Lunging for air, I turned towards the cloud, breath rasping as I watched the smoke build, waiting, desperate for its form to become clear. Panting I read its shape in vain, lids blinking in anticipation. Could it be a mushroom? There was no bright flash, no wind battering across me, knocking me off my feet. My breath slowed and I turned to Andrew and Toby either side shaking my head. Solemn nods came back in reply as Toby seemed to get energy from somewhere and he bounded around to the other two bodies, skirting their forms, but never closing in. Without words we turned back along the row of cars, our pace steady, their faces grey. I imagined mine the same.
“What do we say?” I heard Andrew’s words low as we began our walk back along the endless string of cars.
“Tell them everything,” Toby said, his voice quick and coarse.
“No,” I said shaking my head, eyes fixed on my feet. “We tell them what they need to know. Tell them we found a road block. We tell them we found chaos the other end. We tell them everyone has gone, evacuated.”
“Not everyone,” Andrew said. I waited a moment to answer, considering what our words could do.
“We tell them about the panic. We tell them people didn’t make it,” I said, picking up my pace, the gun heavy in my jacket pocket. Their reply was silent. I guessed if I turned I would see them nodding. To say anything else wouldn’t make sense.
“Then what?” Toby said breaking the silence. His voice soon crumbled under the words.
“We find another way out,” I said and my eyes fell on the procession of cars stretching out to the horizon. “All this in just a few hours?” I said, not targeting my words anywhere in particular. No one replied, but Andrew slowed. I turned, watching as he cut across to the wall, tested the stone with his hands before climbing. I joined him high at his side and mirrored him as he took in the view. All around us were fields, rolling gently up and down, only the occasional wind battered tree pointing skyward to punctuate the horizon. The long packed road at our front was the only sign that anyone had ever set foot on the earth. Our eyes carried on to the left, we were about a third of the way back to the cars and our friends. Breath stole from my lungs, my stomach a cavern as I thought of Zoe and the others back at the car, as I thought of their fear for us, their fear for the unknown. They would have heard the explosion, but were in the same head space as us, had yet to see what we had.
“What the hell is going on?” Toby said, his voice at our backs. I climbed down and offered my hand, helping him climb up as we jumped down the other side. I was about to open my mouth, about to speak, about to tell him I had no idea, when all of our heads turned skyward, eyes darting this way and that trying to spot the low rubble building on the horizon. Breath came fast, my eyes twitching to my two friends, theirs as wide as mine. We moved, started to run, winding our way through the metal, jumping the belongings clogging the road. The roar grew, building too quick to a crescendo, a grey fighter jet ripped through the air high above.
“Invasion,” I shouted. “It’s World War Three.” The words tailing off as I ran faster than I dared.