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Authors: Andrew Hall

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

Tabitha (46 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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The whole
cottage was clean and tidy by the time she climbed back into bed. She’d dusted
every surface, lifted every ornament. Cleaned things that didn’t need cleaning,
just to take her mind off everything. Tabitha had never thought she could be
capable of such mass hygiene. At least she’d been too busy to think about
everything, and now she was much too tired to start. It could wait for
tomorrow.

 

Tabitha felt less stiff and sore the
next day. The sky was as grey and still as pencil shading. She’d always liked
the blanketed feel of a grey day. Her gnawing sadness pulled the tears out
again, and long sorry sobs. For a while she dwelled on the thought of Chris,
and what she’d do to him if she ever found her way back to him. Maybe he’d
shoot her again. Maybe she’d skin him alive before he had the chance. Her anger
was only propping up her sadness though; once her hate gave way again the tears
came rushing back. She dried her eyes a little later and sat down in front of
the mirror on the wall, and combed her grey hands through her greasy red hair.
Her fingers caught against something with a sharp tug; a stumpy little twig
tangled up at the back. Once she’d teased it out from her hair she’d pulled out
a couple of small leaves and a spiny beech nut too, and even shaking her hair
rained down grit and dirt on her shoulders.

‘You’re
disgusting,’ she told her reflection. The thought was enough to dig up some bad
memories from school. It drove her down into the kitchen, where she unearthed
an old bottle of whiskey and a bottle of wine from a cupboard. It was a sixth
sense of hers it seemed, to find strong drink wherever it might be hiding.

‘To everyone,’
she mumbled with a dead tone, raising a big glass of whisky to the sunlight
through the kitchen windows. It shone clear amber, warping the trees through
the glass. She took a bigger gulp than she should have, and winced at the
beautiful burning feel. She opened her eyes wide, coughed a little, and went
back for more. This was going to be a morning’s work at least, she decided, and
it was best to get started from the comfort of the couch.

 

The next day greeted her like a punch in
the head, the most vicious hangover she’d had in years. She drew the curtains
and the bright sun hurt. Opened the window, and the birdsong grated on her. She
shut the window again, and peed in the bathtub as usual. At least that way the
pee would drain away, she reasoned, rather than sticking around in a toilet
that didn’t flush. Number twos were a distant memory it seemed, now that she
could only handle a liquid diet. Wandering down to the kitchen, Tabitha popped
some painkillers that she’d found in a cupboard and washed it down with a glass
of funny-tasting water from the kettle. She swore never to drink again, just as
soon as she’d had the bottle of wine this morning.

A little later
the world had taken on a new brightness, helped along by the wine. It was a
parched brightness, false and intoxicated, and served up with a dry mouth. But
it was a kind of brightness at least. She needed that. She was sweltering in
her jumper though. She sniffed her armpits, and staggered drunkenly upstairs to
the bathroom to wash. The bath taps coughed and spluttered sludge.

‘Oh yeah,’ she
remembered, intoxicated, smiling as she lost her balance. She swayed and
semi-twirled against the edge of the bathtub, trying to steady herself. She
fell down to the floor, paused, cried for a while. Then she climbed up again with
pantomime drunken resolve, back into the spinning room that lurked above the
floor. She grabbed the body wash from the shelf and headed downstairs.
Staggered out of the front door and across the road to the brook through the
trees. She stripped off by the stream and strung her clothes out in the
tangling bushes.

‘Jeez,’ she
gasped, walking down into the icy water. The stones were slimy beneath her
feet, deep down in the tumbling river that reached her waist in the middle. She
scrubbed her
goosebumpy
skin with body wash, and
watched the suds trail off down the current while she shivered. Last of all she
soaped up her face and hair, and ducked down into the water. She’d never known
a coldness like it in her life. It was a good kind of coldness, wild and raw.
And sobering, definitely sobering. It was much harder to climb back out again,
and she felt much more vulnerable all of a sudden when she came to wrestle her
clothes out of the bushes. She realised how risky it’d been then, wandering out
drunk. An easy target. What a stupid thing to do, she told herself. Well, half
of her told herself, anyway. The other half didn’t care
any
more
. She could handle whatever might come for her, that other half
said. She’d tear it a new one; she’d survive. She had a place in this world
too.

Once she’d
dressed, Tabitha walked back to the cottage at a leisurely stroll. Panic gone.
Bees buzzed between the flowers in the front garden. She closed the door behind
her, and went upstairs for a fresh fluffy towel from the cupboard. She put on a
clean vest top and trousers, and dragged the duvet downstairs to the couch.
Pulling a couple of books from the shelf in the corner, she spent the rest of
the daylight reading. Sleep came a little easier that night, despite her tears.
She rubbed her mum’s ribbon tied around her wrist, unfastening it to wrap it
around her hand and kiss it. Above all the grief, she felt even worse about the
nagging feeling in her head – that she should have been crying more than she
actually was.

 

Tabitha woke up on the couch the next
morning with a gnawing hunger, and an intense thirst. The thirst she could
remedy, drinking down the last of the funny water from the kettle. That was all
the drinking water in the house gone, and she didn’t much fancy drinking from the
river across the road. She’d have to go out.

During her
village tour Tabitha found a big bottle of water in one of the neighbouring
cottages, having broken in through the back door. There was no sign of anyone
here either, just the ever-present stench of rotten food. Maybe everyone had up
and left at the same time; just taken a bus and gone. There were only a couple
of other houses to try for water, and they only offered up two small plastic
bottles between them. She couldn’t ignore her hunger, though. And that wasn’t
something she was going to fix around here it seemed, even despite her shouting
and clapping to try and tempt out any hiding spiders. There was nothing here;
just birds hopping about in the trees or dragging worms up from the village
green. It was such a beautiful place to hide away, really. If only her survival
wasn’t so tied to the spiders, she thought. The great gaping chasm of hunger
she felt today was a solid reminder. It felt almost like a sudden parched
thirst, an overwhelming urge to get what her body needed. Was this how it felt
to have a drug addiction? It was all she could think about.

Tabitha curled
up on the couch in her cottage and tried to read her book and take her mind off
the hunger. But the thought kept lurking there in the back of her mind; the
taste of that blood, the feel of it going down. The appeal was nestled
somewhere between Sunday lunch and an icy glass of lemonade. A creamy-cold
silver fix, a perfect thought. Tabitha cursed herself for thinking about it,
and tried to focus on the pages of her book. It didn’t take long for the
thoughts to come creeping back, though. Paired with the very real ache of
hunger in her stomach, the need took a constant effort to ignore.

‘Oh my god,’ she
growled at herself. At her messed-up appetite, like it was tugging at her
sleeve. By evening she didn’t have the daylight to read by any more, but she
felt too hungry to sleep. All there was left to do was lie there, and slide
back into that same numb grief that had been hanging over her shoulders like a
spectre. Worst of all was knowing that even despite her grief, the hunger for
her next blood meal was struggling for centre stage in her head. She wanted
more time to mourn and get through her loss, but more than that she wanted her
fix. And for that she felt like the worst person left in the world.

 

Tabitha couldn’t sleep well that night.
Her thoughts bounced constantly between hunger, guilt and regret. By dawn she
was walking from room to room, emptying the drawers and cupboards for things to
pack. Her hunger outweighed her fear, and her grief. She was going out to hunt,
and she didn’t think she’d be coming back.
It was probably going to be
quite a journey to find any spiders around here. She laced up her new hiking
boots from the cottage across the green, after ages spent hunting for a pair
that fitted. They were old and musty and cobwebbed, but at least they were the
right size. She packed the book from her cottage, and anything else she could
see in the dawn light that might be useful.

Tabitha closed
the front door and put her hand on it as she left, thankful for her fleeting
home. If only the spiders were close by to feed on, she thought. But she took
the thought back. If the spiders were close by, this village wouldn’t be the
peaceful little place it was. Better to keep it as a bright little thought.
Locked away safe in her head, with the memories of her parents and the Ghosts,
and the chained-up little toyshop she’d found before she met Liv. Tabitha touched
the front door one last time, and imagined Laika sleeping on the couch inside.
That’s where Laika’s memory could stay, Tabitha told herself. Peaceful and
safe.

She cut across
the road and into the woods on the other side, wearing a t-shirt and jumper for
the coming autumn. She wore a grubby green wax jacket over the top, handy for
the hood, and carried a new rucksack packed with as many useful things as she’d
been able to find: candles, lighter, bottles of water. Jumper and thick hiking
socks. Plasters and painkillers. String and tape, scissors and glue, and a
dusty old torch that actually worked, much to her surprise. A map and compass
too, which she studied again for the answers as she walked. She was miles from
the city that she recognised on the map; nothing else seemed familiar. She
looked around at the trees and breathed deep, feeling a little lighter than she
had the past couple of days. Like a weight had lifted. She tucked her bright
red hair behind her ear against the breeze, and studied the map. Jacket sleeve
crinkling in the silence, she traced out a path with her finger. She picked out
the best way quickly, impressed with herself, and headed off into the woods.

‘I should’ve
been a girl scout,’ she told herself contentedly, and tripped over a tree root.

 

35

 

‘We’re running
out,’ said Jackie, rifling through cardboard boxes in the castle keep. ‘Chris,
we’re running out of food.’

‘I know,’ he
snapped hungrily, impatiently, trying to get warm by the fire. How could it
have turned so much colder so quickly? The cold wasn’t just out there though.
It was in here too, all around him, all the time. Cold stone walls. A growing
hint of an autumn chill that was starting to grate.

‘Chris, we’re
running
out of food
,’ Jackie repeated.

‘Yeah, I know!’
he yelled at her, shuffling closer to the dying fire.

‘Well, we need
to go out and find some more,’ Sylvia demanded, glaring at him. Chris shook his
head, staring at the glowing embers in the fireplace.

‘I’m not going
out there,’ he said simply. ‘No way.’

‘And just what
are we going to eat all winter?’ Sylvia replied, hands on hips.

‘Look, why’s it
all on me suddenly?’ Chris yelled back. ‘Get your own bloody food!’

‘You’re the man,
you’re supposed to go out there,’ Jackie shamed him. ‘Like a hunter.’ Chris laughed.

‘You don’t
seriously believe in that gender role shit, do you?’ Chris replied. ‘Is that
what Tony was to you, the big hunter-gatherer, bringing in all the food?’

‘Yeah, he was!’
Jackie snapped angrily, with a sad pride. ‘And don’t you dare talk about him
like that! He was more of a man than you’ll ever be!’ Chris snorted a laugh.

‘We’re going out
there together,’ Sylvia decreed. ‘Like a team.’

‘Yeah, well I
don’t want to be in your
team,
’ said Chris. ‘I’ll look out for myself,
alright? I’ll get my own food.’ Jackie and Sylvia stared at him. ‘Actually, I
think I’ll just keep
my
food to myself. All this food left here,’ he
said. He pushed past Jackie and took a cardboard box away from the stack in the
kitchen, setting it down in the bed of sheets he’d made for himself by the
fire.

‘That’s our food
too!’ Jackie yelled. ‘You can’t just
take
it!’

‘I was here
before you, and so was the food,’ Chris growled back. He squared up to Sylvia,
looming down on her. ‘Get your own food, and stop eating mine.’

‘It belongs to
all of us,’ Sylvia said threateningly, reaching for a carving knife on the
table. ‘Back off.’ Chris glanced down as she took hold of the knife, suddenly
wary of her. Hunger did strange things to people. ‘Back off,’ Sylvia repeated.
She was holding the knife by her side. She looked up into his eyes; held him
with that icy ancient stare. Chris couldn’t afford to look away, much as he
wanted to. He was in charge here, and he had to show it. A dark thought crossed
his mind; he’d be better off alone. Jackie was staring at him too.

‘Last chance
Chris. Back off,’ Sylvia said quietly. Chris flashed a glance between them. He
could back down, or he could fix the problem right now. He only had to finish
the bitches, nice and quick, like it had never happened. The spiders would get
rid of them anyway once he dropped them over the walls. He knew that the
shotgun was over in the corner behind him, propped against the wall. The
question was, could he reach it in time?

‘Fine,’ he
sighed, backing down. ‘I’m hungry… I’m not myself,’ he said apologetically.

‘None of us
are,’ Sylvia replied warily, putting the solid knife back down on the table
with a clunk. ‘Whether we’re going to work together or not, the fact remains
that we’ll need food,’ she told them. ‘Something we need to think about. Let’s
just leave it at that for now.’ Chris nodded calmly, seething beneath the
surface. Sylvia left him alone, and headed upstairs out of the way. Jackie
didn’t so much as look at him after that. Chris said nothing; he just sat down on
his pile of sheets by the fire after he’d returned the box of food to the
kitchen. Jackie went back to rummaging through boxes for anything else they
could use. She didn’t see Chris staring at her from the corner of the room.
Jackie and Sylvia had become a problem. He just had to bide his time until he
could do something about them.

BOOK: Tabitha
4.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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