He had heard some people refer to it as the nether zone, others named it the grey belt. Some simply called it the wasteland. There was so much space in the nether zone, but so few to occupy it. The boy didn’t mind this. Surrounding him were landscapes that stretched as far as the eye could see, with no human interaction for days. But there were some people out here.
As the boy would keep clear of any large communities and the motorways that linked them, his interactions came with stragglers that were in a similar predicament to him, albeit usually much older. They might range from sole vagabonds, with nothing but the clothes on their back and their small collection of belongings within their rucksacks, to scavengers groups, travelling in packs of two to twenty. Some would be friendly, others would taunt him or attempt to chase him. Most people didn’t even notice him and often were completely unaware of his presence. He had become adept at keeping himself out of sight, moving quickly but quietly. He had learned to become a ghost. A pale white ghoul silently traversing a graveyard of ruined and abandoned architecture.
The boy thought back to when he was in the city and found it strange (but was also immensely grateful) that so many people chose to live in that crowded hell. He had been right to move out. It was still dangerous out here, but for a child on his own, everywhere had its dangers and it was safer here than within the city. He would not have survived for long in the city. It still attracted those from near and far, despite the failed attempt of growth. Expansion had been rapid and quick, the boom in the economy meant there was plenty of work. People starting new ventures, creating new housing, factories. Nothing was finished but the sprawl continued. London began to take over the south of England and when the city got to the coasts, it looked back and saw a half finished desert of buildings and cranes. So the people fled back to the centre and left a ring of rural urbanity. The countryside had been decimated but it had not been killed and slowly it started to grow back, over stacks of raw materials and articulated trucks and steel columns that housed unfinished dreams.
Building sites that had stopped construction midflow. Cement mixers filled with powdery mortar and portacabins containing scattered polysterine cups and calendars detailing worker shifts. Doors had been left open, flapping in the wind. Factories with high ceilings and stretching walls, vacant rooms which were never occupied. Large industrial machinery still in unopened packaging sat unused and forgotten. Housing blocks with floor slabs but no walls. No enclosed, habitable rooms but a staircase and empty lift shafts that rose to the top. Cranes stood erect beside them, holding swaying pallets of concrete swinging gently in the breeze.
There was plenty of shelter. Some areas had clumped together to create small communities in the unfinished shells, and while some continued to construct, many left it as it was. There were strong thoughts from most out here that these dwellings would be temporary. The city would become too top heavy, too dense and reach the ceiling of the sky above London, and be forced to continue the outward spread again. When that happened, everything would be demolished and land would be fought over. It seemed inevitable.
One morning he awoke in a small upstairs room of a semi detached house he had barricaded himself within the night prior. As he took down the sheets of corrugated iron from the windows he stood there and saw a warehouse surrounded by a vast carpark, and behind stood the bright lights and impossible heights of the city. It was several miles away but he was drawn to it. It was a grand building, unlike any of the new creations that had been built in the last twenty years. It had been here before the grey belt had begun to take over the south. He started towards it, and it was dark by the time he reached the fence. Once inside the boy was disappointed. It was the same as anywhere else in the grey belt; empty, dark, quiet. Except for two vehicles right at the back. They were clean, relatively new, and had not been in this place for long. It was around this time that he was filled with an unexplainable nauseating fear, that only increased as he heard the low hum of a car approaching, soon followed by another. Fighting the urge to run, he crept towards a set of broken windows and looked out to witness a confrontation.
From the shadows of the warehouse, the young boy with dirt on his face and rags on his bony shoulders watches, bright eyes transfixed on the violence.