The sounds of destruction continued behind us. We picked up the pace as we speed-marched down the dirt track.
“What’s the plan?” said Maurice. “I mean, if that thing comes after us, what do we do?”
“We run,” I said, “and hope whatever’s at the end of this road has plenty of places to hide.”
The silhouette in the distance had started to take on the shape of a building, but it was still too far away to be sure what kind. In this world, when you ran from danger, you were just as likely to be running towards it at the same time.
“Do you really think we can outrun it?” said Claire, nervously looking over her shoulder.
“We don’t have to outrun,” I said. “We only have to outrun each other.”
This comment, which I felt was simply stating the truth, did not go down well.
Claire sped up until she was ahead of me and turned her head to give me a full-in-the-face glare. “You really think it’s okay to let Flossie get eaten?”
“Hey,” said Flossie, who was bringing up the rear and panting quite hard, “ah can move when ah have to.”
“Don’t worry,” said Dudley, “I won’t let you get eaten.”
“Worry about yourself,” said Flossie as she zoomed through the crowd and took the lead.
Everyone started overtaking each other, but in a casual ‘I’m not really running, I’m just stretching my legs’ kind of way. Nobody wanted to be at the back where monsters could get you.
Fortunately, whatever it was back in the forest didn’t come out, although the unnerving noises continued. We slowed down a bit as the sounds receded into the distance, partly because we felt safer, and partly because we were all knackered.
The fields on either side of the track had changed from grass to crops—corn, wheat, various green vegetables—and the building appeared to be a farmhouse. It took us about an hour to reach it.
The ranch-style house was a one storey wooden building with a large porch out front, and a small barn stood next to it. Chickens wandered around the yard and a goat tied to a post bleated at us as we approached. I didn’t see any people. Of course, as soon as we got within a few yards of the place, I found myself back in the lead with everyone else huddled behind me.
“Watch out for the goat,” said Maurice. “It might be trained.”
I wasn’t sure what he thought it might be trained to do, but it did have rather larger horns so I gave it wide berth, just in case. After everything we’d been through, I refused to be taken down by an attack-goat.
Our tightly packed group nervously advanced through the chickens—which had apparently been trained to shit everywhere—and climbed the steps onto the porch. Or, at least, I did. The lonely sounds of my footsteps on the wooden boards indicated the others had stopped just short and allowed me to take the final few steps alone.
I had the sword in my left hand. If things went pear-shaped, I could draw it from its scabbard and wave it around like someone who doesn’t know how to use a sword properly. Will I hurt you? Will I hurt me? What could be more intimidating?
After a moment to calm myself and think over what I was going to say, I knocked on the door and took a step back. I heard someone approach and then the door was yanked open to reveal a small woman. She was quite fat with her brown hair piled up on her head in a bun.
“Yes?” She wiped her hands on the apron around her waist. She didn’t look the least bit surprised to see me standing there. She didn’t look particularly pleased either.
It took me a moment to remember what I planned to say. “Oh, hello. I’m Colin. How are you?” None of which was part of my prepared speech.
She looked me up and down, then past me at the others.
“We’re on our way to Fengarad,” I continued, getting back on track, but suddenly rushing so everything came out of my mouth at a million miles an hour. “We were hoping we could buy some food from you. We can pay. With money. Eggs, milk, bread, anything really. We don’t mind helping out if you need a hand or something like that. Do you have any? Food, I mean. We have money, like I said. Nice place you have here.” I made myself smile in what I hoped was an amiable manner, although it was probably more creepy than friendly.
She stared at me a bit more. It was the kind of look you rarely see outside a professional boxing match. It made me want to crawl away and take my chances with the monster in the woods.
“You’ll be the visitors who arrived a few days ago.”
It wasn’t a question, and I couldn’t tell if she considered our arrival to be a good thing or not.
“Yes. Will you help us? So far, everyone we’ve met either ignores us or treats us like idiots for not knowing how things work in this world.”
A baby started crying somewhere inside the house.
“You better come in, then.” She turned and walked away, leaving the door open.
I followed her, rapidly joined by the patter of four pairs of feet behind me.