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The place was still, although Monique did feel as though there were eyes on her.

Nothing moved save the litter and ash being blown by the wind.

There were no lights on anywhere.

It was eerie as hell.

Monique felt her skin breaking out in goosebumps beneath her suit.

She worried about the blood that she was losing, even with the pressure she was applying with her left hand.

She panted hard from the exertion, trying to make it to the safety of a house before anyone came out and spotted her.

The first street was just a residential street.

Terraced houses.

Mild disrepair.

Clearly rundown before the bomb had hit.

But not really damaged by the bomb.

That was good, as it meant she was heading away from the site of the bomb.

Less radiation.

Less chance of getting ill.

Blind luck had carried her this far.

Her peripheral vision picked up movement and she turned fast.

A section of curtain in one of the windows twitched a little as though a hand had just let go of it.

A chill ran through her that had nothing to do with the swirling winds.

She kept her gun by her side, not wanting to appear aggressive.

Her eyes were glued to the house, in case someone came out, guns blazing.

The door didn’t open.

But the upstairs curtain twitched a little.

She shuddered.

I knew I was being watched.

The feeling filled her with dread, but as long as they were inside, she figured she was safe.

Still, she kept an eye on the house, committing it to memory.

Green door.

Green window frames.

Number 9.

She got out of there in case the occupants had a sniper rifle.

After that, her senses were on red alert.

She scanned everywhere, trying not to move her head to avoid them picking up that she was watching.

A few more curtains twitched, but she saw no one.

It was creepy as shit.

She wished she’d never clapped eyes on the house, but she supposed that at least no one was coming out, trying to fill her with buckshot.

No, this is much worse, cos you don’t know who or what is watching, she thought with a frown.

She continued on her way until she reached what looked like the main street.

A quick scan revealed that there were none of the usual shops that seemed to permeate every corner of the country – the chains that made it impossible to tell one town from the next.

There was no McDonalds, no Costa, no Nandos.

Instead there were small town stores, possibly family businesses.

Rewcastle’s Fish and Chip Shop.

St Margaret’s Church.

The Village Tea Rooms.

It was refreshing to see that the corporations had still yet to claim some corners of the globe.

Still, they’d not be claiming much more now that everything had gone belly up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw the red peeling paint above the building adjoining the chip shop.

Benny’s Books n Brews, the sign read in faded gold lettering.

After a glance around the main street, she saw that there was no one watching.

Or at least there seemed to be no one watching.

If there was anyone there, they were better at hiding than the others in town had been.

She tried the door, but it was locked.

She didn’t want to compromise the security of her potential new home, and also didn’t want to announce her presence to anyone who might be waiting inside.

So she went round the back.

The building was joined to the fish shop so it was easy to tell which one it was from the back.

A waist-high brick wall ran round the two stores.

Rubbish overflowed from the wheelie bins out back, leading to little scuttling sounds as mice and rats scattered in every direction upon her approach.

She scanned her surroundings.

Still no one around.

She went up and tried the back door.

It was a relief when it opened.

She raised the gun now, knowing that if she was breaking into someone’s dwelling they would attack her.

Even before that was the way this shit worked.

Now, after, it was even more important to protect your home.

She cleared every corner of the tea rooms downstairs before she went upstairs.

This was clear too.

Sighing with relief, she went back downstairs and locked the back door with the key that hung from a hook next to the light switch.

Now that she’d secured the place, she relaxed a little.

Took in her surroundings a bit more.

The tea room had walls that were in dire need of redecorating.

The white paint peeled away from the walls like leprous flesh.

Dark spots of damp looked like black blood seeping through pale skin.

The tables were still covered with cloths that, when they were laid, would have been tidy, if unspectacular.

Trays and cups and tea pots still sat on the table as though the customers had left in a hurry.

Dark mould grew on some of the cups, atop the half-drunk tea.

The place stunk of damp and mouldy food.

She’d smelt worse, so she pressed on.

Maybe there’s some food in here, she thought.

The meagre offerings in the fridge were a world apart from the food her and Bennett had shared in the old book store, and she suddenly felt a pang of alarm for him.

Mustn’t have made it, she thought sadly.

Although the man is nails.

If anyone could do it he could.

You drove.

If he walked, he’ll take longer.

He may be on his way now.

She cut it off.

The hope could have killed her.

It was like her missing daughter again.

Though she refused to believe either of them were dead the fragile thread of hope that kept her dangling physically pained her.

If he comes he comes.

If he doesn’t he doesn’t.

She distracted herself by going through the kitchen.

Jam and butter portions in the fridge.

Some milk that stunk like an open grave in there.

She vowed to take this out as soon as she’d finished looking around.

Some stale ham which seemed to have maggots growing in it. Her stomach churned.

The small freezer was the jackpot; frozen bread rolls. Scones. Dozens of them.

Not much but it would be enough to last a few days.

The cupboards had tea and coffee and a few crates of UHT milk. The stuff was awful, but it was better than nothing.

She ran the taps for a while, running the water through, then set the kettle away brewing.

There was a drawer full of silver tea spoons, all brightly polished as though they’d been preserved separately from what was going on in the rest of the world.

She set one on the side, pulling out a dusty saucer from one of the top cupboards.

There were some tins of soup in one of the cupboards, along with some beans and a few tins of corned beef. A few bumper bags of crisps.

Enough to last a while, she smiled.

Good call coming here.

She put the cup on the saucer and put a tea spoon to its right, the handle facing her.

Then she went upstairs to explore the bookstore.


The books were well-cared for but a layer of dust hung over the place.

It looked as though there were fingerprints in the dust which she found a little odd, but she was too intrigued by the books to think more of it.

There was a good horror section.

She smiled.

Plenty she hadn’t read there, along with some old favourites to help her pass the time.

If she had to spend the next few months on her own she was set.

She pulled one of her favourite books from the shelf, opened it and took a deep sniff of the yellowing pages.

That smell would always be her favourite.

She sighed as she remembered the first time she’d read this book, as a teenager.

So many memories came flooding back, but she shut them down.

Things are different now.

Accept it.

The past will only remind you of what you no longer have.

She shook her head to distract herself from these thoughts, then went back downstairs.

The kettle was boiled.

She poured some water in the cup with the instant coffee.

She jolted a little when she saw that the spoon was perpendicular to how she had left it.

‘The fuck?’ she said, and heard a dry clicking sound behind her.


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