Chapter 28

It was half-past six. As I fastened up my coat and shivered in the icy-cool air of early morning I walked to the end of Clare's short drive and looked up and down the street. It was deserted. No doubt those people who were still capable of functioning rationally were curled up in fear deep inside their homes waiting for whatever was going to happen next.

My car's remote central locking wasn't working.

I tried the key in the lock and managed to open it manually. Once inside I quickly pulled the door shut and started the engine.

Nothing.

I checked the immobiliser, checked I had the right key and even checked that I was in the right car. I tried again.

Nothing.

It was completely dead.

I looked back at Clare's house and could see her standing in the shadows of her living room, watching. I got out of the car and gestured for her to get out of sight. I didn't wait to see if she'd understood, I just started to jog back towards the village and then, ultimately, home. I had no idea how I was going to reach Siobhan's house without the car. Maybe I could find a bike or something else to use so that I could...

A sudden change in the light and shadow around me made me freeze. I looked up into the turbulent sky directly above me and watched in terrified awe as one of the immense alien ships carved a silent passage through the swirling clouds over my head, heading in the general direction of Thatcham. As it cruised powerfully forward, a bright opening appeared in its otherwise featureless belly and from it swooped a fleet of seventeen sleek, grey-silver shuttle crafts. As each one of the shuttles dropped down into the morning air a single pulse of brilliant white light appeared from their engines and they raced on ahead of the mother ship.

Although the entire fleet was gone in seconds I knew that I couldn't afford to drop my guard. No matter where I was standing, I could always see at least one other alien ship somewhere in the sky. I had no option but to keep on moving towards home. I hoped that my insignificance would be my saviour on this bitter and desperate morning.

The streets of the village were silent and dead.

I had a thousand and one unanswerable questions spinning round my tired mind as I ran and then walked towards my house. Why was I the only person stupid enough to be out in the open? Where was everyone else? I searched pointlessly for the answers to the most serious questions of all  -  why were the alien ships here? There was no point in avoiding the obvious  -  this was a full scale invasion. But why? And how had it happened? I didn't get any comfort from knowing that my long held mistrust of the aliens had been well-founded. But Clare and I couldn't have been the only ones who'd thought this way, could we?

I took a right turn into Hope Street . Bloody ironic, I smiled to myself.

'Hey, you...' a voice hissed from out of nowhere. I span around quickly, looking for whoever it was who had spoken. The back doors of a inconspicuous-looking transit van slowly opened outwards. 'Who's there?' I whispered.

From out of the shadows of the van a small and very slight young woman appeared. Perhaps aged between twenty and twenty-five, she looked exhausted and dishevelled. She began to get out of the van. I gestured for her to go the other way and climbed in with her.

'What's your name?' she asked quietly.

'Tom Winter,' I replied.

'I'm Bhindi, Bhindi Shah,' she croaked, her throat dry.

I pulled the door closed behind me.

'What's happening, Tom?' she sobbed. She must have known that I couldn't answer her.

'Don't know. How long have you been here?'

It was dark and cramped inside the van. In the low light I could just about make out a blanket, a pillow, some clothes and the remains of a little food scattered around.

'I slept here last night,' she explained. 'I've been staying with my aunt and uncle just over the road for the last few days and...'

'And?'

'And last night Uncle started going ballistic. He was shouting and screaming and throwing things around. Aunty started to do the same and then my cousins and I just had to get out...'

'Have you seen them this morning?'

She nodded.

'I went back about an hour ago. They were all just sat there, not saying or doing anything. I tried to get some help but I couldn't find anyone. I was walking round for ages but I couldn't find anyone...'

'I understand,' I interrupted. 'You do know that it's not just your family this is happening to, don't you?'

'I know that.'

Bhindi looked past me and out of the window behind me. I turned and saw that another alien ship was soaring through the sky perilously close to where we were hiding.

'What do they want?' she asked.

'Don't know,' I replied truthfully.

'I wish they would just fuck off,' she spat. 'Fuck off and leave us. I never wanted them here anyway.'

'You and me both,' I mumbled under my breath. 'Look, I can't stop here. I'm going back into Thatcham to fetch my brother then I'm going back to my friend's house. If you want to come with me then...'

She shook her head. 'No.'

'Sure?'

'I'm not going any further into the village. You're a fucking fool if you do.'

'Why do you say that?'

'Those bloody aliens,' she hissed. 'The place will be full of them.'

I turned back to look out of the window again. What if she was right? In any event, did it matter? I had to go back to try and find Rob and Siobhan. If the village really was crawling with aliens then I would just have to take my chances with them. I didn't have any choice. I couldn't turn back without having tried to reach Siobhan. If something happened to me along the way then so be it. It was a chance I knew I was going to have to take.

'Are you sure you're going to stay here?' I asked again, just in case.

'Sure,' she replied. 'I want to stay close to my family.'

I nodded and made my move. I crawled carefully out of the van.

'Take care of yourself,' I said quietly.

Bhindi nodded and snuggled down under a blanket in the far corner of the van just behind the front passenger seat. I slammed the door shut, looked around anxiously, and then carried on walking.

I didn't see or hear another soul in all the time I was out there.

If they'd wanted to I was sure the aliens could have taken me out. I was obviously of very little concern to them. It helped to put things into perspective  -  what could a single man do against an invading force of such vast and unprecedented power?

As my confidence increased, so did my speed.

I ran towards home.

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