Viro (Book 3): Viro, page 1part #3 of Viro Series
For Iris, as per usual and always …
Copyright Barnaby Taylor 2018
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ISBN 978-1-9996332-5-7 (Ebook)
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‘There you are,’ Mum said. ‘I’ve been waiting for you to get here. The soldiers told me that they’d found you. I knew you’d come back to me.’
I breathed her close. She filled me. Her arms made me safe. I knew nothing else.
‘Mum. I …’
‘Sssh! I know, Sweetheart. I know.’
I held her forever. The more I did the betterer I got. All the pain and terror was going. The evil heartbreak. The loneliness. The horror. The frightenings. All terrible things. The dead with empty eyes. The broken body bits. The blood and mess. Running and hiding. Fighting. Seeing people getting hurt. Getting killed. Being bitten.
None of that mattered now.
Mum brushed my hair behind my ears. I liked that. Her lovely hands held my face. All softly. I could smell her. It was like always. My belly filled with warmth. The scared boy was going. I was turning back to me again.
‘Let me look at you, my darling.’
Mum hugged me more.
‘I thought I’d lost you forever.’
‘Me too. I thought you were dead.’
‘I’m not, am I? I’m very much alive, my darling. And so are you. I knew you’d be alright. You’re a fighter, Jake. You’re strong and fearless and kind and capable.’
Mum’s love flooded me. I overfilled. The radio noise in my head went quiet. The jokes about my face. When people said I wasn’t able. Every tear that Mum cried when she thought I wasn’t looking. The million horrible things didn’t matter now. I could see past them.
I could hear my thinking easily.
I washed in the moment.
The goodness warmed me.
I opened my eyes.
I closed them again.
I opened them.
I started to cry.
I was in a bed.
The narrow room was metal. It smelled rusty. Someone was sleeping on a picnic chair.
‘Mum,’ I said. ‘Where am I?’
‘It’s me,’ said Ellis. ‘Ellis.’
‘Where’s Mum? She was here with me just now.’
‘I don’t know. I’ve been here for the last day and night and I haven’t seen anyone else.’
‘She was so real,’ I said later.
I had stopped crying.
Ellis held my hand. She squeezed it tight.
‘I know it was, Jake. I heard you talking in your sleep. You sounded so happy.’
‘I was but I never will be again.’
Ellis squeezed my hand.
‘Well find her, Jake. I promise we’ll find her.’
Ellis went quiet. She knew the truth. A promise like this is too heavy to hold. It cannot be carried by anybody. I looked at Ellis.
‘Please don’t make that promise. No one is strong enough for that.’
‘I only meant …’
‘I know, Ellis.’
We stopped talking. It was alright. I felt we were close. There was no bad between us. Ellis cared. She tried to be kind. It was working. She was.
We were all talking in my metal bedroom. Everyone was here. Baxter licked my hand. Vinnie and Amber hugged me. Abe nodded.
‘When the mortar exploded,’ said Vinnie, ‘we all thought you were dead but one of the soldiers grabbed you anyway and we ran for the trucks.’
‘It took ages for the soldiers to wipe out the viros,’ said Amber. ‘The Tall Man’s men got caught up in the battle. None of them survived.’
‘The roads back to the army base were full of viros,’ said Vinnie. ‘There were two tanks in front of us and they had to force a path through the swarm for the trucks to follow.’
‘It was awful,’ said Ellis. ‘You had the best idea, Jake, by passing out. You slept through all of it.’
‘I heard shouting,’ I said. ‘I thought I was flying.’
‘When we got here, the soldiers took us straight to the front of the queue and dropped us off here.’
‘What is here?’
‘The soldiers call this place Wait-and-See City,’ said Vinnie. ‘They dump any survivors they find here and wait and see what happens to them.’
‘That sounds bad.’
‘I guess but you should see the queues. Lines and lines of people all waiting to be let in. Refugees from all over the country. It is better in here than out there.’
‘Someone told me that it used to be a town but the army took it over and turned it into a massive refugee camp,’ said Vinnie. ‘Apparently, there are even mine fields along the perimeter to help keep us safe.’
‘This place is just one big concentration camp,’ said Abe. ‘A giant prison ringed with concrete blocks and hundreds of these containers stacked up on top of each other.’
‘I’m amazed that the army were able to get this place ready so quickly,’ said Vinnie. ‘Unless …’
‘Unless what?’ said Ellis.
‘Unless they knew way before everyone else that this was going to happen,’ said Amber. ‘That soldier in the ornamental gardens told us that they had all been mobilized a week before the outbreak but what if it had been longer?’
‘How could they know?’ I said.
‘Easy,’ said Abe. ‘I bet they knew all along but also knew that if they told anyone then everyone would panic and the world would fall apart.’
‘But it has anyway,’ I said.
‘It has,’ said Vinnie, looking at Abe. ‘But at least they were ready for it when it did happen.’
‘That’s bad,’ I said.
I cried. My tears were angry.
‘If they had told us earlier then Mum wouldn’t have gone to work. She would have stayed with me. I wouldn’t be wandering the streets looking for her. We wouldn’t all be lost and lonely.’
‘You’re right, Jake,’ said Amber. ‘It’s awful but it was going to happen anyway and could they really have told everyone?’
‘The radio said no one knew,’ I said. ‘Were they lying?’
‘Some people probably were,’ said Vinnie, ‘but other people definitely didn’t know.’
‘Since when has anyone ever believed anything they tell us on the radio. All these politicians and presidents lie all the time. The only difference this time is that once they had told this lie there was nothing left for them to ever lie about again.’
A big grey beach. The sky and sea are the same colour. I have my pyjamas on. I am barefoot.
Mum’s in the water. She is washing her hands. I walk out to her. It is freezing.
‘What are you doing, Mum?’
Mum turns around. Her face is rotten. It’s all ripped. Blood all over it. She smiles. Her teeth are broken.
‘Nothing, darling. I’m just washing my hands.’
‘The blood won’t go away, darling.’
‘Can I help?’
‘No. No one can.’
‘Let me. Please
‘I can’t ask you to help me wash the blood of other people off of my hands. No mother could ask that of her child.’
‘I want to. I only have you.’
Mum stops washing her hands.
‘You’re too late, darling. I’ve got a new family now. They’re keeping me very busy.’
Mum has empty eyes. They look at me.
‘I need you to know I waited, Jake. I waited as long as I could, but they kept looking for me and even though I tried to hide I just couldn’t stay hidden long enough for you to find me before they did.’
My heart breaks like a useless toy.
‘But Mum, I need you, not them. They’ve got plenty of people already. I haven’t got anyone.’
Mum hugs me. She stinks.
‘Come with me, darling, Come and join my new family.’
‘But how? How do I do that?’
‘Easy. Just let me bite you.’
‘Will it hurt?’
‘Terribly. The pain is terrible.’
‘So why should I?’
‘Because like all pain, it will pass and once it does then you and I can be together forever.’
Mum holds me tight.
‘Think of it, Jake. No more pain, no more upset. No more name-calling and feeling like you are different to everyone else.’
Mum’s broken lips kiss my neck.
‘A single bite and everything will be back to how it always was; you and me against the world.’
It was more days before I felt stronger. Ellis sat with me all the time. We didn’t always speak. I didn’t mind. My brain was too full. My dreams about Mum were so real. I thought she was living in my head. Was she trying to speak to me from somewhere else? It felt like she was next to me. Her smell was nearly in my nose.
The others ate their food with me. It was nice. Amber always had kind things to say. Vinnie did as well. Abe didn’t say much. It was fine. He wasn’t being mean. That was better than before. He must have worked it out in his mind. We were all we had left now. We had to be together always. We couldn’t fight the world and each other. It was silly. I hoped he felt the same.
Ellis said about her uncle’s farm. It sounded liked from a lovely film. I saw it in my head when Ellis spoke about it. Vinnie laughed at the stories she said.
‘It was massive,’ he said. ‘We would get up every morning and spend the day wandering around.’
‘We were like two explorers,’ Ellis said. ‘We would take our lunch with us and set off on our travels. We were always ready for adventure.’
‘We always headed to the tree,’ said Vinnie. ‘That’s where we’d have our lunch.’
‘What tree?’ I said.
‘It was a beautiful old oak tree that had been uprooted by a storm,’ said Vinnie. ‘It had fallen over and half of it lay in a big lake.’
‘We took wood and some nails,’ said Ellis, ‘and made seats for ourselves on the branches over the water. Every day we sat on these seats and had our lunch. You could see fish swimming and everything.’
‘Do you remember the kingfishers?’ said Vinnie.
‘Of course,’ said Ellis. ‘They flew across the water like bright blue bolts of feathery lightning.’
‘I love kingfishers,’ I said. ‘They’re amazing.’
‘You’d love the farm, Jake. We had so much freedom. We could do what we wanted.’
I got excited. I wished to be there now.
‘Could I help hunt rats?’
‘Yes,’ said Ellis. ‘We’d clear the farm in no time.’
‘And then eat lunch on the tree with you?’
‘Cheese or ham sandwiches?’ said Ellis.
I made us all laugh. It felt good. I looked at Abe. He wasn’t mean but he didn’t laugh.
‘This all sounds amazing,’ he said, ‘but there’s just one problem.’
‘Problem?’ said Amber.
‘Yes, Sis, a great big problem,’ said Abe.
Abe still was angry. I heard it in his mouth.
‘The whole place will be crawling with those things. Where’s the fun in that?’
We stopped talking. Abe wanted us to be quiet. But I knew talking about the farm made Ellis happy so I said more. I wanted to make Ellis happy. I had ideas.
‘Is it still there?’
Vinnie looked serious.
‘I guess so but as Abe has so kindly pointed out, it’s probably full of viros.’
I didn’t care. Everywhere was the same. Viros ruled the world now. We all just kept hiding. Nowhere was safe. But the farm sounded magical.
‘Is it a long way away?’
‘Not really,’ said Ellis, ‘but the way that Dad drove it used to take three and a half hours from our house.’
‘He was a terrible driver,’ said Vinnie. ‘If there was anyone behind us he would deliberately drive slowly just to annoy them.’
‘He used to call himself a knight of the road,’ said Ellis.
She stopped smiling. The sad was happening again. All our dead families. People missing as well. Ellis had tears. I wanted to hug her. I didn’t want Abe to be angry so I didn’t.
‘I wish Dad was driving us there now.’
Vinnie hugged his sister.
‘I know, Sis. ‘I wish he was as well.’
I kept speaking. I wanted to sound like the man with the plan.
‘Could we get there from here?’
Vinnie looked at me.
‘We could, I suppose, but why would we?’
I had real ideas. I was good at telling my stories.
‘We would all live together. And with other people still alive. We could be a community. It would be like our new world.’
I was excited. It was a good idea. I think Ellis liked it as well. Abe didn’t. He snorted. I hoped he wouldn’t shout.
‘That’s crazy talk, Jake. We’d never survive.’
I nodded. I knew his words were right. But I wanted to feel hopeful. I looked at him.
‘Yes, Abe, but it all might change. The world may get fixed. Scientists could make the viros better. Then they wouldn’t want to bite us.’
I was speaking strong. I wanted to be trusted. I could lead the way. I wanted to help.
Abe looked at the others. He looked at me. He was not angry. This was good. He sounded sad. This was bad.
‘No way, Jake,’ he said. ‘This is it. The world is broken now. There is no fixing anything ever again.’
I got dressed. My clothes had been washed. My high tops were still dirty. It felt good to be out of bed. Baxter licked my hand.
‘Come on, boy,’ I said. ‘Let’s go.’
Outside was weird. I saw houses and shops everywhere. There was loads of people. It was like everything was still ordinary. Ellis was sitting on a bench. She was reading a small book. I watched her. She carefully turned each page. She licked her lips. She was concentrating.
I felt strange. I didn’t know about the outside world now. Everywhere was calm and peaceful. Ellis looked like she was on holiday. Nobody was screaming or running. Things felt safe. I wanted to relax. But Mum was still not here. My dreams made her heavy in my head. I didn’t want to relax. I had to keep doing. It was the only way.
Ellis stopped reading. She folded the corner of a page. I did that with my books. She looked up.
‘Hi, Jake,’ she said. ‘I’m glad you’re up.’
Baxter raced over to her. He licked her hand. Ellis stood up.
‘Hey, Baxter, let’s go find the others.’
We went down a road. We came to a big building. A sign said, ‘Romney Flats Leisure Centre.’ Ellis went inside. Baxter and me followed. A lady at a big desk smiled at us.
‘Hi, Jake,’ she said. ‘I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.’
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘Who was that?’ I said.
‘That’s Jill,’ Ellis said. ‘She’s in charge of the volunteers here. She helped look after you when we got here.’
‘After the soldiers let us in they left us to figure things out. Someone told us to speak to Jill and she was really kind. She set up the bed for you in the container. The rest of us were able to sleep here.’
I nodded. It was good that everyone was safe.
We walked through double doors. It was a giant hall. Curtains and rugs made little spaces for families. I couldn’t count the fold-up beds.
‘We’re over here in the corner,’ said Ellis.
I walked carefully. I didn’t want to trip.
The hall was full of people. They were all ages. I saw old ladies sitting on plastic chairs. I saw little kids playing. Families were talking. People were sleeping. Some of them looked ill. It all looked like the stuff I had seen on television about disasters and people having nowhere to go.
Mr. Bishop used to use the word I wanted now. I tried to remember what he said. He was always talking about newspaper news.
‘We’re all refugees, Jake. The only difference is some of us know where we’re running from.’
The word arrived in my head. I said it out loud.
‘Refugees,’ I said to Ellis.
‘I guess we are now,’ she said.
We found the others. There was a row of beds right in the corner. Blankets on string made them private. Vinnie and Amber were sitting talking. Abe was asleep.
‘Hi, Jake,’ Vinnie said. ‘Welcome to our world.’
‘You look much better,’ said Amber. ‘How do you feel?’
‘Alright. I think.’
I looked around.
‘Is it nice here?’
‘It’s warm,’ Ellis said. ‘It’s better than hiding on drafty roofs or in dirty holes.’
I could see that. It felt good to not be cold.
‘What do we do now?’ I said.