Chapter Three: Road To Nowhere
Our problems continued as we pulled off the driveway. As if murderous lunatics weren’t enough, we had a slightly more mundane issue to contend with. I glanced down at the fuel gauge again, willing it to tell me something different. The orange warning light came on to spite me.
I had been meaning to get petrol all week but something had always come up and I hadn’t got around to it. How was I supposed to know we’d be running for our lives?
I decided not to tell the others about the lack of fuel as I reached forward and turned off my TV theme tunes CD. Tasha was already having a full blown freak out in the back and it wouldn’t take much more to push Beth over the edge.
I was having trouble getting my head around the situation myself. There was a blood thirsty mob in our street. Why couldn’t pirates have invaded instead? Especially ones that looked like Orlando Bloom. We could have commandeered a ship and gone sailing off into the sunset. After that...
“Watch it dude!” yelled Beth as she leaned across me and jerked the wheel to the left.
“Wha...?” I snapped out of my day dream as the car swerved violently across the road, narrowly avoiding the first of the crazies. We ended up tipped over slightly as two wheels went up on the pavement. Beth let go of the wheel and I steered us back onto the road.
“I know psychos must be worth a lot of points but that doesn’t mean you should actually try and hit them!” shouted Tasha from the back. She had her phone pressed to her ear.
“Sorry. Got distracted,” I said sheepishly.
“Yeah, well... mind on the road,” said Beth gruffly as she settled back into her seat.
She had a point. There were abandoned belongings all over the road as well as the odd car. On a couple of occasions there was something that looked horribly like a body, although I tried not to look too closely. That went double for the one I didn’t see in time and ran over.
“What was that?” asked Beth as we went over the unexpected bump.
“Nothing,” I said quickly.
“No. No it wasn’t.”
An awkward silence settled over the car. Time to change the subject.
“Have you managed to get through to the police yet?” I called, realising I hadn’t heard Tasha talking to anyone. I glanced back at her in the rear-view mirror. Tasha was staring at her phone’s screen, a frown creasing her forehead.
“I can’t get the call to go through,” she said, tapping in 999 again.
“It sounds like its engaged, it’s really weird.”
“Screw it – we’ll go to them!” I said hauling the steering wheel to the left and making the tight turn down one of the side streets. Tasha and Beth did their best to stay up right, well used to my driving.
The road ahead of us was littered with the sort of speed bumps that could easily rip the bottom off your car if you drove over them too quickly. As we’d put a bit of distance between us and the crazy gang, I felt safe in easing the pace slightly. There still wasn’t anyone around. Like our street, the rows of terraced houses looked like they had been abandoned in a hurry and belongings were strewn around.
“Think we’ve found out what we missed last night,” said Beth as I steered around a couple of suitcases in the middle of the road.
“Looks that...” I trailed off as something down the road caught my eye. “Bollocks.”
Another mob of people had staggered out of a side road up ahead and were blocking the road. There were a couple of cars parked up on either side of the road, leaving me no way to get past them. To our right, another group were stood in the basket ball court, pressed up against the chain link fence. I slowed but we had already caught the attention of the group in the road. Like their friends, this lot also had troubling red stains on their bodies.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say they looked a lot like zombies,” said Tasha with a nervous laugh. Beth and I joined in.
“Ha, yeah. Good one mate,” I said as I crunched the car into reverse, half turning in my seat for a better view out of the back window.
“Only if we’ve somehow fallen into a bad B movie,” said Beth. “Even I know that’s unlikely.”
I swung the car up onto an empty drive and got my faithful Peugeot facing in the right direction.
“If we can’t get through to the police or to the station, what do you say to getting the hell outta Dodge?” I asked, casting a furtive glance at the fuel gauge. “There must be someone around who can explain what the fuck is going on.”
There wasn’t any disagreement from the other two and I retraced our route, praying we weren’t going to get cut off by the original group of zombie wannabes. Luckily for us it seemed they had found something better to do and had buggered off.
The motorway seemed our best bet for getting out of the city as quickly as possible. It was odd driving along with no one else on the road. If the petrol situation hadn’t been getting rather desperate, I would probably have gone for a spin round the city. Some banging tunes on the stereo, windows down, sun out – it would have been wicked.
We dodged a couple of wooden pallets and pulled onto the ramp that led to the motorway. I was building up a decent speed when we encountered another, rather larger, problem.
“Shit!” Beth and I both yelled as I stood on the brake pedal. Tasha cursed as her seatbelt locked as she was flung forward. There was a horrible squealing noise from the tyres as we skidded along towards a sheer drop where tarmac used to be. I managed to bring the car to a halt just short of the edge.
All three of us sat for a long moment, recovering from the shock. Still not quite believing what I was seeing I got out, after fighting with my seatbelt which seemed determined to keep me pinned in place. Behind me, I heard Beth and Tasha climb out.
“Holy shit,” muttered Beth.
I’d driven along this stretch of motorway a couple of days ago. I was pretty sure there hadn’t been a bloody great Navy warship jammed into the side of the motorway then. The prow of the ship was half hidden behind broken pieces of concrete and tarmac. A huge crack stretched out across the motorway dividing it in two and separating us from the mainland.
On the other side of the gap, the tarmac curved away to the right until it disappeared from view past the enormous white sail sculpture that I had never really seen the point of. There were several cars standing abandoned across the lanes of the motorway and signs that people had been in a hurry to get away. That was all that was left though, signs. There wasn’t anyone in sight.
My mind wasn’t really focusing on that at the moment though. I was struggling to get past the massive hulking warship.
“Am I still drunk or am I actually seeing that?”
“It’s definitely there...”
“Reckon they did it on purpose?” I asked kicking a loose bit of concrete, sending it skittered over the edge.
“Fucked if I know,” said Tasha standing with her arms folded, glowering at the bizarre sight.
“Alright, tetchy. Was only asking.”
I put my hand up to my eyes to shield them from the bright sunlight. I couldn’t see anyone moving on board. It looked like the proverbial ghost ship.
“Don’t really fucking matter why it happened. The important bit is it’s doing a bloody brilliant job of stopping us getting the hell out of here,” said Beth distractedly as she patted her pockets looking for something. “Bollocks, must’ve left me bloody baccy pouch on the table.” Her fingers fidgeted at her sides, giving away her craving.
Tasha turned back to look towards the city.
“Look at all that smoke. Must be a fair few things on fire.”
She was right. There were tall columns of black smoke rising up all over the city, obscuring the familiar landmarks. It was a weird feeling to be standing in the middle of a motorway, looking back towards a silent city. There should have been cars. There should have been sirens. There should have been life.
A shiver ran down my back that had nothing to do with the cold. Well actually, it might have done as I was wearing only a vest top and it was blowing a gale up on the bridge. It was more likely to do with the situation however.
“Where the hell is everyone?” I wondered out loud, twisting a finger in a strand of hair to keep it from whipping into my face.
“Bit creepy, ain’t it?” said Beth from behind me.
I turned away from the view.
“C’mon guys, there’ll be another way out.”
We all climbed back in the car. I sat for a moment before starting the engine, staring out over the destroyed road. Beth and Tasha stayed silent. I guessed they were thinking the same as me. If someone had gone to the trouble of destroying one road, it was unlikely they would have left any others standing.
Still, we weren’t going to find out if we stayed sitting here so I coaxed the Peugeot’s engine back into life and pulled a u-ey before heading back off the motorway.
I guided us back through the city and we made our way up London Road, only to have our suspicions confirmed as we found our escape route destroyed once again. Disheartened, we carried on across the city looking for any possible way out of the city. Everywhere we went was blocked. Railway lines, footbridges, roads - everything had been systematically blown up.
When you first tell someone who isn’t from Portsmouth that it’s actually an island, they tend not to believe you. I doubted it myself when I first found out – even after driving in and out of the city a few times. It was only after a lot of zooming in on Google Maps, that I realised it was true.
If someone hadn’t pointed it out, I probably would have just carried on in blissful ignorance. Portsmouth’s island status had never really featured highly in my day to day life. It was just one of those vaguely interesting facts that occasionally proved useful during pub quizzes.
Today I was cursing the thin strip of water that separated us from the main land.
We were getting so desperate that we even considered swimming across where the water was at its narrowest. The three of us were all set to wade in when Tasha spotted several zombies stuck in the mud down at the bottom of the bank. We were just plotting a route past them, when one of the zombies stumbled and fell face first into the mud. There was a loud boom and the body was blown sky high before raining down in tiny pieces. The force of the blast sent us staggering backwards and we all landed in a heap.
“Was that a fucking landmine?!”
We quickly decided that wading across was a very bad idea.
Despite suspecting that it was hopeless, we carried on towards the Eastern Road. We made it just close enough to see that the bridge was destroyed like all the others, when the Peugeot started coughing. With a final splutter the engine died and we rolled to a slow halt.
“Err... why are we stopping?” asked Tasha, leaning forward through the gap between the two front seats.
“The car ran out of petrol,” I replied tightly.
“Fuck!” Beth exploded. It had been a while since she had a cigarette and she had been getting increasingly ratty as we had repeatedly had our hopes of escape dashed. “What the fuck are we supposed to do now?”
“Well... we can’t stay here,” said Tasha. There was panic in her voice. She was staring at something in the rear-view mirror. I turned in my seat to look.
“Oh for fuck’s sake...” I muttered, scrabbling to undo my seatbelt.
More zombie like figures were shuffling up behind us. They hadn’t spotted us yet but it was only a matter of time. If they trapped us in the car, we’d be sitting ducks.
“Why can’t they just leave us in peace?”
“What we gonna do?”
“Only one thing we can do,” I said, trying to locate the door handle whilst not taking my eyes off the mob behind us.
Tasha and Beth caught my drift and as one we flung the car doors open and got out.
“This way!” I yelled, picking a direction completely at random before running off and hoping the others were behind me. I knew we’d been spotted us from the chorus of groans that sprang up but I didn’t look back. Thinking about it, we probably could have been a little more subtle getting out of the car.
I had only gone a few metres when I remembered that I was wearing flip flops and that running in them was a right pain in the arse. Of all the days not to be wearing trainers.
I wasn’t the only one who was struggling. Tasha was whimpering quietly behind me, although how much was due to fear and how much was due to her hangover was anyone’s guess. Beth was running alongside me and was somehow managing to keep up a constant string of swear words in between massive coughing fits.
Our all out sprint quickly slowed to a brisk jog and then a fast walk. Eventually we had to stop and get our breath back. My lungs were burning and I had the mother of all stitches in my side. As I tried to draw much needed air into my body, I looked around us. Nothing was familiar. My sense of direction was messed up after we had run blindly along various roads.
“So,” I wheezed, bent over with my hands on my knees. “Anyone know where we are?”
“Yep,” gasped Tasha who was lying flat out on the ground.
“Seriously?” I asked, surprised. Tasha’s sense of direction was notoriously lousy. “Where?”
“Some god forsaken part of Portsmouth.”
“We’re fucking lost aren’t we?”