A Late-Night Visitor
Often, as a child, things happen around you and you don’t get their meaning. You take them at face value, you see them as they are. One of the things that I had noticed since I’d been at home more was that there was hidden meaning in most things. Take Dad’s ranting, for instance. He said one thing, but he meant another. And it was the same with Mum and Dad when they were together. They had conversations, but they sometimes seemed to mean a different thing from what I understood. Like a double conversation, as if the words meant one thing to me, but they were hearing something different.
So, when Dad left me in charge of David and Harriet, he was – on the face of it – going to see Mum after she’d fainted in hospital. But it felt to me as if something else was going on, something I just wasn’t getting. Dad wasn’t that long as it turned out. I think the reason he was most worried is that Mum had been away the night before. They always got crabby when they didn’t see each other for a while. She’d been away at some business meeting and had left to catch an early train long before I got up. Dad was cross that she’d given blood rather than coming straight home. Of course he’d never have known if she hadn’t fainted. And now she was in hospital overnight and we were travelling to Scotland the next day.
Sometimes parents seem to make life so difficult. All Dad had to do was get the packing done and pick Mum up from hospital on the way out in the morning. When he got home, David and Harriet went to bed, and Dad got me to help with the packing.
I liked it that since I’d been at home, Dad treated me differently. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was as if I was an adult at last. He just chatted to me the same as he did with Mum. He didn’t use that kind of talk you reserve for kids, as if you’re overacting in a bad TV series. That’s why I was still up when there was a knock at the door.
It’s funny that a knock at the door means nothing at all during the daytime, but at night or in darkness it can take on such a different meaning. At night it can be threatening, or it can take on a new urgency, as if important news has to be delivered that cannot wait until morning. So when the knock came, at shortly after eleven o’clock, it made both of us jump and we could only stare quizzically at each other while we registered what had just happened.
Dad told me to get ready for bed and to stay upstairs, and I felt a sharp change from his easiness in the minutes just before the night-time interruption. I wasn’t much the wiser for what was said at the front door – it was just a series of mumbles preceded and followed by greetings and farewells. But there was something about the conversation that registered with me, not words, but a tone and style of speaking. It was only while I was lying awake in bed long after Dad had retired for the night that I finally realized what it was that had felt so familiar to me. That was Doctor Pierce talking to Dad at the door. So why had Dad said, after closing the door and rejoining me, that it was a wrong address?
In The Darkness
I’m trying to stay calm, but it’s really difficult. None of this makes sense to me at all. It’s as if somebody just turned all the lights out and now they refuse to tell me what’s going on. I don’t know what to do. If I try to move in this darkness, I might fall. Even worse, I could get lost.
I’m desperately trying to remember the layout of the bunker beyond the blast doors, but I can’t, and anyway it’s complete darkness. I have no light or sound to help me navigate. I’ve called for help until I’m hoarse and my water is gone now. I’m scared, hungry and alone. It’s ridiculous, but in spite of this I can think of no better strategy than to stay where I am. If somebody comes, they will either enter via the doors or try to leave using this route.
The thing is, I know there are lots of people still in there. So why can’t they hear me? And what happened to Dad, David and Harriet? They were pretty close when the darkness fell, but now I can’t see or hear them. It seems crazy to just stay here, but I can’t think of anything better to do for now. And if death comes? Well, I was at Nat’s side when life ended, so I know what it’s like.
The black car didn’t stop when it struck Nat at the roadside. Nobody even thought about the car at the time – everybody’s attention was focused on the bloody body that lay lifeless in front of us. It could have been an invisible, brutal force that came out of nowhere and took the life away from my twin without a care. It was only once the ambulance had been called – as Mum cradled Nat in her arms and a crowd of passers-by had gathered – that the question was asked about the driver.
All those people around, yet the only information that we could get about the driver was that he was in a large black vehicle. Make unknown. The driver appeared to be a male. And the car didn’t have number plates.
On Our Way
We finally set off on our journey to Scotland. Needless to say, we did win the competition, in the end. We weren’t used to having that type of luck, but in this case it was all very quick. It must have been less than a week between Dad sending off our entry and his announcement that we’d actually won, and in no time at all it was the day of the holiday. So, after a chaotic breakfast and a hasty packing of the car, Dad locked up the house, we all got in the car, picked up Mum from the hospital and we were on our way.
Mum seemed fine after her night in hospital. None of us needed any medical detail, so long as Mum was back in sight and we could see her and tell that she was okay, the whole incident was forgotten. Or at least for a while. When I asked her to show me where they’d taken the blood from her arm, there was no mark. ‘I must be a quick healer,’ Mum had joked. But I didn’t think injections healed that fast.