Her hand reaches out and turns the TV off. For a moment she just sits there and stares numbly at the blank screen in the deafening silence.
She forces herself to get up. Her gaze is darting around, her mind is filled with urgency until she can barely think. Leave, they’ll need to leave. Get Toby. Pack some stuff first.
She almost falls down the steep steps to the cellar in her hurry. Suitcases, no. Backpacks, better. She throws them into the hallway. Clothes. Warm, but not too many. She rips the door to her closet open and barely notices that one of the hinges breaks. A shirt, a sweater, the warm parka, maybe a second pair of jeans.
Her brother pokes her head into her room. “Sissy, what are you doing?”
“Toby, pack your stuff”, she says without turning around.
“What stuff?” As she walks past him to stuff the clothes into her backpack, she sees him look at the chaos on her bedroom floor with big eyes. “Where are we going?”
“Out.” She hands him a small blue backpack with a seal on the front. “Get everything you want to take with you and can fit in here. Don’t forget Carrots.” Carrots was a stuffed rabbit with a chewed ear that he had owned since he was a baby. If they forget him, they’d never hear the end of it, apocalypse or not.
“I don’t want to go out!” he whines and throws the backpack to the ground. “Mummy and Daddy aren’t even here!”
She takes a deep breath. “I talked to Mum, they will be home any minute.” Apparently she sounded sufficiently hysterical on the phone. “Now go and pack.”
He pouts. “I don’t want to! I want to play with my new game!”
Something inside her snaps. “Toby, stop whining and GET YOUR STUFF!”
He stares at her, eyes wide.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She pulls him into her arms so he can’t see the way her lip trembles as she bites down on it.
“Sissy, are you sad?” he asks quietly.
She sniffs. “A bit. But it’s going to be okay, I promise.” She wipes her hand over her eyes and then holds him firmly by the shoulders. “I need you to go into your room and put some things into your backpack, okay? This is very important. Put Carrots in first, and then a shirt, some underwear and a pair of trousers. Then put on your warm jacket and come down. Can you do that for me?”
He nods seriously and grabs the backpack. She watches as he disappears up the stairs.
What else? She turns around helplessly. Drugs. She raids the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and throws the stuff that looks the most important into a small bag. She eyes the toothbrushes, but gives them a pass. Who cares about cavities when the world ends?
Food. There’s enough tinned food in the cupboard to feed an army. She hopes they won’t have to.
Water. She squeezes water bottles into the pockets at the sides of each backpack.
Then she remembers the pocket knife her father had given her a few years back. She finally finds it in the back of a drawer.
For a moment she hesitates. There are other things in that drawer. A diary. Pictures. The bracelet her grandmother had given her when she was thirteen.
She puts the bracelet on. Then she slams the drawer shut.
She rummages around in the drawers in the hall cupboard that contain various useful things. She grabs a flashlight, some matches and a bit of string, and after a bit of thought adds some packs of batteries to the pile.
When she hears the key turn in the front door, she freezes. Her mother steps through and almost falls over one of the backpacks.
“Honey, I’m sure this won’t be necessary. I listened to the radio on the way home and the army will be here soon -”
She stuffs the flashlight into her already full backpack and tries to keep her voice steady. “Mum, we need to go.”
“They advised that people stay in their homes –“
„WE NEED TO GO!“
Her mother stares at her. Her screaming seems to have that effect on people.
„Mum, trust me.“
„I know I haven’t been a good daughter lately, and I’m sorry I caused so much trouble. But once, just this once, I need you to listen to me. Please.”
Her mother sighs. “I guess we could drive up to Aunt Bernice until this is over.”
She nods. This was likely as good as it was going to get, although she imagines the highways must be jammed by now.
In that moment, her father steps through the still open door. He takes a look around and understands the situation immediately. “Where’s your brother?”
“Upstairs. He’s packing.”
“I’ll get him.” He makes his way up, but pauses halfway up the stairs and turns around. “Well done.”
She wants to hug him then, but knows that if she does, she will just start crying. So she just nods instead.
They encounter the first traffic jam within the first three miles. It goes downhill from there.