I pause before I open the door out of the cells. Turning, I wonder if I ought to try any of the others. Conor looks with me.
“Do you think there are people in there?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. Should I look? I’m not certain. I feel that we need to run, to escape. I take a step back and Conor takes one with me. I smile at him, trying to show my confidence, but I know it doesn’t reach my eyes.
I’m about to turn to one of the doors when something slams into the other side of the double doors in front of us. Conor gives a little cry and I release his hand. If I have to fight then I will need both hands. The lock suddenly goes with a crack and is followed by a shrieking claxon. In front of me is Max, except there is something wrong. He is swaying.
“Bitsy,” he whispers and falls to his knees.
I rush forward and hug him to me, supporting his weight. As I do I feel something in his back. Carefully I lower him to the floor. In his back is what looks like a dart. I carefully pull it from him and smell the barb. It has a distinctive chemical smell. I check his pulse. It is slow and strong.
“Is he alright?” Conor asks.
“I think so,” I say. “They have drugged him.”
“Wake him up!” Conor yells.
I look down. I really do need to wake him. Although the corridor is empty I know that the alarm will bring them running.
“Help me turn him over,” I say.
There is only one way I can think of to get him responsive, fast. Pushing, we manage to flip him. I don’t think, I simply do. Taking a bite of my own wrist I place it at his mouth. I just hope it works. For a moment nothing happens. In the distance I can hear footsteps. They are running, but only at the speed of humans. They will be here in a moment.
“Come on, Max,” I whisper.
Finally, I feel him latch on and pull at my wrist. His hand comes up and holds my arm in place.
“Bitsy, they are coming,” Conor says, his voice filled with distress. I nod.
Leaning over I place my face near Max’s. “Max, I need you.”
He grunts and his eyes open. They fill with shock as he realises what is happening. He releases me and swipes his tongue across the bite. He starts to sit up and I can see the questions on his face.
I shake my head. There is no time.
“We have to run. Now!”
Then I’m up, grabbing Conor. He wraps his arms and legs around me. “You, keep up!” I say to Max, and then I am running.
I can feel Max behind me but I’m worried he won’t last long. I’m not even sure how long I can keep up this speed holding onto Conor. Still, while I can I will keep going. I retrace our steps.
Max’s breathing is ragged but he is still there. I see the entrance and the five guards, guns pointing at the door. I don’t stop. Instead, I speed up faster. Max grunts and copies me. To the humans we won’t even register, except as a blur. I push the door and am through before they even pick up the rifles. Max is behind me, but I can tell he is slowing. I just hope we can reach the wooded area around the centre.
Max falls further behind. I run on. Fast. Finally I let Conor drop to the floor and stop.
“We have to go back,” Conor says.
I nod. “We are.”
I scent the air and then I smell one. Conor does the same.
“A gone?” he asks.
“Max needs one.”
He nods and starts toward it. I stop him. “No, it could be dangerous.”
Conor gives me a look and I realise that he has grown up far too fast. “I’ll be careful.”
For a long second I stay quiet. If I don’t let him come there is a likelihood that he will follow anyway. “You stay behind me and do what I say.”
“Okay,” he says.
Moving fast, but not at the speed I have been, I track the smell to a house. It looks like a normal semi-detached, but inside there is more than one gone. Silently I go to the front door. It’s closed tight. All I can assume is that the family took refuge here and one of them turned. Putting my shoulder to the plastic door I push. I once saw a real life police programme. In it a young cop explained that he hated plastic doors because you bounce when you try to break them down. So I don’t throw my shoulder at it. Instead I lean and apply force. Inside the door I hear a creaking and finally it gives, popping open with a crack. Inside the smell is bad.
“Wait here, Conor,” I say. But I don’t have to move into the house. The gone are coming to me. They just shuffle toward me. I ignore all of them and grab what I think must have been the dad. Dragging it back I snap its neck and start to walk the way we have come. I notice that Conor hasn’t moved. He is just standing in the front garden looking at the door.
“Conor?” I ask.
A tear slips from his eye.
I turn then and look. I hadn’t noticed but stumbling toward us is the mother, still in her apron, and beside her a girl no older than Conor. I place a hand on his shoulder.
“We need to save Max,” I say.
He nods and turns away. The family stumble into the early morning and hiss at the sun. What has become of the world? And do I really want to survive. Then I look down at my best friend’s child. I have to survive for him.
We start retracing our steps. At some point the gone starts to give cries of pain when the sunlight hits him. I ignore them.