14

Less than an hour into the journey and Carl, Michael and Emma found themselves wracked with fear and scepticism. Leaving the shelter had seemed like the only option but now, now that they had actually left the building and the other survivors behind them, uncertainty and unknowing had begun to set in and take over. Doubt which bordered on paranoia plagued Michael as he fought to keep his concentration and to keep the van moving forward. Problem was, he decided, they didn’t actually know where it was they were going. Finding somewhere safe and secure to shelter had seemed easy at first but now that they were outside and could see the shattered remains of the world for themselves it was beginning to seem like an impossible task. The whole world seemed to be theirs for the taking but they couldn’t actually find any of it that they wanted.

Emma sat bolt upright in the seat next to Michael, staring out of the windows around her in disbelief, looking from side to side, too afraid to sit back and relax. Before she’d seen it for herself it had seemed logical to assume that only the helpless population would have been affected by the inexplicable tragedy. The reality was that the land too had been battered, savaged and ravaged beyond all recognition. Countless buildings – sometimes entire streets – had been razed to the ground by unchecked fires which even now still smouldered. Almost every car which had been moving when the disaster had struck had veered out of control and had crashed. She counted herself lucky that she had been indoors and relatively safe when the nightmare had begun. She silently wondered how many other people that had died in a car crash or some other sudden accident might actually have gone on to survive had fate not dealt them such a bitter hand? How many people who shared her apparent immunity to the disease, virus or whatever it was that had caused all of this had been wiped out through nothing more than misfortune and bad luck? Something caught her eye in a field at the side of the road. The wreckage of a light aircraft was strewn over the boggy and uneven ground at one end of a long, deep furrow. All around the wreck lay twisted chunks of metal which freely mixed with the bloody remains of the passengers the plane had been carrying. She wondered what might have happened to those people had they survived their flight? It was pointless to think about such things, but in a strange way it was almost therapeutic. It seemed to help just to keep her mind occupied.

With unnerving speed the three survivors found that they were becoming impervious to the carnage, death and destruction all around them. But, even though the sight of thousands of battered and bloodied bodies and the aftermath of hundreds of horrific accidents were now almost commonplace, from time to time each one of them still saw scenes that were so terrible and grotesque that it was almost impossible for them to comprehend what they saw. As much as he wanted to look away, Carl found himself transfixed with a morbid and sickening curiosity as they passed a long red and white coach. The huge and heavy vehicle had collided with the side of a red brick house. Carl stared in disbelief at the bodies of some thirty or so children trapped in their seats. Even though they were held tight by their seat belts, he could see at least seven of the poor youngsters trying to move. Their withered arms flailed around their empty, pallid faces, and the sight of the children made him remember Gemma, the perfect little girl that he had left behind. The realisation that he would never see or hold her again was a pain that was almost too much to bear. It had been hard enough to try and come to terms with his loss while he had been in the community centre but now, strange as it seemed, every single mile they drove further away made the pain even harder to stand. Sarah and Gemma had been dead for almost a week but he still felt responsible for them. He’d just left them lying in bed together. He felt like he’d failed them.

Conversation had been sparse and forced since the journey had begun and the silence was beginning to deafen Emma. She could see that Michael was having to concentrate hard on his driving (the roads were littered with debris) and Carl seemed preoccupied but she needed to talk. The ominous quiet in the van was allowing her far too much time to think.

‘Have either of you two actually thought about where we might be going?’ she asked.

Neither of the men replied at first. Silently all three of them had been thinking about that question intermittently but there had been so many bizarre distractions that it had proved impossible for anyone to be able to decide anything.

‘I’ve tried to think about it,’ Carl admitted, ‘but I can’t think straight. I get so far and then I see something and…’

His words trailed away into silence. He sounded lost and helpless. Michael glanced into the rear view mirror and watched the other man’s tired eyes as they darted anxiously around. He looked like a frightened little boy.

‘Well we’ve got to decide something soon,’ Emma said. ‘We need some kind of plan, don’t we?’

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

‘I thought we’d got one,’ he replied. ‘Keep driving until we find somewhere safe and then stop.’

‘But what does safe mean?’ she asked. ‘Is anywhere safe?’

‘I don’t know,’ he sighed. ‘You could argue we’d be safe anywhere. There’s only the bodies that are moving to watch out for and they don’t react to us.’

‘But what about disease?’ she continued. ‘They’re starting to rot.’

‘I know they are.’

‘So what are we going to do?’

He shrugged his shoulders again.

‘There’s not a lot we can do. We can’t see the germs so we’ll just have to take our chances.’

‘So what you’re saying is we could stop anywhere?’

He thought for a second.

‘Yes.’

‘So why haven’t we? Why do we just keep driving and…’

‘Because…’ he snapped.

‘Because we’re too bloody frightened,’ she interrupted. ‘Because nowhere is safe, is it? Everywhere might well be empty and we might well be able to pick and choose but that doesn’t matter. Truth is I’m too fucking frightened to get out of this fucking van and so are you two.’

With her sudden and unexpected admission (which both Michael and Carl silently agreed with) the conversation ended.

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