Chapter Twenty Four

I turned, looked toward Andrew, his eyes already urging me away, hands shooing me off despite his visible pain. Shrugging the weight of the rucksack from my shoulders, I broke into a sprint, slowing only as the tall grass pulled at my feet, then tripped by the uneven, potted tarmac. The frantic scream came again, cutting through the air in a blood curdling call, but despite scouring the horizon I still couldn’t see anyone standing, couldn’t shake the possible scenarios. I pictured Zoe lain, blood soaking to the ground, a line of scarlet sinew cutting through her legs. Her eyes fixed, desperate on mine.

With my next few steps her face had changed. Nat’s wide blue eyes glaring back, Zoe’s brunette hair raised from her shoulders, climbing level with Nat’s ears. Nat stared up as I looked down, her guard still surrounding, sneering down her nose, fixed with an expression that told me it was all my fault. I couldn’t take my eyes off the utter destruction of their legs, my foot rolling on the brass of a spend cartridge the size of a finger and the image disappeared. I told myself the damage was done, tried to force away all thought, but guilt surfaced as I hoped it wasn’t Zoe I was about to find, wasn’t Nat standing over her body, screaming for a miracle, heartbroken.

The shrill call came again, it was the only sound for miles around, louder each time. Still, I couldn’t see my destination. All I knew was I was heading towards the crash site, the grass churned up where the rotors first hit. Half a blade jutted from the ground, a jagged, razor edge cutting through the breeze. I caught movement to my left, from the tree line, it was Cassidy, her sister dragged along in hand. They were closing, racing forward for the same reason.

Turning, I first saw Nat, a pit in my stomach opening. She stood in a dip, a valley in the ground, her shaking body plain to see, even from my distance. Catching my approach, she raised her arms in a frantic wave, but turned back, head shaking, tears cascading down her face. I turned towards Cassidy, who’d closed the distance over the last few seconds and held my hands out, looked at Ellie, then back.

“No,” I said, my voice solemn. Cassidy took one look to her side and understood.

“Ells, wait here,” she said. Keeping my pace I listened as Cassidy repeated, this time with the sharpest edge I’d heard.

I was moments away and through wet eyes I saw a body lain on the ground. She was dark, charred beyond recognition, her body swollen, head bulbous and ballooned. Her arms we were bent at all angles, legs in all directions. She was moving, swaying as if finding comfort in the motion. I’d known her for half my life. I didn’t know if I could watch this happen.

A few more steps and I heard a low, rumbling moan, the pain in my stomach boiled to anger, fear raging. I sniffed the air, took in the oil and burning chemicals. There wasn’t that hideous odour. She hadn’t died and come alive again. She was living, at least for now.

Movement caught in the right of my eye, heavy breath, but a natural sound. I let my guard drop, focusing back on the body, but as I arrived, wiping my eyes, I saw Zoe coming down into the valley. It wasn’t her laying on the ground, the swollen, bulbous head was a helmet, the exaggerated swelling body was someone else dressed in a charred olive flight suit. The arms and legs were still at unnatural angles, the pain real, but mine fell away. My tears cleared as the body snapped into focus and for the first time I saw him for who he was.

The guy who’d saved our life, then tried to kill us instead.

 

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