364 days til we get out
We raided house number one on this avenue called Champs-Élysées. We raided house number three. We raided numbers 2, 4, 6, 5, 7, 9. We met back on the street after each search, no boxes of Fruit Loops in our arms, no cases of beer. Nothing for our shoulders to do but shrug. The treasure had to be in ONE of these places. I wanted alcohol, soda, chips, Blu-Rays, headphones, ANYTHING valuable. Maeve and Watson tagged along with me, though I got paranoid that I couldn’t see the others. They could’ve had a head start on filling pillow cases with loot. While we came up empty-handed they could have been in there frying up bacon, ripping the lids off of pottles of dip, spreading margarine on pillowy pieces of white bread, sucking down Coke a litre at a time.
But they weren’t. Every house had virtually no furniture, nothing in the drawers, and bare, preserved patches on the walls – rectangles, circles, scallop-shapes, where paintings and clocks and decorative plates had been. Wide expanses of polished concrete floor, echoey hallways, tables and sideboards with nothing on them. There were feet marks from vanished chairs. Bathrooms without mirrors.
And no food, no matter how hard we searched. Shit, we would’ve taken canned, cold. We would’ve added boiling water to dehydrated chili beans. But yeah, nah: nothing.
Each house had expensive numerals on the letter boxes and the fences were built of nice wood or powder-coated metal. Trellises, bird baths, fountains, pagodas, tiles, ponds, terraces, pools full of green water. But no forgotten easter eggs in the bushes, no candy canes on the trees.
I got more and more nervous and pooped in the toilet in number #48, crouching nervously on the seat, and no water came when I flushed. I reached around for some air freshener. None. Damn it. There was this Desiderata poetry-philosophy framed thing on the wall, like a bit of paper with religious junk on it written all fancy. There was nothing else to use so I smashed the frame against the toilet bowl and ripped the pretty paper in half to wipe my butt. Coming out of the toilet, I felt watched. God, Dad could’ve been watching me from some control booth.
The rumour about the limo was true. We saw it halfway down the street. Had everyone been abducted by aliens? I remembered a thing on the news about three big mech takeovers – they call them mequasitions, like mech-acquisitions. The mechs fought for the stock market for like four years, in some cases waiting until humans naturally stepped down from the boards of the NYSE and the Hang Seng, then they convinced those boards to let first one mech on, then that mech secured a role for the next mech. The mechs levelled the stock market, rounded the risk down so profits weren’t as extrem, so things were more controllable. The news said no volatility meant predictability and stability meaning no Fleshies were needed to trade, that’s how my dad explained it to me. So yah, people whose dads were traders and accountants – that would be Maeve’s mum – they lost their jobs, I’m pretty sure, not that we admitted that ugly stuff to each other. We didn’t admit anything that would make us lose control. Our teacher, Mr Mohammed, got this memo like partway through teaching our class one day, this memo making him and all the other teachers at our school redundant, and he didn’t even admit it. He finished the week and I heard Eli found him crying in a disabled kids’ toilet. Then Mr Moe was gone from our world.
As the sky darkened we walked across lawns planted with neat, short grass, upending wheelbarrows, opening the doors of SUVs frozen in driveways, pulling receipts and manuals and coupons out of their glove compartments. We shook the branches of trees, checked inside letter boxes. Fatimah even checked attics of houses. She came back cracking jokes, pale eye sockets rimmed with black dust and spiderweb, her dirty face split open with a white smile. But no crates of Evian water. No cookie stash. No unopened candy.
We got pissed off, we got desperate, we worried. I kicked over a series of cherub statuettes in someone’s yard. The owners were never coming back, so screw it. That’s what you get for making Eden Strong starve. Maeve copied me, toppling a bird bath. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t want to hear my scream travel across Mahonyland. I hated the silence inside this place already, the stillness, the emptiness. Lunch should’ve taken place four hours ago. My stomach burned. I needed a protein shake and some sushi. Cashew nuts. Spirolina. Bran.
Our organisers didn’t work, we couldn’t message or chat each other, but something told us to go back to the Playground and talk it over. The sky had turned dark purple, there was a thin line of fire on the horizon where the fire of the sun was disappearing into embers, and it was getting cold. I wanted to go to the gym and catch up on CrossFit. I wanted orange juice. I wanted to know why someone was parachuting down from the sky, landing just about right on top of the fort in Samuel Mil –
‘GUYS! What the fuck? D’you – ’
‘FOOD!’ Fatti barged me out of the way like a rugby player as she sprinted towards the food.
‘Wait up!’ I screamed at her, ‘Maeve!’ Maeve stopped and looked over her shoulder at me. I straightened my top, composed myself, swallowed. ‘Where you goin?’
Maeve looked guiltily at Watson. Watson wasn’t hurrying at all.
‘I’s just hungry,’ Maeve said, looking down.
‘DON’T GO AHEAD OF ME.’
There was just enough light left for us all to see Adam Turing sitting atop a wooden crate wrapped in plastic, holding together boxes of Cokes, candy and chips with a huge smirk on his face. The crate was about 1.5m by 1.5. There had – JESUS CHRIST – there had to be a TONNE of food there.
I was the first to walk up to it, drop to my knees and start clawing at the clingfilm. Maeve didn’t dare overtake me, didn’t dare eat first.
‘Oh – this came while you were gone,’ Adam said. It was the first time he’d ever made us laugh, and I think it was the first time I’d ever hugged him.