The one truly overlooked benefit of buying a Volvo was that, as a free introductory gift for a limited period only, every new Volvo estate was sold with a free set of snow chains!
Laura had often wondered what the chains were meant to be used for and had resigned herself to never knowing. Michael, being Michael, knew exactly what they were and how they could help them on this particularly icy morning.
“They’re snow chains Mum. You know, you put them round your tyres and they give you extra grip. That’s why the Swedes can drive so well in winter.”
“What have the Swedes got to do with this?”
Learning something new everyday had become the byword for survival in this new world, but learning about the origins of Volvos and the uses of snow chains was not a lesson his mother expected. However, once they had been fitted, it made driving much less lethal.
They had packed up their belongings, eaten some provisions and had set off on their journey. The wide expanse of trodden snow was visible in the fields through which the army of leathers had travelled.
For some of the time, they could navigate by simply following the tracks. Laura was reminded of the aerial photographs of the Nazca Valley. As with those lines, so long without explanation, these were being made by creatures lost to comprehension. Perhaps one day would reveal them to be made of matter that was more explicable than seemed the case now.
However, Laura was not looking for understanding; the cold fear that was in her blood told her that nothing could make sense of these times. They had encountered one of them before. Now they were in their hundreds, each one having overcome the ultimate conqueror, death. So how could a handful of survivors begin to defend themselves in battle? Their only option was to run, run very fast and run very far away.
Their compass for the journey was ‘the mother’. That is what Laura and Michael knew her as since she was rarely out of the state that inhibited her communication beyond the nods or shakes of her head. However, there was something that she had been communicating with and this kept the two alert.
Since starting the journey, Laura’s eyes had been firmly rooted to the road ahead. They were travelling at a speed of around twenty miles an hour, not fast but faster than the leathers could travel. Once or twice along the way, they had seen the odd leather emerging from some house or barn, its head tilted as if in a temporary state of confusion. The sound of Brian approaching had no impact upon the things, no recognition or indication giving away any sense that the creatures were aware of anything outside of its prime directive. At one point, Michael asked his mother to slow the car right down so that it moved alongside a particular leather at walking pace.
The leather they had picked was one of the old ones. By the state of his clothes and skin, he could have been anything between forty to fifty years in the making. He had what remained of a wayward beard and was wearing clothes that could have belonged to a scarecrow. Laura thought that if she had seen the thing up close, positioned in the middle of some field, she would not have thought it to be a scarecrow, for giant crows. It walked in the way that the older ones did, a loping stride suggesting that this movement was new or completely forgotten, one foot being placed in front of the other by a force that was not of its own. What was certain was that it had a real sense of where it was going.
‘The mother’ sat with her eyes riveted to the floor. She understood what was out there and did not want to see it. The daughter too looked away. The son, on the other hand, was as intrigued by the strange scarecrow as Michael.
“Is it dead?”
For an instant, Michael was not sure who had spoken or weather it had been just his imagination.
“Is it dead, the man?”
Michael turned around in his seat still trying to keep most of his attention focused on the leather.
“Yes, it’s been dead a long time.”
The boy considered this, his eyes narrowing with concentration.
“Is that what Dad was?”