On the twenty-third night Alex and Mitchell and Carla came over.
"Myron's dead?" asked Carla.
"Yeah," said Erin.
"He killed himself?" asked Alex.
"Yeah," I said.
"Lot of that these days," mused Mitchell.
We put on some Velvet Underground and Erin grabbed some wine, whilst Mitchell rolled a joint. I lit up a cigarette and cleared away a half-eaten bowl of rice from the table to make way for the wine Erin bought. The rain pounded against the windows and a dog howled. Downstairs it was silent.
"D'you know why he did?" asked Mitchell, letting a cloud of smoke waft lazily from his mouth as he spoke. He passed the joint to Carla.
"He was finished," said Erin.
"What was it?" asked Mitchell.
We told him and he nodded slowly. Alex asked if he could help himself to some food and he came back with some rice. A crow sat on the railing of the balcony outside, its feathers dripping wet. It let out a mournful caw.
"The Enemy is only about a hundred kilometres away, apparently," Alex told us.
"I heard they were already at the northern suburbs," chimed in Carla.
"We were thinking about heading South. My parents are there. You lot could come too," Erin offered, accepting the joint from Carla.
"Yeah, you should," I agreed.
Raaaaaaaark… moaned the crow.
Alex glanced up from the rice he was prodding at with his chopsticks. "Yeah, why not. What's left here?"
"Nothing," said Erin.
"Nothing," agreed Mitchell.
"So it's agreed?" I asked.
"Let's just go tomorrow," said Mitchell.
"Fine by me," Carla sputtered before taking another drag of the joint.
A great distant rumble was heard and the crow took to wing. I opened up the door to the balcony and the five of us crowded onto it. The City was burning.
"I s'pose the war has arrived," observed Erin, her face lit by the flickering light of the far-off fires. I just nodded as I watched the fire-fly like specks in the sky swirl and dance with each other. With a tremendous crash the Centrepoint Tower collapsed and the windows shook. Below our hill I heard screams and shouting. I could see other people on the balconies of the tenements, all of them gazing towards the City.
There came a knock on the door and Erin went to open it. Standing there was Gabriel, his wings torn and tattered, his clothing stained, his eyes gaunt and sunken and the track marks all up his arms festering.
"There are Fiends about, Erin," he said.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yeah. One came to me just now. It was in my apartment," he replied.
"Let's leave now," suggested Carla.
"With you on that one," agreed Alex.
"Wait till morning if you're traveling," said Gabriel, his words slurred. "Those fuckers always come out at night." He said this and he vanished into the deluge.
We went and sat around the table on the balcony and opened some more wine. Mitchell rolled some more joints. Erin told everyone where they could sleep and then she stood and left. After a while it was just me and Alex left sitting on the balcony watching the City burn. In the depths of the night we heard an unearthly screech and shivered. Inside I could hear Mitchell and Carla making love desperately. Then they stopped.
"Kiss me," Carla beseeched in a voice so clear it cut through the night. It was clarity leant by fear.
In the morning I arose and clambered over a sleeping Erin and headed for the shower. Alex was passed out in the centre of the living room, stark naked, a red wine stain drying on the carpet beside him. The shower didn't work, only a few brownish drops fell from it, so I went and dressed. Erin rose sleepily and clumsily followed suit. We went and woke the others. We found some bags, packed some things and headed outside.
Smog or fog or smoke hung about thickly. An old lady lay dead in the centre of the road, her stomach wide open and a trail of gore stretched out several metres across the bitumen. We started walking. Somewhere we heard a siren. At another point we heard a boom a long way away and the ground shook. We saw nothing alive but crows.
A fell stench filled the air, a melange of rotting garbage piled upon the sidewalk, thick sulphuric smoke and death and decay, all about. There was no rain about, the steady downpour of the past few days now letting up, giving brief respite from the sickly drizzle. The morning air had the hint of a chill in it, but as the day wore on and the sun did its best to peer through the brown-grey haze it became warm, the air heavy with a suffocating humidity made worse by the lung-fuls of noxious putridity that accompanied every breath.
That whole day we saw no living person. Each and every house seemed deserted. Some were flung wide open and bore all the signs of a rapid departure. Others were darkened, the curtains drawn, freshly installed locks on the doors. People probably trembled within these houses, but if they drew any sense of security at all from those locks, from those drawn curtains then they were dreadfully, terribly mistaken. To the Enemy these locks and curtains simply marked the houses where civilians still lived, ripe to be harvested for labour or rape or recreational murder. And to Fiends locks and walls and bars meant nothing.
I had no notion of where we might go, but Erin suggested, and we all agreed, that we find Gabriel. If the war had interrupted the flow of smack long enough to clear his head then perhaps he would know where we should go, how we should escape the City. Besides, if we could reach him by nightfall we might be safe a little while from the Fiends. For whatever reason Gabriel had some strange truce with the Fiends. They would come to him, they would leer at him and speak their filth and hatred, but they would do nothing in his presence.
We reached the bottom of the road that headed up to Gabriel's apartment with several hours to spare. On the street corner, beneath the sign, was a pile of corpses – one an enormously corpulent man, another a middle-aged woman – thinner than the man only in the most relative sense – and the last a short elderly man. All had been stripped naked, all were horrendously bloodied. All had had their genitals mutilated. Across each torso were words, scrawled in blood: pig-fucker, whore, cunt. Gabriel had not been lying when he'd said that Fiends were about.
We began our trek up the hill.