A group of people have gathered in Jason’s house in rural Wales, survivors of a virus that has wiped out most of the human population. Deirdre and Alesky have been out on a horse in scavenging tools and food from abandoned neighbouring farms. Meanwhile, with the help of Abigail and Maud, Jason has been searching for his five-year-old nephew Simon, who he last saw playing in the barn.
We hear the cart on the drive. It’s moving faster than it should. We’re halfway across the yard when the horse comes round the side of the house, dragging the cart at a speed that tilts it on to its outer wheels at the turn. The geese scatter. The jackdaws flap from the stable roof, making their harsh noise. Deirdre pulls sharply on the reins and the horse rears up.
Aleksy is slumped beside her. Deirdre’s shouting, ‘He’s hit, they shot him, he’s losing blood.’ We’re all over him, trying to help him down – Deirdre above him on the cart, Abigail lifting his legs, me pulling at him, taking the weight. And Aleksy’s thumping me, pummelling my shoulder. ‘Not me. The boy. See to the boy.’ I pull away and he stumbles to the ground, cursing in Polish.
I get on the cart and fling the cardboard boxes aside. And there’s Simon in a foetal crouch. He rocks from side to side, humming to himself.
‘What is it, Si? Where’d they get you?’
Abigail is beside me, straightening Simon’s legs, feeling for damage, touching his arms and fingers.
I lift his hand gently from the side of his head. There’s a gash above the ear, muddied and bleeding – not a bullet wound.
‘Is it your head, Si? Does it hurt anywhere else?’
He’s crammed with words that won’t come out.
I carry him into the kitchen, following the trail of Aleksy’s blood. Aleksy is sideways on a kitchen chair, his good arm clinging to the back. Deirdre has cut the shirt sleeve from the injured arm. For a moment the wound is bright and open like a mouth, blood pulsing out of it. She’s knotted a tea towel above and winds it tight with a spoon. Abigail has pushed aside jars of jam to make space on the table for her sewing box. She pulls out pin cushions and reels of thread. She has a sheet over her shoulder. Maud comes up from the cellar with a bottle of brandy. They’ve got stuff stored away I don’t even know about. The kettle’s already rattling on the stove.
I sit Simon on a chair and crouch to look at him. There’s no colour in his face. The external bleeding isn’t much but I’m worried about the knock to his skull. Behind him, Aleksy’s doing a lot of grunting. Maud and Abigail hold him still while Deirdre sews him up. Simon keeps twisting round to look, so I give up and turn his chair the other way.
When I start cleaning the wound Simon says, ‘Ow’ and puts his hand up but he doesn’t take his eyes off the main attraction. ‘I said Ow.’
‘I heard you, but I’ve got to make sure it’s clean before I put a bandage on.’
Aleksy asks Deirdre if she’s done this before.
‘With a horse, once, I did,’ she says.
‘Well remember, please, that I am not a horse.’
I explode at them. ‘Christ, you two, what were you thinking, taking Simon?’
‘He was on the cart,’ Deirdre says. ‘He was playing in the boxes. We were a mile away before we knew.’
Aleksy grunts. ‘Stop talking and sew.’
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Pub. Date: April 4th, 2017
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors.
Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of Jane Eyre, from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies.
These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder.
The Book of Air is a story of survival, the shaping of memory and the enduring impulse to find meaning in a turbulent world.