It was no good, I couldn’t catch my breath. It was the same old thing–Asthma–a beastly thing to afflicted by. Sometimes you can go for ages and everything is perfectly normal and then it just hits you.
It was extra nasty, because I knew that my twin sister Jean, would be suffering the same experience as me. We both go to school at The Beeches, a private school on the rolling South Downs near Petersfield in Hampshire. It was an attractive area, near lots of wonderful places like the New Forest, Ashford Hangers, Beacon Hill and Harting Down, we aren’t too far from the seaside either!
The school is one of those progressive ones–mixed sex, with a modern up-to-date curriculum to give the girls and boys what the governors like to call a rounded education.
I suppose that as this is a journal and as such could be read by anybody, I ought to give a few facts about who and what I am.
My name is Alexander MacKenzie, and my twin sister is called Jean; we aren’t identical, how could we be, if I’m a boy and she’s a girl, but sometimes, when we swap clothes to fool our friends for a lark, we sort of look pretty much like each other.
Our home is near Dunoon, Argyllshire on the west coast of the Firth of Clyde up in Scotland. That is one of the reasons why we go to school ‘down south’, it’s not as damp down there and our asthma isn’t quite so bad. We do sometimes have attacks though and they are a bit of a bore when they do occur.
We don’t often see our parents and haven’t done so for ages because they are both scientists, working on a hush-hush project back up in Scotland, near our home. All we know is that it’s part of some sort of space project between the UK and Americans and it involves living in some sort of bubble that is self contained. The idea being that once man gets to the moon, they would want to colonise it and they had to experiment how well people can survive in a harsh environment.
Anyway, that’s all we have been told as the rest is on a need to know basis, whatever that means.
We like our school; the staff and other pupils are, in the main, all right although I don’t like Mr Potts–or Stink Pot as we call him behind his back, because he’s the chemistry master and is very strict. I think teachers should have a sense of humour, don’t you? Just because I put some cobbler’s wax on his chair and he sort of stuck to it when he sat down, I was given the cane and a hundred lines: now that is not fair.
I don’t see all that much of Jean, because she is with the girls and plays things like hockey or lacrosse and tennis, while I’m with the boys who are more into rugger and cricket. We see each other in class, of course, but it’s not the same. Also, the girls sleep in a different wing to the boys and that means that we don’t get much time together and that’s not fair either because Jean and I, being twins, have always been very close.
It was late on a Saturday afternoon when the atmosphere very damp outside. I was playing rugger with the others of my year and in the distance I could see Jean playing hockey on a nearby pitch. We did manage to wave at one another, but at our age it was “not done” for boys to fraternise with mere girls, so I had to be satisfied with that.
After a while, I was getting decidedly chesty and the sports master, Mr Sykes said that I should go up to the San–Sanatorium–and see Matron.
As I was coughing and wheezing like a vintage traction engine by then, I thought that it would be a good idea. Looking over to the other playing field, I couldn’t see Jean, so I wondered if she had the same problem and was on her way to the San too.
I left my chums and trudged across the field towards the school building. It was a bit of a grey day and looking towards the sun, I noticed that it had a strange green hue to it when the clouds parted for a moment. I shrugged, not very interested because my chest now felt very tight and I was having quite a bit of trouble with my breathing.
It was all I could do to climb the stairs to the Sanatorium. It wasn’t very big, consisting of a medical room in the middle and a ‘ward’ either side containing beds in one ward for boys and the other for girls.
As I entered, there was matron wearing her crisply starched uniform and ‘angel’s wings’ cap tending to none other than my sister.
Jean looked awful with dark circles under her eyes and her lungs were heaving just like mine. She had a thermometer in her mouth and just gave me a rather tired smile as she saw me.
Matron turned around as she heard my footfall. ‘I might have known that you’d turn up, young MacKenzie. Sit over there and I’ll see to you in a moment.’
I sat down on a chair and waited for her to finish with Jean.
‘Right, Jean, you know it’s asthma of course, your lungs are a bit congested too. I can’t speak to the doctor for the moment as the ’phone line seems to be down for some reason, but I want you to pop one of your little yellow pills under your tongue. You can sleep here tonight and you had better have some oxygen too in case the pill doesn’t work. I’ll call the doctor as soon as the ’phone gets back on, but as you have had all this before, you know the drill. You’ll find a nightie your size in one of the drawers so get yourself undressed and pop into bed. I’ll come and see you once I’ve had a look at your brother.’
Jean hopped off the couch and put the yellow pill under her tongue. She grimaced and I knew from bitter experience that the pill tasted horrible.
She just sort of waived at me tiredly and went outside. I tried to smile, but quite honestly, I didn’t do a very good job of it.
‘Right, young Alexander, your turn, slip off your rugby shirt and hop onto the examination couch.’
I did as I was asked and climbed up on the couch.
She stuck a thermometer in my mouth, told me not to talk–as if I would anyway–and then put her stethoscope on my chest, making me wince, she could have warmed it up first! Then she did the same on my back, asking me to breathe deeply, well that was hard as I could only wheeze deeply!
‘As I thought, a carbon copy of your sister. It’s strange that both you and your sister have the same things happen to you at the same time. You both had mumps, German measles and chicken pox at the same time. I’m beginning to think that you are virtually the same person! Right, same drill as Jean, take this pill, go into the boys ward, put some pyjamas on and wait for me.’
‘All right, Matron,’ I wheezed getting down from the couch, taking the proffered pill and going next door.
I quickly stripped off, cleaned myself off with a flannel–luckily, I hadn’t got too mucky outside, then put on some pyjamas that were a bit big for me but weren’t too bad, popped the pill under my tongue and then padded to the window.
Looking out, it was strangely gloomy outside, although it was only half past three in the afternoon. It seemed that everyone had come in from the playing fields as no one was outside.
In the distance, I could see some fog approaching the school in billowing clouds. It had that strange green look about it that I had seen earlier and for some reason I shivered. Turning back, I got under the covers just in time for Matron to arrive. She was wheeling in an oxygen cylinder on a trolley and moved it to the side of the bed.
‘In bed? Good boy. Let’s have a look at you.’
‘Mmm, still the same, the pills aren’t working yet. Let’s get you sorted out with the oxygen then. I have sent a runner to your house mistress to let her know that you are hors de combat and we will ring for the doctor when the ’phones are back up–line down probably. Anyway settle yourself down. If it’s any comfort, your sister is showing exactly the same symptoms and is in the girls’ ward.’
She went to the window to pull the curtains. ‘Funny, that fog is getting closer rather quickly. I don’t think that I’ve seen it that colour before–must be a trick of the light.’
She pulled the curtains across and then returned to me; she was frowning for some reason but smiled as she came closer. ‘Right, try to rest a bit and I’ll pop back later.’
She left me alone then and then maybe because of the pill or the effects of the oxygen, my breathing eased slightly and I fell into a fitful sleep…
I dreamt that I was suffocating and tried to remove something from my face. I could hear screams and bumps. I was in pain and my body was on fire and yet I couldn’t move and then the pain went away. It seemed so confusing and then I slept deeper…
…I was woken up by someone screaming and sobbing.
‘Alex, oh, Alex, wake up, please wake up. What’s happened to you, what’s happened to everyone? Alexander, YOU MUST WAKE UP!’
I gradually came round and opened my eyes. I could see someone’s face swim blearily into my vision, I recognised it and then the voice was no longer muffled–it was Jean.
‘…wh…what’s wrong–?’ I stopped speaking, my voice sounded strange, not like my voice at all, my voice hadn’t broken yet but it seemed higher somehow.
Jean was crying and had her head in her hands. I sat up and tried to comfort her and then I realised that I felt rather strange. Looking down, I could see some bumps on my chest. I moved my hair out of my eyes–that was odd, normally I had short hair: had I been ill for a long time and had my hair grown? And what were those lumps on my chest? They look like the ones Jean has on her–? I could sense something different down below too. Jean was almost hysterical and I needed to help her, but I also needed to know what was so wrong with me. I put my hand inside the fly of my pyjama trousers and could feel nothing, my penis had gone! No, there was something there–a–a–slit and it was moist, it was–it was–I took my hand away in a hurry and sat bolt upright in the bed.
The small lumps on my chest were more pronounced through the cotton of my pyjama top. I had a strange empty feeling between my legs and my hair, was long enough to brush my shoulders. I had changed into a girl!
Jean looked up and saw that I was awake. Her tear stained face looked as if she had seen something appalling.
‘Jeanie, wh—what’s happened, why am I like this?’
‘I…I don’t know, you look like me; a girl, you must have changed in the night. I…I couldn’t believe it when I came in earlier. But that’s not all. I couldn’t wake you, so I went to look for Matron. Sh—she’s in her room but I can’t wake her up. She’s so cold and then outside, the other children and some grown-ups are lying on the floor in the corridor they won’t wake up either. I didn’t want to see anymore so I came back in here and shut the door.’
She looked at me, her face stained by the tears, eyes puffy, she was breathing okay, so like me, she had got over her asthma attack.
‘Oh, Alex, I’m frightened, what with everyone–out there and you–why are you a girl? You are a girl, aren’t you? Your face, it’s more like a girl’s, and your voice and–and breasts–’
I was sort of numb–in shock, I suppose. Like Jean, I hadn’t a clue as to what had happened. I didn’t fancy getting up and looking at myself more closely or going outside, but I had to. There might be something I could do. Maybe the phone was back on and I could call for the doctor. Jean was no help, she was crying again. She must have been really scared out there and then finding me, like this.
I got out of bed and put on my dressing gown. I tried to ignore the lumps on my chest and the absence of bits down below. I needed to see for myself what was going on.
‘Stay here, Jeanie, don’t move.’
‘I don’t want to be left alone.’
She looked so scared.
I sat on the bed, once again feeling strange sensations from my body. ‘Look, Jeanie, I have to go outside. I promise that I won’t be long, just a minute or two. Please be brave, for me?’ It was strange, Jean was normally the strong one–the leader, I suppose, but now, I had to take control of things.
‘Promise?’ she sniffed, ‘promise that you’ll come back very quickly?’
‘I promise on Flossy’s life.’
She smiled at that. Flossy was my pony, Jean’s was Josey, they were at home up in Scotland and we had hoped–before this happened–to see them again in the hols.
I left before she could change her mind.
I went into the medical room and found Matron lying on the floor facing the window. My nose wrinkled as I could smell something–I think it was wee. Glancing at the skirt of her uniform I noticed a patch of wet–
With a great deal of hesitation, I approached her and bent down. She appeared to be asleep but I couldn’t see any signs of breathing. My heart was thudding as I checked the rest of the room. There was a small circular mirror, about an inch in diameter on a sort of stick–the type that dentists use to look at one’s teeth–on her desk. I picked it up by the handle and returned to Matron. Kneeling beside her seemingly lifeless body, I held the mirror up near her nose and waited––
Nothing. I put a finger against her cheek and it was icy cold. I stood up quickly, realising that she wasn’t asleep, but dead! I picked up the phone and heard nothing, so I couldn’t use that to summon help.
I was very conscious of my heart thumping inside my chest as I went out of the room and into the corridor, there were several people there and they were all lying on the ground, some in awkward positions. I went to the nearest body and recognised that it was Prior Minor, a kid from my Form. Once again he was as white as a sheet and I knew, even before I did the mirror test, that he was dead too. The smell out here was similar to the one in the medical room…not pleasant. I swiftly checked a few more bodies and soon realised that they were all dead. Jean and I were the only ones alive!
‘IS THERE ANYONE HERE?’ I shouted.
I could hear the echo of my voice but other than that–nothing.
Sobbing loudly, I rushed back into the ward where Jean was standing by the window. I hurried to her and we hugged and cried together for several minutes, comforting each other. Looking out, it was now broad daylight and there was no sign of that weird fog. I observed several birds flying around doing their thing and in the distance, some sheep were still grazing as if nothing had happened. Looking down onto the gravel drive outside, I could see a girl in her school uniform lying on the ground like a rag doll, arms outstretched and her long blond hair waving slightly in the breeze…
I looked away and hugged Jean again. We were beginning to realise that our world had just been shattered into tiny pieces.
The whole school building was eerily silent and the fact that nobody else had appeared indicated that, very likely, everyone was dead.
Suddenly, I heard a noise outside and so did Jean, it was an engine–a ’plane. We glanced at each other and rushed to the window. We could see the plane approaching us. It was low–very low–as if it were trying to land? It was a single prop job, one that only carried a few passengers. Suddenly it dipped and then…then crashed in a mass of flames on the very rugger pitch that I had been playing on yesterday! We held on tightly to one another as the flames shot into the air. There was no way anyone could survive that!
‘The wireless,’ I said choking back the tears and trying to be brave, ‘perhaps we could hear some news?’
Jean just nodded and, tearing our eyes away from the smouldering wreck, we moved away from the window.
Holding hands, we went into Matron’s room, trying not to look at Matron lying there. On a chest of drawers was a portable wireless and I switched it on. I turned the knob to the left and the right but all we could hear was a static hiss and crackling.
We couldn’t stay there, so we just left. Still holding hands but saying nothing, we made our way to the girls’ dorms. We stepped round the bodies lying in our path–I just didn’t feel up to checking whether anyone was alive and sensed that Jean felt just the same, and anyway, we were getting expert at recognising what dead people look like––
Eventually, after some horrible sights that we tried to blot out, we found ourselves in Jean’s dormitory. Whatever had happened last night had occurred before the girls went to bed as the place was empty. We sat forlornly on her bed and hugged each other tightly.
Jean had started to pull herself together now and gazed at me.
‘Sorry I got the willies earlier, everything just got to me.’
‘I know, Jeanie, I just don’t understand what has happened.’
‘The fog,’ she said decisively, ‘I’m sure that’s got something to do with it, it was really queer. When Matron left me to go and see you, I went to the window for a minute and looked out. I’ve never seen fog like that–green, dense and it had a slight glow to it and it–it throbbed, almost as if it had a life of it’s own.’
‘I didn’t see that.’
‘No. Anyway, I thought that it might have been me, what with feeling rotten and everything–you know some sort of hallucination or something. I was very hot and a bit feverish, so I went back to bed, put on the oxygen mask back on and must have drifted off to sleep. Then–then when I woke up, it was as if I was in a living nightmare.’
We gazed at each other. We weren’t cry babies and were normally quite strong and independent. Our parents had taught us to be self-reliant and make decisions for ourselves. I could see that we would need to be strong to survive all of this.
‘Well,’ Jean said at last,’ what would Mummy and Daddy do?’
‘Erm, find out what’s happening and see if we can do something about it?’
‘Mmm. Well, we can’t go looking around and finding out dressed like this. We had better get dressed I s’pose.’
She looked me up and down. ‘Well, I don’t think your boy’s uniform will fit you now. You’d better wear some of my things.’
‘But I’m a boy.’ I exclaimed, flicking my long hair out of my eyes and folding my arms across my chest. She raised her eyebrows and then looking down at myself, I laughed ruefully.
‘Not from where I’m standing. You’ll have to get used to being a girl, and if and until you return to being a boy, you ought to wear girl’s things.’
‘I suppose so,’ I sighed and then, suddenly, felt very emotional, ‘but I don’t want to be a girl, I like being a boy, I just don’t understand all this!’
I put my head in my hands and could feel my now long her covering them, like curtains. I pushed my hair away in annoyance, around the back of my ears and looked at Jeanie through tearful eyes.
‘Why am I a girl, Jeanie?’ I sniffed.
‘I don’t know but you have to accept that at least you’re alive.’
‘I wonder if mum and dad are alive?’
‘Perhaps they are — we will have to find out, somehow, but now we need to get moving!’
It was good to see Jeanie, being a bit more positive; I didn’t like it when she wobbled earlier.
Jeanie gave me some of her things to wear. I couldn’t believe that I was contemplating wearing girls’ clothes, but I had other, much more worrying and upsetting things to think about, so I just bit the bullet and got on with it.
Ten minutes later, I stared at myself in Jeanie’s mirror. Like her, I was wearing a girl’s school uniform, comprising, a bottle green, box-pleated gym tunic reaching just below the knee, a white blouse and a school tie, white ankle socks and buckled shoes, and underneath, a liberty bodice, and a pair of baggy green knickers that matched the colour of the tunic–bras were not allowed until breasts were a little bigger, evidently. Actually I was very accustomed to wearing a “skirt”, because frequently–like quite a number of Scots boys–I wore the kilt at home. The only difference seemed to be that a kilt is much heavier, being made from over six yards of woolen tartan. On the bed was a school hat belonging to Jemima Chisholm, one of Jeannie’s dorm-mates–good for keeping the hair in control and the rain off–and a green school blazer. Jean stood beside me and, to be honest, we looked like two green peas in a pod.
‘Well you look the part,’ said Jean, smiling sadly. ‘I’d have preferred the old you, though.’
‘Me too,’ I replied with some force.
Now we were dressed, we sat in a couple of armchairs to make some plans; Jean began: ‘We have to get away from the school, all this might be local but what with the wireless and everything, it looks as if it’s widespread.’
I tried to think what our parents would do. They were scientists and applied logic wherever possible to situations that needed results. ‘You’re right’ I replied. ‘We can’t achieve anything stuck out here. We’ve got to find out what’s going on, see how far spread this thing is, then we can decide. I wanted to go and find out if anyone else was alive, but judging by what we’ve seen, we’re the only ones to survive in the school. If anyone else was okay, we would have heard something by now.’
‘We ought to eat first and take a few things with us.’
‘Yes, an army marches on its stomach.’
‘We’re not much of an army,’ Jean said, ruefully with a grimace.
‘No, but we must make sure that we can survive. Let’s go to the kitchens and open some tins or something.’
‘Good idea, we should use tins and bottled drinks, we don’t know if the food and water are iffy.’
‘We need some bags or something to carry things in.’
‘We could use our rucksacks?’ suggested Jean.
‘Good idea, but I...I don’t want to go back to my dorm.’
‘We can use mine and the other girls keep theirs in the storage room too, we could borrow one of them … let’s face it they will never need them again.’
Jeanie lip quivered a bit at the thought of all her lost friends and I felt the same way too. Being a girl now seemed to mean that the water works turned on very easily–mind you, in the circumstances it wasn’t surprising. We put some clothes for us both in a case that Jeanie kept under the bed–just a couple of changes of outer clothes and a few more underthings, some of which we took from other girls’ chests of drawers–after all they would not be needing them any more. We couldn’t carry very much but Jeannie said we needed to have enough undies.
We headed downstairs after grabbing the rucksacks, picking our way around, and trying hard not to look closely at the bodies that were strewn everywhere until, eventually, we found ourselves in the school kitchen.
The cook, Mrs Cruikshanks and her two assistants were lying on the floor looking like rag dolls dropped by a young child. I wondered if anyone had known that something was amiss. I had a strong impression that they must have died instantaneously. I suppose that is better than dying in pain, aware that there was something terribly wrong. There was a smell of burning coming from one of the large ovens; I went across and turned the oven off while Jeanie went over to the store cupboard and started picking out some tins, dry biscuits and things like that. One concern we had was that the water might be contaminated, so after switching off the gas of the oven, I had a look around for bottles of water.
I was sure that there must be some as an emergency measure because, a few winters ago, the pipes froze and we didn’t have drinking water until a tanker came up and supplied some.
After looking behind several doors, I came to a fairly large storeroom that was obviously the room where supplies for the tuck shop were kept. Along one side was various sweets, crisps and other snacks and on the other were orange, lemon and other drinks in small bottles, but also, there were large bottles of water too so I picked up four and went out to show Jeanie.
‘Look,’ I said holding my hands up.
‘Well done. We can carry two each and when they run out we’ll have to find shops and things to replenish supplies. I’ve got some cans of corned beef and baked beans, soup and things like that, so we won’t starve.’
We started to put the “supplies” in our rucksacks, not forgetting a can and bottle opener. When we lifted them, they were rather heavy.
‘Look, ‘said Jeanie, ‘I was thinking of walking or something, but that’s daft and we would take ages to get anywhere. Shall we use a school car or something?’
‘We could see if we can find the Landrover that the gardeners use. Let’s face it they won’t need it.’
We had both learned to drive on the farm about a year ago and although we obviously hadn’t driven on the public roads, I did not think traffic would be a problem.
By keeping busy, we avoided thinking too much about the horrid things that had occurred to change our lives so dramatically. I knew that at some stage, I would react to what had happened. The thought of everybody being dead was too awful to comprehend. We just had to get through today and try to find out if we were alone or not. If we had survived, surely others might have also?
It was rather a grey day and I hadn’t realised or even thought of the fact that the lights were still on, making me believe that all this happened sometime in the evening, before lights-out. Then, as we were finishing packing, Jeanie stopped and looked up. ‘The lights have gone out.’
We tried a few electrical items like the toaster and kettle, but nothing happened. ‘No electricity now,’ said Jeanie, ‘I wonder if that’s everywhere or just here?’
‘I don’t know, but we should hunt around for torches, candles and things. We need to be self sufficient until we know what’s going on.’
We hunted around and found what we needed in yet another storage area under the assembly hall stage of all places. There were several boxes of candles, some torches and spare batteries but no matches. Those we found back in the kitchen in a drawer.
We were nearly ready now, so we went out via the kitchen door. This led to the yard at the rear of the school where deliveries were dropped off and more importantly, the school vehicles were kept.
There was a separate large, brick-built garage where the car and school bus were kept. Above the garage was the flat where the odd job man, Bill lived with his wife Mary, and sons, Nicholas who was seven and eight-month-old baby James. One of Bill’s jobs was to drive the school bus and cars when the bus was too big for ferrying people about. After looking in the Land Rover for the keys and naturally not finding them, I left Jean for a moment and ran upstairs to find the keys. The door of the flat was open and Bill was on the floor. Stepping over him, I went in search of the keys. Luckily I didn’t have too far to look, as they were in a wall cabinet near the door with keys to the bus and a few other vehicles. The keys I wanted had a Land Rover key fob, so I just took them off the hook and went to go downstairs again.
Then I heard a noise from behind me and reluctantly turned back and went further into the flat.
In the living room, I found Bill’s wife, Mary sitting in an armchair with baby James in her arms. There was no sign of young Nicholas, their other son, as I approached the motionless figures.
They were both dead, of course. I sobbed as I stepped back and started to run out and then I heard a noise again; it was coming from one of the bedrooms––
With tears streaming down my cheeks I went into the bedroom and I saw a lump under the bed covers. My hands were shaking as I pulled the covers back. There, staring up at me in his pyjamas was Nicholas, clutching a battered old teddy in his arm–only he looked very different. Last time I saw him was standing on the touchline with his dad. We were playing Merton, a nearby school in a friendly rugger match and I remembered how young Nick jumped up and down every time we scored. He had short hair then; now his brown hair reached his shoulders and his face looked somehow more delicate. He had been crying–I could see that–but the important thing was; he was alive!
‘J—Jeanie?’ he said, his little voice seeming softer, more girlish; I had a suspicion, but I wasn’t going there, quite yet–
‘Erm no… Nicholas, are you alright?’
‘I—I’m scared, Mummy and Daddy won’t move, or Jamie. They’re asleep and won’t wake up. I got scared so I came back to bed and hid.’
I took a deep breath and said. ‘Stay there for a minute, will you?’
‘You aren’t going to leave me, are you?’
‘No, I just have to go and do something and then I’ll be back. Promise you won’t move?’
‘I—I promise,’ he said, clutching his teddy even tighter and sniffing loudly.
I left the room, avoiding looking at the lifeless bodies, made my way out of the flat and down the stairs. Jeanie was still loading the car as I ran up to her.
‘Jeanie, it’s Nicholas, he’s alive!’
She put down the bag she was carrying and smiled for the first time since all this began.
‘Wonderful, where is he?’
‘In his bedroom….everyone else is dead.’
‘–Yes, James, too. But Jeanie, he’s different–I think that he’s a girl now!’
‘Yes, I didn’t want to check, but I think so. Look, can you come up. We must get him or I don’t know, maybe her, dressed…’
‘You haven’t left him up there by himself–? Come on!’
She raced off and I followed her. Like me she avoided looking at anything unpleasant and just went into Nicholas’s bedroom.
I followed her and found her hugging Nicholas tightly as the young child sobbed in her arms.
‘Nicholas–Nicky, look at me.’
He pulled away slightly and then looked at her face and then mine over Jeanie’s shoulder. He looked puzzled.
‘Nicholas,’ said Jeanie, ‘you must get dressed and come with us.’
‘What about Mummy and Daddy and Jamie.’
‘Honey, they have gone to heaven now.’
‘I don’t understand––’
‘They got ill and so have a lot of other people, they have all gone to heaven.’
‘I don’t know, honey, but we need to and find out if anyone else is alive like we are and try to see what we can do. Will you try to be brave for me?’
He just nodded and Jeanie gave him another hug and then had a look for some clothes. She found a track suit, a t-shirt, some underpants and white socks and then helped Nicholas to get dressed. I looked away for a minute, but turned around when Nicholas cried out.
‘My willie’s gone and why is my hair all long?’
Jeanie looked at me and just nodded slightly, it was true then, Nicholas was now a girl too!
‘Look honey, something has changed you into a girl, and Alex, too.’
Nicholas looked at me with a puzzlement.
‘Alex? It is you, you’ve got long hair and…and you look just like Jeanie.’
‘I know Nicholas.’ I said walking over while Jeanie struggled to get the track suit on her.
‘We are both in the same boat. Funny, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t have to wear a dress do I?’ she said in a trembling voice.
‘Not if you don’t want to.’ I said. ‘I have to wear these clothes because they fit better than my old ones, but we’ll see if we can let you stay dressed like you normally do.’
I looked out of the window while Jeanie continued to dress Nicholas who was full of questions. I wondered how it was that Nicholas had changed like me. When we were away from here and somewhere hopefully safe, I would ask him, and then I remembered and had to find out.
‘Nicholas, did you have an asthma attack last night?’
She looked at me and nodded.
‘Did you have to have a mask on?’
‘Yes, I hated it but Mummy said I must, as the pill didn’t work. I hate the mask and those horrible pills.’
In all the fuss, I hadn’t notice the cylinder on the floor by the bed and the mask with its tube attached lying next to it.
‘Jeanie, I think we ought to take the oxygen, supposing that green mist comes back.’
She looked up at me as she helped Nicholas with his shoes. ‘You do think that it was the green fog then?’ she said.
‘I can’t think that it could be anything else.’
‘It could come back?’
‘The fog?’ she replied.
‘Yes and if we take the cylinders, it might help protect us.’
She considered for a moment.
‘All right. Can you go and get them from the san and I’ll get Nicholas in the car and bring her cylinder down too.’
It was strange calling Nicholas ‘her’ but that was exactly what she was now, me too, so I assumed that I would have to get used to it–if that was possible.
‘I’ll go now. I want to get well away before it gets dark and the way things are going, we won’t do that.’
I went out of the bedroom, shut the door behind me and saw the still figures in the chair again. I didn’t want Nicholas to see them, so I just put my feelings away in a small corner of my mind and moved the bodies into Bill and Mary’s bedroom. It was hard work and they had gone a bit stiff–but somehow I managed. I shut the door after I had finished and carried on downstairs, feeling as low as I had been in my life.
Soon I was back in the san and I grappled with the cylinders which were luckily on wheels. It took about twenty minutes get the cylinders back to the car and after I brought the second one down, Jeanie was there and Nicholas was sitting in the car in his track suit and duffle coat. He still had his teddy with him and I hoped that he was all right.
‘There you are,’ Jeanie said as I walked up. ‘I’ve put everything I can in the back and I don’t think that we have room for much more. We ought to get going soon, it looks like rain.’
Glancing up, I could see clouds gathering–dark ones. I didn’t fancy driving in the wet, but we had to find out what was going on in the world outside. Maybe, it was a local thing and when we got into town, people would still be alive? It was a forlorn hope as I remembered the crashed plane and the fact that there was nothing on the radio when we tried it.
When we were finished packing everything, Jeanie got into the car. She could drive, but wasn’t as good as me as I didn’t crash the gears quite so much as her. Just before I clambered in, I went out of the garage and looked at the silent building. Nicholas was alive and I just wondered if there was anyone else–
‘HELLO!’ I shouted and just listened… Nothing.
I moved away from the garage a bit more and tried again.
All was quiet, except for the rustling of the trees and the twittering of a few birds. Shaking my head, I turned away and then stopped as I heard a noise from behind me. Turning around quickly, I saw a dog; it was Ben, the Headmasters Labrador, loping toward me.
‘Ben, come on, boy!’ I called, as he ran up to me and nearly knocked me over.
‘Hello, Ben, you found us, eh, boy?’
I hugged him and his tail was wagging so hard that it created a breeze.
‘Come on, Ben,’ I called as I ran back into the garage. The look on Jeanie’s and Nicholas’s faces were a picture as I opened the rear door of the Land Rover and Ben, shot in and gave Nicholas a big lick on the face.
‘Yuck!’ she said, laughing for the first time and wiping her face.
Jeanie was smiling as she greeted the rather enthusiastic mutt.
I shut the rear door and then got into the front. I had to bring the car seat forward to its stop and then I could just about reach the pedals with my feet. Then I had to get out again as I had forgotten to smooth my skirt under my bottom as I sat down, displaying my knickers for everyone to see. Getting back in carefully, Jeanie gave me a rueful smile but thankfully said nothing.
Nicholas was chattering in the rear with an enthusiastic Ben and hugging him and I was glad that she had something to take her mind off the terrible things that she had experienced. Looking at me, she smiled back bravely.
‘We’d better get going. Let’s see how things are in Petersfield,’ Jeanie said.
I nodded, started the engine, crashed the gears–making me wince–and drove the car out of the garage. Going down the large sweeping drive, I looked in the rear view mirror at the place that had been our home for quite some time now. I had friends that I would never see again and was, I think, a very different person from yesterday, and I am not just saying that as I was now a girl.
Our world had changed and I wondered if we could survive and how we could ever get over the catastrophic consequences of that strange throbbing green fog.
My thanks go to the brilliant and lovely Gabi for editing, help with the plot-lines and pulling the story into shape.
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