We barely made it to the building before the lights went back on. Ahlaam shut the door behind us just as the night turned to day outside and the compound was bathed in harsh fllodlights.
‘That was close,’ Prez said. We were in a corridor that led the length of the building. It was dark but we could just make out doors on each side. I walked to wards the first one and examined the metal door in front of me. It looked sturdy, a flap was placed halfway up. A clasp held it upright in position. ‘Open it’ I heard Ahlaam say.
I loosened it off and quietly opened the flap. It was dark in the pace beyond the door. Lily shone a penlight through the hatch, the light blinding us for a second. We could make out a couple of bunk beds against the far wall. The smell was frankly disgusting, the smell of human excrement, Lily withdrew quickly from the hatch in disgust. I saw Zee gag for a minute, as the stench appeared to get worse. Covering her nose and mouth Lily once again played the light around the room. Each bed held a slight figure wearing the same clothing as we were.
‘Hello, who are you,’ Lily asked
There was no sound from the bodies. Crissy tried the door and found that it opened. It moved inwards creaking slightly as it did so. We held our breath, as the smell got worse. Lily’s torch made out a bucket on the floor, obviously the source of the smell, a toilet bucket. Judging by the smell, it hadn’t been emptied for a long time. Lily slowly went into the room carefully avoiding the bucket. She knelt down at the side of the bed and looked at the person. She gingerly touched the person’s hand before withdrawing it quickly.
‘I think they’re dead’ she said in a voice a little lower than a whisper.
Ahlaam moved forward and reached out feeling the person pulse.
‘I think you’re right’ she said evenly.
Standing up she looked at the person in the top bunk. She felt again for a pulse.
‘Sorry, another one who can’t be saved’ she said quietly shaking her head.
We left the room shutting the door behind us as we went. Standing outside we were all speechless, the shock of finding two dead bodies wasn’t what we expected to find. The conditions were far worse than any we had imagined.
‘Lets search the other rooms’, Ahlaam said quietly.
In pairs we went from room to room, the stench just as bad in every room that was opened. Crissy was with me when we opened a third door.
‘Do you think they’re all dead’ she said. Even through the normally demure exterior, you could see she had been rattled with finding so many dead bodies.
‘I don’t know, they don’t look as if they’ve been cared for. Did you notice some of the marks on their bodies? The bruises, they’ve been beaten at sometime.’ I replied.
I heard a cry from the room next door. Looking at each other, we quickly moved towards the sound. All of us stood in the doorway as we saw Ahlaam standing over another body.
‘What’s up?’ Prez asked
‘It’s Meg’ Ahlaam answered still holding the girl’s wrist.
‘You sure,’ Prez said pushing Ahlaam aside and looking down on the body.
I examined Prez’s face as she looked down on the body. I saw the look turn from puzzling to despair as she realised who was laid in front of her. I saw Prez’s body start to shake as she started to comprehend what was in front of her.
‘We’re too late, too f**king late’ Ahlaam said hugging Lily. Meg had spent a fair bit of time with Lily, Ahlaam, Prez and EH and they’d become close. I could feel the sorrow in their minds as they stood looking down on the lifeless shell that had once been their friend. The silence was all encompassing, the smells forgotten as they all gently kissed the forehead of Meg.
‘We need to take her away’ Prez said firmly
‘No, that’s no good,’ Ahlaam stated, ‘she’s gone, it’s only a body. We’ll never get out with her.’
For the third time in the past few weeks we left a friends body for someone else to bury, the thought of Sinead were uppermost in my head. I had never got chance to say goodbye to her. We were all pulled back to the real world when we heard a cry from EH further down the corridor.
‘There’s one alive here’ EH said from the next room.
We rushed into the room. In the bottom bunk was a slight figure, a small girl about six years old. She was obviously malnourished; her bones could be seen through her paper like skin. She had huge brown eyes that given the skeleton like skull made her look faintly like an alien. However, she was alive.
‘it’s OK’ EH said, ‘we’ll get you out of here’
The girl looked around her, fright in her every glance. She shuffled to the back of the bunk.
‘Can we take her with us,’ EH said looking around at us.
Ahlaam looked at her wrist.
‘We’ll have to be quick, the next disruption to the power is in a few minutes.’ She said.
EH smiled and turned back to the girl.
‘Come on,’ EH said gently, ’I’ll look after you. Will you be my friend? I’ll look after you’
She held out her hand towards the girl, who moved further back almost climbing the wall to get away.
‘We need to get moving’ Prez said, ‘if she won’t come then we’ll have to leave her'
'I’m not leaving her. Come on, I promise, I'll look after you, EH said reaching out her arms to the girl, 'please come with me, I need you'
'NOW Tay' Ahlaam said,' we need to move NOW'
EH made one last effort climbing on top of the bunk towards the girl. She managed to get hold of her and ease her off the top of the bunk.
'It'll be fine, what's you name?' EH said, the girl clinging to her.
'Kylie' a really small voice said.
'I'm Tay, are you going to come with me Kylie?'
The girl nodded.
'Hold my hand then' EH said confidently.
The girl took EH's hand and looked up at her a smile appears on her grubby face.
'Good, lets get going' Ahlaam said, the strain in her voice showing a slight irritation about the length of time it was taking.
We moved back down the corridor towards the door we'd entered the building by. Time wasn't on our side. I estimated that we were a couple of minutes into the blackout already.