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October 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 10 submit to us!
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The+Neighbor
by Chris Castle -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

James dried her tears and finally put his daughter to bed. He drew the curtains to, trying not to look outside. He tugged the material close, so not one inch of the neighbourhood could be seen. But even as he did, his eyes drew up and out, into the layers of mist that covered everything outside; the houses, the gardens, the bodies. Everything buried in a half light. He could make out a bicycle, almost see the spokes of the wheel and guessed it was young Bob Henderson's. He wondered if the boy was alive or dead.

"Is she okay?" Joanna asked. He met her at the bottom of the stairs and immediately drew her away form the front door. The masking tape was holding firm, but there was no way of knowing, not really, if it was eating through the fibres. He let go of her elbow only when they were in the living room, in the centre, the furthest point from any doors or windows.

"She's asleep," he said, pouring himself a drink. "That's enough for now. It'll have to do." He sipped the whiskey. They had enough bottled water for the day and alcohol for the night. Nothing out of the taps, nothing fresh.

"What are we going to tell her?" She lifted her own glass but didn't sip from it. Instead she waited for his answer.

"What do we know? I l only want to tell her something when we know the truth. I won't tell her anything before that." He'd almost got used to the constant buzz of the radio as background noise, but now he sharpened his focus to hear if there were any new updates, any words; but it was still white noise.

"What we are going to tell her, James." Her voice rose. He looked up and saw tears at the edges of her eyes. James leant over and pulled her close.

"We," he said. "Always we." They stayed close for a long time. For a second it was beautiful and almost normal; then the radio squawked into life for a second, and then died back down, reminding them of their situation.

"The ‘net?" James asked as they broke apart. He could feel the coolness of her tears on his shirt.

"Still down. Phone's too. The TV blinks sometimes, but that's about it." It was getting dark enough for the candles. James reached into his pocket for the lighter and lit them one by one. From out of nowhere, a sudden slam against the front door. It sounded like a body being hurled against the frame.

Joanna screamed and he immediately went to her. The two of them spilled onto the floor, almost setting the house on fire. They waited, crouching, for a second hit.

"Isobel?" She whispered, gripping his arm so tight, her nails were drawing blood. They both looked up and waited but no sounds came. He stood back up and started to walk out of the room. He had made it halfway when a second, weaker thud, landed against the door. In his mind he had the image of bodies being flung, piled up against his door. James tried to breathe and told himself not to panic. Slowly his heart slowed, his breathing levelled. He thought of his wife, his daughter and walked to the door to check it. There was no sign of it giving way.

James ran upstairs and crept into Isobel's bedroom; there was no way of hearing whoever it was, whatever it was. He looked down to see below; Millie Henderson, Billy's sister, sprawled against their porch. Through the mist he could see she had used a trash can to hit the door. There was rubbish spilled all over their lawn, he thought idly, and then shook himself back. The girl pulled herself together and then hunched against the step. She looked like she was ready to pounce.

"We have to let her in." Joanna took a sip from her drink and set it down on the table. "She could be hurt-"

"She could be infected." James rose up, blocking her path. She stepped back, her eyes wide with shock. Then they tightened and he could see the strength in her rising.

"She's alone." She stood back, waiting for his answer, both knowing there wasn't one he could give.

"It's you, me and Isobel now, Jo. That's what we said when this began, right? That was what we promised each other. Well, this is one of those times, right now, when we have to remember that. If we let someone in, we don't know-"

"Millie Henderson. She has a name, James. She's our babysitter. We've trusted her with our daughter. She needs our help. Her name's Millie."

"We don't know who she is anymore." He said flatly.

"So we just what? Wait until we're the last three people left on earth, James? Is that how we know we're safe?" Her voice rose and she caught herself, despite there was no way anyone could here her; the neighbourhood was silent; whoever was left had taped themselves in, just like them, most likely. Each of them, trapped in their own little world. Surviving in order to be alone.

"And if Issy got sick?" He hated himself for saying it, but she had left him no choice. He held her eye and waited. Slowly she sat back down on the sofa, spreading her legs just far enough across to stop him from sitting next to her. He turned and walked over to the radio, though he knew it was helpless, trying to give himself a distraction.

He went up and checked on his daughter and when he got back down, Joanna was asleep on the sofa. She had drunk two more drinks since he had been doing other jobs and was now out for the night. She never could handle her drink he thought, and smiled. He drew over the blanket and without a second thought, slipped the two plugs into her ears. There was a moment when she stirred, almost batting him off, before she calmed and rolled over a little.

He poured himself another drink; two was his limit, it always had been. And if they were the last three people left in the world? Would that be so bad, really? James Singer loved his wife and he loved his daughter. That was all he knew. Joanna was the social side, Isobel the entertainer. He struggled through the parties and the calendar events, but he had always liked the end of it, the weekends when the weather was bad or a cough began; this thing, whatever it was, well, it terrified him, sure, but maybe it was an opportunity too. A chance to be happy, if only for a little while. To push all their other problems to one side and face this one obstacle together, as a family.

The door rattled three more times during the night; she was getting weaker. By the time he blew out the candles, at around four, he knew she barely had the strength to lift the bin. Instead it scraped against the door, almost like an animal, before fading away into nothing.

He leant over and pulled the plugs from his wife's ears. She stirred just enough to look at him the way she loved; when he was a stranger for those first few seconds, before she recognised him and her eyes warmed. She made to say something and then stopped, instead holding his hand. He squeezed it and then made to move away but she held him tight, even as her eyes closed.

They began breakfast and checked everything was secure. He made his way up to his daughter's bedroom and saw she was still asleep. He edged over to the window and looked out; the girl was no longer crouched and waiting. Now, she was sprawled on the grass, her arms out wide, a melted snow angel in their yard. He could not make out her features, not quite, but he knew she was gone. He turned back and looked to his daughter, who was stirring. He reached over and deftly pulled out the plugs and then kissed her on the forehead. Then he returned and drew the curtains even tighter, before asking his daughter if she wanted to play a board game, just the three of them. Always, just the three of them.

 
 
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Features -- October 2010 -- Beginning Month Issue