They left Annie’s and stood outside for a moment, “I’m sure you’re tired after what’s happened so far, I’m also guessing you didn’t sleep well last night. I was thinking perhaps I’d show you to where you’re staying, you can have a rest, freshen up, then we can meet up again later.”
“That would be great actually, thanks.”
“There was some discussion made about where you should stay, so we decided to give you an option. You can either stay in the hotel or in an apartment. The hotel has a restaurant attached, but it’s filled with us. In the apartment you’ll have freedom, you can cook for yourself, or you can have food delivered. I personally would recommend the apartment. It will give you a better feel for how we all live on a day to day basis and it’ll be easier for you to acclimatise.”
“I guess I’ll use the apartment then.”
“Great, it’s already set up. We’ll swing by the office and grab your things.”
“I’m surprised that you have a running hotel set up.”
“It isn’t quite a hotel in the traditional way. We found that we needed more space than we had, so it was an easy solution. People moved in, they pay rent which covers everything. They get food coupons each week, they use those in the restaurants that are either attached to the hotel or ones that have been designated. We can stop by tomorrow so you can have a chat with some of the residents.”
“That would be great, thanks. I would have thought there would be plenty of space.”
“Not everyone owned a place here, some of them came in just for work, a lot of people commuted from the suburbs, then found themselves trapped. We did the best we could. There isn’t a lot of land that we could build on, and we don’t really have the materials or the space to start large scale construction work.”
“It must have been difficult for those who were trapped.”
“Yes, it still is. Many haven’t spoken to their families since the wall went up. You’re actually a minor celebrity already. You’re bringing a lot of hope to people they’ll get to meet their loves ones again, others think it might be the start of a tourism trade.”
Doug nodded, “I had a bit of that before I went in. People asking me to take letters and keepsakes in or out, everyone who applied went through the same. I wasn’t allowed bring anything like that in with me though.”
“The guys in the army would complain about that in the beginning. They weren’t allowed take anything out, still aren’t, but people would approach them anyway. We had to put laws in place to prevent scuffles. It was messy.”
“I’d like to interview some of the people who were trapped in here alone.”
“Of course. We’ll have lists of people willing and ready to talk to you, there’s a bit of background info on each so you can choose who you think will be best suited. Of course you’re also free to talk to anyone you wish, we thought this might speed things up a little for you, some of people didn’t want to talk to you.
“They didn’t really say, but I get the feeling they’re being pessimistic, think it’ll just be false hope. Others just don’t want to think about their old lives, worried about how their families will react when they see them again, that sort of thing.”
Doug nodded, making a mental note to try slip away at some point, to meet people without Max looking over his shoulder. As they walked back to the office, Doug was relieved that this time the streets weren’t entirely empty. He still felt uncomfortable and he found it difficult to look at anyone for too long without feeling nauseas, but it felt safer knowing that there were other people still around. Could they still be called people? That’s what they were called in the news reports, but did they still call themselves people? They were so different. Doug thought for a moment, then asked, “So, with the different people and different classifications, do they go by their new classification, or do they still identify as human?”
“Well, that depends. People shifted around after the wall came up, they group together. We’ve no problem with it and most people are happy to trade places until they get to where they want. I don’t know if most of them have thought about it all that much, they feel safer amongst their own kind. The change brought with it some instinctual stuff, people you just want to avoid, like you with most of the people here. Once you’re senses calm down you’ll get something similar, but it will be less severe, just a faint unease around some, or an inexplicable attraction around others. Out of everyone though, there is a group that strictly identifies as regular humans, so far they have not changed, though we suspected it’s only a matter of time. There’s maybe two hundred of them left, there was more when they first banded together. There is maybe a thousand people in their group. I dislike calling it a church, though it has extremely religious overtones. They aren’t a threat, and haven’t indicated otherwise, but personally, they make me a little uneasy. Those who changes later were a little…distraught over it. It hit them much, much harder than those who hadn’t been prepared.”
“Could I meet them?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll contact them to arrange for you to go to one of their services. They’re completely welcoming, but I don’t know how they’d feel about you dropping by. They might be afraid you’ll paint them as some kind of suicidal cult to those outside, there were some rabble rousers who claimed that in the beginning. There was a lot of mystery and suspicion about them. They dealt with a lot.”
“So if you think they’re going to change, do you think that could happen to visitors?”
“No one that has come from the outside has changed, not one. So far they’re the only ones who are still entirely human, the last change we had was about two weeks ago, so it’s not a stretch to think everyone that was here will eventually go through it.”
At the office building they retrieved Doug’s things, then started towards the apartment where Doug was staying. The more time they spent outside, the more people there seemed to be. Doug privately wondered if they were told to stay away from him, or if they were frightened by Max.
“You’re up here on the 5th floor, apartment 505, you’re neighbours are pretty friendly, but we’ve asked that they leave you for the night, if you want to knock and introduce yourself to them feel free, but they won’t bother you. I guess I’ll leave you here, if you need anything there’s a list of numbers by the phone that you can ring. If you need anything don’t be afraid to ask, it won’t be a problem. I’ll be back in a bit to collect you for dinner, lets say four hours? Or is that too long?”
“No, that’s perfect, thanks.”
They shook hands and Doug let himself into the apartment. It was larger than he expected. He closed the door behind him and locked it, then he slid the chain across it. He put down his bag in the short hallway and stepped into the sitting room. It held a large, comfortable looking couch, end tables and shelves full of books and knickknacks. It almost felt as though someone was already living in the place, despite its cleanliness and order. He went into the small kitchen and took down a glass. He turned on the tap and filled the glass with water, he looked at it critically, it was clear and didn’t smell bad. He took a small experimental sip, it tasted fine too. They hadn’t told him to avoid the water, but perhaps it just didn’t occur to them as it was already common knowledge, like when going to a foreign country. He looked at the fridge, that would answer it. He opened it and, despite it being full of food, there was no bottled water. He took another mouthful. Doug went back into the sitting room, carrying his water. There was a large table, just to the side of a small balcony, that was where he’d set up his stuff. The door to the balcony opened easily, he stepped outside and leaned against the railing. Glancing either side he could just see the edges of the other balconies, there were privacies screens set up either side. Down below he watched a few people walking along the roads. After a moment, he stood and went back inside. It was strange how normal everything felt here, particularly after his earlier reactions. Max was right, he was adapting. He finished the water and left the glass on the table, then he went to explore the rest of the apartment. The exploration didn’t last too long. The bedroom was again, larger than he expected, containing a double bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a television. He opened the wardrobe out of curiosity, there were clothes inside, all new. The drawers were the same. He had brought some clothes, but not much, he figured he’d be travelling a lot and would need to keep things light. They really had given him little information to go on. The bathroom held a shower and bath combo, a toilet and a sink, above the sink hung a mirror. He looked at himself for a moment, pale, bags under his eyes. He shook his head then went back to the sitting room.
It didn’t take him long to unpack and when he was done, he sat at his work station and began to type on his laptop, writing down all the thoughts and impressions of the day so far. When that was done he went to the bedroom and stripped off to his boxers and practically collapsed onto the bed.
He had set an alarm for two hours and all too soon it was going off. It took Doug a moment to wake and get his head together and, still tired, he dragged himself into the bathroom where he had a shower. After, he felt refreshed and much better than he had before the nap. He dried and dressed quickly, checking the time he saw he still had about twenty minutes before Max came to collect him, he sat at the desk again, intending to do some more work, but instead he scribbled a few notes and stared off into space. The knock on the door startled him from his day dreams.