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How the youth overcame the sweeping pendamic that ran across the world wiping out their elders.
Book 1 in the “The Bug Series” By Albert Megraw
About the Book
A microbiologist fights to counter a pandemic of huge proportions supposedly created by a bug returned from a space shuttle. But was it? Ben steals the bug viruses from his work lab, not trusting the World Health Organization, which he believes is the creator of the bug.
The WHO tries to close Ben down when he comes up with the anti-virus. On the run with two young friends, Ben races to save humanity in a world where simply meeting a man, woman or child could cause their death. His small band sets out into the wilds of England to counter the WHO’s plans for mankind.
The Struggle of the Young Inheritors
: Book 1 in the Bug Series
presents the thrilling survival mission of a few souls trying to overcome in a world gone mad. As the bugs exterminate more and more humans, the battle is on to determine the victor.
This novel shows that youth can survive without their elders – or even despite their elders – can learn quickly to adapt, and can make a difference, no matter the odds.
About the Author
grew up in London, lived in New Zealand, and now resides in Sydney, Australia. He is currently working on his next book. He first began writing when he met a young man online in a chat room who said he was going to commit suicide. “I told him I would write him a story with him being the main character, the only condition is that he be here tomorrow and the next day to get what I had written for him.”
Ben, a microbiologist, sets into motion his own fight to counter the pandemic created by the World Health Organization (WHO). Ben steals viruses and a bug bought back from space from where he worked at a research laboratory in his attempts to counter the might against him and the rest of humankind.
With man dying in the millions and on the run, he befriends two young survivors, Rickie and Peter. To ensure they survive, he teaches them basic survival actions and then has to leave to carry out his own research to counter the effects of WHO. Can he do it with so much stacked against him? Can these youth make a difference? Only time will tell as Rickie and Peter throw all their efforts into seeking out others like themselves; the trouble is every living human could be their own death warrant if they carry the deadly virus.
The bug brings rekindled mental powers to the humans, opening doors never opened before, but it is only the young it affects. Why not older survivors? Why can't the bug’s power turn and wash the hate from those in WHO that work on global eradication of man.
The story covers the horrific battles to survive in this dreaded world by the living as they build their numbers and hones their own skills in firing a gun, as well as hunting for food and a safe place to lay a weary head so maybe tomorrow they can smile a little.
Can we reach all these groups in time before extermination? Only time will tell as Rickie, Ben, and their small band race to alert them and bring them to a safe haven before WHO collects them up, hunting them down like a school nurse hunting nits in a child’s hair.
With WHO throwing its last great attempt to eradicate survivors, it creates a cloned man with the only difference; the body has no soul--only a hunter’s instinct to collect up trophies of human bodies.
The story unravels.
My name is Ben I am a microbiologist working for the In- stitute of Biology where I try to solve the ills of man and maybe one day solving the horrors that plague him .
I was enjoying a glass of beer after a long day spent looking down a microscope at weird little monsters with millions of legs . A thousand shapes that were beyond anyone’s imagination con- fronted me . We never saw anything like this in the human world with our own eyes . I felt it would be better if you never saw them; they are sure damn ugly and frightening to say nothing of the terror and rejection they conjure up in one’s imagination-
-nightmares that come sneaking up in one’s mind at odd times awake or asleep, it matters not .
My days at university come to mind with thoughts of all the little monsters that run around our bodies, eating the dead flak- ing skin, and feasting on smaller, scary, little critters, literally hundreds of them . I involuntarily start to scratch my leg, which annoys the heck out of me .
I had spent most of the afternoon puzzling over one slide . I
just could not put it down; it frustrated me, and made me damn
angry with myself. I could not quite put my finger on something about it, that unknown something kept pecking at me, but re- mained elusive . I kept running over and over what I knew about it . I was not seeing something . I kept trying so hard to work out what had pissed me off about it; it was so ugly . I could feel it looking at me and longing to get into me, and I felt it crawling into my mind .
Somehow, its effects on me had caused my flesh to break out in a cold sweat, causing rivulets of salty body fluid from under my arms to run down my chest, across my back, wetting my shorts, and causing me more discomfort than I desired .
I felt so damn intimidated that I had to break away from my fixation on the little bugger. I was riled up, storming up and down that lab chewing out anyone that crossed my path .
In the end, I just had to go back and confront it. I felt defiant and had to sit on my boiling anger . I had this humongous urge to crush that slide under the heel of my shoe and grind it into a pulp making sure not one little piece remained .
It felt like I had a monkey on my back dictating to me, mak- ing me feel shit scared and yet the anger within forced it back and kept what little sanity I had there for myself . I felt the heat building in my body as I told my friends and cold sweat started to dampen my shirt .
“I have never felt this way before about my work, and it caused my thoughts to jam up as I tried to sort out what the hell was bothering me about it . This continuing feeling that I should destroy it was so demanding inside me that I just had to end work early and ring and ask you both to the pub .”
“I am glad I do not do that type of work” Liz comments . Dave inquires, “Why did you feel you wanted to destroy it . I
mean, it could not have gotten to you being so small and jammed between two pieces of glass--could it?”
Dave’s comments and running laughter caused the hairs to rise on the back of my neck .
The answer to his questions shook me inside as his words drummed into my head, causing me to reach for my glass and
empty it in one large gulp . I am sure I went white . This body of mine sits here shaking, with anger building up again inside of me and is now ready to blast the top off my head . My friends look shaken by my uncharacteristic nature tonight . I am never like this, and they have never seen me act or say the things as I have tonight . I show a side of me that no one has ever seen, including me .
My voice shook, and I had trouble getting out the simple words . “Dave, it wanted to get at me . I could feel it’s hate, and it was like a blue thunderbolt passing through me and throwing me into all directions at once and yet jamming me into myself so that I could not get out .”
I could feel the cold sweat further breaking out on my fore- head, and my stomach wants to heave . I tried to push it back down, but my stomach was winning the battle, and I felt the vomit rushing from deep within, I force it back down again, but it was a losing battle . I gag, and the warm beer and the sandwich from a hurried lunch hit the floor, splattering in all directions. The acidy smell made me close my eyes and gasp for breath; the salty sweat running from my forehead reaches my eyes, and they now sting sharply, causing me more misery, more despair .
Thank god, there was a table close by to support my out- reached hand . I put my weight onto it, letting my whole body shudder as though throwing off a black cloud sitting over me and pushing down on my back . I liken it to an evil dark sprit leaving me, now that it can no longer work its control and evil over me .
I felt the strength of my friend Dave’s embrace, wiping my face with his shirt just pulled out of his pants . I saw the slimy fluid, mucus, and food scraps sticking to it. It repulsed me, and yet I felt closer to Dave at that moment than in all the years we have known each other .
“Wow!” was Dave’s only comment .
“That little bastard sure got into you today . Sit down dude,” he ordered, and his hands pressing on my shoulder caused me to drop into the chair that Liz had set for me .
The word thanks came from my mouth . . . yet in a muttered, mumbling voice that I barely recognized as my own . Dave’s shirt was now fully off and cleaning me up .
“That is the shirt you like above all others .” I mumbled . . . then looking up, I smiled weakly at him .
I seem to come out of a dazed past and into the present for the first time today and become aware of my surroundings and Dave standing there with his shirt all mucked up .
“Yeah,” he says looking at it, shaking his head, and smiling back at me .
“You can buy me a new one, okay?”
God, I am glad to have him around at this moment as I have no idea what is spinning me out . We get some weird looks from those around us . Many try to pretend that we are not there, yet cannot help themselves . They just have to sneak a look and then delight in talking about us to each other and to those around them .
I start to feel a little better, and ask Dave to get me a stiff one to stop the shaking and shivers running around inside me .
I think he went overboard on the drink he placed in front of me. Taking the glass between trembling fingers and an arm that shakes a little too, in one swift motion, I drain it . I gasp for breath and the burning starts in my mouth and slides down my throat . On hitting my stomach, it seems to explode, causing the shivers to go . The bleakness that had caught me in its grasp, and held me, now slithers away and leaves me . My eyes water, glossing over, and the room blurs and then clears . I shake my head . “Wow,” I say in a very hoarse voice .
I feel the freedom from the bad moments of the day for the first time that afternoon. Feeling less jumbled up and a lot more myself, my space has opened up, and I feel free of it . My thoughts are now clearer and have become logical . I look at my two friends and know that I am a lucky dude to have them around me, and then my sentimentalities start to show . Damn, I hate it when I get like this .
They both push my thanks aside, as true friends do, and make light of it . I know deep down that I have shaken them as I
felt shook; I have always been the strong one as the leader of the pack . I guess that is how others see me although I never demand that .
Liz edges between my seat and the table and moves away from us, returning a short while later with several more drinks . She presses one into my hand, and I drain it in one gulp . God, that was good . I feel the effects of the alcohol permeating through the body; my senses are starting to dull . Yet the feeling is good; it has driven away the ghosts that had snuck inside me .
Looking upward, I catch Dave’s glancing look at me, his head cocked to one side, a frown running across his face .
“Are you really okay?” he asks . The drinks are making me feel like I desire to conquer the whole bug world . I start to giggle and then break out in uncontrollable laughter . I stop myself fool- ing around and look at him with a serious mask across my face . “You know something Dave?” I say in a stern voice . “I am
no longer frightened of that thing; it can look at me all it wants and can give me all the shit in the world, and I will still be there ready to crush it under my foot . I will not blink an eyelid while I do it either . You know something else? All that terror, fear, spin- ning, and being splattered everywhere and yet no specific place, were his shit . It put it into me; knowing that, it can never effect me again . I really know that, really know it and that makes me feel so damn good .”
He visibly relaxes; I see the weight lift off his slumped shoul- ders, and the concern drops away from his face . He gets up from where he is sitting and embraces me .
“Come on, let's eat,” he barks at us .
I hear in the background noise a TV announcement about a virus escaping and causing wild panic throughout the town we live in . My attention is diverted to the screen . . . pictures show people running wildly through the streets and highways full of cars trying to leave and yet stuck due to the cars that block and jam every exit road .
Voices around us call out to have the volume turned up . The sound of glasses of beer hitting metal tables and shouts and giggles
leave the air . All is quiet, and the TV sound is loud, reaching all within . It suddenly drives home to all the people there that the place talked about on the TV is the town where they are right now .
There is uproar from those around us, as voiced shouts are thrown around in terror, and panic starts their bodies moving . Those about us try exiting the pubs through the one door clos- est to us . Constantly shoved and pushed aside, I slip on my own vomit. My falling causes me to push others aside as my legs fly out from beneath me . I mumble my apologies from where I lie but others push and shove past me in their frantic haste to be away from here . My vomit covers my clothing as I try to move to stand, but I am kicked around by flying legs and trampled on by the crush of bodies trying to leave quickly through that exit . All is suddenly quiet, and I look around from where I lie .
Coming to my feet, the disgust and anger kicks out from me at the sight of my clothing and the wetness of my pants that cling to my legs beneath my clothing .
Plonking my wobbly body into a chair, I look about at the upturned tables and chairs that lie in tangled messes around us . Pools of beer spilled in the exiting rush sit around broken pint glasses on the parquet floor and froth from the beer sits around it acting as an island, and cigarette butts float on its surface.
We find ourselves alone, bruised and a little angry after being shoved and pushed to one side in a mad panic from others in their efforts to get out and be as far away from this area as possible .
I become aware that my shoulder bag is missing, and the pictures flash in my mind of all those deadly creatures in it. I get worried, my heart starts to pump, and then I see it below Liz’s chair . I retrieve it quickly, checking that the metal boxes I had stolen are within, and the worry leaves me . It is a shooting of- fence to take these out of the lab, but the urge to do so was so overpowering that it overrode all other thoughts and concerns of what they would do to me if they found out .
Going over to the bar, I jump it and help myself to three meat pies from the warmer . “Sauce,” I call to my friends . We sit eating our meagre dinner, knowing that any restaurants around here are
empty, staff and diners fleeing the area just like we experienced
here I am sure .
I ask my friends, “When that announcement came over the TV, why didn’t you two leave?” There is a silence that eats up the sweeping beats of time, and I smile inside, waiting to hear what they have to say .
They both look at me, then at each other . “Well . . .” stumbles Dave . “We’re better off with a bug ass kicker than on our own .” He cracks up laughing; Liz follows suit. Dave starts to shuffle his chair in an attempt to move closer to where I sit as though to emphasize his words .
His laugh is infectious, and we are all killing ourselves laugh- ing . I guess the drinks make us blasé about anything that may be coming our way, and it seems a little unreal that we could be in any danger . With the shoddy meat pie meal over, I feel it is time to be on our way . “C'mon, let’s go .”
I throw a handful of coins and small notes on the counter for the pies, and we walk out . I am in the centre with Dave and Liz on either side of me as we stumble and sway down the deserted streets, seeing no one . The roads are empty of the parked cars that always line the kerbs around here .
“What do you think all this virus escaping business is all about?” Dave asks . “Dunno .” I mumble, as we tumble along the street arm in arm .
The streets are dark, with no golden glow from the street lamps, and all is quiet around us . People have left or have barred their doors, fearful to be outside where the stalking bugs may be . “You guys had better stay with the bug Crusher tonight .” I throw these words to the wind, hoping that there will be no ob-
jections . Although not concerned for myself, I am for them . “Bloody right” they chorus together .
I awake early the next morning, expecting to feel heavy and listless, but I do not . I feel just great and jump out of bed . Show- ering takes a short while; I usually shower to wake myself up-- standing there while the needle sharp water jets pound me into the present--but that is not so today .
I dress in jeans and a casual shirt, no collar and tie, I think . Damn, I feel rebellious today . I start to laugh, and it feels so good to be free of restraints, must do and can't do, with several maybes thrown in .
I suddenly remember my friends being here, and some vague memories of bugs--no, viruses . I recall they were causing panic around town . I walk over to the TV, jumping channels, seeing what news may be around . At least we have power for the time being, and my thoughts jump around to all the things we use . I see huge problems ahead of us, no power, everything coming to a stop, and chaos around for those that sidestep the bug’s effect .
Dave’s head suddenly appears from under the blanket on the couch . “Why do you look so happy?” He throws these words at me, more of a condemnation than a question . “I have a head that belongs to someone else,” he grouchily complains .
I find a station that is reporting about what we want to know, and I move to the kitchen and return with something for my friend's hangover .
“Here, get this down you, dude .” He swallows the drink in one gulp and shakes his head . “Ugh!” With a sourpuss face, my friend continues and complains bitterly but to no one in particu- lar, “I hate that stuff .”
A picture of the laboratory where I work flashes up on the screen and a reporter states, “Last night there was an accident . A technician caused an explosion that blew in a storage refrigera- tor holding slides of different viruses . He had put the electrical fire out and then entered the sealed room where the damage to the storage cabinet had occurred . He then called the department head of The Institute who had arrived to find the technician dead on the floor. He raised the alarm of a virus leakage and that was the last anyone heard from the institute .” He continues in a dron- ing voice that shows his apprehension and desire to be on the move himself, away from the dread that he reports on, “Evacu- ation is now underway to remove thousands of people from the area and its surrounds . The World Health Organization will seal off the whole institute and the area for miles around .”
The TV shows people in full body suits and breathing appa- ratus sealing off all doors and windows of the institution in their attempt to keep what was inside from getting outside .
The reporter continues, “The WHO spokesperson admitted that they did not know what viruses were being stored here or if any had escaped . They say they are still investigating, and that the steps they were taking are just precautionary .”
Once more, I break out in a cold sweat; I feel the clamminess all over me .
My mind feeds me thoughts and horrors so frightening I can- not even talk about them to my oldest friend, Dave . I know what these things can do to humanity . The newsreader continues . “The whole area for two miles is being evacuated, and we ask that you cooperate with the authorities .”
“Further pictures are coming in from our team covering this news story .” The TV shows a street deserted with several unmoving bodies lying in the road . The camera operator and an announcer with a mi- crophone start to report that large red blotches covered the bodies .
A fight breaks out between the camera operator and the an- nouncer . The camera operator wants to get out of the area, and the announcer wants to get a close up of the bodies .
The screen goes black and the announcer is shouting for the camera operator to come back . The studio newsreader comes back on line and reports that the station is closing down until further notice . The TV screen goes black .
Pushing other buttons on the TV, I search for any other op- erational stations, but all is quiet across the waves . Grabbing the radio, I turn the dial but it is the same, nothing, even the emer- gency channels show no life .
“Christ, they are all bailing out .” Dave’s voice breaks in around me, and Liz starts to cry .
“If they don’t confront these bugs and get it worked out, it could wipe out all mankind .” I state this quietly, not really talk- ing to them but stating the obvious to myself, whilst a thousand other thoughts race around in my head, each demanding my attention or aligning with other thoughts or ideas .
“I don’t think they are doing a great job of isolating this bastard and getting it under control, can't they see it is already loose?” I whisper these words more to myself once again, rather than making a statement to my two friends .
Walking across the room to where a large shiny metal box sits close to the window, I drop to my knees and start moving di- als, punching in rows of numbers that unlock it . I hear the click and throw open the lid, letting it hit the wall loudly .
Inside are boxes neatly stacked one on top of the other . There are no markings, no numbering, nothing, just plain white boxes of all sizes that show and tell nothing about their contents .
Taking out three of the medium ones and three larger ones, I throw a box to each of my friends, telling them, “Strip off and put them on . Don’t leave any item of clothing on, including jewellery or watches .” My words are said more as a demand than a request .
They both look at me with a scared face, and I know they have a hundred questions each that they suppress asking me, at least for now .
Liz turns her back to us to undress, and I call to her .
“Liz, this is not a time for bashfulness . I need to be here to ensure that all is okay and that the suit has no punctures .”
She strips one item of clothing off, then another, and I see more and more of what lies beneath . I am drawn to her beauty; her shape is perfect, skin so white and I wonder why she wears shitty clothes that hide her shape . She sees me looking, and I say, “You’re beautiful.” A red flush starts on her cheeks and spreads over her whole face, slides down to her neck, and in no time at all, her whole body is a warm, glowing pink .
The suit is baggy, much too big for her, but it will have to do . Returning to the kitchen, I rummage through cupboards and drawers, and come up with what I seek--a roll of tape from the medical kit and return to where she stands . Taping up the slacks the best I can, I make the suit a better fit even though it looks
scraggy from my efforts .
I turn to Dave . He is out of that bed so fast, and even though aroused and wearing it proudly, he shows no concern for his na- kedness . Picking up the box, he removes its contents, and battles to press himself into his suit .
It is tight on him for he is a lot broader than I am, and I lend a hand, adjusting it to give him the most comfort . I lose my own clothes, slide into my suit, and then reach for the other boxes, passing one to each of them .
“These masks filter out everything, including bugs, so guard them with your life . I am serious, because without it you are go- ing to be as dead as those people shown on TV that were lying in the streets .
I show them how to get them on and off in detail . “Any punc- ture and you are dead,” I tell them . Both are deadly white from my statements . I reach for them both, hugging them, and tell them, “No matter what, I will get you through this unharmed .”
Liz kisses me on the lips, the first time she has ever done that, and I feel my whole body come alive, and I am sexually aroused . I hide this by walking back to my trunk and passing out gloves and several aerosol cans that I slide into specially made places for them on the suits .
Lifting out a funny-looking handheld machine, I pass it to
“This is a stun gun, use it if anyone tries to take your suit off you . Guard it well as you would your suit . Sorry, Dave, I only has one of these so you will have to find a weapon to defend yourself .”
He grins, and his eyes are shining . “No worries, dude . I’m sure we are going to have fewer problems than we think, but I will get something as soon as I can .”
The next item in the box is a large cylinder with a harness; I strap this to my back like a diver’s air bottle and attach a small hose to the mask section . I release a valve and breathe in the pure oxygen. “Works fine,” I tell my friends. “I will need this in the event of my suit being damaged and I have to meet the Bug face-to-face .”
“How do you guys feel?” Both look to the mirror hanging on the wall and survey themselves .
“Not bad .” Liz states, followed by Dave’s, “Star Wars, eat your heart out.” He smiles at his reflection in the mirror and laughs heartedly. I feel my friends have taken the first hurdle and landed safely on the other side . I am sure they know that there is a battle ahead . However, they look more able to tackle it now that they have a few tools to defend themselves .
Passing each a packet, I tell them to stow it in the pocket and should the suit tear or puncture, to patch it as you would an inner tube of a bike tyre; they get the idea . I stuff my own in my pocket along with my phone and house keys .
I see the concern in Dave’s eyes as I strap on an automatic sidearm and adjust it to get a better feeling around my waist . I add the spare ammo cartridges to the holders on the belt .
I then sit them down after making coffee and start to tell them all I know about the bug . I try to keep it simple and truthful and have to choose my words so as not to confuse them with too much jargon .
“It first came back with the shuttle that went to the moon; well, that’s what they think, they being the Authorities . It is smaller than a virus, can live on something else or alone, and further still, on a creature, even something smaller than it is . It will help keep any creature alive while being a parasite on it . I was working on the bug slide with it living on the virus . The small pox virus is deadly in itself and with the help of the parasite bug, it was feeding the thing its own blood cells . I saw that it boosted the strength of the strain of the small pox’s poison .
“I tried different vaccines on the bug with no effect . Even when it was on the parasite, it gave the same result . I realize now that it has the ability to stir up telepathically one’s fears and nightmares all at once; this causes a great shock to your system . It did it to me yesterday, and I never realized what it was until last night .”
“One of the tests I did on it that sent the bug into a frenzy was when I put it onto a live human culture . It tried to take over the
living tissue, but the smallpox virus it was living on killed the living tissue . It then sent me that look I was telling you about-- the pure hatred that made me want to puke .”
“I am sure I know how to kill this thing, the answer was lurk- ing in the back of my mind, and it knew that . I am sure it caused the accident at the lab to get free to get me . I am its only threat, as far as I know . It will wipe out humankind with all the deadly diseases at its disposal just because it thinks that it cannot live on human tissue, so it has no use for it . I see all this now where I did not yesterday .”
“It’s threat is not that I know what it is doing; in itself, it can- not harm us disease-wise, but it can boost other disease strains to a greater strength . Does this make sense to you guys?”
“Shit, yeah,” is their unanimous response . “Well, the facts are these:”
“1 . The killing of the humans was by the boosted pox from the blood of the bug, not the bug itself; those bodies’ on the TV showed small pox markings, nothing more .”
“2 . It has no idea it can live on human tissue, I am sure of that above anything else . Expose them to humans, and it will telepathically send fear into all present . To beat this is to know that point and destroy it . That is where your spray cans come into play; it will kill any, and I mean any, living thing should your spray touch it .”
“But they are so small . How will one know where it is, when you cannot see it?” Dave asks .
“Good point, Dave,” I respond . “Just spray where you think the fear and terror is coming from--that is the place where it will be . You do not have to see it to know where it is once it tries to communicate telepathically at you, not to you . Get it?”
“Yeah I think so,” he quietly responds .
Liz pipes up, “Yeah I get it fully makes sense to me somehow; I don’t know why but it does. I used to work in an office, and this creep used to look at me while I was typing on the PC, and I used to know when he did it . I could locate him without looking around to see where he was . Yeah makes sense alright .”
I feel a lot of admiration for her and am comfortable know- ing that if the bug ever met her and sent anything her way; it would end up dead, really dead, dead .
I suddenly got it . The palm of my hand smacks my forehead . My friends look at me, shaking their heads, wondering what is going on with me .
I hypothesize that if we got a Bug and get it living and feed- ing on the antivirus to the small pox virus, then we have an an- swer to the plague that is for sure about to bust into life around us . “Wow!” I shout out . “Got you, you little bastard .”
Dave and Liz look at lot happier, and I send them to make more coffee and something to eat . I have things to do .
I had better get what I know out to those that can get some action rolling . My cell phone has many numbers for emergen- cies like this . I dial away, then get impatient with the wait and hang up, trying another number . This time I get through to some- one who listens to what I have to say . “That is impossible,” is the response that comes angrily back at me .
“Impossible or not, that is the way it is,” I reply and ask him to put his phone on speaker to all who may be listening .
I tell them who I am and the work I have done at the exposed institute and what they can expect . I do not pull any punches, and the dude realizes he is out of his depth and asks me to hold on . Another voice comes on the line and asks me a whole swag of questions . I answer these fully; giving detailed information so he realizes I know what I am saying is feasible .
He says he is out of his depth, and there is no one higher around who he can get for me . I cut him short and dial another number .
“Fucking bureaucrats!” I shout, thumping the coffee table next to me, sending Dave’s cup dancing into the air to land at my feet . Before I can try another number, my phone rings, and I answer it loud and gruffly, “Yeah what do you want?” I say before I can correct myself .
“It’s me Jill, your assistant; the second in command wants to chat to you .”
“Sorry, Jill,” I respond . “Hey, it’s ok,” she says, and I hear another voice .
“I just got a call from WHO that you were having trouble get- ting some idea across to a blabbering lab assistant who couldn’t understand what you were saying yet reported his muck up to me . What do you have on this business?” he asks gruffly back at me .
I download all I have to him, and he pumps me with ques- tion after question fired at me like a machine gun. He slows and then attacks again, every question meant to bleed me dry of all my theories and ideas, never letting up, challenging me with a sharp tongue and then he has no more to say . I ask, “Well what do you think?”
He is quiet for a while and then comes back with, “That’s the best theory I have had to date and better than anything else I have .”
“So you’re going to test it out right?” I fire this back at him, once again my voice sounding more demanding than questioning .
“Yeah,” he says and then I hear a sharp order he barks out to someone there in the room . “Get a car and make it armed, out to Ben's place and fast too .”
“I want you to come over, Ben,” he says . “I want you around when I tackle this bug .”
“Okay .” I respond . “I want to bring two friends along .”
“No way, Ben,” he shoots back at me . “You know this place
“Well you get fucked, if you want me, then it is us or nothing .”
“Shit . Okay, okay, I will get it cleared higher up . Ben, you’re skating on thin ice,” he says, very narky in his tone .
“Yeah,” I respond . “Been doing that all my life; see you soon .” I cut him off .
“God, that guy is a nerd .” I have never liked him in all the years I have worked there; I have kept well out of his way, avoiding the confrontation that I knew one day would send me packing .
I turn to my friends and I see their wonder that I do what I
do . I have to respond to the unspoken question they have .
“Well, I like having you guys around; you keep me sane . Pack a bag for me Liz, but not with clothes; pack what is in my fridge and food cupboard, it's food that’s going to be at a premi- um if this gets any worse, and water too . . . fill up any containers that are around .”
Taking suitcases from my storeroom, I pass them to Dave who lugs them into the kitchen and helps Liz to load them up .
I have a few minutes to myself and look around the place that has been my home for some years now . I think about the job I do and the people that I work for--mostly they are shitty people, those that are higher up-- I get a feeling inside me and take a closer look at it .
I do not trust my boss . All these people have left too much unsaid; never once did they tell us what we were working on or what they were going to do with the bugs and germs we made . I could always pretend that we were ignorant of what we did but we all knew that anything could be used against our fellow man . We found cures for so many bad bugs that one pushed to the side that they possibly could be used to harm humankind .
Trying the TV again finds a broadcast, and it is not a pret- ty one at that . Gangs roam the streets, breaking into stores and banks, and the police can do little, not having the equip- ment to keep the bug at bay . The dead and dying litter the streets, and I must say the film crew has a lot of guts being out there .
I get this feeling that whoever is coming for me has orders to ensure that my friends never leave this building . Why I feel this way, I just don’t know . However, I know it to be this way . Since yesterday, something about me has changed, but for the life of me, I cannot see yet what it is .
Grabbing my rucksack, I fill it with all that is left in the metal box, including what is in the hidden compartment at the bottom . I burst into the kitchen, “Forget what you're doing, grab some water, come with me, and please hurry .”
The TV still blasts away, showing the docks . In the back- ground, I see the anchored research ship that has just come from Antarctica . I recall the interview some night before with one of the scientist thanking the World Bank for the great donation of the laboratory on the ship, the best anywhere in the world . The signed-on crew have finished their contracts and been dis- charged and everyone else has been sent off on the Christmas break coming up .
The sirens scream out in the quiet streets miles away yet racing I am sure to my door . We have such little time to get out of here .
We take the stairs three at a time, but we are still too slow . I hear the screech of tyres, the thump of car doors slamming, and the pounding of running feet .
I pull my two friends into the closest room, the unit’s laundry, and slide the door to, leaving a crack to see through . They hit the front door, wood splinters and glass crashes to the ground, and they are through and up the stairs . Not once slowing to check on what floor I live. I then knew what I am dealing with; they will catch me or shoot me; they operate that way .
We do not wait around . Out the back we go, passing my van, abandoned where it sits . I cannot help the way I run down that alleyway, my body hunched over, expecting a bullet at any minute, and trying to make it as small as possible . Then we are around a corner and into the next street before I once more hear more screaming sirens .
I can imagine them in the car calling for back up and soon the area will be crawling with army personnel out for the blood of my friends . They won't be gentle after this, that I can assure you .
We make for the canal and hide behind its wall as several cars scream past with flashing lights. I know we only have sec- onds to get away from this area . A boat would be the perfect get- away transportation . Heading for the fun fair several hundred meters away, we are able to run along the wall out of sight to anyone on the road . I remember taking my step-nephew there
last summer and going for a boat ride, so that is where we head for now . I hope that they are not all chained up and that I do not have to spend valuable time freeing one .
There is not a soul around, and the big Ferris wheel stands idle, as do the other entertainment tents about us . Seagulls screech in the air above us, and a flock of crows squabble over a body lying on the grass not far from where we hide . The gulls rush in making a quick peck before moving away, uncertain of the one unmoving, yet expecting something to happen . When nothing does, they all get bolder and set to with sharp beaks and hungry bellies .
Liz moves to shoo them away, and I hold her arm, shaking my head . This is something each of my friends had better get used to for there are going to be lots of sights like this to churn them up and cause them discomfort .
My phone rings . Damn I am so stupid; they could track me anywhere with the bloody thing on . I remove it quickly and turn it off . I will have to get several other mobiles and mentally make a note to see what I can find later.
More sirens scream, and I see a truck loaded with suited sol- diers moving along the cannel road heading in the direction of my flat. Time is critical, and I have to chance breaking my cover. I tell my friends to come when I wave my arms, and then I am off to the rows of rowing boats that sit bobbing on the lapping waves from the flow of the canals current. Heading for those furthest away from me, I hope to be able to cut one out and set us on our way .
Scuttling my body along like a crab, I drop over the edge of the walkway into the boats below me . Then, like a snake, my body slides over the gunnels from one boat to the next until I am at the last in line .
A rope holds one to the other, and my pulse beats faster in the anticipation that we will make it away from here . I wave the prepared signal, and I set about releasing the holding rope . There are no oars, nothing to help steer us . There is nothing I can do about that now, and I direct my friends to lie in the bottom .
I set us loose, pushing us away from the other boats, and the
pull of the flowing water takes us away; I hope down to the sea.
Having a taste of freedom is great. How- ever, what does the future hold?
We lie on the bottom of the crafts rib planking, hidden I hope from prying eyes that seek us out . We drift along, at the disposal of the flowing water. Where it sends us, I have no idea, and I am not game to poke my head up and find out.
The sun drops in the wintry sky, and night will come soon . We still move, slowly at times, and speedier at others . Just before we lose the last light of the day, we stop, and I hear small waves lapping at the land, the call of coots calling to each other, and the quack of ducks as several drops from the sky land close to where we bob up and down . We still do not move, the urge to peek around us is so demanding it hurts, but we do not . I drive those thoughts away, and wait for the twilight to go and the darkness to come and hide us .
The smell around us brings back memories of sloshing around in the mud, chasing soldier crabs as a kid . Now I know where we are and why we do not move .
Removing my mask for the first time since putting it on, I feel confident that we are clear of any risks out here; the others follow suit and for the first time since leaving my flat, we are able to talk .
It is hard to go through a whole day with friends and not speak, and I see that we will have to sort that out so that we can . Once out of this predicament, we will rig ourselves out so we can do just that .
We sit in the grey evening light, looking about us . We sit just where I thought we were--on a bloody mud bar, mangroves all around. The dark mud stretches way away from us to the flowing water some hundred meters away . Damn, the tide went out and we had no idea we were where we were .
Looking around I see in the distance the dark shape of swings, a long slide of a children’s playground, and the goal posts of the soccer fields beyond. We could wade across to the shore, it was not that far away, but the thought that we could puncture the suits on the old wares discarded over the years into the water sent shivers through me .
We will have to wait for the tide to turn . Until then it is best that one keep watch and the others sleep and rotate this through the night or until the tide sets us free of the sucking mud . Some- time in the night, Dave awakes us, telling me we are once again on the move . One minute we move on and the next we stop as we hit shallow water .
“Ben, we have to get some means of controlling this boat . We can’t be at the mercy of the tides and current flows and ebbs, and how the hell are we going to be able to get to land should we wish to?” Dave is in a real huff, and I know what he says is true .
“Okay” I address them. “Let's see if we can't find a boat shed as we move along, and if we can get a better mode of transportation .”
“Now that is better,” grumbles Dave, adding that getting food soon is something we will have to look at . I know I am hungry, having only eaten a meat pie and a couple of coffees in the last three days as our breakfast was discarded in the rush to leave the flat.
It is still night around us, and the shoreline runs darkly past us as we float along. Then I realize where we are heading, as a low lying bridge moves over us, and we duck our heads to allow
22 the Struggle of the Young inheritorS
the boat to clear beneath the old rusty girders . Our noisy echoing voices cause the pigeons to scuffle about in the darkness, hidden in the unseen recesses of the bridge. The flowing inward tide is taking us up a small tidal river that the power station uses when it discharges water from the cooling system of their turbines . I know we have a ways to go because there is a metal grid across the river to keep people out .
“Help me paddle back to the bridge Dave, and you too, Liz . Use your hands the best you can.” The flow of water is not that strong and in a short time, we are back under the bridge . Using the rope that tied us to the other boats, I throw it around one of the old rusty beams, and we are secure for the time being and also out of sight from anyone walking along the banks .
There are several old dwellings along this side of the river track, and one I know has a boat shed . Whether it has any crafts in it or not, I have no idea, but it's worthy of investigation I tell them .
As a kid on long summer days, I used to hike around here with my dog . In those days, I rarely saw a soul and hope that tonight will be no different .
Climbing from the boat onto the bridge, I lead ahead of my two friends . I go more by instinct through the darkness than knowing what is ahead . The path, if one can call it that, is more a track used by rabbits than a trodden path used by man, and it continues alongside the river's edge .
Several times, we have to divert around large willow trees that are half in the river, the other half-tangled within other smaller trees along the bank . In the darkness, it is hard to know what is ahead . One minute I am walking, the next I am falling through the air, dropping speedily to crash into wet slushy mud that covers me in my suit from head to foot .
The tank on my back has driven itself into my neck, forcing my head deeply into the mud, and a sharp pain thumps con- stantly within my skull . I do not seem to be able to move . I lie drowning in the mud and sludge that my face lies under . Before the last of my air goes, someone drags my head out of my night- mare, and strong arms lift up my body .
I lie gasping and feel cold water splashing onto my face; it clears my eyes and nose and allows my lungs to take in air once more .
“Holy shit” I shout out as the first of quick breaths hastily taken is drawn into my body . I gulp down more, and my heart races so fast I hear it with my own ears . “Damn,” I continue my complaints . “One day I am sitting in vomit, the next in mud; what the hell is tomorrow going to bring?”
“Shush,” hisses Liz . “I thought I heard voices .”
We meet our first survivors.
Around us, I hear the scuffling of crabs, the hoot of a Tawny owl on the far bank across from us, and the chatter of young male voices followed by the growl and bark of a dog .
“Shush, boy .” I hear called out, and the dog falls quiet but maintains that growling in our direction . “What’s up? Found a rabbit?” The voice continues chatting quietly away to the animal as he steps past him . I now see his white face come to life in the darkness . Grabbing his body, my palmed hand crosses his face, cuts out further chatters and any screams he may throw out to his friend alerting him to the danger
Dave moves past me, and I hear branches breaking and scuffling
ahead, then the dog goes frantic with his barking and snapping . “Call off the dog and tell him to come here,” I tell the kid and
release the hand that covers his mouth .
With the dog called off, it once again becomes quiet, and Dave brings in his captured, kicking, little brat . “We will not hurt you, kid,” I tell him . “So be damn quiet, okay?”
“Okay, mister,” he mumbles . “You ain't got that plague thing have you?”
“Not likely, kid. Do you?” I fire back.
“Not seen anything on me body so hope I am clean .”
He is gaining in confidence and a little surer of himself now.
“Live around here?” I ask . He clams up .
“Look, kid, people out there are dying and it will get worse, so if you’re worried about having done anything against the law forget it; there won’t be anyone to kick your ass the way things are .” He says nothing .
His mate sneaks a look at me with beady foxy eyes that miss nothing . Making up his mind, he fully looks my way . “We have been living in one of the old houses not far from here . Went out tonight to try and find some food and got lost and found our way back just a minute ago .” Loudly stated by his friend, who had done his talking and answered my questions but the other still says nothing. I feel his defiance heavy in the air around us so direct my next question to the one that does his talking .
“Take us to your hide out,” I tell him, “and we will see if we can help in any way .”
Liz steps forward . “It’s okay, once we have cleaned up, we’re being on our way, no questions asked, and nothing demanded . . . deal?”
“Deal,” he calls back and is off ahead of us, pushing aside small bush and overhanging branches . We trundle along after them making good progress now that we follow someone who knows where their going with any certainty .
Taking us to the back of the house, he sneaks under, between the floorboards and the earth, and after several moments opens the back door, and we trundle in . He strikes a match and puts it to a candle sitting in a candlestick. The wick flickers and then bursts into flames, sending out golden light that spreads around, and bringing to life the dark drapes that cover each of the win- dows along with the tatty old furniture from a bygone age .
“Coo, mister, you sure stink, and why you wearing those suits?”
“All in good time, dude .” I tell him . “Let's get cleaned up
first, and then I will answer all your questions.”
He moves ahead of me and then stops, turning back he now faces me .
“No hot water here, just cold, and no shower or bath, just the sculleries sink. We thought if we wanted to bathe, we could fill up the tubs in the sink and wash that way .”
“Not a very good guest house this place,” he comments and his mate and him burst out giggling .
I give him a friendly push .
“Okay, lead the way . Let's gets rid of this puke,” I say .
They scamper ahead of me, and I wonder what their story is going to be. Allowing the flame of the candle to lick the bottom of another he holds, he then proceeds to secure it to a shelf and lights the wick . Taking stock of my surroundings, I see it is very basic--no modern luxuries .
Filling both tubs, I shuck the suit and wash it clean of the sludge, along with everything else I possess . Then using the oth- er tub, I set about to clean myself of the mud and sweat .
“Any soap, kid?” I ask .
“Don’t know, I haven’t bathed here yet,” said by him with a half grin on his face . The saucy bugger I think to myself .
Stepping past him, I throw open the cupboards doors and search, coming up with large bar of yellow soap .
“There we are . Now I can get rid of that crap and smell a little better .”
He holds my cleaned gun in his hand, and my heart misses a beat, I take no notice as a bluff, and he slides it back into the holster, adjusts the puckered webbing of the belt, and puts it back where he found it .
“You going snorkelling, err no, that’s not right, yeah that’s it diving, with those bottles and suits?”
Standing there with the water dripping off me, I ask him . “You got a towel, or do I hunt for one myself?”
He laughs . “Sorry, not used to having to look after someone; never had guests before .” Once more, he smirks at his own joke . He now hunts around, doing me the favour of finding something to use as a towel .
“This old blanket any use?” He holds it out to me . I take it out of his kindness to help me, more than my desire to have the rough blanket running over my skin .
Damn, feels horrible and makes me want to itch . However, I hold my tongue .
He continues his chitchat, “Don’t think my dog is going to complain because you’re using his bed blanket .” He mumbles, “He always was good at sharing .”
His sense of humour tickles me pink, the little shit, but in such a short time, I have come to like this kid .
Wrapping the blanket around me, we return to the others who are sitting in the kitchen gazing at Liz while she throws a meal together using this and that, scavenged from the pantry going by what I see that is spread over the top of the bench .
“Lucky they have gas here so we can cook but can’t promise how good it is going to be,” she chats away with the boys who seem to have taken to her .
“Got any more candles?” I ask the kid .
“Help yourself, lots in that drawer over there .” Pointing to a large oak table with lots of drawers that sits across the other side of the room .
I take my lit candle for a walk to check the place out, and maybe I can find something to slide into for a while giving my- self a rest from that suit and this equally foul doggy blanket .
The kid follows me, and the dog follows him as I go from one room to another .
The library has row upon row of bookcases and a large metal case in a small room just off from it . I know it to be a gun case and check its handle . To my surprise it opens, and there sitting in racks are several air rifles. A Webly, Diana, and several BSA all are good air gun brands, I tell the kid .
“You shoot?” I ask .
“Yeah sure,” he says with a sour look across his face .
I tell him, “I used to have one like these when I was your age, used to hunt rabbits, ducks, and even killed a fox that snuck into the chicken coop and was taking off with the chickens .”
“Are you for real?” The kid fires back at me in a gruff voice. “When you were my age? Think you're pulling my leg .” Nev- ertheless, I see his quick glance at the guns therein, now with a shine in his eyes that was not there before .
In addition, I am sure the desire is strong in him to know how to use it . “Choose one, kid . . . damn . . . what is your name
. . . keep calling you kid, you must have a name?”
“I do but if it is okay with you . . . if you continue . . . just calling me Kid . I like the name .”
“Fine by me,” I reply, a smirk hidden behind my closed face . “Now choose one . I suggest the Diana, it is a little lighter
than the others, and you will find it easier to lug around with you
when you hunt for dinner, its weight won’t tire you out .” “Would it kill a rabbit?” he asks as he holds it in his hands,
inspecting it as though it were the best toy ever .
“Sure . I used to use metal darts and always got them with one shot; needless to say you have to chase after them at times and make sure they don’t get away wounded .”
“Core, will you teach me to shoot it?” he says .
“I will answer that when we have eaten dinner . . . deal?” I ask . “Deal” he responds . I see a happy kid before me . I check around to see if there are pellets or slugs and find several boxes
that I pass to the kid .
“Here is your ammo, Kid; make sure you shoot to kill and do not waste the ammo . They may be hard to replace without going into town and that I do not suggest .” I see the scared look pass over his face, and the fear holds him briefly in it grasp, but he shakes his head, stuffs the ammo into his baggy pockets of his pants, and looks at me . “You need a rucksack to keep your stuff in, a good knife with a sharp blade, a belt to keep the knife on, and let us see what else we can find for you.” I sort through drawers and cabinets and come up with a good dirk on its own belt . I pass it to the kid while continuing my search .
The bedrooms next, and I find pants, although a little loose for me, but a good belt soon sorts that out, and a shirt keeps me warmer .
Returning below, we can smell Liz’s food, and my stomach rumbles in anticipation of the meal to come .
The kid lifts his nose, savouring the air . “Smells good,” he
chirps away as we increase our descent to the floor below.
“Food's not ready yet,” he tells me, and I continue the search-
ing in the rooms on the ground floor. “What you looking for?” he inquires . “Mobile phone,” I tell him .
“Who are you going to ring?” he asks .
“No one yet, but should I need to, then I want one to be able to do so,” I reply .
“You can have mine if you want .” He holds it out to me . I do not take it .
“Maybe you'll need to ring your folks or a friend so you had better keep it .” As soon as I said that, I knew I had really mucked up .
“They’re both long dead, from the plague, just the same as Peter’s folks, and his brothers, and sister—” His voice catches and he says no more .
Tears fill his large blue eyes, and when his eyes cannot hold anymore, the tears start sliding down his grubby chubby cheeks . A quick swipe with his shirt sleeve across his face removes the teardrops along with green snot that has run from his nose .
I do not want to say sorry--that is not what he wants to hear . I reach out for the phone that still sits in his held out hand . “Thanks, Kid, you are a real pal.” I ruffle his shaggy corn coloured, matted hair that has a thousand knots in it .
The call to dinner breaks the mood, and we take off, hop- ing to stuff ourselves with what delights Liz has created for us . Within no time at all, every plate is empty, and none of us are complaining that the others licked their plates clean, setting the mood for the rest to follow suit .
We sit around by candlelight, and I tell them what is taking place about them, why people are dying and how best not to let themselves be caught by the bug--how it is imperative that they keep away from other people and the towns .
They take it better than I would of at that age and I tell the kid so .
“Can't we come with you?” he asks .
“It’s dangerous, Kid. We are on the run and should they find us, bang, bang, and I lose two friends, and they take me away . If you're with me, it would be four bangs not two .”
“We'll chance the bang, bangs . If you can take us, we would come and help in any way we can .”
Damn, the little bastard is playing with my emotions . He knows deep down I am hooked, but this game of landing me is new to him . He plays it as he sees best, working it out as he goes along, there are no rules when it comes to survival, and you play all the cards and play to win . Losing is shoved aside; one never wants to view that outcome .
Knowing this myself, it is going to be hard to turn my back on them .
“I will work on it,” I tell him . “But, until you get my answer, I have to teach you to be somewhat of an expert shot .”
“I used to have one of those .” Dave pipes in . I tell him about the gun case upstairs, and he takes off with Peter not too far behind him .
Dave comes to me . “Found this .22 in the wardrobe upstairs in the boy’s room . Must have belonged to house owners boy; it is going to be of help I am sure .”
I see Peter has one of the BSA’s and a box of slugs; the boys chat away excited to try things denied to them in the past .
Later, with the sun coming up, Dave takes off with Peter as his guide to check out the boat shed that the kid said was at the bottom of the Garden. Liz has gone searching around to find some clothes and have a flannel wash, as she calls it, in the scullery sink.
“Okay, Kid . Let's set up a target in the library and get you some practice with that gun . . . what do you say?” I ask him .
“Yeah, please, I would like that . Although I am not sure I
will be any good at this,” he mumbles the last few words .
“Well if we don’t have a go we’re never going to find out
what you can and can’t do . You need to have a go, Kid, never be
frightened to have a go . If you do shit, there are ways you can work on improving, so you’re less of a shit .”
He bursts out laughing . “You sure say it the way it is, don’t you?”
“Do I? I guess being an orphan and having to change my own nappies and make my own way I learnt to depend on my- self, never on another . So, do you want to see if you can shoot or not?”
“Yeah, I do, I really want to be good at this, and I will do all
I can to make it happen, Ben .”
We set up a target down the end of the room . It is an old cushion, and I pin a sheet of paper to it and draw some circles, then stick it on a chair . “How’s that?” I ask, and his enthusiasm is infectious as he jumps up and down .
“I can do this, Ben, I know I can .” He is so damn happy it makes me feel good inside and for a while now I have felt jubi- lant, happy, and not overwhelmed by what the future holds .
Running through the parts of the gun, I call them out, and he repeats them . Then I load it . “Make sure you never point a loaded gun at someone or something unless you intend to shoot it .”
“Okay, Ben .” He nods his head up and down and states, “I
won’t, Ben .”
Removing the slug from the gun, I pass it to him . “Now you do it .” He does it smoothly and with no hiccups, closes the breach, and passes the rifle back to me. For the next thirty minutes, he gets used to the feel of the gun, its small kick and weight. The pellets fire here and there but to give the kid credit, most hit that sheet of paper .
“How does it feel, Kid? Are you getting the idea?”
“You bet, Ben .” His delight jumps out before him, strong and
sure, filling the room, and bouncing off the walls and ceiling.
“Well, in a short time, a new dawn will come, and we will be waiting there for those rabbits that love to come out and nibble on the wet grasses.” I try to make it a game, to stir his imagina- tion, and my attempts fail miserably.“Gee, Ben, do we have to shoot them? I had a pet rabbit, and when I left after my parents died, I let him go . I had to give him a chance at survival; now you want me to shoot them?”
“You bet your last coin on that, because they are going to keep you alive out here. There is no pantry filled with food or takeaway cafes for you to go to when you are hungry . No mummy to make you dinner; you will eat because you can shoot . You'll live where others will die, you'll come through this because you have the shit guts to pull that trigger even if your pet should be sighted down that barrel . . . do you get what I am saying?”
I leave what I say hanging in the air . I have brutally attacked him to drive him into anger that I hope will carry him through .
I know I am hard with the kid, kicking in his universe, but all the fuck I want to do is give him a fighting chance, just a meagre chance, is that too much, I ask myself? I know what I do is right .
The tears once again gloss and fill his eyes; one large drop breaks loose and runs down his cheek . He looks at me, not once breaking contact with my eyes, and the look seems to reach deep from within him, lying bare his inadequacies and bringing to life his strong traits that push aside the weaker ones .
The grubby snot-dried end of the shirtsleeve dashes away the running teardrop, and then it moves the opposite way across his nose, with the arm ending up at his side .
“Let’s go hunting, Ben, never had rabbit before . Does it taste like chicken?”
“You bet, Kid, better than chicken.” I tell him.
“Hey, Kid.” I call to him as he turns to leave the room. “Prac- tice all you can and use the pillow target because you will be able to re-use the slugs as they don’t get damaged when they hit the pillow. Slugs are going to be a precious commodity, get me?”
Still half way in, and half way out of the room with his head turned in my direction, he answers me. “I hear you loud and clear, Ben, and thanks,” leaving whatever else he had wanted to say trapped within his mouth, unspoken, held back. I let it be.
The kid is only about fourteen years old, and I demand he be a man, a hunter, and a provider.
I cannot let my sentiments cut in and allow the kid to feel he cannot do what I demand of him. He is controlling his own shit to give up, and die, and he kicks back winning and finding a side of himself that he likes and will get him through, no matter the odds. It is that side that I must work with and nothing else.
The pre-dawn light begins to break the darkness away, and the shadows run away from the land as light beams shoot into the sky just before the sun breaks free and moves into view. The dew is heavy across the land, catching the light beams and turning the dewdrops into small rainbows for as far as the eyes can see.
We move away from the house, into the dew thick grass, and across the grounds . The slippers I had found to cover my feet are sodden in no time and squelch on each forward motion. Kicking them loose, I now move forward without any sounds across the back lawn and to the fields before the river.
“There’s one, Ben.” quietly says the hunter at my side as he points to the creature not far away. “Well, shoot him, or he will soon be long gone.” I whisper back, as we both now crouch down on one knee. My gun sights him, and I wait for the kid to try before taking the small fluffy thing out. The small fury crea- ture sits on his rump and then looks our way.
I hear the quiet sound of his gun going off, and the rabbit jumps and scuffles away slowly, wounded, and unable to make much haste. I call out, “Load again, and make the kill before he finds the strength through his fright to take off.” He fumbles in loading, beat- ing his desire to run and leave his fury friends alone, but he wins the inward battle, the gun goes off, and the creature lay’s unmoving.
Hey, I think to myself. I am most surprised that the kid did so well, with so little practice. Nevertheless, I guess we all have more skills within, which we never have to tap into to meet our daily existence.
In my day dreaming state, I missed that he had taken off. Just before he reaches the rabbit, he drops to one knee once more, and the gun goes off.
On coming to his side, he tells me we need two rabbits to feed us all. I ruffle his shaggy hair. “Damn I am proud of you.” His beaming face tells me more that words can. “Let’s col-
lect dinner,” he calls back to me and is off ahead to collect his other prize.
Returning to the house, we pass where the old kitchen gar- den lies in an overgrown state with weeds and grass in greater abundance than what had been set to grow.
“Let me show you something, Kid .” Taking him to the veg- gie plot, I point out a bunch of carrots. I pull two out, then an old cabbage gone to seed but parts still edible, and a row of potatoes. Digging up a plant, I lay the potatoes out . He collects them up, stuffing them into pockets that fill fast, and then he slides them into his shirt front, mud and all.
“Over past the playground, Ben, there is a place with lots of things growing .” He says this with a knowing look. Collecting what we have pulled or dug up, we return to the house.
Dave and Peter chat away at the other end of the firing range we had set up earlier, and Peter sends off one shot after another. I hear from the kitchen, “Well done... bull's-eye.” Peter’s laugh- ter and enthusiastic chattering bounce back to us.
Liz shows the kid how to cut up the rabbit and cook it while I set to making an escape hatch that goes through the floorboards in the library .
They ned to be able to slip out unobserved should anyone come to the house and enter it. I show them what I have made, suggest that they only leave this way and keep the front and back door locked, and use their other way in as they have always done. This way the escape hatch will not show itself.
Dave shows off the old pair of oars found in the boat shed and the rusted oar rowlocks that will have to be cleaned up to give us the better use of them.
Dave tells me over our food that after the meal he wants to check the other boatshed further up the river and on the other side.
The kid and Peter have been shooting nonstop at their tar- gets, and now I interrupt them.
I ask the kids…“Do you want to come exploring with us?” They need no second asking, and the five of us set out. Suited up I lead the way. I need to ensure all is well and no danger exists ahead; it would be a disaster for us all to run into anyone with the bug, and so I have chosen to be where I am.
We see the other house through the trees and head in that direction, moving from one group of trees as camouflage to an- other.
The house door is locked, and wooden shutters cover all win- dows, even the little window sticking out of the roof. I assume it is an attic room. The gardens are trim and well kept; the back vegetable patch is full of delights. The fruit trees hang with an abundance of apples and plums. The kids are into those apples, munching away with a couple of others stuffed into pockets that weigh their pants down, showing their grubby underwear.
The house sits on poles raised above the ground, and I as- sume that the area is prone to flooding. Dave and Peter take off for the boat shed, and I attack the door with an old spade found in the garden shed. In no time, we stand in the well-lit hallway where bright sunlight shines down from round skylights that run down the hallway, light spills into the rooms from the hallway through glass windows above the doors to the rooms beyond, giving a gentle mellow light therein.
The first room we enter has an old stuffed suite of furni- ture, dustsheets cover each piece, and it looks as though not used much at all by those that had once lived here . The opposite room across the hallway is empty, no linoleum, just bare floorboards, and old peeling wallpaper with a faded pattern of flock flowers from eons ago. The flowers have dropped their flock particles to the floor where they sit piled up close to the skirting boards that run all around the room.
Closing the door, we proceed to the next room, a sitting room with an old TV that must be one of the originals and with the most odd looking radio I have ever seem. I try it out, it works, and I see an old battery that runs the thing wired to it and laugh that such an antique would still be in use. I roll the tuner along the small dial and all is quiet across the waves. Turning it off to save its battery, we proceed to the next room.
Now a library, and there above the fireplace, sitting across two wooden pegs, is an old shotgun. The kid snatches it down, inspecting every part of it as though checking it over to ensure all the attached pieces are there.
I rummage through drawers and cupboards and come up with several red-coated cartridges that I slip into my shoulder bag. The small box of lead slugs I found get passed to the Kid who in his own explorations has found a Diana pistol slug gun. “Can I keep this?” he asks of me.
“Sure,” I tell him.
He breaks the silence of opening drawers and sliding cup- board doors . “It feels funny taking other peoples things and walking about in their house, makes me feel funny inside.”
“Yeah I know what you’re saying, but you have to override those feelings . We do what we do to survive, that we must do above all other ideas or considerations, okay?”
“Don’t keep saying okay as though I don’t understand what you’re telling me... I do. I see what I have to do. I know one day and I hope it is not too soon, I may have to pull the trigger of a gun, but it won't be a rabbit that I shoot.”
There are no glossy tears this time, just a strong glare thrown my way and a resolve that life as he knew it is long gone. It is all up to him whether life ceases or goes on for Peter and himself.
I do not hit back at his angry outburst. I see his giant strides in understanding what lies ahead and how he has to leave his childhood ideas behind him and learn skills well beyond his years.
“Well, I am glad you came to that conclusion on your own, for the life of me I couldn’t work out how I was going to ap- proach that point. Shooting a fellowman is going to occur--that I can guarantee you.”
I tell him how to identify the red blotches of the small pox and any other disease that show the signs that I know.
“Don’t let any person showing those signs on them get close to you, or Peter, or your dead.” He seemed to have taken what I said without any problem.
“What if someone doesn’t have the markings and yet tries to take what we have.” He asks this quietly, not sure yet what shooting a person is going to involve, how can he judge that... this is what I pick up from him.
“You’ll have to play it by ear. If they need help and you can give it, then do so. If they try to take what you have, and that endangers your well-being, then you try reasoning with them. The last resort is pulling the trigger. Nevertheless, hey, while you are working this all out with them that gun barrels never leaves covering them. Got it?” “Yeah, Ben, I got it, but I also know that a slug gun won't stop anyone.” Moreover, he leaves the rest unsaid; his words hang in the air between us. My unspoken answer sits in my mouth jammed be- tween two rows of teeth . I feel such a shit putting this kid through all this worry. I carry on, overriding my feelings; this is pure survival,
and this kid had better get the best out of me for his own sake.
I hold out my hand, and he passes me the shotgun. I break the breach and slide in two cartridges, close the breach and slide on the safety catch. “Keep that on all the time unless you’re pointing it at someone, okay.” He beats the tears again, and my heart goes out to him.
“You can’t take us where you’re going can you?” I do not say anything. What can I say that will cheer him up and make life better for him?
“We really have to do this on our own, don’t we?” He asks this as though realizing for the first time that they are going to be alone and will only have each other to fall back on .
“The only thing I can say, Kid, is that I will try and find you when I have an answer to the bug problem . . . and you had better be around for me to find.” I say the hated, “Okay?” I say it with such force that my own emotions show for the first time.
He throws his small frail body at me and embraces me. Through the last of his tears, I hear. “I will be waiting for you with Peter. You can bet on that, Ben, bug, or no bug.”
Further exploration of the house reveals three bedrooms and the parents' retreat upstairs. The bathroom is a delight with hot water from a solar hot water system . What a luxury
Rummaging through the boy's room, the kid finds clothing that fits and a school shoulder bag; he empties his pockets into it and throws it over his shoulder.
I fill the bath, find towels, and take off my clothes to clean my body. I am not about to throw the chance to bath away, as one never knows when the next chance will arrive.
I scrub away, shampoo my hair, and call to the kid to find me a razor. “Leave the water in; I will use it next,” he calls out.
“I will clean the bath and run another for you,” I call back. I
stand there with water dripping from me.
“It’s okay. Dad used to bathe first, and then my mum and I were always last, it was always that way. Ours was an old tin tub that Dad used to sit next to the roaring fire, and Mum would boil the copper to fill the tub with hot water. After we all had finished, I used to help Dad tip the water out over the lawn, him holding the handle one end and me the other.”
He chats away as he shucks his filthy clothing, and I see the ground-in dirt that cakes his body. His skin is dirty white apart from his legs, hands, and arms, which are a much dirtier shade. “Get in and scrub hard mate, you may have to empty the
water as it gets dirty and refill it.” I playfully tell him.
“Nah, Ben, Mum used to skim the scum from the top of the water after they had bathed, and it were fine for me.”
There is little I can say about this and so say nothing. I lather and shave, and it feels good to get rid of the thick dark whiskers that grow so fast and after a day or two blackens my face.
“You’re not old are you? You look so different after shaving I thought you were an old man.” He laughs out heartedly. I laugh with him and tell him to soap up again as his skin still looks grimy. He stands within the water and lathers up and with a rag cloth; he found hanging from a nail over the bath. He attacks his body vigorously, soap bubbles take to the air and float around him, and he lashes out at them, laughing just like any kid.
“When do kids get real bushy hair?” Although he had not said where I know what he asks, and so impart brotherly information that he tells me his dad had never told him. With all his ques- tions exhausted, he scampers from the bath that shows dark scum across the top and proceeds to dry his thin wet body. I must say he had done a good job on that white skin of his and tell him so.
After cleaning the bath, he dresses in his chosen clothing and packs others he likes into his shoulder bag.
From the master bedroom, one can see for miles across open fields, with spinneys of trees grouped here and there, these break up the landscape and hides the house from any person on foot that may venture across the open fields beyond.
We sit on the lawn munching deep red apples and drinking tea sweetened with condensed milk found in a well-stocked larder. There are shelves of bottled preserves of one kind or another-- pears, beetroot, peaches just to name a few. They would last for a good time. With us both clean and dressed in odd-looking cloth- ing found in one room or another, we continue our explorations.
The trip to the boatshed bought dividends in goodies. A tinny with a small outboard that runs on power from two large batter- ies, and I know from experience they are very quiet when they are on the go, although a bit slow.
The batteries are flat and need charging up, and the portable solar panel found with the boat soon does that job. Oar row- locks, oars and everything else for use with the tinny are here. Over all, a nice little package but small and will be a tight fit for three . While the batteries charge, we chat away . I answer all his questions about the gun and then tell him how to clean it without damage to the barrel.
He learns fast. He tells me he hated school and was quite a dunce as he puts it. I tell him that may be so in a classroom, but out here, he excels and is a born survivor, the hunter that gets his kill, and these skills will make the difference to his future.
“It is you three that have made that possible. As I once said and will say again, we will survive, and we will meet again,” he states this whilst looking me right in the eye.
Over our meal, I give them the news that I have held onto all day.
“We must leave tonight,” I say, and his eyes break contact with mine, and then return with a defiant mask in place over his face to hide the kid underneath.
“What can we do to help?” he asks.
“You could both be on the path along the river checking that no one is ahead. When the sun goes down, we will move off, and you can return here,” I quietly state.
I give the kid and Peter the last of my thoughts, “I think this place is better as a base; it’s easier to defend, and stocked with abundant food and hot water to keep you both clean.” I laugh and he smiles at me. “Take what you need from your other hideout and bring it here, but do not follow the same paths twice; make it look deserted and no humans present that will be the best defence you will have . One last thing--set up a target well away from the house that can be seen from your upper attic window . Learn to hit that target from there; it will help you be better shots.”
They both take the advice in, and I see the kid place his arm across Peter’s shoulders as though to say, “Hey, I will get us through this.”
Dave, Liz, and I take a few apples and a jar or two of pre- serves and load all our gear into the boat. We have discarded wearing the suit for the time being, and our attire now is the scavenged items from one house or the other, not the best but adequate.
Liz sits waiting in the boat as ave and I say our farewells . I hear Dave tell Peter, “Now do not forget the .22 is not a toy; just do as I told you, and you will be fine.”
I break away as the kid comes my way, holding out another cell phone with car and wall chargers.
“I think you’re going to find you will use the car charger more. I don’t think the electric will be on in many places, if at all,” he states.
He is thinking ahead like a born worrier, and I tell him so. He holds out his hand, gripping mine, as good as any grown man’s grip, and I tell him, “See you around, Kid, and keep a lookout for me.”
“I will, Ben, and make sure you kick the ass of that fucking pox virus that killed my folks.”
“I promise I will.”
Turning from him, I step into the boat.
“Hey, Ben, you forgot this.” Turning back to face him I see my holster and gun in his hand. I shake my head. “Take care of Peter now; make sure you use it well,” are my last words as the boat pulls away, and we leave them standing on the river bank.
“I will, Ben” and he sticks the handgun into his belt whilst still holding the holster in the other hand. With Peter at his side, they hurry along the river path to ensure all is clear ahead of us.
The night comes along, the crickets call out, and the crabs scuffle here and there. We call our last farewells. I hear his last call in return . “Good luck getting to the ship; I will keep a look- out for you, bye for now my friends.”