‘I can’t help you,’ says the guy on the desk. ‘Look at this place. The Israelis bomb it and then they drive tanks over the rubble, How would I notice one more lump of concrete among all the rest?’
‘Not concrete,’ mumbles Caspar. It’s the first thing he’s said all day. It’s not just his pallor that got him the name Caspar, but his freakish capacity for silence.
‘I told you,’ says Mel, ‘it’s not from round here. You get me? Just listen to that Geiger counter…’ Mel holds it up. It crackles away like a badly tuned radio. ‘Here somewhere, innit? If I were you, I’d let us look.’
The guy shrugs, one of those shrugs that ripples around the Mediterranean shore and could mean anything. Mel, Zar and Caspar take it as consent, replace their helmets and breathing apparatus and move off towards the guesthouse garden. The Geiger counter’s crackling crescendos as they clamber over smashed furniture and tumbled lemon trees towards a tool shed that appears miraculously intact. Mel Takes a blast of his oxygen and pushes open the door. Zar, whose gran brought him up a Seventh Day Adventist, invokes the name of the Lord in a voice that sounds like Darth Vadar because of the helmet. Caspar’s white and silent as ever.
The dusty light falls on the faces of a man and a girl.
‘Are you them?’ The man shows no fear, as though three blokes in radiation suits are just what he expected to see when the door opened.
‘Mate, are you?’ Mel waves the Geiger counter at him. ‘You can’t be human. You’d be coughing your guts up – literally – at these levels if you were.’
‘It’s not us,’ says the woman. She holds out a bundle towards Mel. ‘It’s him.’
Zar takes the baby. Zar’s used to babies; he’s got three sisters and they’ve all got kids. He folds back the scrap of sackcloth and gazes at the scrunched up little face that looks new and old, furious and full of wonderment all at the same time. ‘Looks human to me,’ he says.
‘No,’ says Caspar, and because he says so little, his conclusion carries real authority.
The man picks up some shards of metal from among the garden tools littering the shed floor. They have the changeable sheen of a starling’s wing and the edges are blunt to the touch, as though something has broken along pre-arranged lines. ‘No,’ he agrees. ‘We found him lying in the middle of all these, almost like he’d hatched out of an egg.’
‘Except we saw it land,’ adds the woman. ‘We thought it was a shell to begin with but Yussuf said it wasn’t.’ She flicks Yussuf a nervous look. ‘He knows more about that stuff than I do.’
‘Shut it, Mariam.’
‘We’re not interested in Yussuf’s politics,’ says Mel, snapping off the Geiger counter, ‘we’re interested in the baby. He needs our protection.’
‘Our silence,’ adds Caspar.
‘Bruv,’ says Zar, ‘what you most needs is to learn growing up different is a cross you has to bear.’
Sarah Bower is a novelist and short story writer whose fiction has been published in nine countries. A resident of Suffolk, she also works as a mentor and creative writing tutor and is a former editor of the Historical Novels Review.