Still, they waited in the line, each turning as I came down the stairs, watching my expression. There was no chance they could have missed the terrifying call, despite the rumble from the crowd outside and the evil smell penetrating through the walls. I beamed back. If ever there was a time for a positive attitude, it was now. A few faces responded. Connor and Andrew’s lifting, Cassie beamed as we locked eyes. McCole was unmoved as he leant heavy on Connor’s shoulder, his face downcast, growing more pale with every moment.
I gave the order and stood to the side of the back door, waving Andrew out with his handgun peering ahead. Zoe and each of the kids followed, I read from their expressions their intrigue to see where we were off to next. Connor came after, a rucksack on his back, McCole following, his good hand on Connor’s shoulders. He couldn’t lift his leg enough and tripped on the step, separating from Connor and falling headfirst out the door. Rushing to his aid, we had him the right way up, watching as he nodded he was still okay, telling us the bruise on his head was nothing compared to the throbbing pain beneath the bandage he’d used to slow the fall. Cassie offered a shot of morphine, but pulled back from reaching around to her pack as he shook his head for a second time.
Connor took the lead again, much slower this time, taking care of each crack in the concrete while checking up at Andrew who hurried them forward, who beckoned them towards the open back door as each moment he swapped his glance to the road. It wasn’t long before everyone had squeezed in, Cassie taking the last space next to McCole, resting his swelling hand on her lap. Our eyes met as I shut the door with great care not to make a noise.
“It’ll be okay,” I mouthed and she nodded, beaming back.
Andrew took the passenger seat, he’d share the front with the old guy’s wife, while the husband would have to take his chances in the back. I jumped in the driver’s seat, crunching broken glass under my feet, trying to ignore the slow procession only a few strides away, but still they hadn’t turned, hadn’t seen us. I looked through the door window and remembered the missing glass. I was out again, crashing my foot against a fence panel, each snap causing more attention than I needed. The shape wasn’t right, but it would have to do, they were turning our way, changing course, their mouths snapping open and closed.
Back in the seat with the rough fence panel at my side, I pulled the door closed with no longer any use for the silence. I didn’t have time to settle in, leant heavy against the panel blocking the space of the window. I took a breath and the engine started first time. In the back the low murmurs stopped and I watched in the mirror as all faces peered forward until the adults distracted the children’s glances.
Revving the engine, I let the clutch out. None moved to the side, a triangular path didn’t open, but the Land Rover had no trouble dropping each in the way below the line of the bonnet, the suspension barely rocking as the wheels crushed bone. I saw our chance. The crowd was surging towards us, leaving a space where the old guy and his wife peered through a crack in the door.
“We’re not going to have time. Drag them in, you’ll have to do all the work for them.” Excitement grew in the rear and children hunched as they stood and were pushed further in so Connor could get to the back door. Andrew readied his hand on the handle and I pushed the accelerator as far as it would go. Flesh slapped against the front, fingernails scraped along the paint work, I leant as heavy as I could against the fence panel, giving more pressure as I felt the grab of hands scratching, trying to get a hold, but still those in the way disappeared underneath in droves. The cottage door was opening as we grew near and a Cord clung to the bonnet, refusing to be dragged to its second death. Instead, entangled in the grill, its fingers, hand and arms slapped against the bonnet, flailing for our flesh.
I started the count from ten. At five we’d cleared the main group and I shifted the wheel left and right, the passengers gasping with each turn like they were on a rollercoaster. Still, the trapped Cord wouldn’t dislodge, clinging on for what it called a life. On three I smashed through the old guy’s fence, hitting a post square on the centre grill, but not before it dropped the body, dragging it underneath and giving back my full vision.
On one I slammed the brakes, stopping with the couple stood in the middle of the Land Rover’s length. The back door was open, Cassie and Connor out, Andrew jumped from the passenger seat and he turned back, raising the gun, his features bunching as he fired. He didn’t stay fixed for long and like a member of an elite Israeli snatch squad, he had the woman off the floor, her calls not hiding her surprise as she slid across the passenger seat while he paused a second time, firing two shots in our wake. I revved the engine for fear of stalling and without looking, drove off as hard as I could as the rear door slammed closed.
Clear of the front garden, I let myself look in the passenger mirror and watched as the Cords slowly turned to follow, watched as they overcame the bodies Andrew had dropped. I checked in front and saw the empty road, checked left out of Andrew’s window. It was clear. I looked back through the rear view mirror and let out a breath as I saw the squashed faces, Connor, the old Guy and Cassie in the back. I relaxed my lean against the fence panel, settled into my seat with my breath slowing, until Cassie’s scream ripped through the air, slamming on the brakes as a gunshot flashed, sending my ears ringing.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One