Prologue 5

End-Day + 5

Only using one side of his mouth, and wiping away a trickle of blood from his split lip, dad says, "I haven't been completely honest with you."

Hold the front page, I'm thinking. Well I never. Wonders will never cease.

At about noon, when the ashfall-storm finally relented, all of us - mum, dad, Ben and me - left the bunker to get to the water pipe. We had to wade through a fresh, and still hot, layer of ash. Dad had protested, but mum started giving really short, quiet answers, and dad knew better than to push it. Mum was paranoid that Ben was going to get jaundiced. We locked up and went together.

"This whole thing," dad is saying, fiddling with his reddened tissue, "it isn't really a complete surprise." 

Well shock-horror. Tell me something I don't know.

Earlier, when we arrived at the water pipe, we saw a figure some way off, stooped and flickering in the distorted hot air like a mirage. Dad called out and waved. I whistled louder than I thought I could. We hadn't seen anyone else since the day it happened. Since End-day.

When the man came over, he was grinning. He shook my hand and gave mum a meek, over-polite little wave. He was old, in his seventies, past retirement, and he had a scarf and woolly hat that looked like homemade knitting. When he smiled, there were no teeth. But when he looked at my dad, his eyes narrowed.

"You're from the observatory," he said, "I used to clean up there. I recognise you. One of those scientist types."

Mum walked away a few feet, started filling up a water bottle. Dad had said, "Seismic Officer, that's right. Pleasure to meet you."

Now though, dad is not quite so self-assured. He's saying to mum, "The readings went screwy for a few days, but we had to keep it quiet. Usually these things came to nothing."

The bunker, neat and kitted out and organised. Stocked medicine cabinet, brand new lock on the door. Bunk beds with fresh linen.

The man had said, "You lot knew about this. But did you warn us?"

Just then, the water pipe spluttered, gushed forth again a little higher. Then the arc of water receded in on itself. With a final burble, it stopped flowing altogether.

"I promise you," dad said, is saying, "We had no idea."

That's when the old man hit him.

I'll be blowed, I thought. Knock me down with a feather.

End-Day + 6  >>
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