I had uneasy dreams that night.
The sky was smeared with a sickly mustard colour that ought to belong in a cartoon. I was stood in what I could only presume had originally been a vineyard or a plantation of a kind. Slight mounds of charred plant and soil stretched far over hills into the distance in neat, bending lines. A slow moving mist or smoke rose – I was unsure which – from the blackened ground and I noticed that around me there was a large number of people all walking between the lines of the mounds. Their faces were pained, confused. I walked with them, confused. I turned to try and catch someone’s attention, but they were all intently fixed on something that resided over the hill ahead. I tried to call out to them, but no noise came from my mouth. There was absolute silence; I could not even hear the tread I made on the crusted ground. I began to panic and attempted in vain to call out again. I felt as if I was being strangled. The world around me started to spin at an unnatural speed, faster and faster, like the nightmares of circus acts and fairground rides. The lines of soil turned to a blur, like a fan or a propeller. The people became indistinct vapour or grain – I was unsure which. My neck felt tighter still, I could not call out. Suddenly, the spinning came to abrupt halt; the propellers became the lines of soil, the vapour formed bodies again, but my neck still felt tight. Just ahead of me an old woman stood beckoning me to her with an outstretched hand. She wore dark coloured rags, a grubby apron and a scarf of sorts that was wrapped neatly around her head. She smiled at me, beckoning with her hand in a modest, calming motion. I felt compelled to her, my body moved by itself, but I did not object, I wanted to go to her. I recognised this woman, but I could not remember where from. As I got closer to her I saw the little details about her, the deeply set wrinkles in her face, the knobbly skeletal nature of her hand and face, the mud that tinged the bottom of her apron. I got to her and she placed both her hands on my cheeks and closed her eyes. I closed mine and saw the field that once flourished where I stood. Acres and acres of green that went on up and over the hills, the sky a luscious gold. Somewhere in the distance I could see the figure of a scarecrow and just up at the top of the hill a farmer took his hat off and stretched up. There was no sign of the other people expect for the old woman, who stood smiling at me. I smiled back at her and she pointed to the sky. I followed her finger and for a moment saw nothing but the sun kissed clouds and hints of blue. Then, out of a cloud, a black plane burst through. The sound of its engine screeched into life and the rumble cut through the air to my core. I tried to call out to the farmer up on the hill, but my voice still failed me, my throat tight. I waved and jumped up and down, frantically trying to get his attention. It was too late, the black plane thundered low over the top of the hill and out sight. There was a few seconds of calm and relief, as it appeared nothing had happened. I looked back to woman, who was still smiling, and she pointed at the hill. I looked back to the hill and from behind it there shot a blinding light. Time slowed and I could actually see the process of the radiation coming towards me, like fire. First, the farmer was consumed by the light and vaporised a moment later, his fragments slowly splitting off into the heat. Then the fire clawed its way along the lines and lines of green, slow, determined and silent, turning the green to black and grey as it went. The scarecrow burnt up, in on itself, and the green kept turning to black and grey. There was something quite calming in the terror of it all. An unassuming power that left only its own signature etched into the ground.
The old woman turned to me, smiled, placed her hands on my cheeks and closed her eyes. I closed mine and was snapped back to the mustard sky and lines and lines of blackened soil. The people around were all moving at an uneasy pace towards the hill. I looked to the old woman, she smiled at me again and pointed to the hill. I nodded and walked passed her with the rest of the crowd. My face, like theirs, pained, confused. The sky turned a dark purple when I got to the top of the hill. I looked down and saw the scene set out before me and I gagged. Bodies lay mangled and contorted in the rough and fires lit the way across a great chasm of blackened ground and corpses, ripped apart by delayed radiation. I staggered down the hill and felt drawn to go right. I ran through the ruins and it started to rain. The burnt ground melted into sludgy mud that made it hard to run. Dead faces looked up at me from the ground, their faces sunken and hung open. Men and woman, some old and some young, even children. All stripped of a dignified end, if one exists. They had to endure the slow and agonising process of their cells becoming contaminated then ripped apart and deformed by radiation. I gagged, my throat felt tighter still. I looked around the place, trying to find the thing that brought me this way, that made me go right. Then, I saw her. Her body sprawled and spotted with the poisons. She still had her glasses on, and her hair still had its perfected black, greying curls. It was my nana. I stared at her for a long time and knelt down beside her, then wept.
As often happens in dreams, an indiscernible length of time passed. I stood up and, for reasons unknown to myself, pressed my foot against the side of her ribs. Promptly, her ribs flipped inside out, as if spinning on an axel of some kind. The underside of her ribs was smeared with dark grease and I noticed there were numbers marked out in the grease itself. I looked closer and saw it was a timer counting down. I could not make out what the numbers were – it was not important – but I knew there were numbers there and that they were counting down – that was important, although I could not think why it was important. My neck began to ache and I attempted to cough but found my passage blocked, suffocation had set in and my head started to hurt. I snapped awake to find I was indeed being suffocated, two gruff hands were wrapped around my neck. I scratched and grabbed at them to try and pull them off but I could not fight against Michael’s strength, already weakened from lack of oxygen and weary from nightmares. I fumbled around on the table to my right, trying to find something to hit him with, something sharp, heavy, solid, anything would do. My consciousness started to waver and my hands became clumsy and slow, I almost resolved to accept my fate when my hand found the soup tin can from dinner. Hit with a new dose of energy, I struck hard and fast with the tin can and connected with Michaels head. He yelped and loosened his grip on my neck, I kicked out at him and he stumbled away. I gasped and gulped in the air, loving the somewhat painful process of it re-entering my lungs. The light came on and I protected my eyes from the glare. I squinted and blinked around the room a few times and saw Lily stood by the light switch glaring from Michael to me.
‘What the fuck is going on?’, she exploded, gritting her teeth. I leaned back against the wall and took a moment to breathe and massage my neck. Michael shot up, rubbing his head,
‘That idiot over there hit me over the head when I got up to have a piss’, he growled,
‘What? Fuck you, Michael. I woke up and you were strangling me. Unless that’s what you call having a piss’
‘He’s lying, Lily’— Michael started, but I interrupted,
‘No. I’m not lying. That prick over there was strangling me. I woke up and he had his hands around my neck’
‘Is this true Michael?’ Lily asked, her eyes a blaze. After a short pause, Michael looked at me calmly and said, ‘Yes’.
‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ Lily spat, he looked back her,
‘We won’t survive with him here’, he replied, calm,
‘Yes we will’ Lily replied quickly,
‘No we won’t. You know we won’t, Lily’, his voice still calm, and fixed Lily with a stern gaze. He seemed almost dazed.
‘Michael don’t look at me like that’
‘Like what, Lily?’, he said calmly, again, then giggled, soft, childlike.
‘Oh my god’ Lily hushed and put a hand to her mouth, Michaels laughter stopped, ‘Oh my god, Michael, your eyes’, she said, her voice fearful. I looked at his eyes. His pupils were dilated. He gazed at Lily then at me, unfocused, calm, smiling, dazed.
‘What’s wrong with him?’ I snapped,
‘He’s drugged’ Lily said quietly, ‘oh my god’ she repeated it over and over.
‘Drugged? What do you mean, he’s drugged? Where did he get the drugs from?’, I was beginning to panic.
‘Our father died’, she began, soft and tearful, ‘and we didn’t qualify for ration tokens’, my heart sank, I knew where this was going, ‘and Michael did the only thing he could’ Lily burst into tears. I put a hand on her shoulder,
‘He went to the Playhouses’ I said, in realisation. Lily nodded. Without warning, Michael slumped to the floor and his body started to contort and shake,
‘Michael!’, Lily threw herself to the floor and held his hand, nearly hysterical. Michael’s body started to spasm more violently and he started to foam at the mouth. I watched the scene for a moment as Lily pleaded with him to stop and Michael’s condition worsened. I had seen this before.
‘Where’s the adrenaline?’ I said quickly, Lily did not reply, too upset to even hear me. I bent down and made her face me, ‘Lily’ I said sternly, ‘where is the adrenaline?’, she pointed over to the shelf and spluttered out through her tears ‘green box’. I rushed over and brought the box back to Michael’s side. Blood started to come out of his nose. I scrambled through the box and retrieved the adrenaline.
‘Lily, look at me’ she turned to face me, still crying, ‘you’re going to need to calm down. I need you hold Michael still’
‘What?’ she replied, bewildered,
‘Lily’, I snapped, ‘we need to inject this shot into his heart. If we don’t do it soon, he is going to die’,
‘Okay’, she nodded and promptly started trying to hold Michael down. She struggled with him for a few seconds before turning back to me,
‘I can’t’, she said, tearful again. I ripped open his shirt and placed the needle in her hand. Her face dropped with horror, ‘no I can’t’—she began,
‘Lily, you have to. I’ll hold him down and you have to strike the needle down into his heart here’ I pointed to the spot on his chest,
‘No I can’t do it, Thomas’
‘You have to. If you don’t he’ll die’. She looked at the needle and then at Michael and gave a timid nod. I moved round on my knees to Michael’s head and locked it still with my knees and forced his arms down with hands. His legs still kicked out uncontrollably.
‘Sit on his legs’ I shouted, struggling. She obeyed immediately. She looked at him and the needle, fear in her eyes,
‘Lily, you can do this. Straight down into the spot I showed you’, I said as calmly as I could whilst trying to struggled with Michael’s uncontrollable body. She took a deep breath then plunged the needle down into his chest.