One after the other, people streamed from their houses, doors opening across the view. Whole families ran breathless, racing from safety, not caring for the bloody trail and the obvious danger still hidden beyond the door that never closed. The husband turned away, stepping from the window. Mary twisted, moving to follow as he jogged to the hallway, but she stopped, both of us grabbing a shoulder each.
“They’re not what you think,” I said, looking to Toni, but she stayed quiet as if she was unsure of the words. “Look,” I said, pulling her around as gently as I could, pointing to the slow advance towards us from the church. As she turned, her eyes squinted out to the crowd of soldiers, before turning to check for her husband. As she returned to the view, I leant out of the window, Toni watching on, shaking her head. “No,” I shouted, the echo calling back. “Get inside, it’s not safe,” I said, stopping only when Toni gently pulled me inside. No one had responded, no one made any sign they’d heard my words.
With the wind gone from my face, I followed Toni’s outstretched finger to a woman about our age, dragging a boy of maybe five behind her, somehow still running towards what she thought were her saviours. I urged Mary, adding my pointed finger at the soldiers, begging her to watch their walk, to see no guns held in their hands, any weapons in sight hung useless slung around their backs. I urged her to look at the injuries, the blood crowding each face, or to stare at the same lifeless expression each of them carried.
“Ray,” she screamed in the heartbeat when it all came together, her eyes out of the window for more than a moment, but when he gave no reply, she turned and ran, Toni following. “Ray,” she called down the stairs, his voice dismissing, the wind running through the window as the door opened downstairs. I imagined Toni watching at his side, ready to close the door at his back if he set foot over the threshold. But moments later they all trooped upstairs just in time to watch the crowd surge in our direction, to see the thirty or more soldiers heading towards the woman who’d only just slowed, her attention on the child kicking and screaming behind.
It wasn’t for a few paces until she turned and saw the obvious, slowing, letting go of the boy’s hand. He ran with desperation, tripping over his feet, falling backwards. I wanted to race down the stairs to sweep him up, but there were enough people there to help, ten or more of their neighbours out in the street who’d see the light soon enough, would understand there wasn’t a fairytale ending to this bulletin.
The first scream shattered the new calm moments later when the mother stopped, staring on, still trying to get her mind to fix on what she was seeing. Hands reached from the crowd, fingers grabbing her by the throat, a second and a third coming around until she’d disappeared, dead bodies surrounding, leaving only her painful screams cutting through the forest of camouflage to let us know she hadn’t given up yet.
I felt Toni’s fingers wrap around my wrist, holding firm, but not gripping tight, like she knew I could run at any moment, could leap from the window to my death, hoping I would survive for long enough to do the right thing, to pick up the boy, scoop him up, not turning like the others, running for their lives. A heavy thud shook the floor and broke my concentration. I could barely bring myself to look back, to see the man lying on the carpet. No one else had turned, their eyes fixed forward on the boy and the encircling masses.
“Run,” I screamed as he vanished from our view. I pulled against Toni’s grip, holding my breath as I saw his face from between the forest of legs, hands swiping as the creatures bent, stumbling over themselves to get at the child. Toni pulled me back as he scrabbled out, jumping to his feet and running, his eyes searching for the safety of a doorway, searching past those running in the street.
A moan called out from the floor at our backs, but no one turned, each of us urging the boy on as he tripped over his legs, sending his knees scuffing to the hard floor, the procession of ex-soldiers not far behind. A second moan called to my ears with reminiscence, a sound I’d heard much in such a short space of time. Toni twisted her view too, her hand reaching, pulling the gun free, but our breath relaxed as we saw his wide-eyed stare, his mouth turn to an oh as he looked into the gun pointed in his direction.
Sharing a look of relief, Toni and I turned back, but tensed as we fixed on the snarling creature at the open door, its leathered face dripping red from forehead to chin. Its eyes on the fastest moving object in view. The child still nowhere near an open door.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.