After Tomorrow

Survival is your only option...
'The raiders headed right for us. There were half a dozen of them. Heavy, tall men with packs on their backs. And guns in their hands.'
Money is worthless. Armed robbers roam the streets. No one is safe. Matt and his little brother, Taco, escape through the Channel Tunnel. Their mother said they would be safe on the other side. She was wrong.
“a fast-moving, incredibly exciting read” – Malorie Blackman

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The first raid happened on an ordinary, boring evening. We were all sitting round the kitchen table and Mum was serving our tea. It was watery vegetable stew—as usual—and Taco was moaning about the swede.

As usual.

He scowled at the orange lumps on his plate and started singing under his breath. ‘Horrible sick for tea today, sick for tea, sick for tea . . .

‘Now, don’t be silly,’ Justin said. ‘Grandpa grew that swede, Taco. And Mum’s cooked it specially for us.’

‘It’s sick,’ Taco muttered. He put his head down stubbornly, like a little bull.

‘It’s food,’ Mum said shortly. She ladled some stew on to her own plate and sat down to eat. ‘If you don’t want yours, give it to Matt. And go to bed.’

I’d have eaten Taco’s share like a shot. But I knew he’d spend the whole night moaning about being hungry if I did, so I whispered in his ear. ‘Race you! If I finish first, I get to stomp on your shoebox.’

‘NO!’ roared Taco. (The shoebox trick always worked. No one knew what he kept in there, but it was his treasure.) He grabbed a spoon and started shovelling stew into his mouth.

So it was a normal, dull evening. And then suddenly, without any warning—

CRASH!!!

The back door burst open, splintering away from its hinges, and two men in balaclavas leapt into the kitchen. They were yelling at the tops of their voices.

‘OK! Nobody move! Hands on the table!’

‘Shut your mouths!’

They were both holding big, heavy wrenches, swinging them round like weapons. Justin began to stand up—and then sank slowly back into his chair. He looked stupid, but it made sense.

If a wrench like that smashed into your skull, it wouldn’t just give you a bruise.

The men didn’t hesitate. One of them grabbed Taco and yanked him backwards in his chair, holding the wrench over his face. The other one ripped open the cupboard doors, one after another—until he found the food cupboard.

He started emptying it straight away, scooping out pasta and beans and cereal—all the food Mum had stashed away so carefully. He loaded it all into trolley bags, cramming them full.

‘Don’t take everything,’ Justin bleated, when he opened the freezer. ‘We’ve got children to feed.’

‘It’s your kids or ours, mate,’ said the other man.

He swung his wrench high in the air over Taco’s head and looked sideways at Justin. Taco’s spoon shook, spilling swede back on to the plate, and his eyes opened wide and white.

Justin opened his mouth to argue—and then shut it again, without saying anything.

‘That’s better,’ the man said grimly. ‘We don’t want any trouble.’

All our frozen food went into the next couple of bags. Beans. Beetroot. Carrots. Apple. Our precious sausages and bacon and the bony bits of lamb for stewing. For a second there was no sound except the thump of frozen meat dropping into the bag. Then Mum put an arm round Taco’s shoulders and started whispering in his ear.

The wrench swung towards her sharply. She glanced up at it and stopped talking, but she didn’t move her arm.

In fifteen minutes, all the cupboards were bare. The fridge and the freezer were standing empty, with their doors wide open and the ice slowly starting to melt. The man with the bags took them out into the hall and lined them up by the front door. Then he went out—leaving the other one to guard us.

That was our chance! We should have jumped him then. Justin could have knocked him sideways CRUNCH! THUMP! and I could have sat on his head while Mum grabbed the wrench. Then we’d have attacked the other man when he came back and BANG! ZAP!! POW!!! we would have been in charge. We’d have made them put all our food back and then tied them up and called the police.

My dad would have done that. He would have picked up those weedy little raiders and smashed their heads together. But Justin didn’t move. Not an inch. He went on sitting meekly at the table, watching the wrench that was aimed at Mum’s head.

The other raider started a van outside and reversed it up to the front door—driving straight across the lettuce patch. He jumped out, without bothering to turn off the engine, and loaded the bags into the back of the van. Then he slammed the rear doors and stuck his head back into the kitchen to nod to his mate.

The man with the wrench edged slowly towards the door, watching us all. Ready to race forward if one of us looked like moving. At the last moment, he reached out and swept his hand across all the light switches, plunging us into darkness. Then he raced for the van, slamming the front door behind him.

For a moment we sat without moving, listening to the van drive out on to the road. Then Taco started to make a horrible gasping noise, as if he was suffocating. ‘Uh—uh—uh—

‘It’s all right,’ Justin said. He snatched Taco out of his chair and hugged him, hard. ‘They’ve gone, Taco. It’s all right.’

Mum leapt up and charged out of the house, yelling after the van. I think she was trying to see the number plate, but she was way too late for that. All she could do was shout rude words as it hurtled round the corner and disappeared. As the noise of the engine faded, her voice died away too and we heard her turn back towards the house.

Then there was a different kind of shout. More like a scream.

Justin put Taco down and raced for the door. I followed him, with Taco behind me, clutching at my sweatshirt. Mum was standing in the middle of the path, staring back at the house, and her mouth was twisted into a tight little knot. When she saw us, she pointed at the space over the front door.

We ran down the path, turned round to look—and saw huge black letters spray-painted right across the wall.

SCADGERS!

‘What’s that?’ Taco said, in a small, scared voice.

Mum shook her head and pressed her lips together.

‘It means hoarders.’ Justin shuddered. ‘Rich, greedy people who buy up all the food and hide it away so they don’t have to share it with anyone else.’

We’re not rich,’ I said. ‘And we’re not greedy either.’

‘They don’t care about that,’ Mum said. Suddenly she sounded very tired. ‘They think we’re scadgers—and they’ve tagged our house. Labelled us as fair game for any stinking raider who sees that. So this won’t be the last time.’

Justin stroked her arm. ‘Don’t worry, Ali. I’ve got some paint in the garage. I’ll paint over it in the morning. You’d better get on to the insurance people then. And you could phone the police now.’

‘What can they do?’ Mum said bitterly.

But she went inside straight away and rang them.

And that made her even crosser. Justin and I were upstairs, putting Taco to bed, and we could hear her shouting.

‘What do you mean you can’t come out? . . . I don’t care if it does happen fifty times a week . . . It’s not our fault you’re short-staffed . . . ’

Taco sat up in bed, listening to it all. ‘Why won’t the police come?’ he whispered. ‘Why is Mum so angry?’

Justin sighed and tried to make him lie down. ‘Lots of people are having their food stolen. And there aren’t enough police to visit them all.’

‘So why don’t we get more police?’ Taco said.

I knew the answer to that one. ‘Because there’s not enough money to pay them. The government can’t afford it.’

‘Why can’t they go to the bank and get more money?’ Taco said. ‘And why did those men come and take our food? Why didn’t they get their own? Why—’

Justin looked at me and rolled his eyes. How could we possibly explain all that? We’d need to go back to the beginning, before Taco was even born. Before my dad died and Mum met Justin.

Right back to the day when five banks crashed at once. The Monday they called Armageddon.

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