39

Carl Henshawe

I slept for about an hour, curled up in a ball on the roof. It was fucking freezing, but it was better to freeze out there than to go back into the hall. I couldn’t bring myself to go back inside. I knew I’d have to go through it eventually to get to the bike and get out again, but not yet.

The thing I remember most about the morning was that it was grey. Everything was grey. The sky was grey, the buildings looked grey and the streets and bodies were grey. All the colour had gone, drained and rotted away.

I first looked at my watch just after five, and it took me until just before eight to decide that I was going to do it. The longest three hours of my entire bloody life were spent sitting on the roof of the community centre in the wind and rain thinking about everything I’d left behind in the city and whether I should go back to it. I knew that I had to do something. I couldn’t get this close and then just turn around and go back, could I? From the second I’d left my house on the first morning, all I’d thought about was Gemma and Sarah. That was the reason I couldn’t see the point of whatever it was that Emma and Michael were trying to achieve. For me there was no point in going on if I didn’t have Gemma and Sarah with me.

For a while I even thought about suicide, but I’m such a fucking coward that I couldn’t decide how to do it. I didn’t have any pills or drink or drugs with me and I couldn’t get any without crowds of those fucking things surrounding me. And the prospect of a thousand rotting corpses fighting over me was not worth thinking about. Once or twice I actually stood at the edge of the roof and got ready to jump, but it was nowhere near high enough. I’d probably just break an arm or a leg and end up lying there in agony and waiting for them to get me. Christ, the bloody irony of it all. Millions and millions of people lying dead around me and all I wanted to do was join them but I couldn’t. If I’d brought the rifle with me from the farmhouse I reckoned I could have done it that way. Quick and easy. Bloody hell, it had been weeks since anything had been quick and easy.

And in the long lonely minutes that followed even more irony tormented me. I kept thinking about Sarah and Gemma and each time I pictured their precious faces I just wanted to stop and give up. But I knew that Sarah wouldn’t have wanted that. If she’d been able to see me up on that roof she would have crucified me. If she’d known that I’d been thinking about giving up and ending it all then she’d probably have done it for me. And if I was honest with myself I’d have felt the same if our positions had been reversed. If she’d survived and I’d been the one that had died, I would have wanted her to be safe and to try and make something from what remained of her life.

So I decided to go home.

I climbed back down into the hall and walked through and started the bike. Without even bothering to think about what might be outside, I just started the engine, pushed the door open and rode out into the cold morning.

I had reached Hadley in a few minutes. As I got to the top of Gresham Hill I cut the engine and let the bike freewheel down towards our estate. I felt scared and I was so fucking nervous that it was hard to think straight. I didn’t even stop to think about the bodies. I was too busy looking at everything and thinking how much it had all changed. There probably hadn’t been another living soul there since I’d left on the day it had all begun, but everything looked completely different. I went past the pub where we’d been on the last normal Sunday night. The car park was overgrown with weeds and there were rats looking for food around the bins. The doors were hanging open and it was black and cold inside. The last time I’d been there it had been full of sounds and light and people.

Because I wasn’t making any noise the bodies didn’t seem to take any notice of me. If I moved slowly and took my time they didn’t even look up when I passed. I got off the bike and pushed it round into our road. Then I saw our house and I stopped. Part of me wanted to turn round and run but I knew that I had to carry on. But what if I got in and Sarah and Gemma weren’t there? Worse still, what if they were there and they’d become like the things which were still dragging themselves around the streets? Whatever I might have found, the thought of leaving and not knowing seemed much worse. I knew that I had to carry on.

I pushed the bike onto the drive and walked up to the front door. There was post in the porch, and like a fucking idiot I picked it up and started to look at it. A gas bill and a credit card bill. I even opened the bloody things to see how much I owed. And I dared to hate the bodies for following their instincts…

I had carried my house keys with me every day since we’d left Northwich. I hadn’t ever thought about going back there before, but for some reason I just hadn’t been able to let them go. With my hands shaking I unlocked the door and went inside.

I was just like it was when I left it. Everything was where I expected to find it. Gemma’s shoes were by the door, my mug was on the kitchen worktop, Sarah’s coat was hung over the post at the bottom of the bannister. I took off my crash helmet and just stood there and looked around. It was like the weirdest fucking dream I’ve ever had. If I half-closed my eyes and ignored the smell I could almost imagine that nothing had ever happened. There was a half-inch layer of dust on everything but other than that it still looked like home.

I stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up.

This was the real reason I’d come back.

I knew I couldn’t do anything for them and that going up to the bedroom wasn’t going to bring my girls back, but I had to go up. It took me about ten minutes to climb the stairs. I went up one at a time, forcing myself to climb higher and higher and, at the same time, having to keep control of my emotions and stop myself from running out of the house and getting back on the bike. Eventually I was at the top, standing on the landing, holding onto the bedroom door handle with my hands shaking.

I listened carefully. There was no noise coming from inside the room. I coughed, and still there was no reaction.

My mind was filled with memories of my family.

I pushed the door open and waited.

Nothing happened.

I looked at the bed and saw that they were both still there, still covered up by the duvet I’d draped over them before I’d left. I could just see a few curls of Sarah’s hair peeking out from under the covers. Much as I wanted to see them, I didn’t want to look at either of them. I wanted to remember them as they were and it was enough just to know that they were still together. I leant across and kissed them both through the bedding before I said goodbye. I shut my eyes and told them that I loved them and that I would always be thinking about them.

And that was all I did. I didn’t want to disturb them or move them. I just wanted to know that they were both still there. I just wanted to be sure that they were still together. It was more for Gemma than any other reason. I hadn’t been able to get the nightmare thought out of my mind that either one of them might have walked and that my beautiful little girl could have been on her own somewhere.

As it was she was okay. She was lying safe in bed, curled up tightly next to her mum.

And then came the question of what to do next.

The survivors had gone – I hoped they’d moved on, but I knew in my heart that something fucking terrible had happened to them.

My family were safe and were resting peacefully and I knew that I wasn’t going to go back home again.

I hadn’t expected to be on my own. Getting into the council depot that I’d talked about before suddenly didn’t seem like much of an option. Okay, so I could get myself in there, but then what? I’d already discovered that I didn’t have the balls to kill myself. So was I going to just sit there and starve or wait to die from dehydration, loneliness, boredom or old age?

The farmhouse I’d just come from was the safest place left.

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