Once Bitten, Twice Die
(© Antony Stanton)
This time the candlestick embedded itself.
This time the man went down.
Abbott sank to the ground. The body lay at his feet with one leg twitching,
hopefully nothing more than a reaction of the nervous system rather than a sign
that he was about to return to battle. A small pool of viscous blood gradually
took shape around the head forming a macabre halo. Abbott gulped down air as
his hands started trembling. He was in an upstairs room with bookshelves lining
three of the walls. The house was identical to all the others in the street and
presumably in most this would have been a bedroom. However the owners of this
one, almost certainly dead - or worse - had turned it into a reading room. The
shelves were made of cheap, knotted pine and books were lying on the veneer
flooring, torn and discarded. He noticed that only one tome remained standing -
the Bible. Oh how ironic, he thought.
As he sat trying to regain composure, the violence of the confrontation
made it hard to focus. He found himself fixing on irrelevant details, a mist
enshrouding his mental faculties. He looked around vaguely for a matching
candleholder, as these would probably have come as a pair. The random notion
surfaced that it was just like a scene from the board game ‘Cluedo’; Colonel
Mustard, or in this case Sergeant Mattheo Abbott, in the library, with the
candlestick. He wondered again where Sinna was as he should have arrived a long
time ago. It was most unlike him to screw up. Only now did he start to
appreciate that something had gone badly wrong.
Abbott had left the relative safety of RAF Headley Court earlier that afternoon
but later than was prudent. Headley Court was a small, military station to the
north of London, near the town of Bishop’s Stortford. It was a medical
establishment specialising in rehabilitation, as well as research and training.
Abbott had been driven by Private Campos in convoy with another Land Rover
carrying Sergeant Sinna and Private Rohith, both soldiers from the Ghurkha
regiment. This particular scavenging mission had taken them to a supermarket
near Campos’s parents’ house. They had carefully and quietly loaded shopping
trolleys with bottled water, tinned food, cleaning products and other essential
supplies, Sinna keeping anxious vigil over the three of them.
Campos had become agitated as the afternoon progressed. "Sarge, you know my
parents live around here, don’t you?" He looked at Abbott through veiled eyes.
"Hmmm," Abbott replied cautiously, not looking forward to the next few
Sinna had heard the comment too. He stood in the aisle a few metres away,
gripping his SA80 assault rifle as he scanned all around them, listening for
sounds of anyone approaching in the gloom. Their afternoon had been uneventful
so far although the threat of attack always lingered ominously. To let one’s
guard down meant courting death. They all knew it, the RAF station had
experienced it and they did not want to add to the obituaries. Sinna flashed
Abbott a look with a hint of a warning but there was also empathy in his
expression. Abbott respected Sinna. He was a fastidious and dedicated soldier
but had a big, compassionate streak running through him. He was charismatic and
the troops took to him well.
"Sarge, what d’ya think?" Campos took a step nearer to Abbott, his hands
fidgeting. "Is there any chance that we could swing by my house? Just for a
moment? I mean, they’re almost certainly dead but I’d really like to make sure,
just in case, you know?"
Abbott rubbed his chin and avoided looking at Campos who’s pleading eyes
drilled into him.
Abbott glanced at Sinna who just shrugged and looked away.
"All right, all right. We’ll drive over to their house when we’re done here
but we’re not getting out of the Landy. We can beep the horn a few times, maybe
shout out of the window but we’re not getting out. Is that clear?" he answered
sternly but Campos was no longer listening, his face had lit up and he was
chattering away to himself. He was a nice lad, always cheerful and keen to help
as best he could. Abbott knew how much Campos thought of his parents and how
much he idolised his father. For a moment Abbott felt a flush of bonhomie. Even
in this terrible world that they all barely existed in now, he had been able to
brighten someone’s day, albeit briefly.
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