A weekend in the Lake District sounded like a reasonable suggestion, but James Morton and his wife, along with their two daughters found it to be quite an ordeal, as their simmering, disordered marriage had only lasted for four months, and already the cracks were beginning to show. They had been together for eight years. Throughout that time had split up five times, yet, somehow they ended up together. A whole year had passed without any interruptions, resulting in James’s proposal of marriage, but soon after, arguments began to puncture their relationship, and at one point they agreed to the stay together, ‘for the kids’, but it was more than that. Neither of them wanted to risk leaving their comfort zone and venture out into the lonely world of singledom. So arguments became more and more frequent, and James slept on the couch more and more often.
He had suggested a trip to the Lake District, as the fresh air and change of scenery might do them all good, and maybe it did, but it did not stop their bickering, their souring of the mood of the occasion. It was not constant, but enough for both of them to barely crack a smile for the duration, and it was Hazel who suggested they leave earlier, as the rain had started, and didn’t seem as though it would let up, and your own bed is always the comfiest. So without much protest from James, they left in the afternoon, instead of the evening, as planned. The girls wanted to stay longer. Now, as they headed home along a winding country lane, they sat on the back seat in a sulk, as did their mother who stared out of the passenger window, in a bad mood because James hadn’t put much petrol in to cover the journey there and back. The needle was nearly touching the red. She attributed it to him being careful with his money, but it was alright for him to throw money on going for a drink with the lads. He could spare that money alright.
He, in turn, reflected her mood, so the interior of the car was filled with an oppressive atmosphere, heavy with antagonism, but silent. After a few moments Hazel spoke again:
“Told you…” she muttered.
“Look will you just leave it!” James shouted, his left hand chopping the air as though fending off her bitterness. The sound of sighing came from the back seat, but it was ignored. The car came to a crossroads, and James drove onwards.
“What are you doing?” said Hazel. “You should have turned right. You should have turned right”.
“I know,” said James, but there’s a village down here, and I just need to pick up a few things.”
“A few things? Such as?”
“You know, like food and water.”
“We don’t need food and water. There’s plenty for the trip home, plenty for the girls, and how much more petrol are you going to waste doing that?” James was silent. He knew she was right.
“If we run out of petrol halfway home….” she threatened, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“This place better hadn’t been far,” she said, resuming her sulk, and staring out of the window.
It turned out to be a little over a mile away, but when they reached the place, James pulled up outside a line of four shops, then opened the door and got out. The silence that had pervaded the car interior seemed to expand outwards when he had opened the door, as when he stood, looking around, all was quiet. He could see nobody. A slight breeze blew a brown leaf onto the road. From his vantage point, he could see a public house, a church, and a post office.
“Well hurry up then, go,” said Hazel. “Get what you want, and let's go.”
“There’s nobody here,” he said. “It’s deserted.” Hazel didn’t reply for a few seconds, then got out of the car and stood, like her husband, surveying the area.
“Where is everyone?” she asked as if he would know.
“How am I supposed to know?” he retorted, crossing onto the pavement and walking across to what must have been the local newsagents.
Save for the fact that there was nobody behind the counter; everything seemed normal. The newspapers were for the previous day. When he came out, he was eating a chocolate bar.
“Was somebody in there?” she asked. He shook his head.
“Then I hope you left money on the counter.”
“Nope,” he said. “Nobody’s going to miss it.”
“But that’s theft,”.” said Hazel. James gave a wave of dismissal.
“Oh, I’m going for a look around, you can do what you li.”
“Who’s that Mummy?” said one of the girls, who was standing beside the car, pointing along the road. James followed her pointing finger and saw in the distance, a man struggling with a bicycle, as though he didn’t know what to do with it.
James began walking towards him, picking up the pace as he went. When he was about forty metres away, the man saw him approaching, dropped the bike, and turned and ran towards a small church beyond a row of trees.
“No, wait,, ” said James, reaching out a hand, as though that would somehow stop him. He ran past the bike in the direction of the man, who he saw disappear through the main entrance of the building. He was soon following him through and found the man standing at the altar. He approached slowly.
“Excuse me,” he said, as he walked cautiously. The man turned and looked at James, who saw that he seemed ordinary enough. He was a normal man of around late thirties, wearing the attire of a priest.
“I can’t ride a bike.” The man said. “Why can’t I ride a bike? You’d think I would be able to, but I can’t. Sorry, forgive me." He walked forward to greet James. They shook hands.
“What’s happened here,” said James. “I came with my wife and kids and found…” He stopped talking, as he noticed that the man’s hand still gripped his, and it was getting tighter.
“I thought I’d lure you in here,” the man said. “As I don’t quite think I’ve got to everybody in this place yet. I didn’t want your wife to see what I am.”
The hand that gripped James began to disperse, or melt. It seeped into James, who could feel his blood turning cold, and his consciousness fading.
“It’s true what they say,” said the man. “A virus has no feelings which it transmits to. You could say that I’m a new, advanced strain. I can take on the form of humans, or any life-form that I can infect. So if I’m going to spread, then I’m going to need a host”. James’s vision blurred, but before everything went black, he saw the grinning face of the priest who slowly transmitted himself into James, who stood there for a few seconds, before stretching, and testing his new body.
“Right,” he said, turning and walking towards the entrance. Before he could get there, the two girls came in.
“Daddy, what’s happening?” one of them said. James simply stood there for a few moments.
“Where’s mum?” he asked.
“By the car, she’s still upset.” James knelt down and reached out a hand towards her. Leaning against the car, Hazel could not hear the screams.
After a few minutes, Hazel saw one of the girls walking back along the road towards her.
“Well.” She said as she approached. “What’s going on?” The girl looked at the car, then at Hazel.
“Can you drive?” she asked.
“What? What d’you mean?” The girl looked at the car for a few more moments, then shrugged.
“Well, it doesn’t matter I suppose.” She stepped across to Hazel.
“Don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine,” she said, as she reached up and gripped Hazel’s hand.