With the pain still building, Dad’s mouth ripped away, but it wasn’t Dad. I knew as the car smashed into his side, sending him, arms loose, flying like a crash test dummy across the road. I grabbed Tish tight, giving a shake. She groaned as if she was struggling to wake. I coughed as the air filled with smoke, tyres squealing against the road. The car had stopped just beyond the edge of the coach. A constant pound of a muffled drum beat rumbled towards me.
Fixed to the spot, I didn’t want to move, the smoke gagging in the back of my throat and my hand was pulsing with pain, blood dripping from what looked like a part missing between my thumb and finger. I had to look away, my head swimming as I’d watched the black blood stream down to the road. As I looked up, I saw the passenger door was open, whoever was in the driver’s seat leant across. I couldn’t see who it was, but they must have recognised me. Still, I didn’t move from the spot, even when I saw someone, something stumbled down the stairs of the coach, tripping over the thing still struggling to get to their feet, one its legs bending in the wrong place.
The bright white of the reversing light blinked on and the car sped backwards. The man who’d climbed from the coach was on his feet, it was the soldier, the gun no longer in his hand as he walked towards us in the headlights of the car stopping at my side. I couldn’t recognise the man in the car. He wasn’t one of my friend’s parents, not someone from the school. I’d never seen him at the house either.
A stranger. A teenager too, maybe a little older, a thin moustache over his lips which made him looked younger, not older. He wore a tracksuit and heavy, thumping music pounded from the open door. He nodded towards the opening, then looked at my hand, looked at Tish and nodded again, like he might have changed his mind, but changed it back again. He turned to the soldier for just a second. I turned too. He was getting close. We looked at each other again. His eyebrows raised. Still he hadn’t spoken.
My mum’s words ran through my head.
“Never get in a car with a stranger, unless it’s a policeman.”
I thought of asking him what his job was, but the words wouldn’t come. The man still stared, raising his eyebrows. It was time to choose. I looked down at Tish. I’d be okay on my own, but it wasn’t just about me anymore. I had my sister to look after and I took a step towards the car, could feel the warmth rolling out and saw my Dad’s blood streaked up the white paint of the car bonnet. He spoke for the first time, his voice low. I stopped moving.
“I’ve got sweets if you want one,” he said and gave a laugh that came from deep in his belly.
I turned and ran and carried on even when I felt my breath had run out, not stopping for walls or bushes or hedges or trees, diving in and out. I’d been away from light for so long I could see quite well.
After what seemed like a long time I had to stop in a copse of trees. It was that smell again, but maybe not so bad. I looked down at Tish and she smiled back.
While rifling though my pack I took notice of my hand for the first time. Running had taken all my concentration to stop us banging things I could only see at the last moment. It had stopped bleeding, crusted over, but hurt like it looked it should. It wasn’t the worst pain in the world, that was still being kicked in the gonads. I thought of what I could use as a nappy, maybe three pairs of my pants tied at the side might work. I’d brought enough. I thought of my Mum’s reaction to what I’d collected up. Maybe I was right this time. I smiled as I opened the pack. Mum had put nappies and Tish’s things in my bag.
Laying out one of my T-shirt on the ground, I changed her, not a big deal, but I used that strong smelling stuff on my hands three times as I let her run around. We shared a can of beans once I won the struggle to get the ring pull thing up. They tasted alright once you’d got used to the cold. We drank water and I listened to Tish laughing as she picked up leaves and let them drop to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile. She was enjoying the great adventure.
Climbing the stone wall, every other moment making sure Tish hadn’t run off or wasn’t about to pick up dog poop. She’d done that before, but I wasn’t in charge then. I couldn’t let that happen. The wall didn’t feel too stable, but I needed somewhere high up. Whilst I’d run, I’d decided we should head home. We’d collect Rusty, somehow finding a way to get into the house. I’d get Mum’s address book and we’d head to Nanna’s. She’d know what to do.
A gunshot ran off somewhere in the distance. I looked around, but I couldn’t see anything moving, even though the sun had made the sky blue. Tish laughed as the sharp noise came again. Closer this time, maybe?
I wasn’t laughing.
Since I’d eaten I’d started to feel funny inside, like I needed to lay down under my covers.
The covers in my room. My room at home.
There was only one problem. I had no idea where that was.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One