Gasps sang through the air as seven sets of eyes stared at the small side pane of the front room window. Shadow shouted a warning, snapping off a bark as I arrived. The outer layer was cracked, a head sized section missing, the glass lost between the panes. With no obvious cause, I turned to the staring faces, my eyes shooting back as a head climbed from below the window line. Something, once someone, rose unsteady above the sill. He’d been an older man, his hair blonde and straw-like, his skin leathery and weathered. He wore a thick checked shirt with a line running across his forehead where a hat had recently been. Just below the line was an indentation, a break in the skin, but no blood poured out. There was no heart pumping.
Eyes turned as I’d arrived, then to Cassie as she followed just after. I couldn’t help but steal a glance as her slender hands delved, pushing away her shirt tails. With my cheeks heating, I checked their expressions. I was sure they hadn’t noticed. Not that there was anything to see.
Zoe’s eyes were red with tears as she knelt beside the sofa, her hands wrapping Nat’s pale fingers. For the first time I noticed the Christmas tree in the corner and was transported to my parents house only the week before. It was Christmas morning, the first time I woken there in ten years. The tree resplendent with brightly coloured parcels bulging from underneath. Here it would be Christmas till this was all over. Decorations around the South West would be up till someone sorted this shit out.
No one spoke as Cassie led the children away and together with Connor and Andrew, we manoeuvred the wall length dresser across the window. With cupboards scoured for anything of use and with Zoe still holding her hand, we moved the sofa, Nat still in place, pushing it across the cupboard to stop if from toppling if the worst should happen.
The room was nearly pitch black with the curtains drain, just the light from the hallway seeping in. Somehow we got Nat up the stairs, carrying her between four, her body hardly responding as we turned her around the corners, landing her in the front bedroom where I pulled in the sheet and did the windows up tight. Zoe lay beside her stroking her hand. There was nothing left to do, but keep watch. I had to stay close.
“You can leave now,” Zoe said as I leant against the door frame. She kept her eyes on Nat, didn’t turn my way. “You can leave,” she repeated. “I know why you’re waiting.”
I kept quiet and held my ground, a deep sadness gripping my insides. Zoe was one of my best friends and there was nothing I could do to stop her pain.
“Go away,” she shouted, tears falling. Shadow thudded up stairs, his nose in the air, bright brown eyes between me and bed. I slipped away and he took my place.
Cassie was in the kids room tidying up the mess, some of which I’d made in my search for the pens. The two young girls were asleep in the bed, it had been a boy’s room, the Spiderman bed cover one of many tells. A Superman sleeping bag was rolled out on the floor.
“Where’s Jack?” I said. She turned my way, a smile rising and for the first time I saw a dimple just below each of her high cheek bones.
“Connor’s looking at his hand downstairs. The girls are whacked,” she said.
I felt a yawn fill my face.
“We all are,” I replied, matching her expression, then turned away. Sleep was a long way off for me. I knew I would break Zoe’s heart when the time came.
I checked out of each of the window, looking down through the cold air. Out the back three or four of those things were roaming around, each looking like they had no care in the world. From the front, Zoe opened her eyes as I arrived and I patted Shadow still in the same place. Zoe closed her eyes as I went to the window, not watching as I looked down at the devastation, the bodies lain across the road. The farmer who’d smashed the window was ambling around the front, stumbling as he came to each of the truly dead. I pulled the curtains closed and left Shadow on duty.
Already I’d learned to hate the calm. It was just time waiting for the next crisis to strike, waiting for the next event to tear our world further apart. Every little noise in this foreign house spiked my interest, drawing the gun in my mind ten times a minute, pointing it towards the dark.
I found Connor and Andrew in the kitchen, with Jack sat on the edge of the worktop by the sink. Jack’s hand was in Connor’s, who was leaning in to inspect a semi-circular wound between his thumb and forefinger.
“He’s been bitten,” Andrew said, Connor’s first aid kit open in his hand. It was one of the few things we’d been able to keep, the rest of our hoard lost, scattered around the campfire when we were overrun. A mistake we would not repeat.
“Bitten by what?” I said, fearing the answer. “When?” I said as Andrew and Connor only replied with a raise of their eyebrows.
“Two days ago,” Andrew said.
“He thinks,” Connor added. My eyes fixed on his and then on Andrews, turning down to Jack, the only one in the room that seemed to be oblivious. He’d been bitten two days ago. Why wasn’t he dead?
“How you feeling, little man?” I said.
“Fine,” he said, his voice quiet. I looked up to Connor, he replied with a nod.
“You must be tired,” I said, but he shook his head.
“He thinks he slept all day yesterday, after he was bitten,” said Andrew. I ruffled the kid’s hair and Andrew followed me to the dinning room where someone had put everything that might be of use on the table. There were a few cans of beans and a small stack of nappies, but not much else other than a collection of half full spirit bottles. That was it for the food.
“There’s a village down the road,” I said, but Andrew dismissed my statement.
“We need to watch the kid,” Andrew said, his voice quiet as he leant in.
“He seems fine,” I replied.
“You want to take the chance?” Andrew said.
“Maybe it’s not a death sentence,” I said. “Being bitten I mean.”
Andrew kept quiet and Connor appeared at the door.
“He seems okay. More than okay,” he said, his voice quiet as we listened to light footsteps on the stairs.
“With the others,” Andrews said, but his face turned to the ground. I patted Andrew’s upper arm.
“They wouldn’t stop bleeding from the wound, but only Chloe,” I said, Andrew filling the pause I left.
“And Nat,” he said looking to the ceiling. “The others didn’t last long enough.”
Connor’s voice was quiet as the footsteps headed over their heads.
“I had a look at Nat and you’re right, it looks like there’s a clotting issue. I’m no doctor, we’re trained in first aid for combat trauma, but there’s more going on than just the bite. It’s not the same for the kid. Its healing really well. Didn’t need to bandage it.”
Connor was looking between us both. I swapped a glance at Andrew.
“You sure you want to take a chance?” he said, this time in his direction. Connor was about to reply when Shadow’s volley of barked calls stopped the words from coming.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One