Chapter 35

Carl raced along countless twisting, turning narrow roads, hoping and praying that he was still travelling in the right direction, hoping and praying that he would soon see a road sign or some other signal to confirm that he was heading the right way. He needed to find the motorway which would take him south-east, almost directly into the heart of Northwich. It was bitterly ironic that he now found himself desperate to return to the city which he, Emma and Michael had earlier been so keen to escape from.

Driving at speed in the dark was harder and required more concentration than he had expected. He found it difficult to get used to the motorbike  -  it had been some ten years since he'd ridden one regularly and, even then, the bikes he had been used to were nowhere near as powerful as this one. The state of the roads made the journey even more hazardous. Although devoid of any other moving traffic, they were littered with haphazard piles of rubbish, twisted, rusting vehicle wreckage and rotting human remains. As well as the countless motionless obstructions, Carl was constantly aware of shadowy bodies all around him. Although they could do nothing to harm him while he travelled at speed, their ominous presence alone was enough to distract and unnerve him. He knew that one slip was all that it would take. One lapse of concentration and he could lose control of the bike. If that happened he knew that he would have just seconds to get himself back in command of the powerful machine before the bodies arrived.

The motorcycle's bright headlamp was powerful enough to illuminate a sizeable area of the devastated world through which he travelled. In spite of all that he had seen over the last few hours, days and weeks, some of the sights he witnessed through the inky blackness chilled him to the bone. As he drove towards a car facing towards him, the dead driver lifted its rapidly decomposing head and stared at him. In the fraction of a second he saw it, he knew that the body had not looked past him, it had looked directly at him. In those lifeless, dull eyes he saw both a complete lack of emotion and, at the same time, a paradoxical savage intent which chilled him to the bone. Such abhorrent visions, and the fact that he knew he was utterly alone for the first time since his nightmare had begun, made the cold, dark night seem colder and darker still.

Thousands upon thousands of pathetic, straggling bodies turned and stumbled towards the source of the sound that shattered the otherwise all-consuming silence. Most of the time they were too slow and, when they finally arrived at where the bike had just been, Carl was long gone. Occasionally, however, fate and circumstance contrived to allow some of the bodies to get dangerously close to him. He quickly learnt that the best way to deal with them was simply to plough straight through them with relentless ferocity. The empty corpses offered no resistance. The shadowy silhouette of a dead young woman stumbled out into the middle of the road and began to walk towards the rapidly approaching bike. Rather than waste time and effort by swerving to avoid her, Carl instead forced the bike to move faster and faster. He collided with the body full-on. It was rotten and decayed and completely disintegrated on impact.

Other than the light from the bike the world was swathed with a virtually impenetrable darkness. The only other light came from the full moon which occasionally dared to peer out from behind a cover of thick, swirling cloud. The sharp light which then spilled down on the world was cold and cruel. The shadows it cast made the grotesque sights which surrounded Carl seem even more unbearable.

He knew that he could not afford to stop  -  not even for the briefest of moments.

Carl knew that he had no option but to keep moving forwards. Even if he decided to turn around and head back to Penn Farm he would have little chance of alerting Emma and Michael to his return. Crowds of bodies would be upon him before he'd be able to get through the gate or cross the stream.

He had no choice but to keep going until he reached the safety and security of the survivors' base in Northwich.

He wished they'd never left the city.

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