Chapter 20 - Down By The Sea
Leaving the pub was surprisingly straightforward. Under Billy’s instigation they carefully opened the rear door allowing No-Longer-Luke to leave the building ahead of them, not that he/it was paying attention to anything normal and alive anymore. No-one could come up with a suitable reason for this new mode in the infected. It was almost as if they had decided this group of survivors weren’t viable as hosts and so could be ignored. Perhaps there was no consideration at all; maybe there was no thought, simply an autonomic reaction to no appropriate stimuli being present.
Whatever the indecipherable process, Billy had decided that they were safe, if for no other reason than the fact that Luke had not tried to attack them. Too mentally and physically exhausted to argue, the rest acceded to his determined request for his friend to be let go unharmed. Armed with two bottles of spirits each, the five remaining survivors followed the cuckoo, as Andrea had called them, outside and watched as it wandered lazily towards the church where the rest of its kind had gathered.
Dashing to the car, all five of them squeezed into Claire’s roller skate Fiat and they barrelled out of the car park and headed south, Claire driving with far less care and attention than her previous self. They made good time southwards to the coast and Hastings, at least for Claire. Avoiding built up areas such as Sevenoaks and Royal Tunbridge Wells, they saw precisely two cars on the journey, one being a bright red Tesla with its lights on high beam that sped almost silently past them driven by a young man hunched over the wheel on his way to who knew where. The other, a mid-range silver people carrier, looked strangely like it was packed for the seaside. It was full of screaming kids and two frantic parents. In their rush the people carrier careened across an intersection right in front of Claire’s car, missing them by a gnat’s wing. Fishtailing from side to side the people carrier finally flipped and somersaulted through the air before coming to a screeching halt on its back.
“Don’t,” Amelie said, grabbing her daughter’s arm. “Leave it.”
“We have to!” Claire countered. “There are kids in there.”
Opening her door before anyone else could speak up in support of Amelie she ran as quickly as her pregnant waddle would allow towards the wreck. James, Andrea and Billy followed suit and were close on her heels, leaving Amelie standing by the little Fiat, stricken by fear for her daughter.
“Take care,” James urged, grabbing Claire’s arm and holding her back. Together they peered carefully through the windscreen. The sight caused Claire to shriek in remembered horror while James retched. The woman’s head had squashed like a melon against the windscreen and now slugs streamed from the rent in the skull, the black, glistening stream enveloping the driver and kids who writhed in silent pain and fear.
“Oh, crap!” Billy cried. “Let’s get away from here.”
“Wait!” Claire shouted. “Look.”
James peered over her shoulder, wiping remnants of vomit from his mouth with the back of his sleeve. The children were silent now. A map was resting against the windscreen, folded as last used. Hastings was circled in black marker pen. A hurriedly added cross marked out in biro ran through the town name.
“We need that,” she said, kneeling down and reaching in through the smashed side window. The slugs moved away from her arm as if the polar same. “Weird.”
Taking advantage of the seeming shyness of the slugs she moved her hand towards the nearest child. The sea of creatures parted but it was clear the kid was gone, so no help could be offered there. The other one looked the same. Not wanting to hang around any longer she grabbed the map and retreated to a safe distance before looking at it. There was a row of crosses marked along the south coast, west of their current position. It looked like the occupants had tried each town and found them undesirable for some reason, not that much guesswork was required to work out why.
“Looks like the coast might be a dead end for us,” James muttered. Claire agreed.
“They were on their way east so I think that’s what we should do as well.” Claire sounded more decisive than she had since the whole world had fallen apart. “I’m happy to believe those crosses were gained from hard fought experience and right now we need some slack cut and PDQ.”
“Come on then,” Andrea urged, looking around furtively as if one of her cuckoos could creep up on them at any moment. So far the infected had shown no Ninja tendencies but her paranoia was infectious so they all hurried back to the car.
Back inside, Claire drove them away from the scene in silence, driving past the accident and eastward as agreed. Amelie, not having seen the wreck up close tried to ask what was wrong; no-one wanted to speak, all were lost in their own thoughts. On receiving no answer she assumed it had simply been a harrowing sight of carnage and death. She gave up and sat in silence. Traveling eastwards with the summer sun on her right shoulder, Claire put distance from the nearest coastal town, Hastings, the last town on the map marked with a smudged black ‘X’.
“We should head to Dover, see if we can get away from England,” Billy suggested. Preferring to skirt around major towns, they had just bypassed Rye, an historic and attractive town within a couple of miles of the coast.
“That is probably the most dangerous course of action,” Andrea answered. “When the contagion overwhelmed the authorities they closed all the ports and sealed the Tunnel. Standard protocol. Considering the numbers of people who will have thought like you, these port towns are almost certainly overrun with these things.”
“What makes you think England is any worse than anywhere in Europe?” Amelie chimed in. “There were reports of the infection from all over the world before everything stopped.”
“Has everything stopped, though?” Billy countered. “We haven’t even tried the radio.”
James shrugged and turned the radio on; it was strange how the obvious could be missed. He needn’t have worried because all he could pick up was static and a couple of recorded messages announcing ‘normal service will be resumed shortly’. If anything was fake news, that was. He turned it off again.