The darkness of the night is absolute. We move as quietly as we can with ears straining to listen. Clothes rustling with each step and the soft tread of our boots seeming so loud. There is danger on all sides. A day of battles and sordid scraps that went on and on until our ammunition was as depleted as our energy.
Now the night is here, and we move through the open countryside hoping to hell they don’t hear us. Dave out front with Mo. Clarence at the rear. Everyone else staring out to the sides, blinking at the shadows and shapes. Sweat shining on our ruddy faces and I catch sight of Blinky drawing the back of her arm across her forehead.
‘Hold,’ a whisper from the front that ripples down the line and we drop to knees, staring ahead to Dave staring out into the blackness. His remarkable senses tuned to something. We all look to Meredith but see no reaction in the dog. No deep growl giving warning and no hackles rising. ‘Wait,’ Dave whispers the order to Mo then runs off silently into the night. Disappearing from view.
Minutes pass and I move carefully up to the front, joining Mo on point. ‘What did he see?’
‘No idea, boss,’ the lad whispers.
A rutted track underfoot. Verges on both sides that no doubt give way to the ever-present rolling fields and meadows of rural southern England. I look up, wishing for a break in the clouds to give a glimpse of moon so we can see where the hell we are.
‘Front,’ Mo whispers quickly, bringing my attention back as the tension rolls down the line. We grip our rifles, ready to fire what few rounds we have left and as one we release the held breaths as Dave looms into view.
‘Mr Howie,’ he says in his usual dead-pan greeting, dropping to a crouch next to me.
‘Dave,’ I reply with a curt nod and wait, then I remember it’s Dave and he’ll sit forever unless he’s prompted. ‘Where did you go?’ I ask.
‘That way,’ he says, pointing forward.
‘Okay. Great. What for?’
‘To look at the house, Mr Howie.’
‘Yes, Mr Howie.’
‘The house over there.’
‘Where?’ I ask, staring into the gloom.
‘What are we waiting for?’ Marcy whispers from behind, crabbing forward to join us on point.
‘Dave saw a house,’ I reply.
‘What house?’ Paula asks, crabbing over to join us.
‘I don’t know. He just said it,’ I say.
‘Said what?’ Clarence asks, trying to crab over but finding his legs too big so sort of walking while bent over and trying to be small in the way a bus might try and look inconspicuous.
‘Said there’s a house apparently,’ Paula says.
‘What house?’ Clarence asks.
‘I don’t know,’ Paula says. ‘Dave, what house?’
‘I say, is there a reason we’re all sitting in the middle of a field?’ Reginald asks, crawling over rather than crabbing.
‘Dave saw a house,’ Paula explains.
‘A house? I say that’s rather fortunate but again, why are we sitting here?’
‘Charles, I need a shit.’
‘Just hold on, Blinky,’ Charlie says, crabbing forward to join us on point. ‘Blinky needs the toilet,’ she adds apologetically.
‘Yeah, we all heard,’ Paula says with a tight grin.
‘Maybe the house has a toilet,’ Marcy suggests. ‘Did Dave see a toilet? Dave, did you see a toilet?’
‘I saw a house,’ Dave says.
‘Most houses have toilets though,’ Marcy says, looking round at everyone else now crabbing forward to join us on point.
‘It might have an outhouse,’ Roy says.
‘An outhouse? What the fuck is an outhouse?’ Cookey asks.
‘A bog outside,’ Blowers replies.
‘Did it have an outhouse?’ Marcy asks. ‘Dave, did you see an outhouse?’
‘I saw a house,’ Dave says.
‘Charles, my arse is going to explode…’ Blinky whispers urgently with the utter belief that no one else can hear her because she only addressed Charlie.
‘Right, let’s go for the house,’ I say with the firm resolve of leadership.
‘We’re going for the house Dave saw,’ Paula says, nodding at everyone.
‘I just said that,’ I mumble.
The five hunker down on the rutted path. Silent in their observations of the world about them. Pistols gripped and ready. Eyes staring out and ears straining to listen. Minutes pass and still that focus holds because this is work and they are professionals.
‘Where are we?’ Miri whispers. The words a blast of air in her flat American voice.
Ben looks round, seeing the verges of the fields on both sides. A rutted track underfoot. The clouds too low to give any illumination. No discerning features. Nothing to grasp and understand. Not even a tree to guess the part of the world they might be in.
A fight. A chase. A mad frantic rush through the portal that shut off behind them. The agents are out there somewhere. Alpha and the rest. Lying in wait.
‘We need cover,’ Safa whispers. ‘If they’ve got thermal imaging we’ll be sitting ducks…’
‘It’s too hot to wear thermals in this weather,’ Harry says.
‘You’re so old,’ Safa says, blinking at him.
‘It means they can see us in the dark by our body heat,’ Emily explains.
‘Ach,’ Harry says simply, thinking of woolly vests and leggings.
‘Move out but stay silent,’ Miri orders them on. The five walk on while treading carefully to avoid loose stones or anything that can make sound.
Safa, Harry, and Emily focus on threat and risk. Listening for noise of their opponents. Ready to respond and give fight should an ambush take place. Ben and Miri read and study everything they can see to gain placement of where they are. The need to know their position in time and space.
‘Feels like England,’ Ben says at length, glancing to Miri who walks on silently. ‘The location, it feels like England,’ he repeats.
‘How?’ she asks without looking at him.
He shrugs, ‘just does…like…the feel of it.’
‘I’d say more France,’ Emily says from behind them.
‘France?’ Safa scoffs. ‘We’re not in France.’
‘How do you know we’re not in France?’ Emily asks.
‘It just feels like England,’ Ben says.
‘Spoken like a true Brit,’ Miri mutters.
‘The grass,’ Ben says. ‘That’s English grass.’
‘Does that grass only grow in England?’ Miri asks.
‘Could be French grass,’ Emily says.
‘Or German,’ Harry adds helpfully. ‘They’ve got grass too, and Belgium…and Norway…not so much in the desert mind.’
‘They don’t have deserts in Norway,’ Emily says.
‘Africa,’ Harry says.
‘Oh,’ Emily says.
‘And the weather,’ Ben continues. ‘Feels like a summer evening in England.’
‘I am sure it does, Mr Ryder,’ Miri says in that way that means the complete opposite.
‘Where would you say we are then?’ Ben asks.
‘I will withhold judgment until I have data or evidence to guide my thinking rather than looking at some grass and thinking it looks English…’
‘It does English,’ Ben whispers.
‘French,’ Emily says.
‘Went to Italy once, they had grass,’ Harry says.
‘Hold,’ Safa cuts in, dropping to a knee as the others do the same. Miri wincing at the pain in her joints. ‘Structure ahead…’
A single building glimpsed in the darkness. Low and small. A shack, a hut, maybe a chalet at most. Not the cover they need but sometimes you have to take what’s given.
‘It’s the best we’re going to find out here,’ Safa whispers.
‘Proceed,’ Miri orders. ‘Silent approach…’
A hiss in the air and the ping of a round ricocheting off a stone and they drop flat at the incoming shots fired from silenced weapons.
‘Where are they?’ Harry asks, twisting and turning to see puffs of debris flying up from the path a few metres behind them.
‘Both sides,’ Safa relays through gritted teeth. ‘Can’t see a fucking thing…we have to move for that house before we get pinned…’
‘Are you taking the piss?’ Ben asks. ‘We’ll get shot to shit…’
‘Ah man up big boy, me and Harry’ll come back if you die,’ Safa says with a quick grin. ‘Ready? Run!’
‘No, I am not bloody ready…argh shit shit shit….’ Ben yelps as Harry runs by his side, the big man scooping to left Miri to her feet and propel her on as the ground around them peppers with bullets hitting.
‘Shit shit shit…I really need a shit!’ Blinky whispers frantically, running with her bum cheeks clenched.
‘Twat,’ Blowers snorts a laugh, looking back at her as they move on through the darkness.
‘S’not funny,’ Blinky huffs. ‘Mr Paula, can I shit here please, Mr Paula, Sir?’
‘Contact…’ Dave whispers back down the line as the hisses and growls of the infected are heard in shadows of the night.
‘Oh fuck I will actually poo myself,’ Blinky says.
‘House!’ I say, seeing the structure in the gloom. Low and small. A shack, a hut, maybe a chalet at most. ‘Run…go now…’
‘Should have worn a sports bra,’ Marcy grumbles, running with one arm over her boobs that I can’t help but double take at for the way they move.
‘Eyes ahead please, Mr Howie,’ Paula snaps.
‘Eh? I am,’ I say quickly with a wince at the noises coming from the fields. The sound of running feet drumming in the distance. We can’t fight again. We’ve nothing left to give.
‘I’m too old for this shit,’ Miri grunts, one arm gripped in Harry’s enormous hand as they rush over the track towards the house while about them the near silent rounds hiss and bounce off pebbles and stones.
‘Door,’ Safa says, spying the doorway ahead.
‘That was too close,’ Emily yelps, running harder from feeling a shot stone glance across her arm.
‘Harry, get that bloody door open,’ Safa orders.
‘Will do,’ he replies deeply, rushing ahead.
‘Clarence, get that door open,’ I say as we run for the doorway of the chalet ahead of us. The growls closer now. The drumming feet coming fast. We need that cover and Blinky really, really needs a toilet.
‘On it,’ the big man says deeply running ahead.
The final few seconds and they run for the doors on either side of the shack. Rounds coming in hard and fast. Feet drumming and growls heard. The pressure on. The urgency to find cover and find a toilet.
Harry reaches the door, turning at the last second to slam his shoulder into the solid wooden panel.
Clarence the same, hitting hard to force entry with a crash of wood and splinters flying off. Candles burning inside giving illumination and the noise the two men make covers the sound of the other. Both powering in and twisting back to face their incoming teams before they spin back to both stare with startled looks at the size of the other bloke staring at them.
One huge and bald. One huge and with a dark bushy beard. Eyebrows lift. Almost a greeting given and an instinct that says there is no threat here.
‘Harry!’ Safa snaps, running into him as she powers through the door.
‘Clarence!’ Howie snaps, running into him as he powers in through the door.
‘What the…’ Emily yelps, running into Safa still trying to push Harry aside.
‘Howie, move you prick,’ Marcy snaps.
‘I REALLY NEED A POO.’
‘Get out of the bloody doorway,’ Ben shouts.
Finally, the two big men move and so the people behind them disgorge from the outside to the inside. To the soft glow of the candles and away from the danger behind them with weapons bristling and eyes strobing and bum cheeks clenching.
‘SHIT!’ Safa spots them first. People with guns. ‘CONTACT!’
‘CONTACT,’ Dave roars, barging into Howie to take him down as Blowers and the lads bring rifles up as they spread out from the doorway.
‘What the fuck?’ Ben shouts, lifting his pistol as Miri and Emily move out to gain position.
‘WEAPONS DOWN,’ Safa shouts the order.
‘LOWER YOUR GUNS,’ Emily shouts.
‘DISARM NOW,’ Blowers bellows.
Voices and shouts from both sides while Harry and Clarence simply look at everyone else then at each other and shrug with a motion that could move planets.
‘I SAID DISARM NOW,’ Blowers shouts.
‘Dave, get the fuck off me,’ Howie yelps.
‘COVER MR HOWIE,’ Dave roars.
‘Stand easy,’ Miri’s voice timed to perfection, calm in the chaos, dull and hard and an instant silence falls as both sides aim and make ready.
‘Size of that dog,’ Emily blinks in shock, seeing Meredith edging forward.
‘Stand easy,’ Miri says again, her cold grey eyes sweeping over the others.
‘Dave, seriously…get the fuck off me…’
‘I am covering you, Mr Howie.’
‘Yes, I know…but…just…get your elbow out of my eye…fuck’s sake, Dave! Let me get up.’
Howie rises to his feet cursing and muttering to look over at five people on the other side of the room. Four of them aiming guns while one big bloke with a beard just stares at Clarence who just stares back and the silence holds, the lessening of the risk of immediate death by a crazy gunfight and he draws air to speak, to take order and bring calm.
A noise. Long and wet. Rasping too and coming from Blinky leaning forward from the waist with a very red face. ‘Did any of you baddies see a bog please?’
‘Er,’ Harry looks to the side to another doorway.
‘Down there?’ Clarence asks, pointing at the door.
‘Aye, reckon it is,’ Harry says.
‘Don’t start the fight without me,’ Blinky says, waddling down the line while waving her gun about. ‘Be like five minutes…’
Everyone watches her go. Rushing in to slam the door behind then the clunk of weapons dropping, and clothes being yanked down and a thud as she sits heavily followed by the type of noises one really should not share. And it goes on too. Lots of them and all followed by a very deep and very contented sigh. ‘So good,’ a soft murmur. ‘Literally shitting myself…’
The focus returns to the now as the two sides lock eyes once more.
‘Er, are you English by any chance?’ Ben asks.
‘Yeah, course we are,’ Howie replies.
A smile. Smug and happy. A dip of the head and a look from Ben to Miri who does nothing and in so doing expresses a whole raft of displeasure.
‘Not French then?’ Emily asks.
‘They just said they’re English,’ Safa says.
‘One said he’s English, the rest might be French,’ Emily says stiffly.
‘We’re not,’ Paula says, looking up and down her team. ‘All English.’
‘Still a two,’ Safa mutters.
‘Piss off,’ Emily replies.
‘Question,’ Ben says, lifting a hand while everyone other than Harry, Clarence and Reginald still hold weapons aimed and ready. ‘Who exactly are you?’
‘Could ask the same question,’ Howie replies.
‘Charles,’ Blinky shouts from the toilet. ‘Ask the baddies if they’ve got any bog roll…’
To Be Continued….