Read Tabitha Online

Authors: Andrew Hall

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

Tabitha (7 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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Trees stood
strangled in metallic tentacles. Shops had been looted; corpses littered the
high street. Empty husks, drained out dry. Silver spiders hugged the walls of
distant buildings, waiting for signs of life. Thick grey rainclouds rolled in
from the sea. Tabitha saw a flash in the corner of her eye, and looked out over
the water. She saw the grey bleak sky, and the solid salty slab of sea
stretching on forever… but there was light there too. It wasn’t a light she
could see too well through the clouds, but she felt it. Like the sky was
electric, and the sunlight was up there somewhere with all the promise of life
in it. It was a vague feeling, hardly there really, like hands hovering an inch
over her skin. Something tingled inside her. Her thoughts
jigsawed
around in her head – moving and turning, finding new places to fit. She saw the
sea crawl with current for a second; a billion blinking connections between
electrolytes. It was a fleeting vision that flared like a holy revelation, then
suddenly vanished from her sight.

‘What?…’ she
mumbled, blinking at the beach below. What was this, that she was feeling? For
a moment then, the sun was all that mattered. Like a god had come down to look
after her. She felt a strength she’d never known before, surging through veins
and connections beneath her skin. It was a revelation without an answer; the
morphine bliss of a fleeting dream, making less and less sense the more she
tried to recall. And suddenly, the world was grey again. The dull black road
stretched off into town, and all sense of light and current had gone from her
mind. Everything was
human
again. All the strength she’d just felt in
her body suddenly left her. She felt like a flat battery. All she wanted to do
was rest. And cry.

 

5

 

In the town centre a few streets away, a
young man was running for his life. One minute he’d been having a whispered
argument with his brother, while they looked for food in a looted corner shop.
The next thing he knew, his brother had slumped lifelessly on the floor under a
pack of silver spiders. He’d pulled his gun and shot the first one dead, and
barely made it out of the shop alive. Now he was running through the empty
streets with tears in his eyes, never looking back as the things scrambled
after him. He felt a claw nick his leg, and he spun around and shot. Three
bullets left. The spider staggered and dropped, but the rest of the silver
horde was gaining fast. All he could smell was brick dust in the air. The metal
clattering racket of the horde filled his head. He yelled out in fear as he
ran; primal wails that echoed in the empty streets.

 

Tabitha wandered further into town,
following the echoing crack of gunshots. The place was a ruin; broken windows
and half-toppled shops. Strange dandelion seeds floated down as she passed by.
The seeds that landed in the sunlight sprang into tiny grey shoots, growing
visibly into spidery little plants. Tabitha stopped, watched them grow. So that
was where the spiders came from. She walked closer and ground the shoots into
the road with her boot. Some of the windows she looked up at were covered by
splayed silver spiders. Their bodies were stark and still and murderous as she
passed by. She couldn’t tell if they were watching her. She didn’t know if she
could go another round with more of them, she felt so tired. Tabitha coughed
quietly and hurried on away from them. She wandered by a lone pram on the
street, abandoned. At least there was nothing inside it. No tiny skin. An empty
drinks can clanked and clattered down the road in the wind; the only noise in
the eerie silence. The homes and shops were dark and empty around her. Her town
was dead.

 

Dev felt like he’d been running forever.
The horde was right on his heels. His lungs heaved; his legs pumped battery
acid. He spun and shot another spider that came too close. Two bullets left. He
looked around desperately for somewhere high to climb. He couldn’t run much further,
and there was no point locking himself in a car that wasn’t going anywhere.
None of the cars worked any more, and they wouldn’t protect him. The spiders
caught up to him before he could shoot and dragged him screaming onto the road.

 

Tabitha was sure she’d heard running
footsteps just then. A man yelled for help, down a street off to her right. She
saw sunlight bouncing off a silver cluster of spiders, pulling a figure to the
road. Tabitha came running. The spiders on the high windows stirred to life behind
her, dropping down to the street.

Up ahead the
horde bared their spiked tongues as she came closer. Their throaty hisses
warned her away from their screaming prey.

‘Get away from
him!’ she shouted, pulling the carving knife from her belt. Her fists felt
solid, heavy. Like weapons. Adrenaline cancelled out her exhaustion. Tabitha
yelled at the spiders, and one sprang towards her. She leapt and gripped its
legs that cut her, and it fell limp when she stabbed it hard through the head.
Something took over her; a new instinct. She sent the spider flying into the
horde like a hammer-throw, scattering them away from the man on the road. He
staggered away in terror, pointing his gun at spiders that suddenly weren’t
interested in him. They were all creeping away towards her.

‘Up there! Climb
up there!’ Tabitha shouted, pointing at the roof of a bus stop. He ran and
climbed up onto a big plastic bin, and hauled himself up onto the bus stop away
from them.

‘Behind you!’ he
called back. He was pointing at a handful of spiders stalking up the road.

‘Shit,’ she
mumbled, suddenly surrounded. The old Tabitha hesitated. The new Tabitha
reacted. She yelled and buried her knife in a spider’s back with a slick tinny
crunch. She spun and punched another with a shrill crack. Adrenaline pumped;
time slowed down. The spider hit the road in slow motion; imploded on the
tarmac and lost a leg. Tabitha’s swing turned her body through the air in an
arcing dance. She landed on her feet, raised her knife. A third spider rushed
her, flicking its legs out like a net. She dodged its jabbing spike. Looked for
a gap. Stuck the knife in deep with a burst of silver blood. She wrenched a
grey leg off her kill with a crustacean crack. Swinging the dead limb she
fended off the rattling horde around her, whipping them back.

‘Get away!’ she
yelled nervously, as the horde closed in around her. Tabitha felt a very human
terror returning to her, creeping down her spine like a cold hand. When a claw
stabbed her calf she gasped and jumped away. The old Tabitha would have tried
to run then. The new her clenched her fists, gritted her teeth. She laid into
the spiders and filled the street with ringing thuds, the song of striking
metal. The man kicked one to the road as it scaled up the side of the bus stop.

‘Hey!’ he
shouted. Tabitha didn’t hear him. ‘Behind you!’ but she didn’t catch his
distant voice over the clattering metal. She glanced up and saw him pointing.
Before she could turn around a jagged spike stabbed her in the back. Tabitha
screamed and saw it jut through her stomach, black against her pale t-shirt.
She felt the venom coursing through her. She could almost taste it in her
blood, cold as ice. But harmless to her. All she felt was the stabbing spike,
an overpowering agony, squelching and wrenching itself out from her back. She
spun and stamped her attacker in the head, staggering it back. She screamed as
blood slapped down on the road from her wound. Clutching her stomach she leapt
forward and smashed her fist into the spider’s head. Shoved it to the ground
and pummelled the life out of it. Her pain was secondary. Survival came first.
She spun and booted another away, and ran after it to stick the knife in deep.
She tore the limbs off another, and tossed it aside to scream and bleed. The
surviving horde was hesitating. A sudden silent peace. The only sounds were
Tabitha’s gasping breaths and the distant roll of the tide, and the slow
tapping of spider legs on the road. The creatures stepped back when she came
closer. Exhausted, Tabitha grabbed at another and pushed the knife in. Watched
it flinch and scuttle away across the street in a trail of silver blood. The
last few gave up and backed away, and tucked themselves back into gaps in the
toppled buildings. Silver legs bunched up into shadowed arachnid fists,
watching her from cramped dark corners in the ruins.

‘What the hell’s
going on?’ she asked the man, as he climbed down from the bus stop. His jacket
and jeans were torn and filthy. Tabitha clutched the stab wound in her stomach
as the silver blood streamed out, slumping down against a crashed car. The man
came over to stare in dumb panic at her. His
stubbled
face was a scruffy patchwork of pale dust and bright red blood.

‘They got you,’
he said hoarsely.

‘Yeah’, she
mumbled, doubled over in agony. She lifted the side of her t-shirt, and gritted
her teeth as she pressed her grey hands against the wound. At least it was
closing up now.

‘Tell me what
happened. To everything,’ she said, glancing around at the dead world.

‘What, you don’t
know?’ he replied, baffled. He stared at the silver blood covering her grey
fingers. ‘Let me help,’ he said. Tabitha shook her head.

‘It’s fine. It’s
healed,’ she replied. The man watched in shock as her pale skin knitted
together. Tabitha took a few deep breaths. At least the ripping pain had faded
from her insides. She felt weak though, like she was ready to pass out. She
could tell she’d lost a lot of blood; she was sitting in a puddle of it. The man
crouched down beside her. He was younger than she’d first thought, under the
blood and grime. He couldn’t have been much older than her.

‘Is that
your
blood?’ he mumbled. He dabbed a finger in the silver fluid on her hands.

‘Don’t touch
me!’ she snapped, jumping up and staggering away.

‘Alright, I’m
sorry,’ he said defensively, backing off. ‘As long as you’re alright.’ Tabitha
looked him in the eyes, and saw a man as scared as she was. His black hair was a
tangle of dust and grit. He sat down on the road, and pulled up a trouser leg
to check his own wound. It wasn’t deep. More importantly though, it wasn’t
poisoned. ‘So what happened to you?’ he said. He grimaced as he pressed blood
out of his wound.

‘I was
unconscious,’ Tabitha replied, leaning against the car. She felt dizzy, but she
had to stay on her feet. ‘I woke up today, and suddenly it’s the end of the
world.’

‘So you didn’t
see
any
of this?’ he replied. Tabitha shook her head. ‘But that was
three days ago,’ he said. Tabitha stared at him, disbelieving.
Three days?
How could she have been unconscious for
three
days?

‘Tell me what
happened,’ she said. ‘From the start.’ He pointed her in the direction of the
town hall, and the clock tower that was shattered to rubble.

‘Let’s keep
moving,’ he suggested, with a sniffing nervous tick. They started off down the
road, looking back over their shoulders to make sure the hidden spiders weren’t
following.

‘They came out
of the sea, and just massacred us,’ he said, looking round at the abandoned
buildings. Some of the shops and offices simply stood empty and dark; others
had been torn down to ruins. ‘After the spiders, there were these huge black
things like squids. They were tearing buildings down. Like,
eating
them.
But like I said, that was three days ago. What happened to you?’ he said.
‘Where have you been?’

‘Unconscious, in
my house,’ she replied. ‘One of them stabbed me. Injected me with something. I
thought I was dying of a heart attack, and I passed out.’ The man stopped
walking.

‘You should be
dead,’ he mumbled, looking at her in disbelief. Tabitha shrugged. Maybe she
wished that it had killed her. She looked around at greying sheets of office
paper, tumbling and whispering down the street in the breeze. She saw a kid’s
cuddly toy face-down in a puddle, and had to look away.

‘Anyway, next
thing I know, I’ve woken up today like this,’ she said. Tabitha looked down at
her grey hands, still covered in silver blood. She wiped them on her jeans.

‘Well I’m glad you
came around when you did,’ he said, shell shocked, looking back at the spidery
silver corpses on the road.

‘So tell me what
happened next,’ said Tabitha.

‘Well, like I
said, all this happened three days ago. In the middle of the night. The sky
turned white, like lightning, but… everywhere. It’s hard to explain. Then all
the lights went out. Everything just stopped working.’

‘EMP,’ Tabitha
muttered. Something straight out of a film.

‘What?’

‘EMP,’ she
repeated. Hadn’t he heard of that? The man just shook his head, bemused. ‘It’s
something from science fiction,’ she explained. He shrugged. ‘Electro-Magnetic
Pulse… it fries every circuit in the blast radius.’ She felt like a knob for
saying
blast radius
. No one said that.

‘Does it do
that
?
’ he replied, nodding up behind her.
Turning, Tabitha saw a fallen satellite buried in the roof of a shop.

‘…Yeah,’ she
mumbled, staring at it with a grim fascination. It was huge, ruined. A hulking
lump of space hardware sticking out from mossy roof tiles. An even stranger
sight than the rubble of shops around it.

‘Well, I’m Dev,
by the way,’ he said, holding out his hand. Breaking the hard silence of a dead
world.

‘Tabitha,’ she
replied, shaking his hand as gently as she could. She could see the shock in
his eyes then, the moment he took hold of cold metal instead of soft warm skin.
He didn’t pull away though; he had the courtesy not to mention it either. His
smile faded to a haunted stare.

‘I just saw my
brother die, before you found me,’ he said, hoarse voice trembling. He clamped
a bloody hand over his eyes, sobbed for a moment, and wiped the tears away down
his dusty cheeks.

‘I mean, what is
this?’ he said, looking around at the shattered world. ‘Is it punishment from
god or something? They’ve
killed everyone!
What are we supposed to do?’

‘I don’t know,’
Tabitha mumbled quietly. Hesitating, she put a grey hand on Dev’s shoulder as
he sank down to his knees on the road. His sobs clashed against the silence and
the peaceful birdsong. The sky was a gleaming blue. Towering clouds shone white
in the sun. Their world had ended; Earth had carried on as if nothing had
happened. The thought struck her then, a hard grim revelation. This was a new
world now. And it wasn’t one that tolerated weakness. Every gap and shattered
window could have a spider inside it, waiting for its chance.

‘We should get
moving,’ she said softly. Tabitha stamped her own raw grief deep down. Buried
it under a good layer of grit, to dig up later when she could afford to. If
they both fell apart now, the world would soon finish them off.

‘Come on,’ she
insisted. She took Dev’s hand to pull him to his feet. ‘It’s dangerous here. We
should get going.’ Dev stood up, wiped his bloodshot eyes, and nodded sadly.

BOOK: Tabitha
2.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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