The day was dark and gloomy. The heavy clouds blocked out the sun’s rays and the wind carried droplets of rain, dampening everything around. The tide was out which meant that the River Severn lay mostly empty apart from a small channel of murky water along the middle.
Jason had driven through the city of Bristol and found it empty so he decided to continue west to the banks of the River Severn, from here he could see all the way across the river to Wales. Gigantic wind turbines stood in the water, strong and proud, their blades slowly turning in the wind. Ships and boats lay at steep angles in the mud, some would rise with the tide when it comes in and some would remain trapped by the suction of the silt. One ship in particular caught Jason’s attention. This one was anchored in the main channel about half a mile from the shore. There was a name painted on its hull but Jason couldn’t quite make it out and he swore he saw a flicker of light on the bridge. But he was tired and maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him.
Driving over to the docks, he pulled up outside the port authorities building and forced his way inside. He made his way up the stairwell to the control room which was located on the top floor. The room was large and had an unobstructed view of the docks and the River Severn. It was filled with electronic and computer equipment, radar, radio communications and computer screens that probably once displayed the latest satellite and weather information. But, without electricity, all of that was useless now. Sitting in front of the huge observation window on a desk with paper maps and charts was a pair of binoculars. Picking them up, Jason quickly pointed them towards the lone ship in the channel and read the name.
‘Now then Annabelle,’ he said, ‘What are you hiding?’
He scanned the decks and found them empty, so he moved up to the bridge. Nothing, no movement, no light. Placing the binoculars on the desk, he moved over to the radio and flicked it on. It was a long shot but as he expected, it was dead. Sitting in a charging dock next to the radio station was a set of five handheld radios, Jason picked one up and turned it on. Static hissed out of the speaker. Pressing the transmit button, he spoke slowly and clearly.
‘Cargo ship Annabelle, do you read me? Over.’
Nothing but silence. He changed the channel and tried again.
‘Cargo ship Annabelle, can you hear me?’
‘Is there anyone on-board?’
The static hissed out of the speaker again, then there was a crackle and then just static again. Outside, a ships horn sounded and almost made Jason jump out of his skin. Changing the channel, he tried again.
‘Can you hear me, Annabelle?’
‘We hear you.’ The reply came, ‘It’s good to hear another voice. My name is Jim Patterson, Captain of the Annabelle. Who am I speaking to?’
‘Lambert. My name is Jason Lambert.’
‘Well Mr Lambert, what are you doing on the mainland? It’s safer out here where they can’t get you.’
‘You know about the Screamers?’ Jason asked.
‘If by Screamers, you mean those horrible creatures, then yes, we know all about them, especially about killing them.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Watch, Mr Lambert.’ The voice said. ‘I hope you’re in a safe place.’
Jason watched through the window as the ship lit up and a loud speaker sounded an alarm. Within thirty seconds, Screamers emerged from all directions and moved towards the ship, slipping down the banks and onto the muddy riverbed. They scrambled through heavy silt, the further out they went the deeper the silt was. The more they struggled, the deeper they sank. Some made it further than others, but all of them eventually got sucked under and disappeared into the muddy riverbed.
Jason looked on in amazement at what he had just witnessed. At least thirty Screamers had just walked to their own deaths. If he could somehow get to the ship, maybe when the tide comes in, he could live without fear, but then what sort of life would it be cooped up on a hundred and fifty foot cargo ship for the rest of his days. He liked to be free to roam in the wilderness and if that meant living in fear of the Screamers, then so be it.
‘We counted thirty four.’ The Captain’s voice broke Jason’s thoughts. ‘Are you okay, Mr Lambert?’
Jason picked up the microphone, ‘I have to hand it to you Mr Patterson. That was damn impressive.’
‘Thought you might like it. How do you cope on the mainland?’
Jason thought about mentioning the gun but decided against it, ‘I try to avoid them if I can, but when it comes down to it, I stab them or blow them to pieces.’
‘Well, Mr Lambert, you are welcome to come aboard. We have hot food being prepared in the galley, but you’ll have to wait for few hours until high tide.’
‘Hot food, that’s very kind of you. Thank you.’
‘No problem Mr Lambert. We’ll send a launch to pick you up in two hours.’
It was beginning to get dark and the two hours had passed quickly as Jason prepared a few things for his trip. Not sure whether he could fully trust Captain Patterson, he slipped a knife into the back of his trousers. He was tempted to carry the gun with him but felt it was overkill so he stashed it in his truck. Captain Patterson appeared friendly and genuine, so the knife was adequate protection should this not be the case. A light flashed across the docks. The launch had arrived and was signalling him with a flashlight. Locking up his truck, Jason walked over to a ladder on the edge of the docks and waited for the boat to manoeuvre. Climbing down the first few steps of the ladder, he threw his rucksack in and prepared to step across onto the boat. At the same time, a Screamer leapt off the docks and into the boat. The two crewman looked terrified as the Screamer swung its arms wildly, making contact with one of the crewmen. Jason grabbed his knife and jumped off the ladder and onto the Screamer’s back, holding him in a headlock with one arm. Pulling the Screamer down to the deck, he took the knife and plunged it into the creatures head. The Screamer let out a final screech and then fell limp on the small deck of the boat.
‘Are you guys okay?’ Said Jason, as calmly as a man taking a quiet stroll in the park.
‘Erm… Fine… I think. That’s the first time I’ve seen one of those things up close.’
Jason rolled the Screamer over the side of the boat and into the river.
‘That’s how I deal with them. Shall we go?’
Both crewmen were still in shock as they nodded their heads in agreement.
After he was lifted onto the ship, Jason was escorted to the bridge where he found Captain Patterson scrutinising the docks with a pair of binoculars. He was a short man, about five foot five, stocky but not fat. He had a weathered but kind face that Jason was sure had seen its fair share of perilous journeys while at sea.
‘Welcome aboard the Annabelle.’ The captain said as he put the binoculars down and reached for a pair of spectacles. Putting them on, he studied Jason for a moment.
‘You’re in good health, all things considered. I watched the attack from here, you can certainly handle yourself. Thank you for saving my crewmen.’ He reached out a hand to Jason.
‘No problem.’ Jason said as his hand was firmly shaken. ‘I needed to earn my free dinner somehow.’
The Captain chuckled. ‘Come on, let’s go and eat.’
Jason followed the Captain to the mess room and was offered a seat at the table. The Captain sat opposite him and then they were joined by four crewman, the two Jason had saved and two new faces. A door opened at the far end of the room and the cook wheeled a trolley towards the table and then placed the plates of food on the table.
‘Pie and instant mash.’ The Captain said. ‘I’m afraid our supplies are limited.’
‘It looks lovely.’ Jason said. ‘It beats canned food any day.’
The Captain smiled.
‘So tell me Mr Lambert, how have you survived this long?’
‘Just by being careful, I guess.’ He said as he tucked into his dinner.
‘Where have you been hiding?’
‘Up until a few days ago, I was hiding out in my house, fetching supplies when I needed them. Then the Screamers attacked and I was forced to blow the house up. Only way I could escape.’
‘Are there any more survivors on the mainland?’
‘Few and far between. I’ve not seen any uninfected for months. Just the other day I had to put someone out of their misery before they became one of them.’
The Captain looked on with sorrow in his eyes. ‘So what now?’
‘Well, I left home with the intention of heading south, so I suppose I’ll continue and see where it takes me.’
The Captain took a mouthful of food and thought for a long moment. ‘It was very brave of you to save my men like that. We could use a man like you on our crew.’
Jason considered the invite for a long moment and then spoke. ‘Thank you for the kind offer Mr Patterson, but I have some exploring to do first. I need to find something, anything that hints to this thing ending. Anyway, not sure I could live in the confines of a ship.’
The Captain finished his dinner and looked Jason in the eye ‘I understand your reasons. A life at sea is not for everyone and you want answers. We all do. Hopefully you achieve what you set out to do. My offer is always open should you change your mind.’
‘Thank you.’ Jason said ‘Maybe when this thing is over we can get together and share a bottle of whisky.’
The Captain chuckled, ‘Absolutely, my good man. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.’
After dinner, Jason was offered a bed for the night. He had to wait for high tide to return before leaving so he might as well have a peaceful night’s sleep in relatively safe quarters. The night passed by quickly and Jason woke up refreshed and ready to go. After breakfast, he packed up the few bits he had brought with him and went out onto the deck, where he found the Captain waiting for him at the boat.
‘Pleasure meeting you Mr Lambert.’ He reached out his hand.
‘You too, Mr Patterson.’ They both smiled as they shook hands for the final time.
‘Keep up the good work, Captain. Be safe.’ Jason said as he climbed down into the boat and it started off across the river toward the docks.
‘You too Mr Lambert. You too.’