Chapter Eighty One

Halfway down the stairs my fist went out, the tapered bottle nestled below my knuckles as a face came around the corner. Pulling back the lunge, the perfume bottle slipped from my hand as I saw it was Connor’s wide smile staring back. My hands went out, flailing in the air for the glass, grabbing just before it could smash hard against his face. With an unnecessary juggle between my hands, I had it gripped tight, watching as his wide smile narrowed, his head turning to the side as he locked on to the tapered glass.

“Good morning,” he said in reply to my shrug before disappearing towards the kitchen. I rose back to the top step, leaving the bottle to rest on a bookcase in the landing before hurrying down the stairs, the smell of charred meat filling my lungs.

“Barbecue,” I said under my breath as I peered out of the window to the thin wisp of white smoke. Following the smell through the kitchen and into the dining room, I found the long table set for eight places, with everyone, but Zoe sat down as she moved around the table forking out food to each setting.

All eyes turned as I entered, even Shadow took his stare from the plate of food as it moved around the room. At his feet was a bowl already empty. My eyes turned up and found Cassie sat between Andrew and Ellie, her face in a smile pointed in my direction, but she turned away as Zoe filled her plate.

“We found a full freezer. It thawed, but the stuff at the bottom was still cold,” Andrew said, a half smile filling his face.

“Whose watching?” I replied, my mouth not curling up as my mouth filled with saliva.

“It’s fine,” Andrew replied. “Just while we eat,” he said and attacked the food with his knife and fork, sounds of pleasure issuing from his mouth.

“Why didn’t anyone wake me for my turn?” I said still standing in the doorway.

“You needed the sleep,” Connor replied to nods around the table as he cut the food on McCole’s plate. I watched a grin appear on Cassie’s face and she looked me straight in the eye, licking her lips as she nodded. It wasn’t a dream and I  remembered where the taste had come from on my lips.

Shadow joined at my side as I took the seat at the head of the table and I ate like it was only the second proper meal I’d had in days. Despite being able to finish my plate, I let Shadow take the last of the prime meat and watched him gulp it down, barely chewing as I ran my palm down his black coat.

Last night was where it all changed, but the first real change came only moments later.

A fist, not heavy, but firm, banged on the front door.

Connor, Andrew, McCole and I shared a look, pausing before we jumped to our feet, knocking the table as we rose. The three of us who were able had the same thought, grabbing table knives in our fists as we ran to the front door.

“No. No. No,” came the voice from the other side as I struggled with the door, finding it double locked. We didn’t find a key last night. I shrugged on my jacket and gingerly opened the back door, a gust of wind rushing across my face. With Andrew at my back, we crept around the corner, my hand fumbling in the pocket for the handgun, only then remembering I was the rifleman now. Nearing the corner, brushing down the side of the Land Rover, I could hear a low moan in the street and saw Cords ambling in the distance, a procession sharing the same pace, slowing rolling down the street.

At the front was the old man from across the road, he was still banging at the door, repeating the same word.

“What’s wrong?” I said letting my fist down, despite the shotgun cracked open in the crook of his arm. As he saw me, then Andrew at my back, his eyes opened wide, his free arm reaching out. “What’s wrong?” I repeated.

“The smell, the smell,” he said. I stopped moving, but didn’t need long to figure out he was talking about the food smell still only just dissipating. “It’s drawing them in.”

I turned again, looking behind me. Although the creatures still ambled slowly, they were getting close, with another pack coming from the other end.

“Shit,” I said turning to Andrew. “We’ve got to go and quick.” Andrew disappeared down the side of the house and I turned back to the old man. “Listen,” I said trying to calm his continued repetition, when he didn’t react, I talked over him. “We’ve found a safe place, a hospital a few miles away. The military are there, they’ll help. You can come with us if you want?” We didn’t have room, but would make do, I couldn’t leave these people here when we could give them hope.

He stopped talking, stopped repeating his word, eventually nodding with great enthusiasm.

“Go back to your wife, get ready and we’ll come and get you,” I said and watched as he turned, hobbling across the road as the horde drew in from either side.

By the time I was back inside, thanks to our planning last night, everyone was queuing up at the back door, supplies in hand, Connor helping McCole to line up whilst handing me the rifle.

“The old man and his wife are coming with us,” I said and despite everyone knowing there was so little room, no-one voiced any other opinion. Before I gave the signal I ran upstairs, looked out of the front window, watched the group merging in the middle and tried to count, grouping each in ten, but stopped as I got to fifty. At least they were only the slow creatures. A dream to deal with compared to what might be.

I kicked myself as I checked the back room. Staring out beyond the garden fence I watched as a creature stooped low to the grass and, as if seeing me, rose high and gave a cry like a wolf howling to the moon.

 

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

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