The first appearance of Corporal Thompson, who appears again in the Prelude to Books 6 & 7
Excerpt from Bill Wright's Journal; 23:50, 3rd July
Excerpt from Bill Wright's Journal; 23:50, 3rd July
I could see Kim getting more agitated with each snide remark, so, looking to turn the conversation elsewhere I asked Chris why he didn't join the evacuation.
“We were a designated protected farm,” Chris said, “or we were meant to be. I don't know who it was who did the designating or why they picked us. It was the 24th February, what was that? Four days after New York? About nine in the morning, this van drove up and a guy with a clipboard got out. And he was carrying a clipboard,” Chris said, shaking his head. “I mean, when was the last time you saw one of those? He looked old-fashioned, that was the thing. He was one of those types who seemed to be in the wrong time, almost like someone from one of those old Pathé news films. Almost but not quite, 'cos out of the other side of the van, a soldier got out. Full camo, rifle, the works.
“The man with the clipboard, Cranley, he said his name was. He tells us that our place has been chosen as one of the Inland Farms. We're going to get a fence built around the place, and we're going to stay here and keep on going just as we would have done normally. The only real noticeable change, he says, is that instead of petrol we're going to use manpower, and instead of selling our crop we'd be giving it to the government for distribution. In exchange we'd get food until the first harvest, and all the other supplies we needed. Once the emergency's over, once it's all gone back to normal, we'd get to keep the improvements. Then he asked whether we were okay with that. Well, I wasn't too happy, but I can't say I was too unhappy, neither. It was my Dad's farm before he passed on.”
“And my grandfather's before that,” Daphne added. “Before the supermarkets bankrupted him.”
“That was our land,” Chris said. “Our birthright. Keeping it going almost killed Dad. I'd spent my life keeping the place going. Daph' too,” he added hurriedly. “When she came back to see the old place, when we fell in love, it seemed like fate or destiny or something close. Then the world starts falling apart and there's rationing and people are dying and not staying dead. So if this man wants to tell us we'll get food, and keep the farm at the end of it all, well, we weren't going to say no, were we?”
“He wanted to look round,” Daphne said. “See the farm, the equipment, see how we were set up.”
“And he knew his stuff,” Chris added. “I mean, he was dressed like the closest he'd come to nature was when he opened the salad drawer of his fridge, but he knew what he was talking about. I suppose he'd come from some meeting, hadn't had time to go home and change. Probably slept in his clothes too. Who knows? We went round the fields first, and that's when he started filling in the details. Our farm can't have been the first place he'd done this, because he didn't let it all out at once. If he had, maybe it would have been different. Then again, there was the soldier standing by the car, his rifle in his hands, so maybe not.
“We were going to have to turn the whole place over to potatoes. Nothing else. Then, depending upon productivity levels, yield, weather patterns and other factors, and he didn't need to say what they were, we may be moved into sugar beet. That's what the farm grew back in the War. We'd not get a say. I asked, you see, because we were mostly wheat, with the two fields down by Boxley rented out as grazing. He said no. It was all about the calorie yield. We'd be told what to plant, and for the moment that was potatoes. Well, that's when I started to think it wasn't as great as it sounded, but what was the alternative? So we'd have to work harder for a few years. So what? We'd seen the news, we'd seen how the world was falling apart. We'd talked about it, and couldn't think of anywhere that was better than where we were. By the sounds of it, everyone else was going to have it a lot tougher.
“He told us they were going to fence in the roads, run up this supply route all the way from the coast to be done by harvest. That was the plan, but until it was finished, all our supplies, and our workers, they were going to come in by helicopter. When the food was grown, it'd go out the same way.
“The first thing we had to do, he said, was to use the tractors to flatten out a section for the helicopter to land on. That seemed fair enough. He even gave us some diesel to do it, and that was a welcome gift, since you couldn't buy it anywhere, not even on the black market. Then it came to accommodation. That was the real shock. That's when he laid all his cards down. I didn't get it till then, the full extent of it all. He said we'd get a squad of five soldiers. Armed, of course, and led by Corporal Thompson, the guy who'd driven up with him. Their job, he said, was to protect us, and then to train us up to deal with the zombies ourselves. The Corporal was going to stay with us to begin that process there and then. Well, I knew what that meant. Insurance against good behaviour, they used to call that.
“He said that when the situation had settled down, when the farms were up and running, that there would be a mass call-up, a huge mobilisation of all these workers. Everyone was going to be conscripted so we could take back the country.”
“I said,” Daphne interrupted, “that five extra wasn't a problem. We could double up in the house, that some of them could squeeze into the office and the library. Even with a dozen or so extra people we'd all fit somehow.”
“Right,” Chris went on. “And that's when the man said no, that we'd need to keep the office and library for the doctor.”
“Which struck me as strange,” Daphne cut in, again. “I mean, why would we need a doctor if there were only ten or twenty of us?”
“So that's when he told us how many. Twenty in the first wave, probably in a week's time. Then another ten every week after that, until there were a hundred adults on the farm. Adults, mark you, that wasn't counting the children, and they'd be coming, too. Families weren't going to be broken up. He said to expect two hundred, perhaps more.” He shook his head. “We had the barns of course, and you can squeeze people in there, and triple the kids up in the rooms in the house, but however you looked at it, it was going to be cramped, cold, and unsanitary, and that was looking on the bright side.”
“That wasn't the end of it,” Daphne said. “There was going to be more people coming, closer to harvest, after we'd expanded the walls.”
“Yeah, he left that bit till last,” Chris went on. “That was part of how Thompson and his lot were meant to train everyone. After the walls were up, we'd push them out, take in more fields, more land, and expand the farm. It would keep growing outwards until, eventually, it would meet up with the next farm along. This little man, who I was beginning to hate more and more each time he opened his mouth didn't say what would happen if we didn't expand the walls. He just kept mentioning that the weekly supply drops of food were only going to go to those who were supporting the National Endeavour. It was blackmail. Nah, it was worse. It was a gun to our heads, and we had no choice. We signed on the dotted line, and there was a dotted line, and another for Corporal Thompson to sign as a witness. Then he left.”
“Thompson didn't seem like a bad guy,” Daphne said. “We went inside, had a drink, and I cooked him some food. He hadn't eaten all day. Things were that bad. He explained about the evacuation, what he knew, anyway. The enclaves, the muster points, the fenced in roads, and how we were the lucky ones, and by the time we'd finished eating we believed him.”
“We started right away,” Chris said. “Him digging the latrines, Daphne on the tractor flattening out the landing field, and I started clearing out the barns, getting them ready for all the refugees. I went to bed exhausted that night. The next day, around lunchtime I went down to the village, to see if anyone was around, anyone who wanted to give us a hand.”
“Thompson said that was alright,” Daphne said. “He said if we got help from the village that would save them being shipped off to an enclave just to be packed off to the countryside again.”
“A lot of people had already disappeared,” Chris said. “I asked some of those who were left, but no one wanted to come and help us. Couldn't understand it.”
“People didn't like us. Jealousy,” Daphne said. “Petty spite. You know, small villages. Gossip.”
“There was an old guy, Toby Hurley, him and his granddaughter, Annie, lived out by the woods, he used to do some work on the farm,” Chris said.
“Only seasonally,” Daphne added.
“Right. He'd owned his own place until a couple of bad harvests in a row forced him to sell up—”
“He got a fair price,” Daphne interrupted again. “Anyway that's in the past.”
“Yeah. He came up to the farm to help out. Him and Annie, practically moved in. Turned out we were grateful for the help,” Chris said. “That evening, we got a delivery of building materials. Whoever was in charge of sending it must have loved paperwork, because it came with a twelve page docket, all to be signed and initialled and witnessed. We took delivery of load two of thirty-seven. What happened to the first load, and how they'd worked out we needed thirty-seven of them, well, I don't know. It wasn't much, a few I-beams and enough timber, wire and cement for a forty-foot section of wall about ten-feet high. I don't think thirty-seven would have been enough. Then, a day after that, we got a delivery of food, eighty kilos of rice, stamped 'UN Food Aid – White Rice'. A crate of tinned fruit, ten kilos of dried milk and a year's worth of vitamin tablets. That was our lot for the month, for us and the first lot of workers.”
“And remember,” Daphne said. “They didn't know Hurley and his granddaughter were with us.”
“There was a note with that shipment,” Chris said. “Saying it would have to be supplemented with whatever we had around the house or in the farm. That food was delivered in a security van, the kind with the bulletproof windows and the door that only opens from the inside. It came with a motorcycle escort. Four Coppers, all armed.
“We thought that in all the confusion some of the paperwork had got lost. We thought that at any moment a truck would turn up with the soldiers and the first lot of workers. We actually worried that the evacuees would turn up before the other thirty-six loads of materials for the wall and there'd be nothing for 'em to do. They never came.
“Three days after the evacuation was announced on the radio, Thompson went out to find out what had happened. He took his rifle, Daphne's car and, though we didn't find out until about an hour after he'd left, pretty much all the diesel we'd been left with. He didn't come back.”