Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53) (26 page)

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

 

I was right. The storm
did
bring down some trees, but fortunately none of them hit the farmhouse. In that respect, at least, we were lucky.

Opening the door, I step out into the yard and stare at the damage. The storm has passed now, leaving behind nothing more than light rain and a cold wind that rustles the remaining trees. Still, the damage inflicted during the night was catastrophic, and most of the yard has been reduced to a muddy bog. The place didn't exactly look great yesterday, but at least it seemed safe and dry; right now, it's as if the end of the world has arrived.

I take a few steps forward, but my crutches almost slip, and I'm forced to inch my way back toward the door. I can't risk falling out here, not with my bandages.

I stop for a moment.

Silence.

I open my mouth to call out, but I'm scared. If I call his name, and if he doesn't come, I'll know that something's seriously wrong. Still, I have to do it. I have to know.

“Toad!” I shout.

Nothing.

“Toad!”

Again, nothing.

I don't know how far from the farmhouse he intended to go yesterday, and it's perfectly possible that he wouldn't be close enough to hear me. Although the morning light has only just arrived, the storm itself has been over for a couple of hours. I guess Toad must have just found somewhere to hide out, and then he had to wait until morning before starting the journey back here. In that case, it's crazy of me to expect him so soon. I have to trust that he's able to take care of himself, and that he'll be back as soon as possible.

Still, the wait is agony.

“Toad!” I shout one more time.

I wait.

No reply.


Okay,” I mutter, trying to give myself a little more confidence, “take your time. I know you're out there somewhere, and I know you're okay. You'll just come back when you can. That's fine.”

I wait again, desperately hoping that I'll suddenly see him in the distance, hurrying through the forest. Finally, after a couple of minutes, I force myself to turn and head back into the cold, gloomy kitchen, where the skinned rabbits are still resting on the table. I make my way over to them, and for a moment all I can think about is the sight of Toad skinning them yesterday. Finally, realizing that he's going to be starving after spending the night outside, I decide I should start making some food.

Maneuvering my way around the kitchen isn't easy with the crutches, and I'm much slower than usual, but somehow I manage to find a few old pots and pans in one of the cupboards. Eventually I sit at the table and prop my crutches against the wall, before taking the first rabbit and placing it on a chopping board. Grabbing a knife, I start cutting the carcass, dividing it up just like Toad showed me a few weeks ago. If there's one thing I've learned since this crisis started, it's how to deal with a dead rabbit, and soon I've managed to get it divided up into various separate sections, all ready for the pot.


My God,” I imagine my mother saying. “I barely even recognize you.”

I look over at the sofa, where Rachel is sleeping. She cried so much during the night, but then suddenly she stopped, as if she finally got used to the storm.

Continuing my work, I start rooting through the cupboards and eventually I find some salt and pepper. It feels good to be doing something practical, and I'm able to keep my mind from wandering onto the fact that I'm alone here. Working slowly and methodically, I finally get the rabbit ready, with all the pieces arranged on a tray. All that's left to do now is to start cooking, but I figure I should wait until Toad gets back. It won't take long to get the meat cooked, and I want us to have a really good meal. I need to show him that we can survive here.

Grabbing my crutches, I make my way back to the door and stare out once again at the yard. It's as barren and desolate as before, and there's still no sign of movement.

“Toad!” I shout.

Silence.

Taking a deep breath, I try to force myself not to panic. He's coming. He
has
to be coming. There's no way that a guy like Toad would get into trouble out there. Soon he'll walk back into the farmhouse, and he'll laugh at me for being so worried. Forcing myself to get on with other things, I turn and head away from the door.

Thomas

 


She must have taken off in the middle of the night,” says one of the women at the cooking station as she takes delivery of the three salmon Mark and I caught this morning. “I always knew there was something wrong with her.”

Keeping my mouth shut, I place the last fish on a wooden board. Glancing to my right, I spot the girl from earlier working with a bowl. We make eye contact briefly, but she immediately looks away. I guess she's worried that I might tell the others what happened earlier. In fact, she looks more than worried: she looks absolutely goddamn terrified.

“That Hannah girl was always flighty,” says another woman. “I used to catch her daydreaming all the time. She'd be just staring into space like she had something on her mind.”


What's wrong?” I ask, hoping to get a little more information.


Just some fool who decided to run away,” says the woman closest to me, with a hint of disdain in her voice. “Some people don't know when they've got it good. They're always looking at the horizon and dreaming of being someplace better. Even now, with everything that's happened, some people are never satisfied.”


She must have had a reason for leaving,” I continue, glancing at the other girl and seeing that she's studiously avoiding me. “Why would someone run away from a place like this?”

I wait for an answer, but the women suddenly seem to be ignoring me. It's clear that they still see me as an outsider, but I figure I should try to dig a little deeper.

“Was she unhappy?” I ask. “Did she say anything about -”


Best not to ask too many questions,” the closest woman says, forcing a fake smile. “Hannah made her own decision, and she'll have to live with the consequences. If she didn't appreciate things here, there are plenty who do, and we have a few more arrivals turning up every couple of weeks. It's not as if we're desperately in need of people, especially ones who don't really pull their weight. We'll be better off without her. Anyway, I doubt she'll last long out there, not on her own.”


But -”


Don't ask,” she says firmly. “It's none of your concern, anyway.” She pauses for a moment, eying me suspiciously. “Why are you asking so many questions, anyway? Did you talk to her?”


No,” I reply. “I didn't know her at all. I was just wondering why someone would run away from this place. It doesn't make sense.”


That's right, it doesn't.” Reaching over to a nearby table, the woman grabs a bag of potato chips and holds the open end out to me. “If you're hungry, take a few. It's not often that we get luxuries like this, but Mark managed to find some. He's a good man, always sharing whatever he gets hold of with the rest of us. With people like Hannah gone, there's more for everyone else.”


Mark gave you these?” I ask, reaching into the bag and taking a handful of chips.


He came through the camp this morning,” she continues, “handing them out. He said he'd managed to locate a small supply, and that he wanted the hardest-working people in the whole camp to have a little treat. I don't know where he found them, but it's like a blast from the past. I used to eat these things all day, every day, but I never thought I'd get them again.”


He looks after us,” says one of the other women. “Without him, I'm not sure that things would run so smoothly around here.”


The taste reminds me of watching TV,” the first woman says, closing her eyes for a moment as she eats one of the chips. “Me and my husband used to watch shows every night, and we'd open a big bag of these things at seven on the dot, and they'd last until nine, which was when we went to bed.” Opening her eyes, she seems a little sad. “He's gone now, and I guess there won't be any more shows, but at least I've got the memories.”


Mark cares about us,” says another woman. “He wants to share whatever he finds.”


But they came from -” I pause for a moment as I realize that Mark has taken the food from the truck and started giving it out as if it's his own. I told him I didn't mind sharing, but I never expected him to start taking credit for it. For the first time, I feel as if maybe Mark isn't quite as open and honest as I used to think, but then again I know I can't really get too angry. After all, I told him to take things from the truck, and it's not as if I want to have all the credit for myself. I just don't like the way that he seems to be getting built up as some kind of god around this place.


Haven't you got work to do?” one of the women asks suddenly with a scowl.

Turning and hurrying away, I make my way toward my tent. I'm due to go out to the forest with some of the other men, to chop down some more trees. We're getting through a lot of wood every day, and this is rapidly becoming my main job. It's hard work and my muscles are aching, but I know I have to contribute to the community. Still, as I pass a group of children eating candy from my stash, I can't help but feel a little annoyed as I overhear them talking about how wonderful Mark is for giving them these things. It's as if he's using
my
food to give himself more support among the community.

Hearing voices nearby, I turn and see Mark a little further away. He's talking to a group of women, and after a moment one of them hugs him. As he glances in my direction, he nods a greeting, and I do the same, but I can't help thinking that maybe he's playing a long game here.

“Thomas!” he calls out. “Be ready in twenty minutes, okay? We've got a lot of work to do today!”

I nod, even though right now I'm starting to feel the effects of my sleepless night. I know I can't show any signs of weakness, so I figure I just have to get through the day and hope I have a better night tonight. It might be good to physically exhaust myself and to try to get my brain to shut down for a few hours.

Once I reach the tent, I take a moment to change into a different shirt. I only have two sets of clothes, so as soon as one set is dirty I have to wash it and set it out to dry so that I'll have something to wear tomorrow. These mundane jobs take up so much time, it's hard to remember that in the old days I used to just shove stuff into a laundry basket and let my Mom take care of everything. Still, there's no time to sit around complaining, so I quickly finish changing and then bundle my dirty clothes up, ready to go and wash them down by the lake. I figure I've just about got enough time before I'm due to make my way to the forest.

Just as I'm about to leave the tent, however, I notice a flashing light on the front of the radio. Pausing for a moment, I check the settings, and finally I realize that I must have accidentally left the battery connected, and now I seem to have picked up a signal from somewhere. Grabbing the headphones, I put them on and then try plugging them into the back of the unit. It seems like a crazy long-shot, but at the same time I can't shake the feeling that I might be able to make contact with someone. Right now, I don't even care who I end up talking to. I just want to know for certain that there are other people in the world.

“Hello?” I say as I wait for something to come through. “Is someone there?”

Realizing that I've got the headphones in the wrong socket, I try another, and then another, and suddenly I hear a wall of static, followed by the faintest sound of a female voice. It's not much, and it's impossible to make out what she's saying, but as I turn a few of the dials I find that I'm able to tune in a little more accurately, and finally I'm able to get rid of most of the static.

“Hello!” I shout, grabbing the microphone. “Who are you?”


Hello?” the voice replies, sounding garbled and distorted but still human. “Did someone say something?”


Yeah, I'm here!” I shout, stunned that I've actually managed to make contact. “My name's Thomas Edgewater and I'm right on the shore of Lake Erie! Who am I talking to?”

Elizabeth

 


My name's Elizabeth,” I say, holding the microphone closer to my mouth. “Elizabeth Marter. I'm... I'm in a farmhouse somewhere in... Pennsylvania, I think. Are you anywhere nearby?”

I wait for an answer, but all I hear is static. Flicking a few switches on the radio unit, I wait for some kind of response, but I'm already starting to worry that I've lost contact. The truth is, when I sat down to fiddle with the radio a few minutes ago, I was just trying to keep myself busy while I wait for Toad. I didn't really expect to hear another human voice, but somehow I've managed to find someone. Then again, they seem to have gone again. Still, I
know
there was someone out there.


Hello?” the guy's voice says suddenly. “Can you hear me?”


I'm here!” I shout. “I'm in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania!”


Are you alone?” he asks.


Yeah. Well, no. Maybe. I've got a baby with me, but she's not mine. Her mother died. And there's a guy here too, but he went out yesterday and now he hasn't come back.” I pause for a moment as I realize how crazy this must all sound. “What did you say your name was again?”


Thomas,” he replies. “Thomas Edgewater.”


It's good to hear your voice, Thomas Edgewater. I'm Elizabeth.”


Have you seen many other people?” he asks. “Are there other survivors down there with you?”


Not many,” I tell him. “I was in New York when this all started. There were only a few people left. My brother and I were in our parents' apartment, but we were alone, and then... We tried to get by for a while, but it was hard and some of the other people weren't very helpful. Eventually my brother died, and I ended up meeting some other people and coming here.”


My brother died too,” he replies.

I open my mouth to say something, but the words seem to catch in my throat. It's strange to think that this guy and I are talking, and that even though we don't know each other, we seem to have a few things in common. I'd give anything to meet him face to face, but I guess that's never going to happen. Still, I can't deny that I'm excited by the idea that at least there are other survivors in the world.

“If you're alone,” he says after a moment, “you should try to get up here to Lake Erie. Do you have a vehicle you can use?”


No,” I reply. “There's nothing. We've been traveling on foot.”


Find a vehicle. You'll need some gas too, but most cars should still have something in the tank. Then head up to Lake Erie, to the western end of the southern shore. There are people here, not many, but enough to start building a community. Have you seen any sign of the government or anything like that?”


Nothing,” I reply. “It's like everyone's just gone.”


What about...” He pauses. “Did you see creatures? There were these things -”


There were lots of them in New York,” I tell him. “They all had the same voice, but they weren't very mobile. It was like they weren't really able to control themselves properly. Out here in Pennsylvania we saw some too and they seemed to be getting stronger, but lately they've disappeared. There haven't been any for a few weeks.”


Same here,” he replies. “It's like they started to rot, so hopefully they're gone. Listen, you should get moving as soon as possible. You need to find other people.”


I can't leave. I have to wait for Toad, the guy I'm with, to come back. He went hunting last night and then there was this huge storm, and I don't know what happened to him.”


How long are you gonna wait?”

I pause for a moment. “What do you mean?”

“How long are you gonna give him before...” His voice trails off for a moment, but I know exactly what he was going to say. “Whether he comes back or not,” he continues eventually, “you need to make for somewhere and find a vehicle, and then head up this way. We're managing to find food, and we've got water, and there are a couple of hundred people. Everyone's got a job, and we all work together to make sure that there's enough for everyone. It's actually not so bad, but I don't know what we're going to do when winter comes. I guess we'll just have to make sure we're properly prepared.”


That sounds good,” I tell him. “We've been wandering around, not really having anywhere to go. There's no way I ever want to be in New York again. The whole place was just completely ruined. As soon as Toad comes back -”

Suddenly there's a burst of static, and although I can hear Thomas speaking, it's impossible to understand what he's saying since his voice has become distorted and twisted.

“Hello?” I shout, desperately hoping that I won't lose contact with him so soon. “Are you still there?”


It's not good to be alone,” he says suddenly as his voice returns. “We're all much better off if we stick to large groups. How far are you from the nearest town?”


I don't know.”


Do you have a map?”


No,” I reply, looking across the gloomy kitchen. Suddenly it hits me: if Toad doesn't come back, I'm going to die here. With Rachel to look after, and with only one good leg, there's no way I can keep us alive. “I don't really have anything.”


You need to get organized,” he continues. “You need to work out where the nearest town is, and you need to walk there.”


That might be tricky,” I mutter, looking down at my bandaged leg. There's still a red stain showing through the bandage, but as I look more closely, I can't help noticing that there might be a hint of yellow.


You've got no choice!” Thomas says firmly. “There's no point sitting around and hoping that somehow the government's gonna come and save us. All of that's over now, Elizabeth. We've got to look after ourselves. Even if you don't make it to Lake Erie, there are probably other groups. You need to find one and join it, and then maybe you can be part of something that starts rebuilding. Just take my advice and stay away from the cities. I was in Chicago the other day, and it wasn't good there. There's so much disease, and people are dying of starvation.”


I'm going to come up to Lake Erie,” I tell him, figuring that I need to stay optimistic. “As soon as Toad gets back, we'll find a way to get there. We'll find a car.”


Is that guy your boyfriend?” he asks.


My -” I pause for a moment as I try to work out how to answer that particular question. “I guess so,” I say eventually, even though I'm not sure whether it's true. “Maybe.”


Whatever he is, you have to get to safety.”


I know,” I reply, glancing over at the door but still seeing no sign of Toad. “I can't go yet, though. I have to wait for him to come back. He
will
come. You don't know him, but I do. He's the kind of guy who can take care of himself. He knows the land, and he knows how to stay safe, even when there's a storm. There's no way anything can have happened to him. I just know, deep down that he's okay, and that he's coming back.”

Thomas tries to reply, but once again his voice seems to be getting lost in the static. I wait a moment, hoping that he'll come back, but finally I start trying to adjust the dials again.

“Hello?” I shout. “Thomas! Are you still there? Can you -”

Before I can finish, there's a loud bang as the top of the radio unit explodes in a shower of sparks. I lean back and watch as smoke starts to come from the back of the unit, and a brief fire quickly dies down. I have no idea what went wrong, but it's clear that the radio's dead now, and I guess there's no way I can get back in touch with that Thomas guy. Still, at least I know that there are other people out there, and I also know that if we head toward Lake Erie, we'll find other survivors. There's still a part of me that wants to stay here at the farmhouse, but I know deep down that now we've got a destination, we should get moving.

I just need Toad to come back, so I can give him the news.

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
13.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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