© Simon Totten
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‘Jeezus …it’s like Armageddon out there,’ exclaimed Anna, rubbing her eyes at the brooding mass of dark clouds racing across the mournful sky, drawing a veil of sadness over the world and drowning it in a flood of tears.
‘How come the water’s that high? It’s almost up to the windows. What’s going on?’ she asked.
‘The shit’s finally hit the fan, that’s what,’ replied Martin as the fallout debris from buildings, ripped apart by a storm during the night, surged through the streets.
‘Everything’s gone tits up. I saw it on the news this morning…They’re denying it’s global warming but what else could it be? I mean… look at it, I’ve never seen anything like it. Tsunamis, melting ice, fires and floods are everywhere. I always thought it would be missiles that finished us off… not the fucking weather,’ said Martin.
‘Shit…’ said Anna racing out of her room across the landing. Looking down from the top of the stairs, a telephone floated on a flood of water, lapping against the wall. It was already halfway up and climbing slowly.
‘They’re down there…somewhere…’ she gasped, as the blood drained slowly from her face, until it was pale, awash with terror.
‘Who?’ asked Martin.
‘Mum, Dad and the baby of course. They slept down there. They didn’t want the baby to wake us in the night,’ she said, the light in her eyes dying. ‘Mum… Dad…you ok?… she called. The silence was deafening. ‘Oh God, they’d have been asleep when the flood hit. They’d have had no chance,’ she said, her feet frozen to the spot, paralysed by shock.
‘Fuck…’ she cried, returning to her room and sitting down on the bed, head in hands. ‘What are we going to do?’ ‘That rain’s not going to stop is it? It’s rising, it’ll break those windows just like it did downstairs. We’ve got to get out of here… fast, but where to?’
‘I heard on the TV news this morning the government have announced special measures to combat it. They’ve set up emergency space stations all over the country with shuttle ships to transport people off the planet to safety. What do you think?’
‘What?’ asked Anna. ‘We can’t do that. You mean.. like travel into space?’
‘You’re kidding me? You’re having a laugh right? That's ok for a holiday but round here is all we’ve ever known. Our whole lives are here. If they expect us to just drop everything and leave… just like that, they’ve got another thing coming.’
‘Well… what else can we do?’
‘There must be another way…surely?’
‘No… let’s face it…the planet’s fucked, it’ll never be the same again. We can’t live here any more...I’ll check where the nearest shuttle takes off, shall I?’ said Martin, placing the Digital Virtual Reality (DVR) over his eyes and tapping in the data co-ordinates. ‘Yeah… that’s it, I can see it…Monmouth Space Station …looks rammed, thousands of people are there… all with the same idea I guess.’
‘This is crazy… have you seen outside? How far do you think we’ll get in those conditions?’
‘I dunno… but it’s got to be worth a shot… it’s our only chance.’
‘Wait…wait a minute… I’ve got an idea,’ she said, flinging her wardrobe doors open. She threw out clothes, hats, shoes and boxes until eventually she dragged out a folded piece of black and orange plastic. She blew off a thick layer of dust and unfurled it carefully on the floor.
‘What about this?’ she asked, ‘Dad used to take us out on the lake in it on holiday, remember?’ she sniffed, misty-eyed.
‘Fuck’s sake Anna… get real…how far do you think we’ll get in that piece of crap? It’s not been used for ten years?’
‘I dunno…how else are we going to get there?’
‘Mmm,’ said Martin, searching the ceiling for inspiration.
‘What’s the choice? Wait around here for the flood to hit or make a run for it? I know which one I’d choose.’
‘Well…, you won’t catch me getting in that.’
‘Oh come on… what have we got to lose?’
‘Well…there’s a dirty great hole in it for a start.’
‘You sure?’ she asked, inspecting it closely. ‘Only one way to find out,’ she said, plugging it into an electric pump.
A rectangular rubber dingy, slowly inflated, filling the floor space next to her bed. ‘There… works like a dream,’ she said. ‘Thank God for that. It’s a sign… trust me..we’re going to do this… we’re going to get out of here. Grab the DVR will you? We’ll need directions to the space station…and the torch and the UV protection masks. What else? Come on… think quick… we haven’t got much time.’
‘I’ve got a couple of packets of biscuits in my room,’ offered Martin.
‘You serious?’ she asked. ‘This isn’t a fucking teddy bear’s picnic, you know?’ said Anna. ‘Oh… and the tablet,’ she suggested.
‘No leave that….’ said Martin. ‘We can’t afford any extra weight…’
‘No….. no way… I can’t and I won’t leave it behind,’ insisted Anna defiantly. ‘It’s got everything on it. All our photos and videos of Mum and Dad … a whole life of memories … we’ve got to take it.’
‘Anna… . You’re talking like you’ve given up on them… like they’re gone forever…we don’t know where they are that’s all.’
‘Yeah I know… but they’re precious memories…they’re forever, whatever happens,’ she said, glaring persuasively at Martin.
‘Ok…’ he said, bowing to his older sister’s stubborness. ‘But you’ll have to carry it… keep it safe and dry…’
‘Course… don’t worry,’
Martin and Anna dragged the dingy over to the window.
Anna unfastened the catch on it and swung it open. Together they hoisted the dingy up and squeezed it through the narrow gap. They threw it down onto the surface of the swell of water outside.
‘You first,’ said Martin.
Anna sat on the window ledge, feet dangling over the side. Banishing her terror of heights and water to the back of her mind, she closed her eyes, jumped feet first and landed with a smack on the plastic canvas dingy.
Even though it was mid-August, blasts of freezing wind swirled around her, icy daggers of sleet and hailstones the size of golf balls rained down on her, soaking and chilling her to the bone.
‘You still think this is a good idea?’ shouted Martin out of the window.
Anna looked at the deep expanse of water surrounding her, then up at the bedroom windows, that were now bending under the weight of its pressure like they would shatter any minute. ‘Got a better one?’ she yelled back.
Clutching a small backpack, Martin threw himself down. The thud of his full weight bounced the dingy up and down. It rocked from side to side so much, Anna feared it would capsize. When it had finally steadied she leaned over the side and gazed into the murky depths.
The bloated faces, waving arms and dangling limbs of dead people were gently and silently floating under water. One of them, a woman, caught her eye. At first glance it could have been anyone. A neighbour? A stranger? But there was something about the distant, glazed blue eyes staring up at her, that made her look closer. Strands of long blonde hair wriggled vertically, like snakes. A tiny baby was still at her breast, suckling. At first she denied it. She couldn’t face it. Over and over she told herself, ‘no it can’t be, ' it can’t be,’‘it can’t be.’ Then alarm bells screamed inside her head and her heart leapt into her mouth, the moment she realised the faces belonged to her mother and three-month-old baby sister.
With her world spinning out of control, she bent over double, as if she’d been punched in the stomach. Then sitting down, feeling sick and dizzy, she cried.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Martin.
‘There,’ she whispered, pointing at the water. ‘It’s…’
When Martin looked down, he stood open mouthed. Rain and tears streamed down his face. Anna put her arms around him.
More bodies floated past them. A labrador puppy paddled in circles, whining as it kept its head just above water. Then, exhausted, it began to sink below the surface, and disappeared completely.
‘We have to go…quick,’ said Anna. Martin nodded bravely as he used a paddle to push the dingy out with all his strength until the current finally released them into a fast flowing cascading river that was bulldozing everything in its path.
Anna tried to convince herself that this was still her neighbourhood, the place she had grown up in, the town she knew and loved and that her life would go back to normal. But the further they floated, the more she realised it was gone… forever.
At last the heavy skies were shifting, exposing patches of blue. A chink of light shone down, warming the back of her neck. A silver sheen skidded across the water. And by the time the driving wind had eased and the sleet had finally stopped, the faintest flicker of hope began to stir inside her.
‘Must have been some storm last night, there’s not much left of the town. If it kicks off again we’ll never make it,’ said Martin.
‘We will… stay strong,’ she said, as the image of her dead mother and sister floated in front of her eyes again. ‘You sure this is the right way?’
‘Yeah….I think so… according to the co-ordinates on my DVR… we’re on target, it’s 5.23 miles away.’
Martin shielded his eyes from an increasingly powerful bright light.
‘You ok?’ asked Anna.
‘It’s the sun… it’s… it’s burning, can’t you feel it?’
‘Yeah…I can now…’
‘Here…’ said Martin, taking the government issue UV ray protection face masks and shades from his backpack. ‘Put them on… quick. Rays that strong can melt your face off.’
‘Jeezus….’ said Anna, standing up to pull it down over her face. ‘Now you tell me?’
Seconds later, Anna was catapulted from one side of the dingy to the other and collided with Martin as they both ended up on the floor.
‘What was that?’ she screamed.
‘I dunno… but if we fall in, we’ve had it… the current’s too strong,’ he said.
‘It’s ok… it was nothing… just a wheelie bin,’ said Anna, watching a mountainous gunge of tin cans, plastic cartons, packets and glass bottles spew from its open lid.
Not far away, floating among the rubbish, was a young woman, trying to keep a toddler’s head above water, while holding on to a rubber tyre to keep herself afloat. When she saw Anna and Martin in the dingy, she waved frantically.
‘Stop! Wait!… Help!’ she screamed.
Anna and Martin were helpless, as they sped past her, unable to stop, even if they wanted to. They passed several others, floundering in the water, their heads bobbing up and down, arms outstretched, splashing. But they, like everything else, succumbed to the sheer force of the water and were consumed by it.
The dingy wavered to one side again as a man tried to clamber on to it to find safety. Instinctively, Martin drew his leg back and kneed him squarely in the jaw, he knocked him into the air, sending him splashing backwards into the water. The glint of the wedding ring on his finger was the last thing Anna saw before he was washed away by the current.
Anna glared accusingly at Martin.
‘What?’ asked Martin, flinging his arms out in despair. ‘I had to.. it was either him or us.’
‘But we didn’t even know him… we could have saved him…’
‘Look… this is dog eat dog… he was only after our dingy. If we’re going to save ourselves, we can’t afford to help anyone…’
Just as she prepared to launch a blistering attack on her brother’s morals, Anna felt a tug on her trouser leg. Her feet were pulled from under her.
‘Martin! Help!…’ she screamed as she fell, reaching out, to grab Martin’s hand. She held on to it for dear life. ‘Something’s got me.’
A hand was gripping her leg and would not let go. It yanked hard and pulled itself up. An arm appeared, then the bedraggled dripping wet face of a middle aged man. His long hair flat and saturated, his desperate eyes burning into her, his mouth spewing water all over her. Anna was caught in two minds. Unsure whether to pull him on board and save him or kick him hard where it hurt. She was so shocked, she did neither.
Martin drew back the butt of his paddle to strike him and after raising it above his head and positioning it with malicious intent, he stopped abruptly.
‘Dad? Dad? Is that you?’ he asked.
Martin flung his his arms around him. Anna did the same.
‘Thank Christ…I caught up with you,’ said their dad, Paddy. ‘I tried to come back for you but the water took me away. I couldn’t get back. I was shouting for ages but you didn’t hear me. I didn’t abandon you, you have to believe me, I’d never do that.’
‘Arghhh…it’s ok Dad. Thank God you’re alright that’s the main thing,’ said Martin. ‘We thought you were…’
‘Seen your mum and the baby?’ he gasped shivering in the cold wind.
Anna looked at Martin. Martin looked back. There was an awkward silence.
‘The water came from nowhere and I lost them. I did all I could. I searched for them everywhere… but the water was too much,’ said Paddy.
‘The thing is dad… we saw them… before we left,’ said Martin, unable to find the right words.
‘Yeah… they were together… peaceful… under the water, what I’m trying to say is…they’re gone, we’ve lost them,’ said Anna.
Paddy sat down in the dingy, his face contorted with pain. He sobbed, wailed, screamed and howled. In all her fifteen years, Anna had never seen her dad cry like that. ‘No…’ he cried. ‘No… this can’t be happening…’
‘Shhh…’ comforted Anna, hugging him closer. For the next twenty minutes they floated in solemn silence down what used to the main road to Monmouth. Martin concentrated on paddling as if he was in some kind of hypnotic trance. The rhythmic strokes on the water provided him with a much needed distraction. Anna and her dad lay in the dingy weeping, doing their best to ease each other’s pain. The birds in the tree tops had stopped singing.
‘Judging by the crowd, I think this must be it,’ whispered Anna as the dingy ran aground at Monmouth.
‘This is it dad… we’re here,’ said Martin.
Anna eased her dad out of the dingy and helped him across a stretch of high ground. Martin abandoned the dingy and followed behind.
They zig-zagged between deep puddles and patches of squelchy mud before joining a crowd of people all baying and arguing with each other and jostling for position in the queue outside the station gates.
‘We’ll never get in there…’ said Martin.
‘Welcome to Monmouth station’ said a robotic voice, vibrating from a plastic white PA speaker tied to the top of the gate. ‘Shuttle services are operating on a first come first served basis and due to the popular demand today please show patience, understanding and consideration while you wait to be served. We will attend to you as soon as possible. Thank you very much.’
Paddy fought his way through the crowd to reach a harassed looking man in a booth by the side of the gate. He handed him three boarding passes.
‘Come with me…’ said Paddy with a look of determination. He led them round the side of the station, down a path and across a small wooden bridge until they reached a high metal fence.
‘Last call for shuttle 376. Last call. Shuttle 376 will depart this station in ten minutes,’ said the PA.
‘Dad….Dad… have you lost your mind? What the hell are you doing?’ pleaded Martin.
‘This is our only chance…’ said Paddy, pushing two discarded shopping trolleys together, then lifting them on top of each other and wedging them up against the fence.
‘Anna… come on…I’ll help you up,’ he said, ‘I’ll lift you on top …we’ll follow behind...’
‘Ok,’ she said, climbing onto her dad’s shoulders and being hoisted up on top of the trolleys. From there she was able to climb over the fence and jump down on the other side inside the station. Martin and Paddy followed.
‘Come on… let’s go…quickly,’ demanded Paddy.
There in front of them, no more than twenty yards away, impressively tall and gleaming in the sunshine, stood the shuttle, surrounded by a screaming mob, who were surging towards it in their desperation to get inside. It was the latest model, part of the government’s ‘Tourism in Space’ venture run by ‘Interplanet Enterprises,’ that had been a major economic success over the last five years.
Paddy, Anna and Martin waded into the crowd. In the crush and mayhem nobody noticed them pushing in.
‘Boarding is currently in operation. Please have your boarding cards ready for inspection at all times. For your own safety and those of other passengers please do not push forwards. Thank you for your co-operation,’ announced the PA.
Ahead of her, Anna could see the queue was gradually going down but it was painfully slow. People were being admitted at the entrance by two burly, balding security guards dressed in black with IEDA (Interplanet Enterprise Development Agency) logos on their caps and sweat shirts. They held people back for what seemed like an eternity, only letting them through two at a time after they had carried out a thorough strip search, checked their ID and boarding cards.
‘You watch… it’ll be just our luck… I bet they close the doors before we get in?’ said Anna, breaking out in a cold sweat each time a couple stepped up to the entrance.
‘Let me in,’ screamed a stranger. ‘Bastards…’ he cried, It took half a dozen guards armed with electric stun guns to restrain him and lead away as if he was under arrest.
‘Dad? Why is that man being turned away?’ asked Anna.
‘When I got the boarding cards he checked the age on my id. Maybe over 50’s aren’t allowed. Looks like he’s too old,’ said Paddy.
Martin shoved his way forwards, trying to speed things along but a security guard pulled him back. ‘Get in line…wait your turn,’ he growled.
‘Just wait… just wait…whatever happens… we need to stay calm,’ said Paddy.
At last, they found themselves right in front of the sliding doors of the entrance. They waited anxiously for clearance to step forwards.
‘Next,’ said the guard.
‘I’ll see you in there,’ said Paddy putting his arm around Anna and Martin, encouraging them to step forward. Once through the door and inside, Anna immediately felt crammed and claustrophobic in the swell of people in the foyer but breathed a huge sigh of relief when her brother clung to her and she realised they had made it.
She looked out through the doors at her dad and beckoned him, anxiously. He smiled and waved at her but her view was suddenly blocked by the bulky frame of one of the guards.
‘I’m sorry,’ he shouted to the crowd. ‘That’s it, we’re full.’
‘Dad…. Dad,’ screamed Anna.
‘We regret that due to unprecedented demand, the last few places on board shuttle 376 have now been filled. We apologise for any inconvenience caused,’ said the PA.
‘Go… go… just go… I’ll be alright,’ and as the shuttle doors slid shut, he mouthed words that were barely audible above the noise of a siren. They sounded something like ‘I love you…’ but she wasn’t certain.
Inside people laughed joyously and cheered loudly in celebration of their survival.
‘On behalf of all the staff, we would like to take this opportunity to welcome you aboard and thank you for travelling with us. A fine selection of light refreshments such as infused mineral waters, freeze dried pods and vitamin tablets to sustain you on your journey are available on level 5 of the shuttle.’
Anna stared at the shuttle’s metallic grey doors that had just closed on her old life and everything she loved and wept.
‘We look forward to the pleasure of your company. In the meantime if you have any questions one of our friendly staff will be only too happy to help. On behalf of everyone, I wish you all a safe and pleasant journey. Thank you for choosing Interplanet Enterprises - simply the best in luxury space travel.’
As the shuttle’s engines roared into life, ready for take-off, Anna sank to her knees in despair.