Chapter Nineteen

When I next woke up it was, incredibly, almost seven o'clock. I struggled to climb up out of the little gap in which I had slept and was surprised and alarmed to find how long I had eventually managed to sleep for. To my considerable relief, the volume of traffic outside had finally been reduced to little more than a steady trickle and the majority of the tens of thousands of angry cars that I had shared the crowded road with last night were nowhere to be seen.

In the bright, deep-blue sky, the sun had begun its unstoppable ascent to the position where it would hang for most of the day and from where it would scorch and burn the helpless world below. Even in the shade of the back of the car, the heat was relentless and overpowering and I struggled to let myself out. I fumbled with the hot door latch and stumbled out onto the road to stretch my stiff, aching body.

I half tripped and half fell out of the car and onto a carriageway strewn with the discarded junk and refuse from the hundreds of cars which had relentlessly pounded along it in the dark hours of last night and the early hours of this morning. As I stood and yawned by the side of my car, a white saloon appeared from nowhere and roared along the road next to me. I watched it as it sped away into the distance, climbing and twisting its way along the hot, dusty road. I turned around to fetch a drink from the back of my vehicle and was stunned by the appearance of the devastated city behind me.

Like a brittle, skeletal shadow of its former self, the dry, dirty towers and buildings of the city stood high and harsh against the brilliant morning sky. Palls of thick, opaque black smoke twisted up from the ground and, even from a considerable distance away, the sounds of confused fighting could still clearly be heard.

I took a warm can of drink from the back of the car and drained it dry in a couple of quick, thirsty gulps. Despite the amount of rubbish strewn on the ground around me, I still carefully packed my litter away before closing the boot of the car and making my way back around to the front. A book of maps lay on the passenger seat and I opened it to confirm my route for the morning's drive.

The dry road stretched out ahead of me for a depressingly long and uninviting distance and I knew that the journey I was about to undertake would be exhausting. I only needed to turn around and look over my shoulder at the ruined city to know that it was a trip that I was now committed to try and make. The crash barrier on the central reservation of the wide, four-lane road had been torn away in places so that cars could travel freely in either direction along either side of the road and it seemed that everyone had reached the same difficult decision to go on as I had.

I got back into the car and, although I deliberately tried not to think about it, I could not help but wonder if the politicians and scientists were right and, if they were, just how long did the planet have left to live? The more I did consider it, however, the more I realised that it mattered little to me how long was left, provided I managed to reach Samantha before the end. My heart was heavy though, and I felt suddenly guilty of the fact that every passing moment I spent sitting and waiting reduced the already slender chance I had of progressing on to reach my family.

I took a deep breath and turned the ignition key. For one, heart-stopping moment, the car's engine failed to start and I worried that I might not even reach Samantha, let alone Mom, Dad and Michelle. I turned the key again and, to my immense relief, the car spluttered and sprung into life. It bumped and groaned as I drove along the rough, hard ground and over the high kerb down onto the sticky tarmac. Once there, it began to move smoothly along.

The traffic around me seemed to have reduced further still in the short time since I had woken. I was now virtually alone on the road and I pushed the accelerator pedal down until the car was moving at a steady ninety miles an hour. As the ruined city gradually disappeared from sight in the rear view mirror, my heart was lifted and my subconscious fooled me into thinking that I was making good, steady progress. In reality, the miles that I covered in those first few minutes were only a fraction of the distance I had to travel but the fact that I was making progress at all was enough to keep me in relatively high spirits.

Once again, while I knew that the enormous journey ahead would be tough and demanding, I only needed to picture Samantha's face in my mind to know that it would all be worthwhile. I remembered our times together and the night in the field and, as I recalled the gentle touch and the delicate scent of her perfect body, I pushed down harder on the accelerator, willing the car to move faster and faster towards my destination. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, another car appeared and quickly overtook me and disappeared in a cloud of dry dust. Following the example of the car's driver, I forced the accelerator pedal down hard to the floor, determined to squeeze every last available ounce of performance from my tired vehicle.

The road was straight and uninteresting and my determination soon gave way to boredom, frustration and impatience.

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