By: Katy Moran
I bet others have sat here before me. Countless ones, no doubt. The grass down the gully looks like the sea. I see the thick plumes waving in the wind and think if they were jelly fish they could sting me. I watch them swim through eyes pinched together from the sun. Unlike yesterday when it rained almost all day. But I sit anyway, I always do. On the opposite hill I spot a roaming sheep. I imagine it was a cloud and could float away if it held its breath. Sometimes I see a cow too, I think. It is hard to say if it was always the same one. I’m not allowed to go too close to them. I know this hill well now. It was 320 paces to the top. I passed 14 jagged rocks, 32 medium boulders. I had climbed this hill 378 times. I haven’t counted the small stones yet. I am keeping those for a later. I counted 723 days since the atomic bomb blew up London. I am right too. Mom told me I was good at numbers.
I was 2447 days old when it happened. I remember because Mom made us a special sweet bread with a candle for my birthday which was 3 days before we left for Scotland. That was 1 day before it happened. The sirens yelled out from planes flying low over our house and Mom and I left that day. She told me the water would protect me, but she knows I hate to swim. We had packed our bags with food and Mom let me bring my bread in the car to eat and ‘keep quiet’ she said. I had to play hide and seek under a blanket when the men looked in the car. My Mom showed her blue book with stamps, but I had left my red one with a lion at home. She said they didn’t like lions here. I kept very still and hardly breathed. I pretended a dinosaur was outside and he could hear me moving if I even breathed one bit. Luckily, we went quickly because I started to even scare myself.
I had never been anywhere with so much green as Scotland. Mom said that England looked very green once, but climate change took all the water. But there is loads up here! Not sharing is mean, Mom always said. There were also still animals here. Like the sheep across the hill. I didn’t see a real one until I came here, I don’t really know what they are for. I had only seen a cat that lived with our old landlady. It yowled at me and scratched me on the hand so I do not like cats. When we got here we went into an old wood house that smelled like sour mud. Mom said horses lived in here once and I was a bit afraid because they are very big, but she said don’t worry there are no more left. Mom brought lots of books and we sat and read that night about what kind of plants and mushrooms we can eat. She said it would be a fun game to find some. We memorised pictures of brambles, wild garlic, dandelions and dulse. I thought she was lying that you could eat a flower! There river was good for water but didn’t help my rumbling belly. I dreamed that night that the earth split in two and I was falling and falling and falling but when I woke up the ground was really shaking! I yelled but Mom held me tight. We couldn’t breath well that night. Thick smoke came in under the doors and through the walls. I pretended it was a dragon and I was a brave knight and I wasn’t scared. But it was only pretend because I was scared.
The sun is falling now so I stop remembering when I was scared, and I pick up my bag of plants and I zoom down the hill. I do not count when I run because I do not want to fall. I jump over the stream and see the top of the wooden house. It is hard to see through the trees but I know where to look else you might never find it. It is the only one around here Mom said. I have walked for long times before, I counted up to a million once and never saw anything except for more green. I came back because Mom said not to go too far. She wouldn’t want me to get lost. I run into the house and swing the door closed behind me. I pretend a ninja is chasing me but now I am inside he can’t get me.
I pick up the pot from the dead fire. The paint is peeled now but its OK. I pour in water from the bucket like Mom said and start the fire. This morning before I was waiting I found some red spiked mushrooms and I think I have eaten them before, but I check the book anyway because I was wrong before and I won’t forget the hurt for a long time. I see the picture and I am happy because these ones I can eat. I start the fire like Mom showed me. Some dry shavings of wood and be very careful to blow some air on it. The fire flicks into life. We are friends me and the fire. I pretend he tells me stories sometimes. He sways and always does something funny like spray some wood at me when I am lonely. I say hello and give him the pot to cook the water. My tummy rumbles because I am hungry now. I eat the mushrooms which taste like ground and drink the water from the pot. After my dinner I lie on the yellow grass. I can see a billion stars through the hole in the roof that came last year after a very scary storm. It’s summer now so I am not worried. I try to not think of winter because the last one was very long and very cold. I listen to the fire whisper stories to me and I laugh because he is joking about being the sun. I close my eyes closed and count.
I open my eyes and the sun is burning me. I blink and all I see are red spots so I roll off the yellow grass and my face is hot. The fire has burnt up all my logs. I will run today and get more but I must hurry because I also need to wait. I put some water on my face and drink some because the heat is taking making my mouth dry. I take the bucket and close the door behind me. I am careful because the door is hanging by one nail now. I collect 10 big logs, 15 small branches and drag the bucket back. My tummy aches because I missed breakfast but I also because I am worried about how long it took to get the wood. I always go after the sun is in the first half of the sky because that is when Mom told me to wait. I don’t want her to think I am not there when she comes to get me. I run to the stream but I am tired so I do not jump as I normally do but step carefully. I count my steps up the hill. At 320 I stop counting because I am at the top.
When I reach the top I sit and wait. I have sat here every day and counted 489 days. Round numbers always make me most excited because I know that she will be back on a round number day. Today I am not excited because it is not, but tomorrow I will be more happy because 490 feels like a good number. Today I am in a bad mood because my skin feels like a blister. I am tired of waiting and I am tired of counting the rocks. I hope that the sheep I saw yesterday will turn into a cloud and stop the sun burning my skin but there is no sheep today and no clouds. I count under my breath. Every 60 seconds another minute. Mom used to count everything. She would count all the nails in the walls, all the letters in a word, sometimes she would count in her sleep. That is why I count too, she said our brains work in a special way. I think of when we counted together. We counted once how many days before we went on holiday. I was small then and sometimes mixed the numbers. After 20 days we went to the seaside on a big bus full of people. We counted 46 of them. The sea was so blue and so big. Mom tried to put me in the water and my head went under. I tried to shout out to her but the sour water filled my mouth. That is why I do not like to swim. We counted shells on the beach after that and it made me happier. We counted the days until my Dad came back. We counted a lot of days for that. He had to go and help the lions win against the Europeans. She told me the countries were all once friends but the lions thought they were strong enough alone. When we left London, she stopped counting.
I drag my feet down the hill as the sun, who is not my friend, falls. I am tired, hungry and sore. I stop at some nettles and pick them for my dinner. I hate nettles but I am too tired to find something nicer. In the cabin I cry and the tears hurt my cheeks more. The fire will not come alive and the thick smoke is burning my eyes. I kick the bucket and cry harder because it hurt my foot. I bend down and wrap my arms around myself. I count between gulps of air and rock myself until I calm down. I chew on the nettles and lie on the yellow grass. I see the lights from the stars through the hole and I pretend they are spaceships looking for me. I close my eyes and count.
I know I am dreaming because I hear voices. They are a voice of a man and a women. I do not know what they are saying but they are talking a lot. The smoke is thick and my stinging eyes see the two aliens standing in the doorway. I scream and scramble behind the yellow grass. The aliens yell.
‘God, there’s a boy in here! It’s okay, we won’t hurt you.’ It is a lady’s voice but I know she is an alien so I try to run past her. It’s dark and I can’t see where I am going and the bigger alien grabs me. He shines a light in my face and lets out a noise like the landlady’s cat.
‘Jesus, he’s hurt Charlotte, let’s get him out of here!’ I try to break out of his grip but the alien is stronger than me. Outside I look up and into the light and I see a face. This alien looks like a person, he has eyes like mine and a nose and two ears.
‘Can you speak?’ The lady alien was clearer now to me too. She had black hair with some pink bits in it and had a big bag strapped to her back. I nodded my head.
‘What are you doing out here all alone? Where is your Mom?’ The man alien asked.
‘She is coming, I am waiting,’ I splutter through my aching throat.
He pulls out a flask and pours water onto my face. It feels good and I can see better now. ‘Mom said there was no one left after the bomb.’ The aliens looked at each other.