Her voice stopped as my head rolled up, eyes catching on Cassidy’s as I realised how much attention I’d been paying. Seeing me move, the little sister, Ellie, screwed up her face, shuffling closer to Cassidy and accepting the arm around her shoulders under the blanket. The night had grown colder, my breath alive in the low torch light. Whist my head was bowed, or when I’d drifted off, Matt, Lily and Toby had crowded around Chloe, sat on a bed of pillows and blankets. I lingered on the patient’s pale face, her distant expression, before breaking the silence, my voice croaking as I pulled the blankets tighter over my shoulders.
“Your parents?” I said, trying to keep the words soft. Regretting as the sounds came out, realising the effect of the words and expecting a shower of tears. They didn’t come, just a shake of the head.
“We ran,” Cassidy said. “The gunfire was rapid, the screams cutting, it wasn’t a place you wanted to hang around. We ran until the noise stopped and never looked back.”
“What did you do?” Nat said.
“Waited,” Cassidy replied. Zoe, who’d been sitting loose to their side, edged herself closer, pressing her hands around Cassidy’s free left.
“We waited for hours, but when the explosion happened and that jet, I decided we needed to get further away, find shelter, food.” Her voice cut short, the words catching in her throat.
“They’re probably fine,” Zoe said, telling me off with a look my way. Lily was the next to come closer to our little group, her face betraying the questions she was armed with. It didn’t take long before she leant in, offering around an open bar of chocolate. Ellie looked up to her sister and receiving a nod, she took a row. Lily didn’t wait.
“So,” she said with an unaccustomed hesitation. “So, while you were out there did you,” she said again, before stopping herself short. Nat gave a great sigh.
“Did you see anything strange?” she said, her voice loud in the darkness. All faces flicked to hers and she rolled her eyes, but the group’s attention switched back to Cassidy, nods running around the room urging on the answer. Cassidy’s eyes fell to Ellie as she devoured the last of her chocolate. Lily lent forward, offering another.
“Then that’s it,” Cassidy said as Ellie broke off the squares. Checking she was occupied, Cassidy looked around the room, taking in each of the faces. She lingered as our eyes caught, her lids lowering just a little until she moved on. “Like what?”
I kept quiet, didn’t want to be seen to influence the question. It was Toby who spoke, heads spinning around to the dim light surrounding their vigil.
“You were out there longer than us,” he said, his face more eager than his voice betrayed. Cassidy drew a deep breath, sparking Ellie to give a wide yawn. Cassidy let the child get herself comfortable at her side, let her nuzzle down on her thigh, let her eyes close and her breath turn to a soft purr before she spoke.
“We saw emptiness,” she said. I tried to stop myself leaning forward, getting closer with each of her words. “We saw people being inhuman.”
“What do you mean?” Zoe said, not giving the Cassidy the chance to draw breath.
“We saw people dead, killed with guns. We saw people acting like animals. People fending for themselves. It’s only been a day and already the mask has slipped.”
Together we leant forward as she paused. I looked at Nat and she sat back, forcing a look of disinterest.
“Anything else,” Zoe said, her voice quavering. The silence ate up the atmosphere, plumes of breath rolling in the centre of the group gave away their apprehension.
“We saw,” she said and the cloud of breath stopped. “We saw people left for dead, so many people,” she said, her voice betrayed she wasn’t finished. Still she paused. “Left for dead, but they weren’t.”
No one replied straight away despite. There were so many questions I knew each of us was dying to ask. Again it was Zoe who spoke first.
“What do you,” she said, but I interrupted.
“Can anyone else smell smoke?”