Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Challenge 35: Picton

I told myself that I wasn’t really expecting to find Simon. Even if he’d made it this far, there was no guarantee, ten years on, that we’d find any trace of him. But from the moment I passed the old airlock where he and I had seen my half-sister Sonia out, which he had himself come and gone through on his later travels, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. A horde of sandflies when I reached the West Coast, and I just remembered the time we’d sat next to the letterbox full of cobwebs. Dad would have cleared them off (if he hadn’t walked out the airlock for good the day before). Simon was just happy to see that something was alive other than us humans.

In my backpack, I have the album that his then-fiance, Jack, gave him for his birthday ten years ago. The first photo is of the two of them on top of one of the mountains in the Nelson Lakes. They’re wearing bulky jackets and you can tell it was windy because Simon’s hair is a complete mess. The last one is of them with (according to Jack) Simon’s mother and his little brother. I guess his dad must have been behind the camera. The photo’s been taken a bit too early. Jack’s got her eyes closed, and Simon’s got his arms draped over his brother’s shoulders, looking down at him with an expression that’s familiar to me. Jack says it’s the last time they saw each other, because the bomb came less than a year later. I don’t know why Simon left the photos behind if he knew he was leaving for good.

Apart from my supplies, I also had copies of the new maps of the South Island. Simon started venturing out to make them quite soon after Dad left – but when he’d done as much as he could, he moved on to the North Island – at least, that was the plan. When the bubble around Christchurch got taken down, they started copying out his maps for the settlement expeditions.

Anyway, I had told myself I wouldn’t find him, so I tried not to be disappointed when, following State Highway 1 and the diversions he’d suggested, I reached Picton without luck. What had I expected, that he’d have built himself a little hermit’s hut somewhere?

The settlers hadn’t come this far north. I’d been on my own since Kaikoura, and I’d been avoiding the towns as much as possible – I didn’t know how fast bodies decomposed and I didn’t want to find out. Simon hadn’t volunteered any information about it. As I wandered along the railway tracks, I got the idea of spending the night in one of the old trains, if I could get in.

As it turned out, it wasn’t hard – like most of the expeditioners I’d brought along enough equipment to break into a building if I had to.I chose a passenger train that was rusting away at the station and went at it until I could pry a door open and get in. There were just three compartments...and something seemed to be wrong – it was far too clean to have been abandoned for ten years.

I found Simon’s stores in the last compartment. There wasn’t much – a few bottles of water, a couple of batteries. Some shrivelled kumara, but I couldn’t tell how old they were.


Word count: 567. This is another one I wrote a while back (over a year ago, actually) so it doesn't quite fit the challenge :P