‘Right,’ said Eve, matter of factly, intruding on my thoughts, ‘Sarah and I are going to have a look.’
‘No you can’t,’ I protested.
‘It’s not fair,’ Jeanie added, ‘they’re our uncle and auntie––’
‘–Look, Allie, Jeanie, you wouldn’t let me see m—my parents so Sarah and I will do the same for you. You shouldn’t see them, erm–dead and everything. You should remember them as they were when they were alive. Come on, Sarah, are you coming?’
‘Of course, Eve. You two stay here; we won’t be long, promise.’
Without another word, they got out of the bus, sliding the door closed behind them and went to the house, pausing for a second before entering.
Jeanie and I gazed at each other and I could see the worry on her face. Nicola and Julie were at the back of the bus with Ben and Arthur. Everyone was quiet, realising, I think, that this was all very upsetting for us. I sat with Jeanie, holding her hand. She was trembling slightly, or was that me?
They were gone for about five minutes, but it seemed like an hour. I was just about to suggest going to look for them when they reappeared.
I couldn’t read the expression on their faces as they climbed back in the bus.
‘Well?’ I said, unable to hold myself back.
‘There was nobody there,’ Sarah said, ‘it looked like they left in a hurry. Breakfast things were still on the table and the beds, unmade. There was still tea in the pot, but it was cold.’
‘What about the dogs?’ asked Jeanie.
‘No dogs. As I said it looked like they had left in a hurry.’
I glanced at Jeanie and then got out of the bus. I ran to the large corrugated iron shed where they kept their Land Rover, avoiding the dirty puddles, and pulled one of the doors open. The hinges screeched, causing a number of birds to fly off in alarm.
The shed was empty.
I ambled slowly back to the others who had just alighted from Bessie. Jeanie had been crying–I hope from happiness because we had not found them dead.
‘Well,’ said Sarah, ‘that was a turn up; where do you think they are?’
Jeanie and I looked at each other and replied in unison, ‘Dunoon––’
And now the story continues…
We stayed the night and I was almost comforted by being in familiar surroundings–but not quite, because I was wondering if our guess had been right. Were Auntie Betty and Uncle Archie across the water in Dunoon or had they been caught out in the fog, like so many others? I had a restless night, not helped by the fact that I had to do my fair share of watch-keeping.
Jeanie didn’t seem quite as concerned as I was. She had this simple faith that everything would work out all right. We might have been twins and now we were both girls, looked like two peas in a pod, but mentally we were somewhat different. She was the reckless one, where I was careful. She was outgoing while I tended to be rather shy. She was optimistic whereas I was the pessimist.
I wished I was more like her, but although I now had a girl’s body, mentally I was still a boy, although things were changing there. I was more sensitive, I think and was definitely more emotional now–crying often. I liked pretty things I and must admit that I was beginning to like the clothes and my long hair rather a lot: although it did keep getting in the way unless tied back with bands and ribbons.
There was no sign of the fog that night and I was pleased about that. Maybe it was gone for good? Who knows? Anyway, after our usual tinned breakfast – boring but filling–we were on our way early that morning. There was still mist in the valleys and dew on the plants and trees as I fired up our little bus. We were soon once again on our way. I left Carron Farm with some regret, wondering if we would ever be able to return again and have fun with the animals, ride the horses and splash about in the river like we used to.
Quite frankly I didn’t know how far we were going to get today. Dunoon was a long way off and even longer if we couldn’t get a boat across the Firth from Gourock. Then we–well I–would have to drive the long way round, using some minor roads to avoid towns.
Anyway, all this procrastination (one of my father’s favourite words) wouldn’t get me anywhere so I just drove down the small lane leading away from the farm and prayed that we might at least have one day without too many alarums and excursions.
Before long we picked up the A76 and headed north. Sarah was sat next to me looking at the maps and the others were doing the usual thing of looking out for the dangers.
We still had a fair amount of petrol in the tank and I hoped that we could reach our destination without needing more. However, ye cannae be too carefu’–as Auntie Betty would say, so I decided I would fill up if the opportunity presented itself.
‘Turn right here,’ Sarah told me just past New Cumnock.
I did as she asked and glanced at her quickly. ‘How’s Julie managing?’ I asked.
Sarah turned to me and smiled sadly. ‘She’s finding it a bit hard still. She misses Mummy and Daddy dreadfully–like I do–but she’s finding it really hard to adapt to being a girl. It’s all a bit much for her to take in. We’ll have to watch her and make sure that she has as much help as possible. Mind you, Allie, you’ve coped amazingly–I find it very hard to believe that you were ever a boy.’
‘No-no-no–I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that you seem to be all girl to me. The way you walk and talk, sit and express yourself, it’s all girl––sorry, I hope I haven’t upset you.’
I changed gear, wincing as I crunched them a bit. We were going up yet another hill and the old girl seemed to struggle on hills.
‘Not at all,’ I sighed, ‘I was just thinking about the very same thing a wee while back. I still feel a bit like a boy, but it’s getting harder to remember what it was like. Maybe it’s another effect of the change. Julie might feel that soon too.’
‘I hope so,’ she said.
We continued on our way. It was getting a bit flatter now–the road that is. The sky above was now clear with few clouds and the mists had gone. This was ideal green fog weather as it was clear and there wasn’t much wind. I was constantly looking up ahead and to the sides for the telltale signs of the green menace, but for once we were lucky, as there was no indication that it was anywhere near.
Eventually we found our ourselves approaching Kilmarnock, so we turned off along some side roads to avoid the town; I had to take us down a few rather narrow lanes and–somehow–turn around at a couple of others, but by hook or by crook we found ourselves beyond Kilmarnock and heading towards Irvine on the A78. Then we had to avoid Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston; and that meant a yet another longish detour that took us ages. Then and only then, I agreed to stop for a break, just before Seamill. It was mid afternoon and everyone was famished as our breakfast had been a long time ago.
It was quite cold outside the bus as we went for a quick wee. The Firth of Clyde was to our left and the sea breeze made me feel quite chilly and I wished I was wearing trousers–or even a kilt–rather than a light skirt. I didn’t think I would ever be comfortable squatting down to do it. Boys had it so much easier–just point and shoot. I was a bit sad that I wouldn’t be able to wee my name in the snow anymore!
We decided to mash our tea outside using the Tilley stove and then have lunch in the relatively warm bus.
We had some water biscuits, tinned soup and, natch, the tea we had mashed. Baby Arthur was having something gooey out of a jar and some Ostermilk. He seemed happy enough and I felt strangely satisfied when I got my turn to give him a cuddle before passing him back to the ever-eager Jeanie.
I checked the map book when I got a chance, with Eve at my elbow. We had taken much longer than I had hoped to get this far and it was touch and go whether we would reach Gourock much before dusk. It was three o’clock now and the sun was already dipping towards the horizon.
‘Will we make it?’ she asked over the sound of Arthur exercising his vocal cords.
‘Don’t know, but I’ll try.’
‘We all sang The Wheels On The Bus and a few other favourites and that seemed to satisfy Arthur, who returned to the land of nod after a few minutes. Before long we could see the Firth on our left, the sun reflected on the water was good to see as we carried on as fast as our little bus could take us.
As we took the coast road, I imagined ourselves to be at the end of the world as we knew it. From time to time we saw stationery cars, vans, lorries–people. Nothing moved apart from a few birds in the sky and the occasional stray dog or cat looking starved and dishevelled. The world as we knew it was gone. No more government, schools, hospitals and other trappings of a normal modern society–it was sobering. In the distance we could see Little Cumbrae Island and behind that, the much larger Isle of Bute, but we could see no sign of any boats or ships moving on the waters of the Firth
By now we were on roads that Jeanie and I knew quite well and the map was no longer needed. Every place we passed brought back memories for me of happier times when we were young children without a care in the world.
I felt like crying for all that we had lost, but I had no time for that, I had a job to do and the others were relying on me––
‘Look,’ said Nicola, excitedly pointing up in the sky over the sea, ‘a ’plane!’
I glanced across and managed to catch sight of the plane in the distance. It was close to the low sun and I had to squint to see it, but Nicola was right–there was a ’plane!
The others were shouting excitedly as I roughly stopped the bus and we all piled out to watch.
The single prop ’plane was heading north–like we were–and it looked as if it could be the same one we saw the other day, but I couldn’t be sure at this distance. It receded into the distance and then seemed to bank to the left, disappearing behind a brae. After a few minutes it was obvious that we would be unlikely to see it again.
‘Come on,’ I called, ‘we need to get moving. It’ll be getting dark soon.’
Nothing was said, but I knew the others were thinking the same as me; we thought that the plane was heading towards Dunoon. I dared not get my hopes up, but was there even the smallest of chances that my parents and uncle and aunt were still alive?
As soon as everyone was aboard, I moved off and carried on up the coast road towards Inverkip and Gourock. I hoped and prayed that a boat would be there and that we could somehow make our way across to Dunoon. If there wasn’t a boat, we would have to go the long way and I didn’t much fancy that.
I squinted at something on the road up ahead. We were approaching Inverkip, only a few miles from Gourock. Groaning, I saw that it was yet another barrier of cars, tables, doors and other things.
‘What will we do?’ I asked the others who had come forward as I slowed down.
‘What if they have guns?’ Sarah asked.
‘Or weird mad men?’ Jeanie added.
‘There’s no other way through.’ I replied as I crept closer, waiting for any sign that we would be attacked.
It was very quiet. No one appeared above the barricade. I got to within a hundred yards and pulled off the road. Then I switched off.
‘We have to get through,’ I said forcefully. ‘It’s getting darker and I don’t feel safe on the road. Look can someone pass me a pillow case and that umbrella?’
I attached the pillow case to the umbrella. ‘I want to use it as a white flag. All of you stay here.’
‘No,’ said Jeanie.’ I’m the oldest so I’ll go. Anyway you’re needed to drive Bessie.’
‘You are only a few minutes older than me,’ I retorted.
‘Doesn’t matter, you’re needed, I’m not.’
The others protested as Jeanie grabbed the umbrella.
‘Look, we need to do this now. Let me go!’
Without more ado, she put on her school raincoat and walked down the empty road towards the barriers.
She walked down the middle of the road with the umbrella held high–like a one woman army striding towards enemy lines.
I started the bus.
‘Everyone sit down. If I have to move, we need to be ready in an instant.’
Jeanie carried on. I was so proud of her but worried sick that she might be shot or attacked. My chest tightened as if I was about to have an asthma attack. I gripped the steering wheel hard, my knuckles white as I watched her get ever closer to possible death. A trickle of perspiration trickled down my back, making my blouse wet and my tummy started to do somersaults.
She was within twenty yards of the barricade now. I watched her long hair flowing in the gentle breeze. The makeshift white flag fluttered fitfully. She stopped and I could her call out faintly, but I couldn’t catch her words over the sound of the engine.
She waited for a few moments more and hesitatingly moved forward again. In seconds she had reached the barrier and climbed up on the roof of a car. She stayed there for what seemed like ages–but in fact it was only a few seconds.
Jeanie looked back at us and gestured us to come forward. Heart thumping, I slipped Bessie into gear and edged ahead, on the lookout for anything nasty that might happen.
We reached the barricade and I switched off the engine. Jeanie climbed down from the roof of the car and came towards us.
After sliding the bus door open, we all piled out.
‘What is it?’ asked Eve.
‘There’s no one there–alive that is. There are plenty of dead people who looked like they were manning the barricade. They have shotguns and other weapons but they’re all dead.’
‘Right,’ I said after a moments silence. ‘We must get a move on. It’ll be dark soon. Let’s try and move some of this stuff out of the way so we can carry on.’
It took twenty minutes of shoving, pushing and using our little bus as an improvised bulldozer before we could continue on our way. The nastiest part of it was moving the dead bodies that had been pole-axed–by the fog obviously–out of the way. It was strange; there were no children, just adults.
We took the opportunity of taking some shotguns and ammunition. There were also a few handguns and we took those also. At least if we met any more resistance, we would be armed and ready. I didn’t think any of us could hit the side of a barn at twenty paces, but at least we could look threatening.
On the other side of Inverkip, we turned left on to Cloch Road that took us back to the eastern shore of the Firth. We followed it northwards, past the pretty little Cloch Lighthouse–which showed no signs of life–until we arrived on the outskirts of Gourock just as it began to get dark. It was pointless trying to reach the ferry terminal by the station now. We would have to stay overnight somewhere and start afresh in the morning. Not wanting to go into the centre of town, we retraced our wheel tracks to a cottage on the Cloch Road a bit north of the lighthouse that was empty. It overlooked the sea and being on a slight hill, we at least had some views of the surroundings and any possible green fog that might creep up on us.
We made ourselves at home, using part of our stock of candles to light the place and some coal from the fireplace scuttle to warm the large living room. Eve fed Arthur while the rest of us mucked in by clearing the table and making the meal. We had spam fritters and potatoes followed by tinned peaches and evaporated milk. For afters, we had some swiss roll and a couple of biscuits, all washed down by the inevitable tin mug of tea.
After tea, I went outside and looked across the water to the land masses beyond. There was no breeze now and the sea was flat and calm. In the winter, the waters around here could be very rough and treacherous, hence the need for the Cloch Lighthouse. I could see gulls in the distance coming towards me in the twilight, dipping and diving at the water as they tried to find food. It was almost silent, just the gentle lapping of water against the shore. I pulled the hem of my skirt up slightly and rubbed the back of my aching leg. Driving Bessie was hard work on my muscles and I was pleased that we only had a few miles to go.
It was very peaceful here and I had always loved this piece of the world that I called home. Shivering slightly as I only had a skirt, blouse and thin cardigan on, I reluctantly turned back to the cottage. I could hear laughter from inside and smiled. It was nice having an extended family!
I was very disappointed to be so near and yet so far from our destination, but at least we would be able to get cracking in the morning.
It came again during the night. I was fast asleep and was awakened by Jeanie shouting. ‘The fog–it’s coming––!’
At first I thought that I was having a nightmare, but I was shaken roughly by the shoulder and in seconds I knew that the nightmare was real. I struggled out of my sleeping bag and helped the others. We hadn’t undressed, thank goodness, so we were not encumbered by long nightdresses.
I stared out of the window and saw the green throbbing and glowing fog creeping over the sea towards the coast and us. It stretched across the horizon as far as my eyes could see. The threat and fear it created was palpable. I became aware of the normal warning of its approach–a tightening of the chest and breathing difficulties with that dreadful feeling of doom and premonition that I was going to die. I noticed that the others were in the same condition as me.
I didn’t have much more time to think as we had to sort ourselves out, despite the feeling that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. We already had the oxygen cylinders ready and after looking after Arthur first, we all donned our masks, turned on the oxygen and sat in a huddle, holding hands and waited for the green menace to come to us. The sound of my heavy breathing seemed magnified in the mask. Looking at the others I saw absolute terror on their faces. I was the same and it was all I could do not to tear off the mask and run as fast as I could away from that monstrous green cloud of death.
Then gradually a feeling of peace came over me and I relaxed. The others appeared the same, their rigid expressions relaxing too. I wanted to get up, take my mask off and walk out of the door and join the fog. I knew that it wasn’t going to harm me… Then I felt a sharp slap on my bare leg. I jumped slightly and looked up. There was Julie looking at me with fear in her eyes. The stinging slap had brought me back to my senses. The others including Ben were now asleep. But Julie and I were still awake, although I was getting groggier by the minute. The fog silently crept in under the door, through the joints in the sash window frames and down the chimney somehow. Soon all I could see was green and all I could feel was the tight grasp of Julie as she held my hand in a vice like grip–a grip that slowly relaxed as she fell asleep. As I became more comatose, my last thoughts were of my parents and whether I would ever see them again.
Julie was the first awake. She helped me off with my mask and then both of us helped the others as they gradually came out of the fog induced sleep. I wondered fleetingly why Julie and I were the last ones to go under and yet the first ones to come around again. Then we had other things to do and I forgot for a while, that juicy bit of a clue.
Luckily, everyone was okay although, unfortunately, we had all wet our knickers. At this rate, we would have to join Arthur and wear nappies if there was any danger of the fog coming!
Talking of Arthur, he was still a boy–so was Ben, if you were wondering. However, the green fog may have disappeared, but the Scottish weather hadn’t. While we were asleep, it had snowed and was still snowing hard. It looked like we were to stay here longer than anticipated and we therefore had to be patient and wait for the weather to clear. There was no way I was going to drive a bus in the snow and ice and I don’t think that the others would let me anyway.
We did brave the weather though and go out to the bus to bring everything in. I covered the engine with a blanket, as Daddy always said that it helped keep the damp out of the electrics.
The snow was about six inches deep and getting deeper by the minute–it didn’t let off. Being Scots, Jeanie and I were well used to the rain and snow in these parts. The others, being soft southerners weren’t so used to it though. It was strange that we could have four seasons in the space of one day in Scotland. Maybe that’s why we are so adaptable.
The snow continued falling throughout the day and then the wind got up and there were blizzard conditions outside. We were as snug as a bug in a rug though as we had found a plentiful supply of coal round the back of the cottage, quite a lot of food and as much drinking water as the melted snow could provide.
It was probably a good thing that the weather closed in as we were all extremely weary from our travels and the awful sights that we had seen. We needed a break and so we decided to make the most of it. The coal burning range in the kitchen came in useful and we were able to wash some of our clothes–especially our smalls–and hang them out to dry. We had a bucket for Arthur’s nappies and they were washed and dried too.
Jeanie and I gazed out of the window in the mid afternoon. We couldn’t see much as the blizzard was rather heavy. It was dull and we actually had to use candles to brighten the place up a bit.
‘It’s in for a couple of days at least,’ she said glumly.
‘Mmm, aye. We’ll never get to Dunoon at this rate. What rotten luck.’
She looked at me.
‘I wonder if they are still alive.’
‘Yes, I don’t think I could take it if––’
‘–The others think they won’t––’
‘–Be alive. They don’t say much, but I can tell.’
‘Women’s intuition?’ I asked.
‘Something like that. Well, we’ll know soon enough and worrying about it won’t help.’
Somehow amongst the things we had brought with us were some books. Jeanie looked smug when Sarah opened a box and found them. I said nothing as I didn’t want Jeanie to get big-headed. I found myself sitting on the sofa with Nicola shortly afterwards, as I read Cinderella to her. She chose it, not I. I marvelled at how much of a girl she had become, remembering back to when we both lived at the school. I recalled a small boy who loved tearing around, playing cowboys and Indians and getting himself into all sorts of scrapes. Now she was truly a girl and there was no sign of that boisterous lad.
She fell asleep in the warm atmosphere when I was only half way through the book. She looked ever so sweet as she sucked her thumb. I laid her down gently and then went back to the box to see if there was anything I fancied reading on my own account. The others either had their noses in books or were sleeping.
I found a couple of Enid Blyton’s–Secret Seven Win Through and Second Form at Malory Towers. Then there was several fairy stories and at the bottom some Biggles stories. I pulled one of those out, it was Biggles and the Pirate Treasure–a selection of short stories. I used to have a bit of a thing about Biggles and I couldn’t care less if I was wearing a skirt, I could still read them until the cows come home.
That evening we decided that we should posh up a bit, so we all chose some nice clothes out of the things we had brought and dressed for dinner. Jeanie, our “sort of” quartermaster, had managed to bring several nice cotton frocks in assorted sizes. How she even thought that we might need them I would never know. Being a girl is a deeper thing than I thought and I still had a lot to learn about the mysteries of girlhood!
Our dresses were of a similar shape and design and were more or less knee-length. We wore crew socks and lace-up shoes or T-strap sandals and of course our hair had to have ribbons in it! Nicola ended up in a pink dress–no surprise there! Sarah’s dress was a very pale green, mine was yellow, Eve chose blue and Jeanie, a red, almost tartan-like, check. We all did each others hair. Mind you, we ex-boys were hopeless and Jeanie and Sarah had to redo ours. My hair was quite long and Sarah had mine up in a plait with a yellow ribbon.
When all was done, we prepared our dinner; tinned meat pie, peas, carrots and potatoes. We found some pinnies to put on while we prepared our meal. None of us wanted to get splashed tonight!
Arthur–Jeannie had managed to find a pale blue romper suit for him–was fed first and he did his usual trick of falling asleep half way through. Anyway, when he was tucked up in his makeshift cot, we were able to enjoy our meal in peace.
We had candles on the table and we had found some place mats and silver cutlery in a drawer. The table looked quite posh by the time we had laid it and it matched our party type clothes.
It was strange sitting there as a girl with the others. We were all quite cheerful and there was lots of laughter, despite everything and we chatted away as if there was nothing wrong with us or the world.
Even Julie had come out of her shell a bit after the last fog attack. She smiled more and spoke up more too. She and I had bonded after the attack and I felt that she and I were becoming firm friends, I hoped so, because she was a nice girl, and Sarah had told me that before all the horrors happened, she was bright and bubbly. It looked like Julie and I had slightly more resistance to the fog than the others and we would have to talk about that, but not tonight.
I kept looking down at myself, conscious of what I was wearing and how I now looked. I could feel my beribboned hair brushing against my neck and shoulders and the strange thing was that somehow it felt right. I looked up and caught Eve’s eye. She smiled slightly and I could sense that she was having similar thoughts to mine. We were adapting fast to our situation–it wasn’t all that bad being a girl, after all!
‘So,’ Eve asked, ‘what’s the plan for tomorrow?’
‘It all depends,’ replied Jeanie. ‘The weather might stay this way for a while. The snow is still coming down thick and fast and it may lay on the ground for quite a while. We can’t use the bus, and there is no way we can walk to the ferry, so I suppose it’s just wait and see.’
‘Aye,’ I said, ‘the weather up here can be a wee bit foul sometimes. It’s just our bad luck that we’re caught in it now. If we had managed to get here a day earlier, we might have been in Dunoon by now.’
‘It’s no good crying over spilt milk,’ Sarah remarked, ‘we’ll just have to make the most of it.’
‘I want to build a snowman,’ Nicola piped up suddenly.
We all laughed.
‘If it stops snowing tomorrow, we’ll do it,’ Jeanie answered.
‘I might just throw a few snowballs,’ Julie said quietly with a slightly mischievous smile on her pretty face.
We all laughed again. That sounded like a great idea––
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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