Wednesday, 6 May 2009 - 6:34 pm

Guest Post: Paige

The rain came early today and forced us inside, still about half a day from the mall. We found ourselves holed up in a tiny restaurant, a poky little place that was Greek once, made even pokier by the scooters and all our gear. 

A scuffle out back put us on the alert and a couple of us went to investigate, weapons at the ready. It was just a girl – she can’t have been more than sixteen, all boy’s clothes and scrawny limbs. I think she had a scar on the side of her head, but the rain had started by then and it was too dim to make it out.

We weren’t going to chase her out into the acid, so we wound up sitting down and talking. No-one wanted to talk about Sax or the things that are going on right now, so the conversation turned to other things. Older things. I hoped she might have news of something else, something more organised, some promise that there was hope.

She said her name was Paige, and this is what she told us:

Me and my mum and my older brother Nathan came from out west to visit my aunt over the holiday, up in Cairns.  My mum had this job in the bank that she had to be at, so we packed up the evening of the 23rd when she got home from work and flew out first thing on Christmas Eve.  My mum was going to stay for a few days, but me and my brother were going to spend our summer holidays up there, until school started again in January.  My mum was seeing this yobbo from the interior, you know the type, big guy who drives a ute and watches car races and drinks beer until he’s sick.  I didn’t like him much, but me and my brother liked the idea of Mum finding someone, and anyway, our aunt, she’s great, she does a lot of baking and knows bloody everything about nature and she’s the closest thing to a grandmum that Nath and I had.

So there we are on the tarmac getting ready to go.  There was this huge line of planes ahead of us.  I was so tired.  I’d been up all night from excitement about the trip, and the airport here was too noisy to sleep in, all the travellers and the screaming children and the holiday crowds.  I can’t sleep on a plane, and I wasn’t being very nice to Mum, and she leans forward, digs in her bag and pulls out a pressie for me and says, “Here, maybe this will put you in a better mood.”  She could have smacked me or something, but she didn’t, and I felt bad, like I didn’t deserve it, so I said, “Thanks, Mum,” and stuck it in the pocket of the seat in front of me.  I’m glad she did that.  I hope she knew that I felt bad.  I been carrying it with me.  I haven’t opened it yet, I think it’s a DVD or something, and I don’t think I’m going to.

Finally it was our turn.  We took off, the plane went up, and then everything went wrong all at once.  The sound… it was bloody horrific.  It caught us not even… [trails off and shakes her head] I don’t know how far off the ground, but the plane went over sideways and the noise from the engines was so loud.  You know how in all those TV shows they say whatever thing that happened, it happened in slow motion?  I never believed it, but it was really like that.  The sky was in one place and then it wasn’t, and then all the luggage fell out of the overhead bins when we hit the ground.  Next thing, Nath is shaking me awake and my head hurts so bad the first thing I do is throw up.  Half the plane is dead.  We were upside down and Nath unbuckled me and I fell on my head, and when I got upright again I could see Mum, still buckled in, her eyes open and her arms dangling over her head like she was just stretching.  She looked like a mannequin.

I don’t know what she died of.

The other passengers huddled in groups, some of them inside the plane, but most of them went back to the airport.  Nath and I didn’t want to leave Mum.  She was gone for sure, but leaving her there seemed like such an awful thing to do.  If it happened today I’d have buried her, but it was all so new — we were going on holiday, we were going to see Aunt Kate in Cairns, it was Christmas, it wasn’t a thing that could have happened.

After awhile we got hungry and thought to eat the airplane food, but it was a domestic flight, so mostly they had just biscuits and bags of pretzels.  After a couple days the dead started to smell and there was no more food, so we walked to the airport.  There was a load of people there and mostly they’d eaten everything already, so we had stuff like old bread and uncooked chips, whatever wasn’t touched.  Me and Nath were getting ready to leave when the rains came for the first time.  After it was done we pulled Mum out onto the runway and covered her with some of the clothes from her carry-on.  She wanted to be cremated when she died, and that was the best we could do.

Nath had this crazy idea that we could walk to Cairns, but I thought that eventually someone would come, maybe the army, and we had a big fight about what to do.  I told him that we’d probably get stuck out on the road and get dissolved, and by that time the rain had come often enough and all at the same time so he knew I was right.  What if we’d got caught out in the bush with nowhere to run to?  Seeing all those people screaming just at the touch of it?

So we wandered.  We picked rubbish out of bins for a little while and broke into houses.  Nath about got himself killed trying to go into a house in the suburb north of here where a fellow had a gun, one of those big long ones for hunting, but mostly people had left, and we went house to house in this one neighborhood eating baked beans and things out of cans, horrible things like spinach.  For a long time the only drinks we could find were cans of soft drink and beer and wine and things like that.  I never thought plain old water would be something I’d crave, but it was.  Canned meat, too.  Whenever we broke in somewhere, the first thing we’d go for was cans of tuna and Spam and sardines, bread that might not be moldy, things like that.  Lots of times there’d be stretches of houses where people had already been, but the beds were comfortable if there weren’t any dead people around.  Nath found a dog at one of them.  I don’t even want to say what happened to it, but we ran into a group of people and I guess they saw an opportunity.

Nath left about a month ago.  There was this other group, they were a bit to the west of here.  They called themselves the Pride, they had tags all over the place.  [looks up to see Faith’s reaction]  They wanted one thing from him, and another thing from me, and we had a big blow-up about it because he thought the best thing to do was stay with them, and I wanted to keep on wandering.  I guess Nath was upset over us not walking to Cairns, because the army hadn’t come, but I bet the whole bloody country is in bits and pieces over this.  The whole bloody world, even.  No one’s invaded that I can see, and no one’s come to rescue us.  We were on our own already, but Nath and I come to blows over this and he joins this group and tells me to just get lost already.  So I been walking around on my own.  It’s tough without him.  I mean, he didn’t protect me when he was supposed to so I guess I’m not any worse off if anyone comes by wanting something I don’t want to give, but he was my goddamn brother.  Mostly I been looking out for myself, you know?

[Guest Post by Julie]