There were no sounds.
It was not so long ago, this would have been a blessing.
2 months ago, the bark of angry and starving dogs pursued me 3 miles. Whenever I felt I had escaped them by climbing, or through a door which I closed behind me, or some other way not designed for the less intelligent on 4 legs, their desperation found a way around. So I was forced to run.
The effort and energy expenditure itself might have killed me, if I had run much longer. Food was no longer reliable and I had not eaten for some days. Luck more than anything else helped me escape them.
A month or 2 before that, the dogs were not so. There were still people around.
Starving and desperate people, they were the danger. Now there were not even dogs. They had also likely starved. And I hadn’t seen a person in a month.
I walked along the path along the water, next to the large and idle ships which would bring whatever their cargo into the minor port city. Looking up I beheld the sky again.
It was almost noon.
6 Months before
I woke to a clear day with the noise of loud kids and sounds of getting breakfast ready. My wife had worked in the city and woke earlier to help cook. I worked later and at home, but I felt obligated to get up to help with the kids.
So I stretched myself as much as my 40 year old body could comfortably do without injuring myself and made my way to get ready. As I wandered downstairs a few minutes later, I could hear the TV on and the newsreader.
Some argument again between America, Russia and China. Not quite a cold war, more of a cold shoulder, many concluded. But it had been getting worse.
In 1961, Life Magazine became political and published a story of a poor Brazilian family to garner support for US help in the Americas, saying these poorer countries were at risk of becoming communist like Cuba. Something similar was happening now, only it was a bit more blatant I felt. Media were quickly becoming anti-Russian and anti-Chinese. Any new hack or hint of virus were implied to be Russian or Chinese attacks. Most likely the news of those countries would be even more vicious against the US.
Downstairs our son and daughter were sitting obediently at the kitchen table eating. Toast and some eggs. Our son was incredibly mild mannered and his innocence was doted upon by us, especially his mother. Our daughter was more effusive generally. She was the bright kid in any group. Before her I could never had believed I could love kids as much. Ange was 1 year older than Nathan at 7. I could only imagine in future years how she would be trouble for boys and perhaps for us.
We had the cheerful breakfast and laughs and hugs that we had on most days, before the kids went to school and Liz went to work. As I dropped the kids off I gave Nathan a pat and Ange a hug and a kiss.
By 2pm the world would go to hell.
I needed to find food, which is why I ventured close to the water. Of course most of the fish had died. The dead fish floating had then not been eaten as not much remained to eat them. Those that were would have transferred their toxins to the next fish.
This is what I was told by the man trying to fish 3 months before. He said he had heard it. He wasn’t fishing for normal fish, he was trying to catch squid, whom he hoped were not so affected. News had stopped a month before so we did not know if this was sensible or a death wish. But people had been starving.
Apparently they had detonated nuclear devices under the water but with a shorter half life to kill the food sources around the US. But the war had quickly become a world war and there were few countries which did not get involved in the end. The tactic was used elsewhere and most likely killed much more than was useful for any victor.
I ventured to the docks in hopes of finding some container, or some source of canned food. The ships were the first things to stop once war started and I hoped, without any practical information which told me it would be so, that something was left behind. With the rush of people to safety ships might not be unloaded.
I managed to board a ship. As I stepped on board I heard a sound, an abrupt sound of something metal on something hard. A man-made sound. The first I had heard in 2 months.
2pm - 6 Months ago.
I had just finished lunch at my local cafe before I heard a commotion. Not one of a few people arguing about something, something more broad. Like in a crowd of people murmuring about some development not everyone could see, but as words of explanation and question rustled through the people in waves.
There were people talking, in the streets, in the cafe. Then after 10 seconds a woman running in heels, other people looking around. I did not know what was happening and then glanced at my phone as a message buzzed through.
“We’ve been attacked” - said the message from my friend Bill.
Then the sky turned red without transition.
As I raced through the traffic in my car to the school, I tried calling my wife. The phone was not getting through. Luckily the school was local and it was only 10 minutes but I was not the first one there. I decided to park the car in a spot where I could quickly leave from, the next street up and ran the next 2 minutes to the school. I quickly found my daughter, carrying her to find my son however, there was a roar. As I looked out to the west I could see the buildings doing something… like trees shedding leaves. It was coming this way. I had no time to think, made a snap decision and darted to the door labelled - Caretaker. Assuming the caretaker had his stores underground I flung it open and ran down as quickly as I dared carrying Ange.
As I got to the bottom steps it hit us.
I moved towards the source of the sound, tested my unpracticed voice - “Hello?”
My voice croaked and I tried again, clearer this time - “Hello?”
I made careful steps, making sure I stayed in the open as much as I could. Finally I could no longer and went between 2 containers. The passage between was not wide but wide enough to fight if required. I passed through however and rounded it, on the right side it opened to nothing. The container on the left however turned into a darker spot and at the end was something I did not expect.
A little girl.
Dirty, bedraggled, clucking a stuffed rabbit almost as large as her.
She looked at me. Anxious and fearful, but to me every bit as needy as my Ange was.
2.30pm - 6 Months ago.
I had waited a while, till any noise passed. It became so quiet I felt I must have been in error coming down here. After a time I felt must have been enough, I balanced my need to protect my daughter with the need to find my son.
The phone was more useless now as reception had died.
Before I went up, I decided if there was a nuclear bomb, I would need some protection. Finding clothes and cloth and towels, I ran the water for a minute or more before soaking them. Covering both of us, I carried my daughter up the stairs.
A nuclear bomb often leaves both the devastation of the blast and the radiation to kill those who survive it. What I saw was not so much a blast, most of the building and windows were intact but clearly the leaves outside had been much stripped from the trees, but a different aftermath.
The sky and air had a red hue, but we also saw why it had now become quiet.
Most people were alive. But they were not ‘alive’ in the sense that they would survive.
Instead they slunk along walls, many completely prostrate. Perhaps with some groans issuing from their open mouths. Most in fact were alive. But something had happened to them. I had to gauge the desire to find my son amongst them and the desire to protect my daughter. Surely it would not long before such a thing afflicted us. I raced quickly along the corridors to see if I could find Nathan’s classroom, shielding Ange’s eyes as much as I could, telling her to close them.
I was not thinking about how this bomb wasn’t like a normal nuclear bomb. How the red sky didn’t quite match my understanding, nor the condition of the people. I was thinking about time and how every second I needed to know about my son was a second of extra exposure and risk to us.
The little girl
The little girl was named Claire. She was 8 years old. My daughter would’ve been 8 in 2 months. I asked her about her family. They had survived she said, moved onto the boat down below. But they had caught the death.
I knew what that meant. The ‘death’ caught almost everyone. It wasn’t that we survived that initial bomb. There was something about it. Part radiation, part something else. Most people died from the exposure if they were not caught in the initial blast.
The radiation was somehow different in those bombs. It did not last like regular nuclear bombs. It killed more quickly but dissipated. Like alpha and beta radiation, but you had to be close to those as they got blocked. Gamma radiation lasted longer and could go through walls. Somehow this bomb could reach further but the half life was short, months only.
The red part, which turned the sky. That was different.
It poisoned people. Most people died within months. But like this little girl, I was someone more tolerant, maybe immune.
Most people died slowly from the inside over a period of 2 months. Like my daughter.
She told me there was some food down below, but was afraid to go down too often as her family was still there, where they had lain. I left her up top, got instructions and then went down to bring up the stores, as much as we could carry. Their bodies were like all the others, somehow sunken as if the insides disintegrated, leaving behind a body missing their insides.
We then carried as much as we could to a yacht I had found. Large enough to brave larger seas, with enough provisions to last a while. We cast off, hoping to move past the zone of destruction. Maybe an island somewhere off had survived. I would learn to sail as much as I could and the motor would help move us further.
I gave Claire a heart shaped locket. Inside was a picture of our family. My wife and I, our kids. I had taken it off her body as I laid her to rest. We would start anew.
Me and my new daughter.