This morning we made our way into the countryside and made a stop where the tracks came close to a narrow canal. We need drinking water, and I’m sure that after several weeks of running constantly that a diesel motor is likely to need some form of cooling fluid as well.
There’s a core team of us now that form the main defence team whenever we need to worry about safety. I gathered them to me and we armed up ready to replenish our dwindling supply of H2O.
Shoving our way through overgrown brambles and stinging nettles, I was glad to have my handy dandy machete back again. A bit of TLC to work out the dents and nicks in the blade from hacking zoms, I had managed to put a nice edge on it and it was cutting through the vegetation was like a hot knife through butter. Mmm, butter.
Anyways, the six of us were making good time getting down from the tracks, through the undergrowth and heading for the river when the sound of a motor took us all by surprise and instinctively we all hit the dirt. Our heads whipped from side to side as we tried to trace the source of the noise. It was getting louder, and closer, but where could it have been coming from?
It was the gentle chug, chug, chug of an engine under no strain at all, at barely more than an idle. Something was casually heading towards us. Then it came around the corner. A boat on the river. It was what they call a narrow boat. We all stayed low. Knowing what the people on the train had been like before I had rescued the woman and children from them, we didn’t want to risk another nasty encounter with strangers. We stayed low and watched as it chugged its way past us. Standing at the back of the boat, holding on to the long tiller pole was a woman in a green jumper with long, straggly gray hair.
Suddenly the teenager that was with us, Deborah, jumped to her feet.
“Maureen?”, she said out loud. “Maureen!” she then shouted. All the rest of us started shushing her, both because we weren’t sure if the boat inhabitants were friendly, plus we didn’t need any snotties to come by. “Maureen! Maureen!” she kept shouting. Jumping up and down and waving her arms. Finally the woman on the boat turned and, throwing her hand over her eyes like a salute in order to shade the glare from the pale grey sky, she flicked a leaver and the engine of the boat engine died in volume. She pushed the lever further the same way and the pitch of the engine suddenly increased tenfold and the water started frothing and churning behind the boat as she threw it into full reverse.
From somewhere beside her, another head popped up. This was of a balding man with spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose.
At this Deborah muttered “Uncle Charlie?” and started pushing her way through the remaining tangles between her and the river’s edge. Her hands were starting to get scratched up pretty badly so the rest of us tried to help her through.
On reaching the water, the noise of the engine had died off and this Uncle Charlie chap had jumped ashore with a rope in his hands and quickly tied the boat off to the trunk of a straggly tree. He looked up in time for Deborah to throw herself at him. The poor, surprised guy was knocked back and struggled to keep his balance, and his specs on his face, as the girl broke down sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. Uncle Charlie by this stage had regained his composure and grabbing the girl’s head in his hands, gently pushed her back to take a good look at her grimy, tear streaked face.
“Deb?” he finally croaked, and a tear fell from his eye. Maureen, having sorted things on the boat, finally came running up to see what was going on. As soon as she saw Deborah though, she was in hysterics and crying and wailing.
Obviously this was some kind of touching moment for the three of them, and in a way the rest of us felt some sense of happiness and perhaps even jealousy for them. But right then we were all on high alert as the unnecessary noise was the exact thing to rustle us up a batch of finely rotted corpses shambling our way. The other four of our group spread out a little and kept a wary eye on the surroundings as the three calmed down at last and started catching up.
It turned out that Deb was their niece. With no idea that she was still alive, Maureen and Charles took to the high seas, well, narrow channels of water that run the length and breadth of England, and had spent the last several years pottering around in the relative safety of the country’s waterways. They immediately invited Deb to join them. She thanked me again, as I seem to get from all of the escapees on a semi-regular basis, and hugged the others of the away team goodbye, then hopped aboard the boat. When she ducked her head to go below, we knew she had a much better life ahead of her at last.
Maureen waved to us as she threw the motor in gear and the boat very slowly made its way out into the middle of the channel and chugged away out of sight. As the sounds of the engine faded into the distance, we filled our water containers and started the hard slog back to the train with the heavy loads. The team were all quiet as we each wondered what our own fairytale rescue from this nightmare might be.