Running, I heard a sound I’d copied so many times in the playground. The chug chug rattle of machine gun fire added to the beat of rotor blades cutting through the air. Pulling from the trees I saw the dark green Merlin, the real life version of what I’d flown so many times around my room. The helicopter was hovering close to the ground, maybe as high as a church steeple. The side door was open and I just about saw the gunner gripping tight as he trained the long gun at the ground.
I knew without having to think, he was shooting at more of those things, the hosts of whatever terrible disease had taken over the dead bodies. Still, I couldn’t help but smile, this was a rescue mission and I wandered what the helicopter would be like inside. Tish gave a giggle and I turned down to see her smiling back, but as I squeezed her tight she wriggled for freedom. The chatter of the machine gun fell silent.
“We’ll get to Nanna’s real quick now,” I said, giving her a playful shake.
Looking back up, my eye caught on a long stack of smoke rising high in the distance. I chanced a look left and right, seeing columns of grey smoke each way I turned. These were new, not something there when I’d spent so long staring, searching for home. I clutched Tish closer as I remembered what had happened.
Picking up the pace, running towards the helicopter, I shouted for help. Tish joined in with her own made up words. The helicopter moved from its hover, spinning around, hurrying to the right and stopping midair. It twisted as if searching below, then without warning, it twitched left, the door gunner letting out a long blast. When the gun silenced I shouted as loud as could, calling for help, but it hurried away, flying higher to become a dot in the distant sky.
“It’s okay Tish, they’ll be back. Someone else with come,” I said. Her giggle pushed back the tears, then her face fell, her eyes opened wide. The loud clap of the bird scarer shot was common enough and we both relaxed.
I walked again, putting Tish down and realised I’d forgotten to follow the sun. We ended up walking slowly, I was following Tish as she ambled through the open fields, heading towards a big clump of trees. It was biggest wood I’d seen while we’d been walking.
Another shot broke through the air and I didn’t give it a second thought, until five, six or seven went off one after the other. I hurried a little closer to Tish. There were people hunting and didn’t want her running into their path.
Tish was still following an imaginary line that swerved left and right, with no sense in her direction. I didn’t have the heart to grab her up and restrict her from playing. We’d walked like that for ten minutes and my wound itched, but it took my mind from the two shots which seemed to have been the last for some time. Her path straightened and she headed a direct course. Her head lifted high. After a few moments she stopped, her little arm raised, head turned my way.
“Russ,” she said. That was her name for our dog. Following her outstretched finger, I shook my head. The dog was black, not a gingery brown. It was the same breed, a Labrador and she was running off, heading fast towards it. The dog was standing, his head down, leaning over like it was eating dinner.
“No Tish,” I said, running to catch, not wanting her to see the dog covered in blood, its face buried in the side of a dead deer or something else as disgusting. I caught her, but only after shortening the distance between us and the animal. It was still bent over, but now I could tell from the length of the body laying on the ground, it was a man, not a deer. The dog’s body blocked the view of the face as its head bobbed up and down.
“No,” came a call, a woman’s voice. I startled my eyes up, pulling Tish tight as she flinched. “Stay where you are.”
The woman was far along the edge of the forest and had blonde hair, but that was about all I could tell. She was panting, bending over, holding her palms out. She didn’t want us any closer, that was obvious, but Tish wasn’t having any of it and wriggled free, kicking out her legs. I couldn’t hold on, her coat slipping against mine and was on her feet, running to the dog. I chased, soon seeing something else, a mound and knew it was one of them. That smell. I tripped, stumbling over my own feet, launching my hand out to grab her leg, but I missed.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One