Chapter 22

The three survivors continued to work around the house until just after nine o'clock that evening, the presence of electric light having substantially extended the length of their useful day. Once their supplies had been stored and the van and house made secure for the night they stopped, exhausted. Emma made a meal which they ate as they watched a video they'd found.

Michael, who had been sitting on the floor resting with his back against the sofa, looked over his shoulder just after eleven and noticed that both Carl and Emma had fallen asleep. For a few moments he stared deep into their frozen faces and watched as the flickering light from the television screen cast unnerving, constantly moving shadows across them.

It had been a strange evening. The apparent normality of sitting and watching television had troubled Michael. Everything had seemed so very ordinary when they had started watching the film an hour and a half earlier  -  within minutes each one of them had privately been transported back to a time not so long ago when the population of the country had numbered millions, not hundreds, and when death had been final and inevitable, nothing else. Perhaps the night felt so strange and wrong for that very reason. The three of them had been reminded of everything that they  -  through no fault of their own  -  had lost.

Michael found it disappointingly typical and increasingly annoying that he had ended up thinking like that. Gone was the time when he'd been able to enjoy the cheap and cheerful comedy film such as the one he'd just sat through for what it was  -  a temporary feel-good distraction, almost an anaesthetic for the brain. Now just about everything that he saw, heard and did seemed to spark off deep questions and fierce emotional debates inside him which he didn't want to have to deal with. Not yet, anyway.

His lack of concentration on the film had been such that he hadn't noticed it had finished until the end titles had been rolling up the screen for a good couple of minutes. Preoccupied by dark thoughts again he stayed sat on his backside, waiting for the tape to run out. As the music faded away and was replaced by a gentle silence he opened a can of beer and stretched out on the floor.

For a while he lay still and listened carefully to the world around him. Carl was snoring lightly and Emma fidgeted in her sleep but, other than that, the two of them were quiet. Outside there was the constant thumping and banging of the generator in the shed and he could hear a gusting wind, ripping through the tops of the tall pine trees which surrounded the farm. Beyond all of that Michael could just about hear the ominous low grumble of a distant but fast approaching storm. Through half-open curtains he watched as the first few drops of cold rain clattered against the window. The noise startled him at first and he lifted himself up onto his elbows. For a second he saw a definite movement outside.

Suddenly scared and nervous and pumped full of adrenaline, Michael jumped up, ran over to the window and pressed his face against the glass. He peered out into the dark night, hoping for a few anxious seconds that the mechanical noises being made by the generator had acted like the classical music had back in the city, attracting the attention of survivors who would otherwise have remained oblivious to their arrival at Penn Farm. He couldn't see anything. As quickly as he cleared the glass the rain outside and the condensation inside obscured his view again.

The others were still asleep. Thinking quickly Michael ran to the kitchen and picked up a torch that they had deliberately left on a dresser in case of emergencies. The light from the torch was bright and he followed the unsteady circle of illumination through to the back door of the house which he cautiously opened. He stepped out into the cold evening air and looked around, ignoring the heavy rain which soaked him.

There it was again. Closer this time. Definite movement around the generator.

With his heart thumping in his chest he made his way further into the garden towards the shed and then stopped when he was just a couple of metres away. Gathered around the walls of the small wooden building were four dishevelled figures. Even in the dim light and with the distraction of the wind, rain and approaching storm it was obvious that in front of him were four more victims of the disease, virus or whatever that had ripped through the population last week. Michael watched with curiosity and unease as one of the bodies collided with the door. Rather than turn and stagger away again as he'd expected it to have done, the bedraggled creature instead began to work its way around the shed, tripping and sliding through the mud.

Something wasn't right.

It took Michael the best part of a minute to decide what it was that was wrong, and then it hit him  -  they weren't going anywhere. The bloody things were moving constantly, but they weren't going anywhere. The movements of these corpses were as uncoordinated and listless as the hundreds of others they'd seen moving, but they were definitely gravitating around the shed.

When three out of the four bodies were around the back of the shed, temporarily out of the way, Michael pushed past the other one and opened the door. He slipped inside and, struggling to think over the deafening noise of the generator, he found the control panel that regulated the machine and switched it off.

After wiping his face and hands dry on a dirty towel and pausing to catch his breath, Michael went back outside.

By the time he'd shut the door to the shed he was alone. The four shadowy figures had drifted away into the darkness of the night.

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