Wednesday 24th March 2027: Chance

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Dusk had already fallen when a black SUV rolled slowly into the quiet residential cul-de-sac, lights off, maximum stealth. The SUV had almost a full tank of petrol, siphoned from other vehicles under cover of darkness.

There was only a small amount of blood still smeared across the bonnet from where Chance had floored the accelerator and driven through a group of people standing in the road wearing scarves around their faces and brandishing golf clubs a few miles back.

It had been the most excitement he'd had all day and a lot more than he could be bothered to deal with right now. Just a few months ago, he wouldn't have cared. He would've thought life's too short. But now he was uncomfortably aware of just how much shorter life could be, and how suddenly and without warning it could be shortened, so he did his best to think nothing at all.He stopped the SUV at the most secluded part of the cul-de-sac and flipped a coin to choose between the two nearest houses.

Satisfied with the coin's decision, since either would have sufficed and neither was ideal, Chance checked the pockets of his coat for the arsenal of personal security devices he still carried from his days at Revolver before the apparent collapse of civilisation. Everything was still there, exactly where he'd left it. It had no reason not to be, but these days he always checked.

He pulled the handbrake with leather-gloved fingers. It felt too loud in the stillness of the empty street. A violent sound, less than a gunshot but more than the crunch of teeth against a kerb under his boot.

The front door of the coin-chosen house was locked and the windows were triple glazed, more effort than it was worth to start trying to break them. It looked like someone had made an attempt already and failed, leaving rocks of increasing size on the windowsill, arranged neatly in ascending order as if in apology.

Chance made his way around the side of the house, along an overgrown path and through an unlocked metal gate, to the back garden. Listening carefully, he was ninety-nine per cent sure he was alone, but he knew better than to drop his guard for the remaining one per cent.

In the back garden, a swing and slide set had been upended on the lawn and a wooden bench lay split and splintered on the patio. Chance stopped, listened, held his breath, senses sharp, every muscle in his body like a coiled spring, ready. An itch sparked in the scar that ran through his top lip. In moments of tension, some small part of his mind always half expected a hammer to swing at his face.

Satisfied that not a thing was so much as breathing in his vicinity, he approached the back door which was not only unlocked, but open just a crack. Pulling it towards himself, slowly, he reached into the pocket of his coat and drew out the flashlight he carried especially for skulking through shadowy places but also for smashing into the face of anyone who got in his way, should the situation arise. Which it had, six times in the week since he'd abandoned his home.

Pushing the switch, the blood in his veins flickered in sympathy with the chemical surge of electricity as the beam of light fell upon a row of people sitting still and silent on the couch in front of him.

Children.

Chance froze, breath caught in his throat, heart hammering. Eyes unblinking, he stared at the three small bodies in front of him, seated, slouching against each other, open eyes meeting his, blindly, cold.

The usual smell of rotting food and human waste hung in the air but the children had not been dead for long enough to contribute much to it. Their little hands lay neatly folded in their laps, blood soaking into pastel coloured pyjamas from identical slits in their wrists.

On the coffee table in front of them sat two mugs, insides still coated with blood that had once flowed through growing bodies as they played in a garden that now resembled something more like a broken city fallen to invading forces.

Scanning the room with the flashlight, Chance could see no other blood anywhere. They hadn't died here. The cuts in their wrists and subsequent exsanguination hadn't killed them. As he walked around them towards the living room door, he noticed the crushed backs of three small skulls, hair matted with gore, and for the first time in days, he spoke.

"I wish I'd been here." He shook his head. "I wish you hadn't."

He walked back in front of the couch again, head bowed in respect and sorrow. With a gentleness he didn't know he was capable of, he reached out and closed the children's eyes.

Before he left the room to seek sustenance and supplies in the rest of the house, Chance whispered two words that hadn't crossed his lips in as long as he could remember.

"I'm sorry."

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