Chapter 44

Although the nights were beginning to quickly draw in, it seemed to take an eternity for darkness to finally arrive. Each nervous, painful minute dragged unbearably, almost to the point that every last second seemed to take a protracted eternity to pass. In the time that it took the low grey light to fade completely to black, Carl did not move. He lay motionless on the bed, still staring up at the ceiling. Emma wondered if he was even aware of what was happening around him, or whether he had become completely withdrawn and catatonic. Whatever, she decided that she didn't want to disturb him. She didn't dare take the risk, at least like this he was quiet. She was frightened that if she tried to help him or even get him to try and move he might suddenly turn and crack, and that any reaction from him might provoke another unwanted and terrifying response from the vast crowds outside the house.

Both Emma and Michael had managed to pack their few belongings. Between them they had done the same with Carl's gear which had been bagged up in black plastic refuse sacks. They stockpiled their luggage in the shadows at the top of the staircase, not daring to get any closer to the front of the house for fear of being seen. They had no way of easily reaching the more important supplies downstairs. As much as they needed their clothes, they both knew that taking the food and other items left in the kitchen could well be crucial to their continued survival.

Michael and Emma passed each other on the landing close to the bedroom door. They stopped there for a few seconds and spoke to each other in hushed, anxious whispers.

'You okay?' he asked. Emma's eyes looked tired and frightened in the half-light.

'I'm all right.'

'Carl okay?'

'No change.'

'Is he going to be all right?'

'Don't know.'

'Christ, you were the one studying to be a doctor.'

'Fuck off, this is way beyond anything I studied. I don't even know if I'm going to be all right anymore, never mind anyone else.'

'Sorry.'

'Forget it.'

'Got much stuff together?'

'Got my clothes and a few odds and ends. What about you?'

'The same. We're going to have to get downstairs though and try and get some of the stuff in the kitchen packed.'

'So how are we going to do that? There are bloody huge windows in every room. We can't go anywhere without being seen from outside.'

'I know.'

'We're going to have to leave with what we've got, aren't we?'

'I think we'll be lucky to get that much out.'

'So what are we going to do?'

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

'Get out with nothing and start again somewhere else, I suppose,' he sighed. 'Do what we did when we arrived here. Find somewhere that looks half-decent, get ourselves settled and then get out and get supplies.'

'But won't the same thing happen again?'

'Probably.'

That wasn't the answer Emma had wanted to hear. It was what she'd expected him to say, but she had still been hoping for a little more encouragement.

'So how do we get out? Have you thought about that?'

Michael shrugged his shoulders again.

'We'll just have to make a run for it. Get Carl up and about, get loaded up with stuff and then go for it. We'll have to fight our way through.'

'Think we can do it?'

A third nonchalant shrug. A few moments of awkward silence followed.

'Are there still as many outside?' Emma wondered.

'Can't tell,' he replied. 'Probably. I've seen a few of them walking away, but there are just as many still coming in over the bridge.'

'They can't get inside, can they?'

'We'd have to be unlucky. It's locked tight down there but...'

'But what? They can't get in, can they?' she interrupted, again looking for reassurance from Michael...

'But there are thousands of them,' he continued. 'Their sheer mass could do some damage.'

'I don't think they'll be able to force their way in.'

'Neither do I. But then again this time yesterday I never thought they'd get through the barrier...'

'But they didn't get through, we let them in.'

'Doesn't matter, does it? Fact is they're through. And it wouldn't matter how they got inside if they managed to get in here. Wouldn't matter if they put a window through or if we let them in through the front door. Fact is we'd be completely fucked whatever.'

'When are we going to do this, Mike?'

'As soon as we can. We're kidding ourselves if we think it's going to get any better for us tonight. We're not going to gain anything by waiting.'

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