Chapter Eight Part One - Space Raiders

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“I don't like being this far away from the hotel,” said Annalise, wiping sweat from her brow. The air was stifling, as humid as any day she could remember.

She caught the smirk as it began to worm its way across Simon's face and jabbed him playfully in the arm.

“Nothing like that, idiot,” she continued. “It's just that with so many new faces, I'd rather be making sure that everyone's settling in OK.”

“I get that, it makes sense,” Simon replied, chuckling lightly as he pulled the four-wheel drive vehicle to a halt. “It does you good to get out every once in a while though.”

“Are you two quite finished?” Joan piped up from the back seat. “Only I'm really feeling the need to stretch my legs.”

“Well we are here,” Simon replied as he opened the driver's side door.

“Where is here, exactly?”

“Minstead, I think,” the Corporal replied. “Where it is doesn't really matter though. What does matter, is that there's a good few houses here all in pretty close proximity, and yet well off the beaten track.”

“Perfect place to stock up on supplies then,” said Annalise with a nod.

As Joan and Simon retrieved their weapons from the boot of the vehicle Annalise lit a cigarette. It was her last packet and having lit up she peered inside. There were only three left. If she managed to get anything at all on this run she fully intended that to be cigarettes.

Her t-shirt was saturated, the material clinging to her skin like food wrap around a refrigerated piece of chicken.

She looked up at the sky as Simon handed a rifle to her. Already dark, the clouds were really gathering now and a breeze almost as hot as the day itself ensured that even as she watched they continued to do so.

“This storm's going to hit soon,” she said, glancing at the weapon. It was not Army issue, despite the fact it had been given to her by the Corporal. Apart from a few sniper rifles and pistols, any weapons the make-shift regiment had originally had were long gone. Most of what they had now was made up of guns and ammunition liberated from the many farms between London and the New Forest. “At least there’s plenty of places around here we can use for cover.”

“I’ll take the pub,” said Simon. “’Lise, why don’t you take the Tea Rooms and Joan, keep watch. We’ll alternate but for now, give a shout if anything seems amiss.”

“Pretty sure my crossbow can take care of anything that turns up,” Joan replied with a wink, though upon seeing the look in the Corporal’s eyes, she added, “but don’t worry, I’ll shout if you’re needed.”

“If you find any cigarettes in the pub, Simon, I get first dibs,” Annalise called after him as she headed towards the Tea Rooms.

She just about managed to detect his reply before a particularly strong gust of warm wind whipped around the village green.

Not a smoker? Annalise thought. Oh well, that’s one less habit to feed.

She approached her assigned destination but as she did so something to her left caught her eye. A notice board pinned to the exterior wall of the wood-built village shop, filled with hastily scrawled upon pieces of paper. Closer inspection revealed that those pieces of paper were notes from other survivors. Some were torn, most stained with blood or other bodily fluids.

Stephen Finlay. If you read this head to Jersey. Love Mum and Dad.’

Jessica Smith. We looked for you for days but found no sign. If you read this, we’re heading to Jersey. Love Dad and Katherine.’

Evie. Darren’s dead and Sara got bit. I met up with some other survivors and we’re heading to Jersey. Find a boat, I’ll wait for you. I love you. Leanne.’

Annalise read them all, every single letter that was pinned to the board. There must have been almost fifty of them and they all said the same thing. People were heading to Jersey.

She wondered if they had made it, if it was safe there, or even if they were still on their way there, now. Perhaps they had got lost on the way, or their boats had been knocked off course and they were drifting around the Atlantic.

She shuddered and turned away, at that point realising she had been scratching at her arms whilst reading and thus had opened up several old wounds.

Crap!” she exclaimed, and hurriedly headed across the way to the Tea Rooms.

The entire frontage of the building was glass windows. She could see right inside and therefore could quite easily tell that it was Zed-free, unless any were behind the counter or through the door she could see that led to the back.

She drew her sword and tapped sharply upon the glass. The seconds ticked by slowly but surely and having counted to thirty in her head, she entered the building.

Annalise allowed the door to close quietly behind her. The air inside was very warm and she suspected that for the majority of the morning the Sun had been shining directly through the glass, until those dark clouds began to roll in, anyway.

Using the hilt of her sword she tapped with reasonable force upon the table nearest to her.

Nothing… No shuffling of feet or moaning and groaning.

With renewed certainty that the Tea Rooms were safe she whipped the red and white checked tablecloth from the table upon which she had tapped and wrapped it tightly around her left arm. She felt there was something inhuman about leaving a trail of one’s blood, and with the world in the state it was in, her humanity was just about all that she had.

Satisfied that she had done as good a job as she was going to, Annalise set about exploring the building. It was not large, housing only seven tables. There was nothing of use or value that she could see in the restaurant area so with her sword aloft, just in case, she made her way around the back of the counter.

The cash draw was wide open. Worthless five and ten pound notes littered the tiled floor. Contained within a glass cabinet were several mouldy cream cakes, or at least that’s what she assumed they were. It was rather hard to tell.

She turned away and paid attention to the back wall. There were a couple of large urns, one of which she suspected would have been used for boiling water whilst the other was most likely for either tea or coffee. Several speciality teas lined the three racks above the urns but what she saw beside those racks made her mouth water.

Annalise counted fifteen unopened packets of crisps. She hadn’t had a packet of crisps for months and her hand went straight for the pickled onion flavoured ‘Space Raiders,’ a favourite of hers since she was young.

She devoured the contents of the packet quickly and stuffed the remainder of the crisps into her rucksack. Further exploration of the Tea Rooms proved to be fruitless, however.

The village shop it is then, she thought, and left the Tea Rooms behind.

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