With the possible threat of Harvey looking for us, we’d walked for hours into the night. We did most things in silence, only stopping for Annie to have the last few sips of water. She lasted longer than we could have possibly expected of her. Once she started faltering, we took turns carrying her.
We had gone well past the now familiar brink of exhaustion. We were at whatever lies beyond, lost in the hazy grey of barely remaining consciousness.
Despite it being my turn to carry Annie, I think I’d fallen asleep somehow when Jay finally spoke. “There it is.”
My trudging footsteps came to a stop behind him, setting Annie down on her own feet once again.
It was our farmhouse from before the nightmare at the dairy plant. The one that had spooked us as children, the one that now stood before us, still massive, sprawling, forbidding. No longer forbidding to us, though. Forbidding to the dangers out there, or so we hoped.
It was such a welcome sight I felt tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. I didn’t know how many hours we’d been walking, but at the sight of the house, the exhaustion crashed into me harder than ever.
Soon we could rest. I could get my shovel back.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and took Annie’s hand. Jay took her other hand and we dragged each other through the wild fields toward the house.
If Jay and Annie hadn’t been here, I might have just lay in the field and waited to die. Tiredness consumed everything. I couldn’t see or think with anything even resembling clarity. The world was jagged.
Before I was quite ready, Jay had let go of Annie’s hand and we’d found our way over to shed once again, to hide while he checked the house. If he’d asked me, I would have told him not to bother.
If he’d asked me, I would have begged us to go straight inside and sleep. I wanted to sleep forever.
Even just standing in the shed with Annie took more energy than I had. I wanted to follow him, not bother waiting. It was dangerous thinking and a small part of me knew it, but I was swaying on my feet and my eyes were blurry and hot.
“We have to wait, Charlie.” Annie’s tiny voice cut through the dark. “Jay wants us to wait.”
I must have taken a step forward in my stupor. I shook my head, trying to clear it, trying to hold on.
“Thanks, Annie.” I whispered finally. I knew she’d fallen asleep for short bursts while we carried her, but I didn’t know how she was coping so well. She was my hero in that moment, and I gripped her hand too hard for too long before realising and forcing myself to relax.
Suddenly Jay was back, silently gesturing for us to follow him into the house. Our haven was still safe. As we met him, he silently handed my shovel back to me – I gripped its familiar handle gratefully.
We followed the same path we’d taken last time – creeping into the house, barricading the door with heavy furniture as quietly as we could.
Upstairs in the bedroom, we tucked Annie back into the middle of the bed. We were too shattered to even consider eating. Even walking to the bed had seemed overwhelming.
We squeezed into the bed on either side of Annie, our packs in the corner, Teddy on the pillows between the three of us. I could tell by their slow, deep breathing that Jay and Annie had fallen asleep quickly.
I lay in the dark, eyes squeezed shut, expecting sleep to beckon immediately. I could feel a tight pull in my chest, silent tears slipping down my cheeks. Nothing felt right, and nothing would ever be okay again. I was overwhelmed by darkness.
There had been nobody we knew at McKenzie’s. There hadn’t been any help, except Rachel, whose curious expression earlier tonight weighed on my mind. I found myself worrying about her, wondering what had happened to her brother Danny.
I wondered how Harvey and Colin had reacted when they found that we had gone. Had they realised Rachel had helped us?
I suddenly remembered the satchel she had slipped to Jay. In our exhaustion, we’d forgotten about it, and it was still stowed, unchecked, in his pack. I reached over to wake him, but he was so deeply asleep I couldn’t bring myself to stir him.
Slowly, I slipped into a nightmare-fuelled sleep, filled with furious men chasing us, brandishing menacing satchels.