He wandered through the park, though he knew where he was going, he was in no rush. The wind was gentle, carrying with it the faint scents of flowers and, underneath that, baking bread. He followed the small creek that wound through the green areas, it gurgled merrily, rippling and sparkling in the warm sun. The park was empty, at least as far as he could tell. He had neither seen nor heard another person since entering. It was both thrilling and terrifying. He liked being alone, it was peaceful, he didn’t have to worry about what other people were thinking, he didn’t have to pay attention to the meaningless conversations going on. He could chase his thoughts as much as he liked. He heard the swings creaking before he saw them, angling away from the water, he made his way over. He stopped briefly to open the short gate and stepped through. It clanged as it closed itself. He made his way over the sand, past the slide and finally he reached the swing and sat down heavily onto the metal seat. He swung himself back and forth gently, the creak quickly became part of the background noise. There was no kids here and there hadn’t been for a while.
He began to move faster, back and forth, trying to get as high as possible, the exhilaration reminiscent of childhood, where he and his brother had tried to swing high enough to go over the bars. He had never even made it close, secretly he was terrified of the idea of it, and he suspected his brother felt the same. He swung back and forth suppressing laughter and, when he judged he could go no higher, he waited for the apex of the swing before launching himself into the air. He landed a second later, cheeks flushed. He chuckled and moved away from the swing. It wouldn’t do to have someone see him like that. They might think he was acting strangely and then who knew what might happen. He let himself out of the playground through the gate, suppressing the urge to just climb over the short barrier.
He walked a little further, his good mood improving as he went. He moved closer to the edge of the water, it was slowly widening into a stream. His smile died as he saw the bones at the edge. It looked like a femur, though he wasn’t completely sure. He stepped back from the water and looked around nervously. There was no sign of anyone else. He moved back to the path, good mood spoiled. He didn’t like being so alone anymore. He walked faster, hoping he’d get to the edge of the park soon. He hadn’t been in this place in years, and he was much younger then, distances were distorted with memory.
He stepped out onto the road and sighed in relief. There were no people that he could see, but there were houses. That made it safer. A thin plume of smoke rose from one of the chimneys. He frowned at it, shook his head, then started walking. He’d be at the shops soon. He had already decided he would walk back through the streets. It would be safer anyway, he didn’t want to be attacked for the food he was getting. That wouldn’t do at all.
The shop was small and to his surprise, empty of customers. A clerk stood at the counter, he walked in hesitantly.
“Are you open?”
“Yeah, come on in.”
He stepped into the shop. A large wooden counter prevented him from going more than five feet inside. Behind it was a large, open area, the walls were stacked with boxes. He knew there would be another shop keep in the back, with the luxury items. The door didn’t open, there was a silver slot next to the door, the shop keep would request something through the intercom and it would slide out there. It prevented looting. “Did something happen around here?”
“Oh no, don’t worry, it’s just a lull. Happens sometimes. This place will be hopping in no time.” The shop keep stuck out his hand, he dug in his pocket and brought out a small paper card.
“Brilliant. Just this then?”
“Yeah, that’d be plenty thanks.”
The shopkeeper smiled, “I’m glad you’re on the right day. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that come in on the wrong one and try to claim they couldn’t come the day before for some bullshit reason. My favourites are the ones that come in and try to get served twice.” The shopkeeper marked off a name on in his book, then passed the card back, “we check in front of them. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
“Some people will do anything to try and get a leg up.”
“You can say that again.”
The shopkeeper turned from the front of the store and started grabbing things from the shelves with the skill and ease of long practise.
“Do you have a bag?”
“Yep, right here.”
“It just keeps getting better.”
He passed the bag to the shopkeeper who started to pack it expertly.
“Do you want any luxury items?”
“None today thanks.”
“Ok, here’s you things, have a good day.”
“Thanks, you too.”
He took the bag, it was heavier than he expected, and left the shop. As he walked out an old woman scuttled in, head down. He could see a few other people now, all walking towards the store with determination. One woman broke out into a jog, intent on getting there first. Smiling, he started to walk, it wouldn’t do to block up the entrance.
He walked faster on his way back. It wasn’t that late, but people would be getting off work soon. He didn’t want to be around the crowds. He was lucky, he didn’t have to work in an office, he was able to work from home. An artist, though he didn’t tell people that, who helped illustrate some of the governments poster campaigns as well as doing freelance. He had access to almost any art material he desired, once he could give a plausible excuse for its necessity, it was his. Sometimes, when he had left over paints, he would barter them away. It made things easier, though he only did it with a few, trusted people. It wouldn’t do to be caught. He’d lose his job at the very least.
He let himself into his house, it was small but he owned the most of it. The house itself had been broken into apartments, but his was the biggest. He even had his own kitchen and bathroom. He opened the door to his rooms and placed the bag down before he secured the door. That done, he went to put his items away.
Once that was done, he looked at the poster he was currently designing. It was the usual “Do Your Part!” dreck. A teenage boy assembling something metal, what exactly it was he wasn’t sure yet, and a teenage girl was gleefully sowing some garment. It wasn’t exactly artistically filling, but it paid his bills and more, so he was thankful.
He stopped working as the sound of an engine started to grow. He wouldn’t be able to concentrate until it passed. The engine stopped outside, he stood and looked out the window, it was a random inspection. No surprise there. At least they’d leave him alone. They had special inspectors for him, ones that wouldn’t screw up everything in the apartment. He could hear some yelling down the street, but it stopped quickly. Few people tried to argue. He watched as they went into the houses, most times they left with something. In an hour the row of trucks were gone and silence fell again. Even though he knew he was safe, he still tensed as they moved around outside his door. He had nothing to hide, not at the moment, but still, they inspired fear in everyone and that was a good thing. There was less chance of a riot then. The last riot had ended unpleasantly, twelve hundred people had lost their lives. Their own fault really, he had seen the footage afterwards. Jonathan, his boss, had shown him. Jonathan wasn’t worried about that kind of thing, he was retiring soon anyway. Once that happened, he would be promoted, given the big house, a larger allowance and he would even be given luxury items for free. He looked forward to the DVD player and the movie collection the most. He shook his head, it was still a few months away. Sitting at the table, he started to work. He needed to get this finished. Then he’d start on the new campaign, the “BEWARE.” One. That one gave him chills. People were getting complacent and complacency was dangerous, it lead to injury and death. He had pictures for that one. He didn’t want them, he didn’t want to have to look at them, but he would. It needed to be done. People needed to be warned.
If he didn’t do it, then someone else would and that would mean no more home job, no more allowances, no more privileges. It meant life on the streets unless he could get a job, a life of begging and one that would end in his death, sooner rather than later.