Chapter Twenty-Three

The next few hours seemed to take an eternity to pass. The batteries in my watch had begun to die and I did not know whether it was due to their obsolescence or to the energy pulses. I couldn't remember the last time I had looked at the watch and I had taken to keeping it in my rucksack to help me forget how slowly time seemed to be passing. The world was deathly silent and I saw no-one after leaving my friend in the field. It was funny, I thought; all of the people that I had seen in the city had seemed hell-bent on beating, fighting and destroying each other, but two of the three people I had met on my travels through the starved countryside had been friendly and accommodating. Again, perhaps it had more to do with the effects of the heat and light than any genuine concern for a fellow human being.

I guessed that the rest of the journey would take another five or six hours to complete if I was able to maintain the pace which I had managed to keep to so far. With each passing mile, however, that seemed to be becoming a more and more unrealistic proposition as the relentless heat and strain took their deadly toll on my already fatigued body. My throat was painfully dry and it took all the will power that I could muster not to open the last bottle of mineral water which rattled around in the half-empty rucksack on my back. Swallowing had become a painful ordeal and I hoped that I would soon find somewhere where I could find further refreshment and provisions.

I looked again at the scrap of map which I carried so very unceremoniously down the back of my shorts and I wondered again if I really was doing the right thing. I knew that it was far too late to change anything even if I wanted to, but I could not help thinking that I should have made more of an effort to reach my family. Had I fully realised the true seriousness of the planet's situation earlier, then I could have made the decision to abandon the office when the idea had first entered my mind. I fought to hold back sudden, painful tears as I thought about Mom, Dad and Michelle up in Scotland and the worry which I must have caused them. I had been unforgivably selfish in trying to get to Samantha first and had not even made the effort to call them and explain my plans.

As I dragged myself along the hot, dusty and silent road, I felt utterly and devastatingly alone. There was no-one at my side to tell me that I was doing the right thing or even to let me know that I was heading in the right direction. There was no-one to ask for advice and no-one with whom I could share the frustrating search for answers to the myriad of questions which constantly flooded into my troubled brain. At one point, I even began to think that I was going insane such was the number and velocity of the pointless, unanswerable questions and ideas which spilled into my mind from countless, unidentifiable sources. Again, there was no-one with me who could reassure me that my sanity was still intact.

The thoughts and questions which troubled me most concerned Samantha. The fear that if and when I finally reached her she would reject me managed to manifest itself with every second thought that I had and it took all of my will power and concentration not to dwell on the idea. I knew that if it did prove to be the case, the pain that I would suffer would be unbearable and the agony of rejection would make the effects of the burning rays of the dying sun pale into insignificance. I prayed that, if it happened, the world would end quickly afterwards - I knew that there would be no point in carrying on without Samantha.

The feelings which grew inside me for Sam were stronger than any I had ever felt for anyone else before. Despite the annoying, nagging doubts I had, I knew really (but refused to accept fully) that she would be there for me, that she would be waiting. To keep me going, I forced myself to try and remember once more the times we had spent together and the things she had said to me. They made it a little easier to carry on.

I pulled the useless watch out of my rucksack again and struggled to see if there was enough power left in the almost dead battery to let me read one final time. I thought that it must be close to three o'clock and I knew that I would have to rest again soon. Although it had only been a few hours since I had stopped in the field, I knew that it was important for me to make regular, short stops for rests. If I carried on walking without a break then I wasn't sure if I would be able to reach Samantha at all.

The road which I followed was wide and reasonably straight. I had walked along it for the best part of an hour without seeing anything in the way of buildings or houses but, according to the scrap of map, I was due shortly to arrive at a small village and, just before that, a little farm. I decided to wait until I reached the farm and hoped that there would be somewhere there where I could stop and catch my breath.

The gradient of the road steepened as it climbed up over the brow of a high, dusty and barren hill. The sides of the tarmac track were dry and sandy and occasionally littered with the bodies of wandering sheep who had been unable to find enough grass to graze upon or enough water to drink. As I clambered over the hill's peak, I was glad to see that the road stretched smoothly out into the distance. At the side of the road, no more than half a mile away, stood an odd collection of ramshackle, battered wooden buildings and I could only presume that I had found the farm.

With a new-found energy and vigour, I stumbled down the hillside. I was suddenly elated - not only was I going to rest for a while, finding the farm was also confirmation that I was still heading in the right direction - that I was still on the right route.

As I approached the grey and shadowy timber buildings, I noticed that the whole site appeared abandoned and devoid of any life. The farmhouse and storage barns were little more than dilapidated shells and the yard around which they were built was untidy and uncared for. I thought that the state of the place probably had more to do with the harsh conditions than anything else - half of the buildings that I had left behind in the city had begun to look just as tired and derelict.

I decided not to take any chances with the local population - the farmhouse may have looked deserted but there could have been any number of frightened people inside. I remembered having stumbled onto a farmer's land when I was a child and being chased away by a rifle-wielding old man and five of his Neanderthal hired hands. In the weary state that I found myself in I thought it best not to tempt fate and so dragged myself along a dusty, gravel-covered track towards a huge barn. I pushed open the heavy doors and stumbled inside.

The barn was almost empty. Towards the back of the building was a stack of freshly harvested straw which I found surprising as it was, quite unbelievably, almost November. I was no farmer, but I knew that it was long past the season for gathering such crops. It was only then that I stopped to consider the effects of the wild heat on the people here. My own world had been turned upside down by the incredible conditions but my own personal suffering had been limited in comparison to that of the owners of the farm. They relied on the land for their livelihoods and the repercussions of the heat for them were far more serious. I then realised that it hardly mattered anymore - it didn't look as if anyone had a future left to be ruined.

I pulled the doors shut behind me and crept into the dark shadows of the barn. Taking care not to make any noise, I sneaked through the building towards the vast store of straw and sat down. I drank half of the final bottle of water before lying down to relax for a moment. With all the will and strong intention in the world, it was impossible to stop myself from drifting off to sleep and I quickly lost consciousness. I woke quickly for a couple of seconds and tried to sit up and stay awake but it was useless. Even though I knew that I was risking losing the precious time with Samanthawhich I craved, I could do nothing to prevent myself from falling into a deep and much needed sleep.

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