Going Home. Short Story.

Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was grand, fairly relaxed, was great catching up with friends too. Still feeling a bit off, getting twinges here and there, hopefully everything is just settling down.

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Nancy approached the wall quickly, breath coming in short gasps, as always she felt that faint thrill of fear at the sight of it. She was the only person walking along the path, though it was wide enough for ten people to walk side by side. The wide open space made her feel like she was under a microscope, she was used to tall, towering buildings and crowds of people. As she approached the wire fence she saw a man leaving the wall, he carried his own suitcase and tipped his head towards her as he walked past, Nancy tried not to shy away. She stopped at the fence and pulled her passport from her pocket, she handed it into the bored looking guard who sat in a fortified little box. The guard looked at the passport, turning it this way and that and finally he started tapping at the keyboard. Nancy fidgeted while she waited, beads of sweat were gathering on her forehead and upper lip. The guard passed the passport back to her, “Business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure I guess. I’m visiting family, my mother is ill.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Will you be gone long?”
“I don’t know yet. I don’t think so.”
“Okay, I’ll put you down for an open ended ticket then, you can return at any point within the next three months. If you stay longer than the allotted time and you have not started immigration proceedings, a warrant will go out for your arrest.”
The guard slid her passport through the hatch and Nancy pocketed it and waited for the signal to go on. The guard yawned, stretched, then reached over for a slip of paper, he quickly scribbled something onto it, then passed it through. Nancy took the slip, picked up her two suitcases, both hastily packed, and continued on to the wall. The sun shone on her back but she still felt cold standing beneath it. The wall was a deep grey, the only colour was the bright white and red warnings printed across it, threatening fines and even death to those who tried to cross it illegally. At the end of the path there were two large glass doors, Nancy pulled one open awkwardly and struggled through with her bags, another guard stood just inside, her stared at her impassively until she was through the door, he stepped in front of her “Destination?”
“Zone fifteen.”
The guard nodded and pointed to the left “Please make your way towards processing. At this point you have not yet been approved for travel, should you not be approved we ask that you quietly leave without making a fuss. If you shout, threaten, curse or throw objects you will be ejected from the facility and banned from travel for five years. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
He stepped back out of her way and Nancy walked on, following the signs to processing. The signs led her down wide, tall hallways that were plastered in posters of happy families on holiday and warnings about the spread of disease. The faces of the families made her uncomfortable as they stared down at her with smiles that were just a bit too wide. When she finally reached processing she was completely turned around as was the intention. The inside of the wall was designed to be like a maze, only those who worked there had any real idea on how to get around.

The room she was in was large, filled with rows and rows of seats, only three of which were occupied. She approached the glass slowly, unsure of what she was supposed to do. It was almost fifteen years since she’d last been inside the wall and she couldn’t remember how it all went. As she approached the glass the woman on the other side looked up, rolled her eyes and motioned to the seats, “we will call your name when we’re ready for you.”
“oh. Of course, sorry. Thank you.”

Nancy sat down, leaving a few empty seats either side of herself as everyone else before her had done. Of the other three waiting two were looking at their mobiles while the third was reading a book. Nancy pulled her own phone from her pocket then sighed when she saw she’d no signal. If she had time to prepare herself she would have thought to bring stuff to keep her occupied, rather than the frantic rush she found herself in. Her finger hovered over the messages icon before she clicked into it. The text from her brother flashed on screen, “Mom’s sick. There isn’t much time, please come.” she had tried ringing him but couldn’t get through and none of her texts had been answered. She felt another stab of anger, why hadn’t they told her Mom was sick before? No one had mentioned anything during their monthly phone call two weeks back. Nancy already knew what they’d say to her when she demanded answers, “Mom didn’t want you to worry.” “We didn’t want you to waste your time coming back if it was nothing.” she turned off her phone and put it back into her pocket, might as well save the battery. It was just like them to tell her the news through text too, that’s how they’d told her that Jenny was getting married, that Todd and Mags had twins. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken to any of her family outside of their monthly phone call and even then it all depended on who was visiting her mother at the time.

“Mrs. Nancy Smith?” Nancy stood, grabbed her bags and lugged them over to the glass window. A slot opened to her left, “Please place your suitcases into the drawer. Are there any forbidden items in your bag?”
“No, just clothes and some money.”
The woman slid a form through the small hatch, “Please fill in this form detailing roughly what is in your case, you don’t have to be specific just clothes, money, wallet, that kind of thing.” Nancy started filling out the form. The woman looked at her computer screen, “Oh your mother is sick, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope she gets better soon.”
“Thank you.” Nancy slid the completed form back through the slot.
“Okay, this looks good. We’re going to send you for your medical review now. That will involve answering a detailed questionnaire with our doctor and submitting to a physical. The results of this review will be entirely confidential. If you wish to view the report you may do so here or by visiting your own doctor at a later date.” Nancy signed the form.
“Thank you. If you will please go to room three and change into the gown provided, a doctor will be with you shortly. Your items will be returned to you once you’re on the other side.”
Nancy went to room three, thankful that she didn’t have to lug around her bags any more. The room was smaller than she expected, a trolley bed was shoved against one wall, a desk was against another, there were two seats and a privacy screen. A gown rested on the trolley, Nancy changed into it, shivering slightly in the cool air. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door, three hard raps, before it was pulled open. Nancy stood from her chair as the doctor walked in, he was staring at a chart. “Okay, Nancy Smith correct?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
The doctor walked past her and took the other chair, “Okay, first we need to go over a few minor details.” he read through her chart, asking her to confirm her address and date of birth and asking her various questions about her health.

The entire medical review took about three hours but at the end of it the doctor declared her fit for travel. Once dressed Nancy was brought through another door, to isolation. She was lead past row after row of black, imposing pods. Each pod was about seven foot tall and had a view screen so those inside could look out and vice versa. “You will remain inside the pod for three days, though you will be unconscious for those three days. If any signs of major sickness appear you will be rejected and you will not be allowed travel. If you pass you will be brought to the train.” the technician stopped at a pod, then pulled open the door. “Please step inside.” Nancy took a deep breath her heart was thundering in her ears, she stepped forward and turned around inside the pod. The technician started grabbing at loose wires and sticking them to Nancy’s wrists and neck. “These will monitor you for the three days.” he pulled a tube forward, “you’re going to feel a slight pinch.” Nancy shut her eyes as she felt the sharp sting of the needle going into the crook of her arm. “OK, that’ll keep you hydrated and provide nutrients for the next three days. When you wake you’ll be groggy, maybe a little nauseous. That’s all normal. Are you ready?”
Nancy nodded, the technician stepped back and swung the door closed. Nancy closed her eyes and took slow, deep breaths.

Nancy gasped, then coughed, standing in front of her was another technician, though they were no longer in the corridor of pods. “How are you feeling Mrs. Smith?”
Nancy coughed, “Okay I guess.” her mouth was dry making it difficult to talk, the technician passed her a plastic cup half filled with water. “Take a few sips, don’t try to drink quickly, you’ll only throw up.” Nancy took a sip, then another. By the time she’d finished the water the wires had been pulled off her body and the needle had been removed. “Do you have a headache? Any aches, chills?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Okay, it looks like you’re good to go. I’m going to give you some privacy, your clothes were sterilised while you were in quarantine.” the technician gestured at a plastic bag, inside which were her neatly folded clothes. “Once your dressed, knock on the door and I’ll escort you to the train.”
Nancy opened the bag of clothes, a harsh chemical smell greeted her. Nancy dressed slowly, she was still feeing a bit groggy and unsteady on her feet.

The technician led her to a row of elevators, there she pressed a button and they waited in silence. The doors opened revealing a huge elevator, they both stepped in and Nancy looked around, there was easily enough room for thirty people inside. When the doors opened again they revealed a platform, sitting on which was a train. A couple of people milled about on the platform. Nancy spotted her bags in a pile of luggage. “If you’d like to grab your bags then make your way onto the train. We hope you have a pleasant trip!” Nancy stepped off the elevator, the doors closing behind her. She grabbed her bags and went straight for the train, a large sign above it said it was leaving in fifteen minutes. Nancy quickly found a seat and settled in, the train had more passengers than she expected but she managed to find a group of empty seats with a table. She settled in, ignoring the windows either side of the train, the system was entirely underground.

The train ride itself only took twenty minutes, Nancy grabbed her bags and exited the train, outside on the platform Nancy paused and scanned the signs, she jumped as a guard nearby shouted that arrivals were to go to the registry desk. Nancy found the desk easily enough and was pleased to find she was the third in line. It didn’t take her long to get her forms checked and stamped and then she was through. She followed the corridor until they got to the airlock system, she stepped through the door then waited in the small room. A minute later a green light flashed and there was a buzz as the far door unlocked. She left the room and stepped into a wide, brightly lit corridor. Nancy walked along it, ignoring the welcome posters as she went. Outside the doors she stopped for a moment and breathed in the fresh air. The wall was on a hill, giving her a good view of the zone, with its spread out houses and wide, open spaces. She never thought she’d get used to the cramped space in Zone Seven when she first moved away, all those apartment buildings towering over her, pushing in from all sides, but now she found she missed them. The open space made her nervous though she wasn’t quite sure why. Nancy pulled her phone from her pocket and turned it on, then she sent a text letting them know she arrived. Nancy looked out over the Zone for a few seconds longer before she picked up her bags and started walking.

She was halfway down the hill when her phone beeped, she stopped and awkwardly dug it out of her pocket, she read her brothers text then rolled her eyes, “Great. See you soon.” She hadn’t expected them to meet her, but the offer would have been nice.

She arrived at the house an hour later, sweat dripping down her face. She forgot how big the Zone was, how everything was spaced out. In her memory it was only a ten minute walk to the wall, they used to go out to it as kids and stare up at it, talking about what was on the other side. The truth, as always, was less interesting than the stories they told each other then. As she walked up the driveway she was hit with blasts of nostalgia, there was the tree that Ben had fallen from, breaking his arm when they were kids, the old swing on it had been taken down at some point in the last fifteen years. Nancy knocked on the door and waited. The door swung open revealing her brother Ben, he looked thinner than she remembered, older too. His face was lined with wrinkles and he had deep bags under his eyes. “Nancy. I’m glad you made it.” he pulled her into a hug before she could react, he felt uncomfortably hot, like his skin was burning. “We don’t think she’s going to last much longer. Sorry for being so cryptic, she didn’t want us talking about it on the phone. She’s a bit paranoid. You know what Mom can be like.” Nancy nodded, feeling strangely awkward as Ben grabbed her cases from her, “You’ll be in the guest room, we’d put you in your old room but the Twins use that when they stay over now and Mom thought it’d be easier to set up the guest room” Nancy felt a slight pang in her chest, things couldn’t stay the same, of course they couldn’t, but she had still expected to walk into her room and find it as she left it.
“Where’s Mom?”
“She’s upstairs, resting. You can go up to her if you’d like, I’ll put your bags away.”
Nancy nodded, Ben disappeared through one of the doors and left her standing in the hallway alone. So much for a warm welcome. She pushed the thought away, that was just selfish, everyone was just stressed. She climbed the stairs slowly and made her way down the corridor, feeling her shoes sink into the plush carpet. There was a smell along the corridor, one she hadn’t noticed before, a smell of illness and body odour with a tinge of rot. Someone had tried to cover it with the smell of flowers, but it just added an awful floral scent to it all. Nancy paused at the large wooden door to her mothers room, she knocked gently and pushed the door open.

The room was dark, the curtains were still closed. In the gloom she could make out the lump of her mother’s body, lying in bed. Nancy could hear the faint wheeze of her mothers breath. “Whose that?”
“It’s me Mom, Nancy.”
“Oh Nancy, you made it.”
“Of course Mom, you should have said something to me sooner.”
“I didn’t want you to worry, besides you’ve your own life now to look after, you’re own family.”
Nancy felt her cheeks redden and was suddenly glad for the darkness, she still hadn’t told her mother that Derek had left her six months before. Nancy moved deeper into the room, “could you open the curtains a little darling? I want to see you properly.”
Nancy pulled the curtains back, flooding the room with light, she turned and gasped, unable to help herself. Her mother’s face was incredibly gaunt, her cheekbones jutted out and looked as if they’d tear through her skin any second. She was pale, with dark bags under her sunken eyes. Her arms were skeletally thin and her light grey hair had fallen out in chunks. Nancy moved closer and carefully sat on the bed. Her mother reached out and took Nancy’s hand in hers, Nancy tried not to shudder, her mothers fingers were hooked like claws and her hand felt dry and papery with an uncomfortable heat behind it all. “How long have you been like this? Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
Her mother smiled, revealing gaps where her teeth had been. “Nothing they can do for me now darling, I’m coming to the end now. I’d prefer to spend the time I have here, with family, rather than in some sterile box in the hospital.” Nancy’s heart jumped and she suppressed the urge to snatch her hand away. “Have you even seen a doctor?”
“No, it doesn’t matter what I have, you know what they’re like. Besides, I always hated hospitals.” There was a thump from somewhere in the house. Nancy slowly pulled her hand from her mothers, “They’d be able to keep you comfortable though, are you not in pain?”
“No, Ben knows someone, they’ve been giving him pain pills for me, he’s a good boy.”
Nancy stood from the bed, “Mom, this is serious, have you really not seen anyone? I think I need to call a doctor.” her mothers hand whipped out and grabbed her, her fingers digging painfully into Nancy’s wrist. “No, I told you there’s nothing they can do.” she relaxed her grip, “I Just want to be surrounded by my family when it happens, that’s all.” Now she knew why the house was so empty, no one else would visit her, Nancy was surprised no one else had stepped in yet and called someone.
“Okay Mom, you get some rest, I’ll be back in a little bit, I’m just going to unpack and change.”
Her mother nodded, already she was starting to drift off again.

Nancy dug through her bag and found the bottle of hand sanitiser she had thrown in on a whim, quickly she slathered it onto her hands and wrists. With that done she left her room to find Ben, he was in the kitchen, watching the kettle as it came to a boil. “What the hell, why hasn’t Mom seen any doctors yet? She’s in a bad way, they could do something for her.” Ben shook his head,
“Mom doesn’t want to see any doctors. She just won’t go, I can’t make her.”
“She’s sick, really sick. They could treat what ever this is, besides what if it’s contagious?”
He turned and looked at her, “it isn’t. We’ve all be around her for days and we all feel fine. No one else is sick, if they were we’d know. I’ve been all over this Zone in the last two weeks and nothings happened”
“You’re not fine though, I thought maybe it was stress but you look unwell, what if you caught what she has?”
“I’m fine, I’m just tired, I’ve been looking after her for the last two weeks and where were you hmm? Off living you life because that’s just what you do. You go off and leave the rest of us behind to look after everything.”
“What? That’s ridiculous, you know I came as soon as you told me, I dropped everything to be here.” Nancy paused, “two weeks?”
Ben looked away, “She didn’t want us to worry you. We thought she’d get better on her own, she always has before.”
“Well she isn’t this time. I can’t believe everyone else is okay with this. Where are they? We should have a family meeting, this can’t go on.”
Ben shrugged, “They’re out.”
Nancy clenched her fists, “for fuck sake fine, we won’t have a family meeting then I’ll just do everything my god-damned self.” she stormed past him to the phone, “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling a doctor, like you should have done two weeks ago.” she turned from him and scanned the list of numbers beside it, Nancy started punching in the numbers just as she was about to hit dial there was a loud roar behind her, she whirled around in time to see the frying pan before it connected with her head. There was a loud crack and her body crumpled to the floor. Ben stood over her, gasping, he swung the pan back and brought it down again. He dropped the pan and sat down beside Nancy’s body, still breathing heavily he plucked the phone from her hand and hung up. “Mom doesn’t want doctors, I already told you that. Why won’t you people just do what she says for once.” when he caught his breath he stood and grabbed Nancy under the arms, then he began to drag her towards the basement door.

He put her body beside the others, they didn’t understand but they would, they’d come around to his way of thinking eventually, Mom just wanted everyone around her when she went, was that so much to ask? She was an old woman, all she wanted was some peace in her final days. Peace without doctors poking and prodding at her.

Ben climbed the stairs carefully, the teacup on the tray rattled gently in its saucer. He pushed open the door to his mothers room, she smiled when she saw him, “will Nancy be coming back for a visit soon?”
“No Mom, Nancy wanted to ring the doctor.” he put the tray on the bed, his mothers smile dropped, “Did she?”
“No, I stopped her.”
“Good, you’re a good boy. They would have just locked me up, put me in quarantine and left me to die like some animal. No, you did the right thing.” she reached out and held his hand for a moment. His mother lifted the tea cup towards her mouth, some of the tea sloshed onto her night gown, she didn’t notice. They were after her, she knew that much, they’d even managed to turn almost everyone against her, everyone except Ben. He was her good boy and he was keeping her safe, just like family should.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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