Chris R-1-125 Image by Christine Renney

I have been walking this route for weeks now, making my way around again and again. I am not ready to stop, not quite yet, but I have managed to slow down and I am able to loiter and linger and meander, wandering from the road and exploring my surroundings, venturing a little further each time, moving either away from the City or closer to it, but always coming back to here, to this path I am still forging.

I start across the waste ground to my right. The grass beneath my feet is short and scruffy and it is strewn with rubble. I kick my way through it and I feel as if I am breaking the rules, especially this early in the morning when there is no-one else around. I feel as though I am trespassing.


Chris R-0130 Image by Christine Renney

Harris picked up the envelope along with others that lay on the doormat. He sifted through and on seeing it was instantly intrigued. It obviously wasn’t junk mail or a credit card statement. He opened it first, pulled the single sheet from inside and, unfolding it, he thought, ‘Oh, it’s one of those letters.’
People had been talking about them for months but Harris hadn’t really listened. He had seen one before – a colleague from work had brought a letter, just like the one in his hand, to the office. He had shown it to everyone but Harris, uninterested, had barely glanced at it.
‘It’s just a hoax,’ he had said.
‘But why me?’ his colleague had asked.

Harris looked down at the undecipherable block of letters. He wanted to screw it up and throw it in the bin but he didn’t. His eye was drawn to his own name and address in the left hand corner. It seemed, above the dense brick of letters, so clearly defined.
Harris folded the top section of the page over so as not to be distracted. Looking down again, this time in earnest, Harris studied the code if indeed that was what it was. He was all too aware that many others had already tried, and failed, to break it.
He started to transcribe, leaving a space between each letter because it seemed like a logical way in which to begin, to break it down, lessen it. Harris was only four lines into it and already he felt the throb of a headache beginning. He could see quite clearly that the whole alphabet was here many, many times over. That the potential to make words and to form sentences was huge. Now he was ready to screw it up and bin it.
Harris unfolded the top section of the sheet and realised that the letter contained a few numbers, right there in the postcode. One, five, seven. He counted them off and in the first line wrote out Y O U.
Harris felt a little wave of exhilaration – perhaps he was onto something. He tried the second line and the third and the fourth. But there were no words. The letters were just random. Perhaps these were the ones that mattered, where the answer lay. But the block was identical in all the letters and they had been sent out all over the country, to different postcodes, so how could that be, how could that work?
Harris pushed the letter back into its envelope. He needed to show it to someone but he couldn’t share it at the office, not after he had been so dismissive. He had a meeting after work, he would show it to the others over tea and biscuits. Harris wondered if anyone would be as high and mighty as he had been.

Looking up at the clock Harris sees he has missed his bus. He sits at the table and reaching out he pulls the envelope toward him and gazes down, toying with it.


Chris R-0050 Image by Christine Renney

The road signs were still standing and at first this had intrigued Davis. It didn’t make sense to him when everything else had been demolished and flattened, reduced to strewn rubble. The foundations of buildings remained but these were merely platforms of pitted concrete and rotting timbers, of faded linoleum and cracked tiles.
The names of places on the signs; the towns and cities that were now only memories. Over time Davis began to accept this irrelevance, reading and following them as he had before and lost in the distance between he would often forget.
Even the temporary signs had survived, those warning of congestion and road works. Davis followed these diversions although he could see quite clearly that there were no obstructions ahead but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how far he walked or for how long.


Chris R-0355-2 Image by Christine Renney

I know this place. I have been here before. Is it possible I have been heading for this particular city all along? That the idea of the road as endless was merely a conceit and no matter how often I have stopped and turned myself around, that the walking in circles was, in effect, little more than an effort to prolong it. To put off the inevitable. And no matter how protracted and arduous the journey, my intention had always been to come here, to this city that has been forgotten. A place most people pass on their way to somewhere else, that they circumnavigate. And here I am – at the edges, stepping out a boundary, desperately trying to make it real and still prolonging it.
Looking up I see I am walking along a street of terraced houses. I look back toward the city but the only view I have from here is of the roofs of the derelict factories. There is a bicycle leaning against the wall to my left. In the garden beyond it I see an inflatable paddling pool filled with rusty rain water.
Somehow I have stumbled and strayed to here, to ‘somewhere’ and although the street is deserted and quiet everything now feels weighted with possibility and I begin to panic.
I can hear a crowd in the distance, but the jeering and cheering is safely contained elsewhere. And I am reassured by this, by the fact that for the duration of the game at least I am alone out here. Convinced all the houses are empty I push on and I am getting closer, making my way toward it.


chris-r-0843-2 Image by Christine Renney

The flame in his chest
Uncertain but unceasing
Burning and beating

A retreat
A winding track
The long way back

Not breaking the surface
The splash of his feet
Sleepwalking along a
water filled street

Eyes wide to see all he has missed
But waking not reaching the bridge


Chris R-0779.jpg Image by Christine Renney

Despite the continual warnings, all the official advice, they continued to travel. Despite the very real threat of a bomb or poisonous gas or a man in the middle of the night coming into your room and holding a hand over your mouth whilst plunging a knife into your side. Despite all of this, they continued to visit and explore.
It was easy enough to get a flight, find your way to anywhere. Still possible to climb part of the Eiffel Tower or gaze at the site where the Parthenon once stood. For the most part they set off alone but were easily identifiable in their raggedy uniforms of jeans, a sweatshirt and sensible shoes. And so, with their backpacks, they banded together. There was safety in numbers or so they hoped.

‘Why do we do it?’ Joe asked.
‘Because we can,’ Eve replied, without missing a beat, ‘because it’s all out there and we want to see it and experience it for ourselves.’
‘But at what risk?’ Joe mused, ‘is it really worth putting ourselves in danger?’
‘I don’t think about it,’ Eve said, ‘I really don’t and after so long I’m not even sure if I believe.’
‘But the terrorists are real,’ Joe declared. ‘The bombs, the murders, it’s all real.’
‘I suppose so,’ she said, ‘but I just want to look at the world.’
Joe realised then that he was falling for her.
‘The girl who wanted to look at the world,’ he said. ‘It would make a good title for a story.’
‘But it would be a sad story, one full of regret,’ she said.
‘Is that how it’s been for you?’
‘No, no, of course not.’
‘Well then it’s your story,’ he said.
‘But I don’t write.’
‘Yes, you do. You’re writing it now.’
‘Describe those men,’ Joe demanded, a little too forcefully. ‘The ones sitting behind you at the table closest to the door.’
She laughed. ‘Ok. They are young, in their early or mid-twenties. They are dressed smartly, are a little dandyish. They have dark hair and olive skin. They are from here, I think, and they keep glancing across at us. They know why we are here and they have polished, shiny shoes and they despise us.’
‘Are they terrorists?’ Joe asked.
‘It’s possible, it’s always possible.’
‘But you don’t care?’
‘Of course I care, but I won’t not do what I want to do.’
‘You really are impressive,’ Joe said.
Eve blushed. ‘Why didn’t we do this in Paris?’ she asked.
‘Do what?’
‘Talk. Why didn’t we talk, it would have helped pass the time.’
‘It was pretty grim, wasn’t it?’
‘I’m serious. Why didn’t we do this?’ she repeated.
‘We were all too desperate,’ Joe replied, ‘we weren’t capable of talking in anything other than clichés and platitudes.’
‘It sounds as though you dislike us as much as our friends at the table over there,’ Eve said.
‘Sometimes,’ Joe sighed, ‘I think that I do.’

Joe and Eve had met the previous year, had been part of a larger group, fifteen of them holed up in a grotty hotel in Paris, waiting around on the off-chance that they might be able to visit the Louvre.
In Paris they had indeed been desperate. They were reduced by it, lessened. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been disappointed in their travels before. They had all journeyed hard only to come up against a locked door or a barred entrance. To find a ruin, fenced off and hidden, a once fine building dilapidated and in disrepair. To discover that something had disappeared entirely, had been moved or stolen, possibly even destroyed. But they had believed Paris would be different. It had been announced in the newspapers that the once world famous gallery would be open, just for one day from nine in the morning until five in the evening. Although it was an advertisement and not a news report it had the stamp of authority, the air of officialdom and so they had gathered, only to have their hopes dashed.
Before their disappointment had been able to sink in the rumours had begun to circulate. The day had been changed and there was still a good chance that the gallery would open. Those that could afford to do so stayed. Joe and Eve were amongst the very last to leave.

‘Would you do it again?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ he replied.
Satisfied by this response Eve settled back into her chair and grinned.
‘Tell me something good,’ she urged. ‘Tell me about somewhere you’ve visited, something you’ve seen, something that amazed you.’
‘Ok,’ Joe said, ‘but let’s go back to the hotel. We can get a drink there.’
‘Yes,’ excited, Eve stood. ‘And we can compare notes,’ she enthused.

The table closest to the door was now deserted. Eve took Joe’s hand and in their sensible and soundless shoes they began to make their way.
Stepping from the restaurant and gathering themselves on the pavement, they didn’t notice the two men standing deep in the shadows beneath the awning directly opposite.