Word Count: 1,004
Even though Atlanta looked deserted from where we were, I figured there could still be civilization further in. We were only on the outskirts.
‘Where d’you reckon the CDC is then?’ I asked.
Rayn checked the map. ‘It’s not marked on this one, looks like we’ll have to take our chances.’
‘There’ll be signs for it.’ For once in my life I was trying to be optimistic. We had travelled too far, gone through too much for us to turn back without even trying. Rayn took the car slowly, checking each road sign that we passed. We didn’t come across anyone at all, it was completely devoid of life and I tried to pretend that it didn’t unsettle me.
Cancer was still sat grumpily in the back but we both ignored him for a moment.
Rayn looked a little freaked out at the lack of people and the way everything just seemed to be on hiatus. There wasn’t much wind either which made everything seem a little more surreal. It felt like we had just been placed in the middle of a movie where someone had left it at pause. It was only when we were approaching downtown Atlanta that the carnage began to show.
We saw the first signs of chaos; upturned cars, smashed windows, the usual stuff that we had seen spread out over America. A couple of buildings had been on fire; the charred bricks and black soot set them out from the rest. I wondered if there would be bodies inside.
Rayn was trying to be systematic about driving us round so that we didn’t get lost, I could see him making a mental note of the roads we had already driven down and if we ended up looping back to a point we had already been we took another route.
It was only Rayn and I who were studying the road signs intently; Cancer was still sulking. I think it was mostly to cover up the fact that he couldn’t read what anything said.
‘What’s that?’ I pointed for a sign not too far away with four words on it.
Rayn stepped on the accelerator, squinting as he tried to make it out.
My heart dropped as it came into full view. ‘”Sage Hill Shopping Centre.” I don’t think we need to be there.’
‘This is taking too long,’ Rayn replied. ‘There’s gotta be some indication that it’s nearby.’
‘Fuck’s sake, why is this place so big?’ Cancer muttered, like Atlanta was the reason for all of our problems. Which, I suppose, it was. This whole thing started with the CDC, if those scientists or whoever the hell created this mess, hadn’t tried to play God then none of this would have happened. I would be back in England with my parents, safe and sound, waiting to start sixth form. They’d still be alive, I wouldn’t know how to use a gun and Cancer and Rayn would still be scamming in casinos.
‘Turn right here,’ I said, pointing to a sign for Clifton Road. ‘We haven’t tried this one yet.’
We drove down another long stretch of road, trees lining us either side. I pressed my forehead against the glass, waiting for something to come out from the bushes. I waited for zombies, or people with guns trained on our vehicle. For one stupid, fleeting second I even waited for my mum and dad to come out, alive and well. I shoved this thought out of my head, knowing it was a ridiculous notion. I guessed it was just because we were so close to some answers, finally after all of this time.
The mood seemed to lift as we travelled through Atlanta. Despite the fact that it was definitely eerie, we were there. We had travelled god knows how many thousands of miles and we were in the city where we needed to be. No more hordes, no more bad guys and no more ruthless military men. Hopefully, the CDC would be a more permanent residence for us, they couldn’t turn us away could they? Especially when they were the ones who had started this all in the first place. They may not welcome us with open arms, but still…
Clifton Road seemed to take forever.
I was beginning to lose hope and suggest another route when something caught my eye. At first, I thought it was my weary mind playing tricks on me and I almost didn’t say anything. But sure enough, poking through the trees at the end was a massive sign with four very important words written on it.
“Centres for Disease Control.”
Had we made it?
Rayn sped up and the suspense was almost tangible. We couldn’t get down that last bit of road quick enough, but when we did something caused my heart to sink straight to my feet. The world seemed to flip in front of my eyes and I could barely utter out the single word that meant everything had been a waste of time.
The place had been burnt to the ground.
Rayn stopped the car.
‘This isn’t the right place. It can’t be, it’s not allowed to be.’
I stretched out a shaky arm and pointed to the sign that I had seen. ‘It is.’ My head fell into my hands in complete and utter despair. I hadn’t felt this bad since my parents died. Everything we had fought for this last week or so had been for absolutely nothing. We had wasted petrol and ammo; we had been through hell and back only to be faced with this.
When I lifted my head again, I caught a glimpse of Cancer’s face in the rear view mirror. He was staring at the place where the CDC had been, hard. I could feel the fury seeping from him in waves and I prayed that he wouldn’t say something ridiculous like he had told us so.
The disappointment was astounding, and it was about to get a whole lot worse.