Read Tabitha Online

Authors: Andrew Hall

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Superheroes, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Genetic Engineering, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Superhero

Tabitha (16 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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‘We’ll stay here
tonight, but we need to get moving tomorrow,’ she told Laika, stroking her head
as she rested. ‘I said the same thing before though, didn’t I? Oh god, this is
my fault Laika. I’m so sorry.’ If she hadn’t fallen asleep today they could
have been long gone from here. They could have missed all this fighting. Laika
would have been alright. She smoothed down Laika’s fur, over and over, but more
to take her mind off the guilt. She heard Laika’s shallow breathing; felt her
faint heartbeat. She felt happier fussing over Laika than just sitting there
still, going back over everything in her head.

Later on, during
one of her frequent checks out of the shutter, Tabitha felt the rain spitting
gently against her face. In a little while it’d become a downpour. Rushing back
into the office she emptied a pencil pot of its contents, grabbed a dusty cup,
and took them outside to catch the rain trickling from the broken drainpipe.
She went back in for some plastic tubs and the office bin too, followed by the
drawers from the cabinet. Anything that would hold the rain. Within minutes it
was lashing down in a summer lightning storm. Tabitha heard the rainwater
tumble and splatter from the roof over the petrol pumps, falling like liquid
glass onto the forecourt. She felt the plastic tub fill up under the drainpipe,
and switched it for another. Collecting the water made her feel better. It felt
better to busy herself with something, rather than just lying with
Laika
unable to help her. Even if all she could do was
watch rain fill containers in the dark, she still felt more useful out here.
She carried a full tub back in to Laika, about the same size as a big dog bowl,
and set it down in front of her.

‘I brought you
some water,’ Tabitha said softly, stroking Laika’s paw. Laika stirred weakly in
the dark. Her nose sniffed for the water, but she didn’t move.

‘Here,’ Tabitha
whispered. She took a mouthful of water, tilted Laika’s head gently to one
side, and trickled it slowly from her lips onto Laika’s mouth. Laika licked at
the trickle, and began to lap at it thirstily. Tabitha took another gulp of
rainwater for herself; it felt cold and beautiful. Her next gulp she trickled
into Laika’s waiting mouth, and again. She fed her water until the tub was
almost empty.

‘Good girl,’
Tabitha said softly, stroking Laika’s head while she rested. She heard
something clatter and gush outside. She rushed back out from the office. A
spider had knocked over the office bin full of water on its way through the
shop door. Tabitha took a running swing with the crowbar, but the spider was
too quick in the darkness. It stuck a needled claw in her leg. Tabitha yelled
and brought the tip of the crowbar down into its head to silence it.

‘Shit,’ she
said, gasping as she pulled the claw out from her calf. She gave the twitching
dead spider a furious kicking for good measure. She felt the poison pulsing
through her. That same strange, bitter, cold sensation running through her
veins, but nothing more. She barely even felt lightheaded this time.

‘Thank you very
much, for that,’ she grumbled. She grabbed a spindly leg and dragged the dead
spider out onto the forecourt. She walked around to the drainpipe to swap a
full cabinet drawer for the empty office bin, and re-filled Laika’s water bowl
before she came back in and closed the shutter. Tabitha fought off sleep for
the rest of the night, staying by Laika to feed her water and check on the
wound. Every so often she’d get up to check the doorway, whenever she felt the
drowsiness laying its hands down on her head.

By the time the
sun was lightening the sky over the rooftops, Tabitha was tired but more than
ready for the day. She’d been sitting in rain-soaked clothes all night, and now
they stunk of damp and clung cold to her skin. As she stood up and stretched
her stiff back, she heard the gentle thumping of Laika’s tail against the
drywall.

‘Morning, dog
face,’ Tabitha said gently, smiling at Laika’s puppy-dog eyes looking up at
her. ‘How do you feel?’ the thumping grew a little stronger at the question.
‘Don’t get up before you can. We’ll stay here for as long as you need.’ She
dribbled a little more water into Laika’s mouth, and checked her wound in the
dawn light. Her fur was crusted with dried blood around the glued skin, and the
carpet tiles were sodden red and still squelched under her feet. But at least
the wound had stopped bleeding. All she could do now, she supposed, was hope
Laika got her strength back – and that the wound didn’t get infected.

‘I’d be an awesome
vet,’ Tabitha told herself. She was dipping the plastic tub into one of the
office drawers outside, full of rainwater. The forecourt was collecting dead
silver spiders. ‘Hey Laika, would I be a good vet?’ she said, coming back
inside to her patient. Laika didn’t understand but she wagged her tail a
little, and looked up at Tabitha with her mismatched eyes.

‘You’ll be
alright,’ Tabitha said gently. She set down the tub of water to stroke Laika’s
soft head. ‘We’re partners now. I’ll protect you.’

 

13

 

It took another day and a night for
Laika to start hobbling around the shop. Tabitha tried her best to clean up
after her, but the lingering smell of blood and dog shit wasn’t going anywhere
in that small office. Tabitha was glad to move Laika out of the back room, and
down behind the till where she could rest in the sunlight. Laika seemed content
to sleep most of the time. Tabitha was content to watch her, and fed her water
every so often. The rest of the time, though, it was getting pretty boring waiting
for her to mend. She wasn’t even sure if Laika was still recovering, or just
being lazy. Better to be on the safe side, though. She’d just have to keep
herself entertained in the meantime.

 

‘Pump number
five, fifty pounds please sir,’ she told an imaginary customer across the
counter. Tabitha took his invisible money and placed it professionally into the
open till, and handed him his imaginary change. She closed the till with a
broken crunch, and the drawer drifted back open again.

‘Lovely day,’
she said brightly, trying to close the broken till. She listened intently to
his conversation. ‘Well, that’s what I think!’ she replied. ‘Why let
the
people with driving licences have all the fun, that’s what I say!’ she listened
again to the thin air beyond the counter, and smoothed her hair down with a shy
smile. ‘Do you really think so?’ she said coyly, looking down at the floor.
‘Well to be honest, I’m actually starting to like them too.’ She admired her
grey hands, wiggling her fingers delicately. ‘Sorry? How did I get them? Well,
I got injected with venom by a giant silver spider from outer space. I know,
right?
Pret
-ty crazy.’ Tabitha nodded at his
response, looking thoughtfully at the space in front of her. ‘Oh, sorry! And
here I am, chatting on! Take care, bye!’ Tabitha waved to the invisible man as
he left, and looked round at Laika lying on the floor behind her. Laika looked
up at her, and her tail beat gently against the empty cigarette shelves.

‘Don’t you be
judging me, dog face,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have to make up customers if you
had a bit more conversation going on.’ Tabitha glanced around the shop and
sighed, and looked out of the window at the forecourt. The empty road beyond,
and the bleak grey sky overhead that looked distinctly un-summery. It was only
a matter of time before more spiders found them hiding here, and she wasn’t
going to wait out the rest of the apocalypse in a blown-out petrol station.
They had to get moving, and find somewhere safe. Laika was looking a little
better, but Tabitha didn’t want to make her limp along behind her all the way
out of town. They couldn’t just plod on for miles to the next town either, only
to find the same scenario all over again. She needed a change of plan, a way to
cover more ground. The thought hit her.

‘I wonder if
there’s any cars left that work,’ she said to Laika. Maybe a good solid garage
would protect a car from the alien EMP that had killed everything electrical.
Or maybe an old car wouldn’t have anything electrical inside it to kill.

Laika
wagged her
tail. She didn’t know why her human was making sounds. It didn’t smell like
there was any food or trouble around. It seemed like humans just made noise
because they didn’t like the silence.

Tabitha stared
out of the window, thinking.

‘I’m going out to
look,’ she said at last, breaking the long silence. She took the rifle and the
crowbar with her, and patted the hunting knife on her belt. Laika stood up.
‘It’s ok, I’ll pull the shutters down behind me,’ Tabitha told her. ‘I won’t be
long.’ She zipped her hoodie up and took a gulp of water from the office pencil
pot. Laika watched and whined when Tabitha left her and brought the shutters
down.

‘Be back soon,’
she said, taking one last look at her dog inside the shop. She pulled the shutter
right down to the ground, shutting Laika inside. Tabitha breathed deep,
shouldered her rifle and set off on her hunt. The wind tousled her hair. The
grey dead world sprawled ahead beyond the forecourt, vast and lethal.

 

Laika’s
human was gone
for a long time. She didn’t like it. Staggering up, Laika hobbled out from
behind the counter. Through the back room that stunk of blood, and out onto the
shop floor. She sniffed at the trace of the dog food in the aisle; licked at
the floor hungrily. There was still food-smell lingering in here, old and
rotten, but there was nothing left to eat. She wandered back to the counter,
lay down in the corner, and waited.

Her human had
been gone too long now. Laika poked her nose under the gap beneath the metal
shutter, but she couldn’t budge it. She snorted and lay down in a sulk. Her
side hurt; so much so that she couldn’t twist around and try to lick it. Her
human had stuck her back together somehow. It felt itchy. Her ears pricked up
then. There was a growl, far away. It was getting closer. Laika hobbled up and
sat up straight, watching through the letter slot in the shutter. The growling
was getting closer still, coming this way. She growled back, barked. It hurt to
bark. She felt anxious; she wasn’t strong enough for a fight. Suddenly the
growling grew loud; right outside. Then it stopped. Laika smelled metal and
fumes through the letter slot, but she couldn’t see very much. She smelled her
human though, and barked happily. The shutter rolled up suddenly, and Laika was
all over her human. Reunited.

 

‘Hi dog face!’
Tabitha said brightly. Laika was excited to see her. She rubbed Laika’s good
shoulder and got a full-face licking in return. ‘Well, I missed you too,’ she
said. Tabitha walked out onto the forecourt and modelled her new classic car,
like the grand prize on a game show.

‘What do you
think?’ she asked Laika. ‘I’ve got no idea how it’s still working,’ she said,
scratching at a mark on the bonnet. She only managed to scrape off the
paintwork with her hard finger though, and thought it best to leave it alone.

‘It’s probably
too old to have any real electronics in it, so I think that’s why it’s still
running,’ said Tabitha. ‘Radio doesn’t work, but it’s got a full tank though.
And, best of all,’ she said, stepping around the back of the car, ‘one careful
owner… with
loads
of dog food in their garage.’ She produced a bright
tin from the boot, and Laika hobbled over with sudden interest. She was tucking
into the food even as Tabitha emptied the tin onto the forecourt. Rummaging in
the car boot, past all the beans and biscuits she’d pilfered from the house,
Tabitha produced a few empty plastic bottles. She carried them off while Laika
was eating, and dropped them all down by her makeshift water containers by the
shop door. Laika had finished her meal long before Tabitha had filled the
plastic bottles with water, and wandered over to sit beside her.

‘How are you
feeling?’ Tabitha asked her, dipping another empty bottle down into the bin to
bubble and fill with rainwater. Laika looked at her, and smacked her lips in
anticipation of some unknown possibility.

‘Go for it, if
you’re thirsty,’ said Tabitha, trying to pour the last of the water from the
office bin into a bottle. ‘But don’t think I’m going to feed you water like
last time. That was a one-time thing.’ Laika simply looked at her, watching her
cart the bottles over and put them into the car boot. Finally Tabitha brought
the shotgun and the crow bar out from the shop counter, and lay them down in
the car’s rear
footwells
with her rifle. She took one
last look up and down the street, but saw nothing silvery or
crazy-people-shaped. ‘Right then, let’s go!’ Tabitha said happily. ‘Or just,
whenever you’re finished.’ Laika was squatting down on the forecourt. She left
a turd close to the man’s drained body, that Tabitha had been trying her best
to ignore.

‘Ready?’ said
Tabitha. She held the car door open and the passenger seat forward for Laika to
jump in the back. Instead, Laika wandered over to the water containers, and lapped
at the rainwater left in one of the cabinet drawers.

‘It’s fine, I’ll
just wait here,’ Tabitha sighed, looking off up the road. A glimmer caught her
eye there; a shape reflecting the sun. Another, and another. A horde of
spiders. They must have followed the noise of the car.

‘Laika! In!’
Tabitha commanded. Laika caught sight of the movement up the street, and
started barking at the coming swarm. There were too many for Tabitha to count,
racing down the road towards them. Tabitha grabbed Laika up and carried her to
the car, plonking her in amongst the blankets and pillows that filled the back
seat. Jumping into the driver’s seat, Tabitha wrenched the key in the ignition.
The engine roared as the chittering mass of spiders swarmed onto the forecourt.
Yanking the car into reverse, she bumped the back wheels up over something that
burst with a wet splatter.

‘Sorry, crazy
man,’ she muttered to herself, realising what the bump must have been. The spiders
thumped and clattered against the passenger door, and scratched their claws
against the windows. Laika barked and bared her teeth. Spinning the steering
wheel, Tabitha threw the car into first gear and tore off out of the forecourt,
leaving the silver swarm behind.

BOOK: Tabitha
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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