The view of the high street as Mike drove into town brought a strangled cry to his throat. The once beautiful and picturesque village street was littered with crashed and burning vehicles. A few of the houses on the west side were alight and flames were reaching high above the roofs. As the police car reached the high street, he could see the place was deserted.
Unable to go any further because of the cars and trade vehicles that were blocking his way, he stopped the car. Acrid smoke drifted across from the burning houses, making his eyes sting. He looked at the carnage in disbelief.
‘Oh God. Look at the place,’ he cried.
He got out and slowly walked towards the blockade and over to the pavement. Making his way past shops that were as deserted of people as the street was, he looked into an open car parked halfway on the pavement. The driver and passenger doors were wide open. A pile of bones littered the car’s interior. When he looked into the back of the car and saw the bones of a small child; some on the floor, others still in the car seat where the child had been strapped, and a tiny skull laying on the back seat, his heart sank.
‘The poor little thing didn’t stand a chance.’
He quickly turned away, sickened by the sight of the remains of the child and crossed over to a Land Rover. The doors were open, the inside was clean, and the keys were still in the ignition. He reached in and started the engine.
Better than that blood soaked police car, he thought. And at least its got all its windows.
Mike turned the engine off and walked down the street, trying to avoid stepping on bones that seem to be everywhere. As he passed the florist’s shop he heard noises coming from the interior, it sounded like a small child crying. He stopped outside the open shop doorway, listening. He heard the noise again and looked into the shop.
‘Is anyone in here?’
Something scurried behind the counter.
He called out again. ‘Is anyone here?’
Only the crackling sound of the burning buildings broke the silence.
Looking around the shop from the safety of the doorway he could see it was empty. There weren’t any bones or empty skulls to be seen. As he walked slowly into the shop a scratching sound came from behind the counter. Mike stopped in his tracks and peered over the top.
Behind the counter was a creature about the size of a small cat, it was backed up into the corner, its claws scraping on the linoleum floor. As he peered down at it, feeling disgust at its deformities, its mouth opened to reveal rows of tiny teeth. It pulled itself along the floor on short-clawed legs, hissing up at him.
As the thing reached the counter opening he picked up a heavy glass vase off the counter and threw it with force. He ducked down as the vase struck the creature’s head. Its head exploded like a split melon, covering the walls and floor in sticky globules of matter.
Mike stood up and saw the mess the vase had made; its head had completely disintegrated. As he stood watching, mesmerised by the movement of what remained of the creature splattered all over the wall, it began to coalesce until a solid mass slid down to the floor and absorbed the rest of the matter. It no longer resembled a small cat but a large slug. As it slithered along the floor it emitted a blue glow and its body pulsated from head to tail. Mike ran from the shop and down to the end of the street.
Climbing over wrecked cars, human remains and debris, he turned into the road he lived on and ran down to the last house on the left. The street door was closed. He banged his fist hard on the door, but no one came to answer his frantic knocking. He searched his pockets for his keys.
‘Fuck. They’re in the float.’
Mike took off running around to the side of the house and climbed over the garden wall, landing on the flowerbed and trampling the flowers. ‘Sorry dad,’ he said absent-mindedly, and made his way across the garden to the back door, which stood ajar.
Warily, he called into the kitchen. ‘Mum? Dad?’
The silence emanating from the house was foreboding. With fear in his stomach like a tight knot he slowly and quietly pushed open the door.
Time stopped for Mike as he surveyed a scene that his brain refused to accept. Strewn across the kitchen floor were the remains of what were once his parents. Blood and gore covered the walls floor and kitchen units.
Two pure white skulls, picked clean, sat soaking in a large pool of blood. Mike broke down at the carnage; it was too much for his mind to take in. He leant on the door frame for support and stood with his head resting on his arms, his body racked with sobs.
A noise coming from above his head brought him quickly back. ‘JENNY.’
He ran through the kitchen, nearly slipping on the blood, and into the hallway. ‘JENNY,’ he shouted up the stairs. ‘Are you up there?’
A thump came from the front bedroom. Mike took the stairs two at a time, calling Jenny’s name. He reached the top landing and called out. ‘It’s me, Mike. Where are you?’
Listening at his parents closed bedroom door he saw the bottom of the door was covered in deep scratches. Another thump came from inside the room. He opened the door slowly and poked his head into the bedroom, ready to slam the door shut if it was the creatures.
The room was empty, no Jenny, or any of the creatures. As he turned to go back out to the landing he heard a rustling sound from inside the room. He walked over to the wardrobe and saw a reflection of himself in the door mirror. His hair, face and clothes were dark red with the policeman’s drying blood.
A whimpering sound was coming from inside the wardrobe. Mike tore himself away from his reflection and pulled open the wardrobe doors.
Jenny was covered in the clothes she had pulled off the hangers. She screamed and cowered away from him, trying to cover herself with the clothes.
‘Jenny it’s me, Mike,’ he said, softly.
He reached in and lifted her out, still wrapped in the clothes she had covered herself with. She screamed kicked and struggled as he carried her to the bed. Mike hugged her to him until she stopped struggling, stroking her hair and soothing her with soft words. When she had calmed down he untangled her from the clothes and wiped away her tears with a shirt. He lifted her face up to his. ‘Thank God you’re okay.’
She began to sob. Mike hugged her to him. Her arms went around his neck, holding him tightly.
‘Mike. I thought it was them,’ she said, through sobs. ‘Those things, they were hurting mum and dad. I saw them downstairs. I ran in here and shut the door and hid.’
Mike held on to her, his own grief rising to the surface.
Jenny pulled back from him. ‘I heard them scratching at the door, but they couldn’t get in. I was so frightened. Where’s mum and dad? Are they all right?’
Mike put Jenny down on the bed and knelt on the floor in front of her. ‘I’m sorry sweetie. There’s no easy way to say this... they’re dead... so is everyone else in town. We have to get out of here now.’
Jenny threw her arms around him, her cries bordering on hysteria. He held her for a long moment, then prized her away and held her at arm’s length.
‘We have to go now. You sit there and I’ll get you some clothes and shoes.’
Mike ran out. He was back in seconds with armfuls of clothes and a pair of trainers. He threw it all on the bed.
‘Get dressed quickly Jen. We need to get away from here, somewhere safe until help arrives. I’m just going to get some clean clothes for myself.’
In the bathroom Mike took off all the blood soaked clothes. He took a towel from the cupboard then filled the sink and splashed cold water over his face. Looking in the mirror the sight that stared back at him, the thick streaks of dark clotted blood matted in his hair, covering his face and neck, made him feel sick again. The orange juice he’d drank earlier threatened to come up and his stomach protested loudly.
He quickly wiped away the blood from his face and neck, and would have liked to stand under a hot shower to let the water cleanse the filth and smell from his pores. The smell of blood was making him feel nauseous, but he feared the creatures might still be in town.
Wrapping a towel around himself he went into his bedroom. Having wiped as much of the blood from his body as he could, he put on a fresh set of clothes and trainers, then hurried back to Jenny’s room.
Jenny was nearly dressed and Mike stood just outside the door looking over the banister, watching the downstairs hallway.
Jenny came out onto the landing and slipped her hand into his. ‘Mike, are mum and dad really dead?’ she asked him, trying to fight back the tears.’
Mike nodded, choking back his own tears.
She gripped his hand tightly. ‘What are they? Where have they come from?’
‘I don’t know Jen. Come on. Let’s go. We need to find somewhere safe before dark.’
They ran down the stairs together. Mike headed for the street door, but Jenny stopped him.
‘I want to see mum and dad.’ She tried to pull away towards the kitchen.
‘No,’ he said, a little too sharply. He softened his voice and knelt down to her. ‘Jen there’s nothing to see. They’re gone.’
Mike opened the door, put his head out and looked up and down the street, checking for creatures. Taking Jenny’s hand, he led her out into the street. ‘Stay close to me.’
As they walked up to the main road Jenny looked around in fear. She gripped his hand tight. When they reached the main road and she saw the carnage, she tried to pull away from him.
‘I want to go home. I want mum and dad,’ she cried, trying to wrestle her hand from his grip.
Mike held on to her. ‘We can’t go home. We have to leave here. There’s a car we can use to get out of here. Please Jen, try to be brave for me.’
Tears ran down her bewildered face as Mike led her through the blockade of cars and vans to the Land Rover. He opened the passenger door and helped her get in. He shut her door and ran around to the driver’s side, got in and started the engine.
‘Put your seatbelt on.’
Jenny was still crying as he accelerated along the road heading out of town. When they arrived at the bridge Mike stopped the car. ‘I’m just going to try the police radio.’
Jenny grabbed his hand. ‘Don’t leave me.’
‘It won’t take a second. You’re safer in here,’ he reassured her, gently pulling his hand away.
Mike got out and ran up to the police car. He grabbed the radio and pressed the button. ‘Hello. Can anyone hear me?’
Nothing but static came from the speakers.
As he turned to walk back he saw a grotesque thing heading for Jenny. She was screaming. Mike raced for the car, pulled the door open and got in just as the thing leapt on to the bonnet.
It sat staring through the windscreen at them. Mike studied it for what seemed like an eternity as Jenny sat quietly in her seat, transfixed by the horror in front. Its skin was greenish brown with a texture like old leather. Its body was pulsating, as if something was moving just below the surface. The head was huge in relation to its body. Its eyes were like deep black orbs.
As Mike looked into its face the thick rubbery lips covering a wide drooling mouth slowly opened to reveal several rows of serrated shark like teeth. Thick stringy saliva hung from its chin like icicles. It raised its front leg and scraped a black curved talon slowly down the windscreen, leaving an etched line in its wake.
Mike reached for the gear lever and gently pushed it into reverse gear. As soon as it saw the movement it launched into a frenzied attack on the windscreen. His foot slipped off the clutch and the car shot backwards, dislodging the creature. It slid off the bonnet but hung on to the front of the grill, its claws struggling to find purchase. Mike quickly gained control and pushed it into first gear and lurched forward. The creature lost its grip and fell from sight. The car bounced as its wheels ran over it.
Jenny suddenly began screaming louder.
Mike spun around to her. ‘It’s gone. It’s dead.’
She continued to scream, her eyes wide and staring.
He followed her gaze. A group of them were coming across the road in front, advancing on the car, and more were coming from behind the bridge wall.
‘Shit! They’re not afraid of daylight.’
He booted the accelerator to the floor. The Land Rover’s wheels spun, then gained traction and screeched off, leaving black lines etched in the road behind it. It ploughed through the advancing abominations, bouncing over their bodies until Mike thought the car was going to turn over as he struggled to keep the vehicle in a straight line.
When the car had almost cleared the creatures he accelerated harder, the wheels slipping and losing their traction on the viscous mess the car had made of them.
As Mike sped down the country lane the surviving creatures that chased after the car soon fell behind. He turned to Jenny, she had quietened down, but Mike saw that she was still staring vacantly through the window.
‘We’re safe now, they’ve gone.’
Jenny continued to stare through the window as if she hadn’t heard him.
‘Jen are you okay?’
Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She began to cry. ‘I want my mum.’
Mike reached over and took her hand. ’I miss them too, but we have to get somewhere safe, and before nightfall.
‘What are they? Why did they hurt mum and dad?’ she asked, through sobs.
’I don’t know what they are, but I think they came from the research place.
Jenny leant her head against the side window. Her sobs slowly subsided as she watched the landscape pass by.
Mike drove in silence, his own thoughts running wildly through his head, grieving in silence over the loss of his parents. He turned on to the slip road leading to the bypass and as he rounded the bend he slammed on the brakes, his arm going out protectively across Jenny to stop her from shooting forward.
Jenny sat up with a start. ‘What’s wrong? Why have we stopped?’ She looked out across the motorway and clung on to Mike’s arm.
‘Oh God. They’re everywhere,’ Mike said.
The slip road and bypass were completely blocked with wrecked vehicles. Some were burning, others were burnt-out smoking wrecks.
We’ll never be able to get through that, he thought.
He got out of the car and went around to Jenny’s side and opened the door.
‘We’ll have to walk for a while sweetie.’
He reached in for her hand. She pulled it away and backed away from him, cringing with fear. He could see she was in shock. He crouched down by the open door.
‘Come on love, we can’t stay here,’ he coaxed.
Jenny sat cowering in her seat.
Mike took her hand and gently pulled her towards him. ‘We have to go. We can’t stay here.’
Gently sliding her to the edge of the seat, he extracted her from the car. She put her arms around his neck as he lifted her out. Carrying her he set off towards the bypass.
From the top of the slip road Mike could see the traffic was piled up for miles on both sides. There were burning vehicles all the way along the carriageway as far as the eye could see. The air was dense with the smell of burning rubber and fuel, and a heavy cloying fatty smell of something he didn’t want to think about.
Smoke was drifting across the motorway in long black plumes reaching high into the sky. He looked in the other direction. It was the same carnage.
Carrying his sister, he walked down the slip road and on to the bypass.