Chapter 7

 

363 days til we get out

 

I washed the mud out of my lips with a fresh bottle of Coke, took a photo of my Coke, tossed the bottle when it was half-empty. Maeve did likewise, tilting her bottle in her hand so she’d have the exact same photo as me. Esther tore open chip packets, stuffed some in her mouth. Survivalist Omar shoved brownies in his pockets and mouth til his teeth went black. Everyone had their orgs open, photographing everything they ate. Anya and Watson got excited about the stack of disposable cups and plastic cutlery and paper plates and poured themselves big drinks of long-life milk, shaking a drum of chocolate powder into their cups, ditching the drum into the grass when it was half-done. Hot chocolate would’ve been much better, but there was no cooking equipment, I noticed. I’ll bet the others had noticed. It gave me a pang of nervousness, but the pang went away as I yanked a licorice twist out of its packet, biting off hunks and spitting them playfully at Esther, who flipped rice crackers at me like bills in a strip club, saying ‘Make it rain, make it rain!’ I crushed the crackers under my heel, cackling. Screw food. Screw anxiety. What had I been so worried about anyway? Silly Ede.

Kane shoved Oreos in a bottle of Pepsi, shook it up and threw the fizzing grenade at Adam. Instead of fleeing, Adam waved a hand in thanks and drank the brown bubbles, rubbing his tummy and trying to give his bully a thumbs-up. Kane turned to biffing M&Ms at his sister and him and KT laughed so hard they had to clutch their stomachs as they shook up cans of lemonade, Fanta, mineral water, spraying each other, their shirts turning dark and sticky. Excellent photos for our newsfeeds. This was it. This was paradise. A hood the size of a small country to do whatever we wanted in – joyride, eat, fingerbang, party, break windows, play baseball with Ming vases. Me and 10 of my greatest, safest friends – plus, if we got a food delivery like this every day, the year would pass pretty damn quickly. A million bucks compensation for this? $3000 a day? Hell yeah.

Anya and Chan ripped open packets of noodles. Without an urn to boil water for their noodles, they used cold mineral water instead and they acted like it didn’t bother them, cramming noodles inside their chocolatey mouths, tearing open sachets of dehydrated vegetables and tiny fried onions and throwing those in as well and guzzling Poland Spring.

Yes we were pissed off at the mechastructure for starving us, but we were grateful for our bounty, too, and soon enough our hunger calmed down a little bit so we could sink into the grass and munch luxuriously, tossing aside the things we didn’t need. Plates? Urgh. Plastic cutlery? Blah. Esther pulled a log of sausage roll pastry loose from the crate and a first aid kit tumbled out, breaking open and spilling.

‘There’s good stuff in here,’ she said, putting the scissors and bandages and some plastic needle-thing back in its box and stashing it in the pouch under her wheelchair. ‘Man, we must’ve saved, like, 50 people from infection when I was in Syria after the war,’ she said loud enough for everyone to hear about her heroics.

‘My mumshine gave me,’ I began, then shut up.

‘I give a shit, Es,’ Chan said, rolling across the grass playfully, sucking sugar off his fingers. ‘I give a shit about the Kit Kats right there. Chuck ‘em this way, toots.’

There was brown bread – that pissed a lot of people off, you couldn’t eat brown bread – but underneath it were hunks of chicken in tin foil. We ate the crackly, crispy, fatty meat before it went bad. There were balls of rice, packets of seaweed. We took everything out of the crate within ten minutes, opened all the boxes, ate 50 per cent of the food within 30 minutes.

Then Adam started bothering people again. ‘No one’s saving anything for later?’

‘Shut up, dude. Have a Kit Kat. Chill the hell out.’

We ate like dogs devouring kibble poured from some master high above.

‘So don’t you guys want to talk about how this stuff got here?’

We all took pop tarts, bit open the packets as fast as we could and stuffed the cold pop tarts in our mouths, crumbs spilling everywhere. We sucked little boxes of orange juice. It felt good to watch them crumple, throw them at Adam, kick them away.

‘Mechalover here probably won’t eat a steak without talking about the eagle system,’ Kane snorted. ‘Eew – gross. I hate drumsticks.’ Kane stood, drew his arm back then biffed a chicken drumstick onto the roof of a house.

‘You’ll be up on that roof searching for that drumstick when you become desperate,’ Adam said, ‘Mark my words. And it’s ecosystem, not eagle.’

Suck my words, mech. Oi – Fatti – I can’t see nothin.’

Fatimah was tipping the dust from the bottom of a packet of pistachios down her mouth. She licked her lips. ‘What am I supposed to do? The light app on my organiser’s not that strong if… ?’

‘Nah,’ Kane said. ‘See how there’s no streetlights? I need a lump of fat with some hair in it. You could be my candle. C’mere, lemme light your hair on fire. Take one for the team.’

I saw a quiet shudder pass through Fatti but she swallowed it and forced herself to smile. ‘Hilarious,’ she said, ‘I can’t wait to spend 365 nonstop days with you.’

‘You don’t have to take that,’ Adam muttered just quiet enough that Kane couldn’t hear.

‘You stop bully,’ Anya said, her English all mangled and amateur. She seemed to look at Adam for approval. They nodded at each other.

‘It’s alright, you guys,’ Fatimah said. She had scooped a pile of mandarins and rice cakes between her legs but she wasn’t eating. She’d probably later on duck into a house and scoff it all when people weren’t looking at her, as if her bulimia was, like, some secret no one knew. ‘I’m rubber, he’s glue. It bounces off me and sticks to you. Oi, listen, back to the real issues: If we’re gonna get a buffet air-freighted every day at 4.30, can we, like, agree – ’

‘I hope you’re not standing under the crate with your mouth open when it comes,’ I said to Fatimah, ‘You had tonnes more than other people tonight. I’ve been watching.’

‘You don’t look like the president but I guess I need my eyes checked. Thanks, POTUS.’

‘We’re not gonna have a president. Everyone’s equal.’

‘Correction,’ Watson said, ‘A lack of leadership is fertile ground for a dictatorship to arise, meaning– ’

‘Guys, you don’t understand!’ Adam stomped the ground like a child. ‘There’s no parachute! Firstly, four cables affixed to the corners of the crate – see? See the carabiners? – four cables lowered these supplies from the apex of the dome up where we can’t reach the controls. There is NOTHING to indicate there’ll be another feed, you guys, we shouldn’t be going nuts with– ’

‘Dickhead, shut your mouth and listen.’ Kane shook a bottle of Coke then aimed it at Adam. Adam flinched. ‘If you keep bumming everybody out, I’m gonna take your ass to the town limits, send you back outside the dome. You gonna shut up or am I gonna shut you up?’

Adam looked at the chip packets, the bottles, the chocolate powder and peanuts in the grass like he was seeing a pile of dead refugees.

‘I’m taking a break for a bit, you guys,’ Adam said.

‘No one gives a fuck,’ Chan told him, tearing an orange in half and throwing the dripping chunks at Adam’s head. Adam just stood there, taking it, wincing, fingering his bellybutton. I thought I saw him adjust the recorder app on his organiser.

‘There’s that grocery store, in the corner, the supermarket,’ he said. ‘You guys eat. I’ll check it out.’

‘Don’t come back!’ I called after him.

When I was pretty full, I took Maeve and we rummaged to the bottom of the crate til we found the prize at the bottom of the cereal packet, something called Jim Beam and Coke. It was Preacher Eli who took this and hefted it in his hand, then looked around at everyone and shrugged. The box held 12 tall cans, wrapped in cardboard. We each took a can, said ‘Cheers!,’ put our hands in the middle, and clinked. I was glad Adam was miles away.

‘I’ll drink Rock-a-Bye-Baby’s baby milk,’ Kane said, pouring two cans inside his throat. He belched into his sister’s face something that sounded like ‘Rock,’ then he burped ‘A,’ then ‘Bye,’ then ‘Baby.’ KT grabbed her brother’s nipple and twisted it. Chan jumped in. Anya twisted Kane’s arms behind his head, pinning him. They pile of them rolled across the grass, scrapping and giggling.

We all had music on our organisers, you didn’t need internet to get funky, and after the meal, it was time to get down. Kane had installed apps on his organisers which gave extra bass, and although Anya plugged her ears with her fingers, looking pissed-off, Watson endured the loudness. My hips collided with Chan’s, Eli and Omar hugged and threw each other around in do-si-does, spilling foul-smelling Coke from their cans. Fatti waltzed with Esther, tilting her wheelchair, spinning it while Esther clapped and shouted ridiculous lyrics that got us laughing til we were out of breath. We dabbed. We klowned. We krunked. We twerked.

The sun pooled on the edge of the world then dribbled into the night and it was gone and we were dancing with the light of our organisers, holograms playing in front of our chests.  I made a holographic Michael Jackson pop up. MJ shone increasingly bright as the night got darker and darker. Purple light turned to dark blue to black. Chan pulled Maeve out of the margins and made her unfold her arms and rock out with Tupac, and Chan dragged Fatti in too, trying to make them feel less average. KT had Fred Astaire dancing in black and white. Maeve broke away from Chan and danced with me, copying my MJ. Anya opened a Bruno Mars hologram and let it do its own thing. Her foot tapped a little. That was all the dancing you’d expect from Anya.

It was after dark, after homework time, time to brush teeth, but no one would ever tell us to do that stuff again – and no one would EVER tell us to turn the music down. No one could tell us to go to bed, or ask why we were drinking booze, or demand to know where our parents were. Our sweaty hands met and grasped and clung. Our chests rubbed together. Girls danced with girls danced with boys danced with girls. Everybody took a turn spinning Esther.

Adam was the only person not dancing. He crept up on us in the darkness. Kane threw a slice of meaty pizza. The barbecue sauce glued it to Adam’s head for a beautiful second before it fell to the ground. Adam picked it up and ate it.

‘That supermarket have anything in it, dude?’

‘Plenty of air,’ he said, ‘And air’s the number one thing you need to stay alive.’ He had all spiderweb sticking to his shoulder and he stank all mildewy, like a sewer pipe.

‘So it’s, what, ransacked or something? Not a single can of beans left?’

Adam shrugged. He didn’t have a rubbish bag, just took off his t-shirt, lay it flat, shoved a long stick inside and, using it like a bindle, wrapped up rubbish, collecting chicken bones with bits of meat on them, chunks of dropped pineapple and the crusts of our Pop-Tarts and sandwiches. He drained the soda bottles into his throat and licked the crumbs and salt out of the chip packets. He stacked the disposable cups, tipping leftover droplets into his throat. He didn’t even flatten the pop cans, just wrapped them up and took them away. He took the noodle cups, the tin foil, and the scraps of icky cling film. Adam started disappearing in the sunset towards a mansion with the rubbish but he didn’t seem to be dumping it anywhere.

We got so soaked in sweat, we were so ecstatic, that no one could last more than two hours without a break. Exhausted, partied out, we lay on our backs in the grass, looking up at a starry sky with a moon that seemed a bit too white.

Everyone was silent for ages, then Fatti’s voice said, ‘I thought streetlights would come on.’

Watson sat up and pointed his finger at the horizon, then scanned the whole land, muttering beeping noises, pretending to be a mech or something. ‘Nada, my friends. No artificial light. Y’know, a lot of people’s ancestors would rise at 5, retire at 5. For thousands of years, night was never safe for peoples to go out. People would often have prolonged sleeps, actually. You might wake at midnight, have a meal then go back to bed.’

‘Fascinating,’ Maeve said, then reached out and squeezed my hand to check that I found it funny too. I pulled my hand off her fingers.

‘Sooooo: we’re in agreement to get up at dawn to make the most of each day?’ Watson suggested.

‘Watson, shut the hell up already. Oi – what’s that word, when something’s, like, not the way it should be?’

‘Ironic?’

‘Thanks. It’s like totally ironic that if we threw a rock hard enough and it shattered the fake moon and the fake stars –

Chan picked up my thread. ‘The real stars wait behind.’

I rolled slightly towards him and whispered, ‘You get me.’ I wasn’t sure he heard, but Esther did. She glared at me in the dark.

‘Smash the fake stars to see the legit stars,’ Omar said, pointing to the mansions. ‘That’s trippy as. Know what’s trippier? Owning a mansion at 17, yo. Adam Turing for the win.’

We all turned to follow Omar’s finger which pointed towards a mansion with black windows. No power, no lights. On the third floor of the place under a peaked roof, in a room with the curtains open, illuminated by the chemical battery of his body pushing electricity into his organiser, was Adam.

While we’d been dancing, he’d spraypainted on the outside wall of the house, many metres up:

FIFS.

For… Fuck’s Sake? Fifths? What was the message? I told Omar I didn’t get it.

‘Means First In, First Served,’ Omar said, scurrying in front of 10 teens turning on their organisers and sprinting through the blackness to claim an entire mansion each.

He turned backwards and called to me, ‘What, you gonna sleep on a hologram bed? HURRY.’

‘I wouldn’t worry,’ Watson said, jogging past, ‘Adam won’t leave you out in the cold.’

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

363 days to go

 

#236 Alliance Road was by far the nicest mansion. Crickets chirped on the flat, angular, perfect lawn. Something rattled in the handful of dry leaves in the neat, weed-free garden. It had trellis on the outside with pretty roses and ivy, and nice pillars over the entrance and tall windows with shutters of wood with lichen growing on it. Watson said Adam saved it for me so I went inside to claim my prize. I found the kitchen, stroked the empty fridge, the cold oven, the insinkerator, the hollow cupboards, a benchtop with a fruit bowl that just had a black stain on the bottom. I inhaled the plasticy aroma which told me the people who had fled here, with a mech bank coming to claim their belongings, hadn’t lived here that long. They might’ve flushed out some previous people who went bankrupt. I stroked the windowsills. There was nothing on my fingertip. No skin cells, no hair. It reminded me, Mr Mo had us study this textbook called Our Final Invention, before the mechs decided Mr Mo was redundant. The reason they called mechs our final invention was–

‘Eden. You’re standing in a kitchen, looking frightened.’ Adam came into view, lit up by the square hologram of his organiser. His face was a blue globe covered in continents of shadow.

‘GOD YOU SCARED ME!’

‘I take it Watson directed you here?’

‘He said you saved this house for me, or something? Is that true?’

‘I was hoping we could… unite, ahem… together. Adam and… Eden.’

I blurted laughter and had to catch my body by putting my hands on the breakfast bar. ‘If you want Maeve, she’s lurking outside like a stray dog. She needs a boyfriend BAD.’

‘I don’t want Maeve.’

I wasn’t afraid of Adam. Yah, he was being über-creepy right now, but he’s a short guy, slender, dirty and ark and his hair – a mullet he can’t afford to cut – is so bouffy and thick with grease, it made his whole body look little. Like a child wearing a 17 year old’s get-up. This little orphan HAD to get out of my house.

‘You don’t have a boyfriend. You’re “available,” as they say.’

‘How would you know?’

‘I’ve studied you.’

‘Umm, exCUSE me? Chan and me are complicated, okay.’

‘I take it the complication you’re referring to is Esther Wadlow.’

‘That bitch ain’t a threat to me. I’m just, um, I’m just lending her Chan til I’m ready.’

‘Come. Sit.’ He flicked his hand towards a pair of simple chairs.

‘Where’d you get chairs?’

‘I am resourceful,’ he said in that calm serial killer voice of his. ‘The people who fled these places didn’t want the mechs to take their meagre assets, but they didn’t have the capacity to flee with much more than a single car stuffed with children and pillows. Many people tossed furniture into the attic or inaccessible parts of the roof.’

‘You went all the way onto the roof to get me something to sit on?’

‘I don’t want my princess to feel her palace is empty.’

‘That’s… I guess there’s something sweet about that.’

I leaned in to give him an air kiss, because no one was around to see, then I stopped and thought, What the hell?! Get a grip, Edie. Yeah this was a million dollar house, but my self-respect was worth a billion.

‘Give me the tour,’ I said, to break up the awkwardness. ‘Then you can scram. Or stay, I guess. You got me the place, you could, um, you could bring me furniture? And drinks and stuff?’

Adam told me he’d found a rainwater tank and turned it on. The mechs could literally stop the rain, since they controlled the weather, but once the rain landed in a tank controlled by manual valves, they couldn’t do anything. We said Cheers with glasses of water, then when I wasn’t drinking my water fast enough, Adam took me onto a balcony he’d discovered on a tiny ledge he called the fourth floor and pulled the last can of bourbon and cola from his pocket. ‘You deserve this,’ he whispered.

The view from the balcony was soothing and I was exhausted. I was grateful Adam had found chairs for us to collapse into. I glugged my bourbon and Coke. I got woozy. It was buzzy, being able to watch a world of weed-free luxury, all big houses and cars, populated by my friends. Everyone had settled on Alliance Road. They all looked like fireflies, glowing with their organisers. At number 11 we watched Anya punching bushes and practising big roundhouse kicks until she smashed the letterbox with her foot. We heard practising some sort of religious speech, and noticed him bowing and waving and gesturing, obviously lining up something impressive for breakfast-time. We saw Fatimah pracing around her balcony, pressing the canned laughter sound effect on her org, practising some stand-up comedy routine for when she came out of here all famous. Our eyes grew used to the moonlight. The grass was brown, the hedges violet, the horizon purple, the stars light blue. No dad staying up til 3am sweating over a presentation to impress some AI. No Mumshine throwing her lesson plans against the wall and sobbing that it’s all useless and her days are numbered.

I sipped my can of sweet alcohol and thought: this is what our apocalypse will be like.  No explosions –just a sleepy, silent takeover. It might’ve already begun.

Actually – it might already be over.

‘That kiss, before,’ Adam said, interrupting my trance, ‘the er – how shall I say – almost-kiss. I want to thank you.’

‘You can thank me by shutting the hell up about it.’ I looked down into the neighbourhood. I hoped Chan was watching from number 8, with the tiled ramp he’d wheeled Es up. He needed to see that if he was going to miss his opportunity with me, or choose – I felt bad saying this, but it was true – choose an invalid over me, that opportunity would go to somebody else. ‘Or – I dunno. Bring me more things? Like, a hot tub would be nice? But how would you go about that? Hmm. I like mosaics. Get me some mosaics.’

‘Deal.’ He seized my shoulders, cradled my head, and began sucking my neck, an unexpected prince, a suitor who’d not only given me a palace – he seemed to have given me this entire kingdom. What was being offered wasn’t Chan, but it wasn’t bad.

His lips moved up to my lips, and I didn’t say no, and he waltzed me to a room with a bed with a mattress, and I told him he’d seriously better pay me back for all this, the thing that was about to happen, but I didn’t say no.

‘Wait – this is the biggest house, right? Bigger than Maeve’s?’

‘Iiii… don’t know? I didn’t see which one she –

‘But the money’s coming tomorrow, isn’t it?’

‘I believe so.’

‘And if I… If I go to bed with you, you don’t say anything about it unless I let you. Got it?’

‘If you so desire.’

‘And don’t tell Maeve, just tell her… I dunno. I’ll think of something. Just get it over with. But we need a cover or something.’

Adam put his finger on my lips and shushed me. It was so corny and I was so drunk I laughed, doubling over. Adam pulled one of the curtains off the window, the curtain hooks flicking off, ping-ping-ping, and he draped the curtain on the bed. Luckily it was a thick, fluffy velour curtain. He put the fluffy side over us as I pulled my pants down, littering the fitted sheet with dust from the dried mud on my knees.

‘Are you cold? Do you need more warmth?’

‘I don’t need any warmth. This whole place feels air conditioned, have you noticed? We could sleep on the roof.’

‘If that’s your desire.’

‘QUIT SAYING THAT. And don’t kiss me so much, alright, Adam?’

In eight hours I was going to get a million bucks, but seeing Maeve’s face when I told her I’d lost my V Card, and not telling her who I’d done it with, yeah. That’d be gangsta. That’d be worth a billion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

PAY DAY

 

I sat upright in bed. How long had I slept? I counted the hours since we got here, 22, 23 –

‘Holy freaking… MONEY DAY.’

My fingers spidered across my tummy and turned my org on. No wifi, though. God damn it.

‘OhmygodohmygodohmyGod.’ I scurried into the en suite and peed then started thinking about whether the toilet would have any water in the tank to flush, then remembered Adam had hooked up the rainwater tank. After playing plumber he’d presumably cleared out of my house… checking memory… no, he’d hung around, he’d taken me up to show me the view and get me drunk on the last bourbon and Coke and excitement about owning my first house and…oh crap, you do not want this memory… and made me dependent on him for providing for me and the only person I really wanted to get intimate with was Chan but – tell me I didn’t do this –  sleeping with Adam, him on top of me, working frantically, me just holding my thighs apart, my head tipped sideways on the pillow, not wanting to kiss him, just glad my handicap was being erased with every thrust, but he couldn’t have stayed, he couldn’t think just because I’d let him service me like that, that I, that he, that –

There was a lump in my bed. If Maeve came into my house to copy my décor and find out my plans for today and eat the same breakfast as me, then –

‘GET OUT.’ I moved closer to the bed, touching the wall for security. I extended my leg and toed Adam hard, kicking him, really. ‘Get OUT. I don’t want people seeing you here.’

‘Good morning, beautiful.’ He picked sand out of his eyes, pushed himself upright, tucked couch cushions behind his back. ‘Waking up next to you is… Gosh, I’ll need the help of a thesaurus to articulate that!’ He activated his organiser, scrolled through what was apparently his to-do list. ‘You’ll be needing breakfast. Forgive me.’ He began to swing his legs out of bed and pulled a pizza box of scraps out from under the bed and I ran to the doorframe.

‘OUT! YOU HAVE TO PISS OFF! JUST GO!’

‘Ede, I’ll obviously do everything that you say, but –

‘LEAVE RIGHT AWAY. DON’T LET ANYONE SEE YOU.’

‘It’s a free country. I don’t have to–  ’

‘I’ll call the pol… I’ll call Kane. Just GO.’

He stepped into his muddy pants and pulled his discoloured shirt on. He wasn’t some ugly prince with a generous heart, just a ratty boy with a leaf stuck in his hair. ‘Your wish is my command.’ When he came near the door, I started backing out into the hallway overlooking the stairs, then I fled into another bedroom and slammed the door and controlled my breathing so I could hear him descending the stairs.

I hadn’t expected my emotions to be thrown all around the place on Day Two of the ..the thing. Whatever this was. Half-holiday, half-teambuilding trip. It sickened me to remember that Adam’s faced had screwed up and he’d peppered me with kisses as he– God, I hated to even think the word. Jizzed. Cum. Blergh. He’d fetched toilet paper afterward and that seemed gentlemanly at the time, but today? Today I wanted this asshole to take the shortest way out. Off the balcony would suit me. After we’d made love (well HE’D made love, at least; I just lay there til the box was ticked) he’d recited this, like, old corny English poetry while I wrapped a pillow around my head and deafened myself to sleep.

I tiptoed down the stairs, looking left, right, up and below me in case Adam was still inside my house.

He wasn’t even on my property, thank God – Adam had made it halfway across the road before Kane had ambushed him, hassled him for carrying round a rubbish bag bulging with disposable cups and half-eaten sandwiches.

KT told Kane to let him go and they came over and caught up with me. Adam got his walk on, disappearing towards the country roads and the petrol station in the corner. They stood in front of me while I squinted, looking up and down my street. Today the mechs had set the sun as strong as the day before. No breeze, nothing different – only our fizzing blood and giddy legs.

‘He slept here cause he’s my butler,’ I told KT. ‘On the couch. Downstairs. After he’d decorated the place. Pee-yew. Good riddance to that garbage. Oi: countdown, please.’

‘17 minutes and twenty seconds.’ Anya, Esther, Eli, Chan and Omar gathered with us in the quiet posh street. The sun and the warmth and my friends and the money would hopefully make me feel less gross about the thing. The Last Night thing. Losing my V Card was supposed to make me feel strong like Beyoncé but right now it was just like I had an injury everyone could see.

‘You guys find anything awesome?’

‘I scored this first aid kit.’ Esther held it aloft. ‘You kiddies get a scraped knee, come see me.’

Kane said, ‘Pfft. Unless there’s Oxy in there, that ain’t a very good score.’

‘Well there’s an adrenaline injector EpiPen, so shows what you know, numbskull.’

‘People: I suggest you look up.’

The sky had some sort of zipper or toothed mechanism made of arms which unclasped. The arms weren’t even metal-coloured, it was just, like, solid pieces of something disguised as sky. As we watched, we saw the slow-ass progress of the zipper unzipping right – no – east?

‘What way is that, you guys? East?’

‘Northeast, fool.’

‘I’m confused. Why’d they chuck us on an island anyway?’

We walked over to the playground, walking across a wasteland of pizza crust and chicken bones and lolly wrappers. I hauled myself to the top of the jungle gym.

Adam emerged into the playground, having stashed his bag of trash somewhere, and crawled inside the jungle gym and crouched in the darkness beneath my dangling legs. ‘You should come home, Ede. I can take care of you like you took care of me.’

Maeve chewed her lip and tilted her head at me. ‘What’s he mean, Take care? Did you, like, help him out or… ?’

‘MAEVE,’ I commanded. ‘Update on countdown.’

‘Five minutes, Ede,’ she said, positioned beneath me, looking up at me.

‘One million pesos,’ Omar said in some funny Colombian drug dealer accent, jumping down into the bark, lifting handfuls of the wood chips and biffing them aimlessly. ‘There better be a hunting and fishing store round here. My wallet’s gonna be HOT!’

‘Nah, G – you wanna bank that shit. Live off the interest.’

‘There are no shops,’ Watson said coldly, ‘Certainly no banks and no electricity to operate the payment terminals. No power for your wi-fi, no air con, no hot water. And you won’t be straightening your hair unless you find yourself a diesel generator… and diesel. Need I continue?’

Omar biffed a handful of bark at Watson. ‘Even in the mountains you can get power, bro. Just need solar panels.  You know nothing.’

‘Yeah, you’re pretty dumb for a genius,’ Chan said, joshing Watson with his shoulder, ‘They wouldn’t just leave us here without shops to buy shit. Human rights, dude.’

‘Three minutes!’ Maeve chirped. Now, even the strays got excited. Fatimah and Eli each grabbed a handle of Esther’s wheelchair and helped her come nearer the jungle gym. It was hard to push herself across the bumpy grass. Adam and Watson killed time debating who’s the hero in Dark Heart or Art of Darkness or something, something about Kurtz, some literature-y thing that wasn’t even assigned reading. Probably a World War Two thing, they were always referencing with Nazi war stuff. I noticed Adam point at the sky, nod to himself then climb down off the jungle gym.

When the time was real close and we were all ready to receive our gift, our open mouths drying as we watched the sky, Adam took two steps away from our circle, began putting grassy space between himself and the rest of us, then sprinted toward our house – I mean, my house.

‘He’s probably going to sniff my bedsheets, the loser.’

‘How come?’ Maeve said. She leaned in, cupped a hand around my ear. ‘What happened to your bedsheets, bae?

‘Sniffing for money, I mean.’ I went and stood by Kane. ‘Guys, should we stop Adam or what?’

‘Mechalover’s retarded,’ Kane said with a snort, ‘What kind of a mongoloid runs away when money’s comin?’

‘Looks to me like he’s not running away,’ Eli observed, shaking his head. ‘I’d say Mr Observant knows something the rest of us don’t.’

‘He’s running TOWARD the money, isn’t he.’

I made a break for the bowling club, a collection of wooden buildings painted white. Chan and Fatimah and some of the others sprinted out of the playground. Omar headed for a tiny jetty sticking into the river. I saw Adam’s squirrely body arrive on top of the roof of MY HOUSE as things came out of the hole in the sky. 12 packages of bank notes were coming down by parachute, drifting lazily towards 12 different landing places. MONEY!

Adam was right to clamber on top of the mansion and wait on the balcony – the first lot of money came right to him and he reached out, snatched it out of the air and took into MY bedroom.

Eli’s money zigzagged low, almost settled right in front of him, then it jerked sideways and crashed through the skylight of a big three storey place. Even hundreds of metres away, I heard the tinkle of glass. I raced to the top of the fort to see who else was getting money coming at them. In a few minutes, Chan was a whole kilometre away – and he was pushing Esther, amazingly. Southeast of the playground, where those shops were, was a white building with nice glass which could have been a library. Two packages lilted in the air; Chan and Esther raced to receive them.

Everyone was getting rich except me. Where was MY money?

Stop, Eden. Think. Wait. The (digital) sun rises in the east, pretends to set in the …

I had it: I’d seen the sun rise from the balcony. Northeast. My money had to be east. Follow the sun, babygirl. Mumshine’s voice. I sprinted north then east then north again, passing my mansion, hardly even pausing to look at it. I made it to the top of Alliance Road, went along that one called ChampsÉlysées, which I knew headed north as much as it headed east. Finally, when I must have been smashing the pavement for eight or ten solid minutes passing gates, pools, cul-de-sacs, dark windows, some neat lawns and finally brown fields took over, the roads became dirty and I collapsed into a field of corn, my jaw shuddering as I tried to pull cool air inside my hot lungs. Above me, a package with a heaven-sent parachute slowed then made a 45 degree angle and landed in the top of a big oak tree.

The sack bulged, almost burst, and then its weight settled, the sky went dark as the parachute crumpled over the tree, and the first bundle of notes spilled out of a hole in the bag.

Hell yeah: money. Landing at the feet of someone truly deserving.

I grabbed the notes – hundreds! Three of them! – and got a surge of energy. New notes clean, in thin stacks, they looked just-printed. Translucent, colourful, detailed, luxurious to touch.

Each little thin bundle – not more than ten millimetres at most – held 100 notes, stinking of plastic, never touched with greasy palms, bendable and perfect, amazing to stack, and so collectible. Each bundle was – I paused to work it out – a hundred hundreds… ten thousand bucks, and I realised I had to keep count while retrieving the notes and squirreling them away somewhere. I was looking out for ten bundles, firstly – that would be $100,000 – then I’d need to find ten of those ten-stacks. One hundred $10,000 bundles. 10,000 $100 bundles. A THOUSAND thousands. My butthole tightened. I needed to pee. Enough money to melt away any problem I would ever have. Money I could literally throw at Adam and laugh until my ribs ached. Money to send Esther to a Vietnamese village forever.

While I looked for the best way to climb the tree, seven bundles landed around its roots. They were spilling the hole in the plastic bag they’d come down to earth in.

I started to feel sick. I didn’t have a place for the first – omigawd – the first $80,000 I picked up. Not long ago I saw my dad pouring water into the milk bottle to thin the milk and turn $3 of milk into $5. I got a flash of upsetting memory of Dad pouring milk into a glass and sliding it across the breakfast bar at me and telling me it was the exact same thing as trim milk, which was the only kind of milk I’d accept, because it was bikini season. I’d slid the glass off the breakfast bar and it had exploded and bled watery milk across the tiles, spattering the wall with white droplets, and my dad cried like a – well, he cried like me.

The shame made my legs gluey, and I struggled to get up the first bough of the tree, then $20,000 dropped out of my singlet and I fell two metres from the oak, scraping my wrists on the bark, landing in grass that wasn’t even overgrown, couldn’t even offer me a soft landing. I stared up at the tree, clutching $40,000, dropping $40,000. I looked behind me. This was unfamiliar terrain. What if there was a zoo with its walls all crumbled and dangerous animals were roaming loose? What if there were mutants or zombies? What if Kane found a gun went around, like, standing people over?

I pulled the elastic of my shorts away from my midriff, reached down and slid $10,000 against my vagina, trying not to let out the nervous pee gathering in my bladder. The elastic waistband held the money in there tightly. I slid in another stack, and another. Insane, ridiculous, painful, yet no one was looking, and the money was worth it.

I hauled myself into the core of the tree, stepped on a branch, yelped at the jabbing corner of a stack of bills stabbing my thigh, got up. My belly was being pricked, I wanted to pee, but I climbed. I reached inside the bag, pulled the notes out stack by stack and stuck them in my knickers until the bulge looked like I was wearing adult diapers.

I tossed down $380,000, then $420,000. My socks filled with wads of thin, bendy cash. The few metres stretched, a chasm appeared. On the ground, an army of ants was marching my money away, I was sure of it. I had to pee so goddamn bad.

I threw down another $200,000, made sure my undies and socks and singlet were as stuffed as possible. There were six more wads of ten thousand left. Three wads, I tucked inside my bra. The final $30,000 I bit into, and came down the tree so clogged with money my skin itched.

My money and I hit the earth. Bits of dried mud like cornflakes fell off my knees and out of my hair. I reached behind me. I looked on the far side of the tree trunk and, not convinced no one was back there, waiting to rob me, I circled the tree three times.

There was no one there. There wasn’t anyone in the quiet field across the road. I pulled tiny bricks of money out of my back, my bum, my knickers, my two socks. I stacked them and counted. $10,000, $20,000, $30,000… $120,000, $160,000, $490,000…

I reached 89 wads of money and took a deep breath. If there was not another 11 wads, I thought I might kill somebody. Three wads, good, great progress, four. Four – and one there behind those toadstools.

Oh – three wads in my bra. That made seven of the missing eleven.

I dragged the grass with my fingernails, bent over, ravenous for cash.

I touched my mouth and realised I’d been biting the missing money, the final $30,000 I needed to feel complete. My jaw ached. I spread my arms, scooped my money in a hug, buried my face in it, found a bigass farm hedge up the road which stretched almost as far as I could see, and shoved five armfuls of cash deep inside the hedge.

I couldn’t believe I’d thought I was gonna miss out on my mil! The relief was a drug. I felt like a giant. Into the hedge went wad after wad of cash; my arms came out covered in scratches, some of them deep enough to bleed, but I didn’t feel anything except rich.