Flora & Jim
Science fiction novel
... I all but screamed at my baby girl, the most beautiful treasured thing in what passed for my life. Infuriated, I ripped the goggles off; their weight had been bowing my scarecrow neck. The world flipped too quick from narrow safe letterbox to a cold sea of light. A deluge ...
The world is frozen. The animals ascendant. And, locked in desperate pursuit of "the other father" across a grim icy apocalypse, Jim will do anything to keep his daughter alive.
Flora & Jim is BP Gregory's fifth novel.
It wasn't immediately clear what had happened. Otherwise, I like to think I might have reacted better.
But my exhilaration, squinting through the slits of crude snow goggles, zeroed in on those tantalizing figures racing ahead. The other father and his young son. Biggie and shortly, just like little Flora and me. They were paper cut-outs against the light, where a collapse had conspired to open up buildings and let them through.
The stark crisp air that whooshed between skyscrapers could be a dirty old liar; it bit your face so bad, made eyes water; but they looked so close! Like I could stretch just a little more and close mittened fists around them. Imagine rummaging in those bags!
If their desperate flight made any sound it was obliterated by the harsh chug of my own pipes. Adrenaline crackled in delirious conduit from the other father to me, along the icy tarmac.
My heart swelled. Picked up lead feet eagerly. Fear was the path I'd tread to finally, finally catch them.
Torturous breathing spluttered. The kid had stopped!
Abandoning all sanity shorty was turning back toward me. His guardian pawed frantically at his arm.
Inexplicable, I know, but I slowed. They weren't playing the game that made it ok to chase. Silhouetted by afternoon glare the son especially was becoming harder to see the nearer I trudged. The light fractured into whirling colours.
My forsaken youth had been filthy with similar signs and wonders, at least to my callow eyes. To see one pop up here was like falling into some dizzy hallucination.
Picture books I'd obsessed over of the old sun burning through Madonna blue, hellfire crimson poured on the floor: the stained glass of cathedrals that no longer existed. Bright-bleeding saints, who'd frown down on you shivering in your pew. Damning illumination with nowhere to cower and hide.
A frail replica made of candy wrappers around a candle stub had resisted the slithering darkness by my childhood bedside. Like it was ever going to win.
All this rushed back as, stern as any martyr with the light boiling past, the boy pointed.
—pointing at me??—
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Irresistibly I quailed. Victim of the bad child that huddled in the brainstem, forever in guilt at being uncovered The weird dissociate conviction lingered that this was indeed a game, not life or death. Played by innocents, all. And I'd somehow missed the rules.
The other father was becoming hysterical.
His son was pointing behind me.
—had to be some kind of trick—
I looked anyhow. Even though the cumbersome goggles meant swinging all the way around. Shorty's imperious finger demanded it.
To turn at the boy's urging and see Flora meters back, when she ought to have been treading on my heels. In the heat of the chase flat out in the middle of the road, like a toddler having a tantrum ...
I all but screamed at my baby girl, the most treasured thing in what passed for my life.
'Fuck's sake, Flora, GET UP!'
Infuriated, I ripped the goggles off; their weight had been bowing my scarecrow neck. The world flipped too quick from narrow safe letterbox to a cold sea of light. A deluge. We were way beyond self-control, here. The boy had tickled my paranoia, and I'd had a gutful of being scared. I wanted to smash fear's spine with my boot.
'FLORA! Fuck, look, they're getting away! Would you come on!'
Taking advantage, the other father bundled his child up to run. Feet drummed the pavement and they dissolved into the glare. Going, going. Gone.
My impotent frustration clanged off rotten vacant buildings, this rotten empty city. Too loud to be taken back. Foolishly like some hothead teen I stood clenching and unclenching my fists as the echo rang out.
Embarrassing. But we'd been so close!
—come on, jimbo. for chrissake, get a hold of yourself—
—don't scare your girl—
Silence crept slyly back in to drape the street. Only the lying wind lingered, whistling in blank windows to remind us how tiny we were. And Flora was not getting up.
Without the chase-fever to inflame me, sanity came as a chill slap to the head. Too late, my fuming squint picked the key detail across the distance. The sickening way Flora's small limbs were hammering the tarmac, the gnawing air, her brittle self, as though to drum all these from reality.
My miserable gut shivered inside-out.
Already slipping and skittering back to where my daughter fluttered, like a bird cast down.
FLORA & JIM