WAVING AT THE MOON

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Young Adult Novel

 

Amazon

Amazon Dystopian Bestseller

Book Description

In a post-apocalyptic world, Evie French has just turned seventeen. She and her cousin, Marcus Peters, sixteen, struggle to survive after being left alone in their parent’s bed-and-breakfast hotel in outback Australia. An endless drought has killed Evie’s father’s avocado trees and all the surrounding habitation. Nothing grows in the fetid soil. Hope comes in the form of a nineteen-year-old boy, Joel Pitt. He arrives on his motorbike with his dog, Rasputin, bringing supplies. He climbs the tallest tree on the crest of the hill and locates an area of green down along the coast, hundreds of miles away. The three pile onto the bike, with Marcus and Rasputin in the sidecar, and embark on a trip that will take them over mountainous terrain with a limited supply of food and water. What might they find if they reach the coast? Will other people have survived the devastation? And who bombed their country? No one seems to know.
Genre: Teen, Sci-Fi / Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

Reviewed by: ReaderGirl
Evie French and her cousin Marcus Peters, live together at their parents’ bed-and breakfast in Australia after most of the country has been destroyed. No one knows for sure what has really happened. When Joel and his dog find their way to the bed and breakfast the three of them head towards a spot of green in a sea of gray. It’s a long way down the coast. They find their way to Paradise, a city made up of survivors, led by Abe. Evie, Marcus, and Joel don’t agree with all of his rules, but they must abide by them for the moment. But as time goes on, the three start to feel worse about what is going on in Paradise.
I couldn’t stop reading “Waving at the Moon” by Maggi Andersen until I had finished it all. I enjoyed reading about their journey, their struggles in Paradise, and their dilemma about what to do. This would easily be the first book in a great series. I will be anxiously awaiting Maggi Andersen’s book. Those who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, and those who just enjoy a good action book will want to pick up “Waving at the Moon.”

Excerpt: Enjoy the first three chapters.

Australian Outback, 1975.

Chapter One

From her vantage point high in the roof, Evie studied the barren landscape. As usual, nothing moved.

She never got used to the silence. Warra-Nunna used to be part of a community of people, working in the hotel, and tending the land. The road through the village was busy with passing trade heading north and south to the big cities along the coast.

In the beginning, people had come, confused but still confident. As time passed, they dwindled to a few—exhausted, bewildered, and hungry.

After a feed, the wanderers, as she and Markey had come to call them, moved aimlessly on, convinced they’d find something better over the hill. Evie’s heart squeezed in her chest when she said goodbye to those people. Especially the children with eyes like crushed velvet. She’d send them off with a small parcel of food.

Some people were not so friendly, and Markey had been forced to keep their small hoard of provisions hidden behind a panel in the library. They’d been luckier than many. Her parents’ country, bed-and-breakfast hotel was well stocked with food. They’d eaten the refrigerated stuff until the generator gave out, then denuded her father’s avocado plantation, living on the fruit until Evie half expected her skin to turn green. The trees were now like everything else around, bare, and lifeless. In the early days, there’d been a good supply of tinned and packaged food in the pantry, but that dwindled fast.

Evie knew the day would soon come when they would have to leave. What would they find over the hill where the purple-gray cloud hovered on the horizon? No one had ever come back to tell them.

As the months went by, her cousin, Markey—a chubby, good natured sixteen-year-old—had become thin and secretive. He kept things in a pretty box, inlaid with an intricate pattern of mother-of-pearl, which had belonged to his mother. Just looking at it took Evie back to those happy, lazy days spent by the sea collecting shells—long ago now. She yearned to lift the curved wooden lid, knowing it would feel smooth and heavy in her hands, but she had never been able to hold it, let alone look inside.

She couldn’t bear to watch him holding it in his twitching fingers, twisting it roughly, this way and that.

“C’mon, show it to me,” she asked him again. It had become part of their daily ritual.

“Get lost, Evie.” He shoved her away and retreated into silence.

Aware that begging never got her anywhere, she picked herself up and went to look out the attic window again.

Markey became increasingly bad-tempered. He even called through the bathroom door to check she was still alive when she took a bath. Evie would put a chair under the knob and lie in the brownish, chilly water, which barely covered her. Just for some peace. She didn’t think her body beautiful. Her skin was moon white. A vision of her mother laughing, her face covered in freckles, came from somewhere back in her memory. At night she turned to those vibrant recollections of her childhood. They helped her to sleep. Evie didn’t have a freckle to her name. It was so long since they’d seen the sun. It was always covered by cloud now. The bones of her hips and ribs pushed against her skin, and her hair swished around in the bath like yellow seaweed. It grew down past her waist, but she hadn’t been able to cut it. All the knives and scissors were too blunt and neither she nor Markey had the energy to try to sharpen them.

Recalling that day made Evie shiver and rub her arms. She was no longer sure how long it was since the bombs had been dropped on the city during her parents’ business trip. The wait for news of them had been agonizing. When they both arrived home, they thought they were the lucky ones, but then her mum got sick, her hair falling out and her eyes turning a strange pink color. And then her dad. While she was nursing them, Evie wrote in her diary, marking off the days, but then she got sick herself for a while and forgot. She’d taken up writing in it again. She felt it was important to leave a record for the people that came after them, but a lot of the early writing had smudged with her tears.

Not a drop of rain had fallen since the day the bombs fell. It was like a long winter. Every day, Evie hoped the spring would come, and she’d go out into what had once been a lovely garden, looking for new green shoots. One day her father’s rows of avocado trees would be laden with fruit. She was sure.

Evie wiped the dirty window glass with her shirt and peered down over the garden, but nothing had changed. Everything remained as if in a state of suspended animation. She liked to think nature was holding her breath and one day soon, would let it out with a whoosh of new green.

~~~

The water at the bottom of the well had dropped alarmingly. As Evie went through her routine check of the garden, a drop of rain splashed onto her face. She gazed up into the dark sky, wondering if she’d imagined it. A patter of fat drops hit her, steadily increasing.

She ran joyfully to the house. “Markey, come out—come out!” she sang. She wanted to dance about in the yard and feel the water on her skin, but she knew she wouldn’t. Energy was something you had to conserve. Still, she couldn’t contain her excitement. She was sure the rain would bring new life.

Markey didn’t emerge. Evie went to find him and discovered him where he often was, lying on his bed, the box perched on his stomach, rising, and falling slowly with each breath.

“It’s raining,” she said. “Can’t you hear it? Can’t you smell it?”

“What does it matter?”

She checked him again for signs of the sickness but found none. He lay very still, his eyes on the ceiling, as if he could see something of great interest there. She looked up. A damp spot spread across the plaster just above her bed. She dragged her mattress out of the way and flew down the stairs to the laundry in search of a bucket.

The big old house was decaying. Without care, it would simply rot slowly away. The timbers of the upstairs balcony were too dangerous to walk on.

She was halfway up the main staircase when she heard it. A sound like an angry beetle. Just a faint buzz, but it still brought her up short. A shiver passed through her.

It grew louder. Evie threw down the bucket and bolted out the front door onto the driveway. The rain attacked her face, blinding her. Peering through her fingers, she could see a small black shape moving down the hill road, travelling fast. Fascinated, she stood and waited as it came closer.

It was almost upon them when Evie began to feel afraid. She thought she’d buried fear with her parents. She ran back into the house calling, “Markey, come quickly—something’s coming.”

The rain grew torrential, filling the blocked gutters and creating waterfalls all around the house. She shivered and stood anxiously at the door, her T-shirt and shorts soaked through. She pulled the material away from her skin. Her hair hung in heavy, wet ringlets around her face, threatening to blind her, and she pushed it back behind her ears with jerky fingers. She could feel the pulse in her throat and knew she had been waiting for this moment.

Markey came running. She turned to see him hovering at the top of the stairs just as the noisy black shape came to a stop in front of the house, a couple of meters from where she stood.

 

Chapter Two

 

Markey bounded down the stairs and skidded to a stop beside her, his breath raspy. The black shape evolved into an old-fashioned motorbike, equipped with a sidecar. A figure in a shiny black raincoat sat astride it, glistening with water like a sleek seal.

Evie and Markey watched as he leisurely climbed off the bike, despite the rain bucketing down, and pulled off the cover of the sidecar. She was shocked to see a wolfish face pop up. The animal jumped out and ran around in circles in the rain until the black-cloaked figure called to it and it followed.

As they approached, Evie stepped back into the hall. Markey clutched her arm, his nails scratching her skin.

Jumping onto the verandah, the animal shook itself violently, spraying water in all directions. The boy pulled off his hat.

She saw that he was young, not much older than them.

“Well, I’ve found some life, then.” He pulled off his raincoat and hung it on the verandah post. His longish black hair straggled in wet strands over his forehead.

Curiosity rendered Evie speechless. She cleared her throat several times, and then her questions came out in a flood like the rain. “How far have you come? Where from? Are there any more people back there?” She pointed towards the hills on the horizon.

“Nope! I’ve come all the way from the city—found nothing alive.” His eyes were warm chocolate and showed no trace of the alarm Evie felt at his words.

“We… we don’t have any food here. You’ll have to move on,” Markey said in a strangled voice as the dog sniffed his ankles.

Evie glared at Markey. “Welcome to Warra-Nunna, our parents’ hotel.”

“Where are your folks?”

“They died,” Evie said. “About a year ago.”

“Mine didn’t, though,” Markey said. “They were in Melbourne. I expect them back any day.”

The boy merely nodded and turned to stride back into the rain. He returned heaving a big carton which he dumped on the verandah floor. Markey kicked at the flap of the box with his toe. It was filled with tins and packets.

“I found a store early on before it was looted. I’ve got a couple more of these.”

Evie squatted to read the labels. Tins of soup and sardines, powdered milk, and beans. Packets of green tea. She straightened, flicked her hair over her shoulder, and held out her hand. “My name’s Evie, and this is Markey.”

“Joel.” He pumped her hand with a grin. “This is Rasputin. He’s half dingo and half German shepherd.”

Rasputin grinned too and wagged his tail. Evie bent to stroke his damp, grayish white fur.

Joel leaned on the rail and gazed out at the trees and shrubbery surrounding the house. “No signs of life here either,” he said. “I was hoping that, being on the other side of the mountain range, it might have become a microcosm and escaped the fallout.”

“What’s a microcostume?” asked Markey, dancing about to keep a distance from the hound.

Cosim. Microcosm. A small world, as opposed to the macrocosm—that’s the world as we knew it, and what I’ve seen of it is looking pretty sick right now,” said Joel. “It may still repair itself but how long it takes that’s the question. How’s the water here?” He picked up the box, heading down the hall.

“We have a covered well.” Evie followed him. “It’s okay, it doesn’t make us sick.”

“We don’t have a bed for you here,” called Markey. “The roof leaks.”

Evie swiveled to send him another glare of warning.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make do,” Joel replied in his reassuring manner.

Evie’s tense muscles unwound, and she felt weak and heavy with exhaustion.

Joel set down his provisions on the kitchen table. He looked around at the big kitchen with its shiny fixtures her mother had doted on. “Nice place. We’ll have a feed now and organize things later.” He held up a tin opener. “I’ll cook.”

Evie held her breath and waited for a reaction from Markey, but he sat at the kitchen table looking expectant.

~~~

“So, you and Markey are cousins?” Joel asked as he squatted, poking at the soil.

“Not really,” Evie answered. “Markey’s mum and dad were old friends of my parents. They ran this hotel together. We’d known them so long, we called them aunt and uncle.”

“Are you and Markey the same age?”

“I’m six months older,” said Evie. “Seventeen in November. Do you know what month this is?”

“December, I think.”

“Then I’m seventeen,” she amended. “Doesn’t matter much, though.”

“I guess not.”

“How old are you, Joel?”

“Nineteen sometime soon.”

“Were you with your family when, you know—it happened?”

Joel swiped a lock of hair from his eyes. “I went caving with a friend. We were underground for a few days and when we came out….” He shrugged.

“What happened to your friend?”

“We split up. He went looking for his family. My real parents died when I was ten. I guess that turned out to be a plus, eh?”

“Who brought you up?” Evie asked.

“I stayed with foster families. I’d left the last one—didn’t get on with them.”

Was it better not to have loved those you lost? Evie wasn’t sure.

“Did you get sick too?” he asked her.

She had told him about her parents. “Markey and I did for a bit, but it couldn’t have been the same because we got better. At first, we listened to other survivors on the radio. There was talk of an invasion, but no one knew for sure, and then it went off the air. Who attacked us, do you know?”

Joel shrugged. “Whose car is that over in the ditch?”

“My dad’s. Markey tried to drive it to go find his mum and dad, but he’d never driven before, and he crashed it. The air bag went off, fortunately, or he might have been hurt.”

He nodded. “The axle’s broken. Any other cars or machinery here?”

“Just the tractor.”

Joel shook his head. “No good, it runs on diesel.”

“Have you been alone since…?”

“I met up with a group of people on the move. Stayed with them for a while, then something happened, and I left.”

Evie wanted to ask what that “something” was, feeling it would tell her more about him. But she sensed the question wouldn’t be welcome.

~~~

 “What’s in the box?” Joel asked Markey when he found him tucking it back into place under his bed.

“Nothing important.” He edged the box further under the bed with his toe.

Joel had rigged up a bed of sorts, like a hammock, tied to the beams in the attic. Evie would watch him swing himself gently back and forth at night until she fell asleep.

She slept much better since he’d come. Markey behaved himself too although he still refused to let them see inside the box. It would have been easy for them to do it once his snores began, but for some reason, they didn’t. Since Joel had come, what was in it ceased to matter to her.

Every few days Joel would walk a couple of kilometers up to the highest point. He’d climb a towering turpentine tree almost to the top where he could see for miles around. Then they’d walk out along the road. Joel would take out his penknife and scrape away bark from a tree. The days grew warm and sultry, but there was still no sign of the sap rising.

~~~

A month had passed when Evie saw the first sign of alarm in Joel’s eyes. He had just returned from another survey trip deep into the bush.

“We’re going to have to leave soon, Evie. It’s better we go before we run out of food.” He pointed to the clouds which had thinned to a gray-blue smoky haze. “From that tree on the hill I could see all the way to the coast. There’s an area of green there.” His mouth pulled down at the corners. “Must be about two hundred kilometers or so from here. And it won’t be an easy journey.”

Even though she knew it would come to this, Evie’s throat tightened. She swallowed. “We’d better tell Markey.”

Markey exploded. All the pent-up fear and rage poured out of him with big, heavy tears. “I won’t go, I won’t!” He wept. “Mum and Dad are coming for me. Mum rang me to say they were leaving for the train just before the bomb went off. They’re coming, I tell you. Then we’ll be okay.”

“I think Aunty Jan and Uncle Phillip are dead, Markey,” Evie said gently. She put her arm around his shoulders. “They would’ve returned before this if they were still alive.”

Markey shrugged her off, gazing at her with unseeing eyes. With a cry of anguish, he turned and fled up the stairs.

“I’d better go after him,” Joel said. “He might hurt himself.”

Markey held the box against his chest as he pounded up the stairs. Evie made it to the second story in time to see Joel take a flying tackle at his legs. Markey stumbled, righted himself, and pushed through the doors onto the balcony.

Evie heard a crash and a cry that turned her veins to ice. A heavy thud quickly followed on the ground outside. She raced through the front door, dreading what she would find.

Markey had broken through the balcony rail. He lay spread-eagled on the muddy ground. Evie went down on her knees beside him. She cradled his head on her lap. He felt like a dead weight; his eyes shut tight.

She gave a sob. “Markey!”

He sighed.

She picked up Markey’s hand, placing her fingers over his wrist. “He’s unconscious,” she told Joel in a tearful voice. She fumbled about looking for a pulse but could only feel her own coursing through her like a raging river.

Joel gently moved Markey’s head from her lap. He pulled her to her feet and her knees buckled. Placing an arm around her, he held her up.

“I think he might be dying, Evie.”

Evie pulled away from him. “Don’t say that!”

The box had broken open, its contents spread around in the mud. Weeping, Evie bent to pick up a dog-eared photo. It was Markey as a little boy sitting on his mum’s knee with his father standing proudly beside them. There was an old ten-dollar note and a pile of chocolate wrappers. Two chocolates whitened with age remained. The rest of the box contained seeds—dozens of packets.

Joel picked them up, reading them out. “Lettuce, broccoli, carrots—”

“Oh, stop.” Evie smoothed the hair away from Markey’s brow.

At the touch of her hand, Markey opened an eye. “I’m sorry about the chocolates, Evie,” he said in a faint voice. “I was afraid.”

“Oh, Markey,” she cried. “You’re alive!”

“I kept the seeds as a surprise. For when the spring comes.”

He pushed her away and shakily climbed to his feet, checking his limbs, feeling them carefully one at a time. Evie fussed over him, examining his head for bumps, but miraculously, there seemed to be little wrong with him, for the mud had broken his fall.

 

Chapter Three

 

Beside the veggie patch, where two rough crosses jutted from the bare earth, Evie sat on the wall, saying goodbye. The sun broke through the clouds. She gazed up in surprise, feeling its healing warmth on her face.

They were leaving today. Joel had come back from another reconnoiter. Sure, their decision had been the right one, he was impatient to get going.

They packed their few provisions. Joel siphoned the last of the petrol from the wagon into a bucket with a piece of garden hose. He filled the bike and two spare cans, but it wouldn’t take them all the way.

Markey nursed Rasputin in the sidecar. He’d overcome his fear of the dog. It licked his face and made him laugh. He said he preferred the sidecar to the back of the bike. He just knew he’d fall off.

Evie didn’t mind. She hugged Joel’s lean body, resting her head on his shoulder. The bike’s engine roared into life and they raced up the hill Evie had watched every day. She took a deep breath, and before she let it out again, they’d reached the top.

She had never felt so alive. The ribbon slipped off her hair and the wind whipped her locks about. Markey said it looked like tongues of golden flame, before she quickly pulled it back into a ponytail. The bike sped on steadily, the throb of its engine comforting reassurance that they had left the hotel and its sad memories behind them. Ahead lay uncertainty, but also hope.

~~~

The rain had made no difference to the terrain. The dusty road unraveled before them as they drove relentlessly on. Evie stared into the bush for signs of regeneration but saw only skeletal branches and stumps of trees crumbling into the parched earth.

They’d been traveling for hours and needed to stop to refuel so Joel pulled off the road into a clearing.

Evie climbed stiffly off the bike and headed into the shrubbery for a toilet stop. The dead grass whispered round her feet and the arid air made her mouth dusty. The invasive morning glory vine, which had wrapped itself around everything in its path, hung limp and decaying on the trees.

What if Joel had been mistaken? What if they couldn’t find the place he’d seen? Could they make it back to the hotel without petrol, food, or water? And what good would it do them if they did? Evie tried to banish these worrying thoughts from her mind.

Evie’s stomach felt hollow with hunger. Joel made a fire and opened a tin of beans. He boiled water in an old metal pot and threw in a handful of green tea leaves. She’d got used to green tea now. It wasn’t bad—calming somehow—and they still had lots left. She nibbled a soft cracker, tried to remember the taste of fresh bread with butter and homemade jam an inch thick, and failed.

Markey finished first and darted off into the bush.

They sat by the fire, and she realized she was constantly on the alert. Always listening. There was no respite from it.

“Time to get going.”

Evie packed away the food as Joel stamped out the fire.

“Why bother to put the fire out?” Markey perched on a rock with Rasputin at his feet.

“Just habit, I guess,” Joel said. “But if the tinder-dry brush caught fire, it could overtake us.”

“Would you like to ride on the back of the bike?” Evie asked Markey.

“No thanks.” He stroked the dog’s head.

“Come, Rasputin.” Joel put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle.

The dog leaped up and ran to him.

They drove up a steep incline. Turning back, Evie could see where they had been and far beyond it, the landscape grayish white, as if a bush fire had turned it to ash. When they climbed higher still, she could make out the blackened ruins of the burnt-out city. The ocean looked a strange inky black color in the early evening light.

Finally, the road leveled off and Joel pulled into a clearing.

“We’d best settle here for the night, while it’s still light.”

Markey found an overhang of rock, which afforded them some shelter. It was cold up this high. They pulled on more clothes, one on top of the other, until their arms and legs were stiff as puppets.

Unraveling Joel’s canvas tarpaulin, they spread it over the rock floor and squashed together under a blanket. Rasputin joined them. He settled heavily on Evie’s leg, which promptly went to sleep. She moved her leg carefully, not wanting to disturb him, for he was so lovely and warm.

The clouds had reduced to a few wisps and high above the sky sparkled with twinkling stars. Through their midst sailed a serene moon. When Evie was small, her father had told her a man lived in the moon.

“Wave,” he’d say. “He’s looking down at us.”

And, somehow, she got it all tangled up with God. He was up there too, in heaven, wasn’t he? she’d asked him.

“God is everywhere,” her father had answered.

If she stared very hard, she could just make out a face on the moon’s surface. Where do people go when they die? Gone to God, she’d heard someone say once. She would always picture her father digging among his avocado trees. But she looked up in case he was in heaven with her mother. “What does the world look like now from up there?” She asked silently. She hoped he couldn’t see it.

The silvery moonlight made the sleeping boys look like ghosts, and she shivered as the fear of being left alone took hold of her. Thoughts of her father brought him close and calmed her. Her eyelids grew heavy and she snuggled down against the ridge of rough fur along Rasputin’s back.

~~~

The dusty road seemed to go on forever. This must be a bit like the moon’s surface, Evie thought, as the sand and rocks whizzed by. Joel pushed on. They’d had only one brief pit stop since breakfast. Her bum had lost all feeling and her arms ached when she moved.

They came to a fork in the road. One road went north, the other wound away to the east.

“What now?” Markey called, as the bike slowed. “Do we toss a coin?”

“We need to keep going towards the coast,” Joel yelled above the roar of the engine as they sped up again. They drove down the left fork heading east.

Evie stared ahead, praying it had been the right decision.

The hills around them were pockmarked with dark holes and discarded rusted iron machinery stood about sadly neglected.

“Look at that!” she cried.

Ahead, a town shimmered on the horizon, rising from the rocky barren terrain like a mirage in a desert.

“Fantastic,” yelled Markey.

He gave a whoop and Rasputin barked. The bike sped up, and they raced towards it.

They rode slowly down the main street, dismayed at the handful of decaying wooden houses.

“Some town!” Disappointment made Markey’s voice quiver.

Towards the end of the main street, a faded Pepsi sign tilted dangerously on the roof of a general store. A one-pump petrol bowser stood in front. Joel put his foot down, and they careered through the deeply rutted dirt. He performed a wheelie, skidding to a stop at the pump.

When he killed the engine, it became eerily quiet again. They climbed off the bike and gazed around.

“I’ll check the store out. You two knock on doors.” Joel strode off toward the broken-down store.

Evie stepped up onto the verandah of the nearest house as Markey jogged past her to the next one.

When she knocked, the door swung open with a groan.

“Hello?” Evie’s voice echoed around the empty room. She shivered. With each hesitant footstep, enough dust rose from the filthy wooden floors to choke her. Coughing, she moved into the hallway. Above her, the sun shimmered through rusty holes in the iron roof. The three rooms were bare. She turned on the tap over the sink. Dirt sprayed out but not a drop of water. Only the thick cobwebs, draped from the ceiling like lacy curtains, suggested any living thing had been here in the last few decades. Now the spiders had gone too.

As Evie turned to leave, her eye caught something shining on the floor and she squatted down to pick it up. It was a golden hairpin. She held it in the palm of her hand as tears pricked behind her eyelids. She was surprised. She didn’t think she could cry anymore that all her tears had been used up. Funny that something as small and insignificant as this could touch her so. Evie ran her fingers through her own hair, finding it stiff and unfamiliar. She rose and hurried out.

After checking the few houses in the street, the three met again at the bike.

Markey held a cloth over his arm. He handed it to her. “I found a dress in a cupboard.”

Evie held it up. It was made of something her mother called shot silk and from another era. It glowed green one minute and rosy pink the next. Lace, stiff with dust, edged the flounces at the hem and the deep scooped neckline.

“That’s a very grown-up dress, Evie.” Joel cocked his head with a grin.

“Yeah, right.” His hint that she was too young for it made her mad. She tucked the dress into a pocket of the bike.

“It’s a ghost town,” Joel said. “Built in the gold rush and abandoned when the strike ran out.”

“It’s like a façade of a town,” added Markey. “Like a cartoon I saw once. All show with nothing behind it.”

“Nobody’s lived here for years,” Joel said. “There’s not even the smell of petrol left in those tanks.”

Markey scratched his head. “Should we look for water?”

“I tapped the water tanks. All empty. Doubt it’s rained here since the turn of the last century.”

“Or the one before that?” Evie visualized a horse and carriage driving up the street, a woman in that dress at the window, her golden hair done up nicely with pins and maybe a feather or two.

“Do we go on?” Markey rubbed his eyes with a clenched fist.

“That’s what we do, mate,” Joel said calmly. “We get back on the bike and go on.”

But Evie saw the worry and disappointment in his eyes too. She turned away and took a deep, shuddering breath.

~~~

They had been traveling for two whole days, speaking a monosyllabic form of language to each other, the growing desperation drying the words up in their mouths. Two very long days speeding through a monotonous landscape, and another two nights spent shivering under the stars.

The road up to this point had been hilly, but they now faced mountainous country they must cross to reach the sea.

“Look, a car!” Markey exclaimed, his voice breaking into the silence like a clap of thunder on a sunny day.

Joel pulled over and let the bike idle as he looked down. A car had run off the road and crashed a fair way down the hill. It would be a steep climb down to it.

“I’ll go down and check it out,” Joel said.

“I’ll come too,” Evie said.

“No. Stay here, both of you. It may not be a pretty sight.”

Evie and Markey watched him choosing his footing carefully, carrying his piece of hose, strung over his shoulder, and empty petrol can.

The car appeared to be badly stowed in at the front. He peered inside the cabin and shook his head.

Evie held Markey’s arm. Joel moved to the rear of the car. Unscrewing the petrol cap, he put the hose in and began to suck the end. He quickly shoved the end of the hose into the can, turning his head away to spit on the ground. Wiping his mouth, he waited. When he’d drained as much as he could from the car, he screwed the cap back on the tin and stared up at them, giving the thumbs up.

He reached into the car and pulled a lever to open the boot lid. “There’s food here,” he yelled. “Markey, come down and give me a hand.”

Markey stiffened beside her. He shrugged away from her grasp and climbed down, coughing from the powdered dirt stirred up by his boots.

“No need to look inside the car, mate,” Joel said.

But she saw Markey glance inside before he gathered the provisions from the boot of the car.

When Joel arrived at the top, grim-faced and silent, Evie felt afraid to ask what he’d seen. Knowing might rob her of her fragile energy, and she needed every ounce of it to keep up with the boys. It didn’t seem to matter what monstrous events occurred. They still struck at her very core. She had recognized a similar anguish in Joel’s eyes and realized he wasn’t quite as tough as he acted.

She squeezed his arm. “What did you find?” she asked brightly.

“A few tins and packets of food.”

“The woman would have died in the crash,” Markey muttered. “There was some vegetables, bread, and milk, but they’re no good anymore.” He stowed the newfound provisions in with theirs, then, head bowed, climbed into the sidecar, and called to Ras.

When Ras settled on Markey’s lap, Joel kick-started the bike. He twisted back on the right handle grip and they accelerated away with a roar. Faster than necessary, but it felt good to put that awful scene behind them.

They hadn’t gone far when they reached the edge of the escarpment. As they approached the precipice, Joel shut down the engine. The road narrowed dangerously as it wound down around the cliff face.

“It will be safer if you both walk. I’ll take the bike through.” He stared off into the distance. “There, look!”

Their gaze followed the direction of Joel’s pointing finger. Through a gap in the mountainous peaks, they could make out a green rim along the coastline. But the terrain between them and their goal was terrifying. From a distance, the narrow roads looked like goat tracks winding up the barren rock face.

They trudged along with Rasputin, following the bike, the red dust clogging their dry throats, but after seeing their goal, their spirits lifted.

Evie watched Joel maneuver the bike around the tight bends. It was almost as if he reveled in the danger, riding near the edge, and sending sprays of dirt and rocks dancing off into the ravine. She grew anxious when Rasputin ran too close to the drop, but soon realized the dog was remarkably sure-footed.

Markey complained constantly about pebbles in his shoes, how thirsty he was, how scared he was of heights, and his rambling chatter became like background noise to her thoughts. At the sight of that green patch on the coast, the knots, wedged in her stomach for longer than she could remember, loosened a fraction. A glimmer of hope for the future emerged, in which the boy on the bike played a central part.