Chapter 32

The dream terrified Emma.

She woke up drenched in an ice-cold sweat and, for a few uncertain moments, was almost too afraid to move. Once she had managed to convince herself that it had only been a dream and that she was safe (or as safe as she could expect to be), she leant over to her right to check that Michael was still lying on the floor beside her. A wave of cool relief washed over her as she reached out her hand and rested it on his shoulder. She held it there for a few seconds until she was completely sure that all was well. The gentle, rhythmic movements of his body as he breathed were remarkably calming and reassuring.

In the days, months and years before her world had been turned upside down Emma had often tried to analyse the hidden meaning of dreams. She had read numerous books that offered explanations for the metaphors and images which filled her mind while she slept. Her dreams had changed since they'd arrived at Penn Farm. There was nothing subtle or hidden in the visions she'd seen in her sleep this morning. They showed her, in no uncertain terms, a terrifying version of the future. A version of the future which could so quickly and easily come to be.

Climbing out of bed (and taking care not to disturb Michael as she did so) Emma made her way over to the window and threw back the curtains. She kept her eyes screwed tightly shut for a few seconds  -  partly because of the bright light flooding in through the glass but mostly because she was afraid of what she might see outside. She breathed a heavy sigh of relief when she finally dared to open her eyes and saw that only thirty or forty figures remained on the other side of the barrier. The majority of the crowd that had gathered last night had wandered away into the wilderness again, perhaps having been distracted by some other sound or movement. Since they had switched off the generator the farmhouse had, to all intents and purposes, appeared to be as dead and as empty as any one of the hundreds of thousands of other buildings dotted around the countryside.

Emma heard noises downstairs. It was almost eight o'clock and the fact that it was now a reasonable hour to be getting up coupled with the fact that she knew the barrier round the building was still intact, gave her a comforting feeling of security and protection. Feeling certain that all was well within the house, and still taking care not to disturb Michael, she pulled on some clothes and made her way downstairs. She found Carl in the kitchen.

'Morning,' she said as she walked into the room. She yawned and stretched. Other than mumbling something indistinct Carl didn't stop or look up from what he was doing.

Emma stood and watched him for a moment. He was fully dressed and had obviously washed and shaved. He was searching through the kitchen cupboards and had collected a pile of food and supplies on the table.

'What are you doing?' she asked cautiously.

'Nothing,' he muttered, still not looking up at her.

'Doesn't look like nothing to me.'

Carl didn't reply.

Sensing his very obvious reluctance to talk, Emma walked round him and made her way over to the cooker. She lifted the kettle and shook it. Happy that there was enough water inside she put it down again and lit the gas burner. The kettle and stove were cold and unused. Whatever it was Carl was doing was obviously important because he hadn't bothered to make himself a drink since getting up. One thing that the three survivors had quickly found they had in common was a need to get a hot drink inside them before they could function in the morning.

'Want a coffee?' she asked amiably, determined not to let his hostility deter her.

'No,' he replied abruptly, still avoiding eye-contact. 'No thanks.'

Emma shrugged her shoulders and spooned coffee granules into two mugs.

There was an oppressive atmosphere in the room. The only noise came from the kettle boiling on the stove. Carl continued to look through the cupboards and drawers. Emma felt uneasy. He was obviously up to something but he clearly didn't want to talk and she couldn't think of a subtle way of asking him what it was that he was doing. She quickly came to the conclusion that she should just ask outright again, and that she should keep asking until she got the answers she wanted.

'Carl,' she began, 'what exactly are you doing? And please don't insult my intelligence by telling me it's nothing when it's bloody obvious that it's not.'

He continued to ignore her.

Emma noticed that there was a well-packed rucksack resting against a wall in the store room adjacent to the kitchen.

'Where are you thinking of going?' she asked.

Still no response.

The kettle began to boil. Emma made a cup of coffee for herself and one for Michael. She sipped at her scalding hot drink and looked directly at Carl over the brim of her mug.

'Where are you going to go?' she asked again, her voice deliberately low and calm.

Carl turned his back to her and leant against the nearest kitchen unit.

'I don't know,' he eventually replied. Emma guessed that he was lying. It was obvious that although he feigned nonchalance, he knew exactly where he was going and what he was planning to do.

'Come on,' she sighed, growing tired. 'Do you really expect me to believe that?'

'Believe what you want,' he snapped. 'Doesn't matter to me.'

'You can't leave the house, it's too dangerous. Bloody hell, you saw how many of those things managed to get here last night. If you really think that you...'

'That's the whole fucking problem, isn't it?' he said, finally turning round to face her. 'I saw how many bodies were here last night  -  too bloody many. It's not safe to stay here anymore.'

'It's not safe anywhere these days. Face it, Carl, this place is as good as you're going to get.'

'No it isn't,' he argued. 'We're out on a limb here. There's nowhere to run. If that fence comes down we're completely fucked...'

'But can't you see that we can get over that? When they're here in large numbers we just shut up and sit tight. If we stay silent and out of sight for long enough they'll disappear.'

'And is that what you want? Are you happy to sit and hide for hours every time those bloody things get close? They're getting stronger everyday and it won't be long before...'

'Of course it's not ideal, but what's the alternative?'

'The alternative is to go back home. I know Northwich like the back of my hand and I know that there are other survivors there. I think I'll have more of a chance back in the city. It was a mistake coming out here.'

Emma struggled to comprehend what she was hearing.

'Are you fucking crazy?' she stammered. 'Do you know the risks you'd be taking by...'

'Emma, I'm going. If you haven't got anything constructive to say then do me a favour and don't say anything at all.'

'But have you thought this through? Do you really believe this is the right thing to do?'

'There's safety in numbers,' he said, turning his back on her again. 'Those bloody things proved it last night, didn't they? More survivors has got to equal more of a chance in my book...'

'You're wrong,' Michael interrupted. He was standing in the kitchen doorway. Neither Emma or Carl knew how long he'd been there or how much he'd heard. He leant against the door frame with his arms crossed in front of him.

Carl shook his head.

'Leaving here would be a fucking stupid thing to do,' Michael added.

'Staying here seems like a fucking stupid thing to do too,' he snapped back.

Michael took a deep breath and walked further into the kitchen. He sat on the edge of the kitchen table and watched the other man as he tried desperately to busy himself and avoid eye contact with the other two survivors.

'Convince me,' Michael said as he took his coffee from Emma. 'Just how much have you thought about this?'

For a second Carl was angry, feeling that Michael was patronising him. But then he decided that he sounded as if he was at least going to listen to what he had to say.

'I've thought long and hard about it,' he replied, 'this isn't something that I've just decided to do on a whim.'

'So what's your plan?'

'Get back to Northwich and try and get to the community centre. See who's still there...'

'And then?'

'And then find somewhere secure to base myself.'

'But you said you didn't want to lock yourself away and hide. Aren't you just going to be doing that somewhere else instead of here?' Emma asked.

'There's a council works depot between the community centre and where I used to live. There's a bloody ten foot wall right the way around it. Once we're in there we're safe. There's trucks and all kinds of things there.'

'How you going to get in?'

'I'll get in.'

'And what if there's no-one at the Community Centre?'

'I'll keep going to the depot on my own.'

Michael stopped asking questions and sat and thought for a few seconds.

'So when were you thinking of going?' he wondered.

'We've got to go out for supplies at some point in the next few days,' Carl answered. 'I figured I'd try and get some transport while we were away from the house and then I'll take it from there.'

'We could go and get supplies today,' Michael said, surprising Emma who looked at him with an expression of utter disbelief on her face.

'What the hell are you doing?' she hissed at him. 'Christ, are you thinking of going too?'

Michael shook his head.

'Seems to me that you're going to go whatever we try and say or do to stop you.'

Carl nodded.

'I'd go now if I could.'

'Then there doesn't seem to be any point in Emma or I wasting our time trying to convince you that you're making a mistake.'

'I don't think I am. You are right though, you'd be wasting your time.'

'And if we try and stop you leaving we'll probably end up beating the crap out of each other and the net result will still be that you leave. Am I right?'

'You're right.'

He turned to face Emma.

'So we don't have a lot of choice, do we?'

'But, Mike, he'll end up dead. He won't last five minutes out there.'

Michael sighed and watched Carl disappear into the store room.

'That's not our problem,' he said. 'Our priority is to keep ourselves safe, and if that means that Carl leaves then Carl leaves. Think of him as a homing pigeon. We send him on his way today and, with a little luck, if things don't work out he'll bring the rest of the survivors from Northwich back here with him if he manages to find them.'

Emma nodded. She understood everything he said but still found it hard to accept.

'He's a stupid fucking idiot,' she hissed under her breath.


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