Crash III: There's No Place Like Home (10 page)

“Shit!” Lola said before letting the flame on her lighter die.

If Your Name’s Not Down

When the light went out, time seemed to stop. The men only had the memory of where he was, so Michael had to move. He had to let the darkness work for him. He had to be like Batman.

When Michael darted to the side, the movement seemed to spark the entire room into action. No one spoke. It seemed like everyone was listening to the others’ shuffling feet.
 

When he heard a muffled grunt, Michael stopped and stared in the direction of the sound.
Lola?

With the door blocked by the men, Michael headed for the desk. It felt like he’d trip with every step he took, but he remained on his feet.

Someone clattered into the small bin with a crash. Everything stopped.

Then Michael moved again. He found the chair. After grabbing the back of it and lifting it out in front of him, he held his breath. Too much noise would give him away.
 

The chair wasn’t as heavy as he’d anticipated, and his ankle, although sore, held up.

As he turned around, he expected the chair to connect with somebody, but no one ran into it. He faced the doorway and waited for his moment.
 

The glare of a flashlight cut through the gloom, stinging Michael’s eyes. Michael launched the chair in its direction.

Following a loud clatter, the man yelled and the flashlight fell to the floor. As it lay there, it drew a beam to the back of the room.
 

Avoiding the light, Michael pressed his back to one of the dark walls. If they couldn’t see him, he had the advantage. Trying his best to control his breathing even though his heart galloped, he skirted along the wall toward the door leading to the shop.

The flashlight was lifted from the floor but darkness hid the person holding it. Michael had to be quick. He doubled his pace toward the exit.
 

As the light scanned the room, Michael saw Lola was being choked out by the other man.
 

All he had to do was reach the door. Even with a sore ankle, he could outrun these men if he needed to.

When he reached the door, he grabbed the handle and listened to Lola fighting for breath. When the light passed over her again, her face was the color of beetroot and her eyes bulged. He couldn’t leave her.
 

Damn it.
Michael let go of the cold handle, took a deep breath, and ran at the man holding Lola. He swung for him, his wrist stinging as his wet punch connected with what felt like the man’s ear.

The flashlight turned on the man, who let go of Lola and grabbed the side of his head where Michael had hit him. “What the fuck?”

Back at the door, Michael pushed the handle down and threw it open. As he sped out, he called, “Come on, Lola.”

Although he didn’t look around, he heard footsteps behind him. The door then crashed into one of their pursuers, and the man screamed. Lola must have slammed it on him.
 

With Lola on his tail, Michael ran to the bent shutter. One of the men roared. There was a loud thud
and crash
as one of the men kicked the door open and it hit the wall.

Without breaking stride, Michael ducked through the gap created by the bent shutter and crawled into the street. He glanced up and down the deserted road. The rain still fell. The library still burned on the horizon.

The desire to sprint twitched through him as he watched the gap. “Come on, Lola, hurry up.”

Her head appeared, and Michael went to her. She was halfway through when a large hand reached out and wrapped around her mouth. Her eyes flew wide as the hand then pulled and her head snapped back from the action.

Lola’s eyes went from wide to squinting. The hand disappeared suddenly and yet another deep roar came from one of the men.

“Did you just bite him?” Michael asked.

Preoccupied with trying to get out of the shop, Lola didn’t reply.
 

Michael reached down, gripped beneath her arms, and pulled her free from the hole.
 

Falling backward with her, he crashed onto the hard ground and a frigid jolt ran up his spine. They’d fallen into a cold puddle and the water soaked straight through his clothes.
 

Lola got to her feet first. “Come on, Michael, we’ve got to go; now!”

The head of one of the men appeared at the hole.
 

Clenching her teeth, Lola swung a kick that connected with the man’s face with a wet
thwack
. The man’s head clattered into the metal shutter above him.

Michael got to his feet and followed after Lola, who ran off up the street.
 

As they ran, Michael looked behind. The man Lola had kicked lay limp, blocking the other man’s exit.

Just before they vanished around the bend, headlights appeared at the opposite end of the road.
 

Michael froze and it took him a second to catch his breath enough to speak. “It’s the men from the bridge.” His pulse raged. “We need to get the fuck away from here now.”

House Guests

The cold air burned Michael’s lungs as he ran. With the adrenalin from the escape dying down, the pain in his damaged ankle returned. He stumbled to the side when he put pressure on it and nearly fell. It was no good. He pulled up. Linking his fingers behind his head, he opened his mouth wide and fought to get air into his body. Every exhalation created a huge puff of condensation.
 

Fortunately, Lola noticed and stopped too; he didn’t have the breath to call after her.

As she walked back toward him with a swagger, she looked him up and down. “What’s up, Nearly Eleven?”

Michael bent forward and rested his hands on his knees, his navel pulling up into his ribcage as he gasped. He couldn't speak, so he shook his head instead.

When he looked up, Lola continued to stare at him. He spoke between breaths. “I need… to… stop.” He took in several more breaths and continued, “I can’t go any… farther. My ankle feels like it’s… going to… give way, and I’m going to puke.”

When he received no reply, he looked up again to see Lola swipe her sodden hair away from her face. The rain continued to fall hard. “Fine!”

Terraced houses lined either side of the road. Like all of the other buildings in the city, the windows spoke only of the darkness behind them. There could be anything lurking in the shadows.
 

Lola removed her jacket and wrapped it around her hand as she walked toward one of the houses. When she hopped over the front wall, Michael checked up and down the street. There was no one there, or at least no one he could see. He followed after her, limping as he walked.

The side of the house was blocked off with a gate that stood about six feet tall. Michael watched Lola push against it. It didn’t budge. Seconds later, she jumped up, grabbed the top of it, and pulled herself over. Did she expect him to do the same? If he had another bad landing, he wouldn’t walk again for days.

There was a light thud as she landed on the other side, then the scratch of metal on metal as she worked the bolt free with a snap. Lola opened the gate.
 

“Lock it again behind you,” she said as she walked away.

Still exhausted from the run, Michael stepped through the gate and battled his shaking hands as he locked it behind himself. He then followed her around to the back of the house.

Despite the fact most houses in London had been abandoned for some time, Michael felt like a trespasser. The owners may never return, but it was still their property.

With her jacket still wrapped around her hand, Lola made a fist and wound her arm back. Michael flinched as she punched the window.
 

Rather than a loud crash, the glass broke with a
pop
. Some of the glass fell to the floor and smashed, but then it was silent again.
 

"Have you done this before?" he asked Lola in a whisper.
 

She didn't reply.

After knocking through the bigger bits of glass that remained in the frame, Lola reached in and unlocked the window. She pulled it wide and a few more shards fell to the ground. Two more gentle splashes called out as they broke on the patio.
 

Lola then hopped up onto the window ledge and climbed through into the house.
 

Gritting his teeth because of the pain in his ankle, Michael followed in after her.

***

They’d broken into the dining room. The only light, as always, came from the moon through the windows.
 

"This place must have been abandoned during the day," Lola said.

"How do you know?"

"None of the curtains are drawn."

Michael looked around at the immaculate house. "Maybe there's some food here still," he said. "It doesn't look like anyone's been here and I don't believe every house in London's been picked clean."

"I wouldn’t get your hopes up," Lola said.

The glass from the smashed window crunched beneath Michael’s feet, and Lola spun on him with her finger pressed to her lips.

Right, so he can see in the dark now can he? Jesus, what did she expect from him?
Regardless, Michael raised his hands in apology and tried his best to keep quiet.

The hope Michael carried in his chest deflated instantly when they got to the kitchen. Every cupboard door hung open, and the shelves were bare save for detergent and cleaning products. Michael’s stomach rumbled as if berating him for expecting anything more.

When a cold gust of wind rushed into the room, Michael glanced up. One of the kitchen windows had already been broken. “So we made all that noise for nothing then?”

Lola scowled at him.
 

Michael and Lola made their way to the living room. Like the dining room, it was immaculate.

When they walked back down the hallway, Michael stopped at a small door. A step or two ahead of him, Lola turned and paused. Before Michael opened it, he waited for her to dip a gentle nod of approval.

After a deep breath, his heart raging, he pushed the handle down and yanked the door open.
 

A surge of movement rushed from the cupboard and pinned Michael to the opposite wall. Yelling out, he held his arms in front of his face and gave over to it, falling to the floor and closing his eyes.
 

When he heard Lola laughing, he opened his eyes again and looked up at the ironing board that had trapped him.
 

Shaking her head, Lola whistled. “Well, you really showed it.”

“Fuck you, Lola.”

***

They checked the downstairs toilet and then headed upstairs, Lola taking the lead again.

The light carpet that ran up the stairs continued onto the landing, which opened up to three rooms.
 

The first room had a double bed in it and not a lot else. His mum always said guest bedrooms should be decorated in neutral colors. It would seem that whoever owned this house before agreed with that. The lack of light made it hard to tell which color the owner had gone for, but it was light… probably beige or something similar.
 

The bathroom next door had been cleaned with the same attention to detail as the rest of the house.
 

Lola laughed. "This place looks like a bloody show home. Talk about clean freak."

Michael screwed his nose up at the tang of bleach and stepped back a pace.
 

When they walked into the master bedroom, Lola said, “Finally, a room that looks like it's been used."

Michael looked at the unmade bed, the drawers that hung open in the chest of drawers, and the pile of dirty laundry in the corner on the floor.

Spinning full circle, Lola scratched her chin. “Whoever lived here left in a hurry.” She laughed. “And who could blame them?”
 

It was only now, knowing the house was empty, that Michael started to shiver. The rain had left his clothes cold and damp. As he stood in the master bedroom, he slipped his hands beneath his armpits, folded his arms across his chest, and shook.
 

Lola frowned as she watched him for a second. She then pointed at the window. “Go and close the curtains.”

Once he’d done that, she lit her lighter and ran it over the chest of drawers.
 

In no time, she’d removed a stack of clothes and let go of her lighter, plunging the room back into darkness.
 

When Michael felt her bump into him, he jumped. She pressed a pile of soft clothes into his side.
 

“Here, put these on.”

Shivering so much it shook his words, Michael stammered, “C-can’t y-you-you put your l-l-lighter b-b-back on?”

“So you can watch me undress? What are you, some kind of pervert or something?”

The warm rush of embarrassment set his face on fire. “Um… no, not for that reason, it’s just—”

“Put the clothes on. There are some thin trousers on the top. Put those on first. Then there are some tracksuit bottoms, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt.” Snickering, she added, “You’ll have to go commando I’m afraid.”

“Commando?” Michael asked.
 

“No tightie whities.”

Michael didn’t respond as he listened to Lola laugh some more.
 

After peeling his damp jeans and underwear off, his legs soaked beneath them, Michael’s skin turned to gooseflesh. When he put the thin trousers on, he relaxed almost instantly as the soft and dry fabric hugged each leg.
 

After putting the tracksuit bottoms on over the trousers, his upper body still naked, Michael said, “I can’t believe the men in the shop were with the ones we saw on the bridge. I wonder how many of them are out in London.”

“Dunno.”
 

“Well, whatever we do, we need to stay away from them. They’re bad men, and they’ll do horrible things.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what happened to you?” The flash of Lola’s lighter made him jump. She was already in the bed beneath the covers. The lighter stayed on long enough for her to light another cigarette, and then the room went dark again.
 

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