Author: Peter Arscott

The shouts across the river were loud and human. On this side there was no noise and no activity, and the house stood between two oaks along the road. Close against the side of the house the man stood with a rifle waiting for the inevitable to happen. His calm was witnessed by nobody except you, the reader, and by a squirrel in one of the oaks, and it was so commanding that he seemed to be leaning into the house to hold it up, as if, like a frightened old duchess, it would otherwise succumb to the prevailing horror and collapse in a heap. With his back against the whitewashed wall, he turned his head towards the river and spat something into the dust then cleared his throat. He whistled a tune that sounded like Danny Boy which, for now, held its own against the growing roar that rolled across the water. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a small movement in the oak to his right and raised the rifle to his shoulder, only to drop it when he saw the squirrel. On a normal day on the farm, not on a day like this, he would have pulled the trigger and downed it in one shot. Not that he was saving ammunition or even avoiding betraying his whereabouts, he did not care about any of that – there was nothing left dear to him and he was going to die.

He moved away from the wall and stepped towards the back garden and the riverbank. Now there was movement on the other side, too far away to be distinct but enough to confirm the size of the swarming mass as it appeared out of the dark woods and onto the river’s edge. His nostrils flared, the stench was already wafting across, and he spat some more. He had to wait until they were at least seventy five yards from him for the bullets to have any effect, so that meant they had to start crossing the river and reach just beyond the halfway point before he pulled the trigger, just beyond the point where a partly-submerged supermarket trolley showed its wheels to the sky. There were no boats on the other side, all had been commandeered by the fleeing community weeks ago, so they would have to, what, swim? Could they swim? Probably, despite their size they seemed capable of doing anything. He watched.

When he looked down at his wrist, he realized he had spent twenty minutes on his feet in a sort of reverie, the sounds were so familiar to him they had little effect day to day, even the smell was something he was used to, just part of the backdrop to this bad dream. He squinted and saw that they were nearer now, in the water or on the water, it was hard to make out, but as he raised the rifle and took aim it was apparent that they were neither, because the river was irrelevant, just as the seas, the mountains and the cities had been of no consequence to them. They simply appeared. And there they were in front of him, determined, uncaring and relentless. He squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet hole appear like a sudden eye in the crown of one of them. It screamed and crumpled downwards. It was all too quick, and he had no time left. He smiled, turned and looked up into the oak to acknowledge the squirrel, his one last gesture.