A rumble of thunder started the crescendo of the impending storm. Thick heat had been swelling on the abandoned city for hours. It would give at any moment. Another rumble, a flicker of lightening, barely visible in the afternoon light. The dull concrete buildings blended into the heavy clouds; a symphony of grey in this urban desert. Then, abruptly, the oppressive desolation of the city was shattered by an aggressive downpour of rain. The percussion was deafening and victorious.
The priest wasted no time in unpacking his umbrella. His boots were water tight and, despite his arthritic knees, he skipped around the water-filled potholes with the confidence of an experienced traveller. He wasn’t troubled by the rain, or the dampness of his clothes. The shower wouldn't last long and once it was over the clouds would likely clear, exposing another oppressively hot September sun. He could have stopped and taken refuge in one of the empty buildings, but if he stopped every time the weather turned it would be Christmas by the time he reached London.
He was eager to leave the abandoned city too. It was the third he had passed through since he'd set off on his journey and there were hundreds of them throughout the country. The relics of suburban
England, with their average sized
homes and convenient high streets, were all that remained of a buckled
civilisation. There were lots of reasons towns failed; economy, disease,
conflict, but the relics all looked the same in the end. The absence of life
seemed to drain the colour from the buildings, like an old photograph faded
from exposure. Sometimes, to the priest, they felt like Godless places and walking
through them played on his conscience and troubles.
When he reached the edge of the city the rain started to break. The road widened and for the briefest moment a glimmer of sunlight shone on the surrounding countryside. The break between the urban and the rural always seemed abrupt to the priest. It felt like stepping directly from one room to another, rather than the slow transition that used to happen before the world fell apart.
He was more comfortable on the open road, despite the abundant dangers of travelling without cover or protection. There was something about being out in nature that made him feel closer to God and being with God now was essential. His pilgrimage had been long overdue. For over a year he had lost the faith he had in himself and his cause. He felt he had misinterpreted the messages he had once been so certain of and now he searched for some guidance to lead him back to the path from which he had strayed.
He walked five miles from the town until he found a place to camp for the night. Walking in the rain was fine but walking in the dark was a step too far even for the old priest. He unpacked his backpack, putting up a crude tarp shelter, unrolling his sleeping bag and gathering the matches and paper he needed to start his fire. In a couple of experienced minutes his camp was set up and the sun was starting its descent. He sat on his sleeping bag and put a can of stew on the fire to cook.