“Here,” Colin hands me a handkerchief. A real one. It is slightly rumpled but clean. I mumble a thank you and dab at my eyes.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Max says.
I agree, although I think it is an odd way to say it.
“We have to go down,” I say. It is more of a statement rather than a question. I am trying to talk myself into being brave, but both of the guys nod. It is me who takes the first step though.
The road is clear until you get to the aftermath, I am guessing that the police had kept it clear. It is a guess though as there are no police cars or any sign of cars. It is as if everyone ran out of here at once, taking every available vehicle. I can’t think what that would mean… What were they running from and do I really want to find out?
I have slowed but the guys pass me and I follow.
“They ran,” Colin says.
“But from what?” I ask.
Neither answers me. Colin looks as shocked as I am sure I do, but Max doesn’t seem surprised at all. In fact, after the airport he appears to have gone numb, almost hiding his emotions. I feel detached but I also feel everything. I’m trying to hold onto the panic but it is as if I am balanced on the very edge of a cliff. One small thing could make me tumble forward.
We reach the beds. Most are turned over, but some are standing upright, abandoned and stark. There are sheets crumpled into heaps all around and I wonder if they hide bodies. Colin seems to agree with me as he goes up to the nearest heap and grasps the sheet.
“I wouldn’t,” Max says.
“Why?” Colin asks.
“I just wouldn’t.”
Colin does anyway, ripping back the sheet to reveal nothing… Well, no body, but as the sheet flies into the air it releases a load of white ash. Ash? I step forward and put my hand into the cloud before it disperses. It is sort of like ash, but as the particles touch my skin they disappear and are gone.
“What?” I ask, turning to the guys.
Max is just blinking and moving away from us, his mouth opening and closing in shock. I don’t understand why he is so upset. It is just ash and a sheet.
“That isn’t supposed to happen…” he says, his voice rough and his eyes wide with horror. He turns a full circle and then looks back at us. “It was only meant to…” He stops.
“What?” Colin demands.
Max just shakes his head. I can see Colin getting angry and I wonder what Max has to do with all this. What does he know?
“What did you do?” Colin asks, stepping forward, into Max’s space.
Max holds out his hands in a peace gesture. “Nothing.”
“Really?” Colin says.
“Yes,” Max says, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a pack of cigarettes. I find this really odd, as I’ve not seen him smoke, despite all the stress we’ve been under. “I didn’t have to do anything. It was already here when we landed.”
Colin looks at the red and white packet and steps back. “Don’t,” he says.
Max shakes his head. “It only works if you smoke it.”
I shake my head. “How…” I start, but then a bundle of sheets behind him moves. I scream and point.