43

‘Jesus,’ Michael hissed as he stared down from the window in Emma’s room. ‘There are more and more of those fucking things coming in by the second. There are bloody thousands of them down there.’

Emma had been sitting with Carl who lay motionless on the bed. She got up and walked over to where Michael stood and glanced down over his shoulder into the farmyard below. He was right – there was already a dense crowd of hundreds of detestable figures surrounding the house and their numbers were increasing constantly. They continually poured in through the gap where the gate on the bridge had been.

‘Why do they keep coming?’ she asked under her breath. ‘We came here because we thought there would be fewer of them, so why do they keep coming here?’ She knew that Michael couldn’t give her any definite answers to her questions, but she felt a need to ask anyway.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I still think it’s got to be the noise.’

‘But we’ve not been making any noise.’

‘We have compared to the rest of the world. Christ, how many times have we been through this? The whole planet is bloody silent. Every time one of us moves you must be able to hear it for miles around.’

‘So the sound of the car engines…’

‘Keeps attracting them. And even when the sound dies down, I think they’re staying close because they know we’re nearby.’

‘Do you really think so?’

He nodded sadly.

‘It would explain why there are so many of them around here now, wouldn’t it?’

‘So if we stay indoors and keep quiet and out of sight for a while then they should…’

He shook his head with a resigned sadness.

‘I don’t think that’s going to work anymore,’ he sighed.

‘Why not?’

Rather than answer her, Michael instead just opened the bedroom window slightly. The sudden forcing noise as he pushed the sticking window open caused a ripple of excitement to quickly spread through the rotting crowd below.

‘Just listen to that,’ he whispered.

Emma did as she was told, and was soon aware of a cold, alien sound coming from the diseased hordes below. The shuffling of weary, leaden feet, the occasional guttural groan, the sound of clumsy bodies tripping and falling – each individually insignificant noise combined to create a constant, chilling soundtrack.

‘It’s too late for us to just sit still and play dead now,’ Michael explained. ‘It’s got to the stage where they’re making enough noise by themselves to keep attracting more and more of them here. And with a crowd of this size, it doesn’t matter how quiet we are, the bastard things are going to keep coming regardless.’

As realisation dawned, Emma stepped back from the window, sat down on a chair and rested her head in her hands.

‘So what do we do now?’ she asked anxiously.

Michael didn’t answer.

A heavy and ominous quiet descended on the room, disturbed only by the noise from outside and by Carl who groaned in pain.

‘How you doing?’ Michael asked, his voice still a hushed whisper.

Carl didn’t respond. Emma stood up and leant over the injured man. She looked him up and down, thought for a second or two and then walked back over to Michael.

‘It’s difficult to say how he is,’ she sighed, whispering so that Carl couldn’t hear her. ‘He’s exhausted and he’s still in shock. He doesn’t look too badly injured physically, but he’s really suffering.’

‘Has he said anything to you?’

‘What about?’

Michael closed the window and moved away from the glass.

‘About what he found in the city if he ever got there? And why he came back if he did?’

She shook her head.

‘He hasn’t said anything. I think we should…’

Michael wasn’t listening. He walked over to the side of the bed and knelt down next to Carl. Carl didn’t respond. He lay there motionless, staring up at the ceiling.

‘Mate,’ Michael began cautiously. ‘Carl, can you hear me?’

He swallowed painfully and nodded.

‘You okay?’

‘No,’ he answered, his voice tired and little more than a whisper.

Carl’s eyes flickered shut and then opened again. Without moving his head he looked over towards Michael, then back to Emma, and then back to Michael again.

‘Did you get to Northwich?’ Michael asked. ‘Did you get…’

‘I got there.’

Michael glanced over at Emma.

‘So what happened? Why did you come back?’

He looked up at the ceiling again, licked his dry lips and swallowed hard.

‘There was no-one there,’ he mumbled.

‘Where, at the community centre? Did you manage to get back to the community centre…’

‘They’ve gone. There was no-one there.’

‘So where did they go?’

Carl slowly lifted himself up onto his elbows, paused for a second, took a deep breath and then swallowed again.

‘I don’t think they went anywhere. When I got there the door was open. Inside the place was full of bodies.’

‘What bodies? The ones from outside or…?’

He shook his head.

‘Survivors. I don’t think they’d been dead that long.’

‘What happened?’ asked Emma.

‘The bodies must have got inside. There’s so many of them that the survivors didn’t have a chance. There’s only one way into that building so there was no way out…’

He slumped back onto the bed, tired by the effort of talking.

‘Fucking hell,’ Michael spat, standing up quickly and walking across the room. He kicked the bedroom door and it slammed shut, sending a sudden noise like a gunshot echoing through the house and causing the creatures outside to stir again. For the first time since he’d watched the world die around him weeks ago he couldn’t think straight. He didn’t know what to do. They had reached a dead end and there didn’t seem to be any options. The farmhouse was under siege, and the only other place of refuge that they knew of was gone.

Emma sensed his fear and walked over to stand close to him.

‘What are you thinking?’ she asked cautiously, although she didn’t really want to know. Her mind was also filled with hopeless thoughts.

Michael didn’t answer. He turned to face the wall, not wanting her to see the frightened tears welling up in his eyes.

‘We’ve got to do something,’ she insisted. ‘Do we just sit here and wait or do we…?’

‘We don’t have much of a fucking choice, do we?’ he snapped. ‘We can take our chances outside or we can sit in this room and wait until it’s safe again. And that’s going to take bloody ages…’

‘The house is still secure…’

‘I know it is, but what use is that to us anymore? Go into any room downstairs and there will be a hundred of those fucking things staring in at you through the window. Once they see you they’ll go fucking wild and before you know it we’re back to square one…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that it’s only going to take a little bit of careless noise or for a few of those things to catch sight of one of us and we’ll be right back to where we started. We could sit in this fucking house in silence for six months until all but a handful of them have disappeared and we’d still have a problem. All it needs is for one of them to see us and start hammering on the door and then more would hear that, then more, then more…’

‘So what are you saying?’

He shrugged his shoulders and wiped his eyes.

‘I don’t know…’ he muttered, taking care to avoid letting Emma know what he was really thinking. But she was intelligent and persistent and she’d already worked it out for herself.

‘I think you’re saying that we have to leave. I don’t think we can stay here any longer.’

He nodded.

‘Don’t know where we’re going to go or how we’re going to get out of here…’

‘But we don’t have any option, do we?’

Michael didn’t respond. He wiped his eyes again and looked around the room. For almost a minute he said nothing.

‘We’ve got to keep out of sight and out of earshot of those bloody things,’ he eventually announced, ‘and we’ve got to get as much stuff together as we can. We’ll just have to fight our way through.’

‘But how? How are we going to get to the cars…?’

‘We’ll wait for a couple of hours until it’s dark,’ he interrupted, ‘and we’ll see if a few of them disappear. I’ll try and get the generator started and…’

‘Why?’

‘Because it will distract them, won’t it? If there’s a louder sound round the back of the house they’re more likely to go looking for us there, aren’t they? Anyway, we’ll wait and give Carl a chance to come round and pull himself together, then we’ll just have to go for it.’

With that he walked out of the bedroom to start collecting their things from the upstairs rooms of the house. Emma stayed where she was, leaning against the bedroom wall. Now that the conversation had ended an uneasy silence had descended upon the building. The deceptive peace, however, was short-lived. She quickly became aware of the bodies outside again. She stood there in absolute hopeless terror and listened as the dragging footsteps of hundreds upon hundreds of rotting corpses advanced closer and closer towards them.

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