Chapter Thirty-Three

We walked quickly in the moonlight along and back towards the centre of the little village. Although neither of us knew why we headed in that direction or what we would do once we got there, it seemed not to make the slightest difference. As long as we stayed together, nothing else mattered. Finally having Samantha at my side had alleviated some of the fears and doubt I had felt but, at the same time, the removal of one set of worries had left me exposed to attack from other, more serious troubles. After having achieved what I had originally set out to do - to reach Samantha - the next event which loomed ominously on the horizon would ultimately be the end of the planet. Having had something to think about other than the destruction of the world had deflected and absorbed some of the seriousness of the situation but now, with nothing to do but wait for it to happen, the fear hung heavy over my head like a black, rain-filled storm cloud.

As we approached the centre of the village, screams of confusion, panic and terror sliced through the hot air and compounded the feelings of unease and worry which were already running wild through my mind. With little thought for the safety of either of us, we kept our course towards the middle of the village, unsure and, surprisingly, unworried about what might greet us there.

It had seemed a quiet, empty and peaceful place when I had first arrived there earlier in the day but now the village square was alive with a melee of uncontrolled, frenzied activity. The size of the place could have been misleading - the rampaging hordes that ran riot through the village seemed to have hundreds in their number but, when we came closer, I saw that there were much fewer than that. In reality, only thirty or forty people were there. With no authorities remaining to stop them and impose any sort of order, the people were running amok - fighting, battling and destroying what was left of the little seaside village.

Regardless, and ignorant to the dangers of the night, Samantha and I walked on - there was nothing else that we could have done. I watched the people as we passed them and I could not help but marvel at just how significantly the actions, attitudes and behaviour of almost everyone had changed. It was strange and unnerving to think that there were now no services to rely on - the police, fire brigade, armed forces, hospital staff - every last one of them had torn off their uniforms and now stood side to side in the midst of the mayhem waiting for almost certain destruction. It was frightening to see just how quickly once civilised people had resorted to violence and threats to help them come to terms with their own fears. Once the last threads of control over their own destinies and futures had been severed, the people had become insular, isolated individuals who were cut off from everyone and everything else. It seemed to me that the only way that people had found to combat the growing fears of impending death and unavoidable destruction was to fight with the people around them and to show their superiority through their strength. The age old adage of mind over matter had been turned on its head in the space of a few short days.

As if to confirm my theories and thoughts, as we walked through the village it seemed that it was the lower members of society who were having the easier time of things. As we passed through the shadows at the side of one row of shops, I noticed that a crowd of low-lifes had gathered around one man. He was tall, leather clad and had long, greasy black hair and rough, unshaven skin. His audience clapped, cheered and jeered noisily as he kicked and punched his way through a window into a little electrical store. Once inside, he began to throw televisions, videos, computers and stereos onto the hard pavement outside. As each item crashed down onto the hard ground and shattered into hundreds of smashed pieces, the onlookers cheered and yelled for more. The noise from the crowd seemed to affect the man in the shop like a drug - the louder they cheered, the higher he became. He eventually found a length of heavy metal piping and set about destroying the inside of the dark store.

Watching the pathetic sight as we crept by, I could not help but notice how the man acted. For once he was the centre of attention and, after having been overlooked and downtrodden for all of his life so far, he had finally been given the chance to receive some of the adulation and appreciation that he felt he deserved. He played to his audience and, for the first and probably last time, he was king.

All around the village there was evidence that the people had come to the same conclusions as the man in the shop and that they had found new powers and had lost long-held inhibitions in the scorching sunset of their lives. I stumbled over a dark, heavy lump on the ground and I fell. I lay still for a moment and looked straight into the cold, unblinking eyes of a corpse. The body belonged to a young girl who was about Sam's age and who had been pretty and attractive until someone had carved their frustrations into her face with a blunt razor blade. The blade lay next to her cold head, stuck to the ground in a pool of thick, tacky red blood. For a few long seconds I found it impossible to look anywhere other than into the girl's lifeless eyes but then Samantha tugged my arm and hauled me back into reality.

I scrambled back onto my feet, taking care not to touch the disfigured body in front of me. I pulled Sam close and held her tightly. I gave silent thanks that it was someone else's girlfriend who had been slashed and not mine. The girl who I held in my arms was more precious to me than anything else and, although I had little left to offer, I would gladly have given up what remained of my life to prevent her from coming to any harm.

'We can't stay here,' Sam said quietly, her voice almost drowned in the chorus of confusion that rang out around us. As I held her, I watched the man we had seen moments earlier as he lit the damp rag-fuse of a crude petrol bomb and hurled it into the window of the shop that he had already destroyed. As a thick cloud of fire and smoke belched out from the remains of the building's shattered window, I pulled Sam close again in a conscious effort to protect her from the violence.

'Where should we go?' I asked. She thought for a moment.

'To the beach,' she decided. 'It can't be any worse than this place, can it?'

My feelings remained unchanged and I was just so glad that she still wanted to spend her last moments with me that I didn't care what we did or where we went. I was filled with a real pride and, at the same time, with a numbing, bitter sadness.

'It's this way,' she said, pulling me through the darkness towards where a narrow road disappeared into the shadows.

Holding her hand tightly, I ran with Samantha away from the village and out towards the coast.

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