Chapter Seventeen

Lily rocked back with my swipe, falling toward the tarmac until caught wide eyed by Toby standing behind, his hands under her arm pits helping her to her feet. I turned from Toby’s glare, his unsure stare ready to show his teeth, holding back the instinct to raise his fists. Determined not to be distracted, my vision filled with the pale glow of Chloe’s face despite the darkness. My concentration fixed on every movement I couldn’t see, fingers curled around the gun in my pocket, eyes seeking any change.

My scrutiny was cut short with a sharp jab to the shoulder and I turned to see Nat with her fist still raised ready for me to open my mouth and say the wrong thing.

“Fucking prick,” she said, her words just as sharp as the knuckles on her hand. Looking away, my eyes cast over the assembled. Zoe at Nat’s back, her eyes filled with terror and on the urge of tears, her hands reaching toward me. Cassidy backing off, looking down her nose with Ellie buried in her side. Andrew was with me, a nod in my direction, him the only one who’d shared my witness. I didn’t catch Matt’s expression from my side of the blanket, my gaze already fallen, wide again, watching Lily back on her knees, her head lowering to Chloe’s face. Toby standing to block any second attempt at caution.

I turned away, stepping from the blanket, from the darkness of the pack, three paces before I heard the intake of breath and turned, the commotion lighting the centre of the group. The first I saw was Cassidy dragging Ellie backwards, running, falling into a hedge. Next I saw Andrew stood still, transfixed on what I hadn’t yet got to. Despite my desperation to see what I’d feared, instead my vision filled with Nat and Zoe clutched tight together, Zoe’s face pointing to the ground, a wide scream shrieking from her mouth. Nat staring at me, her eyes and mouth wider, more pale than I ever imagined.

It was then I turned to the centre. Time didn’t seem to slow, but still I took in all the detail. Chloe was rising, attached somehow to the side of Lily’s face. Toby was in there too, his hands between them, pulling, grappling to free the pair. Matt was shouting, cursing, filling the air blue, unable to do anything to his partner who’d clamped her mouth deep on to our friends face.

Blinking for the first time, I was powerless to aid, a spectator like Andrew, fixed, looking on, nothing doing. We couldn’t attack our friend, couldn’t repeat the same. We weren’t doctors, we’d been told. Maybe Chloe wasn’t dead. It was a condition she would recover from, no matter what the made up TV said.

It was as Chloe’s arms raised, her mouth letting go, Lily’s head falling to the red soaked blankets and clamping anew on Toby’s hand to his screams of terror, I acted. My hand ached, knuckles white with effort as I gripped the gun pulling it loose from my pocket. I pushed the weapon out, screaming for Toby to move the fuck away. He looked toward me, his face in a deep contorted shape, winced then with the help of Matt at his back, flinched his arm away. With teeth rending flesh, he was free and falling backwards on top of Matt as they tripped over each other to the tarmac.

I took a hard swallow and levelled the gun. As I did, Chloe, the friend who could no longer be called Chloe, stood as if alive, with no awkwardness, contrary to all my thoughts. I pulled the trigger, remembering I’d not pushed the bullet back, the empty click not needed as a reminder. Stepping back, all my vision on her blood dripped face, on it walked forward, eyes open and milky white, fixed in an expression of interest that sparked electricity up my spine. I stepped back again, my pace slower than hers, but I had the lead and my left hand had found the bullet, my right fumbling for how the hell to release the clip.

It was closing too quickly.

I found the release, the clip clattering to the floor, the sound deadened by asthmatic breath rasping from the thing’s lungs. I launched the gun which struck its head, but even with the jolt it continued forward. With breath like a mortuary with faulty AC, it was soon close enough to touch, her arms clawing out. The bandage had fallen, the deep bite marks dry, her hands cold and waxy as they gripped around my throat. I stumbled, wheeling backwards, my senses overloaded with an explosion of red light.


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