The house was small. The man, who told them his name was Joe, was lying unconscious on the bed upstairs. Noah had supported him most of the walk, which had taken the better part of an hour during which time he had lapsed in and out of consciousness. There was no sign of any other inhabitants of the wooden house, it was crowded with books and papers, leaving little room for anything else. Noah was soaked through with sweat and weak with hunger, he struggled to catch his breath in the stale air of the house. Lily passed him a water bottle, he drank slowly, cheeks flushed.
He surveyed the space, speaking haltingly between gulps of water, ‘We should be safe in here for now, it looks like the place has been closed up since the bomb. Emily, stay here and see if you can find any food or provisions, and keep an eye on our new friend. I’ll check out the barn.’
‘I’ll come with you’ said Lily standing and heading to the door, Emily rolled her eyes. She put Ben down near a pile of books as Lily and Noah closed the door behind them. Ben slumped onto the carpet, she handed him some water and he drank it listlessly.
She assessed the downstairs of the house, the cluttered front room led directly into the kitchen, she traced her fingers over the books that covered almost every surface, the covers were dusty and she picked one up, A Dark Turn, Joe Weaver, the picture on the back cover was a younger, handsome version of the frail man sleeping upstairs, somehow he looked familiar to her. The blurb read ‘a terrifying look at the veiled truth of climate change.’ So, he was an conservationist, much good it’s done us, she thought. She placed the book down and turned her attention to the kitchen, slits of light stole through the black bin liners that covered the windows, it wasn’t as cluttered as the front room and had the distinct look of neglect. She searched the cabinets methodically, most were bare, only producing a few boxes of crackers and canned beans that were stacked neatly in the cupboard above the stove and half a drum of water that was stored under the sink. She wondered how people had survived out here after the string of catastrophes that had ravaged the area, it started with the floods, most of the country was affected but none more so than here, in fact, only London had remained relatively unscathed by them, the floodgates, although close to bursting many times, had won the battle against the wall of water that battered it relentlessly. Hundreds of thousands had lost their homes, and many their lives. She recalled watching the images flash on the news, the presenters had told them time and again not to be concerned, that the worst of it was over, that the government was doing all they could. Funny that when the first year of the drought arrived, people had celebrated. At first it had only been a month, and then two, and finally years passed and not a drop had fallen. It had taken only four years for the riverbeds to dry out completely, leaving everyone wishing for the days of floods.
She sighed and filled their bottles with the water from the drum, but couldn’t bring herself to take the food, it was clear this man had nothing left, she couldn’t sentence him to death.
Noah used a rock to crack open the rusted lock on the barn, Lily followed him in, it was cooler in there than in the blazing midday heat outside and they stood basking in the cool dark room.
‘So, what’s Emily’s deal? She doesn’t seem very fond of me.’ Noah asked.
Lily sighed, ‘Em’s had it hard, to be honest I don’t always know what’s going on in her head, she can be so guarded. When Ben..,’ she stopped, catching herself, ‘What I mean is she takes on a lot of responsibility for Ben and I. Come on, let’s see what we can find in here.’ She could have kicked herself, she couldn’t tell Noah what had really happened, she must be losing her mind!
They approached a large wooden cupboard in the far end of the barn, she opened it, exposing a row of farming equipment. She grabbed an axe and screwdriver and tucked them into her backpack.
Noah helped himself to the rope, he paused and inhaled deeply, ‘It’s strange, it smells damp in here,’ he said, ‘you smell it?’
‘Now that you mention it, yes. There’s no way the wood is rotting.’
The barn floor was covered in thick piles of hay, Lily walked carefully, stopping every so often to clear it with her foot, ‘Bingo!’
‘What is it?’ Asked Noah, bending down to survey the area where she stood.
‘I think it’s a well! Come on, help me with this lid.’ They pushed aside the heavy concrete cover, exposing a deep crevice, it was unmistakable, there was water down there.
Lily had grabbed the bucket hanging from the hook and tied the rope to the handle, plunging it into the opening. She hauled it up slowly, producing a full bucket of beautiful, albeit murky, water.
Noah pulled the bucket out and scooped some water into his hands examining it, ‘We shouldn’t drink it until we know it’s safe, but we can use it to wash off, stop any further radiation poisoning.’ Without warning he pitched the water over Lily’s head, she gasped as the water drenched her, she hadn’t expected it and for a moment she was furious until she caught sight of his playful smile. She laughed, grabbing the bucket and tossing the remaining water on Noah. They collapsed, laughing and dripping on the straw floor. Lily felt her heart speed up at his proximity, his hair was slicked back, his pale eyes dancing. She could tell he was about to reach out to her, and her body shivered involuntarily.
She turned away quickly and pulled herself up, afraid to get caught in the moment, ‘Come on. Let’s get Em and Ben down here, God knows they both need a wash.’
The three of them sat around the small dining room table in the front room, which Emily had cleared of books. Ben was sleeping on the sofa, worn out after his bath. They had all scrubbed themselves pink, hoping to remove any trace of the residual radioactive material. They picked at a small pile of food, walnuts from Emily’s bag and a can of peas from Noah’s. The sparkling optimism of the well had worn off slightly and they felt uneasy as the sun once again sunk into the horizon. The man had not yet resurfaced, although Emily had managed to rouse him for long enough for him to drink some water and eat some crackers. Noah had a map spread out in front of him, he was unsure of their exact location, but he knew they were somewhere south-west of Nottingham. If they could believe Joe, picking up supplies in the city was out of the question. He traced a pen up the map, following the main road, there were so many towns out here once, now, nothing, a veritable wasteland.
‘We have a long way to go before hitting the border, I hoped to get much farther before we ran into any trouble.’
‘I hoped not to run into any trouble at all,’ said Emily.
Noah laughed, ‘You obviously don’t get out much.’
Emily sneered at him.
‘Hey, cut it out you two,’ Lily snapped, ‘shh, I think I hear something.’
They turned their heads towards the stairs as the man stepped down gingerly. He looked slightly better than he had earlier, but then again, they thought he was dead so anything would have been an improvement.
Lily got up and helped him to the table and pouring him some water.
‘Looks like you discovered my water supply,’ Joe said, noticing the girls’ still drying hair, ‘My apologies but I didn’t get your names.’
‘I’m Lily, this is my sister, Emily,’ Lily pointed around the table, ‘and this is Noah. How are you feeling? We weren’t so sure you were going to make it.’
‘I’m OK, thank you. I was out in the sun for a while, seems I was lucky enough to fall in your path, otherwise I might be dead. Speaking of, what brought you along the track?’ His voice was polite; however, his eyes were probing. Emily suspected he wasn’t as naive as he looked.
Noah answered, ‘We were heading North when our train broke down, we were trying to find some shelter and food.’ It wasn’t the truth but nor was it a bare faced lie.
‘Hmm, how fortunate that we crossed paths then,’ His face remained impassive.
‘You said that everyone in the city was dead, do you know what happened to them?’ Emily asked, trying to steer the conversation away from them.
‘Ah, yes, I had heard that there was a rebellion forming against the government, it was gaining momentum. Apparently enough so that the military blocked the city off, starved them, and shot anyone to tried to escape. Quite a mess. The barriers were still there, but no guards from what I could see, the shops on the peripheries were completely empty.’
Lily and Emily exchanged glances, both could read the fear on each other’s faces.
‘I saw your book, you’re a scientist?’ Asked Emily, Noah and Lily were surprised, she had not mentioned it before now.
Joe looked mildly taken aback, ‘Yes, you could say that. I am, or rather was, a climatologist, or as the government would have it, liars who are out to ruin everyone’s nice warm day.’ His voice was full of spite.
‘I remember when I was very young seeing someone on TV saying Britain was tired of experts,’ said Lily, ‘Our mother was an ambassador, she lobbied for stronger laws to protect the environment, as I’m sure you are very aware no one listened.’
‘We tried to warn them, so many times,’ he sounded tired again, ‘no one understood that it would happen so fast, no one believed so much could change in a generation.’
‘So, what is this uprising about? Do they think there’s still time to change things?’ Asked Noah, he had been mostly quiet and watchful of the man.
‘They seem to think so, although I disagree. There’s no going back now, I expect they are just after blood, they want to see the government suffer as much as they have.’ He paused, closing his eyes, ‘I think that is enough questions for today, I am weak. I invite you to stay in the barn, we can talk more tomorrow.’
Copyright © 2019 Katy Moran
Image by ractapopulous on Pixabay
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.