Half-asleep, half-dreaming, Sarah wandered through a curated collection of times from her past when her mind was at peace. How utterly at one with the universe she'd felt before all this. For a few brief moments, everything was right in her world again.
It was like a drug, that feeling. She could sink into it, warm and content, blissfully drowning in calm, like afternoon sunlight streaming through a window. Like a spark of the divine, if she'd been the kind of person who believed in that stuff.
Little Cat shifted and stretched against her side and Sarah suddenly became aware of how cold she was. Her memory snapped shut and dropped her painfully in the present with a sharp jolt of a reminder that now there was only another lonely morning to face. Little Cat looked at her expectantly.
"You never learn, do you? I don't have any food. I wish I did, but I don't. You need to go outside and hunt. You know, hunting? Where you behave like a cat and chase small animals so you can kill them and eat them? I suppose this is my fault for spoiling you rotten before the stupid world went and fell apart."
Little Cat's gaze never shifted. Sarah rolled her eyes, crawled out of her sleeping bag and padded over to the make-shift bathroom as quickly as possible so her feet didn't have to touch the bare concrete for any longer than was absolutely necessary.
She was grateful for the camping stove and cannisters of gas she'd found in an outdoor pursuits shop as she made her way from the North of the city to her new base. The shop looked like a bomb had hit it, stands and shelves upended, barely any stock remaining.
She'd had a feeling about it though, like it was worth venturing through the mess to hunt for something that might make life a little easier. The stove and gas seemed to have been hidden by someone who hadn't come back for them.
In the previous version of the world, Sarah would have left them where she found them. In this version of the world, she was a little more accepting of the necessity of taking whatever she could get.
She had decided to ration the gas because it was useful for cooking and easier than building a fire, but she couldn't resist allowing herself warm water to wash in. It felt like such a luxury even though she'd always taken it for granted before all this.
She could tell when she took up residence in the unfinished bungalow that this room was supposed to be the bathroom, even though it had no bath, sink or toilet installed. It had tiled walls and a frosted glass window, with sealed wet-room floors.
When she first arrived here, Sarah liked to imagine the farmer who owned the land lovingly planning this home for his aging parents, or perhaps for himself when one of his grown-up children returned to take over responsibility for the farm and raise their own family here. It had been a pleasant distraction for her imagination but now it just made her sad to think about those things, about lives cut short and plans that never came to fruition.
The main farm house had been looted for just about anything that wasn't nailed down, and a few things that were, but this empty shell had been left in peace, so far. In the time she'd been staying here, no-one had come near it and she was truly grateful for that.
The bungalow wasn't warm or particularly comforting, but it was a decent shelter and had space to park the Silver Bullet where it couldn't be seen from the road. After the scenes of destruction—of both vehicles and people—she'd encountered on her way out of town, she'd stuck to the back roads and decided it was safer to stay as hidden as she could until she figured out what to do next.
Since her arrival at her temporary home, she'd walked for miles through fields to neighbouring farms at night, not wanting to draw attention to her presence with the sound of an engine in the eerily oppressive silence that had fallen over the world.
As luck would have it, she found some containers of petrol secreted in outbuildings, perhaps by someone preparing for just such a time as this. If the containers had been filled during the second outbreak, the fuel inside would have a few months of life left in it, providing they were left sealed. If they were filled during the first outbreak, they might be useless now. But Sarah was willing to take her chances.
Her stash of food and water had almost run out though. She could collect rainwater, if it rained, but she didn't know how safe it would be to drink. For food and bottled water, she would have to drive somewhere. It was unavoidable and she was painfully aware that she was just one person alone in a world where unseen strangers left piles of dismembered body parts and burning tyres as warnings at forks in the road.
It surprised her how quickly she had stopped being horrified by the sight of the terrible things people had done to one another. On reflection, the world had been full of people doing terrible things before all this, but they'd been far enough away that it hadn't affected her too deeply. Since that realisation, she had been carrying a small knot of shame in the pit of her stomach. Her life had been easy, before. Not everyone's had.
Sarah turned off the stove and began to get washed in the blissfully warm water, momentarily ignoring the larger problems faced by the world. Craving order and logic, she did her best to put inconvenient emotions away and figure out a plan of attack.
If she could get to a supermarket, even a small one, she might have some chance of finding food that hadn't already been taken. The stench of rot left in the shops after the chillers ceased to function was disgusting enough to be thoroughly off-putting.
The roaming animals she had encountered in search of food in human places were off-putting too. Previously someone's pets, they had been quick to become self-sufficient. She was partly nervous for her safety around them and partly broken-hearted that they each had a loving home once but were now left to fend for themselves.
The farm animals made her feel even worse, mostly due to the immediacy with which she had encountered their remains during her travels on foot. Many had died through a lack of provision and she'd seen signs of some having been crudely butchered in the fields by people unable to carry them off in their entirety.
Little Cat settled into the temporary nest of Sarah's sweater, watching with a curiosity never satisfied by any explanation, always waiting in case the actions of her human led to food. Still, Sarah appreciated the company.
When she first left the city behind, she had packed Little Cat into her carrier and strapped her into the front passenger seat of the Silver Bullet. Leaving her behind hadn't even been a consideration.
The world was full of bodies now, corpses of every species, some rotten, some in pieces having been scavenged by cats and dogs that had once slept at the foot of someone's bed or snuggled into someone's discarded sweater.
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Car ThievesScience Fiction
The year 2027. Edinburgh, Scotland. Disease has swept a deadly path through society. A nightlife mogul with a violent past, a sadistic drug dealer, an artist craving companionship, a privileged playboy and a fiercely independent motor mechanic strug...