A little further on the road was part-blocked by large red and white barriers, some of which were pushed to the side. They made their way through them and carried on walking until they reached the first of the houses. It was a little cottage, set back from the road with a path leading up to the door. Sparrow stood at the gate. The door was covered with a cross of yellow and black striped tape, and there was a sheet of paper pinned to the front that was flapping in the breeze.
"Should we go in and look for stuff?" Sparrow pushed the gate and it swung open, but Jem caught at her arm and stopped her from going any further.
They walked silently past the other houses in the village, all with the same tape and paper on the doors. Sparrow glanced at one as she walked past, but the print was too faded to read much beyond the odd word. She recognised 'quarantine' though, and looked around the village with a new fear, as though the very air they breathed could be dangerous. She ran up to Jem.
"Why did we come this way?"
"Because other people don't."
"But it's dangerous! If the people here were sick, then..."
"They died a long time ago, and the dead don't hurt you, not if you don't go messing with them."
A light rain started to fall as they were leaving the village. Jem had a tarp to cover the cart to protect the books. She wrapped it round Zed and lashed it to the sides. The sun still tried to shine through the rain, watery rays reflecting off the water pooling in the holes in the road. Tekla trailed along at the end of the line, dragging her feet along the road. Sparrow knew that she was still sulking because she hadn't been allowed to go in the cart. And because Sparrow had shouted at her. Still, Sparrow thought, she couldn't just get everything she wanted. They were ALL tired, and Rat wasn't acting like that. She'd just have to get over it. Sparrow had other things to worry about. Like where they were going to stop for a rest, and what they were going to eat. They didn't have enough time to stop and light a fire so it'd have to be something cold. She looked up to the sky to see if the sun was overhead yet, but it was hard to tell with the clouds and the rain shower.
There was a farm up ahead, and Jem said that might be a good place to rest for a bit. They would maybe even find some stuff to take with them.
There was a big barn before they got to the house, with a large metal gate across the opening. Sparrow unhooked the gate and swung it open, allowing the others in. It was good to get out of the rain for a while. Jem sat down on an old plastic crate, while Bee helped Zed take the tarp off the cart.
"I want out for a bit, to stretch my legs..." he said. "It's kinda cramped in there."
Sparrow and Bee helped him clamber out of the cart, and he walked slowly around the inside of the barn. It was divided up into sections by metal panels, and was empty apart from a stack of the orange plastic crates that Jem was sitting on.
"Can we eat now?" Dee said, pulling up a crate.
Sparrow got Bee to turn around and opened her pack. She handed out some slightly shrivelled looking apples to everyone, then rummaged around in her own bag to find a pack of rather stale biscuits and a canister of water. She took a swig of the water and then passed it round to everyone else.
"Only a little bit, mind, it's got to last until we get to the Shambles."
After everyone had eaten, they left Zed and Bee to mind the cart and look after Rat and Tekla. Jem led the way to the back door of the house. "I've been through here before but there should still be some stuff left to grab. I'll start upstairs if you take the downstairs rooms."
Sparrow left Dee wandering in the garden while she searched the kitchen. She started to look through the mostly empty cupboards, and pile potential items on the table, then moved through to the other room. It was a dark room, with curtains still hanging at the one window. There was a fireplace, with two chairs either side, and a small bookcase with a few books still on the shelves. She was flicking through these when she heard Dee's scream. He came rushing through the kitchen to meet her, flying into her arms. Jem came to the top of the stairs and called down.
"What was that?"
Sparrow held Dee at arm's length and gave him a small shake. "What is it, Dee?"
He stuttered and stumbled over his words, trying to get them out, "In....the garden, there's, there's a shed in the garden...and...and..." He tugged at Sparrow's arm, "I'll show you..."
Sparrow followed him out to the garden and down between weed-filled flower beds and overgrown shrubs. The shed was partly hidden by a tangle of clambering roses and bindweed. The door stood partly open, and Dee hung back, pointing with a shaking finger. Sparrow inched forward, not knowing what to expect. She pushed the door fully open with one hand, and then stepped back quickly as she took in the scene before her.
The floor of the shed was littered with bones. Human bones. A skull rolled around the wooden boards where it had been knocked by the door opening. Sparrow took another step backwards, dragging Dee with her. They bumped into Jem coming down the garden path. She peered past them into the shed.
"Hmph, thought as much. They must have missed one. Best leave it alone." She stumped back towards the house and they followed her quickly.
Jem had brought a few finds down from the upper floor, and they gathered Sparrow's finds from the kitchen and sitting room before heading back to the barn. Tekla and Rat were clambering on top of the stacked crates, and Zed was sitting at the side, Bee standing over him anxiously.
"He's been coughing even when he's resting..."
"I'm fine!" Zed stressed, "I can walk some more, I promise."
"I found a skeleton!" Dee said proudly.
"Yeah, and screamed your lungs out." Sparrow added.
"We wondered what that was." Bee said. "We were worried."
"Better get going again." Jem said, dumping the new finds in the cart. They all headed out into the rain.