The black-out nap is short-lived; rudely interrupted by a dousing of warm, bitter liquid. My prone body is shoved a few feet before the heavy wave loses its impetus.
Spluttering awake, I open an eye.
The background noise of a thundering waterfall induces a fuzzy hallucination. The green glade and swimming-hole fantasy is crushed by hard reality. I have not been magically transported from this dingy concrete car park. I still lounge in a shallow pool of metallic-tasting fluid.
Straining my neck helps me find the origin of the roar. It is the Mother’s carcass draining of thousands of litres of sloppy waste, parasites and other internal fluids.
I blink the other stinging eye open, remembering to retrieve the frightened, coughing child wedged in my armpit before sitting up.
The mini-tidal wave disperses swiftly across the flat concrete. It creates a shallow river full of clotted filth that drains towards a ramp leading to a lower level.
The baby and I stare at each other, stunned and dripping. She decides she doesn’t like what she sees. Her face scrunches and uncertain cries are produced, punctuated by a tired string of profanities from me.
This terrible, killing sound she’d produced to kill my mortal enemy now falls into the category of merely irritating.
Pity she doesn’t have an on-off switch.
The Other-worldly fog thins in front of my second-sight, leaving the air almost sparkling. A single thin tendril appears, lashing aimlessly, as threatening as a headless snake. It dissolves into wisps while I watch.
Eyeing the Mother’s saggy butt for movement occupies several nervous minutes. It slumps ever lower through its toilet hole, deflating like a punctured hot air balloon. The belief we’ve had a win sneaks past my pessimism, waving a tattered flag of victory. A tentative, wry smile pulls at my lips, though it is not accompanied by a celebration jig. The workers who populate this damaged nest may not be so damaged.
I am keen to get home. How far those Creeps have progressed in their demolition of the detention centre’s fences is something I’m afraid to find out.
Maybe there is no home, or roommate, to return to.
Kristine’s face flares in the fire an overburdened mind ignites. Shutting out her probable fate is made difficult when vague memories of a hasty, and drug affected, exit damn me.
I’m pretty sure the place was left wide open in my wake.
A drink or ten followed by a full mental and physical collapse could relieve me of this premature remorse. Hatefully, the alcohol I need to kick-start such a state is not available.
I absently wipe a lump of brown slime from the baby’s back. Her cries slow and I pat her again. Perhaps my gesture of affection has less to do with her quietening than failing strength. Either way my ears are grateful.
I get to my knees, sliding drunkenly in the slurried crap, then rise and carry her in a slow limp towards the nearest car. A poxy four-cylinder hatch-back, popular with teenage girls and grandmothers. It sits on four semi-deflated tyres with peeling flower decals stuck to the sides.
I am roundly unimpressed.
A few metres further on I glimpse the twin pipes of a rusty V8 sedan. I’m drawn to it until my eyes find the front-end. The stanchion it is bent around has been grossly underestimated by some long-gone ram-raider. Several other cars moulder in the distant darkness; none of them close enough or markedly better than the one I stand beside.
Inaction prolongs my stay. I press my nose to the hatchback’s dirty glass and look inside. Good, it’s a manual shift. A wad of dark material is tucked behind the front seats. The sight of clothing reminds me of my nakedness. Opening the passenger door to flip the seat forward gives me access to a purple knitted jumper.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
I lay the baby on the seat. Ancient newspapers; the previous owner’s protection from the cracked vinyl seat; shows an innocuous headline from the far past. I pull on the voluminous jumper and read around the restless child, and grunt indifference at yesteryear’s failure to provide economic growth.
I stretch the material low to cover my butt. The itchy wool sticks to the filth I’m caked with, but it is empowering to be clothed.
The corner of another swatch of cloth sticks out from under the seat. I drag it out. A dirty cotton sarong with the weight of something wrapped inside.
Unrolled, a fake leather purse falls out.
The child snatches the material cast aside in preference to the treasure. I consider yanking it from her tiny fingers, tossing up which is the more valuable item.
That scarf could make a nice modesty covering.
Guilty conscience’s frown drills holes in me.
“Goddammit. Have it then.”
I wrap the child tightly in the musty material, straining to remember something about swaddling infants. Can’t recall if it was considered an acceptable baby care method in whatever article I’d read. But it quietens her whimpers so the end result suits both of us, and relieves a throbbing headache of extra disturbance.
The passenger seat is no place for a baby, or a bottle of booze, as proven by past accidents. The foot-well has served as a safe harbour for breakables. I place her on the mangy carpet then press into service a plush teddy bear, snatched from the parcel shelf, to keep the child amused.
She sneezes from disturbed dust and begins another whinge.
I sigh and open the abandoned purse. A five dollar note flutters to the ground. My eyes follow its fall yet I resist the automatic urge to bend for it.
Inside the purse, amongst the coins is a most unexpected stroke of luck.
A car key.
The possibility of fortune’s change for the better unnerves me. I almost jog around to the driver’s side holding that cold sliver of metal tightly. Jabbing the key into the ignition switch, I take a deep breath and turn. No noise and less action results. An extra hard twist brings the same result.
A tiny part of me is happy. Too much good luck is inevitably followed by bad.
I pull the bonnet catch walk in resigned acceptance to the front of the car, wiping away blood spills from a tender nose with the sweater’s sleeve. Internal haemorrhaging is a problem that will be ignored as long as possible, though pains stab and poke at my guts.
The bonnet is lifted to reveal a tiny motor, battery, radiator, with all the bits connected. Though the fuel situation is unknown there appears no reason a push start shouldn’t succeed.
Key on, transmission in neutral, I throw myself against the back of the car. A tearing sound, which is not my back muscles ripping as I first think, is the release of long unturned wheels from a spider-web’s grip.
Where the spider might be is an unproductive worry.
The car is light but I am almost completely done in. Despite this, my feet gather a covering of grit and it gathers speed.
I jog to the driver’s door and continue pushing, turning the wheel towards a ramp leading to a deeper level. Wetness splashes up my legs. Irrationally I attribute the Mother’s guts that have spread this far as its last ditch effort to hinder my escape.
Of course I slip near the top of the pitch-black decent. Any rational thought is dispensed with in a desperate bid to cling to the moving vehicle.
Good luck prevails, though its bad luck brother tweaks my nose when the protective newspaper slips from the seat as I vault inside. Feeling a bare posterior and dangling testicles encounter the sun-hardened, cracked vinyl is a rude shock. One that fails to stop me slamming the light clutch to the floor and selecting second gear.
Though I do wince a bit.
Rushing into a deeper darkness I cannot count on blind faith to prevent a collision with a stalled car below. This possibility is too awful to contemplate so I don’t. Popping the clutch is accomplished with prayers the tyres will find grip
The engine engages and a short hop and jerk forward results. Pumping the throttle stretches a grin when mechanical wizardry bursts cold steel into life. I depress the clutch and rev the motor as if my life depends on it.
Which it does!
We roll forward into the dark, gathering speed by momentum. I flick headlights on by reflex.
The darkness is dashed aside to hide around a thousand standing figures.
Weary manikins, aroused by noise and light lift heads and eyes to my rude gate-crashing entrance.
I am amidst a sleeping chamber of hosts
They are displeased with my appearance.