Authors: Amy Cross
Mass Extinction Event:
The Complete Third Series
(Days 46 to 53)
by Amy Cross
Copyright Amy Cross, All Rights Reserved
Published by Dark Season Books
This edition first published: June 2014
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. If you enjoy it and wish to share it with others, please consider buying them their own copy. Feedback is always welcome. The author reserves all rights in respect of this work.
ALSO BY AMY CROSS
The Night Girl
The House We Haunted
The Devil's Photographer
Darper Danver series 1
Fantasy / Horror
Dark Season series 1, 2 & 3
The Hollow Church (Abby Hart 1)
Vampire Asylum (Abby Hart 2)
Lupine Howl series 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Ghosts of London
Journey to the Library (The Library 2)
The Vampire's Grave
The Werewolf's Curse
The Girl Who Never Came Back
The Dead and the Dying (Joanna Mason 1)
The House of Broken Bodies (Joanna Mason 2)
Other People's Bodies
Finality series 1
Mass Extinction Event series 1, 2 & 3
She's making noises again, but I can't go to her, not yet. It's too early.
I'm sitting at the kitchen table, watching as rain falls gently but persistently against the window, and somehow I feel as if the whole world has just stopped. It's been more than a month now since I arrived at the farmhouse, and over the past few weeks I've managed to force myself into some kind of routine: I get up with the sun and attend to Rachel, and then I plan what we're all going to eat for the day, and then I usually wash myself before getting on with any household chores that need doing. It's mind-numbing, but that's the point: I
something to numb my mind, because if I actually sit back and think about what's happening, I think I'll start crying and never stop.
Meanwhile, Toad comes and goes like a ghost, rarely saying much. It's almost as if he resents my presence. By sundown, we're both too tired to do anything, but at least Rachel almost never cries. She makes lots of faint gurgling sounds, but she barely cries at all.
Is that what babies are supposed to be like?
In movies, they cry a lot.
I wish this was a movie.
At the same time, I can't help feeling that she knows I'm not her real mother. I'm an interloper. I don't have a clue how to look after a baby. All I can do is hold her, clean her, and try to entertain her. I even sing to her sometimes, when I'm certain that Toad can't hear, but she doesn't smile much. Most of the time, she seems to have this perpetual frown on her face, and the only noises she makes are occasional gurgles and coughs. Right now, I'm trying to give her a little tough love; I don't want her to get too used to the idea that I'm looking after her, and I guess that deep down I'm worried that she might eventually start to see me as her real mother.
I'm really not sure that I'm ready for that responsibility.
The truth is, although I always wanted to have kids of my own one day, I figured I had at least ten years before I needed to worry. Now, suddenly, someone else's child has been thrust into my arms. I should be able to rise to the occasion. I should have maternal instincts that kick in and help me to cope.
But I don't.
I'm failing at this.
Hearing footsteps near the window, I look over at the door just in time to see Toad heading inside. He pushes the door open with so much force, it bangs against the wall and the windows rattle, and then he makes his way over to the table with a large box of potatoes in his arms. Setting them down in front of me, he mutters something that I can't make out as he picks up a few of the potatoes and examines them. I want to say something, to ask how things are going, but I know I wouldn't get much of an answer.
"What's it like out there?" I ask eventually, figuring that I
to at least try.
"Fine," he mutters.
"I was going to take Rachel outside," I continue, "but I guess the weather's not too good right now. Maybe I should just..." My voice trails off as I realize that there's no point continuing. I'm just trying to make idle conversation, which is probably the worst way to get Toad to talk to me.
He smiles faintly, but it's clear that he doesn't give a damn about anything I have to say. He's worried, too, but there's no chance he'll ever tell me what's on his mind.
Finally, he seems to lose interest in the potatoes altogether. He wanders over to the counter, pours himself a glass of water, and then he heads back outside, not even bothering to glance back at me.
I sit silently at the table for a moment.
"Okay," I say finally, "sure, I'll see what I can do with these, then."
The truth is, I don't remember when I last heard Toad's voice. He seems to have become so insular and sullen since he recovered from his injuries. He gets up before I'm awake, and he usually works until after I've gone to bed. I hear him at night sometimes, stomping about the house. I guess it's good that he keeps busy, but there's definitely a part of me that worries he's losing his mind. On the very few occasions when he says anything at all, he just seems to mutter under his breath, and I can barely make out any words at all. He sure as hell doesn't seem to want to talk to me, or even to have a conversation. I can't work out if he hates me, or he sees me as irrelevant, or if he's just too exhausted to do anything more than work.
One thing's for certain. He barely even looks at me these days. There was a time, a while ago, when he seemed to like me. And then he just seemed to turn cold, almost overnight.
Leaning over to peer into the box of potatoes, I can't help but grimace at the sight of the damn things. They sure as hell don't look like any potatoes I ever saw in the store; instead, they seem weedy and thin, twisted a little as if they've been tortured to the point of mutation. In the old days, I'd have shoved them straight into the bin, but somehow I have to turn them into a meal. Toad always just assumes that I'll do the cooking, which I guess is fair enough since he works outside all day. Still, as I reach out and pick up a particularly freakish potato, I can't help but wonder if something is seriously wrong with the crops. Every vegetable Toad brings inside these days seems to be twisted and 'wrong', and I'm worried that the soil all around the farm just seems to be giving up on us.
I guess the potatoes are a metaphor. They're getting worse and worse, and so are we. If I didn't know better, I'd start to believe God's trying to tell us that we can't live like this for much longer. Food's getting harder and harder to come by, and each day feels a little more difficult than the last. I've been ignoring this realization for a few days now, but finally it's front and center in my mind and I feel as if something has to change.
Suddenly the door opens again. Toad stomps through and tosses something onto the table, before turning and leaving again. Shocked, I stare at what turns out to be a dead rabbit, its eyes bulging out of their sockets. There's still part of a wire trap wrapped tight around its neck, and its mouth is slightly open. I guess I'm going to have to work out how the hell to skin and prepare something like this. There'll be a lot of blood, and plenty of misplaced fur, but I'm pretty sure I can at least get
meat out of the endeavor.
Hauling myself up from the chair, I carry the rabbit over to the counter and place it in the small tin bath I use whenever I have to cut up anything that used to be alive. Maybe I'm squeamish, but I still haven't got used to the sight of blood. Still, I figure my first step has to be to separate the rabbit's head from the rest of its body, so I grab the large meat cleaver and take a deep breath as I prepare to make the cut. Damn it, after a month, I should be better at things like this. I've killed several chickens, but killing a rabbit somehow feels more daunting. Finally, figuring that I need to toughen up, I force myself to keep my eyes open as I slam the cleaver down as hard as I can, severing the rabbit's head in one go.
Upstairs, Rachel lets out a brief cough.
"Come on, you goddamn little -"
Kneeling on the ground, I desperately dig through the soil, trying to catch the damn thing. I saw it a moment ago, glistening in the dirt, but it managed to wriggle away. I've learned how to get them, though, and finally I push my fingers as far down as I can and I bring up a huge bundle of soil, which I immediately toss onto the ground a few feet away. I start sorting through the remains, and after a moment I spot him: the biggest, juiciest worm I've ever seen in my life.
Picking him up by his tail, I blow on him to get rid of any chunks of soil, and I admire him for a moment. Goddammit, if circumstances were different, I'd keep him as a pet. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury, so I just stare at him for a moment longer and then I dangle him in my mouth. I bite him in half and immediately swallow the front half, before doing the same with the rear. I don't like the taste of the damn things, but I'm kind of paranoid about swallowing them when they're alive.
"Sorry," I mutter, hoping that if the worm had a soul, it might still be close enough to hear.
Looking down at the pile of soil again, I spot two more worms. Once I've pulled them loose and eaten them, I double-check that there are no more and then I get to my feet. Back in the old days, I could damn near eat half a hock of lamb, but these days three worms feel like a pretty good meal. There's a bitter after-taste in my mouth, but my mother always told me that beggars can't be choosers, and I'm finally starting to understand what she meant.
Everyone's a beggar now.
Wiping the sweat from my brow, I turn and make my way back toward the truck. It's a warm day, although there are dark clouds in the distance and they seem to be moving this way, which means I should be able to top up on water before evening comes. Climbing up onto the back of the truck, I unzip one of the hold-alls and take out an energy bar. I've got a system these days: if I want to eat something normal, first I have to find something from the land, which usually means worms. With trembling hands, I unwrap the bar and start to eat.
"You'd hate this," I mutter between mouthfuls, imagining a conversation with my brother. I've been doing this for a few days now, and part of me thinks I'm losing my mind, but the rest of me doesn't give a damn.
I sit in silence for a moment. Sometimes, as well as talking to Joe out loud, I imagine his replies and I even pretend I can hear them. I know it's not exactly healthy, but it makes me feel less alone.
"I mean, where are we going?" I continue. "Are we just driving 'til the last of the fuel runs out?"
"What's the alternative, worm boy?" he'd reply. "You know, I used to call you that when you were a kid, but for a different reason. Anyway, what's the plan? You wanna turn and drive straight into the nearest brick wall?"
"Maybe," I say out loud. "At least it'd be quick."
"If you want quick," he'd say, "you might as well put a shotgun in your mouth and blow your head off. But even that isn't foolproof. I read about this guy once who somehow managed to fucking miss his own brain. Must've been the size of a walnut. I mean, God, imagine waking up in hospital and being told you couldn't even kill yourself with a shotgun."
"So what would you do?" I ask.
"How would I kill myself?"
"How would you stay alive?"
"Why do you wanna know?"
"You were smart. If it wasn't for that accident, you'd have survived. I need to work out what you'd have done, and then I need to do the same."
"Me?" I imagine him pausing for a moment. "I'd go for broke. I'd make sure that if I go out, I go out screaming and take some of those bastards with me. But that's just me, Thomas. You're different. You've always been more of a thinker. You can't really take care of yourself in a difficult situation."
"Yes I can," I mutter.
Now he's laughing. Sometimes I find it hard to make his voice fade from my mind, but finally I manage to get rid of him.
"I can," I say again. "I can do this. I'm not dead yet."
"When the shit hits the fan," he'd continue, "you fuck things up. You panic and you make mistakes. All you're doing now is sitting around, waiting for one of those mistakes to finish you off. Deep down, you know it's true. After all, it's not really me you're talking to, is it? It's yourself, you fucking psycho."
It's been a month since I saw another person, and I'm starting to wonder if I'm the last person left in the whole goddamn world. I've driven through countless small towns, although I avoided St. Louis completely since I was worried that there might be more of those creatures. Sometimes I stop off at gas stations and steal as much as I can, but the last one was a week ago and now I've only got enough gas to last another few days. At least I haven't seen any more of the creatures. I kind of keep expecting a bunch of them to come marauding over the horizon, ready to finish me off, and to be honest I don't reckon I've got much chance of defending myself.
Still, I have to keep going. I figure I must be in Illinois by now, which means that the dark smudge in the distance is almost certainly Chicago. If things don't pick up soon, I'm gonna go straight into the heart of the city. If there are creatures, then that's something I'll have to deal with when I get there. I sure as hell can't survive much longer out here, living off worms. Maybe Chicago can be my brick wall.
“You're angry,” I imagine Joe saying. “How are you gonna let that anger out, huh?”
As soon as I've finished the energy bar, I climb down and head around to the front of the truck. I have to keep moving. If I stay still for too long, I might just keel over and die.