Max steps forward but I stop him, grabbing his arm and pulling him back.
“Conor?” I call.
The form moves and unfolds. Two brilliant blue eyes stare at me.
“Bitsy?” he asks. It is Conor who started calling me Bitsy, and the name just stuck. Now as the kid looks at me I nod. In seconds he is out of the wardrobe and in my arms. The odd thing is that he ignores Max.
Keeping his head cradled against my chest I move fast, past his mum and dad. He doesn’t need to see them, I just hope he hasn’t seen too much. As I run I notice that he is very warm.
Reaching the living room I pop him on the sofa.
“Are you okay?” I ask, checking his head and neck. His clothes are crumpled but clean and he seems okay.
He’s watching me with too big eyes and is breathing very shallowly.
“Conor?” I ask, stopping and truly looking at him.
“Dad went bad.”
I stare. Conor has been a bright child, but the age of three he was able to have a telephone conversation with you. I remember at Christmas time he rang me to tell me to look out for the Grinch. He stayed on the phone for a good half-hour before Mel found him. Turns out he had decided to call me without telling his mum. We laughed over it, but she moved the phone higher. So the simple language that Conor is using seems completely wrong.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“He came back from finding food and said that someone had bitten him. Mum said that we needed to keep Daddy in quarantine. But she let him out,” Conor says this all in strangely detached voice.
“Where was Daddy?” I ask.
“In the basement.”
I turn to Max. He hasn’t made a sound, but I just know that he is there. “Can you check? There is a cellar off the kitchen.”
He nods and leaves.
“Mummy said that he would be alright because it was over a day and he hadn’t become…” Conor screws up his face and a tear leaks from his eye.
I frown. The incubation period for the virus is meant to be really short. So Mel was right if Philip hadn’t turned in a day.
Max comes back in. “Looks like he was doing a lot of reading down there but there is no sign or smell of him turning.”
I fill Max in on what Conor has said.
“I had heard that there were some that were almost immune.”
“Almost?” I ask.
Max shrugs. “They do turn eventually.”
Conor is still sitting on the sofa but his head is following our conversation. “Daddy bit me,” he says.
“What?” I ask.
“Where?” Max asks.
Conor holds out his arm and there, on his forearm, is a perfect adult bite. I feel my emotions drain out of me. I look at Max and I know that my face says everything. I can’t lose Conor. Mel and Philip had been the only family I had after Ricky died. I can’t lose them all.
Max takes his arm and pushes the skin around the bite. It is slightly swollen but there is no pus or infection.
“There are two options,” he says. Both me and Conor watch him. “The first is that we leave him to see if he will turn. And the other is that we turn him.” Max looks at me with the last sentence. He is suggesting that we make Conor like us.
“What is the chance of him being immune?” I ask.
“I’ve never heard of anyone being. But it could take weeks or hours.”
I go and sit down on a chair, sinking into the softness and smelling Mel. This was her favourite place to sit when she came in from working in the garden.
“I’m going to become like Dad?” Conor asks.
“Yes,” Max says.
“Can you stop it?”
Max pauses and looks at me. “We can,” I say, “but you will change.”
Conor gave me a look that was far too old for his years. “But I will die if you don’t.”
“He has a point,” Max says.
Max doesn’t reach for a syringe, but instead goes into the kitchen.
“What’s he doing?” Conor asks.
“I don’t know.” I hold out my hand and Conor takes it. I pull him onto the chair and hug him. The fever is a little worse.
“Max?” I call out.
“Yeah?” He answers from the kitchen but doesn’t come in.
“He has a fever.”
I hear Max drop something.
“Bitsy?” Connor says. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Hurry up Max,” I call out and tighten my grip around Conor.