We realised help wasn’t coming after around three weeks had passed. One of the men had managed to get a small radio working. All was static. There seemed to be no life beyond our village. The man from number 52 said we should probably try to move south, so some of us gathered up as much food as we could without leaving those who stayed to await rescue with too little.
Six of us trudged through the ruined, black, white and grey landscape. Our silent guides were the road-signs. Lanarkshire was South, but the man said we would be better heading west and moving down the coast through towns because the border country would be too exposed. I was the youngest. None of my friends seemed to have survived. I couldn’t really understand what had happened. It had seemed like the end of everything; fire, explosions; death.
Our summer had suddenly gone from bright skies, green grass, adventure, to pain, crying and grey death. We should make towards Kilmarnock – no further north, because of the nuclear base and nuclear power station that the man thought must have been the cause of the death of this part of the world. I had my theory.
The journey through Glasgow was hard. Roads were blocked by mountains of brick and concrete that used to be buildings. People moved through the rubble either as animals or as walking dead. No-one looked like city people as I had remembered them. They were all dirty, like us, with open sores, like us and wore layers of unsuitable clothing, like us. Some joined us, bringing with them more supplies. Some tried to beg from us. Some tried to steal, but we were now twenty or more strong. All of us relying on the man from number 52 to save us.
We sheltered in a couple of the big houses in Pollokshaws for a few nights, making sure everyone was dressed properly for the coming walk through the hills beyond the city. I remember then, lying in the windowless, dark room, the dead and burned faces of my parents and sister came into my thoughts for the first time since the man from number 52 had dug me out of what had been our kitchen. He had heard me sobbing as he had been scrambling looking for survivors and food.
“Come,” he had said, “we have food and shelter.” I had been lying amongst the bricks for days, he had said. It hadn’t seemed like days. He pulled me on to his back and we walked over the mound that had once been my home. He – and others - had been digging in different places, and I suppose at the beginning of all of this, the survivors had thought they had an obligation to the dead. My mum, dad and sister had been pulled from the wreckage before me and were lined up, in the midst of other dead, beside a huge hole that the survivors from our road had dug while they waited for a rescue that never came. They were recognisable from the remnants of the clothing they had been wearing that wonderful end of summer afternoon. The afternoon when the sun shone so beautifully and I had thought, too brightly and until I met her, the angel, I had blamed for the burnt earth. My theory.
I sobbed as my family were lowered into the hole and covered with sheeting and then soil. All I had thought was the world had been enclosed and I was left in this ashen, unloving world. “When we are rescued, we will make sure they get a proper funeral,” he had said. I clasped his hand. In my new birth, from bricks and ash, I had imprinted him as my new parent.
No-one knew what had happened. My explanation of the sun getting bigger was as good as anyone else’s guess. No news came from outside. We linked with other groups and in the beginning they all decided to try to pool resources. But as time went on, resources started to run out and people began to disagree about what to do with them. How to share. Some people said they were going to move on – walk (because the roads were so rubble strewn, cars nor trucks could pass) to Glasgow, or Edinburgh. Our group decided that the strongest would go and try to send back help. I asked to go. Some people said no, I was too young. Some said I would end up being carried and would be a drain on the rest of the group. The man from number 52 said he didn’t mind and would carry me if I got tired.
We reached the outskirts of the city. The destroyed houses and buildings were far back enough for the road to be clear, and some people managed to get vehicles moving. We were too many. A bus would have been ideal, but we found none outside the city that were not burned. As we walked through the black, dead hills, the obligations to the dead we didn’t know became less. Twisted, contorted skeletons with charred flesh stretched over parts of them littered the motorway inside burned cars and lorries, or frozen in agonising death throes as they tried to escape their burning cages.
After our first night sleeping in a burned out farmyard surrounded by the bones of a blackened forest, we began to notice that the fire seemed to have been more intense on the hill as the burned, crashed shells of cars were empty even though none of the doors were opened. Had the people escaped? Or had they been completely incinerated? It was around this time that those of us who had escaped the burning, began to get the sores. The man from number 52 said, “It’s radiation from the west coast. We need to move south. “
The decision was made to take a small road through a town called “Moscow” and move south rather than our previously intended west. The man explained to me that the submarines and nuclear power plant on the west coast must have exploded and we were suffering radiation burns. He said we needed to get as far south as possible and people would come and give us medicine for the sores. I remember on our third day on the blackened Glen, it began to rain. It was so soothing! One man took off his shirt and stood with arms outstretched and mouth open, trying to absorb as much of the life giver as possible. The man from 52 ran towards him taking his coat off as he went and wrapped it around him, dragging him to the ground. “It’s poisoned,” he told us. “It will kill us. We need to shelter from the rain.”
Some of us had plastic sheeting underwhich we sat; others had long coats and we tried as best we could to knit all of our coverings together to keep the group together. The few children were kept in the middle of the huddle, then the women and then the men surrounded the group (though some women insisted they were treated no better than the men). The rain fell for what seemed like an eternity. The diffuse light came and went a few times. I guess we were there, in our huddle, telling stories, talking about our hopes and sobbing about our lost world for at least three days. The man from number 52 said this was not good as our supplies were going down. We needed a way to ensure supplies were fairly given out. Some people didn’t like this… they had struggled to find the stuff they carried. Some people had brought nothing but a mouth to the group, some said. The man, and a few others, said they were going to pool their resources and asked others who would like to join? Most said they would. The man said that those who had nothing could join our group. I remember only about five people saying they would have nothing to do with this idea and they decided to walk on on their own, “without the drag of so many people, we’ll find help and send it back…” They took a plastic sheet and we never saw them again.
When the rain stopped we packed up our things and started to move off. Some people began to get sick, and I remember feeling ill, but the man told me to keep going as far as I could and he would start carrying me when I felt really sick. He only had to carry me a few times. I wanted to be part of the group. I wanted to be as strong as him.
I remember stopping for food that day. Some people said they were too ill to go on. I remember some said it might be an idea for the fitter group to go on and then send help back. I remember we left food and water that should last around five days for them. I remember looking back and seeing men, women and children, all with sores covering their faces, sitting, staring through sunken, dead eyes, surrounded by black and grey. From then on, with every stop, we left a group on the black powdered heather. After two days, there was only four of us, but when we stopped for food and rest, it was obvious two, a man an a woman, could not go on. The man looked at me. “Do you want to go on?” I wanted to see the sunlit world again. I wanted to see green, blue and life around me. I wanted to feel safe again. “Yes.”
When our food and water ran out, on top of a lonely, wind-blown, monochrome moor, the man said, “We will find a farm. We’ll get food.” After a day of us slowly, agonisingly moving, stopping and moving through the brittle, scorched bushes, I remember coming to a stream surrounded by tall, silhouette trees. The man looked at me, his face cracked, bleeding. I knew I must look similar. My whole body was covered in open, weeping sores. Sores that would have made me cry had I had one of them back in normal days, but I was beyond pain now. “We need to drink, boy. It may be poisoned, but I think we are already poisoned, so it doesn’t matter so much.” We both fell down at the gurgling water and I remember taking small sips that I choked up again. I must have fell asleep for a while, awoke only by the cold water as it raced over my hand. After a while I looked over to the man. He was still. I crawled over to him and pushed against him. He didn’t move. His mouth hung open and his eyes were staring, unseeing, at the living water . I closed my eyes and tried not to remember. When I opened my eyes, I thought I was in heaven. I looked around me. The landscape was green, alive. My sores had gone. I looked around for the man.
“He died. I didn’t get there in time for him.” I looked around and there stood the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She looked sad, but kind. “You and I have a lot of work to do. Are you up for it?” I had no idea what she meant, but I knew I had been rescued by an angel.