KATIE HUGGINS – YORKSHIRE/WOLLONGONG
Case File #231: Survivor’s Account
As the city burned down before me I thought of fireworks. Watching them from the safety of my parents’ arms, flying up higher-and-higher to explode and rain down over our heads, always disappearing before they could touch. Now the fire fell nearby and sizzled out. I hung around for as long as I could. The sunrise was cloudy grey and heavy hung that made me sweat in my jeans until my skin was scratched and raw and I had to move or be uncomfortable.
Roy was at the wheel. His eyes were blood shot, the creases around them more pronounced. We had been driving through the night, with one busted headlight. Every so often he had almost wondered into the crack that ran down the centre of the road separating it. Beside me Eve was sleeping, her head thrown back and hair spilt down over the torn vinyl of the seat like honey coloured blood.
I had kept myself awake by digging my nails into my knee, exposed through the hole in my jeans. I was drawing blood that was mixing with the dirt under my nails, but I was conscious and determined to remain so. The world moved around us, a rolling film of untamed no-man’s-land.
My mind wandered that night, drifting to thoughts of how many dead were buried under that scrub.
“Low,” Roy said. His voice was low and scratchy. He always drank from a thermos he kept between his legs.
He pulled the car off the road. It lurched and bounced, throwing Eve back into consciousness. My nail dragged over my knee and took with it a strip of red stained skin.
“Damn, Roy,” I hissed. “Careful.”
He was unbuckling. “Hand us a carton.”
At our feet were half a dozen three litre milk bottles filled with cloudy petrol. I heaved one up to him. Roy left his door open as he got busy filling the tank.
“I need to pee,” Eve said. She got out, breezing past Roy and down the slope to the trees.
I got out too. My legs were cramped and the scratch on my knee had a sting to it. I fumbled my standing and looked around. The sun was rising. The air had a heavy misty feel to it that came with dew. It was so quiet. The sound of petrol splashing down into the tank, and the rustles of Eve moving around beyond our sight.
Roy had finished up. He chucked the bottle aside. I wanted to tell him not to litter, only to be obnoxious, but I had no energy left for it. I had run out of energy weeks before Roy’s crappy car had pulled over to let us in. We had to still be days away from the coast. I had been so hungry that I had lost my appetite.
Roy took a swig from his thermos. He ran the back of his hand over his beard and burped. Eve came back up the slope, stooped to balance herself.
“What’s in it?” She asked.
Roy gave a jerky one shoulder shrug. “Bunch of stuff. Coke. Whiskey. Some speed. Stuff that keeps ya awake. Alert.” He gave a little nervous, high pitch giggle.
“Sounds deadly,” Eve said. She still wouldn’t look at me.
We got back into the car and headed back into the rising sun. Onwards to the coast.
Eve stayed awake after that. Wedged between us was a hand-made barrier made up of her pack. Whenever Eve was awake I became more aware of the gun she had strapped to the front. That hulking, ugly piece of machinery she kept pressed against her thigh. My insistence on not sleeping during that ride was in part for defence but also because every time I closed my eyes I saw the sun glinting off that gun.
I must have drifted. One moment I was staring out the windscreen at the promise of the horizon, the next the car was pulled over and Eve was struggling beside me, thrashing madly as Roy dragged her up and out.
“Fuck off! Get off!” Eve kept shouting.
She was so weak though that the fight in her was a short burst, that lasted her long enough to kick out at his knee, sending him toppling over and onto her, half hanging out of the car. His head was near me. I slammed my fist down onto the back of it and he pushed up.
“What are you doing?” I kept shouting.
“Get him off!” Eve screamed from beneath him.
Roy fell down, dragging Eve by the waistband of her jeans, onto him. They rolled on the ground and I watched him pulling at her, forcing her face into the dirt and rocks.
“Shuddup,” Roy kept chanting.
I had never seen anyone in my life so deliriously mad. Not even a woman Eve and I would see some months later, clutching the remains of her child as she fended off the wild dogs, screaming for us to take the baby.
The gun was on the floor. The unexpected weight almost made me drop it. I fell head over ass trying to get out. My foot hit one of the milk cartons, the other got tangled in Eve’s pack. Roy was a hulking target. His ragged red shirt that clung to a malformed frame that had spent months hunched over a steering wheel. My aim was off and I knew it. The most vivid image I have of that moment was seeing me out of my body. I was clumsy, strange. The first shot flew over their heads and Roy didn’t even flinch.
“Do it!” Eve screamed.
The next shot hit his ass. Roy grunted and lurched forward the close range force. He fell over Eve who squirmed out from beneath him. Dirty, her face covered in scratches.
I handed her the gun, threw up on my worn out boots as Eve pulled the trigger twice.
“You,” Eve said. “Are so fucking useless to me.”
I hadn’t wanted to look up. What if the barrel of that gun was now pointed at me?
“Go on,” Eve said. I looked up then. She was doing up the buttons on her jeans. There were tears on her face, shining trails. “You know how to drive, don’t you?”
I thought of that burning city we had left back on the road. Could have sworn the flames were at our ankles.