“Come on,” he says as he breaks into a run. I love to run. I mean, before the change it was like pure hell, but now it is the best thing ever; the fact that I can move fast and my body responds without soreness or pain. If anything it is like the inhibitions that had kept me held back from using my body to its full extent are gone.
At some point Max drops my hand and we run side by side, arms pumping and legs working. I wonder what my time for a marathon would be, but then I would probably be disqualified for being non-human. Still, this has got to be my favourite thing. I glance at Max. So far.
We must have been running for about twenty minutes when Max slows. Before us is the high street of Sudbury on Thames. I start to walk.
“Which street are they on,” he asks.
I keep my eyes on the houses. I’m looking for twitching curtains and the possibility of survivors. I’m not sure if Mel and Philip would have stayed in their house, but I’m hoping that if they see me they will come out into the street.
I can smell some of the others, as well as death, but they are background scents. Instead, I remember the busy High Street with the people and the cars. Now the roads are empty and doors stand open, gently swinging in the breeze.
“There’s no one here,” I whisper, as if my voice will shatter the silence.
“Where do they live?” Max asks.
“Next to the Red Herring.”
He looks at me in disbelief. “The fishmongers.”
He shakes his head and starts walking. I follow, following the fragrant but strong smell of rotting fish.
He stops outside the white and blue building, quaint in its charming picture box exterior. The blue sign across the front proclaiming the name, Red Herring, and the produce, fish.
“I thought you were kidding,” he says.
I don’t answer. Instead I’m transported back to a time when I went shopping here. Mel had asked me to go to next door and get a bit of fish, so I’d found myself in the shop staring at an array of dead sea dwellers.
“Can I help?” a man in white had asked from behind the counter. In fact everything in the shop was blaringly white.
“Mel asked me to get some fish,” I said.
“From next door,” I said, motioning with a hand behind me.
He smiled and looked at me politely. I took a deep breath and tried to work out what to get. Oddly the place didn’t smell strongly of fish, but lemons. It made me want to sneeze.
“Are you feeding kids?” the man asked and I noticed that he has a name tag on. He was called Ray. Really, there was a Ray serving in a fish shop. I smiled and he echoed me.
“In that case…” he pointed out the rock salmon. I know that it is great battered, and I nod. When I took my prize next door it had been greeted with relief.
“I was worried that you’d get something posh like flat fish or something. But a batter I can do. Fish and chips it is,” Mel said.
It had tasted nice. I remember eating my own and finishing off Conor’s.
“Mel used to make great fish and chips,” I say to Max.
“Yeah?” I know what he’s asking. He wants to know why they didn’t just buy a greasy paper filled with them.
“Mel liked to cook it so that there was less fat.” Max looks at me and seems confused. “For Conor.” I know that up to this point I haven’t mentioned Conor. Really, I was worried that they would be concerned about the prospect of taking on a child.
“Child?” he asks.
“They lived there?” He points to the house next door with the duck egg blue door. I nod. The door is closed, but there is no sign of anyone being there.
“That’s Mel’s car,” I say, nodding to the small smart car in front of it. It is bright yellow and reflects my friend’s personality completely.
Max starts walking to the front door and I follow. He stoops and opens the white picket fence. We always laughed about the fence and the front garden. Mel has filled the space with hedge but it is only about six feet and then the front door looms. Max looks through the oval window.
“Can’t see anyone.”
I hang back. I’m not sure I want to see my friends as others or dead. Then we both hear a scream.
“That’s Mel,” I say.
Max doesn’t hesitate. He puts his shoulder to the door and shoves it open, the old wood crumbling around the lock and we are in. There are noises and panting from upstairs. Max shoots up and I follow. As I reach the small landing I see Philip barrel out of the main bedroom. Except it isn’t Philip. Not really. He is gone and the creature that is blindly charging Max is an other.
I can smell him, and the blue tinge of the skin is horrible, as is the sound he is making. He is mewling like a new born child. Max doesn’t hesitate. He grabs his head and snaps his neck, slowly lowering the body to the floor. Like the other I had incapacitated for Colin, this one continues to snap its mouth open and closed.
Max raises a hand to keep me back and he walks into the room. I can hear breathing and what sounds like gurgling.
I go to Max. On the bed lies Mel. She is only just alive and I can see that there is nothing we can do. Philip has severed an artery in her neck.
“Mel,” I cry and crawl over the blood-soaked bed to hold her. She is trying to say something. I think it is Conor.
“I’ll find him.”
Mel gives one last sigh and then closes her eyes. I don’t know what happened or why Philip turned, but the loss of them both hits me like a hammer blow to the chest. If I had moved faster…
“Stop,” Max says.
“You are beating yourself up. We had no idea that he was going to turn and attack her.”
I nod, but a small voice doesn’t stop telling me off for taking too long.
“Do you see Conor?” I ask.
Max walks around the room and stops outside the wardrobe. He reaches for the doors and we both hear movement from the other side. I look back at Mel and brush a lock of her hair away from her face. I climb off the bed and nod to Max. He throws open the doors to reveal clothes.
At the bottom, in the corner, something moves.