‘If you want Fran to die, add two. That’s zero-two if you would like to say goodbye to Francesca.’
Fran unstuck herself from the couch and reached for the alarm. In the background, a man on telly with no face and nobody was saying: ‘To dump Aron dial 0800 8001. Or, if it’s Michelle you want to dump, add 2, that’s 0800 8002 if you want to say goodbye to Michelle.’
Michelle? Fran paused to confirm she had been asleep for two episodes. Yep, it was 3.30 pm. She switched off the alarm, then on and off again, but the noise continued.
There was an emergency siren coming from outside. She checked online – no updates for Ash Mountain yet, no need to panic.
‘Dad, the town siren’s going off,’ she yelled from the hall. ‘Not sure why, nothing online. I’m going to get Vonny, back soon.’
Fran grabbed her backpack and shut the door behind her.
She knew she couldn’t Leave Early, but expected she’d at least Believe Early; and not be one of those ignoramuses who are like, Hey take my pic, Check out Nature, Is that…? Can you please tell me what I’m seeing? Believing was proving difficult, however.
To her right, coming in from the north-west, a gigantic wall of black and grey and red, a tsunami of smoke hundreds of metres high, had cut the world in half.
She lost a few seconds to disbelief – was it just clouds? Aliens? The sherry she’d had at 10.20 am? She raced back inside to her bedroom and threw on jeans, a jumper, leather boots, gloves and a beanie. She put a blanket in her backpack, ran down the hall and hugged her dad: ‘There’s a fire to the north, you follow the drill.’ Shutting the front door behind her once more, she checked that all the windows and doors were closed, that the sprinklers were on and the roof damp.
She considered the four-wheel drive, but Dante had taken it to the beach with Tiffany. She considered going back inside again and staying there – which would be safe, probably – but she had to be with Vonny, no matter what, so decided against it. She considered the two remaining ostriches and, as per the fantasy she secretly enjoyed sometimes, decided against them too…