Read Tabitha Online

Authors: Andrew Hall

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

Tabitha (6 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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Tabitha reached
the suburbs gasping for breath, far up the hill away from town. All the houses
were empty here too. Every street was lifeless. Nothing but the odd seagull
overhead. A garden gnome smiled from a shrubby garden outside a bungalow,
oblivious to the eerie silent world. Tabitha leapt the garden wall and looked
in the windows, but there was only gloom inside. It was the same in every house
she peered into. Pale sheets around her caught her eye though, tumbling on the
road or tangled up against hedges. They weren’t sheets though… they’d been
people. She didn’t look; she couldn’t. Every time she saw an empty skin she
crossed the street. She didn’t feel sadness, only shock. Her fear took
priority. Prey was selfish.

 

‘Hello? Mum?’
said Tabitha, closing her mum’s front door behind her. Right away, the murky
light in the house set her on edge. The curtains hadn’t been opened, and that
was very un-Mum.

‘Mum?’ she called
out. She walked slowly down the hallway, checked the kitchen and the living
room. There was a smell from the kitchen like sour milk, and the closed blinds
gave her childhood home a dim, languid light.

‘Mum,’ she
called up to the bedrooms, climbing the steep staircase. Her insides felt like
concrete. She touched an old photo of Dad, hanging on the wall at the top of
the stairs. He was smiling; he’d always been smiling. His grin was almost a
gurn. He was always scruffy and daft, wearing that dirty old jacket and
turned-up corduroys. Shirts he could never be bothered to iron. He’d always
dressed like an old man. Tabitha felt a pain push through her as she stroked
the photo, like a shard of glass in her heart. Not just for Dad, though. There
was already a fresh weight of dread creeping over her in the silence.

‘Tell me she’s
alright Dad,’ she whispered to the photo, voice trembling. ‘Don’t make me go
in. Don’t make me go in.’ Her dad’s picture just smiled though, gently
oblivious. Smiled to her from history. Tabitha knew what was coming. She felt
all her life and joy draining out, and only cold hard horror in its place. She
didn’t want to turn away from Dad’s picture.

‘Mum,’ she said
quietly, hoping against hope, looking at the bedroom door. There was a smell coming
through underneath it, and the sound of flies buzzing inside. Tabitha placed a
grey hand on the door and pushed gently, slowly. She didn’t want to see
everything. She only wanted to be sure. She peered through the gap in the door,
only inches wide. She saw a shoe on the lilac carpet. And Mum’s desk, a neat
clutter of perfume bottles and jewellery boxes. Only one of the five ever had
jewellery in it, Tabitha remembered. The rest of them were full of shells and
pebbles and dusty old feathers, and twigs and ‘artefacts’ from when all three
of them went on their walks. Mum had kept everything. Her fluffy old dressing
gown still warmed the chair it was draped on. Behind it was the little heart on
the mirror, drawn in red lipstick. Mum had told her off when she caught her
drawing it, until she saw it was a love heart with MUM written inside it. In
ten years, Mum had never wiped it off. Tabitha didn’t open the bedroom door any
wider. She couldn’t. Looking in the mirror, she didn’t need to. She glimpsed
the reflection and saw a lifeless shape on the bed, half-hidden in the dim
light of the drawn curtains. Tabitha’s heart and strength and love fell out of
her then, and what little of the bedroom she saw through the half-open door
became a teary blur. It was Dad all over again; the deepest kind of pain. It
ended her world, ripped her heart in two. Tabitha burst into tears. She jumped
as something brushed against her hair; a note taped to the door. It didn’t say
her name on the front, just
My beautiful girl
. Tabitha picked it off the
door and unfolded it. Gently she closed the bedroom door and stood trembling on
the landing. The letter was written in a hurried scrawl, so unlike her mum’s
usual notes. She had to blink the tears away just to read it.

 

My Tabitha.

 

Don’t come in love, please. I’ve gone to
be with your Dad now.

 

I can’t put into words what I’m feeling.
I’ve tried to get to you but I can’t, I feel so helpless. If you find this,
just know that I love you more than anything in the world. It’s all happened so
quickly. The phones aren’t working, I’ve tried over and over to talk to you.
I’m so sorry my beautiful girl. I tried to come to you, but there were things
on the pavements. One got me in the leg and I ran back inside. I don’t know
what’s happening.

 

There’s too much to say, I can’t put it
all into words. I’m going to go and lie down now love, I feel so faint. I hope
that you and God will forgive me for leaving you.

 

Don’t worry love, and don’t be sad. Me
and your Dad will see you when you come to be with God. I’ve left plenty of
sleeping tablets in the bathroom if you need them. But only if there’s no other
way.

 

Whatever happens love, don’t be scared.
We’ll always love you and we’ll be waiting for you. Do what you think is best,
and remember that we’ll always be watching over you.

 

See you soon, my beautiful little girl.
All my love, always,

 

Mum
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

Tabitha wiped
away her tears. She felt shell shocked. Her mum had always left notes around
for her, to tell her she was out and when she was getting back. Except… she
wasn’t coming back this time. She’d never see her again. She could make out a
crinkled dot on the bottom of the note, where a tear had fallen and dried. Her
mum’s. She kissed the note and tucked it inside her bra, close to her heart.
She thought that she should give Mum a proper burial, but how could she? Mum
said not to come in,
please
… so she wouldn’t. That was what Mum wanted.
Tabitha laid her palm on the door, sank to the carpet. Cried out every tear she
had. She’d always thought she’d had her heart ripped out for good when Dad
died, and it could never hurt like that again. But there it was again, that
terrible empty feeling, like all the light and love had bled from the world.

Tabitha’s eyes
were pink and bloodshot when she looked around again at the landing. Blinking
out of a heartbroken trance that felt hours long, she saw her mum’s old
powder-blue ribbon tied around the door handle. Sniffling, Tabitha picked the
knot and took it off to hold it. Should she give her a funeral? How could she
not? But… Mum had said not to come in. That was the best thing to do then. She
didn’t want to go inside anyway, not really. She wanted her mum to stay as a
bright happy thought, distant and holy. Her impish grin, her sunglasses on,
sitting in the deck chair in the sunny back garden. That’s how she’d remember
her. Tabitha tied the ribbon around her belt and knotted it off, and kissed
Dad’s photo as she went back downstairs. Numb.

Tabitha heard a
tiny clatter in the back garden when she stepped back out of the front door.
Eyes pink and raw from her tears, she walked around the side of the house to
peer over the garden gate. There was a silver spider round the back, sunning
itself on the lawn. Tabitha recognised a shred of her mum’s nightie, tangled up
around one of its spindly legs. Her gripping fingers sank into the creaking
wooden gate. Anger broke her barriers down. Burnt her fear to the ground. For
the first time in her life she was mad enough to reach out into the world and
destroy. Her brain switched off. Tabitha booted the gate open and ran at the
spider. It turned and pounced. She caught it, wrestled it to the grass. Slammed
her fist hard into its head with a jarring dent. Again. Stunned on the grass,
it screamed when she wrenched a leg away from its body. Tabitha felt her teeth
clenched so hard it hurt. She shoved the screaming struggling creature back
down to the grass and punched it again, pulling its claws away to tear another
leg from its body. When its needled tongue shot out from its mouth, Tabitha
gripped the stabbing tip and turned it. She pushed it, slowly, back through the
screaming creature’s body. Skewered it. She pulled the carving knife from her
belt, and punched the spider to the ground again before it could crawl away.
She sank her knife in deep while it screamed, and skinned it alive.

A cold wind
stirred up as Tabitha left the front garden, and closed the gate behind her.
She’d mounted her kill on the gate spikes like a grizzly totem; a warning to
the rest. She’d ripped and peeled its silver skin away to reveal the fibrous
white flesh, like a shelled lobster. Tabitha took one last look at her mum’s
front door, and headed back down the road towards town. Grieving and
heartbroken in the lonely silent world; dead inside. Jen and Emma
had
to
be ok. They had to be. If they weren’t… she didn’t know what she’d do. Maybe if
it came to it she could take all those sleeping pills, like her mum said in her
note. Wait, how could she? She still had to survive, she convinced herself. No
matter what.

 

Rubbish tumbled down the streets as
Tabitha walked back into town. She was numb. She felt nothing but a phantom
lump of nausea balled up in her throat. She wanted to run to John. But her ex
lived miles away now. With
her.
Izzy
.
If they were still alive. The thought of John being dead hit her like a
ton-weight, and broke her heart all over again. Tabitha headed down a street
off the main road, looking around at total devastation. Rubbish rustled and blew
in the street. More skins too, tucked away on doorsteps or caught climbing in
through open windows. She headed on and knocked on the door of Emma’s flat. No
reply. Her phone still didn’t switch on. The door was easier to force open than
she’d thought.

‘Emma?’ she
called up the staircase. She didn’t need to walk into the flat though. An empty
arm hung loosely over the top stair, and the smell said the rest. Tabitha
collapsed into tears on the stairs. Dragged herself to her feet and ran
outside. It was a nightmare. It had to be. She was ready to wake up now. But
everything looked too real and vivid to be a dream. The sickness felt too real.
By the time she reached Jen’s house, she only had to peer into the broken
living room window to know enough. Tabitha crossed the road, leant by a lamp
post, and threw up on the street.

She’d cried
until the tears stopped coming. Tabitha stared at the sky, stared at the sea.
Numb and torn up, alone in the silence. The breeze ran through her hair. A
carrier bag rustled and blew in the wind nearby, pinned to the street by a new
boxed-up clothes iron inside it. Probably dropped when its owner was running
for their life. Tabitha just stared out at the sea, looking without seeing. No
one to run to, nowhere to go. A ghost town all around her, murdered while she
slept. A dead world that didn’t make any sense. She leant on the railing and
looked out at the waves, as if they held the answers. She didn’t notice the
spiders creeping up around her until she turned back, and found herself
surrounded. The old Tabitha might have screamed and curled into a ball then.
But she’d been peeled raw, and there was a new Tabitha in there somewhere,
waiting. And all it felt was anger. Every cell in her new body said
fight.
When
the first spider pounced she punched a dent deep into its body. She spun
around, gripped another by its spindly legs and tore it limb from limb. Every
punch was like a sledgehammer through a breezeblock, sudden and stunning, a
dull metal
knock
echoing down the road. Some spiders scuttled away.
Others came in from the sides to grip and twist and stab. Tabitha’s muscles
felt like springs inside her, stronger than she’d ever known. She spun and
stomped another spider into the kerb with a crack. One behind her screeched and
pounced. She gripped it hard and smashed it into the iron rail by the sea.

‘Come on!’ she
yelled, breathless and rage-hot, punching and pummelling another into the kerb.
At its edges the horde began to slink away, while the braver ones were beaten
down into the road. Tabitha screamed and sent another flying with a kick. All
the quiet anger she’d been collecting for years, it all came bursting out of
her. It was burning through a new body that knew how to use it. Knew how to do
damage. The rest of the horde backed away, watching her wrestle one to the
ground and pull it apart screaming. Back into their alleys and doorways, back
into basements and drains, the swarm of chittering monsters crawled away over
their dead to leave the red-haired human alone.

‘Is that all you’ve
got!?’ she yelled, throwing a dead spider after them. Breathless, she sat down
on the kerb, watching her cuts and bruises heal up and fade away. She saw her
silver blood left behind on her skin; licked it. It tasted tingly, metallic,
like tonguing a nine-volt battery. Tabitha was exhausted, but thought better of
collapsing on the pavement here. The surviving spiders watched her from their
hiding holes. She staggered to her feet and stared at them. They didn’t come
out towards her. She walked off into town through her alien kills; a jumbled
mass of curled-up legs like upturned silver crabs.

 

Town was empty and deathly silent, like
permanent dawn on a Sunday morning. Rubbish and rubble filled the kerbsides. A
fox looked up from the torn carcass of a bin bag, staring at Tabitha as she
came closer. She watched it quickly turn and pad away, inconvenienced by her
presence.

BOOK: Tabitha
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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