“There!” Michael raised his arm and pointed towards the Narrows just beyond Pier 6. Jolene’s eyes followed his outstretched hand and the two of them stood like statues erected on the hillside. From their vantage point, they could see the Mont Blanc. Just metres away from her was the Imo, steaming forward on a path of collision. Whistles shrieked, horns blew frantically. In desperation, the Mont Blanc veered. The prow of the Imo ploughed into the munitions ship’s deck.
Jolene stared at the two vessels locked in an odd sort of embrace. Slowly, they pulled apart, metal screeching against metal and emitting a shower of sparks. “The benzol is in barrels on the deck,” whispered Jolene. As if on cue, the flammable liquid burst into flame, throwing a dark billowing cloud of smoke into the air. A barrel exploded, shooting ribbons of fire into the clouds of steam and smoke. A kaleidoscope of colours swirled in the sky. Another barrel exploded into spectacular fireworks, then another and another.
“Come on!” cried Michael, racing down the hill.
Jolene watched him in horror. “No!” she screamed. “Michael, stop!”
But her words were lost in the deafening roar of the fire and the shouts of the people now pouring onto the streets. A column of oily black smoke towered above the ship. Balls of fire ripped through it dispersing into showers of light. Jolene dashed after her brother. By the time she’d reached Campbell Road, she could feel her skin tighten in the incredible heat of the burning ship. Fire bells clanged and a fire engine raced past her. She caught sight of Michael trying to manoeuvre through the crowd and sprinted after him. Hundreds of people were flocking to the dock. Some of the serious spectators had climbed to the top of the fifteen-storey sugar refinery for a bird’s eye view of the burning Mont Blanc, which was now drifting towards Pier 6. Jolene finally caught up with her brother as the crowd blocked his way. Cries and exclamations went up from the throng as if they were at a carnival. Michael climbed onto a large wooden crate and Jolene scrambled up behind him. From there, they could clearly see the burning ship.
Jolene grabbed Michael’s jacket. Heat seared her face and fear made her heart hammer. “Michael, we have to get out of here. Now!”
Michael whirled around to face her, his eyes bright and alive. “You’re right,” he shouted over the explosive crackling of the flames. Relief flooded over Jolene. She let go of his jacket. “We’ll never get to Roome Street this way. We have to find another route.” Jolene watched in disbelief as he leaped from the crate, dodged two sailors and bolted back across the cobblestones of Campbell Road up the hill. She followed frantically, sidestepping around the motorcars that had ground to a halt in the street. A horse reared, terror in its eyes.
Jolene followed Michael as he turned right on Albert Street and raced onwards. At the corner of Mulgrave Park, he paused to watch the burning ship in the harbour. Another vessel had come alongside, probably intending to tow her away from the pier. A boy on a bicycle screeched to a stop in front of Michael as Jolene caught up with them. “Hey Michael,” called Reg. “I bet you’ve never seen the likes of this.” His voice resounded with excitement. “That ship has a cannon on board. I’ll wager it’s carrying ammunition.” He stood up and pedalled furiously down the hill.
“Reg!” called Michael, but the boy was gone, his cap flying off his head.
Jolene gripped Michael’s arm. She was panting and sweat soaked her blouse. “Please,” she pleaded. “We have to go back. That ship’s going to explode.” Desperation ran deep in her words.
For a moment, her brother hesitated. “I don’t want Cassie to die,” he shouted. He wrenched himself free of her grip and started to race across Mulgrave Park.
“Yeah, well I don’t want you to die,” she screamed after him.
At that instant, Jolene was acutely aware of an ominous unnatural silence. A blinding flash of light illuminated the world and simultaneously, she heard the ear-splitting boom of an explosion. A blast of air swept her forward and sent her crashing to the earth. Looking up, she caught sight of an enormous mushroom cloud. Something struck her head and pain racked her body. Her head slumped and her eyes closed. “Michael,” she whispered as the world turned black.