I shut the rear door and then got into the front. I had to bring the car seat forward to its stop and then I could just about reach the pedals with my feet. Then I had to get out again as I had forgotten to smooth my skirt under my bottom as I sat down, displaying my knickers for everyone to see. Getting back in carefully, Jeanie gave me a rueful smile but thankfully said nothing.
Nicholas was chattering in the rear with an enthusiastic Ben and hugging him and I was glad that she had something to take her mind off the terrible things that she had experienced. Looking at me, she smiled back bravely.
‘We’d better get going. Let’s see how things are in Petersfield,’ Jeanie said.
I nodded, started the engine, crashed the gears–making me wince–and drove the car out of the garage. Going down the large sweeping drive, I looked in the rear view mirror at the place that had been our home for quite some time now. I had friends that I would never see again and was, I think, a very different person from yesterday, and I am not just saying that as I was now a girl.
Our world had changed and I wondered if we could survive and how we could ever get over the catastrophic consequences of that strange throbbing green fog.
Driving down the long, tree-lined drive of the school that had been our home for some time, I wondered what horrors would unfold once we hit the main road into Petersfield. Surely, they could be no worse than those we had seen at school.
The sights we had observed had been terrifying and would live with me until the day I die. I tried to look and be brave, if only because of Jeanie sitting next to me, looking pale and very worried and Nicholas, hugging Ben the dog quite hard in the back of the Land Rover, but to be honest, I was on the verge of tears. I could blame that on the fact, that incredibly, I was now a girl and girls cry all the time don’t they? But to tell you the truth, I believe that anyone–boy or girl–who had seen what we had, would cry too.
The sky was overcast and a heavy grey colour. There was no wind to speak of and it was cold, even for the time of year. In the distance, I could see cows grazing in the fields and birds flying; it all seemed so normal and peaceful, as if the world had not been blighted by the terrible things that had happened over the last twelve hours.
As I drove down the school lane, I wondered what the green fog was. No ordinary fog would look like that, green and pulsing. I believed, as Jeanie did, that the fog was the cause of all our problems, but could not understand why only humans were affected, or was that inflicted by it and not the animals and birds?
I tried to concentrate on what I was doing and was becoming more accustomed to driving the Land Rover now and not crashing the gears quite so much and by the time we arrived at the large double gates of the school grounds, I was more in control of things.
I stopped at the entrance, almost expecting the normal rush of cars that used the main road in and out of Petersfield, but the only cars in sight were two that had crashed into each other, on the other side of the road, about a hundred yards away. They were burnt out wrecks–still smouldering. There was no point looking for survivors as I knew that nobody, with or without the fog, could have survived such an inferno.
I turned right and began driving slowly down the road. Before long we were passing other cars stopped in the road and I had to slow down to a crawl to manoeuvre the Land Rover round them. As we passed I noticed that there were people in the cars slumped over, or half out of them. In more than one case there were people lying on the ground in that same rag-doll posture that I had seen at school.
I wondered, once again, if there had been no warning of the coming doom for these poor people. Did they have a chance to realise that they were dying and were they in agony at the point of death? It was something that I sincerely hoped I would never find out.
‘Why is everyone lying down, Jean?’ Nicholas said in a timid voice from the back after we passed yet another car with dead people slumped in it.
Jeanie looked at me with such a sad expression on her face.
‘Can you pull over when we get away from–this?’ She waved her hands vaguely at the cars and dead people.
‘Hang on, Nicola––s’ she said, virtually swallowing the “s” of Nicholas, while smiling at her.
‘Clever Jeanie,’ I thought. ‘Maybe Nicolas won’t notice any difference with so many other things to worry about. The sooner she accepts what she is and moves on the better; that goes for me too!’
A quarter of a mile up the road I found somewhere out of sight of the silent car and its deathly contents. Jeanie climbed over into the back of the Land Rover where Ben was enthusiastic with his greeting. Ben eventually quietened down and just lay down on the seat between “Nicola” and Jeanie.
She turned to Nicola. ‘Look, honey, we are going to see a lot of horrid, nasty things. I want you to be a brave girl––’
‘–I am not a girl, I’m a boy!’ she said indignantly.
‘Sorry, Nicky. Look, you must be ever so brave. The people we’ve seen lying around aren’t asleep; they’ve all died, sweetheart, and there’s nothing we can do for them. We have to look after ourselves and find out if there’s anyone else alive, that’s why we are going into town. Now I want you to be a very brave b…kid, will you do that for me?’
Nicola looked terrified–her face was streaked with dried tears, but she had a lot of pluck as she gazed at both of us and nodded. ‘All right, I’ll try to be good and brave.’ She looked out of the window and then back at Jeanie. ‘Have they all gone to heaven with Mummy, Daddy and my baby brother?’
‘Yes, sweetheart,’ Jeanie replied gently, her voice breaking with an emotion that I felt myself.
After a while, we continued on our way with Jeanie staying in the back with Nicola and Ben, who by now had fallen asleep with his head on Nicola’s lap.
The sky looked darker if anything, the brief time we had been travelling, with the clouds, full of moisture, threatening rain at any time. The trees, in summer full of leaves and very green, just had bare branches, which reminded me of the bare and bleak future that we had if we found no one else alive. As we approached Petersfield, the pretty market town on the northern slopes of the South Downs, I remembered it was Wednesday–market day. Normally the roads would be busy at this time of day, crammed with people in their cars returning from the market to the surrounding villages. There was no traffic–just silent vehicles–either crashed into one another or pulled over to the side of the road.
In the distance to my left, I saw yet another plume of smoke. The others were looking out the other window and could not see, but shuddered with horror at the sight of a jet, crash landed in a field with just the tail end complete — the rest a tangle of twisted, blackened metal.
We reached the crossroads of the main A3 trunk road and edged out. Just as I was turning into it, a car zoomed past with three men in it, coming from Petersfield. They were very much alive and the car was weaving in and out between the cars strewn across the road. After watching the retreating car, I stopped and turned to the others and asked, ‘Did you see that?’
They both nodded. ‘Well, at least it means that we aren’t the only survivors,’ Jeanie remarked.
I nodded, feeling slightly happier and yet somewhat frightened at what we might find in Petersfield.
I turned on to the main road and headed towards the town. After about a mile, I saw several big black birds on the ground ahead, around what looked like a body–
I looked away and told Jeanie, ‘Give Nicola a hug for me, Jeanie,’ while glancing in the mirror suggestively. We were always on the same wavelength, Jeanie and I, and I knew that she must also have seen the horror ahead. Not wanting Nicola to see the awful sight, she pulled Nicola to her, hugging her until we had passed the “thing” in the road.
We saw several similar sights and eventually it was something to which we would become hardened, even Nicola, but for the moment it was all new and dreadfully shocking to see.
Eventually we turned off the A3 into Petersfield via the Winchester Road. Houses on each side were silent and there were a few dead people out on the street, not many, because I remembered that at the time all this happened–the late afternoon–it was damp and miserable. Several houses were on fire or looked like they had been on fire; others were just rubble. Whether the damage was due to gas explosions or other reasons, we never discovered.
We encountered a few problems getting by a road block, where three cars were a tangled heap of metal in the middle of the road, but, by mounting the pavement and scraping a wall, I managed to ease the Land Rover through to the clear road on the other side. We were now going along Station Road and I could see plumes of black smoke rising into the still air ahead and a strange, red, glowing reflection on the dark clouds above.
I stopped as the road went over a railway bridge, and got out. There was a slight breeze now, making me aware of some movement in my longer hair.
‘Stay here.’ I told the others as I shut the door behind me and went to look. My skirt was brushing up against my bare legs as I walked the twenty yards or so to the side of the bridge and I shivered, not because I was particularly cold, as the heater in the car was very good and I was still feeling its effects, but out of a sense of dread that was creeping up on me. The sound of my heels clicking on the hard pavement, distracted me slightly, but only slightly from the strange noises coming from the direction of the station. Noises like metal scraping against metal and the crackling of a burning fire. Then there was the hiss of steam and other noises that defied any sort of description.
Before I reached the rail, my nose was assaulted by a nauseating smell, that of coal dust and burning rubber. There were other smells that seemed to hang in the air too. I was to get used to that smell–the smell of death.
Staring over the bridge, my eyes went wide and I choked, nearly fainting at the awful sight before me.
My eyes had immediately been drawn to the railway station, a couple of hundred yards from where I was standing. My hands gripped the balustrade tightly as I gasped with horror at the sight of a steam train that had ploughed into another, resulting in horrendous carnage and widespread damage.
There were carriages upended and strewn across the track like a giant train set that had been knocked over. The engines had ploughed into the station building, completely wrecking it, reducing the once fine building to so much rubble. There were flames and smoke everywhere and yet more bodies were visible, thrown out of the trains–doubtlessly by the tremendous impact. Judging by the numbers of bodies on what was left of the platform, there had been a terrible loss of life.
The sight and stench were appalling and I staggered away, crying as I made my way back blindly to the Land Rover. The sheer enormity of what had happened to us all was catching me up on me–and fast.
I suppose it was shock but when got into the car I was shaking, crying and then laughing, for some reason. Nicola said something, but I didn’t pay much attention as I was now in my own private hell…
I felt a stinging slap on my cheek, followed by another and I slowly came to my senses.
Looking up through tear filled eyes, I saw that Jeanie was standing just outside the car, with the door open and was looking at me with a great deal of concern.
‘That hurt,’ I sniffed, rubbing my sore cheek.
‘I’m sorry, Alex, but you were hysterical. I saw someone do it in a film and it worked for them!’
‘Mmm, anyway,’ I said taking a deep breath and getting some sort of grip on myself. ‘We must get away from here. I don’t want Nicola–or you for that matter–to see the carnage at the station.’
‘Is it awful?’
‘Yes, trains crashed, the station looking like a bomb’s hit it and bodies everywhere on the tracks, hanging out of windows and a lot on the platforms too. Look, let’s get away from here.’
‘Are you all right to drive? You look terrible.’
‘Thanks for the compliment, but I’ll be okay in a minute. I’m a better driver than you. You know the thing about men being better drivers––’ my voice trailed off as I realised what I was saying. I was a girl now!
Ben needed to answer a call of nature, so after going to down the road a bit, away from the smoke and destruction, we let him out; he lifted his leg against a tree and did the business. I think he sensed the death in the air as he didn’t hang around, just doing what he had to do and then jumping back into the car. Nicola just stayed where she was, cuddling her teddy and not saying much.
I think Jeanie had been shocked at seeing me break down like that and I just smiled at her, although I wasn’t smiling inside.
‘Sorry for blubbing like that.’ I said.
‘That’s all right, I want to cry but my taps ran dry!’ The three of us laughed at the feeble yet encouraging joke and were soon on our way again, away from the smoke and carnage that was once Petersfield Station.
A few minutes later, we arrived in the town centre and I drove into Petersfield Town Square, where the market stalls were still up, with all the fruit, veg and other items still on display. There were lots of people about, but no one, that I could see, was alive. I just tried to avert my eyes and look for people moving around, but there was no one.
I stopped at the police station, just off the Square and we all got out. As we entered the police station, I hoped that there might be a short wave radio or something more sophisticated than the useless wireless that we had back at school. I held Nicola’s hand–she was very clingy and I couldn’t really blame her for that. Jeanie took charge of Ben as we had a look around the office for a radio or something.
Eventually, we found a radio in a back room. There was a policeman sitting at the desk, his head on the desk, almost like he was asleep. I gently moved him aside and he fell off the chair, on to the floor.
I had no idea how to work the shortwave, but it was still on, so I assumed that it was running off of batteries as the mains electric wasn’t working anymore.
‘Are you going to try to raise somebody, Alex?’
‘Yes, but I don't really know how to work this, do you?’
‘No, I haven’t a clue.’
I looked at the knobs and hadn't any real idea as to how to operate the apparatus. There was a large dial on the front with numbers on it, and as I turned it, I could hear some static coming from the speaker. I turned the dial fully to one end and then back to the other. There was nothing.
‘Try going a bit slower, sis.’
‘All right, I'll try.’
Nicola was gazing at me with wide eyes, clutching her ever present teddy, as I did what Jeanie suggested.
Once again I turned the knob slowly all the way clockwise and then back again anti-clockwise. I was nearly at the end of last sweep when I picked up something; going slowly back, I could hear a voice. I turned the volume knob up on the speaker and I could hear faintly, the sound of a woman, but she was speaking in a foreign language which I couldn't understand.
‘Hello,’ I said into the microphone, ‘can you hear me?’
‘Oh, Jeanie, I don't know how to work this.’ I said turning to her.
‘Maybe you have to press that button on the microphone base when you speak.’
I held down the button and spoke clearly into the microphone.
‘Hello, can you hear me, I'm in England; can you hear me?’
The woman at the other end could hear me, I think, and started chattering away. However, I couldn't understand a word of what she was saying.
‘Can you speak English?’ I shouted as she was getting fainter.
The woman said some more gibberish and then her voice gradually faded away.
‘Hello, hello, can you hear me, do you speak English?’
But all I could hear was a hissing noise coming from the speaker. My shoulders fell, as I turned to Jeanie and Nicola.
‘She's gone.’ I said.
‘Never mind,’ said Jeannie encouragingly, ‘at least we know that there are other people alive in other countries.’
‘We must decide what we're going to do now.’ I said after a moment, ‘I suggest that we get a few more supplies because we still have a bit of space in the Land Rover. We need a lot more food and bottled water, especially as we have young Nicola here and Ben; what do you think?’
‘I agree, let's find a shop somewhere and see if we can get some supplies. Nicola, are you going to help us?’
‘Yes, all right. Can I have some sweets?’
We all laughed at that and leaving the Land Rover where it was, we crossed the road to the general stores. I was pleased that Nicola was accepting her “new” name. Maybe with all the things going on, what we called her wasn’t that important to her any more–on the other hand, we might have problems later! I know that I still couldn’t believe that I was a girl now and wondered if some sort of reaction would set in once I had time to think about such things. At least Alex can be short for Alexandra, as was Sandra, so I didn’t have to be called Penelope or something equally awful!
The door was open, so we walked in. Behind the counter were a man and a woman, and we didn't waste much time looking at them. Even at that early stage, we were getting hardened to the sight of dead bodies and the rather unpleasant smells. Therefore, ignoring the grisly, motionless figures on the floor, we started looking about and picking out the things we needed, including plenty of tins, and bottles of water.
Nicola, of course, was more interested in the sweets, so I let her concentrate on that, if only to keep her mind of off events, but we made sure that everything that she put in her bag, was wrapped. We had decided that we should avoid things like fruit and vegetables and anything unwrapped, just in case they carried any type of contamination or infection from the horrible green fog.
The shop was a gold mine, and I was able to pick out a spade, garden fork, trowel, toilet paper and other things that I felt that we might need in the days to come. Added to that list of essentials we took matches, candles and two storm lanterns, I also included knives, forks and spoons, and on an impulse, two sheath knives.
In the meantime, Jeanie had found some blankets, pillows, anoraks and wellington boots in our sizes to add to our now considerable pile of things to be carried to put in the back of the Land Rover, with Ben helping, of course, by carrying a fork in his slobbering jaws.
Before moving off, we all had a bar of chocolate and opened a bottle of orange pop. As we ate and drank we tried it to decide where we would be going next. Nicola was in the back with Ben, feeding him some doggy biscuits that we had found in the shop. This left Jeanie and I to quietly discuss our next move.
‘Well, there isn't anybody alive here that we can see,’ Jeanie said, ‘so we must move on and get as far away as possible. This place isn't going to be very healthy soon, and I guess that it wouldn't be very good for health and safety in any town. Do you agree?’
‘Yes, I do. Look, we’ve got a full tank of petrol, luckily, so I think we should try to make our way to Scotland; maybe Mum and Dad are safe in that bubble that they’re living in. We might find people alive on the way, too. What do you think, Jeanie?’
‘I agree, let's do it. We’ll fill up with fuel as and when we need it.’
We made our way out of town as fast as possible, going north on the A3. I was glad to get out of Petersfield. It used to be one of my favourite places, with the old houses, town square and all the nice shops, but now it was just somewhere that had been stricken with a terrible plague-like disaster and not a place for the living, any more.
On a number of occasions I had to manoeuvre around parked–or rather stopped–cars and numerous crashes, but somehow we kept going. We passed through some villages and large places like Basingstoke and Newbury, not wanting to stop, as I we could see the situation was similar to that in Petersfield–death and destruction all around us. On two occasions we saw cars with people in them, but they didn't stop, but just went the other way in a tearing hurry. I couldn't understand this because I would have thought that it was important that people should help each other at this terrible time. Eventually, I stopped for a break at a roadside cafe on a lonely stretch of the road. The cafe only had a few vehicles outside and apart from a couple of lifeless forms inside, the place seemed deserted. The door was open, so leaving a sleeping Nicola, Jeanie and Ben, I quickly went and used the loo. It was still a bit strange that I had to sit to go and not just use the urinals, but that was just one of the minor things that I would have to get used to in this changed world.
When I had finished, I walked back out again and stopped dead. There was a man standing by the car. He was, I suppose, about forty, looked dishevelled and had a wild look about him.
My heart was beating loudly as I walked up to the car, giving him a wide berth as I went around to the drivers’ side. Jeanie was in the car with the others and I assumed that she had locked the doors, as the man was trying to get in. As I approached, he looked round at me.
‘They won't let me in,’ he called out. ‘I need to find my wife and my little girl; I must have this car because the other ones have no keys in. It's only a small distance away–about 10 miles–tell your friends to let me in, then you can all come home with me.’
I noticed the haunted look in his eyes and guessed that he was close to madness. There was no way that I would let the man go anywhere near the others, but I tried to reassure him.
‘Let me talk to my sister, then we’ll see if we can help you.’
I looked over the man’s shoulder and my heart went into my mouth, as over the distance by the hills, I could see that it was getting rather misty and the mist had a green tinge to it. I sensed that the fog was coming back and that was why the other cars had not stopped. My breath suddenly became laboured and I desperately needed to get in the car and away from here. I didn't know what to do about the man, but he looked dangerous and I couldn't take any chances. I motioned to Jeanie and she quickly unlocked the door and I let myself in, immediately locking the door again.
‘Jeanie, the fog it’s coming again, we have to go––’
The man began to knock on the window; his face was up close against the glass. His eyes were red and staring, and I noticed spittle dribbling from his mouth.
‘Open the door!’ he screamed.
‘We can’t let him in!’ Jeanie cried, as Ben began to bark, his hackles rising at the sight of the man. Jeanie was hugging Nicola who like Jeanie and I, was starting to gasp for breath.
The fog was getting ever closer, rolling over the hills in the distance but seemingly travelling fast. Nicola, hid behind Ben and Jeanie, utterly terrified at the sight of the man and really aware of the danger of the green fog.
The man was banging hard on the window, then the door and finally the bonnet. He was screaming at us to let him in. He may have been on the edge of madness before, but now he lost all semblance of a sane human being. He pulled out a kitchen knife from God knows where and started brandishing it and using its handle to try to break the glass of the door.
‘LET ME IN!
After that, I knew what I had to do, I started the engine and moved forward. He was blocking my way and the fog was getting ever nearer and nearer. He was aware of the fog now and he constantly looked behind him, his actions becoming increasingly frantic.
The man screamed and attacked the Land Rover once again. Feeling sick, I reversed suddenly and then as he fell to the ground, I swerved around him, missing him by inches, and shot off down the road with the fog almost upon the prostrate form on the ground. Everyone was shouting and Ben was barking as I drove as fast as I could down the road away from the green death.
At first, looking in the mirror, I thought that we were putting some distance between us and the fog; it was about a quarter of a mile behind us, then Jeanie started screaming.
‘It’s catching up, it’s coming, the fog!’
‘Jeanie, get the oxygen masks; be quick and pull them in here, I’ll try to outrun it but if I can’t, I’ll have to stop and we’ll put the masks on; the tubes are quite long,; it’s our only chance!’
Jeanie, bless her, didn’t question me and just did as I asked. I tried to monitor the fog’s progress–it did seem to be catching up. Was it intelligent somehow? Looking ahead, I could see that the road had a sharp bend, almost a loop and it went back in the direction that the fog was coming from. I had no idea if the road would turn back in the right direction in time for us to avoid the fog.
‘Jeanie, how are you doing?’
‘Hang on–there, I’ve got them.’
‘Put the masks on Nicola and yourself and I’ll park–hurry!’
‘What about Ben?’ gasped the plucky Nicola, who sounded terrified but still in control of herself.
‘Don’t worry, poppet,’ Jeanie replied, breathlessly, ‘he’ll be all right; now, when I put your mask on, Nicola, you have to make sure that it’s tight up against your mouth and nose and you must promise to keep it on until we say you can take it off.’
It was strange that we had all started breathing heavily and wheezing, although the fog wasn’t upon us yet. It seemed like an asthma attack was starting, so I needed badly to stop somewhere.
‘Hurry up and stop, Alex honey, it’s nearly upon us,’ said Jeanie, her voice frantic but muffled by the oxygen mask.
I screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, clawed for the mask and put it over my face. Jeanie had already turned on the taps of the oxygen cylinders and I was only just in time.
We watched as the green pulsating fog came up and overwhelmed us.
I waited for signs of something wrong, but we all had our masks on and were holding them tight against our faces. The fog was so intense that I could see nothing outside the car. Suddenly Ben just lay down, shutting his eyes and then went limp. Nicola was going to see to him but both Jeanie and I shouted ‘No!’ as she had to stay where she was, holding the mask tight, so no fog could get in.
Suddenly, I was feeling sleepy and then noticed that both Jeanie and Nicola had suddenly closed their eyes and were up against each other, looking as limp as Ben. It was all I could do to check that everyone’s mask straps were on tight before I too passed out and knew no more.
My thanks go to the brilliant and lovely Gabi for editing, help with the plot-lines and pulling the story into shape.
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