Chapter Forty-Eight

Cooper wished that he'd thought to try and set up some kind of communication system between the van and the two prison trucks. Even a couple of basic two way radios would have been sufficient. As if the effort of driving through the devastated remains of the country wasn't enough, he was also having to contend with appalling weather conditions and keep his speed slow enough so that he didn't lose the two trucks which laboured slowly after the van. It wasn't going to be easy to find the base again. He knew the general route but the morning light was low and everything seemed to have changed since he'd last driven there. The world around him had continued to rot, crumble and decay rendering it frequently unrecognisable.

Relentless heavy rain added to the confusion. The huge, dark shadows of the city which had surrounded them constantly for weeks were now nothing more than distant specks on the murky horizon behind them. The convoy of vehicles made slow progress away from the dead town and deeper into the countryside. Cooper drove along the hard shoulder of a macabre motorway scene. The lanes of the wide road were strewn with the tightly packed wrecks of thousands of crashed cars. Once one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the country, the road was now a bizarre sight - a frozen, rusting, rotting traffic jam.

Cooper rubbed his eyes and massaged his temples. Concerned, Donna leant forward to speak to him. 'You all right?' she asked. 'Fine,' he snapped as he steered around the remains of a car which had smashed into the back of another, leaving its boot sticking out in his path. He glanced up into the rear view mirror and watched as Steve Armitage ploughed the larger truck into the car, sending it flipping up into the air and spiralling down onto the top of other vehicles, crushing the bodies still trapped helplessly inside. The underground base was located some thirty miles outside the city and they had already travelled almost two thirds of the distance.

Although increasingly unsure of its precise location, Cooper did remember the names of the villages nearby and was fairly confident of finding his way there again. The complex was buried in a remote and inconspicuous area of land. By its very nature it was always going to be difficult to find. The sound of a truck's horn cut through the otherwise still morning air. Donna turned and peered through the back window of the van. A short distance behind them Steve Armitage had slowed down and was flashing his lights furiously.

'Shit,' Cooper cursed, slamming on the brakes and bringing the van to a sudden stop. 'What is it?' Jack Baxter asked anxiously. 'Don't know,' Cooper replied. 'Can't see the other truck.' Baxter opened the door and jumped out of the van and ran back down the road towards the first truck. He climbed up onto the driver's footplate. Armitage wound the window down to speak to him. 'What's the matter?' he asked, wiping spitting rain from his face. Armitage gestured over his shoulder. 'They're stuck,' he said simply. 'I think I clipped the side of a car and dragged it out into his way.' Baxter peered further down the road. Armitage was right. The back of the truck had become entangled with the wreck of a car and had somehow tugged it out across the narrow stretch of road which the convoy had been moving along. Cooper suddenly appeared at his side.

'Too much noise. Kill the engine,' he said to Armitage who quickly did as he was told. The soldier silently surveyed the scene. 'He'll have to smash his way through. There's no other way of getting through and we can't afford to leave either of the trucks behind. We're tight enough on space as it is.' Armitage nodded. 'This lot are beginning to suffer,' he said quietly, nodding his head towards the back of the truck. The vehicle hadn't been designed to carry as many passengers as it was carrying this morning. The survivors and their belongings were crammed into an uncomfortably tight space.

'I'll tell Croft,' Cooper said. 'Get back to the van, Jack.' Baxter wasn't listening. 'Jesus Christ,' he mumbled. 'What's the matter?' Cooper asked. Baxter didn't reply. Instead he simply pointed at the vast column of stationary vehicles next to them. Cooper followed the older man's line of vision and immediately saw what it was that had attracted his attention. Unable to open the doors of their crashed vehicles or even to escape from the confines of their safety belts, every wreck contained at least one body. Whilst some were unmoving, many others were thrashing around in their seats, trapped but trying desperately to get out and reach the survivors standing at the side of the road. At first appearing motionless and still, the longer that Cooper and Baxter stared into the endless line of crashed traffic, the more frantic movement they could see. 'Bloody hell...' Baxter muttered. 'Get moving, Jack,' Cooper ordered. He pushed Baxter back towards the van while he began to sprint further down the road towards the stranded truck.

Even from a distance he could hear its engine straining and groaning as Phil Croft tried desperately to force his way through the blockage. As he ran the soldier gestured for Croft to reverse back down the motorway. He knew that they needed to move quickly. To his right was a steep embankment and beyond that several fields and an out-of-town shopping complex. He could see numerous shadowy bodies making their way away from the dark buildings and advancing across the fields with ominous speed towards the motorway disturbance. Croft stopped the truck and Cooper shouted to him. 'Just put your fucking foot down,' he screamed. 'You've got to try and smash your way through.'

'I'm sorry, I'm not used to driving anything this big. I don't know how far I can push it...' 'Shut up and do it!' Cooper yelled. 'Worry about it when it goes wrong, not before.' The bodies in the field were close.

The nearest few were beginning to clamber up the embankment. Noticing that Cooper appeared agitated and distracted by something out of his vision, Croft did as he was told. Ignoring the terrified screams and moans from the back of the truck he moved forward again and accelerated faster and faster. He smashed into the wrecked car which blocked his way, trapping it under his bumper.

It dragged and scraped along the road for a few seconds before working its way loose and tumbling down the embankment. Free to move again, Croft edged towards the back of the other truck and waited for Cooper to scramble back to the van at the front of the convoy. In less than a minute they were moving again. The stretch of motorway where they had stopped was suddenly swarming with bodies.

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