The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove (8 page)

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
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Chapter 15

Callum tied together the back legs of the two rabbits he had just killed, and then swung them over his shoulder. One of the dead animals rested across his chest, and he could smell both its fur and its blood. The scent combined into a heady brew that smelt both metallic and sweet. This was what life was about. You took from nature only that which you needed, and the warmth of his newly killed prey against his chest confirmed this as the truth of all existence. He could have killed a deer, but two rabbits would feed his family, so that was all he took. To kill more would have fallen into the sin of gluttony.

He walked slowly home and gloried in the beauty of their state. His pa was right; New England really was God’s country. The day was as beautiful as any he could remember, which made him want to marvel a little longer in the fragrant magnificence of his surroundings. With a smile on his face, he decided to take the long route home. After all, it was early, and he had more than enough time to prepare his brace of rabbits for the pot.

After an hour of strolling through the woods, the home in which he had been born came into sight. A smile lit his face, and in that moment, no one on Earth could have been any happier. He knew that many city people would think his family’s way of life was backwards, maybe even simple, but he knew better. Sure, they lived a simple life, but simplicity was pure and good. He was proud to be raised a woodsmen, and he would be proud to one day raise his son the same way. There was no shame in living respectfully alongside nature. It seemed to him that city folk wanted nature beaten back, and then enslaved to their will.

He walked closer to his beloved home and spotted his mother hanging out washing. She had her back to him, but in spite of the tedious task she performed, her movements still seemed graceful, even deer like. She was tall and willowy, and she move with a slow grace that he had always thought beautiful.

His father once told him of a trip that he and his mother had taken to Boston. They had seen a troop of traveling Russian dancers performing at a fair. The man running the show had said they were ballet dancers all the way from Moscow. His pa told him that the women could dance on the points of their toes, and that they moved like angels. His father said he had never seen anyone move like the ballerinas. His pa had then paused and corrected himself.

With a smile that told Callum of his father’s love for his wife, his pa said, “My Emily makes those dancers look like a bunch of stumbling clowns.”

Callum thought he had never heard a truer word. His father rarely betrayed his emotions, and when he did, it always filled Callum with a mixture of deep admiration and love.

“Ma, I have supper,” Callum called as he looked down at the rabbit across his chest.

He looked up again, and the smile that lit his face disappeared in an instant.

The woman at the washing line turned, and the sight of her filled the boy’s heart with not just fear, but also a deep and unyielding pain. The thing now staring back at him seemed little more than a monstrous caricature of his mother. Her eyes, which had once been a dazzling blue, were now as black as ebony. Her skin, once creamy and free of even the tiniest of blemishes, now looked grey and haggard. In spite of the fact that her face no longer seemed to be her own, Callum might have still been able to see her as his mother. However, there was only so far the human heart could stretch before breaking.

What cut him to his very core were the horrific injuries she had suffered. The front of her dress looked like countless tearing fingers had clawed it to ribbons. Almost none of the dress remained, and he could clearly see her naked flesh below. To his absolute horror, her flesh had faired a similar fate to her dress. Large ragged gashes ran from her neck to her waist, and her left breast was completely gone. A gaping eviscerated hole had taken its place. Bloody and torn tissue hung from the hole, and the ribs below appeared broken from the savagery of the attack she had endured.

Callum gasped, and watched on in horror as his mother’s mouth seemed to dislocate and unhinge. It yawned as wide as a cavern, and she let out a terrifyingly animalistic sound. She then began to shuffle towards him. Callum matched her pace and started to back away towards the trees. Suddenly, a searing pain erupted in the side of his neck, and his hands sprang reflexively towards the agony. His eyes went wide at what his hands found. The rabbit, which had happily hung across his chest dead, now tore at his throat.

He grabbed the creature with both hands, ripped it from his neck, and then threw it clear. Because of his actions, both reanimated animals flew through the air and then slammed into the dirt in a matted mess of gnashing teeth and clawing feet. He screamed with pain and anger as he stared down at the two tiny thrashing monsters. Both rabbits lie in the dirt, and now they fought over his flesh.

Their rear legs remained tied, so like a bickering set of hideously evil conjoined twins, they clawed at each other with their front feet. They growled and hissed, and the one without the boy’s flesh, latched savagely onto the other’s ear. It shook its head wildly and all but ripped its companion’s ear off.

Callum had seen enough. He shuddered, and then moved closer to the tiny demented creatures. As if sensing fresh meat had just moved into range, they stopped their battle, and stared up at him hungrily. The boy brought his heavy boot down on their skulls, and the feeling of their fragile bones shattering under his boot filled him with a grim pleasure.

A strong but slender hand gripped his shoulder and spun him around. The hideous thing, which had once been his mother, grabbed his chin and lifted him from his feet. He desperately wanted to fight back, but all his strength abandoned him the moment her hand touched his skin.

She pulled his face close, and her black eyes seemed to study him. He could both see and smell the rotting meat that hung from her jagged black teeth. Before he could stop himself, vomit exploded from his mouth and covered his mother’s face. She did not react to his eruption; rather she continued to study him.

Callum began to think she might spare him, but then her jaw unhinged again, and she lunged for his face. He could feel her teeth latching onto his nose and he opened his mouth to scream…

***

Callum woke and let out a gut-wrenching scream. Hector jumped to his feet and started growling, but the dog almost instantly recognized there was no threat at hand. The loyal canine returned to his young master and started nuzzling the weeping boy.

Callum now sat bolt upright and his chest heaved as he gulped for air. Hector whined, and curled up at his master’s side. Slowly, the boy began to regain control of his sobs. After all, it had only been a dream. The boys gaze drifted to the window, and he could see the sun straining against the horizon. It would be daylight soon, and things always looked brighter in the light of day.

Callum let out another scream as something touched his shoulder. Hector looked up briefly, and then returned to his sleepy state.

His father’s hand had slipped from the bed and had clipped his shoulder as it fell to the floor. The boy took his father’s arm, and lifted it back under the covers of the bed. He then looked at his comatose father wearily. His dream had made him nervous, but it had also given him a warning. Anyone could fall victim to the disease now running rampant through their home state, which made everyone dangerous, including his own pa.

Callum stood and slowly edged away from his father’s bed. He was suddenly very aware of the open wound in his cheek, and of the fact he now shared the mill with three potential creatures. He moved to the window and looked up at the lightening sky. As soon as morning had fully broken, he would look for the creatures outside, and then deal with them. After that, he would take care of the dead surrounding the mill. Lastly, he would try to transport his father, Sally, and old man Marsh to Warrington, so Dr. Channing could care for them.

He hoped keeping busy would stop his mind from dwelling on things he had no control over. Being busy meant he could divert his fears into good old-fashioned hard work.

Chapter 16

Callum heard the horse and cart before he saw it. The sun was high in the sky and it shone down on him warmly. Sweat beaded his brow, and his muscles ached. He had ventured out at daybreak, and on finding the place clear of the undead, he had started clearing the corpses. With Hector’s help, six hours later the job was almost complete.

A mound of rotten bodies exalted his hard work to anyone foolhardy enough to approach it. The stench rising from the pile was enough to take the breath of even the stoutest of fellows. Callum countered the smell, by wearing a lavender oil soaked rag as a mask. The rag made him look like an outlaw now ready to rob the closest bank. The improvised mask covered both his nose and mouth, and it stopped at least some of the evil stench from entering his system.

Callum dropped the body he had just been dragging towards the mound, and turned to see whom approached. He saw a man driving a horse and cart, but his hat hid his face. The boy’s eyes turned to the musket resting against the side of the mill, and he decided it best to be a little closer to the weapon.

“Come on, Boy,” Callum said in a hushed tone.

He walked casually towards the weapon, but his eyes never left the horse and cart. Hector, who had the corpse’s shirt firmly between his teeth, released his bite and trotted off after him.

Finally, the man looked up, but the brim of his hat cast a long shadow over his face, thus concealing it from Callum’s curious gaze.

“Callum, is that you?” the faceless man shouted as he drew closer.

The boy withdrew his hand from the gun and let out a thankful sigh. It was Dr. Channing.

“Yep, Doc, it’s me alright. What the heck are you doing here?”

The cart came to a stop a few feet from the boy, and the doctor jumped down. “I thought I would come and see if you needed a ride back into town.” The physician took in his surroundings, and then said, “I see you have been keeping busy. Would you like a hand?”

Callum felt struck by how readily the doctor accepted what he saw. He made no comments about the dead; he simply seemed to see them as part of the landscape. It unsettled Callum a little. How could someone simply accept so much death?

“I’ve nearly collected all the dead, but a hand would be appreciated.” It was then that Hector let out a small bark. The boy looked down and said, “I guess Hector here wants me to introduce him. Hector, this is Dr. Channing. Dr. Channing, this is Hector.”

The doctor offered his hand to the dog. Hector sniffed it briefly, and then allowed the man to pat his head.

“Is your pa and the others inside?” Channing asked as he pulled a small glass jar from his pocket. He undid the lid, rubbed his index finger in its contents, and then dabbed the finger under his nose. A glob of white and greasy looking goo now sat just below each nostril.

Callum nodded, and asked, “What’s that?”

The doctor held up the jar. “What, this?” Callum nodded. “It’s just a little cold cream mixed with peppermint. It helps with the smell.”

The doctor place the jar back in his pocket, and then pulled out a medical mask. As soon as he had donned the mask, he clapped his hands. “Right, the sooner we get these things burned, the sooner we can take off these god awful face coverings.”

The two walked towards the body Callum had dropped at the good doctor’s approach. “What about your patients back in town?” Callum asked as he took one of the corpse’s arms.

“I think they will be alright for a few hours,” the doctor replied as he took the corpse’s other arm. “Besides, I was worried about you.”

Callum looked at him gratefully, and then the two set about their work.

 

***

An hour later the flames of the cremation pyre licked at the sky, and both Callum and the doctor stood back and watched. The putrid smell that had plagued the air was finally starting to lift, which in turn signaled it was time to leave the mill.

“Doc, do you ever think things will get back to normal?” Callum asked as he removed his mask.

Without looking at the boy, the doctor answered, “Things will find a normality, and we’ll move on. I’ve a feeling these things are going to be with us for quite some time. I heard news from Boston this morning…”

Callum’s heart started to race, and his mind turned to his mother and sister. “What news?”

“Only that Boston is in much the same trouble as here. The creatures went through the city like a dose of salts and they left this new ailment in their wake. The press have given the creatures and the sickness a name. They are calling the victims Lingerers, and the disease itself the Lingering.”

“Why the Lingering?”

“I suppose it refers to how the creatures linger instead of just dying. In addition, the people in the stupors are lingering too. They seem trapped between the world of the creatures’ and ours.” Dr. Channing shook his head sadly. “I’ve heard that all the cities along the east coast are now infected. Soon, the whole country will fall, and then it’ll only be a matter of time before the disease claims the whole world.

“Plagues have always ravished humanity, but this is something new. I’m afraid there will be no end to it.”

Dr. Channing looked at the boy by his side, and he could see terror in his eyes. It was then he saw the large wound in the boy’s cheek

“What in God’s name happen to your face?”

The doctor moved closer to Callum and studied the injury, but he took care not to touch his face with his gore-soiled hands.

“I had a bit of an accident as I climbed back into the mill. It’s not as painful as it looks.”

The doctor straightened. “As soon as we return to town, I’ll clean it, and then stitch it.”

“Stitches? Will they hurt?”

“Yes, but not as much as hurting yourself in the first place did.”

Callum nodded uneasily. He had never had stitches before, but the word itself sounded painful, so the actual act most certainly would be. He forced the prospect from his mind and repeated his earlier query.

“You danced around answering my question.” The boy kicked at the dirt and kept his eyes averted from the man at his side. “Do you ever think things will be as before, I mean, well … normal. You know, will we ever be happy again?”

“I’m sorry, Callum, but I don’t see how things can ever be the same again. Humanity will survive this, but we will all end up changed by it. This level of human loss leaves a scar on those who remain. The survivors have to morn their lost ones, but they also morn their own survival. In short, things are never going to be the same again.”

Callum looked at him for a moment, and then looked back at the mill. He felt completely dishearten by the doctor’s forthright honesty. He had wanted the truth, and he appreciated the doctor treating him like an adult, but sometimes you wanted things with a little sugar coating.

He then thought of his father, and he knew he would have been just as honest as the doctor had been. It was then that Callum realized his childhood was over. There would be no more playing of games. No more relaxing with friends. From this day until he died, life would be hard and relentless. The prospect both saddened him and filled him with self-pity. He was twelve. Why should he have to bare such horrific realizations on his shoulders? In that moment, and in spite of the man at his side, he felt more alone than he ever had in his life.

“I think we should get pa and the others back to town,” Callum said in a cracked voice, which was full of emotion.

Without another word, Callum walked grimly back to the mill.

Dr. Channing watched the boy as he walked away, and he suddenly felt ashamed of himself. The boy had needed a lie. He had needed to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, he had been completely honest, and he feared his honesty had broken the boy’s spirit.

The doctor shook his head slowly, and cursed the things known as the Lingerers. Finally, he headed off after the boy.

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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