We crept closer to the stone building, careful not to make any unnecessary noise. I kept looking around, expecting to see a zombie lurching towards us out of the darkness. Every shift in the shadows was an immediate threat. I kept my eyes trained on the thicket, not looking where I was going and almost plowed into Mark who had stopped. He glanced at me in askance. I raised my hands in apology and he nodded once before turning back towards where the sheriff had stopped.
The sheriff was holding court, issuing instructions. We were to form a single line, he and Webster in the front while the rest of us brought up the rear. We were to leave our gear outside.
Naturally, Tilly had something to say about it,
“Now, hang on a second-“
Roberts whirled around on him, quicker that anyone I thought his size possible. We all gasped in shock as he whipped out his gun, cocked it and pressed the barrel into Tilly’s nose. Fletch yelled and lurched, gripping Tilly’s arm, as if he wanted to yank him out of the way. Roberts leaned in close, his teeth bared as he snarled at Tilly.
“Shut it, you.”
Even in the predawn light, I saw Tilly’s face blanch. My throat closed up. I broke out into a cold sweat, drenching my shirt, my heart hammering a mile a minute.
Webster, the only one with any presence of mind to act rationally, put his hand on the sheriff’s arm, speaking in a calm voice,
“Paul, c’mon now. There’s no need for this.” He glared at Tilly, “I’m sure the Donalds’ boy didn’t mean anything by it.”
We waited for what seemed like endless minutes before Roberts suddenly smiled. He pressed the barrel harder into Tilly’s nose, nudging his head back. As he lowered his gun, he spoke to all of us while keeping his eyes on Tilly,
“One more sound and there’ll be hell to pay.” His beady eyes swept all of us. “Got it?” Once he’d turned away, Tilly bent over, the sounds of his retching breaking the stillness of the morning. He straightened up, hands on his hips as he gulped in air. My own nausea rose, responding to his and I swallowed hard, drawing in deep breaths. I don’t know if anyone replied to him as my knees suddenly gave away. Mark gripped my arm before I could hit the dirt.
“You okay?” He asked, his voice low.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, struggling not to throw up. “Give me a minute.”
I cradled my head in my hands. I stayed that way for a moment, ignoring everything that was being said around me. The sweats continued. I wiped my face, wishing that this night were already over.
“Hey you,” Webster called. I glanced over at him. His face was twisted in a sneer, “Get up. You wanna be sick, do it somewhere else.”
“Lay off,” Fletch snapped. “He’s fine. Let’s just do this already.”
I struggled to get to my feet. Mark held out his hand and I clasped it gratefully. My legs still felt a little wobbly but I would fight my way through it.
Roberts gave the go ahead for Webster to open the door. As much as he tried to keep quiet, the metallic screech filled the air, setting off the birds in trees closest to us. I winced, pressing my hand against my stomach.
So much for the element of surprise.
Mark passed the deputy the flashlight then came to stand in front of me, Fletcher to my rear. Tilly stood beside Mark, his face tense. We crowded around Webster and Roberts as they stood in the doorway, the beam of the flashlight hitting nothing but darkness.
Webster aimed it down and we saw a flight of stone stairs. The cold, sour smell of mildew radiated from the darkness. I covered my nose, hoping that I wouldn’t heave all over the place.
Webster leaned in a little bit, then clicked the flashlight off.
“I think there’s a light down there.” He angled a look at the rest of us. “Let’s go.”
He led the way down, disappearing into the darkness. I started to follow Mark when Fletch placed a hand on my shoulders, stopping me. I glanced back at him,
He had this weird look on his face. He dropped his hand, putting the both of them into his jacket pocket.
“Archie always thought of you as a brother.”
Grateful for a chance to delay the inevitable, I turned my back to the open doorway, sucking in the fresh air. I shrugged, not understanding what he was getting at,
“We grew up together, all of us. Of course, he would think of us as brothers.”
“No, not all of us.” He said, stepping closer. “Just you.”
I frowned and stepped back. His eyes were steady, looking straight into mine. As if I didn’t feel uneasy enough already, a kernel of a thought started to sow its way through my over-stressed brain cells. I took another step back, not liking the way he was in my space all of a sudden.
“What the hell do you mean by that?”
Something shifted in his eyes. It was so faint, so quick, that I was almost positive I might have imagined it. He shook his head, his face unreadable.
“No one is immune to him, you know.”
Shivers raced up my spine and I shook my head, trying to clear it,
“What are you talking about? What's wrong with you?”
Fletch just stood there, still as a frigging stature. My mouth went dry. My stomach cramped painfully as other thoughts started to form. I opened my mouth to ask him again but he suddenly shook his head, giving me that familiar Fletch-grin,“Nothing. Let’s get inside.”
*to be continued*
3 Word Wednesday: Drench, Radiate and Immune