Chapter 18

Emma was the first to wake up next morning. It was Saturday  -  not that it seemed to matter anymore  -  and she guessed by the amount of low light which was seeping in through the crack between the curtains that it was early morning, probably around four or five o'clock.

After a few seconds of disorientation she remembered where she was and how she'd got there. She gazed up at the ceiling above the bed she'd been sleeping on and stared at the numerous bumps, cracks and bubbles. Her eyes drifted towards the walls where, in the semi-darkness, she began to count patterns on the wallpaper. The design was made up of five different pastel-pink flowers (which looked grey in the half-light) printed on a creamy white background. The flowers were printed in a strict and repetitive rotational sequence.

Emma had counted twenty-three rotations of flowers on the wallpaper before she stopped to question what it was she was doing. She realised that, subconsciously, she had been filling her mind with rubbish. She realised that it was much easier to think about patterns on walls and other such crap than it was to have to think about what had happened to the world outside Penn Farm.

There was a sudden groaning noise from the side of the bed and she instantly froze rigid with fear. Lying perfectly still she listened intently. There was something in the bedroom with her. She was sure that she could hear something moving around on the floor next to the bed and for a moment she was too frightened to move. Her heart pounded in her chest with an anxious ferocity and she held her breath, petrified that whatever it was that was in there with her might sense her presence.

Ten long and terrifying seconds passed before she managed to pluck up enough courage to lean across to the side of the bed and look down. A wave of cool relief washed over her when she saw that it was Michael, asleep on the floor, curled up tightly in a thin sleeping bag. She lay back on the bed and sighed.

She was certain that Michael had begun the night sleeping somewhere else. They had talked together on the landing outside her room for a few minutes after Carl had gone to find a bed. There were four bedrooms in the house  -  three on the second floor and one in the attic  -  and she could clearly remember Michael going into one of the rooms adjacent to hers. So why was he sleeping on the floor next to her bed now? Was it because he thought that she might need him there for protection, or was it because he himself had found himself in need of company and reassurance in the dark hours of the night just passed. Whatever the reason she decided that it didn't matter. She was glad he was there.

By that point she was wide awake and there didn't seem to be any prospect of her getting back to sleep. Annoyed and still tired, she shuffled back over to the other side of the bed and swung her feet out over the edge. She lowered her feet down until they reached the bare varnished floorboards and then recoiled at the sudden chill which ran through her as her toes touched the ground. The temperature in the room was low and she was cold, despite the fact that she had slept virtually fully dressed. There were blankets and sheets on the bed, but she hadn't felt able to use them. She didn't know whether the bed had belonged to one of the bodies they'd left in the forest, and that thought had made her feel uneasy to the point that she hadn't felt comfortable enough to take off her clothes and sleep inside the bed. Still, even though she'd slept fully dressed on top of a dead man's bed, she'd been more comfortable there than at any other point in the last week.

Tiptoeing carefully so as not to wake up Michael, she crept around the cold room to the window and opened the curtains. Michael stirred and mumbled something unintelligible before rolling over and starting to snore gently, blissfully ignorant to the fact that Emma was watching him.

Leaning up against the cool glass she looked down onto a dull world. An early morning mist clung to the ground, settling heavily in every dip and trough. Birds sang out and flew between the tops of trees, silhouetted in black against the dull grey-purple sky. For a few short and blissful moments it was easy for Emma to believe that there was nothing much wrong with the rest of the world today. She hadn't often been up and about at four twenty-five (that was the precise time according to an alarm clock next to the bed) but she imagined that this was pretty much how every day must have started.

She spied a lone figure staggering aimlessly across a recently ploughed field just north of the farmhouse. She had seen thousands of the pitiful creatures over the last few days but she instantly decided that this one particular stumbling bastard was the one she hated the most. Her heart had sunk like a stone when she'd first spotted it tripping clumsily through the mist. If she hadn't seen it then perhaps she'd have been able to prolong the illusion of normality for a few minutes longer. But that was all it was  -  an illusion of a normality that was long gone and which would never be restored. And there she was, trapped in the same desperate and incomprehensible nightmare that she'd been stuck in last night and the night before that and the night before that... She began to cry and wiped her eyes, upset and annoyed. For a blissful few seconds everything had felt normal but now she felt like hell. She felt as cold, empty and lifeless as the body in the field.

'Everything okay?' a voice suddenly asked from the darkness behind her. Startled, Emma caught her breath and quickly span around. Michael stood in front of her, his normally bright eyes still dulled with sleep and his short hair matted and unruly.

'I'm all right,' she mumbled in reply, her heart still thumping.

'Did I scare you?' he wondered apologetically. 'I'm sorry, I tried to make as much noise getting up as I could but you...'

Emma shook her head, making it clear that it didn't matter. Her thoughts had been elsewhere. He could have screamed in her face and she wouldn't have noticed.

Michael took another step closer to her and she noticed that he too had slept in his clothes. She turned back to look out of the window and continued to scan the misty horizon, desperately hoping that she might catch sight of more movement. God, she hoped that they would see something else this morning. Not another one of the loathsome bodies though, she wanted to see something that moved with reason, purpose and direction like she did. She wanted to find someone else that was truly alive.

'What are you looking for?' Michael asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. She didn't want to answer him honestly.

'Nothing,' she grunted. 'There's no fucking point, is there? There's nothing left.'

Michael turned and walked silently out of the room, leaving her alone to look out over the dead world.


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