Driving down the empty bypass with low flying jets screaming overhead, helicopters buzzing them like angry wasps, and the sound of explosions filling the air, Mike gripped the steering wheel so tight his knuckles were white. He quickly became familiar with the size of the lorry and felt confident enough to increase his speed. The road was empty, no traffic was moving in either direction.
They had been on the road for less than ten minutes when Mike saw someone cycling along the hard shoulder. As the gap closed between them he could see it was a man. He pressed the horn, startling the rider. He wobbled precariously and nearly fell over.
The lorry shuddered to a halt next to him. Mike opened the door and jumped down. ‘I won’t be a minute. Stay in here and keep the door shut.’
He walked over to the cyclist. ‘What the fucking hell are you doing? Don’t you know what’s going on?’
‘There’s no need to be rude,’ said the man, getting off his bike.
‘Sorry, my nerves are a bit frayed. You look like you could do with a lift?’
‘I wouldn’t say no. I’ve been riding this bloody bike for hours.’
‘Where have you come from?’
‘Stourbridge. Are you with the army?’
‘No. They’ve got a base camp back there, correction, they had a base camp until the creatures breached their barricades. A soldier told me to take the lorry and get out of there, then all hell broke loose.’
A series of very loud explosions made them both look back.
‘I think we better take his advice mate. Can I put my bike in the back?’ He held out his hand. ‘Bills the name.’
Mike shook Bills hand. ’I’m Mike.
They walked the bike to the back of the lorry and lifted it over the tailboard. Then got in the truck.
Mike shifted the gears noisily and set off.
‘Who’s this young lady?’ asked Bill.
‘Jenny. My sister.’
‘She don’t look too good, does she?’
Jenny was staring through the windscreen.
‘She’s been through a lot, we both have. Our mum and dad were killed by the creatures. She hid in a wardrobe from them.’
‘It must have been terrifying for her, poor little soul.’
‘How did you get out of there? Stourbridge I mean,’ asked Mike, happy to change the subject.
‘Pure luck I guess. I was on the late shift up at the research Station.’
Mike looked across at Bill. ‘I was on my way to deliver the milk there this morning.’
‘I thought I recognised you. I live up on Long Lane Drive. I know your mum and dad. Sorry...’
‘Did you have any family back there Bill?’
‘Just the wife. I’ve got a brother living in Middleton. I don’t think it’s spread that far yet. Least I hope not.’
‘Is your wife...?’ Mike stopped himself before the final word. He knew how he felt over his own loss and what Jenny had been through.
‘Yeah. I saw a lot of the devils on the way home, bloody things nearly had me a few times. One flew in the garden after me. I got inside and slammed the door on it. Soon as I got in the house I knew something was wrong. Irene, that’s the wife, she usually waits up for me. She can’t sleep when I’m on late shift. I saw all these bones on the floor...’ Bill went quiet.
‘It was the same at our house. These creatures whatever...’
Mike looked across at Bill. He saw he was crying softly. ‘Sorry. It’s hard on all of us.’
Jenny took Bill’s hand in both of hers. She looked up at Mike and gave a weak smile.
Bill took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes, his other hand still tightly clasped in Jenny’s. ‘Sorry mate. I’m not usually this emotional.’
‘We’ve all of us been through a bloody nightmare. It’s understandable. Whatever the hell these things are I’d bet they came from the research station.’
Bill wiped his face dry and blew his nose. Putting the hanky away, he said. ‘I’m only a porter up there but everyone knows there’s a lot more going on than just research into farming stuff. You probably don’t know this, but it’s not just above ground where the research goes on. You only see the building above ground, but it goes down six levels. We’re not allowed down there. When the white coats call up for anything we have to get it from the warehouse and put it in the lift and send it down, that’s the only reason I knew it went down six levels. When I saw what had happened at home I knew it was those bastards that were responsible. I locked all the doors and windows and tried ringing the police a few times, but the phones were dead.’
‘The police station was on fire when I got back to Stourbridge. They were probably already dead.’
‘I heard the creatures outside the house,’ Bill continued, ‘and the neighbours were screaming. The noise was horrendous. I put my hands over my ears to try and drown it out but I could still hear people screaming in agony as these things...’
Bill looked down at Jenny and stopped.
‘Anyway, it went quiet after a while and I sat for what seemed like hours, not knowing what to do. Then I heard them in the bedroom upstairs. I knew the doors wouldn’t hold them for long so I chanced a look outside. It seemed clear so I got on my bike to get some help. There were loads of them on the roads, all different types. It was pure luck that I got away. I pedalled like Old Nick himself was after me and cut across country on the old farm roads. I came out not far from where you picked me up.’
‘We got picked up by a helicopter on the bypass,’ said Mike, ‘a few miles outside Stourbridge. From up there we could see the creatures streaming across the fields. The army can’t seem to kill them, they just mutate into something different each time. There’s got to be tens of thousands of them and they’re all heading for Middleton. The army’s talking about dropping a nuclear bomb if they can’t contain them.’
‘Hope my old mate Joseph got out.’
‘Did he work with you?’
‘Yeah, we always work the same shift. He left just after me, but he was driving his car so he may have had some protection against them.’
‘He wouldn’t have got through on the bypass, it’s choked with crashed and burning cars, all empty.’
‘You didn’t see a black BMW did you? An old classic seven series.’
Mike looked across at Bill. ‘I saw one parked on the bridge into town. There was a body inside. The creatures had got to him.’
‘Ah! Hell,’ Bill cried. ‘He only had two years to go then he was retiring. He planned to go back and live in Trinidad with his wife. I was going to visit him for a holiday, me and Irene. We were going to retake our vows on our wedding anniversary. On the beach of all things. Like a sort of honeymoon that we didn’t get first time round.’
‘Sorry. Bill... I...’ Mike was lost for words.
‘That’s all right son. I’ve got a feeling I’ll be seeing them soon. Anyway, they’re never gone when they’re in here.’ He tapped his chest near his heart.
Jenny screamed. They all felt the bump. Mike hit the brakes instinctively, throwing them forward as the lorry shuddered to a halt.
‘Shit. We’ve hit something.’ Mike looked down through the windscreen. ‘What was it Jen? What did you see?’
‘It’s... It’s gone underneath... the...’ she stammered, she was beginning to hyperventilate.
‘What has? What’s gone underneath?’
‘Sit with her Mike. You calm her down. I’ll have a look.’
Bill jumped out of the cab. He bent down and looked underneath the lorry. Trapped under the back wheels was a creature about the size of a small dog.
Bill stood up and looked in the cab. ‘How you doing sweetheart?’
‘I’m okay. I saw it run across the road and go under us, it frightened me.’
‘That’s okay,’ Bill said, patting her hand. ‘It would have frightened me too. Will you be all right on your own for a moment? I need Mike to look at the wheels with me, make sure everything’s okay.’
‘Can’t I get out? I don’t want to stay in here on my own,’ she pleaded.
‘Course you can.’
Mike climbed down from the cab and Bill helped Jenny down.
‘There’s one of them trapped under the wheels, and it’s still alive.’
Mike bent down to look under the lorry. He saw the double wheels had the creature trapped. Its back legs were squashed flat under the tyres and it was struggling to pull itself free. Its evil black eyes stared up at Mike and it hissed like a snake. Its struggling became frantic, razor sharp claws dug into the tarmac leaving deep scars as it tried to lever itself out from its entrapment. The spitting and snarling showed how much it desperately wanted to attack them.
‘Shit. It’s one of them,’ exclaimed Mike.
‘Ugly bastards ain’t they?’
The creature looked at Mike. Its hissing and snarling and spitting grew louder. As it bared its teeth a thick black tongue lashed out at them. Its struggling became frantic as it tried pulling itself free by scraping at the ground. Its back must have been broken as it lifted its body up at an impossible angle and attacked the tyre that held it fast, biting and tearing at it with small but wickedly sharp teeth and talons.
Mike stood up. ‘Quick get back in and let’s get out of here, before it shreds the tyres.’ He headed back to the cab.
Mike stopped and turned.
‘Look, you said they mutate. That means they’re either an experiment that’s gone wrong or their bloody aliens.’
What? You’re not suggesting we...’
‘If we can capture it we can give it into the army. They can find out what they are and maybe make a weapon against them.’
‘You are joking. Tell me you’re joking.’ Mike laughed, nervously.
The creature had quietened down now it couldn’t see them. It was making a low pitiful mewling sound.
Bill ran to the back of the lorry. Mike crouched down, not taking his eye off the back wheel that had the creature trapped. Jenny stood by the open cab door, afraid to look at the thing under the lorry.
A loud crash from behind made Mike jump and Jenny scream. The creature went mental at the noise, it hissed and glared at Mike, its black tongue whipping in and out in a frenzy as it resumed its struggle to get free.
Bill appeared dragging a big metal crate. He dropped it by the back wheels. ‘I saw this when we put the bike in.’
‘How are we going to get it in there?’
‘There’s a load of sacks in the back, we can cover it and then hit it with something, just enough to stun it.’
‘If it’s anything like the one I hit in the florists you want to make sure it’s well covered. That one exploded and the bloody shit went everywhere.’
Bill was laughing as he went around to the back of the truck. He came back with a handful of sacks and a long piece of wood. He dropped the sacks and hefted the timber. ‘This’ll do.’ He waved it at Mike. ‘At least I won’t have to get too close to hit the bugger.’ Bill bent down to pick up the sacks. ‘You take the top off the crate Mike.’
The crate was about a metre deep and longer than it was wide with clips on all four sides secured the lid. Mike unclipped them. He stood by the crate with the lid raised like a shield.
‘Get back in Jen and make sure all the doors and windows are closed.’
Jenny climbed back into the cab and shut the door. She leaned out the window to watch.
As Bill bent down and crawled under the truck the creature’s head spun around to face him. He could smell its foul breath even from this distance. When he threw a sack over it, it went berserk, snarling and spitting and tearing at the sack cloth.
Mike looked under and watched Bill crawl closer. It sensed him from under the sack and struggled even harder.
‘Put more sacks over it Bill,’ Mike urged.
Bill threw a few more sacks at it, completely covering it. He reached forward and tapped it on the head with the wood, the creature went demented, it screamed and struggled like a wild devil. Bill scuttled backwards hitting his head on the underneath of the lorry. He rubbed his head and cursed.
‘I don’t think it liked that, Bill.’
‘See if it bloody likes this then.’ He crawled back under the lorry. The creature was tearing at the sacks with its claws. Bill brought the wood down with an almighty thump. It screamed once then slumped to the ground, silent and still.
Lifting the sacks with the length of wood he saw the creature was out cold: there was a large dent in its head.
‘Back up about a foot, then I can put it inside one of the sacks.’
Mike ran to the front and got in the truck. ‘He’s mad,’ he said to Jenny.
Jenny smiled. ‘I like him,’ she said. ‘He reminds me of dad.’
‘Yeah, me too.’
Mike wound the window down and leaned out. ‘Shout when you’re ready Bill.’
Bill lifted the sacks off with the length of wood and opened one ready to put it in. He positioned it near the creature’s head. ‘NOW.’
The lorry backed up slowly.
‘STOP,’ shouted Bill.
As the lorry’s wheels stopped clear of the creature, Bill noticed the squashed part had a perfect copy of the tread pattern from the tyre imprinted into it. As he stared at the monstrosity it slowly began to inflate like a balloon. Suddenly the creature’s eyes flashed open. It saw Bill and opened its mouth, its rubbery lips drawing back to expose rows of teeth and it lunged at him.
Bill screamed and scrambled out from under the lorry, hitting his head again.
The thing lunged at him again, its back legs dragging along the ground slowed it down some.
This time it nearly got him. Its body had nearly reformed and the powerful back legs were straightening out. Bill yelled with fright as the creature launched itself at him from under the lorry. His hands, still holding the open sack, went up to protect his face.
The creature hit the sack. Bill dropped it and fell on his backside. He quickly recovered as the creature thrashed around on the ground. He jumped up and kicked it, then grabbed the edge of the sack and lifted it with all his strength and threw it towards the open crate. It fell short, hit the front of the crate and fell to the ground.
Mike appeared from behind the lorry, he grabbed the sack and lifted it into the crate. Bill ran to him and picked up the lid. The sackcloth was quickly shredded and claws rose up from inside the crate as Bill brought the lid down hard. A sick splattering sound came from the impact as the lid hit the creature on the head. Mike quickly clipped the catches in place all around, securing the lid.
Bill shouted and did a victory dance. ‘Yeah, we got the bastard,’ he shouted, gleefully.
Jenny was leaning out of the truck watching them. She climbed down and joined Mike and Bill who were both laughing. Bill lifted her up off the ground and swung her round. She shrieked with laughter.
‘You’re fucking crazy.’
‘I thought I was a bloody goner then mate, I can tell you.’ Bill looked towards the heavens. ‘I’m not ready yet Irene. You’ll have to wait a little while longer.’
‘Come on,’ Mike said, ending the frivolities. ‘Let’s get this loaded, there could be more of them around.’
Bill lifted Jenny into the cab, then helped Mike carry the crate around to the back of the lorry. They lifted the crate inside and put the tailboard up.
‘I don’t know how much of it’s left,’ Bill said. ‘Did you hear it when I hit it with the lid?’
‘It’s probably turned into one of those slug things. Let’s get it delivered anyway.’
As they got back in the cab they were all still laughing over Bills lucky escape.
Mike put the truck in gear and they set off.