364 days til we get out



I called the rest of my group to the jungle gym. As the centre of this world, it was important to keep my people around me. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’

Watson and Chan assembled under the jungle gym, Fatti and KT and Kane and Adam and Maeve and Eli and Omar and Esther, her arms and body and crotch soaked with mud. There was even mud in her hair. Anya marched up to me and folded her arms all staunch. Those arms won the girls’ shotput, discus and javelin at the last Sports Day. She beat the boys in those events, too.

‘Need resources,’ she grunted.

‘Anyone found anything cool yet?’ I called down. The others had been turning over rubbish bins and checking under the slide and tipping the swings.

Two muddy figures came near the jungle gym. The sorta-tubby one had to be Fatimah. ‘Hey,’ one of them called up. ‘Nah, nothing. Lend me twenty bucks til payday, babe.’

‘It’s like a whole day away,’ I told them, and they high-fived. ‘Good to see you, anyway, Anya,’ I said, ‘Sorry I didn’t say hi before.’ She snorted. Pretty normal greeting for her. Anya isn’t exactly cool, but the last person who dissed her went home from school with a broken nose.

‘Come,’ she said in her Terminator accent, turning her massive shoulders, beckoning with muscular fingers. Typical Anya – one syllable at a time. I hopped off the jungle gym, my muddy, dripping people saw I was heading to rendezvous with the crew, and they followed in a chain, cautiously. If they were hoping for more interesting people to spend the year with, they needed to check themselves. I had a feeling all the right people were here, and we were about to get together and have the best year ever. Except Adam. Gag.

‘See?’ Anya said, pointing at a pit under the fort. I noticed a manhole poked up from the grass nearby. They must have dug around the manhole, looking for a way down into the sewer, thinking perhaps their million was down there.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve found the money? The millions?’

‘Money’s tomorrow.’

‘Aren’t we supposed to get, like, supplies? Like free gifts, that’s what I heard. Free Swiss army knife or something gay, is that right?’

‘It’s the opposite of right,’ Watson said, reading a graph on his org.

‘Watson!’ I said. ‘Don’t tell me you’re getting reception here?’

Watson snorted, and I actually saw brown droplets fly from his nostrils. ‘OB-viously not, anyone with a basic understanding of radio waves would understand the curvature of a biodome like this deflects … you’re not understanding me. Anyway, I’m offline. No ‘net.’

‘Radio waves,’ said KT, ‘That is such a beautiful way to say it.’

‘You’re such a sales bitch.’ Fatimah, chewing her cuticle, was unimpressed. ‘What’s so beautiful about being trapped in a giant jam jar?’ She pulled her t-shirt away from her tummy and wringed dripping river mud out of it. ‘Gawd. I thought we’d be, like, on a tropical island or something. Crystal clear lagoons, y’know, coconuts. Not a ghost town with a swamp around it.’

Eli began massaging Fatti’s shoulders. ‘I, for one, can’t wait to get paid. Cash first and then, what? Barbecues and spa pools, perhaps?’

Omar walked into the huddle. ‘Camo tents are what we need. So no one can spot ya. And crossbows. Pyow pyow!’

‘You chose to be here, Fatti,’ I told her, ‘Don’t call it a jam jar. Oi, back to the manna or whatever you call it: anyone got anything yet? Has ANYone seen any dinero come down? I want my CASH. Where the banks at?’

‘Shops would be cool,’ Fatimah added, ‘Don’t you guys member what this place used to be like? It was, like, a place that the school bus stopped so kids could get the hell out of here. There’s no banks in the suburbs. No shops, hardly.’ Fatti started getting all giggly and hyperactive. ‘These houses better have some ming vases in ‘em! I wanna get RICH, BITCH!’

‘I want a limo, of my own,’ Esther said, ‘And there is a limo- except there’s one problem.’

‘One teeny tiny problem,’ Maeve repeated, picking up a fistful of bark and drizzling it.

I was astounded. ‘Are you guys spoiled or what? They’ve left you a limousine and you’re bitching?!’

‘Let’s pimp that thing,’ Fatti went. ‘Where’s the limo at? What are we waiting for?’

‘I’m going to suggest that a lack of petroleum distillate combustion ra-ther thwarts the movement of your typical internal combustion engine,’ Adam said, swinging then swinging away. It was scary to see him not working, all carefree and happy. ‘Our Kane has already discovered as such.’

‘What’s Rock-a-bye-baby doing here?’ Maeve said, looking at me to check that my body language agreed with what she was saying. ‘Someone tell him not to play on the swing? It’s like seriously creepy.’

Adam had his hands over his belly for just a couple of seconds, but a couple of us noticed – there was light on his hands.

Then Watson caught the swing and Adam hopped off. Just before he shut down his organiser, he selected a ringtone, a trumpet-y sound.

‘It’s a conch,’ Adam said, grinning. ‘Impressed?’

Kane threw his hands up. ‘You gonna tell us what a conk is or am I gonna beat it out of you?’

‘A conch can be used when it’s a person’s turn to speak,’ Adam explained, smiling as if we should be grateful to him. ‘Eden, I wonder if you’d be interested in speaking first?’

‘I already was speaking,’ I went, ‘Anyway, non-losers: okay, so there’s a limousine but we’ve got to gas up. That’s doable, that’s doable, just got to assign someone to go get gas. I’m thinking there’ll be, what, pizzas somewhere? Soccer balls? A bouncy castle? Show me the money!’

‘Show me the money!’ Maeve repeated

‘I LOVE it!’ KT squealed, clapping, ‘We have GOT to make it our national anthem! I mean, can you imagine? Our own republic!’

‘And show me the cash, am I right, everyone? Gawd, tomorrow can NOT come soon enough.’

Adam activated the conch noise again, and he was about to try convince everyone to take turns using it when Kane pointed a finger in his face. ‘Conch again, and I’m gonna conk you, mecha lover.’

Remembering to demonstrate leadership, I pointed out a really inviting looking front yard which bordered on the park. I led us across the grass, with Watson towards the back and Adam limping behind. Not everyone wanted to move but then I shoved Chan and he wheeled Esther. That’s how life works: the cool kids move and everyone follows. We went into the nice property, took seats on a hammock and swing seat and stroked the giant ceramic angels, washed our hands and our faces in the fountain. ‘Eli and Chan, you maybe wanna go inside, get us all cold drinks?’

They went in to search for drinks; the other ten of us sat down. ‘Let’s talk manna,’ I began. ‘Like seriously, where’s the refreshments, know what I’m saying?’

‘Where the guns and bowen arrows?’ Kane said.

Watson snorted. ‘Please tell me he didn’t just say “bowen arrows”.’

‘Well tell me the proper … thing for it, then, genius.’

Chan came out drinkless and clapped. ‘DISCUSSION TIME. Shouldn’t we address the elephant in the room, everyone? I mean, am I the only Flesh who wants to get paid around here?’

‘Yeah, sorry. Lol. I’m seriously excited for payday. Haaaas anyone got anything yet? Who’s found something? Anya? Eli?’

‘Yeah guys,’ Maeve went, standing up and positioning herself beside me, ‘Who’s found something? Treasure? Jewels? Rolexes?’

‘My people,’ I shouted over everyone else’s conversation, ‘We’re here to PAAAR-tayyy, am I right?’

‘Not me,’ Adam said, ‘I’ve recorded this meeting, just so you know. I intend to record all. Why don’t we hold our first city council meeting? We can be a democracy, with minutes and agendas, and roles and duties. We can be so ORGanised. Need everyone to subscribe to that, though.’

‘Yawn,’ said Maeve, ‘Right, Ede?’

‘Totally. Yawn. People: no one’s found ANYthing? Pizza? Jet skis? Cash money?’

‘Hope no one gets a thousand pound weight,’ Fatimah said, devouring her fingertip. ‘Y’know, like in cartoons and stuff?’ Fatimah always had pink fingertips, sometimes bleeding. She chewed her gums, too. She tried real hard to make people laugh all the time, but I don’t think her life was that funny. Fatti had some nervous food-related secret puking ritual that she did every day, like as if her BFFs didn’t know.

‘I want Manhattans!’ Fatti squealed, ‘Let’s open up some houses, get a bar going.’

Kane threw a stone at Fatimah. ‘Fats, you couldn’t fit your fat ass behind a bar.’

Omar changed the subject. ‘I’d go for a Swiss army knife.’ He took out a huge knife from his pocket with about 20 implements on it. ‘I mean my one’s currently top of the range, but another knife wouldn’t hurt.’

‘Where the hell’d the knife come from, dude?’

‘I have a very expansive rectum,’ Omar said, and winked, and we all pretended to barf.

Chan squeezed my shoulder. ‘We’re gonna need to go searching. God I’m thirsty. Hooch, poker chips… hell, I could use some new sneakers. Just gotta find some rich dude’s closet.’

KT chewed her lips. ‘While that is a BRILLIG idea, ummmmmm, party planners, ummmm, do we have a committee?’

I pointed out that we didn’t have any supplies to party with. We couldn’t even have a straight edge party if we wanted. Eli the Baptist tried to argue that we only needed each other, then Anya said, ‘We must stockpile,’ and a big argument erupted. Everyone was talking, but no one was giving us anything to eat or drink. The need to have a drink was like a hamster in my throat that kept popping up and reminding me it was there. I wanted champagne, sprite, Mountain Dew, Coke, 7Up, soda in every colour. I would’ve even settled for water.

Adam activated his stupid conch noise. ‘My fellow citizens,’ he began, and Kane threw a porcelain coaster at him. ‘You want jet skis, you want quad bikes, and I hear you. I’d just like to suggest you adjust your expectations. We have shelter – that’s our number one priority taken care of. We’ll need protein and minerals followed closely by preserved food with salt and carbohydrates. I’ll assign groups- food before jet skis, remember. Watson – how many houses in this district?’

‘District?’ Watson tilted his head like an owl. ‘We are dealing with a suburb. 2500 houses. 10,000 population max.’

‘Twelve population, more like’ Adam sighed, ‘We’ll split into four groups of three.  Who’s coming with Kurtz?’

Watson snorted. ‘I think you’ll find Marlow’s the hero of that little tale, if you’re referring to what I think you’re referring to.’

‘Kurtz is the hero,’ Adam went, pointing his nose in the air.

‘What the hell are yous two faggots talking about?’ Chan shouted at them, ‘This ain’t debating club. Losers don’t get a say.’

A shadow appeared over Chan’s face and his mouth opened nervously. It was Anya, stepping into the debate, mad about something.

I’ll come with you,’ she said, and went and stood by Adam.

‘Lighten up, dickheads,’ Chan said, with a single laugh, ‘What is this, a civil war already?’ He tried to force the laugh again. No one laughed with him.

We heard a rumble, then another. Our stomachs were screaming for food.