Everything is going in slow motion as I plummet to the ground a helpless prisoner of gravity, having already done all I could do. I jumped off a roof trying to land on the moving jeep my family and friends are in, but I went off too late, and by my calculations, I’m going to miss it. There is a humongous mutated baboon (We call them Scroungers) that’s on their tail, and it will probably tear me to bits as soon as I hit the ground. There is even a little Beethoven playing in the background of my brain. That’s how classic this moment is. But my sister Lauryn does something that pretty much saves my life. She slows down the Jeep just enough, and my dad barely catches me before we both fall into the bed of the Wrangler.
“Drive, drive, drive!” Carrie Lynne shouts. I may have made it, but Lauryn slowing the car down has given the Scrounger an opportunity to catch up. It jumps to us, holds onto the tailgate and finds a foothold on the rear bumper, and I can just feel the way we slow down and the suspension drops with all the added weight. This thing is a monstrous freak of nature.
“Get down!” Uncle Otto screams at my dad and me and begins to fire everything he’s got at it. I just don’t get these things. It’s like they are impervious to bullets. I can see it being hit, and it is taken back a little each time, but the rounds just don’t do enough damage to what looks like iron hide skin it has canvassing its body.
“That’s it, take the wheel!” Lauryn shouts at Carrie Lynne’s mom, who is in the front with her, and picks up her rifle. “Get down!”
She shoots at the tailgate latches, one after another, and when the second one is blown off, the tailgate swings open, causing the Scrounger to lose grip and fall back onto the road. “Yeah, baby!” She shouts as she takes back the wheel, and pushes the pedal to the floor. We’re all cheering now like our national team just won a soccer match. Which I hear, like, never used to happen. That was way too close.
Our celebrations are short lived. Not only do my ears feel like they won’t be hearing anything in the morning from all the shooting that’s been going on, but the Scrounger is soon back on its feet and back on our six as well. And now, it’s joined by two of the smaller Scroungers that were in the house. The good news is that the third one that Uncle Otto shot in the eyes is still down, so that confirms my theory about their eyes being a weak spot. The only problem is that they might know that as well. Those sneaky devils won’t run straight long enough for anyone to take a good aim, and we soon find ourselves just wasting ammunition. We are approaching Roxanne’s house, where the rest of the family is waiting, and I see now that to an extent, Uncle Otto was right. We can’t just go back there because that would just endanger everyone else. Lauryn has this in thought and so she just speeds by the place. We have to find a way to lose them permanently, or never again go back home.
My dad isn’t doing one hundred because he cushioned most of the impact from my fall. Uncle Otto gets the ax that my dad had and prepares to launch it.
“Wait! What if you miss?” Lauryn asks.
“I never miss.” And surely enough, he doesn’t. The ax flies steady and true, lodging itself right into the skull of one of the smaller Scroungers with a crushing sound. I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be any trouble now. There are two more left, and I really don’t know what kind of stamina they must have to still be chasing us up to now. I have to keep reminding myself that they are mutants.
“Lauryn, still got that sharpshooting of yours?” I ask. I’ve just had an idea come to me as I remember her perfect scores when we used to go skeet shooting.
“What are you thinking?” She asks.
“You may not like it: it involves one of the jerry cans.” That was all I needed to say. Everyone knows what plan I’m brewing after that. “Doctor Dlamini, think you can take the wheel again?”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, kiddo,” my dad says.
“Don’t worry, I got this.” I grab a jerry can from one of the side mounts as Lauryn joins me in the bed. “With any luck, those overgrown primates will pick it because of their curious nature, and that’s when you shoot, okay? If they don’t pick it up, then blow it as soon as they get close enough.”
I throw the bright red jerry can off, just hoping that it works out. That’s a lot of spare fuel to be using at once, but if it saves our lives, then every drop will be worth it. As I hoped, the biggest Scrounger takes the bait and picks it up, and with one shot, Lauryn turns it into an orange and mustard yellow ball of fire. The explosion is leagues away from the ones that incinerated the western world and reduced it to ash and ruin, but for two indefatigable mutant baboons, I think it will do. It’s another three-point conversion moment until we see what lies in the aftermath of the explosion. The smaller one is taken out immediately, but the large one is still rolling on the floor in flames. It’s just not going to stop for anything.
“Turn it around, now!” Lauryn shouts.
“I hope you don’t want me to run it over?” Carrie Lynne’s mom asks.
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do.” It is going to be by far the biggest road kill I’ve seen. Carrie Lynne’s mom speeds up as we approach it and I can’t help but close my eyes and hold onto one of the roll bars before the impact.
“Oooooooooo…….OOOOoooooooh!!!” Everyone says that at just about the same time, and I almost lose my balance as we run over the Scrounger. Forget speed humps – it’s like going over a full grown bull. When I open my eyes and look back, I see that it’s not moving. Ten, twenty seconds, two minutes later and it’s still lying stock-still. This time, the celebrations can last. We’ve finally done it. I look at all the exhausted and worn out, but also joyful and jubilant faces in the Jeep, and then I look at Lauryn and give her a hug. I don’t know what we would have done without her, but we finally made it. All together. We can go back home now.
We make a quick stop on our way back when we pass the Scrounger that still has an ax in its skull. “I’ll be needing this back,” is all my dad says as he claims his weapon and comes back into the Wrangler. Yeah, we stopped four today, but that doesn’t even begin to make a difference on the numbers still out there. Best we stay ready to defend ourselves again.
Roxanne’s leg still needs attention, but my oldest sister Michelle has been excellent with that kind of stuff since all the trouble here started. What can I say? She was a resident at the Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town for a year before the city became unsafe and she left to come back home. It just happened to be timely timing. I insist on lifting Roxanne back to the basement because you know what? I’m feeling like a hero today. Uncle Otto did say it was about time for me to step up, and I ended up being part of a successful rescue mission. How about that for stepping up.
Another thing I get excited about is Carrie Lynne’s mom’s Wi-Fi connection. Sure, it’s not as fun because no one has been making movies, shows or music to download, no one is on social media uploading funny videos or memes and GIFs, there are no sports going on, and the ‘cons of having internet in post war times’ list actually continues, but still, I’m anxious to see what’s out there. While Roxanne is getting her leg treated, Carrie Lynne’s mom explains to us what’s been going on in her world since the Scroungers first attacked last month.
Okay, so Carrie Lynne’s mom is actually like a biomedical scientist, and with her colleagues, she has been looking for a way to reverse the effects of the radiation poisoning in the animals. She had a secure facility at her place, and that’s where she and Carrie Lynne have been for the last month. Up until that Scrounger found them and pounded their haven like a tin can until it opened. She shows us her notebook once she is connected, and we are able to get a glimpse into what’s been happening in the rest of the world in bits and pieces. All I can say is, they have to speed up their research, because if we can stop the animals from getting worse, then maybe there is hope for Africa. As for the rest of the world, I’m not so sure. I see pictures of New York, Hong Kong, Cairo, Paris, London, even Sydney, Rio and Buenos Aires. The pattern is the same everywhere you go. The cities that were once images of prosperity and progress now lie in gray, dusty ruins. There is nothing left.
“I’m…..I’m lost for words,” Michelle says after the videos are done playing. No one else comments any further. We had been planning our next move just this morning, and gosh it feels like such a long time ago now. We were brainstorming on where to go, but there is nowhere to go. We know better now.
Later at night, I go to check on Roxanne to see how she is doing. Michelle did a great job, and her leg is all stitched and cleaned now. “How are you holding up?” I ask as I sit down next to her.
“I won’t be doing any water polo or gym class for the next few weeks, but it’s okay.” We giggle in silence because half of the camp has fallen asleep and we don’t want to disturb them. “Bradley, about today, I can’t thank you enough for everything. It means a lot to have my best friend with me, and I just want to thank you for having my back.” She gives me a kiss on the cheek and I give an awkward sounding giggle before saying, “You’re welcome.” It may be over for us all soon, but at least I had this moment here.
Roxanne and I continue chatting silently until we both doze off, her head resting on my shoulder, as we try to put this day behind us. A few hours into my sleep, I hear something that startles me and gets my heart from zero to sixty in two seconds. I’m almost afraid to open my eyes, but then I think, what if I am dreaming? I better make sure.
The lamp goes on.
It’s only Uncle Otto.
“It’s getting stuffy in here,” he says, goes up the staircase and sits down next to the small opening we left for air circulation. There is a considerable head count now down in this basement, but any offense to our newest additions is inadvertent. Uncle Otto did a lot too to ensure that we made it back safe, and I don’t think it was out of obligation.
“Uncle Otto? Thank you. For saving us on the roof, and for everything else,” I say.
“Don’t mention it. As you said, it’s what Pauline and Cleo would have wanted me to do. You were brave out there, kid. I’m proud of you. You’re finally becoming a man.” He gives me a wink and closes his eyes smiling, covering his head with his straw hat. No doubt he’ll have sweet dreams about his family tonight. Pauline, his wife, left with their daughter Cleo to see her mother in Oregon a few weeks before the war started, pretty much out of nowhere. We haven’t heard from them since. One can only assume the worst, but he never lost hope that somehow, they survived. And because of that, we all hope for the best too.
I turn to Roxanne, still fast asleep, and cover her with the blanket that’s fallen off a little. Her silky golden hair is a bit of a mess, but to me, she’s never looked more beautiful than she does now. She looks like she’s finally at peace. I close my eyes with no doubt that I’ll have sweet dreams about her too. Unfortunately, I don’t get too far. Just when I reach the gates of dreamland, I get an urgent call back.
When Uncle Otto woke me, it was just a little movement that did it. But this time, the breaking glass and falling furniture is more than enough to wake everyone up, and without hesitation, I’m on my feet. My face goes pale with horror when I see what caused it.
The Godzilla Scrounger is still alive: it has stuck its seared arm in through the now enlarged opening Uncle Otto was sitting next to and is pulling him out through it.