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‘I love it when a plan comes together’, was an iconic quote that anyone who is older than 20 will know it to be that of the A Team. For the character it was a saying to signify a job well done. For an everyday person it’s a quote that when said, offers a moment of satisfaction and smugness. It was something that I had been waiting to say after the Autumn and Winter seasons to both prove and reassure myself that no matter how bad it might get out there, I would be able to survive on my own. Unfortunately I was not able to say it this year. The winter was harder than I first thought. The vegetables didn’t last as long as the books told me they would, I must have missed something or interpreted the text wrong. For weeks I worked tirelessly, trying to extend the life of the vegetables, but unfortunately the last month or so required me to scavenge in nearby towns.
Mevagissey, a small fishing harbour, turned tourist attraction was all but deserted apart from a middle-aged couple called Clive and Linda. If I had to guess, I would say they were in their late forties, early fifties, well groomed, nicely dressed and very friendly, like a favourite aunt and uncle. They had lived in Mevagissey all their lives. They told me that when the event happened, everyone packed up their belongings and left for Truro and Exeter where they thought it would be safer. At the time they patrolled the town to make sure no-one looted as they thought the residents would only be gone a week or two. But as time went on, no-one returned and their food supplies dwindled, so they were forced to do the thing they had originally set out to stop. They scavenged each house, collecting any food that hadn’t gone off, and any supplies to help them survive through the winter. I noticed that Linda was sporting what looked like, brand new designer clothing which I suspected came from the shops by the harbour. Although I felt this was morally wrong, I couldn’t complain. I had basically set up shop in a house that wasn’t my own. To be called a hypocrite was an understatement. Plus, if she needed a nice coat or bag to help keep her morale up, who was I to stop her. I set up a trade agreement with them as I soon met them. I would ask for canned food that I knew would keep me full up for longer and in return, I would bring them fresh vegetables, milk and eggs.
For a good few months this agreement worked really well. But after awhile they were beginning to question where I was getting the fresh food from, where I lived, and if they could come and visit. I would respond with as little information as I could give them. ‘Close to St Austell’, ‘Near an allotment’ and ‘unfortunately my place is not big enough to hold anyone else’. They kindly accepted my responses but I knew I hadn’t fooled them. The more I saw them, the more questions they asked. ‘What was the safest way to get to St Austell these days?’ ‘How long does it take to travel on foot?’ I wasn’t expecting these questions so I made up the answer the best I could. The last encounter I had with them did not end how I would have liked.
For the last couple of weeks their appearance had progressively deteriorated. They looked malnourished, irritable and restless, like their self preservation had, over time, been drained from them, leaving only fear and desperation. Linda was sat on a bench staring into space whilst I spoke with her husband. Her designer clothing looked worn and dirty and her hair looked very neglected. Clive’s appearance hadn’t changed much, yes he was a lot thinner than when I first met him, but his demeanour suggested that he was determined to show people that he hadn’t been beaten. I had noticed, however, that Clive was carrying a knife in a small sheath attached to his brown leather belt buckle. He did his best to cover it up but the bottom of the sheath poked out below his denim jacket. I made the trade quickly with them, kept the small talk to a minimum and made a quick retreat. I don’t think I could have made it any more obvious that I wanted to get away from them.
The road I took back to Heligan was a long straight road that could have been mistaken for a Roman road. The stone walls that ran parallel had clearly withstood the test of time, standing proudly, escorting you through the open corridor. The road was covered in weeds that had found their way through the weakened, weathered concreted, highlighting the fact that no-one cared about the streets anymore. The long road restricted any opportunity to evade anyone who may have been following you. On the plus side, it was easy to spot the couple pursuing me. I maintained a steady speed so not to alert them to the fact that I knew they were on my tail. I took my chance to escape when I approached a wooded area with a small clearing. I darted across the road jumping the stone wall, diving straight into the dense foliage. I took advantage of their deteriorating condition and made as much distance between us as I could. I made many course changes to confuse and lose them, stopping every now and then to try and hear if they were close by. It was clear that they had never hunted before. Their raised voices, working together to try and find me all but hampered their attempt.
As time went on their voices lessened until all I could hear was the leaves blowing in the wind. I thought I was safe, and I was, from them. But what I have come to realise is, when one problem is averted, another one quickly follows. Various growls and barks, followed immediate by screams, echoed through the trees. The dense woodland disguised the direction that the attack had taken place. I felt surrounded and defenceless, knowing that at any moment I could be pounced on by wild animals. Panic engulfed my senses. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t see clearly. All I was trying to do was listen out for any sound so that I could run in the opposite direction.What was I doing?! I thought to myself. If I am going to survive this, I had to do more than submit to my flight response. The only people who I knew were near me were Clive and Linda. If my calculations were correct, they were roughly south east from my position. Therefore if I kept going North West, I should be clear of the woodland and in a much stronger position to use my bow if the animals followed.
As I weaved my way through the woodland I heard the animal’s barks getting louder and louder. They had my scent and were still hungry. The sunlight that was dampened down by the trees slowly broke their way though as I made my way towards the clearing. I was free of the forest! I knew if I could distance myself from the trees I would be in a stronger position to take them out with my longbow. The grassy field I entered was long and created resistance on my legs as I battled my way through what felt like deep water. The beasts were right behind me, the moment to fight back was now. With the bow in my left hand and the arrow on my right I turned whilst drawing back the bow string and waited. I was a good 50 meters away from the treeline. My hands were shaking, I needed to calm my nerves. I focussed on the job at hand, all I needed to do was have the animals in my sights and release the bow, the arrow would do the rest. I controlled my breathing and remembered that I have hit moving targets with my bow plenty of times. This was no different.
A moment felt like an eternity as I waited to see what I was up against. A rustling of a bush caught my attention and I saw them, a pack of dogs headed straight for me. From a distance I could just make out their breed, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, a dog that, in the past, was a misunderstood breed. Known for being a status dog, portrayed as being an animal that could attack at any minute, regardless of how well it had been trained. What people didn’t know was, at the time, they were sensitive and intelligent creatures, who responded the same as any dog would to kindness. Unfortunately, after the fall of society, to survive, families had to abandon their pets. One less mouth to feed. After a while, the pets who were fully dependant on their owners died of starvation. The other, more intelligent pets, learnt to survive on their own, becoming feral to live in the hostile environment, and this is what I was up against. A pack of five staffies who’s soul intention was to kill me to feed.
The good news was, they were running in one direction. The bad news was, they were running towards me. But the closer they got, the bigger the target became. I lined up my shot and released the bow. The arrow travelled silently through the air and missed the dog by a whisker. I lined up my next bow and released, sending the bow travelling with intent, piercing through the torso and turning what was a wild beast into a cowering mess on the grass. I had to move fast, one down but I had four others bearing down on me. I released arrow after arrow, taking them down one after the other, but I had ran out of distance. There was one left and it was determined to take me out. Throwing my long bow to the ground, I gathered my close range bow and arrows and prepare myself for a fight. He’s only meters away, his back legs flexed ready to pounce. Dropping and rolling, I managed to miss him by a foot. I fumbled to prepare the arrow but I had run out of time. The dog’s eyes were fixed on mine, he showed his teeth as if to taunt me, like these teeth will be piercing through my flesh like a knife through butter in a matter of second. The drool pouring from its bloody mouth was a watery red, I’m guessing the blood belonged to Clive and/or Linda. I knew I had a knife located on my ankle but I wouldn’t have enough time to grab it before the dog attacked. As he flexed his back legs ready to pounce he was startled by a gunshot close by. I seized my opportunity, releasing the arrow into his torso, sending him tumbling to the ground. I allow myself a moment of regret as I spotted a collar with a circular metal tag. His name was lucky, he was a family pet who had to adjust to a hostile world, same as everyone else. I put the thought to the back of my mind and gather my belongings.
I needed to investigate the gun shot to see if it was just one person, or a group of people. Whether the gun was shot in self defence or if it was pre-meditated. I couldn’t see outside of the field. The hedges surrounding the terrain was once neatly kept, but was now looking more like a pin cushion due to the overgrown branches sticking out. I found the gate and made my way out of the field and onto the road. It didn’t take me long to find where the gun shot had come from. Parked on the side of the road was a Renault Laguna Estate car. The boot was full to the brim with camping gear, suitcases and shopping bags full of clothes that had been frantically packed for a quick getaway. As I approached the car, bow in hand, I could hear the soft, troubled sound of a lady sobbing. The closer I got the more I could see. I could see two people in the front seats, both with their heads dropped. The lady was in the passenger side, her head bobbing up and down due to the involuntary spasms bought on by crying. The person in the drivers seat was not moving, and there was what I could only assume was blood running down the side window like paint that had been thrown onto a wall. The lady was distracted which allowed me to get close without being spotted. The driver was a man. The back of his head was missing and his body was lifeless. Any normal person would have found this shocking, but after years of playing first person shooter games, I had become desensitised to gore. The gun was in his hand, it looked like suicide. He had taken the easy route, some people aren’t cut out for this life. But to leave your partner alone and vulnerable to the unknown dangers is cowardly. Every inch of me was urging me to turn and run. I had survived quite comfortably on my own without getting involved it situations like this. If I had left there and then without her seeing me, she would have been non the wiser. My conscious, however told me not to be a dick and to help this lady who clearly was in a vulnerable state. I lowered my bow, keeping the arrow in place with one hand. The lady looked harmless but I couldn’t be sure. As I approached the car I held out my hand in an attempted to calm her.
“Hello” I said softly, trying not to startle her. Her head turns like a startled cat, her face filled with fear. She screams whilst frantically struggling to break free from the shackles of the seat belt. My pleads for calm went unnoticed. I ran round to her side to cut her off in her tracks. At that moment, I was her only hope of surviving through this ordeal, and I needed her to realise this before she did something she may have regretted. The passenger door swung open, with one hand she grabbed onto the top of the car door, using it to stand herself up. The other hand was clutching the gun, her finger was already caressing the trigger. One laps in concentration and I could have been shot. I lowered my bow to show my innocence. As she stood I could clearly see a prominent bump. She was pregnant. Even with a gun to my head, all I could think about was the coward slumped in the drivers seat.
“How could he do that to you?” I asked rhetorically.
“Don’t come any closer!” she commanded. “You can have whatever you want from the car, but you will not take the car itself or any of the baby items, do you understand?”
“I understand, but I don’t want anything. I heard the gunshot and I came to help. You have nothing to fear. My name is Shaun. What’s your name?”
She sobbed and lowered the gun slightly. “I’m Lucy.”
“It’s nice to meet you Lucy. I will keep my distance and my hand will remain raised. But all I ask is you remove your finger from the trigger, they can be very sensitive and I would not like to be shot. Just keep your index finger on the side, that means if you need to use it, you can shoot quickly. Is that ok” She nodded timidly and removed her finger and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Can you tell me what happened here? Who is the man in the car?”
“He is my husband, was my husband. We have been travelling for days. We heard there is a safe haven in Newquay. But we ran in to some trouble with a gang in Somerset. They’re leader wants me. He has claimed me as his property. We managed to get away but they are hunting us. My husband couldn’t take anymore, he wanted us to end our lives but I couldn’t do it, so he did it anyway. He abandoned us!” She was clearly terrified. My brain was screaming at me to turn and leave her to fend for herself. I had done very well by myself, living quite comfortably, and by taking someone in, I would open myself up to danger. But my conscious would not let me move.
“I have a place nearby. It’s hidden and can sustain us for a long time.”
“Why should I trust you? I have only just met you. You could be just as dangerous as the others” She made a valid point.
“You can have the gun on me at all times. I’ll drive and will have my bows and knives in the back. All I can tell you is I am not someone you need to fear. If it makes you feel better, think of this as a temporary arrangement. I will take you Newquay and then we can part ways. I’m much better on my own anyway. But in your current state. You’re not going to make it on your own.” I didn’t want to be blunt, but I felt it was the only way for her to trust me.
“OK then, you take me to Newquay and that’s it. But if you try anything, I will shoot you.” She raised the gun to my head and slightly pushed it in my direction.
“Great, thank you for the heads up” I often use sarcasm to deflect any awkward moments. I placed my gear in the boot and moved round to the drivers side where the husband was waiting for me. “We should bury him, would you like me to do it in the field for you?
“No leave him on the side of the road! He doesn’t deserve to be handled with dignity. He abandoned his wife and unborn child. The wildlife can feast on him.”
“Fair enough” I said, not really sure how to respond. I removed the body and placed it on the side of the road. I returned to the seat and wiped the bloody brains from the head rest.
We arrived at the Lost Gardens. As we exited the vehicle and I allowed her to take the lead whilst keeping my distance. Hesitantly she entered, looking around in amazement at the beauty of the gardens. “I never knew this place existed”
“You should have seen it when it was open to the public. I’ve tried my best to keep the weeds at bay but I’m no gardener. You should see the rest of it. But most importantly, there is an allotment. Plenty of fresh food, chickens for eggs and cows for milk. You will be safe and well looked after here whilst we prepare for our journey. Newquay isn’t far away but a lot of the main roads are blocked which means we will have to make our way through country roads.”
She turned to face me lowering the gun. “Thank you”, that was the first time i had seen her smile.
“Thank me when we get to Newquay” We slowly made our way around the grounds and finished at the house. I prepared a bed for her and lit a fire in preparation for the cool night air. I served up a meal whilst we made small talk. I learnt that she was a teacher in Bath. She had been married to her husband for 5 years. He was a senior manager at a bank that required him to travel a lot therefore they never really saw each other. She felt more like a trophy wife, someone who he needed to portray an image of a happy family to help him climb the corporate ladder. She fell pregnant shortly after the event. The husband tried his best but he had never done any manual labour. He had always had someone to do the housework, do the food shopping, maintain the house. He didn’t know how to survive.
She confirmed that Hinkley Point power station had a radiation leak. She had heard reports of residents who remained in their homes being driven crazy and appeared mutated. She believed the gang that was after her was from that area due to their disfigurement and feral like behaviour. To take her mind off the situation, I told her all about the history of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, which i think she wasn’t very interested in it because shortly after she said goodnight and made her way to the bedroom.
I locked the door but kept the key in the lock to signify to Lucy that she was not being held captive. As I made my way to my bedroom, walking across the landing, a tiny flash of light caught my attention. I believed that it had come from the other end of the field. I stood and looked out of the window for what seemed like hours, hoping to see some sign of movement, but nothing. I convinced myself that it could have been a light in the house reflecting off the window. I entered the bedroom and got straight into bed, resting my head on the pillow. On previous nights I would drop off to sleep within minutes of closing my eyes, but that night I didn’t sleep. Something didn’t feel right. I had let someone into my life, but they had bought more baggage with them then i was hoping for. What if the gang wasn’t that far behind. Maybe she wasn’t as innocent as she was making out. There was enough time between the gun shot and me approaching the car for her to have pulled the trigger, shooting her husband, the arranging his hand to make it look like he has shot himself. Maybe that wasn’t even her husband. He could have been an innocent bystander who, like myself, saw a woman in destress and offered to help her. She could have pulled the gun on him and forced him to take her all this way before killing him. Whatever had happened before today didn’t matter anymore. I had let this woman into my home, she knew where I lived, how to get here, and how comfortable I was living. I needed to get her to Newquay as soon as possible so that I could go back to looking after myself.