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Part 3

4 – When You Really Don’t Want To Get Up But Then You Realise You Don’t Have To

Arthur slept lighter now than he had done before The Incident. They all did, he supposed. Skip and Herc’s nightmares didn’t really help with that. They woke him up a lot. He knew they didn’t mean to.

It wasn’t the choked, panicked pleads for help of a nightmare that woke Arthur up, this morning. It was a different sort of noise – a bustle and a chatter in another room. He opened one eye. It wasn’t light yet, but then it was December so it didn’t necessarily mean it was still night time. The light from the living room was spilling through the crack under the bedroom door. Arthur opened his other eye and had a look around. Douglas wasn’t in his bed. He craned his head down to the bunk below. Skipper wasn’t in bed, either.

It was probably much later than it looked. It was his day off, but he still had to walk Snoopadoop and do the laundry and then he’d promised to help Mr Douglas take Yue and Noah to the new playpark that had been set up in the next Relief Village along… he should probably get up. He could have a nice hot shower and take his time over breakfast, and they’d just started getting rations of teabags in, which was fine if you didn’t mind having it with UHT and no sugar, which – quite literally – wasn’t quite his cup of tea, but it was fine, really.

Yes. He really, really, really, really should get up. But, oh, it was dark still, and it was raining outside, and his bed was all warm, and…

Skipper came bursting into the bedroom. He was all red faced and wet eyed, but in an excited sort of way.

‘What is it?’

‘The phones are back. You know how I always kept my mobile on and charged, just in case? Well, I got woken up by this beep. This beep, Arthur. It was my messages. Voicemail, missed calls, texts… it’s them! It’s them, Arthur! They’d gone on holiday…’ Skip’s voice went all funny on the word “holiday”, and he had to stop talking for a few seconds while he composed himself.

‘Center Parks in Holland,’ Skipper continued after a moment. ‘A treat for the cousins – Simon, Anne and their boys, and Caitlin, Tony and Josh. They knew I wouldn’t be able to go so they never said anything about it to me. They’re safe. They were out of it all. I mean, they’re back now, trying to straighten things out like the rest of us, but they were spared all of that… that Hell. All those messages… my phone’s full of them, Arthur. I just phoned Caitlin, and she cried, and she went and woke Josh up, and he cried, and I cried, and… they were so worried. About me. They…’

‘They’re your family,’ Arthur said. ‘That’s what families do, isn’t it? They care.’

Skip took in a deep, shuddering breath, and smiled. He patted Arthur’s hand. ‘Your mum’s just trying to get through to your dad, now. There’s three people out there with a lot of ex spouses to check up on. I suppose that’s one perk of being terminally single – I get to go back to bed.’

He ducked down to clamber back in to the bunk underneath.

‘What time is it?’

‘Just gone quarter past five.’

‘Oh! I thought it was time to get up.’

‘Mmf,’ said Skip.

The rain continued to lash against the window, and it was dark and his bed was lovely and comfy, and he was sure his mum would come in and get him when she managed to get hold of his dad. He rolled over and let himself slip back into sleep.

It was getting light when he woke up again. He checked the clock. It was just before 8. He yawned and stretched and cracked his knuckles and got up. His mum, Herc and Douglas were all still up in the living room when he went through. None of them were on the phone any more. They were all at the table, with cups of tea. They all looked tired, and pretty grim.

‘Morning,’ beamed Arthur, hoping they were just sleepy from getting up so early. ‘Skip told me about the phones. How goes it?’

‘Arthur.’ His mum looked up suddenly, white faced. ‘I… I’m very sorry, Arthur…’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I can’t get through to your father.’

‘Oh! Is that all?’ Arthur cheerily went over to the kitchen area to make himself a cuppa.

‘Arthur…’

‘It’s first thing in the morning! The phones have only just come back on! He’s probably just still asleep or something. Or he’s lost it or hasn’t been able to recharge it yet or something.’

‘Yes,’ sighed his mum. ‘Yes, that’s always a possibility, I suppose.’

‘You do have to remember, Arthur,’ Herc added, ‘a third of the population died during The Incident. The chances of all our friends and family having got through it alive aren’t at all good.’

‘Herc’s been able to contact two of his ex wives,’ Arthur’s mum told him, ‘but the other two’s lines are dead. I can’t hold of Gordon or George.’

‘I managed to get through to my first wife,’ added Douglas, ‘but there’s been no word from my brother, yet. Or Helena. It’s not looking good. Thank God we were able to get Zoë and her mum to safety. Thank God.’ Douglas took another sip of tea. Arthur noticed that Douglas’ hands were shaking a little bit. It had been a very long time since he’d seen Douglas like that. Probably the first time since the end of The Incident.

‘There could be lots of reasons they’re not picking up,’ Arthur told them. ‘They’ll get in touch. You’ll see!’

-x-

Whenever clean-up crews took bodies away for disposal, they’d go through their pockets for phones and wallets – anything that could be used to identify them and inform any surviving relatives – and sent them on for processing. It was a lengthy procedure, and the backlog was immense. So it was another 8 months from that when Arthur was finally given a short, businesslike phone call to tell him that his father’s body had been discovered and disposed of. All that the operative had known had been Arthur’s dad’s name and that he had the same surname as Arthur’s on his phone’s contacts list and was therefore likely related. She hadn’t been able to tell him that he’d been found alone on an airfield, having been ambushed trying to escape on his own plane the way MJN had managed to do. Nobody, not even the three Infected who had mauled him, knew that the last thought that had gone through his head had been “sorry, Arthur”.

Part 5

November 2013

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