Read Tabitha Online

Authors: Andrew Hall

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

Tabitha (40 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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‘Clear!’ Chris
shouted across the castle, delirious. ‘We’ve won! We’ve fucking won!’ Tabitha
turned away from the spiders, and her heart broke at the sight. Laika limped
and collapsed by the wall, lying there in a growing pool of blood beneath her.
The fighter jet tore overhead again, and an echoing boom massacred the spiders
still left on the field below. Tabitha sat down by the wall, and lifted Laika
up to cradle her in her lap. She felt Laika’s warm blood coursing out of her
body, making her fur slick and wet. It streamed down Tabitha’s arms as she held
her close. Laika whined quietly, and closed her mismatched eyes.

‘Oh, my
beautiful girl,’ Tabitha said softly. She held her cheek against Laika’s warm
head, and kissed her soft fur.

‘I’ve got you,’
she told her, past the lump in her throat. ‘It’s ok.’ She stroked her dog’s
bloody fur. Laika’s body gently slumped then, lifeless in her lap.

‘I love you,’
she said quietly, kissing Laika’s nose.

‘Tabitha!’ said
Liv, running over. ‘Are you hurt?’ Tabitha looked up at her and shook her head.
Liv was staring at Laika.

‘How’s Jim?’
said Tabitha, sniffling back the tears.

‘He’s not
g-good. At all,’ Liv replied. ‘Tabitha, I’m s-so s-sorry about your dog. I
opened
th
-the door and didn’t think, a-and –

‘Liv,’ Tabitha
replied softly, looking down at Laika. ‘If she hadn’t come running out I could
be dead now. She saved my life.’ Liv watched her stroking Laika and burst into
tears.

‘This is
f-fucked up,’ Liv sobbed, putting a hand over her eyes. ‘Everything.’

‘I know,’
Tabitha said softly, laying Laika’s body gently to one side as she got to her
feet. ‘Look, why don’t you go back inside and help Jim?’ Tabitha suggested,
hugging Liv tight. ‘I’m just going to put Laika in the garden. I’ll only be a
second.’

‘Ok,’ said Liv.
Carefully Tabitha carried Laika down the steps and into the garden, laying her
down by the bushes at the bottom of the lawn.

‘Tabitha? Are
you alright?’ Will called over, stepping out of the keep onto the courtyard.

‘She’ll just be
a minute,’ Liv said quietly, walking over to him. ‘It’s Laika,’ she told him
quietly. Tabitha stood up from the grass, and sighed at
Laika’s
body
laying
there. A vast shadow swept overhead.
Looking up at the blue sky, she heard a weird rumbling that seemed to come from
everywhere at once.

‘What’s that
noise?’ said Will, looking around as Liv held close to his side. They watched
the sky from the courtyard. There was a sound like flapping wings then, a
colossal
whoom
. A dark grey head rose up
beyond the wall, huge and reptilian. White eyes stared; grey wings drowned out
the daylight. The creature opened its jaws to reveal a pale glow in its throat,
crackling like static. Liv and Will stared for a moment in silent shock, and
held hands as they ran for their lives. Tabitha screamed and ran for them along
the wall as the hellish creature drew breath. It spat a sudden gout of white
light, obliterating Liv and Will in a burst of ashes. Tabitha stared in horror,
refusing to believe what she’d just seen. She watched the creature crash down
on the wall and look over at her, and she leapt down off the battlements and
ran for the keep as the garden erupted into white flames behind her. The
creature spat down a pale firestorm as she ran, incinerating the grass and
Jim’s allotment. The monster leapt down into the raging flames to hunt her.
Something shot out of the sky then and exploded against its body, and the
creature roared and took off into the air. The same fighter jet thundered
overhead, and circled around for another strike. The huge creature headed high
and dodged and weaved away from the jet that chased it, but took another
missile hit in a burst of flames. The thing roared and dropped out of the sky,
crashing down into town in a boiling dust cloud. The jet tore off into the blue
then, vanishing from sight. Tabitha just stared at the sky in disbelief. At the
smoking black scorch mark where Liv and Will had stood. At the garden in flames
all around her.

 

‘Chris,’ Tabitha
mumbled, heading around the far side of the keep. The thought of Liv and Will
wrenched inside her. She felt sick, numb. The heat from the garden was
unbearable; the flames cut her off from the courtyard. She’d need to go right
around the keep to get in. ‘Chris!’ she called, coughing at the smoke.
‘Sylvia!’ even her
bedsheet
banner on the wall of the
keep had burned away to nothing. As Tabitha rounded the keep and came in
through the door, she stopped dead in her tracks. She looked at Jim in shock.
Will and Liv had laid him out on the table. They’d taken off his riot gear, and
cut open his trouser leg. He was lying there just breathing, fast. The venom
had made his leg wither away to nothing. ‘Chris! Anyone!’ she called out. She
looked up the stairs and saw Chris just standing there, wide-eyed and
motionless.

‘They’ve got
dragons now!’ he laughed desperately. ‘What’s next, fucking ogres and wizards
coming through the gate? What the fuck’s going on?’

‘Jim’s dying
down here, for god’s sake!’ she yelled back. ‘Help me!’ Chris and the others
plodded downstairs, and took one look at Jim and stayed away. They were just
standing there, shell shocked.

‘Jesus Christ,
we need to help him!’ Tabitha yelled at them. Chris took his eyes away from Jim
and looked at her. He was white as a sheet.

‘How?’

 

30

 

Chris was right. There was nothing they
could do to stop Jim’s leg collapsing further. They could only keep him drunk
to dull the pain, and try to stop the endless bleeding from the cratered needle
hole in his foot. After a big dose of vodka, Jim’s screams had reduced to an
endless groaning.

‘The blood won’t
stop!’ said Tabitha in a panic, unwrapping another blood-soaked bandage with a
wet slap on the floor. She tied another tight around his foot. The others had
refused to touch Jim’s blood, in case the venom got to work on them too. They
could only stand around uselessly, watching Tabitha. Their silent presence was
grating on her while she worked.

‘I don’t need a
bloody audience!’ she snapped, brushing the hair away from her forehead with
the back of her wrist. Jim’s blood coated her hands with a slick red shine,
marbled against her grey skin beneath. The others stepped back, but carried on
watching with a morbid fascination.

‘It’s in his
hands,’ said Tony, watching Jim’s skin slowly pock and pit. Worst of all, a few
minutes later, the small dose of venom had stopped working and left Jim half
mangled on the table. Once he’d regained his senses enough to ask where Liv and
Will were, Tabitha was the one who had to break his heart with the news. She’d
never heard anyone wail like that before; a tortured scream like his mind was
coming apart along with his insides.

‘Kill me.
Please,’ Jim whispered eventually, over and over, like a prayer. He prayed to
Tabitha as she held his hand. When she changed his bandage again and
disappeared from view, he prayed to the distant faces in the dusky gloom of the
keep. The ones that wouldn’t come too close. Tabitha couldn’t tell him that she
would end his suffering, though. She couldn’t tell him that she wouldn’t,
either. She didn’t know what was going to happen to him, and she was scared.

‘Will you help
me? Please?’ she said, turning to her silent audience.

‘I’m not
touching him,’ Tony said bluntly.

‘Get me some
pillows and sheets then!’ Tabitha snapped. The others just stared. ‘Now!’

 

Tabitha set them to work building a bed
of cushions in the corner, closer to the fire. She couldn’t just leave Jim to
bleed on the kitchen table.

‘Chris, it’s
getting too dark in here,’ she said, putting her wrist on Jim’s forehead. He
was red hot. Chris hadn’t taken the initiative; he just stared at her. ‘Do you
think I’m just making conversation or something?’ she snapped at him. ‘What the
hell’s wrong with you? Light some candles! Christ!’ was it all on her now to
tell them what to do?

‘I think
Sylvia’s in shock,’ said Jackie. She was sat down in the corner, looking
outside at the glow of the white flames from the garden.

‘Get her some
water then, I don’t know!’ said Tabitha. ‘I’m trying to stop Jim
dying
here!’
she sighed, frustrated, as Jim’s bandage began to soak through again.

‘I think we need
to lie her down,’ said Chris, lighting candles with a cigarette lighter. He
looked up at Tabitha. Waited for acknowledgement.

‘Then bloody do
it!’ Tabitha snapped. ‘Stop waiting for me to say yes or no!’

Affronted, Chris
put the candle down and went to get Sylvia a drink. Once they’d convinced her
to lie down upstairs, Tabitha had managed to unfurl a bed sheet out under Jim’s
body on the table. His limbs felt way too light.

‘Help me get him
down over there,’ she said, taking a corner of the sheet. Gingerly the others
took a corner each, and together they hoisted him up. Jim was screaming with
the pain.

‘Quick!’ said
Tabitha. They rushed Jim over to the corner of the room, and laid him down on
the bed of pillows.

‘I need to lie
down, I can’t handle this,’ said Jackie, putting her hand on her forehead. She
was looking to Chris for an answer. Tabitha supposed that Jackie knew she’d get
a more agreeable reply from him.


Er
, yeah, go and lie down,’ said Chris.

‘Are you fucking
serious?’ Tabitha muttered. ‘Keep an eye on Sylvia then, while you’re up
there,’ she told Jackie over her shoulder. Tony was going upstairs with her
too, without the effort of giving an excuse. Personally Tabitha couldn’t have
cared less for Sylvia, for all the help she’d been. Wasn’t she supposed to be
the hardy matriarch sort, the last one to crumble? Maybe Tabitha had seen too
many movies. Or maybe she’d just stopped feeling, she considered. In place of
grief for Liv, Will and Laika, there was only a numbness setting in. Either she
was in shock, or she’d just stopped feeling. Maybe it was emotional
self-defence, she considered. Just putting the walls up once and for all, and
switching off to it all for good.

‘Kill me,’ Jim
whispered to her, carrying on his prayer. Tabitha looked at him lying there on
the floor, and her walls crumbled again. She took his hand in her own and burst
into tears.

 

Dusk gave way to dark, and Chris closed
the door of the keep. White flames burned down outside. For the longest time,
Chris and Tabitha sat with Jim and said nothing. Tabitha lay a cold damp cloth
on Jim’s burning forehead, and moved a few candles closer on the fireplace
beside him to see him better. The flickering candlelight picked out deep
shadows in his pale old face; the creases and furrows of age. Jim’s cheeks had
grown more hollow, even over a few hours. His eyelids were heavy, and he didn’t
try to move. Maybe he couldn’t. At least he’d stopped screaming and groaning.
Tabitha had felt her heart crack open every time she’d heard him scream.

‘Water, love.
Please,’ he said hoarsely. Tabitha nodded and searched for the cup in the
gloom.

‘Liv and Will,
they’re gone,’ said Chris, staring at the floor. A chasm of silence followed
after it.

‘Yeah,’ Tabitha
replied, lifting the cup of water to Jim’s lips. She probably could have
expressed more feeling about the loss, but it wouldn’t come. She’d shut down.
Like after her dad’s funeral when she was little, when she cried so much that
she ran out of tears. The only thing left inside her now was a pit, black and
bottomless.

‘End it for me,’
Jim pleaded with Tabitha, gasping as he swallowed more water. ‘Just do it.’

‘You’re not
going to kill him,’ said Chris, a ghoulish face in the corner, lit by the dim
glow of candlelight.

‘That’s not your
choice,’ Jim croaked. ‘I’m still here, you know. I decide whether I want to die
or not. I just wish one of you bastards would do it. I don’t care who.’

‘You can’t ask
us to do that, Jim,’ Tabitha replied.

‘No, I can see
that,’ he said angrily. He turned his head to look at Chris. ‘I thought this
prick would jump at the chance to do me in.’ Chris glared, and said nothing.

‘Fine, I’ll do
it myself,’ said Jim. With a grunt of agony he hauled himself up on the bed,
and reached over for an assault rifle left propped up by the fireplace.

‘Jim, no!’ said
Tabitha, wrestling the gun out of his grasp.

‘It’s my
choice!’ he snapped, trying to pull the gun back. Tabitha felt just how weak
his arms were when she tugged the rifle out of his hands.

‘There’s no
bullets left,’ said Chris, getting up from his seat. ‘And even if there was, I
don’t want your blood on my hands. I can’t deal with this. I’m going upstairs.’

‘You can’t!’
said Tabitha, disbelieving. She watched Chris turn his back on the scene and
climb the stairs; easy as that. ‘Well I hope you sleep well then, you piece of
shit!’ She yelled after him. ‘We’ll try not to make too much noise for you down
here!’

‘You’re not man
enough to do a job that needs doing!’ Jim shouted, watching Chris climb the
stairs. ‘I’d put you out of your misery, you can bet on that!’ Chris
disappeared into the gloom upstairs. Tabitha heard their whispered voices. Jim
was breathing heavily.

‘You’re trying
to wind him up,’ said Tabitha, checking Jim’s foot. At least the bleeding had
slowed right down.

‘I thought it’d
be easy,’ said Jim, wincing as he got himself more comfortable on the
blood-sodden bed.

‘How do you
feel?’ she said.

‘Like my insides
are on fire,’ he replied. ‘Like my bones are melting.’ Tabitha reached out to
hold his hand, but he winced and pulled away. ‘It hurts,’ he said in apology.

‘I’m going to
get you through this,’ said Tabitha, offering him more water.

‘No you’re not
lass,’ he replied, looking her in the eyes. ‘There’s no cure for this.’

‘But the venom’s
stopped,’ she said, helping to lift the cup to his lips. He took a trickling
gulp, and gasped as the water went down his dry throat.

‘It’s not
stopped, it’s just slowed down,’ he told her. ‘I can feel it, in here,’ he
said, rubbing his chest with his old fingers. ‘With any luck, my bloody ticker
would just get the message and stop.’

‘You can’t talk
like that,’ said Tabitha, voice trembling. She wanted desperately to reach for
his hand, but she couldn’t. ‘You can’t die,’ she said, as the warm tears welled
in her eyes. ‘You’re all I’ve got left.’ Jim smiled sadly and reached his hand
out, and took hold of Tabitha’s despite the obvious pain he was in. He kept his
hand gripped around hers for as long as he could, and then dropped it back down
on the bed.

‘You’re not the
religious sort,’ he observed, resting his head down deeper on the pile of
cushions behind him.

‘No, I’m not,’
Tabitha agreed, sniffling.

‘My wife, Mary,
she was very devout,’ he said. ‘Prayed all the time, for everything.’

‘Aren’t you
religious?’ said Tabitha.

‘Well yes, but
not a patch on her,’ he replied. ‘She was a real saint. Especially for me. I
was a real troublemaker.’ He grinned at the memories. The pair of them sat
there in silence for a little while, with the candles flickering a dim warm
glow on their faces in the dark.

‘Mary’s going to
be waiting for me,’ he said. ‘If I make it up there, of course.’

‘Of course you
will,’ Tabitha replied.

‘You don’t even
believe in heaven,’ Jim chuckled. ‘You don’t need to pretend.’ Tabitha smiled.
‘Mary always had enough faith for the two of us,’ he told her. ‘I was never
very good at it. But I think there is a better place up there. And I think
she’s waiting for me there. She’s probably cleaning the place right now. Always
bloody cleaning everything.’ Tabitha laughed.

‘She sounds like
my mum,’ she said.

‘I bet she was a
woman of God too,’ said Jim.

‘She was,’
Tabitha replied, smiling at the thought of her. ‘She was a strong woman.’

‘Well now I know
where you get it from,’ said Jim. ‘Was she a stubborn little madam too?’
Tabitha laughed.

‘Runs in the
family,’ she said.

‘Well, she’ll be
waiting for you up there too,’ said Jim. ‘That’s what I think, anyway.’

‘It’s a nice
thought,’ Tabitha replied, smiling. But only a thought, she told herself.

‘So what do you
think comes after all this then?’ said Jim. ‘Nothing?’ Tabitha hesitated. How
was she supposed to tell this to a dying man?

‘It’s alright,
you can tell me,’ he said, as if he’d read her mind. ‘I know what I believe.’

‘Well, yeah.
Nothing,’ said Tabitha. ‘Like falling asleep, but not dreaming. And never
waking up. Just… not existing.’

‘Well, that
doesn’t sound all that bad either,’ Jim replied. ‘Bit boring though, if you ask
me.’ Tabitha smiled.

‘Well, we
wouldn’t know how boring it was if we didn’t exist
any more
,’
she said.

‘Nah, give me
the pearly gates any day,’ said Jim, coughing and wincing at the pain. ‘Unless
I’m heading down.’

‘Of course
you’re not.’

‘Ah well, it’s
not up to you,’ Jim replied knowingly, with a strained cough. ‘I just hope
Mary’s done enough praying for me, because I haven’t.’

‘You’re going
straight up there when it’s your time, Jim,’ said Tabitha. ‘But it’s not your
time yet.’

‘Well, we’ll
see,’ said Jim, with a wet crackling voice. ‘It’s in my lungs, the poison. I
can feel it stinging. Oh God, I wish the thing had just given me the full
bloody dose. I’d be dead by now.’

‘Don’t say
that,’ Tabitha replied, voice trembling.

‘Just end it for
me love,’ Jim pleaded quietly. ‘Please.’

‘You can’t ask
me to do that Jim,’ said Tabitha, broken hearted, wiping away her warm tears.
‘Please don’t ask me.’

‘Alright love.
I’m sorry,’ he said sadly. ‘Come on then, tell me more about your mum.’ Tabitha
smiled at the thought of her; a little flicker of light in the dark.

 

By dawn Jim had convinced Tabitha to get
some sleep. All her grief and tears had hit hard in the early hours, and it was
only through sheer exhaustion that she fell asleep. It couldn’t have been too
long since then when she woke up, since the light around the door outside was
still just a dim glow. But the door was half open.

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