I leapt over the stile, landing skilfully on the other side. Glancing around, I was surprised to see a few pieces of furniture here, still intact. A sofa sat just ahead of me, and I couldn't resist chuckling to myself. It was old, dirty beyond belief, God knows how long it had been here. I shook my head, walking around it and seeing the tell tale white stains across it.
Ah, so some kids had been having a bit too much fun.
Good for them.
I grinned to myself, before moving onwards. The hill sloped downwards, away from me, but right until about halfway down you still had this amazing view of the city. I glanced behind me, over my shoulder, wondering if they were going to follow.
Not that I gave a flying fuck.
Like I said, the view was good until about halfway down, and after I'd decided on a spot I sat down, crossing my legs and letting the grin stretch across my face.
The city looked beautiful before me; plumes of smoke stretched high into the sky, flames blazing beneath them. As the sky around me got darker, the flames became even more gorgeous, as they destroyed the city that I once called my home. Fuck it; everything was destroyed, everyone I'd loved was gone, and those little shits behind me would be dead soon, too. At least, I hoped they would be.
I didn't care anymore.
The world was crumbling around us and I was finding solace in how wonderful the sight of it dying looked; seriously, if you get the chance, stare at a skyline on fire. There's no sight like it in the world. Fuck those who found beauty at the top of mountains, or on the edge of the deserts. Those who stared into their lovers eyes and proclaimed there was no sight more mesmerising, they hadn't experienced what I was experiencing, they could go to hell.
My smile grew wider as my chest grew tighter. Heat leapt from one part of my body to another, my skin was on boiling point and baby, I'm about to explode so hold of fucking tight.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out the now crushed packet of cigarettes and opened them. One left. How poetically beautiful. It was quickly lit, and I leant back, pushing my hand against the grass, smoking as I watched the city burn.
The cherry on the end of the cigarette glowed, as I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes for a brief second as I felt the smoke tumble down my throat and enter my lungs.
When I started smoking, I was told I'd die of lung cancer.
It's sometimes amazing the way things work out.
Slowly, I opened my eyes and fixed them on the horizon, knowing that every other fucked up creature out there, everyone who had been caught in one of the blasts, would know it was coming, as I knew, as Rebecca knew. The others were ignorant little bastards who'd never be privilege to the enlightenment I felt.
Part of me wished there was still some semblance of a population, just so I could stand in the middle of all the sheep with a sign proclaiming 'The world is ending, there's nothing you can do. Bye bye suckers!'
I found myself laughing at the idea of it, inhale, exhale, breathe in, breathe out, pretend that all is good with the world...
- - -
I was more than a little reluctant to approach Jake when we found him.
Our small group leant against the stile, looking past the disgusting sofa to see Jake sitting on the grass, legs casually crossed and smoking a cigarette as if this was just a normal day out.
I could barely remember what a normal day out was.
My eyes shifted towards Chuck, who sighed and leapt over the stile. My eyes followed him as he walked down the hill and approached Jake. Slowly, he sat down beside his old friend and took a cigarette out of his own pocket, lighting it up as he did so.
I had no idea what his aim was.
I could see them talking to each other, and with nothing else to do, Madison clambered over the stile and joined them, sitting on the other side of Jake.
Chloe sniffed, and I glanced towards her. Water streamed down her face, tracks falling downwards.
"I can't do this," she whispered. "I can't keep doing this."
"Don't give up," I replied, taking her hand and squeezing. "We can make it, Chloe."
"No," she replied, voice quiet. "We can't, Mercy. It's time to stop pretending."
It was like that was all we needed to hear.
Clara glanced towards me, teeth biting down on her lips, before she turned to look at the guys and Madison. Both of them climbed over the fence and then, suddenly, I was left alone.
I stared at their backs, watching as Jake and Chuck smoked, Chuck handing a cigarette over to Madison, offering the pack to Clara and Chloe. Both declined, and Chuck reached over, tapped Clara's shoulder, a little awkwardly, and returned to smoking.
I leant against the stile, just watching them. I didn't want to be a part of that, I didn't want to just give up and sit down, watch the world fall to pieces. I wanted to carry on. I wanted to get the hell off that hill and find somewhere safe. This was not what I had planned.
I did not want to join them.
My mind flashed back to Seth, an image coming to mind of him sitting, surrounded by the trees, slowly and painfully dying.
I was meant to be helping people like that, God damn it! So when had my personal aim of helping people changed into becoming a sheep like this, following Jake and Chuck?
My body shuddered, as I tried not to cry.
Clara glanced over her shoulder at me, silent as she gazed at me with pity and sorrow.
What was she feeling sorry for me about?
With a sigh, I threw myself over the stile and walked swiftly towards them. Instead of sitting down beside someone, though, I moved around until I was standing directly in front of them, eyes fixed on Chuck.
- - -
My eyes snapped upwards as Mercy slid around our small group and stood in front of us. Chuck sat beside me. As soon as he had sat down, he'd asked what I was doing.
"Watching the world end," I'd replied, eyes fixed on his hands as he had reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes as battered as mine had been. "We can't do anything to stop it, Chuck. Might as well relax and enjoy it."
Slowly, my Army buddy had nodded and fixed his gaze on the horizon. "I think you're right, Jake."
"You know I am."
He'd accepted it, and when Madison, Clara and Chloe had silently joined us, I knew that they felt it too. There was nothing we could do.
I took a deep breath, raising my head to look at Mercy.
"What did he say to you?" she asked, voice quiet, barely above a whisper. I felt my lips curl into a grin as I studied her. Shame, really, I'd never get to fuck the sheltered woman who had so little to live for, but who clung onto life more than any of us.
Some people were just dumb.
"Who?" Chuck asked, and I knew it instantly from his voice; he didn't care anymore.
The only one who cared was Mercy.
Poor deluded Mercy.
Hell, if I was her, I'd have given up way before the blast even hit us. I would have told the world to go screw itself – what did she even have to live for?
I posed this question to her.
Her eyes flashed as she glanced towards me, and I barked out a laugh. She knew it was true. Her hands started to shake; she started to tremble as she looked at Chuck.
"Seth," she whispered. "What did Seth say to you?"
"The times, they are a-changin'," I sang, laughing as I did so, running a hand through my hair.
"What are you signing?" Chloe asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
"My mam was a big fan of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes; they were around in the noughts. They did a lot of covers. Don't ask me who the original of that one is by."
"Chuck!" Mercy cried. "What did Seth say?"
Everyone's eyes fell on Chuck, watching him carefully. Clara, especially. I hadn't even noticed the guy wasn't with them; I just assumed he was on his way, limping towards us with that messed up leg of his. Chuck gulped, fixing his eyes on Mercy.
"That there was no point going back for him," he whispered. "That he was dying. That we should just leave him."
Mercy shook her head, letting out a strangled cry. "For fuck's sakes, Chuck! Why didn't you tell any of us?"
"What would be the point?" Clara scoffed, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. I glanced at her. When I met Clara, for the first time, the day she had walked into that office, she had been beautifully innocent. Young and sweet. Like an angel. Cliché, I know, but it was true. She was just how you'd imagine an angel to be.
Maybe heaven was full of girls like Clara.
We'd all find out soon enough.
"We're all going to die," Clara drawled. "Jake was right. It's ending. Soon. If we went back for Seth, all it would mean is..." she paused, before taking a shuddering breath. "It wouldn't matter," she whispered, head falling forward. "It wouldn't make a difference!"
"So he dies alone while we all just sit here and enjoy it, is it?" Mercy cried, before rounding on me. "And look! He's fucking enjoying himself!"
"Of course I am, darling," I barked. "This is fucking beautiful! Look at the skyline! It's ablaze, it's more light than Cardiff has ever seen and I'm going to watch it go out!"
"He's a lunatic!" Mercy yelled, eyes darting around our small group as if expecting someone to agree with her. "He's mental! And you're all just...just...just..."
"Just what, Mercy?" I stood up then, towering over her. "There's nothing left to do!"
"Forget it," she hissed, eyes flashing as she glared at me. "I'm going back. It's not fair. I'm not leaving Seth."
"Life isn't fair," I snapped. "Didn't you ever learn that in your sheltered little life?"
"Fuck you, Jake." She stalked off, leapt back over the stile and disappeared from view.
"Good riddance," I muttered, flicking the butt of the cigarette down the hill. Clara let out a sigh, burying her head between her knees.
"It won't be long, will it?" Her voice was muffled, and I wondered if she was now crying.
"No," I whispered. "No, it won't be long. It'll all be over soon, Clara. Don't worry."
- - -
I walked as quickly as I could, back along the path we had followed Jake down. Whose stupid idea was it to come up here, anyway? If they had told me that all they had planned was sitting down and watching the world end, I would have refused.
Oh, who am I kidding? I'm too weak to stand up to people – I always have been. Too weak to say no, too nice to turn someone down. Jake was right; what did I have to live for? Nothing. Less than that lot had anyway so why was I still fighting against this inevitable end? Why was I still struggling onwards?
Tears sprang to my eyes as I came to the spot we had left Seth.
"Seth!" I called, voice as loud as I could make it. "Seth! Where are you?"
"In here," he replied, voice strangled and hoarse.
I darted off the path, pushing through the trees until I found him, back up against the trunk of a tree, his legs stretched in front of him. His skin had grown paler, and the hastily wrapped bandage was soaked through with stark, red blood.
I fell to my knees beside him, taking a deep breath as I took off my jacket and started to unwrap the bandage.
"Mercy," he gasped out, reaching forward and putting a hand on my shoulder. "Mercy, leave it. There's no point."
I bowed my head, allowing the hair to fall down and cover my face, cover my eyes. I couldn't hide the shaking of my body, though.
"Don't cry," he whispered, squeezing my shoulder. "Mercy, please."
I stopped, glancing upwards and staring at him, ignoring the water in my eyes as my body shook. "It's over, Seth," I muttered. "It's all over."
He gave me a weak, shaky grin. "Thank you." A cough caused him to pause, and his hand snapped upwards to cover his hand. When he drew it away, I noticed him wipe it on the grass. Red stained it where he had wiped his hand. "For coming back."
"It's OK." I forced myself to smile. "Can't let you die alone, can I?"
"Mercy..." He closed his eyes, tilting his head back. His hand remained on my shoulder. "I don't think it's just me who's going to die..."- - -
The cherry glowed brightly in the dark night as I inhaled from it one last time, taking in a deep lungful of smoke before exhaling slowly, not taking my eyes from the skyline. Thank God Chuck had had another cigarette for me.
"I'm scared," Clara whimpered, and seconds later I heard Chuck reassuring her. I had nothing to say. After all, she should be scared – none of us knew what would happen afterwards. None of us knew what, if anything, awaited us on the other side.
But this had been a long time coming.
Not just the end, but the annihilation of the whole human race. We were selfish, evil creatures and the way I saw it, the sooner we were destroyed the better. We had been stripped down, back to the basics, and we still managed to fuck it up and try to kill each other.
Whatever came after us, I hoped they'd do a better job than we did.
I glanced towards Chuck.
The Army guy's head was held high, a sign of defiance against what was about to happen.
"Hey, Jake," he muttered, one hand hovering on Clara's shoulder. "What would have happened if we stayed in the shelter, do you think?"
"We would have got bored and eaten each other."
He laughed a low, deep chuckle that echoed around us.
"Clara." I returned my gaze to my city. "I never loved you."
"That's OK," she whispered. "I don't think I loved you, either."
We fell silent then, waiting.
It wasn't long before we were surrounded by the whitest, brightest light I had ever seen. It consumed everything; even the shapes of the others around me, the dark shadows of the Cardiff city skyline, were no longer visible. This was it.
And after that?
Well, I can't tell you, can I?