The morning air was crisp and cold and the wind whistled through the leafless trees.
She shuddered. Not from the weather, from the stark reality that she was outside and still alone.
The smell was what surprised her most. A rich earthy smell in the middle of a town. Nature had taken over and the sterile and faintly industrial smell she remembered had been replaced with the fragrance of wild flowers and weeds.
It’d happened weeks ago and sitting on her own inside her house Hazel had imagined a bustling street of people outside, becoming as desperate for company as she was. Eventually, she’d taken the plunge and for the first time in a long while had stepped through her front door.
The street was deserted.
Where were all the people?
Should she knock on a neighbour’s door?
Why would they answer? They wouldn’t know who she was; before it happened, each one of them had been in a cocoon, living and working in their own home, connected but safely tucked away.
No longer. That bubble had burst and vanished.
Was it possible that she might be the only one? No, surely not. This was a countrywide, if not a worldwide, catastrophe. Maybe she was the only one brave enough to step outside and face the new world.
A faint noise drifted through the houses.
She had to find out.
Sweat trickled down her back and its fresh aroma mingled with her dirty clothes creating a pungent and yet soothing smell.
With each turn of a corner the noise got louder. Music, it was definitely music, but ancient. From an era when popular music had been written and performed by people not machines. It was hauntingly beautiful.
She was close to its source.
It was a pub. The music was coming from a pub.
The door swung open easily. On the far side was a group of Neo-Luddites, obvious by their black bowler hats, chatting away and enjoying the music. In front of her, individuals sat alone staring at the floor and fiddling with whatever came to hand, busy keeping their fingers occupied.
It’d taken her weeks to make the decision and she wasn’t going to be deterred despite the strong desire to sit alone and fiddle.
She shuffled past them even though each step felt like a step closer to a cliff edge. A slow walk into the unknown, the unfamiliarity of face to face contact.
‘Hello. Welcome,’ said a middle-aged man, touching the rim of his hat as he spoke.
A girl stepped forward, placed a bowler hat on Hazel’s head and tilted it a little to the left.
‘Hi,’ she said, ‘I’m Connie.’
She had a nice smile.
‘Hi. I’m Hazel,’ she replied as she looked back at the fiddlers.
The incredible anger and alienation she’d felt when the government had shut down all social media for national security reasons was slowly evaporating.
Everything might be alright after all.