A dark shape arrived behind the thin rectangles of leaded glass, with breath heavy, their fingers rattled the handle and scrabbled across the locks. The dog barked and the figure stopped. The top latch had clicked off, but had no success with the solid mortice. The figure wasn’t moving.
I kicked myself for not getting his name.
“Kid, find the long key,” I shouted. They moved, jolting forward at my voice.
“Oh my god,” came Cassie’s call. I span around and saw five of the slow creatures ambling over the hill, spotting another group double in number rising over the crest before I turned. Cassie was stepping back, almost tripping over Nat’s motionless form.
“Find the long key,” I shouted again, trying to think how we could get everyone else through the small window.
“Got it,” came the call from inside, but something was wrong, the sound was much quieter.
The lock rattled and the boy pulled open the door. A girl stood further into the darkness. They must have swapped places when she realised the boy with the gun was with us. Still she screamed as she saw my blooded appearance, her eyes wide open, hands at her mouth.
“Ellie,” I heard Cassie gasp as I picked up Nat. With my hands sliding over her sticky blood, the putrid stench caught in the wind as I slammed the door behind me with my foot.
Placing her on the couch in the first room to the left, the boy had his arms around his sister, nodding to the gun high on a wall unit shelf. Cassie knelt to the floor hugging her sister, the dog had disappeared, racing around, his nose switching from high in the air to hovering just above the carpet.
“Cassie,” I shouted, sharp and clear. “Pressure,” I said, pointing both of my hands to Nat’s face. Cassie dragged her sister over, not letting her out of touching distance as she pressed her hands hard onto the wound. I shot out the room, heading straight to the kitchen, ignoring the other closed doors. I rifled through the cupboards and drawers searching for a first aid kit or anything else I could use, but only finding clean dishcloths. The cupboards were bare, cleared in a hurry. I scrambled up the stairs to find the bedrooms rifled and disorganised. The people that had lived here had been lucky. They’d had warning, given at least a few moments to collect up treasured things before their evacuation.
I found the bathroom with ease, but the medicine cabinet above the sink was empty. I ran down the stairs, passing the dog on the way and was kneeling to Nat’s side when a great thump hit the front door. We all looked at each other in disbelief even though we knew those things had following us. Still, we gave a collective jump as a dark shape thudded against the living room window, its shadowing looming across the room.
I looked to Cassie, holding out the cloths.
“Can you?” I said. She nodded and I raced up the stairs, the dog joining my side at the window of the front bedroom. Swiping the net curtains to the side, I saw nothing unusual until I opened the window, the stench rising as the seal creaked. I peered down into the cold air and watched the group of fifteen gathered around the front door, their number spreading out either side to surround the building.
Watching in awe I made myself calm, taking deep breaths through my mouth I stared out to the hills and tried to picture what normality had been. With the stench and the low rumbling moan, all I could think of was the others still out there. There was little we could do in here, but I had and idea.
Listening to Cassie’s voice still high, hearing her gratitude that her sister was safe, I found a child’s bedroom and after a short search, bold markers in a drawer. Back in the front bedroom, I shoved aside the bed covers and with dried blood flaking to the white surface, I scrawled their names in big, bold letters.
“What happened to the others?” I heard Cassie say. I could barely hear the reply, just making out they’d separated. Ellie hadn’t seen what had happened to Nat, Zoe or Andrew. The sound of each name was like an electric shock. The pilot, as she called him, had been with her when they walked into another group of those creatures. He’d distracted them, drawing them towards him, making them follow as he ran away from her. They’d already both seen the house and as he ran, he pointed her towards it.
I had the sheet off the bed and out one side of the window. Tying off the end, I tried to throw the corner across and catch it from the other opening. On my fourth try I’d grabbed it in my fingertips and was tying it down.
“But how did you get in,” Cassie said. My fingers stopped working the knot, my breath held in the long pause. I moved my hands from the sheet, not noticing if it stayed in place. I stepped to the landing, watching the dog’s ears twitch up.
“The back door was open.” Ellie’s voice was clear. I was already moving when Cassie spoke.
“Did you close it behind you?” Cassie said. I didn’t hear the answer before I was running down the stairs.