The Long Journey

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A couple find themselves thrown into a dangerous new world when their town is wiped out by an atomic explosion. Will they make it to safety?

Submitted: November 22, 2016

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Submitted: November 22, 2016

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It was just another Sunday morning for the Taylors, Connor was in the garage cleaning the car, and Amelia was in the kitchen, preparing her famous Sunday Roast. It was a bright, sunny day, and as such Amelia had opened the kitchen window to let in some fresh air. Through the window, one could faintly hear the sounds of children playing in the park down the road, the occasional car driving past, the civil defence broadcasts on the television, andy the smell of a distant barbeque drifting gently over the tiled roofs of the old houses that lined the residential roads of the neighbourhood, located approximately two miles from the busy centre of Sanlow-On-Thames. Today Amelia was feeling relaxed, and as if to show this off to the world, she had let her wavy blonde hair fall over her brown dress, instead of tying it up like usual.

It was just another Sunday morning. That was, until, a new and unwelcome noise joined the others in drifting through the open kitchen window. At first Amelia didn’t recognise this new sound, although she soon remembered it from the civil defence broadcasts on the television. The distant wailing of sirens even reached Connor, who was otherwise completely enclosed in his own little dominion inside the garage, both he and Amelia immediately leapt to action, once they recognised the sound.

“Connor!” Amelia cried out, not in panic, but in an attempt to alert him as to what was happening.

Amelia remembered what had been rehearsed to her many times through the television set, and moved quickly and efficiently throughout the house, closing and securing the windows and front and back doors, and closing the drapes in front of the windows, so as to keep the immense amount of heat – that could erupt through them at any moment – outside of the home. Connor did not require Amelia’s reminder to know what to do, as he, too, remembered what he had been told, and wiped away the sweat from his brown fringe, and locked the garage door, stacking sandbags in front of it as he did so. He also swept out the boxes of tools and loose pieces of wood underneath the workbench next to the couple’s car, as this was the ‘fallout area’ they had been told by the government to prepare, in the event of a nuclear attack on their home town.

“Amelia! Table’s clear!” Connor called out to his wife, and he dived under, waiting for his significant other to join him in the relative safety of the space under the workbench.

Amelia heard her husband’s call, and had just closed the curtains in the living room, when a bright flash permeated the room. Amelia collapsed to the floor against the wall, tucking her head in between her knees and putting her hands over her neck, just as she had been instructed to by the television. Everything seemed to go silent for a moment, Amelia waited in anxious anticipation for the inevitable shock wave to strike, whereas Connor – whom was in a room with no windows – had no idea of the sudden bright light that had engulfed the city, and only knew what had happened when the house suddenly buckled to an enormous roar. Amelia screamed and curled up tighter into her ball as the house shook violently, and shattered glass petered down on her like morning rain, but as quickly as it had started, it was over.

“Amelia! Amelia? Are you okay? Amelia!” Connor yelled, in hopes that his wife had survived, and switched on the torch he had left nearby in order to see in the new darkness which flooded the room, as the lights above cut out, and went to leave the confines of his place of safety to search for his beloved.

“I- I’m okay.” Amelia heard his call “Stay there! I’ll come to you.” she got up, and brushed off the tiny pieces of broken glass that had covered her like leaves falling from an autumnal tree. Wincing as one of the shards of glass sliced at her elbow as it fell off. She was thankful that she adopted the position she did, else the damage done to her might have been much greater.

As Amelia staggered through the house – from shock, not injury – in the direction of the garage, she smelt something she wasn’t entirely comfortable in smelling.

“Gas!” cried Amelia, as she remembered that she had left the cooker on when the sirens sounded.

She turned to look in the direction of the oven, and, just as she thought, a section of wall and ceiling had caved onto the oven, disconnecting it from the wall in which it used to be so securely fastened. Amelia thought a silent thank-you to the early warning system that had saved her life, as if it wasn’t for hearing the sirens she would have likely been killed as the ceiling fell on her head, but not before sprinting to the garage, and closing the door behind her.

“Are you okay?” Asked Connor, worried that she might be somehow hurt.

“I’m fine, help me with these sandbags will you? The kitchen’s filling up with gas.”

Connor crawled out from under the table and helped Amelia stack the sandbags in front of the door, before dragging her under the workbench.

“How long do you think we’ll have to stay here?” Amelia enquired, dreading the answer she knew would come.

“Probably a few days, or as long as our rations last us.” Connor looked around with his torch, in search of their supplies “you did move them in here from the kitchen, didn’t you?”

“I was going to do it after lunch, I’ll go and get them.”

“No, stay here, I’ll go.” Connor hoisted himself up and out of the space under the workbench, and began to move away the sandbags that had just been placed in front of the door in order to get into the kitchen.

“Be careful, it’s only a matter of time before that gas catches light.” Amelia warned her husband, but he simply nodded in acknowledgment, and marched on out, closing the door firmly behind him.

The kitchen was a mess, there was glass everywhere, and the shredded drapes blew blissfully in the wind, with the sounds of distant cries, and the smell of smoke which this time was not from a barbeque, drifted through the broken window. The oven lay at an angle away from the wall, although the hissing of gas had stopped, and the smell of the leak was beginning the dissipate. Connor noticed the bag he was looking for underneath a toppled chair. He lifted the chair away from his treasure, and carried it back to the garage, concerned as to its apparent lightness.

Amelia was just beginning to worry when the door to the garage opened once more, and her husband walked through, supplies in hand. He set the bag down next to the workbench, and closed the door, replacing the sandbags that he had only just removed. Amelia began to look through the bag, hoping that there was more inside than she remembered buying, and a wave of dismay swept over her.

“This won’t last us more than a few days, Connor.” she said with a hint of defeat in her voice.

Connor looked through the bag also, but found that he agreed.

“Two days at the most… maybe.”

“If we ration properly.” replied Amelia, this time surer of herself.

“Who shall be in charge of rationing?”

“I will. I’m usually in charge of the food, you can go and investigate any noises we might hear while we stay here, who knows who could be trying to gain entry to our house now.”

“While we stay here?”

“Well we can hardly remain in this house forever, can we Connor? The food and water is going to run out, and we’re going to need to find more, besides this house doesn’t seem too structurally sound if you ask me.”

The house groaned and rattled, as if in agreement with this latest statement. A few hours passed, and still the couple remained under their workbench, unsure of what the world outside was like, what they were going to do from then on, and what time it was. Eventually it was decided that they would have to know the time if they were to properly ration their food and water.

“I’ll get the clock from our bedside table.” Connor stated, pleased to have something to do and to be able to stand up from their uncomfortable crouching in the space beneath the workbench.

“Okay, but be careful dear, I heard the roof making some mighty strange noises earlier.”

And with that, Connor rose from his crouching position, and once again unstacked the sandbags in front of the door to the rest of the house. He opened the door, and made his way to the stairs, but just as he placed his foot on the first step of the staircase, he noticed that his entire effort was futile, as the staircase was blocked about half way up by a large chunk of what had once been a ceiling. His heart sank as he realised that the entire first floor of the house had collapsed, meaning he could say farewell to even being able to get his clock. A moment later, however, he became reinvigorated, as he remembered that there was a clock on the northern wall of the kitchen, and instead left the staircase behind him, and set to removing the clock from its fastenings up on the wall.

Amelia was pleased to see her husband return, although was a little surprised as he carried in the large sunburst clock that had once been set proudly above their kitchen table. As he noticed her puzzled look, he explained to her what he had discovered, that the roof had clearly collapsed and blocked off access to the first floor. At this Amelia rolled her eyes and sighed, sad that she would be unable to retrieve her personal belongings, most of which were stored upstairs. Her husband had the same woes, although was more concerned about losing his toolbox, which he now blamed himself for storing underneath their bed upstairs, which was now trapped under a pile of rubble.

Now that they had the clock, the couple could see how much time had passed, and noticed that it had only been about two hours since the attack. They dreaded having to stay under the workbench for two whole days, or maybe more, depending on how long their supplies lasted. No sooner had this thought passed through their heads, another low noise thundered through the house shaking the very ground they were resting on. Amelia and Connor drew sharply closer to each other, although there was no need, as this was not the sound of another explosion, but thunder, signalling the arrival of a rain storm.

“Rain?” wondered Amelia, out loud.

“Yes, I wouldn’t go out in that if I were you, that’s likely to be the fallout.”

And there they stayed, under the workbench, eating their allotted rations and listening to the rain as it hit the roof, sounding like small pellets attacking the tiles above them. Eventually, after exactly two days since the blast, the pouring rain stopped, and not long after the last of their food and water run out.

“It would probably be wise for us to leave about now.” suggested Amelia, looking at their clock “it should be about seven in the morning now.”

“Tuesday morning?”

“Yes, which gives us plenty of daytime to find food and water, before finding shelter for the night.” and with that they left.

After two days of being crouched underneath a workbench, their stiff joints were pleased to finally be able to move again, clicking loudly and often with every move that they made, and with that, they left. Just before they exited through the door, Amelia quickly turned and asked Connor if the car was still working, although a quick turn of the ignition proved that it wasn’t, and, slightly disheartened at this discovery, they continued on their way. They cleared away the sandbags in front of the door for the last time, left their empty bag (they now considered it useless as it was filled with empty cans and bottles), and picked their way through the debris and knocked over furniture that littered their once tidy home. They unlocked and opened the door, and wandered into a new world, unsure of what they should expect.

The world they saw scared them, the street was empty, and all around them, their neighbour’s houses lay in ruins, the Henderson’s home at number 29 had lost its front wall, and Mrs Travis’ house at number 48 at completely collapsed at one side. Street after street, they saw the same scene, abandoned cars, smouldering wrecks of houses, charred bodies lying limp on the pavement. Amelia didn’t dare to look into the playground as they passed it, she had hoped that the children she heard so happily playing only minutes before the attack had made it to safety, although she knew that the world was not so merciful. As she jumped over yet another puddle, black with radioactive ash, Connor heard something in the distance.

“Shouting.”

“What?” asked Amelia, surprised at his vocal input in what had so far been a rather quiet escapade.

“Can’t you hear it? Shouting, from over there.”

“That’s where the highstreet is, should we go that way?”

“Well there’s a lot of shops there, they should have some useful supplies.”

“Yes, but it sounds like quite a few other people have had the same idea.” replied Amelia, worriedly.

“We’ll be okay, just follow my lead.”

A few left turns and worried conversations later, and they had reached the highstreet. Even though they had reached the road leading onto it, and the road was in view – as well as a few shops – however they still couldn’t see anyone, those rioters could only be heard. As Connor walked cautiously down the road, with the Amelia nervously following in his wake, everything seemed to go still, at least for Connor. Amelia was focusing on every little thing going on around her, but all Connor was focusing on was getting to the highstreet unharmed. He was convinced that they would be okay if they only stayed out of people’s way, and got in and out as quickly as they could.

Plastic bags floated uninterrupted through the air, and newspapers rolled down the road, and still, Connor paid them no attention. When they reached the pub on the street corner, Connor expertly pressed himself up against the wall of the building, careful to stay below the windows, should anyone be inside. He leaned around the corner of the building, looking down the main road, keen to enter and exit the fray before anyone could notice them. He ushered Amelia right up behind him, and looked down the road. What he saw shocked him. Further down the hill, mostly around a collapsed building that used to be the local shopping centre, he saw a huge crowd of people, all running and yelling in the streets, running in and out of shops, carrying whatever goods they could get their hands on. Most people were just carrying large bags of food and water, but some (less intelligent people, Connor decided) were carrying out electronics, and other such previously expensive equipment that would no doubt no longer work, but this didn’t faze Connor, as he knew that this meant there would be a little more in the way of useful supplies left. He turned to Amelia.

“Okay, I won’t lie to you, there are a lot of people down there, but you have to be brave, okay?”

“Can’t I wait here for you? There’s no one here, and it’s so quiet.” Amelia asked nervously.

“Absolutely not, I want to keep you safe and I can’t do that if I can’t see you, there’s no saying who’s lurking in these buildings, or who might come up the road and see you.” said Connor, firmly.

“O-Okay.”

“Just stay close behind me, and move quickly.”

And just like that, Connor darted out from behind the wall, making a bee-line for the cover of a nearby bus, Connor moved so fast that Amelia didn’t even realise that he had gone, and soon darted after him (making a mental note to pay closer attention to him and his movements) and this is how they continued down the street, darting from cover to cover, into and out of shops, behind and inside cars, until they came to a shop that looked like it could hold something useful. Amelia was the first to notice it, considering she frequented the store and had been keeping an eye out for it.

“Connor. Connor!” it took a few tries to get his attention “over there! Clover’s Supermarket!”

“Will that be useful?” Connor asked, clueless as to the shop’s contents.

“Of course it will! That’s where I get my shopping from, including the rations we had at home, we just need to get inside!” Amelia stated, getting rather excited at the prospect of not having to go any further down the street.

“Okay then, let’s go” and off they went, quickly manoeuvring to the main entrance of the shop, and for once Amelia was actually overtaking Connor.

As the electricity was no longer working, the shop itself was very dark, Connor was thankful that he had had the good sense to bring his torch with him when they left the relative safety of their garage. Another thing that wasn’t working due to the lack of electricity was the automatic doors, which would have to be pried open.

“I’ve got that.” said Connor from behind.

“No, don’t worry.” Amelia said as she expertly pulled the doors apart, and quietly slid inside in the direction of the food aisle.

Connor followed her close behind, not entirely confident with the layout of the shop, but vigilant of any unfriendly encounters none-the-less. Amelia, however, knew exactly where she was going, and before long, they had both reached a long aisle, stretching away into the darkness, with its shelves lined with canned food on one side, and bottled water on the other.

“I’ll get a bag.” she stated, decisively, and with that, sped off into the distance.

Connor waited patiently for her to return, and a few minutes later she did, bag in hand, but with a concerned look on her face.

“Connor I don’t think we’re alone in here, I heard shuffling from the other side of the store when I got this.” and handed him the bag “you put as much as you can in there, and then we’ll leave through the loading bay at the back.”

Connor obeyed his wife’s commands, and began to pile supplies into the bag, whilst she stood watch, and listened as the sounds of shuffling and cans falling to the floor edged closer and closer. After a minute had passed, the bag was full, and it was time to leave.

“It’s full.” whispered Connor, eager to not alert whatever was making those noises to their presence.

“Okay then, let’s go.” the couple left as quickly as they had arrived, quickly and quietly moving towards the back of the store.

“Where’s the entrance to the loading bay?” asked Connor, growing more and more concerned by the sounds that they now were certain were following them.

“I don’t know, it should be along here, perhaps behind the fish counter? Or was it the produce one?”

“Let’s just keep looking, we need to get out of here.”

Connor crept along the wall some more, shining his torch along its surfaces, in hopes that they would eventually come across the door they were searching for. By now the mysterious noises were almost right behind them, and Amelia could have sworn that she felt someone breathing down her neck, but before she could say anything, they found the door, behind the meat counter.

“Found it!” Connor exclaimed, trying hard not to shout with excitement.

“Quick! Open it! Just push down the bar.”

The door creaked open, and the couple ran through into the staff only area of the shop. Connor slammed the door shut behind them, and held the door tight as something on the other side tried to open it again.

“Quick! Amelia! Find something to hold the door!”

Amelia rushed over to what looked like it was a staff kitchen, grabbed a chair, and forced it under the bar of the door which seemed to have developed a life of its own. She was hesitant to let go of the chair, but she would have to if they were to ever leave, and they needed to see if it would hold. Slowly, Amelia released her ever-tightening grip from the piece of furniture. It held.

“That won’t hold it for long, we need to leave. Now.” Amelia stated, not bothering to hide the fear in her voice.

The pair ran faster than they ever had before, sprinting down what seemed like endless corridors before, finally, they pushed open another door, and were nearly blinded by the sunlight. They slammed the door behind them, and Connor quickly pushed a large rubbish bin in front of it to hold back any pursuers they might have. They then jumped down from the platform they were on, skirted around the lorry that was clearly in the middle of a delivery when the bomb fell, and, jumping over the loose crates and boxes in their way, ran out into the small street behind the supermarket.

“Where are we?” asked Amelia.

“I’m not sure, but we can’t stop moving now, let’s go that way.”

They turned right, and carried on up the road. After what seemed like hours of sprinting, which then turned to a run, then a light jog, and, when they were certain that no one was following them, a brisk walk, they finally reached the end of the road. Like the others, this road was completely deserted. Rubble lined the pavements, and far off in the distance, huge pillars of smoke rose high into the air. Further down the road their way was blocked by a crashed lorry, and so they were forced to turn the other way, which coincidentally led them straight to an underground railway station.

“Bishop’s Green. Huh, I’ve always wondered where this was.” remarked Amelia, as they cautiously made their way into yet another dark and unwelcoming place.

“Be careful here, we don’t want to-“ here Amelia cut him off.

“Connor, there’s something I should tell you.”

“But”

“No, this is important.” and here she took a deep breath “I was planning on telling you this much later but I suppose this is as good a time as any, especially with all the danger we’re getting ourselves into.”

“Amelia, what are you talking about?”

“Connor, I think it’s time you knew that you’re not just looking after one person.” she took another deep breath “I’m pregnant.”

“What?” Connor jumped with a mixture of shock and excitement “This is great news! Why didn’t you tell me? How long have you known for?”

“Not long, about a week now. I wanted to tell you but there never seemed to be an opportune moment, so I carried on waiting.”

“Okay, but that means I have to take extra care of you, and I will. You stay right behind me, okay? I’m not going to let anything touch you.”

“I hope you’re not just saying that because I’m pregnant.” Amelia joked.

“No, don’t be silly.” Connor replied seriously.

Connor turned around, and beckoned for her to follow him, and they both crept slowly into the station. They didn’t get far before they reached a place that seemed of use to them.

“There!” exclaimed Amelia “in the ticket office! There’s some sleeping bags.”

“So there is, and I see some bottles too, maybe they have water in them?”

They climbed carefully over the turnstiles, and opened the door into the ticket office.

“Damn, they’re empty.”

“They have some Scotch left.”

“I really shouldn’t be drinking, and neither should you, you need to keep your wits about you.” Amelia retorted in a motherly, but firm tone.

“You’re right, but I think we should sleep here for the night, it’s getting dark.”

“Don’t you think the people staying here will be back soon?”

“Maybe, but we need a place to rest.”

The light outside got steadily darker and darker, until it was just as dark as the station itself. The sounds of shouting from outside grew quieter and quieter, until everything fell still and silent. The next morning the couple awoke to the sounds of voices and footsteps approaching down the tunnel.

“Quickly! We have to leave” Connor whispered firmly to his wife.

They pair quickly left the ticket office, Connor being sure to grab their bag of supplies as they did so, and ran down the tunnel, deeper into the station.

“There!” one of the voices shouted to the others “people! They were in our house!”

“Get them! They better not have stolen my Scotch!” a deeper voice replied.

Amelia and Connor quickly broke into a run, as the sound of footsteps behind them grew quicker. They sprinted down the walkway, bound down the escalators, and turned off onto one of the platforms, here, the couple paused for a moment, the sounds of footsteps were quieter now, and slower, but they could still hear their shouts.

“Find them!” the deeper voice thundered “They can’t have gone far!”

“We need to keep moving.” Connor said.

Connor jumped down onto the tracks, and helped his wife down soon after him, and they ran down the tunnel as far as they could go. After a while, Connor tripped on a stone, and Amelia stopped to help him up. That’s when they realised why there was a rock there. Directly in front of them, the tunnel had collapsed.

“Damn, it’s a dead-end.” said Connor, panting.

“Let’s turn back, I’m certain that we passed through a station a few minutes ago.”

Backtracking wasn’t Connor’s favourite activity in any situation, he always liked to feel as though he were making progress in whatever he was trying to achieve, and backtracking made him feel as though he was undoing the progress he had previously made. Usually he could find a way to work around whatever problem he was faced with, but this time it was clear to him that there really was no way around this obstacle (short of digging through the cave-in with their bare hands), and that backtracking really was the only option. As Amelia had said, there was another station that they passed through, and Connor climbed up onto the platform, and turned around to help Amelia clamber up after him.

“Rosencross. Hmmm, I used to have a friend who lived here.” Amelia remarked “if we go south from here we’ll be able to leave the city.”

“That seems like a mighty fine idea.”

They climbed up through the station, towards the surface, and just as it seemed that they might not make it at all, a light shone down the walkway ahead. At first Amelia was worried that it was the light of someone else’s torch, as she had been cautious of the possibility of this station also having residents that would be less than pleased to see them. However, she was extremely relieved to find that she walked into some turnstiles, meaning that the light ahead of her really was coming from the surface.

“What time do you think it is?” Amelia enquired.

“I haven’t the slightest idea, we’ll be able to guess once we can see the sun’s position.”

The couple marched forward, and soon enough, they were in the open again, with the sun shining brightly down on them. However, it seemed that this wouldn’t last long, as a large and ominous looking cloud seemed to be blowing in from the north.

“I’m pretty sure we should be travelling in that direction.” Amelia pointed down a road that seemed to be calling to her, and hoped that it was the right way out of the city once they began to walk in that direction.

About half an hour later, they were still walking, and had now reached a rather affluent looking area. The streets were lined with what had once been healthy-looking trees, and the houses that stood guard on either side of the streets, were grand and old, probably Edwardian, Amelia decided. She noticed that some of the houses seemed to still be inhabited, as every now and then she would notice a curtain move, as if they were being watched, and the people watching didn’t wish to be seen, she turned to her husband and saw that he had noticed them, too. With the pillars of smoke behind them, they realised that they must be heading in the correct direction, and walked with more confidence than before. It was at that time that the sun disappeared behind the cloud, which seemed to be moving faster than they thought, and before long, it was looming overhead, like an ominous warning. No sooner than this had happened, small white-grey flecks began to fall out of the sky.

“Snow?” asked Amelia, confused at this occurrence.

“No, ash. We should keep moving, it won’t be good for us to stay in this for too long.”

Amelia pondered this, and wondered how something so graceful and seemingly harmless, could have such a violent origin. The ash was now falling steadily, and created quite a calming atmosphere. They couldn’t hear anything, not even the wind, only their feet as they trudged through the ever-growing layer of ash under them. As the ash settled in their hair, and on their skin, they seemed to turn grey, coloured by its presence, and looked as if they were growing old and lifeless, but still, they kept moving. Eventually, after what seemed like – and probably was, Connor thought to himself – many miles of walking, the buildings began to slowly disappear, and became more and more spread out, and before long, they were in the countryside. By this point the cloud of deathly ash had passed over them, and they then walked down quiet country roads, until eventually they came across a motorway, littered with abandoned vehicles.

“How useful!” Amelia remarked “we ought to be able to travel much faster on the motorway, it’s far more direct and there might even be something useful in one of these vans or lorries!”

“Yes, but where should we go?” asked Connor, who was finally starting to feel a little lost with no goal in mind.

“Well if we’re where I think we are, there’s a small village around here called Sunnymead that I used to visit as a child. My aunt had a cottage there, and I’m pretty sure she still does.”

“Then let’s go there.”

So off they set, in search of the village of Sunnymead. Amelia was certain that the village was directly south of the city, and since they already were directly south, all they had to do was find it. Connor thought it best to travel farther south via the motorway, and so the couple did so, winding their way in and out of vehicles, and searching cars, vans and lorries for anything useful that might help replenish their already dwindling resources in the bag. Eventually, as the day wore on, the travelling couple became weary, and as the day was once again drawing to a close, with the sun gently setting towards the horizon, Connor suggested that they find a place to rest for the night, before continuing what was sure to be an arduous journey the next day. About an hour later, when the sun had finally set beneath the far off horizon, they came across something that seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

“There!” cried Amelia “A rest stop!”

“Perfect, we can stay there if it’s empty.”

Amelia and Connor approached the building carefully, being sure to stay behind cars and other vehicles on their approach, so as to hide their presence from anyone who might be watching. Before long, they had traversed the car park, and were at the main entrance. Once again prying the sliding doors open, they carefully entered the building. Inside was a peaceful scene. The chairs in the restaurants were all neatly stacked on tables, there was no debris lying around, and the moonlight gently filtered in through the vast skylights above them. It seemed as if the store was simply closed, as opposed to being abandoned. Most of the shop’s shutters were closed and secured, so Connor and Amelia deduced that if anyone was here (which it certainly seemed that they weren’t) they would be in the restaurants, the kitchens, the staff areas or maybe the toilets.

“I’ll check the kitchens and restaurants.” stated Amelia, firmly.

“And I guess that leaves me with the staff rooms and public toilets then.” replied Connor, reluctantly.

“Have fun!” Amelia jokingly retorted “I’ll meet you back here in half an hour.”

Amelia slinked off in the direction of the three restaurants, and saw that it was quite clear that there was no one in the seating areas, as the floors were spotless, and the chairs and tables all neatly arranged about the room. That only left the kitchens for her to search. She walked warily towards the counter, slowly checked that there wasn’t anyone behind the counter, and then skirted around the corner and through the door, into the kitchen. Just as she expected, there was no-one to be found, just a large, clean looking room with two large refrigerators, two large stoves, large counters connecting them all and an innumerable amount of kitchen implements, all hanging or placed in their allotted places. She found a similar scene in the other two kitchens, and went back to the arranged meeting place to wait for her husband’s return, pleased that she had had an uneventful search.

At the same time as Amelia’s search began, Connor was just entering the staff rooms of the establishment, and noticed that in this area, everything was just as neat as the rest of the building – too neat as far as he was concerned, but maybe that was just his wary nature getting in the way of his thinking – there were a set of three chairs on each of the walls, except the one he had entered through. They were covered in blue fabric, and looked as if they were supported by plastic textured to look like wood. In the left corner was a water cooler, and in the right, a door. Connor made a mental note of the location of this source of potentially clean water, adding it to the small map he had been creating of the building inside his mind, and carried on into the next room. Here he found a very neat looking kitchen, cheap cupboards and appliances were neatly placed against the walls, and a similarly cheap table and chairs were located in the middle of the room, with the chairs placed firmly against the table. Connor was willing the bet that there was food located in this kitchen, as well as in the restaurant’s kitchens, and added this as well to his mental map. In a small room off to the side, he found a small bathroom and cupboard containing a broom and other equipment. He considered fashioning a weapon out of these objects, but decided against it when he realised that there was little he could do with a broom and bucket. His next stop was to search the public toilets, and so circled around and into the men’s toilets, in which he found nothing, and found the same in the women’s bathroom, even after painstakingly searching each and every cubicle and urinal for signs of habitation, and with this underwhelming discovery, he traipsed back to the main area of the rest stop, eager to know what Amelia had found.

“Absolutely nothing.” was her answer.

Connor was happy but also sad to admit that he could report the same, he was glad he didn’t have to fight, or even worse, run, from anyone or anything, but he also had a certain longing for some more adrenaline-fuelled action, like they had earlier in the train station. Amelia was much different though, she didn’t feel any mix of emotions, she was only happy that she didn’t have to burst a lung screaming blue murder for her husband if she did find anyone unpleasant.

“I saw some comfortable looking seats in that room over there that we could spend the night on” suggested Connor “there’s also water in there, and a kitchen next door that probably has food in it somewhere.”

“And hopefully a can opener as well, I’m getting tired of smashing our cans open on rocks and cars.” was Amelia’s reply.

Neither of them slept well that night, Connor couldn’t stop thinking about what they would do the next day, and where their journey would take them, whereas Amelia was much more concerned with how he lied about the chairs (that were now their beds), being comfortable. Amelia tossed and turned all night, and only finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, not long before the birds began to sing. Connor, on the other hand, simply laid still, deep in thought, with only short breaks in which he listened to Amelia trying to find a comfortable position, and tried listened out for anyone trying to enter the building. He heard a number of noises during the night that perked his interest, however they always turned out to be nothing particularly exciting, and Connor wondered to himself why it was that everything started making strange noises at night time. Eventually Connor, too, fell asleep, after numerous patrols to investigate strange noises, and one or two trips to the water cooler.

The next morning, the sky was grey and overcast, which had a similar effect on their mood, although that was also due to their lack of sleep the night before. At around eight in the morning it was decided that it was an opportune moment to leave. They continued their journey, with their supplies replenished by what they could scavenge, plus the addition of a can opener, which Amelia was very pleased about. They once again opened the supposedly automatic doors by hand, and wandered across the barren car park, and re-joined the motorway heading south, towards Brighton, as one sign told them. After a few hours of exhausting travel, the couple encountered something that set their hairs on edge. Just a few hundred yards ahead, were a group of young boys, usually the couple would think nothing of their presence, although this time they were much more cautious as to their intentions, as the boys were discussing what Amelia thought she could hear, and Connor was certain he could hear, how they had only the other day done something unspeakable to a wandering family, much like themselves. Without much discussion, both Amelia and Connor came to much the same decision as each other.

“We should leave.”

“Definitely.”

Off to their right, they noticed that there was a hole in the wall running along the side of the motorway, where a car had evidently barrelled through. First Connor, then Amelia slowly made their way through the hole, and into the forest beyond, where they would have to go cross-country in order to reach their goal, as they realised that the motorways must be quite the thoroughfare for post-war traffic, just as it had been before the attack. The forest was beautiful. By now the sun had come out, and it filtered through the leaves of the trees above, gracefully lighting the ground beneath them, and the undergrowth which surrounded them. Birds could be heard chirping in the distance, and the wind blew peacefully through the branches above them. Connor wondered how it was possible that such a place could exist, where it was so easy to forget that their town, and possibly the rest of the country – maybe even the world – had been obliterated. This place seemed untouched by the horrors that were wrought all around them, and stood as testament, Connor thought, to nature’s unending endurance of humanity’s attempts to destroy it.

After a few hours, they finally left the forest, both of them wishing that they could stay, but both of them knowing that they couldn’t. Here, in front of them, lay a river, roughly flowing in a small dip in the ground in front of them, and next to it was a path. They walked along the path beside the forest for what seemed as if it were millennia, and eventually, Connor began to complain that he was thirsty, very thirsty in fact, and was about to carefully make his way down the slope to the river when Amelia stopped him, and reminded him of the dangerous radiation that would have no doubt polluted it. With this, Connor continued to travel, resisting the temptation for water. However, eventually the desire for water, and their lack of it, caused him to lament, and he slowly and carefully made his way down to the banks of the river, ignoring Amelia’s warnings, and drank his fill.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing Connor?!” shouted Amelia, beginning to panic “You know what’s in that water!”

“I know but I was thirsty, and we ran out of water ages ago.”

“I’m thirsty too but you don’t see me drinking from the river like an animal, besides who knows what else is floating around in that water? I know it’s clear but it’s still an open water source.” Amelia replied, with a growing sense of concern.

“It’s okay, I only felt a few chunks of dirt.” Connor joked.

Amelia gagged. Not much farther along the river, however, Amelia was beginning to understand Connor’s desperation, and began to be tempted by the water as well, but she firmly denied herself the opportunity, and fortunately she didn’t have to keep up her will for much longer, as just around the river bend was a bridge, and on the other side, an old farm house.

“Do you think there’ll be clean water in there?” asked Amelia with desperation.

“You getting thirsty now, as well?” Connor asked jokingly with a smirk.

“Oh hush, do you think there will be or not?”

“Yes, most likely, there’s only one way to find out.”

Amelia lead the charge, as they crossed the bridge and slowly approached the farm house. The building seemed to be empty, but Connor realised that appearances can be misleading, and wanted to look around the outside of the building before going inside.

“Let’s check around the side first, there may be a tank of water there.” he suggested.

Fortunately, he was correct, there was a tank of (supposedly) clean water, right next to what seemed to be the kitchen window, and here Amelia drank her fill, and they refilled their now empty bottles. All was going well, when as they were leaving, they heard a shout coming from the farm house.

“This is private property! Get off my land!” shouted what must have been the farmer, menacingly and fired a rifle three times into the ground around them.

Amelia bolted, closely followed by Connor, the fields rushed by them and Connor was surprised at the speed at which Amelia could run in times of life or death, although he was more concerned for her and the baby than how fast she could run, now that an angry farmer was shooting at them. Bullets kept hitting the soil around them, and Connor thought they would surely die, however he was proven wrong, when they reached a road and dived behind the large hedge bordering it. They stood there for a moment, confident that the farmer wouldn’t chase them that far, and caught their breath, before moving on with their journey.

“Well, that was certainly stressful.” said Amelia, thankful to be alive.

“That’s one way of putting it.” replied Connor, panting heavily.

“I thought we were going to die there, in the middle of a field.” she replied mournfully.

“So did I.”

“How do we know which way is south, now?” asked Amelia inquisitively.

“The sun, it’s beginning to set now, so we just see which way the sun is travelling, and go directly to the left of that direction.”

“Those days in the Boy Scouts really did you good, didn’t they?”

“Some of the best years of my life.”

They continued to travel down the road, and Amelia noticed that some of the trees’ leaves were turning orange and red, as if it were autumn.

“Connor.”

“Amelia.”

“Why are the trees turning red? It’s the middle of summer.”

“They’re dying; the radiation must be killing them.”

“I wonder if it’s killing us?” wondered Amelia, fear building up inside of her.

“Don’t think like that, honey.” replied Connor, trying to suppress the same fear that was growing within him at the thought of her question.

A few more hours passed, and soon the couple happened upon a road sign, bearing some useful information.

“Amelia, what did you say was the name of the village?” asked Connor.

“Sunnymead.” replied Amelia, slightly irritated at his forgetting of where her aunt lived.

“I thought so, well it says here that Sunnymead is only two miles away, down this road.”

“What? Let me see that!” Amelia excitedly ran up to the sign and read what it said, as if she doubted her husband’s reading abilities “So it does! So we are going in the right direction! I wasn’t sure if we were.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Connor replied sarcastically.

“Oh I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just we’ve been walking for so long. Come! We have to get there before sundown!” and with that she skipped down the road with newly discovered energy, which quickly ran out.

More time passed, and the sun continued to travel its daily route, getting lower and lower in the sky, until it seemed as though it were only a few metres above the horizon, and that’s when the hills finally gave way to a valley, and what they saw in the valley excited them greatly.

“There it is!” exclaimed Amelia, ecstatically “that’s it right there!” and immediately grabbed Connor’s hand, and dragged him running down the hill, towards the village.

At first it seemed deserted, but as they drew closer, they could see that there were some people milling around in the streets. The road into the village was beautiful, the ancient houses lined it on both sides, with the village pub on the end corner. Red, dying leaves blew across the street, giving the scene an autumnal feel, despite the true reason as to their existence being much darker. The sunset, too, contributed to this scene, as it shone on the slate tiles of the cottages, and illuminated each garden, showing off their beauty and the radiance of the flowers growing within them. There weren’t many people, it seemed that most were staying indoors as much as they could, those that were outside were talking over garden walls, or hurrying along to wherever they needed to be.

“There! At the end! That’s her house.” said Amelia, the excitement building within her once more.

They approached the house with trepidation, aware of the possibility that Amelia’s aunt might not be there after all, and their long journey would have all been for nothing. Their feet trudged on the gravel pathway towards the grey stone house, the birds were singing around them, and the sun began to disappear behind the hills that made the valley in which the village rested. Amelia’s hand began to tremble as she knocked on the old wooden door of the cottage. Connor was preparing to console his wife, and hide his own despair, when the door opened, to reveal a weary looking woman, with brown, wiry hair falling about her face – a stark contrast to Amelia’s full, blonde hair – at first it seemed as though she didn’t recognise the visitors, but that soon changed, as her expression changed from one of suspicious caution, to a warm welcome.

“Amelia! It’s been so many years! I hardly recognised you,” she reached out and pulled her in for a tight hug “I heard what had happened, I saw the mushroom cloud, and I thought you must have died!”

“Aunt Mae! I was worried you weren’t here anymore! We’ve travelled so far.” Amelia said, beginning to cry.

“Nonsense!” Aunt Mae replied “Where else would I be? Come in, come in! I’ll put some food on for the both of you!” she turned to Connor “And you must be Connor! Yes, I remember from your wedding, come in!”

Aunt Mae’s house was just as Amelia remembered, there was an old oak table and chairs in the middle of the room, a comfortable looking light green sofa with a red patterned blanket on top, and a television set on the other side of the rug in front of the sofa. There was a fire roaring in the far corner, and a low ceiling. The house felt cosy and inviting, and for the first time in days, Amelia and Connor felt like they were at home. They walked over to the table, and sat down, ready for whatever Aunt Mae was preparing for them. It seemed as if everything would finally be alright, that was, until, Amelia turned to face Connor.

“Connor… your hair’s falling out!”


© Copyright 2017 Babcock. All rights reserved.

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