Copyright J. S. Raynor 2017
Chapter Eight : A new way of life
Alex awoke to an unexpected smell. Initially confused by his strange surroundings, he sat up and sniffed the air. “Bacon!” The salty aroma of bacon cooking was unmistakable. He pulled on his clothes and wandered through to the kitchen, where Cassy was busy preparing breakfast. This was nothing like the spoiled girl he had first met on the previous day’s flight from Manchester. Eggs were frying, while bacon sizzled gently on the grill.
“Can I help?” Alex felt that he should do something useful.
“You could find some knives and forks and lay the table. I think you should waken Danny and let him have some breakfast with us.”
Obediently, Alex returned to the bedroom. “Danny!” the boy stirred, his eyes flickered open and he looked at Alex, with an obvious question in his mind.
“Where’s my mummy and daddy?”
“I don’t know, Danny. Cassy and I will look after you, for now. Are you hungry?”
The boy looked so sad that the main people in his life had just literally vanished. Alex could see the pain in his young face. He climbed, wearily, out of the bed and followed Alex silently into the dining area.
“Would either of you like some toast?” Cassy had assumed the role of mother, seemingly accepting this strangest of situations, without question.
“Yes, please.” Alex knew that all of them needed to eat while they had food, since they had no idea where their next meal would come from. Danny did not respond to Cassy’s question. “He seems traumatised, but I would give him some to build up his reserves. How is the baby?”
“She seems alright, but she did wake me up several times during the night. I mixed a biscuit with milk to feed her and it seems to have worked.”
Alex was impressed by Cassy’s determination to be responsible for their welfare. “You are doing a great job, Cassy. How is your back after your fall into the tree?”
The teenage girl blushed at his praise. “Oh, it’s not bad. A few scratches and a few aches, but that’s all.” At that moment, cries from the bedroom indicated that the baby was now awake. Alex offered to bring her in, while Cassy was finishing preparing breakfast.
As Alex brought the child in, he said, “We don’t even know what she is called.”
“I have been thinking about that. She looks so angelic, I thought it would be nice to call her Angela. She’s young enough to adopt a new name.”
Alex took a seat at the table with the now, quietened child on his knee. “I’m certain that’s okay. It sounds as though you accept that adults are not coming back?”
“What else can we assume?” Cassy was about to say something else, when she realised that, to say anything more, would upset Danny. Instead, she finished organising breakfast and piled the food on the three plates. “Let’s just make the most of what we’ve got, okay?”
“Yes, of course.” Alex was hungry and enjoyed the breakfast Cassy had prepared for them. His mind was in a turmoil and he wondered what they should do next.
Noticing his absent look, Cassy asked, “What are you thinking?”
“I was thinking what we should do, next. We could stay here, but, eventually, the food will run out. And then what?”
“There must be some stores where we can find food. At least we don’t need to worry about money.”
Alex knew this could be only a short-term solution. “At some stage, the food will still run out. Don’t forget, there will be thousands of hungry children just like us, with the same idea.” To emphasise his point, he added, “And any fresh food will rot without being replaced.”
“So, what should we do, then?”
Alex knew there were few options open to them and said, despairingly, “I wish I knew. I just wonder if we should try to get somewhere, instead of staying here for the rest of our lives.”
Shortly after eating, Alex went into the bedroom and picked up his i-phone which had survived the fall. Since it had been in a zipped-up pocket in his jacket, it was damp, but still showed signs of life.
Nervously, he switched it on and tried dialing his home number in England. He was hoping beyond hope that his parents may still be alive. With no answer from his mother, he tried his dad’s mobile, but, again, the response was the same. Even allowing for the time difference, he knew that they would have answered if they were able. There was a heavy feeling in his heart as he walked back into the kitchen, saying, “I’ve just tried phoning home – it does seem that it is not just restricted to America but a global problem.”
Cassy knew he had been trying to make contact and was dis-heartened by his findings. She did not want to say too much in front of Danny and chose her words carefully. “I was afraid of this. Do you have any teenage relatives?”
Alex’s heart lifted at this question. “Cassy, you’re brilliant!” He quickly returned to the bedroom and scrolled through the contact list on his phone. He selected his cousin, Robert and waited, with rising impatience, as the number was called.
His heart lifted as the familiar voice answered. “Hi, Alex – I thought you were in the States.”
“I am. Bob, are your mum and dad there?”
“I think they must still be in bed. I’ve not seen them, yet. Why?”
Alex realised that his cousin was not yet aware of the disaster and chose his words carefully. “Can you go and see if they are there?”
He could hear Bob running up the stairs. “Why? Is there a problem?”
“Just look first and then I’ll explain.”
He could hear the knock on the bedroom door, followed by a gasp of surprise as he pushed the door open. “They’re not here! Where have they gone? How did you know they were not here?”
Again, Alex took a deep breath. “You have just confirmed my worst fears. While I was flying here, last night, all the adults disappeared and I only managed to avoid death by jumping from the plane. I needed to know if this is more than just in America.”
There was a stunned silence from Bob and, then, finding his voice, he said, “you must be joking!”
Patiently, Alex replied, “I wish I was. If you don’t believe me, look through the window and tell me if you can see any adults.”
He heard Bob pulling back the curtains in the bedroom. After a pause, he asked, “You mean there are no adults anywhere in the world?”
“I wish I could say that it was an April fool joke. Something happened last night and it looks as though there are only children left here on earth.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know, but, at least, there will not be any schools as there are no teachers.”
Bob laughed. “That is a definite bonus, but there are also no farmers, engineers or anybody who helps to keep the world running.”
“True. Listen, Bob. See what you can find out, keep your mobile charged and send me texts when you can. It does mean that I will have to stay in Florida as there is no way of getting back. I have a friend in Singapore, so I will phone her next and find out if the same has happened to her.”
“Wish I was stuck in Florida, you lucky devil! Bye, Alex.”
Alex scrolled down the list on his mobile and found Jasmine, a fourteen year old Indian Singaporean who he met on holiday two years earlier. When she answered, it was obvious she was pleased to hear from him. She did confirm that all adults in her area had disappeared, that morning. Jasmin and her five younger siblings were struggling to accept their new, precarious situation. She agreed to keep in touch with Alex by text messages and wished him good luck.
Alex decided to tell Cassy about his findings later and looked around the house, searching for a bag. Anything which they could use to carry enough food to last them for a while. He felt triumphant when he found a rucksack, pushed into the back of a bedroom cupboard. It looked quite old, as though it had not been used for many years. He tipped it upside down, allowing the contents to spill out onto the floor. Numerous photographs lay in an untidy heap and, unable to conceal his curiosity, he gathered a few photos together and scanned through them. They were photos of a soldier, back from the Vietnam War in the late sixties. It seemed so sad that someone who had survived such a terrible war, had now vanished as though they had never existed. Alex picked up the rucksack and took some of the photos to show Cassy. “Look at these, Cassy.”
She found it equally interesting to discover the history of the occupants of the house they had taken over, just like squatters. “She picked out one of the photographs and held it close to a photograph hanging on the wall. “You can see the likeness with this photo which, I think, was taken only a few years ago.”
Alex looked at the picture on the wall. It showed a man and woman, probably both in their late eighties, taken on a cruise ship. The features of the man, compared with the old photos were definitely the same allowing for, probably sixty years of aging.
Cassy looked more closely at the picture. “They looked so happy.”
“Yes. It’s so sad that, after all they must have been through, they are no longer here.“
“I don’t know who is luckier. At least they don’t have an uncertain future, like us.” The look of despair in Cassy’s eyes was unmistakable.
Alex put his arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Listen Cassy, don’t give up. We have to do what we can to survive. It’s not going to be easy, but we have got to try.”
Encouraged by his words, Cassy took the rucksack into the kitchen. “Okay, let’s see what we can find.” The couple began to open cupboards, drawers until every storage space had been checked. Fortunately, the couple who had lived in the house had quite sweet tastes and many chocolate bars and cookies were found. Cassy handed everything to Alex who began to fill the bag with their plundered goodies. Oranges, apples, bananas, fruit juice and anything else suitable were added. The bag was not full, but still quite heavy.
Alex, thinking aloud, said, “Perhaps we should stay here one more night, Cassy. It’s already mid afternoon, so we may be better waiting until tomorrow.”
Cassy agreed and started checking what she could cook for an afternoon meal. In a way, she was pleased to wait another day, as her injuries from the fall were still painful. After a dinner of steak and potato fries, Alex took charge of Danny and Angela, while Cassy enjoyed a relaxing bath. She managed to find cream to apply to her scratched skin and, that evening, she fell into a very sound, restful sleep.
After breakfast, the following morning, they collected all their provisions together and prepared for a long journey into the unknown.
Mindful of the small baby in their care, Cassy filled a flask with milk, which, with some crushed biscuits would provide sustenance for a short while.
Alex pulled the bag onto his back and, together with Cassy, Danny and baby Angela, left the house they had borrowed for the past two days.
As they turned onto the road, Alex stopped. “What’s wrong, Alex?”
“I can’t decide which way we should walk. I’ve no idea where we are, so, left or right?”
Cassy understood his dilemma. The choice of direction could affect their future, whatever was left of it. Boldly, she said, “I think Left.” She pointed along the road. “Before you ask, I don’t know why, but let’s try it, anyway.”
Accepting her decision, Alex began walking, holding Danny’s hand, while Cassy carried Angela.
They had not walked very far before evidence of the previous night’s catastrophe could be seen. Many cars, which, presumably, were being driven at speed when the drivers disappeared had crashed, some more violently than others. Two cars had crashed head-on, leaving a burnt-out mangled wreck in the middle of the road. It seemed so sad that all these vehicles, once prized possessions of their owners were now useless heaps of scrap metal.
After walking for about ten minutes, Alex was surprised to hear the sound of a powerful engine disturbing the strangely, silent world. He turned round to see an open-topped sports car heading towards them. He was even more surprised when the car horn sounded and the vehicle drew up beside them.
It was Charles, the boy who had volunteered to jump first out of the aircraft. “Hey! I never thought I would see you guys again.”
Alex smiled. “I’m pleased you landed safely.”
Charles laughed. “I was lucky. I fell into a lake. Got very wet but, thankfully, nothing broken. Spent a while in a house. Had to break in, but there’s nobody to stop us, now.”
“We also found a house to stay for the last two nights. But, where did you find the car?”
“I didn’t fancy hanging around here and was lucky to find a car which hadn’t been wrecked. The key was in the ignition and it’s an automatic. Really easy to drive. Can I give you a lift?”
Alex looked at the small sports car and realised that it would be quite a crush for them all to fit. “Thanks, but you have given me an idea. If we can find a larger car with keys, then I am certain I can drive it. Do you want to help us find one so we can stay together?”
Charles looked uncertain at this suggestion. “Sorry, guys, but I don’t fancy being held back by small kids. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay on my own.”
“Okay, it’s up to you.” Alex felt a little disappointed that, after meeting up with Charles, he did not want to stay with them.
“Good luck!” Charles waved and sounded his horn as the car accelerated along the road, gradually disappearing from view.
The children continued walking, Alex looking at every abandoned vehicle, hoping to find something suitable. After walking for about thirty minutes, he spotted an eight-seater Ford. The door was partly open, as though the driver was either getting in or out when he had disappeared. “Yes!” Alex found the key in the ignition and felt triumphant at discovering something suitable for the group.
“Are you certain you can drive this thing?” Cassy felt uncertain about using such a large vehicle.
“I think so. What have we got to lose?”
“Our lives?” Cassy answered sardonically.
“Listen, Cassy, we jumped out of a plane, last night and, somehow, we survived it. Driving a car is going to be quite tame by comparison. Just give me a chance to try to get us somewhere.”
“Okay, but please don’t drive fast.” Cassy slid the passenger door open and lifted Danny inside. She fastened his seat belt and then sat beside him. Without a child’s car seat, she had no option but to hold Angela on her lap.
Alex was familiarising himself with the controls and instruments. Thankfully, it was an automatic drive.
“I hope it has plenty of petrol or we won’t get very far”, remarked Cassy.
“Diesel”, corrected Alex. “Just a minute and I will know.” He checked the drive was in neutral and turned the ignition key. The dials on the dashboard lit up. Another quarter turn and the engine started. Alex looked at the fuel gauge. “The tank’s about two-thirds full, which should take us quite a distance.”
“But, where shall we go?”
Alex smiled at his doubtful companion. “I have been thinking about that. Why don’t we look for Universal Studios? After all, that’s where we would have gone if the adults hadn’t disappeared. I’m certain there must be plenty of signs to get us there.”
Cassy had to admit that his idea was a good one and the thought of still going to Universal Studios excited her. “Okay, I’ll look out for signs.”
“Right, hold on tight.” Alex had to admit to himself, that the prospect of driving frightened him a little, but thought better of mentioning this. He released the hand brake and pushed the lever in to the drive position. His foot pressed the accelerator pedal and they began to move forward, albeit a bit faster than Alex had anticipated. “Sorry.” He eased the pressure off a little and they drove along the road at about thirty miles an hour. After a few minutes he gained confidence and skillfully maneuvered around the many abandoned cars.
“Alex! Stop!” Cassy shouted.
He slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a sudden halt. “What is it?”
The girl pointed to a crashed car. He followed her gaze and then realised why this car was different from all the hundreds of other crashed vehicles they had already passed. It was Charles in the nippy sports job. The front of the car was badly damaged after hitting a fire hydrant and Charles looked unconscious. Alex turned off the engine and jumped out. He ran over to the wreck. “Charles!” He threw the door open and began to drag the heavy boy out. He had not been wearing a seat belt and Alex was worried about the extent of his injuries. There was heavy bruising to his face, but, thankfully, he slowly began to regain consciousness. “What happened, Charles?”
In a somewhat groggy voice, he answered, I was trying to avoid a car on the road and skidded. I think I was going a bit too fast.”
“I can imagine. Think you might be safer travelling with us, Charles.”
His voice sounded very groggy, as he replied, “You might be right.” He smiled weakly and then winced as the bruising made itself known to the teenager. “Don’t worry, it will soon heal.” He slid the door back and sat behind Cassy. Alex started the engine again and they pulled away onto the freeway.
“Where are you heading?” Charles asked.
“Universal Studios. You can help by looking out for signs. I’m certain it can’t be far away.”
“That sounds a great idea.”
“Is your seat belt fastened, Charles?” Alex knew that, as a novice driver, the chances of an accident were quite high, with or without any other drivers on the road.
Charles obediently fastened his belt. “Yes, Sir!”
Alex liked Charles’ jovial nature and hoped that the group could survive a world without adults.
It was amazing how many cars had crashed. Some had collided head-on, resulting in tangled wrecks, while others had careered off the road, ending up in the middle of a neat, manicured lawn, like some strange piece of artwork. Alex’s driving skills were put to the test as he was forced into tight maneuvers around the wreckage strewn across the road.
Suddenly, Alex slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt. “What’s wrong, Alex?” Cassy was holding on tightly to the children.
“I can’t get through. There are cars all across the road.” He unfastened his seat belt and was about to leave the vehicle to check the situation, when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. A group of at least fifteen teenagers, all brandishing baseball bats, began to emerge from behind bushes. “Hold on tight”, shouted Alex. He jumped back into the driving seat, put his foot hard on the accelerator and headed towards a small gap between the line of cars. There was a terrific noise of grinding metal on metal as the people carrier roughly pushed its way through the barricade of lighter cars. Some of the threatening teenagers jumped back as they realised that Alex did not intend stopping for them. It was a great relief when the people carrier finally crashed its way through and accelerated along the road. Alex could, through his rear-view mirror, see some of the teenagers angrily waving their baseball bats at the fast-disappearing vehicle.
“Phew! That was close. They did not seem very friendly.” This under-statement from Charles made them aware of how dangerous the world had suddenly become with the demise of adults.
“What do you think they want?” asked Cassy.
Alex shrugged. “Who knows? It could have been our transport or worse, the food we brought with us.”
Cassy was shaken at the thought that, even with the disappearance of adults, violence was still a disturbing feature of this modern world.
They drove in silence for about twenty minutes, when Alex exclaimed, “I think I know where we are. I recognise that group of shops over there, which means that my uncle’s house is not far from here. Hope
you guys don’t mind if we stop there?”
Cassy and Charles could not understand why Alex wanted to stop, knowing that his relatives would not be around, but had no objections.
As if reading their minds, he said, “I know they won’t be there, but I just want to see their home for the last time.” He was gaining confidence in his driving and skillfully avoided all the crashed vehicles as he turned off the main road. A few minutes later, he pulled up into the drive of a smart, single-storey house, so typical of many found in Florida. “Do you guys want to come in with me?”
Cassy had already unfastened her seat belt and was helping Danny out of his seat. “Yes, I think we should stick together.”
Charles seemed undecided, but then, still in obvious pain from his injuries, stiffly followed Alex. The entrance to the house was from a covered car-port, but, when Alex tried the door, it was firmly locked. Undaunted, he walked around the back of the house and lifted a plant-pot from a plastic tray. With a triumphant cry, he picked up the key which had been hidden under the plant. Returning to the kitchen door, he inserted the key and turned it.
Nervously, he pushed the door open wide and entered, followed by the others. Alex half-expected to find his uncle in the reclining chair, sipping a cool beer, watching war documentaries on television in the living area, while Susie would be busy in the kitchen, preparing some delicious, typically American meal, but, of course, there were absolutely no signs of any life.
Sadness could be heard in his voice as he said, “They were probably visiting friends when they disappeared.”
Sensing the anguish at his loss, Cassy laid a comforting hand on his arm. As he turned to face her, she could see the sadness in his large, brown eyes. “You were very close to your aunt and uncle?”
He nodded. “I hoped that, one day, I may live here with them. It’s been a lifetime ambition for me to live in America.”
Cassy had always loved England and could not imagine living anywhere else, but, now, it seemed that her chances of returning home were extremely remote. The closest person in Cassy’s life was her mother as her parents had divorced when she was only three years old. Although her father had access rights, she had seen very little of him over the years and felt that he did not want any contact with her.
“Food!” Snapping out of his sad thoughts, Alex decided action was necessary. “My uncle always made certain that there was plenty of food in the house, so we might as well stock up.”
He walked to a door at the back of the kitchen area and pushed the door open wide. The larder was stacked high with every type of food possible. “My uncle was in the army before he went into business and believed in always having plenty of provisions in stock.”
It really was like an Aladdin’s cave, with hundreds of tins of beans, soups, meat and puddings, while there were countless boxes of cereals and biscuits. Best of all, there were many packets of dried fruits, like mango and pineapple which were highly nutritious. It would be impossible to take everything, but, very soon, Alex and Charles had packed several boxes full of the most useful foods and drinks.
Cassy was looking after Danny and Angela, cradling the baby in her arms. Aware of a sudden noise outside the house, she looked through the front window and gave a scream.
“What’s wrong, Cassy?”
She pointed to the window. “Someone’s trying to damage our car. Look! It’s rocking!”
As Alex looked through the window, he saw three large figures coming round the near side of the vehicle. “Bears!” he shouted. As the three teenagers looked on in horror, the bears were using their enormous strength to try and tip the car over. Alex rushed into the larder and quickly returned, carrying a shotgun.
Cassy looked alarmed. “What are you going to do?”
“My uncle always had a problem with bears around here and used his shotgun to scare them away. They come hunting for something to eat. Did anyone leave any food in the car?” He had brought the rucksack into the house and wondered why the bears were still attacking the car.
Charles coughed nervously. “I think I might have left a couple of chocolate bars in the pocket near my seat.”
“And was the car door open?” Alex thought he knew the answer before Charles replied.
“Afraid so. I didn’t think it mattered.” Charles looked very guilty.
Alex was quickly checking if he had a good supply of pellets for the shotgun. “Stay here and keep the door shut. Alex opened the kitchen door and, quietly closing it behind him, crept towards the front of the house. As he turned the corner, he could see the three bears pushing hard against the vehicle. Aiming his shotgun at the backside of the nearest bear, he pulled the trigger. He fired at the hungry bear. It dropped down on all fours and scampered away back to the forest. Before Alex had chance to aim for the second bear, the car fell over on its side with a heart-rending grinding crash of glass and metal. It must have shocked the bears as they quickly scampered away, to join the first bear.
Alex looked at the vehicle which had been their means of escape with an anxious feeling gnawing at the pit of his stomach. This was not supposed to happen. Universal Studios was, above all else, the place where he wished to be, but how?
He entered the kitchen and looked gloomily at the others. “I don’t think that car is going to be of any use to us, now.” The three of them stood in silence and then Alex shouted, “The garage! There may be another vehicle in there!” He rushed back into the carport and pushed a door on the far wall. He ventured inside and shouted to the others, “It’s okay. My uncle had two cars and there’s one still in the garage.” It was a smaller car than the first, now-ruined one. It was a Chevrolet, five-seater saloon. Alex found the keys for the vehicle and switched on the ignition to check the fuel level. It was just over half full of gas, which should be plenty to get them to universal.
Cassy had a sudden thought. “Why don’t we stay here for tonight? It’s already mid-afternoon.”
Alex liked the idea of staying in his aunt and uncle’s house. Just one more night would do no harm. “It’s not as though we have to get to universal so soon”, Alex thought.
Cassy found it easy to make a meal for them on the modern hob, with the assistance of Charles while Alex looked after Danny and Angela.
They relaxed for the rest of that day, watching recorded documentaries on the large television in the living area. A second night in a comfortable bed helped to recover the group for the next day’s journey.
Cautiously looking for any wandering bears, Alex and Charles made several journeys between the kitchen and the garage, loading the car with as many boxes as they could fit. Alex returned to the larder where his uncle had hidden the shotgun and took all the boxes of pellets. He then wandered into the bedroom and slid open a drawer at the side of the bed. Alex knew, from what his uncle had told him, that he always kept a loaded revolver by his bed and Alex felt that it may be necessary to arm themselves. Not far away was a box of cartridges, which he picked up and slipped into his pocket.
Cassy looked scared when she saw the heavy revolver in Alex’s hand as he returned to the kitchen. “Do we really need a gun?”
“I… I don’t know,” Alex faltered. “I just don’t know what we are going to find, but I think it may be better to be prepared for the worst. You saw that mob of kids at the road block, yesterday, so it’s best to take precautions” He opened the garage doors wide and hurried back into the driver’s seat.
Charles sat next to Alex, while Danny and Cassy, with Angela on her knee were in the back of the car.
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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