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Authors: Andrew Hall

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

Tabitha (35 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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‘First thing
tomorrow,’ Will replied. ‘I want to get as much food back here as we can. It’ll
be hard work, so everyone get some good sleep tonight. Especially after our big
victory feast.’ The room filled with smiles. ‘Right. I’m going to get the fire
going for the biggest pot of chilli you’ve ever seen. Jim… bring forth the
secret whiskey.’

‘The big
bottle?’ said Jim, nodding very discreetly at the toolbox in a dark corner.

‘No, the secret
secret
whiskey,’ Will replied, nodding even more discreetly
at the boxes across the room. At the plastic bottle of curiously golden
methylated spirits.

‘You sneaky
gits,’ said Liv, eyeing them up.

‘You’ve got no
idea,’ Jim chuckled, ambling off to
ratch
through the
boxes for the whiskey. Tabitha watched Jim filling a few glasses on the table,
and handed them out to people one by one. She just hoped that her new insides
could still handle more than water and spider blood.

 

Liv left the noise of the party in the
keep to find Tabitha outside in the garden, throwing a stick down the path.
Laika raced after it, throwing herself in among the bushes to find it.

‘Hey you,’ said
Liv, coming to stand beside her.

‘How’s it
going?’ said Tabitha.

‘I’ve had a
b-bit to drink,’ said Liv. ‘You?’

‘Same,’ Tabitha
replied, with a tipsy smile. ‘I came out for some fresh air.’

‘Well, at least
you can s-still drink, you must be glad about that?’

‘Definitely,’ said
Tabitha, taking the stick from Laika’s mouth and throwing it again.

‘Everyone should
be entitled to a drink at the end of the w-world,’ Liv mused, taking another
sip with a swaying hand.

‘Couldn’t agree
more,’ Tabitha said happily, clinking her glass of whiskey against Liv’s.
‘She’ll want to do this all night now,’ she said, nodding at Laika as she
rustled out from the bushes. Her collie padded back up the garden in the dusk
light, and dropped the stick tentatively at Tabitha’s feet.

‘She’s so
l-lovely,’ said Liv, crouching down to stroke Laika’s side. ‘I always wanted a
dog when I was little.’

‘It’s funny, I
never did,’ Tabitha replied. ‘I’ve always been a cat person.’ She thought about
Mog back home. Had she abandoned him, or did he abandon her? She hoped he was
alright.

‘What do you
think about Will?’ said Liv.

‘As a pet?’ said
Tabitha, grinning. Liv laughed.

‘Just in
general.’

‘…I think he’s
spoken for,’ Tabitha said with a smile, holding Liv’s gaze. Liv felt something leap
inside her. Was it relief? Love? Or just selfishness?

‘But I thought
you t-two were…’ said Liv.

‘What? No!’
Tabitha replied, shocked. ‘Where did you get that idea?’

‘On the
m-moors,’ said Liv, confused. ‘What W-Will said about you two talking on the wall,
and finding new p-people…’ Tabitha was laughing.

‘Yeah, finding
survivors
,’ Tabitha explained, grinning.
‘…You thought he was talking about me and him?’ Liv looked embarrassed. ‘Oh
god,’ said Tabitha, giving her a tight hug. ‘Seriously, Will meant finding
survivors. There’s nothing going on there, I swear. Cross my heart. Or whatever
my heart is these days. Cross my core.’ Liv looked at her, smiled, and buried
her face against Tabitha’s shoulder with embarrassment.

‘I’m an idiot,’
said Liv, her voice muffled in Tabitha’s hoodie.

‘Yep,’ Tabitha
chuckled. ‘He’s all yours.’

‘So, not even a
little b-bit?’ Liv asked her, looking up tipsily from her shoulder.

‘Will? No.
Honest,’ Tabitha said with a grin. ‘Anyway, I’m really not into the whole
pairing-up thing right now,’ she added, sipping her drink. ‘I’ve got a few
things to work through first. Grief, identity crisis, body confidence issues…,’
she said sadly, counting on her fingers. ‘Recent ex, probably dead; the end of
the world… take your pick.’ Liv smiled in sympathy and took hold of Tabitha’s
hand. ‘We’re all grieving though,’ Tabitha added. ‘We’ve all got stuff to deal
with. Sometimes I forget that.’

‘Do you still
regret w-what happened to you?’ said Liv. She felt the cold sandpaper touch of
Tabitha’s fingers resting gently around hers.

‘No,’ Tabitha
replied, smiling. It felt good to say it, even if it was only half true.

‘Promise m-me
you’re alright,’ Liv slurred.

‘I’m fine,’
Tabitha assured her. Liv was getting into looking-after mode again. Tabitha knew
she had to put a stop to it, and definitely tonight. ‘Look, you’ve done more
than enough caring for me already,’ Tabitha said gently, looking into Liv’s
eyes. ‘Do something for yourself for once. Go and tell Will how you feel.’

‘Well, I’m just
w-worried that he’s got someone else in his s-sights,’ said Liv, tapping
Tabitha’s hand with her finger.

‘No, I don’t
think so,’ Tabitha told her, shaking her head. ‘I mean Will’s friendly with me,
but he’s different around you. But if you don’t ask him, you’ll never know.’
Liv smiled and nodded, looking out over the garden under a spellbound summer
dusk.

 

Tabitha slept fitfully that night in the
kitchen, tossing and turning between bad dreams and Jim’s seismic snores across
the room. Up above her on the ceiling a spidery shape crept down in the dark,
opening its legs out like a clawed hand. Tabitha saw it, but too late. It
dropped down on top of her. Reaching, wrestling, stabbing. It drank the life
out of her while she struggled quietly against its strength. Tabitha sat
upright with a gasp and realised it was a dream, and edged away into the corner
to look around at the dark room. She pulled her mum’s rustling note from her
bra to hold it close. Laika came to lie beside her. Tabitha felt her heart
racing. Or whatever that thing was in her chest that had replaced it. Wringing
her hands together nervously, the rough skin rasped. A cold sweat stuck her
t-shirt to her back. She was hungry for silver blood; hungry for her next fix.
A word came back to haunt her then, and she burst into quiet tears.
Freak.

 

It was Will’s turn on the new nightly
watch, and it was drizzling. He huddled for warmth beside a small fire on top
of the castle keep.

‘Come on,’ he
muttered to the heavens, to the stop-start showers. ‘If you’re going to rain,
give me a thunderstorm.’ The fire crackled and guttered when the wind made it
over the turret around the top, but for the most part the flames seemed to be
surviving the damp. Soaking up as much heat as he could, Will got up from the
fire and walked over to the edge of the tower. He leant his body against the
wall, staring out into the dark for any sign of spiders coming back. But there
was nothing to see; not even the outer edges of the keep. The inky moonless
dark may as well have been a black curtain pulled down in front of him; only
the warm glow of the fire held it back. He heard the trapdoor creak open behind
him.

‘How’s it
going?’ said Liv softly, climbing up onto the roof.

‘Boring,’ he
replied, feeling a little rough after his whiskey. ‘What brings you up here?’

‘Couldn’t
s-sleep,’ she said, wrapping her blanket tight round her shoulders. At least
the rain was easing off.

‘Wouldn’t be my
first place to come to if I couldn’t sleep, I’ll be honest,’ Will said with a
smile. ‘There’s nothing to see, for a start.’

‘Well to be
fair, I came up m-more for the company than the view,’ she said, nodding at the
black night all around them. It was like nothing else existed beyond the castle
walls.

‘Aw, thanks
mate,’ he said, grinning. ‘I’m flattered.’

‘There was
something I’d been meaning to ask you a-about, actually,’ she said, stepping
closer to the fire. ‘I j-just wondered what you thought about T-Tabitha.’ She
could have been so much more subtle about that, Liv told herself. Why did she
have to go and say it like that? She’d never been any good at this stuff.

‘She’s awesome,’
Will replied, smiling. Liv’s heart sank. What did he mean? ‘I feel really bad
for everything she’s going through, though,’ he added.

‘Yeah, m-me
too,’ Liv replied absentmindedly.

‘I don’t like
her that way though, if that’s what you’re asking,’ he said. Liv looked up at
him. Before she could say anything else though, she realised how awkward he
looked about the subject. He looked away from her, staring into the fire.
‘There was someone that I felt very close to, once,’ he said sadly.

‘R-Really?’ said
Liv. Her heart may as well have dropped off the castle walls.

‘Yeah, she was
my best friend,’ said Will, looking off into the dark. ‘It feels like such a long
time ago now, with everything that’s happened.’ Liv listened and felt sore
inside; a sad, dull ache. ‘I’d never met anyone like her,’ Will said with a
smile, reminiscing. ‘We got talking one day, just by chance. Then the more I
got to know her, the more I felt like we were completely connected.’

‘What happened
t-to her?’ said Liv, wanting nothing more than to climb back downstairs and
crawl into bed.

‘Well like I
said, we got to know each other pretty well,’ Will continued, oblivious to
Liv’s pained expression. ‘She felt like my best friend,’ he said, pulling his
coat in tighter against the wind. ‘Until another woman came along with these
weird superpowers, and then my best friend started getting all arsy and
jealous...’ He was grinning.

‘I hate you,’ she
said, once the penny had dropped.

‘I hate you
too,’ Will replied with a smile.

‘Well if you
hate m-me, then why did you just take hold of my hand?’ she said quietly.

‘To transfer my
hate to you. It’s a hate transfer,’ he replied.

‘I see.’

‘Why did you just
put your hand on my cheek?’ he said.

‘Hate transfer,’
she said softly, running her thumb across his scars. She felt his hands slide
around her waist, pulling her close.

‘I’ve wanted to
do this for a long time,’ he said softly.

‘I’ve wanted you
to,’ she whispered back. The dim warm glow of the fire picked out their faces;
painted in light like spirits in the dark. The pressing night surrounded them,
deep black without the glow of city lights. The night felt bigger and darker
than they’d ever thought possible, back when the real world still stood. But
the tiny patch of cold black night between their faces, between their bodies,
that grew thinner as they moved closer together. Thinner still, until they were
kissing. And suddenly, both caught in that ancient spell cast by wide eyes and
warm bodies, the night and its terrors meant nothing at all.

 

28

 

The next morning Tabitha set out into
town with Jim, Liv and Will, moving through the streets with their rifles raised.
They headed down the high street and watched the darkened windows around them.
They studied their reflections in the windows as they walked, looking thinner
and tougher than they remembered. Cracked phones littered the street here and
there, lying beside crumpled piles of clothes and fly-swarmed rotten skins. At
least there wasn’t any sign that the spiders were still here.

‘They really
have just up and left, haven’t they?’ said Will, taking off his riot helmet.

‘I think it’s as
safe as it’s going to get,’ Jim agreed, trying not to look at the skins.

‘It’s clear!’
Will yelled towards the castle. Natalie waved up on the distant wall, and ran
down to get Paul and Chris into the car.

‘Why can’t we
go?’ said Grace, waving from the courtyard as they left the gate.

‘Because it’s
dangerous,’ Sylvia replied, seeing Paul off as he backed the car down the
driveway.

‘But Will said
it’s safe now,’ said Robert, picking his nose.

‘Back inside,’
said Sylvia, leading them into the keep despite their protests.

 

‘So what’s the
plan boss?’ said Natalie, climbing out of the car. Her pink
hayfever
eyes reminded Tabitha of Jen, back home. The grief crept fresh over her mind
again.

‘We’re going to
spread out into town and fill the car with anything we can use,’ Will told the
group. ‘Food, tools, first aid kits. Anything.’

‘Toilet paper,’
Jim suggested.

‘Absolutely,’
said Will, smirking. ‘But only the really good stuff.’

‘Should we split
up, do you think?’ said Tabitha.

‘We might get a better
mix of stuff that way,’ Will agreed. ‘So, two pairs and a three. Liv, would you
like to partner up?’

‘I’d love to,’
she replied, with the dirtiest smile Tabitha had ever seen.

‘I’ll go with
Natalie,’ Chris suggested.

‘Alright,’
Natalie replied, looking a little wary of him.

‘Me too,’ said
Jim, enjoying the scowl on Chris’s face.

‘Paul?’ Tabitha
said brightly. They nodded to one another.

‘Right then,’
said Will. ‘This is the most central place we can park the car, so I’ll see you
all back here when the car’s full. Happy hunting!’

‘We’ll go to
m-my place first,’ Liv suggested, walking down the street with Will. ‘There
were a few things I wanted to show you. In my house.’

‘I’d really like
to see them,’ Will replied as they went, grinning like a schoolboy. Liv turned
back for a second and gave Tabitha a dirty wink. Tabitha glanced at Jim; he
raised his eyebrows in reply. Natalie caught their eyes and mimed being sick as
she watched Will and Liv go. Paul and Chris were aware of the silence, but
clueless as to what was going on.

‘What?’ said
Chris.

‘Never mind,’
Tabitha replied, shaking her head. ‘Let’s get going.’ Will and Liv were quickly
disappearing into the distance, running down the street like a pair of
teenagers.

 

‘So where’s your
house?’ said Paul, walking with Tabitha down the high street.

‘Oh no, I don’t
live here,’ she replied brightly. ‘I lived in Wales before all this.’


Wales
?’
said Paul, surprised.

‘I’ve done a bit
of travelling since everything happened,’ said Tabitha. ‘I don’t know this town
at all, really.’

‘Well, we could
just pick any house to start with,’ Paul suggested, pausing for a moment for a
chesty cough. ‘How about that one?’

‘Fine with me,’
she said, following him to the front door. Paul tried the door handle, and it
opened with a squeak.

‘Wait,’ said
Paul, sniffing the air in the porch. ‘Yep, this is a good house.’

‘And you can
tell just by smelling it?’ said Tabitha, smiling at him.

‘Plenty of
practice since everything went pear-shaped,’ he said. ‘We’ve broken into more
homes than you’ve had hot dinners. …Oh, sorry,’ he said, realising his choice
of words.

‘It’s fine,’ she
said warmly. ‘As long as I’m getting some kind of dinner I don’t care, even if
it is alien blood.’ Paul still looked guilty. ‘Honestly, I don’t mind,’ she
assured him. ‘If I’m getting a meal, I’m happy whatever it is. I just really
don’t like being hungry.’

‘Yeah, tell me
about it,’ he said. ‘I used to be a 38 waist, before all this happened. Now
look at me.’ He sucked his thin cheeks in to make his face look even more
gaunt.

‘Paul, that’s
horrible,’ she said, smiling.

‘Yeah, no one
likes it when I do that,’ he chuckled, heading down the hallway. ‘Now, the
first thing I look for in a house these days is a smaller pair of jeans,’ he
said, checking the radiators. ‘My arse is falling out of these.’ Tabitha
followed behind him down the hallway, resisting the urge to look at his bum
after he’d mentioned it. Paul spotted something in the dining room.

‘Look at these!’
he said excitedly, grabbing up a couple of toys from a box in the corner. He
turned around with a huge grin, holding up a rocket ship and a tyrannosaurus.

‘They’ll love
them,’ Tabitha replied, smiling. She couldn’t believe how happy he looked with
his finds. ‘Does Grace not go in for dolls?’

‘Nah, she’s not
fussy,’ Paul said proudly. ‘Is it right though, to take these? …I mean, these
used to belong to someone’s child…’

‘Best just to
think about your own kids,’ Tabitha advised him. ‘Just think about how much
they’ll love them. It’s better than leaving them there in that box, surely.’

‘Yeah, you’re
right,’ he agreed happily, bagging up the toys. ‘They’re going to love them.’
Tabitha thought back to the little old toy shop she’d seen in town, the first
day she got here. She didn’t doubt that the twins would love everything in that
shop. And Paul would surely take them there and spoil them, if he knew about
it. But she remembered the gold chains… all those little padlocks hung up in an
X across the door. They couldn’t take those chains down. No… Paul wouldn’t want
to take them down either. The thought was just too sad.

‘What about
Natalie?’ said Tabitha, trying to take her mind off the toy shop.

‘Already sorted,’
Paul replied with a smile, producing a pen knife from his pocket. ‘She’s always
been the practical sort. Like her mum. Anyway, shall we get hunting in the
kitchen? I want to get back and give them their presents.’

‘Course,’
Tabitha said happily, leading the way into the hall.

The kitchen was
bright and old, and well looked after. Paul screwed up his nose up at the
rotten contents of the fridge, and tried the containers on the kitchen side
instead.

‘Nice,’ said
Tabitha, pulling cupboard doors open to reveal a full shelf of tins.

‘Hot chocolate
powder,’ said Paul, admiring his find that’d been tucked behind the kettle.

‘Your secret’s
safe with me,’ Tabitha replied, bagging up the tins.

‘Fire blanket?’
he said, holding one up.

‘Bound to come
in handy,’ she replied, stuffing jars of pasta sauce into the bag. They packed
their bags in silence for a little while, content with the simple pleasure of
stocking up tins and jars for the castle food stores.

‘Do chocolate
digestives go off?’ said Paul, studying the out-of-date packet.

‘I don’t know,
actually,’ Tabitha replied. Paul was rustling some out of the packet. ‘They
look fine to me,’ she said, studying the pale dusty coating on the chocolate.
‘How do they taste?’

‘Mm.
Gvv
.
Reeryr
gv
,’
he replied through a mouthful, spitting crumbs all over the floor. He laughed,
and sprayed more crumbs in the process.

‘That’s classy,
Paul,’ said Tabitha, grinning. ‘Real classy.’ Sometimes he looked like the
weariest man she’d ever seen. When he smiled though, he looked like a big kid.
She waited for him to swallow the dry mouthful before he could speak.

‘I’ll keep them
for me and the kids, if you don’t mind,’ he said, stuffing the biscuits into
his coat pocket.

‘Fine with me,’
Tabitha said with a smile and a shrug.

‘We used to have
this competition sometimes, every night after tea,’ said Paul, as he rummaged
through the clattering kitchen drawers. ‘We all dipped our chocolate biscuits
in our tea at the same time, and then we’d see whose lasted the longest when we
took it out.’

‘I used to do
that with my dad,’ said Tabitha, smiling at the thought.

‘Robert always
wins,’ said Paul. ‘I don’t know how he does it. Grace says he’s cheating and
using magic biscuits.’

‘Well, I believe
her,’ Tabitha said happily, filling another bag with food.

‘That’s probably
best,’ Paul replied, crouching down to look through a drawer. ‘You’ll find that
it’s generally just easier to just agree with my kids,’ he said. ‘They’re very
opinionated. And stubborn. I’d be lost without them though.’

‘I think your
kids are amazing,’ said Tabitha. ‘Considering everything they’ve been through.
You must be really proud of them.’

‘I am,’ he said
quietly, turning to look at her. ‘They’re growing up in a world I can’t
handle,’ he admitted, wiping his eyes. ‘Robert’s going to be ten times the man
I could ever be. And the girls are going to be twice the men he is.’ Tabitha
laughed. ‘There’s been some messed up stuff I’ve had to drag those kids
through, on the way up here,’ said Paul. His voice was shaking. ‘I dragged them
away from their home, after they’d seen their mum
die
. I wish to god
there was some way I could go back and stop them seeing that. I mean… I don’t
want to be one of those stern old dads who never makes any room for his kids’
feelings,’ he fretted, staring at his packing on the table. ‘But… I don’t want
to be a dad they think is weak either. Especially the way everything is now.
How am I supposed to find the balance though? Do you know what I mean?’

‘Just keep doing
what you’re doing,’ Tabitha said with a smile.


Hm
,’ Paul replied, unsure. ‘I worry about what they see
when they look at me,’ he admitted, his voice thick with grief.

‘They’ll look at
you and see what everyone else sees,’ Tabitha assured him, putting her hand on his
back while he cried. ‘They’ll see the man who raised them single-handed, and
protected them through all of this.
And
found them a new home where they
could grow up safe. So don’t be so hard on yourself, ok?’ Paul sniffed and
nodded, and wiped another tear away.

‘Sorry,’ he said
with a smile. ‘I can’t talk about this stuff around the kids. I don’t want them
to see me crying.’

‘Just come to me
any time you need to talk, alright?’ she said. ‘Come to any of us. We’re a
family now. Or a tribe. Whatever you want to call it.’ Paul smiled at her, and
wiped the tears off his cheeks.

‘Hello?’ came a
voice from the front door. Paul and Tabitha looked at one another in surprise.
They didn’t recognise the voice. Tabitha rushed back down the hallway. When she
got to the open front door, there was a couple standing outside.

‘God Tony,
what’s wrong with her?’ the woman asked the man, looking Tabitha up and down.

‘Are you alright
love?’ said Tony with concern, approaching Tabitha cautiously. He was tall and
broad; a bodybuilder.

‘I’m fine,
thanks,’ said Tabitha suspiciously, backing up a step into the hallway. They
were looking at her like she was about to attack them.

‘What happened
to you?’ said the woman, staring at her with a look of distaste.

‘The aliens,’
said Tabitha defensively. ‘I’m fine, really. Paul?’ she called back down the
hallway.

‘Your hands are
all…’ the woman backed away a step too, with no attempt to hide her revulsion.

‘Yeah, I know,’
said Tabitha, fixing her with a stare. Tony watched her carefully.

‘Hi!’ Paul said
warmly. The couple were visibly relieved to see someone who looked more like
them. Tabitha stepped aside as Paul came to the door, only too happy to let him
speak with the strangers. As bad as she felt about it, she didn’t want to talk
to them. Not with the way they were looking at her.

‘I’ll get the
bags,’ she said, disappearing down the hall into the kitchen.

‘What’s wrong
with her?’ said the woman, in a hushed tone. Tabitha still heard her. She had a
loud voice, and her hushed tone wasn’t all that hushed.

‘She’s fine,
really,’ Paul assured them.

‘She looks
weird,’ the man said quietly. Again, not all that quietly. Tabitha clenched her
rough grey knuckles and dragged them along the textured wallpaper as she went,
grating foamy white specks from the wall that fluttered down like snow on the
carpet.

‘So where have
you guys come from?’ Paul asked them, changing the subject as he invited them
into the house.

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