“Lizzie, wait here,” I say to my ten year old daughter. Flies swarm around her face and she holds a cotton handkerchief to her nose. We’re standing outside a stranger’s bedroom door and inside I can hear the flies. “I’ll go in.”
I take a deep breath and turn the handle. There are two corpses on the bed, but I avoid looking at them, focussing instead on the bedside tables where I find their car keys.
I grab them and exit as quickly as I can, trying to shoo the flies back into the bedroom as I close the door behind me – but it’s hopeless; they escape under the door.
Insects are excellent survivors.
We find the car in the garage.
“Fingers crossed,” I say as I climb into the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition. The engine sputters and stalls. Battery’s low. I’ve brought a spare which is outside. I’ve been siphoning fuel from cars to keep a generator running, so I can charge up spare car batteries as I need them.
We walk back down the hall then outside, where it's a lovely day in the fresh air. A good day for a drive.
“Dad, can I go check out the garden?” asks Lizzie.
“Good idea. See if they have any fruit trees that aren’t rotten with fruit fly.” I suggest. “I can manage this on my own. When I get it running I’ll beep the horn.”
I try to shield Lizzie from as much as possible. She’s too young to understand. I find it tough, but I can’t imagine her heartache, the pain and loss she must feel. How does a child cope after seeing all her friends and family die? I know how much I miss my wife, Maureen. I often think we would be better off dead.
It takes a little while to remove the old battery and put in the new one. I try the key again and this time the engine sputters to life. The fuel tank is almost full, so we can cover some distance today.
There’s a manual winder for the garage door, and soon I have it open. I put the car into reverse and beep the horn as I back out.
Lizzie comes running with two oranges. She looks happy with her prize. When she settles into the passenger seat she drops them into her bag and pulls out our map. It started as a rough crayon drawing of the neighbourhood with fruit trees and cars drawn next to houses we had visited. The area we’ve covered has grown and and it’s become more sophisticated; now it needs to be unfolded, like a proper road map.
“Wait, Dad.” She finds a pencil in her bag and colours the small rectangle this house occupies green and writes car and oranges beside it. I love the way she crinkles her nose when she writes – just like her mother.
“Let’s go back home, get some supplies and then go exploring.”
“Are we going to put your notes up at shopping centres?” she asks.
“Yep. We’ll find a country town. Might get lucky.”
It’s a big car so I can pack plenty of water, extra fuel and a spare car battery into the back along with some food for ourselves. We don’t usually need to take much food for these journeys, because when we find a shopping centre there’ll be a supermarket with plenty of canned goods.
The streets are empty. I honk the horn periodically as we drive just in case anyone can hear us. The only noise though, when we stop, is faint buzzing of insects, wind in the trees perhaps, and our own breathing. There are no birds, dogs, cats, cattle, horses or humans, apart from us. However, if we survived there must be others – somewhere.
While I drive I give Lizzie a geography lesson so she can grow up knowing something about the world as it was; and she, in turn, can pass that knowledge down to her children – when we find more survivors. She likes going to the library and picking books off the shelves – old fashioned, hard covers and paperbacks. Electronic books are useless now.
“Dad, are we like Adam and Eve in the Bible?” she asks.
“Not quite,” I say. “You might be Eve, but I’m not Adam. We need to find you an Adam, so one day, when you’re older and when your body is ready, you can have children.”
“I hope he’s nice.”
“So do I!”
“I’m a bit scared he won’t be nice.”
“Me too. I’m hoping we’ll find a few Adams for you, so you can take your pick. We’ve got plenty of time. You’re still young.”
“We might find some Eves too, and I can have a best friend.” She rummaged in her bag again and produced The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was pleased that she’d started reading it as it had been her mother’s favourite.
After reading a few pages she put the book down. “Do you remember when I was little and you used to read me fairy stories?”
“I’d dream of meeting someone like Prince Charming, but now I know that’s stupid. I like this book. Do you think I’m like Mary? Wouldn’t it be really really good if I could meet a boy like Dickon. And one day, when we both grow up we could get married and have children. I wouldn’t be scared if it was a boy like Dickon.”
Of course, she has to have her fantasies, and I’m not going to spoil them. Tears threaten and my throat tightens as I remember my own boyhood, my mates, and how important they were. My little girl is lonely and we must keep searching.
After an hour of driving we are on what used to be a freeway. There are potholes and rockfalls but I’m used to driving in these conditions. We take an off-ramp. After a few hundred metres I honk the horn and we pull over.
We both get out to pee – I go one way, she goes another – and we both listen to the silence. A breeze rustles the leaves on a tree. Or is it running water?
“Do you feel like going for a walk?” I ask, after we’ve been standing by the car listening for a few minutes.
She nods. “That way.” She points down a slight hill. “It must be a creek or something.”
“You never know what we might find.”
I believe if we explore sources of food and water, one day we just might come across other survivors like us.
The water looks good. It isn’t covered in an algal bloom like most of the waterways we’ve come across. I scoop up a sample for testing.
Then we hear it.
Lizzie jumps. “What was that?” She looks terrified.
“It might be a frog. Shh!” I hold her hand and we both stand very still, until we hear it again.
“There it is,” she whispers. “Under that clump of grass.”
We bend down and watch as it catches a fly with his quick tongue. Lizzie giggles. I doubt she’s ever seen a frog before except in storybooks.
“What should we do, Dad?”
“We’ll leave it alone.”
“D’you think it’s a boy or girl frog?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe I should kiss it and see if it turns into Prince Charming.”
We both laugh. She reaches out to touch it, but it hops away.
This little frog gives me hope. He (or she) has everything he needs: plenty of insects and water. It’s the first living thing we’ve seen in over a year, apart from insects.
In a pond nearby we find some tadpoles, and I scoop a few into one of my specimen jars – not too many, just in case I can’t establish a safe environment for them at home.
I have some yellow tape that I wrap around the area. We’ll return here, and it’ll help us find this place again. I also attach a note to a tree.
Hello fellow survivor. If you come here please let us know. We are a father and daughter, genetically resistant to the superbug that has wiped out most of life on Earth. You must be similar. Please leave a note as we’ll return. If you are mobile you’ll find us at 10 Smith Street, Haberville, our home-base. Don’t disturb the frogs.
Ten kilometres on we find a town with a small shopping centre. There are six rusting cars in the carpark. Inside the centre it’s dark. We shine torches and call out. I begin my work of placing notes to fellow survivors on store fronts. We find a supermarket, a liquor shop and a furniture store with beds.
We’ll camp overnight in the furniture store and I’ll help myself to a bottle of wine and drink a toast to a little green frog.
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