DISCLAIMER: The Tomorrow Series belongs to John Marsden.
WARNING: SPOILERS for the first 3 books (Tomorrow, When the War Begins, The Dead of Night & Third Day, The Frost)
RATING: T (Character death)
"I heard the wind rustling through the trees
and ghostly voices rose from the fields.
I ran with my heart pounding down that broken path
with the devil snappin at my heels.
I broke through the trees and there in the night,
my fathers house stood shining hard and bright"
- 'My Father's House', by Bruce Springsteen
As she prays, Robyn curls her hands around Lee's shoulders.
She rides pillion with him down the quiet road. Above, a tableau of dispersed stars burn restlessly. Beyond the pitch-black rise, lies Wirawee, a dark smear between the solemn hills.
As they approach her father's house, she sees the black windows, shut off from all life like a sleeping man's eyes. She dismounts even before Lee cuts the engine, and falls into the path leading to the front door. She's walked this path a thousand times, but tonight her feet are heavy, and the door waits in a dead zone of possibility.
She leads her friends, leading her own private exodus into what was once her home. Everything lies in a dark glaze, untouched. She thinks it's like the hush of stepping into a tomb. The furniture waits lifeless. Particles of dust dance in a blush of moonlight. And the Madonna watching over the living room has succumbed to shadow.
She's behind Lee again when the soldier with the rifle erupts from a blind spot to her right.
Lee stumbles backward into her as the soldier shouts, and before she remembers anything else they are scrambling in different directions. The years of pacing the backs of strangers kicks in, her feet striding and hurdling across the debris-drenched road. The echoing clap of gunshots follows her as she pounds the pavement, retreating into the darkness.
Only when silence reigns again does she realise that Lee is wounded, the whites of his clenched teeth visible from afar. Robyn stares at him. She breathes rapid-fire, as the familiar tug of lactic acid crawls up her hamstrings. She hears the distant barking of men like the chasing steps of runners she cannot see.
She calls out Lee's name, and she sprints through the glass. It takes a complex manouvere for her to drape his upper body across her shoulders before they're off. She imagines them, competitors in a bumbling three-legged race, the wrecked façade of Lee's family restaurant their finishing line. And Robyn forces Lee on, straining to claim the prize that is their lives on this empty stretch of street.
She guns for fallen gum tree, hearing Kevin and Corrie stop behind her, breathless from their dash through Wirawee. The outskirts of town are wild with soldiers, their boots cackling as they head towards their invisible destination. From the soldiers' urgency, she knows Ellie and Homer were successful.
But then a cry: Kevin's. It's strangled, hopelessly audible. It reminds Robyn of the pathetic yelping of dogs hit by cars, of sheep with shattered limbs. Turning, she sees Corrie slumped against the guards of the bike, her face reduced into a grimace. Kevin lets her lean against his arms. When he withdraws it, Robyn sees his flesh shotgunned with mud or blood or both.
She breathes deep for a moment. She tries to recall something, anything about their confrontation, and wonders how she missed the gunshots. Kevin looks to her, his face slick with uncertainty, strikes of blood across his jeans. And Corrie mumbles something, her voice fading into whisper.
Robyn remembers both these faces, their eyes faint in the piss-coloured light. She speaks first to herself, then to them, and she hauls them to their feet.
Bullets slice through the trees and people start to drop like slabs of meat in a butcher shop.
Robyn retreats in a path parallel to the Harvey's Heroes campsite. The flashing of flesh-coloured light from the flames tells her there's no going back. The frustrated growls of vehicles boom through the forest, and the distant popping of gunfire accompanies the passage of the night.
Where are the others? Without Ellie's frown-scarred face or a punch of laughter from Homer, she feels as if she's lost several limbs from her body. She jams her fingers into her armpits, jogging past splintered trees. She tries – wants – to ignore the ticking of brushed leaves that seems to follow her, somewhere behind in the dark.
She jogs till the trees surround her completely. She imagines she's in a cathedral, imagines the fallen tree by the cliffs her salvation. Moonlight as luminous as milk leads her steadily deeper into the grotto of the woods. Here in the choking silence of the forest, there's no mad dashing to save a life or any need to be a leader. It's just her, whatever's going to come out of the blackened bush and the defiant faith in her friends that leads her on.
During one of her visits to Chris' grave, she finds Fi crouched by the mound of browned earth and stones. She watches Fi assemble a dried wattle flower atop the beard of grass growing on the grave. A cloud of hair has fallen across Fi's forehead. Her fingers flirt with her offering, steadying the flower as if hanging a Christmas ornament.
Seeing this Robyn remembers stray verses from her devotionals: as for man,his days are like grass – he flourishes like the flower of the field –
She steps up into the hollow, puts her arms around Fi's shoulders. She feels the sharp ridge of her collarbone, sees the dark roots of her hair twirled round the ear. Robyn has the faint image of a wildflower, strapped to a vertical cliff, a flare of colour against a wall of rock.
She feels Fi's hands latch onto her arm. With her free hand, Robyn buries her palm in the chalky dirt. She takes a handful of it and massages it between her fingers. The summer winds carry away the trailing sand in a wispy tea-coloured tail of dust. She can imagine the ending of a sermon she once sat through, its circular conclusion glaring at her at this moment: for you were made of dust,and to dust you will return –
"You know what this feels like?" Homer asks. He pauses. Then: "Like talking to God."
Robyn knows Homer's in one of his moods again. He talks till everyone leaves the room and cusses at the radio for giving him an endless mumble of white noise. Now, she looks up to see him by the radio, his head drooping towards it in deep concentration. She thinks he looks like a man prostrate before a deity.
The communicator's static saturates the room. It's like the sound of paper being crushed, with bird-like squeaks following some insane rhythm. Homer's hands dab at the dials, and the radio screeches so loudly that it feels like a knife dredging at her ears.
She shouts at Homer. But then the screaming gives way to voices, and then into distinct words. Slowly, carefully, Homer tugs at this verbal beacon, his fingers working towards perfection. Finally, a polished accent rises from the murmuring of static. Homer lets out a whoop, grabs her and absorbs her into hug. When she releases her, Robyn holds his gaze for a second. If you're talking to God, she wants to tell Homer, sometimes He does really talk back.
"It's easy to start talking really," he says. "Imagine you're talking to God."
The first thing she remembers is Homer at the radio, on the sun-splashed morning in the house by the hills, saying something similar. But then Major Harvey clears his throat, and she's back in the room. She's surrounded by walls so pearly white that they hurt her eyes. The stern faces of observers float at the edge of her vision.
Major Harvey paces along the diameter of the table, his leather boots hissing against the linoleum floor. With his jacket, elaborately manicured black tie and his insistence on her saying something to 'save herself', she thinks he looks like a pastor. He addresses her with the in-your-face vocabulary of a sermon. The horizontal slash of fluorescent light above forms a halo above his receding hairline.
But she knows better. Major Harvey coddles, threatens, curses, spits. His tie comes undone, sweat stains his immaculate white collar, and the vision of a priest decays into that of Beelzebub. Yes, she thinks, this man is out for her soul. She must not submit. So she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. She imagines him stripped of pretense, just another man.
"My dear Robyn, I don't think praying to God will help you now," he says.
"I'm not praying to God," she says, her tone emotionless. "I'm praying for your soul."
When the bomb hits, it blows the sound from her ears. She recovers only for her vision to narrow to two things: the open wound on Ellie's arm like a flashing red rose and the soft grey of a soldier's rifle and his grenades, visible through the concrete dust. She seizes them.
Outside, an upended trunk bleeds rainbow slicks of diesel fuel. Torn bodies lie across the prison grounds, scattered like desolate birds. Robyn leads her friends down the slope, following the bright yellow lines towards freedom. She shouts at them to move, to hurry, before –
"The party's over! Everyone lie down on the ground!"
She stares into the sneering shaft of a pistol. Behind it stands Major Harvey, dried blood arrayed across the left half of his face. In the thrashing light from the fires, he steps forward and barks another order, the blade of his smile so sharp it cuts into her.
The rifle lies surrendered at her feet, she sees her friend's kneeling. She sees Ellie's head drooping like a dry flower. Homer's face encrusted with dust. And she knows what she must do.
Robyn imagines walking to her father's house in the dark, down the path to the battered door, past the carpet of browned grass and limp tongues of dead ferns –
She struggles with the door. The knob, like a grenade, lies balled in her hands, slicked with sweat. She closes her eyes, tries again. The lock releases –
The next thing she sees is Major Harvey, his face distorted by smoke. He says something, but she doesn't hear it. Instead, there's Ellie calling her name – There's the unopened door to the black stomach of her father's house – There's the thought she'll be home, soon – There's her thumb jammed into the grooves of the grenade, which she places right above her heart. And with a final glance, there's the peace that those behind her won't need to follow her, yet.
She steps forward, her hand unclenches, opens the door. She expects it to be dark.
And she returns home.
My first fic for the Tomorrow series. Playing with Robyn's character and how I thought she would interact & speak with others from the gang most people don't link her with. Because it covers events up to Book Three I've lift out Kevin.
I finished the Tomorrow series over a period of 7 years - because I didn't know the first book had six sequels. So fanfics are my way of making up for lost time.
Much of this fic was written while listening to Bruce Springsteen.