Chapter 21

Michael and Emma sat opposite each other at the kitchen table. It was almost four o'clock. Carl had been working on the generator outside for the best part of the afternoon. The back door was open. The house was freezing.

'There's got to be something driving them on,' Emma mumbled. 'I can't understand why they keep moving and yet...'

'Fucking hell,' Michael cursed, 'give it a rest, would you? What does it matter? Why should we give a damn what they do as long as they're not a danger to us. Christ, I don't care if I wake up to find a hundred and one of the fucking things stood around the house doing a bloody song and dance routine. As long as they don't come near me and...'

'Okay,' she snapped, 'you've made your point. Sorry if I don't share your short-sightedness.'

'I'm not short-sighted,' Michael protested.

'Yes you are. You don't give a damn about anyone but yourself...'

'That's not true.'

'Yes it is.'

'No it isn't. I'm looking out for you and Carl too. I just think we have to face facts, that's all.'

'We don't know any facts. We don't know fucking anything.'

'Yes we do,' he sighed. 'For a start it's a fact that it doesn't matter what's happened to the rest of the population as long as nothing happens to us. It's a fact that it doesn't matter why millions of people died. What difference would it make if we knew? What could we do? What if we found some fucking miracle cure? What are we going to do? Spend the rest of our lives sorting out fifty-odd million corpses at the expense of ourselves?'

'No, but...'

'But nothing,' he snapped.

'I can't help it,' she said quietly, resting her head in her hands. 'It's the medic in me. I've been trained to...'

'Forget all that,' he pleaded. Michael stared at Emma. She sensed his eyes burning into her and looked up. 'Listen to me,' he continued. 'Forget everything. Stop trying to work out what's happened and why. I'm not short-sighted and I'm not selfish, I'm a realist, that's all. What's gone is gone and we've got to make the most of what's left. We've got to say fuck everything else and try and build some kind of future for the three of us.'

'I know that,' she sighed, 'but it's not that simple, is it? I can't just turn away and...'

'You've got to turn away,' he said, slamming his hand down on the table and raising his voice. 'Christ, how many times do I have to say it, you've got to shut yourself off from the past.'

'I'm trying. I know I can't help anyone else, but I don't think you've thought about this like I have.'

'What do you mean?' Michael asked, sitting up in his seat. There was an equal mix of concern and annoyance in his voice.

'I want to make sure we're safe, same as you do,' she explained. 'But have you stopped to wonder whether it's really over?'

'What?'

'Who says that's the end of it? Who says that the bodies getting up and moving around last week was the final act?'

Michael realised what she was saying and a sudden cold chill ran the length of his spine.

'So what are you thinking?'

'I don't know,' she admitted, slouching forward again. 'Look, Mike, I think you're right, we have to look after ourselves now. But I need to know that whatever it was that happened to the rest of them isn't going to happen to me. Just because we've escaped so far doesn't necessarily mean we're immune, does it?'

'And do you think that we should...?'

Michael's words were cut short by a sudden loud crash from outside which echoed through the otherwise quiet house. He jumped up from his seat and ran out to where Carl was working. He found the other man sitting on the grass with his head in his hands. Through the half open shed door he could see a tool box on the ground which had clearly been kicked or thrown in anger.

'Okay?' he asked.

Carl grunted something under his breath before getting up and disappearing into the shed again.

'Is he okay?' Emma shouted from the safety of the back door.

Michael turned round and walked back towards her.

'Think so,' he sighed. 'Think he's having a few problems, that's all.'

She nodded thoughtfully and went back inside. Michael followed her into the sitting room. She sat down next to a large patio window and stared out onto the garden. It was a bright, sunny afternoon and she could see the shed from where she was sitting. Carl's tired shadow was clearly visible inside.

Cautiously (as he wasn't sure if he was disturbing Emma) Michael sat down on the arm of the sofa behind her. He picked up an old newspaper from a nearby coffee table, flicked through a few pages and then threw it back down again.

'Assuming we are immune and we do survive all of this...' he began quietly.

'Yes...' Emma mumbled.

'Do you think we'll be able to make something out of what's left?'

She thought for a moment.

'Don't know. Do you?'

He got up and walked to the other side of the room and leant against the wall.

'We can be comfortable here, I'm sure of that much. Christ, we could turn this place into a bloody fortress if we wanted to. Everything we need is out there somewhere. It's just a question of getting off our backsides and finding it...'

'Daunting prospect, isn't it?' she interrupted.

'I know. It's not going to be easy but...'

'I think the most important thing is deciding whether we want to survive, not whether we can.' She turned around to face Michael. 'Look, I know we could have anything  -  bloody hell, we could live in Buckingham bloody Palace if we wanted to...'

'...once we'd cleared out the corpses...'

'Okay, but you get my point. We can have anything, but we've got to ask ourselves if there's anything that will make any of this easier to deal with? I don't want to bust a gut building something up if we're just going to end up prisoners here counting the days until we die of old age.'

Michael sighed. Her honesty was painful.

'I agree. So what do you want? Accepting that we've all lost everything that ever mattered to us, what do you think would be worth surviving for now?'

She shrugged her shoulders and turned to look out of the window again.

'Don't know yet,' she admitted. 'I'm not sure.'

Michael's mind began to race. He hadn't dared to think about the future because, until yesterday, there hadn't seemed to be much chance of any of them actually having one. Ever the loner, however, he realised that there was in fact very little he needed. Shelter, food and protection, that was just about it. There were many aspects of his pre-disaster life that he was glad to finally have lost. Question was would time heal his, Carl's and Emma's mental wounds and allow them to make a life with what was left?

Their silent and personal thoughts were interrupted by another unexpected noise from outside. A roar of machinery followed by a low, steady mechanical chugging, followed by a scream of delight from Carl.

'Bloody hell,' Emma smiled. 'Will you listen to that!'

Michael left the room and was halfway to the back door when Carl appeared running the other way.

'Done it!' he gasped breathlessly. 'I've fucking done it!'

He slowed down, walked proudly into the kitchen and flicked the light switch on the wall. The fluorescent lighting flickered and jumped into life, filling the room with harsh, relentless and completely beautiful electric light.

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