Chapter 33

By eight o'clock the autumn light had gone and the world had been smothered by the cold, inky blackness of early evening. I had watched the last minutes of the day disappear from the bedroom window. Now the only lights to be seen anywhere came from the powerful engines of the countless alien machines that continued to busily twist and glide silently through the skies overhead.

Through the long hours just passed both Clare and I had finally accepted that whatever we chose to do next didn't matter. The ultimate fate of our friends, families and, most probably, our own lives had been predetermined and there was nothing that either of us could do to alter the course of events. It was now just a question of finding somewhere safe and remote to hide for as long as possible. The alien had warned that if we kept out of the way we might still have some time. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that could be longer than I'd dared to imagine at first. We could have ten minutes left, but then again we could evade the alien hordes and live in hiding for the next seventy years. With the realisation that all might not be lost after all, something of my desire to go on slowly began to return. Clare remained unconvinced but as far as I was concerned there was still a faint glimmer of a chance, and no matter how slight, it was a chance that I was more than ready to take.

My confidence was increasing. I went outside when, without warning, the overpowering and all-consuming silence had been shattered by the dull sound of hundreds of marching feet. Instantly recognisable as the same sound I'd heard in Thatcham earlier that morning, I stood at the end of Clare's road and watched as yet another orderly file of emotionless figures trooped by. But this time they were walking away from the village and out towards the coast. They were gone in minutes and I ran back to the house, concerned and unnerved.

'We should move,' I said breathlessly as I let myself back in. 'I think we need to get out of here.'

'Why?' she asked.

'The people I saw earlier are leaving the village.'


'So I don't feel safe here. What if the aliens are about to start work on the village? They might be about to demolish the whole fucking place and I don't want to be sat here when they...'

'Where are we going to go?' she interrupted.

'Don't know. The alien told me that we'd be safe if we kept out of the way. They're not interested in us.'

'And where exactly is out of the way? Bloody hell, those ships are everywhere. There's nowhere they can't get to.'

'I know,' I snapped, frightened and trying hard to think.

'What we need,' Clare said quietly, 'is somewhere remote. We need a bloody island in the middle of the ocean. Somewhere where there's nothing they could want. Nothing there for them to destroy.' Her train of thought was logical and it led me to an answer.

'What about the Devil's Peak?' I said, remembering the small collection of water-worn rocks just off the coast. 'If we could get out there we should be safe for a while. Joe Porter told me there's a cove round the back where you can moor a boat. Told me he used to go there when he was a lad.'

'But is there any point?'

'Probably not. It's worth a try though.'

'Suppose, but how are we going to get there?'

'I can think of at least three places down the coastal path where there are usually boats moored at this time of year.'

'Can you sail?'

'No but I can row. Come on, we've got to try, haven't we? Bloody hell, if we just end up floating miles out to sea it couldn't be any worse than sitting here and waiting for something to happen, could it? And if those bastards really do have plans for this place then...'

'Okay,' she mumbled, sounding far from sure.

'We'll get a few things together and get moving. The quicker we get out of here, the better our chances are.'

We were ready to leave in minutes. We silently worked together in the shadowy gloom of the kitchen, packing all the food and supplies we could find into two light and waterproof rucksacks and a battered sports holdall. I was distracted by the sound of sudden rain clattering against the window. I looked up and watched the clouds rush by with an ominous speed. A swirling, racing darkness only interrupted by the alien ships burning their way through the sky.

'You all right?' Clare asked, her voice little more than a tired whisper. She had noticed that I'd stopped. I nodded instinctively.

'I'm okay,' I lied. 'What about you? You about ready?'

'Just about,' she mumbled as she struggled with one of the straps on her rucksack. I stared into her face. She was a million miles away and I guessed that she was thinking about Penny and everything else that she had lost. The thought of her pain reminded me of my own. It all felt as cold, empty and hopeless as the day Mum and Dad died.

Without warning the room was filled with brilliant blue-white light. I lifted my hand to shield my eyes and turned away from a sudden wave of heat. It faded away to almost nothing again in seconds and I stepped out into the back garden to see the disappearing engine-light of a low flying silver shuttle. The aliens seemed to be getting lower. Perhaps they were about to put in a long-overdue personal appearance on the land that they had taken from us.

Clare came out to me. She was struggling with both the rucksacks. She handed one over.

'Let's get moving,' she said, managing a fleeting smile.

My legs suddenly felt weak and heavy. I didn't want to leave the house but I knew we had little choice.

'It'll be all right,' she whispered. 'Well that's what you keep telling me, anyway.'

I nodded, fastened my coat and pulled the rucksack onto my shoulders. I stepped back into the house momentarily to collect the holdall and then returned to stand by Clare's side. It was bitterly cold and already I could see that her teeth were chattering.

'So which way do we go?' she whispered.

I wiped spitting rain from my face and looked around. The world suddenly seemed uncomfortably huge.

'Straight across the fields I think,' I replied, pointing beyond the low stone wall at the bottom of the garden. 'If we keep heading that way we should hit the main coast road before long.'

'And then what?'

'Don't know. Depends where we pick it up. We'll just head up or down the coast until we find a boat.'

'Sure? You don't sound it?'

'I'm not,' I answered honestly. 'But I don't think that...'

I stopped talking when another shuttle appeared. It flew directly across our line of vision from right to left, hugging the ground and dipping and rising with the troughs and peaks of the land. It was gone in seconds.

'Let's move,' Clare said quietly.

I hitched the rucksack up into a more comfortable position on my back and began to walk down the garden path. We clambered over the stone wall and then, holding one of the holdall's handles each, we began to make our way nervously through the fields behind the house and down towards the ocean.


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