‘So, what do you think of all that?’ Lily whispered, she was lying on her side facing Emily, Ben tucked between them. She couldn’t sleep, the floor was too uneven, and she couldn’t stop thinking about all the people that had lost their lives so brutally, and how they were incredibly lucky to still have theirs.
‘I don’t know, something seems off to be honest, I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I’ve seen him somewhere before. I’m glad that Ben was asleep, I don’t think he noticed him. I don’t want him knowing anything about him, you remember how Mum helped lobby for the restrictions on childbirth, she had backing from people like him.’ Emily said, the memory still haunted her.
Lily didn’t have the energy to defend their mother again, ‘I agree, something’s not right about him, he gives me the creeps. We’ll get back on the road tomorrow. We will make it to the border, I promise Em, we’ll make sure Ben is safe no matter what.’
‘And what about Noah?’ asked Emily, lowering her voice further and glancing to the far corner of the barn where Noah lay, his back to them, ‘you sure we can trust him?’
‘I think so, he hasn’t done anything to prove otherwise, so for now let’s say I am.’
‘You sure its him you trust and not what’s under his shirt?’ Emily voice was teasing, and Lily threw a handful of hay in her direction.
‘Oh, shut up, I’m not completely ruled by my libido you know. Now go to sleep, you’re keeping me up.
‘You’re the one who started it,’ said Emily indignantly.
Lily giggled, ‘Shh, go to sleep.’
Emily sighed and turned to lie on her back, the barn had no electricity, only a steady gas lantern burning in the corner, the wood creaked and settled, she tried to close her eyes but every time she did her mind conjured a monster, creeping just out of view.
Emily woke suddenly, her heart was thumping painfully and a sheen of sweat coated her face. She felt as though she had only closed her eyes for a second however the sunlight that bled through the crack in the barn door signalled otherwise. She had been so sure that the door was shut last night. Trying to shake the sleep and the deep, vacant hunger that hollowed her belly she reached for Ben. Her hands found only dry grass. Her heart seized and her throat tightened as she realised the spot between her and Lily was empty, as if he had never been there.
The film of sleep that had encased her mind was immediately lifted as she scanned the room for Ben. Lily was still sleeping, her back facing Emily. Noah was snoring lightly in the corner, his eyes darting feverishly under his lids. The air around her was unnaturally quiet, instinct more than anything else drew her silently outside as she heard the thud of a door closing. She ran the short distance to the house, ignoring the sun biting at her exposed skin. She pushed the door forcefully, expecting some resistance but instead finding none and stumbling into the hallway. Joe was standing, back to her, on the base of the stairs.
‘Please, just put him down, I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t hurt him,’ her voice was dry and tight.
Joe turned slowly, not taking his eyes off the sleeping child. Emily exhaled as she watched Ben’s small chest rise and fall.
‘Joe, please, just hand him back to me, whatever you want, it’s yours,’ she failed to keep the fear out of her voice.
Joe looked up, she noticed his face was wet with tears, he glanced down at the child cradled in his arms, seemingly surprised to find him there. She stepped closer, holding her hands non-threateningly in front of her. Joe stepped back unevenly and stumbled on the lip of the stair, falling to his knees. Ben didn’t wake but stirred in his arms, Emily sunk down in front of him, supporting Ben.
‘Just let go now.’
A strangled cry like a wounded animal escaped his lips as he released the child into her arms. Relief flooded her body having the weight of him back in her arms and hot tears slid down her cheeks.
Joe's eyes seemed to clear as he watched her cradling the child and his face flushed, he slumped back, his breathing was ragged and uneven.
‘Forgive me please, I just wanted to see him,’ he choked on his words, ‘he looks so much like Theo.’
Emily tore her eyes away from the sleeping boy, her anger dissipated as she watched him sob.
‘Who is Theo?’ She asked.
Joe turned his head away, the memory too painful to face, ‘He was my son, he’s gone now. We had a bad outbreak of flu a few years back. We all had it bad, the government refused to send antibiotics.’
Emily’s eyes widened, ‘Joe, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say.’
He looked back at her, ‘There are no words. I watched him suffer, he was so small, so weak. There was no way he could fight it, my wife passed first, Theo a few days later. I don’t know why I carried your boy in here, I swear I just wanted to watch him sleep, I don’t know what came over me,’ his eyes were red and pleading.
‘It’s okay, he’s okay, that’s all that matters. I would say can’t imagine how you feel, but the truth is it’s all I can imagine. Every second of every day I see a thousand ways in which Ben could be taken from me.’
‘Ben,’ Joe breathed the word, ‘he looks strong, you’ve done a good job. Better than I did. I should have tried harder, fought harder. Forgive me for asking, but is he yours?’
Emily hesitated, ‘Look, Joe..’
He interrupted, realising what he was asking, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me. I mean you and Ben no harm. I understand that sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we plan.’
Emily looked down at Ben, stroking his dark, soft hair.
She spoke softly, ‘He’s mine. It’s funny, I always wanted a baby, since I was a little girl. I was obsessed with my dolls, and I dreamed of meeting my husband and raising our little family, happily ever after and all that. I never in a million years expected this though.’
Joe flushed, ‘I knew, I wish I had done more, forced people to listen. They didn’t want to hear it though,’ he sighed, ‘Look Emily, I want to help you, where were you headed when you found me on the tracks?’
‘We’re trying to get to the Scottish border, my mum was born there so Lily has papers.’
Joe raised an eyebrow, ‘What about you and Ben?’
Emily avoided his gaze, ‘We’ll make it through. It’s not safe down here. A friend... well, someone we used to know, warned us about the attack on London, he said we need to leave. We got out just before the nuke hit.’
Joe’s eyes widened, ‘Jesus, go wake the others, we have to leave now.’
Emily sat back, startled, ‘Why, what’s wrong?’
‘Just go, now.’ He stood, pulling her up, Emily didn’t move. He grabbed her arms, his eyes were wild, ‘Emily you have to trust me,’ he shook her, ‘Go now!’
Copyright © 2019 Katy Moran
Image by sevenstyles 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.