out of the window of the bus as it approached the base. He watched as armed
soldiers, patrolling in pairs moved along a high wire metal fence. Their bus
was just one another vehicle in a large convoy heading to safety. Al manner of
vehicles including delivery vans, larger good vehicles, petrol tankers and even
one or two ambulances, all of which were heading the same way. People on foot
were streaming in alongside the convoy, carrying only enough that they can
carry or pull in carts. Police officers
marshalled the queues, barely keeping order amidst the influx of refugees.
The evacuation centre had been set up in the local high school, selected for its easy access to main roads, tall wire security fences and large open floor buildings. Originally designed to educate, it had now been converted as an emergency refuge and medical centre ever since the hospital had been quarantined. Extra security measures had to be introduced to keep the inhabitants safe and so some changes had been made. The perimeter fence had been upgraded with lookout posts, and the large playing fields at the rear had been converted into a lorry park and a landing pad to receive in food and other supplies that the army dropped in using large military helicopter transports.
The bus headed towards the main entrance, past the guard towers on either side. As it pulled up to the gate, the driver opened his window and after a short exchange of words with the duty officer, the bus was waved inside the perimeter and continued up a short tarmac drive to what was used to be a large car park situated at the front of the building.
It stopped outside the main reception area and a uniformed police officer boarded the bus. All conversation stopped as everyone waited for the officer to speak. She glanced at her clipboard briefly, cleared her throat and announced loudly.
“Can I have your attention please? You will shortly be escorted to registrations. Please keep your personal belongings with you at all times. Parents please ensure that your children are close to avoid anyone wandering off. You saw the troops when you came in. They aren’t just for show, they have instructions to put down anyone they see as a threat. When you have been processed we will then be escort you to your holding zone. There you will have a chance to rest, until the transport arrives to take you to safety.”
She looked at the adults in particular. ”I’m sure most of you are very concerned about loved ones, but I have to request that you stay within your holding zone and refrain from searching around. We log everyone as they come in and will do our best to give you any news. Please bear with us.”
“Where will be transported to?” Someone asked out. “How far has this spread?”
No news had been available since all radio, TV, internet and mobile phone coverage had ceased over a week ago.
The officer replied “Somewhere safe, but that’s not your immediate concern, first you need to be processed.” She pointed to the door “which is that way.”
The passengers started to collect their belongings and exit the bus. Josh looked over at his mother. She gave him a smile and nodded. He returned it, picked up his bag and followed the other passengers off the bus. Once outside he held out his hand and helped his sister off the bus by gripping her hand to steady her. Her palms were sweaty and hot and she looked just as nervous and as scared as he felt. He gave her hand a quick squeeze as they were ushered along into the nearest line, ready to enter the school reception area.
The queue moved quickly enough and soon they were inside the reception area. A number of desks were arranged in three rows, with a nurse and a clerk at each desk. Josh saw people having blood taken from their arms by the nurses, whilst the clerks asked questions and recorded the answers on laptop PCs.
They reached the front of the line and were called over to the nearest available desk. They sat down. The clerk introduced himself and began asking Josh’s mother a series of questions whilst tapping the answers into the laptop.
The nurse, dressed in blue medical robes looked to Josh and smiled. He said “Please can you roll up your sleeve? I’d like to take a blood sample.”
“What for?” Josh asked lifting his sleeve and extending his arm.
“Just to check you’re healthy”, he smiled warmly as he wrapped a black strap around his arm and began to rub a small antiseptic wipe over his skin.
“You will feel a slight scratch, and if you’re scared of needles or the sight of blood I suggest you look away now.”
Needles didn’t bother Josh so he watched it pierce his skin and watched as the small glass capsule started filling with his blood. With a quick pinch and twist, the nurse swapped capsules another one. Then he was finished, both capsules labelled and now stored in a plastic yellow box. The medic taped a little a piece of cotton over the puncture wound and rolled down his sleeve again.
“There we go, all done. Miss, you’re next.” The medic turned towards Isobel who was sampled next and their mother last.
Next they were each given badges with lanyards, which displayed their name, a long number and in big bold letters Holding Area D.
“Make sure you have these on display at all times. Without it you won’t get past zone security.”
They got up and his mother reached an arm around to ruffle his short blond hair. She then took his arm in hers and she followed the directions to Zone D.
Zone D was a converted sports hall, situated less than a hundred metres away from the main school. It was only a short walk between the two buildings, past a number of portable power generators, brought in by the army to provide electricity to the base.
Josh was halfway between the two buildings when he heard a thump, thump, thump, increasing in volume as a large helicopter descended through the low clouds. He watched as in came in to land. The bottle nosed cockpit lifted up as it circled the playing field, slowing its forward motion as it was guided to its landing pad my ground crew with illuminated paddles, and lowered gracefully onto the ground. Once it had landed the rear ramp lowered, and ground crew began unloading its cargo.
Josh was so distracted by the landing he didn’t see the police officers tense up around him. Now his attention was back he could sense an air of unease spreading. They looked as if they expected trouble.
Josh turned as a number of guards ran to the outer perimeter. The nearest police officer’s radio squawked and he heard clipped voices, and then the sharp crack of automatic weapons fire. One of the refugees in the group screamed out in fear, but was silenced quickly. Josh heard clipped bursts of controlled fire at first, but the firing became more constant as other guards joined the fight. The radio squawked again and the nearest officer bent his neck down to hear the animated chatter on the other end. He looked up sharply.
“Quickly! To the hall NOW!!” he bellowed. The other officers snapped into action and began moving the line more urgently. They started to run now. Josh dared a look backwards. He wish he hadn’t as he got his first proper look at the infected.
Drawn to the camp by the noise of the inbound transport, hundreds of infected had now caught the scent of the living and were crashing the wire perimeter fence. The swarm screamed wildly as they mindlessly tried to force their way through. The shrieks barely sounded human at all, filled with a bestial rage laced with hunger and were getting louder as more joined the attack.
Three pairs of soldiers were behind the mesh fence between the inner and outer perimeters, and attempted to slow down the advancing tide of bodies until reinforcements arrived. They fired along overlapping fire arcs so nothing could get past. The fence shook fiercely before suddenly a section ripped apart and the invaders surged forward. The six men were doomed and they knew it. They was no way they could defend against them, there were just too many. Fear gripped Josh, the sight of the monsters heading his way rooting him in place. They scrabbled over each other as they stormed towards them.
“Move it boy!!” the police officer grabbed him by the shoulder and roughly shoved him forward. Josh stumbled and then began to move. He ran as fast as he could towards the safety of the sports hall. His feet pounded the floor in time to his frantic heartbeat. Josh felt rather than heard the rumble of engines approaching. Two armoured personnel carriers streaked round the sports hall and into the battle. Sparks flew off asphalt as the armoured tracks turned about. Turrets on top of the transports swivelled round, locking onto their targets and opened fire. Josh was deafened by the boom boom boom from the larger cannons against the higher pitched chatter of rifle fire. Tracer rounds lanced out like laser beams out from the personnel carriers as they cut infected to shreds. Dozens fell in the first few seconds. The mounted chain guns began sweeping up and down the fence, reducing infected attackers into nothing more than bloody shreds of flesh and bone. The infected had no chance at all and the defence suddenly had the advantage.
The hatches at the rear of the transports opened and more soldiers appeared with a tech crew. Whilst the soldiers began to put down the rest of the attackers, the tech crew began work resealing the fence and closing the breach.
Josh reached the sports hall and saw both his mother and his sister running up to the doors. As soon as he reached them, his mother breathlessly swept him inside past the guards and through the double doors into the building.
The three of them hurried into the sports hall. They could hear the sounds of panicked civilians getting louder as they approached, punctuated with shouts and cries from children and adults alike. The rushed into a hall and found it packed full of frightened civilians, the assorted smell of so many people crammed into once space assaulted his senses, a strange mix of odours that nearly overwhelmed his senses. A loud voice shouted out over the noise from an armed soldier holding a loudhailer.
“Everyone, Please calm down. There was a breach at the outer cordon, but I have just had confirmation the threat has been neutralised. I’m happy to say there were no casualties. Repairs are being carried out as I speak, and the fence will be secure in the next ten minutes. In the meantime stay calm. The situation is now under control and there is no more danger.”
Josh felt the panic begin to dissipate, stress bleeding away like air being let out of a balloon. With the immediate threat gone everyone was able to take a moment to catch their breath and make sure that they had everything.
Then the three of them were ushered over to an allocation desk where another clerk allocated them a sleeping area, which was then noted in marker on the back of their badges and they were each issued a blanket, and a foam bedroll to sleep on. They were then pointed to a whiteboard displaying a diagram of the sports hall so they could locate their area on the map. The sports hall had been arranged in 5 long rows of 10ft x 8 ft rectangles. Each of the rectangles had a number marked on them, which identified which sleeping area was which. Their allocated area was 4 rows down near the back.
They wandered down the sports hall, passing other families on the way, and offered occasional smiles to those that they recognised, although few smiles were returned. At that moment Josh realised just how much everyone had lost, as he passed a family that seemed to have nothing other than the clothes on their backs. It didn’t matter if these people had been rich or poor before the fall. So much had been left behind. Josh felt sad as a girl, no older than four or five, was crying softly to herself whilst cradling her headless teddy. The background noise increased again as he heard nervous laughter and numerous sighs of relief. Conversations started up and someone even began playing a guitar although Josh did not recognise the tune.
They located their sleeping area soon enough, Josh and Isobel threw their backpacks down onto the ground alongside their holdalls and sat down on the floor, tired and worn out. Josh’s mother began to organise their temporary home by unrolling the bed rolls, and opening some personal belongings from their bags. A metal photo frame fell out of one of the bags she was unpacking and dropped to the floor. She knelt down to pick up the broken glass. Josh saw his mother’s shoulders sag and her head bow low, as she looked up the photograph. She started to sob softly. Isobel immediately started to hurry over. She reached her mother’s side and gave her a hug “Mum, what’s wrong?”
His mother looked at them both and her look made his heart ache. Her bright brown eyes, usually so full of life and laughter now shone with tears as she held up the photograph
“Look at this. Do you remember? Our trip to London, just the three of us?. Its all gone, forever. Our home, our life, our family. Its never coming back and I’m so sorry...” her voice broke, unable to finish.
Isobel came over and hugged her fiercely “Mum don’t cry. We are here and we are still together. We’re safe now.”
She hung on tight to her daughter not daring to let go. Josh moved over and gently took the photograph from his mother’s hand. He folded it in his pocket and joined in the embrace, lending his own strength and sharing his love for his family. His arms wrapped round them both and they all held each other close for what seemed like an eternity.
“Safe for now” Josh thought to himself “... but for how long?”