The Rage: Part 22

XXII

“Here.”

The man positions the frame over my eyes. The blinding glare of the sunlight surrenders to the comfort of the shadows. He steps back and I see him for the first time, his colours tainted by the exposure. He’s like no other man I’ve ever seen.

He has walked in the sun long enough to kill any other man. His skin is dark like rust and his hair like frost. His left eye is green. The right is orange and struck through by four diagonal scars from a Rager’s claws. His gaze dares me to back away. He knows he is infected.

“Who are you?”

“I am the man who is going to save your life.”

I cast my eye over him again. He carries little equipment, but what there is, is attached to a harness around his chest and waist. On one hip, he has a blade, on the other, a length of sturdy pipe. The handle of my knife sticks out of a pouch beneath his arm.

“Where are your companions?”

He seems too lucid to be a Rager, his tone calm despite the anger in his voice. If he wanted me dead, I would be.

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The Rage: Part 21

XXI

“You’re still alive?”

The voice is gruff and aggressive. I’ve heard this before. Words spat like they were poison. Every syllable a knife. Infection.

I take out my knife and lunge at the fuzzy shape. He moves, sidestepping me. I turn and the room spins with me. The man steps forward and I thrust the blade at him again, but he avoids the attack. He’s too fast – or I’m too slow. He grabs my arm and pulls the knife from my hand.

“Are you the only one left?”

I turn to the side and aim my foot at his stomach. The force pushes him back and frees me, but I’m face on to the cloudy window and I can’t see him.

“I’m not the enemy.” He’s behind me. “Are you the only one?”

“You’re infected,” I reply. “Give back my knife and I can help you.”

“I don’t need your help. You need mine.”

He takes my arm and pulls me into the shadows. I wait for his claws to sink into my flesh, for teeth in my arteries. Something hard pushes against my palm. Something cold. I run my fingers over the smooth edges. Metal. Glass. A visor?

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The Rage: Part 20

XX

It took three days to get through the tunnel. I walked ahead of Topi and Emilia. At the end, a hut sheltered us from the outside, but the light was still dazzling when I crawled out. Topi and Emilia are still down there, waiting for the sun to set.

I am half-blind, hungry and thirsty. I hear things moving outside. Perhaps rats. Perhaps ragers. I reach for my knife.

No. Voices.

There are voices outside.

I listen carefully. Topi and Emi are too deep in the tunnel for it to be them. I am not alone here. The voice comes closer. Louder.

The door rattles. I remain silent. It is still too light out for me to open my eyes. A knock. A thump. I crouch in a corner and wait.

I have never heard a rager speak after they’ve turned. While there is still humanity, they talk, but as the Rage takes over, they lose it. At first, they swear. Then they scream. Then they just growl.

Whoever is outside, they can still speak.

The latch clicks and the handle screeches as it is turned. Cool air floods the shelter. Footsteps approach. They stop in front of me.

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The Rage: Part 19

XIX

“How do we know this isn’t a trap?” Emilia whispered as we crept along the dark, damp tunnel.

“Have you got a better idea?”

Emilia sighed heavily but said no more. Topi and I walk either side of her, our hands skimming the surface of the walls, gathering the dirt and slime as we feel our way along the tube. We lost all sight twenty minutes ago and now there is nothing ahead but darkness.

A voice nags at the back of my mind, asking if Emilia could be right. I tell myself that we have no choice. We die up there or we die down here. At least the tunnel may lead somewhere. At least here, we might live a little longer.

Emilia forces us to stop, complaining as ever that her feet hurt, her back hurts and she needs to pee. It’s hard to think how much I’m beginning to resent her. Putting her down will be easy when the time comes. I don’t expect it to be too far off now.

I keep walking while she rests, scouting the tunnel ahead for any sign of life or hope or light. There’s nothing. Just perpetual darkness.

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The Rage: Part 18

XVIII

My night vision is not perfect and this tunnel is too dark for me. I put my hand to the wall and feel my way along the cold stones or bricks, hoping that I won’t hit anything. The air is stale and damp. The sound of dripping water echoes in the near silence. A puddle splashes beneath my foot. I feel my own breath on my face, a cloud of mist, but even that is unseen.

I look back over my shoulder towards the shaft of light that marks the exit. Even that is dim. Too far away. My heart thumps and my head screams for me to go back. A sticky web of spider silk adheres itself to my face. Something crunches beneath my foot. I have to turn around.

I hadn’t noticed how hard it was to breathe. The silence pushed on my chest like a weight, forcing me to hold my breath. I stop. I pushed my tongue against my teeth and whistled. The shrill sound echoed down the tunnel and a flurry of motion followed, rats scurrying, dust being disturbed, the call of a bird and its wings flapping in fright. Animal sounds. Nothing else.

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The Rage: Part 17

XVII

Old machinery covered in grime and cobwebs fills most of the space inside the little building. The only other thing in here is hatch in the floor. Topi picked the lock, but we didn’t go through; beneath it, a long ladder descends into darkness as far as either of us can see. Emilia didn’t even look; she said it would make her sick.

One of us has to be brave. One of us has to do it. It will most likely be me. To even suggest that Emilia should go first would be tantamount to threatening to kill her and letting Topi go would be to remain with her. She still hasn’t forgiven me.

As soon as she’s asleep, Topi gives me the nod and I creep to the hatch. I wait for it to creak, but it is silent, even as I lay it open. Inside, it’s just black. I wish I had something to drop so I could guess how far down it goes. I take a deep breath and put my foot onto the first rung of the ladder.

“Wish me luck,” I whisper.

Topi smiles and I begin to make my way into the darkness.

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The Rage: Part 16

XVI

There’s a house ahead of us. I’ve seen no smoke around it, but it might not be empty. The high fence around it might be enough to keep out the Ragers.

We should reach it by sunrise. A week or two ago, we would have made it in a couple of hours, but Emilia is so slow now that even sunrise might be a push. She stops constantly, clutching her back or head. She’s even started talking to me again, but it’s only to complain that she’s tired. I’m not surprised; she even wakes us in the night with her constant moving.

I think what most irritates me about her now is that she refuses to eat. I suppose she feels guilty about the weight she’s put on. But more than that, when she does eat, half the time she is sick almost immediately. She’s not showing other signs of infection, but I don’t like being near her.

We trudge onward. There are no lights in the windows of the little building, not even the flicker of candles. Perhaps it will be safe after all. Perhaps our biggest problem now is how we will haul Emilia over the fence.

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