The drive back was difficult. Tears streamed down Jason’s face as he tried to come to terms with what had just happened. He had carried Natalie away from the road and covered her with a blanket from the truck. Leaving her there on the ground was hard but he knew she was no longer in that body. She was in a better place, away from the pain she had been going through.
The radio continued to issue the warning between each song, no new information, just the same message over and over. Jason’s eyes stared blankly at the road ahead, it was dark now and he was tired. It took all his effort to keep his eyes from closing and concentrate on the road. There were no other vehicles on the road and no headlights in the distance. Nothing.
Everyone must be locked away inside their homes, he thought.
Pulling off the road and into the gravel car park at the Woodland Rangers office, he turned off the engine and sat for a moment. Earlier when he came here it was to pick up Natalie, and now he had returned, alone. He climbed out of the truck and opened the office door and then headed straight over to the storage room. Raiding the shelves for anything useful, he filled a box with supplies, torches, ropes, flares, anything that could come in handy. Lastly, he grabbed up the remaining tranquiliser darts and threw them in the box. On his way out, he picked up an office phone and dialled 999 for the emergency services. There was no answer. He replaced the receiver and then picked it up again. The dial tone was there, so he dialled 999 again. He got the same reply, a “Beep - beep” engaged tone.
‘Since when have all the emergency services lines been busy?’ He asked himself as he replaced the receiver again. Confusion filled his mind as he locked up the office and climbed back into his truck to begin the short journey home.
The house was in complete darkness as Jason pulled through the open gates and onto the driveway. He hadn’t expected to be out until dark and didn’t leave any lights on for when he returned. The rusted iron gates hadn’t been closed for a long time but he thought it would probably be a good idea to close them tonight. They squeaked and grinded as he pulled them closed, and he had to lift one of them slightly so that the latch hooked onto the other gate.
He opened the front door, flicked on the lights and then unloaded the box of supplies from the truck. Shutting the door behind him, he headed into the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the fridge and then turned on the wall mounted TV. He flicked through the channels until he found a news channel. The same advice that he had heard on the radio scrolled across the bottom of the screen and an apparently highly regarded professor was discussing the possible effects of the virus. Jason turned away and looked in the fridge. He wasn’t hungry but he knew he should eat something so he grabbed a container of left over tuna pasta and slowly finished it off. Collapsing in a chair, he sipped at his beer as the day’s events ran through his mind. His eyes were heavy and eventually he couldn’t fight it any longer. He closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.
Wailing sirens awoke Jason. He was hearing them from two directions, outside, and on the TV, which was still tuned into the news channel. Easing his eyes open, he focused on the TV which was showing the police trying to force back a group of rioters. The headline scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
Latest News: Riots break out nationwide – Police struggle to control the situation.
More sirens howled outside in the distance and Jason leapt up from the chair. He went around the house from room to room, checking that the windows and doors were closed and locked and all curtains were closed. As he checked the front door, he thought it would be a good idea to secure the driveway gates, better to keep people off the property not just out of the house. He had no idea what the time was but it was still dark as he walked out the door and along the drive. When he reached the gates he wrapped a rope between them and tied it tightly in several knots. He almost jumped out of his skin as an explosion of some kind echoed in the distance. The house was located in the countryside and the nearest town was 4 miles away, so Jason guessed it came from there. Rioters, he assumed. He headed back to the house and locked and bolted the front door. Next, he turned off all the lights and turned the brightness and volume on the TV to its minimum. If any of those Screamers were about, he didn’t want to attract them to his nicely lit house and he also didn’t want to be invaded by looters.
Sitting on the floor in the kitchen with his back against the wall, he casually loaded his tranquiliser gun while he came up with some sort of plan. No ideas were coming. The situation was beyond anything anyone could imagine. Humans becoming infected by pollen and turning into zombies, and at the same time people rioting and looting the shops. He decided he would sit it out for the night and then get more supplies tomorrow, in the daylight. He nodded as he tried to convince himself it was a good plan. In reality, he was scared. He could hold his own against one or maybe two looters, but what would happen if a group of them attacked him. He pushed the thoughts aside. He needed to keep a clear head. Focus on what’s happening now and not what could happen. One question repeated in his mind. Why didn’t he get infected? He was with Natalie when she got infected. The flower puffed in her face but he could smell it as it drifted in the breeze towards him. No explanation would come to him so he moved his attention to the news.
The TV was now showing video footage of the infected humans. They were almost like walking plants, a humanoid figure but with green and brown mottled skin and vines instead of veins. Shoots and leaves clung to the swollen body and the odd flower bud looked ready to burst open. Their faces looked to be in pain or frustration or both. One of the creatures looked directly at the video camera and Jason watched in fascination as its mouth gave the slightest hint of a smile and then the screen went blank. A moment later, the news readers in the studio appeared on screen and apologised for the loss of signal and promised to reconnect to the story later. Little did they know that later they wouldn’t be broadcasting at all.
Tiredness hung over Jason as he sat in the darkness waiting for something to happen or for answers to magically appear in his mind. He wanted to sleep but wouldn’t allow himself to in case someone or something attempted to get in the house. He clung to his rifle as his mind finally forced him to sleep. Tomorrow would be a hard and busy day and he knew he needed to get some rest. His eyes closed and then opened halfway as he tried to force them open, before they firmly slammed shut, sending him into a deep sleep.