Chapter Thirty-Two

I wasted precious moments alone in the dark of the garage before I was able to even think about moving. Having Samantha taken away from me and having it done in such a cruel and unexpected way had left me feeling numb and, for a short while, resigned to spending alone my last hours alive. It took all of the willpower and strength that I could muster from my exhausted, beaten body to get up and do something about it. I remembered just what I had been through to get this far and I knew then that I could not sit back and let all that effort have been for nothing.

Slowly and painfully, with my hands still sore from banging them against the impassable door, I climbed to my feet and looked around the cluttered garage for inspiration. To be completely sure, I tried the handle of the door once more and gave it a hefty shove with my shoulder but it would not move. Taking care not to trip and fall again, I picked my way through the maze of awkward shapes and obstacles on the floor until I reached the other end of the garage. Once there, I pushed and pulled at the heavy doors to see if they would open and let me out of my prison cell - they refused to move and I craned my neck to look out through the little windows of frosted glass and out onto the dry driveway in front of the house. I saw that the family car had been moved and that it was now parked with its nose pressed hard against the doors, keeping them firmly shut. The doors were also bolted and barred.

Desperate, and growing surer by the second that I would be permanently incarcerated in the junk-filled room, I looked around for something that I could use to try and smash my way out through the wooden barricade. In the low light it was difficult to be sure what half of the objects that I could see were and I eventually found a heavy lump hammer by tripping over it. I picked the long handled hammer off the ground and began swinging it at the strong locks, ignorant and oblivious to the futility of my actions. Even if I managed to smash the locks away, the doors would still be blocked by the car outside. Fuelled by anger and frustration, I hurled the hammer through one of the windows and heard it crash heavily to the ground outside, accompanied by the sound of shattered glass landing all around it.

I glanced around for something else to use to smash more of the windows. In a nearby wooden tea chest I found a stack of lumber but none of it was strong enough to make even the slightest impression on the thin and yet deceptively tough frames. The windows were arranged in two sets of four, one set in each of the double doors, with the individual frames of glass forming the four quarters of one larger window. Although the one pane that I had shattered was far too small for me to be able to escape through, I was sure that if I broke more I would then be able to splinter the frames between them and climb out that way.

I rummaged through more piles of garbage and odds and ends until I found something suitable. Although it was more adept to felling trees, the heavy axe that I had discovered proved to be an excellent demolition tool. My first move was to shatter the glass in the three remaining windows and then, once they were clear, I set about removing the bars of wood which separated them from each other and which were preventing me from getting out. Each joist took a number of heavy blows before splintering and shattering but it was not long before the frame had been totally destroyed and there was room for me to crawl through. I threw the axe out onto the drive ahead of me - I thought that it might still be of use as I presumed that Samantha's father would make it as difficult as he possibly could for me to reach his daughter. Once I was sure that it was safe, I climbed up and scrambled through the gap. Ironically, the car which had been left there to try and prevent me from escaping proved to be of use as it made my climb down from the window to the baking driveway much easier and considerably safer.

I stumbled out onto the dark drive and was immediately struck by the difference in temperature. Inside, the wails and doors had acted as shields from the heat but now, with no protection available, it was sickeningly hot and suffocatingly close. Despite the late hour, it was surprisingly light outside as the moon hung over the scene and bathed it in its subtle silver luminosity.

The earlier silence in the village had been replaced by new noises which brought back terrible, previously forgotten memories of those difficult last few nights in the city. The hot, dry air rang out with shrill, piercing screams and painful cries which almost formed a constant, eerie soundtrack to the end of the world. It was how I imagined purgatory might sound and I tried to shut it from my mind as best I could. The confusion and fear of the people in the village were all too apparent and, although no-one could prove for sure that time was running out, the majority of the population seemed convinced that the end was near. I wasn't sure what the time was, but the overpowering atmosphere of imminent destruction made me sure that another energy pulse would not be long coming. It seemed that the gap between the waves had been virtually halving each time and I guessed that unless I had slept through one (highly unlikely considering the strength of the last one I had survived) the next pulse could be due at any moment.

With no more time to waste, I knew that I had to get Samantha out of the house. The front door was locked and, despite the axe I carried, I knew that it would take time to get through it. I needed an alternative entrance and the wide, inviting bay windows at the front of the house seemed to be the perfect solution. Holding the axe out in front of me as if it was a rapier, I thrust it towards the window and it smashed straight through, leaving a hole where it had entered. Although cracks immediately began to spread out from the hole, the window refused to shatter and I presumed that it must have been strengthened for safety. Turning the axe over in my hands, I repeatedly smashed its metal head into the glass until it had all fallen out of the frame and onto the ground. In spite of the terrific noise the crashing glass caused all around me, I distinctly heard the sound of a door slamming inside the building.

I clambered through the empty window and into the house. The shards of glass ground under my feet and I took care not to put my hands down anywhere for fear of cutting them on the deadly debris which had showered the room. Once through the window, I quickly made my way to the hall to try and find the room in which Samantha was being held. There were two doors ahead of me, both of which were shut, and I ran into the first to try and open it. It flew open with little resistance and revealed nothing more than an empty kitchen behind it. I tried the second door and found that it was being held shut from the inside.

I went back to the room with the broken window and carefully picked up the axe which I had left on the glass-covered window-ledge as I had entered the house. Rather than simply smash my way through the connecting door and risk injuring people behind it, I thought it more sensible to attack the exposed hinges and try to loosen the blockage as best I could. I returned to the closed door and swung the heavy feller towards it. The first few blows made little impact on the top hinge but, eventually, the surrounding wood began to splinter and split. Encouraged, I rained down more blows on the door until the hinge was useless and smashed. The lower fastening was easier to shatter as it had the whole weight of the heavy door hung upon it for a few stressful moments. A couple of hard, precise blows were all that was required for the heavy wooden door to drop from its frame and fall to the carpet.

I ran into the room and stood victorious on top of the deposed door. Samantha stood against the far wall and, as I entered the room, she ran across to stand next to me. On a settee nearby, Mrs Hill sat next to her aged, trembling mother and did her best to keep her calm. I held Sam close to me and she hugged me with such force that I thought I might stop breathing.

The faces around the room bore expressions of confusion and bewilderment and I felt suddenly ashamed and embarrassed at having disturbed and destroyed the family in its home at such a delicate, important time. I looked down at Samantha's grandmother who returned my gaze with a vacant toothless look of wonder and disbelief.

'I'm sorry,' I said, awkwardly and apologetically, trying hard to find the words that would express how I felt.

Sam squeezed me tightly, as if to remind me that she was the reason I stood there and to convince me that I had her full support for my actions.

'Let's go,' she whispered. She left my side and walked back into the room to say goodbye to her family.

I turned to leave and, before I was able to take any more than a couple of steps away, there came an agonised, pained scream from the room behind me. I turned back around just in time to see Mr Hill lunging at me but it was far too late for me to prevent his bulk from crashing heavily into me. The force of his body hitting mine sent me reeling across the hallway and my head thumped against the hard wooden bannister. I was dazed for an instant and could do nothing to protect myself as Hill jumped on top of me and gripped my neck tightly with his hard, bony hands. Although much older then me, Samantha's father had the power of a man possessed and I could not prise his twisted fingers away as they tightened around my unprotected throat.

'You can't take her,' he hissed with terrifying venom and spite in his crazed voice. 'She's my fucking daughter and she's staying here with me.'

I struggled to speak and Sam rushed over to try and pull her father off me. He was too strong for either of us and, as I struggled to push him away, he spat in my face. I winced and squirmed in disgust as the foul, sticky spittle ran into my eyes.

'It's up to her,' I croaked, barely able to breathe. 'Let her make the choice.'

Mr Hill took one of his hands away from my throat and lifted it high above his head, ready to bring his fist crashing down into my face. Before he was able to strike me, his wife caught hold of his arm and Samantha grabbed his shoulders. His grip on me slowly relaxed and he stood up, allowing me to roll out of the way. I coughed and spluttered as I fought to take in deep breaths of the stale and dry night air. I clambered to my feet and watched as Mr Hill turned to face his daughter and, with tears running from his eyes, he held her close.

I felt embarrassed again and wondered if I should be watching at all. I already felt guilty at having torn the family apart but to ease my troubled consciousness, I had only to remember that it was Samantha's decision. Whether she decided to stay with her family or come with me, it was a choice that only she could make. It was almost impossible for me to hide the relief I felt from knowing that she had chosen me and I tried not to imagine how I would have felt had she decided otherwise.

Samantha painfully tore herself away from her father's tight hold and turned to face her mother. She hugged her and, once more, tears of sadness ran freely down both of their faces. For a second I looked towards her father but I turned quickly away again when he stared back at me with violent intent. The hate in his face was difficult to stand. For the benefit of the daughter that he obviously loved so much, he managed to contain his feelings. I knew that had things been different then our leaving would have been a much more difficult affair.

Sam walked over to the old woman who sat shaking on the settee and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Her grandmother looked up and smiled. I could tell that she did not have the slightest idea of who I was or of what was happening and, in a way, I could not help but envy her apathy. Sam turned to me and smiled and I knew then that it was time for us to leave. Had I arrived earlier then perhaps there may have been a chance that we could all have spent the last few hours together but I knew that it was impossible now. It was better that Sam said goodbye and left her family.

I cleared my throat and tried to speak to Sam's parents, Before the first words had even come out I gave up as I knew that it was pointless and that anything I had to say would seem conceited and would only anger her already furious father still further. I wished that I could have expressed my sorrow at the way things had turned out but I accepted that I could not. Sam stood next to me and I held her hand in mine. I lifted it to my dry lips and kissed it softly, hoping that the people in the room would appreciate just how much I loved Samantha and that they would understand what I had already done and what I would do to stay with her. I wanted to tell them how I would make her last hours as painless and easy as possible but again the words would not come. Instead we turned and left.

As I unlocked the front door to get outside, Sam tore herself from me and ran back to where her parents waited. The three of them held each other tightly and cried like they never had before. Having already intruded more than enough, I opened the door and quietly went outside.

I stood alone in the hot darkness of the night and waited for Samantha to return to my side. Although little more than a minute could have passed, each second without her felt like a painful eternity and I wondered for one terrible, heart-stopping moment if she had changed her mind and had decided to stay with her family. Before I could take any action to find out, she appeared at my side again, smiling despite the tears that still ran freely from her eyes. We walked to the end of the drive and looked out along the road towards the village.

For a few relaxing moments we held each other tightly in the darkness and kissed. I wiped the tears from her face and smiled.

'Are you sure you want to come with me?' I asked although the last thing I wanted to do was dissuade her from leaving.

'Of course I do,' she replied. 'I love my family but I want to spend the rest of the night with you.'

I ran my hand through her long, blond hair and looked deep into her pretty, moist eyes. In spite of the pressures of the moment, she appeared calm and her face looked untroubled by any of the turmoil and confusion. I leant down and kissed her soft lips. She pulled me tightly to her and I buried my face in her chest, never wanting to move again. When she next lifted her head I saw that she was smiling broadly and that signal managed to blow away the last few of the nagging doubts and worries that had troubled me since I had arrived in the village.

'Where are we going to go?' she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders - I hadn't the faintest idea what we were going to do or where we were going to do it.

'I don't really care,' I said honestly. 'It doesn't matter to me where we go as long as you're there with me.'

Still holding each other close, we walked towards the village, ignorant to the plethora of dangers that we might face there. It was cliched but it was true; having Sam next to me made me feel invincible. For a moment, she stopped walking and turned back to take one last look at the little house and at the family that she was leaving behind. I thought for a second that I could see her parents watching from the shadows but I was quickly distracted as Sam carried on walking towards the village.

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