“My God. Look at it out here,” Jim said. “I had no fucking idea that it was this bad.”
I nodded my head in grim agreement. The SUV’s engine purred as we drove slowly and carefully down the streets. Bodies piled up on the pavements like a nightmarish display of broken and bloodied rag dolls. The roads themselves were slick with blood and viscera. Unrecognisable body organs squelched and popped into submission under the heavy wheels of the Ford. House doors had been left wide open, and in one of the doorways was a brown and white Springer Spaniel sitting beside the lifeless and broken body of (what I assumed was) its master. The Spaniel stared at me through mournful eyes and howled its abject despair into the sky.
Gunshots and sirens blasted their way through the air from the city centre. God alone knows what it was like down there. I was relieved that we were heading in the opposite direction.
“Poor dog,” I said, nodding my head toward the Spaniel. I brought the car to a halt and reached behind my seat to open the back door. I then pushed the button to wind down my window.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jim asked.
“Come on, then,” I poked my head through the open window, ignoring Jim’s question. The Spaniel looked at me and cocked it’s head to one side. “Come on!”
The Spaniel wagged its tail and came running, it bounded over the small garden fence and scrambled up into the back seat of the SUV. I reached back to close the door when the dog was inside, then I closed my window and continued the drive through this insane new world.
“What’s its name?” I asked.
Jim stared angrily at me, “how the fuck do I know?” He shrugged his shoulders.
I looked through the rear view mirror and saw that it was a male, “he’s got a name tag on his collar, have a look.”
Jim reached back and tried to grab the dog by its collar but it crouched down and growled at him in that ‘don’t even think about it’ way that dogs have. Holly started moving around behind the bars and growled along with the Spaniel. Jim turned back to face the road.
“Whatever its name is, your missus isn’t impressed,” he said. “You’re not seriously keeping the dog are you?”
“Noise, William. Noise,” he motioned his hand toward the street. “You know why there’s none of those monsters running around here?”
“Because they all fucked off toward the guns and sirens in the city,” he told me. “When that dog starts barking, those things will come running,” he said, adding, “and it will start barking, you can be sure of that.”
“Let’s just give him a chance?”
“First noise it makes and I’ll cut its throat. That’s the chance it gets.”
I shook my head disapprovingly. Jim was such a dick; I don’t really know why I even let him get in the SUV. I could have just got in, locked the doors and left him behind to bully my empty garage. Sometimes though, sometimes I think that he’ll be useful, but in that very same thought I could see him happily killing me if it would help him to survive.
I really needed to ditch him, first chance I got.
“How much further to her boyfriend’s place?” Jim asked.
“Just a few streets.”
A few minutes later, I pulled up outside a high-rise block of flats. Bodies spilled from the main entrance of the building, blocking any hope of getting through.
“This is it,” I said.
Jim leaned forward, looked up at the building, and then back down at the bodies. He drew in a sharp intake of breath like a dishonest mechanic about to tell someone how much work the car needed.
“I don’t know, six or seven I think,” Gemma had told me, but the information didn’t stick.
“You really think she’s in there?”
“I have to know for sure.”
“Of course you do,” Jim leaned across and patted my shoulder with his huge hand. “Of course you do.”
The Spaniel whimpered and then curled up on the back seat, hiding his nose beneath his tail, clearly wanting no part of this. Holly kicked her feet out, banging the side of the Ford and growled from within her pillow case hood.
“Well, this won’t get done by fucking staring, will it?” Jim got out of the SUV and quietly clicked the door back in place.
Smart. No noise.
I looked back at the Spaniel and reached across to look at his tag. He didn’t growl at me, and was happy for me to look; he even gave my hand a little lick. The tag had blood on it, which I cleared away with my thumb to reveal “Barney” etched into the brass.
“Okay, Barney,” I said, happy that I knew his name now. “You wait here and keep Holly company while I go and get Gemma.”
He wagged his tail and seemed pleased that he wasn’t leaving the safety of the back seat. I exited the Ford and followed Jim’s lead by closing the door carefully, “you’re going to like Gemma.” I told Barney just before the door clicked shut.