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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The Rage: Part 15

XV

Emilia is hoarding food. I’m sure of it. I don’t know how she hides it and I don’t know where. We distributed the contents of Miro’s pack between us and he had no more than the rest of us, most of it scavenged from that warehouse.

We haven’t seen anything like that since. The tracks from the industrial area lead us nowhere and left us there, in barren, open fields. We’re exposed out here, prey to anything that wants us. At least we will see them coming.

The days are long at this time of year. Even in the shelter of our tents, it’s dizzyingly bright, light seeping through every space in the fabric’s weave. Lack of shade is yet another drawback of the plains. But the nights… The nights are glorious. The air is cool and sweet and the stars show us where to go.

I know the Ragers will ruin this too. They will find us and we will be forced to run. I’m not sure Emilia will be able to keep up when they do. She’s getting fat and slow. I don’t want to leave her behind, but I don’t know what else I can do.

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The Rage: Part 14

XIV

It’s been six days since Miro died. Emilia won’t speak to me. She won’t look at me. She pretends not to hear me when I speak. Pettiness like this will get us all killed, but she doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes, I think I wouldn’t care if she got herself killed, but there are so few of us left now that any death is to be avoided.

Even the death of a bitter, hateful bitch.

She blames me, of course. I didn’t give him a chance to recover. I wanted him gone because I was jealous. She really believes each lie she tells Topi. She says them all just loud enough for me to hear.

You would think it should make me angry, but it doesn’t. Words have no power any more. I’ve seen a lot of people die. Some of them, I helped. Some, I couldn’t. It’s always the ones left behind that hate me for it. The ones that die are usually grateful.

“She’ll see that this is better,” Topi whispers when Emilia finally falls asleep. “I wish I could have let Anna go that way. I should have trusted you. Anna suffers now because of me.”

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The Rage: Part 13

XIII

“She promised she would do this,” Miro says. “But I’m glad it’s you.”

His voice is breaking, rasping like claws dragged over gravel. His upper lip twitches and curls as he speaks. There is only one way to stop the Rage claiming him.

“Please look after them.” Miro shoves his pack towards me. “If you don’t…” He clenches his jaw and exhales loudly.

“Always.”

My hands burrow deep into my bag. A long time ago, we found a hospal… or medica… or something. Most of the equipment had been looted, but they left boxes of gloves and masks. I still have both. I tie a mask around my face and slip my hands into the gloves before taking the hunting knife from my belt.

It’s never easy, but it does stop hurting. I didn’t understand the first time. Father’s hand guided mine as we pushed the blade between mother’s ribs. Then she was gone.

I’m stronger now and my knife is always sharp. I won’t need help to slice through the muscles of Miro’s chest and puncture his heart. I take his hand as he tries to fight me.

“Not today, Miro.” I smile beneath the mask. “Sleep. Forever.”

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The Rage: Part 12

XII

Emilia’s voice pierces the night like a deathhawk through the clouds, shrill and jarring. We scramble to our feet; Ragers will have heard her from miles away. Topi swears.

“She’s trying to kill us,” he grumbles. “We have to go back.”

If we let her carry on screaming, the Ragers will flock to the sound of her voice. She knows this. She’s doing it on purpose to attract our attention.

We find her cradling Miro in one of the small warehouses. His shirt is soaked with blood from a wound in his chest. He was caught.

“Please. You can help him. You have to help him,” Emilia blubs.

Miro’s skin is pale and he can’t breathe properly. His fingers keep curling into fists, flexing and relaxing. He’s infected. I know it. Topi knows it. Deep down, Emilia knows it too.

“Are you hurt, Mili?”

She shakes her head. “Just Miro. Please. Help him!”

“Okay. But I need some space. Step outside with Topi. Get some air. It will help you, I promise.”

“No. I can’t leave him! You’ll—”

Topi puts his hand on her shoulder. “I think it’s for the best, Mili. She works better on her own.”

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The Rage: Part 11

XI

They say that pipes were used to carry water.
They say that hammers were used for construction.
They say that cables gave people power.
I suppose that last one is still true now.

People lived differently Then, though. They pretended to be characters in books that they had read to tell the stories to other people. They adorned themselves with gemstones and rare metals. They ate food from ceramic platters using knives and forks.

Now, books are fuel and playing pretend is for children. Jewellery only weighs you down. You eat straight from the pot with a spoon. The knives and forks are all used as weapons until they are bent and useless. Everything we own has a purpose and everything we do is considered.

Topi and I battle past the Ragers in our path to the next building. They never surrender. You must break their legs before they stop running and even then, they still crawl. The snaps and pops of breaking bones is as much a part of my life as the drumming of raindrops on a roof.

But they will always heal. We never stop them for long. They will always be coming for our blood.

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