Sun, 1 March 2009 - 4:28 pm

Bait

We had a close call today. And when there are six of us crammed into one 4×4, there’s not a lot of room for a close call.

We had been making good time, weaving through the streets, powering past the debris. We were a couple of hours into the burned-out area when there was a splash of movement off to one side. I didn’t think much of it, but then we reached an intersection with all but one exit blocked. When we turned the corner, Ben slammed on the brakes, hard enough to throw us all forward.

There, standing in the middle of the street, was a little girl in a red coat. She was staring up at us and didn’t move a muscle when we slithered to a stop. There were some muttered words inside the car that Dillon and Nugget shouldn’t hear.

We looked at each other for a clue about what to do. I said that we couldn’t just leave her there, but Ben stopped me from getting out of the car. I was going to ask him what was going on, when I caught that scrap of movement again. Then Nugget leaned forward from the back seat so that she could see the other girl.

“Bait,” she said, quite distinctly. It was the first time I’d ever heard her speak.

Thorpe pulled the kid back and told Ben to drive around the girl in the red coat. I was shocked – she was a small child, standing here where there wasn’t much shelter, and the rain wasn’t that far off. Matt pointed out that she looked pretty well-fed, and he wasn’t wrong. None of them were wrong; I just didn’t like it.

Ben backed up, and that’s when they showed themselves. Pouring out of the buildings around us like cockroaches and swarming down towards the street, smeared in the soot from their hiding places.

We starting shouting for Ben to drive around the kid. There were so many of them – I don’t know what would have happened if they had got their hands on us. We banged on the door locks and clung on when the car mounted the pavement, ricocheting off a lamppost. I could hear the whooping of the cockroaches around us as we lurched back onto the road.

Some of them reached us before we could pull away – they were thumping on the sides of the 4×4, clinging to the lips and ledges, hanging off the windscreen wipers. My heart was banging as loudly as they were and I can’t even remember what I was telling Ben to do. Just keep driving, don’t stop, don’t stop.

One of them hit the car hard enough to crack the windscreen. Ben gunned the engine and shook most of them off. One fella was sprawled across the bonnet and we had to swerve to try to shake him off. It didn’t work until Ben accidentally rammed a parked car. Our cling-on slid off and we had to hurry to get going again before his mates caught up with us. They were pounding down the street behind us and the cling-on was getting up again.

Drive, drive, just keep going. Ben hauled the car around and pushed on, running over smaller obstacles in an effort to put the cockroaches behind us. We rattled and bounced on, well past the time when they were gone from our rearview mirrors – the little girl in her red coat and her militant friends. We even kept going when the rain started, wanting to put plenty of space between us and them.

We didn’t stop until we found a building that was both intact and big enough for us to drive right into. We had to wait until the water had drained off the car before could get out, which wasn’t a quick or comfortable time. Now we’re huddling here where it’s dry, not saying much, just glad we’re all in one piece. When I’m not typing or doing something else, I feel like my hands want to shake.

I feel like I should be shocked that they would use a kid like that, to make us stop, to make us want to get out and help her. But I’m not. Of all the terrible things that people have been doing since the world fell down, this is hardly the worst. What scares me most is that I almost fell for it. I almost stepped right into their hands.

I should go and see if Ben’s okay. He had to drive through all that, and I think he’s more affected by that than he’ll show. He’s always hiding when he’s struggling over something like that. I think we could both use a hug right now.

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