“Stay in your houses. Repeat. All residents. Stay in your houses. This is not a drill. If you are not at home then go home. If you are not in your community, find a neighbour or relative to stay with and alert the authorities immediately. All shuttles are suspended. Do not panic. Stay in your homes and await further instructions.”
It had been many years since Michael Turner had heard such an announcement – not since Stephen and Rebekah were children and Jane was pregnant with Emilie.
He remembered that summer well. Jane’s third pregnancy had taken its toll on her in a way the first two hadn’t and she was hot and weary all the time. And it was her eighth month when the lockdown came. They were holed up in their house with two young children and no idea when they would be able to get out and seek medical help.
The lockdown had lasted for five days. Five days and then everything resumed with no word of what had happened to cause it, no word of why it had lasted so long. Flustered mutterings had buzzed about the communities for several weeks until the buzz became a faint hum, a murmur and a silence.
Jane’s heart beat fast as it had done that day fifteen and a half years earlier, when the child in her womb started kicking frantically, as if panicked by the tannoy message and the climate of fear it presented. She remembered the braxton hicks, not the real thing, fortunately, but a false labour. Emilie was just too eager to experience things before her time – not much had changed. They called the children to join them and willed their eldest children and their grandchildren in The Cliffs to safety.
‘What is it? What does it mean?’
‘Sit down, both of you.’
David pulled up a chair, kicking his feet from under him, whilst Emilie slowly slid into one, face set in its usual mode of suspicion.
‘It’s a lockdown. You might have been told about them at school.’
David screwed his eyes up, trying to remember, but eventually shook his head. Emilie shook hers too.
‘The last time we had one was when I was pregnant with you, Em. Before that, I think I remember two from when I was younger. Both lasted no more than a few hours. But the last one, well, that lasted for five days.’
‘FIVE DAYS? I’m not staying stuck in here for five days.’
Michael looked at his children and spoke with a solemnity they hadn’t heard from him before.
‘We stay put as long as we need to. We stay put as long as they tell us to. We don’t move. We don’t do anything other than hold tight and spend time with one another and wait.’
‘Because we must. Because it’s safest.’
‘What is happening?’
‘We don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s not safe out there until they tell us so.’
‘Is it because of all the people that went to Central?’
Emilie’s heart was pounding. Tyler had gone to Central. Tried to persuade her to come too, said it was time, time for things to change. She’d seen them going last night, must have been about a third of the community, or thereabouts. But her parents had told her not to go. They wouldn’t tell her why, wouldn’t tell her what was happening. And now she demanded to know.
Michael and Jane sighed and looked at each other. They nodded an assent between them and Jane spoke, her voice hushed.
‘Some people – quite a few people – want to go to Central and…’
She looked around for cameras and microphones – as if it was ever possible to see where they were hidden. But she figured that it no longer mattered – what was happening could hardly be kept secret, not now so many had gone – and they would surely be safe? They had stayed, they had held firm.
‘… and they want to protest. They don’t think things are happening fast enough.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘That we’re not fulfilling our destiny fast enough. People think it is time we showed the rest of the world what we are about.’
‘But why is that a bad thing?’
‘Because it’s not time yet, sweetheart. We have to trust the council will decide these things when we’re ready, and when the world is ready. And it isn’t that time yet.’
‘But I don’t understand why that means we have to stay home. Has something bad happened?’
‘I don’t know. But I know we have each other and we need to stick together and hopefully in a few hours this will all be resolved and things will go back to normal.’
But something in her mother’s voice, usually so authoritative, rang false. And as she thought of Tyler, Emilie’s flesh prickled and although she didn’t know what was happening out there in Central or whether he was safe, she knew one thing for sure. Things would not, could not, go back to normal again.