Changing a blown tire on a burning black bitumen road in abandoned outback town was not high on Tim’s list of “shit I want to get done today”.
Okay, so he might have been speeding. But it wasn’t as if he was expecting anyone else to come along and run straight out in front his car. End of the world and all that. These people were supposed to be dead.
Still, as he swiped sweat from his face and wrenched the last nut into place, he supposed he had to go find the little twerp.
Rules being rules, he couldn’t exactly leave her alone out in the middle of whoop whoop.
He sat back and tried to wipe some of the grease layering his hands onto his shorts. He glanced around, dark eyes flickering amongst the scant few buildings between sunburnt trees and brown grass.
A few stray kangaroos were poking their heads out from behind trees and overgrown lawn bushes, curious now that the noise had died down.
Two weeks ago, in another similarly abandoned town, Tim had almost copped it from a big Red when he’d accidentally stepped into it’s territory looking for blankets. All six foot and muscle, Tim had decided that particular house was worth a miss and high tailed it out of there.
He scrunched his nose and did another scan for the girl, hoping she was crouched behind a bin or a rusting car rather than inside one of the buildings where God knows what lurked.
He shuddered. From kangaroos to snakes to (just once in a place that had been recently flooded) a crocodile, there was no telling what you’d find in places these days.
Aside from all the bodies, of course. But that was to be expected.
Tim sighed and pushed himself to his feet. Time to go and find the brat.
He picked one of two open store fronts and stomped across the baking street towards the shattered display.
Tim stepped through the broken glass door frame, glancing up to see a small life-less bell gathering dust. Reaching up one grease stained hand, he gave the bell a small tap, announcing his presence to the kid with a jangle.
He smirked, revelling in a sound that had once been so normal; yet now was out of place in this new world he lived. Bittersweet melancholy attempted to coil it’s way through his abdomen but Tim brushed it off with a shrug.
It was too hot melancholy.
‘God, I’d kill for an ice-cream,’ he muttered as his eyes adjusted to the dark.
From the back corner of overturned tables and piled up cushions—a rudimentary fort at best—came a small, curious voice.
‘You have ice-cream?’
Tim paused, smirked and rolled his eyes. Didn’t kids know you don’t trust strangers with candy?
‘Nope,’ he said, dragging a chair upright and slouching down. ‘Do you?’
A scraggly blonde head poked up out of the fort.
‘Does it look like I have ice-cream?’ she said.
Tim raised his eyebrows. Smart mouth. He could respect that. After all, she was alive wasn’t she?
Even disregarding the plague (surviving that was more luck than anything), she’d managed to go it alone for…how long had it been? Six months at least.
‘Doesn’t look like you got shit,’ Tim said, deciding to fight sarcasm with sarcasm.
It was what he was good at, anyway.
‘So,’ he said, when she didn’t reply. ‘Do you regularly run out in front speeding cars? Good way to get yourself killed.’
‘There ain’t no cars round here. They’re all gone.’
‘It will be,’ she said. ‘Everyone goes eventually.’
Tim tilted his head, regarding the girl who’d yet to reveal more than half her face from the confines of the fort.
‘You mean they die?’
Tim shrugged. ‘I’m not gonna die.’
‘Yes you are. We both will.’
Tim crossed his arms and leaned back. ‘How long you been here?’
‘Forever. I grew up here.’
’No, I mean, how long you been alone?’
She was quiet a moment. ‘Long time. Days and days.’
‘Right, well, you ain’t dead yet. So that probably means you ain’t gonna die. At least, not from the plague.’
‘Yeah, that’s what killed everyone.’
She blinked at him. ‘I have the plague.’
‘Somehow I doubt that.’
‘I do,’ she said. ‘But if you don’t, you should go. You don’t want to die here.’
Tim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at her hard.
‘Look, kid. If you had the plague, you’d be long dead by now.’
‘I’m bleeding. I’m gonna die. You better get out of here.’
With that, she ducked back down into her pathetic little fort and out of view. Tim gaped, nonplussed. What the hell?
He supposed, she had been alone. Being a little weird wasn’t totally uncalled for. But gees, talk about depressing.
Tim rolled his eyes and stood up.
‘Don’t come no closer,’ she called, her voice small and beginning to crack.
Tim made a face. ‘You said you were bleeding. You probably just cut yourself. I can help.’
‘I didn’t. I’m dying. Go away. You’ll get sick too. Just like everyone else.’
‘I will not,’ Tim snapped. ‘I can’t get sick. I’m…immune.’
A long pause. ‘What’s that?’
‘Means I can’t get sick. Now, let me see where you’re bleeding.’
Tim leaned over the fort and pulled back the moth-eaten rug that covered the top. The girl squawked and ducked her head, covering her face with her hands and burying herself in a pillow.
Tim narrowed his eyes. ‘I don’t see any blood,’ he said and reached in to lift the matted tangle of mousy blonde hair.
No blood by her ears or mouth, and he already knew her eyes were fine. No tell-tale black veins. In the clear then. Whatever reason she thought she was dying, it wasn’t the plague.
‘Alright, where’d you cut yourself? Come on I don’t have all day.’
‘I didn’t!’ she cried, her voice muffled and hollow pressed into the pillow. ‘Just leave me. I’m dying.’
‘For the love of…’ Tim muttered.
He leaned down again, grabbed her by the arm and hauled her—she was surprisingly heavy for such a scrawny kid—up onto her feet. She squawked again. Like the cockatoos in the morning fighting over some meal or other.
With a fierce glare, she kicked out at him and with that motion, seeing her fully for the first time, Tim discovered the problem.
‘Ah shit,’ he muttered and dropped her.
She landed on her feet, lost her balance and fell on her arse. An arse that was covered in a pair of old, dirty, loose blue jeans. Blue jeans that had a very, distinct, unavoidably obvious patch of red.
Tim sighed. He looked up at the ceiling. He waited for the earth to open up and swallow him whole.
Nothing happened. Instead, the girl, her anger draining away into nothing, burst into tears.
‘You’re not dying,’ he said flatly, still looking up at the ceiling. ‘You’re just…a girl.’
‘I’m bleeding!’ she sobbed.
‘Yep,’ said Tim. ‘I see that.’
‘So I’m dying, just go away already before you catch it too.’
Tim rolled his eyes and looked back down at her. ‘I can’t catch…that. I’m a boy. It doesn’t work that way. Look, how old are you? Didn’t anyone ever tell you about…that.’
‘About…what?’ she sniffled, swiping at her eyes with grubby hands.
‘About…well…women’s things. You know. That. Bleeding…and stuff. Ugh, this sucks. Look, you’re a girl, right? And…well, when girls hit, well, about your age I guess, they start to…uh, become a women?’
She sniffled again. ‘Why are you asking me? I don’t know!’
Tim groaned. ‘I’m not asking, I just…I don’t know how to explain. This isn’t exactly my area of expertise you know. I generally avoid conversations about…this.’
‘But…but what is this? I’m…I’m not dying? Really?’
‘No. Might seem like it, might feel like it sometimes too. From what I gather, anyway. I wouldn’t know. Like I said, it only happens to girls.’
‘Because you’re a girl.’
‘Well…because girl’s give birth. And this is how.’
‘I’m gonna have a baby?’ she shrieked.
‘No! No, no that’s not what I meant. I just meant, this is your bodies way of, I dunno getting ready for that stuff. Look, if you come with me, I can help, okay? I can find you some new clothes and a place to get cleaned up and someone who can actually explain this shit to you better than me. But all you really need to know is that, for the next forty or so years, once a month, you’re gonna turn into a raging, moody, hormonal mess. And that means bleeding a bit. It sucks, but that’s just the way it is.’
‘But I’m not dying?’
Tim nodded. ‘Yep.’
‘This is gonna keep happening?’
‘For a few days. It’ll go away. Then in a month it’ll happen again.’
‘Oh,’ she frowned, fingers picking at the ragged blanket Tim had knocked aside. ‘That does suck.
‘You don’t even know the worst part yet,’ said Tim, a slow grin working onto his face.
‘Yep. It’s the end of the world. No more chocolate.’