для читателей старше 18 лет
10:00 a.m. The days predicted maximum had already been exceeded.
The forecast was similar to yesterday, a maximum of thirty-two degrees Celsius and a slight southeasterly breeze to cool things down by mid-afternoon. It was one of those perfect summer days, not a cloud in the sky, its perfect azure untainted from horizon to horizon. The sun shone down on already crowded beaches. Sun worshippers arrived early to get the pick of the spots. Their liberally oil coated bodies glimmered in the sunlight and contrasted sharply with irregular beach goers with dull, white, zinc creamed noses and big all encompassing hats and tee shirts. Families and couples, groups of friends, rich people, poor people, middle Australia, they were all equal here at the beach.
Sydney, the unofficial capital of Australia and home to over three million people, on this holiday weekend the heat was driving them all to the beach. The roads were packed with cars, ferries were loaded to the gunwales, bus stop queues stretched fifty metres and were growing and all were heading for the same location. The beach… any beach, the closest cooling beach.
11:00 a.m. Thirty-six degrees.
Those already there, the lucky ones, didn’t know about the climbing temperature. They had the surf to cool them down. Some noted the excess heat radiating off the sand and the overt warmness of the water, which was not unexpected. They cavorted, they read, they napped, they swam and they surfed and Life was fun!
Noon. Forty degrees.
Within the steel, concrete, bitumen and glass of the city the heat was confined and almost ten degrees hotter than coastal areas. The radio weatherman couldn’t explain it. Two more degrees would be a record for this day of the year, three more a record for the month, five more an all time Sydney record. Already the elderly were collapsing, dying in non air-conditioned homes, shops and on the streets. Young children were suffering from dehydration and heat stroke. Parents had begun to panic. Warnings were broadcast on radio and television as emergency services were stretched to capacity.
1:00 p.m. A new record was set.
1:13 it was forty-eight degrees.
1:25. fifty-three degrees.
1:30 p.m. sixty degrees was registered.
Bitumen roads melted. Peak hour like traffic was literally stuck. The Sydney Harbour Bridge could be seen buckling, stretching. It groaned so loud that people abandoned marooned, overheated vehicles and ran for the perceived safety of the bridge ends but the heat and sticky, sucking bitumen made movement almost impossible. The soles of their footwear melted and their screams of pain barely registered above the cries of the bridge itself. Some managed to scale the safety fences. Their hands, arms and any exposed flesh burned instantly when it made contact with the bridge. They died screaming as their bodies toasted to a crisp. The more desperate and athletic slapped down onto the water below with a sound like a watermelon striking concrete.
2:00 p.m. Seventy-five degrees.
Buildings, cars, trucks, service stations, houses, people both dead and dying spontaneously burst into flames. The throngs at the beaches were no more, their charred corpses now rolling and burning across the sand. The masses that reached the perceived safety of the surf had been literally boiled alive. No structures remained intact.
3:00 p.m. The temperature peaked at ninety degrees and finally dropped to eighty-five. Within thirty minutes it had returned to forty degrees.
At 4:00 p.m. zero degrees registered, if there was anything left to measure that fact.
Heavy rain began to fall followed by sleet which progressively turned to snow as the temperature plummeted to minus twenty. Exposed fires were extinguished in the extreme cold.
5:00 p.m. minus sixty degrees.
A man dressed like a boy stood on the cliffs of South Head. His smile was broad and he raised his arms, looking upward to a still, clear sky. Earlier that morning any interested observer would have seen him carry out the same action. He had stood there all day watching the mayhem. As each hour passed or at a particularly satisfying act of destruction his smile could be seen to grow. It had grown largest when people in the surf and on the Harbour were boiled alive, their screams and desperate pleas appearing to feed his satisfaction.
He continued to watch unaffected by nature’s cruelty. Furrows in the earth appeared, sucking in the damage, consuming all before it burning or no’, and the soft hue of romantic light provided a beautiful backdrop to this, his most perfect day.
Chapter Two “Mt Warning”
Her tortured squeals of terror and pitiful grunts of desperation echoed across the pre-dawn mist as the sun began its inexorable rise, its red stain across the horizon a prelude to another steamy day. The many species of bird life had been active for some time. Noisy parakeets screeched across the sky and camouflaged the footfalls of many ground dwellers out searching for their morning meal, or having eaten, returning to their nighttime lairs. Food remained abundant here with fruits and vegetables both wild and cultivated supplementing the animal meat.
Today would see them feasting on a sow, almost wild after being loose in the forest. She had been suckling three young ones that made her a relatively easy target — catching the piglets had been more difficult. If some fool didn’t steal them from the pen they now occupied, it would see their group sustained for weeks. Their actions were necessary but not needed… as they would find out.
They hadn’t meant to kill her. She was more value to them alive and an obvious sign a male pig was out there somewhere. She could have been the beginning for some or at least one of the group to return to their former Life. But a group led by panic is a group without leadership, and the sticks and rocks they held for self-defence became instruments of death. Some shouldered others out of the way just so they could get in their own pleasurable stab or bash, and when the sows’ skull fractured (exploded really), others turned away and puked, but their hands did not leave their sharpened sticks imbedded in her eyes, neck or guts. The realisation that she was dead raised a cheer and they set onto her again, this time with teeth and bare hands clawing and ripping at her raw flesh. One of them even ran from the mob with the sows’ intestines trailing from his teeth spilling blood, gore and the stinking contents of the organ over everything he passed. These people may not have forgotten their Life yet, but common decency had certainly disappeared from their memories.
Life. It was a word that none of them had use for anymore. Life. They recalled fairytales told long ago by their mothers or indeed, spoken from their own mouths to their own children. Fairytales or prayers? Who could remember anymore? Who cared anymore? Some of them did. But that was another time, another place. Here they were among their own kind, no fairytales to comfort them, no Mothers to hug them.
New arrivals were always difficult. Most refused to believe the facts, refused to believe their destiny, refused reality, and clung strongly to their beliefs. Some of them made it but they were a minority — a very small minority. The old cliché about the strongest and fittest surviving was crap! Here, the strongest and fittest, the fastest, the smartest, meant nothing. Zip, zilch… unless it was applied to acceptance. He who adapted and accepted quickest, survived. Most didn’t, understandably.
You go through Life with all the best intentions, selfish as most of them may be. Life; that anomaly of being alive. You live Life by striving to do better, earn more money, screw as many girls as you can, buy that flash sports car, go on that debauched holiday, living Life to its fullest.
Sometimes they can tell straight away if someone is going to make it or not. It doesn’t take long to figure out who has it and who doesn’t. They’d seen mothers, fathers, teenagers, toddlers, grandparents, politicians, council workers, real estate salesmen, all and sundry come through here. Some stay mere seconds, some for a couple of hours, but by the end of their first day most, if not all, have gone. And it’s not that they all arrive together either, like on a tour bus or something, no; it’s more like they are coming and going, and going and coming at all hours of the day or night.
You had to feel sorry for the ones that arrived at night — they have no chance, no chance at all. Of those that watched over them, there stood one that knew better than any other individual, because there had only ever been one that survived a night arrival — and it was he.
It isn’t night now. The sun has risen, striking his piece of dirt before any other on the Australian mainland. Once again there had only ever been one that knew what was going to happen, and that, as you may have guessed this time, was he again.
Chapter Three “Old Billy”
It’s not the sort of thing he used to worry about, that’s for sure. He’d lived, and it had been good. He’s an old man now and had enjoyed his Life. He missed Life; he just didn’t let anyone else know it.
Let me tell you a little more about who he is. His name is Billy, at least it was Billy… Billy Nelson. He arrived for the last time about four or five years ago near as anybody can figure — could be forty or fifty years for all he knew and cared anymore but others have been there so long nobody can even remember their last names! At last count there was about two hundred of the more permanents but constant arrivals and departures every day made it hard to keep track.
Billy spent his Life with abilities that would have made Superman envious, but they were abilities that remained oblivious to the majority in his time as a mortal entity. As a baby, a child, he could see and do things that would have seen most committed to the nuthouse. But he’d been born to that Life and remained, relatively speaking, quite normal. Sure, he used to disappear at times when the desire to do so crossed his mind, and he understood the spoken language almost immediately. He could even hear peoples’ thoughts, but it was the visual world that was the most dramatic to him.
Billy could see and hear the other people who were no longer mortal souls, who waited for whatever was their reason to pass onward. He learnt quickly not to let on that he could see them. Experience taught him that whenever he did so, a mob would immediately form demanding he relay messages of advice, love, or desperation to living relatives.
As a two year old it had been simple to ignore them (he may have understood language but communicating it to others remained as mysterious and frustrating as for any toddler his age). It was impossible to disseminate the things they wanted him to. As the years progressed he came to bless the insight that enabled him to switch off to their presence in his Life.
Anonymity became Billy’s friend. Not even his parents accepted his abnormal behaviour and it taught him to be cautious about who knew. Such caution became easier as he grew, firstly through puberty then into an early maturity well beyond his years. He was 15 when things changed dramatically, the change so dramatic that only the whole story could possibly make it clearer.
“Tony and Jen”
“Where the fuck? It isn’t?”
“Fuckin’ fantastic man. C’mon, lets get in there!”
“No, wait! Billy! Hang on… " His best mate Tony was always willing to please, to try anything. He always had his ear to the ground, so that nights like tonight were not a surprise — for him anyway. Tony loved doing this sort of stuff. Yesterday afternoon as he and Billy walked home after jumping off the school bus he just up and said it.
“We gotta be at the Top Pub tomorrow.”
“You’ll see. Pick ya up at three.”
“I was gonna come over for a jam session before lunch, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. You still seein’ Jen?”
“You betcha. Seeing her at tennis in the morning. Dad wouldn’t let me go out with her tonight — her brother was gonna take us to the drive in and he doesn’t even know him but he still said he doesn’t trust him, so I can’t go. Sucks man. And Jen was pretty pissed off too.”
“She’s a looka Billy. Does Wendy know?”
“No way! Best thing about Jen goin’ to school in Lismore is nobody else around here knows her!”
“So, tomorrow night, is one of them comin’ with us?”
Billy slapped him on the back. Tony hated the fact that Billy always had a girl, or two, or three! It wasn’t that he was bad looking himself, it was, well, the fact that he never gave them a chance to get to know him, really know him, know him like Billy did. They’d strike up a conversation with the girls Tony and Billy and the first question Tony’d ask is if any of them wanted a fuck! The girls usually drifted away about then but curiosity would almost always bring one of them back, eventually — to Billy that is. He’d go to the loo or to the bar and run into one of them and she’d say something like; “Is your friend always that crass?” And they’d end up having a conversation and he’d end up with the girl. If not that night in the back seat of a convenient car, or once, even the ladies loo at the Workers Club in Lismore, then at some other venue at some other time. As the ice had already been broken it was pretty easy for him to go up and introduce himself again. Worked like a charm just about every time and Billy wouldn’t change Tony for the world! One day, Tony was going to wake up to it, that’s for sure. Billy always hoped it wasn’t sooner rather than later!
It wasn’t that Billy needed his help. Jen for one, he met at the local tennis courts just after her family had moved into the area from Lismore. Tony didn’t play tennis or any other sport so Jen was safe from his unique approaches. Her folks didn’t want her to change schools at this stage, being Year 10 and all that, so while she caught the bus to Lismore the other locals like Billy and Tony caught the bus to Ballina.
Billy earnt pocket money by watering, rolling and marking the local clay tennis courts and aside from the money, pushing and pulling that roller around endowed him with more defined muscles than most boys his age. There he was that morning, finishing with the heavy roller on the courts in his shorts and tennis shoes, arms and torso pumped, tanned and flexing from their efforts when a voice drifted across the court from the small clubhouse. He hadn’t seen her arrive because she walked across the park while he was pushing the roller in the other direction. She stood in the shadows of the clubhouse and it was difficult for him to make her out.
“I said, it looks hot out there,” she repeated.
He dropped the roller after putting it in the most out of the way position and walked toward her, quite disturbed — nobody, generally, was able to sneak up on him and the fact she had bothered him. Billy didn’t speak or even look at her until he was almost to the wire fence, and one look rendered him speechless — the girl was gorgeous! She was dressed for tennis in a short white skirt, white blouse, white socks and white Dunlop Volleys, which contrasted against her lightly tanned almost flawless skin, her startling green eyes and long light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was an absolute vision and didn’t wait for him to speak. He probably couldn’t have anyway!
“I was told to be here at seven thirty.”
Her comment gave him more time — he checked his watch and a surreptitious glance to check his abs! It was twenty past, which meant he was late — he had to be changed and ready by seven thirty as well and in his confusion he said the only thing that came into his brain at the time.
“You’re early.” It didn’t actually mean anything, or it meant many things. Regardless, it made no sense. He tried again. “I mean, everybody gets here at seven thirty, which is ten minutes away yet. Don’t worry, they’ll be here. They tend to rock up together. Who, who are you waiting for?”
“I was told to see Billy, Billy Nelson — Mr Howcroft said he would look after me.”
Billy was stunned again; his normally precocious brain dumbfounded — Howcroft had delivered him an angel! He wondered if Howcroft had seen her? No way! If he had, the old lech would have been here giving her private coaching lessons, not referring her to him. He replied hesitantly.
“Ah, that’s me. Billy. Um, Howcroft said see me?”
“Yes. Mum rang during the week and went in and, you know, registered and paid the fee and here I am! Do you need a hand with anything?”
“No. Yes!” He spoke sharply. “I need to put the nets up, the lines will be fine for today.”
Billy realised how late he really was when she asked if he needed help. He knew he really should do the lines but after a late start there wasn’t time to load the lime and run it around both courts — it wasn’t as if any of them was a John McEnroe or Evonne Goolagong! He ran through the gate and she followed him into the clubhouse, where he rummaged in the equipment chest for the nets, and as he turned she was standing right behind him, eyes looking straight at his with a strange sparkle.
“Give it to me,” she told him, “I know how to do it.”
He passed her the first net then dragged out the second and they walked out onto the courts together. She dropped her net at the closest end and bent over in front of him to unroll it. Billy rolled his eyes to the heavens and she turned back to look at him — it was his turn to be standing there looking at her with a sparkle in his eyes. Now he knew what she’d been looking at in the clubhouse, and he had just returned the favour!
“I think I’m going to like it here after all,” she said straight to his face and then immediately turned around, bent over again and finished unrolling the net.
Since that first meeting over a month ago they’d become inseparable, which annoyed Tony somewhat. They turned into Billy’s street and Billy decided to stir him up a bit.
“I was thinkin’ of asking Wendy but it is Saturday and I usually see Jen on Saturday.”
“I know,” Tony said sullenly.
“So, I thought if I see Jen tonight, then I could still ask Wen tomorrow!”
Tony’s shoulders slumped appreciably and Billy almost wished he hadn’t done it. Poor Tony! One day, and Billy knew it would be soon, one of Tony’s propositions was going to be accepted and he hoped to God he was there to see it. But his guilt is too much for the moment so he decided to cheer him up.
“Nah, stuff the women! Let’s just you and me hit the town tomorrow, okay mate?”
Tony lifted immediately, as if nothing had happened. He was like that, resilient as all hell and Billy liked that about him too.
“Okay, okay! I’ll see ya after then”.
Billy slapped him on the back before opening the front gate. “Don’t wanna come in for a drink do ya?”
Tony didn’t even stop walking to reply over his shoulder and was past the yard by the time he’d finished. “No, sorry, gotta go. See ya mate,” and with a backward wave, he crossed the street. Tony had only ever gone into the house once and Billy’s Mum and Dad had made him feel about as welcome as small pox.
“Aren’t you Barry Smiths’ son?”
“You a drug addict boy?”
“How come I hear the Smith boy is a drug addict?”
“That’s my big brother sir.”
“Brothers! Thick as thieves. Your brother ever give you drugs?”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Why? Tell me why I should believe you, boy.”
“What d’ya mean no?”
“Oh! Sorry, I mean, yes sir, it’s the truth sir.”
“Dad! Stop it will ya. Tony’s okay Dad, trust me.”
“Why? You gimme one good reason why I should trust a smart-alec fifteen year old? You takin’ drugs too?”
“Dad, you know better than that. Trust me ‘coz I’m your son.”
“You’re hangin’ around with a drug addict.”
“He’s not a drug addict Dad. Let it go will ya?”
“What, yellin’ at me now are you? You ain’t so big that I can’t throw you over my knee.”
“Dad, you know as well as I do that you couldn’t if you wanted to. Sorry for yelling. Let’s go Tony.”
“Where you goin’ boy, haven’t you got homework? I forbid you to go down to that, that drug addicts place. You get back here. Billy? Billy?”
His mother’s voice floated out to them as they had walked to the front gate. “Where are you going Billy? You haven’t upset your Father again have you? Billy? Come back here son. I’m your Mother, don’t you walk away from me. Billy?”
That was why Tony never went back inside Billy’s house! His old man was okay, just a bit grumpy at times. But that was then. Today, Billy walked into the house and his Dad was sitting where he always sat. He nodded to Billy without even looking away from the television and Billy went straight to his room.
Billy didn’t always tell Tony everything, in fact he tried to tell him as little as possible and it had been the truth about seeing Jen tonight — his Dad wouldn’t let him go. But what Dad didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, the same with Tony for that matter and as much as his Mum and Dad talked and blustered they never stopped him from doing anything. So Billy would be going to the drive in with Jen tonight only no one except the four of them going knew.
He walked out of the house around six-thirty but stopped suddenly on the front step — something made him go back. He stood at the entrance to the living room and looked at his Dad whose eyes remained glued to the TV.
“You okay Dad?”
“Yep. Where ya goin’?”
“Just down the servo, meet a couple of the guys, grab a burger, you know.”
“If I knew I wouldn’t ask. Be home by ten.”
“Yeah, no worries. You sure you’re okay?”
He did look up this time. “Don’t you pull that crap on me son!”
“I’m not Dad, I’m not. You’ll be fine. See ya.” He was back watching TV before Billy finished speaking.
He was at the front gate when his Mum came out. “Billy,” she called softly. He went back, her concern etched across her face. “What did you see Billy, what did you see?”
“Nothin’ Ma, it was nothin’.”
“You ain’t ever said what you just did to your Dad before. What did you see Billy? You know he don’t believe, but I do. I do. What did you see?”
“I’m not sure Ma, but there’s nothing to worry about.”
“You did then, you did see something. What? Tell me. What?”
“It was nothing Mum, nothing clear at all. I’ve told you before, it isn’t always clear…”
“Billy,” she admonished. “I seen you have glitches before and people died Billy Nelson! This is your Father we’re talking about now. You gotta tell me Billy!”
She was raising her voice and Billy didn’t want his Dad and everybody else in the street hearing the conversation. “Mum, shhh, please? Alright, there was something, I can’t tell you anymore, for sure, yet. If it becomes clearer I will tell you alright? Now please be quiet. I will tell you okay?”
She appeared to accept this. Billy knew this time had to come some day, when he would have to try and save someone he cared for, family, or a close friend. He also knew there was literally nothing he could do about it. He knew because he’d tried. Many times. When he was younger and still exploring his capabilities, he’d even gone over and tried to bring some of them back, some that had died but not yet passed on — it never worked. Now he looked but didn’t touch anymore. He reached out and grabbed his Mother’s hand. Reluctantly, she let him take it. Their family was not much into sharing anything that remotely demonstrated affection of any form.
“Don’t worry,” he told her.
It was lame, but it wouldn’t have mattered what he said at that point. She would believe whatever she wanted regardless. He let her hand go, turned and left and twenty metres from his front gate he was whistling as he walked.
Billy didn’t get home that night. He stayed with Jenny, sneaking into her house after they got home from the drive in, snuggling up together in her narrow little bed. She had been very tentative to let Billy do anything at the drive in with her brother sitting in the front. Understandable really! They kissed and cuddled and both knew her brother had his hand up his girlfriend’s skirt. Billy thought he’d even got a blowjob about halfway through the second movie. But they were nineteen, Billy and Jen were fifteen and kids their age didn’t do things like that. And pigs fly!
They snuck into the bedroom as soon as they got to Jen’s place, lips locked together. Their frustrations from watching and listening to her brother and his girlfriend were finally released. As soon as they were in bed Billy almost ripped off her cute little sky blue panties such was his desperation. After about twenty minutes they lay on their sides hugging, faces less than an inch apart where they whispered and giggled until she finally fell asleep in his arms. Then Billy knew. The revelation hit him full the face — he was going to marry this girl!
Billy snuck out early the next morning, went home and got tennis gear, and going out clothes for later with Tony. His Mum and Dad were sound asleep as usual — neither of them rose before about ten and for his Dad that meant a burp, a fart, and turning on the TV where he would sit, sans toilet breaks, for the next twelve hours or more.
Billy managed to roll and mark the courts before Jens arrival; it had become ritual now for her to arrive early and help. They’d first made out on the equipment chest in the clubhouse and that too had become ritual! This morning was to be slightly different though. She sat, her mostly bare buttocks on the raw timber of the chest (He never knew how she didn’t get a splinter — Billy regularly got them, in the fingers and hands and once even in the thigh). Jen mostly kept her knickers on, just pulling the crotch to one side, but the few times they did it were always great for them both. She loved to orgasm, it too a relatively new thing for them, and Billy loved experiencing them with her. This morning was no exception to that at least.
“I couldn’t, yell out, last night, at home, and I, really nee, needed to,” she gasped.
And yell she did. She wrapped her gorgeous smooth legs around Billy and held him so tight he thought he’d have to push her away just to breathe. When she calmed down she looked at his watch, and saw they still had a few minutes before anyone arrived. She was looking a bit funny and Billy put it down as some sort of post-orgasmic reaction you read about in Penthouse Forum — until she spoke.
“It was really weird last night.”
“What? Sitting in a car while your brother got it on in the front seat?”
“No. I’m serious. After we made love last night in my bed, you holding me, something really strange happened.” She kept looking at Billy, as if he already knew what she was going to say.
“Yeah? What?” She looked disappointed. He was standing between her thighs, inside her still, and each tiny movement by either of them was very pleasant indeed but her serious look removed any pleasure Billy felt. She didn’t even notice him pull out, her legs remained wrapped around him holding him close, her arms still around his neck. He kissed her but she pulled away quickly. “What is it Babe? Tell me?”
“Billy, I, I think I’m in love with you Billy” she said, shyly. It was the first time in a month that he had seen her shy. It didn’t suit her at all.
“Is that all? Funny, ‘coz I love you too!”
He said it as brightly as he could and even thought it wasn’t bad for his first time. But her reaction was horrifying! She cried! She hugged him tightly and cried, and Billy thought it was something you were supposed to be happy about, yet she was crying! He wasn’t sure how to handle it — so he cried too! The tears began spilling from his eyes and he couldn’t have stopped if he wanted to. The strangest thing was that despite his tears, he was happy. He stood there bawling like a baby and that’s when he recognised how she felt. He hugged her as tight as she was hugging him and they cried together in each other’s arms. It took some time but they eventually composed themselves and she looked straight into his eyes.
“I love you Billy Nelson. I realised that last night. But do you want to know what the really weird bit was?”
“Yes, of course. What?”
“Somehow, when I was falling asleep, I just knew, all of a sudden I just knew that you were the one I was going to marry.”
Billy stood there looking at her wide-eyed. He thought, “Did she get that from me? Was it possible that we thought the same thing at the same time?” His look of surprise must have worried her.
“Oh no, I’ve said the wrong thing, haven’t I? Oh, I shouldn’t have told you that, I’m going to chase you away now, aren’t I? Billy? Please, I’m so sorry. Billy?”
“It’s okay Babe it’s okay, it’s just that, well, I felt the exact same thing at the same time. That’s what shocked me.”
The timely sound of cars arriving ceased their conversation. While Jen rearranged herself and perched rather perkily on the equipment chest, Billy sat in the opposite corner. They awaited the arrival of the others, except now things were different. Prior to this morning they had looked at each other with lust. Now, near as Billy could figure, they eyed each other with so much more. It was beautiful, an amazing feeling, and it was obvious to Billy that she felt exactly the same.
After tennis they bade a sad farewell and most of the other kids and adults recognised what was going on between them. There had been a few casual comments before today, light-hearted stirring, but they’d always managed to ignore it. It was different now. To the adults it was cute, childhood sweetheart type stuff. To the other kids it was sick. They could recognise love and love was for big kids, not kids their age. Some of them even looked at Billy and Jen with disgust. Tough, they would learn for themselves one day, but for the present Billy didn’t give a damn what anybody thought, and neither did Jen. She hugged him in front of everybody so he kissed her, softly, for just a few seconds.
“Ring me later,” she called out.