“Shush,” came Nat’s reply. “Let her speak?” she said, her eyes pinched in my direction.
“No one else?” I said scouring each of the distracted faces in the shadows. “Really?” I added, then gave up, all eyes were on the newcomer. Taking a long draw of breath through my nose I could swear I could still smell bitter smoke, but put it down to tiredness when Zoe spoke.
“So what did you mean, they weren’t dead?” she said, when the answer didn’t come straight way. Cassidy shook her head, rubbing her temple with her free hand.
“Just what I said. Not everyone was dead. Some people were laying on the ground, thrashing around,” her voice grew desperate with a sadness greater than before, her eyes squinting as if trying to block the images in her mind. “I wanted to help, I wanted to do something about their pain, but I couldn’t take Ellie there. I wanted to, I did.”
“It’s all right,” Zoe said, handing over a square of tissue. “There’s nothing you could have done.”
“That’s it?” I said, regretting my tone as the words flowed, then tried to ignore the glares returned. “Nothing else?” I said. Cassidy shrugged.
“It was pretty,” she said, checking her sister’s eyes, “fucking unusual for us. Does this kind of shit happen often to you?” she said, her voice high, tone cutting. I didn’t need to look to Nat to know a one sided smile hung on her face. I let the silence linger, let moments pass listening to the gentle breath of Ellie, a slight rasp on her breath. “What’s wrong with your friend?” Cassidy said. I looked up from the floor, watching her talk to Zoe.
“She’s been bitten,” Zoe replied. Cassidy’s responded immediately.
“By what?” she said, her voice higher than she’d meant. There was a collective silence and I couldn’t tell who was asleep and who was just pretending.
“She lost a lot of blood, but she’s okay now,” Zoe replied.
“It wouldn’t stop bleeding,” I said. The was a sound of restless movement around the lantern light.
“Is she a haemophiliac?” she said. Lily raised her head. Nat, Zoe snapped up straight. I looked to Matt, to Toby, all the same. Only Andrew lay asleep, not joining our collective silence as the words ran around our heads.
I was the first to shake mine.
“We’d have known,” I said.
“If she’d known,” Zoe replied, her eyebrows high on her forehead.
“She’s a nurse,” I said. “She’d know.”
“What’s your explanation? Go on,” she said shrugging the blankets off her shoulders and stepping out of the dim glow. Heads dipped once again. She was right. What was the remaining explanation? Chloe had been attacked by a Zombie, but Zombie’s aren’t real. There are no examples in nature, apart from that fungus that drives ants up trees before the infestation pierces through their brain. Apart from that, they’re confined to the screen and Halloween parties. Right? Only one example in nature. Right?
“I know what I saw,” I said pulling a great lug of air.
“So what did you see? Tell us.” It was Nat’s voice in the shadows and soon she appeared, sat back down, a square bottle of bourbon at her lips, offering the bottle to Zoe as she finished. I kept my mouth still as I considered her words. She was calling me out again, questioning my sanity. Would I do the same if I was on the other side? If she had gone through what I had to free Chloe from the grip of that animal. Would I believe her without question? No I wouldn’t. I’m sure she wouldn’t lie, but maybe she’d missed something in the mayhem. Pulling a long draw from the bottle I winced as the spirit burned down my throat.
“Her eyes were milky white,” I said in a slow voice, the last of the fumes escaping my throat.
“Cataracts?” Nat replied.
“She was barely in her thirties,” I said, trying hard not to let my voice falter.
“She was in a bad way,” Zoe said. Her voice was soft, at least she was desperate not to antagonise the discussion.
“Half her face was missing,” I replied. Cassidy flinched a look down at her sister. “Sorry,” I said, lowering my voice. “But we watched her die. She’d stopped breathing. We all saw it.” I looked toward Andrews still asleep, looked to Chloe and her pale, washed out face. “And that smell,” I replied, and caught a whiff of the odour, the stench of decay, of human waste and took the bottle again, dowsing my throat. Still the smell was there. “Can none of you smell that?” I said and watched the group exchange looks, watched each sample the air, watched noses turn up. They could smell it, I was certain.
“There is something hanging around,” Toby said, but a flicker of light on the far wall caught my attention. I stood. Through a thin cloud of smoke saw the far end of the warehouse had begun to glow orange.
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