From The Redundant Carpark
It is 2025. Desperate to kick-start a stalled economy, a British government puts to one side employment and planning laws in Essex and hopes that Essex man will get things moving. Other groups set about taking advantage.
Late in the summer of 2025, the government advised families with children or elderly people in their care to leave the zone, then, three days later, the first yermob arrived in the village. It had burnt its way east from the city and was looking for a headquarters, somewhere to settle. There were about twenty of them.
The absence of cars in the village was startlingly obvious. The motorists had left their tell-tale signs, the chewed up patches of grass outside small houses, the broken paving stones and the smashed road signs waving at ridiculous angles, shouting silently at traffic they had once controlled. But there was no traffic, just lots of space for it, sheets of concrete, or tarmac or brightly coloured brick, spread haphazard. Without the to-ing and fro-ing of vehicles, without the undulating buzz of cars and the roaring of lorries, the roads were dead. Without traffic, all this imposition upon the earth was a waste and its sense of purpose had been sucked away quickly and easily, as if by some giant vacuum cleaner, leaving behind it the litter of traffic signs, barriers and faded painted strips upon the road. The motorists too, they had departed and taken with them whatever reason for travelling had been theirs, as if their sole purpose was to occupy the cars in which they had driven frantically from one traffic jam to another.
“Bastards‘ve gone.” The speaker was leading a group of twenty or so young people, one of the first yermobs to reach the area; a journalist had described them as yobs in a mob and the term had stuck. They had come to a halt at this the first sign of habitation they had encountered since they had turned off the A12. They had been travelling for some hours.
There was little to distinguish the speaker from his followers, apart from the manner of his speaking. Despite the weather, he was dressed in a series of thin layers, a topcoat of sorts, jeans and a sweater and t-shirt, topped with a woolly hat. His feet were cased uncomfortably in a pair of beaten-up shoes which looked as though they had never had a particular shape, colour or function. A length of string led from his hand to a mangy cur which sniffed behind the knee of one of his followers. Every few minutes or so, without so much as a glance at the creature, he inflicted a sharp jerk on the string.
If there was anything to distinguish Rob from the others it was his height and his ability, when he bothered to stand up straight, to look about him. A human lighthouse.
The group slowed stopped outside a low, single-storey building. Some of them sat down in the road and allowed their heads to drop even further, in the manner of those who are tired or fed up or simply pleased to stop. Some of the others looked around at a restaurant which was set well back from the carriageway, a few hundred yards from the old village. The original barn in which the restaurant had begun life stood upright, like a mole hoisting itself from the depths, nosing its spoil out around itself. Around this tall, black and inelegant building there has spread a wide, flat skirt of a flat-roofed extension, spread by fits and starts, each addition bearing the hallmark of a different local builder, or a different style or material, wood, brick, plastic sheeting and even some stone cladding. At some stage it had forced the car park to spread across the road and into the remains of a field. The building was really a series of extensions, each lent against its predecessor, the whole lot jammed together piecemeal. From the road this was not immediately obvious for a series of horizontal boards had been slapped along the edge of the roof to hold a neon welcome which had once flashed and winked at passers-by. Below the defunct hoarding the windows, dull grey in the flat afternoon light, stared sightless towards the visitors. Like the traces of a mole across a golf course, this eruption challenged and mocked the place in which it found itself.
A barn had long stood on the site – the older inhabitants remembered the original which could be seen in one of the sepia photographs in the pub at the other end of the village. On the other side of the restaurant, away from the older houses, a small “executive” estate had inserted itself and this was where the owner of the restaurant and some of his associates had lived.
It was the restaurant which held their attention and they looked across to the new building. Between them and the solid doors there was a sea of concrete, scored across with the outlines of parking bays and dotted about with blind concrete tubs which had once held flowers. Rob, the leader, stepped towards the doors, watching warily. A man and two women, dressed similarly, followed him to a central point in this hard grey sea. One of the women stepped forward, dark-haired and bright faced. She looked around then pointed towards the edge of the car park. There the dark area of grass separating them from the road had been badly scarred. The ruts were deep; someone had sat in a car, desperately spinning its wheels in a futile attempt to get back onto the road. The mud that had spattered over the edge of the car park had dried a little and was losing its dark colour.
“Pissed off – they’ve gone. Look at this mess.” The speaker spat out her hatred. “Looks like they panicked and buggered off.” The others follow her hand toward the tired-looking houses. “Obviously not at home!” Some of them laughed. Home was not a word they used much, but they picked up the mockery in Jenny’s voice and enjoyed the sight of these pretentious buildings that now stood deserted, no longer exclusive. They had seen the hoardings around other similar estates and taken in the word desirable and read the price tags. One garage door gaped open, betraying a family’s spare bits and pieces which had spilt down from the shelves and spread themselves across the concrete floor. It was like stumbling across a friend’s washing, suddenly discovering the intimacy of someone else’s private grubbiness. They were trespassers and yet there was no sense that they were offending anyone by their presence. The old rules, the rules among which they had ducked and weaved their way, that they had ignored when they could, had gone with the people who had once lived here.
These people had not hesitated once they had made their decisions. At the other end of the village, in the smaller, more orderly rows of houses, there had been worry and debate for weeks about what would happen, what they should do. Some of these houses were still occupied, but at this stage, food and water could be found relatively easily so they did not attract visitors. Unlike their wealthy neighbours who had been able to flee these people were sitting tight, hoping that other people would continue to ignore them.
It was the newer homes that cried out for attention. That was why they had been built and how they had been built, to show that the owners had money. Some had been built before the establishment of the zone and many had mushroomed since. One glared down at the visitors from a slight rise, a white hacienda-style monstrosity, woefully out of keeping with its surroundings. On dull days, in the rain, or in the short days of winter, it clung on stubbornly to its forlorn superiority. Once, when the sun shone, your eyes would have travelled across the front of it, across this giant chess board of a car park, from the white house at one end to the black barn at the other, between two chess queens watching out over lesser pieces, cars which used to move in and out of spaces that were now deserted. Now the cars had gone, taking with them something of the life of the place and leaving a flat, empty grid of concrete and tarmac, dotted with puddles and faded markings. Like the chess game itself, this grid looked as though it could have been put down anywhere, and taken up again as quickly, for it had put down no roots itself and would permit no other roots, no other forms of life. It did not belong, not to the remaining villagers, watching warily from unlit windows, nor to the visitors who had been standing on its margins.
The visitors moved towards the buildings while another young man in this small group continued his self-imposed sentry duty, anxiously watching the road in both directions. Around him, weary companions littered the edge of the road.
“Nobody’s been at home for a while – might be worth checking.” Rob nodded towards the larger houses. “’Nuff of us here to split. What d’yer reckon Jen?” She nodded to the others who watched her.
Looking at Jenny’s face was like looking at a house that is cared for, with windows that shine in the light and lawns that are trimmed neatly where they meet pathways. You had to get close to see her face; like the others she wore a hood. It was only when you were close that you could see this light in her face or hear the lift in her voice, could feel her life. She was a little shorter than the other women and carried herself more upright. When she spoke she looked straight into you so it was not difficult for her companions to appreciate what she had to say, to follow her lead.
“We’ll start on the houses while you check the other place for food.”
Rob stepped forward and called out to the remnants of the yermob.
“’Ere, Charlie, you go on a bit further, down to that corner, then you can warn us. Gotcha whistle?”
The man addressed levered himself up from the road and stumbled against a cat’s-eye. He raised a hand in acknowledgement.
“Okay.” Charlie trudged back the way they had come. After a few yards he stopped and hitched up his jeans. Then he undid the string that served for a belt and pulled it up again, jerking it tightly round himself and his coat.
The east wind that had reminded them of autumn for two days carried the sound of his voice back to the others.
“Fuckin’ zip, fuckin’ zip, fuckin’ zip,” they echoed but he could not hear the old football chant and he shuffled on towards the corner where the road forked.
“Just look at all this gear.” Jenny was standing in the porch of the first house, the one nearest the restaurant. A taller woman stood next to her, clad mainly in leather and anchored in industrial boots with reinforced toecaps. In front of her she held a sledgehammer. She looked pleased about something and raised the weapon which fell onto the front of the door and removed a first bite from the woodwork. Two more blows followed and the door succumbed. Before them, their way lay open.
“Didn’t take long.” The tall woman turned and smirked in their direction. “Show the bastards.” Behind her lay the two large pieces of door that they would have to step over. Three young men had joined them and stood outside, grinning and jeering. Jenny looked round at them and the tall woman, pointedly, then floated her eyes over the remnants of toughened plastic and wood.
“How long would you need to mend it?” Jenny nodded at the smashed door and wished she had spoken sooner. The tall woman remained silent. “Some time we might need to keep other people out.” Jenny turned back to the three doors in front of them. She stepped quickly forwards and pushed each of them open. She glanced into each of the three rooms while the others eased themselves through the porch and into the hallway behind her. “Trouble is, we can’t use this place and we can’t flog it.” She hesitated, “Or exchange it.”
Each room had its large screen, mounted on the wall. Despite the gloom, they could see that each screen took up most of a wall; in a good light they would dominate the rooms completely. The other walls were dotted with cheap prints. The furniture was large, heavy-looking and the carpets were indecently deep. For a moment these intruders hesitated in the doorway, reluctant to soil and abuse this unfamiliar floor covering, wary of its softness, its yielding quality.
The fridge and the freezer were almost empty; the doors had been left wide open as if they had given up and wanted to surrender. The house looked as though a start had been made to ransack it for there were clothes and bedding everywhere, left below shelves and cupboards from which they had clearly been pulled. In a child’s room, gaps on the shelves told of favourite toys and games that had been grabbed in haste – you could hear a parent’s voice telling the child not to bother, to hurry up. Jenny thought of other houses that they had visited and the speed with which they could find the things they needed. That was what she liked about these guys; show them a house and they’d open it up like a tin of sardines. That way, you’d see everything and get everything you wanted.
“Any clothes?” Jenny’s voice swept up the stairs. There was no reply. “What the ‘ell are you playing at?”
Kate, the tall woman, appeared at the top, leaning over the banisters and grinning.
“Mick’s found this bleedin’ great bed, all new sheets. Says you’re welcome any time.” The two women exchanged looks. “We could stay here for a bit Jenny.”
“Depends what the other groups are doing.”
“London’s no good now.”
“Dead right. The bastards’ll never let us back there now.”
Minutes later, the two women were looking at an electronic entertainment console at the far end of a lounge. There was a shout from the men, from beyond the kitchen, from the garage to which they had been drawn as if by a magnet. The women followed and found the men staring at an expensive-looking sports car. To one side Jenny noticed an open petrol can and a length of hose. The petrol cap was missing. She pointed to the empty container and laughed.
“Won’t get far in that.”
Next door, in the restaurant, Rob managed to pick a lock and the men with him pulled the doors open wide to let in the last of the day’s light. They laughed at the menu on the wall, then turned their attention to a glass door that led away from the reception area.
“Got the matches?” One of the others picked up a bottle with a candle jammed into the neck.
“That’s better.” The other three found more bottles and soon a pale flickering light revealed the further tables and a door marked kitchen.
Like the houses, the restaurant kitchen had been abandoned in haste.
“Must have been that warning on the tele. Tables all set up, but no one came. Just started defrosting the vegetables, making up the sauces.” Rob picked up a spoon and stirred the brown mess in front of him. “Breaking it down. That’s what we’re doing to the system, breaking it down. Just getting started now, Essex leads the way. You’ll see.” He tipped the brown mess over the table.
The others laughed at the idea of making a mess of other people’s things, especially wealthy people’s things, and they enjoyed Rob’s little commentaries that gave a sharpness, a relish to accompany their activities. His knack with words made them feel the importance, the significance of what they did.
The weak light of the candles was sufficient to reveal the brown mess spreading wider and wider. They watched until the circles of decaying vegetation reached the edge of the worktop. One of the others stepped forward and grabbed at Rob’s spoon. Rob snatched his hand away and the other man’s hand slid into the mess. His companions laughed.
“Shit!” He lunged at them but they got quickly out of the way despite the restrictions of the darkness. They spread out around him, separate, quick-moving targets. They watched the man raise his hand to examine the mess. It ran down his arm and he tried to wipe off the mess against it his trouser leg.
“Look, Tom mate, there’s a sink over there.” Rob was feeling sorry for him now. “Wash and brush-up time now – you could do with tidying up.” The others laughed again.
The tap gurgled then spat out a gob of water. It paused, then gurgled again but this time no water appeared. Tom thumped the palm of his hand against the sink but there was no response and the tap taunted him, a sullen piece of plumbing. Charlie hit the sink and some of the mess dropped from his arm onto the stainless steel.
“Fuckin’ place. Useless. Just like everything else in this part of the world.” He wiped his arm again and the dark smear on the leg of his trousers reproached them all.
Some of the others joined their search.
“Just check them doors will yer Marie?” A girl of about fifteen moved over to the far end of the kitchen, lugged on the doors and called over her shoulder.
“Just cupboards.” There was the dull thud of a large tin hitting the floor. Marie stepped to one side and one of the others leaned forward to see properly.
“Bloody hell. Tinned sausages.” The man stood upright and turned to show the others the large tin. It was too dark to read the words, but the picture could not have been clearer. “Who likes tinned sausages?”
“Where’s Roddick? He’ll eat any bloody thing.” They laughed for a moment until Marie pulled a face. “Yeah, well this is all we’ve found so far – you can bloody laugh.” Rob shrugged his shoulders and looked round. “The thing is, this place might be handy for a bit, unless those army bastards come and move us on again.”
A mohican hair-cut appeared round the door. It was Roddick who called to them.
“Come and ‘ave a look out here.” The others followed.
“What yer found then?
“Funny bleedin’ sort of restaurant.” He picked up a second candle and led the way through a door at the far end of the reception area. For a second their candles picked out the words, “Private salons.”
There were six of them, arranged either side of a central corridor. There was a second reception desk that customers would have to pass after making their way through the restaurant. Derek leant over and pulled out a brochure. On the cover they could just make out the words,
For our more discerning clients.
Suggestions for your Pleasure.
“What’s your pleasure then Dell?”
“Never you bloody mind. Just look at their pleasure.” He turned to the third page.
“Would you want that, even if you could afford it? Sick, that’s what it is, sick.”
There was an index: male and female partners, junior and senior partners, multiples, mixed bags and specials. There was a photograph to accompany each category. Then there were the pages of details. There were no prices indicated; that seemed to be a matter for negotiation. Derek turned to a page near the back; it was labelled, Special. Two boys of Asian appearance were manipulating each other. All yours, read the caption.
The heading on the next page screamed at them: In-house stock, from our own stables, cloned from one of our best girls and now ready for action. These girls have been raised especially for your delight.
“Now that’s something- can’t tell the difference. Do they charge double for twins?” Derek looked up. “They twins or bloody clones or what?”
“Course they’re twins, they’re bloody clones – Same cells, just like twins.”
They found the bodies in the third cubicle. They had been dumped in a heap and with only the candles’ glimmer to see by, it was difficult to decide just how many were there.
Ryle, a thin lad who had followed Derek into the cubicle, doubled up near the door, desperate to get out, desperate to escape the sound and smell of his own vomiting. Marie looked over Derek’s shoulder in horror and began to cry, fitfully in sobs at first, then in longer and longer drawn out wails until she was screaming as if her lungs would burst. Outside, Rob was hurrying over to the noise with his group. Outside, they found Jenny with her arms around Marie, pulling her gently but insistently away from the awfulness in the private salons.
The bodies had not been there long. Had it not been for the injuries and their awful nakedness, the children could almost have been sleeping. It was not clear how they had been killed, but to one side there were a number of cushions, crumpled and stained. One was torn. All the care taken with the pictures in the brochure was wasted now, but the truths behind them were becoming a little clearer.
They reassembled out in front of the restaurant, a sombre group under the last of the light. Beyond the pale sky the darkness waited and they could sense its impatience, knowing somehow that without the streetlights, those beacons of civilised superficiality that no longer functioned, without them, the darkness would come down lower and closer until its return was complete. They were uncomfortable for they knew that the lights could no longer flower above them, to bathe them and their streets again in a pale yellow light. Jenny left the poor figure of Marie over to one side, still distraught, and rejoined the group.
“Anyone want to try and help Marie? She’ll drive me nuts if she don’t shut it soon. I keep tellin’ her they’re dead. Can’t do anything for those kids now.”
The men ignored her and ignored Marie’s whimpering over where Jenny had left her, away from the group. One of the men spoke.
“Would have been a good kip – part from them bodies. God, I ain’t seen nothin’ like that before.”
Rob smiled grimly.
“What about all them bodies up near Newham way, near that fuckin’ great barrier over the river. ‘Nuff there wasn’t there?”
“They weren’t little kids, and they’d gone out there for a fight – just too many police.” That was the point – they had all known the risks – never knew just what would happen when they took on the police, or went out on a demo. Some light returned to Rob’s eyes. “All right the rest of the way though, then it was Brentwood ‘ere we come.” They remembered how a fire engine had arrived and they’d set fire to that too. The memory of that triumph distanced them from what they had just found in the cubicles.
Rob continued for a moment.
“And them old gits in that bleedin’ hospital – silly buggers. Pity they couldn’t get up out the bleedin’ way?”
Like the kids here in the cubicles, they had been just as dead.
Eventually Marie had fallen silent. Then they heard the sound of a helicopter. At first its low distant buzz hardly touched their hearing but they listened as it followed the road that had led them to the village from the A12 and its angry buzz was on them before they had time to do anything.