I killed the engine, raising my hands to match Toni’s stance, setting my mouth in a grateful smile while bunching my cheeks. I didn’t need to try hard to get the tears to fall.
No one moved and the rifles stayed steady as I paid all my attention to each of their faces looking for signs they weren’t the real enemy. Each stared back no doubt doing the same, their weapons making them no less anxious than I was despite what their words would have said. I saw enough pigment surrounding their pupils to slow the beat in my chest in time for the call from somewhere in their line.
A face in the centre went sideways, the helmet turning. I could see his reluctance as he looked back towards us. Keeping his rifle high, a pasty white man side stepped the sandbags and started the journey in our direction. He didn’t call out, didn’t shout commands, but eventually as the young soldier made his journey in our direction, the aim of the other rifles drifted either side.
“Open the door,” were the first words I heard him say as he came around, but he hung back from the driver’s side. I knew his eyes should have remained fixed on mine, but he couldn’t keep from looking down to the front of the van. His eyes twitched, travelling along the side, after longer than he should, his gaze snatched back, his aim snapping from its fall.
“Do what he says Jess,” she said and my breath stole from my lungs. I hated the way she could make me feel. How she could pull me back with just the way she’d say my name.
I pulled the handle and let the cold air in.
“How d’you get out?” the young man’s voice called as I placed my bare feet to the cold tarmac.
“It was awful, help us please. We have to get away from here, where they can’t get us,” I said, pushing the emotion to catch in my voice. He didn’t reply, instead he looked back, his eyebrows raising as he surveyed me tilting his head up and down. I saw the same look I always saw in a young man’s eyes, in a man of any age’s eyes as they catch my sight, but this time it was mixed with an open-mouthed horror. I looked down my fluorescent yellow front, following the black lines as they ran down the jacket and I turned as the white of the van caught my eye. It wasn’t white anymore. Most of the surface was flecked red, clots streaking down the dented, once pristine paintwork. Tattered remains of cloth and flesh hung where they’d caught between the bumper and the metal.
“We hid. Waited for it to all die down, then ran. Found this thing unlocked, the keys in the ignition,” I said pointing over my shoulder. “It saved our live. God only knows what would have happened if we’d not found it.”
“Ask her,” came the call from another voice. His eyes shot back to my face, running up and down the jacket, falling to the scratches on my legs.
“Were you bitten?” he said, his voice quivering as he spoke, his eyes peering into mine. I shook my head and shot a look back to Toni. “Her?” he said.
“No,” I replied.
“Take off the jacket, we’ve got to see,” he said, motioning with the rifle. I paused before I replied.
“I’m not wearing anything underneath.”
His eyes came up from torso and he latched back onto my face, his head turning to the side.
“I got covered in blood when we were trying to escape. You’ve got to help us please?” I said, letting the tears flow. I watched him pause whilst he looked off into the distance as if leaving the conversation for a moment, then he turned back to the line before staring wide eyed in my direction, slowly looking into the distance where we’d just come from.
“What is it?” I said.
“They’re coming,” he replied, before a call from the group could shut him down.
“Private, stow that,” came the booming voice. I turned back to him, almost putting a hand out in comfort as I realised he was yet to face the horror in person. When I turned his eyes were no longer on me, were no longer on the van, they were fixed across the horizon and he was slowly stepping back to the roadblock.
“Get back in the van, Miss,” he said as the distance between us grew. I followed his eyes out to the horizon, but couldn’t see anything new. I turned back to the roadblock and saw the soldiers leaving their defences to fan out to see past the van. “Miss, get back inside,” he said, but his eyes had never left the distance.
“Get back in, Jess,” I heard Toni say. “Get in the van,” she said again, the words loud, controlled, but clearer this time. I turned and I felt the wind change. The foul stench of a sewerage works filled my nostrils. I knew what it meant before I saw the two figures running down from the high ground to the left, before I had a chance to tell if their stance was controlled enough, not too animalistic, too fast or too slow to confirm my fears. They were still human. But what were they running from?
I already knew.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.