‘It’s catching up, it’s coming, the fog!’
‘Jeanie, get the oxygen masks; be quick and pull them in here, I’ll try to outrun it but if I can’t, I’ll have to stop and we’ll put the masks on; the tubes are quite long; it’s our only chance!’
Jeanie, bless her, didn’t question me and just did as I asked. I tried to monitor the fog’s progress–it did seem to be catching up with us. Was it intelligent somehow? Looking ahead, I saw that the road had a sharp bend, almost a loop and it went back in the direction that the fog was coming from. I had no idea if the road would turn back in the right direction in time for us to avoid the fog.
‘Jeanie, how are you doing?’
‘Hang on–there, I’ve got them.’
‘Put the masks on Nicola and yourself and I’ll park–hurry!’
‘What about Ben?’ gasped the plucky Nicola, who sounded terrified but still in control of herself.
‘Don’t worry, poppet,’ Jeanie replied, breathlessly, ‘he’ll be all right; now, when I put your mask on, Nicola, you have to make sure that it’s tight up against your mouth and nose and you must promise to keep it on until we say you can take it off.’
It was strange that we had all started breathing heavily and wheezing, although the fog wasn’t upon us yet. It seemed like an asthma attack was starting, so I needed badly to stop somewhere.
‘Hurry up and stop, Alex honey, it’s nearly upon us,’ said Jeanie, her voice frantic but muffled by the oxygen mask.
I screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, clawed for the mask and put it over my face. Jeanie had already turned on the taps of the oxygen cylinders and I was only just in time.
We watched as the green pulsating fog came up and overwhelmed us.
I waited for signs of something wrong, but we all had our masks on and were holding them tight against our faces. The fog was so intense that I could see nothing outside the car. Suddenly Ben just lay down, shutting his eyes and then went limp. Nicola was going to see to him but both Jeanie and I shouted ‘No!’ as she had to stay where she was, holding the mask tight, so no fog could get in.
Suddenly, I was feeling sleepy and then noticed that both Jeanie and Nicola had suddenly closed their eyes and were up against each other, looking as limp as Ben. It was all I could do to check that everyone’s mask straps were on tight before I too passed out and knew no more.
And now the story continues…
I was awoken by something wet on my face and the smell of bad breath…
Opening my eyes, I found Ben looming over me, trying to waken me with a wet slobbering kiss.
I sat up and looked around. It was pitch black outside and I could see stars up above and the moon was full, casting an eerie glow around the Land Rover, so there was no fog. Glancing round, I saw the others stirring. I carefully removed my oxygen mask and breathed in slightly. It all felt normal, so I took the mask off, quickly breathed in the cool clean air and didn’t have anything funny happen to me. My mouth was very dry, a result of the oxygen–something that had happened before. I looked at Jeanie and Nicola and smiled, they both looked a bit dopey still.
‘It’s okay to take your masks off,’ I told them and then got out of the car.
Ben, who showed no after effects from his enforced sleep, had jumped into the front and followed me out. Jeanie and Nicola were wakening slowly, so I left them to pull themselves together as I opened the tailgate of the Landy and reached in, turning off the oxygen, so we could save our limited supplies.
Checking the gauges I noticed that two of the three cylinders were about half full, the other one–used by Nicola–contained a bit more. We had to get some extra oxygen and I assumed that we would find some at a hospital. I didn’t want to take any chances with not having a good supply, in case that awful fog returned later.
Opening one of the bottles of water, I grabbed enamel tin mugs and poured some in each. After taking a quick swig myself, I opened the rear door and passed the two other mugs to the others. Nicola was being rather clingy with Jeanie and I couldn’t really blame her after what we had just been through.
I stood outside and looked around and down the road. Ben was sniffing around some bushes at the roadside, but apart from that it was quiet–deathly quiet. I wondered why the fog had returned and speculated whether it was intelligent in some way. The impression that I had when it came after us was that it actually seemed to speed up as we tried to escape from its clawing embrace. Then I remembered the man we had left behind and shivered slightly. Had he survived, I wondered? He must have done before, when the fog had originally come or was the green fog patchy and he somehow missed it the first time around?
I shivered again in my girl’s uniform which I was getting used to; all skirts–even kilts, which I often wore at home and for “best”–are a bit draughty down below, but the kilt is much warmer than my school gymslip. My hair waved in the gentle breeze and I had to keep pushing it away from my eyes as I searched up and down the road for any signs of life. That was another thing to try to get used to–long hair.
Inside the Land Rover, Nicola was smiling and giggling at something Jeanie was saying. She was a plucky young thing and seemed to be accepting her new gender quite well. I was too–and that was somewhat disquieting. Another effect of the fog, I wondered? I didn’t want to forget that I had been a boy and hoped–a wee bit anyway–that I would return to normal soon, or whatever passes for normal in this strange new world. I climbed back into the Land Rover and shut the door.
‘How are things?’ Jeanie asked, tying a ribbon in Nicola’s hair which I swear was longer than before.
‘The fog’s all gone and it’s quiet out there. Ben’s sniffing around over by that bush; I think I saw a rabbit or something dash in there. There’s nobody about that I can see and no lights in the distance. I suppose the electricity is off everywhere.’
‘Mmm–Nicola will you hold still! Well I think we were jolly lucky not to be overcome by the fog; thank goodness we had the oxygen cylinders.’
‘Yes, but we ought to get some more from a hospital or somewhere, just in case. The ones we have are all about half full.’
‘You were very brave with the car and everything,’ said Nicola, in a very small voice, her eyes wide with the remembrance of the terrible events.
‘I don’t know about brave, I was scared out of my wits.’ I replied.
Glancing at my wrist watch, it told me that several hours had passed since we stopped, and wondered what had happened in that time. It would soon be dawn and I was looking forward to that, as things don’t seem so bad in the daylight do they?
Staring westward, through the trees, I noticed a faint glimmer of light. Hearing a bark from outside, I turned round and saw Ben. Opening the door, he jumped in and proceeded to lick everything in sight. It took several minutes before he settled down again and we were able to talk about what we should do next.
‘I vote we push on,’ said Jeanie,’ the sooner we get up north the better, I say, you never know it might be fine up there but I’m worried about Mummy and Daddy.’
Nicola was playing with her teddy and appeared miles away; she was whispering to it and seemed be getting some sort of reply. I had heard about imaginary friends and assumed that Teddy was a variation on that.
‘I agree, Jeanie, but I think we ought to do one thing first.’
‘We ought to go back to the roadside café and see if that man is still there. We don’t know if he was affected by the fog and the more information we can gather the better.’
‘He frightened me,’ said Nicola, paying more attention than I thought.
‘Me too,’ Jeanie added, ‘I don’t want to run into him again.’
‘We won’t stop or anything. He’s either there or he isn’t. I don’t intend getting out of the car. Please, Jeanie?’
She gazed at me for a moment and then at Nicola, who was staring at both of us with wide open eyes and clutching her teddy rather fiercely.
‘Alright,’ she agreed reluctantly, ‘but if there is any sign of him, we go–and quickly.’
So we retraced our journey back to the lonely roadside café. I was surprised how long it took. I must have been going a fair old clip to try to outrun the fog. As we approached the building I strained my eyes along the road to try and see any signs of the man in the flickering beams of the headlights.
Then I saw it–a sort of shapeless lump in the middle of the road. As we drew nearer, I could see that it was the man, in the rag-doll pose that typified so many victims of the fog. His hand was outstretched and the knife he was carrying was still gripped in his hand.
‘That’s it then,’ Jeanie said quietly as we stopped just in front of the still form. ‘The fog killed him. I wonder how many more were killed this time around. Those people in the cars; did they escape? Are we the only ones left alive?’
I took a deep shuddering breath. I was close to tears. Had I caused the man’s death? Was there anything I could have done for him? Then I remembered those mad eyes and the knife. No, I couldn’t help him; but I was as sorry for him, as I was for all the victims of this terrible green fog.
‘I don’t know the answer to your question, Jeanie, but let’s go and find out.’
I turned the car around and went back up the road, heading north along roads that were not deserted but had many cars stopped, parked and in some cases crashed along the way. There were no signs of life so we just pressed on, passing through several villages, not seeing any humans alive. We went slowly along the roads where there were houses, beeping the horn and waiting for a few moments to see if anyone emerged from the silent houses–but nothing human stirred.
Occasionally we saw cats and dogs that seemed to be going about in twos and threes for some reason, but no people. I was going to get out and look in a few shops for supplies, but as soon as I opened the door, several dogs came out from a side street and started barking and baring their teeth at me. I shut the door straight away as they looked pretty fierce–even the small ones–and Ben was barking at them, his hackles rising at the same time. I wondered what had made them so aggressive; hunger perhaps?
As it was only a few days since the green fog descended upon us all, I didn’t think that would be the case, but still–no, they weren’t that hungry surely? That got me thinking about what they would eat when they were hungry and I shivered involuntarily at that thought.
We moved off pretty smartish leaving the dogs chasing us down the road.
Presently we were approaching the outskirts of Oxford. Towards the centre of the city, there were several wreaths of smoke coming from various parts of the old city and there was a grey haze that partially hid the spires of Tom Tower and Christ Church Cathedral; it all seemed rather menacing somehow.
Jeanie brought me back from my fanciful thoughts as she decided that we should have some breakfast before continuing on our northward journey.
There didn’t seem anyone or thing about on this lonely stretch of road, so we got out of the car to stretch our legs and answer the call of nature. It was strange for me to go behind a bush and have to crouch down to do the necessary. Luckily we had a supply of loo paper, so it wasn’t too messy. Jeanie helped Nicola, who was similarly troubled by her change of plumbing, but she thought that it was all a wee bit funny and kept giggling about it!
Ben stayed close to us and I think that he was trying to protect us as he was constantly looking about and I supposed that he was on guard or something.
We got out the primus stove, another useful item from the shop in Petersfield, and quickly we had some soup heating, beef broth it said on the tin, not porridge or eggs and bacon like a normal breakfast, but anything to warm us up on this chilly winter’s morning was welcome. The soup was delicious and we polished it off in no time. We had some tea and tins of evaporated milk, so we had a lovely cup of tea after that and some yummy Royal Scot biscuits for dunking!
As we dunked, we planned, making sure that Nicola understood what we were doing as she had a right to know. She was very young, but she was intelligent and perfectly able to grasp what we were talking about.
‘I don’t fancy going right into Oxford,’ said Jeanie.
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘I think we should stay away from large towns and cities. You never know what can happen.’
‘But there might be people there.’
‘And there might be diseases and packs of dogs and mad people.’
‘I don’t like mad people,’ said Nicola, shuddering slightly.
‘I know honey, we won’t let you be harmed, I promise.’ I replied, smiling. ‘I agree, Jeanie, we’ve been lucky so far, apart from the knife man, that is. But I really think we should find the hospital so we can get some more oxygen cylinders. What do you think?
‘All right, but we don’t know where the hospital is.’
‘I’ve got a map!’ I said, reaching under the seat and pulling it out in triumph like some sort of trophy.
‘All right, clever clogs, if your head gets any bigger, you won’t be able to carry the weight!’
‘Ha, ha.’ I said as Nicola giggled behind her hand and Ben, who I swear could understand nearly everything we said, woofed in agreement.
We poured over the map which showed things like post offices, libraries and most importantly, hospitals.
‘Look,’ said Jeanie.’ It’s on the outskirts of town, if we carry on down this road and then fork left, it’s only about a quarter of a mile down that road.’
‘Okay, let’s pack up and get going.’
Ten minutes later, we drew up outside the old, three story Radcliffe Infirmary.
There were a few cars outside and along the street, as well as a number of people lying in the road and on the pavement–dead of course. Other than that it was quiet except for a few hardy birds in the trees and a cat who was washing him or herself on a wall and regally ignoring our presence.
‘Stay in the car, you two, and beep the horn if you see anything you are worried about.’
‘I really should come with you,’ Jeanie said.
‘No, I think you’d better stay here with Nicola. I don’t think that it will be very pleasant in there.’ I looked suggestively at Nicola, who was once again having a private conversation with Teddy and raised my eyebrows.
‘All right,’ said Jeanie reluctantly, ‘but do be careful.’
‘I will,’ I replied, getting out of the car. ‘Lock the doors, just in case.’
I shut the car door and the sound echoed around the silent road, making the birds fly away and the cat look up from its grooming for a moment.
I climbed the steps and pushed the door open. I was immediately assaulted by a nauseous smell. I pulled my hanky from where I had tucked it up my knicker-leg and held it to my nose. There were several people in the lobby either sitting in chairs or lying on the floor. They all looked as if they had died suddenly because there was no expression of surprise, horror or anything else on their faces. After being dead a few days now, they were not looking very pleasant. I averted my eyes and tried to concentrate on the job in hand.
I searched several rooms, not finding what I was looking for; then I saw a room at the end of the corridor marked Medical Supplies. Luckily it was open; I went in and groped for the light switch ’cause it was dark in there and there were no windows that I could see.
I found out the reason why the door wasn’t locked as soon as the light illuminated the scene. There was a dead nurse on the floor. She must have been in there to get something when she was struck down by the fog.
There were all sorts of medical things in there, but most importantly, there were several oxygen cylinders on trolleys. I had to heave the nurse out of the way to get at the cylinders and she wasn’t pleasant to touch, being as stiff as a board. She was a small woman though– in her late teens by the look of her, and was very pretty–once, but I just switched off at that point and did what I had to do, blanking out the horrors.
I decided that we should take six of the cylinders and after pulling them to the car, detached them from their trolleys, otherwise there would not be room for them in the back of the Landy. So I wheeled them out one by one and Jeanie and Nicola helped lift them into the car after rearranging things.
‘One to go,’ I told Jeanie, ‘I won’t be long.’
‘Don’t be,’ she said, ‘this place is giving me the willies.’
I went back inside the hospital for the final time, quickly entering the room and pulling the trolley out. I had just about reached the front door when I heard a noise.
I stopped, held my breath and listened.
It was coming from above. Someone else was alive! Quickly I opened the door and called out to Jeanie.
‘There’s someone alive. I’m going to go and have a look. Stay in the car, both of you.’
She just nodded, looking hopeful that there was another person still alive and waved that she had heard me.
I went back in and up the stairs leading to the first floor wards. I stopped at the top of the stairs and called out.
‘Hello, hello, HELLO!’
I stopped and listened for a moment.
‘Please help.’ I heard the male voice coming from down the corridor.
I went along the green corridor, looking into all the side wards, wincing at some of the sights within them, until the one before the end. Opening the door, I saw him. It was a side ward with just one bed in it. On the bed was a late middle-aged man who was wheezing and had a leg up in plaster. He had on an oxygen mask. His face was grey and his hair dark but sprinkled with white.
In front of him, lying on the floor was a man in a white coat–a doctor, I think. He was not a pretty sight.
‘You–heard–me then,’ the man gasped.
‘Yes.’ I said, stepping around the prone form and going over to the bed.
‘Is it true?’
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Is everyone dead?’
I just nodded.
‘I thought so. I woke up, yesterday and saw Doctor Livingstone, dead. There was no one else around. I kept calling, but nothing, except the smell, of course.’
He breathed in deeply and then continued.
‘There weren’t any traffic noises, and then the lights went out. Everything was quiet. I called and called, tried ringing the buzzer, but no power of course. I didn’t really know, but I sort of guessed that something awful had occurred. People were talking earlier about a strange fog coming in over the city; a green fog that sort of pulsed. I thought that it was just them being fanciful. I’m a vet and have no time for fanciful things.
He stopped again for more oxygen, I could see that he was weak and he had been rambling a bit. On his forehead were beads of sweat and I guessed that he was in some pain and maybe a fever too. Yet he looked almost as white as the sheet that was partially covering him.
‘I couldn’t look for myself,’ he continued after a moment, ‘ I broke my leg on a blasted horse a couple of weeks ago and after I got here I began having chest pains. It seems that I have a dickey ticker. All those years working out on farms in all weathers delivering calves and lambs, I suppose– all over now of course. How about you; how come you are still around?’
I explained about being at school with my sister and how I and Nicola had somehow been changed into girls.
‘Unbelievable, mind you this all is.’
He stopped for a moment to catch his breath once again and take another dose of oxygen , the he continued.
‘I was awake when the fog came back. It swirled up the corridor, it was like fingers reaching out and then around the door, almost like it was trying to find me and then it got more dense. I must admit to being terrified and I just watched it come closer and closer and then overwhelm me. Then I just went out like a light and woke up again several hours later. I suppose the oxygen saved me like it did you. It was a good job I kept my mask on, I suppose, but it’s a double edged sword, because I awoke to this nightmare.’
I looked at him and wondered what I could do for him.
‘Would you like to come with us?’ I’m sure that I can fetch a wheelchair and get you downstairs.’
He looked at me for a moment and smiled a sad smile.
‘Thanks for that; you’re a kind girl but the doctors made it plain before all this mess happened that I don’t have very long. So there’s not much point really. It would just delay the inevitable and I would only hold you back. No, I’ll stay here.’
I looked at his face, grey with pain and I could see the slight blueing of his lips. I was getting a bit of an expert on blue lips now.
‘I presume my wife and two kids are dead. Not much hope, is there? But you must try and find your parents, they may still be alive and if you are alive, there are bound to be others.’
‘I can’t just leave you––’
‘–you can and must, but I want you to do just one thing for me?’
‘What? Anything, just tell me.’ My eyes were streaming tears by now. I had found someone and I couldn’t help him, it cut me up terribly.
‘Over by the nurse’s desk, you will find the trolley where they keep the medicines. Open it up, the key is usually in the lock, and dig out a syringe and look for some ampoules of morphine, it will help, if it gets painful.’
‘A—all right.’ I said as I turned away, still sobbing and left the room.
I found the trolley just down the corridor, it was open and a nurse was on the floor beside it. I soon found the syringes and after a minute or two of looking at the names, I found some little glass bottles labelled Morphine. I picked up several and together with the syringes, took them back to the side ward where the man was lying.
‘Found them? Good girl. Just put them on the side for me.’
I did as he bade and then just stood there not knowing what to do.
‘You had better be off. I think that you should be well away from the city as soon as you can.’
‘My sister said that.’
‘She’s a wise girl,’ he said smiling.
‘Can I help you, food, bed pan, things like that?’
He looked at me sadly and shook his head.
‘That’s all right, love, I have all I need.’ His eyes flicked over to the Morphine and then I understood.
‘I—if we find anyone, we could come back and help you.’ I said desperately.
He smiled and shook his head.
‘I won’t be here if you come back. Look, shoot off now and don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right. Now off you go before your sister starts worrying about you.’
‘–You can. Now go, please!’
The look on his face brooked no argument and I turned away with a sob and then turned back. Stepping over to him I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
‘’Bye, now off you go!’
I ran out of the room, down the stairs, pulled the oxygen trolley through the swing doors and out into the cleaner atmosphere of the road outside.
Jeanie was looking at me through the window and I just shook my head as I opened the back, somehow hoisted the oxygen in, shut the tail gate and then walked around and got into the driver’s seat, slamming the door after me.
‘What happened.’ asked Jeanie, ‘was there anyone?’
I started the car and moved off, fighting back the tears.
‘No,’ I lied, ‘I was mistaken.’
‘Then why are you crying?’
‘Leave it, please, Jeanie, let’s just get out of here.’
We left Oxford behind and carried on northwards. I wondered what it was like back at the hospital and whether the man had ended it all yet. It was strange, I hadn’t even asked his name, but that wasn’t important: what was important was that there was yet another victim–all be it indirectly–of the green fog. I hated it with a passion and wondered what on Earth could have possibly caused it; perhaps it was not from Earth, but from deep space? Or maybe it was one of those secret chemical weapons that had somehow been let out into the atmosphere? There were too many questions and no answers.
I felt so impotent. I was just twelve years old and was dealing with things that no child my age should be facing. Just a few days ago, I was a happy boy, with lots of friends and a fine life, now everything was very different and so very unfair!
Jeanie was quiet, somehow realising that something had happened back at the hospital that had upset me deeply. She didn’t say anything and for that I was thankful. Nicola was staring out of the window humming to herself and clutching her teddy. She seemed to be accepting all this much better than either Jeanie or I.
We carried on up the road, avoiding blocked roads and heading ever northward, I wanted to put as many miles on the clock as possible and then find somewhere safe for the night. Jeanie and I agreed that we should all put our masks on prior to sleeping, just in case the fog returned.
We were going along a fairly straight stretch of road, thankfully reasonably free of cars. Jeanie was having forty winks in the back with Ben, half across her, doing the same. Nicola was alternating between talking to her teddy and looking out of the window.
‘Oooh goody,’ squealed Nicola, sitting up and looking out of the window to the side.
‘What, honey?’ I asked, thinking that she might have seen a horse or sheep, perhaps.
‘There’s a ’plane over there. I always wanted to go in a ’plane, Daddy said we would before–’
I skidded to a stop, waking Jeanie and Ben up in the process and looked in the direction that Nicola was pointing.
High in the sky a small aeroplane was heading north, the same as us!
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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