Somehow I switched off the sorrow, cleared the emotion from my view. With a wipe of my hand against stubbled skin, I numbed the fear and pushed back the pain. My hand found the scruff of her jacket and I pulled her hard through the slick of blood, taking her in my arms as she reached the door, managing a kiss to her forehead as I lay her on a patch of bloodless tarmac. Connor was out, the pack open in his hands, the first aid kit already split in two, its contents spreading across the floor. Cassie didn’t moan or wince at the pain as Connor cleaned out the wound, but I had to look away. Standing, I scooped dressings from the floor, ripped open the pack of QuikClot and stumbled over to Andrew. The tourniquet has slowed his bleed, but his arm was going pale and I pushed the dressing to the old woman’s outstretched hand.
With my palm over my mouth I took in a full view, drew a deep breath and watched for movement. The road littered with death and destruction, both with bodies that had died for the second time and those for whom it would be their one and only. The thought struck a reminder in my head, but my step back to the Land Rover paused as I caught a strange noise, my ears attuned to the terrifying scream those horrific creatures gave off, but this was so different. Shaking off the contemplation, I delved in the rucksack, pulled two clips from the ammo bag, retrieved the hand gun from the floor next to the rifle, pushed a clip home and climbed into the back of the Land Rover.
The smell was already surfacing. I pulled Zoe’s arm and she followed like a doll. Gritting my teeth with her in my arms, I could already feel the ice cold body reacting, energy in her muscles beginning to twitch. I took her past the children, smiling through my clench, I kicked the door of the house wide, lay her to the sofa and held my hand firm on her chest.
“Goodbye,” I said and pulled the trigger against her forehead.
Back out in the open the air was thick with decay, the stench of blood in my face with every gust of wind. I’d been right, this was a new beginning, just not for all of us.
“Back in the truck,” I said to Ellie, my words free of emotion. “Back in the truck,” I repeated to Connor, ignoring Cassie’s outreached hand, instead I strode towards the house where we’d stayed the night, walking at a stiff pace towards the whimper, knowing what I would find. The sound grew louder and told me I was right, the black body in the garden curled in a ball confirming. Shadow’s head raised as high as he could manage, his eyes locking to mine as I approached. On his side was a great rend of flesh matted to this fur. Whimpering as I picked him up, tears ran down my face as his long tongue slapped at my cheek. He’d gone ahead, slipped out of the sight, rushed off to attack the creature, a preemptive strike to save the misery of its attack.
Arriving back, the Land Rover was loaded, just the bloody remains and liquid slick, discarded dressing packs and antiseptic bottles littered the road. I placed Shadow just behind the door and Cassie’s voice came back quiet.
“I’m okay,” she said and I turned to Andrew, his cheeks bunched, he stayed quiet. I noted the silence. I couldn’t reply, couldn’t voice my anger, couldn’t give words to the despair when a small hand came up from out of sight.
“It’ll be okay,” the small boy said and I turned in his direction. Taking his hand, he squeezed. “She told me last night. I can help,” Toby said and saw his bright face, his sister’s too as she sat between his legs. Ellie’s hand came out and I took it in my left.
“She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’s the strongest person I’ve ever know,” she added and I gave a nod, slamming the doors as I let go. I couldn’t twist away too soon, couldn’t turn from their faces any quicker. Ellie was right, but I knew even if Toby held the key to the cure, it wouldn’t be in time to save Cassie, no matter her strength. We had the chance to save other people’s lives, but I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t blubbing, I wasn’t loosing control, but I couldn’t help let the emotion pour out. I took longer than I should to collect up the discarded weapons and pile them back on the passenger side.
The drive was the most quiet I’d had in ages and I loaded the guns as let the Land Rover amble along, knowing the bullets had names on them I never wanted to write. Although I kept my eyes wide open, searched the horizon for hazards, took wide paths around where danger could be hiding, I’d barely noticed as we finally made it along the stretch of road and I saw the Land Rover we’d used to make our first trip, now pushed to the side, adding to the road block. I slowed, ready for the sentries to raise over the hedge lines, ready for them to take over, to lift this weight from my shoulder and pull away the responsibility.
When the movement didn’t come, I cocked a handgun and opened the door. Standing on the sill, I fired twice at the figure as it rose, their face already blooded, its skull on show. I gunned the engine, swerving around the angled cars, noticing for the first time the plumes of smoke rising in the distance.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One