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Chapter Two of the earthQUAKE backstory, check previous news post for earlier chapters

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Chapter Two: Tiger and Chocolate
We remained in the neighbour’s cellar until the food ran out, until the bucket was full, until, more importantly, the sounds from outside had fallen silent. We cried and hugged, slept fitfully, and cried some more. We knew we would have to leave, even if just temporarily. We needed more supplies, because, frankly, what’s the point of hiding from being killed if we died of starvation? But it took all our courage to do so, and, though I told Toby to stay in the cellar, he wouldn’t be left. He couldn’t be on his own and he couldn’t let another parent go off alone into the darkness. In all honesty I was glad.

On leaving the cellar, however, we were surprised to find that the house above the cellar was not as pitch dark as when we’d left it. A faint glow came from outside and a light remained on in the hall. “They’d gone! The army or someone had killed them. It was okay...“ I thought, but there was a
worrying silence; if there had been some great human victory surely there would be sounds of life, of triumph?

There was only one way to find out the truth. So, although we remained inside; in silence; listening, straining, we had no choice but to eventually leave the house. What we then discovered was neither reassuring nor as horrifying as we expected. The world we found outside was deserted, there were no monsters, no bodies, no carnage and, though we didn’t mention it; no Sarah.
Surprisingly most street lamps were on, some buildings appeared to have power and the garage at the end of the street was bright, like a beacon, calling us to it. We walked slowly, still clinging to each other, down the street and towards the garage, slowly past the lock ups on our right, glancing from side to side as we went, constantly checking how far we’d come from the house – how far we were from safety.

So far there were no signs of danger, yet the fear didn’t fade. As we got nearer to the garage our pace quickened until we were almost running but then, without warning, Toby let go of my hand and just stopped; rooted to the spot, statue-like and silent. I followed his gaze to the cause of his terror, and there, as if carved into the building itself, was an alien structure; red and glowing, powerful and malevolent, yet silent and, for now, unpopulated.

“Toby”, I called him quietly, almost whispering. “Toby” louder now, imploring, but he didn’t, couldn’t, move, I took a step towards him, reluctantly, fearful. A step in the wrong direction for my own safety, a step away from my new place of security, a step away from my coward self.
“Toby!” louder still, almost cross now. His head turned to me, then snapped back to the structure, his brief glance seemed to say “ssssh can’t you see it?” I took another step to him, and reached out, stretching for his arm, took hold, then “Toby, you must come, now, come on”. His feet moved towards me, he followed as I pulled, yet his gaze never left the structure until finally Idragged him through the open door and into the garage shop.

We shut the door behind us. The shutter was down on the main window, and it was darker than outside, yet somehow, for the first time for either of us, this new dark space was somehow comforting. We couldn’t see the structure; the alien building that had appeared to have grown out of the old warehouse or equally implausibly; fallen into it.

We searched the shelves; choosing first the eat me now” bars of chocolate and packets of crisps, then the drinks in the cabinets, consuming quickly and quietly. As we ate, Toby’s mood appeared to lighten; we’d been rationing our initial supplies and hunger had heightened our sense of terror and hopelessness.

“What is it? It was there before was it? It wasn’t inside the warehouse all along…. It couldn’t be”. He was chatty now, more of his usual 11 year old self; questioning, curious, hungry for knowledge, for why.

I don’t know Tobes…” parental failure once more, I can barely find the words to explain “why is that dog on top of the other one daddy? “ Let alone why monsters had appeared, killed everyone and left behind strange buildings.

“Maybe it’s how they got here…”
Oh good one parental-figure, he’ll feel all better now. “And maybe it’s how they’ve left too.” Nice,
but you’re no Sarah, she’d have known what to say, she always did.

Toby sat down next to me, lent his head on my arm, sighed, and without any obvious fear, but with hopeless resignation “and how they might come back.” It wasn’t a question and I couldn’t contradict him. I handed him a Mars Bar. “Three” he reported, “Three Mars Bars now, never had that many,
you’d never let me
.” I reached into my pocket, handed him the contents, “Five now Tobes, and plenty more where they came from”

We laughed at this, not knowing why, not feeling particularly amused or happyI stood and walked to the door, pulled it open to gaze upon our new kingdom, prepared to share another poor dad-joke “one day all this will be yours son”, when a dark shape ran across the garage forecourt; a blur of fur and panic.
“Tiger!” shouted Toby, then he pushed past me and sprinted out of the doorway, calling “Tiger, Tiiiiiiger!” as he ran.

My cowardice lasted mere seconds this time and I sprinted off in pursuit. I caught up with him just as the shape had turned the corner by the pub and disappeared from view. “Dad, it wasTiger, why did he run?”
I shook my head, torn between letting him continue to believe this obvious untruth or instead helping him to lose another loved one.

Toby, I don’t think it was Tiger, it’s probably a different dog, there’s loads round here...” I stopped, his expression was enough for me to realise he’d already given up on this improbable good fortune.

I suddenly felt isolated, vulnerable. We’d ran with abandon through the streets, him hunting the dog,
me hunting him. Now we were stood in the street, far from our home, far from the garage and it felt far from safe. “Tobes, lets go back. We need to get more food and get back to the cellar.” He held my hand as we walked back down the street to the garage, more circumspect and cautious than when we left it.

Toby’s head was down, his shoulders slumped, he kicked stones irritably as we walked; more angry now than sad. As we passed the lock ups again, I turned to him again “may find more Mars Bars
But he wasn’t looking at me, his attention was caught by something else ahead
of him, but what... Tiger?
But it clearly wasn’t Tiger, this time even Toby knew the truth. The dog that stood between us and the garage was no family pet, no “happy-waggy” Labrador. It stared at us with red eyes, its teeth bared, a growl beginning somewhere deep in it’s chest. The coward in me returned, I could do nothing but stare, and await the inevitable attack; wondering whether I would fight or flight or just stand passively and succumb….

But Toby was less passive, less cowardly, and though my shame in writing this is large, my pride in him is greater. He stooped, picked up a bottle from the ground and, after taking 4 steps towards the dog, threw it with anger, determination and bravery. The bottle flew in a slow-motion arc, from his hand to the dog’s head; it smashed on impact and the dog, after slumping to the ground, scrambled to its feet before running fast and, more importantly, away from us.

“Dad, the garage. It may come back.” I followed him, this man, this father, humbled by his son. I took his hand. “Tobes, that was brilliant, you’re so … brave… I’m so ... proud” He gripped my hand tighter, and we walked, almost confidently, back through the garage door.

It felt different immediately, that feeling you get when you know you’re being watched; when you know there’s something else near you that you cannot see. I stood in front of Toby, peering in the gloom, scanning the interior for some clue, trying desperately to work out what else was there.

Then a shape grew from behind a shelf, dark yet human. For a few seconds it paused, still and silent, and then, gruffly, “so I’m not alone then?”

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