Hazel raised a hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes as she gazed at the looming smoke. “What is that? A barbecue?”
I scowled. “It’s an entire suburb burning to the ground and my mum’s there.”
She shook her head and took a few steps back. “That’s intense. Too intense for me. Running into a fire will take weeks of yoga to recover from.”
“What, and hunting Tony Abbott for sport won’t?” snapped George.
She frowned and began to retaliate, but I interrupted her. “Both of you, shut up! This isn’t helping.”
Hazel sighed and began to pace beside me, a calm and self-assured contrast to my state of ever increasing hysteria. She stroked her chin as she walked, reminding me of some of my more pretentious lecturers pre-Apocalypse.
“Okay,” she said, voice level and starting to annoy me. “Do we really know that your mother is still in Mordialloc? I mean, what evidence do we have? You last saw her – what – yesterday? Is it possible that she, not unlike yourself, ventured out into the night on a quest for some food scraps and a potential lesbian lover?”
I cringed at the thought of my mum with any lover. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
She sighed. “I’m just saying, you don’t know for sure that she’s anywhere near that fire. She’s a grown woman and is probably fine, okay? So calm down, because your panic attacks help less than my sassing George Michael over there. And you’re giving me some seriously bad vibes right now.” She came to a stop and began to massage her temples.
I copied her deep breathing mechanisms and reasoned that she was right; my mum could be fine and out of harm’s way, but there was still the chance that she could not be. I couldn’t think of anything else until I discovered where she was.
“Can you help us?” I asked Hazel. As much as I did not want to, I would have left her in a heartbeat if she refused to help us in favour of her search for Tony.
She pursed her lips for a moment and held my gaze as she thought. Finally, she said, “I guess I can drive you guys there.”
I grinned. George frowned. “Drive?”
Five minutes later the three of us were huddled in the front of Hazel’s red ute, George having adamantly refused to sit in the cargo tray upon her request. For a while I just sat in awe at the mere prospect of somebody actually attaining a car that could still run despite missing some parts (“I just use scarves as seatbelts; you kind of need something for this rough terrain, you know? Oh, and the bonnet I’ve just covered with garbage bags. Neat, huh? Don’t you love how the Apocalypse has brought out our inherent bond with nature and craft? Have I told you about my herb garden?”).
I directed Hazel to our home, the beloved derailed train, where I expected Mum would be. As we came closer to our destination, George nudged me and pointed to a tree close by. There was something red and familiar wedged between one of the low branches and the trunk. I asked Hazel to stop so I could go check it out.
Upon reaching the tree we discovered that the red bundle was actually a jumper – my jumper – wrapped into a ball. I removed it from the tree and was surprised to find that it was heavy; wrapped within it were tins of soup and vegetables, two bottles of water and a box of tampons.
I dropped the jumper in shock and took a step back, collapsing against the tree. “She’s alive. She left this.”
Hazel, unsurprisingly, dropped to the ground and began foraging through the dirt and dead shrubs, looking for tracks.
George picked up the bundle and glanced around, screwing up his nose at the smoke that was thickening in the air around us. “I have the weirdest feeling that our home is on fire,” he said.
For a moment I thought he meant Mordialloc in general, before realising he meant our train, only a short distance from where we stood. Without a word I broke into a sprint, George following behind.
The train was consumed by flames, black smoke flooding out of the burst windows. George and I leaned against each other as we both surrendered to a fit of coughing, which prevented me from running any further and prevented George from proving his theatrical worth by shrieking, “You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!”
As I blinked ash away from my eyes I spotted some figures, little more than shadows within the billowing clouds of smoke. They emerged from behind the train, arms pitifully covering their mouths as they followed their queen, the one with the crown of flowers. I thought I was hallucinating at first, that this was an effect of smoke inhalation, but the leader caught my eye and I could not mistake the leer half-covered by her arm.
From the flames, the YOMG kids staggered forth.