Step two 1 страница

Taking

I am young. I am a teenage boy aflame with health, strong and virile and pounding with energy. But I get older. Every second ages me. My cells spread themselves thinner, stiffening, cooling, darkening. I am fifteen, but each death around me adds a decade. Each atrocity, each tragedy, each small moment of sadness. Soon I will be ancient.

Here I am, Perry Kelvin in the Stadium. I hear birds in the walls. The bovine moans of pigeons, the musical chirps of starlings. I look up and breathe deep. The air is so much cleaner lately, even here. I wonder Step two 1 страница if this is what the world smelled like when it was new, centuries before smokestacks. It frustrates and fascinates me that we’ll never know for sure, that despite the best efforts of historians and scientists and poets, there are some things we’ll just never know. What the first song sounded like. How it felt to see the first photograph. Who kissed the first kiss, and if it was any good.

‘Perry!’

I smile and wave at my little admirer as he and his dozen foster-siblings cross the street in a line, hand in hand. ‘Hey . . . buddy Step two 1 страница,’ I call to him. I can never remember his name.

‘We’re going to the gardens!’

‘Cool!’

Julie Grigio grins at me, leading their line like a mother swan. In a city of thousands I run into her almost every day, sometimes near the schools where it seems probable, sometimes in the outermost corners of the Stadium where the odds are slim. Is she stalking me or am I stalking her? Either way, I feel a pulse of stress hormones shoot through me every time I see her, rushing to my palms to make them sweat and to my face Step two 1 страница to make it pimply. Last time we met, she took me up on the roof. We listened to music for hours, and when the sun went down, I’m pretty sure we almost kissed.

‘Want to come with us, Perry?’ she says. ‘It’s a field trip!’

‘Oh fun . . . a field trip to where I just spent eight hours working.’

‘Hey, there aren’t a lot of options in this place.’

‘So I’ve noticed.’

She waves for me to come over and I immediately comply, while trying my best to look reluctant. ‘Don’t they ever get to Step two 1 страница go outside?’ I wonder, watching the kids march in clumsy lockstep.

‘Mrs Grau would say we are outside.’

‘I mean outside. Trees, rivers, etc.’

‘Not till they’re twelve.’

‘Awful.’

‘Yeah . . .’

We walk in silence except for the burble of child-speak behind us. The Stadium walls loom protectively like the parents these kids will never know. My excitement at seeing Julie darkens under a sudden cloud of melancholy.

‘How do you stand it here,’ I say, barely a question.

Julie frowns at me. ‘We get to go out. Twice a month.’

‘I know, but . . .’

She waits. ‘What, Perry?’

‘Do Step two 1 страница you ever wonder if it’s even worth it?’ I gesture vaguely at the walls. ‘All this?’

Her expression sharpens.

‘I mean, are we really that much better off in here?’

‘Perry,’ she snaps with unexpected vehemence. ‘Don’t you start talking like that, don’t you fucking start.’

She notices the abrupt silence behind us and cringes. ‘Sorry,’ she says to the kids in a confidential whisper. ‘Bad words.’

‘Fuck!’ my little friend yells, and the whole line explodes with laughter.

Julie rolls her eyes. ‘Great.’

‘Tsk tsk.’

‘You shut your mouth. I meant what I said to Step two 1 страница you. That’s evil talk.’

I look at her uncertainly.

‘We get to go outside twice a month. More if we’re on salvage. And we get to stay alive.’ She sounds like she’s reciting a Bible verse. An old proverb. As if sensing her own lack of conviction she glances at me, then snaps her eyes forward. Her voice goes quiet. ‘No more evil talk if you want to come on our field trip.’

‘Sorry.’

‘You haven’t been here long enough. You grew up in a safe place. You don’t understand the dangers.’

Dark feelings Step two 1 страница flood my belly at this, but I manage to hold my tongue. I don’t know the pain she’s speaking from, but I know it’s deep. It makes her hard and yet so terribly soft. It’s her thorns and it’s her hand reaching out from the thicket.

‘Sorry,’ I say again and fumble for that hand, nudging it out of her jeans pocket. It’s warm. My cold fingers wrap around hers, and my mind conjures an unwelcome image of tentacles. I blink it away. ‘No more evil talk.’

The kids gaze at me eagerly Step two 1 страница, huge eyes, spotless cheeks. I wonder what they are and what they mean and what’s going to happen to them.

‘Dad.’

‘Yeah?’

‘I think I have a girlfriend.’

My dad lowers his clipboard, adjusts his hard hat. A smile creeps into the deep creases of his face. ‘Really.’

‘I think so.’

‘Who?’

‘Julie Grigio?’

He nods. ‘I’ve met her. She’s – hey! Doug!’ He leans over the edge of the bulwark and yells at a worker carrying a steel pylon. ‘That’s forty-gauge, Doug, we’re using fifty for the arterial sections.’ He looks Step two 1 страница back at me. ‘She’s cute. Watch out though; seems like a firecracker.’

‘I like firecrackers.’

My dad smiles. His eyes drift. ‘Me too, kid.’

His walkie-talkie crackles and he pulls it out, starts giving instructions. I look out at the ugly concrete vista under construction. We are standing on the terminating end of a wall, fifteen feet high, currently a few blocks long. Another wall runs parallel to it, making Main Street into an enclosed corridor that cuts through the heart of the city. Workers swarm below, laying concrete pour-forms, erecting framework.

‘Dad?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Do you think Step two 1 страница it’s stupid?’



‘What?’

‘To fall in love.’

He pauses, then puts his walkie away. ‘What do you mean, Pear.’

‘Like . . . now. The way things are now. I mean, everything’s so uncertain . . . is it stupid to waste time on stuff like that in a world like this? When everything might fall apart any minute?’

My dad looks at me for a long time. ‘When I met your mom,’ he says, ‘I asked myself that. And all we had going on back then was a few wars and recessions.’ His walkie starts crackling again. He ignores it. ‘I got nineteen Step two 1 страница years with your mom. But do you think I would’ve turned down the idea if I’d known I’d only get one year? Or one month?’ He surveys the construction, shaking his head slowly. ‘There’s no benchmark for how life’s “supposed” to happen, Perry. There is no ideal world for you to wait around for. The world is always just what it is now, and it’s up to you how you respond to it.’

I look into the dark window holes of ruined office buildings. I imagine the skeletons of their occupants still sitting Step two 1 страница at their desks, working towards quotas they will never meet.

‘What if you’d only gotten a week with her?’

‘Perry . . .’ my dad says, slightly amazed. ‘The world isn’t ending tomorrow, buddy. Okay? We’re working on fixing it. Look.’ He points at the work crews below. ‘We’re building roads. We’re going to connect to the other stadiums and hideouts, bring the enclaves together, pool our research and resources, maybe start working on a cure.’ My dad claps me on the shoulder. ‘You and me, everyone . . . we’re going to make it. Don’t give Step two 1 страница up on us yet. Okay?’

I relent with a small release of breath. ‘Okay.’

‘Promise?’

‘Promise.’

My dad smiles. ‘I’ll hold you to that.’

Do you know what happened next, corpse? Perry whispers from the deep shadows of my awareness. Can you guess?

‘Why are you showing me all this,’ I ask the darkness.

Because it’s what’s left of me, and I want you to feel it. I’m not ready to disappear.

‘Neither am I.’

I sense a cold smile in his voice.

Good.

‘There you are.’

Julie heaves herself up the ladder and stands on Step two 1 страница the roof of my new home, watching me. I glance at her, then put my face back in my hands.

She makes her way over, cautious steps on the flimsy sheet metal, and sits next to me on the roof edge. Our legs dangle, swinging slowly in the cold autumn air.

‘Perry?’

I don’t answer. She studies the side of my face. She reaches out and brushes two fingers through my shaggy hair. Her blue eyes pull on me like gravity, but I resist. I stare down at the muddy street.

‘I can’t believe Step two 1 страница I’m here,’ I mumble. ‘This stupid house. With all these discards.’

She doesn’t respond immediately. When she does, it’s quiet. ‘They’re not discards. They were loved.’

‘For a while.’

‘Their parents didn’t leave. They were taken.’

‘Is there a difference?’

She looks at me so hard I have no choice but to meet her gaze. ‘Your mom loved you, Perry. You’ve never had to doubt that. And so did your dad.’

I can’t hold the weight. I give in and let it fall on me. I twist my head away from Julie as Step two 1 страница the tears come.

‘Believe that God discarded you if you want to, fate or destiny or whatever, but at least you know they loved you.’

‘What does it even matter,’ I croak, avoiding her eyes. ‘Who gives a shit. They’re dead. That’s the present. That’s what matters now.’

We don’t speak for a few minutes. The cold breeze pricks tiny bumps on our arms. Bright leaves find their way in from the outer forests, spinning down into the Stadium’s vast mouth and landing on the house’s roof.

‘You know what, Perry,’ Julie says. Her voice Step two 1 страница is shaky with hurts all her own. ‘Everything dies eventually. We all know that. People, cities, whole civilisations. Nothing lasts. So if existence was just binary, dead or alive, here or not here, what would be the fucking point in anything?’ She looks up at some falling leaves and puts out her hand to catch one, a flaming red maple. ‘My mom used to say that’s why we have memory. And the opposite of memory – hope. So things that are gone can still matter. So we can build off our pasts and make futures.’ She twirls Step two 1 страница the leaf in front of her face, back and forth. ‘Mom said life only makes any sense if we can see time how God does. Past, present and future all at once.’

I allow myself to look at Julie. She sees my tears and tries to wipe one away. ‘So what’s the future?’ I ask, not flinching as her fingers brush my eye. ‘I can see the past and the present, but what’s the future?’

‘Well . . .’ she says with a broken laugh. ‘I guess that’s the tricky part. The past is made out of facts and Step two 1 страница history . . . I guess the future is just hope.’

‘Or fear.’

‘No.’ She shakes her head firmly and sticks the leaf in my hair. ‘Hope.’

The Stadium rises on the horizon as the Dead stumble forward. It looms above most of the surrounding buildings and consumes several city blocks, a gaudy monument to an era of excess, a world of waste and want and misguided dreams that is now profoundly over.

Our cadaverous cadre has been walking for a little over a day, roaming the open roads like Kerouac beats with no gas money. The others are hungry, and there’s a Step two 1 страница brief, mostly wordless debate between M and the rest before they stop at an old boarded-up town house to feed. I wait outside. It’s been more days than I can remember since my last meal, but I find myself strangely content. There’s a neutral feeling in my veins, balanced precisely between hungry and sated. The screams of the people in the house pierce me more sharply than in all my days of hands-on killing, and I’m not even anywhere near them. I’m standing far out in the street, pushing my palms into Step two 1 страница my ears and waiting for it to be over.

When they emerge, M avoids my gaze. He wipes the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand and shoots me just one guilty glance before brushing past. The others are not quite there yet, not even to M’s level of conscience, but there is something a little different about them, too. They take no leftovers. They dry their bloody hands on their pants. They walk in uneasy silence. It’s a start.

As we get close enough to the Stadium to catch the first Step two 1 страница whiffs of the Living, I go over the plan in my head. It’s not much of a plan, really. It’s cartoonishly simple, but here’s why it might work: it’s never been tried before. There has never been enough will to make a way.

A few blocks from the entry gate, we stop in an abandoned house. I go into the bathroom and study myself in the mirror like the former resident must have done a thousand times. In my head I jog through the maddening repetitions of the morning routine, getting into character. Alarm-shower-clothes Step two 1 страница-breakfast. Do I look my best? Am I putting my best foot forward? Am I stepping out the door prepared for everything this world has to throw at me?

I run some gel through my hair. I splash some aftershave on my face. I straighten my tie.

‘Ready,’ I tell the others.

M sizes me up. ‘Close . . . enough.’

We head for the gates.

Within a few blocks, the smell of the Living is nearly overpowering. It’s as if the Stadium is a massive Tesla Coil crackling with storms of fragrant pink life-lightning. Everyone in our group stares at Step two 1 страница it in awe. Some of them drool freely. If they hadn’t just eaten, our loosely constructed strategy would collapse in an instant.

Before we get within sight of the gate, we take a side street and stop at an intersection, hiding behind a UPS truck. I step out slightly and look around the corner. Less than two blocks away, four guards stand in front of the Stadium’s main entrance doors, dangling shotguns over their shoulders and chatting among themselves. Their gruff, military sentences use even fewer syllables than ours.

I look at M. ‘Thanks. For . . . doing this.’

‘Sure Step two 1 страница,’ M says.

‘Don’t . . . die.’

‘Trying . . . not to. Are . . . ready?’

I nod.

‘Look . . . alive . . . out there.’

I smile. I brush my hair back one more time, take a deep breath, and run for it.

‘Help!’ I scream, waving my arms. ‘Help, they’re . . . right behind me!’

With my best possible balance and poise, I run towards the doors. M and the other Dead lumber after me, groaning theatrically.

The guards react on instinct: they raise their guns and open fire on the zombies. An arm flies off. A leg. One of the anonymous nine loses a head and Step two 1 страница goes down. But not a single weapon points in my direction. Painting Julie’s face on the air in front of me, I sprint with Olympian focus. My stride is good, I can feel it, I look normal, alive, and so I snap neatly into a category: ‘Human’. Two more guards emerge with guns drawn, but they barely even look at me. They squint, they take aim at their targets, and they shout, ‘Go! Get in there, man!’

Two more zombies hit the ground behind me. As I slip in through the doors, I see M and the remaining Step two 1 страница Dead veer off and retreat. As they go, their gait suddenly changes. They lose their stumble and run like living things. Not as fast as me, not as graceful, but with purpose. The guards hesitate, the gunfire falters. ‘What the fuck . . . ?’ one of them mutters.

Inside the entrance is a man with a clipboard and a notebook. An immigration officer, ready to take my name and have me fill out a stack of request forms before most likely tossing me out. The Dead have depended on this man for years to provide us with the defenceless stragglers we eat in Step two 1 страница the ruins outside. He comes towards me, flipping through his notebook, making no eye contact. ‘Close call, eh, friend? I’m going to need you to—’

‘Ted! Look at this shit!’

Ted looks up, looks through the open doors, sees his fellow soldiers standing dumbstruck. He glances at me. ‘Wait right here.’

Ted jogs out and stops next to the guards, staring at the eerily animate zombies dashing off into the distant streets like real people. I imagine the look on the men’s faces, their stomachs bubbling with the queasy sensation that the earth under their feet is Step two 1 страница moving.

Momentarily forgotten, I turn and run. I run through the dark entry corridor towards the light on the other end, wondering if this is a birth canal or the tunnel to Heaven. Am I coming or going? Either way, it’s too late to reverse. Hidden in the gloom under a red evening sky, I step into the world of the Living.

The sports arena Julie calls home is unaccountably large, perhaps one of those dual-event ‘super-venues’ built for an era when the greatest quandary facing the world was where to put all the parties. From Step two 1 страница the outside there is nothing to see but a mammoth oval of featureless walls, a concrete Ark that not even God could make float. But the interior reveals the Stadium’s soul: chaotic yet grasping for order, like the sprawling slums of Brazil if they’d been designed by a modernist architect.

All the bleachers have been torn out to make room for an expansive grid of miniature skyscrapers, rickety houses built unnaturally tall and skinny to conserve the limited real estate. Their walls are a hodgepodge of salvaged materials – one of the taller towers begins Step two 1 страница as concrete and grows flimsier as it rises, from steel to plastic to a precarious ninth floor of soggy particle board. Most of the buildings look like they should collapse in the first breeze, but the whole city is supported by rigid webs of cable running from tower to tower, cinching the grid tight. The Stadium’s inner walls loom high over everything, bristling with severed pipes, wires, and spikes of rebar that sprout from the concrete like beard stubble. Under-powered street lamps provide dim orange illumination, leaving this snow-globe city smothered in shadows.

The moment I step Step two 1 страница out of the entry tunnel my sinuses inflame with an overwhelming rush of life-smell. It’s all around me, so sweet and potent it’s almost painful; I feel like I’m drowning in a perfume bottle. But in the midst of this thick haze, I can sense Julie. Her signature scent peeks out of the noise, calling out like a voice underwater. I follow it.

The streets are the width of sidewalks, narrow strips of asphalt poured over the old AstroTurf, which peeks through any unpaved gaps like garish green moss. There are no names on the street Step two 1 страница signs. Instead of listing off states or presidents or varieties of trees, they display simple white graphics – Apple, Ball, Cat, Dog – a child’s guide to the alphabet. There is mud everywhere, slicking the asphalt and piling up in corners along with the detritus of daily life: pop cans, cigarette butts, used condoms and bullet shells.

I am trying not to gawk at the city like the backwoods tourist I am, but something beyond curiosity is gluing my attention to every kerb and rooftop. As foreign as it all is to me, I feel a ghostly sense of Step two 1 страница recognition, even nostalgia, and as I make my way down what must be Eye Street, some of my stolen memories begin to stir.

This is where we started. This is where they sent us when the coasts disappeared. When the bombs fell. When our friends died and rose as strangers, unfamiliar and cruel.

It’s not Perry’s voice – it’s everyone’s, a murmuring chorus of all the lives I’ve consumed, gathering in the dark lounge of my subconscious to reminisce.

Flag Avenue, where they planted our nation’s colours, back when there were still nations and their Step two 1 страница colours mattered. Gun Street, where they set up the war camps, planned attacks anddefences against our endless enemies, Living as often as Dead.

I walk with my head down, keeping as close to the walls as I can. When I meet someone coming the other way I keep my eyes straight ahead until the last possible moment, then I allow brief contact so as not to seem inhuman. We pass briskly with awkward nods.

It didn’t take much to bring down the card house of civilisation. Just a few gusts and it was done, the balance tipped, the spell Step two 1 страница broken. Good citizens realised the lines that had shaped their lives were imaginary and easily crossed. They had wants and needs and the power to satisfy them, so they did. The moment the lights went out, everyone stopped pretending.

I begin to worry about my clothes. Everyone I encounter is wearing thick grey denim, waterproof coats, mud-caked work boots. What world am I still living in where people dress for aesthetics? If no one realises I’m a zombie, they may still call in a report on the stylish lunatic roaming the streets in a Step two 1 страница fitted shirt and tie. I quicken my pace, sniffing desperately for Julie’s trail.

Island Avenue, where they built the courtyard for the community meetings, where ‘they’ became ‘we’, or so we believed. We cast our votes and raised our leaders, charming men and women with white teeth and silver tongues, and we shoved our many hopes and fears into their hands, believing those hands were strong because they had firm handshakes. They failed us, always. There was no way they could not fail us – they were human, and so were we.

I veer off Eye Street and start working Step two 1 страница my way towards the centre of the grid. Julie’s scent grows more distinct, but its exact direction remains vague. I keep hoping some clue will emerge from the chanting in my head, but these ancient ghosts have no interest in my insignificant search.

Jewel Street, where we built the schools once we finally accepted that this was reality, that this was the world ourchildren would inherit. We taught them how to shoot, how to pour concrete, how to kill and how to survive, and if they made it that far, if they mastered those skills and had time to Step two 1 страница spare, then we taught them how to read and write, to reason and relate and understand their world. We tried hard at first, there was much hope and faith, but it was a steep hill to climb in the rain, and many slid to the base.

I notice the maps in these memories are slightly outdated; the street they’re calling Jewel has been renamed. The sign is newer, a fresh primary green, and instead of a visual icon it has an actual word printed on it. Intrigued, I turn at this intersection and approach an atypically wide metal Step two 1 страница building. Julie’s scent is still distant, so I know I shouldn’t stop, but the pale light coming through the windows seems to prick some wordless anguish in my inner voices. As I press my nose against the glass, their musings go quiet.

A large, wide-open room. Row upon row of white metal tables under fluorescent lights. Dozens of children, all younger than ten, divided by row into project groups: a row repairing generators, a row treating gasoline, a row cleaning rifles, sharpening knives, stitching wounds. And at the edge, very near the window I Step two 1 страница’m staring through: a row dissecting cadavers. Except of course they aren’t cadavers. As an eight-year-old girl in blonde pigtails peels the flesh away from her subject’s mouth, revealing the crooked grin underneath, its eyes flick open and it looks around, struggles briefly against its restraints, then relaxes, looking weary and bored. It glances towards my window and we make brief eye contact, just before the girl cuts out its eyes.

We tried to make a beautiful world here, the voices mumble. There were those who saw the end of civilisation as an opportunity to Step two 1 страница start over, to undo the errors of history – to relive mankind’s awkward adolescence with all the wisdom of our modern age. But everything was happening so fast.

I hear the noise of a violent scuffle from the other end of the building, shoes scraping against concrete, elbows banging sheet metal. Then a low, wet groan. I traverse the building, searching for a better viewpoint.

Outside our walls were hordes of men and monsters eager to steal what we had, and inside was our own mad stew, so many cultures and languages and incompatible values packed into one tiny box Step two 1 страница. Our world was too small to share peacefully; consensus never came, harmony was impossible. So we adjusted our goals.

Through another window I see a big open space like a warehouse, dimly lit and scattered with broken cars and chunks of debris as if simulating the outer city landscape. A crowd of older kids surrounds a corral of chain-link fencing and concrete freeway barriers. It resembles the ‘free speech zones’ once used to contain protesters outside political rallies, but instead of being crammed full of sign-waving dissidents, this cage is occupied by just four figures: a teenage boy Step two 1 страница armoured head to toe in police riot gear, and three badly desiccated Dead.

Can the Dark Ages’ doctors be blamed for their methods? The bloodletting, the leeches, the holes in skulls? They were feeling their way blind, grasping at mysteries in a world without science, but the plague was upon them; they had to do something. When our turn came, it was no different. Despite all our technology and enlightenment, our laser scalpels and social services, it was no different. We were just as blind and just as desperate.

I can tell by the way they stagger Step two 1 страница that the Dead in this arena are starving. They must know where they are and what’s going to happen to them, but they are far beyond what little self-control they ever had. They lunge for the boy and he aims his shotgun.

The outside world had already sunk under a sea of blood, and now those waves were lapping over our last stronghold –we had to shore up the walls. We realised that the closest we’d ever get to objective truth was the belief of the majority, so we elected the majority and ignored the other voices. We appointed Step two 1 страница generals and contractors, police and engineers; we discarded every inessential ornament. We smelted our ideals under great heat and pressure until the soft parts burned away, and what emerged was a tempered frame rigid enough to endure the world we’d created.

‘Wrong!’ the instructor shouts at the boy in the cage as the boy fires into the advancing Dead, blowing holes in their chests and blasting off fingers and feet. ‘Get the head! Forget the rest is even there!’ The boy fires two more rounds that miss entirely, thudding into the heavy plywood ceiling. The quickest Step two 1 страница of the three zombies seizes his arms and wrenches the gun out of his hands, struggles with the pulse-checking safety trigger for a moment, then throws the gun aside and tackles the boy into the fence, biting wildly against the helmet’s faceguard. The instructor storms into the cage and jabs his pistol into the zombie’s head, fires a round and holsters the gun. ‘Remember,’ he announces to the whole room, ‘the recoil on an automatic shotgun will drive the barrel upwards, especially on these old Mossbergs, so aim low or you’ll be shooting blue sky Step two 1 страница.’ He scoops up the weapon and shoves it into the boy’s trembling hands. ‘Continue.’

The boy hesitates, then raises the barrel and fires twice. Bits of gore slap against his face-guard, spattering it black. He rips the helmet off and stares at the corpses at his feet, breathing hard and struggling not to cry.

‘Good,’ the instructor says. ‘Beautiful.

We knew it was all wrong. We knew we were diminishing ourselves in ways we couldn’t even name, and we wept sometimes at memories of better days, but we no longer saw a choice. We were Step two 1 страница doing our best to survive. The equations at the roots of our problems were complex, and we were far too exhausted to solve them.

A snuffling noise at my feet finally tears me away from the scene in the window. I look down to see a German shepherd puppy studying my leg with flaring wet nostrils. It looks up at me. I look down at it. It pants happily for a moment, then starts eating my calf.

‘Trina, no!’

A little boy rushes up and grabs the dog’s collar, pulls her off me and drags her back towards the open Step two 1 страница doorway of a house. ‘Bad dog.’

Trina twists her head around to gaze at me longingly.

‘Sorry!’ the boy calls from across the street.

I give him an easy wave, no problem.

A young girl emerges from the doorway and stands next to him, sticking out her belly and watching me with big dark eyes. Her hair is black, the boy’s is curly blond. They are both around six.

‘Don’t tell our mom?’ she asks.

I shake my head, swallowing back a sudden reflux of emotions. The sound of these kids’ voices, their perfect childish Step two 1 страница diction . . .

‘Do you . . . know Julie?’ I ask them.

‘Julie Cabernet?’ the boy says.

‘Julie Gri . . . gio.’

‘We like Julie Cabernet a lot. She reads to us every Wednesday.’

‘Stories!’ the girl adds.

I don’t recognise this name, but some scrap of memory perks at the sound of it. ‘Do you know . . . where she lives?’

‘Daisy Street,’ the boy says.

‘No, Flower Street! It’s a flower!’

‘A daisy is a flower.’

‘Oh.’

‘She lives on a corner. It’s Daisy Street and Devil Avenue.’

‘Cow Avenue!’

‘It’s not a cow, it’s the Devil. Cows and the Devil both Step two 1 страница have horns.’

‘Oh.’

‘Thanks,’ I tell the kids and turn to leave.

‘Are you a zombie?’ the girl asks in a shy squeak.

I freeze. She waits for my answer, twisting left and right on her heels. I relax, smile at the girl and shrug. ‘Julie . . . doesn’t think so.’

An angry voice from a fifth-floor window yells something about curfew and shutting the door and not talking to strangers, so I wave to the kids and hurry off towards Daisy and Devil. The sun is down and the sky is rust. A distant loudspeaker blares Step two 1 страница out a sequence of numbers, and most of the windows around me go dark. I loosen my tie and start to run.

The intensity of Julie’s scent doubles with each block. As the first few stars appear in the Stadium’s oval sky, I turn a corner and halt below a solitary edifice of white aluminium siding. Most of the buildings seem to be multi-family apartment complexes, but this one is smaller, narrower, and separated from its tightly packed neighbours by an awkward distance. Four storeys tall but barely two rooms wide, it looks like a cross Step two 1 страница between a town house and a prison watchtower. The windows are all dark except for a third-floor balcony jutting out from the side of the house. The balcony seems incongruously romantic on this austere structure, until I notice the swivel-mounted sniper rifles on each corner.


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