Chapter Thirty

Ignorant to the potential dangers of being out alone, and with a sense of smug satisfaction warming him against the cold late autumn wind, Michael stood on top of a bleak hillside and watched as another truck full of soldiers clattered down the overgrown track back, he presumed, towards their base. He'd found the track again earlier and had followed it as far as he'd dared to go on foot before heading back to the relative safety of the motorhome. He and Emma had then driven to the point where he'd stopped walking. Michael sensed that they were near to finding the base and the return now of more troops in their transport was proof that they were close.

Feeling more positive than he had been for days he turned around and put his thumbs up as a salute to what felt like a small but significant victory. The afternoon light was fading and cold rain was beginning to spit down. From the comparative warmth and comfort of the motorhome a short distance away Emma watched and waved back, acknowledging his achievement. Before turning and going back inside, Michael looked down at the track for a little longer. There was a body walking along it now.

A single pathetic, rotting, disease-ridden cadaver that pointlessly dragged itself along after the long gone transport. Even now after so many days and weeks had passed Michael found it hard to accept what had happened. He watched the lone figure with equal amounts of fear, hatred, pity and pain. Although they had intentionally stayed as far away from the rest of the remains of the world as possible, coming into contact with the corpses was inevitable. As they had earlier watched the behaviour of the creatures change from the shelter of their farmhouse hideout, so they had since seen that change continue unabated. Whereas originally these reanimated bodies had been empty shells, now emotion, control and direction was undeniably beginning to return.

It was almost as if their brains had been anaesthetised by the disease and the numbness was gradually fading. Originally hollow and unfeeling, the bodies now seemed to be gaining a purpose. First the ability to interpret and respond to basic stimuli had returned, then something resembling base emotion - the need to protect themselves and find an answer to their pain perhaps? More recently Michael had sensed a vicious inquizitiveness about the bodies which was quickly mutating into anger and hate.

It was cold. The wind, rain and low temperature reminded him that he wasn't safe. He ran to the motorhome. 'Well?' Emma asked as he let himself inside and closed, locked, barred and blacked-out the door behind him. 'More of them,' he answered, quietly and breathlessly. 'We're close, aren't we?' He nodded and wiped the rain from his face and hair. 'We must be.' A moment of silence followed. Michael took off his wet outdoor jacket and kicked off his muddy boots. Now that he was safely indoors Emma busied herself with what had become a nightly ritual - covering every window, vent and door with wooden boards and heavy black material.

They knew that even the smallest pinprick of escaping light might be enough to attract the bodies. Emma didn't mind the gloom. It helped her to forget the cramped and squalid conditions that they found themselves living in. 'Tomorrow morning we should try and get closer again,' Michael whispered as he sat down opposite Emma at the small table. 'It doesn't matter how long it takes, does it? We'll take things one step at a time. I'll walk a little further down the track then we'll drive the van down when we know what's there.' 'Are you sure this is the right thing to do?' 'Of course it is, why?' Michael was surprised by her comment. 'Because this is the army we're dealing with here,' she explained. 'Do you think we're going to be welcome? They might not have come across any survivors yet. And look at the state of us. They'll probably think that we're dead and that we've just...'

'Do you really believe that?' he interrupted. He sighed and shook his head and looked down at the table. 'I don't know,' she stammered, unsure. 'We're the odd ones out around here, aren't we? They're not going to be expecting...' 'They're not going to be expecting fucking corpses to turn up in a camper van, are they?' 'No, but...' 'But what? They'll see the van, they'll see us and we'll be okay.' 'What if they see you when you're walking?' He shrugged his shoulders. 'Sounds like you're just trying to find reasons not to do this.' 'Come on, that's not fair. I'm just worried that this won't work out.'

'It'll work out.' 'There are a hundred reasons why it might not. Christ, you told me they were wearing suits. They can't even walk out in the open. They can't breathe the air because it'll do to them what it did to the rest of the population.' 'Yes, and that's our get out, isn't it?' 'What do you mean?' 'If things don't work out the way we want, we'll walk.' 'You think they'll let us?' 'You think they'll have a choice?' 'I'm sorry,' Emma sighed, holding her head in her hands.

'I'm not trying to be negative. I just think we need to play this whole situation very carefully.' She knew that she was going to have trouble trying to contain Michael's eagerness and excitement. She knew where he was coming from, but his cavalier approach and lack of concern worried her. They both knew what the risks were. They had already lost just about everything they had. At the farmhouse they had fought to build themselves some kind of shelter and protection from the rest of the world, and despite their huge physical and mental advantage over the countless scores of plague victims they had lost it all in the blinking of an eye.

One mistake was all that it had taken. And although sitting in a cold motorhome in the middle of a field was far from ideal, at least they now had some degree of control again. Emma had an unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach that they were dangerously close to losing that control.

Every night felt like an eternity. The dark hours dragged endlessly. With no distractions or entertainment it was all that Michael and Emma could do not to dwell on the problems outside their door. Occasionally the situation became slightly lighter and more bearable.

Most of the time, however, the musty atmosphere in the cramped motorhome was tense and overbearing. Conversation had continued to be sparse and difficult throughout the evening. As the couple had discovered on many occasions recently, there was very little they could talk about that didn't somehow lead them back to discussing everything that they had been doing their best to forget about and ignore. Going to bed sometimes brought temporarily relief, but much of the time it was of little help.

The survivors would either lie there, unable to sleep, or they would manage to lose consciousness only to be jolted back into their bizarre reality by a dark nightmare or a sudden noise from the other side of the motorhome's paper-thin metal walls. The only true comfort that Michael had found in the days and nights since his life had been turned upside down was Emma. As they lay in bed together, holding each other tightly, keeping each other warm, he relaxed in the comfort of her closeness. He loved the sound of her voice whispering in his ear late at night, and the gentle tickle of her breath on the side of his face somehow managed to remind him that, no matter how it often felt, he was still very much alive.

The smell of her, the feel of her body against his, the warmth that she brought to the long, cold nights, all helped reassure him that the effort of survival had been worthwhile and that, despite the considerable odds stacked against them both, there remained a faint glimmer of hope that their situation would eventually improve. He clung to the thought that, one day, the two of them might be free to walk out in the open again without fear.

He knew that it might happen someday. The rotting bodies were deteriorating and couldn't continue to function indefinitely, could they? It was twenty past two in the morning. The wind was buffeting the side of the motorhome, rain was driving down and crashing onto the metal roof above them and they could hear a solitary body tripping and sliding randomly through the mud outside. It didn't seem to matter. For a few precious moments none of it seemed to matter to Michael. He was close to Emma and, for a couple of relaxing, refreshing and unexpected minutes he was somehow able to forget the hell outside.

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