Wed, 25 March 2009 - 8:22 pm

Stranded

The cars were still there when we piled out of the gates. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them gleaming in the orange light, slowing to a walk. Thank goodness; at least they were still there.

There was something not quite right, though; something off about the scene before us. It took me a moment to realise what it was, and my brain has just clicked onto it when Matt stopped and said, “Who left the doors open?”

No-one answered. We looked at each other and some offered shrugs. They turned to me because I was the last one to leave the vehicles, and I told them I hadn’t opened the doors; I had closed the bonnet and come after them. I don’t remember the doors being open when I left.

Not all of them were open – just three in total, across both cars. But it’s not a trivial thing. Our gear was inside the cars, including all of our food and water. If it had rained before we got back, we might have lost it. It was a careless, dangerous thing to do. We had been distracted by Nugget’s departure and the chase to catch her, but had we been that distracted? I had run right past one of those open doors – surely I would have seen it?

But if it wasn’t one of us, then who was it? That was, by far, the more disturbing thought. There was a fearful little snake curling up in my stomach.

“Let’s just make sure everything’s there,” I said when it was clear no-one was going to own up to the crime of leaving the doors open. Better to focus on what we had left.

No-one discovered something missing. I thought the car’s innards looked disturbed, but that might just have been paranoia sneaking ideas into my head. Or maybe just the wind. There are plenty of things it could have been other than a person we haven’t seen or heard or smelt.

 

As we were sorting out the packs, we talked about how much ground we had covered; it looked like we had done maybe half of the building, between all of us.

We were just shouldering our burdens when we heard Jones mewing in protest. We turned around to see Nugget walking calmly out of the gates, hugging the stupid creature to her chest with a determined set to her jaw.

All hell broke loose then. Packs hit the ground with a mixture of relief and frustration. Nugget looked puzzled and then upset when Thorpe shouted at her. He yanked the cat out of her arms and tossed him in the car, slamming the door to keep him inside. Sax drew her away and gave her some stern words of his own. By then she was trying hard not to cry, and losing.

She pulled herself free of Sax’s hold and was going to run back into the prison in her upset. Luckily, I was between her and the gates, and managed to snag her before she could slip by. She writhed and moaned in protest – the most noise I’ve ever heard her make – but I wasn’t about to let her repeat this morning’s nightmare.

I took her off to the side and held her until she settled down, trying to sush her, trying to soothe her. She didn’t really start to calm down until Sally came quietly over and started to talk to the girl. She smoothed Nugget’s snarly hair back and wiped her cheeks. She told the kid that we were angry because we were worried about her and she wasn’t to run off like that; we had spent the whole morning looking for her because she means that much to us. We were hardly looking for the cat.

To my surprise, Nugget listened. She didn’t say anything – she still doesn’t speak any more than the rare word – but she seemed to hear what Sally said. Finally, she nodded.

 

With the drama contained, we were all only too happy to turn our attention to the cars and work on getting the hell out of there. We pushed them both off the prison’s driveway and up the road, giving ourselves space to get them going. The first one was fine, but the second, the one that had stalled out, that one wasn’t so great. It struggled to catch and start, and a few seconds later there was smoke piling out from under the bonnet.

There was panic then as everyone hurried away from the burning car. I shouted for the firemen to please do something before we lost the whole thing, and we managed to pop the bonnet open to see the fiery engine. A little fire extinguisher was pulled out from somewhere and the flames were put out with hissing and great gouts of smoke and steam.

Afterwards, we all stood there looking at it. It seemed like something didn’t want us to leave; it brought us here in the darkness and made us stay, and now it was preventing us from going. As I pointed out to the others, I couldn’t look at the engine to figure out what was wrong with it until it had cooled down. Then Sax drew our attention to the sky, to the thickening of the clouds, and we had a decision to make. None of us wanted to spend another night in the cars, but the indoor option wasn’t exactly appealling either.

In the end, we decided it was probably safer being inside than outside. All we had to do was find somewhere we could lock ourselves into for the night. That shouldn’t be too hard in a prison, right?

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