The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove (7 page)

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
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Chapter 13

Callum came into the clearing surrounding the mill just a little after dusk. The smell of decaying flesh filled the air. He coughed and covered his mouth and nose with one hand. In another day or so, the smell from the hundred or more corpses would be overwhelming. He knew his father had intended to gather all the bodies so they could dowse them with lamp oil and burn them. Alfred and Sally should have already started the task, but bodies remained strewn throughout the long grass. From what he could see, no efforts had been made to clear the dead. This made Callum feel extremely nervous. What would have stopped Sally and Alfred from starting this vital task? Then with dread, he remembered the doctor’s words.

Callum dug his heels into the horse’s side, and he started towards the mill once more. A minute or so later, he reached the mill and dismounted. He tied the horse to a pole beside the door, and then tried to open the door itself, but he found it locked.

Callum moved back and stared up at the open window above. He cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth, and shouted, “Hello! Sally … Alfred … are you up there!”

Callum waited for a moment or two, and then repeated his call. However, his calls went unanswered. He looked around and pondered on how best to get back into the mill. He walked towards the river and stared at its glistening waters. Gradually, his eyes drifted to the small boat bobbing at its moorings. With his hopes fading, he decided to see if the boat held anything of use. He knew he only had around fifteen minutes before full dark, so if his search of the boat yielded nothing of use, then he would need to find somewhere safe to spend the night. The prospect of spending the night alone filled him with not only fear, but also a bitter foreboding.

His search of the boat only yielded three items: two oars and a reasonably long length of rope, but Callum knew the items might offer him a little hope. He grabbed the rope, and one of the oars, and dashed back to the open window at the front of the mill. Working quickly, he tied the rope to the middle of the oar, then, like a spear, he threw the oar up at the open window.

The oar barely made it halfway to the window, before it plummeted back down again. Callum tried three more times, but the oar was too heavy and the window too high. Darkness seemed to be falling like a shroud around him, but he seemed no closer to getting inside the mill. He then remembered the waterwheel. The creatures had tried to use it to gain entry to the mill. Maybe he could do the same, but with more success.

Without giving himself time to consider how foolhardy his plan might be, he quickly gathered the rope and oar, then dashed to the jetty. By the time he reached the pier, the light of day had all but failed, and now the nearly full dark of night threatened to unhinge his risky plan. However, a small amount of light spilled from the open windows above, shedding a meager but welcome amount of illumination on his situation.

Callum looked at the slowly revolving wheel, and suddenly felt very scared. He knew he only had one chance of getting things right. Otherwise, just like the creatures earlier that day, he would find himself washed down river. With a gulp of apprehension, he started readying the rope.

He began to feed it out along the jetty, which made it look like an immense but perfectly straight snake. He then took the oar in his right hand, and readied himself to jump. Like someone preparing themselves to jump rope, he began to rock back-and-forth in time with the paddles as they appeared from the water. His grip tightened on the oar, and he began to mutter to himself.

“You can do this … you can do this …”

He worked his bravery up to a sharp point, and almost leapt for the wheel, but froze at the last possible second. In the distance, he could hear the now familiar groans of creatures as they approached. It was now or never. Either he jumped onto the wheel, or he would need to seek refuge elsewhere.

Callum looked up at the window above the waterwheel, and pictured the oar sailing in through it. He then looked at the wheel, and pictured himself riding it towards the window above. Then, with a deep breath, he launched himself into the air.

He hit the wheel hard, slipped, and almost dropped the oar. He dared a look towards the jetty, and saw the rope lifting from its slowly rotting deck. He struggled into a position that would make it easier for him to hurl the oar, and then he waited. He crouched on the paddle for what felt like a year, but in reality, was only a second or so. The wheel reached the zenith of its arc, and Callum stood. He was now only around seven feet below the bottom edge of the window, and as close as he would ever get to it. He launched the oar at the opening with all his might, and waited.

The rope sailed through the air after the oar, and Callum allowed it to feed out from his slack hand. With a cry of delight, he watched as the oar flew through the open window and crashed to the floor inside. Callum readied himself for the climb, so he tightened his hold on the rope. The wheel was now taking him back down towards the river. The descent, combined with his body weight, caused the rope to go taught, which in turn caused the oar to snap tight against the window frame. Time to climb.

Hand over hand; he started dragging the dead weight of his body towards the window. He had barely made it half way, when the rope went extremely tight, and a creak of wood under strain assailed his ears. He looked over his shoulder and saw the rope tangled around the workings of the waterwheel. His eyes darted up to the oar wedged in the window above. It looked as if it would break at any second.

“God damn it!” Callum cursed as he doubled his efforts to reach the window. If the oar broke before he reached the window’s ledge, then he was as good as dead.

Like a squirrel chased by a wildcat, he climbed with all the speed he could muster. Above him, the oar let out a loud and ominous crack. Somehow, he managed to increase his pace even more. From the jetty, the groans of creatures filled his ears, but he paid them no heed. Nothing else but the window mattered.

He looked up and saw the window ledge a mere foot or so above. He reached up with his right hand just as the oar let go. He grabbed the ledge at the exact moment the splintered remnants of the oar flew past his face. It was as if this inanimate object wanted to attack him, or maim him in some way.

Large and jagged fingers of wood tore savagely at his cheek. He screamed as his flesh yielded to the oar’s almost preternatural onslaught. He felt as if he might faint, but his stern and ever resourceful Wentworth blood kept him moving. He gritted his teeth and swallowed back the pain. Then, with a determination that belied his age, he hauled himself in through the window.

Callum crashed to the floor, and the full reality of his situation took hold of him. He lie there covered in blood, and began to cry. For more than a minute, he could not find the strength to move. This in itself filled him with even more fear. No one was coming to his aid, which meant only one thing … Sally and Alfred had fallen victim to the sickness.

Callum forced himself to his feet and looked back out of the window. In spite of the rope wrapped around its driveshaft, the waterwheel below still managed to turn steadily in the current of the river. It was then he saw four creatures stood on the jetty, apparently the ones he had heard during his ascent. They seemed mesmerized by the wheel’s slow rotation, and for the briefest of moments, he could have sworn he saw one of them gesture to the wheel. With luck, they would throw themselves at it, in which case they would suffer the same fate as their predecessors. If not, then he would simply deal with them in the morning.

He took a deep breath, and readying himself for what he might behold, he turned. His father lie on the only bed in the room, but apart from him, the place appeared empty. Suddenly, a loud whickering came from outside, and Callum instantly knew the horse he had tethered to the pole had fallen victim to the creatures. His eyes fell on a musket by the window, and he decided to put the poor beast out of its misery. He ran over to the gun, and then looked out at the horse below. Two creatures had disemboweled it, yet still the horse struggled against their attack.

Callum targeted the unfortunate animal’s head, and with a single shot, ended its torture. For a while, he thought about putting a round of lead in each of the creatures’ heads, but he decided against it. He felt tired, hungry, and as of yet he had not found Sally or Alfred.

He headed to the bed and checked on his father. His condition seemed the same as when he had left him. With a sigh, Callum made for the floor below.

He found them slumped over the table. Alfred’s head lie in his arms, and he looked as if he had simply decided to take a nap. Sally, on the other hand, seemed to have succumb in mid action. She still held a loaf of bread in one hand, and a knife in the other.

Callum moved closer to them, but even from a distance, he could tell they had fallen to the same sickness as his father. The boy fell to his knees and started to sob. He was alone in a mill with three all but dead people, all of whom he cared for. Outside, foul creatures fed on the horse he had just ridden. On top of everything else, the rancid smell of death lingered everywhere. He had truly fallen into hell.

Chapter 14

Callum crawled to the corner of the room, and pulled his knees up against his chin. He then wrapped his arms around his knees, and began to rock back-and-forth as he wept. The sound of movement to his left caused his breath to hitch. Had one of those monsters made it inside?

Then, as the noise grew louder, a small smile lit his face.

“Hector, is that you?”

The dog peeked timidly from behind a flour-filled sack, and on seeing the boy, he bounded excitedly out from his hiding place. In two quick bounds, the dog arrived at Callum’s side, and he covered the boy with joyful licks.

Callum embraced the dog with all his might, and started to sob all the harder. Hector pulled back and looked at his master worriedly. Then, as if he had sensed the boy’s needs, the dog carefully pushed himself onto his master’s lap, and allowed the weeping boy to hug him.

The two sat that way for more than an hour. Outside, both creatures and wind howled alike. Upstairs, his father lie in some terrible silent stupor. At the table, Sally and Alfred did the same, but because of his proximity to them, he could hear their breath as it rattled in and out. Yet, in the corner, Callum could block all this from his mind.

At that moment, all he felt was the love exuding from his trusty dog, and it comforted him. His hand went to his cheek to wipe away a tear, but he quickly withdrew it as pain erupted in his face. He then remembered stories his father had told him. Stories of men going into shock after an accident or injury, and because of the shock, they seemed to feel no pain. He also remembered his father telling him how dangerous shock could be. He knew that if he sat there much longer, then he might be in real trouble.

Callum patted his dog’s head, and then wearily pushed him off his lap. The dog looked at him, and Callum felt sure he saw pity in the dog’s eyes. He shook the feeling off, and went in search of a mirror. He found one hanging on a wall upstairs. Below the mirror sat a bowl of fresh water. Clearly, this was where old man Marsh did his shaving.

The boy looked at himself in the mirror, and his legs almost went from beneath him. He reached out and found Hector’s head. The dog stood stoically at his side, and he bore the boy’s weight with ease. Hector whimpered slightly, but Callum felt sure it was a whimper of concern, not pain. The boy closed his eyes for a moment, and as he regained control of his nerve, he returned his eyes to the mirror.

Two large splinters of wood projected from the ragged mess that had once been his face. To his horror, half his cheek seemed to be hanging in a grotesque flap from the side of his jaw. Blood oozed and bubbled from the gaping wound. Again, Callum’s head started to spin, but this time he felt the contents of his stomach rushing towards his throat.

The boy ran to one of the open windows and vomited. He gagged and choked, coughed and spat until all of his stomach’s meager contents ended up in the dirt below. His head swam with images of his cheek, images of the dead, and images of the disemboweled horse. He sunk to the floor shaking, and Hector moved to his side. The dog eyed him, and then pushed his head into the boy’s hand. Callum patted the dog absently, but Hector continued to push at the boy.

“Just give me a minute,” Callum whispered as his eyes began to shut.

Hector barked, and the boy’s eyes sprang wide. The dog barked again, and then pulled at Callum’s filth covered shirt.

“Alright, aright. You win.”

Callum struggled to his feet and headed back to the mirror. He grimaced at the thought of seeing his injury again. But on second inspection, his wound seemed nowhere near as bad as before. There was no flap of flesh, just a ragged laceration with two large splinters of wood poking out of it. He now understood that his fragile mind had amplified the severity of the wound. While the injury was still very painful, and grim, he could handle it.

He reached up and tugged at one of the splinters, and it pulled free with almost no pain. Slightly uplifted, he reached for the second of the barbs. This one, however, did not want to yield quite so easily as the first.

He gritted his teeth and pulled harder. Finally, it released its hold on his flesh, and pulled free with a sickening ripping sound that only he could hear. He took a moment to steady himself, and then set about the task of washing his cheek. The more he washed, the less serious the wound looked. By the time he was done, he started to feel much better.

He walked back to his father and gently kissed his forehead. “I love you, Pa,” he said as he stroked his father’s head. “Everything’s going to be fine. As soon as you’re back on your feet, we’ll go get ma and Tilly, and then everything will be like before.”

Callum looked down at Hector. The dog had not left his side since his return. “Come on, Boy; let’s see if we can find something to eat.”

He headed for the stairs, but stopped and turned to look at the open windows. The fetid smell of a hundred or so corpses drifted in through the openings. The smell turned his stomach, and he knew he would not be able to eat with the smell assaulting his nostrils.

One by one, he locked the windows tight. The smell still lingered, but he had at least blocked the worst of it out. Satisfied that he could do no more to halt the stench, he headed for the stairs again.

 

***

Callum spent ten minutes hunting through old man Marsh’s prolific winter stores. He discovered a jar of pickles, some well-aged cheese and a leg of smoked ham. Half an hour later, both he and Hector had eaten until full. The weight of the food in their stomach’s caused them both to feel sleepy.

Callum checked on his father again, and then laid a blanket on the floor beside his pa’s bed. He and Hector then curled up together, and Callum finally settled into a deep, but disturbed sleep.

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
6.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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