The pack’s on my back, my hand on the door handle, but I pause before I pull down and rush back to the phone, my finger jabbing at the digits for the second time. There’s still no answer. They’re doing what I should be doing. Running.
Pulling open the door, I hang back behind the threshold. I look left, look right and my brain freezes, I have no idea where I’m going. The only decision I’ve made is to go it alone and not follow the crowd. If this thing is a contagious disease, if it’s an invasion or reanimated bodies wandering the streets, I want to be well away from everyone else. That said, I need to meet with my friends. We’d talked about this, usually drunk in the pub. Someone mentioned Ikea Southampton would be the place to go, plenty of beds right? Then again, I think I suggested there’d be no food and it would be a terrible place to defend, so big and in a major city. That idea’s a bust, but I can’t remember if we decided somewhere else.
The only other place we ever talked about was Dartmoor, somewhere we’d spent so many weekends. It’s desolate, deserted and full of wildlife, well ponies. I just hope they have the same idea.
I walk to the car, holding back from opening the door, the keys in my hand and the street is clear, the road quiet. For a moment I wonder, did I dream all this?
I jump in the car, having decided to drive as far as the quarter tank of diesel will take me, about a third of the hundred and eighty miles if my estimate is sound. Just then I notice people streaming from their houses, some with packs on their backs, others surrounded with stuff in their hands, shoving duvets into car boots, loading furniture on roof racks. Traffic is already building and I can wait no longer. Why am I waiting at all?!
I turn off my street and into a trading estate; the road is blocked with traffic trying to head the same way. I turn the car around before I get to the back of the queue. The road’s blocked going the other way now too. I pull over to the side of the road, lock the car and start my journey on foot. People are still streaming out of their houses, I try not to look them in the eye, try not to judge their decisions, try not to think of those people in developing countries you see on the news carrying their whole life on their heads. I avoid their paths, the clutter of their possessions strewn along the road, dropped by the side of their cars as they try to pack everything in. They won’t get away before it’s too late. I resist the urge to shout for everyone to run, to get out of here as quick as they can, like the alert said.
Diverting through a park, the pedestrian traffic is much less, but as I leave one road behind, the angry shouts and the call of car horns are ready to greet me on the other side. I live in the suburbs of a town and it’s about 3 miles, 4 km, until the map looks green from above, so I divert north west, knowing I need to get away from the buildings, or away from people as quick as I can.
My choice of pack, if not my choice of footwear, stands me in good stead for the light jog, diverting this way and that to avoid crowds who seem to surge together for safety, even though they’re shouting and hollering in each other’s faces. As time goes by and the buildings thin, I slow, wondering if whatever caused the alert has happened, was it all over, had the crisis really hit? I look to the cloudless sky, but seeing no meteors streaming down, seeing the sky empty of parachutes, or rockets raining down, or dust rising on the horizon, I think myself a little silly and slow, but not silly enough to turn around. That’s when I realise there is something missing from my kit. A radio, preferably a wind up, or solar powered.
I’m in a small wood a few miles from my house and I’ve seen only a scattering of people as I walk with my pace quick across a place I walked before, where I’d walked with family and friends, guided dogs sniffing every fallen leaf, pissing up every tree trunk. Now I don’t care for the scenery as the woods thin, the motorway in the distance, cars crawling along. I divert again, following parallel to the road, but trudging through field after field, tracking across fallow, boggy land to save the hazardous climb of fences never intended to make my journey easy.
My legs are tiring, the adrenaline has well and truly drained to nothing, leaving that horrible lethargic hangover. I want for company, this is the first time I’ve hiked with a pack on my back alone. I think of my friends as I stop to take a rest, pouring water down my throat, crunching on a cereal bar. I’d like to say it was the first of the trip as I spot an isolated house on the horizon. A farmhouse I guess. I could find out the latest, they probably won’t be there anyway, should be on the motorway I can see has been stationary since I’ve been following, about an hour now. With that I turn my Apple Watch to low power mode and check my phone, it’s been no use since I left, no bars, just a cross in the corner.
Dogs bark as I come out of the field and into the yard. I see cows peering over the side of their stalls, the smell of stale shit wafting, clawing at my throat as I arrive at the door, trying to listen past the animals going crazy the other side. There can’t be anyone at home, no car around, just a tractor parked under a canopy a short walk off. There’s no chance I’m getting in the house with those crazed animals. I walk off. It’s getting dark. It’s the winter and it’s only three in the afternoon, I’ve been on the road for a few hours already, the only thing keeping me heading forward is the thought of not being able to find somewhere to put the tent up whilst its light.
I walk the next hour scouring the land for somewhere good to stop, somewhere well away from the road, away from those who might abandon the route and try to find shelter. I don’t want them to find mine. I stop and pull off my pack after diverting south, trying to keep my heading in the vague direction of the motorway, thinking all the time I should have brought the compass my hand passed over when I was packing.
I stop with just enough light to find somewhere flat enough next to a hedge with the lights of the cars on the motorway just disappearing and with no other noise around, I can just about see the contents of the tent spread across the long, yellowing grass. I’m thankful for my choice of tent, it’s lightweight and pitches in less than two minutes single handed. It would just about fit two, so it’s easy to fit me and my pack. As I lay on the ground checking for stones underneath, I think of the extra weight a camping mat or self-inflating mattress would have added. It seemed like a luxury at the time, but not right now.
Sitting up on the grass, the tent’s too shallow to sit up inside, I hug myself, the cold biting now I’ve stopped. I unpack the pack, getting the Trangia roaring with a mugful of hot water, wishing I’d brought coffee. Instead I shove in the rice and let it warm through. It’s a good meal and I eat it with the stars already bright in the sky and I spend the next half an hour figuring out I could be on the road with all my supplies gone by the time I reach Dartmoor. Five days, four if I’m lucky. I will have to find out what this is all about, figure out if I should stock up or find civilisation again, find the safety of the shelter they talked about on the bulletin or if I’m already out of harm’s way.
I can’t wait any longer to zip up the tent, choosing to unfold the knife, it looks so short as I lay it beside the hammer, taking off my boots for comfort, hoping I won’t regret the decision. I lay there with my eyes closed and listen. A hunger builds, which I force myself to ignore, whist trying not to concentrate on every unnatural noise in the night, hearing alien sounds making my mind work overtime whilst longing for the camping mat as I try to shake off the cold rising from the ground.
I’ve added the following to the kit list, a copy of which is available and updated here.
Wind up radio – You can get them with solar power too, plus USB charge to give you that first kick start, plus they come with powerful emergency lights. Keep on top of the latest details of the emergency.
Proper Knife – I’ve ditched the folding fruit knife for something more substantial. Great for carving wood and helping to make a shelter, plus more comforting when I don’t know what I’ll face while I’m out there and the world has gone to the dogs.
Compass – Even without a proper map you can travel in a vague direction and keep yourself on a course. Overlooked first time around, but invaluable, especially if you already have one.
Camping mattress – It may seem trivial, but not when you’re lying on the cold hard ground trying to sleep with one eye open.
It’s a real shame I didn’t pack these extras, but I’ve got plenty of time for my regrets as I shiver on the hard floor waiting to see what comes for me in the night….
In the End…Why not read about what happens to a group of friends whose worldcollapses around them, forcing them to make difficult decisions just to stay alive. It’s not going to be comfortable, or an easy ride. Find out if they’ve got what it takes to survive when they’re no longer at the top of the food chain…