Peter tried to hang on to the sound. Was it real?
“Sir? I need to move you! Ok?! Ok?!”
What was that in the background? Gunfire, perhaps. And the voice… a woman. A young woman. Nothing to be afraid of, perhaps.
“OK! Let’s move! C’mon. We’ve got this!”
Her accent was thick – Australian, perhaps. He wished he could get a grip on himself, but all he could form were half questions and partial realizations.
Before long he could feel the gravel peeling away the skin on his back. Her fingertips were digging deep into his armpits as she grunted exhaustively. She was dragging him to safety. The gunfire was growing more distant. Peter tried to get a foot sturdy on the ground to help her, but as far as he could tell, he was still deadweight.
Peter looked up groggily; the sun was assaulting.
“You’ve been out for a day and a half. Here, eat.”
She was young, with a sweet, round, face. As she handed him a bowl of what looked like sludge, Peter took notice of her dirty hands and torn fingernails. Suddenly, the angelic haze surrounding her dissipated and he realized they were in hell.
“I’m Evelyn, by the way. Or, Evie. Peter, right? I found your wallet.”
“Yeah,” Peter managed as he pulled himself to a sitting position. “Where are we?”
“Hell,” she offered with a puckish smirk. “Really. But it’s a great hiding spot. I wouldn’t move too much if I were you, though. I had to sort of tumble you down here. But there was no way I could get you up anymore mountains, so the valley was your best chance.”
Hell Valley. Peter breathed in deeply and let the smell of the outback take him over. It took him a moment to process it, but when it came back, the sense memory flooded him. He had come to Australia for a sabbatical. He meant to write a new book but found himself holding more shot glasses than pens. He tried to find some solitude but then he broke his leg, just in time for the end of the world.
“Oh. My leg.”
“Looks broken. My mum’s a nurse. Er – she was.”
Peter considered offering condolences, but felt too disoriented to sound sincere.
“Evie?” he finally managed, “what’s happening?”
She sighed, and lifted her brow to the sky. “My guess? The end of the world.”
They spent the rest of daylight fiddling with a radio Evie had found in the city. She and her friends had been camping in Hell when it happened – whatever it was. An army, she said. But she had no real answers. The others had left to find their families. Evie didn’t have to worry about that. Her mother was dead in the house when she arrived. Shot. That was weeks ago, but Peter could tell she was still in shock.
“The sun’s going down. It gets kind of cold – just a warning.”
“Thanks. You know a lot about this roughing it stuff, huh?”
She smiled. “I know how to survive, if that’s what you mean. And – well, I could tell you didn’t. That’s why I couldn’t leave you. That, and, I figured if you healed good it would be nice to have a partner who owed me his life.”
“I do. Thank you. I feel rather incompetent. You’re just a kid.”
“Seventeen. You could be my dad.”
“Yeah, I could.”
Looking away, Peter sighed through the stabbing pain shooting through his leg. The timing was perfect – it was that, or think about his actual daughter, again.
“So how long do we stay here?”
Evie looked as though she wanted to hide from the question, but finally she said: “until you’re well enough to fight, I guess. We’ll come up with a plan tomorrow.”
Peter shut his eyes. She was right. It was getting cold.
© Shyla Fairfax-Owen