I don'’t think I'’ve ever walked as much as I did that day. Having to carry a bin liner full of food didn'’t help, and I needed to rest every half-hour.
We saw small groups of infected on the streets but managed to avoid them. They looked lost, wandering around aimlessly like they were looking for something to do, something to kill. I was still bitter about all that we had lost, and would have preferred to shoot every one of them but Jim reminded me that one gunshot could bring every infected in the area down on us. The thought of having another horde to deal with was sobering enough to quell my thirst for revenge.
The sun began its descent into the horizon and set the heavens on fire with its dark orange hue. I was sick of walking and hoped that we would start looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.
“Over there,” Jim stabbed his index finger in the air, pointing at something on the other side of the road. He looked back at us with all the excitement of a little boy who had just been given his first games console on Christmas morning.
“Where?” Dexy ducked down, worried that Jim was pointing out some infected that we hadn'’t spotted yet.
“That shop,” he darted across the road and headed straight for a shop. “Exactly what we need.”
We followed and stood behind him as he cupped his hands on the display window and peered inside. The window display had a male mannequin dressed in camouflage gear and standing beside a green domed one-man tent. A camping stove was set up in front of the tent entrance, with metal plates and pans scattered around it.
“Fucking perfect,” I swear that Jim was drooling on the window.
I looked up at the sign above the display window, ‘Weekend Warrior’.
Gemma moved past us, grabbed the door handle and pushed. The door opened and Barney ran inside, tail wagging.
“They'’re open,” Gemma said.
Jim rushed past her and stopped just inside, “let'’s go shopping.”
When we were all inside and the door was closed, Jim moved briskly up and down the aisles grabbing boots and clothes.
“This place has got everything,” he was piling items in front of us while we looked on, smiling at the excited little kid that he had become.
Kate leaned over and whispered in my ear, “never seen him this happy.” I laughed into my hand, hoping that Jim wouldn'’t notice.
When Jim was done, he stood on the opposite side of the gear mountain with his hands on his hips, “well?” He raised his eyebrows and stared at us expectantly. “Find your sizes and get dressed.”
“You want us to wear this crap?” Gemma looked down at the heap of camouflage and then at Jim.
“This isn'’t crap, Gemma,” he leaned down and pulled a jacket out of the pile, holding it up for us all to see. “This is top quality ‘multicam’ equipment,” he dropped the jacket and then rummaged through the clothes until he finally pulled out what looked like thermal underwear.
“See this?” He waved the garment at us. “This is your base layer, quick drying and keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” he went down on his knees and pulled out more items, showing us each one and telling us what it' was. “We'’ve got waterproof boots, knee pads, wash kits,” he threw one of the wash kits up to me. It was an oversized wallet with a Velcro fastening that opened up to reveal a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and a small shaving mirror.
“What else is there?” Dexy took the wash kit from me and nodded his approval.
“Side-arm holsters and rifle cases with shoulder straps, tactical vests with plenty of ammo pouches, torches with a compass, head torches, patrol packs, bi-fucking-noculars, water filtration kits,” he passed one of each up to us in succession and the smile broadened with every item. “Medical kits, cooking equipment, waterproof boots that let your feet breathe and won'’t fall apart in five minutes like that high street label shit you kids buy.”
“Take a breath, Jim,” Kate said.
It was quite a shopping list. I was happy to see the patrol packs, they looked a lot easier to carry than a bin liner full of food.
“Best of all,” he stood up with a huge blade in his hand and a wicked grin on his face. “Foot long machetes.”
I have to admit, I was sold. If you'’re travelling through a war zone, you might as well dress like a warrior.
“This is some good shit, Bruv,” Dexy smiled for the first time in days. Jim'’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“Yeah,” Gemma agreed begrudgingly. “It'’s okay.”
“Come on then!” Jim sounded like a drill instructor, barking his orders at us. “Gear the fuck up.”
We slept in the store that night, and in the morning, we left, fully geared up and heading north. After we had been walking for a couple of hours Jim stopped and crouched down behind an abandoned tow truck, a wave of his hand told us to do the same.
“What'’s wrong?” Gemma asked, her voice barely even a whisper.
Jim placed his finger across his lips and then pointed at the road ahead. I craned my neck and peered over the tow trucks bonnet. Two figures were moving towards us, slowly and methodically checking every doorway and every vehicle. Each of the figures held a rifle.
“Survivors?” I quickly ducked out of sight and sat on the floor with my back resting against the front wheel.
Jim slipped his backpack off, pulled one of the side pockets open and took out a set of binoculars. He crept over to me, raised his head up over the tow truck and looked through the binoculars.
“Fucks sake,” he glanced down at us for a second and then returned to the binoculars. “Army. Something'’s not right though, there'’s only two of them.”
“That'’s a good thing, right, Bruv?” Dexy asked.
“No, not fucking good. They look like a standard four man infantry fire team,” Jim pulled away from the binoculars and sat beside me.
“You said there were two of them,” Kate said.
“I know what I fucking well said, Sweetheart,” Jim'’s eyes narrowed and he pulled his pistol from the quick release holster around his leg.
“So where are the...” Gemma never got to ask that question.
“Put the firearm on the ground,” a voice boomed across the street. “Right now!”
Two soldiers dressed in full combat gear and gas masks moved out from the bottom corner of the street with their rifles aimed at us.
“Just do as they say,” Jim placed the pistol on the road and put his hands behind his head.
“Got some live ones down here, Tommo,” the one that had shouted spoke into his radio. “On your twelve, blue tow truck.”
The second soldier made his way across the road, stopping six feet away from us. He went down on one knee and stared at us through the scope of his weapon. I'’d never been so close to a gun like that, it looked serious and the soldier holding it looked even more serious. I was in no doubt that if any of us moved, we were dead.
“I want you all on your knees, hands behind your heads, fingers interlocked,” the first soldier walked past his colleague and stood over us. We obeyed his order and were soon in a straight line and on our knees looking like we were waiting to be executed. Barney crouched beside Gemma and growled.
“Please don'’t kill us,” I stared up at the soldier but he didn'’t even look at me.
I heard the footfalls of the other two soldiers coming quickly from behind. They came into sight and as soon as they clapped eyes on us, they had their weapons aimed and ready.
“What the bloody hell are you lot doing here?” The first soldier asked. “And why were you about to fire on my men?”
“What'’s your name, Corporal?” Jim showed no fear as he stared at the soldier.
“I ask the questions,” the Corporal said, his voice deep and muffled through the gas mask.
“We'’re just trying to get out,” I told him. “We'’ve been through hell.”
“My name is Jim Croft, retired Captain of Delta Squadron, special forces,” Jim looked at each soldier in turn before finally glaring at the Corporal. “I'’ve been in zones that would make you piss your pants, so if you want this situation to end well for you and your men, stop treating us like enemy combatants and tell me your name.”
I winced as Jim spoke, expecting to be shot dead as a result of his diplomatic technique. The Corporal lowered his gun and looked at his men.
“Orders are to shoot anyone that'’s been in contact with the virus,” the one that had closed in on us first shrugged his shoulders.
“They look FFI, Corporal,” one of the other soldiers said.
I gave Jim a questioning look and he grinned, “free from infection.”
“Where did you serve?” The Corporal asked.
“Everywhere, Son,” Jim eyed the Corporal and smiled. “Ever hear about Operation Kestrel?”
“I have,” the FFI soldier said excitedly. “One of our 'planes carrying paratroopers was shot down in the Gulf, fifteen survivors were taken prisoner. The SAS raided the town where they were being held and tortured, rescued every one of them.”
“Everyone'’s heard of that, doesn'’t prove anything,” the Corporal was unimpressed.
“I led that mission,” Jim' said, puffing out his chest.
They didn'’t believe him at first, but after a long discussion laden with acronyms that I didn'’t understand, Jim managed to convince them. The Corporal allowed us to stand up and his men lowered their guns.
“You'’re a bloody hero, Sir,” the Corporal shook Jim'’s hand vigorously. “I'’m Corporal Ellis.” He pointed at the soldier that had been with him when we first met. “This here'’s Hill; you'’ve never seen anyone run as fast as he can.”
“It'’s an honour, Sir,” Hill leaned in and shook Jim'’s hand.
“Good to meet you, Hill,” Jim patted him on the shoulder.
“These two are Ross and Thomas.”
Ross and Thomas each came to shake the hero’s hand. Once all the introductions were out of the way, Jim decided to start asking some questions.
“What'’s the situation then?” He leaned down and picked his pistol up, shoving it into the holster. “Are we winning?”
“We had roadblocks set up but they were attacked and some got through,” Ellis told us.
“They got through?” Kate'’s eyes were wide with shock. “When?”
“Four days ago.”
“Have they been found?” Jim asked. “Is it under control?”
“Under control?” Ellis almost laughed at the notion. “It'’s spreading like bloody chlamydia. We tried pushing them back, but there'’s so many of them.”
“We'’re getting ready for battle. Satellites saw the infected gathering in central London,” Hill added. “They'’re coming this way. Thousands of them.”
“There’s another group of them behind us,” Ellis said. “Also heading this way.”
“So we'’re stuck in the middle of a fucking pincer formation?” Jim' swept his hand across his bald head.
“You'’re stuck in the middle of a war, Sir,” Ross looked up and down the road. “And you'’re on the losing side.”
“Shut it, Ross,” Thomas said. “We'’re sick of hearing that shit.”
“Foxtrot-Three-Fiver, this is base camp, what'’s your status, Foxtrot? Over.” I almost jumped out of my skin at the voice that blared through Ellis'’s radio.
“That'’s us. Excuse me,” Ellis walked to the other side of the road and had a conversation with the voice from base camp. When he was done, he came back over to us.
“Look, we'’ve got a camp set up a couple of miles away,” he pointed in the direction that Ross and Thomas had come from. “We can take you all there and see about getting you to safety.”
“Sounds good,” Gemma walked past us all and headed towards the army camp.
“On we go, then,” Jim picked up his bag and followed her.
“Our C.O. is going to want to talk with you,” Ellis walked briskly, trying to keep up with Jim'’s long strides.
“Oh, we'’ve got a lot to talk about,” Jim glanced back at me. “Isn'’t that right, William?”
I nodded my head in reply. I didn'’t trust these soldiers even if Jim did. All I could think about was the mountain of burned corpses at the hospital. A heinous crime committed by the army, according to Doctor Webb.
“He'’s been writing all about this,” Jim told Ellis. “Everything we'’ve seen, he'’s scribbled it down in his diary.”
I tried to hope that everything was going to be okay, but my heart wouldn'’t allow me to. Kate’s words rang through my head, stirring up that ant colony, “nothing’’s ever easy with you lot, is it?” How true that was.
As the song goes, “If it wasn'’t for bad luck...”