As night approaches, the last dog pauses and sniffs the cooling air. There is a carcass lying near to the edge of the road he is travelling on. The New Forest pony is little more than a pile of bleached bones and stretched hide, picked clean long ago by crows but something to chew is better than nothing to chew and the dog pulls a section of the carcass free. He trots off to a nearby thatch of scrubby gorse to gnaw the night away. At sunrise he'd continue on the trail, it's a strong trail, with little else travelling on the road to confuse it. As night falls, behind him the forest stretches away, back towards the big towns where no lights burn, only the slow smoke pyres of desperation.
'Another countdown, what is it with the countdowns today!' Something inside Daisy seems to wake up, as though the day has been a dream, a sleep walk through a nightmare landscape but this, this now is too much. Enough is enough. A point has been reached and she can take no more, indignant rage takes over. 'STOP IT with the counting!'
'Open the door and I'll stop... FIVE...'
Daisy is about to scream a reply when the most extraordinary sight appears on the monitor. Into the glare of the headlights leaps a stag. In the space between the bloke and the ICL it canters past, nostrils flaring, spittle foaming from its mouth, whites of its eyes rolling, a wild creature flashing past. For a second Daisy and the bloke are shocked into silence and stillness. Then the blood-curdling howls of a pack of dogs reaches them and before either can move a slavering, clamouring posse of what once were pets streams across the front of ICL, yelping and baying, oblivious to them, absorbed only in the chase and their quarry.
'Dog pack!' The bloke whispers under his breath, he had dropped his guard, stopping on the road is never a good idea. The yelps almost die away and then one or two grow stronger, returning. On the monitor, Daisy can see the dark shapes of three dogs, slinking round, just on the edge of the headlights reach, stalking the bloke.
'You have to let me in.' The bloke whispers, edging towards the door.
'Piss off! You were about to shoot me! You're the one with the gun, shoot them instead.' Daisy whispers back.
'I can't shoot them! I don't have any bullets. I just use it as a deterrent...'
'As a deterrent?'
'Well, sometimes it works... you have to let me in, they'll eat me alive... please...'
Daisy is about to tell him to get lost when the image of the last dog standing, arm bone in its mouth suddenly leaps into her head and she knows she has no stomach for murder. Outside the dogs are beginning to edge into the light, more confident of a kill. She makes up her mind and slides out of the cockpit and back through to the door, picking up the fire extinguisher on the way.
'Can you still hear me?' she whispers.
'OK, move to the door, I'm going to open it, leap in.'
She hits the release button and the door slides open, the bloke leaps in just as the dogs launch their attack in a frenzy of barking. Daisy fires a burst of the extinguisher into the air and the dogs back off in surprise, long enough for the door to slide shut again. Daisy leans against the door and sighs then turns round, gripping the cannister tightly to find the bloke sprawling in heap on top of the soggy mess of her pink onesie still lying where she left it on the floor. The semi automatic is at her feet. She picks it up and walks over to him, fire extinguisher in one hand, gun in the other.
'Now, you and I are going to sit down like civilised humans and you are going to tell me exactly how the hell the world has gone, quite literally, to the the dogs because I am absolutely at the end of my patience...' There is something in her tone of voice that makes the bloke just nod dumbly in reply as she motions to a nearby chair with the gun.
Outside, on the motorway to London, the dogs circle the ICL but soon lose interest once they establish there is no way in. As one, they turn and follow the rest of the pack, the image of the stag still fresh in their minds.
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