BY JULIET STAVELEY
She sat against the laundry basket in the bathroom, holding a piece of birthday cake. It was a good room, she thought – no windows, a sturdy lock on the door… the old-fashioned bolt kind. Nothing in, nothing out.
She tried to block out the unnerving gurgling sounds coming from the garden by focusing on her hands. Apart from the trembling, they felt normal. Maybe she’d got away with it? Maybe that was the gift from mama and papa: Her deformed DNA wrapped in shiny paper.
Her mind could not, or rather did not want to process the events of the last few days. Just days; that’s how quickly it had gone from Tatiana Orlova’s history lecture on Tuesday afternoon to, to this. She smiled faintly, remembering half-hearted notes about the Revolution and flirting with Leo; everything so beautifully bland and steady. And then the scream. A scream so loud it bounced off the corridor walls. They all ran out to see Erik Belinsky, recognisable only by his Gorillaz satchel, trying to… she forced the image away, down the plughole of the cracked sink. Keep it simple: cake, hands, patience. She would know soon for sure.
According to the newsfeed on her phone, special forces were continuing the shoot-on-sight policy; it was more humane than watching the ‘slow peel’. Yet the savage shadow had grown, stretching its merciless edges across the globe. Their own Ministry still didn’t have a clue. A nation of brilliant scientists, and all the remaining boffins could do was fumble about with petri dishes, failed antidotes and desperate measures. She had a theory though. And every way she looked at it, it made sense. She just needed to test it and social media the hell out of it.
But first, a better memory floated in. Her first time in hospital, fussed over, feeling special, bloodworks confirmed, epinephrine delivered, along with a Sony PSP from babushka. It was a good trade: a few minutes of swelling and deep panic for a lifetime of the Sims. Her reaction had been so severe that mama had obliterated the apartment before she came home, removed all possible suspects, scared that even one pernicious particle would set it off again. The cutting irony of that was not missed on her now.
Things settled down afterwards. Normal for the rest of the family at least, much to her brother Pavel’s delight. Mama had made two versions of everything, every day, even the birthday cake. Why had she never thanked her properly for that? For all those hours of love proved in the kitchen? Her shoulders slumped in a mix of self-disgust and sadness.
With nothing else left, she took a big bite of her cake. Strictly speaking, it was not her cake, it was the other one. Chocolate oozed around her tongue; wicked satin richness. She realised just how much she had missed the moistness of the real thing – her alternatives were similar to chewing on an old rug. She closed her eyes and savoured the dark and the dark.
The gurgling outside was replaced by a howl, far too soprano, like a wolf caught in a snare trap. Not long now until the sinew stage. Oh God. Tears splashed down onto the willow green tiles between toes and crumbs. She prayed it would be quick for Pavel. Prayed he would find papa’s rifle in the shed and still have the strength to use it. Or a chain saw, hammer, even a large rock.
The tears kept coming – vast waves of shock and grief crashing around her, filling in the gaps in the grouting, trickling down the shower walls. She cried for her family, for the two, soon to be four victims in her home, for the fact she hadn’t had sex with Leo, or with anyone, for all the things she would never do or be, for all the people she would never see again, for the twisted piles of glutinous, pulsing waste that used to be friends and strangers. She felt sick but she knew she had to finish. One bite at a time, between irregular, sobbing breaths.
The itching came quicker than she expected. Perhaps her disease speeded things up. She hoped that was the case. Deep down itching. Hot, red, impossibly tempting. It felt so good to scratch until the skin split. She knew she didn’t have long before the pain arrived, pain so intense she would rip at her eyes, pull the muscles off her face, peel her entire body with blunted nails to make it stop. She forced her now-bloody fingers to tap on the Twitter icon and typed quickly as her mind began to smudge. She was halfway through a Facebook post when the spasms hit.
In a different room, in a different country, a keyword alert gave a chirpy beep and flashed on screen. Another one had worked it out then. Not many but still, no point leaving it there in case there was ever any comeback. One of the chosen accessed the mainframe and brought the Tweet up, deleting it as he read:
THE EVIL IS IN THE GRAIN
Author Juliet Staveley has enjoyed a career as a print Journalist, in various magazines and newspapers. She has also conducted several Workshops for potential, and new Authors.
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