Chapter Thirty One

I returned to camp, no shots fired. The noise was a deer or smaller, at least something alive. I was sure Zombies never hid in the movies. Right?

Cassie stood by the fire, the gun in her hand, eyes on me, nodding as I forced the corners of my mouth high. Ellie was asleep close to the fire. Cassie’s every other glance checking a stray ember hadn’t caught her clothes. Andrew lowered himself down as he saw me arrive through the bushes, pain still drawing his features out. He needed to rest, but that was no long-term choice. Lane the same, but our need for tonight’s shelter was so much more important. We had to find somewhere we could keep warm, somewhere we could barricade before we slept. I needed sleep bad. The corners of my eyes screaming out for rest.

Watching me sit, Cassie stayed on her feet, taking nervous steps, she wanted to be on the move and I understood that.

Beside me was the pile of supplies. Between us we’d done a pretty good job in what we’d scrambled to take as the Tesco burnt to the ground. Twenty tins of fish, couldn’t stand the stuff, but I guess that was my old self, much better than digging grubs from the bark of rotting trees. Those chances were great if we didn’t get home soon.

Home. The first I’d thought of that place since we’d set off on the journey less than a day ago. Was it only twenty four hours since our world went up the creek? My parents faces crashed into my head. Their imagined thoughts given words. What must they be thinking when they saw the news? At least I didn’t have a wife worrying where I was. Didn’t have kids panicking when they heard what had happened in the South West. None of us did. My mind lingered on that thought. Between us we had two that couldn’t, I put my hand up in my head. That had been the death-nail to my one and only relationship. Four that wouldn’t and the rest where it just wasn’t the right time, hadn’t met the right someone. Maybe that’s why we’d stuck together for so long. Hadn’t drifted apart when kids and exploding families separated our lives.

A twig snapped, a spray of sparks spat from the fire. All eyes on the loud noise, shoulders relaxing as the light-show drowned in the daylight.

Water. That was our main issue. We had chocolate, first aid kits, pain killers galore. Antibiotics left over from chemist we’d tried to push down Chloe’s throat. A whole spectrum of other medications in prescription bags that had sat on the shelf, never to be collected. Maybe some of them would come in use? Although we’d need to find some sort of medical book first. Toothpaste, tooth brushes, but only four bottles of water, two litres in each. Three, I corrected as Nat rested the empty bottle at her side. I discounted the bottles of Jack I knew she’d kept out of sight of the pile.

“We need to start rationing,” I said. No one complained or suggested an alternative.

We had an SA80 rifle from the crash site, the only surviving equipment. It was battered and scraped, could be bent, I couldn’t tell. We’d have to wait for Lane’s advice. When he was better, but long before the need came, at least.

I wasn’t sure who’d heard it first. Nat’s eyes twitched upwards, then Zoe’s followed. A crack sparked from the fire for a second time. Zoe’s eyes fell, but Nat stood, releasing her grip from Zoe’s shoulders. Lane had his eyes open towards the sky, then to mine, already raising himself on his elbows. The sound was unmistakable, rotors pounding in the air. I stood, helped Lane to his feet, looked twice at the pistol then pushed it into my jacket pocket. With his arm around my shoulders, supporting him to his full height. Steadying his balance, we took the first steps out of the circle. I turned, hearing Cassie at our backs.

“Stay there,” I said nodding to the pistol in her hands. “Keep watch.” Her footsteps stopped as we built speed, the sound of the chopper loud and constant. They were hovering. I pictured them over the wreckage, the gunner peering down, searching the surroundings for their men. They’d see one, a hole in his head. They’d have flown over the carnage across the road.

We were getting close. Just needed them to stay a moment more before they would see us and we could roll the dice, hoping they saw their comrade before they saw me.

The second noise was one we’d heard before too. The pitch of the engine note changed, we’d already slowed, then came the scream of the machine gun from the door and the snap, snap of bullets hitting the tree-line.

“Infra-red,” I heard Lane murmur, but they weren’t shooting at us. Their aim was for the four dead bodies walking into the trees in our direction, their torsos and legs a pulpy mess of small explosions, limbs missing, eyes white, mouths open, dried blood circled. Lane relaxed his arm from around me. I was about to fire the pistol when Lane pulled me down, snaps of lead hitting the ground too close, tracing our outlines, or so it felt.

When the quiet returned, the helicopter noise lost while I’d buried my head, the footsteps, once dragging across the floor now silenced, I lifted up, but ducked down as a gunshot burst from the direction of the camp.

 

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