Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2
Once they had brought everything in from the trucks they gathered in the lounge round the fire, enjoying its warm glow. They were all formally introduced to Daniels’ niece, Darla, and the discussion over the bedroom allocation took place.
“We’ve got four bedrooms – well three and one small one. Couples in with their kids takes up two of them.” Daniels inclined his head to Roderick and Abby, then Hanson and Janice, who nodded back in return. “I can bunk down with Harris, Brandon and the two young lads.” He looked at Steve and Bobby. “But where to put Darla …”
“Dad, me and Pansy’ll happily have Darla bunk with us. There’s room for another bed in the small room,” said Damon.
Darla hurriedly said, “I don’t want to cramp your style guys, you need your privacy. I can bunk in with Uncle Wes and the guys.”
“Darla, that’ll be too cramped. There’re five of us in there already, and I’m not sure we’ve got enough bed as is it; we haven’t yet counted out the blow-ups we brought with us and what’s already here.”
Darla’s face dropped a little. Daniels put his arm round her. “It’ll be okay. We’ll work it out. You’ve all just got to get to know each other, is all.”
This brought the discussion to an end. Abby got up.
“I’m gonna make a start in the kitchen, see what food we’ve got and get something going. I’m starved.”
There was a general sound of agreement, and Pansy joined her. It set everyone in motion and the unpacking begun.
Over the next few months they settled into a loose routine, everyone pulling together to become a family unit. There were games nights and music nights. It helped keep them going as they rode out the winter, along with focusing on their building plans once spring came.
When the thaw arrived they ventured out to take a look at the building they planned to refurbish and create another home in. It had been an old work shed Daniels’ father had built at the other side of the plateau, up against the wall of the mountain. It had been obscured all winter by heavy snow drifts, which were now starting to subside. They hadn’t bothered to check it out during the winter as it would have taken too much energy, especially with the risk of more snow thwarting any headway they might make in uncovering it. And while they were snug in the main house they didn’t see the need, despite everyone knew they were tolerating the living situation solely because they believed it was temporary.
Daniels took Roderick, Hanson, and Brandon with him. Steve and Bobby wanted to join them, but Daniels decided that for now the four adults would go it alone, seeing as they weren’t sure what they were going to find.
Daniels tried to ignore a nagging sensation of foreboding he had in the pit of his stomach. He put it down to their living arrangements. Although he loved his niece dearly, having her around reminded him of the family he had lost, and he found that hard.
The four men took shovels from the house, and started digging from different sides, slowly uncovering the building. It was sturdy, built from solid logs sourced locally, but it was only one layer thick unlike the main house which had two layers. The windows were intact which surprised them all, and the door was still padlocked. But when they finally worked the lock off (Daniels had no key) they couldn’t have anticipated what was inside.
The smell hit them as soon as they pushed the door open. Daniels had hoped it was an animal, or maybe two, that had found their way in and died there. But Roderick’s horror-filled shout killed that idea, reaffirming his worst fears.
He pushed the door wider, but it stuck. The tips of fingers poking out from under it explaining why, causing him to cover his nose and mouth with his arm, not only to kill the smell but to stop the risk of vomiting. The others did the same.
They gathered just inside the doorway, looking round at the carnage before them, wondering what had taken place. Bodies were scattered across the floor, some dismembered, with their skulls smashed open. Then Daniels spotted something that made him shout, ‘Out! Now!’ and grab at the others as he yanked the door shut behind them.
“What? What the hell was that about?” Hanson yelled as he reeled from the shove Daniels had given him.
But Roderick had seen what Daniels had. “Oh Christ, no! Tell me I didn’t see that, tell me that wasn’t the classic sign of infection?!”
“I can’t do that. I’m pretty sure it was.” Daniels mind spun, wondering what had taken place here.
Brandon voiced what they had all read in the health warning advertisements, before the clearing had taken place. “Flesh turns orange, developing a grainy texture inside, often likened to that of a cantaloupe.”
They all looked at each other.
“What’re we going to do?” Roderick said. “Should we risk going back to the house?”
“They won’t have a clue what has happened, and why we haven’t come back. They might come out looking for us.” Hanson looked scared.
“Won’t the cold have killed the virus by now?” Brandon shot a hopeful look at Daniels.
He pulled a face. “There’s no telling. Maybe we weren’t in there long enough to be exposed.” He glanced round furtively at each of them. “We could just go back say we saw the bodies through the windows.”
They fell silent, not entirely comfortable with the idea, but no one wanting to voice it.
“The building is useless to us now. We may as well burn it,” Brandon said.
“Oh that’s a definite,” said Hanson.
“Yeah. Let’s do it now.” Daniels liked the redirection and having a purpose. Plus the jerry cans were in the back of the trucks so they could easily reach them without having to debate returning to the house again.
They each took a can, pouring it liberally around the entire building. Then Daniels started stripping his clothes off, including his boots, and throwing them onto the roof. After a minute the others followed suit, until they were all standing in their underwear and socks.
Then Daniels turned to Roderick, who was holding his zippo, and said, “Light her up.”
He threw the lighter high, and they heard it land with a thunk, followed by a ‘whoomph’ as the building went up. All four men stood there clutching themselves as the flames licked round the building, showering them in much needed heat.
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