Chapter Forty-Two

Michael Collins sat anxiously behind the wheel of the motorhome with Emma at his side. They had been stopped in this location for almost six hours, neither of them daring to move for fear that they might miss the return of the soldiers they'd seen leaving earlier this morning. The wait was becoming unbearable. Michael was beginning to wonder whether they were going to come back. Anything could have happened to the scouting party. The motorhome was parked in a field adjacent to the track they'd discovered. By nestling the large and cumbersome vehicle on the other side of a greystone wall and underneath heavy tree cover they had camouflaged themselves to an extent and their relative invisibility was reassuring.

The otherwise bright day had been interrupted by an unexpected shower of rain a short while earlier and drops of water still fell steadily from the overhanging trees, clattering down onto the metal roof and providing an eerie soundtrack to the afternoon. Apart from those few random sounds the world was quiet and deceptively peaceful. 'Want something to drink?' Emma asked. Michael shook his head. 'No thanks,' he replied abruptly. His stomach was churning with nerves and uncertainty. For what felt like the hundredth time in the last hour he turned and looked over his shoulder, peering back down the track in the direction in which the soldiers had disappeared earlier. He stared into the distance, hoping that he would soon see movement but, at the same time, also strangely relieved that nothing seemed to be happening. Emma slid across the front seats and put her hand around his shoulder. He didn't respond. She leant over and kissed the side of his cheek. Still no response.

He wasn't ignoring her, he simply had far too much on his mind for him to be able to react towards her in the way he normally would have done. If he was honest with himself he wanted nothing more than to be open and unrestrained and tell her exactly how much she meant to him, but now wasn't the time. They had been out in the open for too long. They needed something which resembled stability and order back in their lives before they could move on. The bottom line was that they both needed more than they presently had, and Michael hoped and prayed that the soldiers they had seen would bring them the relative security and comfort they desired. 'I hate it when you're this quiet,' Emma said, her face still close to his. 'Are you all right?' 'I'm okay,' he replied, subdued. Much as he wanted her close, he also wished she'd leave him alone to think.

'What we need to do,' she continued, 'is find...' 'Shh...' he snapped, interrupting.170 'What?' 'Listen.' Emma did as she was told. She pushed herself away from Michael and sat on the edge of her seat and listened carefully. She could hear the sound of an engine approaching. 'This is it,' said Michael as he turned the key in the ignition, causing the cumbersome motorhome's engine to rumble into life. He sat motionless in his seat and watched the road behind through the large wing mirror to his side. Although the stone wall obscured much of his view he was able to see the point where the track snaked away into the distance and disappeared. The soldiers in their transport eventually appeared over the brow of a low hill, their vehicle's bright headlights burning brilliantly in the gloom of the late afternoon. He watched as they drove closer and closer until his line of vision was blocked by the wall. A few seconds later and he saw them pass, the dark green roof of the transport just visible over the top of the grey stones.

He began to cautiously nudge the motorhome forward. 'Don't follow too close behind,' Emma said nervously. 'They don't know who we are. They might turn on us and...' Michael wasn't listening. He inched out of the field, driving just far enough forward to enable him to see the transport working its way down the track. When it was almost out of sight he accelerated. Travelling without his headlamps on (hoping to avoid being noticed) Michael followed the bright brake lights of the vehicle in front. Keeping a sensible distance between them the survivors watched as the transport drove around to the right and then to the left.

Two hundred meters further down and the track narrowed and became even more rough and uneven. The sides of the road became steep banks, leaving Michael with no option but to keep moving forward and temporarily blocking their view of the soldiers ahead. The motorhome was not made for travelling over such harsh terrain. One of the front wheels sank down into a muddy pothole causing the vehicle to lurch to one side and its chassis to scrape along the ground momentarily. 'Christ,' Emma moaned. 'This isn't a good idea. As soon as we can we should get off this track and...' 'We're fine,' Michael snapped, annoyed and trying hard to concentrate. 'It doesn't matter what happens to this thing. It's not like we've got garage bills to pay or anything. As soon as we find where these soldiers are hiding out we can clear our stuff out and ditch it.'

'I know but we don't know how far away they are...' Emma let her words trail away. The banks on either side of the track quickly dropped down again as they drove through an area of woodland. Brittle branched trees suddenly surrounded the motorhome and the military transport ahead, reducing still further the already low light levels. The track curved and twisted in apparently random and unexpected directions.

Still not prepared to use his headlamps, Michael was forced to slow down to almost walking pace. A random body smashed against the side of the motorhome. 'Jesus Christ,' cursed Emma as she stared at the figure in the side mirror. She watched as, in silhouette, it turned and stumbled after them. The transport disappeared from view momentarily. With relief Michael caught sight of it again as they emerged from the small forested area. He steered through a narrow gateway and over a cattle-grid which shook and rattled the struggling machine. Once through the gate they were suddenly free to travel across an otherwise empty and featureless field. In the near distance the transport began to slow down. Michael gently eased off the accelerator as he began to catch up with the vehicle in front. 'But there's nothing here...' he whispered. 'There's got to be.' The powerful military machine stopped. Concerned, Michael stopped too. 'Shit,' he cursed. 'They've seen us. They must have seen us.' His heart began to pound in his chest as he stared at the motionless greygreen machine just ahead. His concentration was so intense that he failed to notice the three bodies which dragged themselves across the empty field and moved towards them.

When he did finally catch sight of them he paid them little attention. They didn't matter. 'What's going on?' Emma asked, cold with nerves and afraid. 'Don't know. I think they might have...' Without warning the transport began to move again. With a sudden loud roar and a belch of dirty grey exhaust fumes it began to power forward with unexpected speed and force. It drove up and over a grassy ridge that had been unnoticeable in the low light, and then disappeared down a steep incline and out of sight. 'That's it,' Michael said, forcing the motorhome forward again. 'That's got to be it.' He approached the ridge with dangerous speed and mounting trepidation. Both of the survivors knew the importance of the moment. 'Careful,' Emma hissed as the motorhome dipped to one side as one of the back wheels clattered through another deep pothole.

Michael didn't respond, fixing his concentration on following the soldiers instead. Not knowing what was on the other side of the ridge he accelerated hard again. With his heart in his mouth he pushed himself back in his seat as the front of their vehicle climbed up momentarily before dropping down into the darkness like a stomach-churning fairground ride. At first all he could see were the lights of the soldier's vehicle.

Seconds later they had gone, swallowed up by something unseen in the blackness. 'Where did they go?' asked Emma. 'How the hell should I know?' Michael shouted in reply. The velocity of the motorhome increased as they sped down the incline. He fumbled with the switches at the side of the steering wheel, trying desperately to turn on the lights whilst maintaining control of the vehicle. Seconds later and the ground levelled out. The front of the motorhome began to smash into shadowy shapes in the increasing darkness. Michael found the lights and switched them on. There was no sign of the military transport. There was no visible sign of the base.

For as far as they could see the field they found themselves driving through was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies. Terrified and not able to see an obvious way out of the field, Michael immediately slammed on the brakes, switched the lights off again and silenced the engine. He looked out over a sea of rotting heads, desperately hoping to catch sight of something man-made amongst the decaying flesh. There was nothing.

As the nearest creatures began to smash their rotting fists against the sides of the motorhome he instinctively grabbed hold of Emma's hand and dragged her into the back of the vehicle. Pulling a blanket off the bed to cover them both he threw her down into a small space between the bed and the table - a place where they'd hidden numerous times before. He held her tightly and pulled the blanket over their heads as the deafening noise increased.

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