Prologue 6

End-Day + 6

It was one of those moments when your reaction has happened before your eyes have relayed any meaning to your cerebellum.

Six days ago, back when there were streets, and policemen to walk them, and courthouses and laws, this would've been called assault. Before everything was turned to dust, there was a structure in which you could quite rightly feel outraged.

As it was, dad shrugged. He spat out a string of blood that landed in the ash, sunk in and then spanned outward like a snow angel. Mum looked at dad for a long time. Then she said, "We need to find more water." Sure enough, the old pipe, our source for the last five days, was dripping slower and slower. The wet patch was already receding.

Dad getting punched was a plotted point on a grand scale too big to represent it.

So today, we recommenced our search. Mum took the lead, clutching Ben and picking her way over the shattered concrete; we branched out to a new perimeter, started to skirt around, circling the ground dad and I had covered days before. We found a drinking fountain, stranded in the middle of a shattered playground. I recognised the hopscotch lines. We were standing beside a mass of rubble that had been the local primary school. Ben would've come here.

The pipe to the fountain was burst; there was no water.

One side of the park, all the trees were flattened under a huge length of collapsed wire fence that had skirted the old railway line. On the other side, the trees were laden with ash, drooping. Their leaves were brown already. The lake was clogged, thick as clay.

Finally, amid the sunken wreckage of a church, we found a well. Its roof was untouched; the water seemed uncontaminated. Back at the bunker, late into the night, dad boiled it using the gas stove, over and over.

The only thing I heard mum say to dad, after I'd gone to bed, was, "You couldn't have told us." It sounded like the sort of concluding statement that comes after a long debate. The words hung for a moment, loitering for effect, but then slipped away. They weren't expecting an answer.

And the old guy: we never even found out his name.

End-Day + 7  >>