Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53) (2 page)

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
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Elizabeth

 

"I wasn't really sure what to do with it," I explain as I place two plates of fried rabbit and boiled potato on the table, "so I just got as much meat off the bones as possible and fried some of it up. There should be enough left over for two more days."

Without saying anything, he immediately starts eating. I don't know why I keep trying to strike up conversations with him, when it's clear that he's retreated into his own little world. There was a time when we talked, and he even kissed me once, but now I feel as if he barely even notices that I'm around. The worst part is, I've come to realize that we're all probably going to die soon, in which case Toad is my last and only chance for real human contact. It'd be funny, if it wasn't so tragic.

"How long do you think we've got?" I ask eventually.

He glances at me, but he's too busy eating to reply.

"We're going to die here," I continue, feeling as if I can't hold my thoughts back any longer. "We are, aren't we? This whole thing, trying to keep going, it's not working."

He doesn't say anything.

In the room above, Rachel lets out a brief gurgle, but at least she's not crying.

"So how long have we got?" I ask.

He carries on eating, but at least I seem to have got his attention.

"What are we supposed to do?" I continue, trying not to sound desperate. "Are we just going to sit around here and wait until we run out of everything, and then starve to death? Is that your plan?"

He pauses.

"Have you thought about maybe trying something else?" I ask. "I mean, I don't know what to do, but -"

"We need to hit the road," he says suddenly.

I stare at him.

"You're right," he adds. "Sitting around here won't do any good."

"I..." Pausing, I try to work out what to say next. "Where? I mean, what are our options?"

"I've been thinking about it for a while," he continues, coughing for a moment as if to clear his throat, "and we need to get out of here. I worked for years to get this place ready in case I needed to survive here, but things aren't working out as I'd hoped. We're running low on supplies and I don't know how much longer I'll be able to find fresh meat out in the forest."

"Why didn't you say something sooner?" I ask.

"Why didn't
you
?"

"I was waiting for you," I tell him.

"Why? Because I'm the boss?" He pauses. "You're not a kid, Elizabeth, so you need to stop thinking like one. I could tell you were worried, and I kept waiting for you to say something. Eventually I realized you were slipping into a subordinate role, and that's not gonna work, not anymore." He pauses. "I need you to believe that you're an equal here, not that you're a kid who has to wait to be told what to do. I figured I needed to wait for you to speak up."

"So this was a test?" I ask.

"I've been preparing for a journey," he tells me. "I didn't need to warn you in advance, so I decided to wait and see if you'd ask about what I'm thinking. You can't sit around, expecting me to be the adult here. If you've got something to say, you need to say it, instead of waiting quietly and trying to work out what I'm thinking just by watching me."

I pause for a moment, genuinely shocked by what he's saying. I thought Toad was becoming more insular, but now it seems he was testing me all along. Suddenly I feel like an idiot, and as I look down at my plate of food, I have to fight the urge to get up and leave the room. I actually thought I was doing pretty well; I've been keeping the house in good order, and I'm always able to get some kind of meal on the table. Hell, back in the old days, I barely even knew how to use a can-opener, and now I'm starting to think I might actually be a damn good cook. I thought Toad appreciated all of this, and that we'd fallen into complimentary roles, but now it's clear that he thinks I'm just a dumb kid.

"You're right," he continues, his voice sounding harsh and tired. "The crops are failing. I don't know what's wrong with the land, but ever since that big rainstorm, everything's been dying. There used to be so many rabbits in the forest, you'd damn near trip over one if you weren't careful. Now it's getting harder and harder to find them, and the few that are left seem diseased and sick. I don't know where it's coming from, but something's playing havoc with the world around us. I go out there every day and I do my best, but it's clear that this isn't working. The land isn't going to keep us alive."

"Okay," I mutter, surprised that he's finally talking to me. "Sure, but where can we go?"

"The truck's no good," he replies, "so we'll have to go by foot. The kid'll slow us down, so we need to be realistic about our options. Pittsburgh should be within our range, so if we prepare properly we can set out tomorrow." He pauses. "If you're worried about the creatures, I think it'll be okay. We haven't seen any for weeks. I was expecting more of them to start showing up, but so far it's almost as if they're dying off. Either that, or they're avoiding us."

"What about disease?" I ask. "There must be thousands of dead bodies in the city."

"We'll take precautions," he continues. "There are no risk-free options here, Elizabeth."

I watch for a moment as he finishes his food.

"How are your shoes?" he asks eventually.

"My shoes?"

"You need to make sure they're sturdy enough for the journey," he continues. "If they're not, you'll have to fix them up."

"How?"

"Work it out for yourself," he replies. "I'm not here to do everything for you. There are some old shoes kicking about too from other people, so you might be able to adapt some of them and make yourself a spare pair. This is the kind of thing you need to be able to sort out without always looking to me for help, okay? If you can't think laterally and work with your hands, you're going to be a drain, and that's the kind of person who's really not going to last long."

I nod, but the truth is, I feel as if I'm about to start crying. I'm sure Toad would be very impressed if that happened, so I force myself to start eating, hoping that I'll be able to hold back the tears.

"This isn't a game," he continues. "If you fuck something up, you don't get to go back to the start of the level. If you don't have proper shoes for the journey, you'll end up with broken skin on the soles of your feet. Eventually you'll get an infection, and then you'll probably end up with blood poisoning and you'll die. There are a million other little things that you need to think about, and you can't rely on me to look after us both. I'm sorry if I seem harsh, but I need you to grow up, Elizabeth."

"Okay," I reply, taking a deep breath.

"And you need to -"

"Okay," I say firmly, interrupting him. "I get it. Just... I get it."

"I hope so," he replies, finishing his food before getting to his feet. "At least you finally told me about your concerns. I was starting to think you were gonna just sit around and wait for me to make the decision. We'll set out tomorrow. Until then, we need to start getting ready, and you need to work out how to keep that baby alive on the journey."

"Sure," I reply as he heads to the door. "I'll do it."

"There's another reason I haven't said much lately," he continues, turning back to look at me. "This farm was supposed to be a hold-out in case things went to hell. I spent a lot of time and money getting it ready, and it's barely lasted more than a month. It's a failure, which means
I'm
a failure, and..." He pauses. "Don't go relying on me to save your life," he adds finally. "You need to make your own decisions, Elizabeth. The walk to Pittsburgh is gonna be tough, and there's a good chance we won't make it. We're equals here. I'm not in charge. The sooner you realize that, the better chance we'll have."

"Okay," I reply, my voice trembling a little.

"To start with," he continues, "have you done what I asked about the pit?"

I shake my head.

"Why are you delaying?"

I take a deep breath.

"Get out there and do it today," he adds. "The damn thing's probably rotted away by now anyway. If you want to prove that you're not a kid, go and do a man's job for once."

With that, he heads through to the next room, leaving me sitting in stunned silence at the kitchen table. I know that Toad's right, but at the same time I'm shocked by the fact that he seemed so aggressive. It's almost as if he's disappointed in me, even though I feel as if I've been doing a pretty good job. Either that, or the guy's a massive asshole. Could that be what's happened? Have I been stranded at the end of the world with a misanthropic, self-absorbed misogynist?

Upstairs, Rachel lets out a few more brief gurgles.

Thomas

 

Climbing out of the truck, I push the door shut before turning and looking over at the gas station. It looks peaceful and completely undisturbed, which suggests that not only has it escaped the creatures, but it also hasn't been ransacked by anyone else.

Still, I know I have to be careful. One wrong move could be fatal.

"Watch out," I imagine Joe saying. "There could be zombies all over the fucking place."

"Shut up," I whisper.

"Shut me up," he'd reply. "It's your imagination, asshole."

Heading around to the back of the truck, I grab a spade before starting to make my way across the gas station's forecourt. There's a part of me that's desperate to just go right ahead and break through the window. After all, there should still be plenty of food in there, enough to last me at least another month, but at the same time I have to be absolutely certain that there are none of those creatures around. I have no idea if they're smart enough to set up a trap, but I'm going to hold back until I'm certain.

Spotting something around the side of the building, I make my way over and find that there's a car parked next to one of the pumps. It's an old convertible with the roof down, and I immediately start to worry. If the car's here, it means someone drove it to the station and then didn't leave, which means they have to be around here somewhere. I raise the spade, ready to defend myself at the first sign of movement, and I make my way around the side of the car, keeping a good distance back so that nothing can attack me.

So far, there's no sign of anyone.

"It's a trap," Joe would probably be saying right about now. "They're smart, those zombies."

I complete a full circuit of the gas station, making sure that there's absolutely no way anything or anyone can get a jump on me. Once I'm back around at the forecourt, I stop for a moment and listen out for any sign of movement, and finally I start to cautiously approach the building. Putting my foot in the way to make sure nothing can burst through the door, I peer through the glass and see nothing inside but rows and rows of food. There's a fresh fruit stand nearby, covered in mold, but a little further inside there seems to be plenty of tinned food, as well as candy and some bottled water. Given the way things have been lately, this is almost like winning the lottery, but I still can't relax.

There's a car here.

Which means there's at least one person here.

"Nice set of wheels," Joe's voice says in my head. "I wouldn't mind a car like this."

"You're dead," I reply.

"A man can still dream, can't he?"

Taking a step back, I pull on the door and find that it's unlocked. I open it all the way and lean forward, although the smell from the moldy fruit is pretty horrific. The lights are off so the interior of the gas station is pretty gloomy, but at least I can see that there definitely isn't anything hiding nearby. I step inside and pause for a moment, waiting to see if there's any hint of movement. After a few seconds, I make my way past the ends of the aisles, while constantly looking around to see if there's anyone nearby. I head along the far wall, with the spade still raised in case I need to defend myself, but eventually I get to the cash register and find that it's deserted.

There's no-one here.

"Hello?" I call out.

I wait.

Nothing.

Once I've taken another circuit of the room and confirmed that I'm alone, I finally dare to put the spade down so that I can fill a sack with tinned food. It doesn't take too long before I have to hurry out to the truck and toss my haul into the back, before grabbing another sack and making my way back into the gas station for some more supplies. I swear to God, I've been dreaming about a moment like this for weeks. All the other gas stations I've found have provided slim pickings, but this one is like Christmas and Easter rolled into one. Hell, I'm gonna be able to have a feast tonight, and my days of eating worms are long gone.

"Well, this is a turnaround," Joe would be saying right about now. "Remember when I robbed a store like this? You were so goddamn appalled, and yet now here you are, doing the exact same thing."

"This is different," I whisper.

“You think?”

"This is about survival," I point out. "Back then, we didn't know what was happening. You were just looting booze and cigarettes. I'm leaving that stuff behind."

"Damn shame," he'd say. "Why not grab a bottle of whiskey? Go on, save it up for when things are really bad. Trust me, there are times in a man's life when he really needs to take his mind of things."

"I don't drink," I reply.

"And therein lies half your fucking problem," he'd continue. "God damn it, Thomas, you need to relax a little. I mean, fuck, I know everyone thought I went crazy on the stuff, but it's not like I had much else to do, sitting around that stinking farm all day. I think maybe I had the right idea."

"And yet you're the one who's dead."

"That's just bad luck," he'd say, "and thanks for throwing shit like that back in my face. Asshole."

Finally, after nearly half an hour, I've managed to more or less clean the entire place out. There are a few other items that I'd like to take, but I'm worried that I've already weighed the truck down enough, so I decide to head out and get as much gas as possible out of the machines. First, though, I walk around to the cash register and try to get it open. I know old-fashioned cash isn't really much use at the moment, but I still figure I might as well grab what I can. With the power off, I can't get the register to open properly, so I take a step back and smash the front with the spade. I don't really know what I'm doing, but finally I'm able to break through the top of the terminal with enough force to expose the drawer underneath.

I start pulling out the notes and coins, but that's when I hear it.

I pause.

There's a faint sound coming from somewhere nearby, like a kind of scratching and clicking noise. I look over at the door that leads through to the office. Earlier, I checked and made sure that it was locked, but now there's definitely something moving about in there. I keep telling myself that it's probably just a rat, but after a moment I realize that I can hear something breathing on the other side of the door, just a few feet away. I take a step closer, trying to work out if it's actually a person.

Silence.

Then a clicking sound that seems strangely familiar.

"Thomas," I imagine Joe's voice saying, "get the fuck down."

At the last moment, I suddenly realize what I can hear. I step out of the way just as a shotgun round blows the door apart. Fragments of shattered wood are sent spinning across the room, and one of the pieces catches my face and cuts the skin, but all I can do is back into the corner and wait as the dust settles. After a few seconds, with dust still filling the air, I realize I can hear someone still moving about in the next room.

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
13.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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