Our hands released as we fell the ground, both of us scrabbling to turn and get sight of what was coming. Peering low around the wide exterior chimney breast, I moved back, raising up on my knees so I could make out the road over the side of the squat front garden wall. The space between the houses were wide, giving a wide view of the road, which meant whoever was coming would have a great view of us. I jerked my head around, spotting a half rotten wooden trellis collapsed against the neighbouring house. In-between the diamonds formed by thin diagonal strips of wood, old, long-dried, brown vines ran in all directions. It was perfect. With the engine building to a great fuss, I stood, grabbing the trellis, yanking hard to free it from the brittle bounds. With it released, I swung the wood out, leaning it against the brick stack and settled back in my place, my heart pounding as I tried to calm my breath.
Most of the dead and dried vegetation had fallen, taking with the great barrier it would have given. The foliage spread across the path, but it was too late, a pickup truck and a Land Rover Defender had rocked to a halt right in front of us. Cassie went low, shuffling under me. I crept in closer, my front against her warmth. She shifted. I pulled away, whispering an apology for getting so close. She shook her head, dismissing my worry and like two meerkats I raised higher above her, watching through the great gaps in the wooden slats as each of the four doors of the bright red pickup swung open.
With the engines left running, four men jumped from the cab. I was still taking them in when two more jumped from the Defender behind. Each was somewhere between eighteen and thirty, only one older by ten years, but he dressed the same age as the others. They wore a thin covering of facial hair, not unlike my own, but in tracksuits zipped up to the neck. In each of their hands was a weapon of sorts, baseball bats, crowbars, long lengths of iron. The driver of the pickup came around the front, in his hand he was swinging a long knife, the end curved and much wider than the handle.
I felt Cassie lean back towards me; her head making a slow turn as if to check I was watching. Both of us flinched, but forced ourselves not to dart into hiding as six pairs of eyes scoured the view. We both knew it was easier to see movement than if we kept ourselves still. They hadn’t seen us yet, their eyes fixing on a another target, the first house in the row of three on the opposite side.
In unison, each member of the group drifted, apart from two, one hanging at the front and the back of their little convoy, the others heading to the door of the house. We didn’t hear the knocker go, only the smash of the glass, repeated, once, twice and then some more, over and over. The strikes soon hit wood and I felt the warmth of Cassie’s body rattle, start and repeat until the wood gave way and the group disappeared inside. Now it was just the pair left and our best chance to do something, do anything but wait to be found. We didn’t know much, but knew it would be just as bad, if not worse than if we were found by the soldiers. Death wasn’t the worst we feared.
We did nothing but listen to the chaos that ensued, the racket pouring from the little cottage. Glass broke, the front windows smashed, cupboards banged, bags were flung out of the door and the newly made openings, the loot collected by one of the remaining pair in turn, only then taking their eyes off the road. We knew what they were looking for. The same thing as us.
The racket continued for a few moments more, then the sentry at the front, a tall skin head, his blue and white tracksuit stained a mirky brown across the front, raised on his toes, his eyebrows pointing towards the sky, the baseball bat slapping as it swung into his cupped left hand.
We followed his look and then his slow smiling walk, the bat slapping to and forth, but we couldn’t quite see what he was walking towards, our angle obscured by the house to the left. The racket continued as he walked out of sight, the hard slap of the wood echoing as it hit over and over something we could only guess. He was back in view carrying a self satisfied grin, wiping the end of the wood against his trousers. He looked up, stopping dead in front of us. I felt Cassie’s body stiffen, her right hand sought my leg. I grabbed her cold hand and squeezed. Something had caught his attention. We’d heard the noise too, a distinct sound coming from inside the house we were leaning against.
The guy’s smile had gone and he turned in our direction, his eyes squinting, settling on the trellis and gave a great, elongated call.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One