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Sonya Farley

Heav­i­ly preg­nant and strand­ed miles from any­where, Sonya Far­ley even­tu­al­ly reach­es the group of sur­vivors at the uni­ver­si­ty in AUTUMN: THE CITY. The trag­ic events which unfold whilst she’s there leaves all those left alive in no doubt as to the hor­rif­ic nature of the virus which has dec­i­mat­ed the pop­u­la­tion, and the impli­ca­tions for human survival.

Her preg­nant bel­ly wedged tight behind the steer­ing wheel of her car, Sonya Far­ley stared at the nev­er-end­ing queue of bare­ly-mov­ing traf­fic which stretched out in front of her and yawned. This was the third time in two weeks that she’d dri­ven this night­mare jour­ney for Chris­t­ian. Gen­er­al­ly she didn’t mind; he worked damn hard and he was doing all he could to get every­thing ready for the immi­nent birth of their baby. It wasn’t his fault he’d been need­ed at the firm’s Scot­tish office, and she didn’t blame him for any of this. He’d final­ly fin­ished the last design at the week­end and she’d agreed to deliv­er them to the cen­tral branch to save him the incon­ve­nience. Each design had tak­en many, many hours to com­plete and she ful­ly under­stood why he wasn’t pre­pared to leave it to some two-bit couri­er firm to deliv­er them. But regard­less of the rea­sons why and the log­i­cal expla­na­tions for her being stuck out on the road for hours on end, she was strug­gling. At this stage of their preg­nan­cies, Sonya thought, all of her friends were at home with their feet up, being pam­pered and get­ting ready for the birth. And where was she? Going nowhere fast in the mid­dle lane of one of the busiest motor­ways in the coun­try dur­ing the peak of the morn­ing rush hour. And where did she want to be? Just about any­where else.

Focus on tomor­row night, she told her­self. Tomor­row night Chris will be home and we can final­ly spend some time togeth­er. No more work. No more Scot­land. It would prob­a­bly be their last chance to relax togeth­er before the baby came. They’d planned to go out for a meal then catch a movie, mak­ing the most of their free­dom, well aware of the mas­sive upheaval they were about to expe­ri­ence. The last few weeks had been hard. Sonya just want­ed a few calm days before the birth. A nice warm bath and an ear­ly night tonight is just what I need, she thought. She’d real­ly missed Chris. She hat­ed it when he wasn’t there, espe­cial­ly now. She couldn’t wait to see him again.

Some­thing was hap­pen­ing up ahead.

Strug­gling to move her cum­ber­some bulk and still keep con­trol of the car, Sonya peered into the near dis­tance where she could see the rel­a­tive­ly uni­form move­ment of the traf­fic becom­ing sud­den­ly more ran­dom. Brake lights flashed bright red up ahead and her heart sank. An acci­dent. Shit, that was all she need­ed. She was miles away from the near­est exit and if the traf­fic backed-up she’d be stuck. Her heart sank. She couldn’t face sit­ting her for hours on end, with her swollen bel­ly and swollen ankles. She’d been jok­ing with Chris on the phone last night that if he kept mak­ing her do this dri­ve, she’d end up giv­ing birth in the back of the car on the hard shoul­der. That didn’t seem so fun­ny now …

More brake lights, burn­ing bright against the grey gloom of ear­ly morn­ing. Nois­es too now. Even over the sound of her own car’s engine she could hear strained mechan­i­cal whines and squeals as dri­vers strug­gled to avoid sud­den col­li­sions. Shit, she thought, this is seri­ous. Almost imme­di­ate­ly the scream­ing brakes and strain­ing engines were replaced with grind­ing thuds, vio­lent smash­es and heavy groans as vehi­cle after vehi­cle after vehi­cle slammed and crashed into the one in front, lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of them form­ing a vast, motion­less, tan­gled car­pet of twist­ed met­al in just a few bewil­der­ing seconds.

Sonya had no time to react.

Forced to slam on her own brakes as the vehi­cles imme­di­ate­ly ahead of her ploughed into those ahead of them, she braced her­self for the inevitable impact. She didn’t know what she was going to hit, what was going to hit her or even from which direc­tion the first impact would come. All around her every vehi­cle seemed to be going out of con­trol as if their dri­vers had sim­ply dis­ap­peared. Just ahead, in the rapid­ly dis­ap­pear­ing void between her car and the may­hem fill­ing the road, count­less cars, vans and lor­ries were swerv­ing and criss­cross­ing the car­riage­way. The first col­li­sion came from the right as a sol­id, four-wheel dri­ve vehi­cle smashed into the rear wing of her car, its buf­fa­lo bars cav­ing in the met­al­work and shat­ter­ing glass, the force of the vio­lent impact send­ing her car spin­ning round through almost one hun­dred and eighty degrees so that she now found her­self fac­ing the rest of the traf­fic. Shock imme­di­ate­ly gave way to terror.

An expen­sive-look­ing executive’s car was head­ing straight for her. Unable to do any­thing, Sonya watched the dri­ver of the car thrash­ing about wild­ly. He was claw­ing at his neck with one hand, scratch­ing and scrap­ing at it des­per­ate­ly as he strug­gled unsuc­cess­ful­ly to hold onto the steer­ing wheel with the oth­er. His face was red and his eyes wide with pain. He looked like he was being asphyxiated.

Thrown to the side as her car was rocked by anoth­er col­li­sion from the left, she shield­ed her face from fly­ing glass then looked through what was left of her pas­sen­ger win­dow. A tanker had smashed into a van which had, in turn, smashed into her. The dri­ver of the van had been hurled through his wind­screen and was sprawled face down over the crum­pled bon­net of his vehi­cle, his blood­ied head land­ing just a short dis­tance from her. She looked away in dis­gust, inad­ver­tent­ly look­ing straight into the tanker driver’s face, which bore an expres­sion of absolute agony. Dark red blood drib­bled down his chin.

The executive’s car ploughed into Sonya’s at speed, send­ing her fly­ing back in her seat and then lurch­ing for­ward equal­ly vio­lent­ly. Con­sumed by a sud­den wave of nau­se­at­ing pain as her dis­tend­ed bel­ly and her baby were momen­tar­i­ly crushed again, she lost consciousness.

#

In the brief time Sonya was uncon­scious, the world around her changed almost beyond all recog­ni­tion. She cau­tious­ly half-opened her eyes. Slumped for­ward with her face pressed hard against the steer­ing wheel, she pushed her­self back and strug­gled for a moment with the weight of her unborn child. Her own safe­ty was of no con­cern. She remained still and closed her eyes again, run­ning her hands over her bruised and ten­der bel­ly, con­cen­trat­ing hard until she was sure she felt the reas­sur­ing move­ments of the baby inside. Her split-sec­ond feel­ings of relief were imme­di­ate­ly for­got­ten when she lift­ed her head again and looked around.

Apart from the occa­sion­al hiss­ing jet of steam and the smoke and flames com­ing from sev­er­al vehi­cles which were burn­ing, the world was com­plete­ly silent and still. Noth­ing moved. Where she had expect­ed to hear the cries and moans of the injured, or the approach­ing sirens of the emer­gency ser­vices rush­ing to the scene along the hard shoul­der, there was nothing.

Sonya tried to open the door to get out but anoth­er crashed car to her right had wedged it shut and she was unable to open it any more than a cou­ple of cen­time­tres. Every exit was sim­i­lar­ly blocked, the sun­roof her only safe escape route. Shiv­er­ing with shock and feel­ing ice-cold, she lift­ed a hand and opened the sun­roof. Every noise she made sound­ed dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly loud in the oppres­sive­ly silent vac­u­um that the morn­ing had become. The tint­ed win­dow above her slid open then stopped with a heavy thud. Slow­ly lift­ing her­self up, she guid­ed her head and shoul­ders out through the restric­tive rec­tan­gu­lar open­ing. She cau­tious­ly stood up, one foot on either of the front seats, then wrig­gled her toes, water reten­tion hav­ing swollen her feet and ankles. She lift­ed her arms up out of the car and then eased and squeezed her preg­nant stom­ach through the rub­ber-lined gap. Her arms weak with nerves, she put the palms of her hands flat on the roof of the car and slow­ly pushed her­self up and out. A few sec­onds more grunt­ing and strain­ing and she was sit­ting on the roof of her wrecked vehi­cle. For a while she just sat there in silence and sur­veyed the dev­as­ta­tion. The car­nage appeared end­less, the motor­way com­plete­ly dead in both direc­tions. Sonya shuf­fled around so that she was look­ing back towards the city she had dri­ven through less than an hour ear­li­er. For as far as she could see the traf­fic on the motor­way was motion­less. She delib­er­ate­ly tried not to look too close­ly at any of the wrecked vehi­cles although it was hard not to stare. Their dri­vers were dead. Some remained sat in their seats like blood-streaked shop win­dow dum­mies. Some were burn­ing. Many oth­er corpses were on the road, lying in the gaps between the wrecks of their cars, tankers, lor­ries, bikes and vans.

A cold autum­nal wind blew along the length of the road, prompt­ing Sonya to get down from her exposed posi­tion. Over­come by the incom­pre­hen­si­ble scale and speed of what had hap­pened, and unable to think about any­thing but the safe­ty of her unborn child, she care­ful­ly pulled her feet out of the car and slid down the wind­screen and onto the crum­pled bon­net. Using the wrecks of oth­er vehi­cles as step­ping stones, she crossed to the hard shoul­der. It was a lit­tle clear­er at the very edge of the road, and she began to walk back towards the city. Dark thoughts filled her mind: How far has this spread? Is Chris­t­ian okay? I need to call him. Need to let him know I’m all right and the baby’s safe. Don’t want him wor­ry­ing if he hears about this on TV.

The city, more than four miles away, was dying too. She could clear­ly see it begin­ning, even from this dis­tance. Ran­dom explo­sions ripped through build­ings. Fires began to spread and quick­ly take hold. She could see smoke pour­ing into the ear­ly morn­ing air in thick, steady palls; a dirty, grey smog.

With her swollen feet already sore, and the birth of her baby omi­nous­ly close, Sonya dragged her­self back towards the city in search of some­one — any­one — who could help her.

THE AUTUMN SERIES