Coffee cups, carried on the bow of a wave, swept under Gren’s feet. The water was creeping higher by the hour, and it would soon reach a point where she would be driven from her perch and forced back out into the night. She didn’t want to leave the brightly lit bus station; it was dry and safer being around people.
She hugged her legs and stared down at the dirty water. The last of the buses were in, the night routes cancelled due to the curfew, but the covered waiting area was full of a cross-section of the district. Workers and drunks stuck trying to get home, and the people with nowhere to go. It was the last group that had a proper claim to the night-time space and a few of the regulars defended their right with a ferocity that kept the interlopers at bay. They scowled at Gren and shunned her greetings, but space was made, and she was invited to sit.
She was cold and damp with only her prison-issue clothes to keep her warm. The thin yellow shirt was several sizes too big and along with the baggy grey trousers she looked like she’d raided a parent’s wardrobe. The prison guard had apologised when she handed them over, ashamed to be locking up a child.
A man sitting a few rows in front stuffed his face with greasy chips, tossing the ones that didn’t meet his standard. They floated around his green wellies, food for rats that swam just out of sight.
Gren’s stomach growled. It had been four hours since they had set her free and she’d been walking for most of them. Disorientated by the flooding and the unfamiliar streets plunged into darkness by neighbourhood power cuts, she’d walked in circles growing ever more frantic until she found the bus station.
Thoughts of her mother came to the surface, and not for the first time in the past couple of months she wondered if she was still alive. Moving around the sector with her belongings in a bag and a photo of her children tucked in a pocket. Her father claimed she was dead but failed to provide any proof to back it up. She had questions that her father had been unwilling to even listen to, the hollowed-out man retreating to the pub whenever the subject was raised.
The man finished the last of his chips and tossed the greasy paper into the water, a few scraps visible to Gren as they drifted away. She considered splashing after them but the brown body darting out from under a bench changed her mind. Let the rats have it, she thought, watching as the small creature tackled the paper raft.
As soon as the shout went out people were running, first towards the main entrance but when the two armoured cars turned off the road and entered the bus station they scattered in every direction.
Gren scurried over the seats, jumping from row to row until she was at the end. A militia soldier raised his rifle shouting at people to stop but Gren turned sharply and raced for the nearest bus. Everyone was shouting and then the crack of a gunshot had Gren sprinting through the puddles, turning down a narrow service street and dodging around the wheelie bins until she ducked behind one and squatted down to catch her breath.
Backdoors to shops, chained and padlocked, dark windows protected by security mesh, and run-down apartments accessed by rusting metal stairs. Gren tried a few door handles, hoping for somewhere to sleep out of the rain but there was no escape.
A boot splashed in a puddle and Gren spun around searching the dark. She heard it again and saw the shadow before he emerged from behind a van. It was the chip guy, Gren just knew it. She ran for a gate and slipped into a small yard with bins and a tangle of display stands. She tried the door, but it was locked.
The gate creaked open and Gren launched herself at it, shutting it in the man’s face. He cried out in anger and the wood rattled as he kicked it, but Gren dug her heels in, desperate to keep him out. She could hear him breathing heavily on the other side and he pushed, gently at first, testing her strength.
“Leave me alone!” Gren shouted bracing her body against the wooden gate. “I’ve got a knife.”
He put his weight to the gate slowly pushing her back until he could squeeze his leering face into the gap. Gren strained with all her might, her feet slipping on the wet concrete as the gate inched open but then he was gone and Gren fell back as the man cried out in pain. There was a grunt and then something heavy splashed into a puddle. Gren gripped the latch and clamped her mouth shut, stifling a scream, as she pushed against the gate with all her might.
The man cried out in pain again and staggered into the fence, his feet showing at the bottom. Gren leapt back from the gate, listening to the splashing on the other side, puddles and bins being knocked around as at least two people fought. The man pushed away from the fence and grunted but then there was a series of thumps and something heavy fell to the ground. There was a soft hissing like the air being let out of a balloon and then it was quiet.
Gren waited for a splash, anything that would tell her that there was another person nearby, but the minutes passed until she could wait no longer. She opened the gate and found the chip man lying face down in a puddle. Gren stepped around him, searching the alleyway but there was no one else. A siren blared on a street nearby and Gren sprinted in the opposite direction. Tears streamed down her face as she ran blindly, fear driving her onwards.