PHOENIX by Ellanti
Summary:

Australia, 1984. David, James and Sydney are normal teenagers living normal lives, but things are about to change. When a nuclear strike shatters their lives, they are forced into a desperate struggle for survival. Not knowing who they can trust, they are about to learn that the real war is just beginning.


Categories: Dystopian, Adrenaline Characters: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 3 Completed: No Word count: 6552 Read: 59085 Published: 16 Nov 2012 Updated: 09 Dec 2012

1. Chapter 1 by Ellanti

2. James by Ellanti

3. Sydney by Ellanti

Chapter 1 by Ellanti

 

 

-David-

 

It had all been James’ idea. A totally idiotic and typical one at that; hey Dave, your mum’s out, lets mess this place up! David had managed to argue and hold out for a while, but eventually the endless nagging had won him over. He had a free house for the weekend, so realistically it was his obligation to hold a wild party, or so James assured him anyway. Booze was bought, the place was cleaned up and invites were made. David never would have admitted it, but he even started to get a tiny bit excited.

     Now, though, standing in his trashed living room and nursing the hangover from hell, the whole thing just seemed monumentally stupid again. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair and looked around the room. Various people were sprawled across the floor and couches, covered in whatever they had been able to use as a blanket. The mingled smell of vomit, beer and cigarettes was still thick in the air and now more than ever David was sure that the idea had been terrible. He had spent the night running around frantically trying to keep people from doing too much damage, before eventually giving up and getting drunk.

     Not wanting to think about the daunting cleanup ahead of him, he ducked back into his room, grabbed his thankfully intact guitar, and headed for the front door. Fresh air and gentle music was exactly what he needed to ward off that uncomfortable feeling that he was about to be sick. He stepped out on to the porch and sat on the front step, looking out at the street in front of him. The houses in this part of town all looked pretty much the same; red brick, thatched ceilings, immaculate lawns. His own place was no exception. Comfortably boring.

     David closed his eyes and started plucking the strings. The bright sun disagreed violently with his headache, but at least it was better than staying inside. It was too hard to resist the temptation to kick James’ sleeping form in there. That dickhead had a lot to answer for, above all the fact that David was sure he didn’t know any of the people currently passed out in his living room. Putting James in charge of invitations had been his second mistake. The first was agreeing to the party at all.

     He had almost got the notes right. Starting from the start again, he sang softly. ‘Hey little girl is your daddy home…’ His favourite song from an album that had only come out a couple of weeks back, and he hadn’t stopped listening to it since. He was determined to learn every song off it, despite James’ reaction when he saw the cover. ‘Born in the USA? Yeah David, that’s you. All American hero, man.’ David had chosen to ignore him. It was usually the best response to anything James said.

     He had screwed up the song again. Swearing under his breath, he went back to the start, as he did hearing footsteps behind him. He turned to see a girl only a little bit younger than him, dressed in jeans and an oversized t-shirt, her face almost entirely obscured by tangled blonde hair. He thought he might know her from school, but like all the other people inside, she could be anyone. I hope you die, James, I really do.

     ‘Hi,’ he said, turning back to his guitar.

     She sat down next to him without saying a word, pushing her hair out of her face as she did. David glanced sideways at her; she was kind of pretty, if a little skinny. Her eyes were wide and bright green, and her mouth was set in a frown. He decided against trying to talk to her anymore and gave another attempt at the song.

     ‘Springsteen,’ she said.

     He was surprised by that. ‘Yeah.’ He nodded. ‘You know him?’

     The girl raised an eyebrow. ‘That Dancing in the Dark song hasn’t left the radio in months. Yeah, I know him.’

     ‘It’s an okay song,’ David said. ‘But it’s not Springsteen.’

     ‘Looks like him in the music video.’

     ‘Yeah, but it’s not him,’ he said, trying to sound frustrated but really glad that he had a chance to explain it. ‘Have you heard Born to Run?’

     ‘Album or song?’ she asked. ‘Actually, it doesn’t matter. I know them both.’

     David looked at her for a moment, and then extended his hand. ‘I’m David,’ he said.

     ‘I know,’ she replied, looking amused. ‘We had this exact conversation last night.’

     ‘Oh.’ David frowned. ‘Right. I, um… don’t remember that. Like, at all.’

     She grinned. ‘Figures. You weren’t exactly sober.’

     ‘Was anyone?’

     ‘I was,’ she said, looking out into the street. ‘Seems a bit pathetic in retrospect. I’m not really sure why I came.’

     ‘I still don’t know your name,’ he reminded her.

     ‘Sydney,’ she said. ‘You asked me that three times last night.’

     ‘Damn.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m gonna hesitate to ask what else I did last night.’

     ‘Nothing too controversial,’ she said. ‘You mainly just complained about James and tried to explain Springsteen to everyone. Then you attempted to put on the album but ended up playing ABBA instead, which didn’t end well. I think James slapped you.’

     ‘Of course he did,’ David rolled his eyes. ‘I swear, I’m gonna yell at him as soon as he wakes up. I don’t think I know anyone in there. I’m assuming you’re James’ friend?’

     ‘Friend is a very strong word,’ Sydney said. ‘He sits next to me in English and copies my answers. Anyway, he asked me along, and it struck me that I’m in year ten and have never been to a party before. So here I am.’

     ‘And how was it?’ David asked.                                                                          

     She laughed. ‘Awful. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of place. Like, anywhere.’

     ‘That makes two of us.’

     ‘Hey, at least you were drunk.’

     ‘You had the option,’ David pointed out.

     Sydney wrinkled her nose. ‘Not really. I don’t think I’ll ever be a drinker.’

     ‘I used to say that,’ he replied. ‘But the more time you spend around James, the more necessary it becomes.’

     ‘The more necessary what becomes?’

     David turned. James, messy hair sticking in all directions, was leaning shirtless against the doorframe, holding a beer and wearing oversized sunglasses.

     ‘You’re drinking again?’ Sydney asked. ‘Already?’

     ‘The key to not getting hangovers,’ he said, sitting beside her. ‘Stay drunk.’

     ‘Firstly, screw you,’ David said. ‘Secondly, you’re full of shit. Sydney, It might be a good time to point out that James has only been drunk a couple of times in his life, but likes to keep up this image of himself as a hard partying alcoholic. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the main reason he organized last night is because nobody will invite him to any cool parties.’

     ‘Say what you like my dear,’ James said, ‘but last night took awesome to a whole new level. I totally got to second base with that Alex chick.’

     ‘A whole two bases further than you’ve ever got before,’ David said. ‘That’s cause for celebration.’

     ‘Hence the beer,’ he replied. ‘I mean, sure, at first I had to be all understanding about how her boyfriend had just dumped her, and she was really upset but trying not to call him, and blah, blah, blah, but after that it was smooth sailing.’

     ‘Yay for taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable girls,’ David said. ‘Sydney, I’m really sorry about him.’

     ‘David, unlike you, Sydney’s cool,’ James said. ‘She will furnish me with a high five.’ He raised his hand. Sydney looked at it for a moment, smirked, and turned back to David.

     ‘Apology accepted,’ she said. ‘Permission to ignore him?’

     ‘Granted,’ David replied. ‘Now I’m starting to realise that we have a hell of a clean-up ahead of us.’

     ‘What do you mean ‘we’?’ James raised an eyebrow.

     ‘You’re going to help me,’ David said. ‘Don’t even try to worm your way out of it.’

     ‘No trying necessary,’ James said. ‘I’m not helping.’

     ‘I’ll help,’ Sydney said.

     ‘You don’t have to.’ David got to his feet. ‘You didn’t cause any of this.’

     ‘Oh and I did?’ James said, looking annoyed.

     David didn’t dignify that with an answer. ‘Thanks anyway Sydney.’

     She shrugged. ‘I’ll stick around. I’ve got nothing better to do, and I doubt you’re gonna get much help from whoevers in there.’

     ‘Which reminds me,’ David said. ‘Who is in there?’

     James gave a self-satisfied smirk. ‘Few cool people. Y’know. I do what I do.’

     ‘By a few cool people,’ Sydney said, ‘he means Jenny, the girl from drama and Alex, who is still devastated after her loser boyfriend broke up with her.’

     ‘The one you molested,’ David said.

     ‘Tried and found guilty.’ James winked.

     Sydney rolled her eyes.

     ‘Well first and foremost I need food,’ David said. ‘I’m gonna head down the road. James, if those people aren’t gone by the time I get back, I’m holding you personally responsible.’

     ‘For what? Making your night awesome?’

     ‘Mind if I tag along?’ Sydney asked. ‘Like I said; I’m not exactly in excess of things to do today.’

     ‘Fine by me,’ David said. ‘Just as long as he doesn’t.’

     ‘Wouldn’t join you if you paid me,’ James said. ‘Now if it’s all the same to you guys, I’m gonna see if Alex is up for some morning fun.’ With that, he disappeared back inside.

     ‘God, I hope she has pepper spray,’ Sydney muttered.

     David laughed and, leaving his guitar propped against the wall of the house, stepped off the porch. Sydney followed and together they walked down the road.

     ‘So, your first party,’ David said. ‘How was it?’

     Sydney frowned. ‘I’m trying to think of a softer synonym for awful.’

     ‘Awful is about right,’ he said. ‘I have no idea how James convinced me. I’ve always hated parties. And if Mum comes back early, I’m screwed.’

     ‘Well, you know what the papers say,’ Sydney said. ‘We could all die tomorrow. Might as well have the experiences while we can.’

     ‘What, do you think they’re right?’ David looked at her.

     ‘Who knows?’ Sydney shook her head. ‘I know what they say, but it’s hard to believe anything will happen here. It’s not like we’ve done anything to piss off Russia.’

     ‘You should hear Mum,’ David said. ‘She’s obsessed. Convinced we’ll all be blown up any second.’

     ‘Well, it’s an inspiring outlook.’

     ‘I’ll say.’

     ‘You’re in year twelve?’ Sydney asked.

     ‘Yeah.’

     ‘So a party was probably needed.’

     ‘Why’s that?’ David asked.

     ‘The mythical workload.’ Sydney grimaced. ‘I’m not looking forward to that.’

     ‘It’s fine, really,’ David said. ‘I mean, I don’t mind it. In case you hadn’t gathered, I’m not enormously social.’

     ‘Well, throwing possibly the world’s worst party implies that.’ She grinned. ‘Unless they’re all like that, in which case I’m becoming a hermit.’

     ‘Blame James,’ he said. ‘And I have no idea what parties are meant to be like. I haven’t been to too many.’

     They had reached the main street of the town. Occasional cars were parked on either side of the road, but other than that it wasn’t too busy. It never was, really; David’s was a quiet town, which was how most of the inhabitants liked it. The most controversial thing that had happened in the last year was the discussion over whether or not a McDonalds would ruin the ‘small town charm’. David was unconvinced that this charm even existed, but someone somewhere begged to differ and it never happened. Granted, he couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to bring a McDonalds out here. The town was a minor blip between the city and the country, not far enough in any direction to be defined as either suburban or isolated. It was an in-between place of no real note, and David could not wait to get the hell out.

     They had arrived at the small local supermarket. David stocked up on canned food (he wasn’t really sure how to make anything else) and soft drink, while Sydney watched with an amused smirk.

     ‘That’s healthy,’ she said.

     ‘I thought so,’ he replied, as he placed his meagre collection on the counter.

     Lynne, the middle aged woman who owned the place, smiled at him as she bagged the groceries. ‘Making yourself a feast, Dave?’

     ‘Pretty much,’ he said. ‘Mum’s out of town, so I’m fending for myself.’

     ‘That’s a recipe for trouble,’ she said. ‘Well remember, our place is always there if you become desperate for some real food.’

     ‘Thanks Lynne,’ David said. ‘Say hi to Roger for me, yeah?’

     ‘I will.’ She nodded. ‘He’s doing much better. They say he’ll be out by next week.’     

     ‘That’s great,’ he said. ‘It’s been long enough.’

     ‘I’ll say. Well, take care of yourself now Dave. Send my love to your Mum when you see her.’

     They left the store and began making their way back up to David’s house, stopped only by the occasional passing family friend.

     ‘It’s impossible to walk down this street without engaging in conversation,’ Sydney said.

     ‘Small town charm.’ David snorted. ‘It’s just annoying.’

     Chatting idly, they left the central part of the town and before long were back in the relative safety of the side streets. No longer accosted by various passers-by, David could feel himself relaxing. It was a nice day, and Sydney seemed entertaining enough.

     ‘Look, I do love them,’ she said. ‘But I’m sick of being stranded at home. I like getting out, y’know? My parents are just so damn insular. They don’t get that I want to make new friends and stuff. It’s such a struggle to be allowed to leave the house.’

     ‘They let you come to the party, though.’

     ‘Nope.’ She smiled. ‘They think I’m staying with a friend. They would have barricaded me inside if they thought I was going to a party.’

     ‘You rebel.’

     ‘I try.’

     David had just opened his mouth to reply when a sound caught his attention. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the town. With a frown, he turned, scanning the empty street behind them. It was like a low rumbling, from far in the distance.

     ‘What’s that?’ Sydney asked.

     ‘I don’t know,’ David murmured. The sound had gotten louder and he swore he could feel very slight vibrations through his shoes. ‘That’s really weird.’

     And then the air was torn apart by the high pitched and sudden wailing of a siren. David dropped his groceries and Sydney clapped her hands over her ears with a yell. It took a moment for David to register just what it was.

     ‘What the hell?’ Sydney yelled, over the screeching.

     ‘That’s…’ David felt his insides twist. No way. This has to be a mistake. It’ll stop in a second, it’s just a screw up. It has to be. The siren kept going. He could hear screams from inside the houses. Some people were stepping out on to their porches, covering their ears, to see what was going on. Every expression was of confusion.

     Far past the town, David could make out a slight, orange glow, like sunset, creeping into the sky. It wasn’t midday yet.

     ‘Run,’ David said. ‘Run!’

     They ran.

James by Ellanti

-James-

 

It was not his fault that David was a wimp. Not really. But considering the loser had spent the whole night just being completely annoying and running everyone’s fun, James had decided that it would soon be necessary to have words with him. After all, they were nearing the end of school and still far from what would be considered cool, by anyone’s estimation. Throwing awesome parties was a sure fire way to change that image.

     There only seemed to be one person still in the living room, passed out under a blanket on the couch. James paused for a moment, looking at the sleeping form. Could it be Jenny? He toyed with the idea of waking them up to see, but decided against it. She had probably left. It could be anyone. So he headed for the spare bedroom, where he knew Alex was sleeping. She had kicked him out last night, but maybe a bit of rest had let her come to the realisation that James was in fact ludicrously attractive and she had to have him immediately.

     That said, however, in the light of day and without the influence of a lot of booze, Alex didn’t look nearly as good to him. She was still asleep and he watched her for a moment, aware of how creepy he was being but knowing all the same that his silent assessment was more important. She had thick brown hair and a round face, and judging by the shape of her under the blankets, she wasn’t exactly skinny. That was a shame. Maybe she had nice eyes or something.

     James had just turned to leave when he heard her move under the blankets, and then croak; ‘James?’ Internally kicking himself for not getting out sooner, he adopted a wide smile and faced her. She was sitting up, dressed in a t-shirt and, he could make out, underwear.

     ‘Hi,’ he said.

     ‘What time is it?’ she asked.

     ‘Almost twelve,’ he said.

     ‘Shit,’ she slumped back down. ‘I should get going.’

     ‘Yeah, it’s about that time.’ James nodded. ‘So, um, you have fun last night?’

     ‘I guess,’ she said, still not moving. ‘I don’t remember much. I never drink.’

     ‘You get used to it,’ James replied, trying to sound knowledgeable.

     ‘If this is what I have to get used to, then no thanks.’ She gave a weak smile.

     James was saved the trouble of having to come up with a reply by a knock at the door. Excusing himself, and slightly relieved to be out of there, he walked back through the living room and opened the door.

     A young man dressed in a grey courier’s uniform was standing there, holding a parcel. He had long, greasy black hair and looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. Between that and his own hung over, shirtless state, James wasn’t sure which one of them was seedier.

     ‘You David Tyler?’ the man said. His voice was gravelly.

     ‘No.’

     ‘Right. Is he around?’

     ‘He’s just gone down to the shops,’ James said. ‘He’ll be back in a sec. What do you want him for?’

     ‘This.’ He nodded to the parcel.

     ‘Well I can take it for you,’ James offered.

     The man shook his head. ‘Sorry mate, but I’m under strict instructions. This goes to David Tyler and no-one else.’

     ‘Suit yourself,’ James said. ‘Do you want a drink or something while you wait?’

     ‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll just kill the engine.’ He gestured back to a black panel van.

     ‘That car doesn’t look dodgy at all,’ James said.

     The man didn’t laugh; just looked at him impassively. James did not know what to say. The sooner this guy left, the happier he’d be. He took a seat on the wooden chair next to the front door and watched the courier return to his car. It didn’t look like an official courier van. There were no logos or anything. Even his uniform seemed plain. Something about this didn’t sit right.

     ‘So who sent it?’ James asked, as the man returned, without the package.

     ‘I’m not at liberty to say.’

     ‘Right.’ James nodded. ‘Just for the record, that’s not remotely suspicious or weird sounding.’

     The man opened his mouth to reply, just as the front door swung open and a tall, slim girl with long, wavy brown hair stepped out. She looked from James, who suddenly felt very self concious, to the other guy with a confused expression.

     ‘Who’s this?’ She pointed to the courier.

     ‘Some guy,’ James said. ‘He’s pretty weird.’

     ‘Standing right here,’ the man said.

     ‘Don’t care,’ James replied.

     ‘Were you here last night?’ the girl asked the courier.

     ‘No,’ he said, the first hint of an angry expression on his face. ‘I’m here to deliver a parcel to David Tyler, and that it.’

     ‘Fun,’ she said, then turned her attention to James. ‘It’s John, or something, right?’

     ‘James,’ he said. His voice suddenly seemed higher and softer than he was used to.

     He, after all, did know this girl. It had taken him a day of mental preparation to muster the courage to ask her to this party. Jenny was gorgeous and James had always struggled to speak to her without forgetting the English language. He was still proud of the feat it had been to ask her here and yet, once the party happened, he’d hardly seen her, much less spoken to her. Now endless terrified thoughts were racing through his head; did I embarrass myself? Did she see me with Alex? Does she think I’m a loser?

     ‘That was good night,’ she said. ‘Where’s David? I need to thank him.’

     ‘I, um, sort of organised it,’ James managed. ‘Y’know, convinced David and stuff. He didn’t want to do it.’

     ‘So it’s you I’m thanking?’ she said.

     ‘Um, I guess. Yeah.’

     ‘Thank you then.’ She smiled and James felt like he could fly.

     ‘Do you have any idea how long David will be?’ the man interjected.

     ‘No,’ James said.

     ‘Where is he, anyway?’ Jenny asked.

     ‘Shops,’ James said. ‘With that Sydney girl.’

     ‘Oh yeah, she was there last night too,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s coming back to me.’

     ‘It’s a bit of a blur,’ James said.

     ‘Which says to me it was a good night,’ Jenny said, before turning back to the courier. ‘What’s your name, anyway?’

     ‘Rob,’ he said.

     ‘Well would you like a beer, Rob? Seeing as you’re gonna be waiting around.’

     ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I won’t say no.’

     ‘Correct answer,’ she replied, stepping back inside. ‘Hey Alex.’

     Alex had emerged just as Jenny went back in, bleary eyed and not looking any more dignified, despite the added presence of pants. She stopped short at the sight of Rob. ‘Who are you?’ she asked.

     ‘Rob,’ he said, looking uncomfortable.

     James said nothing. How much did she remember? What if she said something in front of Jenny? She would never smile at him like that again. Between the weird courier, the girl he’d been all over last night, and the girl he’d wanted to be all over last night, James wasn’t sure if the situation could be much more awkward.

     ‘Rob. Right.’ Alex frowned. ‘Who’s Rob?’ She glanced at James, as if looking for an answer.

     ‘Is there something about this town where you all talk about people as if they’re not there?’ Rob asked, as Jenny emerged with two beers. She cracked one for herself and handed the other to Rob.

     ‘Sorry,’ Alex said. ‘My head hurts. I’m not thinking straight.’ She closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. ‘I’m never drinking again.’

     ‘I forgot to ask if either of you wanted a beer?’ Jenny glanced from James to Alex.

     ‘Yes,’ Alex said. James could only nod and, with a smile, Jenny vanished inside again.

     ‘So by the looks of it,’ Rob took a sip of his beer, ‘I’ve found you all in a state of recovery.’

     ‘I’m not really recovering,’ Alex said. ‘I feel like there’s a hammer repeatedly hitting the inside of my head.’

     ‘Beer will make it all better.’ Jenny had emerged again, passing drinks to James and Alex. For a moment, they all sipped in silence.

     Alex glanced down at her watch. ‘I’d better think about heading off.’

     ‘Yeah, I’m on that boat,’ Jenny said. ‘But beer first.’

     ‘Beer should always come first,’ Rob said. He glanced down at his drink, and then frowned. ‘Hang on. How old are you guys?’

     ‘Not old enough,’ Jenny winked.

     ‘Oh well,’ Rob shrugged. ‘I got a drink out of it. I won’t-’

     He never finished. At that moment, the ear splitting sound of a siren seemed to shake the very foundations of the house. James dropped his beer and clamped his hands down over his ears. Alex seemed almost buffeted by the sound, falling back into the doorframe as Rob and Jenny, neither of whom had dropped their drinks, stepped off the porch and down on to the driveway, both looking around as if searching for the source of the sound.

     ‘What the hell is that?’ James yelled.

     ‘Is that a fire alarm?’ Alex said.

     ‘It’s too loud,’ Jenny called. ‘This is-‘

     ‘Get inside,’ Rob spat. ‘Now.’ He threw his drink aside and bolted for the door. Jenny took a second longer but followed suit, just as David and Sydney, both looking out of breath, appeared in front of the house.

     ‘I have to get home,’ Sydney said, but David caught her by the arm.

     ‘It’s too late!’ he yelled. ‘We have to take cover!’

     ‘No!’ Sydney was struggling, but David managed to drag her on to the porch. Alex, Jenny and Rob had got inside, but James felt as though he was frozen to the spot, staring at David and Sydney as they fought.

     ‘Help me!’ David roared.

     Heart about to tear out of his chest, despite him not even knowing why, James dived for Sydney’s other arm and together they pulled her through the front door into the house. David slammed it shut and leant against it, breathing heavily. Sydney elbowed James in the stomach, winding him, and tried to push past David but he roughly shoved her back.

     ‘Stop it,’ he managed, between gasps. ‘We can’t leave, okay?’

     ‘Why not?’ Sydney’s voice was cracking. ‘Why the hell not? I have to get back home, I have to-‘

     ‘We can’t,’ Rob said. ‘We have to stay, at least for now.’

     ‘Why?’ Alex’s voice was quiet.

     Rob turned to her. James watched, waiting for an answer, wanting to know just what had happened.

     ‘It’s what they’ve been talking about for years,’ Rob said. ‘The nuclear bomb. It’s hit us.’

 

Sydney by Ellanti

It was the worst sound she had ever heard in her life. The endless keening seemed to penetrate her ears and made it almost impossible to think, but a single word was going through her brain over and over again, driven home by the siren. Nuclear.

     It couldn’t be true. Sure, they’d had the drills at school and there was always something in the news about tensions between Russia and America, but that was far, far from anything actually happening. Why would it? Why would anybody risk such destruction? It just seemed impossibly stupid. She had never for a second believed that it might really happen.

     She felt dazed as she watched the others. David was yelling something, James had finally put a shirt on and Alex was just standing there, tears in her eyes. Was this a really awful dream? Just that morning she had been planning what to say to her parents if she was caught out. I went to a party. It’s not the end of the world. She almost laughed at that.

     ‘Sydney!’ David had grabbed her. She stared at him, unable to speak. ‘We have to seal this place, okay? Are you gonna help?’

     ‘I have to get home.’ She wasn’t sure if she’d said it or just thought it. ‘My parents are there, and my brother. I have to go.’

     ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘We can’t.’

     ‘I don’t care.’ She tried to get loose, but he tightened his grip. ‘Let me go!’

     ‘Sydney.’ He looked her right in the eyes, and she was struck by how much fear was in his gaze. ‘It’s too risky, okay?’

     She was about to reply, but the strange man in the grey uniform had appeared beside David, clutching what looked like several garbage bags. ‘Listen,’ he growled, ‘do you know how quickly radiation poisoning can kill you? We’ve got literally seconds to seal this place. The danger is highest now. You’ll be dead in a day if you go out there. Just wait, okay? If your parents are smart, they’ll be doing the same thing.’

     Sydney shook her head. She felt like she was about to collapse. David took a step back. She didn’t move.

     ‘I need masking tape,’ the man was saying. ‘Now. And someone fill the bathtub.’

     ‘Who are you?’ Sydney asked, unable to think of anything else to say.

     ‘Rob,’ he said. ‘The bathtub. Go.’

     ‘Why?’ James asked.

     Rob turned to him, looking frustrated. ‘Do you want clean water? We have to get as much as we can before the reservoirs become contaminated. Any buckets, containers; use them too. Go! Now!’

     James ran for the bathroom as Jenny appeared with masking tape. Rob snatched it off her and with David’s help started covering the windows. Sydney glanced to her side; Alex had collapsed on the couch, shaking.

     ‘Do something useful!’ Rob screamed. ‘Every window in this place has to be sealed.’

     Trying her best to push the cold terror to the back of her mind, Sydney picked up a garbage bag from where Rob had dropped them and ran for the nearest window. Outside, she could see people running for houses. The siren seemed to have receded. It was darker outside. Jenny appeared next to her with more tape and together they started sealing the window.

     It took several minutes to cover all the windows in the living room. Once finished, Rob gestured to the door. ‘Close off that too,’ he said, before turning to David. ‘Are you David Tyler?’

     ‘Yes,’ David looked confused. ‘Who are you?’

     ‘I’ll explain once we’re done,’ Rob said. ‘First though, let’s sort out the rest of the house. Come on!’

     It took two bags to cover the door, by which time James had returned from the bathroom, wide eyed. ‘I need anything that can hold water,’ he said.

     ‘Check the kitchen,’ Jenny replied. ‘Sydney, make sure all these windows are sealed tight. I’m gonna find more garbage bags.’ She vanished the same way Rob and David had. Sydney started running a hand along the tape, ensuring it was all in place. It took her a moment to realise James was still there, staring at her.

     ‘What?’ she said.

     He shook his head. ‘This is wrong,’ he said. ‘This can’t be happening. It can’t.’

     Despite her own fear, which was threatening to crawl out of her stomach and overcome her again, she tried to keep her voice calm. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘We’ll figure it all out. But look after the water first.’

     ‘Right,’ he nodded, biting his lip. ‘Yeah.’ He turned and left Sydney alone in the room with the still trembling Alex. For a moment she wondered if she should comfort her or something, but decided against it. She wasn’t good at being supportive, especially not when nobody had offered her any kind of support. Alex was on her own. Keeping herself entirely focussed on pressing down any loose bits of tape, it took Sydney only a few minutes to make sure the whole place was sealed up, by which time, Rob, Jenny and David had returned, looking out of breath.

     ‘Right,’ Rob said, crossing his arms as he perused the room. ‘Is that every window?’

     David nodded. He didn’t look able to speak.

     ‘Good. I want you to go and double check every room. Where’s the guy who was looking after the water? James?’

     ‘Here,’ James appeared just as David vanished. ‘I got two full buckets, a couple of bottles and the bathtub.’

     ‘That’s excellent,’ Rob said. ‘Obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can do. Now, food. Where’s the kitchen?’

     ‘This way.’ James led him around the corner from the living room. Sydney, not knowing what else to do, followed. The kitchen was small, with an old fashioned metal fridge, and might have been cosy if not for all the empty beer bottles.

     ‘These,’ Rob said, the moment they entered, ‘the beer bottles. Fill them all immediately.’

     ‘Um, sure,’ James started collecting them up as Rob went through the cupboards.

     ‘Jesus, this is sparse,’ he muttered, opening the fridge. ‘A few tins of baked beans, some packets of noodles, half a bottle of milk.’ He turned to Sydney. ‘Didn’t you go to the shops?’

     ‘David dropped the food back there,’ Sydney said. ‘When the sirens started.’

     Rob swore. ‘That was stupid. We really could have used that.’

     ‘Somehow I don’t think that was the biggest thing on his mind,’ Sydney said.

     ‘Well it should have been,’ Rob said. ‘Do you think this situation allows for slip ups?’ With that, he stalked past her back into the living room. She heard him say something to Alex, who didn’t reply.

     Sydney put out a hand, leaning against the kitchen bench. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe steadily. Come on. Get your head on straight. Surreal wasn’t a strong enough word to describe any of this.

     ‘The sirens have stopped.’

     Sydney turned and almost yelled. She did not recognise the girl staring at her. She was short and slim with black hair and wide, dark eyes. Her face was pale and she was expressionless.

     ‘Who are you?’ Sydney said.

     ‘Simone,’ the girl replied. ‘I was here last night.’

     ‘I don’t remember you.’

     ‘Okay,’ Simone looked toward the blacked out window. ‘Was it a bomb?’

     Sydney stared at her, lost for words. This girl seemed so casual, almost unconcerned by anything going on around her. ‘I,’ she swallowed, not wanting to say it out loud. ‘I think so.’

     Simone nodded, then turned and left the room. Sydney watched her go then, realising that she didn’t want to be alone at that moment, trailed after her. The others had all congregated in the living room. James had an armful of bottles of water. David and Jenny looked shaken, but alright. Alex was still crying, but sitting up now, and Rob was standing in front of the door, arms crossed. He noticed Simone, frowned, and then looked at David.

     ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘It looks like your house is going to be our fallout shelter.’    

     David nodded.

     ‘This is the situation,’ Rob continued. ‘Obviously we can’t be a hundred percent sure, but it seems pretty likely that we’ve been hit by a nuclear bomb. We have enough water to see us through a few weeks, so long as we ration it, and-‘

     ‘A few weeks?’ James said. ‘I’m not staying here a few weeks.’

     ‘If you want to live, you will.’ Rob’s voice was cold. ‘This is not ideal, but we don’t have any other choice.’

     ‘Yes we do,’ Sydney said. She didn’t feel the slightest bit brave, but Rob’s comment had brought on a feeling that might have been anger; it was hard to tell. ‘We can find our families. Which is what I intend to do.’

     ‘Sydney, we can’t.’ David looked at her pleadingly. ‘It’s just not possible.’

     ‘It is,’ she snapped. ‘You just let me go.’

     ‘I won’t be doing that,’ Rob interrupted. ‘I’m sorry, but if you step out there, you’re dead. Plus, you run the risk of contaminating all of us simply by opening the door. We have to wait until the dust has settled and the radiation has subsided.’

     ‘That could take years!’ James exclaimed.

     ‘Unlikely,’ Rob said. ‘The bomb hit Melbourne.’

     ‘How do you know?’ James asked.

     Rob glared at him. When he spoke, he sounded frustrated. ‘Because where the hell else could it have hit that was close enough to make the ground shake and turn the sky dark but far enough not to blow us away instantly? Plus, the strike happened to the west, and that’s where Melbourne is. It’s not goddamn rocket science.’           

     James looked down.

     ‘Now that that’s cleared up,’ Rob said through gritted teeth, ‘we can move on. Food is going to be the problem. When I get the chance I’ll go through and ration what we have, but it’s not gonna be fun. We’re going to be hungry for a long time. Once things are a bit better outside, we can go looking for more.’

     ‘How long will that take?’ Alex asked. Her voice was quiet and Sydney was surprised she’d even spoken.

     ‘Who knows?’ Rob said. ‘It depends.’

     ‘On what?’ David said.

     ‘On whether or not we go into a nuclear winter.’ For the first time, Rob sounded less than confident. ‘And if that happens, then I don’t know how we’re going to get by.’

     ‘I want to go home,’ Alex said.

     ‘We all do,’ Jenny walked over and sat next to her, putting an arm round her trembling shoulders. ‘But we can’t.’

     ‘If we’re going to just starve anyway, what’s the point of locking ourselves in here?’ James muttered.

     ‘Because a small chance is better than no chance,’ Rob said. ‘And that’s the end of it.’

     ‘And you’re gonna keep us in here?’ James stepped toward him with a defiant look.

     With a snarl, Rob shoved him backwards. James tripped and his water bottles went flying as he landed on his back. David ran to help him up as Rob towered over him, now red in the face. ‘Of course I will!’ he yelled. ‘I couldn’t care less if you want to go out and kill yourself, but I will not risk those of us who aren’t completely stupid. You open that door, you let the fallout in, and then what? You’ve signed our death warrants and your happy family reunion will be cut short by the fact that you won’t last twenty four hours. Is that worth it to you?’

     Nobody said anything. Sydney glanced from James to Rob; both looked furious but neither seemed about to make another move.

     At that moment, the lights went out.

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