I couldn’t see, but still I ran, swerving to avoid a short wall as it loomed out of the darkness. I kept running until my feet found grass, then slowed, stopped, turned, making sure I could see the white of the coach. Looking up, the half moon seemed brighter than I’d ever seen, but still it was such an effort to make out shapes in the darkness. I’d expected to see people from the coach crowded around, people calling to gather everyone up, make sure we were safe. I couldn’t see anyone. I was alone. Now I had to be the adult.
Crouching, she was getting so heavy; I leant my back against the stone, hoping it would stop my body from shaking. Her fingers still moved around, were gentle in my hair and I listened to her slow breath, the rhythm of her suck as she comforted herself. With my free hand I wiped my face, the drip from my eyes was so cold I was scared it would freeze. I stared at the coach, tucking Tish in closer. Her hand stopped moving, her breathing slowed.
Nothing was moving, but everything was. The breeze in the trees, the bushes swaying. There were no lights coming from inside the coach. No one moving around that I could tell, anyway. It was good news, wasn’t it? Dad would be out soon with his arm over Mum’s shoulder. I was ready for her to be hurt, that’s why she hadn’t climbed out straight away. The reason she’d stayed behind. It wouldn’t have been her choice. It was nothing to do with what happened yesterday, my little, barely noticeable crime, not even a crime really. Taking a few crisps from the table when I was supposed to be brushing my teeth. No not that. Couldn’t be. And it definitely wasn’t the reason Dad had left us to find her. He hadn’t chosen Mummy over us.
He’d go get her and if she didn’t come, he’d come out on his own. He would come out of the coach and call our names, open his arms and I’d run back, where he’d scoop us both up and take us somewhere safe. Nanny’s maybe? It was a boring place, no comics, Nanny didn’t like to have them around, it reminded her of Grandad. Why wouldn’t you want to be reminded? At least it was safe and a long way away, which looked like the best place to be right now.
I think it had maybe ten minutes or more. Each moment since I’d crouched I’d thought I would get up, but couldn’t, backing out at the last second. Each moment expecting sirens and blue lights bright in the distance. I was freezing, Tish was getting closer and closer, she was cold too, but stayed asleep. Thankfully.
Nothing had changed, no movement. I knew I had to do something. People could die from being out in the cold. Everyone knew. I stood, took several steps toward the coach and there he was, a dark figure about Dad’s height, his wide, thick chest. I was sure it was his big puffy coat, the one mum hated because she said it made him look like a teenager. He was walking a little funny and was by himself. Mummy was probably doing her make up or something, or didn’t want to come out in the cold. An image came into my head. We were all back on the coach. I sat behind Dad as he drove us away.
After every step he seemed stumble. I’d seen that before, normally when he’d been out with his friends at night.
I was nearly at the coach when I first smelt something horrible. At first I turned to Tish and leant in closer. No, it wasn’t her and it definitely wasn’t me. It must have been Dad who’d pooped himself.
“Dad,” I said, trying to take the whine out of my voice, like they always told me. He didn’t speak, but for the first time he seemed to notice I was there, turning direction and speeding up. He was still quite slow. I stopped walking, hearing a sound behind me for the first time. I turned, there were lights on the road. I’d seen no one else since we’d left the house. I kept staring forward, stepped to the side, realising I was in the middle of the road, right were I was told all the time to avoid. Remember the Green Cross Code. The smell was getting nearer and so were the lights, I had to turn away, they were on full.
I turned back to Dad, still squinting, the engine getting louder, they must have been going so fast. As I turned, I let my breath out, it was Dad after all. I could see by his haircut, the blood on the side of the face. Then I looked behind him, my eyes wide as I thought it was Mum, but I soon saw it was someone else. Someone in a white coat. A black, no reddish mark on their chest and they stumbled as they took the last step, falling to the floor.
“Dad,” I said pointing to her, but he didn’t turn, didn’t move. He just kept his eyes on me and Tish. The engine noise was getting so loud I thought they would hit me. Dad looked like he was going in for a hug, but in slow motion. I was in arms reach, his face expressionless like he’d had bad news. “It’s Mum, isn’t it? Just tell me,” I kept saying, but he just stared back. Tears ran down my face and Tish moved. The stink was horrid. I had to hold my breath. “Dad,” I said. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
I held my hand out, grabbing his outstretched arm, pushing myself against the coach while pulling him close.
What was wrong with him? Couldn’t he see the car was about to run us both over?
Stumbling forward, his skin felt weird. He was cold, but like meat when you unpacked it out of the supermarket bags, stinking like it had been out far too long.
As the headlights grew brighter than I thought they ever could, I felt his teeth bite down into my hand.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One