by Niamh Dunne
Somehow I stifled the urge to scream as Cal slumped to the ground like meat. I could see his face through the filthy window: his nose was bent the wrong way and his teeth had cut through his lip.
They stood around for another few minutes, talking urgently as Cal’s blood pooled into the car. I tried to hear what they were saying, perhaps learn where their hideout was for some kind of future plan. But I could only hear my own heartbeat pounding in my ears.
Eventually they drove off, howling and screeching like wolves. I slithered out of the back seat and through the driver-side door. The sand had cooled from being in the shade of the car and I let myself rest for a moment. Had Cal told them where the barn was? About the supplies we had stocked there?
I heard a groan, felt the car move. Cal. Before checking on him, I scoured the car for anything of value. I struggled with the upside-down boot and when I finally opened it I saw almost everything was ruined. Drums of precious drinking water had overturned and spilled, soaking the interior; tins of food had bent and leaked everywhere. But – jackpot – I found three first aid kits and shoved them into my bag. Lucy would be glad of them.
Then to Cal. I knelt down beside him, staring at his mangled face. How did it come to this, Cal? Where did it all go so wrong?
I touched his hair; pushed it away from face so I could see the familiar contours of his cheekbones and jaw.
Cal must have overturned the car, but why?
Even in the scorching sun Cal was deathly pale, but why?
Cal was covered in blood, but why?
And then I saw it. A chunk of flesh missing from his neck. Bite marks in a crescent around the wound.
He was infected.
And just as I realised, just as the old Cal became a memory instead of a person, I saw the whites of his eyes pool into his bright blue irises.
Now it was time to run.
I dumped the bag and turned to go, but in my panic I tripped and hit the floor, the gritty sand tearing at my face. Behind me I heard Cal’s already-stiffening bones snapping as he contorted himself toward me. I could almost taste the foul smell of his flesh as it began its rapid decomposition. I heard him lunge for me – a swift cutting of air – and scrambled clear just in time. He wasn’t going to get me. I couldn’t let him get me.
I knew I was faster than him. My body was rhythmically pumping blood and adrenaline into my muscles, fuelling my escape; his body was dying, his blood drying in his veins. Unless he harvested on living flesh he’d be dead in under a day.
He wasn’t going to get me. I couldn’t let him get me.
The barn was getting closer. I could smell the hay.
“Joe!” I screamed, as loud as my throat would let me.
Cal screamed too, an animal sound, like a cut pig.
Euphoria, as I saw Joe’s familiar figure walk out into the sun, long rifle in hand. He moved slowly, confidently. He raised the rifle, waiting until I dove past him before firing. I was momentarily deafened, the high piercing sound echoing everywhere.
Cal’s hands lay at my feet; I kicked them away. Joe poked the body with the butt of his gun.
Cal was dead.
I leaned back against the barn, breathing deeply, calming myself down. I didn’t die.
But Cal was gone. That fresh-faced boy I watched grow; watched blossom into the hardened man Joe made him become. I cursed myself – we mourned for Cal when he left the first time, there was no point in doing it again.
Joe leaned over me, blocking out the sun.
“Helluva way to start the New Year!” he said, his southern drawl instantly comforting.
I leaned up on my elbows and looked out into the horizon: no sign of The Scavengers.
“This has given me every hope for 2085”, Joe said sarcastically, walking back into the barn. I heard the hubbub of the group inside, making breakfast and chatting nonsensically.
“Me too,” I mumbled, following him in, leaving my friend’s body to bake in the 40 degree sun.
My name is Niamh Dunne. I’m 18 and have recently finished my A-levels at Craven College. Thinking about my writing heroes is a hard one (there are so many to choose from) but Gillian Flynn is definitely a favourite! Even though this story is pretty dark, I’m actually a very positive, friendly person! Ask anyone, apart from anyone I know…