‘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 lie 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––
And now the story continues…
The weather was bad for two more days and we were holed up and unable to get to our ultimate destination–Dunoon. There were a number of pluses though; we did manage to have a rest and the fog stayed away, maybe due to the poor weather or just luck, we didn’t know. Oh, another good thing was that we all had a few snowball fights and we got to build a snowman when it actually stopped snowing!
For me it was time of reflection. As a boy I was always been what Jeanie called a ‘deep thinker’. The morning after the first night, thanks to water heated by the back boiler, I was able to have my first bath after the radical changes to my body.
It was the first time that I had really looked at myself as a girl. It was strange looking along my body as I sat in the bath. It was like I was looking at someone else–the loss of my boys’ equipment being the most obvious thing. Having a strange slit in its place was disconcerting and disturbing. I wondered where my boy’s things had gone. They hadn’t fallen off–I think that I would have noticed. Had they disappeared into my body and would they pop out again if I sneezed? I giggled at that. I didn’t think so!
They didn’t cover any sort of sex education at our school until you were in the fourth form. Everything that I had learned, if learned was the right word, was by talking to the other boys. I knew the obvious things like girls didn’t need to shave their faces, unless they were old like Great Aunt Nora, who had a lot of hair on her top lip, well she did have when she was alive, that is.
Girls were different from boys in several other ways too; like when girls got older they got breasts and their body shape changes. Then there was the fact that their voices never broke. The stories that some of the boys told, I now knew were ridiculous. Living on or near a farm, you get to see what animals do to make babies, but to equate that to what humans do, was a bit of a stretch in the imagination for me.
Dad was supposed to be giving me the birds and bees talk in the hols; now I wondered if he was going to be around to have what would now be a rather modified talk, or would he leave it to mum?
I still hoped so much that they were alive. I couldn’t think of them as dead–I just couldn’t. It would have meant that this journey–no, expedition–would have been a complete waste.
Using a flannel and a bar of coal tar soap, I cleaned myself as best I could. As the flannel went over my nipples, I winced a bit. My breasts were getting a bit larger now, and were rather puffy and sensitive, especially around the nipples. I would have to ask Jeanie about that. I had so much to learn. She did mumble something about a sore chest a few days ago, so I guessed that she too was having problems.
It was funny though, all in all I had accepted my body and the fact that I was no longer a boy. The clothes were, in the main, softer and more comfortable than the ones that I had worn as a boy. Even going to bed in a cotton or winceyette nightdress was nicer than the rougher material of my boys’ pyjamas.
I shivered; the water was starting to get cold and I knew that the others wanted their turn before the water in the cylinder grew cold. I pulled the plug to let the water out and then stood up and dried myself off as best I could. Luckily, my ever growing hair was dry, except for the back bits that had touched the water. My hair was now shoulder length and straight, whereas before it was short and slightly wavy–another change caused by the fog?
I soon got dressed and pulled on my knickers, pleated skirt, blouse and cardigan and afterward, some ankle socks and shoes. Then I brushed my hair quickly, peering at my reflection in the slightly misty mirror.
I let myself out of the bathroom. Sarah was standing leaning up against the wall, still in her nightie. She didn’t look pleased.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘it’s about time. I bet you weren’t as long as this in the bath when you were a boy?’
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled.
‘I should think so,’ she said as she stomped past and slammed the door in my face.
Grimacing, I went into one of the rooms where my case was and put my nightdress away.
As I say, nothing much happened the next few days. We all had a rest and I was pleased to say that Julie was really coming out of her shell. She wasn’t so shy and didn’t look like she was on the point of crying any more. Baby Arthur seemed quite happy, not realising, of course that everything was different, and that his parents were dead. I wondered what sort of world he would be growing up in, if he managed to survive, that is.
It still seemed strange that all us ex-boys, by that I mean Eve, Julie, Nicola and myself, seemed to have shaken off most of our boyish ways. When we first met Eve, when she had been locked in that room by the mad vicar and his equally dotty wife, she was definitely not very feminine although her body showed otherwise. In her mind she was one hundred percent boy. It didn’t take long though for her to start acting and talking like a girl. It was only after being transformed that I noticed just how different boys were to girls in the way they walked talked and in their mannerisms. I quickly adopted the same characteristics without even thinking and on an unconscious level. Was it part of the fog’s effects that we changed so much, so quickly?,
On the third morning of our stay in the cottage, we awoke to find that it was a lot milder and most of the snow had gone. The previous evening we had noticed a slight thawing and we had hoped that we could continue on our journey at some point soon. We had all done our usual night watch for the fog but none had appeared. The cold weather may have kept it away. We had more questions than answers regarding the fog. Would we ever get to know what it was all about? I giggled to myself, realising that that was yet another question!
Eve and I put on our duffle coats, wellington boots, scarves, berets and gloves before stepping outside. We wanted to go and see the state of Bessie after all the harsh weather and I needed to know if she would start all right.
The sea looked calm but not surprisingly, there were no signs of any boats. I had wondered more than once whether the ferry would be running. If it wasn’t, could we get it across ourselves? I didn’t think so.
The land across the water seemed so close and yet so far. It was almost like I could reach out and touch the hills. It was so frustrating, not knowing if we would be able to cross or not.
We opened up the bus and got in. I sat in the driver’s seat and pulled out the choke, checked that it was out of gear, and then tried starting her. The self starter turned the engine slowly, but nothing else happened.
Eve looked at me ruefully and shook her head.
‘That doesn’t sound good, does it?
We got out and after pulling off my woolly gloves, I opened the bonnet and peeked inside. I hadn’t a clue what to look for, but the wires all seemed a bit wet and some of the water hoses seemed to have ice inside, as there was no give in them.
‘Eve, can you run in and ask someone to boil a kettle and then can you bring me some cloths to dry out all these wires?
‘All right,’ she said, rushing off.
I wondered once again if Bessie would start. She had been such a good old girl and had come through with trumps when we needed her. Well we needed her badly, now.
Eve came back after a few minutes with a steaming kettle and Nicola who was helping by carrying some cloths.
‘Brrr,’ said Nicola, ‘it’s still jolly cold.’
‘Not as cold as before though,’ said Eve. ‘Here you are, Alex.’ She handed over the kettle.
‘That was quick,’ I said.
‘Yes, Sarah was going to make some tea. She seemed a bit cross that she would have to boil the kettle again.’
‘Mmm, she was cross with me the other day too, just because I was a bit long in the bath.’
‘It must be a girl thing,’ sighed Eve, ‘I hope I don’t get like that,’
‘Me neither.’ I replied with feeling as I carefully poured water over the frozen pipes.
After the kettle was emptied, Nicola took it back in and I dried all that I could see that was damp and wet, paying particular attention to the wires.
Once I had finished that, we went back into the bus and crossing all our fingers and toes I pressed the starter button again.
She turned over once, nothing, twice, nothing. I was sweating buckets now despite the weather and I pumped the throttle pedal a couple of times and then tried once again.
The engine roared into life with a big black cloud billowing out of the exhaust.
‘Well done,’ shouted Eve.
I grinned at her and just kept the engine going until it was thoroughly warmed up.
We all had a hurried breakfast, as we were keen to get on our way. After having something to eat, we packed everything back into the bus and then we were off to the ferry!
We went along Cloch Road with the sea to our left heading towards the centre of Gourock, where the ferry pier was, just beyond the railway station. I had to be careful driving, as there was still a bit of snow on the road, but this was rapidly thawing as the sun strengthened.
As usual, we saw quite a few signs of the disaster that had befallen the area. The fact we didn’t stop or feel any sense of revulsion showed that we had hardened ourselves to the sights that we were seeing. Or maybe it was that we were shutting things out, not willing to worry or consider anything else while we were focused on our journey. Maybe when this was all over, we would start recalling these events and it might all come back and bite us.
We knew something was wrong as we went past the station on the main road and looked over to the pier.
None of us said anything as we turned into Tarbet Street went along the road leading to the quay. We arrived at the quay and I switched off the engine. It was very quiet without the rather noisy engine running. Arthur had been asleep and he decided to wake up. Julie picked him up as the rest of us got out of the bus and walked over to the quay. I looked down as Nicola came up and held my hand.
MV Arran had obviously been sailing when the green fog had arrived. It had struck the quay wall with such a force, that it had buried itself in the broken masonry and then sunk. It had settled in the shallow water and was nearly on its side. Cars had toppled over, and as the tide was out, they could be seen clearly in the water. Bodies were on the deck and the birds had been at them…
We stayed for a few moments longer, all hopes, such as they were, dashed and then we slowly walked back to the bus.
Julie looked up from giving Arthur some gripe water, he had had a tummy ache a few times and it seemed to help.
‘No good?’ she said quietly.
Jeanie shook her head.
I sat in the driver’s seat and very much wanted to cry. But I couldn’t, I had to be strong for the others. Then I began to feel angry. Why didn’t things ever go right? It was one thing after another. It just wasn’t fair!
Then I realised that Nicola was standing next to me, her head on my shoulder.
I pulled myself together and gave her a smile. She looked scared.
‘Alex, what will we do? Can we row across?’
I smiled at that and it helped release some of the tension that I had been feeling in my chest.
‘No honey, it’s too far, even if we found a boat big enough for us all and all of our things.’
‘What will we do then?’
I noticed that it had gone very quiet and as I looking around, everyone was looking at me.
‘Jeanie, what do you think?’ I asked.
‘Well as far as I see it, we can’t have too many chiefs and not enough Indians, so as you’re the driver, I vote that you decide. Everybody agree with that?’
They all nodded solemnly and then, in the silence, Arthur burped.
That set us all off giggling. After everyone had calmed down they looked to me expectantly.
I took a deep breath.
‘All right as you want me to be leader; we all have to have jobs until we get ourselves to Dunoon. We have to go the long way round, using the roads. Jeanie, you carry on being quartermaster and second in command in case anything happens to me. Eve, you are the navigator and you can help with the bus, too. Sarah, you are in charge of cooking, food and drinks. That doesn’t mean that you do it all the time, it’s your job to see that those jobs are dished out fairly. Julie, you are in charge of washing, cleaning and making sure that Arthur is taken care of properly. Once again, like Sarah, you have to make sure that everyone has a fair crack of the whip with doing those chores.’
I felt a pluck at my shoulder.
‘What can I do?’ asked Nicola.
I looked at the six year old and smiled.
‘You have a most important job, you are the Gofer.’
‘You help everybody. You are like the oil in this engine, helping to keep everything moving.’
‘That sounds important,’ she remarked.
‘And what can Arthur do?’ she asked in all seriousness.
‘Well, Arthur can be a good boy and have his food and sleep, and not scream too loudly for attention–though he might find that difficult!’
We all laughed and I was surprised that no one questioned my decisions. We would see if it would all work out, and in the meantime, Eve and I had to go over the route. It was good to see everyone be a bit more positive. I suppose having to wait for so long, only to find the wrecked ferry and have our hopes dashed was a big blow, even though those hopes had been slim.
After looking at the now tatty map book for a while, we had decided on a route. On the way out of Gourock, as we passed a few shops, Jeanie came forward.
‘We need to stock up on a few things.’
‘Okay, we’ll stop.’
I parked the bus and Jeanie–holding a rifle rather awkwardly–went off with Sarah and Julie to see what they could find.
There were no signs of animals, but I told them to be careful anyway.
Whilst they were away, Eve and I looked at the map again for the umpteenth time.
‘We need to go maybe into Glasgow,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to. I hate to think what has happened there, but we have no choice. We have to find a way across The Clyde.’
We looked at the map for several minutes, trying to figure the quickest way to get across the river and on to Dunoon–so near and yet so far.
‘What’s that?’ asked Eve, pointing at the map.
‘Oh, that’s the Erskine Ferry; it’s a chain ferry…I wonder.’
I thought for a moment. ‘I suppose we could have a look before we get into Glasgow proper. Yes, well done for pointing that out. We’ll try the Erskine ferry. Oh, there are the girls. Shall we help them with the boxes?
After stowing the supplies away securely, we told the others what route we had decided to take.
‘I had forgotten about the Erskine ferry,’ said Jeanie. ‘Well, I suppose it’s worth trying first.’
Everyone settled down in their seats and I started up again with Eve beside me doing her navigation job.
We drove out of Gourock and carried on along the coast road, passing Greenock and Port Glasgow on the way. I think that this area had been hit quite hard during the daylight, what with the number of cars, lorries, buses and of course, bodies we passed along the way. There was a lot of litter, mainly caused by dustbins that had turned over, either by wind or animals, spilling the contents all over the roads. The whole area looked as if it had gone to seed after only a comparatively short space of time. We also saw several packs of dogs, and some foxes too. I felt slightly happier now that we had the guns. We might not hit anything with them, but at least we could scare things away.
The weather had become overcast again, making me wonder if we were in for yet more snow. With the sun gone, the temperature dropped, too, and the still wet roads begun to feel a bit icy. We were now on the Greenock Road heading towards Glasgow.
‘That’s all I need,’ I said to Eve quietly, ‘a skating rink for a road.’
‘Want me to drive?’ she said in all seriousness.
‘I didn’t know you could drive.’
‘It must be easy, if you can do it, and anyway, my dad made me a go cart out of crates once, and I was very good at that,’
I glanced at her for a second and saw the grin on her face.
‘Got you!’ she laughed.
‘Eve, you are an idiot!’
‘You have to turn left at Bishopton,’ said Eve, getting back to the business at hand.
‘Mmm, I have been this way before, but not since I was a kid.’
‘What?’ I said frowning.
‘How old are you?’
‘Then you’re like the rest of us, still a kid!’
I smiled at that. I was still a child, but then I felt a bit sad as I didn’t feel like one anymore. I had seen too much. Would we ever be in a position to be proper, real children, where we could laugh and play and not have a care in the world? Would I want to play as boy or a girl? Would it be cowboys and indians or doctors and nurses? I shrugged and then concentrated on the road. The last thing I wanted was to crash on this slippery road.
We soon came across Bishopton and turned down Ferry road, going through the village, which was as quiet as a grave and no signs of life, human or otherwise. Soon we were going down the narrow lane that led to the ferry. We were lucky that there were no vehicles on the lane, as we would have had trouble passing them in this big old bus.
The lane suddenly opened up and before us on the left was a house called, I think Ferry Lodge, but that didn’t really catch my attention, as in front of us, moored up was the chain ferry!
I stopped the bus. Everyone crowded forward looking through the mud splattered windscreen at the vision before us. On the quay were several cars, but there were no bodies in or around the cars.
‘Look.’ said Eve excitedly, pointing at the house.
There was smoke coming out of the chimney!
I looked at the others and made a decision.
‘I’ll go and see…’
‘You are not going there alone! What if it’s full of mad men?’ said Jeanie.
‘I thought I was in charge?’ I said testily.
‘You are, but you are only in charge if you stay sensible. Two of us should go, and as you are the only driver, I’m one of them.’
‘I’ll go too,’ said Sarah.’
‘I’m bigger than you,’ argued Eve.
‘What about me…’
‘QUIET!’ I shouted rather shrilly.
They all looked at me in surprise.
‘Right, I’m going, no argument. Jeanie you are second in charge so you take over if something happens. Eve, want to come?’
‘Okay,’ she said brightly, although she wasn’t very good at hiding the fact that she was as scared as me.
Before we had any more arguments, I went back to the bus, picked out two guns and handed one to Eve.
‘I don’t know how to use this,’ she said.
‘Nor do I, but you just pull the trigger I think. We could scare them to death I suppose?’
She looked doubtful but didn’t argue. Ben wanted to come, and was rather vocal about it. It might have been something to with the cat he saw a few moments before, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
‘Stay here boy, and look after the others.’
He wagged his tail; maybe he understood.
Eve and I went to leave the bus again,
The others were just standing about and Jeanie looked very unhappy so I went over to her and gave her a hug.
‘Please do as I say.’ I whispered in her ear. ‘Put everyone back on the bus and start it. You can drive it if you have to. I managed and we are the same size. Start the engine and if we don’t come out or give you a signal after a few minutes, go back down the lane and wait for a while. Try not to show the others how scared you are.’
She pulled away, her eyes glistening.
‘Why won’t you let me go?’
‘Because you are needed here, and I can’t tell you or the others to do things like this and just wait about. Look I have to go.’
I went over to Eve as the others were herded back into the bus.
We approached the house through a gate, and a short path that led up to a solid looking wooden door.
I knocked on the door and waited. There was no reply. I knocked again, still there was no reply. I was just about to knock louder when I heard a noise. It was the sound of a bolt being pushed back.
Looking at Eve, we both raised our guns.
The door finally creaked open and there stood a man of about my father’s age. He was wheezing and looked a bit ill.
‘Aye?’ he said looking at us but ignoring the guns which we had lowered.
‘Sorry,’ I said,’ we need to get across to the other side. Can we go on the ferry?’
He looked at us both, sniffed and then said, ‘Ye best come in lassies.’
We followed him into the lodge and he led us to a sitting room.
‘Sit ye doon.’
We sat opposite him on the sofa. The place had a musty smell, as if the doors and windows were normally kept shut. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we were carrying guns. He must have realised the strange times that we were living in.
‘Are you alone?’ I asked looking at him as he stiffly sat in an arm chair. I noticed that he had an oxygen cylinder by the chair, and wondered if this was why he was still alive.
‘Aye, there’s no one here but me now. My wife, Hamish and Malcolm have gone.’
‘Gone? asked Eve.
‘Aye, they went tae Glasgow and havna come back.’
‘Were they your family?’ I asked gently.
‘They are. That’s the photograph on the mantelpiece.’
We glanced over and we saw in the photograph, the man sitting in front of us, together with a pretty lady and two children about our age. They all looked very happy.
‘Excuse me a minute,’ said Eve as she looked at me significantly, got up and left the room. She was obviously telling the others that we were safe.
‘Do you operate the ferry?’ I asked.
‘That I do, with Ronald and Daniel. They are no’ here, onymair either.’
‘Where are they now?’ I asked.
He looked at me with a puzzled expression.
‘Out back wi’ the others.’
‘Aye; I couldnae leave them ootside, it isnae Christian.’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
He looked at me sadly and then stood up.
‘Come away and I’ll show ye,’
He went out of the door and through another into the kitchen. Wheezing still, he opened the back door and walked outside. I followed him out and stopped dead.
There were several mounds of fresh earth in the garden. It didn’t take much intelligence to know what or who had been buried there.
He sighed and then looked at me.
‘All those poor people, just waiting for the ferry and just died. I was poorly, and the boys were going to take the ferry across themselves. I was in the sitting room and then my chest felt bad. I had oxygen for my bad chest and I put ma mask on. I didna know that the fog was bad then. Ma breathing got worse and then the fog came in and I didna remember any more ‘til a wee while later. My chest felt better then although I had such a headache that I never had since new year’s day efter havin’ wee a dram or two too mony. I went outside and there they all were–deid.
‘I must ha’ lost my mind for a wee while ’coz it wisnae until th’evening that I was weel enough tae dae ma duty by them. The phone was dead. There was no radio; even short wave was just static. I knew in ma bones that the fog had caused all this, and we were all in big trouble. I saw several bodies floating doon the watter then, so I knew also that it was something that was widespread. I feared for my wife and bairns then. To keep ma mind off the awful thoughts, I made myself busy. I didna think that I would be helped by anybody so I took the decision to lay them ta rest until things could be sorted out. I didna want the animals getting at them. I got the old trailer we used to hump cases and one by one, I took them out back and buried them, saying the Lord’s Prayer for each and every one of them. The bairns were the worst, sae young an’ sae tragic––’
Eve had joined us a few minutes before and she was crying, as was I, at the tale the man told. He was so dignified and quiet in his speech, but I could tell by the way his voice cracked that he was badly cut up, and not knowing what had happened to his wife and children had been awful and was tormenting him.
I wished that I had words of comfort, but I didn’t know what to say. I had to focus my efforts at saving our small group.
‘I…is the ferry working?’ I asked.
He looked at me and seemed to shake himself from his reverie.
‘Aye, it is but Ronald and Daniel are laying here with the rest of the poor souls and I canna do it by ma’ sel’.’
‘Could we help?’ asked Eve.
He laughed at that.
‘You are no but wee lassies. What can ye dae?’
‘We’ve survived being killed several times,’ I said, feeling a bit annoyed that he was dismissing us, just because we were girls. ‘And there are more of us in the bus.’
He looked at us as if he was seeing us for the first time. He thought for a moment and nodded.
‘Aye, sorry lass, I didna mean tae be impolite. It’s hard work mind. Ye have tae stoke the boiler and keep the wee beastie fed tae get us across. Are y’up tae it?’
I looked at his kindly, worn face, older than it should be from everything that he had seen and done. He must have known that his family were all dead. If not then, they would surely have returned by now. That was the thing about us Scots; we get on with things no matter what.
‘Aye, we’re up to it’ I said firmly.
He smiled then and the years lifted.
‘Well done, lassie.’
We followed Mr MacTavish out of the lodge. The bus was where I had left it and the others were inside, peering out of the windows.
‘You come with me lassie,’ he said to Eve.
‘I’ll get the bus sorted out and drive up to the ferry.’ I said.
He just nodded and led Eve off to the ferry while I went back to the bus.
In a few short words, I explained to the others what we were going to do.
‘Very well, everybody,’ said Jeanie, all businesslike.’ We are not going to do dirty jobs in these nice clothes. We’ll wear some older work clothes that I kept back.’
‘Trust Jeanie to think about the practicalities’, I thought as she rummaged through boxes and cases, pulling out clothes as she went. Looking down at myself I agreed that it would be a shame to ruin these pretty clothes.
I smiled ruefully at that thought. I was getting more girl-like by the minute. As a boy, it was second nature not to worry about looking after my clothes. I had lost count of the times Mum had told me off when I was younger for rolling about in the dirt in decent clothes and not caring how dirty I got!
We all quickly changed into old skirts and tops and then Eve ran up.
‘Mr MacTavish says that we can get the bus on the ferry now,’ she said breathlessly.
‘Right,’ I said getting into the driver’s seat and firing up Bessie.
I could hear a bit of commotion in the back as Eve, still a bit of a boy at heart, protested that she didn’t really need to change her clothes. Judging by Jeanie’s no nonsense attitude, Eve was losing the argument.
Mr MacTavish was standing on the ferry’s car deck, gesturing me forward.
‘All sit down please,’ I called back.
‘Which way round does this skirt go?’ Eve asked, her voice starting to get all whiny.
I grinned and then just slowly eased Bessie forward until I reached the ramp.
Mr MacTavish motioned me forward and I drove up the ramp in first gear, very slowly. Luckily, there were no other vehicles on board, so there was plenty of room. The bus crawled on, following him until he gestured for me to stop and cut the engine. I left the bus in gear and the handbrake firmly on.
We all piled out, except Julie, who said that she would look after young Arthur. Julie had a real rapport with the baby and I thought that she would make a great mother–she was a real natural.
‘Aw richt,’ said Mr MacTavish, ‘I’ll show ye the engine room.’
We followed him down some metal steps and found ourselves in the hot engine room. Over to the side through a hatch, was a huge pile of coal. He gave us each a shovel and opened a steel door that was the opening to the furnace. I thought at it was hot in their before, but it was boiling when he opened that door. The furnace had obviously been fired up already, so he hadn’t wasted any time.
‘Richt, lassies, I want ye tae put as much coal as ye can in there and don’t stop ‘til I tell ye. Can ye dae that?’
We all nodded.
‘Fine, I’m going up top tae get things prepared. There’s a gauge on the bridge which’ll tell me when we have a full head a steam. I’ll let ye know when ye can stop.’
He left us then and we spat on our hands–I saw someone doing that when I was at the pictures once; he was stoking a steam train boiler, so it was the same principal. Then we got down to it.
It had lost its novelty after the tenth shovelful. By the fifteenth we were all struggling. I was sure that I would have been much stronger than this as a boy!
It seemed like an age afterwards, when Mr MacTavish came down and looked at us. We stopped and looked at him. We were all breathing hard were a bit sweaty after our exertions and were glad to put the shovels down.
‘Whit a lot o’ puir wee lassies you look. Hard wurruk isnae it? Shame you have dirty clothes. Right, come away now. We have enough of a head to get us across.’ He was wheezing quite a bit and I wondered if he was going to be all right.
We went up on deck and I immediately noticed, as I think the others did that the air was quite still. Our breathing was still laboured, and I had a tightening in my chest. Looking at Jeanie, I could see that she was worried.
‘The fog,’ we said together.
Mr MacTavish looked at us sharply.
‘Aye, I saw a green tinge in thon sky aboot ten minutes ago. It’s gone now. It must be heading oot tae sea. Richt, I’m aboot tae get her goin’.’
I looked over to the left and could see no sign of the fog and my breathing was becoming easier by the moment. I sighed. At least that was one thing that we didn’t have to worry about now.
Nicola went back to the bus where Julie and Arthur still were. She decided to keep them company while the rest of us followed Mr MacTavish, who showed us how to free the chain, before closed the two gates which were there to stop cars from falling off into the water. Jeanie and I were asked to stand by to “Let go aft”.
Mr MacTavish was on the bridge looking out of the side window.
‘Let the chain go free now,’ he sang out and that’s just what we did.
Immediately the engines began to hiss and puff and the clanking of the heavy chains moving assaulted our ears. We were creeping forward, across the great River Clyde!
We all climbed up on the top deck at the side and stared out over the water. It wasn’t very wide here; to our right–or starboard side, as Mr MacTavish called it–was Clydebank and beyond, the sprawling city of Glasgow. I was pleased that we would not have to go through there, but was very aware that our journey was much longer now that we had to get to Dunoon by road. I wondered when we would actually get there. I hoped by tomorrow, if all went well.
My nose wrinkled as I was aware of the smell of coal dust on my body and hair. It was a good job the Jeanie insisted that we changed out of our decent clothes. I couldn’t wait to have a bath.
We were about a quarter of the way across now and I felt the gentle sea breezes against my clothes and hair. The others had gone back into the bus and I looked up at the bridge where Mr MacTavish was standing, pipe in mouth, gazing ahead.
He was a nice man and I hoped that his family was still alive, but thought it highly unlikely.
The sky was cloudy, but with lots of blue. It was a nice day now and nothing like as cold as before. I coughed; the coal dust had affected my chest a bit. Asthma and coal dust did not mix very well.
Then I felt my chest tighten again. Looking up, there were a few birds heading up river towards Glasgow.
Glancing over to the left, my heart did a skip and a jump and I gasped as I saw what no one else had; the green tinge on the horizon that was getting thicker and more dense by the moment!
I shouted up to the bridge and pointed.
Mr MacTavish looked where I had pointed and his pipe fell out of his mouth.
‘Warn the others’, he shouted as the sound of the engines rose and the chain clanked faster.
I ran to the bus and climbed on board.
‘The fog,’ I gasped, ‘its coming, get the oxygen tanks out.’
I noticed the others looking bewildered. They were all breathing heavily.
‘Come on, get a move on before it’s too late!’
The others started getting themselves organised.
Looking out of the bus window, I could see the fog bank rising and getting closer by the minute.
‘Jeanie, I’m going to see Mr MacTavish.’
‘You haven’t got time!’
‘I have to. Stay here everyone.’
I didn’t stop to argue any more, I got off the bus and ran as fast as I could with my heavy chest and went up the metal steps to the bridge.
Mr MacTavish was leaning heavily against the bulkhead, his shaking left hand resting on a lever.
The green fog wasn’t far off now and I had that awful dread feeling washing over me.
‘Mr MacTavish you have to come. Shut off the engines or something. We have oxygen in the bus.’
I had one eye on him and another on the fog–green and pulsing, ready to kill us, given the opportunity.
‘I’ll not leave. I canna shut everything doon. Yous go back tae the bus and make yesel’ safe. I’ll stay here.’
He looked at me,
‘I can.’ He took a deep breath and continued, his voice rasping with the effort. ‘I want tae stay here. I can help ye. I just want it tae end. I want tae join ma family, do ye no unnerstand?’
I looked at him and did understand. Nothing I would say would move him. I went over and hugged him. Then I kissed his bristly cheek.
‘Thank you.’ I said.
‘Nay, lassie, thank you. Now go and look after you and yourn.’
I hesitated for a moment and with a moan of anguish, I left him. I glanced back at him as I left the bridge. He had picked up his pipe and his face now had an almost serene look about it.
I ran down the stairs and over to the bus. The fog wasn’t more than fifty yards away now, a huge green throbbing mass, coming ever closer. My legs suddenly felt like they were wading through treacle and I had the strange compunction to turn and wait for the fog to reach me, despite my terror.
I was vaguely aware of how cold it was now, as if the fog had sucked the heat away. I was feeling a bit faint and just wanted to lie down and die, there and then. My eyes took in the fact that we were still about a hundred yards from the shore, but my brain didn’t seem to register the extreme danger. The noise from the engine and the clanking of the chain was terrific. I could feel the throb, throb radiating through the deck.
I hit my knee on a railing and the pain brought me back to my senses.
We were only sixty yards from the bank now. We had been in this situation before with the fog, but not on a ship going full steam ahead towards the opposite bank.
Staring up at the bridge I noticed that Mr MacTavish had disappeared from view. I wondered if he had collapsed.
I had no more time to think. With great difficulty, I climbed aboard the bus. Everyone was ready for the fog, looking wide-eyed with the terror of the moment. I sat next to Nicola and swiftly put on the mask. The cold oxygen rasped in my throat but gave me some relief from the pain and heaviness. Then I gradually began to relax, accepting that I might die. It didn’t seem too bad. I would join my friends who had died and would be at peace. The others started slumping over, Ben being the first and then Nicola next to me. I looked disinterestedly at the fog now coming through the vents doors and windows making everything look green.
I gazed out of the windscreen and saw the northern slipway up ahead coming closer and closer. We hadn’t slowed down and didn’t look as if we would. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered now. I just wanted to sleep––
–But I didn’t sleep. The others were dead to the world, but I was still awake. I glanced at my bare knee and noticed that I had gashed it quite badly and it was bleeding.
The noise was deafening. There was no reduction in the volume as we approached the bank. The green fog swirled about me, invading, clinging, making me want to tear my mask off and end it all.
I couldn’t see much, but out of the window, I could see the north bank of the river fast approaching with nothing to stop us crashing into it––
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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