“Aim for the head. That kills them. Anywhere else and they are just paralysed. If the stake gets taken out again go back to being the same monsters as before.”
“Am I doing it right, dad?”
“You’re a natural sweetie.”
The red eyes and foaming mouths are too familiar, they appear in my dreams every night. I still hear their high pitch screams in mind, and whenever I see something move in the bushes, I imagine the sound of Rabid’s teeth grinding together. Everything from the smell of rotting flesh, to the clothes hanging in tatters from grey coloured skin, is familiar, and it still scares me.
I try to stare down the rabid closest to me – a male who looks way less decayed than the other rabid, I guess that he is newer to this ‘lifestyle’ – but I quickly remember that it is dead; the only action programmed into it is to kill – a simple stare down is not going to put the rabid off. I pick up a stone from the leaf-covered ground and throw it with all my might at a tree behind the Rabids. The knock of the stone connecting with the tree is loud enough to distract them. As soon as the nearest Rabid has its back turned, I cover the few metres between us and stake the rabid right through the stomach – the stake glides through the rotting flesh like a knife through half melted butter, there is no resistance. I can’t stake him in the head because he is too human like – I can’t bring myself to do it. One down, one more to go, I tell myself in encouragement. The now paralysed rabid falls to the ground, with a look of what appears to be surprise, on its face. The second rabid – a female – screams in anger.
I raise another of my stakes above my head and fling it at the rabid. Not realising what is happening, the female rabid starts to charge, but before she can take a second step, and my well thrown stake hits her in the chest. The crack from the breaking ribs, as the stake penetrates the body, makes me feel a little queasy. I don’t like killing Rabids as they are so human-like, I have to keep reminding myself that they are no longer human, the plague has taken them away.
I sink to the ground shaking with adrenaline. I sit against a tree whilst I try to calm my racing heart. I did it. I’m alive, the Rabids are dead and James is fine and going to stay that way, I think. I am reminded that I have to go and find James, he can’t be far.
I speak to my dad in my head. I saved James, Dad. I killed those Rabids and I’m glad nothing bad happened; well James has hurt his ankle from falling over some tree roots but that can be healed. I can’t help feeling that I could have saved you too, Dad. If I can do it now, then I could have done it for you. I didn’t even try, I ran away. I’m sorry. No matter which way I think about my father’s death, I’m sure that it’s my fault.
I see James and run up to him.
“Oh, Lottie, I was so worried about you. If you’d got hurt or turned then I don’t know what I would’ve done.” I hug James and help him up by slinging his arm round my shoulders for support. Even though James is hurt he still has to carry his pack because I can’t manage all of our things and James.
“James, I need you to have a plan…if I die then you’ll need one. You’re a smart boy. I know you can survive on your own, but I need you to know that you can. Promise me that if anything happens to me that you will carry on our search. Find the people there and make a life for yourself. Live your life. Pl-”
“Charlotte, stop!” James interrupts with a shout. It stuns me for two reasons – he doesn’t often use my full name and he sounds so incredibly angry.
“James, I’m sorry, but we need to talk about this.”
“Fine, okay, but not now. I’m tired and I don’t want to talk about this. Another time.”
For the next half an hour I try all kinds of methods to keep James moving – his ankle hurts him. I try piggy-backs, coaxing him with food – the last of our supply – but nothing can help him to carry on. Our earlier conversation wasn’t brought up again. We are both tired; I try to find a patch of trees with decent shelter, so we can set up camp for the night. The path starts to slope upwards and I know that it will be too much for James to manage. I am close to stopping and turning around when the dying sun reflects off something silver. I throw off my pack and leave it with James so I can run freely up the hill. I am filled with joy.
“James, it’s a Silver Circle! Come quickly!”
“Lottie, my ankle, you have to help me.” James calls, in a slightly distressed, yet excited, voice.
“Oh, sorry, James; I forgot.” I laugh and for the first time in weeks, I really mean it. I pull James up the hill with newfound strength.
We set up camp in the very centre of the circle, just to be safe; even though Rabids can’t enter Silver Circles, it’s better to be safe than sorry. James went to sleep inside the tent and I park myself outside. I get comfortable and prepare myself for a long, sleepless night.
It’s only been ten minutes and I hear a noise; I think it is talking. I check on James to see if it is him - it isn’t. The talking gets louder. I stand outside the tent holding a defensive position as a figure appears, coming up the hill. He doesn’t look like he is going to attack, though looks can be deceiving so I only half relax.
“I don’t mean you any harm, really.” The man calls out in a soft, but loud, voice. From what I can see, the man is tall and blonde.
“Stay there.” I command. “James, come here.” I hiss. I motion for the figure to stand still, and he obeys - I gain a little trust in him. James comes out of the tent sleepily.
“I’m sorry if I startled you. My group and I saw the Circle and we were just going to set up camp here. If you want us to, we’ll leave but my group is tired and staying would mean a good night’s sleep.” The man steps into the Circle, but I’m not scared of him anymore. His eyes sparkle in the torch-light; his face is soft and friendly, yet structured. I want to trust the man even though I don’t know him.
“If there’s enough room then you can stay.”
“Thank you…oh, what’s your name? I’m Zach.”