Breathless, I spotted the missing car at the back of our own short convoy before I saw Zoe. She was stood next to Toby’s young wife, Lily, both waving their arms above their head, faces lit with relief. Lily ran towards us as we grew closer, rushing past me to clutch her husband. Slowing my pace and with Andrew at my side, we watched Nat climb from our car, followed soon by Matt and Chloe pulling out of Toby’s silver Mercedes.
“What is it?” Zoe said, her hands at her mouth, dread covering her face. “The explosion,” she said turning towards Nat who was eyeing me with a squint of interest.
“It’s a roadblock,” I said, not ready to give the details. “Where’s Leo and the others?”
Zoe and Nat exchanged looks. Matt stepped forward, looking to Chloe before he spoke.
“Um, they didn’t want to sit around waiting,” he said. “Were pretty pissed off you upped and legged it.”
“I was coming back,” I said. “Of course, I was always going to come back.”
Matt shrugged, his eyes flitting to the distance.
“So where did they go?” I said, catching the eyes of each for the four. Matt spoke again.
“They’re going to find another way around.” Zoe was shaking her head, a look of distaste on her face.
“Leo said some scary shit. Dan thinks we’re being invaded, World War Three or something. It was the plane that did it.” She was looking at me the entire time, I guess trying to gauge my reaction. “Max reckons they blew up the rest of the power station to stop a build of heat, but that must be bullshit.” She was looking in my eyes, her own wide for an answer. “Well, what is it?” she said, her voice rising.
“I don’t know,” I replied and it was the truth. “It’s not an invasion,” I said pausing, adding more words than I needed to. “I don’t think. I did before, but it makes little sense now.” I watched Zoe’s eyes widen and Nat’s contract. “If the Russians or the Chinese have invaded then why the evacuation? The skies would be teaming with fighters,” I said shaking my head.
“But the explosion?” Zoe replied, noticing the rest had gathered around.
“I don’t know.” The only reply was silence, each of my friends looking on, waiting for me to come up with some idea, some plan, some theory they could latch on to. I couldn’t remain silent. “All I know is there was supposed to be an evacuation, everyone should be gone, but we missed the bus, quite literally,” I said turning to Andrew. Silence followed again, but I knew the next words that would come. It was Zoe who spoke.
“Evacuated from what?” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“I don’t know,” I replied and opened my arms, but instead she turned and sunk into Nat’s embrace.
Drawing a deep breath I broke from the group to circle my car, closing the passenger doors as I did. Taking the driver’s seat, I pushed down the locks as the engine started. To emotional faces staring back, I turned the car, rolling it to the side of the road. Six pairs of eyes followed me as I killed the engine and walked to the last abandoned car in the long queue, a Freelander. Leaning through the open driver’s door, I turned the key one notch and watched the fuel indicator spring to the right.
They soon got the idea as I pulled open the boot and lugged suitcases to the side of the road, each lending a hand, pulling our bags from my car with the wrecked screen. Without words we started the convoy once more, driving for hours, following the map book on Andrew’s lap, taking turn after turn, each time to find a queue of abandoned traffic, sometimes long, sometimes shorter. At the first few we checked the head of the queue, gaining hope when there had been no repeat of the conflict, no cold bodies left behind. It wasn’t until we came to a short queue of maybe fifty cars, Zoe the first to see the bodies laying in pools of blood. We checked no more after that, instead turning each time at the end of the snake of cars.
The skies had darkened, the air chilling through the cracks in the window, it must have been at the tenth or so road north we’d found blocked, the queue right back to the trunk road, when we found a dry stone wall smashed through, the first car to knock the barrier down was abandoned to the side, the windscreen smashed, the bumper discarded at the gap. Great welts scouring into the earth told use many more had followed. I looked towards Andrew and he gave the nod as I turned the wheel through the gap.
The going was chaotic, but the Freelander loved the terrain, despite it not being a farmers field as I’d first thought, but a grass wasteland potted with rocks hidden below the waist high wild grass swinging in the winter breeze. The same could not be said for the Mondeo in the rear view mirror. With no surprise steam soon billowed from under the bonnet. Circling around we watched our friends pile out.