The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove (4 page)

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
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Chapter 6



As night fell the three huddled around a small campfire. Two rabbits roasted in the flames, and the delicious aroma of cooking meat filled the night air. Jonathan stoked the fire and looked at his boy. He could see his son was struggling to stay awake.
Callum’s eyes blinked heavily as he stared at the slowly roasting rabbits.

“Get some sleep, Son; I’ll wake you when the rabbits are ready.”

“I am awful tired. I think I might just grab a quick nap before we eat,” Callum replied as he let out a long yawn. “I want to take the first watch, Pa. I want to make sure I do my share.”

“I’ll wake you in around an hour,” Jonathan said as he threw some more wood on the fire. He looked at his son again, and saw he had already fallen asleep.

For more than forty minutes, Jonathan and sally sat silently staring at the roasting rabbits. The peace of their surroundings seemed to sooth all their troubles away. It was as if nature had wrapped them in a cocoon of dark, and nothing could trouble them as long as the silence held. However, silences cannot last forever, and finally Sally burst forth from the cocoon.

“Mr. Wentworth….”

“Call me Jon.”

“…Jon, how far do you think these creatures will spread?” Sally asked as she wrapped her blanket a little tighter around her.

“I really don’t know. I hope the spread of the creatures dies out before it hits Boston, but something tells me that’s just hopeful thinking. I think this may be the beginning of a new plague.”

Sally nodded grimly, and then looked at Callum sleeping beside her. “Your boy really is something. The way he handled himself when that thing … I mean Pastor Jacob … attacked you. Well it was something to behold.”

Jonathan Wentworth pulled his pipe from his pocket and started packing it with fresh tobacco. He then turned his intense gaze to the girl sat across the fire from him.

“Do you think you could do what he did?” Jon asked as he pulled a blazing twig from the fire and lit his pipe.

Sally’s brow furrowed as she considered the question. “When I was eight, my mother died, and daddy started treating me like some fragile doll. He sheltered me from all the things that made life hard. He did it because he loved me.” Tears started to fill her eyes and Jon turned his gaze to the fire. “I know he did it because he thought it was the right thing, but I now feel as if I am ill prepared for the future. I know daddy pictured me marrying some well-to-do lawyer or doctor from Boston, but I guess those dreams are a thing of the past.”

“Maybe not,” Jon said as he blew out a smoke ring. “Humanity has always survived plagues, and it will survive this-un. Hold on to dreams, Sally, they help when times are bad. That said, you didn’t answer my question. Can you bring yourself to kill those things?”

Sally cuffed her eyes dry, and then nodded determinedly. “Yes, I think I could.” She then fixed Jon with pleading eyes. “Or at least I could if I knew for sure they were no longer people. The one that pinned you, it used to be the pastor, but it weren’t no more. Were it?”

Jon smiled kindly. “The pastor died the moment he got bit. The thing my boy killed were no more the pastor, than he were human.”

She nodded. “I guess you are right, but how would I kill the things? I ain’t never fired a gun and I ain’t got no weapon.”

“Leave the guns to Cal and me, but we will need to find you something to defend yourself with. Teaching you to use a bow will take too long, so it will have to be a hand weapon for you. We should reach Warrington tomorrow; mayhap we will find you a good knife, or even a sword.”

Sally’s face turned pale. “You mean I would have to kill them up close?”

“Hopefully all the killing will be done by me and the boy, but you need to be able to defend yourself. Learning to fire a gun or shoot an arrow takes time. Time we don’t have. I hope that you won’t need to defend yourself from those creatures, but we can’t live on hope. As my dear old pa used to say, ‘Pray for rain, but dig a well while you pray.’

“Once we find the rest of my family, we'll head north to join Naalnish and his tribe. Once we are safe I’ll teach, you, Tilly, and Emily, how to use both gun and bow. I suspect the coming years will see a need for such skills in women and men alike.”

Sally’s gaze turned to the rabbits, and as if wishing to change the subject, she said, “I think they are done.”

“I think so too. Give yon sleeping beauty an elbow in the ribs.”

She giggled and did as asked. The three ate in relative silence, and then Callum took first watch. His father slept with one eye open, a trick taught to him by Chief Qaletaqa. It was not that he thought his son would fall asleep; rather he did it because of years of self-discipline. He never slept with both eyes shut, not unless he was safe in his own bed.

 

***

With the rise of the sun, the three travelers and Hector prepared to move on. The night had passed without incident, which filled the three with a slight ray of optimism. Maybe things were not as bleak as they had first thought.

The three traveled the road side by side, and for almost the whole day, the going was good. There were no signs of the creatures, or of any panic. In fact, for all intents and purposes, they owned the road. They saw no one, not a single traveler, not a single coach. This in itself seemed ominous.

“Pa, how busy is this road normally?” Callum asked.

Jon could not help but hear the unease in his son’s voice, an unease he too shared. “Well,” he said as he drew to a stop, “this road feeds all the settlements north of Warrington. Normally it is heavy with carts and coaches.”

“Do you think Warrington is overrun?” Sally asked as her horse moved nervously beneath her.

Jon’s eyes first fixed on her, and then he moved his gaze to his son. Finally, he said, “I think it might have. If those monsters have reached Warrington, then Boston must now be under threat. I think we should keep moving forward. We need supplies and Warrington will have everything we need.”

Callum eyed his father solemnly. “But if it’s overrun, what then?”

Jonathan shrugged. “We keep moving. Come on, we are losing light.”

The three continued for another hour, but then Jonathan pulled his horse to a stop. The light was failing, and they had reached the bottom of a steep hill. Warrington lay just five miles past its crown, but what Jonathan saw at the crest of the hill chilled him. A crowd, maybe thirty strong, stood atop the crest; their forms silhouetted in the setting sun. Nightfall was just around the corner, and Jon did not want to face any threats in the dark.

“Pa, do you think they are the godless?” Callum said as he too peered at the ever-increasing crowd atop the hill.

“Yep. Look at the way they shamble, they are surely the godless ones.”

“What should we do?” Sally asked as she squinted against the lowering sun.

Jon gazed around. “We can’t ride through them, there are simply too many. It will be dark soon, which makes riding around them impossible. We need to find somewhere to hold up.” He started looking around, and then nodded to himself. “There’s a river over yonder.” He pointed to the left. “There’s a flour mill on its banks. It’s made of stone, so we should be safe there.”

“Pa, look!” Callum shouted, and Jonathan turned back to the hill.

The crowd atop the hill were no longer shambling; they were running. Like a fast moving pack of ravenous wolves, the creatures plummeted down the hill towards them.

“Come on!” Jonathan bellowed as he yanked his horse towards the river and the waiting mill.

The three drove their horses hard, but the swarm of creatures pursuing them was gaining. Jon looked back over his shoulder and was shocked to see the Godless creatures had already closed the distance between them by half.

“That’s impossible!” he mumbled under his breath as he spurred his mount on. “They are gaining! More haste!”

In an attempt to squeeze a little more speed from their horses, both Callum and Sally started kicking the flanks of their mounts furiously. With unerring skill, Jonathan released his grip on his reins and pulled his bow from his back. He slowed his horse, so that he now positioned himself between the creatures and the rest of his group. He knew it unlikely that he could accurately hit a moving target at such a distance. The fact that he was on horseback added to the difficulty of his aim, but still he had to try.

He turned and fired his first arrow; it hit one of the creatures in the leg, merely slowing it. He fired again and again, but his efforts did little to slow their pursuers.

“There, Pa!” Callum shouted from somewhere in front of him.

He turned to see the mill just a few hundred yards ahead of them. A man stood at the door of the mill, and he waved them on. Jonathan shouldered his bow, and coaxed more speed from his horse. It would be tight, but with luck, he would reach the mill mere seconds before the horde.

Callum reached the mill first, closely followed by Sally and Hector.

“Inside, quickly,” the old man yelled from beside the door. “Horses too.”

Callum did not need telling twice, and led his horse inside. Sally followed, but Hector stood by the old man. He barked at the approaching horde, but stayed firmly at the old man’s side.

Jonathan dared a look back. Only a few yards now separated him from certain death. He turned his stare to the mill, and saw the old man readying himself to shut the door. Jonathan lowered his head to the horse’s neck, and whispered, “Come on, come on.”

The old man could see what Jonathan intended. “Boy, call your dog inside!”

“Hector! Here!”

The dog took one last look at the horde, and then bolted inside.

“Good,” the old man said as his grip tightened on the door. “Now get ready to barricade the door with whatever you can find.”

Callum and Sally started moving large sacks of flour towards the door.

Jonathan readied himself. He knew he would be lucky if he came out of this maneuver without a broken neck.

Jonathan lowered himself even further, and thundered into the mill at a full gallop. The old man moved with more speed than anyone watching would have thought possible. In less than a second, he had the door shut, and its heavy wooden cross brace in place.

Jonathan brought his horse to a skidding stop, sending him flying from its back. He hit the stone floor hard, but did not allow himself to feel any pain. In less than a heartbeat, he was on his feet and barricading the door with the others.

Loud thumps echoed throughout the mill as body after body hit the heavy door.

Several minutes later, the four inside had completely buried the door with heavy bags of flour. The layer of flour-filled sacks both muffled the thumps, but also made forced entry impossible. With a collective sigh of relief, they all collapse to the floor at the same time. Hector, who by now was in a heightened state of excitement, ran between them licking their faces franticly. The dog reached Callum last, and the boy wrestled the panicked dog to the floor beside him.

Jonathan got slowly to his feet and offered the old man his hand.

“My name is Jonathan Wentworth, yon boy is my son, Callum, and the young miss is Sally Hopkins.”

The old man took Jonathan’s hand and struggled to his feet. “I be Alfred Marsh. Pleased to meet you all. Mighty pleased.”

Old man Marsh started shaking violently, and Jonathan helped him to a nearby table and chairs.

“What know you, Alfred? How comes we find you here alone? Surely, you do not work this mill by yourself?”

The old man looked up into Jonathan’s stern face an
d began to weep.

Chapter 7

 “I live and work right here in the mill. My son, Peter, and his wife, Mary, live a hundred yards downriver in the cabin where my dear old wife—God rest her soul—and me raised him. When they married, I moved into the loft upstairs. Newlyweds need their breathing space, and the loft does me well enough. Well, the two of them went into town two days ago, and they have not yet returned.

“Then, last night I started seeing those things outside. At first, there were just one or two, but their numbers started to grow. I decided to keep an eye on them, so I set myself up by one of the upstairs windows. You see, even with my tired old eyes I can see a goodly distance from up there. I took some food and water upstairs with me, and then I settled in to see how many of those things came this way. They appear to be coming from Warrington, and they’re spreading in all directions. I lost count at two hundred, and I started to think I would never see another living soul again.

“I almost gave up all hope, but then I saw the three of you, and I thanked God for your appearance. What is happening? What do you think is causing the change in all those poor folks?”

Jon took the seat beside the old man and placed a hand on his. “I fear it’s some kind of plague and it’s spreading fast. You say those things came from Warrington. If that’s true, then your son and his wife may be in danger.” Jonathan did not want to say his son and daughter in law were most likely dead, but he could see the old man clearly thought it. “Do you have a gun?”

Alfred nodded and pointed to the back of the mill. “We have a couple out back, plus powder and shot.”

“Good. We'll wait for light before we make our move.”

The old man looked alarmed. “I ain’t leaving here. I was born right here, and if it’s God’s will, then I’ll die right here too.”

“As you wish.” Jonathan looked to his son. “Go fetch the guns and make sure they are loaded. Sally, start the fire. It’ll be getting cold soon, so I think we should get some heat in here.”

Jonathan stood, but Alfred gripped his wrist. He looked back to the old man.

“Are you going to go to town in the morning?”

Jon simply nodded.

“My son, can you keep an eye out for him?”

He patted Alfred’s liver spotted hand. “I will be happy to keep an eye out for him, and if I see him I’ll tell him you are safe, but to hurry home.”

Alfred relaxed a little. “Good, good. By the way. Before your boy looks for those guns, have him take the horses to the store out back. He can find it just by following his nose. It’s part of the main building, so there’s no need to venture outside. We store the wheat there, but I fear we will need it no longer, so your horses may as well eat their fill.” The old man let out a slow sad sigh, and then said, “I think the days of milling flour here are behind us, at least for a while.”

Jonathan looked at his son, and Callum nodded.

 

***

As the dark of night deepened, the pounding and groaning from outside grew. Jon set Sally the task of preparing food, and he headed upstairs to see what he could see.

The upstairs of the mill consisted of one great four-walled room. Each wall had two large windows, offering a panoramic view of the mill’s surroundings. Jon held his lantern aloft, and headed to the first window. He opened the creaking sash, and peered down at the mounting throng below. He then moved to each of the windows and did the same.

All around the mill, except for the side closest to the river, creatures clamored at the stone. Only the side protected by water was clear. The sound of gentle splashing drifted into the room from the windows positioned above the water. He approached the window and leaned as far out of its open sash as he could. Once comfortable, he peered down.

He saw a waterwheel turning in the river’s current, and a few yards downstream a small boat bobbed against its tether. He then looked upriver and saw a jetty. It sat just a yard or so from the front of the slowly turning wheel. A handful of creatures stood huddled together on the pier, and all of them appeared to be studying the gently rotating contraption in front of them.

Without warning, one made a leap for the wheel, and then the rest followed. Each attempt made by the creatures ended the same way. They would jump for the waterwheel, only to find themselves bouncing off it and into the river. He watched on as creature after creature washed briskly downstream. His only hope was they might end up washing out to sea. The noise their efforts made seemed to attract more creatures, and soon a steady flow of the ghouls began bouncing off the wheel. This triggered a spark of an idea in Jonathan’s head.

He moved to the window above the barricaded door, and studied the horde below. On their race to the mill, he had counted roughly thirty creatures. Now he could see the number had swelled closer to one hundred. He dreaded to think how many there would be by morning. He closed the last of the windows, and thought about how best to overcome the creatures.

As made clear by those throwing themselves at the wheel, he thought it obvious that movement and sound worked to attract the ghouls. Surely, he could somehow use this weakness to their advantage. He rubbed at his forehead as he worked on their options. He had something in the back of his mind, but he could not force the idea to coalesce. Try as he might, his mind simply would not focus. Resigned to the fact his brain suffered from both hunger and fatigue, he headed downstairs to where the smell of cooking emanated.

“That smells delicious,” Jon said as he strode down the stairs.

“Thank you,” Sally beamed. “The Marshs’ have an amazing stock cellar, and it is veritably spilling over with winter provisions.”

Alarmed by the prospect of another entry point, Jonathan’s gaze quickly shot to the old man. Alfred looked unconcerned as he sat calmly smoking a pipe with Hector at his feet.

“Have no worry,” Alfred said from his cloud of smoke. “The only way into the cellar is out back of this room, and there’s only one way in to this room, which is through yonder door.” He pointed to the barricade of flour sacks. “We’re safe, because that door is the only way in or out.”

Reassured, Jonathan pulled his pipe and headed for the old man. “Then before I turn my mind to our escape, I think I’ll take the time to enjoy our meal.”

“Sounds like a right good idea,” Alfred said as he kicked out a chair for his new friend. “Do you not think the creatures will simply wander off?”

Jon lit his pipe, and then shook his head. “There number has at least tripled. They ain’t going nowhere.”

“Pa, I have found old man Marsh’s guns. They are all loaded and in good order. He has two hundred rounds of shot, and powder for twice that. Not only did I find the ammunition, but also four sticks of dynamite and a yard of fuse.”

“Really. Well, that is at least some good news. I’m starting to think we will get out of here after all.”

“What are you thinking of doing, Pa?”

“Let's not talk of my plans now, for they are still scattered and flimsy. Instead, let me fill my stomach, which in turn will help me fill my head. After we’ve eaten I will tell you what I’m thinking.”

Callum smiled. “Pa, can I have a pipe?”

“Sorry, Boy, I only have this one.”

“I think I can remedy that,” Alfred said as he struggled to his feet. The old man hobbled over to the fire, and took a corncob pipe from the mantel. “This is my son’s, but I guess it’s alright if you have it.”

Callum looked at his father, and Wentworth the elder nodded slightly. “Thank you, Mr. Marsh.”

Soon all three males found themselves sat around the table smoking, but only one looked green faced. A hacking cough quickly followed each inhalation Callum took. Jonathan smiled and tipped a wink at old man Marsh. Alfred smiled and leaned back in his chair, lifting the front two legs from the floor. Jonathan did the same. Callum started to mirror the other men, but a coughing fit caused him to lose balance, and he crashed to the floor.

Everyone erupted with laughter, Callum included. He scrambled to his feet and passed the pipe back to the old man.

“I think I need a few more years under my belt before I’m ready for this.”

Alfred held his hands high. “It’s yours now, use it as you might.”

Callum reseated himself and said, “Thank you kindly, Sir, I’ll treasure it.’

A tear formed in the old man’s eye, and he quickly looked away from the boy. Callum stood instantly, and move to Alfred’s side. Without a word, he simply placed a caring hand on the old man’s shoulder. A moment later, Alfred’s hand found the boys.

Jonathan Wentworth watched his son, and in that moment, no man could have felt any prouder. He looked towards the stove and saw Sally simply staring at the boy. She looked at his son with a kind of awe. Slowly, her eyes moved from Callum, and fixed on his father. She smiled shyly, then, red-faced, turned back to her pots.

Did Jon recognize the spark of love in this young girl? He had met Emily at Callum’s age, and he had loved her from that moment on. Was this the spark of new love? He hoped it was. Love was what the world needed, especially when things seemed darkest.

He smiled to himself and thought,
my empty belly seems to be making me maudlin. The sooner I get some of that fine smelling food in me, the better.

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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