Chapter 27

The barrier around the house took the three survivors all of the following day to complete. They worked almost constantly  -  beginning just after the sun first rose and only stopping when the job was finally done. As the light had faded the work had become harder to concentrate on and finish. Carl, Michael and Emma had each individually struggled to keep focussed on the task at hand and to ignore the mounting fear that the approach of darkness brought. The fear of drawing attention to themselves was constant and relentless. Throughout the day the generator had remained switched off. As far as was possible they worked in the safety of a shroud of silence.

Despite his earlier apparent apathy, Carl worked as hard as the other two to complete the vital barrier. For much of the time Emma stood guard with the rifle and, in some ways, that job proved to be the hardest of all. She had never held a loaded firearm before and, although Carl had shown her how to load, prime and fire the weapon, she doubted she would actually be able to use it should the need arise. Frustrating, often contradictory thoughts flooded her mind with an infuriating regularity. She had come to despise the wandering corpses which dragged themselves lethargically through the remains of her world. They were now so sick, diseased and dysfunctional that it had become almost impossible for her to comprehend the fact that a short time ago they had each been human beings with names, lives and identities. And yet, should one of them stumble into her sights, she wondered whether she would be able to pull the trigger and shoot it down. She wasn't even sure whether a bullet would have any effect. She had witnessed those creatures being battered and smashed almost beyond recognition, only to continue to move constantly, seemingly ignorant to the pain that their injuries and sickness must surely have caused. No matter what physical damage was inflicted, they carried on regardless.

It was fortunate that the house was so isolated. In the long hours spent outside only a handful of bodies had appeared. Whenever they became aware of movement the three survivors would drop their tools and disappear into the silent shadows of the farmhouse and wait until the withered creatures passed or became distracted by another sound and drifted away again.

Michael had impressed himself with his ingenuity and adaptability. As he had planned, they had used the stream as a natural barrier along one side of the farmhouse, building up the bank on their side with rocks and boulders from the water. Using the tall doors from one of the barns they had created a strong, padlocked gate across the stone bridge which spanned the width of the water. Two thick and removable crossbeams provided additional strength and security for the hours they would spend locked away inside the farmhouse. Much of the walls and roofs of the two barns had been stripped to provide extra materials to construct and reinforce the vital boundary. Now the remains of the buildings stood dejected and abandoned outside the fence, the bare bones of their empty frames reaching up into the air like the ribs of an animal carcass stripped of flesh.

In other places the barrier was little more than a collection of carefully placed obstructions. Piles of farm machinery and unneeded bags of chemicals were arranged to create a hopefully impenetrable blockade. Michael judged the success of each section of barrier by whether he could get through or over to the other side. If he had trouble then the tired and sickly bodies would surely have no chance.

As Monday evening drew to a close and the early dark hours of Tuesday morning approached, Michael stood outside checking and rechecking that the barrier was secure. Everything he could find that they wouldn't need was placed against the fence or used to build it higher. As he worked in his cold isolation it occurred to him that it was one week to the day since the nightmare had begun. The longest seven days of his life. In that time he had experienced more pain, fear, frustration and outright terror than he would ever have thought possible. He refused to allow himself to think about what might be waiting for him tomorrow.

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