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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one BEDLAM DAYS

Serial Novel, Conclusion




ike had left Nick to Glenda’s attentions just as Sarah screamed his name. Immediately, he drew his weapon, hurtling down the stairs. Sarah was standing by the telescope, her face stricken and eyes wide.

“It’s the Todd place,” she said. Mike didn’t stop moving, but instead lunged for his coat, foregoing the telescope.

“How many?” he said, shaking the coat on and re-holstering the gun. The keys jabbed against his inside pocket.

“Three men but they have one of them…oh god, it’s in the house.” She drew her hand up to her mouth. “Mike, you can’t just-”

“Grab a pistol, see Nick’s okay and lock this door,” he said as he barrelled out of the station and launched into the snow.

He floored it without thinking and immediately swerved on the road, aware he was acting on adrenaline and feeling as if all this had been coming, somehow. On the second corner, the wheel locked on a patch of black ice and skidded onto the far corner of the road, smashing into a people carrier and locking the wheel. Mike ran out of the car, registering the shots and seeing Tina pinned against the open door, her pistol trapped between her hands and facing down. He darted down next to her, counting three.

“Mike!” she shouted against the blizzard. A bullet pinged against some part of the door, and he flinched back beside her.

“What happened?” he said, leaning in to hear what she had to say. In another life, they could have looked like lovers sharing a secret.

“Tom was at the porch, and the Todd’s opened the door. The next thing I know, three of them appear on the corner…Mike, I thought it was a dog on a leash. Then they released the thing, and it sprints across the road, knocking Tom into the house. Jesus, poor Tom…” She cupped her mouth with one hand and then shook her head.

“They…unleashed it on him. On all of them,” she said and hooked tears out of her eyes.

“Has it come out yet?” Mike asked, trying to process what he was being told as quickly as possible. She shook her head, and he wondered how long it would be before it broke free of the building.

“Look, you fire around this door okay? I’m going to roll under and go the other side and try to pick them off. The house…we’ll deal with that when we can, okay?” Even though he was screaming at the top of his lungs, he could barely hear himself. Another ping dented against a part of the car. Getting closer, he thought.

“Okay,” she shouted back, and Mike saw her eyes tighten against the fear. She secured the gun in both hands and nodded.

“Count to ten and then start firing,” Mike said and gave her a thumbs-up, and then rolled under the car and squirmed along it until he was on the other side.

From the ground he counted three sets of legs; two close together, one further out. For a second he glanced over to the house and saw the door open, drifting back and forth. Mike took a deep breath and spun into the open space, dragging himself up to the side of the car and then crawling round into the open, crouching down into a firing position as he did.

The men were shadows against the snow. Mike fired twice into what he took to be one of them and then heard Tina squeeze off a further three shots. One of the black shapes flailed into the air, his arm coming up high and Mike put one more in until it fell.

Two small puffs exploded by his knee, and Mike rose up, running towards the other men, hearing a collision of noise, some coming from near the car and Tina, others by his ears. He sighted again and fired twice more, the nearest shadow twitching but not trembling as much as before. A scream came from somewhere, and Mike fired again and again.

The man was not dead but injured and fired a bullet that exploded by Mike’s foot, sending him stumbling forward. Rather than spinning back for a shot, he went head first onto the ground, skidding along the ice. The gun bounced out of his hand and was immediately lost in the snow. Before he could change position, the dark figure became a man, and the rifle grew clear against the snow. Mike looked up to it, and in the next second, the ink creature came bursting out from the house and crashed into the man, biting into his throat and sending the rifle out of his hands. Mike rolled onto his side and peddled back, giving himself distance from the creature as it attacked the man and also allowing him to grab the rifle. The ink creature, dropping the corpse, turned and launched itself at Mike. He drew the rifle up just in time to fire both barrels into the midriff of the creature as it descended upon him, sending it spinning back up into the air. The impact propelled it onto the roof of a nearby car. It twitched, then stilled and Mike got to his feet.

For a moment there was silence.

Mike turned ninety degrees as the hidden man came out into the open. The rifle clicked empty, and he uselessly pitched it at the man, who swatted it away and then re-configured his stance. Mike ran, trying to rush him, praying for a miss-fire but before he could reach him the man’s head separated in a puff of red. He collapsed, the gun folding back into him and discharging into his lifeless guts. As Mike turned, the figure stepped forward. Sarah’s pistol was high in her hand and perfectly still.

“Are there any more?” she screamed against the wind, and he shook his head. Slowly, she brought down the gun and walked over to him. She seized him round the back of the neck and pulled him to her, his face pressing against the icy coolness of her skin.

Mike felt Sarah’s hand in his as he looked into her eyes. In amongst the snow, he saw how clear her expression was and how calm she appeared to be. The men on the floor did not twitch, and the only activity was the sight of their blood pooling and spreading. The inky creature shuddered, its claws scratching and making indents against the snow. ‘Which child did I just kill?’ his mind whispered and for a moment, closed his eyes tight to shut out the ideas in his head.

“Tina and Tom?” Sarah said, forcing his eyes open. It was too still and too quiet; before he began to walk towards the cruiser, Mike knew they were both dead and gone. Without thinking, he reached for his pistol and felt nothing but the empty space of his holster. Sarah’s weapon edged out in front of both of them, and they stepped around the car door. The windshield displayed one, perfect hole and they found Tina prone on the ground.

Her face was neither caught in terror not at peace. Instead, she simply looked surprised, as if someone had whispered something in her ear. The wound was in her upper chest and the blood pooled in a small, perfect circle. The gun was still in her hand, gripped tight and pointed at nothing. Mike crouched down and pushed her eyes closed. As an afterthought, he pried the gun out of her grip and pushed it down into his holster, his stomach churning at the coolness of her fingers and the stiffness that was already beginning to creep into the joints.


The door was smashed to pieces and even before they set foot inside, Mike felt the sense of chaos and death. The blood sprayed high up on the walls, and every item of furniture was either overturned or destroyed. He heard Sarah gasp and was aware he should be doing the same, but a slow sense of numbness had overcome him. Everything in the house was dead, he realised. It permeated the air, the fabric of the rooms, even the small things that had not been tainted by flecks of blood, not that there were many. He wondered for a moment if Sarah should see all of it but again, a cold detachment ran through him and let her walk on. She’s a killer, just like me, he thought, as he found the husband in the small kitchen. It appeared he had been obliterated beyond all recognition. The wife was almost embedded into the back door that led to the garden. Amongst all this chaos, an egg timer sat, utterly untouched on the window sill and Mike looked at it until he felt Sarah’s arm pull him up the stairs.

Tom Cloud was in the hallway, his body, even in death, attempting to block the entrance to the children’s rooms. Unlike Tina, his face was loaded full of pain that almost made him look alive. His body was ravaged, the lower part of him looking almost caved in, as if the creature had tried to tunnel somehow, clean through. His weapon was set apart, and Mike wondered if, in the end, the old man had tried to fight on with his bare hands. Again, he crouched down and pushed his eyes shut, hearing his last words before all this had happened; ‘Take care of each other.’

“You shouldn’t see this,” he mumbled, drawing himself up. Both of the doors had been torn off the bedrooms, and the blood was everywhere, turning the whole room red. He looked over saw Sarah steel herself; the grip on her weapon tightened, and her knuckles had turned white.

“Don’t tell me what I should do,” she whispered, though the power in her voice could have been enough for a scream. Before another word passed, she stepped into the nearest room, and Mike followed her. He glanced back once to Tom’s body and even with his eyes closed, his face seemed contorted into a grimace as if warning them not to step inside.

Both rooms were the stuff of nightmares. Mike knew it would never leave him and one glance over to Sarah told him she’d be the same. The two of them were going to be marked by what they saw in those cramped, wet rooms. Mike stepped out straight into the sight of Tom’s body, and for a second a clawing feeling of claustrophobia rode over him, the death in the house pressing down on him as hard and heavy as a fist. Sarah’s hand slipped back into his, and this lessened it enough for the two of them to lead each other out of the house and onto the front porch. The cold air hit them, and they drew each other in, their embrace as hard as it was desperate. Each of them shook and then took turns to break down and cry. For what seemed like a long while, it felt as if that was all they could do.

“We have to get out of here,” Sarah said finally. Her voice was shaking but sounded as if it were moving out of shock.

“We will,” he replied, images of the children in their rooms slashing repeatedly into his brain. Mae’s face slipped onto the bodies, and he tensed hard enough to make her wince. “We have to move Tina inside, along with the others. We…can’t have bodies in the streets.”

“There are no more children to see it now, Mike,” she said, and the thought struck him hard in the heart. Mae was the last child left in the town. The rest were either dead, turned or escaped.

“We have to get them inside, regardless,” he went on looking back to the wreck of the police cruiser, where Tina lay.

“Won’t they just burn it?” She said, following him out to the scene. The snow was settling, and in an hour, the corpses would be buried under a foot of the stuff.

“I hope so,” he whispered, for once praying the mob would torch the whole, abominable scene into ashes and erase it from the earth.

Mike climbed into the car, and Sarah turned the key, the car rumbling to life on the third try. The snow was gathering, and as Mike looked back, the street was almost engulfed in a white mist. As they pulled out, he kept peering back, seeing the faint outline of the corpses all gathered up on the porch. By the time they turned left, everything had slipped away into the mist, leaving nothing but a blank canvas. There was nothing left to see, but his mind still offered up the images they were leaving behind, of dead bodies, of monsters and blood splashed wallpaper. Mike wondered if a part of him would ever see anything else.


Glenda was on the porch as they pulled up and shuddered when just the two of them stepped out of the vehicle. She drew a hand up to her mouth and wobbled slightly but then reset herself. As the two of them reached the porch, she didn’t look for a hug or ask for an explanation. Instead, she nodded once and then stepped to one side, letting the two of them stagger past and get inside into the warmth of the station house. For a second, Mike waited by the door but saw she was not following them in. He left her to her private moment of grief and ushered Sarah over to the table where the coffee pot sat, nudging the door back. He poured one cup and handed it over, making himself a second. Glenda’s shadow began to tremble, and both of them watched her for a moment and then looked away.

“Should we tell Nick right away?” Sarah asked, and Mike blew on his cup, wondering if Glenda had followed it all on the telescope, just as Sarah had done. She could have seen her best friend fall, standing helpless as Tina lay dying on the snowy concrete.

“He already knows,” he said and sipped the drink, not tasting it at all. In the silence that followed, Sarah put down her cup and went to the back room to find her daughter. His body began to move in the same direction, but something caught him, freezing him to the spot. As he set the coffee cup down, he saw it spilling onto the floor, though he hadn’t been aware of the shakes. The next one was bigger and the next bigger still, until his whole body was wracked by them. He huddled in the chair, though he couldn’t say if he’d chosen to sit or if he’d merely fallen. The next wave was fierce, and he let it roll over him. Through all of it, he kept silent, fighting down the urge to give into the shock and horror that gripped him. In amongst it, he wondered how the three of them, all wrapped in grief and fear and shame, had not let out a single scream.

“They’re gone,” Nick said. Mike was sitting by his bed, his hands locked together. The shock had passed through, and the grief sat in him now, simmering, like a shot to the gut.

“They went badly,” he said and made himself look up to hold Nick’s eye. The older man looked weak, weak as hell, but stronger too. It was the look of someone who was surviving and not teetering. Mike almost smiled; out of the four of them, right now, the patient looked in the best shape.

“I don’t think there’s an easy out anymore,” he said after a few seconds. Downstairs, Sarah sat with Mae, while Glenda stood guard. The siege mentality they had talked about had become a reality. The station was safe but not secure, Mike thought. It wouldn’t take much, not much at all.

“Are you going to be able to move with us at first light?” Mike kept looking at him, searching for any telltale signs of doubt or uncertainty. Nick’s face locked down and though there was determination in it, pure and simple.

“I’ll be moving with you,” he said with a finality that signalled the end of the talk. Mike noted he didn’t answer the question, not really, but it didn’t matter, not anymore. All that mattered now was escape.

“We’re going to start working on a few things now. Do you want to come down or shall we come up? Glenda said-”

“I’ll be there as soon as the latest jab settles down. Anything I miss you can freshen me up afterward. I can sense the snow. I think if we move now, it might just give us that little extra cover we need.” He ran a finger across his lips and then took his water from the bedside table. His movement was good, Mike thought, substantial…but it wasn’t quick enough, not for what they needed to do.

“I’ll watch out for you,” Mike said and immediately regretted it. Nick didn’t react immediately. Instead, he sipped his water and carefully set it down. When he looked back, his face was calm, and some of the colour had come back into his cheeks. No doubt the drugs were beginning to kick in.

“You’re priority is Sarah and the girl. If I have to remind you of that, you’re not half the man I thought you were.” His tone was flat, but there was no mistaking the fire in his eyes.

“McKenzie’s playing his hand, Mike and now it’s all on the table. He’s wiped off the children, and now he’s going to come looking for his woman. You know it, and I know it. The rest of us…we’re just the wreckage around what he wants and what he’ll do to get it and don’t you forget it.” He coughed suddenly, and Mike made to pour fresh water. Nick waved him off and dry heaved. Once he calmed down, he looked back, and his eyes were still lit, close enough to be burning.

“There’s one of his… pets left, Mike; two down, one to go. He’s going to unleash that on us now. Forget the mob, forget Jules: that’s what’s coming for us, and you have to be ready. Do you understand?” He wiped away spittle but didn’t look away from Mike.

“I understand, Nick,” he answered.


The three of them sat around the table, half-heartedly picking at food and discussing the morning. The plan itself was relatively straightforward, and most of the talk was simple repeating the same factors and worries they’d mentioned before. Sarah would drive to the bridge; they would steer if they could and hot-foot it if they couldn’t. The patrol on the bridge would be dealt with when the time came and the city…was for the future. The plan veered from inspired to half-assed, usually in the same minute but it was all they had. Mike looked at the two women and saw the salt and pepper of realistic optimism in Sarah and fatalism in Glenda. That was a good thing, he decided and more, a necessary thing. He wondered for a moment how he felt about it and realised he wouldn’t let himself settle on any outcome. It could be a new life; it could be over before they even step out of the door.

“What’s wrong with my food all of a sudden?” Nick said as he appeared at the top of the stairs. He made his way down them gingerly, clamping his hand to the banister but not looking too awkward or stiff.

“It’s not the same without the chef,” Glenda whizzed back, a genuine smile breaking over her lips. Mike fought the urge to stand and offer a hand. As Nick rocked forward and walked towards the table, Mike caught Glenda nodding approvingly.

“So, is it still on for first light?” He said, taking a chair. Whether it was sub-conscious or not, he settled in his seat, leaving the other two empty. Each of them had glanced over or turned to ask for a thought from the people who were no longer there.

“Sarah’s driving; the three of us take a window each, guns raised.” Glenda said it as a statement, not an option. Nick nodded and asked about the guard on the bridge, the odds of going over on foot and not by car. Each of them said something slightly different from the last and, ever the pragmatist; Nick seemed to agree with each of them while disagreeing with none.

“Will you be prepared to shoot at the guards, even if they’re only following orders?” he said, once everyone had quieted down. Each of them nodded without hesitation.

“And you know McKenzie’s going to come at us now, somewhere along the line?”

“We know it,” Glenda snapped, and Mike wondered if she was almost hoping he would show his face so that she could blow it off.

“First light it is then,” he said, and Mike was caught unawares at the sudden end of the discussion. He looked around and saw the others looked slightly taken aback too.

“We should monitor the street activity through the night, just in case he sends anyone to ambush us in the night. I think we should have eyes and ears for two hours at a time. Sarah, you should be first because you’re driving okay?”

“Yes,” she replied, and her eyes brightened, obviously glad Nick wasn’t going easy on her or keeping her out of the loop.

“Me and Mike will take three hours and pick up the slack so that you can get extra rest, too chief,” Glenda added and even managed to stare down Nick as he opened his mouth to object.

“Right you are,” he grumbled quietly, and for the first time in what seemed like an age, all of them burst into a low rumble of laughter.

“Wonders will never cease,” Mike said and grinned again as Nick’s mouth broke into something like a smile. Minutes later, bags were being packed and the cautious smiles held.


Julian McKenzie sat and looked out to the town. The blizzards had grown heavier, cloaking much of what was before him. The only image that stood out was the burning building, the sparks and flames flickering against the white sky. The mob had followed his orders and would do so, again and again. He would set them upon the last few and hopefully, one would wipe out the other, leaving only the woman for him and the rest of the town praying at his feet. Then, he could move forward.

But he only had one left.

The other two had served their purpose, but McKenzie was genuinely surprised the lawmen had managed to kill the other two. He had not anticipated using so many of them upon simple men and women, but it was a necessary expenditure, he reasoned. The last ember flickered out of life, and the foundations of the house collapsed into a smouldering heap. He peered through his binoculars and moved them around the street. Still, no one came out of their houses, no matter what happened; whether it was bullets or burning buildings. Incredible, he thought and shook his head. When had the nation become so scared? Ask a hundred people, and you’d get a hundred answers, he thought, though it mattered little. In fact, it served his aims better than in his wildest dreams. The strong needed the weak, and this marvellous virus only served to reiterate his point. A noise came from somewhere nearby, disturbing his revelry and forcing him to lower his binoculars.

“Sir,” the driver said, setting his hands in front of him, waiting for his orders. The man was hungry, McKenzie knew, and a hungry worker was of great encouragement to him. It wasn’t money he was after, or power. Instead, the man’s dark needs were all that McKenzie could and would offer to him.

“I want you to take them, as soon as you can,” he said, giving the man a quick look over. He was a coiled, tight, thing, not much dissimilar to the creatures the computers had created. The only real difference was how the driver kept his hunger under the fabric of his skin and free from the surface.

“I’ll need light.” The reply angered McKenzie and he registered his disapproval in a glance but the man remained unmoved.

“They will move at first light,” McKenzie snapped, annoyed he could not fluster the man the way he did the other fools, the Dater lunatic, the slobbering fool downstairs in the sweaty box room.

“We’ll be prepared before then and engage at first light, but the darkness combined with the snow offers too many risks.” He said it with all the passion of a traffic report, and McKenzie couldn’t help but marvel at a creature who seemed even more devoid of emotion than the creatures, or indeed, himself.

“At first light, if you wish. Remember to bring back the girl. The rest are expendable.” He studied the slight glint in the driver’s eye and savoured the moment, finally establishing the upper hand. “The rest are yours, as you see fit.”

“The child?” The driver said, the voice rising only fractionally but to McKenzie, it was almost a scream. Marvellous, McKenzie thought to himself.

“I only require the woman. The rest are mere baggage for you to handle,” he whispered and allowed himself a smile. The driver did not manage that, but the thin skim of sweat that had created a sheen on his forehead was enough. McKenzie waited for what came next.

“Sir…” he whispered. A sudden breathlessness had seeped into him, and McKenzie waited, stretching the moment out for as long as he could.

“Sir…the mechanic?” His voice was hoarse now, and McKenzie struggled not to laugh. Both of them had come to term Jules as ‘the mechanic’. It seemed oddly appropriate for the man, matching his addiction to machines with his complete inability to match up with anything human. For their faults, even Julian and the driver had some desire for human connection, no matter how extreme and yet the funny little man downstairs seemed to shy away from skin almost to the point of allergy.

“Yes, I think you can dispense with his services now,” McKenzie said in a formal tone, carefully watching to see what effect his words would have on the man. It was positively stunning to see the sweat explode on the forehead-nowhere else but there, and the light that seared into his bright blue eyes. Everyone has a weakness; he thought, identifying power as his own.

“Sir,” he managed to say and stepped away down the corridor.

McKenzie watched him for a moment longer and then turned back to the binoculars and the burning town. The mechanic had served a purpose, but with no fresh material, there was little point in retaining his services. Plus, McKenzie had the future to think of and being linked to a stain such as that man and one who may, in time, become listened to on a large scale as he had done so previously, was simply too big a risk to take. McKenzie peered into the lens, and the last flickering embers were raging against the snow. Though he was entirely taken with the scene, he cocked one ear back, in case any of the noise carried as far as his balcony.


Jules sat at his laptop, peering into the maze of wires and wondering just how long it would take before the web re-ignited worldwide. Of course, he understood that ‘worldwide’ was now something of a relative term, but still, the curiosity of it did prickle him. Inside this daydream, Jules lost himself to possibilities of idolatry in a world where his mind was treated as something like a treasure. His fingers caressed the wires as if they were living, breathing specimens and it was in that state a vast shadow appeared in the doorway. Irritated, he turned almost too quickly for his own good, almost toppling from his spinning chair and onto the floor. The crazy guy that the boss called 'The Driver' stood, his hands wrapped in leather gloves and a plastic sheet covering his body.

“Why are you-” Jules managed to say before the form broke free of the doorway and set upon him. Jules felt teeth in his neck and, in amongst the ferocious pain, he felt his mind split into two halves, as it did when he was under extreme stress. The two of them spilled onto the floor, and Jules gasped for breath. Something was wrong, and when he tried to claim air, everything in his chest felt wet and clogged. Something else too: the Driver wasn’t making a single noise. None of this seemed human, the rational section of Jules wondered, even as it flickered away to be engulfed by a weight of sheer, pure pain.

He’s not infected, the sane part of him babbled.

No, the other part of him whispered; he’s just crazy.


Mike sat with Sarah while she was on shift, despite her protests. He found himself holding Mae as she slept and dozed from time to time. The little girl was like an antidote to what he’d seen in the last few hours. While he held her, the thoughts of the murder room were staved off. It gave Mike peace for a short period, though another part of him felt a slow itch of panic and fear at having to give her back, knowing the graphic, detailed nightmare would return immediately.

“Mike?” Sarah was standing over him, offering to take Mae from his grasp. He gave her up reluctantly and that made both girls smile.

“Anything?” he pulled out of the chair and stretched himself as best he could. Tina’s gun was in the bag, and Mike had re-holstered his weapon. For a moment, he imagined the other weapon still had a coolness to it that came from Tina’s body, though he knew that was ridiculous. It still didn’t stop him from not wanting to handle it anymore, though.

“A whole lot of snow,” she said and smiled, though her eyes were both weary from tiredness and relieved at having nothing to report. “Do you want us to sit with you?”

“Go to bed,” he said and was surprised when she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. It was normal, he supposed, but then nothing had been like that for so long now, he was taken aback. Mike watched her as she shuffled quietly to the back room, Mae sleeping on her shoulder. Tom’s last words echoed in his head, so strong they almost made Mike wince. He forced himself to look away and out onto the street.

When would McKenzie and his cronies attack? It was inevitable, as Nick had said, but still, there was an air of unreality attached to it. Would they so brazenly attack the station house? Would no-one see the action as wrong or even illegal? The certainty he felt about the former was only matched by the sadness he felt about the latter. It was no longer a town, he realised but a war-zone.

Who would survive?

He knew not all of them would and thinking otherwise was as foolish as it was naïve. He worried about Nick being as fragile as he was but it was Sarah and Mae that swallowed up Mike’s thoughts. Glenda had a survivor’s instinct, and as for him, it was impossible to say; who thinks they will no longer live? Everyone, Mike included, believed a little miracle was tucked inside somewhere that would get them through it all, somehow.

Something flickered in amongst the snow and Mike drew his pistol without a second thought. If not for the weather and the risk of revealing their position, he was sure a petrol bomb would have already found its way through the station window. It was a waiting game, as Nick had said and was merely a case of who held their nerve longest. The shadow outside was just that, and Mike drew his arm down, Tom’s words in his mind again, becoming a mantra for him now, telling him when to act and when to play it safe. He looked over at the empty chair and whispered his thanks to the old-timer, before re-positioning himself back at the window.

Glenda tapped him on the shoulder, though by then, Mike was too tired to react. The stiffness had increased, and it took him a few moments to move freely. She didn’t say anything or even look his way. As soon as he stepped out of position, she claimed it.

“How is he?” Mike whispered and watched her twinge slightly, as if he’d shouted at her.

“He says one thing but we both know it’s another,” she replied, as if addressing the window.

“Will he make it?” Mike asked, keeping on at her, feeling tired and suddenly irritated by her coldness.

“Will you? Or me?” She said, not rising to the bait. There was no mocking tone to the way she spoke, and Mike recognised something in her voice: sadness.

“It’s coming,” she went on and made to say more but then stopped. He couldn’t decide if her words had trailed off or if she had made herself stop, for fear of revealing too much. “Sooner or later, it’s coming.”

Mike made to say something, something hopeful, something spiteful, but only silence came. Even though she was only five feet from him, she was unreachable, and they both knew it. He stepped away, not evening adding a goodbye and made his way to the back room. Once, he looked back and saw her standing statue still, everything frozen and glacial, bar the cigarette smoke coming from her fingertips. Mike closed the door on her and turned to find the two girls asleep. Finally, his heart took a beat and he breathed.


The knock on the door stirred Mike from a dreamless sleep, for which he was as surprised as he was grateful. Sarah sat, dressing Mae and smiled over at him. Neither of them seemed sleepy and for a second Mike only sat, returning the smile and forgetting the world they were now living in. Nick’s voice echoed through the hall, and Glenda coughed loudly, before responding, bringing it back to him with a heaviness that made his heart ache. He looked at the clock and saw it was a little before five a.m.

“You’re not going to believe it,” Glenda muttered, as much to herself as to Mike as he stepped out into the open room. Four gym bags were on the floor and in the corner. One was purely for Mae, one for weapons and the other two were the bare essentials. Nick stood by the window and glanced around long enough to beckon him over.

“Guess church got relocated today, Mike,” he said, pinning the curtains back to show the street.

The first thing Mike noticed was the snow; it was a good foot deep and showed no sign of easing up. If they didn’t go now, they would be boxed in by midnight, no doubt. Above the snow, a crowd of at least ten men and women stood opposite the station-house, led by a heavily wrapped up Mrs. Dater. Placards jostled up and down in their hands and candles sat on top of the snowy street. It seemed surreal, and for a moment, Mike couldn’t help but wonder if it was not some wildly elaborate practical joke.

“What the hell?” was all he managed to say before Nick patted him on the shoulder. For a second, he wondered if he wasn’t going to reach over and close his gaping jaw, too.

“Hell…that would be us, I guess,” Glenda said, lighting a fresh cigarette. “Read the signs, sheriff.”

Mike did as he was told, still shocked at the sight of what was laid out not one hundred feet away from the front step. ‘HELLS HOME!!!’ ‘SINNERS!!!’ and ‘BEDLAM SEEKERS!!!’ were the choicest ones on display. The Dater woman stopped short of chanting, but Mike figured that was just old fashioned Christian manners; waiting for first light before they threw the lambs to the slaughter.

“At least they spelt them right,” he said distractedly, still not quite believing what it was he was seeing. Glenda’s bark of a laugh jolted him back to life and made him focus. “Are they…a danger, do you think?”

“Not the main one,” Nick said, pouring coffee into the mugs. “I’m guessing, but I think Dater’s gone rogue from McKenzie and done this under her own steam.”

“Will they try and stop us?” Sarah asked, stepping out of the back room. Mae was secured to her chest.

“They can only do so much,” Nick said quietly and they all understood what he meant. “If they stand in front of us, we’ll give them due warning and then…push them aside.”

“What is it they think we’ve done?” Sarah scooped up her cup and looked to Glenda, who simply scowled.

“It varies between us being devil worshippers, harbouring Satan and being responsible for the whole damn mess. Oh, and let’s not forget, murder into that, too.” She stubbed her butt away from Mae and into the tray. Nick’s brow was furrowed, and he looked patiently from Glenda and then over to Sarah.

“I think they’ll be saying we’ve been either keeping or protecting the creatures for some reason or another and suggesting we instigated the firefights and the arson.” He finished his cup, and Mike saw how unsteady his hand was as he set it down.

“That’s absurd,” Sarah said, as she stroked Mae’s forehead. “Everyone saw what happened, whether they helped or not.”

“They saw what they wanted to see and turned a blind eye to the rest of it,” Glenda said, and Nick nodded in agreement. “If they can’t understand it, they go after those in authority. It’s the oldest rule in the book.”

“Except we’re not in charge anymore,” Mike said, looking back out. The sky was becoming a murky grey. It meant the last of the night was lifting.

“But McKenzie’s not stepped into office yet and won’t until the dust settles,” Nick replied. “That’s the oldest trick in the book. He’ll let everything explode and see who's left standing.”

Something bounced against the window, and the four of them immediately crouched down. A few more stones and half bricks flew towards the glass, narrowly missing their targets. Nick wheezed, and Mike brought his hand out to steady him.

“We have to go now,” Nick gasped. “Maybe we can use them as dummy cover if any of the real threat starts to show up. If we can get them between McKenzie and us, we could get a little bit of distance before they make their move.”

“Christians as a human shield,” Glenda said and looked back to the window. One connected and cracked the pane at its centre. “Inspired.”

Mike stepped over and handed out the four bags. The banging was getting incessant, and it was only a matter of time before something stronger and more damaging got through. Glenda hovered by Nick’s arm and checked him over amongst all the commotion. Mike stepped over to Sarah and made sure the straps were secure and that Mae would be shielded as best she could. As they looked one another over, the glass finally gave way. It sprinkled onto the floor, and the cool gust of freezing air whistled over them. Sarah instinctively put her arms over Mae and Glenda seized Nick by the elbow, making no pretence of her wish to protect him. She stepped forward and snapped the locks, swinging the door open and stepping into the blizzard.


When it happened, it happened fast.

Mike saw Glenda snap back and then fall forward. For a second, he hoped she had simply braced herself against the snow and had slipped forward on the ice. Something sprayed against him and he felt a buzz of confusion, thinking that the snow felt warm and not the right consistency. He ran his hand over his cheeks and saw the blood smeared over his knuckles. Nick plunged forward, immediately blurring into the snow and lost from sight. Mike reached after him and then stopped, remembering Sarah and Mae. He turned and shouted for them to keep low. In the next second, Mike drew his weapon and staggered forward into the chaos.

The wave of protesters surged forward, shouting and lunging for them. Glenda’s body lay to one side, her head torn apart. Some of the crowd seemed to notice; one woman screamed, and a man dropped his banner and knelt down to help, before getting knocked off his feet. Nick bustled forward, half-charging, half- staggering and Mike gripped his back, feeling Sarah do the same to him. The movement tugged them from one side to the other, and he felt them all being swept to the left, away from Sarah’s car and into the open street.

A second shot skimmed past Mike’s ear and the man who had tried to help Glenda jerked into the air and slumped down onto the street. Another burst tore through the air, and the screaming woman clutched her throat as if the scream itself was gagging her and dropped to her knees. The general panic turned into real fear as the people around them realised someone was shooting. The crowd split apart in different directions. The thrall loosened enough for Nick to sway back towards the car and Mike, in amongst the confusion, heard Sarah fish the keys from her pocket and into her hand. Nick flung himself against the car door, and for a split second, Mike thought he had been hit. He shook Nick roughly and spun him round, seeing he was okay. Sarah speared the key into the lock and swung the door open, clambering behind the wheel and desperately trying to start the car. Mike helped Nick into the back seat and then crawled over into the seat in front. The remainder of the group had scattered now, some of them cowering behind their hands, others hiding behind the homemade banners. The car roared into life.

Sarah reversed as Mike scanned the street for signs of the sniper. A small mob of five or six men stepped out into the street blocking one way, and Sarah swung the car around to face the other way. Suddenly the back window popped and shattered and in the next moment the Dater woman stepped out in front of the car, her hands open and her palms up.

“Stop, stop in the name…” Sarah jammed her fist down on the horn, while Mike unlocked the door.

“Don’t go out there!” Nick shouted, and his voice was so fierce that Mike tightened his hand around the lock and froze.

“Repent and confess or we will-” blood sprayed across the windshield. Out of the corner of his eye, Mike saw Dater look skyward as she ricocheted off the bonnet and tumbled to one side. Some white fragments of bone gummed up the screen.

“Floor it!” Mike screamed as Sarah slammed the pedal and careered the car down the street. The wipers flapped into life and did nothing more than smear pink trails of blood and snow along the front.

“I can’t see anything!” Sarah shouted as they bumped over something that could have been a body and swerved to the left.

“Keep driving and don’t stop!” Nick hollered, and Mike saw he had drawn his gun. “We need to get distance from wherever he’s shooting from.”

Mike was still looking back to Nick when he saw a faint pop of light in the distance. The car suddenly jerked as the tyre blew out and then they were flung back, the car flailing uncontrollably into a front garden. Everything came to a halt with a lurching jolt.

“Are you okay?” Mike looked around and checked Sarah and Mae. Both of them looked dazed but unhurt. He swivelled in his seat and looked around to see Nick, blinking rapidly but again looking essentially untouched.

“Fine, fine,” he muttered as if he’d just woken up from a deep sleep. “Get the bags and get out.” Mike slipped out of the car, sticking to the closely to the side, remembering the flash-pop of seconds before. He crawled round and opened Sarah’s door, and she mirrored him, crab walking along the side of the vehicle. Nick bundled himself out and lined up next to them.

“We have to get out of his range. If he comes after us, it’ll have to be on foot and at ground level,” Nick shouted. The snow was biting down harder, and Mike wondered just how good a shot you had to be to pick off a tyre in a blizzard.

“We’ll be walking away from the bridge,” Sarah said, as she clasped Mae to her chest. If the little girl was exposed to the weather for too long, Mike thought, it could turn into another serious problem.

“We’ll double back. We can’t walk towards his sights. We’ll loop once we’ve got back on track.” Nick looked over and reached out to touch Sarah’s hand as it cradled Mae’s head. “It’s the only way.”

Mike led, with Sarah and Mae behind and Nick in back. The three of them scampered towards the house whose garden they had demolished and down the alleyway into something like cover. Mike took point, trooping on down the back streets, looking back every ten seconds or so, constantly talking, waiting for responses; call-response, call-response. When they reached the old dairy, he drew up against the wall, and they hunkered down, breathing hard.

“Okay?” he panted out between breaths. Sarah nodded, still breathing too hard. Nick didn’t respond at first, and Mike craned his neck to look over.

“Nick, are you okay?” He saw a thumb come up, but his head lolled forward, his chin dipping onto his chest. His cheeks were waxy and grey. Sarah put out her hand and took his pulse. In the next moment, she grabbed his hand.

“Keep…going,” he managed to puff out. Mike saw his breath cloud but it was in short, jagged shapes. Oh God, he’s dying.

“We’ll loop… to the bridge now…through the forest,” he managed to say and began to scramble to his feet in two awkward movements. Sarah steadied him, and the two of them looked as if they were holding each other up.

“Nick…” Mike began to say, but his words fell away. Nick’s fingers pointed forward, ushering them on. Mike turned and began walking, seeing Sarah hold Mae to her chest in one hand and grip Nick by the wrist with the other. Mike saw how Nick was letting himself be led and supported, and that was what scared him most of all.


As they trudged towards the mouth of the forest, the snow briefly eased up, giving a clear view of the sprawl of the town. Everything was covered in white, the houses and buildings little more than black smudges against the blank canvas. Mike took out the binoculars and scanned the fringes of the town, looking for any of the mob or the sniper. He found only small pockets of people in and around the centre. He kept scanning round, looking for any signs or indications of McKenzie’s group. His eyes stopped at one image.

The station house was burning.

The people on the steps seemed just to be sitting around, as if it were an everyday occurrence. One of the mob smoked a cigarette, and when it was down to the nub, he flicked it towards the burning front door. Mike felt the rage boil in him at that action, so simple and so disrespectful. He knew, if he ever came across that man, he’d try and kill him for what he’d just done.

“Anything?” Sarah asked, touching him on the shoulder. He passed the binoculars back, not wanting to lie to her and heard her gasp as she saw station house.

“Don’t tell him,” he whispered and stepped away to where Nick was resting against a tree.

“Any sign?” Nick was crouching against a tree stump as if he’d just run a four-minute mile. His eyes were heavy-lidded but wild as if he were running a fever. Mike stepped over and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Nick, you need to stop.” Mike felt the body go rigid under his hand and Nick pulled himself straight quicker than Mike thought would have been possible.

“Go to my bag and get the needle out. That’ll give me a boost.” The surge of helpless anger had run out of his face, and he winked to Mike as stooped down and unzipped the bag. As he prepped the needle, Mike looked back to Sarah, who was slipping the binoculars back into the other holdall.

“Glenda say anything about the dosages to this stuff?” he asked but knew he wouldn’t get the truth even if it were an issue.

“It’ll be enough to get me through the forest path and over the bridge.” Mike realised he wasn’t planning to go any further. He knows.

The needle dug in and both of them winced. Mike studied Nick’s face as he withdrew the needle. He thought about all the things he wanted to say but saw Nick’s eyes, saw the way they were sad, sad beyond all recognition, but determined too. It wasn’t the time to admit defeat or give up. It wasn’t over yet. Mike clamped down on what he wanted to say, and Nick nodded, imperceptibly so, as if to thank him. A grin creased across the edge of his mouth and Mike felt the same thing happening, almost against his will. Sarah came up and looked at the two of them and shook her head, but she was smiling too. She let go of Mae briefly and took each of them in hand.


As they walked side by side to the forest entrance, the snow began to flutter back into life again; first with a few flakes that could almost be mistaken for ashes and then in longer, more continuous swirls. Mike looked over briefly to see Sarah was shielding Mae with their makeshift blanket and when he faced front, he blinked, seeing a dark shadow appear across the entrance. As it came into focus, he drew his pistol.

“Not unless you want the first bullet to open up that baby’s head,” McKenzie called out. He was standing in front of the car, with the driver to his right. On the floor was what looked like a long, large, body bag. Mike squinted and realised that it was moving.

“Didn’t quite go…to plan, McKenzie?” Nick managed to spit out. He had kept walking, and Mike followed his lead, urging Sarah to keep going. When they were within distance, he saw McKenzie’s face bloom in anger.

“The only reason you’re not dead yet is that I want to have the pleasure of seeing you dying,” he said, regaining his composure. The teeth in his mouth were bared, but it wasn’t in a smile as much as a snarl.

“Funny. I…was just thinking the same thing,” Nick fired back and again, McKenzie swallowed down fresh anger. The man next to him seemed to push forward, but McKenzie stalled him.

“I will kill your friend, and then I will kill the child. I think that will be enough to finish your weak little heart off, no? I suppose I could always begin with the woman if you’re not quite ready.” The next to him checked his weapon once before drawing it up. Mike braced himself, stepping in front of Sarah and Mae. As he moved, Nick brushed against his shoulder and distracted him. As Mike turned, Nick fell onto his knees.

“Nick!” he screamed and went down to stop him from slumping face down on the ground. He was clutching at his heart, clawing at it, as if it was getting ready to tear out of his chest. Mike saw his face cave at the cheeks and somehow expand around the throat, so he seemed almost concave and swollen at the same time. His breath was ragged and uneven, and from somewhere, Mike heard footsteps crunch underfoot. McKenzie said something, and it was a sound somewhere between pleasure and victory. Oh, God, he wants to see Nick dying, Mike thought as Nick lurched under his arm.

Mike felt a surge of power as Nick withdrew his free hand from his stomach and drew the gun. In the next instant, he fired a single shot that ripped McKenzie’s head clean off. Mike was spun round by the action and saw McKenzie’s mouth still grinning, as his forehead pan-caked outwards in a red and white mist. His body, still propelled in forward motion, snapped back at the top, so his chest puffed out like a peacock, even as his back quivered and his back-side jutted out.

Nick used Mike’s outstretched arm to slide up and fired a further three shots at the other man. Mike staggered back and felt spun around, so Nick’s body spread over him. In the moments after the recoil of the pistol, Nick’s body twitched twice, almost nudging against Mike, as if he were helping him to scratch an itch. A second after that, Nick’s full weight fell against Mike, sending him tumbling into the snow.

Sarah had crouched to one knee and squeezed off a volley from her weapon. Mike scrambled to his feet, his pistol drawn, looking down to Nick’s lifeless face. The driver had scrambled behind the car, reaching out to the still wriggling bag.

“Mike!” Sarah screamed as he fired off two shots and they scrambled into the side bank of trees that was just off the front trail. As they reached the cover of the trunks, a swift repeated denting sound smacked up around their feet, puffing up mini-explosions in the snow. Over their heads, bits of bark broke away from the trees.

“Keep moving,” Mike whispered hoarsely, glancing over to the car as the man stepped out into the clearing and crouched down to the body bag. He unzipped it and positioned it, like a cannon, towards where they hid.

“Run!” He screamed and grabbed Sarah by the wrist.


He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead.

Mike slid through the undergrowth, Sara’s hand tight in his as they skittered down the slope of the banks. He looked back once and saw the sheer panic on Sarah’s face. Both of them hurtled through thickets and outstretched branches, one of them drawing blood above Mike’s eyebrow, before they abruptly came to a halt.

“Where is it?” Sarah gasped her voice thick and raspy. She searched overhead, her free hand gripping Mae to her heart.

“We have to listen for it,” Mike whispered harshly and scanned the jagged pathway in-front of them. The trees were sagging, heavy with snow, blocking a clear route but there was enough space between the branches and the ground to slip through.

“We have to keep going forward,” he went on, tilting his head towards the path. Sarah nodded hurriedly, and they stumbled off the twigs and onto the flat surface of the frozen path.

As they crept forward, Mike could hear the frenzied rattling and shaking of the forest and knew the creature was lurching through the dense patches of shrubs and trees without any restraint or reason. It was the sound of an uncontrolled hunter.

Mike staggered on, his feet sinking and then rising out of the snow. As much as he tried to step lightly, he knew his footsteps were too loud and a beacon to the monster. As they reached the first overhanging branch, he drew up his pistol, bracing himself. He let go of Sarah’s hand and gripped the branch, shaking the chunks of snow from its leaves.

It sprang back, free of its unnatural weight and nothing waited for them.

Mike could hear his own gasp of relief and Sarah’s behind him. About ten feet of clear pathway opened up before them, and they surged on. Neither of them spoke, aware of what was at stake in the next few minutes. The thing rustled somewhere nearby, and they drew to a halt. The noise continued, but Mike couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. The next drooping branch was upon them. Mike reached for it and repeated the same action of rattling the snow from it and waiting.


The path opened up, and the other branches were not such an obstruction as the first two. Mike reached back and felt Sarah’s hand take his, and they jogged forward, his shoulder barging the weak twigs and branches out of their way. A steady rhythm was established, and they seemed to cover more ground in a minute than they had done in the five minutes before. All the while, the frenzied rustling and tearing around them stayed within earshot but out of their field of vision.

The end of the pathway seemed to appear from nowhere.

“There!” Sarah exclaimed, and the echo of the first word either of them had spoken on the path carried long and hard. Mike felt her accelerate at his side and he drove himself on to keep pace with this new-found energy. The snow broke away at their feet, and he allowed himself a glance over and saw Sarah was smiling.

The creature burst out of the tree over her head and seemed to descend like a fizzing, rippling black cloud. Mike saw it just in time to fling Sarah out of the way and then it was on top of him. Its teeth burrowed into his shoulder, and a white flair of pain tore through him. The momentum of the two of them colliding sent them rolling off the path and onto a tree, shaking them free from one another. Mike’s pistol hurtled out of his palm.

The ink creature rocketed back onto him, and it was all he could do to put his arms up to block the impact of its blow. Mike felt claws launch into his gut and a half dozen pinpricks entered his stomach. The face reared up and snapped its teeth towards his nose but Mike feinted to his left and then snapped right, head-butting it around the jaw, sending it sprawling backward. From a place that seemed far away, Sarah had risen to her feet and drawn her gun but did not fire. She screamed something at him, but the buzz of the creature’s wet mouth and its mechanical teeth blocked out all other sounds.

Mike brought his elbow round and cracked it against the creature’s advancing lips. It screamed in pain, and the noise was that of a high-pitched, feral thing. The creature’s anger pressed it back onto Mike, its nails flailing and piercing his cheeks. Mike registered just how hard the creature’s body was. It felt as if it was encased in a molten shell.

The head went below his eye line, and for a moment, complete disorientation engulfed him. The thing hoisted him up into the air and then onto his back, almost embracing Mike around the stomach. Mike realised in horror that it was setting itself to burrow directly into his gut. He helplessly slapped at its ears, but the thing was positioned and set on its task. From somewhere, he heard two distinct sounds: the click-clack of the creature extending its jaws to bite and the report of Sarah’s pistol as she fired.

The ink creature reared up, as much in confusion as pain and momentarily forgot about Mike. It turned its back on him and faced Sarah, one clawed, clubbed hand swatting its hind legs. She shot him up the ass, Mike thought, as he lunged for his weapon.

He fired twice until the gun clicked dry. It was only when the creature snapped forward and then backward did he realise Sarah had fired the same amount into the front. The thing, seemingly suspended in mid-air, took a moment to realise it was dead and then fell almost straight down onto the ground. Mike fumbled inside his jacket and grabbed a fistful of shells, jamming them into the pistol as quickly as he could, not convinced it was finished. Mike saw fresh blood smearing over his fingers as he withdrew them from his jacket and wondered if he were injured or already dying. Sarah ran over to him.


“Mike, are you okay?” Her voice sounded far away, even though she was right on top of him now. Mae stared down at him, wide-eyed and caught between smiling and screaming.

“We’re okay,” he managed to say and closed his eyes for a moment as she ran her hand across his cheek. The energy from her skin seemed to move over him, giving him strength. Mike rolled to one side and then steadily got to his feet. Something was not right inside him, but he reached out for her and took her hand in his.

“We need to keep moving,” he said and smiled at her. The snow began to ease off for a moment, and he could see Sarah was struggling to hear him. Was he whispering or was the wind too strong? As they began to walk, he saw the red stain on the snow, spreading slowly and marvelled at how much blood he was losing.

The two of them stamped through the last few feet of the forest and into the clearing leading to the bridge. Mike peered to the toll booth but saw no wannabe sentries set up there. The maze of cars looked impossible to navigate up close, but he knew there was a clear route through them, one that led all the way to the city. Sarah squeezed his hand tighter, but he didn’t look back. Instead, he saw the faces inside the cars; some of them frozen in screams, others with their heads pressed down against the steering wheel as if praying.

“We need to keep moving,” he repeated, without checking to see if Sarah could hear. Below his head, in his stomach and his boots, wetness was gathering and pooling. For a second Mike tried to believe it was snow seeping through his layers, his well-worn, well-loved boots, but it didn’t work. An opening appeared between the wall of vehicles, and he began to pull them towards it.

At first, they broke left for almost fifty feet and then veered to the right for nearly the same distance. Mike tripped and stumbled on something and went down on one knee. His coat snagged on the wing mirror of a truck and hung him in the air, so he didn’t hit the deck. Something dripped nearby and he checked for fuel, even though he couldn’t smell any diesel. The tapping sound continued, and he followed it down to his boots, where blood was forming in a small circle by his toes.

Confusion suddenly gripped him as he tried to stand back up and found he couldn’t manage it. The snow was no longer falling, the winds were down, and yet he could get no purchase In his grip, no momentum in his legs. Finally, Sarah looped underneath him and pushed him up, freeing him from the truck mirror and sending them forward. More confusion, as he felt himself being carried, that somehow Sarah had become suddenly stronger and he suddenly weak. He looked over to say something, ask a question, but saw her face was etched with determination and struggle, an expression he knew his face had taken on since this had all begun. Mike coughed but saw no frozen cloud come out of his mouth and became dimly aware that he had become the passenger, the way Nick had been before.

Mike saw the cars break away and the city side come into focus. The toll booth was empty, and the first signs of the city were familiar. There were no flaming buildings, no monsters roaming the gates. It looked just how Mike had remembered it; plain and imposing, the same as any other big, angry city. The relief he felt was mirrored in Sarah; a huge, broad smile broke over her face, transforming her into the girl he had known before all this happened. Her lips moved, and he followed the words as they shaped on her lips, but again, no sound came out. Mike leaned forward, trying, somehow, to follow her, and then something jammed into his back, pushing him forward and knocking Sarah and Mae away from him.

Mike lay on his stomach and ate a clump of snow as he tried to breathe. The pain in his back settled into a deep warmth and for a few seconds, Mike tried to recall the sensation from his memories. It was not like the feelings from the creature, nor anything like a punch or a kick.

You’ve been shot, a voice whispered and it sounded like Nick, exactly like Nick. When he swallowed another clump of snow and breathed, Nick was crouched on his haunches looking over to him. On the other side, Sarah lay sprawled on the ground, Mae silently crying, her face screwed up and crimson.

Think, Nick said, and this time Mike heard the voice clearly and wondered what had changed to make his senses so suddenly clear and perfect. Nick looked down to Mike’s stomach and nodded. Mike reached down, in amongst the wetness that was spreading uncontrollably and felt the pistol to the right where he had holstered it without thinking. As he reached for it, a great force pulled him out of the snow and rolled him over to face the sky, the light.

It was the man, the driver, but at the same not him at all. It was the ink creature, McKenzie, Jules, the crazed Dater woman and everyone who had harmed them in the last few days. The devil’s face contorted and shifted; a muddle and blur of hate and venom, cruelty, and spite. The smile was not a smile at all, but like the rich businessman, more of a two dozen teeth snarl. Its eyes were blue and furious and hungry too. The expression of the creature only changed in the half-second before Mike pulled the trigger. It shifted into one of bewilderment and disappointment at not being able to kill any longer.

Mike squeezed the trigger until it clicked dry and then let the pistol slip out of his hand. It rolled lazily out of his fingers, even as the driver-monster staggered back, dying and then dead, slumped against a burned-out car. For a second the two faced each other and then Mike looked away, done with bedlam, chaos, and hate. Instead, he looked at the sky, clearing now, until Sarah appeared in front of him, tears in her eyes, the smile now broken and trembling.


Mike felt her hands trying to pull him back up, but he batted them away with what strength he had left. Instead, he pushed himself up against the side of the car, sitting and facing the city, with his back to the Driver. Sarah was speaking, but he could no longer hear what she said. She took his hand, and Mike squeezed it once. With utter concentration, he pointed to the city gates with his other hand. He managed to do this twice and said something that made her flinch. For a second she hesitated and moved away but then turned back to him.

The kiss that fell on his lips was light, too light for him to feel. Mike was aware of her lifting his hand and placing it on the crown of Mae’s head, and for a brilliant fleeting moment, he could feel again, the contact of her skin electric in his fingertips. It pulsed through him and gave him a few more minutes of life. It was the antidote to all that had gone before, and the thought gave him comfort. Mike managed to smile one last time. She lingered, and he limply thrust his fingers back to the city, until finally, their hands broke away.

She didn’t look back and Mike was grateful for that. As she walked towards the toll booth and the city, her stride seemed to get stronger, her legs more powerful. Mike watched her and thought how she had the strength, the inner strength to survive. Enough to live, enough to keep pushing now this part of the journey was done. Mike watched her and felt the world tilt, getting lighter and darker at the same time. Sarah began to phase out inside the beams of light, while everything else darkened. Mike kept his eyes open, kept watching until she had disappeared into the city. In the few seconds it took for her to slip from sight, Mike Sheridan managed one, single, true breath and felt it carry into the sky. The words, when they finally came, crept into his ear and gently pushed his eyes shut:

Take care of each other, it whispered. He sighed as the darkness claimed him.




Chris Castle is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 300 times and has been featured in various end of year and best of anthologies. He is currently writing a novel. His influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached for feedback at chriscastle76@hotmail.com. Chris has become a regular contributor to our journal: His stories, Grid, Slumber, Last House on Vector Street, Stealing Three, Zombie Cake, Button and Pa, The Garden, Butterfly Eater, Finger, and The Last House all consecutively appear in the January, April, June, August, October, and December 2013 issues of HelloHorror and its February, April, August, and October 2014 issues. Chris Castle's novel, Bedlam Days, is serialized in HelloHorror. Part 1 appears in the Winter 2015 issue, Part 2 appears in the Winter 2015 issue, Part 3 appears in the Summer 2015 issue, Part 4 appears in the Halloween 2015 issue, Part 5 appears in the Winter 2016 issue, Part 6 appears in the Spring 2016 issue, Part 7 appears in the Summer 2016 issue, Part 8 appears in the Autumn 2016 issue, and Part 9 appears in the Winter 2017 issue of HelloHorror.

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