BEFORE JAKE HUMPHRIES

Eight months ago Jake Humphries and his family immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom. A regional manager for a global finance house, Jake agreed to move his family overseas for a well paid two year posting. His wife Lucy and their two children settled quickly into their new surroundings. The people who found it hardest to adjust were those they left behind. Polly Humphries - Jake's well-meaning but highly strung and over-sensitive mother - still finds the distance between her and her son difficult to deal with. Mrs Humphries and her husband made their first visit to Canada several weeks ago. The trip did nothing to reassure the old lady. If anything it has made her more neurotic. Jake has grown to dread the weekly telephone calls from the UK. His mother usually phones on Saturdays. It is now the early hours of Tuesday morning.

'Jake? Jake, is that you?'

'Mum? Bloody hell, Mum, do you know what time it is?'

'Are you okay, son?'

'Apart from being tired because it's gone midnight and I'd only just managed to get to sleep I'm fine. We're all fine. Why shouldn't we be?'

'Haven't you heard?'

'Heard what? Christ, Mum, it's the middle of the bloody night. I haven't heard anything.'

'There's no need for the language, Jake, we were just worried about you, that's all.'

'Why?'

'Are you far from Vancouver ?'

'It's on the other side of the country. It's thousands of kilometres away, why?'

'Because something's happened there.'

'What do you mean? What's happened?'

'I don't know. I don't think anyone knows. Your dad and I saw it on the news and...'

'Look, Mum, I'm really tired. You're not making any sense at all...'

'I'm sorry, love. It's just that you're all so far away from us here and we worry about you.'

'I know, I know... Anyway, what time is it there?'

'Just after seven.'

'What are you doing up so early?'

'Your dad couldn't sleep. You know what he's like, once he's awake that's it. And once he's up and about I can't relax. He woke me up with his shuffling and his moaning so we both got up and came downstairs. We were watching the news and...'

'And what exactly is it that's supposed to have happened in Vancouver ?'

'They're not sure. No-one's saying very much. No-one seems to know very much yet.'

'So you've woken me up to tell me that no-one knows very much about what's happening in Vancouver ? Come on, Mum, I've got an important meeting first thing tomorrow and I can't afford to...'

'No. Listen, son, something's happened there but they don't...'

'Well give me a clue then. Has there been an accident or a bomb or...?'

'I don't know. I heard something about a bomb but they've stopped talking about that now.'

'So why have you phoned me in the middle of the night? This isn't little old England , Mum. This place is bloody huge. Just because something's happening in the same country doesn't mean it's going to affect...'

'I'm phoning you because they've lost contact with the city, and all the places surrounding it.'

'What? What do you mean, they've lost contact with it? Vancouver is a massive city for Christ's sake. There are thousands and thousands of people there. Millions. You can't lose contact with millions of people just like that...'

'I know...'

'You can't lose contact with a whole bloody city, Mum.'

'I know, but they have.'

'What channel are you watching? Are you sure it's genuine? Are you sure it's not just a film or one of those drama-documentaries about...'

'Jake, your father and I may be getting on but we're not stupid. I know what I'm watching. It's the news and it's real. We're sitting in front of the television right now. Your father's next to me. I'm only telling you what we've heard, and I'm only telling you because we're concerned about you, Lucy and the boys.'

'So tell me again exactly what it is they're saying.'

'Your dad says put your TV on, son. You're bound to have some news where you are. You're much closer than we are.'

'Okay, give me a second.'

'What can you see?'

'Hold on, that's strange.'

'What's strange?'

'Can't get a picture on some of the channels. Cable must be down. Sometimes this happens when...' 'What about the radio? Try your computer. Try the Internet.'

'Hang on, here's something.'

'What are they saying?'

'Christ, it's just like you said, they've lost contact with the area around... Hold on, you said Vancouver, didn't you Mum?'

'Yes son, why?'

'Because the station I'm watching here is talking about Winnipeg. That's miles away. And Seattle, and Portland. They're talking about a massive part of the country. Bloody hell, what's going on here...?'

'Are they saying anything about what's happened, Jake? Do they know why...?'

'Christ, Mum, they've put a map up. It looks like it's spreading out from the west. It looks like...'

'Where are Lucy and the boys?'

'Lucy's here in bed with me, the boys are asleep...'

'You should lock your doors. Don't answer the door if anyone comes. Wait until we know what's...'

'What's the point of locking the door? Mum, this isn't anything to do with...'

'Jake...? Jake, are you still there? What's the matter, son?'

'Nothing. Thought I heard something, that's all.'

'What?'

'Thought I could hear...'

'Jake...? What's happening, son?'

'Sorry, Mum, I'm going to put the phone down. Look, I'll call you back as soon as I...'

'What's wrong?'

'Something's happening on the other side of the river. There's a fire. It looks like something's gone into the front of one of the buildings on the waterfront by the... Don't know what's going on. I can't see much from here... Hang on a second and I'll try and... Shit, that's all I need, the kids are awake now. Bloody hell. Lucy, could you go and...? Lucy...? Honey, what's wrong?'

'What's the matter, son?'

'Lucy? Don't struggle, honey, lie back and I'll get you a...'

'Jake? Jake... are you still there?'

Over five thousand miles away, Mrs Humphries listened helplessly to the muffled sounds of her son, her daughter-in-law and her two grandsons choking to death. Within hours both Mrs Humphries and her husband were dead too.

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