Chapter Seventy Eight

I swung the board left, then right, jabbing its length forward, smashing the rotting face over and again. Decaying flesh came away with each swipe, but it wouldn’t go down, just kept coming back for more, its hand clawing the air just out of reach. Somehow I was keeping him from the kitchen, the cork in the bottle, knowing if they broke through I’d be surrounded and the improvised weapon would be no use. I could feel my energy relenting, knew it wouldn’t be much longer before I couldn’t even lift the board, my mind on the growing queue in the hallway behind.

The voices were back, quiet, but with an intensity of a shout and I could have sworn they were coming from the cupboard. A light sprung on in my head. They were in the cupboard behind the closed door. Why hadn’t I checked there before? I had one chance and hoped I could make it. When I stopped fighting they would pour in and overwhelm me. I hoped my ears hadn’t been playing a joke.

Angling my body around to the right, battering hard with a renewed energy and giving all I could with one last jab, I leapt side on to the door, pulled it open to see the shallow larder, its narrow shelves empty of food and my friends.

I’d done it now, I’d made my choice and the cupboard was where would have to wait it out. Feeling a scrape against my jumper, I turned, jabbing the wood into the neck of a woman, her eyes white and wide, her hair missing, torn clean off, leaving the red of her skull exposed. Another was at her side, but I turned before I could take him in, pulling the door open, looking to the fridge and with one grab of the back, it toppled down, dropping to the floor, pushing back the horde. I turned, the rest a blur. The floor was gone, the light too and I was falling, but hands stopped my bounce against the steps, the door slammed shut and the fridge scraped along the floor.

My eyes latched onto a candle against a far wall as it flittered in a draft. Hands put me right, turned me through ninety degrees, settling me on my butt. I was in a basement. Andrew’s face peered at me as it moved in and out of shadow with each flicker of the light.

“This is awkward,” I said, but he didn’t reply, just opened his arms and held me tight.

“Look what Connor found,” he finally said so quietly I could hardly hear as he released, spreading his hands out to show me the rest of the tiny room.

The room was about the size of the bedroom upstairs where I spent most of my time in the house, but without the bed, the dated, flowered wallpaper, unless it was authentic decaying brick print. The floor was soft, a mix of rubble and mud I didn’t want to spend much time looking at. Along the walls were shelves filled with jam jars, but I couldn’t make out anything edible inside. The smell was better than above, but only just, the musk and musty odour made me glad when my breath finally slowed. The three children huddled around the far edge, holding each other’s hands for warmth. It was cold down here, almost as cold outside and I wanted to talk, but Andrew insisted we kept silent.

To the side of him was Connor, crouched down in what seemed a strange pose, his hand floating in the air, I thought, until light flashed across a pair of eyes. It was Shadow, Connor’s hand stroking his back. I wanted to say sorry as I stood and looked around the room, wanted to apologise for what I’d said even though it had only been inside my head. I wanted to say sorry for not letting them in, I wanted to cry out this was all my fault. If they hadn’t had to break the door down, they could have kept the horde from overrunning. I had no more tears left to cry, had nothing inside me left to give. So I waited as patiently as I could, waited listening to everyone’s stomach groan and complain for food, listening to the movement on the boards above, the slow methodical placement of one foot after another.

The creak and crack of activity above slowed, but only after some time had passed. No one could say how long, but it was less than a day and more than a few hours. We’d burnt through two candles and had just lit the last when the sound upstairs rattled my nerves. It was them. It was Logan and Cassie, I was sure. It was their heavy steps, faster than the others had been. It was their vehicle we’d heard rumbling outside, their vehicle that left and came back and was now idling on the road. Andrew didn’t agree, but wouldn’t voice a reason why it was better to stay here than to venture back up, to peer out through the door and contact whoever it was. But he’d been outside, he’d gone with Connor to fetch back the kid. I’d seen nothing and I would not make another decision that could end someone’s life. Shadow knew it too and ran to the stairs before Connor could leap after him before he could stop him let loose a single bark. Andrew and Connor subdued him, their hands tight around his mouth.

Now it was too late and we heard their voices, heard Logan and Cassie outside, they were upset. The engine revved and they wouldn’t be able to hear our shouts, wouldn’t be able to hear Shadow’s bark echo in the air. Andrew was first to rise, the first to run up the creaking wooden steps, the first to push up the board covering the hatch and the first to jab the door and to feel it move only an inch as the fridge I’d toppled stayed where it had been pushed by the creatures as they’d clambered after me.

Connor was the second to try it, and the third as they put all their weight behind. I was the first to find my tears again. The children followed shortly after.

 

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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

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