SHORT STORIES: Erasmus Keep

"The end of the world began on the 8th October. First came the rain, which was hardly unusual."

Short Stories

The end of the world began on the 8th October. First came the rain, which was hardly unusual. Despite the heavy, thunderous music that battered every home and the desperate fingerprints spread across every available surface, nobody cared.

This was Britain. It rained.

*

A week earlier, Erasmus Keep woke to find his girlfriend storming through his flat, throwing her possessions into an old plastic bag. She stopped only long enough to remind him that as of last night she was no longer his girlfriend. Then she was gone. Ellie had always contained this wild kind of fluidity and he’d known for some time that she was sure to leave him. Their tide had not so much turned as completely vanished.

Erasmus was more cliff than ocean, always waiting for his erosion to be complete. But people didn’t often see this; they always expected him to have bigger horizons. It had a lot to do with being called Erasmus Keep. Many friends in many cities had tried to shorten it for him, but none of the nicknames stuck, not Razzie or E-man, and certainly not Mushy. It seemed Erasmus was the only person he was capable of being.

There was no point in leaving his bed after Ellie had gone, so he stayed there for two days. He refused to cry over her, even during their last phone call (she had forgotten a bra, and he had no intention of returning it to her).

Pete eventually dragged him from the covers by his ankles and took him to their favourite pub. When he woke again several nights later, he learned from the messages and pictures on his phone that not only had he drunk solidly for the best part of three days, he had also found and lost the perfect singer for their band, insulted Pete beyond reparation and accidentally stolen a bichon frise called Brian.

He stumbled naked into his kitchen, and found Brian eating out of the bin. His unexpected house guest was rather delighted he was finally awake and Erasmus decided it was probably in his best interests to dress immediately. For some reason a large portion of his wardrobe was draped over the drum kit.

He called Pete, who informed him that not only would hell freeze over, it would also open an ice-based theme park before he could forgive him. There must have been whiskey involved. And beer, judging by the impressive pyramid of bottles next to his bed.

On the desk he found that in his inebriated state he had written the beginning of a new song.

Six times you left,

Was it really my fault?

I miss you.

Not his finest work.

He climbed into the hot assault of the shower, grateful for the normality, until he was joined by Brian. In the living room he drew the curtains and hunted for the remote to turn off his television. A chirpy weather girl was waxing on about the mild winter Britain was bound to have this year, because of a warm front brewing in the English Channel.

Erasmus pulled the plug from the wall and half-fell, half-jumped onto his sofa. He would have slept, except the dog had now abandoned his bathroom and was licking his face.

‘You smell worse than me,’ Erasmus groaned.

He found his coat and grabbed the dog, ignoring the noise complaint note taped to his door. As he walked the half mile to the city centre, the air around him felt dangerously thin. The clouds above were rising, cumbersome and elephant grey.

‘Mild winter, my left buttock,’ he told Brian. The white dog had stiffened and was growling softly at the largest cloud.

He didn’t know if it was the dog, his unresolved hangover or a higher power warning him, but unease grabbed both of his shoulders and shook him hard.

‘Fine,’ Erasmus muttered. ‘We’ll go back.’

The clouds broke as they reached the squat, beige block of flats he called home. A thick raindrop rolled down the back of his neck and several more left Brian shivering and whining.

Inside the communal hallway, old Mrs. Miles was shaking out her umbrella and glowering. When she spotted first Erasmus and then Brian, her frown deepened.

‘Mr. Keep. You aren’t allowed to keep pets here. Rules are rules.’

She had always reminded him of Roz from Monsters Inc. Every interaction only increased the suspicion that she actually was a manifestation of her.
‘It’s a mate’s,’ he muttered. ‘It’s not staying.’

‘Our landlord will not be impressed. As you are aware.’

Their landlord was not impressed with many things. Especially not Erasmus’s talent for losing important bills. Perhaps it was not so much that Erasmus was a cliff, but more he had been born on this precipice and grown into it. Life ate at him, each interaction pulling away a little more of his self.

Brian and Erasmus shared a meal of sausages that night, watching the continued deluge outside. They did not turn on the television, or they might have seen the same weather girl as this afternoon apologising for the sudden change in atmosphere.

‘It is expected to blow over tomorrow. There is a low risk of flooding for much of the country.’

Brian curled up on Erasmus’s pillow and refused to move, even when prodded. Erasmus had attempted to search online for any reports of missing dogs when they returned home, but any slight change to the weather caused his internet connection to fall into spasms of discontent. The only page that would load was an advertisement for Dogs Trust.

Erasmus prodded the dog again and clambered in beside him. The regulation of Brian’s breathing proved rather comforting, and for the first night since their breakup, he did not dream about Ellie.

The next morning, he woke in a puddle of water. He leapt from the bed, scooping up Brian in one hand and his sodden pillow in the other. He rubbed his eyes. The bed was a lake, pools gathering in the creases of his duvet, a steady drip running from the ceiling. Thankfully, the floor was dry; he wouldn’t drown here today.

He discovered the complaint on his door had been written by the upstairs neighbours, a couple called Arianna and Maxwell. Incredulous at their inability to spell, he corrected their note and wrote his own about their leaking pipe on the back of it. As he had never been a fan of subtlety, he banged on their door and stuck it to Arianna’s face when she answered.

After dealing with his ruined bed, he shut Brian in the kitchen with a leftover sausage and a sofa cushion, and decided to brave the world again.

The streets looked a little like his bed; most of the drains had overflowed, leaving a thin layer of water on the roads. Several cars sprayed him as he walked, and the more adventurous puddles had begun to creep onto the pavements.

The high street began on a slope, so a small stream was dancing its way past the shops, weaving around the feet of the few brave souls who had risked the downpour.

Erasmus bought a duvet, a dog bed and five packets of sausages, noting as he did that the supermarket shelves were looking strangely empty for a Sunday morning. They should have just been restocked. He added a pint of milk and a multipack of crisps to his trolley.

It was only when he was back in his living room, eating jelly cubes from the packet, that he realised everyone he passed had been wearing wellies. He supposed he should have found some too, but if the rain lasted as long as it was supposed to, what would be the point?

If he had turned on the television again he might have seen the first pictures of a country beginning to sink. He might have been warned that there was no need for unease, and sandbags would be made available to all properties built on lower ground.

Brian had eaten half of the sofa cushion and an impressive amount of a kitchen cupboard. He ignored his new bed, and instead catapulted headfirst into Erasmus’s lap, tail firmly up.

‘I actually don’t like you, you know that?’ Erasmus grumbled, as he fondled the little dog’s ears.

He barely noticed when his days drifted into weeks. Most of his time was lost to training Brian, badly, not looking for the owners and avoiding calls from his band’s manager.

After three days he stopped noticing the sound of the rain. He stopped caring that every time he went outside, the water level had risen. His old flatmate had left behind a pair of angler’s boots, so he wore these whenever his need for food was insatiable.

It worried him that nobody was panicking. He should be carrying his existence on his back and begging Pete to let him sleep on his floor, whether or not his high ground was just literal or moral as well. According to the newspapers, there was no need to evacuate. The flood was truly not that bad. Truly.

Disaster was largely averted by a small miracle in the shape of an enhanced sandbag capable of holding back any tide of water, the creation of a Swedish genius apparently. The authorities began throwing them around in an abundance that matched the water itself. And this, coupled with a constant reassurance that this flood would soon be over meant nobody panicked.

Of course, with each day more houses were harder to leave. Windows became doors and the sale of boats snowballed. Children roamed the streets in rubber dinghies, shrieking with joy as waves nearly capsized them. There were rumours of a guy who’d take your car and turn its shell into a boat, and he’d even do it for free. Erasmus doubted this, but he didn’t have a car anymore anyway. He and Brian sat inside and built a mountain out of all the tins he’d spent his days collecting.

‘We’ll live on top of this when the water comes for us, mate,’ he told the dog.

On the weeks and the water crept, and soon it had been two months. Three months. Four. All roads were rivers, and this was normal.

Except for Erasmus. Finally, he cared. His unease had returned to eat at him, to wake him at night and remind him that the flow of rain might be slowing, but the rising water was not. His flat was on the second floor, and it really wouldn’t be long before the ground floor was completely overwhelmed. Brian was frightened. He kept sitting by the front door, growling rhythmically and not moving.

One night, Erasmus woke and listened. No drums. No drips.

The rain had stopped.

So, Erasmus took his dog and his food and stole an unprotected boat. Unsurprisingly, Brian was not a fan of the current state of the world. He barked the whole of their journey out of the city centre. In their wake, curtains moved and people emerged. An alarm began to ring from the direction of the city hall. They didn’t stop, not even when people called after them.

As they reached the distant hills, Erasmus jumped from the boat, pulled it up onto the grass and took Brian ashore. Together they looked down on the lessening lights of their lessening home.

The city was a skeleton, every street a bone. The spine was a long highway that slipped quietly from the edge of the countryside, down past a university, a hospital, a railway. Finally, its last grand arc converged with the high street and the empty shops. Once there was a heart there. Once people smiled and walked and bought. Once buskers played there and the market stalls blocked the road. Once had slipped away from them.

*

Man and dog watch as the sun rises, the rain clouds banished now to the corners of the horizon. Man and dog see every boat on the rivers below begin a slow and sudden exodus away from the city.

Erasmus rises.

He can hear the distant sound of water; not the drum beat of the rain declaring war on a nation, or the gentle lap of new waves on old buildings. This is the terrible rush of a river surging, bursting, growing out of control.

When the first of the boats have almost reached the edge of the city, it comes. A tide sweeps through the streets, black water breaking through every obstacle it finds. Most of these obstacles are badly made boats. Whether his flat was on the second floor or the eighth is meaningless now; it is consumed. Half of the boats are turned over; the rest are crowded by too many bodies, some are slowing, sinking.

Screams.

And there are bodies that didn’t make it to the boats; bodies that couldn’t run for all the water already in their way.

In the future, they will remember this stained city; the first to drown. They will remember the figure on the hill who has turned from this greatest of losses to discover that the surge has taken his only boat as well.

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