Chapter 26

Michael

I didn't know the true meaning of the word fear until we were on our way back to the farm. It was only then that the reality of our situation came crashing down around me. For the last few days life had begun to feel almost bearable  -  we had lived with our incredible situation for almost a week and the initial shock and desperation had, for a while, begun to subside and had been replaced by something resembling a sense of purpose. We had found ourselves somewhere safe where we could hide together and sit out the storm that had destroyed the rest of the world around us. But the bodies in the field and the visit to the supermarket had changed all that. Suddenly, having found some protection, we were exposed and vulnerable again. And the situation seemed to be deteriorating with each passing hour, practically each minute. As we drove back along roads strewn with rotting human remains and other wrecked remnants of society, I began to wonder what was next. How could things get any worse? The bodies were becoming more violent and unpredictable with each passing hour. If they were ready to tear us apart today, what would they be like tomorrow?

Once we'd made it back to the farm we quickly unpacked the van. We literally threw the boxes and bags into the house. I watched Emma and Carl as we worked and I could see that they were obviously as terrified as I was. The fear was impossible to hide. Every unexpected movement caused us to freeze and catch our breath and every sudden sound made our hearts miss a collective beat. Even the rustle of the wind through the bushes was no longer just an innocent background noise. Instead it had become a whispered warning and reminder to be constantly on our guard.

A few long hours later and the three of us found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table.

'So what are we going to do?' I asked. I couldn't just sit there and wait any longer.

Carl shrugged his shoulders and Emma did the same. To her credit she did at least answer me.

'Don't know,' she mumbled.

I had been thinking about our situation constantly, but I hadn't yet managed to come up with any constructive ideas other than to lock all the doors and sit and hide in the dark and wait. It wouldn't achieve anything, but at that moment it seemed to be the easiest option.

'We'll be all right if we can keep them away from the house,' Emma said a short while later.

'And how are we going to do that?' I instinctively asked.

'Build a wall or a fence?' she offered.

We had discussed building some kind of barrier before, and it still seemed sensible.

'I don't want to go out there again today,' Carl grumbled pathetically.

'Neither do I but if we don't do something,' I said, 'then we really are going to be trapped here. We won't be able to risk making a sound.'

'So how are we supposed to build a fence without making any noise?' Emma asked. A valid question to which I didn't have an answer.

'And what are we going to use to build this barrier?' Carl added.

Another question that I couldn't answer.

'I don't know,' I replied honestly. 'I suppose we'll just have to use whatever we can find lying around. This is a farm for Christ's sake. There's bound to be plenty of stuff if we look for it...'

Emma picked up a pen and a scrap of paper from the table. She began to sketch a very simple outline of the house.

'You know,' she mumbled as she drew, 'there wouldn't be as much work to do as you'd think. Look, we could build something from the wall of the house down the length of the yard, then take it straight across to the stream.'

It took a couple of seconds for me to understand what she was saying. From her rough sketch nothing was immediately apparent until she turned it around. As soon as I had my bearings and could associate the drawing with the house, the forest, the generator and the stream and bridge, it started to make sense. By using the barriers that we already had, we could cut down the amount of work we had to do virtually by half. At the moment the bodies still had trouble walking and moving with any co-ordination  -  there was no way that they'd be able to cross the stream. It wasn't particularly deep or wide but it was difficult enough for them to keep their balance on dry, solid ground.

'So what do we use to build this fence?' Carl asked again.

I thought for a few seconds.

'Doesn't have to be a fence, does it?'

'What do you mean?' he asked, confused.

'It just has to be a barricade,' I explained with a hundred and one ideas suddenly flooding into my mind. 'All we want to do is stop those things getting close to the house, isn't it? Doesn't matter how we do it. We could build a fence, dig a trench or just park cars and tractors around the place. That would be enough to keep them out.'

'You're right,' Emma agreed.

'Okay so they're strong in numbers,' I continued, 'but individually they're easy to stop. Emma, I watched you shoulder-charge the body of man twice your size today and you virtually threw it across the room.'

My mind was racing. It all seemed so simple and so obvious. Build a fence down from the side of the house to the bottom of the yard and then across until it meets the stream. Use the bridge as an entry point and block it off somehow. Do the same at the back of the house and take the barrier out far enough to enclose the generator shed and the gas tank. Simple. Safe.

I took the paper and pen from Emma and began to draw over her basic markings. Perhaps feeling as if I was taking over, she stood up and walked away. Sensing that the conversation had ended (not that he had contributed much anyway) Carl also got up from his chair and left the room.

For a short time my planning and sketching brought a welcome distraction from the nightmare that was the outside world.

With my mind occupied the time passed relatively quickly. Before I knew it the morning had ended and we were well into the afternoon. Both Emma and Carl had found other ways and means to occupy themselves and I had been left alone in the kitchen to think and to plan.

By half-past two I had reached the stage where I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, but I wasn't sure what materials we had to use. Perhaps foolishly, I picked up the rusty rifle from where we'd left it lying on one of the kitchen units and went outside.

There were no bodies to be seen. The afternoon was dry and clear but cold. As summer had faded and died and autumn had arrived the temperature had dropped steadily. There was a light breeze rustling through the trees and bushes but otherwise the world was silent.

In the two large barns at the side of the yard I found some timber and a few fence posts. There was also some barbed wire. While I was there I looked at the barns themselves. They appeared strong but not indestructible. The wooden walls and the sheets of corrugated metal on the roof of each of the dull buildings also looked like they were going to be useful. On top of all of that I discovered numerous bits and pieces of farm equipment scattered around the place. I didn't know what half of it was for, but I knew that all of it could be used in someway to build a barrier between us and the rest of the diseased population.

I began to walk back towards the farmhouse feeling unusually calm and assured. The terror and stomach-wrenching fear of the morning had, for a time at least, subsided and been put to one side. The respite didn't last long. The light was beginning to fade and, as night rapidly approached, a single innocent and unexpected thought wormed its way into my tired brain and slowly and systematically destroyed the confidence and sense of purpose that I had spent the previous hours silently building up inside me.

I thought about a friend from work.

Just for a fraction of a second I pictured her face, and the memory of all that I had lost and left behind suddenly returned. With this torrent of unexpected memories came an equally unexpected torrent of pain and raw emotion.

For what felt like hours I sat alone on the steps outside the porch of the farmhouse and wept. I pictured the faces of my family and friends, of my colleagues from work, my customers, the people at the garage who had fixed my car a couple of weeks ago, the woman who'd sold me a paper on the morning it had all begun... as I saw each one of them the bitter realisation that they were gone forever felt like nails being driven into my flesh. And each dull pain was followed by a second hurt. While everyone I knew lay rotting in the streets  -  either lying motionless on the ground or dragging themselves around in endless agony  -  I had survived. Why me? Why should I have lived over all those others? I thought about my two brothers  -  Steven and Richard. I hadn't seen them for a couple of months. I hoped that they were like me and that they had survived. The thought of them being like those fucking monsters I'd seen this morning was too much to take...

But what could I do?

Why should I feel this way?

There was nothing I could have done to have changed any of it.

I picked myself up and went indoors. I was filled with a deep hurt that I knew would never completely disappear. But I owed it to myself to try and build something from what was left.

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