Season Two – Chapter Nineteen

With my concentration on where she’d stood, I felt my feet slipping, my fingers aching as they pinching into the roof, my long nails already sheared flat. I turned, lunging for the drainpipe, giving my trust it wouldn’t fall away, wouldn’t release from the wall as I gripped around its surface, digging my toes hard as they came to rest on each side of the metal bracket. The round metal pipe moved, but didn’t give out all the way, at least not as my weight settled. The wind had picked up and with every movement as I clung on; the metal rubbed against itself, creaking, shifting, complaining like it could go at any moment. My hands were going numb with effort and I knew I couldn’t last long like this, but I wouldn’t look down, couldn’t let myself head that way. I refused to see what had made the soldier give up and take the easy way out.

I turned back to the space where she’d been not so long before, but still she hadn’t returned. I wanted to help her but I couldn’t, there was no chance I could make it back across, it was all I could do to cling onto the metal rattling with the slightest of my movements.

Somehow I climbed, letting the stack take my weight as I gripped around its girth with each hand, pushing my feet flat against the brick. I could see no other way and it worked, at least at first, letting me get three paces up the wall before I had to scrabble at the roof and find the ledge on the other side as the stack collapsed, my feet falling from under me, testing to see if my grip would hold.

It did, but for how long I wasn’t sure, with the metal still clattering, its echo ringing as it smashed down hard for the final time, I heaved myself up by my arms, scraping my front over the edge before I finally had my feet on the solid ground. I lay face down against the rough surface, drained, empty and savouring what was beneath me, my breath slowing until I thought about Toni.

Scrabbling to the edge, not taking in what was around me, staying low, I pulled myself back to the edge, popping my head into the free air, my breath catching as I reared back taking in the distance to the ground below. It was only three stories, but was enough to send my head into a spin. That was until I saw the ground moving. I knew it wasn’t the ground in motion and my brain corrected itself as the people gained their definition. They were wandering aimless as before, but had multiplied with a low hum radiating toward me, along with the same stench from the corridor.

I pulled my head up, my vision extending across the distance, past the trucks and the Land Rovers, the scattered weapons. The aimlessly wandering crowd had thinned, but I’d yet to see anyone not infected, anyone still human. The horizon ran out before I could see what I wanted, but hope came in the form of gunfire, distant at first, the best sign there was still a resistance. Close gunfire replied, so close, I shook with its force, until hope rose again in my chest as I released it was coming from below, the sound bursting from the window. Then came Toni, her body rearing back as she fired again. Her precious pack slung on one shoulder, swinging under her arm as she climbed out of the window, backwards into the nothingness.

I pushed myself out into the air as far as I dared, about just below my ribs, and I reached down, letting my arms drop.

“Grab on,” I said and she gave a start, sending her balance off, but I grabbed her hand as it flailed, a great smile on my face as we touched, my grip encircling her wrist. Together we scraped and shuffled sideways.

Nearly clear of the window, I felt strong again, ready to help drag her up, confident as she gripped me tight, her feet along the wall as I shuffled back, anchoring myself of the shallow ledge. Feet flat as mine had been, she climbed higher and I knew soon we would be safe and together. I could hold her in my arms and we could take our time to think. We would have all the time in the world to wait, contemplate the right moment to make the next move.

She climbed higher, my eyes on hers, her speed increasing as a scream seared through the air from below. I looked down as a dark flash burst from the window. I expected to see the shape fall to the ground. I didn’t expect Toni’s body to go tight, to pull against me so I hard as I took her full weight, to drag me down towards her. It all made sense when my eyes fell on the snarling beast lined with dark veins, its claw-like grip around Toni’s left ankle as it swayed, its mouth snapping wide, the other hand clawing at the air.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eighteen

Without thought I raised to my feet, Toni already at the door, slamming it closed before running to the other side of the ornate desk, hopping over where the soldier had fallen. She pushed. The heavy wood didn’t move until I came around the other side and leant down, heaving with all I could whilst trying not to look at the soldier’s legs. It was too late to unsee the spray of red across the ceiling.

I looked away as I pushed with everything. The desk built its pace, slamming hard to the wall. Both of us stared at the gap between the desk and the door, the desk’s feet protruded out further than its surface, enough for a hand to fit through the gap sideways. Silently agreeing there was nothing we could do, we looked to the window trying not to let our breath deflate.

“Sealed shut?” I said, jumping as I finished my words, the door slapping hard against the wood, the desk moving against our bodies. We turned around and pushed back, spinning again as the door held firm. My eyes fell to the floor and the sprawled body despite my command, fixing on the slow darkening of the carpet.

“And bulletproof,” she said as I raised the pistol towards the glass, dropping my hand as I scoured the room for inspiration.

“Explosives,” I said, feeling the desk move with me as I leapt forward, snapping back around to the door to make sure Toni had kept her hold, lunging forward again as another great smack of flesh thudded against the wall. The scream came next, but the effect was different this time. I was numb to the emotion of the call, but couldn’t help but stare past Toni with her fingers in her ears, a white arm snapping through, scraping its length, bunching the black veined skin as it tried to reach us.

Kneeling to the carpet I tried to keep my eyes away from his head, huffing breath with the effort of turning him over, pinching the top of his small pack open, my fingers sliding on the sticky blood. I was in, but the pack was empty. I let the body settle on its front, jumping to my feet at the sound of Toni’s effort. Running to the edge of the desk hunching my shoulders, slapping the wood hard and reclaiming what she couldn’t help give up.

Shaking my head our eyes met, separating after a pause to take in the rest of the room.

“Come on,” I said, my words in a hurry. “You’re the clever one. How do we get out of this?” She laughed and I reared back. “I’m serious.”

“You ain’t too stupid yourself,” she replied in a thick west country accent. I squinted back.

“There’s no time,” I said, scanning the empty surfaces of the room, pushing hard against the desk. A realisation came as the door slapped against the desk. Bursts of gunfire were no longer peppering the air.

“Sorry,” she said with a laugh and I could only reply with a shake of my head. “Bullet proof glass stops bullets right?”

“I guess,” I said.

“Bullets are soft and spread when they hit something hard. They’re hot, often melting through their target.”

I nodded with excitement, but my energy drained as I spoke.

“So we need something small, cold and hard?” A smile lit her face. “So have you got anything like that?”

I could see the thoughts forming as she squinted around the room, her face straining in time with mine as we pushed against the desk, fighting a renewed surge. As the pressure released, she looked at me with wide eyes, not breathing despite the effort. The desk moved and I pushed back as she leapt away, ushering me to shuffle along to where she’d been. As I moved, I watched her open the right-hand drawer, sliding it out as far as it would go, the stop slapping hard as it reached its limit. Her hand reached for a small pink fabric covered box and knew its contents before she jumped away, sharing a moment, a small smile, her head tilted and eyes raised.

The ring was my first ever gift for another. The one and only gift for her. I’d used all my money, my head in the clouds after I came to terms with being different to everyone else, different to everyone apart from Toni. I was in love, had fallen for her so deeply I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t just work. When we realised it wasn’t meant to be, I told her to get rid of it. I didn’t want it back. She gave it to charity, she’d said, telling me it meant nothing the first time we split. The only time we’d split. The only time we thought we knew what we were doing, a time when we thought we could see into the future.

But she’d kept it. She had it near.

As the confusion welled up in my chest, warmth radiating from my heart, I watched as if I was viewing CCTV images. She went straight to a floor cupboard, pulling a heavy weight from the bottom shelf and then a roll of surgical tape from another. She was at the window pulling the diamond from the golden setting, glancing back, sorrow in her eyes, before taping the stone, and yes it was real, to the glass at head height before she raised the weight and struck over and again.

I didn’t see the glass crack, didn’t see it splinter before I had to turn, putting my hands at the edge of the desk, renewing my effort. The screams radiated from the corridor, the wood moving towards me despite my efforts. I turned to see her bending down and saw a great slice in her jeans, felt the rush of the breeze in the room, the floor littered with thick clumps of glass. I turned back despite her urges, saw three black vein-ridden arms at the door, saw the door bending at the top, saw what I thought was the wall swaying inward.

“Come on,” she said, but I couldn’t move knowing the desk would give. They’d overrun us in seconds. Toni was at my side as I tried to push against the pressure. She shrugged the rifle off her shoulder and pushed through the gap, firing. The first explosion numbed my ears, the second, the third left them ringing, but the tide relented and I was free, a great breath pulled into my lungs. For the first time I smelt the stench, the soiled smell of sewerage from the corridor. She dragged me away, pushing me towards the window. I had to skip over the body, had to steady myself as I landed on the glass, hoping to stop my bare feet from cutting to ribbons.

With her hands at my back, she helped me climb, the door creaking against the wood, but I couldn’t look, keeping my eyes set on the horizon. I was up and on the ledge, looking along the side of the building at the decorative bricks protruding just enough to give texture at a glance, but were surely not enough for me to balance my weight on. Not enough to get me to the metal drainpipe and relative safety just out of arms reach.

“Go,” she said, her voice frantic. I had no choice, the door was opening wide, pushing the desk to the side. “Go,” she said and I saw her rucksack being push along the floor. “Go,” she said as she climbed, the first of the creatures was through, on the top of the desk, limbs at its back already following. “Go,” she said and I took the step, my weight holding as I gripped the thin edge of the brick below, my fingers scraping for a grip at the edge of the flat room. With her following at my side, my foot slipped, scraping my toes, but my grip was strong, fingernails digging into the soft skin of the roof. I held on, waiting for my breath to recover. “Shit, the bag,” I heard her say.

“Leave it,” I shouted, but as I turned I saw her disappear back through the window, a deafening scream howling from inside.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Seventeen

The metal handle stopped spinning as it reached my feet. With the noxious smoke dispersing, a figure appeared at the door, a gas mask wrapped around their face, a short rifle tracking up, taking aim. Toni lay still, leaning back on her elbows, her eyes wide as she stared back at the figure taking tentative steps across the threshold. His eyes headed up to mine. A muffled sound came from behind his mask, but the words seemed as if not meant for us.

He took a step forward, his gun still on Toni, another figure arrived at his back. At first look they were identical. A burst of gunfire lit up the corridor, muffled shouts followed as if from all around. Anger rose in my chest. These were the people that had done this, these were the people that had beaten Toni. An urge to let my guard down built, I wanted the rage back, wanted the animal hunger to return so I could defend myself, defend Toni, but it wouldn’t come.

The other man stood with his shoulder at the door frame peering around a shallow angle out into the corridor. The soldier in the room was shouting something, his chest heaving up and down. With him he brought a thick chemical odour, the burn of plastic thickening the air. Across his dark, earthy uniform was a great line of splattered blood as if an artist had flicked a brush. The inside of his mask misted, the words muffled with the race of his breath and the protruding filter. Gunfire in the corridor wouldn’t let me concentrate, all I could do was stare back wide eyed at his noise as I shook my head, as he swapped his aim, snapping the muzzle between us.

His left hand stopped steadying the machine gun, instead hurried to unclip his helmet, dropping it to the desk as he flicked his head between the two of us, but his aim soon settled on me. He pulled the mask off and dragged in air. His red face ran with sweat, his short fringe dark, his bloodshot eyes flicked open and closed, frantic to rid the sting of sweat. Gunfire burst down the corridor, the soldier’s report at the door shook through my body and I flinched in his direction, not sure if I would see the gun pointed at me, the lack of pain a delayed reaction, but no, his aim was down the corridor and another volley rattled off as I stared.

The unmasked soldier drew my attention back as he spoke, his voice high, as young as his looks. So much younger than me. His wide eyes and the shake of his voice betrayed his recent loss of innocence.

“Stand up,” he’d been saying all along. “You’re coming with us,” he said, his words robotic, rehearsed.

“Stoppage,” came the muffled shout from behind the other’s mask. Our guy’s eyes lit up, his head rearing back. We watched as the soldier’s gloved hands raked the slide at the side of the weapon, pushing forward and pulling back. We watched as his motioned grew more frantic, watched as he vanished, leaving only the echo of the rifle hitting the floor.

I looked to the other man to make sure he’d seen it too and he stared back reflecting my disbelief. Toni didn’t pause, a hand pushed the pistol in a slide across the floor before grabbing at her rifle. Our eyes locked and I knew she’d seen it, seen him there, before a shadow darted past the doorway, grabbing the soldier and he’d gone.

“Aim that weapon somewhere else.” It was Toni’s sharp voice and I turned towards it, away from the doorway. She was standing at my side and I followed the aim of her pistol to his face. His mouth was hanging wide, his face turning from the corridor, the gun dropping in slow motion.

Sound came from the corridor. It was a noise I couldn’t at first describe, but soon I recognised something heavy being dragged across the carpet. We stopped moving, except for Toni. Her gun still pointed at the soldier, motioning him to the doorway. His eyes were still wide and I could see he was deciding, looking between the gun in her hand and the corridor, then to the window. He stepped to the glass and peered down, all with the noise in the corridor multiplying. I saw his eyes go wide as he peered lower, watched as he let the short machine gun down on its straps. Toni kept her gun pointed in his direction, despite the rising activity in the corridor. With the pant of his breath growing ever faster, the soldier unclipped the top of his holster and calmly drew a pistol out as he shook his head.

“What’s your name?” I whispered, keeping my voice as calm as I could, but he couldn’t take his look from below, all he could reply was the shake of his head. I looked to Toni and she looked back letting the gun drop, opening her hands and I looked back, the gun already under his chin. I dropped to my knees and felt the tears rolling down my face as I buried my hands over my ears, leaning against the desk. My body rattled as he pulled the trigger.

I heard the echo in my ears, heard the spent cartridge clink as it hit the desk. I heard his breath push out as he slumped to the floor and heard the scrape on the carpet stop, but only for a moment before it became an orchestra of drumming feet.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Sixteen

“You did this?” I shouted, struggling to get myself to my feet as my hands slipped on the tears covering the wooden floor.

“No,” Toni shouted back as she tried to gather me up in her arms.

“You made the drug,” I said, slapping away her arms.

“It was an antidote,” she said as I scrabbled back, bumping against her desk. “But it wasn’t ready. Wasn’t for human testing. They didn’t give me enough time, I told them I wasn’t for use on humans yet. There were more tests to do, more protocols to follow. When they refused to let me finish the work, wanted me to jump straight to the trials, I threatened to go to the media.” Her arms had fallen to her side, but lifted to wrap around her stomach as her slowing words pleaded. “They knew about you. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, but I couldn’t sit back, I had to call. They found me when I was on the phone, beat me until I told them what I’d said. If you hadn’t come here, they were coming to get you, anyway. I’m so sorry.” Tears ran down the bruises on her face and she barely reacted to the echoing gunshots filling the air.

We stood, each of us unable to talk. Neither of listening to the litter of explosions and the chatter of the gunfire, until finally she sucked up the tears, letting her arms fall as she straightened up.

“We have to go or we’ll never leave this place alive,” she said, her eyes on mine, despite not able to look in her direction.

“You did this to me,” I said, the words not rising above the chaos.

“No,” she said. “I saved your life and I’ll do it again. I’ll do it every minute of the day if you need me.”

I turned away, ignoring her words then felt her grip around my upper arm. She tugged, pulling me to the window.

“Look,” she said and I turned to face the glass. The swarm was still there, but now the people formed lines of camouflaged soldiers streaming from trucks out in the yard, each looking left and right, their rifles levelled as they piled into every building. A door burst open and a creature leapt out, its hunched over form the only sign it was once human. The arc of its jump was a feat greater than an Olympian in his peak, only tattered rags of its gown circled around its neck, dark veins spidered out from its chest. Heads turned its way, followed by rifles. Soldiers dropped to their knees, their eyes peering through the scopes, but were none able to pull the trigger. The creature tangled in one of their colleagues, whose flesh flew from his face, ripped and discarded into the air.

My head shook as I took in the melee. I knew I’d seen this and worse already, but those images were like I’d seen them through someone else’s point to view, like on TV, my consciousness removed. I was taking this in for the first time, my body shaking, panic radiating in waves. Only Toni’s hand held tight in mine stopped me from curling into a ball and giving up.

Machine gun fire burst out from the side lines. A frantic chatter of bullets exploded in the crowd. I counted three soldiers down before the creature and its victim took the brunt of the fire, swiftly joined by a hundred other rounds, every soldier cutting them down.

I felt my breath heavy as I watched, Toni’s warm hand clutching at mine, but I couldn’t press back. My body so numb I thought I might collapse.

“You’d be dead if I hadn’t helped. You’ll be dead when they see you. We have to go. They can’t let you get out. You’re already their best chance. They’ll want to pull you apart and see why it worked.”

“But,” I said, turning away from the reforming line, soldier’s rushing in to check for survivors. “I’m not immune. It didn’t work,” I said in a low voice. “Before. Before,” I repeated. “I was like them, I wanted to do so much, the hunger was so overwhelming.” Her hand clamped tighter and she turned me around by the shoulder, peering into my eyes.

“No, you’re not like them, won’t be. You’re alive. They’re dead. You’re human and I’ve given your body a chance to fight back. We’ve got to go, they’re in the building already.”

I stayed where I was, unable to move as I watched her rush to the wardrobe, watched as she pulled out a rucksack, shouldering the rifle. Beckoning me forward with a pistol in her hand, I started towards the door as she pulled down the red dress and stuffed it into the bag. As she took hold of the handle I stopped, hearing a noise the other side. Toni heard it too and threw herself to floor just in time for an explosion to destroy the lock and fling the door wide.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Fifteen

I lay on my back in the darkness, warm for the first time in what seemed like an age. The left side of my body felt heavy, paralysed. A soft cushion nestled beneath my head and waited for the drip to fall to my face. I couldn’t move my left arm, my body unresponsive, with a panic rising I opened my eyes to the dim light and glared down at the dark hair of the head resting on my chest. My last memory flooded back. The needle stinging at my belly, legs going from underneath as she lunged.

“What the fuck?” I screamed, my voice building with every syllable as my right side reared up. Her head stirred, tilting around, bleary eyes looking back as I scrabbled to the floor. “What the fuck?” I repeated pulling up the blouse, my fingers running over the flat of my stomach, catching on the edge of the small circular plaster just above my belly button. “What the fuck?” I repeated, my eyes on hers as she dropped back to the sofa, fists rubbing at her sockets, a deep yawn pulling her mouth wide. “What have you done?” I said my voice desperate. “You’d better answer, or I’ll,” I said cutting myself off as I scoured the room.

“Wait,” she said, getting to her feet. I backed off, turning to find anything I could use to defend myself, but all I could see out of place was a red flared dress hanging on the back of the door. I lingered on the dress, our conversation pulling at my head. “Before I answer,” she said, holding her hands out as I looked back. “Tell me how you feel.”

“Feel?” I said, snapping back, the rage felt like about to vent as steam from my ears. “I’m fucking livid,” I said, my voice building. She pushed her hands out, her mouth twisting in laughter as she fought for control.

“Take a moment, let yourself wake. Calm down and tell me how your feel,” she sat back down keeping her attention my way, her eyes doughy as she tilted her head to the side with her lips a petite smile. I turned away, knowing I had to fight those eyes and took a step to the window, looked out to the horizon and the perfect blue sky. My eyes caught on the carton of cigarettes and panic pushed into my chest. Snapping my back to Toni, hers eyes were wide and hopeful.

I let the breath slowly catch in my lungs, tentative at first, taking note of all that came. As hard as I searched, the smell was benign, blank, empty, with no earthly taste drawing my attention. I let the breath build through my nose and held. My body gave no reaction, blood didn’t course like a tsunami and my heart didn’t pound out of my chest.

“I feel great,” I said, the words quiet, unsure. “What have you done? I feel like,” I said, struggling for the words. “Like,” I said again not knowing how to get it out.

“Human again?” Toni said and stood as I gave a slow nod.

“You’ve cured me?” I said with tears welling in my eyes, but I didn’t understand as she stepped towards me slowly shaking her head, her hands opening to pull me close. “I don’t understand,” I said, the tears flowing. I had her in my arms, still wanted to tear her clothes off, I wanted to taste her in my mouth, but not to pull away her flesh and didn’t feel the overwhelming need to lap at her open veins.

Her arms tightened around me, pulling closer as she spoke. Wrapping me completely.

“It’s not a cure,” she said, her voice soft, the tears obvious as she sobbed. “But it will suppress the symptoms for a while.”

I tried to pull away, I didn’t get it. Her arms held me in place.

“How do you know? How can you be sure?” There was silence and no reply came. “Please, you have to tell me or my brain will explode.”

Her arms tightened further, clamping on for dear life. Her lunge flashed in my mind as the sound of distant gunshots rang in my ears and an explosion shocked the fabric of the building.

“They’re coming,” she said.

“I don’t care whose coming, just tell me please. How do you know?”

My knees gave way as I heard the answer.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Fourteen

We headed through the corridor at a good pace, my eyes twitching to noise I couldn’t tell was really there. Peering through every open door, out into the darkness through every window, snapping back over my shoulder despite Toni’s relentless push forward. We climbed three storeys, still with my hand in hers, winding our way higher each time until we came to the top and a great sliding door which should have barred our way, but lay strewn to the side. Blood streaked across its front and at its side was a guard, not a solider, but a man in a blue shirt, a great bunch of keys hanging by his side. Only as we approached did she let go of my hand to unclip the ring from his belt. She didn’t need to administer the gun to his head, someone had done the job moments earlier, but long enough ago for the pool of liquid to slow its escape.

The carpet felt soft, letting my feet bounce, the sensation so alien, like I’d only experienced hard floors before. Toni lit another cigarette, handing it over before we reached a door with gold letters across its front, words I only recognised as her name as they passed out of sight. Letting go a second time to use the great bunch to unlock, she led me in, turning the thumbwheel in her fingers, slapping on the light. I took in the wide, spacious office, a great oak desk taking over half the space in the centre. Everything ordered, neat and clean, just as I would have expected.

She didn’t draw breath as we entered, instead ushered me to the long sofa filling the right-hand wall. Sitting, I pulled on the glorious cigarette, watching as she raced around the room, pulling open the draws of her desk, rifling through cupboards lining the floor and the wall. On top of the floor standing cupboards was a counter top with a sink in the centre, but there were medical instruments, no laboratory equipment cluttering its surface.

I watched as she seemed to slow, glancing at me, then standing straight, taking her time to look me over.

“You look like a granny,” she said with a smile. I glanced down. She was right. With the white coat spread wide, the tweed skirt and frilled blouse caught my attention for the first time. “She’ll be pissed if she sees you in her clothes,” she said, then burst out laughing. “She’ll be pissed if she see’s you at all.”

Her laughter cut short as the lights went out and a dim haze from the far wall caught my eye. I turned to the great window, stood and walked around the desk, my eyes fixed on the yellow line appearing on the horizon.

“How long’s it been?” I said, my voice dry and throat hoarse. I filled her pause peering through the window, gazing to the light on the horizon, turning down to the rest of the buildings, but with none of the lamps lit, I couldn’t make out any detail.

“I see you every week,” she said in a playful voice. I could tell from the muffle she was looking away, the sound told me she was still searching, but for what I didn’t know. Each moment the sun seemed to rise more and I knew it was true. The roofs of the shorter buildings on the other side of the site highlighting.

“I don’t get it,” I said and turned back into the darkness, taking a moment to let my eyes catch up on her shape moving in the corner.

“That little flared red dress you wore in Istanbul last week. That did it for me,” she said.

“When I interviewed the President?” I replied, stepping away from the window and her shape back in view. The orange jumpsuit lay crumpled at her feet, her hands were at her back tugging at her bra as she stepped from a lace pair of knickers. The feeling was growing too familiar, blood racing around my body, filling me up, urging me on. I took a long drag of the cigarette and turned back to the window, but my thoughts fixed on her curves, the image of her slender body in the dim light raging in my head. No matter how much I pulled from the cigarette it wouldn’t fade.

“Too long. I know. We weren’t meant to be and there’s no escaping from reality,” she said and was right. Together the weeks would pass by like hours, life set aside, blurring past the window. All it took was for one of us to remember we had lives outside, or a call from an editor or her boss and out time ended. Neither of us could ask the other to make the sacrifice it would take to be together.

With the clink of coat-hangers on the rail, I turned back, the light already greater. Her jeans still showed off her amazing form, the jumper hugging tight couldn’t hide away any of her beauty. I turned back through the window, movement catching my eye down below. I saw people and lots of them, soldiers, a rescue party. My shoulders hunched tight as I remembered they weren’t here to rescue me. They were here to rescue survivors. They were here to rescue Toni.

“Your friends are here to help you,” I said.

“Look again,” she said, but I was still watching, my eyes lingered as the light grew. I saw dull forms take shape, watched as civilians and those in lab coats came into focus. I watched their slow movement, their direction without aim. The mass of people seemed to grow in number with the light, their movement stilted, turning only when they bumped into each other, turning as they reached the walls, like maggots writhing in a bowl. As the light grew I saw the mass swelling against a chain link fence, like the ebb and flow of the tide. I saw another fence beyond and rubbed the bite on my arm. A long drag helped the growing pressure slow.

“What is this place?” I said with my view still fixed.

“A research facility,” she replied, her voice getting near.

I remembered back to our conversation as their injuries took shape, dark marked clothes grew clear, each face radiating a blank expression and I knew what I was looking at. I knew what they were trying to do. I knew what had infected me.

“What is it you exactly do?” I said with surprise at my breath still even. Her words were louder than I expected.

“Head of infection control,” she replied and I turned, my eyes catching at first on her bruised face, the cigarette dropping to the floor as my mouth shot open, my hands pushing to the syringe heading for my stomach.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirteen

Gulping down the heavy air, I pushed my hand out to my side, forcing myself to continue the step forward as Toni’s warmth shot up through my fingers. The room was silent, the breath around me still, the air motionless, the only noise from my pounding blood. My eyes fixed on the gap, the smell of its liquor spiralling up my nose, my forward leap only held back by my curiosity of who the owner was.

Not bothering to listen out as I neared, all I could hear was the call everywhere but in my ears. Stepping around the door, I saw the light of the corridor and the start of the trail of scarlet coming from outside the gap’s angle. Reaching my fingers out to the door, I jumped, only just able to stop myself from pouncing as warm hands burnt at my shoulder. I saw the fear in her eyes, Toni’s step back, the pull away of her hands. I couldn’t stay in the room like this and turned, slapping my fingers against the steel, the door giving like it had no weight at all.

I was out into the corridor, leaping forward, I could hear the gasps from the room echoing. My eyes shot left, not lingering on the body of the soldier, scanning down to the far door, flipping around as the piercing scream came from behind. I took a moment. I was in another place; the shriek sending my body into itself. He wasn’t wearing his glasses or one of his many trademark checked shirts, but past his wide mouth and bared teeth, behind the dark clots and white sinew hanging from his short beard, the wide scarlet radiating down the hospital gown like a bloody napkin tucked in at the neck, I recognised his pale green eyes, saw that fleck of dark in his right just as the trigger was all the way back, his torso stuttering as the bullet slammed.

Still, I let the second round release, but it was Toni’s just after, shattering his skull. Hers hit in the centre of his forehead, my aim distracted with the arrival of her scent, catching him in the shoulder instead. He dropped like a rag doll, collapsing to the floor, my head was already elsewhere, searching behind him, beyond the body to the corridor and the bloody footsteps leading off, only to return. I forged forward, stepping around the body, not glancing back, knowing I would only drive myself closer to where I couldn’t be, where I never wanted to end up. I ignored the bullet as it went off, ignored the echo I barely heard. It wasn’t until I heard her soft voice from miles away I tried to listen to what my ears were telling me.

A name called from a great distance, repeated, the sharp tone reminding me of school, of a teacher telling me off, stopping my prank, forcing concentration. The name was mine and I turned only as I heard the click of a lighter, but found she wasn’t in the corridor. There was enough of me left to stop, to accept the order to wait, to stay my panting breath, to hold back my muscles itching for the hunt, my stomach growing as my eyes fixed on the soldier’s body by the door.

My view blocked. Toni through the door. In her hands was the carton of cigarettes, the soldier’s Glock in the other, a wisp of smoke trailing from the cigarette in her mouth. I saw the new pool of blood in the corridor, the soldier’s head flatter than when I passed, but my eyes returned to her, to the curl of her mouth. Oh my god. She understood. I almost broke down, the animal draining from me. Still, I pounced towards her, in my memory I was like a dog, jumping to her side, into her cloud, her taste potted with blank space. The cigarette was in my mouth, the blood in my veins already calming, replaced with a warmth, a gratitude she knew my plight, knew how to bring me back to myself. I heard her calm sweet words, crystal clear as she grabbed my hand and led me down the corridor.

“I know somewhere,” she said.

We twisted and turned, stepping over bodies, soldiers mostly, but civilians too, only one wore a gown, killed by a gun shot shattering his head open. I didn’t care that not once did she check for life before she pushed the gun to each head, setting the air alight with the noise. My only concern was with the pointless waste of bullets, or did she know something I didn’t and it wasn’t a waste?

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twelve

Part of me expected the end. Part of me even thought it would be a good way to go. Clean. Over and done before I could commentate. But more than anything else, the biggest part of me knew his hand would go down, the gun would slip from my temple and I’d snatch it away, have him face down on the floor before I could think any more.

Looking up from my foot between his shoulders blades, I knew I’d see Toni, what remained of the plastic box in her hand, whatever had been its heavy contents still settling on the floor amongst the jagged white shards, a wide lopsided smile beaming in my direction as the world settled to the speed I was more comfortable with.

No one moved because I told them not too. Toni paused only for a moment as I hurried my voice for her to snatch a cigarette from the carton and get one to my mouth with a lighter. She read my distress as I shooed her away with the smouldering stick between my lips, as I took a moment, took my time to collect, drawing in the thick air, watching as my vision snapped back, the scents evaporating.

The three remaining women huddled over the fallen. The tallest had taken the lead, the price of her height. They let themselves fall to the floor as the obvious became undeniable. The man who’d sat at his laptop continued to type, his fingers speeding as if he was curating his own narrative. The soldier shook under my foot, but obeyed the one and only command I’d given as Toni bent at his side, pulling off the helmet, yanking the radio cables from their sockets, digging out the keys from his pocket.

For the first time in an age I took a moment to think and the question spilled. How the hell am I going to get this story out?

Massaging her wrists, Toni bent to her ankles and pulling up the orange overalls I winced back at her skin black and blue, my foot between his blades getting heavier with every second. She looked up and saw my pain, pulled the legs down and launched herself at me, her arms grabbing tight around my upper body, her head burying deep into the crook of my neck. I took a long draw, to push away the growing distraction, kept my eyes on the four, although they were looking anywhere, but in my direction.

A clang of metal rang out against the heavy door and Toni pulled away, her eyes catching on the cigarette in my mouth, returning a look, a scowl I knew well. Her eyes snapped to the door, but were soon on the rifle in her hands and the slide of the mechanism it was clear she knew so well.

“Radio check, dumbass,” were the cotton wool words just about making it through the steel. We glanced together, her nod gave me the will. I took my foot from his back and made sure he was aware a gun was pointed should he wish to be a hero. Without words I motioned for all to move behind the door, the man at the laptop took the longest to comply, almost upset to close the screen and let his fingers leave the keyboard. Before too many more words had repeated through the door, our hostages were in the crook and Toni and I were standing at the far wall. They would see us only when the door was full pushed open and we’d have them.

I padded forward, pushing the gun into my white coat pocket, gripped my hands around the handle and forced the slide across, pulling the heavy metal by the handle, just enough to crack it open before I jumped back to my position, both our aims centred on the gap. The door didn’t move, and no words came. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a plan might have been in place for this situation, a procedure ready should they get no answer. We should have opened the door straight away, guns blazing. Now on the other side backup would be on its way or already there in silence. Guns would be pointed our way, doing to us what we’d planned for them. They were professionals. No sound came. No boots ran down the corridor. No final calls were made just to make sure.

I’d covered enough sieges in my time, terrorists, bank robbers and plain old stupidity. A canister would roll all casual through the gap. A bang and a flash would overwhelm our senses and in those moments they would have control. We’d be dead or in chains. I chanced a look at Toni, her eyes were already on me. I drew a drag of foul smoke, letting the remainder drop to the ground, knowing the only way out of this situation was to lose control, to let myself go where my body ached to be. I’d just have to hope I could reign it in when the job was done and not destroy my reason for being here at the same time.

By not holding back, I could already taste the change in the air, could feel blood swelling, muscles tense, coiling up, ready to spring. It was Toni’s words which halted the march, made me pause enough to follow her outstretched finger down to the growing line on the floor at the gap. To watch the dark line of a viscous liquid glint in the light. As my eyes locked, I could taste it on my tongue, could smell the thick iron rich tang heavy down my throat, all before I heard the structure of her question.

“Is that blood?”

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eleven

The choice was made. Not my decision. What could I do? At a guess I had a full five minutes before I couldn’t hold back, maybe ten if I distracted myself from all around me. Perhaps I could sleep, think happy thoughts, but not those already crowding my head.

I looked back at Toni, her eyebrows raised in what I knew was a solemn communication. Sorry, but thanks for answering my call, I guessed, turning away. Yes, I’d come to her rescue on the flimsiest of information, but what good had I done? I was in a worse situation. pumped full of drugs, or whatever was in the syringe. I’d been bitten, infected by a disease I couldn’t even imagine, the first symptoms of which destroyed my world. At least she still has her life. Battered and bruised, broken maybe, but she would recover when she was out of this place. My future was less certain. To be put down like a rabid dog, or locked in a cage for however long I had left.

I stood, breathing through my mouth and took small steps across the room, ignoring the soldier’s words.

“Miss, please stay away from the prisoner,” he said, turning my way. I carried on my advance, standing my ground as his wide spread hand blocked my path and he stepped in to follow. I looked him up and down, trying not to linger on his sidearm, a Glock 17, a weapon I’d learnt to handle, trained by my Israeli bodyguard on my six month stint in Jerusalem. I saw his pouches packed full, guessed which one should hold the ammunition, could practically smell the chocolate on the other side that would melt in the building heat of the room. Only as he copied my look did I sit back down, he’d got the wrong idea, but I’d found a way out.

Closing my eyes, I let my mind drift, turning away from the thought of food, of urges I needed to satisfy. I thought of my parents sat in front of the telly, each with a glass of sherry and a box of chocolates spread across their laps. Still, the scents rolled in and I knew the four women would be standing in front of me as I opened my eyes, their gamey notes exciting the thin hairs along the inside of my nostrils. I could almost see in the air as their cocktail of scents untangled, their flavours becoming distinct, my attention caught by one in particular who had an undertone of burnt caramel.

There they were, silhouetted against the lamp. I closed my eyes again, but couldn’t help but open, their words already losing definition as I looked each of them with a growing desperation to know which one would make a great dessert. I stood, feeling saliva pour from my glands, the liquid hot in my mouth as I tried to concentrate on their words.

“Karen,” the tallest of the four said, with a high pitched voice she tried to keep quiet. She was blonde with great skin, her white coat hid her curves, but hung high off her chest. I only noticed her hand held out as the other three pairs of eyes followed down. I held mine out, hers so warm, could feel her energy filling me, my breath rising. “Where do you work again? I’ve not seen you around,” she said, her face alarming and she yanked back her hand. “You’re freezing,” she said and in unison each of their eyes went wide, fixed on my hand and then my face. “Do we,” the tall one said and before I could find my sweet treat, she’d pushed up my sleeve and were rearing back at the healing bite wound.

The world slipped down a gear, their speech slowing as if their batteries had drained. They moved back with a speed like they were stuck in treacle, the screams building as my arm fell back to my side. The game was up, their widening faces told me so. I had just enough of a chance to catch Toni’s face as it fell, before I caught the soldier’s eyes. He was good, had his rifle up, head looking slowly side to side, the fat in his cheeks carrying its momentum as he checked twice either side he was making the right decision.

The first bullet was easy to dodge, the round fired in a panic and like a fly, my body and brain were on overdrive, time had slowed for those around.

The second bullet grazed my arm, sending pain I would only feel moments later. The third was a wild shot, ricocheting twice before embedding deep in a brain. I hoped it wasn’t in the sweet taste of pudding. He had the Glock out as I closed the distance, but I saw it too late, heard the trigger pull back the first safety pin, felt the second vibrate through my temple, knowing the third noise would be the sound of my brain exploding.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Ten

She wore a bright orange jump-suit three or more sizes too large. Her feet shuffled across the floor, restricted by manacles clipped at her ankles. What could she have done to prompt such fear of escape?

A great black hand reached my way as I stepped forward, but with all eyes on me I let myself back, watching her downward face as she was led to the opposite side of the room. The huddled women gave their attention, fixed their sneers pointed in her direction while I half listened to the soldier’s chat, catching only half their words as a bunch of keys changed hands. Soon our black guard was left to his task alone.

Still, she hadn’t looked up.

Lighting another cigarette, I pushed away my returning senses, smothering the sweet honeyed scent I could almost see drawing out from her like an aura. All the while I kept my eyes on the top of her bowed head and as the door sealed closed, I spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

“What’s going on?”

Toni looked up, my plan a success. Her eyes were wide, her left not as wide as her right, her chest heaving as she struggled with pain from the sharp intake of breath. I turned away after lingering just enough. The soldier stood at the door with a wide smile shining back, his voice booming when he spoke.

“It’s under control, but we’ll be moving as soon as the compound is cleared.”

“Moving where?” said one of the woman who’d broken from the pack, a chorus of agreement at her shoulders.

“I don’t know. I’ve just been told we’re going mobile. You have work to do,” he said and letting his rifle relax on the straps, he held his hands in the air. “That’s all I know,” he said and turned raising his eyes wide to test my satisfaction.

I gave a shallow nod and waited until he turned away before I let my view radiate in Toni’s direction. She was staring right at me, pain hanging from her face, tears rolling down her cheeks and squinting each time I took a long drag.

All I could do was think, but I’d already done all I needed to do. I knew my only choice. Sit and wait this out, smoking to keep myself from going crazy, pushing away the air thick with the mouthwatering smells while I stared at Toni fighting my growing anger at the damage to her face and all I could imagine they’d put her through. Her phone call made little sense, although the words were fading, she must have found out what was going on, must have discovered they were testing on humans, were testing a vaccine against a new disease I hadn’t even heard of. She’d been silenced. Shackled and chained. But why hadn’t they killed her? A shudder ran down my spine at the thought.

Shaking off the growing tension, I let myself fantasise over the only other option. Stub out the cigarette and burn no other. Let myself be engulfed by the smorgasbord of flavour. There was no point kidding myself about what would happen next. I knew I would rend flesh, would pull heads to the side and bite my teeth deep into their necks. I knew I wouldn’t stop, couldn’t hold back once I’d tasted the sweet warm meat straight from the bone. These thoughts didn’t scare me one bit and I felt my heart beating and my vision begin to haze. I barely heard a cackle of coughs from the side of the room, the sound more like braying lambs in a field. I thought of the blood spurting from their veins, heat raining down my face, covering my naked body.

“Are you okay lady?” the soldier’s voice boomed somewhere near, but I saw him as only a shadow, my breath pulling fast as I snapped forward sinking my teeth, but only in my head. Sweet, delicious, tangy scent filtered down my nostrils, electricity coursed along my veins, blood pumped to my extremities, fingers, toes, head, breasts, my pussy felt engorged, bulging heavy between my legs. More words came at me as my head lolled back and forward. I fought the feeling as it took control, knowing if I leapt forward and sunk my teeth, the race of Oxytocin would be better than the greatest orgasm I’d ever felt.

A sting of pain cut through the mist and I looked to my fingers and saw the orange ember kissing my skin. Through the fog I pulled it to my lips and sucked the deepest breath I’d every taken, blowing out as slow as I could manage.

My heart slowed and the moment passed with a disappointment we all know when we’d pulled back from the cliff edge, our partner out of energy, the batteries dead, hand too weary. My eyes fell past the soldier who’d stood back as I took the drag, falling on Toni. I knew plan A was my only option, I couldn’t trust myself to be in control, knowing I wouldn’t be able to stop. Her flesh would taste the sweetest, would be the most familiar of all.

The soldier was speaking and I looked up, taking another drag. In his hands were the carton of cigarettes he’d taken from my side as the women coughed.

“We’ll just hold off with the smoking until we get outside,” he said, his mouth and eyes wide in a smile.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Nine

I expected a bullet as he told me to rise, barking orders to get to our feet. I knew he would shoot as we locked eyes, seeing my monstrous features. I expected a bullet, but he didn’t search underneath the lab coat, giving himself no chance to recognise someone else’s clothes that didn’t fit. I expected a bullet as footsteps built to a roar in the corridor, heavy boots running past, skittering cubes of glasses in all directions. I expected a bullet as I headed our small group through the doorway, turning right before Dan, leading the way. I expected to be shot to the ground as I forced my hand across my mouth, trying to lock out the dreamy wake of the flesh gone racing to the empty cells.

I expected a bullet after each instruction, each left turn, each wait, go right. I expected a bullet as he spoke to someone else, someone on the radio as we arrived at a braced metal door twice as wide and half as tall as those baring the cells. I expected gunfire from within as the door slid, expected the beast of a black soldier on the other side to swing his gun down from his shoulder, to smash the butt across my face and send me spiralling to the ground. I hadn’t expected him to stare wide eyed, his eyebrows twitching, mouth curling to a smile, that look of recognition I’d grown so used to, those words no one could hold back.

“Are you?” he said, stepping back to let us in the room.

I walked past, not able to talk, fearing the deep breath I couldn’t hold back. It came with a surprise, a lungful of smoke, a great blanket blocking out everything else. My nostrils filled, the buds on my tongue clogged. I took in more of the thick air and realised all around me, my vision no longer blurred with the need to fill my urge.

I saw people. Saw the small, under-lit room. An old incandescent lamp hanging bare from the ceiling. We were in a kind of strong room, dining chairs set around the edge, each alternating its space with white plastic crates stacked to the low ceiling. I saw the eyes on me. A small collection, four young women in lab coats in the dark room and a man sat on the floor with a laptop in the far corner, the cigarette dangling from his lip. I didn’t want to tear off their flesh. I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to get their story. I was me again.

Ushered to a seat in the corner, Dan joined me, sitting meek at my side, his head in his hands as I watched the soldier who’d found us, leave and his colleague push the door closed at his back. The solder came over and I smiled, pushing on my public face, surprised I could hear his words.

“Are you the woman off the tele?” he said, his accent thick with West Midlands rhythm. I shook my head, pleased my face had not turned hideous.

“I’ve just started,” I replied. “A week ago. Graduate programme.”

He smiled showing teeth as white as snow. I didn’t think he believed me, but I lived a few moments more to tell the tale.

“What’s going on?” I replied, I couldn’t help myself and watched as despite my low voice, two pairs of eyes glanced in my direction. He shook his head, turning to the rest of the group as if for show, shrugging his shoulders in an overactive move to add to his point. The cigarette smoke thinned and I watched the wisps of blue air glide up into the vents. Dan’s smell came first as he leant over still with his head in his hands. Then came new tastes. Thick and meaty, I guessed was the soldier’s, the huddle of women were delicate and gamey. I hadn’t quite got the older man’s until I stood next to him, his scent pale, aged like mutton.

“Have you got another?” I said, nodding towards the rectangular package on the floor. He smiled up showing yellow teeth, his meat strong as he breathed in my direction. I’m sure I would have found out his taste if he hadn’t flipped up the lid of the box next to him to reveal long cartons of white boxed cigarettes.

The first draw was bliss, the taste empty, saliva retreating down my throat as my vision cleared. The woman in the huddle coughed as I passed, if they’d kept that up, I might have shown the alternative. I took my time, let the smoke fill every corner of my lungs, let the thick air coat the inside of my nostrils. Dan had grown quiet and I guessed he was asleep, not even waking at the dull knock on the heavy door, not hearing the words as it opened.

“Five unaccounted for.” It was a different soldier that had escorted us. I wanted to say rescued us, but that wasn’t right. The right words tried to form in my head as I savoured my blank taste bugs, listening to the drivel. “I had to bring her here. Watch her. She’s trouble, the brig’s overrun.”

I looked up at those words. Knew before I saw her face in the orange light, knew it would be her stepping through the gap. I hadn’t guessed about the hands cuffed at her front. Hadn’t guessed at the left side of her face black and blue. Hadn’t thought I’d see her head down turned. Broken.

I stubbed the unfinished cigarette under my foot.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eight

With a collective breath, the pained echoes slowly died away. My hands held out to the wall hoping to keep upright. As my head rolled from side to side, still feeling the full force inside, movement in the corridor shifted, their attention a group focus. I heard the mood as clear as if I watched from above, footsteps, bare feet padding, stalking with a single aim. Slow and cautious in the dark. I turned to Dan, listened to his desperate low whimper, listened to their thoughtless steps outside, each in time with his low, quiet, self-destructive cry.

I moved, keeping my feet slow, trying not to aggravate the standing water. Outside theirs were quickening and I grabbed Dan up, his eyes so wide, his weight nearly empty as I pushed him against the wall. I could almost see the shadows in the gap as I leant against him with my back, a foreign instinct holding my arms out wide to shield him from their arrival.

But they didn’t come. All I saw was a shadow pass the gap in the door, a figure bent low, there and gone in a flash, right before a confusion of scents caught me from the corridor.

Gunfire burst out, tiny flashes lighting the corridor for an instant, each peppered with a riot of movement. Screams ripped again through the loud bangs, Dan grabbing around my waist, holding me tight as he sobbed. The chaos was soon out of the corridor, soon beyond the far door, echoing further away, leaving just the two of us behind. I hoped. The lights in the corridor flickered on and I jumped out of Dan’s grasp, a breath unbidden pulled into my lungs, Dan’s smell wafting all around. I turned wide eyed, a painful emptiness raking at my insides.

Dan looked up and I closed my mouth. He stood watching my silhouette as I backed up to the doorway. I wandered if he could tell I was weighing up if I should take this last chance to kill the pain, to take his life, or to fight against these new feelings and not take the step I knew I could never come back from.

I welcomed the scream echoing in the distance, forcing my attention to the call rushing down through the corridor. I turned, placing my hand on the cold of the metal door and peered through the gap. I startled back at the floor strewn with bodies, my eyes roved the blood soaking into almost every space, the white of the floor only visible through the smeared foot marks, the rushing boot prints, licking at the lumps of tile, plaster from the walls, lead and flesh crowding its surface.

I counted seven bodies, four of them soldiers, but could only tell by their thick body armour, doubting their mothers could recognise what remained of their faces. The other three I didn’t have enough words to describe, but knew they were like the man, the Bodmin Bodysnatcher, who’d smashed his head against my door, who lay at my feet, a dark ooze of clots filling where his eyes had been.

Stepping out, blood sucked around the sole of my foot. It was warm to touch, like stepping into a lukewarm bath, sending tingles of pleasure along the inside of my thighs. I peered along the corridor and saw the door at the end ajar, the light burned bright the other side and I pulled my left from the cell, breathing slow and considered as the blood wrapped around the sole. A gentle waft of air passed my nose and I turned, following the scent and beckoned for Dan to follow. I didn’t wait for him to move. As I passed each door I peered in, finding each cell empty, the former inmate either dead or a player in the melee echoing in the distance.

The lights out from the corridor were brighter this time, lit up like a football pitch with no corners in shadow. The gap in the fence was wide open and I ran before someone could play their awful trick again. I knew Dan followed behind even though I didn’t turn to look. Beyond the gate was another doorway, lit from the other side. The body of a soldier lay across the threshold, his gun still cradled in his left arm, both out of his reach.

The corridor was much the same, but with less blood, the bodies of two creatures lay, both mown downside by side half way down, riddled with wide gaping holes strafing their bodies, at least half of their heads missing. The doors in this corridor were glass, had been. None remained, each shattered into cubes laying, blown across the floor of the examination rooms, the laboratories and store cupboards.

I continued to add my red footsteps to the jumble of prints, gasps from Dan confirmed he was close. By now the screams had lessened, the gunfire more sporadic and way off into the distance. Cold chilled my bones and I knew this chance would end soon, my time to form a plan shortening with every moment. I ran.

Precious seconds had passed since the last gunshot, since the last echo of a demonic scream. There was no noise to hide the loud crack as I kicked the locker room door open, sending a throb of pain up through my toes. Beckoning Dan into the room, I pushed the door closed, paying him no further attention as I busied myself, barehanded pulling open each small metal doors, somehow knowing I had new strength.

Staring at Dan with a detached wander, I couldn’t decide if he was gawking at my feat of strength, or my naked curves as I dressed in someone else’s clothes, my mind elsewhere, mouth filling with saliva as I couldn’t help but fantasise what his flesh would taste like. Just a nibble.

The door swung wide and we cowered in each corner, the burst of flavour almost leapt me to my feet, despite the red dot on Dan’s forehead and the scream of the voice to get face down on the ground.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Seven

His arm pulled back as my teeth touched light to his flesh, the salty, sweet taste of his sweat exciting my tongue as I inhaled. About to lunge forward again, about to wrap my arms around him and drag him back, a high animalistic scream sent a painful fissure deep through my brain, forcing my hands to my ears. With the demonic, pained cry growing high, it was like a deformed child screaming for its mother. The scream flattened with a great thump to its cell door, the piercing feral noise rising high in between the smashing of its flesh against the metal.

I couldn’t hear Dan’s words, but could feel the shake of his body, the sting of his hot flesh radiating against mine, his hands over his ears as he cried down to floor, our bodies rearing each time the possessed creature filled the air with its terror.

The lights came on in the corridor with boots barely heard over the animal call, their rainbow scent calling me despite the air already thick with Dan’s powerful pull. I leapt up, standing to shake out my tense muscles, to ward off the desire to fill my belly and leaning hard against the door, my hands still at my ears, I fought to get my shoulder tight so I could see around the angle.

The black armoured back of a man came into view, his shoulders tense as he stood ready, but I couldn’t tell what was in his hands. Others unseen, shouted and screamed, barking instructions near impossible to hear over the deafening din.

The door mechanism cracked and by instinct I pushed, but it was only an echo through the metal, not my door opening. A slap of metal reverberated in the corridor sending a shock wave through the wall and a man spilling backward, his feet tripping as stumbled to the ground. The scream relented, replaced with a barrage of gunfire, round after round from automatic rifles. My ears felt like they’d been stripped back, the drums exposed, the bullets blasting off every surface, men screaming and the high pitched zing of metal against metal.

Soon the chaos receded and I saw no movement in my narrow angle, just the light haze of smoke and the spray of blood up the walls. Someone had won the battle and it was easy to tell from the light pad of feet, the victor did not wear heavy boots. Still, I peered out as my ears relaxed, took in the view as wide eyed as I could, tried to push away the hunger in my belly I was thankful had pushed down, hidden by the terror of the wail.

Peering out, a face shot up at the window, blocking most of the light, sending me backwards, my feet splashing water high in the air. Dan screamed and the man’s face erupted with a noise so high I thought the reinforced glass would cave and pelt me with glass. The whites of the man’s eyes were deep red and sunken, the skin on his forehead missing and past dark, thick patches of clots, I saw the white of his skull. He reared forward, but the glass stayed intact, leaving a dark, sticky film on the window each time he pulled away only to smash his head again and again.

The air pressure changed, distant boots ran on the tiled floor, shots leapt out and I stumbled further until my back was against the wall. The face had gone, the cell light again, but between the scrape of lead running down the walls and the bang of each bullet, I could hear the wail growing less vital. I looked to Dan curled in a ball on the bed, but I couldn’t comfort him, the temptation brought tears as I fought back the urge, a question burning my senses.

What had they done?

All was quiet again, the cell bright from the lights in the corridor. I closed my eyes, pushed my hand on my mouth, but still the smell licked at my nose, the sweet taste dancing on my tongue.

I took a step forward, a step closer to the bed, perhaps it was for the best. Dan was ruined, broken down, perhaps it was the right thing to do to put him out of his misery. But what was that noise?

It was a sound I’d heard before, the slight cry of a child, but it wasn’t from a kid. The rupture of terror filled the air with a feral scream as my hands pushed again to my ears. I barely noticed the second call soon adding to the chorus, barely noticed the third and the fourth, there was no more pain my ears could take. One thought remained in my head. There was only one way this could get worse. As if by command, the lights in the corridor went dark and with a snap, the electromagnetic locks released their heavy steel, the doors, our door, relaxed open and the din magnified, searing through my brain.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Six

A touch pressed light against my cheek, the fingertip of feeling electrified my skin on its journey down my face. I lay with my head to the side, resting on a soft pillow of plastic. Breath was slow and even, my mind clear, senses sharp. I sat bolt upright listening to the slow tap of water as it fell to the plastic mattress.

Although still dark, I could see across the room, see the featureless walls and the handless, reinforced door. There were no windows and no lights, no openings to the sky, but still I could make out my hands in front of my face and the wound on my arm that gave no pain. I gave thanks realising my stomach had settled, but the gratitude disappeared as I realised the twist and turn had been replaced with an emptiness so deep I felt I hadn’t eaten since my birth.

I caught a faint nectar in the air, a sweet flavourful mist titillating my nose. I turned my head, somehow knowing the light would go on and its bright burn would not force me to turn away. The golden smell grew with each footstep and I stood without thought, pushed my face to the glass at the door, waiting for the veritable banquet of food I expected on trays across their arms.

No suckling pig came with an apple in its mouth, no bowls of sweet gravy to accompany. Just three figures, men by their gait, marched into view, bodies bound by thick armour, gas masks covering their faces. The masks couldn’t hide their surprise, couldn’t prevent them stopping in their tracks, rearing back as they saw me peering out through the door, my mouth fixed in a wide oh as I tried to keep my breath steady, tried not to claw at the door to get to whatever feast they’d hidden the other side.

Nods exchanged between the men and they turned, leaving their disciplined march behind, hurrying, scurrying back out of sight, with a mixture of fear and excitement, dowsing me in the low darkness with a glimmer of sweet meats in their wake. My breath slowed as my disappointment grew, my stomach pulsing as the anticipation retreated. I stepped back away from the door as it snapped with a noise sharper than before. I gave a high laugh to myself. Sat back to the bed. Did these people think I was stupid?

The door remained ajar when I didn’t move, it must have been hours before the lights were back on full, before I could taste them heading back my way, this time their number and bounty they carried much greater. Riot shields were the first I saw. POLICE in bold black letters across the top as they pushed between the gap in the door. I didn’t move, didn’t leap to take what food they’d hid, despite the desperate instructions from my belly, the demands for satisfaction pushing saliva to fill my mouth, forcing me to swallow it down. When I spoke the soldiers reacted as they had before, their shields twitching as they jumped back like they’d never seen a woman talk.

“I need food,” I said, my voice clear, but desperately dry. The pack backed off, letting another through, a man pushed into view. Not a soldier this time, he wore the clothes I’d last seen him in. Dan was forced into the room, dishevelled, squinting in my direction. I stood, the soldiers leaping back, the door slamming as I caught him in my arms, hugging him tight, my nose against the skin on his neck as I drew in his fabulous smell. I could so easily pull my lips back, sink my teeth into his flesh. The instinct was so overwhelming, so near to being sexual I could feel myself getting wet. For the first time I wanted a man inside me.

His deep voice murmured something I couldn’t quite tell as the light went out. All I knew was my colleague and friend was wishing me well. My head snapped back and I threw myself to bench. Eyes wide, I watched him hold his hand out, feeling for the walls in his complete darkness. Pains cramped tight in my belly, my mouth open wide, closing as I forced back the feeling. The smell in the room was so overwhelming I curled in a ball until I felt him stumble at me feet, spraying me with the standing water.

I lunged forward, unable to stop my mouth snapping open.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Five

A touch pressed light against my cheek, the fingertip of feeling running down my face. I lay with my head to the side, resting on a soft pillow of plastic. Breath panted in and out, my lungs not listening as I tried to calm, tried to take in all the air I needed blow away the cotton wool in my brain. I wanted so much to move, but my head was so heavy like it was encased in lead. The touch came again and my eyelids obeyed my instruction, but all that filled the space was darkness. Another stroke ran down my face and I turned, looked up into the nothing, my hand slowly moving, rising to touch my cold, pallid cheek. My finger came back wet.

Moving to dodge the drops, sensation rose from my limbs as I swayed to sit, my feet edging down to dip into the puddle of ice cold water. Head throbbing, I felt it must have been a good night, but with no alcohol breath stinging my tongue. My breasts ached, arms were heavy, my stomach churned like I’d eaten a bad meal. I sat unable to do anything but think until I heard an echo of movement in the distance.

Light came through a square glass in the wall, then I realised it was a door when I caught sight of a line of light piercing low to the ground. The light was bright and artificial, but let me see the white wall through the glass as many steps grew closer. With control of my breath regained, my attention fell to my hands and the wrinkled, swollen fingertips like I’d spent far too long in a hot bath. Turning around the room, I saw it was a small rectangle, much like a prison cell, but anything more I couldn’t tell. The light was gone before I could analyse, then bright again, but focused and shining in my face. I looked away, turning to the side, the torch beam running down my body, along the hospital gown covering my torso before it flickered out. My eyes snapped to the square, catching only the side of the face, a gas mask covering their guilty features.

Foreign tears flowed, a grief pressing down on my shoulders as the corridor light cut off. I cried cold tears for Dan and Mike, for myself and my stupidity. I cried for Toni and what should have been, curling into a ball, my spine aching as I closed myself in, but I sprang wide, my eyes shooting to the door as with a crack of the mechanism, it gave up. Dan, I thought as joy took over my face, my hand pushing the tears to the side.

I stood, unsteady at first, the cold water lapping at my toes. Taking care not to splash, I moved to the door, guided by a new dim light the other side. The door was heavy, but opened out as I heaved. Warm air spilled in from the corridor as my breath sucked in, my toe smacking hard against the raised step.

Breathing through the pain, I pushed harder, peering around to the left and the small bulkhead light over a door at the far end of the white walled corridor. My steps were measured and even, my head twitching side to side. Along the corridor I saw more metal doors, each pronounced from the wall, each unlocked, but although their number was not too great, I did not understand how I would count. A thought rushed into my head and turned around too quickly, my brain moving slower than my head, my hands pushing out to the walls for support. Behind me were more doors either side of the corridor, all open, but no one yet to come out. I was alone. Creeping forward, afraid of my shadow, still I looked to the corner, pleased I could see no camera. Arriving at the next cell, I struggled with the steel, quickly glancing away from the motionless body lain on the bed with an arm hanging down to the floor.

With a churn of my stomach I turned and continue my walk, each step bringing bile into my throat and a metallic sting, growing a fear I was bleeding from the inside. Step after step I kept it together, my hands soon touching at the far wall where I waited a moment, letting the cooling breeze from the crack wash over me. The bile subsided and I hooked my fingers in the crack, pulling the door wide, holding my other hand to shield my eyes from the high, bright lights. A gust of wind rattled though my robe and realised for the first time, I was naked under the gown.

Wrapping my arms around my chest, I took a first step out into the open and let the harsh lights bare down on my skin. Blinking away the pain searing through my eyes, my hand held to my brow, I squinted into the dark shadows. I was outside in a square of concrete bounded by a chain link fence, beyond that fence I saw another, then only darkness. A single gate waited in the far corner. It was open. I couldn’t wait, pushed through the pain in my legs, hurrying towards my escape. Stopping only when it slid shut, slamming hard, echoing against the steel post buried in the concrete. Gasping, I turned and watched the door at my back sealed tight against the wall.

I was trapped outside, the wind blowing right through me, but thoughts soon turned elsewhere as I saw a figure, a woman dressed much like I was in the furthest corner. Hunched over on her feet, her knees tucked up to her chest, long dark hair flowed to the cold concrete, her body rocking.

“Hello,” I said, my voice quiet and dry as I took slow steps towards her, trying to keep my heart rate slow, trying to ignore her resemblance to who I was looking for. Her movement was too quick for me, too quick even if I’d had full control. She rose, her eyes glazed white, dark, dried blood ran down the front of her gown, her face lined with open wounds as she leapt at me.

I tripped, falling back, head cracking against the floor. Her teeth were deep in my arm before the spinning calmed. She convulsed, shaking as static coursed across her body and I turned, following thin wires trailing from the side of her head to the yellow gun poking through the fence. I saw the long barrel at its side and the flash of something from within, felt a sharp sting to my thigh and I lost control for the second time as all went dark.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Four

The doors pulled wide before we would slam the central locking into place, Mike and I given no chance to come quietly, hands bundling us to the cold tarmac. I didn’t put up a fight, tried to tell Mike, but knew the words would be in vain. Letting my body relax, I watched as the moments blurred past my eyes, attempting to calm my blood pressure as I tried not to be distracted from details as they played out. My wrists were tied, I could no longer see Mike, but could hear his language explode, the emotion in his words spill out as the ex-Royal Marine gave the young soldiers a verbal beating I hoped stung harder than a punch in the face.

I kept quiet, knew there was no changing the course, instead I watched as they left the van, no one checking for Dan who was surely now secreting himself in the back. Bundled into a waiting Snatch Land Rover, I saw no more as a musty canvas hood pulled down over my head. Mike’s voice stifled, with what remained evaporating into the distance as the engine note rose.

There was no Foot and Mouth Disease.

I’d found what I was looking for.

We didn’t arrive in the car park of the Jamaica Inn, the roads too loose, too uneven. Where we arrived I had no idea, it had taken too long for us to be at the farm in the centre of their exclusion zone. I heard the rattle of a chain link fence, the collective tap tap tap of boots marching on the hard ground, the turn of keys, the rumble of engines and a pervasive odour that smelt like the Portaloos needed emptying.

As the engine cut and light invaded from below, hands helped me to stand, guiding my feet down to the solid ground, not before pulling off my heels, letting my tights split with each step, bright cold air glinting from below, but just for a moment. The air turned warm and the hum of electricity filled my ears, the whine of a generator perhaps or some other powerful equipment. Doors opened and closed at our backs as I counted, the four sets of footsteps the only sound until I flinched back as chair legs scraped along the floor. The hands holding tight at my bound wrists wouldn’t let me budged, instead forced me forward, pushing down until all I could do was bend my knees and sit. With a snap of plastic my hands were free, but not under my control, each wrist driven forward, held firm, but not so much it hurt.

Light poured in as the hood snapped off with a sharp upward pull, my first instinct was to shake away my chaotic hair covering my face, pulling my hands up to bat away the strands, but they wouldn’t come, each tied to metal rings either side of stainless steel desk bolted to the floor. Turning my head around the room, I wasn’t quick enough to see anything but the door at my back slot into place.

I let the irritation on my face pass, moving my head slow so not to aggravate.

The room was a small box with no windows, just the one door, the walls painted white, but dulled with time and a sheen of something that wouldn’t quite clean. Along with the table and my chair, another was opposite, each a cheap plastic seat with metal legs. As I let my mind settle, let myself relax, I tried to silently form the words I would use in the documentary, maybe the film I would release in the cinema. Every few moments Toni’s face would invade my head, my thoughts turning to what I would say when the moment came.

The words dried up as the minutes went by, the dull ache of my filling bladder enough of a distraction to pull me back into the room. The door opened and I took a deep breath, dressed my face in a smile and sat up straight, letting the hand gently push my hair either side of my face and watched as the woman in the white coat sat, her face set in a smile bunching wrinkles in the corner of her eyes. Underneath her white coat was the stiff fabric of a pressed green shirt, exposing a triangle of hanging skin at her neck. When she talked the grey hair at her temples moved.

“Sorry?” I said as I missed her first words. She tilted her head to the side, her smile growing as her eyes told a different story.

“Are you well?” she said. Her squint told me I hadn’t respond in the way she expected.

“You will jail for a very long time,” were my words cutting through my wide smile.

“Are you well, Ms Charmichael?” she said. I stared at her deep green eyes and tried to visualise her in the dock, then in the orange jumpsuit she’d wear for what was left of her life.

“Yes, I’m well,” I replied as she went to repeat the question.

“Could you be pregnant?” she said. I couldn’t hide my reply, my mouth opening to a laugh as my eyes squinted.

“Not a chance,” I said. Her smile dropped and she nodded at something beyond my back, but before I could turn, arms clung around my throat, shoulders hugging tight against my head, dragging me back in the chair, pulling my arms tight against my bound wrists. Straining for what the hands were doing at my side, I couldn’t see my arm but could feel my clothes being cut, could feel the cold of the scissors, the warm air like a blanket as my skin exposed. I saw the syringe flash into view, before it disappeared and I tried to move, tired to thrash away, but only tugged hard, the plastic digging into my wrists.

Our eyes locked as the needle pricked. Warmth raced up my arm and was quickly to my chest, soon blanketing my body from the inside as the lights slowly faded dark.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Three

The strobe of blue light grew as we slowed, the tone ringing in my ear only twice before the flat voice answered.

“How’s your Christmas going Mrs Commissioner?” I replied and the call went dead.

With the empty echo still in my ear, the car behind veered right as it neared, its lights still winking as if still not sure it would not cut across at the last minute and bring us to a stop. As it sped into the distance, Mike continued to brake.

“What the fuck?” he replied as we slowed to the curb.

“Let me out,” I said, motioning for Dan to shuffle out of the way. He looked back with wide eyes, but not moving to let me by.

“What are you on to?” he said, shaking his head with none of the usual cheer in his voice. I turned to Mike, his face hanging with the same fixed expression.

“I need to do this alone,” I replied. Mike and Dan swapped looks across me and the van pulled away from the curb.

“Where are we going boss?” he said with his cheer returning.

“Cornwall and take the back roads,” I replied, my head already filling with ideas.

“You owe us more pizza,” Mike said flicking his eyes to the empty box at my feet as he turned us down a side street, leaving behind the only other car on the road.

I wanted to throw away my phone, was about to pull the Sim Card and snap it in two, but paused, Toni’s wide smile flashing before my eyes. It was the only way she could get in touch. Breathing back the welling pressure, I unlocked the screen and slid my finger to turn off data. It would have to do for now.

The journey was slow, the van not meant for a high speed getaway along the ‘A’ Roads, but at least the tarmac was clear in the most part. The journey was pleasant enough, watching families as they travelled, their exhausts white in the cold, Christmas jumpers on show as they wound their way between friends and family. Joining the M5 Mike asked for directions, a postcode for the Sat Nav, but I had none to give. Bodmin was all I could say, was all I’d gleamed from the one sided conversation over four hours ago.

Turning off the motorway, we stuck to the main road heading in the general direction of Bodmin,  crossing into Cornwall after forty five minutes. No signs highlighted our approach to the Moor, but as the red and white warnings appeared at the roadside, I questioned the words that had stared this all off. Repeating for the hundredth time, I replayed her voice in my head, my stomach sinking further every time I read the evenly spaced signs declaring the ‘Foot and Mouth Infected Area.’

“Slow down,” I said squinting through the cold clear air. The van slowed, halving the speed as sign after sign went past the window. I’d seen this before. I’d reported for Bare Facts as Student Features Editor in Surrey. Back in 2007 I’d stood at the roadblocks cleaning my boots so many times. I’d chatted with the police manning the road closures, watched as trucks brimming with carcasses, hoofed feet jutting over the top, moved the culled to their resting place. I’d watched the smoke rise into the sky and seen the fear for the future in the farmer’s weary eyes.

Each side road we passed on the A30 had a sign declaring ‘Road Closed’ accompanied with a static line of cones. The turn off for Bolventor was the only open junction, so we took it, slowing to take in the line of army trucks on the grass verge as we turned the first corner. Moving closer to the hamlet, the line peppered with Police cars, but the crests were different. Military, not Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Eyes peered back, mouths pulling on cigarettes. We didn’t stop, kept up the momentum. At the centre of the small collection of buildings was a pub, The Jamaica Inn. The car park to its side was full of heavy canvas olive drab tents. We didn’t stop, no one made the suggestion.

Driving on back towards the dual carriageway, we saw the same line of trucks repeated as we built up the distance. Mike was the first to spot the tail, the low sun reflecting off the Freelander’s white, blue and yellow paintwork, the dark figures inside not hiding their austere expressions as they kept two car lengths behind us. Still we drove on, rejoining the slow lane, getting up to speed before we hit our first traffic jam.

Still, it was reminiscent. I remembered the archive footage. Tony Blair with rolled up shirt sleeves in the command centre over-viewing the massive operation back when the major outbreak happened as the century turned. I remembered the headlines, the cancelled sporting events, the restrictions on country pursuits and the mass graves with carcass after carcass piled in with a JCB. The government had taken it seriously.

I took a second look at the road ahead and saw the few cars at my front, watched as each was slowly released to crawl around a pair of green trucks stood in the inside lane at obscure angles. Without a word, Dan jumped in the back already unpacking the camera to film what looked to be a traffic accident, while a solider in a yellow hi-vis vest stood by the Armco central reservation motioning the cars forward to squeeze passed a third truck blocking the second lane. Soon we were next in line, the hand motioning for us to slow as Mike negotiated the tight turn, micro-correcting the wheel to the soldier’s instructions so we could get through the gap. We were finally through and he turned hard left to avoid the truck in our way, but slammed on the brakes. I looked up and saw I’d been right all along. We were in the right place, the three pointed rifles clearing away my doubt.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Two

I knew people. I knew her boss’s boss. I knew the minister in charge of the department she worked for the last ten years. Favours for silence were owed all over the place, some for secondhand information told in confidence, others of my making. A misplaced hand here, a quiet dinner somewhere special. Right, or wrong, married men were so easy to add to the list. Still, no one answered my calls, no one gave themselves a chance to tell me I was making a fool of myself over some woman playing a cruel joke.

Swerving to avoid an oncoming car, I juggled my ringing iPhone, pulling over to answer the call I wasn’t expecting from Stan. It was my Editor-in-Chief, calling from his house, not best pleased with the interruption his celebrations. After my series of calls, word had got through and I was being warned off with some excuse about it being the season to be jolly and that’s what everyone was trying to do.

It was bollocks. These people never switched off, their work was twenty-four-seven. I was being pushed off the path because something serious was going on. It knew it with every unanswered call. My mood turned to regret as I tried to erase what I’d called her in my head, tried to remember the joy at seeing her face lighting up my phone barely an hour ago.

I skipped my parents house with fewer characters than I should have sent, and headed straight up the motorway, stopping only for supplies, parking in the underground carpark in the only space left in the line of news vans that shouldn’t be moving for another twenty-four hours.

“No,” was their immediate response, barely turning their heads from the TV as they each lay back on a mess room sofa. Dan Huntley and Mike Pollage were on the shift that was always quiet, the shift that pulled in double time, but still no one wanted. “No,” was their second reply when I told them it was just down the road and all I needed was an hour of their time and their professional skills not required. “No,” was Dan’s reply when I took the keys from the hook on the wall, Mike was coming around, his head shaking silence told me he had already given up fighting.

We were on the road within five minutes, the three of use squashed in the front seats, Mike driving, his only clause in our forced contract. Dan already digging into the pizza that was still hot enough to steam his glasses. With no traffic, the one day of the year, we parked across the gates ten minutes later. I was at the video intercom before the protection officers, dressed in festive jumpers, had left the front door flanked by two brightly lit trees. The call picked up before they’d reached the other side of the gate. It was another few minutes before I was in, leaving the windows of the van to steam. With my message relayed as I walked across the wide block paving forecourt, Mr Secretary at the door as I arrived, the two officers dispersing to separate corners.

“Ms Carmichael,” the Secretary said in his trademark low voice. He was still wearing a shirt, the loose top button and missing tie his only nod to the season. He stood with the opening spread just wide enough for his thin body, making no motion for me to enter.

“Jessica please,” I replied with my on-camera smile.

“What is it that cannot wait until my office reopens?” he said, the deep lines around his mouth curling to a glimpse of a smile.

“How’s Mrs Secretary?” I said and watched as he tried to pull the door tighter against his body.

“The family is well thankyou,” he said. “Is this a social call?” he replied raising his brow.

“No, sorry. Business,” I said and his brow stayed raised. “Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers?” I replied and watched as the smile fell from his face, his eyes shooting behind me. I turned as saw one of the protection officers looking our way, turned back to see the secretary shake his head.

“I don’t know what you mean?” he replied.

“Is that your final comment?” I said. “I have a source,” I added, raising my eyebrows. His face was pale and his hands were shaking. This man had signed off war, he’d signed off benefits cuts putting millions into poverty, he’d taken money for the party that should have gone elsewhere and he’d done it with a smile. The professional lier couldn’t keep this down. “Shit,” I let the words slip. “Shit,” I said to the percussion of my heartbeat. Fear for Toni ballooned in my chest, excitement bubbling through my brain. What the hell have I stumbled into? “Okay,” I said. “I’ll just have to take the crew and find out for myself.”

“Jessica,” he said as I turned, but I didn’t look back. “Leave this alone,” he said and thought I heard a tremble in his voice. With my heels clicking on the paving, I watched as the two officers headed in my direction, only diverted when in arms reach, the gate sliding open.

The call came through barely before we’d left the curb, Stan again, this time his temper boiling over. I held the phone away from my ear, cringing at words shouted down the line, watching the road as we headed back to the office. This was big, bigger than I could have known, but it looked like it might cost me my career. I wasn’t scared of losing my job, turning the other cheek was my fear, letting something big out of my grasp. I wasn’t scared of going it alone, it was just a little bigger than I expected. We sat in silence as the miles rumbled by like a countdown to my fate, not knowing what waited for me as we headed back at the office.

“Stop the van,” I said and Mike slowed. Dan jumped as his phone rang, handing it over as he answered the call.

“It’s for you,” he said, his face screwed up. The screen showed a withheld number, but it was Stan’s voice on the other line.

“Stick with it, but you’re on your own kid,” he said before the line went dead.

Handing back the phone, the two conversations still tangled in my head, I watched as the tall door mirrors lit up in a sea of flashing blue lights.

 

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

 

Season Two – Chapter One

The first I knew was the phone call from an old friend. It was Christmas Day and to see her face smiling back with full lips and bright white smile was a perfect season’s treat. With the festive joy skipped, she hurried, breath panting as told me her story reminiscent of the TV horror series that had just finished its millionth season. Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers, I could almost read the headline. It was a well-timed prank, my guard had dropped the furthest it ever would, but my blood pressure still skipped every time the chimes came, only calming when I saw it wasn’t the newsroom. I listened throughout the short call, barely took in the tall story as I heard Jamie’s growing voice in the background as he egged her on. With a true dramatic climax, the call cut with a slap to the mouthpiece, over dramatising the phone falling to the floor just before the line went dead.

She was my once best friend. “You remember Toni, don’t you mum?” and she did, of course, we were inseparable at school, like sisters until we had to grow up, limited now to infrequent calls when we plucked up the courage. Either I was following a scoop around the world, or she was locked in some government lab for months at a time. The result was a gap of two years since we’d last met in the flesh. Each time she came into my mind, I had to push away fear that life was just an excuse. We’d grown too close, too young and providence had stepped in. If they only knew, my parents would have said it was Jesus.

The call stuck in my mind as I ate through the Christmas plate, skipping the pudding, much to my mother’s distaste, barely hearing the lecture about my weight. I wasn’t in the mood for the usual debate about how the British public were wrong to want their TV presenters emaciated, my dad reminding me I was a journalist first.

Out alone in the garden for a cigarette, I called Toni back, ready to give her a piece of my mind. It wasn’t right to do that on the first call they’d had in three months. It wasn’t fair on either of them. I softened with every unanswered ring, with every echo of the chirps down the wire. By the tenth I’d changed my mind, had already forgiven her, was ready to say I’d be on the first train, we could spend the next four days together, if she could handle it. As the call rang out, so my mind swung back. Screw her. She’d crossed the line.

I barely glanced at the call when Jamie’s eyes appeared, the bottom half of his face obscured with his index finger as he frowned at the unexpected shot. They were together and playing games. Mum offered me white wine and I took a beer. If she hadn’t of launched into a lecture I’d have let the screen go blank.

“Not funny,” I said, knocking back half the bottle, back in the garden. I let him talk, defend himself, dig deeper as he denied all knowledge. Jamie was a mutual friend, someone we’d both grown close to as we went though school, the third musketeer in our dysfunctional pack. Years ago I thought I’d lost him, the world cracking down the middle as Toni and I crossed the line. Ending the call I couldn’t help but analyse his tone, using my professional tools to dissect the conversation. He was at home only ten minutes away with his husband and their two kids. Of course he was, it was the season for family. My breathing grew shallow and mum asked me if I was okay. I nodded, leaning against the counter to keep myself upright realising it could mean only one thing. Toni was playing a game. She was trying to tell me she was here in town. She was just down the road at Jamie’s.

I looked up to see dad offering me a beer, the empty gone from my hand already. I took the glass which was wet with condensation, placing it on the side, grabbing my car keys as I told the family I’d be back within the hour.

With my breath pluming white, I knocked using the brass and counted my beats as I waited. Jamie’s face lit up, his hands opening wide as he pulled open the door.

“Where is she?” I said, pecking at his cheek, peering over his shoulder and into the kitchen.

“She’s not here darling. I haven’t spoken to her in weeks.”

 

So, Season Two has begun. If you like what you read, my not see if you enjoy Season One.