An early morning mist shielded Nate from any eyes watching through boarded windows, as he crouched from car to car down the residential street. It was still relatively dark, but hard not to be conspicuous as the only sign of life, like two betraying, pearlescent cat-eyes staring from the shadows. Luckily, his night-clothes helped in this regard. Stooped, with his back to hedges and intermittent low-brick walls, he made his way forward; past broken glass from shattered windscreens – or melted Molotov-shards – that crunched beneath the soles of his shoes. Why must everything sound louder in the dark, he thought, holding his breath.
Where once the Graysons had spent a whole summer seemingly camped in their front garden, gate permanently open and accepting, with a paddling pool for the kids and camping stools for the adults – cigarettes in hand and cider in the belly – there was now a pile of forgotten rubble, and a gaping space where the house had stood. The deep purple of dawn bled between dark bookends.
Cautiously, he turned towards the pile of rubble and found the path that he was looking for. Displaced bricks and unusable remnants, like warped saucepans, twisted spoons, congealed and solidified children’s toys – cinder-black – moved under-foot. To keep steady, his gloved hands fumbled along the tender walls of the blockade, until he was standing in the foundations of their neighbour’s destroyed house.
He knelt for a second and listened, removing his backpack to find his torch.
He noticed how the faint acrid scent that had once seeped into their house was now either gone, or was being compressed by the mist.
A far-off scream made him jump and pause his rummaging. It hadn’t lasted long; piercing and female and then only quiet, like so many.
Heart suddenly pounding again, Nate closed his eyes and focused on slowing his breathing, listening to his long exhales and hoping he wasn’t masking someone else’s. As he regained composure, he inhaled as much air as he could and then held it.
Momentary, guttural groans and what sounded like dogs growling carried through the mist to him, but sounded a way off, three or four streets perhaps.
He dared to move, crouch-walking to the edge of the foundations and sitting against the side of his house. With the solid brick wall against his back he felt safer. He clutched his backpack to his front and waited. The torch could remain. He unsheathed a bloodied knife from the holster on his belt and sat in silence.
Inside the backpack were the supplies he had ventured out for; one-and-a-half miles away was Wigley’s, a hardware store that sold a variety of household basics; from paint to paving slabs, kitchen scales to plumbing essentials. Importantly, it also sold cheap food goods, tins and dried goods of the cracker variety. Not an obvious place for food, so it had been agreed that there might still be something salvageable, as long as the building was still standing.