Julia stopped the car in the middle lane of the empty motorway. ‘I think we should be safe here for a while. At least we’ll be able to see anything coming from a distance.’
Luke got out and walked back to the Mercedes.
Shaun ran up to him, grabbing him in a bear hug. ‘I thought those ugly things had you for sure.’
Luke winced as Shaun let him loose and cradled his injured arm. ‘They probably would have if you hadn’t come back for me. Thanks.’
‘That Julia’s one gutsy bird mate. She’s the one that saved your arse, all I did was stomp a few uglies. What you done to your arm?’
‘I cut it on the window when I fell back into the shop. It’s not deep, just bled a lot.’
‘Is it all right to get out?’ Cynthia called from the car. ‘Only there’s something I need to take care of.’
Luke walked up to the car and opened the door. ‘Yeah, come on.’
Cynthia got out and hugged him. ‘I’m so glad you’re okay. Oh! What have you done to your arm?’
‘It’s only a cut. I did it on that shop window. I got you a present.’
Luke pulled the carton of cigarettes and a pack of lighters out of his coat and offered them to her.
She began to cry.
‘Don’t cry, we’ll get out of this, don’t worry.’
‘I’m not crying because of that,’ she sobbed. ‘You risked your life going back for those bloody things. I nearly got us all killed for a stupid pack of cigarettes.’
Luke put his arms around her. ‘It could have happened at any time. For the baby’s stuff, or for the food, so stop crying and have a smoke. Okay?’
Cynthia kissed him on the cheek, wetting him with her tears. ‘I feel such a fool,’ she said.
Helen got out of the car with Elle. She put her arm around Cynthia. ‘I’ll come with you. I need to visit the little girl’s room too. What about you Elle?’
Elle nodded. ‘Will we find mummy soon?’
They all looked at each other.
‘Soon sweetie,’ Helen said, taking her hand.
The two boys came running over to join the group and looked around at these new people.
Helen turned to Shaun. ‘We won’t be long.’
Luke noticed the look they exchanged.
As the girls walked off to the hard shoulder together, Luke said. ‘Something going on there?’
Shaun grinned, foolishly. ‘Hope so.’
Luke laughed. ‘Good for you mate,’
They walked over to the Range Rover, each holding a boy’s hand.
Emma was standing by the open back door emptying the bags of food. She bent down to the boys. ‘You hungry?’
They both nodded.
She gave them a box of cakes to share and a Coke each. They sat on the ground and tucked in, their eyes fixed on Luke and Shaun.
Julia was sitting in the back of the car changing the baby. Luke looked in. He quickly pulled his head back out.
‘Bloody hell. That stinks.’
‘So would you if you’d been sitting in a dirty nappy for hours.’
‘I’ll leave you to it,’ he said. He went to the back of the car, sat on the tailboard and opened a bottle of water. Finishing half the bottle he put the cap back on.
‘What are you going to do when we get to Nottingham Emma?’
‘I’ll try and contact my husband, Simon. He’s up in Manchester with our son, visiting his mum. I hope the trains are still running.’
‘I wouldn’t bank on that. Don’t you drive?’
‘No. I never learnt. I always intended to but Simon drives, so I never really needed to. What about you? What will you do?’
‘Make sure our parents are okay, then, well, I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe join up and help kill the creatures. What do you reckon Shaun?’
‘Yeah, why not. I always fancied joining the army.’ He looked over towards the hard shoulder. ‘I’ll go and make sure they’re okay.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Emma.
Luke sat and watched them walk off. He looked down at the boys. ‘You two okay?’
The boys both nodded. Luke grabbed a box of cakes and offered it to them. They shook their heads.
‘What’s your names?’
‘William,’ the older one said.
‘And what’s yours?’ Luke asked the little one.’
‘Anthony. Are our mum and dad dead?’
Yeah, they are. I’m sorry.’
William linked arms with his brother. ‘Can we help you kill the creatures?’
Luke laughed. ‘Maybe when you’re a bit bigger.’
‘Luke.’ Julia called from the car. ‘Can I have the milk for the baby?’
‘Right you two, up you get.’ Luke picked the boys up and sat them on the roof of the Range Rover. ‘Keep watch, and if you see any creatures, shout like crazy.’
He went around to Julia. ‘Can she drink it cold?’
‘It would be better warm,’ she said, ‘but it’ll have to do.’
‘I can warm it up. It won’t take long.’
Luke opened the bonnet and pushed the carton down between the hot pipes. He walked around to Julia. ‘What are you going to do when we get out of this?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. People with my skills will be needed when this is over. Maybe I’ll go back to work in the hospital.’
‘What about your family?’
‘Haven’t got any, only Chloe. I was adopted. My adoptive parents were both killed in a boat accident in Spain, two years ago. So it’s just me and Chloe. How’s that arm?’ she asked, changing the subject.
‘It’s a bit sore, but at least it’s stopped bleeding. I’ll get the milk, it should be warm by now.’
‘We’ll put a clean dressing on it as soon as I feed madam here.’
All the others came walking back to the cars. Luke noticed that Shaun and Helen were walking together, talking and laughing. He pulled the carton out and took it back to Julia.
When the bottle was assembled, Julia popped it in the baby’s mouth. Chloe sucked greedily on it.
‘I’ll see if the others are all right.’ As he rounded the car, he reached up and tapped William on the leg. ‘All clear?’
‘Yes Luke,’ William said, through a mouthful of cake.
‘You’ll get fat eating all those cakes.’
William laughed. ‘Can Toby come up here with us?’
‘Is that your dog’s name?’
‘Better not. He might fall off and get hurt. You two keep watch.’
Toby was sitting up in the back tucking into a sausage roll. Everyone was eating and had cans of drink and Luke thought they all seemed to be in good spirits, considering what they’d all been through.
Cynthia was guiltily opening the carton of cigarettes. ‘Does anyone else smoke?’
‘I do,’ said Emma, ‘but I’ve been trying to quit. Now doesn’t seem to be the best time to stop.’
‘I haven’t smoked for six months,’ Cynthia admitted, ‘but I’m going to bloody well enjoy this one, seeing as what it nearly cost us.’
They were all laughing as Julia joined them at the back of the car. ‘What’s funny?’
Cynthia held up the carton of cigarettes.
‘Is the baby okay?’ Luke asked.
Julia took a drink from the back of the car. ‘She’s sleeping.’ She took a triage pack from the many bags in the back and waved it at Luke. ‘Let’s have a look at that arm now.’
She put on a pair of gloves and opened it on the back. As she removed the dressing a small amount of blood seeped from the ragged wound.
‘It looks clean enough. You must have just nicked the artery. Any deeper and you’d have been in serious trouble. It really needs a few stitches to close it properly. Can you move all your fingers?’
Luke wiggled his fingers.
‘Any tingling in your hand or arm?’ She scraped her nails across his fingers. ‘Can you feel that?’
‘It feels fine.’
Julia cleaned the wound with a sterile pad. She pulled the gash together with some adhesive sutures, and applied a new dressing and bandage.
‘That should keep it clean, for now. Can you take penicillin?’
Julia prepared two syringes.
‘What are they for?’ Luke asked.
‘Penicillin, and a Tetanus shot just to be on the safe side.’
She held the syringe up and squirted out some liquid to remove any air.
‘Right. Drop your trousers.’
‘Yes. Here. Not shy are you?’
‘No,’ Luke said, pushing his jeans and pants down.
Julia smacked his bottom hard.
Luke turned on her. ‘You bloody hit me.’
‘Just to bring some blood to the surface,’ she smiled, wickedly.
Wiping the area with an antiseptic wipe she gave him the shot. She put the syringe on the tray and picked up the other syringe.
‘Now this one.’ She stood looking at his red bottom.
‘Well get on with it woman.’
She laughed. ‘This one goes in your arm. You can pull those up if you like.’
Luke smiled, pulling his jeans up.
‘That should take care of any infec...’
Luke pulled her to him and kissed her on the lips, she didn’t resist. As he held her close he said. ‘Where did you say you were going when we get to Nottingham?’
‘I said I thought I might stay with you for a while. See if I can’t keep you out of trouble.’
Luke smiled. ‘I’d love that, we could...’
Julia reached up and kissed him. ‘Let’s just see how it goes.’
She turned to pack the needles away.
‘Luke,’ William shouted. ‘Luke. There’s a car coming.’
Luke looked down the motorway and saw a vehicle speeding towards them. He grabbed the boys off the roof and put them in the car.
‘Everyone, back in the cars,’ ordered Luke.
Julia put the baby on the floor behind the driver’s seat, she shut the door and climbed in, making sure all the windows were closed.
‘Stay in there with the kids. Keep the engine running.’ Luke ran around and shut the bonnet.
Shaun joined him at the front of the car. ‘It’s a Jeep. What’s that following it? It looks like a plane. Fuck me. It’s a flying creature.’
The Jeep came to a shuddering halt at the side of them.
Sergeant Gallagher jumped out, followed by Bill Mike and Jenny. He grabbed an automatic rifle from the back of the Jeep and they all took cover behind the cars, just as the creature flew past them along the motorway. It swooped back in a wide arc towards them.
‘Get down. Get down,’ shouted Gallagher.
Everybody crouched down behind the cars. Gallagher rested his weapon on the bonnet and took careful aim at the creature.
It was flying low to the ground as it approached them. Its huge clawed feet a mere foot from the tarmac. Gallagher fired his weapon, hitting the creature in the head and chest. The creature hit the ground hard, the sound of breaking bones echoed around the empty motorway as its wings crumpled on impact with the ground. It cartwheeled past them and smashed into the Jeep, taking it up the motorway with it. The Jeep exploded sending a fireball into the sky. The creature, entangled in the wreckage of the Jeep, was writhing in the flames. It struggled to get up and tried to pull itself towards them, then collapsed to the floor.
Gallagher stood up, cheering and waving his gun.
Bill patted him on the back. ‘Good shooting Sergeant. Bloody good shooting.’
The others all got out of the cars. Julia carrying the baby stood next to Luke. She put her arm through his. Luke turned to her, a big smile on his face.
Julia smiled back and held his arm even tighter.
‘I knew we’d never out run it,’ Gallagher said. ‘Thank God these cars gave us some cover.’
‘We need to deal with what’s left,’ Mike said, ‘or it’ll turn into a lot more of them. We need some diesel. I don’t know if petrol works.’
‘The Range Rover’s diesel,’ Luke said. ‘What do you need it for?’
‘It kills the things they turn into, at least it did last time.’
’There’s some water bottles in the back. Mike got the bottles, drank from one then emptied them out.
‘These have electric fuel pumps,’ Luke explained. He pulled off the fuel pipe. ‘If you turn the ignition on I’ll fill them.’
Mike got into the driver’s seat. ‘Say when.’
Luke filled the bottles and replaced the fuel pipe. He gave two to Mike and followed him up the motorway to the smoking wreckage of the Jeep. The creature and the Jeep had since parted company and what remained lay sprawled across the tarmac.
‘Don’t go too near them,’ Mike warned. ’And whatever you do, don’t let any of the slugs touch you. Just splash them with enough to cover them.
Mike gave a bottle each, to Bill and Gallagher. He took one from Luke. Shaun stood watching, fascinated at the size of the creature’s wingspan, what was left of it.
The air was heavy with the acrid smell of burnt flesh.
Shaun covered his nose. ‘Bloody hell, it stinks like rotten fish.’
‘There’s nothing there,’ said Luke. ‘It’s dead.’
‘Just wait,’ Mike said, ‘Watch what happens.’
The creatures charred remains sunk down to the ground as though it had been deflated. Small brightly glowing blue slugs crept out from under it.
‘What the fuck are they?’ exclaimed Luke.
‘Don’t let them touch you,’ warned Mike.
He bent down and splashed a little diesel on them; they immediately dissolved. He poured his bottle of diesel all around the creature’s remains. As the slugs crawled out and into the diesel, they dissolved, giving off little puffs of blue smoke.
The others poured theirs over and around the creature, hoping that the nearby smoking wreckage didn’t ignite the diesel.
Soon, all that was left was a large black sticky puddle next to the burnt-out Jeep.
‘Do the army know about this?’ asked Luke.
‘Yeah. I told a Professor Stanton about it. He works for the government,’ replied Mike. ‘He said it could be used as a weapon against them, something about carbon chains.’
‘Does it work on the live ones?’
‘I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to get that close to try,’ laughed Mike.
Gallagher looked back at the Jeep. He turned to Luke. ‘Looks like we need a lift son.’
‘Where were you headed?’ asked Luke.
‘The barracks, just outside Nottingham.’
‘That’s where we were going anyway. My parents were evacuated there.’
After brief introductions and cigarettes all round, to those that smoked, they all crowded into the two cars and drove off down the motorway.