Dawn was breaking as the convoy pulled through the gates into the compound. Luke and Shaun helped the soldiers lead the people off the bus and into the shelter. Major Barnes came out to meet them. He noticed Malloy was injured. ‘What happened Sergeant? Where’s the other vehicle?’
‘We lost it sir, and Clarke. The stupid fool was smoking and had his door open when we came under attack from the creatures.’
‘How bad is it?’
‘It’s just a few scrapes.’
‘Make sure you report to the medical centre. We have two more nurses and a doctor now, then get some food and rest. I’ll expect a full report on my desk by this evening.’
‘Yes sir.’ Malloy winced as he saluted.
‘Luke, meet me in the map room. I’ll be there shortly.’ The Major turned and walked back into the shelter.
Barnes walked in and sat behind his desk.’
Luke was already seated in front of the desk. ‘What’s up Major?’
‘As you know, everybody that comes into the shelter is registered. Name, date of birth, address...’
‘Have you found my parents?’
’Your mother was brought in. It’s not good news I’m afraid. ‘C’ group found a lot of people sheltering in a refuge centre, nearly three-hundred actually. We had to make two trips to get them here. We registered a Mrs Maureen Springer at the same address as yourself.’
Luke jumped up from his seat. ‘That’s my mum,’ he said, excitedly. ‘Where is she? Is my dad okay?’
‘She’s in the medical centre. She was injured in the original outbreak of creatures when the evacuation transport she was on came under attack. As you know it was taking some time for the hospitals to get back up to full strength, people were still being treated in such centres when the second wave came. Your mother is suffering from an infection she caught. I’m sorry Luke, your father didn’t make it to the refuge centre.’
Luke collapsed into the chair. He looked at the Major. ‘Is she going to die?’
‘We have a fully qualified doctor and two more nurses now, they’re taking good care of her, but I have to be honest with you and prepare you for the worst. It doesn’t look good.’
‘I’d like to see my mum now, please,’ Luke said, fighting back the tears.
Barnes stood up and came around the desk. He placed his hand gently on Luke’s shoulder. ‘Of course.’
As Luke entered the medical bay Julia came over to him. She took his hand. ‘I’m so sorry Luke.’
‘Where is she?’
‘Over here.’ Julia led him over to a curtained off area.
An elderly man in a white coat came over to them. ‘You’ll have to put a suit on before you can go in there.’
Luke ignored him. He pulled the plastic curtain aside and walked into the cubicle. Propped up with pillows, her face a deathly grey colour, was a slightly built woman. She looked like a small child against the expanse of clean white bed linen. Her eyes were clenched tightly closed into deep sockets as if in terrible pain. She looked ancient, her skin was dry and wrinkled, like old parchment.
Luke walked up to the bed, tears running freely down his cheeks. He lifted her frail hand and squeezed it gently. ‘Mum,’ he whispered. ‘It’s me, Luke.’
Maureen opened her eyes and turned her head to face him. ‘Luke,’ she croaked through cracked lips. She tried to smile but her lips split, sending a small rivulet of pus trickling down her chin.
‘It’s okay mum. Don’t try to talk. I’m here now.’
Luke pulled a tissue from a box on the night stand and gently wiped her mouth.
‘I thought I’d never see you again,’ she said, her voice low and rasping. ‘They killed dad.’
As she sucked in air her chest rose and fell in sharp spasms. Tears flowed down her cheeks. Luke gently wiped them away.
‘I know mum, but I’m here now. Were safe here mum. I won’t leave you again.’
‘I’m dying Luke. There’s nothing they can do for me. But I can die happy now I’ve seen my boy.’
‘No mum, don’t say that. They’ve got everything here. They can make you better.’
Maureen feebly squeezed his hand. ‘I’m going to join your dad. Always remember how much I love you, Luke.’ As she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath her body was racked with coughing spasms. She rose off the pillows, gasping for air, then sank back down like a deflated balloon and stopped breathing.
Luke looked down at her, waiting, expecting her to take another breath. He shook her hand. ‘Mum! Mum! Breathe mum. Please, don’t go, don’t leave me.’
Julia came to his side. She took his arm. ‘She’s gone Luke. She’s at peace now.’
Luke stood looking down at her. Tears filled his eyes. This vibrant vivacious woman who had been his mum, her beauty, gone, her wonderful laugh and caring nature, gone, replaced by a dried husk.
Julia put on surgical gloves. She took the tissue from him and dropped it in the bin, then covered Maureen with a sheet. Luke stood there in shock, staring at the white sheet, oblivious to Julia as she washed his hands in disinfectant. She led him from the cubicle and out into the corridor. Major Barnes was talking to the doctor as they came out.
‘Luke. I’m so sorry.’
Luke stared vacantly at him. He walked off down the corridor followed by Julia. As they passed the canteen she stopped and motioned to Emma to come out. ‘Can you watch Chloe for me?’
Emma looked at Luke then back at Julia. ‘Yeah, course I will.’
Julia led him down the corridor and into her room. She shut the door and sat him on the bed.
He sat motionless, staring at the floor.
Julia poured out a glass of brandy. ‘Drink this.’ She put the glass in his hand, closed his fingers around it and raised it to his lips, tipping some of the liquid into his mouth. As he swallowed, the sharp taste making him cough, he looked up at Julia and cried.
Tears flowed down his face as his body was racked with sobs. Julia sat on the bed and pulled him to her, wrapping her arms around him she held him tight. She stroked his hair as he cried out his grief, his tears soaking through her blouse and dampening her breasts.
She laid him down on the bed and held him until the sobs subsided, then lifted his face and gazed into his eyes.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, tears filling her own eyes.
‘It was just such a shock, seeing my mum like that. I just couldn’t take it in, it seemed so unreal. That was my mum laying there, only it wasn’t. I couldn’t understand what was happening.’
‘No one could be prepared for something like that.’
‘Thanks. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there... I...’
She kissed him, cutting him off.
Luke pulled back and looked into her eyes for a long moment, then returned her kiss. She took his arm and encircled herself into him. Their lovemaking was slow and deliberate, each taking from the other the need for human interaction and solace in light of the past few days.
When their passion was spent they talked long into the day, until exhausted they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
They were woken late in the evening by a tapping on the door. Julia got up and put on a dressing gown. Shaun, Emma, and Helen carrying Chloe were waiting in the corridor.
‘Is everything okay?’ Shaun asked. ‘Is Luke alright?’
Luke appeared in the doorway, dressed. ’Yeah, I’m alright mate. He put his arm around Julia’s waist.
‘I’m really sorry about your mum and dad,’ Shaun said, with tears welling up in his eyes. ‘I always liked them. They were great people.’
‘I know you did. And they liked you, especially mum, she used to say she had two sons.’
Shaun rushed forward and grabbed Luke in a hug. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he blubbered.
Luke hugged him back. ‘We’ll be all right.’ He pushed Shaun gently back to arms-length. ‘What about your mum and dad?’
‘They weren’t at the refuge and they took everyone from there. I think they’re dead. They were on the same bus as your mum and dad.’
‘You don’t know that for sure. They could be hiding somewhere.’
‘Come in, all of you,’ Julia said. ‘You all look like you could do with a stiff drink. I know I could.’
They sat talking and sharing Julia’s liquor stock until it was all gone.
Luke stood up. ‘I better report to the Major and tell him we’re not fit for duty tonight.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ Shaun slurred.
‘No. You stay here. I need to talk to him anyway.’
As Luke headed for the door he bent down and kissed Julia on the lips. ‘Won’t be long.’
Julia took his hand. ‘Are you okay?’
He looked around the room at Shaun, Emma, Helen and Chloe, and back to Julia. ‘Yeah, I’m okay. I’ve got a new family now.’
Major Barnes was sitting at his desk when Luke knocked on the open door.
‘May I talk to you sir?’
‘Yes, of course, come in and shut the door.’
‘I can’t go on duty tonight, neither can Shaun, not after my mum dying today. Shaun is really upset about his own parents. They were on the same transport as mine, but they weren’t at the refuge. He thinks they may already be dead.’
‘That’s fine. I wouldn’t expect you to. You’ve had a terrible shock today. Please accept my condolences. I heard how you saved Sergeant Malloy last night. Well done. You’re a valuable member of the team Luke, so is Shaun. You take as much time as you need to deal with your loss. Let me know when you want to re-join the patrols.’
‘Thanks sir, I will.’
‘I know Sergeant Malloy wants to thank you personally.’ He got up from his chair and walked over to a filing cabinet, opened the top drawer and pulled out a bottle of brandy. He handed it to Luke.
‘You’ve earned it.’
‘Before you go, you might be interested to know that I’ve been in touch with command. There’s a flotilla of ships based in the English Channel. The government and Chiefs of Staff are coordinating the fight against the creatures from there, so we’ve not been abandoned, and the Americans are involved, as are most other countries in the fight to rid the world of these things.’
‘That’s great. That will cheer people up, knowing were not alone.’
‘Also one of our units stumbled onto a way to clear an area of the creatures. It seems they don’t like high pitched sound. A feedback happened on the speakers and all the creatures took flight and flew off. Hopefully, this will make them easier to round up and exterminate. Anyway, you go and rest, and once again Luke, I’m sorry about your parents. It can’t have been easy for you.’
‘Do you have family out there?’
‘Yes, my wife and two sons.’
‘Hope they’re okay.’
‘So do I.’
Luke headed for the door. ‘Thanks for the brandy sir.’
Luke walked back along the corridor to Julia’s room feeling reassured, knowing that the government hadn’t run out on them after all. He was sad that he’d lost his mum and dad, but how many other people had lost loved ones. And he wasn’t alone now, he had Julia and Chloe to think of, and Shaun would always be more of a brother than a friend. He put on a sprint eager to share the news with his new found family.