Michelle Best

No More Reasons

Michelle Best

Evelyn’s long, silver hair stirred, as the pickup-drone took off. Her keen, green eyes watched her life’s work as it was hauled into the sky and flown east, towards Liverpool University. The sky provided a glorious azure backdrop for the black drone and white archive boxes secured underneath. She inhaled deeply and was surprised by an intense sense of relief and peace.

Avoiding looking at the sky developing to the west, her attention returned to the garden. The Mediterranean hybrid shrubs, trees and vegetables were now strong and acclimatised, and there were bright flowers, scented herbs and life everywhere. And death, of course, she thought as her gaze drifted towards the rose bed and the secret buried deep below.

She looked over towards the rise of Bidston Hill, reluctantly accepting the descending quiet due to the lack of hungry calls from the buzzards. Her buzzards. Her first and final reason for staying.

It was going to be another hot day. Evelyn finally turned and limped, more out of habit than pain, back into the cool delight of the house.

The status light on the orange Medi boot, fitted securely around her once broken foot, was flashing green, but Evelyn was ignoring it. Although it had performed admirably; automatically cooling, warming and massaging her lower leg, whilst also administering pain relief, ultrasonic therapy and muscle stimulation, it had taken too long. She’d been housebound for a week and unable to tend to her flying charges. Evelyn sat at the only chair left by her kitchen table and bent down to finally unshackle her ankle.

It was hard not to feel abandoned. Although she’d spent half her life studying the birds; helping new generations successfully breed, and actively keeping them alive as their food sources dwindled, they’d flown to greener pastures after just four days of her absence.

Admittedly, they’d initially called to her each day, soaring high in circles above her garden where they were used to seeing her work the soil. And then they were gone. They had no more reason to stay in this increasingly inhospitable territory.

Evelyn rubbed her newly exposed ankle and stood to gingerly place all her weight upon it. It felt completely normal. She walked to the downstairs cupboard to store the deflated dressing away.

Non-personal items and most furniture had already been collected and shipped away to the Upcycler in Ellesmere Port. She placed the dressing into one of the large, plastic boxes, with her photos, letters and sentimental ornaments. A pointless exercise, since the entire house would be destroyed in several hours, but she felt it was important to try and minimise the subsequent debris field.

She had no family or friends to bequeath the boxes to, and even if she did, they would question why she was not accompanying them. Nobody ever understood why she’d stubbornly stayed, isolated and alone. But the buzzards became her life. Much to the chagrin of Walter, she remembered angrily.

When the tides around the Wirral stopped receding twenty two years ago, Walter started harassing Evelyn to move them inland. Not an unjustified request, given what was happening to the slowly submerging towns along the North coast.

Their relationship was initially idyllic, and they’d married quickly. Walter was handsome, with thick, black hair and brown eyes that sparkled mischievously. Evelyn had supported them both and appreciated that he wasn’t threatened by her inherited wealth.

He hadn’t resented the money at all until Evelyn started to earn recognition and prestige for her academic work on the ‘Flying Rats’, as he called them. He became jealous, nasty and vindictive. When her hair prematurely greyed, Walter insisted she cut her long sleek hair and start dying it dark brown. He was no longer gentle, and his quick sense of humour transformed into a swift temper.

But he couldn’t persuade her to leave, not even when he claimed to have been mugged during those early days of lawlessness along the North shore. He wouldn’t ask for a divorce and live without her money, though. Therefore, unbeknown to Evelyn, Walter had bought a shotgun.

Evelyn closed the top storage box and pushed them all neatly against the back wall. Her eyes settled on her old, navy blue rucksack tucked beside the house battery. As she leaned forward to disconnect the electrical connections, she thought back to the day she’d assembled the rucksack. Her go-bag.

She’d been digging in the garden early that wintery day, to make room for a new rainwater collection tank. Walter could never understand why she would spend time and effort on manual labour when they could get someone in to do the work.

The hole was sizeable by the time Walter finally surfaced, stormed out, and demanded to know what she was up to. The birds had been calling to her for the last hour, and she was feeling emboldened and resolute. Continuing to dig to stay warm, she explained the purpose and suggested he take over so that she could now trek up to feed the buzzards their breakfast.

Surprisingly, Walter had not flown into a rage. Instead, he marched back into the house, while muttering obscenities under his breath. Evelyn, breathing heavily, stood leaning on her spade, frowning; worried she may have pushed him too far. Nerves started to tingle through her body. As she watched him, and the long barrel of the gun he now carried, emerge from the house, panic flooded her entire body.

He was loading two cartridges as he strode, fumbling with fury and muttering louder now, about how mad she was, how she didn’t care when he’d been viciously attacked by looters, how he could have drowned that day, how he refused to die on this damn hill, and about how much he hated those wretched shrieking birds. As Walter reached her, Evelyn’s fear turned to horror as he smiled cruelly, turned around and aimed for the closest buzzard.

Afterwards, when her adrenaline had burned off, Evelyn found that while she felt some guilt, mostly she felt freedom and a surprising amount of annoyance. It had taken her all morning to dig that hole, and now she was filling it back in, with a pulled muscle in her right shoulder, and a large indentation in the back of her favourite spade.

She’d buried the gun with Walter. She didn’t need it, and neither had he. She’d known for months that he’d lied about being mugged and had just lost his wallet when he’d gone to smugly watch the first storm surge flow inland, knowing that their house was perfectly safe.

Evelyn had cleaned off and stowed the spade-cum-cudgel in the shed. Leaving her muddy wellies at the back door, she went straight to the kitchen and stripped off. After redressing and preparing a flask of strong tea, she grabbed two rabbits from the cold store, traipsed up through the woods of Bidston Hill to feed the buzzards, and spent an hour sitting against the windmill contemplating what to do next.

Having had their fill, the birds circled silently, joyfully riding the thermals above the old observatory and gradually moving further away. Evelyn was completely calm now. She knew she would stay. She would deal with the consequences when and if they caught up with her.

She’d returned home, put her discarded clothes into the waste shredder, and mixed them into the compost bin. She then sought out her old university backpack and filled it with rations, a change of clothes, some cash and her passport. For four months, the bag sat waiting in the hallway for the inevitable door knock that indicated her time was up.

When the police eventually called on Evelyn that summer, the genuine fear she expressed was misinterpreted by the two constables. The familiar feeling of adrenaline slowly drained away as she realised they were not here to arrest her, but to inform her that they had found her husband’s wallet in the latest debris search around old Meols. The ringing in her ears eventually quietened enough for her to hear they did not expect to find his body, and that they were extremely sorry for her loss.

As Evelyn had stared through the rear window, speechless, one of the constables followed her gaze and commented on the loveliness of her garden, and that those were the finest roses he’d seen in a long time.

The backpack had remained in the hallway for several years, as various weather alerts and evacuation orders made it prudent to keep it to hand. Evelyn had only used it once, when she reluctantly agreed to evacuate to Wrexham during the Great Wirral Fire. But even just two days away from the birds was too much to bear. When she returned to her, thankfully, unscathed home, she put the bag away at the back of the cupboard and vowed never to leave again.

She’d worked on fortifying the house from the elements and reducing her dependence on local infrastructure. Her solar sail was lightweight, impenetrable, and generated most of her power, whilst also shading the house in summer and protecting the roof from the monster hailstones in spring.

Her mini-wind, rain and drain turbines charged small portable batteries whose power was diverted to the greenhouse and cold frames during winter, where she grew most of her fresh food. Monthly drone deliveries brought her staples, chocolate and small luxuries, as the surrounding roads eventually closed to traffic.

She had the gas boiler replaced with a geothermal heat pump (taking care to warn the installers not to disturb her beloved rose bed), topped up the insulation everywhere and fitted solar blinds to the south-facing windows.

As the waters continued to rise and Wirral was reshaped, the introduction of waste drones helped the more isolated communities dispose of whatever could not be composted.

She was alone but never lonely. She had nowhere else to go and no reason to ever have to leave again.

Unfortunately, though the worldwide disaster had finally forged real change and positive action from world leaders, the efforts had come too late.

Evelyn closed the door on the downstairs cupboard, leaving the long-forgotten rucksack nestled behind the storage boxes. Perhaps it could help someone in the future if there was anyone left to need it.

While she brewed a flask of tea, she grabbed some scissors from the kitchen drawer and wandered through the empty house. Bracing herself for the heat of the day, she ventured back out to the garden.

It was noticeably cooler, though the tops of the tallest beeches at the end of the garden were swaying from side to side as an unusually warm wind was building. Evelyn took a final barefoot walk around her garden, her refuge, and paused at the roses to snip off every glorious blooming stem. The thorns were no concern to her.

She then donned her walking shoes, gathered her roses and flask, and took the remaining rabbits from the cold store – more out of habit than hope.

Made in Wirral illustration my Michelle Best. And abstract shape, roughly in the shape of a bird with outstretched wings, with what looks like a fence or rickety stairs

She approached from the north end of the hill, close to where the sea was at its most inland. With her back to the water’s edge, she climbed slowly, turning at the top for a last look at the abandoned submerged streets of Leasowe and Moreton in the distance. The motorway and all major roads in the north had been impassable for years.

There was a small island rise nearby, and Evelyn’s heart skipped a beat when she saw a large bird gliding over what was Bidston Moss. As the great white gull called morosely and passed overhead, tears finally started to fall at the full realisation of her loss.

Wiping her eyes and continuing to skirt around the east side of the observatory, Evelyn took a final look over to Wallasey Island, where the sky was quiet and empty. The width of the Mersey was immense here, though most of the partially submerged Liverpool skyline was still identifiable through the waves.

As Evelyn continued south towards the windmill, she noted that the fire prevention team had already scattered a new batch of suppression pellets everywhere. If only they’d known that the path of Storm Ares would travel from North America to the UK that week, they could have saved themselves the effort.

A blinding flash of light, followed by the loudest and deepest rumble of thunder, forced Evelyn to finally acknowledge the sky to the west. Though she knew what to expect, having seen the Canadian devastation on TV, the sight was so much more horrific in reality. A waking, raging nightmare was rolling towards her, where nothing would survive its growing wrath.

The sky was as black as coal, and most of North Wales was already hidden beneath a torrent of rain. The River Dee was churning violently from Hoylake to Neston, and she could see partially submerged buildings, from West Kirby to Saughall Massie, finally being torn apart after years of quiet resistance to the waves. The speed of the storm’s advance was terrifying.

The wind suddenly started to buffet her, pulling and pushing her hair into her eyes and around her throat. She moved quickly to sit with her back to the windmill in her usual spot. There would be no time to drink the hot tea and no peace to quietly reflect on her life.

The wind was roaring now, and the sound of nearby buildings being destroyed and lifted skywards was terrifying. The rain came quickly and was peculiarly warm upon her skin.

Too late, she realised she’d forgotten to stow her solar sail before leaving, as she watched it fly up and over the hill, having been wrenched from her roof below.

She gripped the roses tightly to her chest, took a final look at the darkening sky through the bare frames of the windmill sails above and closed her eyes.

The buzzards were gone and the final storm was here.

Evelyn had no more reasons to stay.

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum