Once there was…
Once there was a girl.
Bloody hell, it’s cold in here. So many lies, some big, some small, and the one that bothers me most of all is how they promised we would be comfortable but instead it’s anything but.
Once there was a girl. She lived in a cold, hard, dark place.
I thought maybe if I started writing it down, it might feel a little less lonely in here. I mean, there’s 74 of us, including the kids, and that should be busy enough for anyone. We filled a coach, you know? And there’s all different ages and stuff. But it’s like when you’re a kid and people expect you to just get on with other kids because you’re all, well, kids. I think a couple of people were neighbours, and everyone looks vaguely familar; all from the same area, of course. But it’s not like anyone here was actually friends. You can’t take 74 people, shove them in a place like this and expect them to just… get along.
Once there was a girl. She lived in a cold, hard, dark place. It was meant to keep her safe. It was meant to keep her family safe.
At least I have my family with me. There was one woman, Hayley… her husband was away travelling and her kids had been sent to her in-laws for a week to get them out of the way of the chaos. We’ve been here a week and she hasn’t stopped crying. They burnt all the kids’ toys, but she managed to sneak something in with her – God knows how, with all the showers and suits and all the rest of it. It’s this tiny little plastic thing – like a toy you get in a chocolate egg? I know some of the others are pissed at her and regard it as, like, a threat. So they avoid her. I wouldn’t mind sitting with her. At least she doesn’t try to talk to anyone. But dad would kill me. He’s one of the ones who’s scared of her.
The girl was grateful that she got to keep her dad and her little brother with her. She saw people around her who had lost everything. And she wondered if they really wanted to be safe anyway.
That’s the thing about being saved. No-one ever asks you if you really want it to happen. Hayley had to be sedated when she realised they weren’t going to be picking anyone up and bringing them to us. The best they could offer was that the evacuation programme was going on everywhere, so if they were deemed low enough risk to be assigned to a camp, her kids and husband might, separately, survive. They’d be undergoing screening at the same time.
Screening. It sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? And you know what? It’s not even a bad procedure. It’s not humiliating. They make it kind of comfortable. If you could see the nurses’ faces you’d reckon they were being kind. Just a drop. Pink card. If it stays pink, you get on the bus. If it goes blue, you’re on your own. They say if it goes black there is no bus, and the whole thing shuts down there and then. Only how does anyone know this? We were told about pink and blue. They were honest about that. But if it’s all just happening know, where did the black story come from?
She had been so relieved when the paper had stayed pink. And then she had been terrified, because she’d gone in first and her brother was right behind her so that he’d feel confident and safe because even though he wasn’t really a little little brother he was still her little brother and he needed her. But then they let her stay to see. And he was fine. And then their father made them leave the room for his test and they sat, cold hand in cold hand, in the bus waiting room for the two minutes that felt like days.
It’s funny. It’s maybe the first time I’ve been grateful that my mother isn’t around anymore. She was spared all this.
They had been in the cold, hard, dark place for only a week, but already there was a routine. Everyone ate together, four times a day. They didn’t really have any tasks to do other than prepare food and clean up afterwards and it was warmest in the ‘kitchen’ where the fire was. They’d been given enough food and fuel to last months and promised more was coming, so they weren’t saving much. Though now, as the truth dawned about how little they’d been told and how much had turned out to be accurate only on a technicality, they did wonder if they should start rationing. Because what if those supplies never came?
What’s the phrase when something is missing and it’s really obvious? Conspicuous by its absence? That would be the best description of our medical supplies. We have enough to deal with a grazed knee and that’s it. We each got The Shot (I don’t know why, but whenever anyone talks about it it’s like it has capital letters and that’s just how I think of it now), and then that was it. They never did answer the question of what happened if The Shot didn’t work. Just some waffle about how it wouldn’t be an issue, because it always worked.
Kit, this girl of, oh, I dunno, I think she’s about 9? Anyway, she asked how come they got to wear the suits and round up the people and how we could qualify for that (she actually used the word qualify, immensely smart kid, I like her but she kinda scares me). That didn’t even get waffle. Just totally ignored.
Among those still-plentiful supplies, though, the girl was surprised to find they had been given paper and pencils. She decided to write down her story, as much as she could, in case that food ever did run out. Because someone should be able to know what happened here.
If only the girl was ever able to figure it out.
This is the eighth attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.