THESE DAYS, Janet let her daughter sleep in bed with her. It wasn't what
child psychologists would have said was best, but there weren't any child psychologists
anymore, and her daughter needed help just the same.
Janet had tried forcing Kif Kif to
sleep alone, but the little girl would scream with nightmares about God knows what -
sharks, probably. Now she was sleeping dreamlessly, cradled in the curve of Janet's waist.
All around the bed, the flywire was
stretched taut from floor to ceiling, the support struts and entrance zipper glowing in
the candle-light. Janet shut her eyes against the tick-tick-ticking on the wire and tried
to drift off, but it was no use; there was always the anxiety that something was eating
through the wire, through the canvas of the zipper, and you would open your eyes to
She opened her eyes. Nothing had changed.
There were still the same thirty or forty
little fish (newly spawned wrasse, perhaps? - it was hard to tell in the dark) hovering in
the air bumbling against the flywire, trying to get in. Individual fish bobbed off from
the cluster floating up to bump against the ceiling.
Janet drew another cigar from the box on
her lap, wishing it were a cigarette, craving a cigarette. She struck a match: the
fish scattered. The room was alive with shining little bodies, flitting against
the furniture, knocking ornaments off shelves, disappearing into dark corners. Almost
immediately, however they began to swim back to the flywire, and the tick-tick-ticking
began again. Kif Kif squirmed in her sleep, digging her hard little six-year-old's
shoulderblades into Janet's side.
'It's all right darling,' murmured Janet,
stroking her through the blankets. 'Nothing to be afraid of.'
Next morning Janet and Kif Kif dressed up
in their camouflage to leave the house. The fish, which now lay gaping and dead on the
floors of every room, had got in through the narrow gap between front door and hall floor.
The little plank of wood which Kif Kif put there nightly had been levered out of place
from the outside while they slept.
An act of paltry sabotage like this might
happen to them every week or so; the devotees of the Church of Armageddon (the 'Army' for
short) didn't like to pass a house by without attempting to advance their cause. As far as
major attacks went, Janet and Kif Kif had been lucky. Only once in the last year had they
returned to their house to find it smashed open, all the windows and doors unhinged, and
all the food and clothing taken. Dripping, blood-like, down the bedroom wall had been one
of the painted graffiti slogans of the Army: THE FIRST SHALL BECOME LAST!
On that awful day,
Kif Kif had kept guard with her machete while Janet restored the defences. By late
afternoon the five-year-old was splattered with fish blood and muck, although she hadn't
been attacked by anything too dangerous. Most of the fish she'd wounded had swum away, to
die inside deserted buildings and gutted cars, but some had been hacked too severely to do
anything but wobble slowly to the ground and die twitching on the crumbling asphalt. When
Kif Kif had suggested that these fish should perhaps be taken to the Soup Kitchen for use
as food, Janet had hugged her fear-shaken little girl and wept.
Today Janet and Kif Kif locked the door
behind them, as quietly as possible, for sound was so much louder these days than it had
sounded in the days when there were things like cars, factories and people running.
The million sea creatures moved
noiselessly. Schools of barracuda swept without warning in and out of broken windows.
Starfish wriggled on the bonnets of rusty cars. Octopi cartwheeled in slow motion through
the air their tentacles touching briefly on the tips of barbed-wire fences and the tops of
awnings. Even the open-mouthed shriek of a shark attacking would be obscenely silent, so
there was actually no point in keeping your ears cocked, though you always did.
At a cautious trot Janet and Kif Kif put
a zig-zag of streets between them and their house, to confuse any Army members who might
spot them. One day, of course, the Army might stop being nomadic, and concentrate on each
occupied house they chanced to find, taking advantage of every occasion when it was left
unoccupied, until at last its inhabitants had been killed by what they preferred to call
the Holy Reclamation Of Nature.
Then again, it was also possible that one
day the Army would amend its religion to permit its devotees to do the killing themselves,
rather than waiting for the Holy Reclamation Of Nature to do it.
Far enough now,' said Janet, her breath
clouding the dry, grey air.
Kif Kif threw the plastic bag of dead
wrasse into the gutteer where it burst open on the sharp edge of a broken wheelchair. A
large eel floated out of a sewer-hole and slid through the air towards the spillage.
Coming back from the Soup Kitchen,
feeling warm and sprightly with the city's only hot meal in their stomachs, Janet and Kif
Kif leapt and skipped towards home. Small fish of all colours and shapes cluttered the air
around them, frightened out of their foraging places by the commotion. Carp nibbled at the
plankton nestled inside an exposed auto-mobile engine. Barracuda circled a small dolphin
which had become tangled in a shop awning and starved to death there. A manta ray of
moderate size floated over their ducked heads and settled against the wall of a factory.
Slowly it slid along a line of newly painted graffiti (ANY CRETURE THAT CAN READ THIS,
YOU'RE DAYS ON EARTH ARE NUMBERD!), obscuring the words one by one. Janet repeated the
slogan to her daughter on request.
'He's reading it,' smirked Kif Kif,
making Janet laugh. They both knew the ray had mistaken the moist paint for something
edible, and would be lying maw-up on the ground by tomorrow morning, after which the Army
would probably find it and eat it. Since the Church of Armageddon had no equivalent of the
underground Soup Kitchen which kept Janet, Kif Kif and the other unbelievers alive with
salvaged tinned goods, it subsisted by fishing; Army nets could be seen occasionally,
spanned between buildings in intricate layers.
It was rumoured that the Army didn't
actually eat any of the tinned and packaged food they carried off from the houses they
broke into. It seemed they merely confiscated it, to deprive Unbelievers of any unfair
advantage. In the same way that they liked to crack the shell of an Unbeliever's house, to
let the vengeance of Nature swim in, they liked to make food disappear to signal that God
was no longer pre-pared to provide. At least not to human beings; there was plenty to eat,
of course, for everything that swam.
Accepting the divine wrath with bizarre
enthusiasm, the Army were definitely on the side of the fish. There was hardly a public
building in the city that was not marked with their commonest graffito: LET THE DRY LAND
'A bit quieter now, Kif.'
Janet and Kif Kif were nearing their home
streets. An acrid breeze started up, smelling of large, half-eaten fish. Janet's nose
wrinkled with distaste. She reached out for Kif Kif and gathered her in as she walked.
'Sorry it's so nasty,' she said, but,
looking down at the child's abstracted, placid face, Janet realised the apology was
wasted: Kif Kif didn't seem to have noticed the smell.
Janet's mood soured as she considered
that her daughter had grown up in a world which stank to high heaven. Kif Kif had never
smelled air untainted by decay. She'd never seen a growing fruit or a flower as every form
of vegetation was immediately eaten by the fish before it even came to bud. She lived shut
up in an unheated, poorly lit prison, trembling and twitching with nightrnares every
night. Even now as they walked along the deserted street, any of a hundred broken windows
might suddenly spew out a deadly streak of grey, and then what could you do? Janet had
heard from other Survivors what it was like to just stand there while a huge shark, its
jaws locked open, glided through the air towards the smallest prey. The Army certainly
wasn't wrong in thinking the world was no longer intended for hurnan beings. Kif Kif with
her dinky little machete against the hatred of all creation-
Janet was jerked out of her brooding.
Kif Kif pointed over the roofs of the
houses, half-way across the city. Horrified, Janet watched a blue-black killer whale
emerging from the low grey clouds, followed by another whale, and another and another.
They hung huge in the sky like black zeppelins, and the air seemed to grow
claustrophobically dense with their displacement of it. Janet would have sunk to her knees
but for the grip she had on Kif Kif's shoulders. At her back there was nowhere to hide,
only more crumbling streets, more fragile, half-broken buildings; a mile of ground a whale
could cover in less than a minute, and, beyond that, the empty sea. The killer whales
began to move, towards Janet and Kif Kif's part of the city. Their tails swept the air
lazily. They kept together. They were attacking.
Not far from the street where Janet and
Kif Kif stood, there towered an old building which had survived intact, marble statues and
all. The foremost whale wove through skeletal office blocks with a grace that belied its
massive size, and passed very close to this old building, almost clipping it with its
aeroplane wing of a tail. Then it loomed on, its shadow spilling straight towards Kif Kif
and Janet. By the time it reached where they stood it was swimming about thirty metres
above the ground, the motion of its tail blowing their hair all around their faces.
Directly overhead, blotting out the sun with its monstrous bulk, it opened its mouth. A
thousand needle-sharp teeth swung down like the hatch of an aeroplane. Water clattered on
the asphalt: saliva in the wind. Janet screamed.
But the whale glided over them altogether
its great shadow smothering them as it passed.
'It's coming back! It's coming back!'
shrieked Janet as she watched the whale describe a slow semi-circle and cruise towards
Once more, however it passed them over
and headed towards the old building, while the other whales floated in formation nearby.
Turning again, it swam back towards Janet
and Kif Kif, but in a smaller arc this time, so that its shadow didn't even reach the
street where they stood. It was heading for the old building once more, and this time it
did not pass it by. Some decision seemed to have been made deep in the creature's brain,
and it hurled itself straight at its target, ramming into the stonework with its massive
Amid the noise of a muffled thunderclap,
the old building shuddered, stones falling out of their pattern in small clusters. A pale
statue swayed on its perch and toppled to the street below, smashing unseen and unheard.
The other whales, following the example of their leader attacked the building with him,
ramming and ramming it until crucifixes cartwheeled down through the air and bells rang
with chaotic lack of rhythm. At last the church fell in on itself with the tremendous
racket that only collapsing buildings make.
For an attenuated minute the whales
circled the ruin, then they swam off towards another part of the city, their tails beating
up clouds of shimmering debris.
Janet let out her breath shudderingly, then
gasped at the pain of frozen muscles thawing. She wasn't really very gratelul to be alive;
life had been conceded too far beyond the extremity of terror. To be unconscious in the
long gullet of a whale: that would have been real mercy, not this ghastly
approximation of survival.
Only, she must pretend to be
alive, pretend to have hope, spirit, feeling, for the sake of her daughter, so that
her daughter wouldn't give up. She must be strong for her daughter, comfort her, get her
home to bed, carry her there if need be.
Janet looked down at Kif Kif for the
first time, and was shocked to see that the child's face was radiant.
'Oh, Mummyl' marvelled the little girl.
'Wasn't it amazing?'
Amazing?' echoed Janet incredulously.
Anger started up deep inside her like
convulsions, getting more violent as she let go her hold on it, until she was shaking with
Amazing?' she yelled at last, and
began to hit Kif Kif, flailing at her with the flats of her hands. The child fought back,
and in a few moments they were in a real tussle, pulling each other's clothes and hair
until a warning shout from Kif Kif ended it. Janet found herself being pulled along the
street by the wrist.
'Come on! shouted the
panting child crossly. 'Stupid'.'
Janet stumbled along, stumbling parfly
because she was too tall to be led properly by a six-year-old. She glanced over her
shoulder to see what the child had already spotted: a school of moray eel gathering twenty
yards away, attracted by the commotion of the fight and the smell of human flesh.
Janet gained her stride, scooped up her
unprotesting daughter in her arms and ran and ran.
In bed that night, safe behind the
flywire, Janet tried to explain why she had been so angry.
'I thought you were terrified of sharks
and big fish like that,' she said lamely, hugging the slightly alien child tight to her
side. 'You have nightmares every night . . .'
Kif Kif pawed sleepily at an itchy cheek
'I have nightmares about other stuff,'