“St Catherine’s,” said the brunette, her voice flat, defeated.
The man turned back and the brunette stared out the window into the dark. Never had the world seemed so horribly unwelcoming.
Nick laid open her jacket and swore. “First-aid kit?”
“Here,” The guy in the front produced one and the brunette flicked on the little interior light.
“S’okay,” said Ros, her eyelids dragging downward. Keeping them open was too much hassle. She could sleep for years with the aid of her friends the pain pills. It felt so good just to give into the pull of them. “It’s just bleeding a little.”
“Fuck,” hissed Nick. “She’s torn it open.”
Had she? Huh. It didn’t even hurt. She was so damn tired.
Nick started to say something but sleep had already claimed her.
Nick stood on the frosted front lawn of St Catherine’s as the sun came up. The once-immaculate gardens had run wild and the front door stood open. Without a doubt, there’d be zombies inside the walls of the big old mansion. But the stone walls stood a story tall and the modern steel gates worked just fine.
“We’re going to have to clear it out,” said Ros.
Her face still looked too damn pale but she seemed pretty steady on her feet. Not that he’d be removing his arm from around her waist to test that theory. It would be nice to tell her to get her butt back in the car, to go rest. Those days, however, were gone. He’d had three separate heart attacks through the night. Years had been taken off him. Fucking amazing that they were still alive at all, really.
Ros had kept her head. Turned out she wasn’t a bad shot after all, even heavily sedated.
“I smell funny,” she said.
He tightened his arm around her, needing her close. That was the truth. “Yeah. Me too.”
She’d cleaned up with some wet wipes, but still. They could have all done with a bath. The front of her T-shirt was stained with dried blood. Her wound had been seen to, sealed with some superglue and re-bandaged. An old army trick for emergencies. She’d have a bad scar, but she’d live.
The group all stared at the open door in silence. Everyone was worn thin. At least they were still alive. He’d had serious doubts they’d live to see the dawn.
“Let’s see if we can draw them out,” said Erin. “Better than spilling infected blood inside.”
“There’ll be noise either way.” Ali shrugged, a hand rubbing over her belly.
“What if there are people in the area? Do we really want to announce we’ve arrived?” The big dark haired dude, Dan, stood beside her with an arm slung around her shoulder. Apparently she had Finn and him on a string. So long as no one made eyes at Roslyn, Nick couldn’t much care.
“There’s been no signs of life nearby,” said Joe, one of his former workmates. He’d been watching the sleeping town below through binoculars for the last few hours. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the area for a while now. Just in case. The captain was diligent about that.”
No one spoke much about Sean, or Matty and Cooper. And Lila, the woman who’d helped Roslyn, she went unmentioned too. Everyone looked fucked-up. Tired and worn out. Hope had dried up for the moment, disappeared into thin air.
Finn said little. Like Erin, he seemed to have taken the expulsion from Blackstone particularly hard. Either Joe or Duncan shadowed Erin at all times. For the most part she appeared to ignore them. Apparently it had been going on for some time. Clearly Erin was a far more reasonable woman than Ros. She’d have had a pink fit at being followed around. Tempting to try it though.
Joe gave him a look, eyes flicking to Erin for a moment. None of them wanted to get into close-quarters combat inside. Keeping the people they cared about safe was an ongoing battle as it was.
“Might as well meet any neighbors,” said Dan, breaking the standoff.
“Do it,” said Finn. “We’ve lost enough people. Let’s keep this in the open as much as we can.”
Joe raised a pistol in the air and pulled the trigger. The noise shredded the dawn quiet. A flock of birds squawked and took flight from out of one of the huge Norfolk Pines nearby. Moaning came from within the building.
There’d been a stash of weaponry in the car, first-aid packs and energy bars, plus some bottles of water. Finn held a machete. A brutal choice of weapon, but highly effective. When the first zombie stumbled out the front door he was more than ready for it. It looked like the former sheriff of Blackstone had some anger to release. The thing’s head went flying. Another wandered out into the garden from somewhere out the back. The blade sunk into its skull and stayed there. Finn put a foot to its face and pulled the machete free with a slightly scary smile. A third and fourth came shambling out and fell just as fast. With a snarl the man strode into the grand old building and no one moved to stop him. No one was that damn crazy.
“He needs to get it out,” said Ali, her mouth set.
Dan kissed her hair. “Yeah. I’ll just make sure nothing sneaks up on him, okay?”
The woman nodded and Dan headed inside after the cop.
“You must blame us for this,” said Ros, out of the fucking blue. Not the best timing, nor the right topic. He was half tempted to cover her mouth with his hand and hustle her back to the car. Get them the hell out of there before someone took offence. Everyone was armed to the teeth and she had to start talking about feelings.
Nick cleared his throat. “Sweetheart—”
“I mean, you’ve been kicked out of your home. People have died tonight because of us.”
Ah, shit. There was no stopping her. The woman was a landslide once her lovely mouth got going. Damn it. Why couldn’t she have kept her lips closed for a little longer? Digging at these people’s fresh wounds couldn’t be smart. Her and her need to know could be damn inconvenient at times.
Joe just looked at her, all contemplative-like. Everyone looked at her. And Ros looked calmly back, waiting.
Nick tensed. He still had his gun in his belt. One wrong move on anyone’s part in Ros’s direction and they were out of there.
“Dad would have been horrified at what happened tonight,” said Erin, finally breaking the silence.
Ali nodded and sighed. “I still can’t believe they did that. Just forced us out.”
“No, we don’t blame you,” said Erin. “Your man brought you to us rather than see you die. And we stood up rather than see him get hanged based on nothing more than supposition and fear. People have been afraid for months. Newcomers were a convenient target. I’d prefer not to fall into that trap.”
Joe said nothing. But then, he always had been a tight-lipped bastard.
“My father had a way with people …” Erin studied the ground at her feet. “He kept them calm and gave them hope. Gave them a purpose. Once he was gone they lost it. No one seemed to know what to do or who to listen to. And too many people wanted to be heard.”
“Everyone wanted to be top dog,” said Ali. “There was a lot of infighting. Dan, Finn and I copped a fair amount of suspicion for arriving so soon before it all went bad.”
Ros watched everyone with an eerie calm. Or at least it seemed eerie to him. Though any time he couldn’t read her it spooked him out. He just hoped she knew what she was doing. It felt a lot like skipping through a field of landmines to him.
“We’d even talked about the possibility of leaving a couple of times,” said Ali. “But Finn was so certain things would calm down. I think they just wanted to feel safe. But the fear of other people and what they might do ate at them. ”
Joe stepped forward. “You trust Nick?”
“I do,” said Ros. “Implicitly.”
“You’re trusting him with our lives too,” said Erin. “Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” said Ros. “It you want us to leave, we will, and without malice. But I’m hoping you’re not going to do that. Neither of us mean any of you harm. We never did.”
And suddenly every eye in the place was on him, measuring his worth. None seemed openly hostile. Plenty, however, looked guarded.
“It’s hard to know who to trust these days,” said Ali, her hands smoothing over her baby bump. The woman had to be afraid. Delivering babies wasn’t always as simple as nature intended. There were no doctors on standby here, no one who could really help if things went to shit.
He was just glad he and Roslyn weren’t in that situation. Yet. Hell, they’d never even talked about kids. His mind emptied. It just blanked. The idea scared every last thought clear from his head. Talk of future plans was such a bizarre notion.
Roslyn as a mother. Okay, he could imagine that.
But him as a father? Fuck.
There went the fourth heart attack for the night. It was all he could do to keep to his feet.
Ros tucked her hand into his, a silent statement of solidarity. He held on tight.
“Alright,” said Joe. “He’s fine with me for now. We can talk more about it later.”
Erin nodded jerkily. He had the worst feeling the woman was about to cry. But then, it had definitely been one of those nights.
Ali gave him and Roslyn a small, mysterious woman-type smile.
Duncan stared off into the distance. He’d been close to the late Captain Sean. The lack of ready acceptance wasn’t really a surprise. Maybe this wouldn’t work out, staying with these people. But if Roslyn wanted to try then it was fine with him. Safety in numbers and all that. It might be nice for her to be around people who wouldn’t sell her out anytime soon. His faith in people had disappeared over the years, but the events of last night were making him think twice.
Cool little fingers squeezed his hand.
“It’s going to be okay,” said Ros.
“Yeah,” he said, feeling pretty amazed actually. “I guess it is.”
“I’ve been watching you,” Nick announced, like it was something unique.