Flight Time III: Afar

Flight Time III: Afar

Read parts one and two.

She’s slow on the uphill, she knows that, but her pace is good and she plans to rate this not hard but at the high end of medium when she reaches the base of the mountain again. She’s sweating through the early spring rainforest chill. Light filters down through the leaves that are closing in as she climbs higher, trunks and branches gnarling as she continues. There’s an outcrop ahead that she likes but she knows that if she sits she’s done for so she’ll have to slow to a walk and measure it out and then make it back up on the way down.

The gap in the dark green road ahead gives way to a blue void that reaches out to the Bay with a stunning view from the seat built into the rock on the side of the path. She slows as she approaches and her hands are on her hips and her legs are still moving as she breathes in the clear sight and the fresh air as cold as it gets in this part of the year. She refills her lungs on it and she doesn’t sit but she stops against the railing overlooking it all and she pauses the run on her smartwatch and there’s nothing else to speak of on the screen.

Before her are foothills south and east to the motorway then the water then the islands then the ocean; the great Pacific as blue as the sky from here and beyond that are friends climbing the Andes. This is not the same but it’s closer to home so she’d stayed. Closer was the city still hiding under the cover of a light fog dissipating, as if it was struggling to wake. Through that fading mist she could out the spine of skyscrapers in which she’d longed to work but in which she didn’t. Some friends, some family. Her eyes sting with some sweat that’s run down and she’s cool again in the breeze so she steps back off and restarts her run and she’s slower to get back up to speed than she’d hoped.

 It’s been a persistent habit, the lethargy to start again, but she’s good at maintaining momentum when she has it. She would describe this as a warm start but it’s still a hard one and she resolves not to stop again as the walk became a jog became a run. She’s taking this part faster, on the even ground where she can, to make up for the view. Even still she can’t help but look up into the canopies of the trees overhead and her eyes follow their branches, her feet well aware of the route, and as she does there’s a white flash that blasts through the trees in a moment like the flicker of a torch. She shouldn’t brake so hard but she has to, her left knee fighting it like it always does, but the flash expands fast and the white consumes everything and afterwards it’s all clear and jagged like the edges of a pure white crystal.

She sees the bugs in the air like dots embossed. Ants on the path as if they’ve been carved out. In the birds she sees their feathers each distinct, wings tucked behind, with transparent chests and their tiny organs packed in and working at a fresh speed and a glowing fuzz like a photogram of their bones. They must see it too because they dart and spin and take off to be safe before dazing themselves on the branches growing mushrooms that stand out like warts from the vibrant brown and green of the trees. Each knot of wood, each twisting fibre, defined. The path beneath her cold and dead in contrast, a deeper black than she’d thought possible, tar amongst such life, stones crushed and pulverised and cast into dust and run through here and she can see right through it like she can see right through her own hands. Her fingers sharp at the tips before they round out soft through translucent skin, knuckles like ball bearings, the effect persisting up her arm, up her legs, looking into and through her own chest, ribs, pelvis.

Here the sound catches up: a long rumbling boom that plays like a trombone through the ocean blue of the gap to the outcrop. She turns towards it and she can’t but look down as she does and the muscles she’s been working so hard upon move in tandem and in time across the path she’s run many times. As she turns fast, a pivot, all she sees is a vibrant blur as a colour wheel measure of the world around her with the deep spot of the hole ahead. She collects herself as the white of the flash now finally fades and all she can see returns to how it was, how it is, her skin again whole and complete. She puts one hand to the other arm and it feels like flesh and like normal but as she steps out into the light of the outcrop she knows it’s not any longer.

Her sight drinks in the azure sky bleeding through a great hole in the sky from which the sound comes louder, louder, louder, drowning out all but the rumble, all but the damage of the bomb. The sound climbs over distance like you wouldn’t believe as it shakes the terrified trees. Superhot air strikes the mountain before she even notices properly what the city had become or where it had been. It smashes up over the outcrop, over her like a sightless fire on the wind and it burns the air so dry that falling leaves don’t catch and dance on the way down. In the sudden still they just dive.

She reaches for the railing but it’s as if the steel is aflame and she steps back with a yelp she can’t hear with bright red palms and the sky soft now and the noise seeming to be over but for the silence that’s all about. Ahead: smoke and grey and a funny shape in the earth fifty miles away like a disc laid on its side. The city laid bare, flat, and atomised. Fire and smoke still rising, rising, rising through the atmosphere before they’ll finally die of oxygen exhaustion on the edge of space. She wonders who’s made it and who’s not and the imprecise balance of it strikes her in a way she can’t describe, won’t describe, but just steps back towards the bench at the edge of the path as if the bomb itself was pushing her back but it wasn’t. Just the shock. She sits and the seat is warm but not as scalding as the rails so against the bench she falls. Offices and homes, short and tall, having crumbled in an instant and she wonders how it felt on the ground as it came but she’s still not got service so she doesn’t know what it’s been like. She’s just had the cold air calm with a racing heart and steady breath.

But in the clear sky, in the clarity of space afterwards, she gets some kind of reception and her smartwatch comes to life to tell her what she already knows. Alert after alert after alert in sequence as it gets closer and closer and closer and then it’s all over. Like it remains. She stands again and she looks out over the Bay as it would be now for a while, locked away as fresh history, and she wishes she had her phone if only so she could take a picture by which to better remember it. She would swear, later on, that she could see radiation falling out over the River and the islands but that’s not how it works. It was because of her vision, she would say, that white flash that gave her “spectrographic sight or something.”

What took her by surprise was that her watch was still recording. Of course it was. And she realised, up here, despite the view, she couldn’t be of any help at all. So she looks down the path by which she came and there’s only darkness beyond what she can see but the bright light from the empty sky is coming down and through once more. In the brightness outside, the worst that was yet to come has already made landfall.

She runs towards it as fast and steady as she can, making her way back to the car into which she plans to climb but inside of which she won’t be able to get further than Bald Hills, at the Pine Rivers Bridge, where the army’s barricaded the way in and the way out at least for now. Her phone will go and go and go and she’ll answer every call she can to let people know she’s safe but it’s not until she stops for food and fuel, in that order, at a service station that’s back up the motorway that she starts to cry in the car.

As she does, whatever’s left of the heart of Brisbane rains down as ash about her and the station and everyone about her and the roads north and south and east and west.

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