THE FACTS AS I KNOW THEM • by Sarah Hilary

These are the facts as I know them. There’s not much to go on. Six days ago — Joe says seven — something happened. We don’t know what, but it happened at ground level. We’re three floors down from ground level so we’re safe, for now. Trapped, but safe.

There’re five of us. Day one we argued a lot, some wanted to go up and find out what’d happened, others were for staying down here. There’s food in the storeroom, drinks, lavatories; we can survive. Joe said we should find out what’d happened. Lisa said no way, we’d caught a break being down here. It went on like that for a while.

On the fourth day they voted and put me in charge. So now I’m the leader except I think maybe they set me up. I’m not sure I’m in charge of anything. I think Joe’s the leader and I think he thinks it too. I’ve seen him looking at me the way you look at a dog in a car on a hot day, pitying the poor mutt. I’ve seen him smiling. Like tonight, I’m facing the bar, Lisa’s making cocktails, my back’s to Joe but I see his reflection in the shaker. By the time she’s poured the drinks, Joe’s put his poker-face back on but I know what I saw, at least I think I do. I’ve not been sleeping.

I’d better stick to the facts.

The facts as I know them are these. We’re in the basement of the Scala in King’s Cross. There are five of us. Well, four plus me. Something happened seven days ago — I say six — and we can’t get out because the staircase collapsed and there’s no way up.

Lisa says she heard an explosion. I didn’t hear it, but I’ve been having trouble with my ears since the diving holiday, and the others all say they heard something. Now there’s nothing. We keep listening for fire engines, sirens, the police, but there’s nothing. It’s like the whole of London has stopped moving, stopped breathing. Died.

They put me in charge. I get to say whether we wait here to be rescued — Joe says by whom, there’s no one out there — or whether we try and rig up some way of getting past the hole in the stairs to the upper level. We could do it, if we broke up enough chairs and tables.

There’s food down here — mainly nuts and olives, bottled cherries — plenty of it, and there’s drink. The Scala’s a nightclub; we could party every day for a month and the booze wouldn’t dry up. We partied the first night, although I noticed Joe staying sober, sipping at a dry martini, watching us like lab rats. Maybe that’s what we are, part of an experiment. I can believe that.

Tonight, he cornered me at the bar. I was drinking a can of soda. Joe came and stood next to me and said, “You know this place used to be an ape-house.”

I shook my head.

“Yes,” he said. “They kept them down here in cages. You can still smell them sometimes.”

I didn’t believe him and said so.

He picked up a corkscrew from the counter. I watched as he moved close to the wall behind the bar. He scored the metal tip across the paintwork until it flaked away. Underneath, the wall was a muddy green. I saw the bright tip of a leaf painted there.

“Murals,” he said. “They wanted the place to look like a rainforest. Helped the apes feel at home.”

I jumped when he gibbered, making a face like a monkey. He scratched at himself as he moved away. I finished the soda, and felt sick all night.

I think Joe had me voted leader because he knew this way I’ll be no trouble. I think he’s biding his time, maybe the others too. Last night Lisa was whispering in the Ladies to Yvonne. They were touching up their lipstick and they’d left the door open. When they saw me outside, they went quiet but I heard them giggling as they left. I know Joe’s screwing Lisa. Yvonne too, maybe. Maybe all four of them are screwing. I only know so much.

I know this. We’re trapped. Soon it will be a fortnight. I’m getting sick of soda and cocktails, the bottled cherries give me cramps. Doug’s talking about going up, says he can make a ladder out of bar stools. Joe says it’s my decision. He doesn’t stop smiling, not for a second. I can’t sleep. I’m afraid of what’ll happen if I close my eyes.

There’s too much neon in the bar, it turns everyone’s skin bright blue, like an X-ray. I swear I can see the bones inside Joe’s hands. He’s not that big but he looks strong, wiry. I was drunk at breakfast today and I told him I’d had enough, he could be in charge from now on.

He said, “Oh no, that’s your job.” He never drinks before 7 pm. Each morning he scores at the wall with the corkscrew, uncovering more of the mural; I can see a whole tree now. I imagine what the room will look like when it’s all rainforest and my armpits sweat.

The facts. There are four of them, and one of me. I’ve not slept in nine days. If I stood on Doug’s shoulders, he says, I could reach to put the first bar stool on the safe stair, start the ladder. I think what if I go first and they pull the ladder away? I’d break both ankles if I jumped back down, and they could smash empty bottles, turn the floor into a death-trap.

I might do it anyway. It’s so quiet up there. Empty. No whispering, no secret smiles.

No mural.

Joe’s watching me. He knows I want to run but he’s happy to wait. It’s my decision. I’m the leader.

Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Velvet Mafia, Every Day Fiction, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, Kaleidotrope and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia “Winter Kills” Contest in 2007. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.

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