it this sausage would have been here for whoever came along after me.

That prompted a thought to pop into my head; what if I was just the latest amusement for the island and there had actually been hundreds who came before me? The idea that this was a test or experiment would not leave me. Nor would the concept that this was some sort of gateway to another, or the next, realm. Especially after what I’d read in the religious texts in the library. It looked more and more like that now. I had all but written out human involvement.

So was it a test of faith? If so, why would I be tested? I had  no faith! O me of little faith. Maybe that was the point. Maybe this was  purgatory after all. The trial by fire. Maybe that was how He  hooked you in. By the time my percentage hit zero I would be begging to be let into heaven or the afterlife or whatever it was that was ‘ever after’. It was surely preferable to the alternative, or just nothing at all.

I wanted my life to go on. I wanted to survive this place and live beyond it. I was so damned unfair that this was how it ended for me, if that was what was going to happen.

The more I considered it the more it made sense. I was never a sociable person. My idea of hell was a cocktail party, or any sort of social gathering at which I was expected to conform to certain rules. I liked rules, but for other people not for me. It wasn’t that I was a rebel, or a misfit or an outcast, or autistic or Aspergery  or anything else… I just preferred my own company. Ironic, as I would have given my arms and legs for the company of another human at that point.

Was purgatory based on irony then? Did it focus on an individual’s hubris and make them live it out eternally? In some alternative Lanzarote was Alexander the Great being confronted with a never-ending list of lands to conquer when all he really wanted to do was have a glass of wine and relax?

So many questions, so few answers. It’s human nature to be inquisitive. From the moment we can speak we are asking why  in an attempt to understand the world around us. I felt like a small child again, thirsty for as much knowledge as I could fathom but lacking the ability to gather it. I shook my head in frustration. Just one clue was all I wanted. Just one morsel of information to help me. It didn’t need to be the whole story, just the first chapter so I could at least begin to comprehend what was happening. That was, I think, the hardest part of all of this. The not knowing. Deny a man food and he will simply die. But deny him knowledge and his whole world will collapse.

Not me. I was determined to beat this. I had another Lucky and by this time the sun was up above the hills and I could begin transmitting.

Inside the station I flicked the ‘on’ switch, placed the little stone on ‘transmit’ and turned on the message again. I was going to give it a good hour before a response break.


---

During those hours I sat in thought far too much. I was going mad through rumination. I needed a distraction to keep me occupied while transmitting, so after another fruitless response break I ran the message again and headed down to Las Casitas to look for something else to do. I came back an hour and a half later having raided several houses for loot. All I found was a selection of Dick Francis novels (all in Spanish), a backgammon board and several bottles of Jim Beam whiskey. I took them all.

Three days and nights I sat either outside or on top of that transmitting station, sipping whiskey, reading books I barely understood and attempting to have a backgammon tournament with the chair acting as my opponent. I won every game of course. The chair was good, but not good enough to beat me. Each morning my percentage got lower, until the milestone of 50% hit as I awoke on day four. It was, I had decided, to be my last day of broadcasting. I had run out of food, I was stiff from sleeping outside on the roof,


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I hadn’t washed for days and most importantly of all I felt myself going gradually insane. I thought about packing up and heading over to Puerto Del Carmen to check out the bar scene but decided to give it one final blast of transmitting until sunset that evening for the miracle to happen.

It was a damn good job I did.

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If I could describe the sound of that brief spurt of crackling static in mere mortal words I would, but if hope had a sound that was it.

It was around two hours until sunset and I was smoking outside the station about 30 seconds into a response period when I heard it. White noise coming through the CB speaker. The static of someone trying to communicate! No other sound in the world is like it, except maybe the sound of scratching burnt toast.

When I was a child my physics teacher had told the class that white noise was just microwave background radiation thought to be left over from the creation of the universe. In other words when you hear static on the radio you are listening the echo of the Big Bang.

This was almost as momentous for me. I ran inside the shack and hovered like a madman over the CB, praying for another hit. It came again about ten seconds later. The same burst of white noise with three or four brief gaps in between. I was certain it was somebody trying to get through. In a fit of tension I pushed down on the transmit button and spoke.

“Hello! Hello! Come in! Can you hear me Channel 19? Please respond! Over!”

Again the burst, and this time, oh my great God … I swore I could hear somebody trying to speak! It sounded like the vaguest undertone of a female voice beneath the static. There was silence for an agonising few seconds, after which I presumed whoever it was on the other side was waiting for me to respond. I repeated myself again, shouting into the CB.

“Come in! Can you hear me Channel 19? Please respond! Over!”

The static started again and this time I was sure; it was definitely a woman trying to be heard. She too seemed to be shouting, but the line was so bad that I couldn’t make out anything of what she was trying to say. My heart was racing; this was my first contact with another human in nearly three weeks! The line went silent again and I tried another message.

“Where are you Channel 19? Repeat, where are you located? Can you speak English? Over!”

Two seconds later she came back, clearer this time. I could almost discern an accent… was it oriental?

“k… English!” she shouted, then a massive crackle of static broke in and I missed the next line. When she came back a few seconds later the line had cleared again.

“I receive! I receive !”

“I receive you too!” I screamed, so excited I almost knocked the CB off the desk. “I repeat, where are you ? Give me your location!”

“I receive, I receive!” she repeated in her Eastern accent. It seemed to be all she could give out at this stage.  She was probably as worked up as me.

“I hear you, I understand you receive. I am receiving you too. Do you speak English Channel 19? Over!”

The static cut in again.

Damn these short wave radios !

She was speaking again and I struggled desperately to make out what she was saying but the undercurrent of white noise was simply too loud. Over and over again she seemed to be shouting “I receive,” until I was at the verge of giving up.

“Say something else!” I shouted, not even into the CB. “Please give your location Channel 19. Over!”

This exchange went back and forth for at least another minute, during which I began to get increasingly frustrated with its lack of progress. The line was getting worse, I could barely even discern the I receives  now, although I knew that’s what they were.

For good measure I was about to repeat myself one last time, when something incredible happened. For one brief second her line went totally clear. She spoke with such clarity it was almost as if I was in the room with her, wherever she was.

“I receive,” she said. “Fredo Sun! Fredo Sun!”

Then the line went completely dead.


---

You have to try to understand my predicament. Here was the first human contact I’d had in the guts of a month, having until now thought the entire island of Lanzarote (and possibly the world) was deserted.

Because of the effective range of the CB radio, that person had to be within a maximum of 20-odd miles from where I was currently situated. But those miles were as the radio wave flies so that was a pretty huge amount of territory to be dealing with. The plus side was that she was almost certainly somewhere on the south coast. The radio waves wouldn’t have travelled far enough in-land because of the increasingly mountainous terrain, as on any island, the closer to the centre you got. If like me she was broadcasting from a transmitting station it would be a case of a heck of a lot of cycling up and down the LZ-2 trying to spot the others. But that was the lesser of two evils. If she was in a town or city it would be like trying to find a piece of hay in a massive stack of needles. If only she’d given me a clue as to her location!

I now faced an even bigger dilemma. I had broadcasted my location but had not got hers. Did I stay put and wait for her to find me, or head off across the island in the hope that blind luck served us up a big plate of goodies?

I whipped out my trusty map and assessed the situation. I was around 10 miles from Playa Blanca which was the southern tip of the island. I was fairly certain she wasn’t there although she could have ‘arrived’ in the three days I had been away. I couldn’t write Playa Blanca off, in other words. In the other direction was Puerto Del Carmen, around eight miles, Arrecife the capital city was about 14 miles, and Costa Teguise was about 19 miles away. These were the main resorts or population centres, and I would have to search them all.

There was no way in hell that I could stay put and wait. I knew in my heart that would drive me crazy. No, I had to get out there and hunt my new friend down. That I was determined to do. I would leave a note at the station in case she located it and tell her to stay there. I would return every day at midday for the next two weeks in case she did.

I looked up at the sun and decided I had a good two or three hours of daylight left, not that it mattered as I could happily cycle in the dark, but I needed to get somewhere for the night to strategise.

I decided not to head all the way back to Playa Blanca but to base myself more centrally within the broadcast zone. Puerto Del Carmen seemed bang in the centre of the potential main locations within that zone.

I set off down the dusty track to get my bike with quite a spring in my step.

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Somebody else was on the island with me!  

It was almost too much to grasp. After all this time thinking I was alone all I had to do was pull my finger out and get searching.

The implications were astounding. I barely slept a wink all night thinking about it. Unfortunately it still did little to explain why all this was happening, but if I could find this person I was convinced the explanation would somehow out. Perhaps she knew why we had been put here! She might know others that were also here. There may be a whole frigging community  of survivors somewhere on the island! Then again, she might be the puppet master and this was just another part of the puzzle I had to solve. Either way I had to find her, and quickly.

Upon leaving the transmitting station the night before I had left a crude note next to the CB radio declaring my intentions. I had written it as best I could in Spanish and German as well as English, just in case there was a language barrier. I didn’t know any Chinese or Japanese, if that was even where she was from, but banked on her being educated enough to get the gist. In very simple terms it confirmed that I was searching the island for the recipient of my broadcast, and that if this note was discovered the reader should stay put and I would return each day when the sun was highest in the sky to check.

It was a risk I had to take as I have explained. I could not just sit back and wait for her to come to me. Although if there was a community they would surely send out scouts.

I thought how wonderful it would be. A community of people would mean shelter, support, and a sense of belonging, unless I was placing too much faith in human nature. If the island’s other resorts were as well stocked as Playa Blanca there would be no issue with sustainment. But it also begged the question, if there was a group why hadn’t sentinels visited Playa Blanca in the three weeks I had been there? Maybe they had. Maybe they were part of an island-wide conspiracy to monitor me. Then again, maybe it was just one lone person who had had the same idea as me to try and reach out to anyone else who might be out there.

You can see the thoughts that were whirlwinding through my mind! I was all at once elated, paranoid, excited and anxious at the potential variations this brief human contact could yield.

I awoke at the THB Flora aparthotel. Not because I was loyal to the chain but because it was the first substantial accommodation I had come across on the cycle in Puerto Del Carmen the night before. Following the map, I had taken the LZ-504 off the LZ-2, which gradually became Calle Reina Sofia  as I approached the build-up of the town. The Flora was almost identical to the Sun Royal, from the layout of the apartments to the central reservation housing the pool area and restaurant.

My theory about power in the major resorts turned out to be correct. In something of a Twilight Zone moment, as I approached the town from about half a mile away in the fading light, all of a sudden and as if acknowledging my presence, the street lights began to switch on automatically. If I hadn’t seen it happen on a daily basis in Playa Blanca it would have certainly given me the heebie jeebies.

And so I arrived in Puerto Del Carmen bathed in a yellow glow and set up in the Flora. Again the reception area had records of past and future guests, a computer with no working internet and a selection of buffet food that was as fresh that night as I’m sure it had been three weeks ago. There was no sign of any other inhabitation. The phones were down and the clocks were frozen at 2.04. I could have been right back ‘home’ in Playa Blanca, rather than in a completely different town.

I resisted the urge to head further in to town to explore, telling myself I needed a glass or two of wine, a decent meal and a night in a proper bed after my four days at the transmitting station. I would be in better shape to begin the search the next morning if that were the case. Of course I slept very little.

I panicked slightly when I woke up when I realised my percentage had now dipped below 50%, and I was over half way to whatever I was destined for, but it was also a decent catalyst, not that I needed one, to get up and get going.

I spent the morning cycling around Puerto Del Carmen. Having broken into a cycling store I picked up some spare tyre tubes, a puncture repair kit and a squeezy horn which I mounted on the handlebars and gave four or five good squeezes of each time I rode onto a new street. At what I thought was around 11am I checked the map and decided I’d probably covered most of the major arteries that ran through the town, and that it was time to head up to the transmitting station for my midday rendezvous.

The day was as clear as a bell, it was a cooler morning and the cycling was easy. The sun was getting to its highest point when I pulled up in Las Casitas, dumped the bike as the usual point and began the hike up the hill to the station. Half an hour later I was right back at the CB. I turned it on and sat down outside to smoke. I wasn’t transmitting, there was no need. My friend knew I would be there (I hoped) and so I just set Channel 19 to open and waited for incoming contact.

An hour later nobody had arrived and the channel had remained resolutely silent. I didn’t know what I was expecting. The one thing that bothered me about the transmission the day before was how abruptly her line had gone dead. It was impossible to tell whether her power had cut off or she had willfully decided to cut contact, although the excited tone in her voice suggested it was almost certainly the former.

My next worry was that she hadn’t understood, or had failed to hear, my responses. My mind went back over the conversation. She hadn’t answered any question from the point I had ceased my broadcast to the point the parlay itself stopped. She had just repeated ‘I receive’ over and over again, and then the strange message about someone or something called Fredo Sun.

Something clicked in my brain.

Fredo Sun?  

Could she have been referring to a hotel name? Many of the establishments I had encountered so far had some reference to ‘sun’ in their titles – Sun Royal, Cay Beach Sun, Sun Tropical… Could she be staying somewhere called the Fredo Sun Hotel?

Damn , I realised I had left my map in the bike pannier at the foot of the climb. I was pretty certain most of the major hotels were listed on it.

I grabbed my stuff and headed back down the hill with a renewed sense of purpose. It took me only 15 minutes or so as I picked up the pace. Rooting out the map I began to scrutinise each resort. Sure enough, the Sun Royal and Cay Beach Sun were pointed out on the map. I scanned each resort looking for a Fredo Sun Hotel. There were Jardine Del Sols, Blue Seas, Sands Beaches and the usual THB chains, but I couldn’t see any that were even close to having Fredo in the title.

If she was at a hotel called Fredo Sun why wouldn’t she pick a more visible or well-known chain? Or a landmark in a big town? Or the airport? She must realise that trying to find a specific small hotel on an island with over a thousand was stretching the boundaries of human capability.

Unless it didn’t refer to a hotel at all. Could it have been a street name? It was an unusual name. Fredo. It kept putting me in mind of The Godfather’s Fredo Corleone.

The heat had picked up to its usual early afternoon strength. I wasn’t getting anywhere and I needed to find some shade. I had a long afternoon of searching to do.

The eight miles to Puerto Del Carmen were mostly downhill and I made it back to the Flora in just over 20 minutes. I needed to refuel in the restaurant before I began again, so grabbed a plate of beans, chilies and a couple of bread rolls and headed to the reception area.

I’d had another idea on the cycle back.

Most hotels have an area in reception dedicated to tourist leaflets and such, advertising local attractions, tours and hire car companies and so forth. I made a big pile of every leaflet I could find and began scanning through them as I munched on my lunch (no beer or wine, as I wanted to be alert for the afternoon and not have to take a nap in the heat.)

I read literature on aquariums, beaches, water caves, ten pin bowling and cactus gardens. I scrutinised each one looking for anything that resembled Fredo and Sun. I knew it was pretty unlikely I would find a hotel advertising another hotel, but what if there was a unique tourist attraction at the Fredo Sun that simply could not be missed?

I was getting bored and coming to the end of my search when it caught my eye. A leaflet for a restaurant called Gambrinas  offering the best paella on the island. It was standard fair: bring the leaflet for a 10% discount, and hot foot along to our air-conditioned premises for a delightful meal in beautiful surroundings on your way back to the airport. Located at… Avenida Fred Olsen.

Jesus .

I nearly dropped the leaflet as it sank in. It was her oriental accent that had confused me! She hadn’t been screaming Fredo Sun at all.

It was FRED OLSEN !

Feverishly I checked the rest of the address. Suddenly it all became as clear as crystal. She hadn’t been saying ‘I receive’ either. It all made perfect sense now.

Avenida Fred Olsen was situated right on the beach in Lanzarote’s capital city.

I receive! 

Arrecife.

PART TWO

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The beach was never-ending; the horizon a mere blur in the distance above a sea so blue my eyes could barely focus on it. I was naked as the day I was born, suspended above a bed of perfect pearls, all moving apart and together to support my weight like a slippery shoal of silver fish parting to tease a predator. The sun was blazing, but I didn’t feel burned, just welcome and warmed. My body was covered in sand, but I could see how taught and tanned the muscles were underneath. I felt invincible, like a Nubian God. If I wanted, I could have risen my arms and soared into that flawless sky like the most graceful bird that ever flew.  

There was no pain, only understanding. I was here  because. That was all I needed to know. I felt drunk with life; power coursed through my veins. Some unknown elixir was my blood. 

The horizon shifted slightly, an infinitesimal shake like a rip in time. In the centre, a blot of light was born. It was so small at first that it could have been the reflection from a sunbeam, but it began to grow and grow. Then to flash. The flashes were searingly bright but I didn’t feel the need to divert my eyes. In fact it was almost as if I couldn’t. They were hypnotising.  

A stone canyon wall rose around me, carved with images of angels and demons. It shot skyward, unscalable, not even worth trying. The pearls began to roll around and over me, and all the while in the distance that white light grew stronger.  

It was so consuming I didn’t even realise that everything else around me had gone black. Like a black sky, not a night sky that is actually just really dark blue, but pure black. Ink-coloured. I wondered where the buildings and people and roads were. I tasted a chemical in my mouth. Sick-making and disgusting.  

At the same time I felt a mixture of terrible guilt, abandonment, then hilarity. Then I was on a boat. A boat ride. Someone was ferrying me out into the sea. The waves began to grow and smash against the side as I realised it wasn’t even a boat, but a train. I ordered some food from a machine that stood in the middle of the aisle. It beeped and instead of food produced an endless run of paper like an old book-keeping machine.  

Then I was back on the beach, lying on the sand, and somebody was narrating, no  commentating, on what was going on. 

He’s on the beach. He’s rolling over and brushing sand from his body. He’s desperate for water…

I noticed a line of angry looking birds, they looked like vultures, standing sedately and staring at me. They were standing in an actual line, as if queuing, waiting for me to die! 

I tried to scream at them to go away but my open mouth made absolutely no sound. I was mute. The vultures just blinked and continued their beady vigil. 

I was no longer lying on pearls but a nest of seaweed that began to twitch and mould itself around my legs. It grew in volume and was suddenly all over me in a matter of seconds. I felt greasy tendrils slide into my mouth and wrap around my tongue, and still I was unable to scream. I was almost embalmed in seaweed, amazingly heavy, crushing my lungs and cutting off the breath to my body. How was this seaweed so heavy? I tried to rip it off but it was like a web, gripping me tighter and tighter. I had gone from immortality to the verge of death within a matter of seconds.  

Then just as I felt the last breath being squeezed out of me the light on the horizon went supernova and filled the sky. The seaweed shriveled and dried and fell off me. The vultures were burned to a crisp and fell to ashes on the sand. I felt unspeakable energy coursing all around me in torrents. It was like a party of lightning, consuming the world around me.  

The light retreated and folded in on itself as it reached the shoreline. It shrank and shrank and somehow became more than light. It began to embody itself, until I could make out a human form underneath, like someone was standing in front of a floodlight and just its silhouette could be discerned.  

The light disappeared completely and standing in front of me was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was radiant, like a Goddess, with a shock of long, jet-black hair contrasted against her long, flowing white gown. She smiled at me, and in that instant I knew she would never, ever do me harm. Indeed was totally incapable of causing pain in any way. She strode towards me along the white sand and stopped when she reached me, her robe lapping against my legs as I lay prostrate in front of her.  

I am Amaterasu, she said . And you are saved.

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Instead of a flashing percentage, it was the ghostly white face of that woman, that Goddess , that was imprinted on my mind when I awoke in the penthouse of the Gran Hotel.

What had the dream meant? What did she mean by ‘you are saved’? It seemed to me that I was pretty far from saved.

I had been in Arrecife for three days.

Each night Amy, as I liked to call her since her full name was too long, had appeared to me in my dreams. Sometimes as a charging rhino, sometimes as a soaring eagle; last night as a white light. By now I had given up trying to find any meaning in these visions.

Of my radio friend there had been not a trace. I had scoured every inch of Fred Olsen, from the pristine Parque Tematico at the west end with its driftwood sculptures and skate ramps (something for everyone), along the beach front with its golden sands, concrete hotels and glass-fronted real estate agents, to what I liked to call the ‘Far East’; the glass-fronted pride of the city, the tallest structure on the island, at the top of which I now lay, wrapped in a ludicrously thick, white beach towel, about to enjoy my first glass of champagne of the day before heading to the spa.

I had to admit, it was luxurious. In my disappointment, I now fully intended to spend what remained of my percentage enjoying floor-to-ceiling sea and city views, stocked minibars (for a fee ) and whirlpool tubs. There was a free breakfast buffet, two restaurants, two bars and an atrium-style pool with Balinese beds. There was also a fitness centre and spa with a hydrothermal pool circuit.

What more could a man desire?

The towns I had visited thus far had been deserted, but the feeling of abandonment took on a whole new level in the capital. It seemed a ghost town grew in ghostliness the higher the buildings rose.

Unlike the Gran Hotel, Arrecife itself was hardly grand, but as I had approached along LZ-2 and the dusty volcanic landscape began to give way to increased urbanisation I felt more of a sense of foreboding than I had at any point during my residency on the empty island.

It started at the airport on the western outskirts of the city. A huge sign boasted the Centro Comercial, or mall, and a deserted KFC stood in mocking salute to the once-vibrant population. It was a strange feeling of total loneliness that I was aware of, and it was only the prospect of human contact that pulled me back from a panicked volte-face that would have seen me racing back to the safety of Playa Blanca.

I was aware of a chill in the air. Clouds had gathered and blocked out the sun and the irony of pathetic fallacy merely added to the sense of societal absence.

Upon reaching the city proper this odd sense of doom dissipated somewhat, especially when I saw the signs leading to the beach front, and was replaced by a renewed sense of purpose as my mind brought itself back to my reason for getting to Arrecife. I picked up the pace on my bike, thighs straining as I peddled as fast as they would push me, desperate to reach what I was sure would be the most glorious (re)union in human history. I felt like a small child being held back from a massive softball pool whilst having their shoes removed, aching to dive in and experience the imminent rush of adrenaline.

I walked over to the huge glass vista window of my suite, and surveyed the miles of beach stretching out in front of me.

To have come this far, to have survived as long as I had on this empty island, then to have had the prospect of company tantalisingly and swiftly dangled in front of me like a human carrot, just to have it withheld like a cruel joke of fate, was as much as I could endure.

Was I a bad person? Did I really deserve this? First world problems, perhaps. I had all the food I wanted, all the booze, my health, my sanity, seemingly, although that was open to debate, and none of the struggles, tribulations and inconveniences that modern civilised man has to endure such as mortgages, divorces, taxes or violent neighbours. Yet I felt decidedly hard done by, like I’d been dealt the most incredible poker hand in the middle of a game of solitaire. I had the most insane right boot but no goal keeper to shoot at. I had all the beach sunsets in the world but no-one to share them with. Shit , even a dog would have been something. Or a bird or even a sodding ant . I pictured myself sitting on the beach at dusk, enjoying a fine Chardonnay with my buddy, an ant called Bernard, and laughed out loud.

As I was half cut on champagne, I decided I would go on an entomological research trip in the hope of discovering Bernard on the beach.

The elevator down had four mirrored walls, and every way I turned I was presented with another view of myself. I hadn’t shaved in weeks although I was as clean as a whistle with all the spa dips I’d been enjoying. But I was shocked at how hollow I looked. As if my skin had been unzipped, pulled off me and simply draped back on. My cheeks were dense, bearded craters, and the bags under my eyes had become even more prominent although I was sleeping probably fifteen hours a day. I looked like a man who was in the throes of reluctant acceptance. Acceptance of fate.

“Have you given up, mate?” I asked myself, slightly startled at the sound of my own voice in the confined elevator. I turned 180 degrees and looked at myself in the opposite mirror.

“Wouldn’t you, bro?” I answered myself, although for humorous effect I put on a New Zealand accent.

Turning again to become my real self, I thought over this response. It was odd how it hadn’t seemed to come from my own mind, but as if I was genuinely having a conversation with a bizarrely identical, Kiwi doppelganger. I found myself liking how it felt. I nodded sagely at myself, and raised my glass of champagne in one hand, and the half empty bottle in the other, in a gesture of offerance.

“Don’t mind if I do, bro,” came the response. I poured him another glass and took a large sip from the bottle. As myself, I then slugged from the glass.

“Damn good stuff, this.” I said, examining the label.

“Takes like puss to me, bro. I’m a beer man,” my friend said. “Champagne gives me gas.” He pronounced it ‘giss’.

“How odd. Beer does the same to me.” I replied. “Well, drink up, the ride’s nearly over.”

The elevator trundled to a stop as it reached ground floor, and I found myself reluctant to step outside and leave my new acquaintance behind.

“Don’t fancy a beer in town do you?” I asked him.

“Does Robocop have a metal dick?” he chuckled.

I exited first, hesitantly looking behind me to see if he’d follow. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I stepped into the lobby, and of course he instantly disappeared. I stood for a moment, mulling over my own idiocy, before making for the exit.

As I approached the all-glass doors I saw him again, this time walking towards me carrying the bottle of champagne and an empty glass. He raised the bottle in salute and said ‘cheers’. I heard myself saying it as well, at exactly the same time.

He looked like a bit of a savage to be perfectly honest. I frowned, and decided he needed a name if he was going to be accompanying me on my walk into town to find Bernard the Ant. The best I could come up with then and there was Hans.

Hans seemed to disappear again in the sunligh


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t as I walked onto the street, and I wondered if he’d decided a beer wasn’t such a good idea after all. But every now and again I would catch a glimpse of him walking alongside me, reflected in a shop window. He was staggering a little, and I couldn’t decide if I was happy or a bit wary each time I saw him. I thought it was nice to have a bit of company, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be seen with him in public. He looked a bit… aggressive . In the back of my mind I knew he was just my reflection, but the back of my mind had decided to retreat to exactly that, the back of my mind, and I was left with the frontal lobe doing the thinking.

We walked mainly in silence for a few minutes, apart from Hans occasionally breaking wind and grunting in approval. I picked up the pace, eager not to be associated with him, like a teenager walking through a mall with their parents.

I started to head off Fred Olsen itself to walk on the beach, but I could feel Hans had stopped behind me and so turned around. I couldn’t see him anywhere, but I could sense his presence only a few feet away from me.

After a few more paces, he said, “What about here?”

I found myself looking directly at Gambrinus, the open air bar that had advertised itself in the leaflet that had directed me to Avenida Fred Olsen.

“What for?” I said to the air in front of me.

“You invited me for a beer, bro,” said Hans, matter-of-factly. “What about this place? It looks nice, eh?” He paused and made a sweeping gesture around himself. “Nice trees and shit.”

The bar was like any other cerveceria  on the street, but two small trees had been planted into the concrete pavement outside in an attempt at landscaping.

“I suppose, yeah,” I said.

“I’ll have two lagers,” Hans said, and I could hear a chair being pulled out from one of the tables, and the sound of him sitting down with a relaxed sigh.

“I always drink the first quickly, and it’ll save us going up to the bar again, eh?” he called, and then there was silence.

I stood on the pavement wobbling slightly in the hot sun, wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. It obviously was, but was I willing to go along with it? After a long pause I decided I would. It wasn’t as if I had a pressing engagement and I was sure Bernard the Ant would be there later in the day.

I headed into Gambrinus and approached the bar. I heard Hans shouting, “Oh, and check if there’s a fag machine eh bro!”

I was slightly annoyed that I’d allowed myself to become saddled with this irritating man when all I wanted to do was go searching for an ant.

Inside the restaurant I pulled three cold beers from behind the bar and noticed a 200 pack of Marlboro Lights under the serving area. I grabbed two packs and headed outside.

Once on the external terrazza overlooking the beach, I looked around for Hans before feeling stupid and sitting at the nearest table. Looking out over the beach I felt a calmness and serenity begin to filter in that I hadn’t had for a few days. But when I turned my head to the left there was Hans, reflected in the restaurant window. He had made himself properly comfortable with his feet up on the table, matching me sip for sip from his glass tankard of cold beer. He sighed epically.

“This is the life, eh bro? Don’t wanna go find some ant anyway.”

He sniggered, and I got the impression he found the idea of searching for an ant for company as ridiculous as it sounded. I realised I hadn’t even mentioned Bernard to him, but then I supposed what I knew, he  knew. Or maybe he was part of my subconscious that I didn’t even know existed, part of the 90% of my brain that I wasn’t using. Maybe he knew a few things I didn’t, and vice versa.

“Have you been having strange dreams lately?” I asked him tentatively.

“Fuck you talken about?” he laughed and I paused.

“Never mind. How long have you been here, Hans?” I asked.

“Don’t remember bro,” he said. “I like it fine though. Plenty of beer, plenty of sun. No worries eh?”

Another long pause.

“Don’t you think about escaping?” I asked.

“Nah.” He simply said, and was quiet while he sipped his beer. He’d finished his first quickly as promised, and I looked down and saw mine was empty too.

“May as well settle in, eh?” he said, getting started on his second beer. “Get any food in there?”

“I didn’t see any. I’m not really hungry anyway.” I replied. He frowned, seeming slightly annoyed by my response.

I wasn’t sure where this fraternal encounter was heading. I felt uneasy in his company, like he was judging me for some unknown reason.  Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. You’re sitting in bar on your own, talking to yourself in a reflection. How could this be anything other than totally insane?

“You alright there, bro?” Hans asked me, that slight grin playing on his lips again, as if he was aware of my discomfort.

Something about this man, me in reflection, didn’t seem right. I felt like he was the embodiment of everything that was wrong inside me. His face was mine, but at the same time it was wearing expressions that I had never seen on myself. It was as if he was contorting my features for his own personal amusement.

“You don’t look so hot,” he said somberly. “I recommend you drink some more beer, that’ll sort you out.”

Of all the trips I’d had on this island, this was definitely turning into the most unnerving. I suddenly felt the need to get far away from him, as far away as I could and quickly. I felt as though if I didn’t, something bad would happen. I tried to be calm.

“I’m fine.” I said. “It’s just the heat. I’m a bit dehydrated I think.”

This seemed to cause him even more amusement and he barked out a long loud laugh.

“You’re telling me!” he said, a little too loudly for comfort. “That’s what happens when you don’t DRINK enough bro!” he raised his second beer to his lips and took a hearty swig. “I know just how to remedy that eh?”

He reached over and I felt his hand touch mine, coaxing it towards my beer mug, which had remarkably filled itself with a fresh beer. I felt my skin start to sear where his hand rested on my arm, as if he were either insanely hot or sub-zero freezing. I recoiled my hand in surprise, and he laughed again.

It hit me, all I had to do was get up and walk away. If I stayed out of the line of sight of any large shop fronts or mirrors I wouldn’t be able to see him, and then he wouldn’t be able to affect me as he was. A wave of irony struck me, here I was in Arrecife desperate to find company and I was trying to escape the only bit of human interaction I’d had.

You’re a fool! I thought to myself again. This isn’t human interaction, you’re bloody hallucinating!

I rose sharply and stared ahead at the beach, but in the corner of my eye I could see that Hans had stood just as urgently as I had. Of course.

“What’s up bro?” he said quietly, his breath ragged. “You getting bored of my company eh?”

He had seen straight through me.

“I’m just going for a walk on the beach,” I said as nonchalantly as I could, and started to walk away from the table we were seated at. For some reason I felt if I kept my movement sharp and clipped it would throw him off track, but the booze was making that difficult and I stumbled over my heels more than once. I made it to the edge of the terrazza without looking in his direction.

“EH?” he shouted. “That’s rude, boy! I was just messing with you then, ya rude kent!”

I could feel his eyes on the back of my head, and felt a sudden sharp pang of fear, almost a premonition, that he was going to throw his beer mug at me. I turned slowly.

Sure enough, his arm was cocked back, his glass emptying itself of its frothy contents as he prepared to sling. It must have been the expression on my face, a mixture of terror and utter confusion, that caused him to freeze. He stood there, his arm held back behind his head, poised to hurl the glass at any second.

Then he grinned. A slow, ironic snarl that pulled his teeth (my teeth! ) back off his lips and exposed his gums. I had never seen that grin on my face before, even when doing my Jack Torrance in The Shining  impersonation.

“Aaaaaaah!” he laughed. “I’m just fucken  with you bro!”

He dropped his weapon arm to his side and set the empty beer glass down on the table.

“You fucken Brits!” he mocked. “Too bloody sensitive!”

He pronounced it sinsituv .

My shock broke, and I felt a wave of anger well up inside me.

“What are you doing, Hans?” I asked him. “What do you want from me?”

“What do I  want?” he laughed incredulously. “It’s not what I want of you , bro. You need me ! I’m the only thing that’s keeping you from going cuckoo for caca my friend.”

He went silent. He had started breathing heavily again, as if incensed at my confusion. I shrugged and exhaled, not knowing how to respond. He seemed half way between a small child having a tantrum and a madman about to snap.

He went on. “Who do you think’s been looking out for you all this time?” he said under his breath. “Who’s been watching you since Day One? Who bandaged your head to stoop you bleeding to death, eh? Who set out all the food for you so you wouldn’t starve? Who dragged your sweaty ass back to bed every time you collapsed like a drunken kent  in the street? You know what I want? I want you to show me some fucken respect!”

It came out ruspict .

Whether it was the beer buzz or a sense of immortality, I felt the need to challenge him. Something deep within me wanted to prove this man, this apparition , wrong.

“You’re lying,” I said, and speaking slowly I enunciated each word, as if to convince myself as much as to emphasise the point to him. “You. Are. Me!”

He grinned again and his tongue lolled out. He looked like a rabid dog about to pounce.

“You don’t get it, do you bro?” he said dangerously quietly. “I’m more  than you. I’m better than you!”

Bitter  than you.

“If it weren’t for me, you’d be pissing into the wind my friend. You’d be a wreck.”

Wrick .

“You want me sticking around son, let me tell you. I’m warning you right now, if I walk away you’ll be in a world of hurt little man!”

He was using lines from my favourite movies against me now. He let that hang in the air, standing ten or so feet away, staring at me. Was he expecting a response? Did he want me to challenge him? I couldn’t work it out. It was the most extraordinary situation I had been in on the island so far, and there had been plenty. I was standing in the street having an argument with a visual manifestation… of myself. I decided enough was enough.

“I’m not sure what you expect me to do, Hans,” I said hesitatingly. “But I’m not having this argument any more. You’re not real.”

I turned my back to him and began walking towards the beach, fully expecting a tirade of abuse to be hurled at my departing form. After a few paces nothing had happened so I stopped and turned around again, not sure what to expect.

But not expecting what I saw.

Hans had disappeared. So had his beer glass. His chair was still pulled out from the table as if he had been sitting there all along, but aside from that there wasn’t a single trace of him. I stared, gawping, trying to make sense of the situation in my head. To my surprise, I had to stifle a small laugh. Well that’s that, I thought to myself. I shrugged and turned my attention again towards the beach.

The attack came from out of nowhere. Somehow he had worked his way around behind me in silence. As I turned beach-wards, a thumping crack landed on the right side of my head just above my ear, and I screamed in shock and surprise. The pain exploded through my skull and my vision became awash with bright light. I reached up and grabbed my head with both hands, and felt a sharp blow land in my ribs, doubling me up. The pain tore through my chest in a massive wave.

I gasped for breath, but kept my hands up to shelter my head from further blows. I felt a warm liquid start to course down my check, and in that instant I knew the bastard had glassed me. I managed to open my eyes in an attempt to parry further blows, and saw bright red blood dripping through my hands onto the pavement.

“Hans! Stop!” I cried, still in shock at what had just happened. Another sharp pain barked through my left leg, and I knew he had kicked me. The blow knocked me off balance, and I fell to the hard concrete pavement, knees crumbling beneath me. I curled into the foetal position, trying to stop the attack. I felt powerless, unable to defend myself as I was in such pain and disorientation.

I heard his breath coming from above me, ragged and heavy, the breathing of a man in the throes of a furious breakdown.

“Please stop!” I shouted as loud as I could, desperate for a second to collect myself and absorb the blows before any further reigned down. I daren’t move or straighten myself out in case I received a broken glass to the belly or face.

“Just stop! Please for a second! Let’s work this out!” I cried in desperation.

I heard a short, sharp snigger, high-pitched and absurd, from above me.

“Not so fucken clever now, eh bro?” came his sarcastic retort. “Still think I’m not real now? Real as the blood in your head bro!” he shouted.

I risked a glance. He was standing above me, engaged in some form of tribal shuffle. An absurd little dance, lifting his legs up and down and making as if to punch an invisible boxing speedball. My head was rolling and I had to fight back the urge to throw up. The pain was intense, masking my vision. My ribs throbbed. He must have swung a real haymaker into them.

He danced on, yelling ‘eye of the tiger!’ at the top of his lungs, spitting onto the pavement. I was looking at myself, but a grotesque parody thereof, unable to convince myself that this was reality despite the throbbing in my skull. I knew somehow I had to get away from the madman circling me or else I would wind up dead. I suspected he meant to kill me and was just looking for an excuse.

But what if all he had said was true? What if he was some kind of angelic doppelganger that had been looking out for me ever since my arrival on the island? Maybe not physically, but metaphysically … was he some sort of incorporeal embodiment of my imperviousness to physical harm? The falls, the explosions, the bees, the nuclear clouds… all of these things could have, should  have killed me and yet, here I was lying on a sidewalk covered in my own blood, racking my brains as to how to escape.

From myself .

Maybe all this presence did  want was a little respect, a little acknowledgement for protecting me thus far, and when he didn’t get it, it was in his childlike nature to lash out at those closest to him. Was he some kind of animalistic, base form of me, some anti-me that had been placed here to reveal to me my true nature in times of trouble? All this was rolling through my head as I watched the mad man shuffle just feet away.

I decided I wasn’t going to wait around to find out. I had to get away or risk a further beating that could possibly be my last. I waited until he shuffled his back towards me, then hastily, groggily rose to my feet as quickly as I could. I didn’t know where I was going, but it didn’t matter.

I just ran.

Amazingly I got around twenty feet of a start on him before he realised my subterfuge. A primal roar escaped his mouth.

“Keeeeeeeeeeeent!” he screeched, and I felt the air around me tear a little as if in acceptance of the guttural howl he had emitted. That, and the beer glass landing next to me, shattering into a thousand pieces but missing me by a good couple of feet. This seemed to enrage Hans even more, and I swear I could hear his low grunt as he set himself and began charging after me.

Even with my head start I could feel him gaining on me by the second. I knew he couldn’t possibly be any faster than me (or could he? ) as he was  me, but he didn’t have a suspected broken rib and a face full of blood to contend with. Each step I took, a bolt of pain lanced through my side where he had slammed me with his fist, and I had to sweep the mixture of blood and sweat off my forehead to stop it running into my eyes.

I was running parallel to the buildings facing the beach, and in a split second decided that if I continued that way he would catch up with me. I had to change tact quickly to avoid being gained on any further. Reaching the end of the block, I made a sharp right onto Calle Guenia, heading away from the beach.

“Get back here ya little shit!” I heard him shout from maybe ten paces behind me. The feint had meant I was out of his eyeline, and he didn’t like that one bit. I thought quickly. He had the element of speed, but I had that of surprise. If I could keep feinting down a side alley or something he might lose track of me altogether.

But it was a wide open road, just a through way from one Avenida to another, and there was no place to hide. Still running, I glanced around me for inspiration. I bore a sharp right again, heading instinctively down a more built up street, Calle Greco . Four storey buildings rose high either side, and I figured I was now on the other side of the bar Gambrinus . I heard Hans round the corner behind me, and took up the pace again. I sprinted past a couple of grocery stores, desperately searching for an open door or fire escape I could dash into. I was in his plain view again, and needed to find a way of staying out of his eyeline.

I came to a corrugated security door, the type that slides in front of a store at night for extra protection, and noticed there was about three inches of gap at the bottom. Without thinking, I reached down and with all my strength gave it a hefty tug upwards. By dint of fate it budged a few more inches, and I was able to get down on all fours and slide underneath, instantly pivoting back on myself and slamming it down shut just as Hans reached the other side and began banging on it in fury. The noise was deafening in the small area I now found myself hiding in and yet again I couldn’t help worrying, despite the insane apparition that was chasing me, that all the noise would bring even more unsavoury predators out of the woodwork. I lay still, trying to take stock of the surroundings, while the intense banging continued.

Visions of the living fog/smoke that had chased down the mountain towards me at Playa Blanca flew threw my head, and I found myself begging for it to come again and this time claim Hans in its grasp.

I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus on the surroundings again. My eyes wouldn’t adjust to the darkness having come straight out of bright sunlight, and it took a moment for it to come into clarity. I was in a store room of some sort. Wooden boxes marked verduras  lined the walls and there was a dank, musty odour of old food. I must be in the back of a restaurant or grocery store, I thought.

I hauled myself to my feet and stepped through the darkness, barking my shin on something hard and letting out a small yelp of pain. Hans must have heard, as his banging on the metal door went up a notch and I heard him screaming.

“Get your ass bick out here and face me like a man!” he was bellowing. “I’ll ring your scrawny little nick  you kent!”

Instinctively I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. What the hell had made him so angry at me? I continued in to the store room, my vision adjusting with each step and saw a staircase leading upwards. Putting a storey or two between me and this madman suddenly seemed like a tip-top plan, and I ran up it in three or four steps.

There was another, this time PVC, door at the top which yielded with much less effort than the security door below, and I found myself in another store room. This one smelled more of chemicals, and shaving foam or something, and indeed through a set of flimsy curtains I came into a hairdresser’s salon which must have sat above the restaurants lining the beach in front of Fred Olsen.

The entrance door was locked, but a good kick or two at the lock and it soon flung open, and I came out on a concrete balcony confirming my suspicions as it looked out over the beach.

I paused for a second, and realised the muffled banging coming from below had stopped. This could mean two things… Hans had either given up trying to get into the storeroom and was looking at alternative means of entry in my pursuit, or he had gotten in and was again right behind me.

I ran along the concrete balcony, which was a walkway to various commercial outlets on the second floor above the restaurants. There was an opticians and a couple of real estate agencies, but they were all shut and had big, glass frontages that wouldn’t offer much by way of a hiding place. I looked over the balcony at the street below.

Only a ten foot or so drop, I could jump it!

I leapt up onto the wall and steadied myself, and was about to jump when something out of the corner of my vision stopped me. It was a sign above a store frontage. It took a split second for me to register it, but when I did I froze stiff as the meaning of the sign sank in.

At that precise moment, in my crouching position about to leap to the concrete paving below, my foot caught underneath me. Momentum conspired against me as it had on the glass roof of the Sun Royal when I had tried to disable the alarm. I lost my balance and shot forward head first into nothing but air.

As the ground rose up to meet me, the vision of the sign behind me was still imprinted in my mind’s eye.

Radio Lanzarote. 

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In the blackness, yet again I was powerless to act. It was like a conspiracy! I felt aware of everything around me, but I wasn’t able to see anything. I could hear voices again, and I could smell that strange antiseptic smell like cleaning fluid on a urinal, not unpleasant but acrid. It was so strong that I felt my throat burning, if my throat was even there. It was another in-body, out-of-body hallucination. At the back of my mind I knew something important, possibly life-changing, had just happened to me, but even though I wracked my brain I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I was dreaming within a dream. Was someone touching me? Prodding me? Like in a medical examination? It felt like I was being handled, but I couldn’t tell where. It felt like I  should be being handled, but wasn’t. All I could do was lie in the blackness, trying not to gag on that sharp, disinfectant stench, hoping that whatever held this power over me would be merciful and not decide on a whim to, oh I don’t know, prick out my eyeballs with a sharp stick or some other horrifically simple pointy object. Was this what Locked In Syndrome was like? I apprehended that people with LIS were at least  conscious and able to see their surroundings, if not interact physically with them? Wasn’t that how they were able to communicate? Eye movements and the like, speaking in code? I couldn’t see anything at all. Total, inky blackness with conscious thought. The thought came to me that I could be stuck like this forever, lying in an eternal womb of thought with nothing and nobody to acknowledge it. Perhaps I had passed through the Purgatory stage, and this was now hell. Again the concept of an irony-filled, bespoke damnation came to me. Was this my own private hell, an existence that allowed me to recognise smells and sounds and the presence of other humans, but allowed absolutely no interaction with them? An ironical stab of tailored perdition born from a constant desire for peace and quiet while I was alive? Was this a dream within a dream, or a nightmare within a dream? Or a dream within a nightmare? Was this some metaphysical fuck-you that was being foisted upon me in death in a mocking sneer at my own failed existence? Suddenly it was as if I had been injected with paranoia, or deliberately infected with a sense of low self-worth. I needed to get out of this state and quick, before it sucked me down and trapped me forever. What if I never woke up? I had a vague feeling of what I was supposed to be doing; that there should a life to be lived beyond this. I couldn’t put my finger on where I should be. I understood the concept of a life, maybe even a family and a job, but it was as if they were just out of my reach. Physically and mentally. An unseen barrier held them aloft. Could I see them in the blackness or was it my mind playing tricks on me? They were the outer rings and I was the centre of some twisted Venn diagram, hanging yolk-like, a world of albumen just beyond that filmy barrier of consciousness that I was destined never to break through.  

Unless… 

I strained my mind, pulling on those fragments of reality, trying to concentrate the million pinpricks of thought, each too tiny to be perceived individually, into a concentrated bubble, the way night-vision goggles do with the residual light in the darkness. I pulled them towards my mind’s eye, the sheer effort making my brain want to explode, not in pain but in rampant frustration. Slowly, painfully slowly (it could have been an hour or a year for I was unable to discern time in this bubble) like a snail inching its way over a hill, the light in my mind’s eye began to grow. I felt like I was fighting a battle that could never be won, like I was cycling up a perpetual incline towards a desert oasis that remained the same distance away no matter how fast my progress. More than once I nearly gave up. The pinprick of light seemed to be growing, then it would shrink back again, and I would be left gasping at the effort. Perhaps it wasn’t growing, but simply pulsating and taunting me instead. I pulled harder,  willing the light to grow with every fibre of my consciousness. And just when I thought it was over, the light began to expand again, this time with a greater sense of purpose than just a mere pulsation. Here it was! My own light at the end of the tunnel! Except this was no tunnel. A tunnel needs an entrance and an exit, something tangible to allow access and egress. There was nothing tangible in this place. It just was. But the light was still growing, even when I eased back on the mental pulling. I had done enough it seemed. It had transcended its own barrier now, and had become exponential. This was either a good or a bad thing. I knew that the light would now grow to engulf me, and release me from the inky blackness, but what would happen when it did was anybody’s guess.  

I waited and it didn’t take long. The light became a dazzling rainbow, every possible colour radiating from its central whiteness, and I could feel my body begin to react.  Here it comes, I thought, and as it folded around me I felt almost human again. I braced myself to wake, to be reborn into reality. And when I was, a female was shouting at me. 

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“Mister! Mister ! Okiro!”

My first thought was that I had been in some sort of road accident and a passer by was trying to help me out. I was lying on concrete having just come around, and immediately my mind kicked in to damage assessment mode. I flexed my muscles to check for injuries. I was stiff all over, but nothing seemed to hurt too much. My head was swimming, and my vision blurry, and as my eyes swam into focus I began to register the shouting woman above me. She was speaking in a foreign tongue, and sure enough when my eyes returned to normality I could see her face clearly.

She was young, only a teenager, and strikingly beautiful, with an oval face, pale skin and jet-black hair. Her dark eyes bore the tell-tale slant of the orient. She had been shouting at me, but as she saw me rise back to full consciousness she began to calm down a little, and her words became more excited rather than manic.

“Daijōbu?!” she was asking over and over, then something that sounded like “Kikemasu ka?!”

I jerked my head up as I registered where I was. The terror hit me.

“Hans!” I shouted at her. “Where is Hans? We have to get out of here now!”

I sat up quickly, wincing as my back spasmed, desperately looking around me as my predicament came back to me. Hans had been chasing me just before I had fallen! If I had been unconscious for any more than a few seconds he would be on top of us by now.

The girl was babbling something again in what I presumed now to be Japanese, and I suddenly realised the gravity of the situation.

Here she was! The girl I had heard on the radio! Was I dreaming still, or was this actually reality?

I grabbed her by the shoulders and she seemed to recoil in terror, shouting what was probably “Please don’t hurt me!”

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p>“It’s OK!” I assured her. “I’m not going to hurt you. Please, calm down!”

She was becoming hysterical, either through a mixture or terror or sheer elation at having met another person.

“Listen to me!” I shouted in her face, which seemed to upset her even more, while I took stock of the surroundings. We were on the pavement just outside Gambrinus  again, and I looked up to see where I had just fallen from. It was all coming back to me, including the sign I had seen whilst flipping through the air.

Radio Lanzarote. Fred Olsen…  

This  was where she had been radioing from! The girl was struggling in my grip. She can’t have weighed more than 80 pounds, and I was considerably stronger. I relaxed my hold on her slightly, and she seemed to react positively and stopped crying.

“Please, listen,” I said. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m the man from the radio! I’m the one you were trying to contact. It was you , wasn’t it?”

She looked at me in confusion, and began shaking her head from side to side. “I no eat English,” she whimpered.

I understood immediately. The poor girl was terrified. She must have found me unconscious in the street, or even seen me fall, and had rushed to help only to have me manhandle her in my confusion. A thought hit me. Maybe she had seen Hans as well…

“OK, listen,” I said. “You are Japanese, yes?”

I racked my brains for something to say to make my question clearer. The absurdity of it didn’t even occur to me. It didn’t matter a shit if she was Japanese or Norwegian as I couldn’t speak either.

“Yaponais?” I asked. She seemed to understand and nodded her head vigorously.

“Hai! Nihongo! Zhapanese!” she blurted.

“And you don’t speak, uh, eat  English, yes?”

“Hai, no English, sorry,” she said, and bowed her head in a show of shame. My heart instantly went out to her. I resolved then and there to protect her no matter what, like she were my own daughter.

“That’s OK,” I said, gently laying my hand on her shoulder and attempting to give her a smile. “Please don’t be sorry. No sorry! I no eat Japanese either. Uh, Nihongo no…”

She smiled back, so far the one way we could indicate understanding of what the other was saying.

“OK,” I said. “Sorry no. Good!” I gave her a thumbs up, which she returned with glee. “But listen, this is serious…” I continued. “Did you see another man here?”

Her eyes narrowed in confusion, and I clenched my fists in frustration. How could I make her understand?!

“Uh, you…”

I pointed at her.

“See…”

I raised my finger to her eye and moved my head side to side in an exaggerated searching motion.

“Another man here?”

I didn’t know how to communicate this last part. Panic overcame me as survival mode kicked in, and I realised that instead of trying to find out if she had seen Hans we should get to safety somewhere first and then try to iron out the international relations.

I grabbed her by the hand a little too suddenly and she winced again, but I was too concerned about my insane Kiwi doppelganger rounding the corner with a pick axe or something that I pulled her along the pavement, searching desperately for somewhere safe to hide.

She complied, well, she didn’t really have a choice, but she didn’t try and pull her hand back from mine. We began to run towards the east end of Avenida Fred Olsen, towards the Gran Hotel. My plan was to get her there and hole up in a different room than the Penthouse, where Hans would surely be checking if he was still trying to find me.

I jerked my head around in paranoia, glancing behind us to see if anyone was following. But the coast seemed clear. The possibilities ran through my brain as we hot footed it across the baking concrete pavement.

Where the heck was he?  

He couldn’t have been more than ten or twenty paces behind me, and I was sure he would have seen me jump. Or fall. If so he could have either made the jump himself, or gone back down through the fruit store to ground level and round the back of the buildings again to catch up with me. But that would have taken time, and even if he had seen me fall there was no way he could have known how I’d land. Was he now watching from a vantage point, simply waiting to see where we went before picking up the trail again and surprising us just when we thought the coast was clear?

Or was he gone all together? He was me, after all. A darker, psychotic, metaphysical manifestation of me albeit, but had the fall and my period of oblivion simply erased him from existence? I sincerely hoped it was the latter.

We reached the roundabout at the end of the avenue and I glanced behind us again. Still no sign of the errant double. The girl to her credit had not resisted me at all, and was still clutching my hand, waiting for my signal for what to do. I pointed at the Gran Hotel and gestured for us to run in its direction.

Once in the lobby she seemed to understand my thought process, and gestured towards the elevator. I strongly shook my head and pointed to the stairwell instead, and she looked at me strangely. The last thing I wanted was a repeat of the earlier incident, and for a split second I had a dreadful vision of a crowd of Hans’ pouring out of the lift and descending on us to rip us apart.

The girl seemed to sense my trepidation and nodded enthusiastically, pulling me towards the stairwell instead of the other way round.

I had no idea what we were going to do once we began ascending the emergency stairs. We got to maybe the fourth or fifth floor until I stopped, wheezing, and pointed to the entrance doors to the floor. On the other side, the floor was a mixture of conference rooms and suite accommodation. I kicked open the door of the nearest conference room. It was empty of course, with a long wooden table set out with fresh note pads and bottles of mineral water, and a whiteboard at one end for presentations. It looked safe enough, but I preferred a door with a lock and so we ran further down the corridor to where the rooms turned into guest accommodation and I tried the nearest door again. It was locked, but I had stolen a master ‘key’ from the reception area upon my arrival, which had allowed for my recent sojourn in the Penthouse Suite and all its luxurious trappings. I fished around in my beach shorts and found it, a credit card sized piece of plastic with a magnetic strip. I closed my eyes in a silent prayer, to whom I didn’t care, and slid it into the card slot on the door. It pinged and the door opened to my relief. I pulled the girl inside and quickly shut the door behind us, relaxing ever so slightly as I heard the door automatically lock itself.

The girl was looking at me strangely, with a mixture of curiosity and mild alarm. She obviously had no idea why I was seeking refuge so desperately for us both, and I realised at that moment that it was extremely unlikely she had seen Hans. She was just going along with my madcap antics and hoping I would come to my senses and we could have a decent discussion about the extraordinary circumstances we were in.

First things first, I was parched and in dire need of a stiff drink. I scanned the room for a minibar, and located it in the small kitchenette area off the main bedroom. Inside was a chilled bottle of Cava, a couple of mini whiskeys and gins, and some ice-cold bottles of water. I downed both the whiskey and the gin, grabbed the water and the fizz and headed back into the living room where the girl was standing at the window, staring out across the sea to the mountains in the distance.

I handed her a bottle of water and she nodded deferentially and said something like “Doumo.”

I sat down on the bed and opened the Cava, resting for a moment and trying to catch my breath. I tried also to collect my thoughts and work out a plan of what to do. I was still terrified that at any moment Hans would burst through the door.

I suddenly felt woozy, and had to lie down on my back on the bed. The girl was still looking out the window, presumably waiting for me to do or say something. The alcohol started to have its effect, and I couldn’t help closing my eyes. Within seconds I was asleep.

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When I awoke it was cool and almost dark, and the girl was curled up next to me in the foetal position on the bed. My head was spinning. I supposed it was a mini hangover after the spirits I had sunk so rapidly. I pulled myself up off the bed, listening to the girl’s breathing, trying not to wake her, and headed over to the panoramic window. The sun was just coming up over the horizon, and I realised it wasn’t the evening but dawn. Inconceivably I had slept through the entire night. I presumed the girl didn’t want to wake me and must have got bored and gone to sleep herself. I almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all.

I felt the urge to wake her, to finally learn what was going on and why she was here, but she looked so incredibly peaceful I couldn’t bring myself to do so.

I was suffering a sort of delayed shock, I realised. The toll of the last three weeks had finally caught up on me, like a man who has been in debt for years who finally comes into a massive inheritance. Here she was, potentially the answer to all the questions I had been asking myself. Specifically, why was I here? Where was  here? And what could be done about it?

The girl stirred slightly on the bed and I jumped in shock. How on earth could I go about interrogating her if she spoke no English? Could she be dangerous, like Hans? She certainly didn’t seem like she could be a risk. She looked totally harmless, even vulnerable in her youth and the wide-eyed innocence that she had displayed in the street yesterday. But like everything else here, I had to be wary. I had to expect the unexpected…

Explanations for her presence whirred through my mind. She could be a spy for instance. She could have been planted here by The Powers to assess my mental state or even sabotage it. She could yet turn out to be a figment of my imagination, although she seemed as real to the touch as my own body. But then how to explain Hans? He was a ghost. A manifestation of my own consciousness gone to seed. But the bastard was still able to inflict physical harm upon me. Had I done that to myself? I reached up and fingered the cut above my eye, wincing at the touch. Dried blood had caked over it. I inspected the cut in the mirror and without much medical knowledge even I could see it was the sort of wound that would usually require a stitch or two. Luckily it had clotted, and while not life threatening would probably result in quite a scar.

It occurred to me that it was the first time that physical damage had manifested itself upon me since my arrival. Up until that point the fall off the roof, the shoulder injury in the restaurant, the fall from the balcony outside the station, being propelled by smoke tendrils through plate glass doors… none of these had left any lasting damage on my body. But Hans had caused me significant pain. My ribs still ached, I was bloodied and I looked a wreck.

The poor girl. What she must have thought upon seeing me! I had put off the inevitable long enough, I decided. It was time to wake her up and get some answers…


---

Two hours later, and after a great deal of gesticulating and international charades, we had established the very basics of our existence to each other.

Her name was Akari, and she was 19. I was amazed at this as she looked a lot younger, around 14 or 15 max. She had been on the island for as long as she could remember, but that part was still not entirely clear as she couldn’t actually remember anything before being on the island, except her name, age, and the fact that she had three older sisters. She reckoned she’d been here for about a month.

She had that incredible deference so characteristic of the Japanese, but with a degree of sassiness thrown in that made her a very appealing character.

Of course, my Japanese was non-existent, but I found that after a while I could understand a few of the more common words that she kept using. Island seemed to be ‘shima’, radio was ‘rajio’ and she used the word ‘sora’ a lot, which coupled with her gesticulations I took to mean something like alone or empty.

But by far the most incredible thing I discovered about her was that she had been experiencing the same flashing numbers in front of her eyes each time she awoke.

The percentages! 

She illustrated this by making a butterfly motion with one hand in front of her eyes and saying ‘Sūji’ over and over, until I presumed that was the word for numbers or a percentage. She became more and more animated as I explained my experiences to her and it seemed that although she had been here longer than I, she had had a fairly easy time of it compared to me.

Her story, from what I could tell, went thusly.

She had awoken, naked and weak and disoriented, in a room in a hotel somewhere in Costa Teguise, another popular tourist resort a few miles on the other side of the capital Arrecife. At first she had been too afraid and sick to leave the room, and like me stayed inside the compound’s grounds for at least four or five days, building up her strength with food until she was able to move around more freely. She didn’t have any visible injuries, but said her head hurt terribly for the first few days.

I sat amazed as she relayed this information to me by way of hand gestures and drawings of crude maps and outlines on pieces of the hotel’s complimentary stationary. She knew very little English, but was able to communicate very basic words and even sentence structure by squeezing her eyes shut as if pulling the words from the very darkest recesses of her mind. I assumed she had learned some English at school and, much like my French which I gave up aged 16, could summon odd words to the forefront of her brain with visible effort.

Apart from obvious injury she revealed her total lack of memory at anything other than her own identity, that of her sisters, and the fact that she was from Japan. I had to admit that my own memories were scarcer than they should have been, as I explained to her that I had been through almost exactly the same set of tribulations when I awoke in Playa Blanca.

She wasn’t aware of anyone else on the island, and I managed to deduce that she hadn’t seen Hans at all and that I was the first person she had seen in her time on Lanzarote.

She had spent some considerable time wandering the streets of Costa Teguise, grabbing different clothes from tourist shops and disposing of them daily for new ones, searching for clues or other people, but had become depressed upon finding nothing and had holed up in her hotel for a long time, unsure of what to do.

For around half an hour she seemed to be going off on a tangent, and I couldn’t make out what she was saying at all. I couldn’t be sure but I think she was describing having some kind of strange hallucination whilst hibernating at her hotel. I wanted to believe it was the same thing I had been experiencing during my blackouts, but I couldn’t understand most of what she was saying.

Damn this language barrier!  

She then seemed to have walked inland for a period of days rather than sticking to the coastline as I had, and from what I could tell her experiences had been just as fruitless as mine in uncovering clues to explain our presence here.

Ultimately, she could throw no further light on the reason for our desertion on the island and I groaned with frustration as this became clear. This must have upset her, or maybe she thought she had upset me, as she visibly shrank back in on herself almost halving her already diminutive stature in her perceived shame. I had to work hard to reassure her everything was OK, and that it was just my own frustrations rising to the surface and I would try and keep them in check. She seemed to be confused at the idea that someone would so readily show their emotions, without first considering what effect it could have on those around them.

What we lose in translation! 

I vowed several times during our dialogue that if I ever did get off this island I would devote myself to anthropology, to the learning of other languages and cultures, as my woeful ignorance had exposed my complete lack of international relations. Although we did have reason to be proud of what we had gleaned from each other thus far without virtually any knowledge of the other’s language.

Every now and again she would pause to take a sip of water from a bottle she had extracted from the minibar, and each time she did she would very deliberately screw the top back on to its full tightness, as if trying to minimise any loss from evaporation. I took her to be a fastidious, very precise person. It was almost mesmerising to watch her movements, so deliberate and in tune with her surroundings. She was so young and healthy!

Like me, she had migrated to other cities to extend her search, and it was in Arrecife that she had been strolling along the beach front and noticed the Radio Lanzarote building. She had broken in and to her delight had found working equipment, and with a bit of practice had learned how to operate the CB radio that was in situ.

I marveled at her resourcefulness. As a 19 year old I could barely tie my shoelaces. With my background in radio hacking I wondered how anybody with no training could possibly learn their way around the myriad dials and broadcasting foibles of a standard system inside a radio station. Yet she had somehow managed it, through sheer tenacity and will, and had returned each day to check if anyone was broadcasting.

I marvelled again at the incredible string of coincidences that has brought us together.  

What if she hadn’t found the radio station?  

What if I hadn’t found the outpost?  

What were the odds that we would both hit upon the same idea, and how even greater were they that we would both be transmitting/listening at exactly the same time?  

The supernatural element of it made me wonder yet again if we hadn’t somehow been coerced into our behaviour. If somehow we had been subconsciously influenced or pushed towards the respectable broadcasting stations just to make it more interesting for whoever was watching or controlling this whole absurd game.

After a couple of weeks of waiting she had been browsing through the channels on her CB when she had stumbled across my recorded message, and the rest was history. She had somehow managed to translate my message, as weak as it had been received, and after waiting two days for me to come to Arrecife she had set off, on foot , to find the outpost I had mentioned in search of me.

That’s why she hadn’t been in Arrecife when I’d first arrived!

She was here, and I was here. But despite our best efforts it seemed we could shed no more light on the matter than that. I wanted to be able to solve this mystery for her as well as myself. I felt an almost paternal concern for her wellbeing, most probably predicated on her astounding vitality, like the first flush of womanhood in a very young girl. It seemed inconceivable that anything could possibly be wrong with this marvel of human vivacity. Her limbs were long and lithe and supple and white, and her hair was the darkest black I had ever seen, almost blue  it was so black. Her skin was flawless, her feet as dainty as a princess, her eyes a dark brown that swirled with strokes of honey and cream. She was mesmerising, and the more she spoke the more I felt drawn to her. It was an extraordinary feeling, a mix of wantonness and protection that I struggled to unite within myself. But what occurred to me next put paid to any notion of sexual attraction, and awoke in me a primal instinct merely to ensure her survival.

“Akari,” I said with rising concern, “if you’ve been here for over a month, how much longer have you got left? What is your percentage reading?”

Despite the language barrier she seemed to understand exactly what I was asking, as if she had been expecting the question all along.

With her hands shaking, making the water in her bottle appear to dance, she looked at me with something approaching guilt.

“San.”

She held up three fingers.

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Three percent! She only had three percent left! But what did that mean? If her life was counting down at the same rate as mine, that meant the next time she went to sleep could mean she would never wake up. The possibilities ran through my mind. What would happen to her? Would she disappear? Melt away? Or would she just drop dead in front of me?

“We have to get out of here,” I said as we made our way along the beach front. We weren’t headed anywhere in particular, but I had felt the need to get out of that hotel room and do something that might spur me into action to prevent what could be coming.

I didn’t want to think what would happen to this beautiful young girl once she hit zero.

I was holding her hand and pulling her along, changing direction every few metres, pacing around in a blind panic as I tried to make some sense of the situation.

“Please,” she begged. “No worry.”

She bowed her head and then looked at me from under her black fringe, in a gesture of acceptance. Then she said something which has stuck with me ever since. It was in flawless English, with no trace of an accent that belied her nationality.

“I am ready.”

I almost laughed in incredulity.

“You’re ready?” I cried. “For what? You don’t have the slightest idea what you are saying!”

Again she shrank away at my outburst, but I was too incredulous at her comment to try and reassure her. I just continued to babble at her in the street while she watched me calmly but from behind her defensive gaze.

“Don’t you realise that you could die  when your percentage runs out?” I shouted. “Have you not considered this?”

Of course I knew very well that she had considered it. After all, she would have to be a total masochist not to have considered the prospect of her own death over the past month and I could tell that she wasn’t.

“Don’t you want  to survive this?!” I continued, oblivious in the moment to the fact that she couldn’t understand me. “Well I’m sorry love, I’m not going to stand by and watch you fade away without at least trying to do something about it!”

She shook her head and smiled at me, in what I could only assume was resignation.

Think, dammit! I scolded myself. I was so consumed by her seeming acceptance of fate that I couldn’t think straight. I had no reserves left myself, but suddenly my own physical exhaustion didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered to me at that moment was trying to keep this young girl alive, as if I let her go I knew it would be the end for me as well.

Part of me couldn’t wait to see what happened when she hit zero as it would assuage my own worries. Death, at least, would be something . It was the not knowing that was the real killer. But it was a small part of me that thought that. The rest of me was desperate to ensure her survival, not entirely out of self-preservation, for I knew that if I could keep her alive it meant I could keep myself  alive, but it also meant I wouldn’t have to go through what I would inevitably have to go through if she did die. At that moment I simply didn’t think I would have the strength of mind to cope with that.

Her eyes gazed at me with a mixture of concern and pity, and I was again struck by the maturity of this young woman. So what if she had accepted her fate? What right did I have to try and take that away from her? It was her life after all, and if she was ready to leave it then that was her choice surely?

No, I refused to stand by and let it happen without at least trying. But what the hell could we do? How inexorable were these flashes of percentage? Were they the be all and end all? Should we perhaps just wait and see what actually did  happen when one hit zero percent? For all we knew, the whole damn thing might just perpetuate itself and she’d wake up in exactly the same hotel room with a fresh charge at 100%?

I was running all this through my mind in a kind of wild stupor and must have looked extraordinary to the poor girl. It was starting to get dark, and we needed to take action if we were to successfully stave off fatigue and not go to sleep.

“Coffee!” I said out loud, and made a gesture to a restaurant on the beach front. “You need coffee!”

I mimed lifting a cup to my mouth and drinking, then jumped around a little to signify the rush of caffeine. She seemed to understand, and nodded her head somewhat in resignation. I think she grasped what I was trying to achieve.

I pulled her in to the restaurant and found a coffee machine behind the counter. It was a proper Italian one, made of shiny gold brass, and I had absolutely no idea how to operate it. I flicked a switch and it started making boiling noises which I figured was what it should do, and it had a grinder built in with some beans ready to go. After some messing around I produced a thick black cupful of coffee and made Akari drink it, which she did with a look of disgust on her face. I wondered if she’d ever had coffee before in her life.

The action of getting her to drink some caffeine seemed to calm me down a bit, as if I had subconsciously awarded her an extra few hours of life by preventing her going to sleep. We stood there in the café, her looking at me curiously to see what my next absurd move was going to be, and me racking my brains to come up with some sort of plan.

My mind kept whirring back to the idea of a boat. I had entertained the idea before, whilst in the marina at Playa Blanca and during my three day bender, of appropriating a vessel and attempting to sail it to Fuerteventura, or further. I dismissed it purely out of technical difficulties. I had never sailed a boat before, had no idea about jiving or booms or whatever the other terminology was. If I couldn’t get a car to start the likelihood that a boat would go using the same fuel was non-existent. If it even did use the same fuel, which of course I didn’t know. The concept of jibs and spinnakers and staysails and headsails was anathema to me as hotwiring a car, and although I’d given that a go I had miserably failed (and almost been killed) in the process. I had therefore given up on the sailing boat theory almost as quickly as it popped into my mind.

I had kept it at the very back of my brain as almost a last-resort situation, to be resurrected should I get down to the final few percent and still have no idea how to get off the island.

Well, it wasn’t my final few percent we were talking about, but it was  Akari’s. I turned to her and mimed a sailing motion.

“Can you sail a boat?” I asked her, moving as if I was hoisting a sail. She looked at me in confusion. For all she knew I was asking her if she could bell-ring, and she shook her head slowly.

“Shit!” I shouted, and she recoiled a couple of steps. The futility of it all suddenly hit me, and I considered the idea of just finding a bar and drinking whisky until she expired. Maybe have a dance and at least enjoy ourselves watching her final sunset.

But something in me wanted to beat this place, and whoever it was who was responsible for forcing it upon us. I resolved not to go down without a fight, and after downing a shot of coffee myself the seed of an idea began to germinate in my mind.


---

I had passed the airport on my cycle into Arrecife from Puerto Del Carmen four days previously. What if, I thought as Akari and I cycled back along LZ-2, there was a way of getting a plane to fly without the need for fuel? There must be human powered craft, or some form of electric motored thing that could cover small distances, that might allow us to get at least an aerial view of the island… perhaps get us across to Fuerteventura or even further? From my estimation, Lanzarote only sat around 70 or so miles from mainland Africa…

My mind was racing with the potential of getting off the island somehow, as if it were Lanzarote itself that held us in its sway, and if we could escape its boundaries then it might just slow, or even halt the inexorable countdown of our respective percentages.

What if? 

It was another longest of long shots, but I was prepared to take any risks necessary now to ensure our survival, and what exactly did we have to lose anyway? Akari might only have a few hours left to live. Any idea, no matter how farfetched, was surely worth pursuing. After all, the CB radio experiment had been arguably an even greater long shot that what we were now attempting, and we had pulled that off hadn’t we?


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!

I had no idea of what we could expect when we arrived at the airport but the enormity of the forces that would have to come together in order for something to work started to dawn on me as we approached, only 20 or so minutes after we’d hauled ass out of Arrecife. Akari was obediently in tow on another hijacked bike as I pedaled frantically through the outskirts of the city.

The fact that I’d never flown a plane in my life or even been on anything other than a commercial airliner wasn’t deterring me at this point. My only thought was reaching the airport and assessing our options as they presented themselves.

I didn’t know what I was expecting. Would there even be any aircraft there? Obviously I hadn’t seen or heard any take-offs or landing since being on the island, but as with everything else that indicated the presence of humanity here before my arrival – cars, food, hotel guest lists – I knew in my heart that there would be planes there.

I was hoping that there would be a variety of small hangars set aside for private planes. Those of amateur flyers, or charter planes that did aerial tours of the islands, or even rich folk who had their own base on the island that came and went by private plane.

There had to be something there that we could work with! Perhaps aviation fuel had different properties than regular automobile fuel and would have retained some components of combustion? I seriously doubted it, but then it was possible wasn’t it?

New peaks of optimism were worming around inside my brain as we continued through the zona industrial  outside Arrecife and the airport came into view. I had been cycling so hard I didn’t realise how out of breath I was, and had to pull over to compose myself just as we pulled up to a sign reading Terminal de Carga . Akari pulled up behind me and attempted to sign something to me.

“We are… fly?” she managed.

I nodded vigorously. Having tried to explain to her my plan whilst hunting for a bike for her back in Arrecife, I had been blabbing so fast I doubt she had any idea what I was trying to get across. It was a testament to her character that she had followed me thus far, not knowing where we were heading or what was going through my mind. I wondered if she was following me purely for company, or if she really believed I had a plan that could save us.

When she smiled at me I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be all right. As long as I had her trust I felt we would get through this somehow. Her face seemed to light up at the thought of flying, and I got the distinct impression that she’d had the idea all long. She said something in Japanese that I couldn’t gather, and pointed towards a large cargo building in the distance. I nodded, and we set off again in its direction.

Airports have always had a strange effect on me. It’s the impersonality of the places, I thought as we cycled along the deserted tarmac roads. Thousands of people every day passing through the same place with the same ultimate goal in mind – getting somewhere else – but never knowing the people around them. You might be standing next to someone who was travelling to exactly the same destination as you or flying 20,000 miles in the opposite direction, and you would never know. And it was the emptiness of this place that struck me even more. There should be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of separate journeys happening every day here. I had seen my fair share of abandoned outlets since I’d been on the island, and I felt I had a pretty good handle on the whole abandonment concept by now, but this place that should have been bustling with commuters, holiday makers and staff going about their daily business seemed to hum in its neglect.

I felt suddenly angry, the optimism stripped from my thoughts by the sheer futility of this pointlessly unutilised space.

What was our goal here?  

Doubts again flooded my mind, what if we were to get off the island somehow, maybe reaching Morocco, to find that totally abandoned too?

As I saw it our options were broad, but farfetched. As we cycled around searching for inspiration I tried to weigh up the cons and limitations (as very few pros sprang to mind) of each of the following:

A standard, fuel-burning small aircraft.

Advantages: Lightweight, could fit both of us, potentially easier to fly than a more complicated airliner, further range than just to another Canary Island meant Africa may be within reach.

A helicopter.

Advantages: Probably easier to take off, land and operate than an actual aircraft, fewer controls, depending on size could most likely fit both of us. Problems: Again, probable lack of combustible fuel, shorter range meant probably only another Canary Island within reach.

An electric aircraft of some sort

Advantages: Could be flown without fuel, airport electricity most probably up and running so could be charged. Probably much easier to operate and fly than a fuel burning aircraft. Problems: Did they even exist? What would the range be? Could it take the weight of two people?

Hang glider/glider

Advantages: Powered solely by pilot, no complicated controls to fly. Problems: Need significant altitude to launch (top of Gran Hotel maybe?). Lack of range. Rely on thermal updrafts to travel long distances, so would be ineffective over sea. Could only reach Fuerteventura in all likelihood. Risk of crashing into sea…

Hot air balloon

Advantages: Could be flown without fuel provided gas tanks were available. Easier

to operate than standard aircraft. Could surely hold two people. Potential for travelling further, possibly African coast. Problems: How to steer. At mercy of winds…

There may be other possibilities I thought, but until we got wherever we were going it was impossible to say what the best course of action would be. I didn’t think it would be a problem trying to persuade Akari to get on board, literally, with any of them, even though she seemed more resigned to her fate now than she had been back in Arrecife. There was a sort of acquiescent expression on her face, as if she were experiencing life for the last time, and wanted simply to bask in its glory before being taken from it. I caught her eye and tried to smile, and she nodded calmly as we rode along.

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I thought it pointless to begin at the terminal itself. I felt it would only contain shops, gates and a sense of foreboding, but after Akari motioned that she was hungry I reasoned it would be good practice to at least fill our bellies and stock up on some drinking water before we got started on our search for a working flight aid.

The good thing about the terminal was that signs were in English as well as Spanish, and although this didn’t help Akari I felt more at home with signs pointing me to relevant spots in my own language.

We raided a Caffe Di Fiore  in Terminal 2 for some bottled mineral water and a few pre-prepared sandwiches that I stuck in a backpack I picked up in a news stand. There was total silence in the terminal hall and the flight boards indicating arrivals and departures were frozen in time as I expected they would be, but it didn’t diminish the sense of emptiness of the place. I stood in front of the main boards for a moment and took it in. Flights went mainly to mainland Europe. There were plenty to the UK; Bristol, Manchester and Heathrow being the main destinations it seemed, but Spain was strongly represented with Bilbao, A Coruna and Valencia all receiving regular flights throughout the day.

Whichever day it was of course. I assumed the 4th of July…

According to the signs, Lanzarote airport had two terminal buildings and a cargo terminal, and regardless of their point of departure aircraft were directed to park at something called the General Aviation Apron (PAG) upon arrival. I figured this would be a good place to start.

But how the heck did one go about stealing a plane? Off the top of my head, I thought you’d firstly need to know a lot about the plane. How would I operate the systems and get the engines started with the problem of no fuel? This made the prospect of an electric craft of some sort again more appealing. I imagined your regular airline captain would have to go through thousands of hours of simulator training in order to get up to the required standard. So if we managed to appropriate an electric or working fuel-burning plane, how would we then get it in the air? Commercial airliners required a tug to reverse them out onto the runway. Another reason to opt for a smaller plane…

Did a plane have keys? Would the cockpit only be accessible by a powered keycode? And then, if by some miracle we did get it off the ground and were able to fly unaided across to Africa, how the hell would we land the thing? One good thing at least, we didn’t have to worry about flight plans and ground control cops preventing our take off.

I realised as I was standing in the middle of the terminal that I had lost Akari. I shouted her name and heard a small yelp coming from what seemed to be a row of shopping outlets on the other side of the terminal. Panic set in, and I ran in the direction of the sound. As I did, it got louder, like the sound of a small child having a tantrum or something. I ran faster, and rounded the corner into a Gucci store where I saw Akari in the oddest position. She was bending over a rack of handbags, trying to force her head between her thighs as if she were practicing a crash landing on an airplane. Aa I reached her I put my hand onto her back, saying her name over and over as her whole body seemed to be shaking and twitching like she was in the middle of some sort of episode.

“Akari!” I shouted, “What’s happening? What’s wrong?!”

She seemed to stop shaking at the sound of my voice, and looked up from her prostrated position. Her eyes were glazed over and she looked confused, drunk even… She didn’t seem to be able to focus on my face at all and appeared to be looking straight through me.

“Koko wa dokodesu ka?” she said, her breath coming in short ragged gasps. Of course I didn’t understand this, but I assumed from her dazed expression that she was enquiring where she was or what was happening. It scared me a lot. Was this the beginning of the end for her? Had her percentage finally run out? If she was on just three percent a matter of two or three hours ago…

I felt like I was watching an execution. That dreaded point when you realise you are witnessing somebody die and try as you might you simply cannot tear your eyes away. What made it even more prescient was that exactly the same thing could be happening to me in a matter of days.

“Akari, please…” I begged. “Breathe, dammit!”

I couldn’t face the thought of expiring right in front of me. I did something I never thought possible, drawing my hand back and bringing it down fast and hard across the side of her face. The slap seemed to have an effect and she shook her head as if snapping back into awareness. I had expected her to start foaming at the mouth and dropping to the floor in her final throes, but she suddenly seemed to improve and drew in a huge rasping breath.

She stood bolt upright and a single tear welled in each of her eyes as if she’d eaten an extra hot chili. Instead of running down her cheeks as normal tears would do they welled and welled in the corner of her eyes until it seemed as though they couldn’t get any fatter without gravity taking its force. Then they seemed to leap out of her face in a forward motion; two large drops of salt water that sprang forth from her eyes and cascaded almost in slow motion to land on the floor in front of my feet. She gulped in huge breaths of air.

“Tasukete!” she croaked, and grabbed my shoulders to support her own weight. She seemed like she was choking.

There was no more time to lose. I grabbed her by arm and began pulling her towards the signs that indicated the Cargo Terminal. She whimpered quietly as I dragged her along, still trying to catch her breath, trying to stave off another attack. It occurred to me to try and find a first aid booth, or medical station of some sort, but I knew that it would do no good. Time had caught up with Akari, and its relentless passage now planned to claim her unless I could achieve the extraordinary and get her off the island before.

The adage ‘time waits for no man’ passed through my mind as we wove through a maze of small corridors designed for passport control and emerged into the dusky twilight of the early evening and onto the main concourse of the airport. I felt as though I was up against an immovable force, trying to stop the march of time.

Even the air seemed to have taken on a thicker note. The wind had picked up, and it almost felt like it had back on the beach in Playa Blanca before the storm that produced the purple tendrils. I felt like something big was in the air; that the island somehow knew what we were planning and was about to send every soldier in its arsenal to prevent it.

Akari was still rasping, but her airway seemed clearer and she was better able to breathe than a few minutes ago. She was still barely able to walk, and it was imperative that we made haste whilst any storm was still in its infancy. Thunderheads were gathering over the mountains in the distance, and I somehow felt that not only was Akari’s life in the balance but my own was as well. If we failed in this mission, I realised it could mean the end of both of our existences on the island and not just hers. I still had a good level of percentage to go, but what was to say that if I foundered with Akari that the island itself would take a bigger gulp and swallow me too?

The concourse was vast and totally empty. Hollow husks of airliners stood in mocking salute on the bare concrete, almost daring us to approach and try them out for size.

Akari suddenly coughed violently and a stream of blood shot out of her mouth and landed on the ground in front of us. She looked at me with undisguised panic in her eyes and grabbed her throat, desperately struggling for breath. Then she stopped dead, and her whole body jerked upright in rigid protest. Her eyes, already stretched as wide as they could, seemed to take over her whole face as she grasped to hold on to life.

“Akari!” I screamed, not knowing what to say or do, and on hearing my voice her body seemed to relax somewhat, as if she had finally taken that longed-for breath that was so needed. She sucked in a huge laboured gulp of air and grabbed hold of my arms, stumbling and desperate for support. Her mouth was still covered in blood and she reached up with her sleeve to wipe some of it away trying to compose herself as she did so.

She stopped dead still for about 10 seconds, then slowly raised her head up and looked at me with a small smile. She knew it was futile to try and communicate with me in Japanese at that precise moment so she simply held up her small thumbs in a gesture of ‘okayness’. It was probably the most relief I had ever felt in my life at a single hand gesture.

I had no idea how long her seeming recovery had bought us, so I grabbed her by the arm again and we began looking around frantically for some sort of inspiration. Outside now on the concourse we could see the two terminals clearly. They weren’t huge buildings, unlike many airports I had been to. I guessed from a row of six larger planes sitting idle on the tarmac outside Terminal 1 that it was used for longer-haul international flights, whereas Terminal 2 was smaller and from the few scattered smaller hangars was probably the one used for charters and inter-island flights. I decided that was where we should head if were to find a craft that we could operate. There was a vast expanse of concrete to the right of this terminal, almost totally empty except for one small airplane centred inside it. It looked completely out of place, being the only vehicle in such a large and deserted space.

Pulling Akari along was starting to become more of an effort as she was barely able to keep pace with my excited gait at this stage. We pattered over the empty ground, our feet hardly making any sound as the bare concrete absorbed it. Large yellow painted signs divided the area up into individual plots, and occasionally one would indicate the maximum wingspan of a particular aircraft. As we got nearer to the plane these decreased from 25m to 15m to 10m, which I took as a good sign. The smaller the aircraft the better was my philosophy, somewhat naively I supposed as the principles of flight were most probably exactly the same for a 10 metre plane as they were for a 50 metre one. Something in my head told me that psychologically I would be more comfortable behind the controls of a smaller plane though. A larger part of me thought it wasn’t even worth trying one of those, but as we reached it and the fuselage glistened in the last of the evening sunset I felt a strange surge of hope run through me.

It lasted as long as it took to do a once-round the plane. Even as a much smaller aircraft than the ones sitting on the apron at Terminal one it was huge, probably 15 metres long and in wingspan. It towered over Akari and myself as I ran around it, searching for some way to board. I realised how stupid the idea of hijacking a plane was when I realised that we couldn’t even board the thing. The main door was wedged shut and without some sort of crowbar mechanism there would be no boarding this particular jet. I felt useless, as if the life was being slowly sucked out of me with the dropping of the sun behind the horizon.

Which of course it was.

I glanced at Akari who seemed to have regained a slight colour in her cheeks. She was no longer as ashen grey as she had been in the terminal, but she looked at me sadly and shrugged her petite shoulders in a gesture of defeat. I shook my head. No, I thought, we are not going be defeated so easily.

I looked around again, searching for some inspiration, some small ray of hope within the dying light. Beyond the end of this particular concourse I saw a row of buildings, what looked like hangars, around a further 300 metres away. I hadn’t seen them before as they had been obscured by the absurd plane we had just come across, and my mind had been so focused on getting this one in the air that what I now saw in the distance hadn’t even registered.

Behind the row of hangars I was able to make out the nose of what looked to be a much smaller aircraft. It could have been a biplane for all I knew… a modern version of the pioneering craft that took the Wright Brothers on their first legendary journey! The nose had a propeller, which instantly I thought could mean that it was manually startable by giving it a good push in rotation as I’d seen in old war movies. But what the hell was an old biplane doing at Lanzarote airport? Surely there hadn’t been any made since the end of the Second World War?

My mind cast itself back to being nine years old and taking a pleasure flight in an old Sopwith Camel with my dad at a country fair somewhere in Dorset. It had been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my young life, up there where the air was clear, just a pair of goggles and a seatbelt separating me from a thousand foot drop. The pilot had been an old RAF man who had been a war buddy of my grandfather, and had insisted he take us out on a brief overhead pass of the fair below. Almost 30 years later I could still remember him telling me about the history of the plane, and how it had the best roll-rate of any aircraft he’d ever flown. I had asked my dad what ‘roll-rate’ meant, and he said the engine never stalled and could fly on and on while using virtually no fuel. At the time the old boiler had astounded me by revealing that whilst in the air we’d been travelling at over 140mph, far faster than our car could have travelled on land. But it was there that my knowledge of biplanes ceased, and I doubted that even if that was  what was behind the hangar in the distance that I’d ever be able to get it off the ground, much less land the damnable thing wherever we managed to get with it.

Any preconceived notions of how I would heroically start the propeller, away the chocs and be in Morocco for last orders were swiftly dealt a death blow as we rounded the corner of the hangar, and saw not an old WWII biplane or even a modern monoplane but a smaller jet without even a propeller on the nose. My eyes had been playing tricks on me and at first I couldn’t figure out how, but stepping back and reassessing the situation, for all it was worth, I realised I had not been seeing a propeller but merely a giant aloe plant situated slightly beyond the border fence behind the hangar. The long spiny green arms at a distance had appeared like blades on the end of the plane’s nose.

I almost cried in frustration, at my own stupidity as much as out of genuine disappointment. I leapt up on the nose of the plane and tried to glance through into the cockpit. It was as I expected; a row of dials, buttons, knobs and displays that meant I may as well be speaking Hungarian as flying this aircraft.

Akari was also wandering around the plane looking for some sign that would indicate how to operate it. Like me she was clutching at straws, and was probably doing so more out of simple desperation than the actual hope of finding something.

The jet was clearly a private or charter plane. Large bold letters displayed E-JET under the cockpit, and looking through I could see just three luxurious looking leather chairs in the cabin behind the two pilot’s seats.

I jumped down off the nose and approached the door. There was a handle set back into the bodywork in the shape of a doorstop with a keyhole in the middle. Obviously we had no key, but I thought back to the huge metal door on the radio outpost and how I had been ready to give up on that when in fact it had been open all along. I pushed the handle in, and it gave a little, the thin end poking out of the bodywork and demanding to be turned. I noticed there was also a pushbutton above the handle, with a small LED light that lit up as I turned the handle counter-clockwise. I pushed the button, and a hissing noise caused me to jump back in surprise, walking backwards into Akari who had been standing directly behind me. We both looked at each other in amazement as the jet’s staircase began to unfold itself in all its hydraulic glory.

I stepped inside and Akari followed behind me. It was a lot smaller inside than I had expected, having only ever been on big passenger jets before. It was no larger than a luxury sedan car, and I wondered if I’d have the balls to even be flown in one of these at however many thousand feet let alone try and fly it myself.

But then, we had no choice.

Akari coughed violently behind me, and hawked up a glob of blood which she spat out the open doorway as daintily as she could.

“Hayaku,” she rasped nonchalantly, circling her hands, and I took that to mean get a goddamn move on, matey . I nodded briskly and headed into the cockpit. It smelled of expensive leather and cologne, rather like I would have imagined an Oxford professor’s study to smell. This was clearly an expensive craft, with walnut burr paneling and leather lining surrounding my head. It was so small  though! I wondered how anyone could be cooped up in this space for an extended period of time without suffering from claustrophobia.

I sat down in the left pilot’s chair. Being right handed it made more sense even though the throttle or steering wheel or whatever it was called was in front of me. It felt more natural having my right hand next to the main controls rather than my left.

I tried to get a grip on the controls in front of me. I reasoned that everything looked complicated because I didn’t know what it did, so if I tried to familiarise myself with the controls then it would become more natural. I pushed the steering wheel up and down, as if I were test driving a new car. I nodded in approval as it felt strong and didn’t give much. Despite the situation I felt a curious sense of power being behind the controls of this powerful aircraft, much more so than driving an expensive car. Then I snapped out of it. Another flashback came to me of my grandfather’s old boiler buddy croaking: “It doesn’t take much to control a plane,” and certainly with all these dials and switches it seemed like the plane could pretty much fly itself as long as I could get it going…

Wishful thinking? I asked myself.

In front of me there were six main controls. Airspeed Indicator, that was self- explanatory. Artificial Horizon, with a plane image that showed whether it was banking left or right. Fine.

Altimeter was the height gauge, presumably above sea level.

Turn and Bank Indicator I had no idea, but presumably it was to do with how fast or slow one was changing course and whether or not it was dangerous.

The Heading Indicator was just a compass, easy. I guessed we wanted to head mainly east.

Finally the Vertical Speed Indicator was again pretty self-explanatory, or how fast one was climbing or descending in feet per minute.

I took a deep breath and felt more at ease. Akari coughed again and I could hear her hacking.

“OK, love,” I said, “prepare for take off…”

I looked around. She had collapsed into one of the plush leather chairs, and was desperately struggling to breathe. No time for jokes I thought, and scanned for an ignition control. I had half expected it but it was still a huge surprise when I found it located just behind the control stick and low and behold there was a key stuck in it.

It looked like the same key that could have been used to open or lock the main door. The key was turned to the OFF position, naturally. But next to it there were four other possible options to turn it to. MAG 1, MAG 2, BOTH, and START. I didn’t want to start messing round with MAGs, whatever they were, so I just grabbed the key, held my breath and turned it to the full START position.

Lights blinked into life all around me, and a hissing noise permeated through the cockpit that sounded much more encouraging than worrying. But as far as the engine revving into life went, nothing happened of course.

Had I really expected it to start chugging like a Ford Escort? This was clearly a fuel powered jet and needed combustible fuel to operate. That, I had learned, did not seem to exist on this island. However there was another button that said IGNITION. Perhaps it was like a scooter, where you turned the key then fired the spark plugs by pressing the ignition button! I took another breath and pushed this without much hope.

Again, nothing.

The lights and controls were still whirring, but I reasoned this is because they were battery powered. As much as I was expecting it, it took a deep chunk out of my soul to admit to myself there that we weren’t going to be flying anywhere on this aircraft.

Akari was breathing shallowly from behind me. I felt a curious sort of resignation, like this was it. I had tried everything and failed. I rose from the cockpit, taking care not to bang my head on the ceiling, and went into the cabin area plonking myself down on the extremely comfortable chair next to Akari.

She was almost gone, I thought as I looked at her. Her eyes were glazed over, and her breath was coming in ragged gasps. Blood had congealed on the corners of her mouth and she looked like a cancer sufferer in the last throes of life. Her colour had vanished and she was almost see-through.

I leaned over to her and gave her a soft kiss on her forehead. She was cool and dry to the touch.

“I’m sorry, darling,” I said through tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Her eyes flickered briefly, and I got the impression that she had heard me as the thinnest wisp of a smile broke the corner of her mouth.

Then she drew in her final breath, and died.

6%

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I awoke at dawn. The light outside was orange, and quite beautiful. It shone through the small oval windows on the side of the plane and cast an ethereal glow on a row of crystal whiskey bottles in the corner.

My head was fuzzy, again as though I were hungover, and I shook myself like a dog coming out of water to try and inject some day into me.

Then the flashing percentage resolved itself on my eyeline. Down to 6%. Somewhere between meeting Akari and losing her I had lost an inexplicable and whopping 12%.

At first I barely comprehended this fact as I had no idea where I was. Then it came back to me. I hardly dared turn my head to the chair next to me to look at Akari. But I did.

She was there, in exactly the same position as she had been when I had said goodbye to her, eyes closed and mouth slightly parted, a serene expression on her young face.

What had she done to deserve this? And why had I been unable to protect her?

Because that was what had happened, wasn’t it? She


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had sought me out; the only other person on this forsaken pit of an island that could have helped her. She had ploughed every bit of her resourceful young mind into giving it a chance at life and where she had succeeded, I had failed.

Not only had I failed at keeping her alive, I had failed at prolonging my  existence, for even now my percentage was being eaten up and was dangerously low.

How, now, did I  continue?

Akari was young, only 19, and yet she was coughing up blood and barely able to breathe by the time her percentage ran out. What was I to expect? Would my limbs start to drop off, or would my brain simply explode into a cloud of dust?

I guessed I would find out pretty soon. What was left for me now? How did I eek out the rest of my percentage?

I knew I couldn’t stay on the plane. Akari was dead, and in the heat of the day would no doubt start to decompose pretty sharpish. Or would she? Like the food, would she simply sit in a state of freshness, a cadaver-esque limbo, while she awaited someone else to come along and find her? If this place had seen Those Who Had Gone Before why weren’t there remnants of the dead, the unsuccessfully escaped, all over the island waiting for me to stumble across them and enlighten me as to the futility of escape? Surely we couldn’t be the only two unlucky wretches ever to have been here?

I felt guilty for even thinking about leaving Akari, but I knew I had to. What was the good of sitting around moping? I was a human time bomb after all. If I only had a few hours left I may as well enjoy them. Maybe there was a charging point somewhere that I would stumble across just as my battery hit zero. I think what pissed me off the most was not Akari dying, or the fact that I was most probably about to as well, but that I was still no closer to understanding why . The causality of it all.

“We defy augury,” Hamlet had said. But we don’t. How can we? I defy any man who says he has control over his own destiny. Try telling that to a man whose life can be counted down in percentage points like mine. Try telling that to anyone but the man who is in his final death throes and knows what is about to come. Tell it to the man who is about to step into the road and be hit by a bus without knowing it that he has just 14 seconds to live, and he will laugh in your face.

I left Akari where she was. I gently closed her mouth, wiping the corners of it before I did so, a little concerned at how much pressure I had to apply to remove the crusted blood. She looked as peaceful and serene as a teenager taking a nap on her favourite sofa. That at least gave me some consolation.

Outside the airport I stood for a while in the morning sun and fished out a cigarette from my backpack. I surveyed the view of the mountains in the distance and dragged deeply. Well, at least I knew I wasn’t going to die of cancer.

I couldn’t help but burst into tears as I recovered my bike and found Akari’s perched against it in a final gesture of reliance. With great difficulty I separated the two. The chains had become locked together, in an ironic final embrace.

I loved her, I think. I may have only known her for 24 hours, but can’t a man can grow to love in such a short space of time? Especially if the circumstances force it thusly?

As I climbed on my bike and headed out of the airport grounds I wondered to myself what kind of love it could have been. She was a beautiful young woman, no doubt about it. Most men would have given her more than a second glance. But my thoughts turned to my own daughter, and how the thought of her in this situation was so utterly inconceivable. My need was to protect her, and as I have said and will say again, I failed.


---

The air was dry and hot again, no hint of a storm, as I made my way along the deserted roads. I didn’t know where I was heading and found myself surprised around an hour later when I saw the signs for Playa Blanca homing into view.

Life goes full circle, I thought. I had come home in a certain respect. Life was a big hamster wheel that we call rode on, hardly even realising that we were just coming round to the same place over and over.

Strangely, I was surprised as I cycled through the town limits and found them deserted. I had half expected a welcome of sorts, dammit. Perhaps the invisible film crew that had been documenting this whole charade would finally reveal themselves and we could crack open a few bottles of bubbles, drink ourselves stupid, and then the final denouement of the evening could be Akari revealing herself, alive, and holding two SINGLE plane tickets off the island.

My head began to hurt as I reached the beach. I saw the hut where I’d had a few beers after the Hotel Hesperia exploded, and instinctively headed towards it. The sea was as flat and as calm as I had ever seen it.

Well, that’s about it I’m afraid. I’ve just finished writing the whole shebang down and I’m going to have myself a few deserved beers.

My head is hurting like I’ve never known.

Just one more thing to say though. Perhaps it is a final gesture of defiance, but I shall be damned if this island is going to be my final resting place. I’ve stripped to full nudity, and I’m going to leave this place exactly as I imagine I arrived.

Which I have no idea how, obviously.

I could head back to the Sun Royal, lie down on the very bed I awoke on and wait for the inevitable, but that would be a gesture of acquiescence that I refuse to give this island.

This Island of Nothingness.

In about three beers time I plan to walk down that beach, have a good old cigarette and then step into the sea and bid farewell to Island Zero.

I’ve decided that if I can’t have life, then it damn well can’t have me.

Author’s note

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It is almost impossible to write an ‘apocalyptic’ novel without referencing or being influenced by the works of, as I like to call them here, Those Who Have Gone Before. Indeed, the main reason I got into creative writing was in large part thanks of the following works, and although Island Zero  is a totally original work I most humbly doff my cap to Stephen King for The Langoliers  and The Stand , to John Wyndham for The Day Of The Triffids , to George R. Stewart for Earth Abides , and to Richard Matheson for I Am Legend . For me, these works capture more than any other the extreme manias, from isolation and desperation to unbounded hope, one would feel in an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic environment. I can only hope to have gone some way towards emulating them.

Lanzarote itself holds a tangible fascination to me, and I couldn’t have written this without numerable visits to the island and I would like to thank it too. Whilst most of the places and names within are accurate some have been invented for creative purposes, and it is not the intention to cause any offence to them, only to showcase what a paradise lies for those who wish to visit them. Inter-lunary tourism may be a lot closer than we think, but until then I am content with Lanzarote.

About the author 

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Nick Cracknell was nearly born on a cement ship off Jamaica in 1978, but made it to Northern Ireland just in time. After reading Russian at university, he worked as a music journalist, building surveyor and voice actor before turning to writing. He lives in Devon with his wife, two children and some chickens.  Island Zero is his debut novel. 

Copyright

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Copyright © 2018 Nick Cracknell

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13:

978-1984360427

ISBN-10:

1984360426


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