They’d not been travelling long when movement in the door mirror caught Bill’s attention. ‘Mike look behind.’
Mike looked in his door mirror, then leant out of the window and looked back. The road behind was filled with army vehicles. Jets and helicopters screamed overhead, all heading for Middleton.
‘They must be pulling back,’ said Mike. ‘The creatures must have completely overrun their line of defence. If they’ve got this far, Bill, they’ll use the bomb. That Major said a limited nuclear strike would be a last resort. Looks like they’ve been left with no choice.’
Jenny sat closer to Mike and took Bills hand.
Bill reassured her. ‘We’ll be okay love, we’ve got the army with us now.’
The lead army truck pulled alongside in the inside lane. A soldier leant out of the window. ‘Put your bloody foot down,’ he shouted. ‘We’ve got thirty minutes before they drop a bloody big bomb. We need to clear the blast radius. For fuck sake don’t look back when it goes off.’
Bill gave him a salute, the soldier saluted back.
Mike pushed his foot down hard on the pedal, the lorry picked up speed very quickly. He looked down at the speedometer, it showed they were doing nearly eighty. ‘Hope there’s no speed cameras along here.’
The convoy sped down the motorway. Mike looked in the door mirror and saw the vehicle behind was flashing its lights. ‘They’re all slowing down, Bill.’ He took his foot of the pedal and pulled the lorry over to the side of the road.
A soldier came running up to them. ‘We’re out of the blast radius but whatever you do, don’t look back when it goes off.’ He handed Mike three pairs of goggles. ‘Put these on, and make sure you turn away.’
‘We’ve caught one of the creatures, it’s in the back,’ Mike told the soldier.
‘Where did you catch it?’
‘About ten miles back, just before we saw you. It’s safely locked in a crate we found in the back.’
‘Fucking hell.’ The soldier ran back to the convoy.
Mike and Bill looked at each other.
Bill shrugged. ‘What’s his problem?’
The soldier came running back with an army officer.
‘Stay in here Jen, and put those goggles on to cover your eyes. You too Bill.’
Mike jumped down from the lorry.
Major Barnes greeted him. ‘Hello again Mike. Sergeant Gallagher tells me you caught one of the creatures.’ He opened a map. ‘Show me where you caught it?’
Mike looked at the map. There was a big red circle drawn on it. He pointed to the place where they’d encountered the creature.
‘It’s on the edge of the blast radius. That means they’ve spread a lot farther than we first thought.’ He looked at his watch then turned to the soldier. ‘Ten minutes Sergeant. Go back and make sure everyone is following procedure.’
Sergeant Gallagher ran back to the convoy.
‘Show me the crate.’
They dropped the tailboard and Major Barnes climbed up into the lorry.
‘Well that’s secure enough. Well done.’
‘You’ve got Bill to thank for that. He’s the one who caught it, it nearly bloody had him.’
‘Another survivor from Stourbridge. He lost his wife to the creatures, and he worked up at the research centre.’
Major Barnes jumped down. They put the tailboard up and walked around to Bills side of the lorry.
‘Mike tells me you captured the creature. Well done.’
Bill looked down at the Major. He saluted. ‘You’re welcome sir. Sergeant Bill Calper reporting for duty sir.’
‘Royal Marines 70 – 83.’
Major Barnes saluted. ‘Welcome back Bill, we can do with all the help we can get.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Four minutes, better take cover. I’ll see you later. I hope.’
The Major ran back to the convoy.
Mike got back in the lorry and put his goggles on. He put his arm around Jenny and pulled her close into him. They sat huddled together and waited for God only knew what was going to happen.
The passage of time slowed as the flash in the distance turned everything to white, then faded as the fireball spread outwards across the countryside, destroying everything in its wake. The shock wave that followed had lost most of its power by the time it hit them, but was still strong enough to shake the truck violently.
Their screams went unheard. Mike held on tightly to Jenny. The wind passing the truck still carried enough strength to lift the rear wheels off the ground and nearly tipped the lorry over. Jenny screamed louder as the tarmac seemed to come up to meet them through the windscreen. The truck crashed back down on its rear wheels throwing them around inside the cab like rag dolls.
As the wind subsided, total silence descended.
’Mike took off his goggles. ‘I thought we were going right over then. Jesus, the strength of that wind was unbelievable.’
Bill pushed his goggles up to his forehead and lowered his window. He leant out and looked behind. ‘Oh my God. Mike. Jenny. You have got to see this.’
They got down from the truck and walked over to the hard shoulder. In the far distance a mushroom cloud reached high up into the sky, the top of the cloud radiating out in a billowing pillow of death that spread for miles.
Jenny slipped her hands into Mike’s and Bill’s. She squeezed Mike’s hand. ‘Is it over?’
‘I hope so Jen. I hope so.’
Sergeant Gallagher came running towards them. ‘Major Barnes would like to see you.’
‘Will you stay with Bill while I talk to the Major?’
Jenny nodded, still holding on to Bill’s hand.
Mike ran off with the Sergeant towards the convoy of army vehicles. Major Barnes was looking at the screen of a laptop perched on the bonnet of a Jeep.
‘The civilian sir.’
‘That creature you caught. I’d like to get it transported as soon as possible. I’ll send one of my units with you.’
Mike took note of the look on his face. ‘It didn’t work, did it?’
‘Oh it worked Mike. Nothing survived in the blast area. Problem is there were probably a couple of thousand of them already outside that area when the bomb dropped. We’ve seen how fast they can multiply so we need to get that creature examined as soon as possible.’
‘You do what you have to. I just want to get my sister somewhere safe.’
‘Of course. If you go with the unit they’ll drop you off in Middleton, it’s being evacuated as we speak. A word of advice Mike. Get as far south as you can. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to stop this here, or if we can stop it at all. We’ve never faced an enemy like this before. Hopefully the boffins will come up with something before the whole country is overrun.’
‘What happens if you can’t stop them?’
Barnes looked up from the computer to face him. ‘Then I think Britain as a nation will come to an end. At least being an island it hopefully won’t spread beyond our shores.’
They shook hands. ‘Good luck,’ Mike said.
‘Good luck to you too, and look after that sister of yours.’
Mike turned and walked away.
As he walked up to the lorry, the look on Mike’s face told Bill that all was not well.
Jenny took Mike’s hand. She looked up into his face. ‘What’s wrong Mike?’
‘Nothing,’ he lied. ‘The soldiers are taking us to Middleton, then we’ll go down to Brighton to Auntie Carol.’
‘Okay Mike,’ she said, but she wasn’t convinced that everything was okay.’
Four soldiers came running over to them.
Sergeant Gallagher spoke to Mike. ‘We’re to take you to Middleton.’ He turned to the three soldiers. ‘Right, you lot, on the back.’ He turned to Bill. ‘You too sir.’
‘I caught it, might as well bloody ride with it,’ Bill laughed.
‘You and your sister can ride up front, sir.’
‘The names Mike, not sir.’
‘Right,’ Gallagher said. ‘Well if we could get going then... Mike.’
‘See you in Middleton Bill.’
Bill waved as he walked to the back of the lorry.
The soldiers climbed up and pulled Bill into the back. They sat on the benches that ran along the sides. The crate had shifted forwards when the lorry had been tipped up by the wind and had come to rest against the cab.
Sergeant Gallagher started the engine and moved off. ‘Have you got family in Middleton?’
‘No. We lived in Stourbridge. We’ll head down to Brighton, we have an aunt that lives there. We can stay with her until all this is over.’
Dozens of helicopters flew overhead. Two long lines of army vehicles headed towards the blast area.
‘That’s the troops going back in,’ Gallagher said. ‘I don’t envy them.’
Mike fell silent. He put his arm around Jenny.
In the back, Bill was telling the soldiers about his days in the army. ‘We didn’t have none of the fancy technology you’ve got today. Those days it was your gun your bayonet and your wits. Nowadays, you need a bloody degree in computer science with the stuff you’ve got.’
‘Where did you serve?’ asked a young soldier.
‘All over. The last lot was the Falklands, and that weren’t no bloody picnic I can tell you. I retired shortly after that. Worked up where that bloody thing came from.’ He pointed to the crate.
‘Bloody mad going up against one of em’ bare handed,’ the young soldier said. ‘Vicious devils. I’ve seen a few of them.’ He rubbed his hand along the lid.
‘It was trapped under the wheels,’ laughed Bill. ‘I just clubbed it with a bit of... What’s that on your hand son?’
The soldier held up his hand. It was sparkling and emitting a bright blue light. ‘I don’t know.’
Becoming very agitated he wiped his hand on his trouser leg, leaving a trail of blue light. ‘What is it? It’s burning me.’
‘Calm down son.’ Bill reached over and banged on the back of the cab. ‘Stop the lorry,’ he shouted.
Bill and the soldiers jumped down to the road.
Sergeant Gallagher came around to the back. ‘What’s wrong?’
He saw the soldier leaning against the tailboard. The blue glow had now completely covered his arm up to the shoulder.
‘What the fuck is going on? What’s that on your arm son?’
The blue light slowly rose up his neck and encased his head. Everyone stepped back from him.
The soldier looked around at them and cried out. ‘Help me. It’s burning.’ He slumped to his knees as his whole body began to glow through his uniform, then fell onto his face, hard, and lay motionless as the glow intensified.
Mike came from behind the lorry. He saw the soldier on the ground. ‘What’s happening to him?’
‘We were just talking,’ Bill said. ‘I saw him run his hand along the crate where the creatures is, then his hand started glowing and it’s just spread like that.’
The young soldier’s body glowed and sparkled with points of light. He began to shake as violent convulsions coursed through his body. Everyone stepped further back. His body became still as the convulsions subsided. His head, visible under his helmet, began to dissolve until it was just a pile of sticky liquid glowing with an intense blue light. Fluids leaked out from under him as his whole body began to flatten to the floor. Eventually, all that was left was the soldier’s uniform that covered and hid a growing mound. The mound moved with rhythmic pulses and emitted a blue neon glow. Small bright blue slugs that changed shape as they moved crept out from under the soldier’s uniform.
‘What the fuck are they?’ Gallagher shouted. He bent down to pick one up.
Mike stopped him. ‘Don’t. For all we know that’s what started this whole thing. Let’s get out of here.’
‘Not without killing them first,’ the Sergeant said, angrily.
He unhooked a Jerry can off the side of the truck and flipped the lid. ‘Stand back.’
Gallagher poured the diesel over the creeping slugs and the soldiers moving clothes. He reached into his pocket and drew out a flip-top lighter.
‘Wait,’ Mike said. ‘We need to move the truck first.’
He ran to the cab and moved the truck forward.
‘Get back everyone,’ Gallagher shouted. He flicked the lighter and threw it on the soldier’s clothes. The diesel went up with a loud whoosh, sending black smoke billowing skyward.
‘Look they’re burning,’ Bill shouted. ‘Burning to nothing. Even the ones that ain’t alight. The diesel, it’s dissolving them.’
Mike and Jenny ran to join the group. They all watched as the slugs burned and dissolved into a thick black gelatinous mess .
Right everyone,’ ordered Gallagher, ‘back on the lorry, and don’t go near that crate.’
‘We ain’t getting in there with that bloody thing Sarge, are we Steve?’
‘You saw what happened to Peter Sarge,’ Steve said, backing up his mate.
‘You should be okay, just stay away from it,’
‘Should?’ The soldier retorted.
Bill put his arms around the young soldiers. ‘We can’t stand here arguing all day, there could be a lot more of those bloody things around. Come on, you’re supposed to be soldiers,’ he laughed. ‘Well at least we know what kills them now.’
The two soldiers reluctantly climbed into the lorry, sitting as far away from the crate as possible.
‘Once we get it back they can go out and kill the bloody lot of them,’ Gallagher said.