Just another day in London Town
“All I’m saying is that it’s still not safe to go into London,” Marlene said “That’s where most of them landed and it’s where the last were sighted”
“Have you seen any in a month?” I ask “Have you heard any of them in a month?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there”
I smile with more confidence than I feel and look out over the others huddled around the fire. There’s too many of us to get too close to it and there’s no more fuel to put on it. Most of them are weak from the lack of food and the clothing we’ve got wasn’t ours to begin with. I warm my hands against the fire one last time and then turn to look towards London again, pointing at the skyline.
“If any of the Tripods were still moving, you’d see them.” I say “It’s sometime near November and they landed in August, we haven’t seen any since the end of August and we’ve got nothing left here. In London there’ll be food, supplies, and buildings that are still in one piece.”
“How do you know?” asks Jim
“Because everyone else out there is staying out of London just the way we’ve been doing, we need to be the first ones there, get the supplies that are there before everyone else gets over their fear.”
A number of them shake their heads, Marlene steps away from the fire and up to me
“What if they’re still there though?”
I hate it when she gets like this
“If they’re still there, I’m the first one running.” I turn back and point at the children sitting in front of the adults “But if they don’t get real food and soon, we won’t be able to run away more, and I couldn’t leave them behind, could you?”
Marlene looks away for a second. When she looks back, she’s thinking loud enough that I don’t need her to say anything.
I’m going to pay for that later
“I’ll go with you,” says Mary, tapping her children on the shoulder “Nobody ever gave us anything, and I’ll not let these two die of starvation”
“Better that than the invaders get them,” says Jane, wrapping her blanket around herself and huddling closer to the fire
“Death is death,” says Mary “You’ve never had to worry about where your next meal came from, or you’d think twice about starvation.”
Jim wraps his arms around Jane and whispers something too quiet to hear in her ear
“Just because we had more than you a few months ago doesn’t mean that it was different for us when they landed,” he says, looking up at Mary and then down to Jane “We’re all scared, but we need to stay together, we’ll come with you.”
Its mid morning by the time we’ve got everything packed on the wooden cart we use to transport everything we’ve got left. A month ago it was a cart full of supplies, now it’s empty enough that any of the children could push it.
London is quiet, and not like the countryside, where you can still hear the wildlife here and there, an occasional dog, the birds, just some sign that the world is still living. There’s a faint smell in the air, almost like burning copper, but no sound of fire. I take the lead, motioning for Jim to keep the others back. Jim puts his arm out to the side and the others stop, we’ve been travelling too long for any of them to put up any sort of resistance, all of them are happy for the chance to stop.
Around the corner is a twisted tangle of metal, too clean and polished even after months dormant to be anything made by man. One of their machines, eight legs on its body attached to a smashed cockpit of glass. The body inside has long since been eaten away by scavenging birds and anything else that didn’t know what it was eating, shredded scraps of flesh are all that remains, but black flesh, not that of a man.
It fell here, but not at the hand of man, something else did this
There’s the remains of a human body in the claws at the front and I look around the area, the glass was broken from the inside, like the pilot was trying to get out. Walking back to the group, I point with my rifle at the junction.
“Just past here is one of their machines,” I say “There’s nothing in it, and it’s not moving, but there’s a dead body, one of ours, in its claws and I don’t want anyone screaming when they see it”
“I don’t want to go any further,” says Jane “I’m tired, I want to rest”
“Not far sweetheart,” says Jim “Tonight we get to sleep in a place that doesn’t have canvas for a roof.”
“That’s right,” says Mary, putting one arm over Janes shoulder “Come on, I used to work around the corner from here, there was a food store there, and all the fancy houses of Primrose Hill just around the corner”
“Promise?” asks Jane
“Promise.” Jim says with a nod to me to keep going.
No one says anything as we go past the machine, the children keep their eyes averted, only Marlene and Jim risk a look at the body caught in the claws. I look up the road to Primrose hill where the body of another of the machines stands silent overlooking the rise, the body sagging between the legs. Mary leads us to the store where she once worked, the door breaks open with a single kick and we go in. The store hasn’t been touched since the invaders first landed and somehow all the food is still there. There’s a whoop of glee as the children run into the store, collecting tins with faded labels from the shelves and stuffing them into their packs. After so long without hope, I don’t have the heart to ask them to be quiet and I look at Marlene, her face lit up with a smile I haven’t seen in some time. I shrug and grin, holding her close as the group celebrates.
We hold up that evening in the upper levels of the store, locking all the doors down below and taking turns to keep watch between me and Jim. Somewhere near one in the morning, I see something move at the top of the street, almost too quick to be noticed in the moonlight. Too big to be a dog but fast and low to the ground. For a second I consider waking up the others, but after ten minutes, it hasn’t come back and for the rest of the morning, there’s nothing out there.
I pull Jim to one side in the morning, taking him downstairs to the main body of the store.
“I saw something out there last night,” I say “Don’t think it was an animal”
“I saw something too, looked like it was walking upright, like a man”
“Do you think there could be other survivors?”
“Could be, one of us should check it out, one of us should stay here and protect the women and children”
“I agree, do you want first or second try?”
“You were on second watch, I’ll go and see what I can find, get some rest and i’ll go when you wake up.”
I nod and go back upstairs to where everyone else is sitting around the main table with a hot meal of canned beans and bully beef. I pick up a plate and spoon the steaming food onto it, it tastes like god himself came down and cooked it for us. It’s warm in the house, and sleep comes easily.
I wake with a jump as something scrapes near the door, it opens and Jim smiles as he sees my hand white around the barrel of my rifle
Too long living on edge
“It’s been five hours,” he says “Didn’t want to leave it much later”
I nod, the sleep not completely gone from my limbs. He nods and turns back, I hear him say goodbye to Jane and then he’s down the stairs and gone. It’s four hours and nearly dusk before he comes back, looking tired but not worried. We talk in the downstairs room.
“Nothing for miles in all directions,” he says “Found some more food over the other side of primrose hill though”
“Alright, I’ll head in the other direction tomorrow and we can sort out what we’re doing from there.”
That night I hear Jim and Jane long into the night, not loud enough to wake everyone else up but with no other noise going on, I can’t miss the sound. I shake my head and smile
He’s going to be wiped out in the morning
I set off early, grabbing a handful of cold meat on the way out. It’ll be some time before the lack of sleep will catch up and I’ll be back by then. The air is cool but the morning sun is enough to keep me warm, I walk south with the rifle held easily in one hand. It’s still quiet around here, but the smell of copper is getting stronger the more I go south. There’s a scraping noise from one of the shops on the corner and I prime a shell into the barrel. A thin man with hair wilder than Africa scrambles out of the store and stops dead as he sees me aiming down the barrel at him. He drops the tins in his hands and raises them to the sky.
“I’m not a looter” he says
“I’m not a soldier”
“But you do have a gun”
He grins almost self consciously and then looks up at his hands as if to ask my permission to lower them. I nod but keep the rifle trained on him.
“I’m not hostile,” he says “I’m just getting food before it goes dark”
“Are you alone out here?”
“You’re not one of them, they don’t know how to use guns”
“Them?” I glance over the sights at him with both eyes now “They’ve got their own weapons”
“Yes they do.” He picks up the tins and walks over, offering his hand to me “and that’s why I know you’re not one of them”
I lower my rifle and shake his hand “I’m Owen,” I say “I used to be a soldier before all this”
“Justin, I used to be an astronomer”
“Have you seen many people around here?”
“No, the only people around here work for them”
“The Invaders? Surely not, no citizen of the empire would ever work for the enemy”
“No, not a servant of the empire, but the empire is gone, and those that came back here when they thought the enemy was gone found that their bodies were gone, but something of them remained.”
“I don’t follow”
“Are there others with you?”
“Yes, to the north”
“Then we have to go to them now, prevent them from going any further”
“You go first, I’ll show you the way”
It takes us ten minutes to get back to the store, there’s a dog carcass in front of the door, its head blown apart by what must have been a high calibre rifle shell. The door is open and much of the contents are missing from the front of it. I run up the stairs to find Jim sat down in the comfortable chair with a book in his hands and his rifle besides him.
“What happened?” I ask
“Had a pack of dogs attack a short while after you left, drove them off but I didn’t want to leave the girls here while I came to look for you”
“Where is everyone?”
“I found a place just over the hill from here, took everyone and got them settled in and then I came back to make sure you knew which way to go”
I look back at Justin, he’s looking pale now
“I’m not going” says Justin
I turn back to Justin “What do you mean?”
“The danger wasn’t the invaders or their machines, it was the Red plants they brought with them, they needed a place to hide when the invaders died, they......”
His words die in his throat as his eyes open wide and he backs away as there’s a wet organic noise from behind me. I spin around as Jims head splits open, a wriggling mass of red tendrils emerge from the neck stump as the body staggers forwards. From behind me I hear Justins last words as he turns to run
“They found one in us.....”