65: Search And Rescue

Katerina huddles behind the upturned desk, cradling John's charred head to her bosom, wishing that everyone would just Go Away and Leave Them In Peace. John sobs into her breasts, clutching at her with an unnervingly strong grip.

"There, there", she says, patting his back. "Everything will be alright."

Katerina listens to the platitudes escaping her lips with increasing incredulity. Her panicked brain, cowering with fear in the base of her skull, is amazed: it is as if the soothing, mannered tones are being uttered by someone else. Maybe I should have been a nurse, she thinks, or a bomb disposal person, someone who needs to stay calm in desperate situations. Maybe you need to measure yourself against the crazy stick, shouts another, more cynical, part of her mind.

John's wails grow louder, the smell of singed hair and burnt skin rising from his ruined face.

There's always Google, thinks Katerina. That may save us yet.


She pokes her head above her barricade. Garry looks back at her from his position at the defences, his eyes wild and, with his grey shirt partially untucked and red tie loosened, looking somewhat heroic in her mind. Garry’s gaze flicks momentarily to John, and back to her.

“Get out of here! I’ll hold them off for as long as I can, go downstairs, anywhere!”

The Borrowers form an advancing wall beyond the barricade, a duffel-coated, cagoule-wearing, semi-washed horde topped with shapeless grey faces. They chant in unison, waving books in the air like burning torches, shuffling and stomping their feet. They look… relentless, like no Suggestions Box in the world would be big enough to hold all of their complaints.

“Get up, John. We’ve got to go!”

Extracting herself from John’s wiry embrace, she struggles to her feet, and half-carries, half-drags him towards the lift. Falling to the floor, John grips her ankle, his wails becoming more piercing. Katerina drags him onwards, reaching out for the lift call button, stretching her fingers toward the ‘DOWN’ button, reaching, grasping. A book crashes into the lift doors, just missing her head. Another strikes her back, knocking the breath from her lungs; she slaps the lift call button as she falls to the floor, winded. The books rain down on and around them, and Katerina covers her head, curling into a ball, sharp jabs of pain coming from the corners of books as they strike her back.

John crawls forward, seemingly unaffected by the barrage, until a book strikes him square on the back of his head, knocking him down.

Peering through her fingers, Katerina watches as the book slides slowly off his head, the cartoonish yellow cover depicting a man holding his finger aloft in inspiration. The thick book flops to the ground, landing cover-upwards beneath John’s good eye.

Katerina reads the title.

She covers her eyes, and wraps her arms tightly around her head.

John reads the title of the book.

Google Search & Rescue For Dummies.

His wailing transmutes into a growl.

He picks up the book with white-knuckled hands and gets to his feet. Thrown books bounce off him. He adjusts the cardigan draped over his shoulders.

The growl becomes a roar.

The lift chimes as the doors open.

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