“What next?” Ryan said, but I barely heard the words, my concentration fixed on scouring everywhere but the house where I’d been held, the house where I’d shot the gun, the house where I’d done the deed I couldn’t bring myself to think on. I was glad of his interruption when he spoke again. “I have a cousin in the next village over. We could hold out with him?” he said. I sped my pace, twisting back to see his face in the burgeoning light, his weathered complexion for the first time without the shadows. It wasn’t an unpleasant sight. The thought reminded me of Toni, reminded me of the look she would shoot, the accusation she’d give just with her narrowed eyes.
“Nothing’s changed,” I said turning back as he jogged to catch up.
“You’re looking at the same place right?”
I nodded and he stared on before speaking again.
“They’re hemmed in, packed in like kippers,” he said.
“Sardines,” I said.
“Yeah, whatever. Fish in a tin. They’ve shut them in there for a reason,” he said looking to the sky, which was now mostly blue.
“I get it,” I said and speeded my descent.
“And you’re still going in?” he said hurrying at my side.
“I have no choice.”
“We can get another camera,” he said, but by now I was jogging, the distance between us growing as we closed in on the village. By now with each breath of wind I caught the concentrated odour, could hear the low grumbling moan, the ground itself seemed to rumble as it to complain at the weight of the creatures. The metal fence panels swayed in and out, the creak of the metal clamps scratching to keep hold. Through the gaps between the metal sheets clamped together to the vertical poles, constant movement passed back and forth. Somehow I knew Ryan was about to talk and I turned, light full on his face, his mouth open, words primed to spring out. He paid attention to my request, my index finger to my lips, then pointing to the slow sway of the fence, he changed course with me, heading to the right and the wooden fence panels marking the start of the village’s gardens.
Not slowing from the jog I followed the path of the fence, not able to see over, but I could feel the house, cold sweat ran down my spine and I picked up the pace, slowing only when we came to a corner. Around the turn the fences were lower and made from chain-link, the deserted gardens easy to see. I kept my eyes flitting to the windows, looking for movement, for signs of life. There’d been many people, tens of villagers caught up in the fright the last time I’d been here. Was it last night? I said to myself, trying to remember the details. I wanted to see movement at the windows, hands waving, anything but open-mouthed stares. I needed to see reason still for the Army not to forsake this place, to lock it up, light the blue touch paper and stand well away. They’d evacuate first, right? Then again if that woman was in charge, maybe my hopes would be unfounded.
We ran on, neither speaking, not even when I saw the familiar row of houses, the row we’d first come across, where we’d stood and seen the two runners chased, dropped to the floor, at least one of their lives ended, leaving just hope for the remainder. I saw the back of the house where we’d escaped over the roof. Saw movement, but those memories were clear. The house was a bust. We’d run because I’d let them in to save the boy. For a moment I wandered if he was safe, if the woman, already forgetting her name, was looking after him, or was alive at all. I let the thoughts drop, I only had enough emotional energy to keep it together.
“Jess,” Ryan’s sharp but quiet call pulled me back from my memories and about to admonish him for breaking the silence, I saw the reason for the word, his outstretched arm, finger pointed to the movement which had caught his eye. A woman with her back to us, her spine pronounced through the thin bright running top I’d seen before, the two great rends of flesh where the material broke in ragged tears. She was the second jogger, the one I’d hoped had survived. I let my eyes close, but just for a second, I told myself, just enough to take a deep breath. I had time, she hadn’t seen us yet and I imagined her drawn features, drawing on what I’d seen at a distance. Her mouth hanging slack as her attention focused on the metal fence which hadn’t been there last night, but she wasn’t trying to escape, she was trying to get in, she was on our side.
I stopped, Ryan halting, and watching his wide eyes snapping around, but I could see nothing in the overgrown grass he’d could use to improvise as a weapon. I pulled the gun up, but I wouldn’t fire, it would be a last resort, knowing we had to get inside quietly, the shot would call the dead over and our easy hop over the fence into their enclosed territory would turn to a death sentence.
I took a step and a twig I hadn’t seen snapped under my foot. I stopped. Holding my breath, I flashed a look to Ryan who stared back, both of us drawing in relief which blew straight out as we twisted back around. The woman still hadn’t turned, but coming around the corner another stared in our direction already picking up speed, her hands rising in the air as my gun fell from my grip, stomach stabbed as if hit with a bold of lighting. It was Toni, her face red with blood, shredding with deep scratches, hair missing, scalp gone with it, the white of her skull on show for all to see, her stomach an open cavity, intestines uncoiled like a rope dragging behind.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.