My limbs were stiff and aching when I awoke to dappled light coming in through the gaps in the brambles. Jacques had zipped me inside his jacket while I slept, and still held me close with one hand resting on my waist. With the other he was eating a powerbar and studying the map he had laid out on the dead leaves beside us. The moment I smelled food I realised I was light headed with hunger. How long had it been since I’d last eaten? Over twenty four hours at least by my best reckoning.
Sensing my alertness, Jacques held the powerbar towards me. I worked my arm up inside the jacket and grabbed it, gnawing at it eagerly. Releasing it into my hand, he fished another one out of his pocket and ripped open the wrapper with his teeth. Once I’d finished gulping it down, he leaned in until his lips brushed my ear.
“Thanks again.” his voice was low and serious. I shrugged. What was there to say? That I’d been only repaying the favor, that I just hadn’t felt able to leave him? Words seemed irrelevant in the face of such actions. His hand around my waist gripped tighter, and he brought his other arm up to touch my face.
“Things…” he stopped, and I felt his jaw clench against my neck, “today’s going to be tough. We’re thirty miles from York, and after this it’s all suburbs. Not much cover, too many glombies. Ten hours in that, we’ll never make it through.” I tensed against him at these ominous words, and felt his arms constrict around me, trying to convey comfort through touch.
“If we can get to a car, we’ll be there in twenty minutes,” he continued softly, his breath warm on my skin, “but it’s risky. Could be, neither of us makes it.”
I nodded slowly to show him I understood.
His fingers caressed my cheekbone, trailing down to the line of my jaw. “I wish...I hope we get a chance to...” His voice was gravelly, choked with emotion, as he trailed off.
I covered his hand around my waist with my own by way of reply, using the other to stroke the hair at the nape of his neck. I turned my face so that my lips met his, and we kissed. Tentative at first, it became more passionate, until finally he pulled away with a shake of his head.
“No time for that.” he stated with regret, and unzipped me from his jacket, handing me my own.
I felt the weight of the revolver in its pocket, and grasped it nervously. It sounded like i was going to have to use it today. Jacques had returned to studying the map and now he spoke again in a terse whisper.
“Should be a petrol station about five miles up the road, let’s hope there’s something we can use.”
He peered through the holes in our bramble screen, and then started to move towards the rent in the brambles.
“Stay close,” he told me, “don’t run unless i say. Don’t speak unless you have to.”
I nodded, and then a thought struck me. We were about to head into almost certain death, and i still didn’t know his first name.
“Your name, what’s your name?” i asked quietly, grabbing his jacket sleeve.
He turned in a crouch, brows drawn down in confusion. “What? Oh,” his pale dirty face cracked in the first smile i’d seen in days, “Simon.”
Digesting this snippet of information, I followed him out of the break in the brambles. It was a grey damp morning, pale light shining in misty rays through the trees. After checking the area thoroughly, Jacques (I couldn’t really think of him as Simon) beckoned me forward, and we plodded through the muddy leaves. Keeping low we walked parallel to the road; i caught glimpses of the burnt out buses off to my right through the trees. There were a lot of glombies out there, milling about aimlessly amongst piles of bodies. I had to suppress my instinct to run. Instead i copied Jacques, who stalked along slowly, keeping an eye on his surroundings.
I found my thoughts jumping all over the place; one moment i was convinced i’d seen a glombie, only to have it turn out to be a tree, the next i was revisiting the kiss i’d shared with Jacques. We seemed to have come to an acceptance of mutual attraction. Briefly i wondered if it would have been the same if it had been amy instead of me, or Jensen instead of him who had survived, but concluded that didn’t really matter. Bonded by threat of imminent death we might be, but that was exactly why there seemed no point worrying.
The trees were starting to thin ahead. A flash of colour distracted me from my thoughts; deep copper glinting by a tree trunk ahead of us. Squinting i could see that it seemed to belong to someone’s hair, and my heart leapt with the idea that Jensen might be alive.
As we walked towards him i quickened my pace, and opened my mouth to greet him. He seemed to be seated leaning against a tree. Suddenly Jacques grabbed my arm and pushed me behind him. I looked from him to Jensen in confusion, and saw the seated figure become aware of us. He turned and for the first time i saw his eyes, dark pools of nothingness. Another figure lay close to him covered in blood, and i saw there was dried blood covering a huge wound on his leg. As i stopped stock still on horror, Jensen’s mouth opened wide in the start of a scream. I jumped as his jaw fragmented in a shower of red, cutting off the howl with a gurgle.
“Fuck, missed.” cursed Jacques and shot him again in the forehead.
Neither of the shots were silent, and the sound reverberated through the woods. Taking my hand he pulled me along in a loping jog, his head twisting this way and that to see if we’d been noticed. The lack of hesitation with which he’d shot and killed someone who had obviously been his friend shocked me. But any musings i had about this ethical dilemma were swiftly crushed by fear of discovery. So far i heard no shrieks and that seemed to be a good sign, but ahead of us stretched a bleak flat landscape with absolutely no cover.
Jacques paused on the edge of the trees and consulted his map briefly.
“Should be less than a mile.” he told me, pointing along the line of the road. It was clear of debris and bodies now, but the looming housing estate to our left made me more than nervous.
A faint sound floated over the air from behind us. Jacques and I both whipped around. The fear in his face echoed the constricting of my heart. No one was yet visible, but i could see hints of movement between the trees. My instinct was to break into a run, but i hesitated for a second, remembering Jacques’ words.
He looked down at me, and his expression was bleak. “Run.” he said, his voice despairing.
Clenching my jaw i dashed away towards the road. I could hear him following me, but i didn’t dare to look around, for fear my nerve would break at the sight of pursuit. I was making for the road with the vague idea that tarmac would be better to run on than wet grass, but the housing estate also scared me and i wanted to stay as far away from it as possible.
i’ve never been athletic, and normally five minutes into running i would’ve been panting and slowing down. But as the sound of howling behind us grew in strength, terror lent me speed and energy previously unknown. When i reached the road and felt my feet slap on hard asphalt, i dared a glance behind me. Jacques was right behind, his long legs scissoring. But it was what was behind him that made my heart stop; a pack of at least ten glombies hurtled out of the woods, their screams cutting through the morning air. And there were more behind them. I let out a sob as Jacques caught up with me and pulled me after him.
It was too hard to run flat out holding hands, i don’t know how people in the films do it, and soon i was running alone, watching as Jacques drew away from me. A terrible thought entered my mind; he didn’t have to run faster than them, he just had to run faster than me. Doubt began to eat into me, and i redoubled my efforts, not caring that my lungs felt close to bursting.
I’d just managed to convince myself he was going to leave me to my death when Jacques whirled around, took a step to the side and opened fire with the semi-automatic, spraying bullets uncomfortably close to me. As i dashed past him, he yelled, “Keep going!”
We were almost past the housing estate now, and i felt a jolt of hope as i saw the large sign proclaiming a petrol station up ahead. I risked another glance behind, and hope faded. There were less glombies behind us but they were gaining. And as my stride faltered, i heard a wailing howl rise up from the edge of the council estate, and knew we had more incoming.
“Jacques!” i shrieked, pointing to the straggling crowd that was emerging from the narrow laneways to our left.
“Run!” he yelled in reply, and, having already caught up, pushed me to hurry me along.
Those last few hundred feet were torture; i was so winded i was gasping for breath. As in a nightmare, the petrol station seemed to get no closer, while the glombies closed in from behind and beside. We were entering the station environs when Jacques stopped again and fired into the following crowds with short controlled bursts. Many went down, but there still seemed dozens more. Even the children came after us screaming, and they were too low for his line of fire.
“Blue one, the blue one!” yelled Jacques over his shoulder to me.
I ran in the direction of a blue car which had its owner spilling out of the open car door onto the pavement. He was an older man, and grievously wounded before death. Blood slicked the ground around him, and i slowed my pace as my boots hit it with a sucking noise. The smell of rotting blood and flesh was so overwhelming i gagged as i pulled his body clear of the front seat. I was so distracted by this that i didn’t notice the moaning howl of a glombie close by until i felt a hand clawing at my back. With a cry of terror i spun around and from my position in the front seat kicked her square in the face. The woman glombie rocked back momentarily, her long blonde hair stuck to her face with dried blood and other unidentifiable fluids. But my kick didn’t phase her for long, and soon she was coming at me, her hands grasping claws. I fumbled in my pocket for the revolver, so long forgotten.
This all seemed to take a long time, the world moving in slow motion, but in reality it must’ve only been seconds. I was raising the gun with trembling hands, fending her off with my feet, when a rifle butt appeared and smashed her head to the side. I found myself pointing a gun at Jacques, and hurriedly backed away into the passenger seat. He scrambled into the place i’d vacated, pulling the door shut against the grasping hands that tried to pry it open. There were glombies all around us now, smacking themselves against the car in their desire to get to us. I knew in that instant that if the car didn’t start we were both dead.
Holding the gun tightly, i watched as Jacques fumbled with the ignition. It was one of those smart cars that have a button rather than a key, and for an awful moment it seemed like he pressed it and nothing happened. But then the engine growled into life, and Jacques slammed his foot on the accelerator. Nothing moved and i felt like screaming until i saw the parking brake was still on. I lunged for it and was rewarded by the car suddenly jumping forward, throwing glombies right and left. This was just in time as one heavier man had been beating his fists repeatedly against my window, and the glass was starting to crack. I didn’t have time to appreciate that however, because the sudden movement threw me to the floor.
The car bumped and bucked as Jacques drove over people ruthlessly but finally we roared away, followed by screaming glombies. The road was relatively clear of debris, beautifully flat and straight.
Jacques drove at full speed, hunched over the wheel with intense concentration. I could hear him mumbling repeatedly under his breath, “Fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes.” His hands were shaking, but then so were mine. That had been way too close.
Reflexively i started to put my seatbelt on and then stopped as a passing glance showed me what was in the back seat.
“Jacques…” i started, pointing at it before remembering he was driving.
“What?” he asked tersely.
“The back’s full of petrol cans.” i said lamely. I had visions of us exploding again, and this time not being lucky enough to survive.
He glanced behind him for a second and then barked a short laugh.
“Good! Something to trade.”
I bit my lip. It seemed a bit dangerous, but hopefully we wouldn’t be next to it for long. The signposts were already heralding our proximity to York: we must be very close now. It wasn’t just that though; Jacques seemed convinced that York would be our sanctuary. I wasn’t so sure.
Digging in his jacket pocket, he pulled out the tattered map and tossed it in my direction.
“The airfield is just north of Weldrake, we’re bypassing Selby now.”
I was a little stung by his brusquesness after all we’d just been through, but obviously he was having a hard time keeping it together. The casual bravado he had exhibited before the crash had disappeared. The paleness of his face was accentuated by the dark circles under his eyes and the smudged scar on his forehead. I felt an overwhelming desire to comfort him, but he seemed withdrawn and tense.
We were travelling along an A road but it was noticeably smaller, passing through flat fields dotted with small villages. The road went right through these, and my heart clenched every time i saw a couple of glombies stumble out to meet us. But there were no more crowds of them, and no real sign of the devastation we had seen elsewhere. Were it not for how empty and lifeless these villages seemed, one could almost imagine they had avoided being infected.
The false peace seemed to relax Jacques a little, and after awhile he glanced round and flashed me a relieved smile. “I think we’re going to make it.” he offered.
I grinned back, relieved that he was coming out of his mood. Once again i wondered what would happen when we reached this airfield base. I felt a strong bond of shared experience and attraction with him, but the situation was still very grim. Remembering my job as navigator, i pointed him down the skipwith road and along the turnoff to Weldrake.
A couple of miles along a sleepy countryside road, and we were almost there. Behind some bushy trees i saw some long silo buildings, and the open space of the runway loop. Jacques slowed down as we approached, looking around for any signs of occupation. But there seemed to be no guards, and as we came to the gate in the chain link fence, we saw that it was broken off its hinges, a large part of the fence pulled with it to the side.
“Not a good sign.” i whispered.
Jacques shook his head at my comment, and urged the car forward. As we passed the obscuring trees, he let the car shudder to a halt, and i saw his hands clench the wheel with a white knuckle grip. The sight that greeted us was utter devastation. There had been a battle here, and one that the losers had chosen to end in their own way.
Multiple explosions had destroyed the complex, and burnt out wrecks of military vehicles and a small plane testified to failed escape attempts. At first i was surprised that there weren’t a lot of glombies stumbling around, until i saw the piles of dismembered bodies surrounding one of the largest craters.
I turned back to Jacques and was shocked to see that his head was bowed, resting his forehead on the wheel. His eyes were squeezed tight against tears.
“Hey...hey, are you…?” Tentatively I put my hand on his shoulder, trying to give him the same sense of comfort he’d gifted me. Seeing him like this made me feel very afraid; in spite of his accident he had always projected equilibrium and survival instinct. If he suffered a breakdown, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep us going.
I gulped. As I rubbed his shoulder, i could see through the window behind me one or two figures running towards us.
“Jacques...we have to go.” still he didn’t respond. The running figures were getting closer now; they were still only a couple, testament to the utter destruction that had been wrought here. “Simon!” i yelled frantically, shaking his shoulder.
He shook himself, and looked around at the incoming glombies. His face distorted in anger and hate as he spun the wheel and stepped on the accelerator.
“What are you doing?!” I screamed. He was driving towards the running figures at top speed.
Jacques plowed into the running men, bowling them over without stopping. There was a grimness to his expression which stopped me from repeating my question. He answered anyway, his voice surprisingly even.
“This is our last chance for supplies.” He glanced round at me and I shrank back at the fire of anger in his eyes. He must’ve registered my fear, for he blinked and schooled his face into normalcy. “There’s not many.” he finished by way of justification.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.” I managed, my voice shaky.
He turned away from me, his mouth set in a tight line. “You can stay in the car if you want.” He stated finally.
I shook my head. That didn’t appeal to me at all. “I’ll come with.” I said tersely.
He turned back, favoring me with a softer look. “You really don’t have to. This won’t take long.”
I pursed my lips, stubbornness warring with fear. “Two can carry more than one.” I pointed out.
He nodded as if this settled the discussion, and went back to focusing on driving. Bypassing craters and wreckage, he drove right into the main silo building, head turning from side to side as he looked for anything we could use. Finally his eyes lit up, and he directed the car towards a free standing inner wall, surrounded by rubble. This must be the remnants of some storage room that had avoided the explosions. It seemed to have handled overflow, because there was a mixture of different ammo, flares and grenades. I couldn’t see any food though.
Jacques skidded to a halt in front of the rubble, and instantly flung open the door and jumped out. Taking a deep breath, my heart pounding in my chest, I followed him out, keeping a death grip on my revolver. We didn’t bother with stealth, just dashed over to the supplies and started stuffing our pockets with ammo. Jacques found some canvas bags and tossed one to me, stuffing another with grenades. I couldn’t help thinking about food, and found myself looking around for any sign of something.
A few metres away there were some charred and broken boxes. Tins spilled out of them, I couldn’t see what of. Drawn by hope, I started to walk over to them.
“Careful.” said Jacques warningly, still piling equipment into bags. He hoisted one on his shoulder as I reached the boxes of tins, and then raised his rifle. “Look out!” he shouted.
I spun around and saw a female glombie in a soldier’s uniform, her face shredded with scratches, dashing towards me. I lifted my revolver shakily, and then let it drop with relief as Jacques put a bullet through her head.
“Hurry!” he exhorted. The shot had attracted what others were left here, and we now had five or more converging on us.
Sobbing with fright, but so hungry i couldn’t leave, I grabbed tins and shoved them into the bag along with the flares. I didn’t get as many as I wanted before my nerve broke and I sprinted back to the car, but I got some, of what, I didn’t even look.
Backing towards the car Jacques shot two more of the closest. I pushed the driver door open for him as he flung bags in the back seat on top of the petrol cans. I couldn’t help thinking that one wrong spark and the whole lot would go up, but there was no time to think of that. He shot another soldier glombie that was getting too close, but his manner was calm again, and i felt confident he had his emotions back under control. Jacques ducked into the driver’s seat and pulled away just as the last of them reached us, bloody froth spilling from their lips as they jumped for the car. As i clung to the seat he swung the car over to hit one as we passed, and then we were away.