Chapter Thirty-Six

The sound of rotting hands smashing against the side of the motorhome woke Michael. It had happened before - maybe three or four times in the last couple of days - and he was quickly becoming used to disposing of the sickly, nuisance cadavers. Most times it was just a single body that stumbled upon the vehicle by chance. This morning he could hear at least two of them. Tired and cold he sat on the end of the bed and pulled on his boots. Through a slight gap in one of the heavy curtains he saw that it was a bright and sunny day outside. That was why the bodies had appeared, he decided. They often seemed to be attracted to the motorhome when the cloud cover was light and the sun was shining.

Michael had deduced that the sun reflecting on the metal and glass caught their attention. They were parked at the edge of a large field and there were no other man-made objects to attract or distract the dead. Emma was shuffling in the bed, the noise having disturbed her also. She covered her head with a pillow to block out the banging as Michael pulled back the nearest curtain and peered outside.

He pressed his face hard against the window, trying to locate the bodies. One of them was close to the door (he could just about see it from where he was) and from the direction of the noise he guessed that the other was up towards the front of the motorhome, banging relentlessly on the bonnet. Yawning he got up and walked down towards the door, pausing only to pick up a crowbar which he'd left at the side of the little gas stove in the cramped kitchen area.

'Be careful,' Emma said, sitting up quickly when she realised he was about to go outside. 'I'll be fine,' he grunted as he opened the door and stepped out. The morning air was bracing and fresh. The sky was deep, clear blue and it was relentlessly bright out in the open. Michael covered his eyes to shield them from the sun. The first body was no more than six feet away and it was already coming towards him, clumsy but moving with an unnerving speed. Michael did little more than stand and look at it for a moment. It seemed to have been relatively young when it had died. A white male (he thought) dressed in the shabby remains of construction site worker's overalls, its face was cold and vacuous and its skin blue-green and pulled tight over bone.

'Morning,' he muttered under his breath as he lifted the crowbar and slammed it down on the crown of the body's skull. He felt the bone shatter and give way with hardly any resistance. As time marched slowly onwards, Michael thought, so the rotting creatures were definitely becoming physically weaker. Their intent and drive continued to increase ominously, but as each day passed the empty cadavers were showing signs of becoming unsteady and frail. The body tripped back and then stood motionless for an instant before regaining its balance and lurching forward again. Michael lifted the crowbar for a second time and plunged it down like a spear into the centre of the creature's head, smashing through the area of skull that he had weakened with his first blow. With what remained of its brain now destroyed, the diseased figure crumbled to the dew-soaked ground, twisted and motionless.

The second body was smaller (it had been a child but Michael forced himself not to think about that). Its unwanted interest aroused by the noises accompanying Michael's disposal of the other corpse, it moved around the front of the motorhome and dragged itself towards the survivor. He marched quickly towards it and dispatched it with a single swipe of the heavy metal crowbar to the side of the head. As he dragged the two bodies away to a safe distance from the motorhome, Michael found himself thinking just how easy destroying them had become. He only did it when he absolutely needed to, but the point was that he could now do it. Even as recently as last week it had still been difficult. In spite of their condition, and as dangerous, repulsive and alien as they had become, it had been hard not to keep thinking about them as people. But recently things had begun to change. The life that he had once led - the life that these grotesque things had shared in their previous condition - was becoming little more than a fading memory. This new and uncomfortable, scavenging existence had somehow become normality. His old life with all its trappings now seemed distant and at times almost incomprehensible.

The further away those memories were, the weaker his emotional ties to the bodies became. Now they meant nothing. They were just an inconvenience. Occasionally a threat. He lay the bodies at the base of a tree on the other side of the field and walked back towards the motorhome. He was about to climb the steps and go back inside when he heard the sound of an engine. Emma heard it too. She appeared in the doorway behind him.

'I'll go and check it out,' he said. Emma nodded. A quick sprint towards the track they had spent the last few days following and Michael was able to look down and follow the progress of yet another transport full of soldiers. They were heading away from their base. No doubt they would return again later. He watched them until they had disappeared. Today's the day, he decided. Today we're going to follow them back. Michael's plan was simple. Move the motorhome down from the hills and sit and wait somewhere near to the track. As soon as the transport appears again, follow it at a safe distance and find the base. Simple.

Back inside, Emma was waiting for him. 'Okay?' she asked as he closed the door and took off his boots. He nodded and smiled. 'More of them,' he said as he walked towards her. She was back in bed. 'When we're ready we'll drive down towards the track and find somewhere to sit and wait for them to come back.' She nodded and threw back the bedcovers, stretching out her arms and gesturing for him to come closer. He lay down with her and held her tightly. The warmth of her body was soothing and relaxing, despite the fact that they were still both fully dressed to protect them against the autumn cold. 'Think this is it?' she asked. 'Might be,' he replied. 'Best chance we've had so far.'

'Think we're doing the right thing?' 'Definitely, don't you?' 'I'm warming to the idea.' 'We've got to try, haven't we? We can't just walk away from these people. Who knows what they might have or what they might be able to tell us?' 'I trust you,' she whispered, pulling him closer. 'I know you wouldn't do anything if you didn't think it was right.' 'I'm not about to take any risks that I don't think are justified,' he explained.

'The only thing I've got left is you. You're my priority. I won't let us take any chances we don't need to.' Emma was about to tell Michael how much she needed him but stopped herself having already told him many times before.

She thought about telling him how being with him had made her hellish life almost bearable at times. She thought about telling him how she wished they could have met when everything had been normal and... She didn't say anything. Instead she just held him.

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