Primordial Soup

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Chapter 16

The evacuation of Middleton was nearly complete. Buses, coaches and army vehicles were leaving the high street in convoys. The army and the police were coordinating the evacuation and loading people on to every available type of transport. The remaining people who hadn’t already left on the transport or in their own cars filled the high street, waiting to embark on the last two remaining buses that had just pulled in.

Cynthia, a smartly dressed woman in her late forties was refusing to get on the bus. The soldier in charge of the line was losing his patience with her.

‘Why can’t you tell us what’s going on?’ she demanded. ‘You can’t just take people from their homes without at least some kind of explanation. My husband works for the Ministry. I know my rights.’

The soldier tried to pacify her. ‘Everything will be explained when you get to your destination. Now please get on the bus, you’re holding up the line.’

‘Well that’s not good enough,’ she snapped. ‘I will not be bundled about like some package.’

The soldier turned and motioned to two soldiers further along the line. ‘This woman’s refusing to get on the bus Sarge.’

The Sergeant pushed his way through the line of people. ‘Either get on the bus or get out of the way. Your choice.’

‘How dare you speak to me like...’

Darrell, a tall, well-built man, leaned out of the line a little way back. ‘Oi. Lady muck. Get on the fucking bus,’ he shouted.

‘There is no need to be so rude young man.’

‘What’s it going to be?’ asked the soldier.

‘I shall telephone my husband and have him arrange a car for me,’ she retorted. Cynthia walked away and stood with her back to a large store window. She took out her mobile phone.

‘Right. Come on everyone, on the bus,’ shouted the soldier.

‘Bout bloody time,’ complained an elderly man. ‘Thought we were going to stand out here all bloody day. I’m disabled you know, my old legs...’

‘Yeah, all right granddad. On you get then.’

As the old man boarded the bus he turned to the soldier. ‘Some people think they’re better than others. I fought a bloody war for the likes of her.’

‘Come on now. You’re holding up the line.’

Unseen by the people below, a huge winged creature resembling a pterodactyl, but with a large bullish head, landed silently on the parapet wall two floors above the street. It sat looking down at the throng of people. Its mouth opened wide and a high-pitched scream filled the air.

‘Fuck me. Look up there,’ the old man shouted, then practically ran onto the bus.

All heads turned to look up. The creature returned their stares. Black soulless eyes studied the people below. Then its huge leathery wings opened, casting the street into shadow.

All hell broke out. People waiting in line to get on the buses ran for safety into the stores, trampling over those who had fallen. Others clamoured to get on the two remaining buses.

The street area under the creature cleared quickly, only the trampled bodies and soldiers remained. People ran off in all directions.

The soldiers raised their weapons and fired as the creature swooped down and landed on top of the bus. It raised its head and screamed. The sound of gunfire filled the air.

Darrell looked through the bus window and saw Cynthia cowering by the store window.

‘Look at the silly cow, hasn’t she got the bloody sense to run.’

He pushed his way to the front of the bus, ran over to her and dragged her into a store’s doorway.

The glass doors were filled with frightened faces as the people crammed up against them to watch the creature on the bus.

With Cynthia in tow, Darrell pulled the door open. The people moved back inside the store.

Darrell hustled her inside and pulled the door shut behind them. He shoved her into the crowd inside and turned to look into the street.

Under a hail of automatic gunfire the bullets ripped through the creature’s leathery wings cut them to shreds. A volley of bullets hit the creature in the head and throat, spraying jet black blood everywhere. As it slumped down on the roof of the bus its broken wings draped over the side, covering the windows like curtains.

Silence descended on the street. The air smelling heavily of burnt cordite. People began to come out of the stores.

‘Go back inside,’ a soldier shouted at them, ‘it may not be safe yet.’

The people quickly backed up, pulling the doors closed.

A soldier walked to the front of the bus and climbed up on the roof. He kicked the creature in the head and shouted down to his mate. ‘Micky. Get a photo of this. I’ll send it off to Karen.’

Micky took out his phone as the soldier on top of the bus put his boot on the creature’s broken body, gun held high, posing like an American pioneer.

Unseen by the soldier, small bright blue slugs detached themselves from the dead creature’s body and slid up over his army boot, leaving trails of blue light.

Micky took the photo and put the phone away. ‘Now get down Brad, before the Sarge sees you, or you’ll cop it.’

As Bradley made his way along the roof he started to shake and lost his footing. He fell to the roof, shaking as though he was suffering an epileptic seizure.

The dead creature’s body began to undulate and flatten. Its wings detached from its body and fell to the gutter. Thousands of slugs slid out from its deflating body, quickly covering the roof of the bus and the young soldier’s body. Others slid down the sides of the bus, covering the windows and dropped to the ground like blue raindrops.

The terrified people on the bus moved into the centre aisle as the slugs made their way through the open windows and door.

‘What the Fucks happening? What are they?’ Micky yelled. ‘Bradley get up. Sarge. Sarge. Quick. Something’s happened to Bradley.’

The Sergeant was on the radio to command. He’d seen what had happened to the soldier on the roof.

‘Get back,’ he shouted. ‘You can’t help him.’

Micky ran to the front of the bus. He stood looking up at his friend, feeling helpless. The roof and doorway were crawling with the things. He poked at a slug with the barrel of his gun, squashing it flat until it burst. The other slugs closed in and absorbing the sticky mess they grew larger. As Micky stepped back, squashing slugs underfoot, he tried to hook his friend with the barrel of his gun.

The inside of the doorway was teaming with slugs. A man on the bus rushed towards the open exit. As he cleared the doorway, slugs dropped on to his head and clothes. Frantically brushing and slapping at them he fell backwards into the young soldier, knocking him to the ground. The slugs dissolved into his head and neck as he rolled around on the ground screaming and battering at himself. He began to glow with a blue light.

A soldier ran back from the Jeep to the Sergeant who was watching helplessly at the scene taking place by the bus.

‘I’ve spoken to HQ, Sarge, they said they haven’t got anyone to spare, seems the creatures have swarmed into town. We’re on our own.’

Micky got up off the floor, his uniform covered in a thick viscous fluid from the slugs his body had squashed when he fell. He walked towards the Sergeant and the private, brushing his uniform down and cursing.

‘Jesus. What’s happening to him Sarge? Look at his hands and face.’

The Sergeant and the private both backed up, treading on slugs as they retreated, their weapons pointed at Micky.

‘What you doing?’ Micky shouted. ‘What the fuck you doing?’

Micky looked at his hands and saw they were glowing. He screamed and dropped his gun. Slugs were crawling up his clothes and dissolving into his head, face and neck.

The Sergeant and the soldier backed further away from him.

’Look at the bus Sarge, shouted the private. ‘Fuck. What’s going on? What are they?’

The people on the bus were screaming as the slugs slithered at them from all directions, dropping from the ceiling on to their heads and shoulders. A bright blue light radiated from the windows turning the street an unearthly colour of blue. The pavement and shop fronts were alive with thousands of squirming slugs. There were so many that as Micky dropped to the floor his body glowing and shaking, he was instantly covered in them.

The man who had escaped from the bus was gone. All that remained were a pile of clothes.

‘Let’s go. We can’t help these people.’

‘We can’t just leave them Sarge,’ cried the private. ‘We have to get them out of there.’

He ran to the shop doors squashing slugs underfoot and leaving bright blue boot prints as he ran.

The people in the store were no longer cramming the windows and doors like shop window mannequins, they had seen what had happened to the soldiers and the man who had rushed off the bus and had retreated into the back of the store.

As the soldier reached the shop doors, screams emanating from the bus that no human voice could have created turned his blood cold. He spun around at the terrible sounds and saw through the open door all manner of deformed creatures coming off the bus.

Multiple limbs, ending in vicious claws, wings, spiky fur and leathery skin that seemed to be moving below the surface, heads that were too large in relation to the bodies, glowing eyes and wide mouths full of razor sharp teeth.

He tried to run, but with the pavement covered in slugs he lost his footing on the slimy ground and hit the floor face first. As he tried to get up a creature launched itself at him. Landing on his shoulders the creature knocked him back down to the floor. It’s mouth opened impossibly wide and bit into his skull, ripping off the back of his head. Blood poured from the massive hole, exposing the delicate brain tissue inside which the creature quickly devoured. Others joined in the feeding frenzy.

The Sergeant aimed his weapon and sprayed out a hail of bullets. The creature that was feeding on the soldier’s head, what was left of it, exploded.

As more and more creatures leapt from the bus the Sergeant turned his weapon on them, but there were too many. Realising he couldn’t hope to defeat such numbers he turned and fled towards the Jeep, shooting as he ran.

The creatures raced after him. As he climbed into the Jeep they were all over him, tearing through his clothes and flesh with their razor sharp talons and devouring him, leaving nothing behind but stripped bones.

A group of soldiers who had finished loading people on to transport in Tesco’s car-park came running across the high street towards the Jeep, firing their weapons at creatures that were running around looking for prey.

They were soon overwhelmed and torn to shreds, their flesh voraciously devoured, their bones sucked and chewed upon by the smaller creatures.

Sensing new prey in the stores, misshapen heads battered into the plate glass windows to gain entry, only to bounce off again. They crammed into the doorways, the ones at the back pushing, biting and tearing into those in front. The combined weight of so many creatures forcing their way into the doorway exploded a plate glass door. They streamed through the opening and swarmed inside, attacking and feeding on the people who had sought safety there.

A young woman stood in the aisle like a display mannequin, frozen at the site of the hideous monsters attacking and rending flesh from their victims. A creature leapt at her, landing on her chest, its claws raking their way deep into her body, tearing her flesh and ripping open her ribcage. Blood ran down her sides to form a spreading pool around her feet.

The creature’s mouth covered her whole face, then its razor sharp teeth crunched through the soft tissue and bone with no resistance and bit off the front of her head from her scalp to her throat. She fell to the floor without a sound with the creature still clinging to her and biting its way through her face to the soft brain tissue inside. A smaller creature attacked her abdomen, clawing its way through into the soft flesh.

Wielding a pole from part of a display, a man tried to knock the creature off the woman’s head. The creature turned on him, sinking its teeth into his arm and severing it at the elbow. He staggered backwards, tripping over a display of shirts, blood spouting from the open arteries in the stump and hit the floor. The smell of fresh blood incensed the creatures more, they were all over him in seconds, biting and tearing at his flesh.

More and more hellish things poured in through the open door and joined in the bloodbath.

Darrell was standing by Cynthia at the back of the store. He pushed her towards a staircase.

‘Run,’ he shouted.

They both ran up the stairs as the shop was filled with screams of pain and unendurable agony as the creatures tore into the people and ate them alive.

Cynthia reached the top of the stairs and ran along a short corridor. Darrell turned around to look at the carnage taking place below. A creature was advancing on a small girl frozen to the spot with terror. He ran down the stairs and jumped over the handrail, landing in between the girl and the creature.

It launched itself at him. Darrell’s fist hit it square in the head, sending it cartwheeling backwards through the air where it crashed into a display of crockery. He grabbed the girl up and ran for the stairs.

The creature was lying on the floor, stunned, but moving. Darrell booted it along the floor and into the kitchenware department, knocking down a large display of glassware like nine pins. Mounting the stairs two at a time he turned at the half landing and looked down at the shop floor below.

The store had become almost silent, the only sounds were of the creatures feeding and fighting over scraps of meat. The sound of them crunching bones and eating human flesh was a sound Darrell could never hope to forget. He ran up the short flight of stairs carrying the child. Cynthia was standing at the end of the corridor holding a door open.

‘Quick. In here,’ she called.

Darrell ran to her, holding the girl tightly to him.

The creature that Darrell had kicked along the floor appeared at the top of the stairs. It screamed and rushed at him as he crashed into the office. Cynthia slammed the door into its frame.

The creature hit the door with a loud thud.

Darrell quickly looked around the room, taking in their surroundings. They were in a corner office with windows on two walls. He rushed over to the window, still carrying the girl, and looked down into the street below. Hundreds of creatures were running around, looking for more prey; the street was full of them. Darrell moved away and sat the girl on a chair. Her eyes were wide with fear.

‘Take care of her. I need to barricade that door or they’ll soon be in here.’

Cynthia sat next to the child. ‘What are we going to do?’

Darrell ignored her for the moment, busy with the task at hand. He dragged a heavy desk across the office, upended it and pushed it into the door, then pushed a heavy filing cabinet in front of the desk.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, breathless. ‘At least were safe in here for a while.’ He slumped down on the floor by the girl.

Cynthia rested her hand on his shoulder. ‘Thank you. If it wasn’t for you we would be dead now. It was very brave of you.’

‘You’re welcome love.’

The girl was crying and muttering. ‘Mummy, mummy,’ over and over.

Darrell pulled her gently off the chair and on to his lap. He put his arm around her and stroked her hair back from her face.

‘It’s okay sweetheart, we’ll find your mum. What’s your name?’

‘Elle,’ the girl whispered. ‘Where’s mummy?’

‘What are they?’ Cynthia asked. ‘Where did they come from?’

‘I don’t know, but we can’t stay in here too long. That door won’t hold if a lot of them attack it. Can you take her for a while? Poor little thing’s shaking.’

‘I’m not very good with children.’

‘You not got any then?’

‘I have a son. He’s at university.’

‘I’ve got two kids. A ten year old boy and a daughter about her age. I hope they’re okay. They went out on an earlier transport. I couldn’t get to them. I was working. The phones were still working then. Angela, my wife, she got through to me, she said they were taking them to a place just outside Nottingham, they’ve set up refuge centres there.’

Darrell handed the child up to Cynthia. Elle cuddled into her. Cynthia looked uncomfortable. She covered the girl with her coat and wrapped her arms around her.

Darrell got up. ‘What’s your name?’

‘It’s Cynthia.’

‘I’m Darrell. Pleased to meet you.’

‘Not as much as I am to meet you,’ she smiled. ‘And I forgive you for swearing at me earlier.’

Darrell laughed. ‘Let’s see how were going to get out of here.’

He walked over to the window and leaned out.

‘There are still a few creatures at the far end of the street, they seem to be leaving. There are no people down there at all.’

Scanning the buildings opposite he saw a shape move past the window in the offices above a Tesco Express store. He leaned out and shouted, waving his arm. Darrell could see it was a young woman, she waved back at him.

She opened the window and waved.

‘Are you alone?’ he shouted.

The girl leaned out. ‘No, there’s two of us.’

‘Are either of you hurt?’

The girl shook her head.

Darrell looked up and down the street. It now appeared to be clear of creatures. He turned to Cynthia. ‘There’s some girls in an office opposite.’

A sound of splintering wood came from the door. Cynthia jumped, her head turning quickly towards the sound. She stood up holding the girl tightly.

‘They’re trying to get in,’ she said, her voice trembling.

‘We have to get out of here. Now.’

‘How? We’re trapped,’ she said, trying to hang on to what little reserve she had left.

‘We’ll have to go out this way.’

‘No No. I can’t. I can’t go out there,’ Cynthia cried.

Darrell put his arm around her shoulder. Elle began to cry.

‘Look Cynthia, we have to. We can’t stay here. That door won’t hold those things back for long, and I don’t think any helps coming.’

Darrell walked back over to the window and peered down to the street.

‘There’s a canopy just below us. If we get on there we can drop down to the street. It’s only about a ten foot drop.’

‘But what if those things are still out there? We won’t stand a chance.’

‘I’ll climb out and have a look over the ledge first. If it’s clear I’ll drive one of the buses over. You could easily get down then.’

Darrell climbed out on to the window ledge and dropped down on the roof.

Cynthia, carrying Elle, looked down at him. ‘Please be careful,’ she said, her voice betraying the fear she was feeling.

Darrell crouched down on the roof. He saw the girls watching him from across the way. He lay down to look over the edge. From his vantage point he could see that the bus parked a little way back was empty. He looked both ways along the street then got back up to his knees and shouted to the girls opposite. ‘Can you see any creatures?’

They leaned out the windows and scanned the street. ’No. It looks clear, but we can hear them outside our office door.

Darrell got up and pulled the window open wide.

‘Cynthia, pass the girl out.’

The child clung on to her.

‘You want to find your mummy don’t you?’

Elle hesitated, then turned and put her arms out to Darrell. ‘We find mummy now?’

‘Yes sweetie, we find mummy.’

Darrell sat her down on the roof with her back to the wall.

The scratching at the door became frenzied. The creatures in the corridor were going berserk, fighting amongst themselves and attacking the door with an urgency, as if they could sense their prey was escaping.

The sound of wood splintering urged Cynthia into action. She placed a chair under the window and climbed on to the cill. Darrell helped her down to the roof. He pushed the window shut, hoping it would hold the creatures back long enough for them to get down.

Cynthia sat down next to Elle. She cuddled into her and looked up into her face.

‘We find mummy now?’

Cynthia felt an overwhelming pity for the girl. She was thankful her own son was far away from all of this and safe. Her husband was at Westminster so he too would be safe. She looked into Elle’s eyes and saw fear and uncertainty. She kissed the child on the forehead and hugged her.

‘Yes, we’ll find mummy soon.’

‘Wait until I call,’ Darrell said.

He walked to the edge of the roof and sat down. Turning around he lowered himself over the parapet and dropped down to the street. He chanced a quick look into the shop. It appeared empty. He ran over to the nearest bus, the one he’d been on himself and would probably have died on had it not been for Cynthia’s stubbornness.

The bus interior was covered in drying blood and littered with bones and shredded clothing. Darrell looked up the aisle to make sure there were no creature’s hiding on board, then sat in the driver’s seat. He started the engine and reversed the bus, pushing the Jeep backwards, then drove forward on to the pavement and pulled up level with the canopy. He left the engine running and went to the door.

Looking up he could see the canopy roof two feet above the bus. He called to Cynthia.

‘Pass the girl down.’

As Cynthia walked Elle to the edge the girl turned and grabbed her coat with both hands.

‘Listen sweetie, we need to get on the bus, then we can go and find mummy. Okay?’

Elle began crying and holding on to her.

‘Come on, we’ll both go together.’

Cynthia sat down and lowered her legs over the canopy edge.

‘Come on, you can do it. It’ll be just like the slide at the park. You like that don’t you?’

Elle nodded and sat down beside her.

‘Now listen,’ Cynthia said, trying to keep her voice calm, even though she was terrified herself. ‘Darrell’s waiting for you. I just need to lower you down a little bit and he’ll take you, okay?’

Darrell could see both their legs hanging over the edge. ‘I’m here. Lower her down.’

Cynthia put Elle between her legs and lowered her. Elle began to kick and struggle.

‘Let her go.’

She let the girl slip down the gap between the bus and the roof. Elle screamed as Darrell caught her. She clung on so tightly to his neck he had to prise her arms apart to sit her down on the seat. He brushed her hair away from her face and wiped her tears away.

‘I’ve got to help the lady now. You sit there for a moment.’

Elle sat back in the seat and began to cry.

‘Turn around and lower yourself down.’

As Cynthia’s legs appeared he reached up and grabbed her hips.

‘Let go. I’ve got you.’

She let go with a loud shriek. Darrell caught her and pulled her into the bus. Her weight landed on him and they both fell backwards into the driver’s seat.

Cynthia laughed nervously. ‘Well, that wasn’t very dignified.’

She sat next to Elle. Her tear stained face looked up at her.

‘We find mummy now?’

‘Soon sweetie. Soon.’

Darrell sat in the driver’s seat and closed the doors. He backed the bus up into the middle of the road and parked it on the pavement directly under Tesco’s window, knocking the wing mirror askew.

He looked around to see if it was clear. The window they had just escaped from was still closed. The door must still be holding them back, he thought.

Darrell got off the bus and stepped back into the road so he could see the girls. There was a drop of about eight feet from the window to the roof of the bus.

He called up to them. ‘Think you can make that?’

The two girls climbed out on to a small ledge, reducing the drop to about five feet. Sitting down they dropped down onto the top of the bus.

Darrell helped them down from the roof.

’Quick, get on. There could be more of the creatures around.

They all got on the bus and Darrell closed the doors using the emergency lever.

‘I’m Darrell, this is Cynthia and Elle.’

‘Emma. This is Helen. I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t been here. There was no other way out of the office and I don’t think the door would have held out much longer.’

‘What are they?’ Helen asked.

‘I don’t know,’ said Darrell, ‘but they’ve killed everyone that was out here and those that took shelter in the store. No one stood a chance against them, not even the soldiers.’

Cynthia took Darrell’s hand. ‘I hate to interrupt your conversation but I really think we should get out of here.’

Emma turned to take a seat, she froze when she saw all the bones and skulls littering the seats and aisle. ‘I can’t... No,’ she cried.

Darrell held her by the shoulders. ‘Just sit here,’ he said, guiding her into a front seat.

Helen sat next to her and put a comforting arm around her friend. They tried not to look at the carnage and death surrounding them.

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