When she awoke, Maria found Steve nearby on the floor, using his torch read a map. “You alright?” he asked.
“What are you doing?”
“Picked up an ordonnance map, just looking at where we could head next.”
“Can’t stay here in this cellar indefinitely, you’re out of food and I’m not sure how safe we are here.”
“Sorry.” He smiled, pausing as he couldn’t remember when he last smiled. “I was wondering if you wanted to come with me. If I found you and I am not the only thing out there, you might not be particularly safe.”
“I don’t know. I’m terrified, I don’t know if I can even go outside.”
“There’s a big sodding bump on the back of my head that says you’re braver than you think. I’m going to be outside for a while, if you don’t want to come, I understand. But if you do, I’ll be glad of the company.”
An hour or so later, she patted Steve on the shoulder. He smiled, she smiled and they started to walk towards the edge of town. She turned to him. “I swear though, if you start singing ‘we’re off to see the wizard’ I’m going to go back.”
It was a couple of hours of awkward and yet terrified silence later, Maria started talking again, about what she was calling the ‘fall of night’. She talked about the screams as the creatures she had taken to calling Darklings, started taking people, the fires that burned nearby fields and the howling sounds that came at random times. She talked about the fear that came from that and above all, the soul crushing loneliness until Steve arrived.
The road carried on into the eternal twilight, the trees here also seemed to reach towards the pair as they walked. The cold bit into them, Steve wondered if it was the actual cold, or sense of uneasy dread that permeated the landscape. After more awkward silence, Steve started to open up.
“I’ve not really ‘got’ people. Lost my parents quite early on, been on my own quite a lot since. Had friendships and such, the occasional girlfriend, but honestly they always ended up leaving. So I eventually stopped trying. The less I tried, the less I had to try, until eventually I was on my own.”
“That sounds very lonely.” Maria commented.
“Less painful, but I suppose it is.”
“So is that why I’m here? Am I your ‘people patch’? Some time with me and then you remember why you don’t like people?”
“Nothing like that, there’s just a point to it now.”
“I kept going because I have no better idea, not much else left to do. But now this seems like what I should do. I can’t just keep going for myself indefinitely, but if I can get you to safety, it feels like I’m being useful. To be honest, was seriously considering ending it all.”
“Oh…” there didn’t seem to be anything you could say after that. As awkward as the silence was, no one wanted to continue that conversation.
Hours went by till Steve broke the silence. “There’s a big shopping centre over there.” He pointed to a sign.
“Fancy a shopping trip do we?”
“Was thinking supplies, could find all sort of stuff in there, might even be a place to stay if it’s more defensible than the pub. Worth a try if nothing else.”
Reluctantly, Maria agreed then followed the signs for the shopping complex.
The shopping centre itself was a sprawling mass of glass and metal, surrounded by a half-full car park of abandoned cars. The main building was a supermarket with a couple of other stores attached. Some of the cars looked torn into, like the bus and the pub, but only the cars further from the doors. “Ever been here before?” Maria asked.
“Few years ago, did some building work to pay some bills, was an electrician for a while and worked here. This place was originally a hospital before St Mary’s was built nearby. The main buildings were levelled, but someone of the outer buildings were kept to use for utilities.” He stopped, thinking for a second. “I think I know why the cars near the front were left alone.” He walked to a smaller car and using his elbow broke off a wing mirror, he then threw it towards the main entrance. Then something neither expect to happen occurred… The lights at the front of the sore came on.
A blinding flash, far beyond the wind up torch the most light he’d seen in three weeks, or she’d seen in six months. “Hospitals have generators, I think the company who built this place, kept the generators in. That way during blackouts, people could keep shopping, no matter what.”
“It’s amazing that they’re still working.”
“It’s more than that, some of the stuff in there will still be working. We can get supplies, changes of clothes.”
“A shower?” she smiled. He looked at her. “Well I can dream.”
At the doors, Steve saw the shutters were down, but not locked, so he lifted one of the doors and the two of them slipped inside. It was bright, warm too, for the first time that either could easily remember, they felt some degree of normal.
As if struck by some need to be a child again even for one minute Maria ran down the aisles of the supermarket, then leant on a trolley, with her feet up. Steve wanted to tell her to pack it in and get to business, but realised that this girl had suffered more than him, so gave her a few more minutes of silly, this dark land of horrors seemed to have taken so much, and did he really need to add to it? Besides, he had shopping to do himself. A change of clothes, some knives, matches some more food and drink. Most display items didn’t work any better than anything outside of this place. If the generators had been working when everything else stopped, it’d be as dead as his mobile phone. He had just put a list together in his own head, when he heard the scream.
It didn’t take long for the trolley thing to stop making her giggle, she was in the cereal aisle and saw porridge, he dad loved porridge and just like that, the horror of everyone else being dead came rushing back. She was grateful to have met Steve, though she felt so uneasy about him, like he was a cat that had gone feral from being alone too long. He barely looked at her, she never thought she’d miss sexual harassment. She was moving along more slowly, when she saw it. It was a shadow, but not the shadow of a man, the shape was wrong. It moved towards her on all fours. It looked more solid as it grew closer, noisier too. Growling and snarling and then red eyes seemed to burn from inside it. It seemed to make the surrounding area gloomier as if it drained the light around it. She screamed. Later she would berate herself for being so ‘damsel in distress’. When it was ten feet from her, she heard the glass breaking, like a bottle being dropped. Then another and a third, this bottle hitting the creature. “Any others?”
Steve asked, walking towards them slowly. “I’m assuming you speak a bit there.”
“Only….me….no…..sharing.” A raspy voice, like something trying to sound like a person. “Well I’ll be honest, that is a relief.” Steve lit a match and dropped it into the puddles caused by the bottles. Maria knew the smell well, vodka, whiskey, she back aware further. The match fell and a ripple of flame raced towards and then engulfed the creature.
It screamed, a noise so horrific would stay with them for years to come. The fire consumed it completely, but it live for a few minutes within that alcohol fuelled inferno. When the fire died down, there were even ashes left from it. Steven walked over to Maria, who was pressing herself into the shelves, almost catatonic with hear. “It’s ok.” He whispered. “It’s ok.”
He held her for the second time and for the second time, she fell into a sobbing sleep in his arms.
They avoided each other the next day, as far as you can call it a day. That evening, they shared a meal of crackers and jam, drank some wine and for a brief moment, they weren’t last survivors, refugees or broken people trying to work out how to live in a broken world, they were just two friends, stuck somewhere, enjoy each other’s company. Maria was curious about what to do next, but what Steve said was to be frank, unexpected.
“We need people. The world as we know it, is gone, no national grid, no phones, no radio, no signs of life. But I’m alive, you’re alive, isn’t it possible that there’s more?”
“Ok, so what if there are?”
“We bring them here, this place has supplies, resources, fairly defensible.”
“Because we can, because we need to. In the past, there was infrastructure, systems in place to help people, it’s unlikely any of that still exists. All we have is each other.”
“So where do we go?”
“We pick a direction, load up and go. There’s bikes next door, we could use them. It doesn’t have to be all Mad Max out there, does it?”
“Why do You want to?”
“If we hadn’t met, we might both be dead right now. Maybe there’s a reason for that, maybe there isn’t. We have though, been given a second chance.”
“A second chance to what?”
“To live. Not to survive, but to actually live. We can rebuild, we can go on. It’s dark outside, but we don’t have to be on the inside.”
“Let me sleep on it?”
They left the next morning, riding bikes up the motorway. She for the first time, was not afraid, and he for the first time wanted to find something rather than avoid something.
They wandered on.