Chapter 24

'What the fucking hell is going on?' Michael cursed as he pushed open the farmhouse door and ushered Emma inside. Carl followed seconds later and, as the second man entered the building, Michael slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. Emma slid down the wall at the bottom of the stairs and held her head in her hands.

'Christ knows,' she sighed, exhausted and out of breath.

Carl barged back past Michael to peer through one of the small glass windows in the front door.

'Shit,' he hissed under his breath. 'There are loads of them out there, bloody loads of them. I can see at least ten from here.'

He seemed strangely fascinated by everything that was happening outside. While Emma and Michael were content to shut the door and lock themselves away from the rest of the nightmare world, Carl was pumped full of adrenaline. Almost ready, it seemed, for a fight.

Michael sat down on the stairs next to Emma and gently rested his hand on her shoulder.

'They've changed,' she said, her head still held low. 'I don't know what's happened or why but they've changed.'

'I know. I saw it last night,' he whispered, 'when you and Carl were asleep.'

Emma looked up.

'What happened?'

'I went out to shut off the generator and there were four of them hanging around outside the shed.'

'You didn't say anything...'

'I didn't think anything of it until now. Anyway, as soon as I switched off the generator they disappeared.'

'Don't think they're coming any closer,' Carl said, his face still pressed hard against the glass, still ignorant to their conversation. 'Looks like they're starting to move away again.'

'Which way are they going?' Michael asked.

'Not sure. Might be heading towards the back of the house.'

'Back to the generator?' Emma wondered.

'Could be, why?'

She shrugged her shoulders and held her head again.

'Don't know,' she mumbled, rubbing her tired and tearstained eyes. 'Last night, did those bodies leave as soon as the generator was switched off?'

'I think so,' Michael replied.

'Well that's it then, isn't it?'

'What?' he pressed, suddenly feeling a little foolish and confused because although she seemed to understand some of what was happening, he didn't have a clue. He respected Emma's opinion but wished that he could understand for himself what was happening to the once human shells wandering around the desolate countryside. She may only have been a part-qualified doctor (if that) but that part-qualification seemed to make her the last surviving authority on what remained of the human condition.

'They're starting to regain their senses.'

'But why? Why now?'

'I don't know. Remember how they suddenly got up and started moving around?'

'Yes...'

'So this must be the same thing.'

'What the hell are you talking about?' Carl interrupted, turning from events outside to face the others and join their conversation.

'Don't know really,' she admitted. 'Perhaps they weren't as badly damaged as we first thought.'

'Jesus,' he laughed, unable to believe what he was hearing. 'They couldn't have been much more badly damaged, could they? They we're dead for Christ's sake!'

'I know that,' she sighed. 'So maybe it's just a small part of them that's survived. The only reactions we've seen have been basic and instinctive. I was taught that there's a lump of jelly right in the middle of the brain that might be responsible for instinct. Maybe that's the part of them that's still alive?'

'But they didn't attack me last night, did they?' Michael reminded her. 'I walked right past those bastards and...'

'Perhaps they were only just starting to respond last night? This is a gradual thing. From what you've told me it seems possible that they've only been like this for a few hours.'

'This sounds like bullshit,' Carl snapped angrily.

'I know it does,' Emma admitted, 'but you come up with a better explanation and I'll listen. One morning everyone drops down dead. A few days later, half of them get up and start walking around again. A few days after that and they start responding to the outside world and their eyes and ears start working again. You're completely right, Carl, it stinks. It does sounds like bullshit...'

'But it's happening,' Michael reminded him. 'Doesn't matter how ridiculous or far-fetched any of it sounds, it's happening out there.'

'I know, but...' Carl began.

'But nothing,' he interrupted. 'These are the facts and we've got to deal with them. Simple as that.'

The conversation ended abruptly and the house became deathly silent. The lack of noise unnerved Carl.

'So why did that thing attack you?' he asked, looking directly towards Michael for answer he knew the other man could not give.

'Don't know,' he admitted.

'I'm sure it's sound they respond to first,' Emma said. 'They hear something and turn towards it. Once they see what it is they try and get closer.'

'That makes sense...' Michael began.

'Nothing makes sense,' Carl muttered. Ignoring him, Michael continued.

'The noise from the generator last night, the gunshot this morning...'

'So we've just got to stay quiet and stay out of sight,' she sighed.

'And how the hell are we going to do that?' Carl demanded, suddenly and unexpectedly furious. 'Where are you going to get a fucking silent car from? What are we going to do, go out to get our food on fucking push-bikes? Wearing fucking camouflage jackets?'

'Shut up,' Michael said, calmly but firmly. 'You've got to try and deal with this, Carl.'

'Don't patronise me you bastard,' Carl hissed.

'Look,' Emma snapped, standing up and positioning herself directly between the two men, 'will both of you please shut up? It's like Michael says, Carl, we've got no option but to try and deal with this as best we can...'

'So what are we going to do then?' he asked, a little calmer but with his voice still shaking with an equal mixture of frustrated anger and fear.

'We need to get more supplies,' Michael said quietly. 'If they are becoming more aware and more dangerous all the time then I think we should go out right now and get as much stuff as we can carry. Then we should get ourselves back here as quickly as we can and lie low for a while.'

'And how long is that likely to be?' Carl asked, clearly beginning to wind himself up again. 'A week, two weeks? A month? Ten fucking years?'

'I don't know,' the other man replied, equally agitated. 'How the hell should I know that?'

'Shut up!' Emma yelled, immediately silencing the other two. 'For Christ's sake, if neither of you can say anything without arguing then don't bother saying anything at all.'

'Sorry,' Michael mumbled, running his fingers through his matted hair.

'So what are we going to do?' she asked.

Rather than answer or take any further part in the increasingly difficult conversation, Carl walked away.

'Where are you going? Carl, come back here. We need to talk about this.'

Halfway up the stairs he stopped and turned back around to face her.

'What's left to talk about? What's the point.'

'The point is we've got to do something and I think we should do it now,' Michael said. 'We don't know what's going to happen next, do we? Things could be a hundred times worse tomorrow.'

'He's right,' agreed Emma. 'We've got enough stuff here to last us for a few days but we need enough to last us weeks. I think we should get out now and barricade ourselves in when we get back.'

'What do you mean?' asked Carl, now much quieter and calmer. He sat down on the stair he'd been standing on. 'I don't want to shut myself away in here...'

'Maybe we shouldn't,' Michael said. 'Maybe we should try it a different way, try and seal off the farm from the outside.'

'And how are we supposed to do that?' Emma wondered.

'Build a fence,' he replied, simply.

'It'd have to be a fucking strong fence,' Carl added.

'Then we'll build a fucking strong fence,' Michael explained. 'We'll get whatever materials we need today and make a start. Face it we're not going to find anywhere better to stay than this place. We need to protect it.'

'We need to protect ourselves,' said Emma, correcting him.

'Let's go,' he said, picking up the keys to the van from a hook on the wall by the front door.

'Now?' said Carl.

'Now,' he replied.

Michael opened the door and made his way to the van, stopping only to pick up the rifle from where Carl had left it in the yard in front of the house.

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