Getting the hell out was well and good. But we needed a plan.
And since I’d been thinking about this pretty solidly for weeks on end, I’d started to cobble something sort of plan-like together.
It wasn’t much. But I laid it out to Zara over breakfast. “The biggest problem is getting a car, and gas of course, and for the vehicle to last long enough.”
She rolled one eye. It made her look beyond comic.
“Okay, all right. Um. Start at the beginning. I think I know a place.”
She played her scrambled eggs around on her plate with her fork. “Where?”
“Again with the ‘where’?”
“So, when I was a kid. Our school used to go up there. It’s a camp, just north of Weevern. Up in the hills – we always called it the mountain camp. It had a great vantage point, right up on top of a rocky plateau. There was a vineyard nearby. And a fancy chateau. And a valley nearby with farmland… and…”
Just a flicker of one eyelid.
“And… I could go home. We could try to reach Dad.”
“I know it’s a longshot but it’d be on the way. And the one thing we used to keep hearing was how it was worst in places that are,” and I actually did count this off on my fingers, “coastal, low-lying, densely populated. So, a deserted mountain camp would be like almost the polar opposite.”
“If it’s still deserted.”
“Even if it’s not, it won’t be like it is down here. There might be something like… I don’t know, community or something. It might not be chaos.”
“Or it might…”
“Yeah, I know. Look, it’s mothballed and it’s remote. They stopped letting kids go there on account of all the asbestos…”
“… but it does mean it might not have attracted too much attention. Hey, I know it’s a gamble, I get that. The whole thing.”
“But we’re past considering only the good ideas.”
She bit her bottom lip, just a tiny bit, just a trace of incisor. She was looking at me as if she might be thinking it over. “I guess it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
“Okay. Now we just need to work out how we’re going to get there.”
And it was like I’d said, there were a few problems to consider. How were we going to get a car, or get to a car, or manage to drive that car out of town? Zara’s car was out of the question, parked in the basement garage across the road, which was now gummed up solid, her car along with it. And the roads here in town would be killers for the engine anyway.
“I do have an idea though,” I tested the water. I know how this sounds, but I was worried about panicking her, about presenting something that seemed too insane or impossible. I mean, she was borderline, she was doing this more for me than because she really thought it had a chance. “I do know a guy.”
“Do you know Duncan Foster?”
Zara shook her head.
“I took a few classes with him in uni. We had this group project, and we did most of it at his house. It was a decent neighbourhood. On a hill. And in Kensington.”
“Which one’s Kensington?”
“Next to Statter Hill. It’s the second last suburb north out of town. Duncan had a sturdy looking four-wheel drive vehicle. I don’t know if he used for anything more exciting than to go down the dairy for milk, but I always saw it parked in his garage.”
“There’s so many ifs.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I tried to call him a few days ago. I couldn’t reach him. And it was a couple of years ago we last saw each other.”
“And. And. Yeah, I got it. Big-ass gamble.”
“Zara, it’s worth it.”
“I know it is,” though I’m not sure that’s what she truly thought.
We made love that night. It was hot; but in a desperate, frenzied kind of way. As if we were saying goodbye with our bodies, to all of each other’s body, every nook and cranny, and at the same time to the sheets and wallpaper, and the pillows, and a crack in the wall, the frayed edges of carpet. I felt as if I could hardly breathe, and I could hear Zara breathing against me, just as hard.
We clung all night, knowing we should sleep, but knowing there was no way we would.
Then in the morning we made the phone calls. It was a forlorn hope, really. No answers. Most of the numbers were dead. I tried Duncan – just in case. I tried Dad. We debated heading out to Mikey’s place again. But we had no real reason to believe he’d be there, and the streets were getting only more hazardous.
Night or day?
Well, we were better camouflaged by night, largely invisible; but at the same time there were all those rumours about what was out there. Stuff we wouldn’t see coming. And there were bandits hunting in the dark, just as in the day, as invisible as we’d be until that last moment.
By day, even if we dressed in light colours, we were going to be seen. We’d be targets.
“We could toss a coin.” Zara was joking.
I was rather close to considering it. “No. We should do this at night. I don’t know what might be out there in the dark. But we know what’s out there in the day, and we know they’d see us a mile off. Right? It’s a question. Am I right?”
“It’ll be dicey either way.”
“Yeah, but I’m scared shitless of going out at night, so let’s hope everybody else in this town feels the same way.”
“Fair enough.” She was packing food into backpacks. It wouldn’t last more than a week or so, we’d have to find more on the road. She slid a couple of knives into the side pocket. “Don’t you wish we had guns in the house now?”
“I wish we’d had a few grenades. We could have rolled them down the stairs before those guys even got up to us. There’d have been nothing left but guts if we had enough of them. Just wall to wall blood-paint.”
“Sorry. It’s just… it sticks with me…”
“Me too. I just don’t…”
“Scared as fuck, Nate.”
“Not as scared as I am.”
She shook her head, “no, seriously. I’m shaking. I’ll show you my hands.”
“I’ll show you mine.”
“They’re shaking way more than yours.”
“I don’t think…”
“And that’s nothing compared to the way my insides are wobbling like jelly, and my head’s spinning so fast it feels like it’s going to fall off.”
“Huh! That it? Because I’m so much more scared than that. I leave your mild, half-hearted fear in the dust, buddy.”
“I plan on shitting myself.”
“And I’m going to curl up in a corner wailing and tearing at my hair.”
At some point we’d decided that that was how we were going to get through this, we’d get by on hilarity, and when that wore off, we’d get by on some distraction, then maybe some strategizing, and then a bit more hilarity.
All the while, the sky cycled through blue into deep blue, into red, into aqua-storm-grey. The shadows marched. They marched at once so slowly, and at the same time so fast. I could feel my heartbeat all the time. Zara wrapped her arms around my shoulders, tucking her chin into my shoulder. “Nearly time, Nate.”
“You ready for this?”
“Sure. This. It’s a walk in the park. A little nothing.”
“Less than nothing.”
“A humdrum triviality of imperceptible account.”
“Done it six times since last Tuesday.”
“Is that all? I’ve done it at least nine times.”
“Pah! I go for this walk every day before breakfast.”
“Me too, and then twice after lunch, and once before bed.”
That’s how we were getting through this. That’s just how we were going to do it. And as the sky began turning night-time-with-stars, Zara looked at me directly. “It’s time, isn’t it?”
“Just so we’re clear: I do love you.”
“Right back at ya. Zara, I don’t even want to make it if you don’t.”
But I stared her down. “It’s true. It’s completely true. I mean it.” And I did. And I’m not even sure I completely knew that until I’d said it out loud.
She made a small half-sigh, half-smile. “Let’s do this then.”
“Let’s do it.”
We went out there into the night.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work