Saturday, 12 September 2009 - 10:01 pm

Care and feeding, part one

I’m not sure that working in the infirmary all night is a good idea any more.

For starters, I know they’re hiding things in there. Simon answers questions evasively out of habit, as if he thinks I’m trying to catch him out, and there are clearly things he’s not telling me. I even know what some of them are now.

Also, it’s as creepy as hell. We have enough power for a few lights, but they’re kept to a minimum and turned off after a few hours to save on diesel. The generators only run as long as they absolutely must. After about ten o’clock, everyone else is supposed to be asleep and the whole place is pitched into darkness.

In the back room where Sylvia is lying, I had a candle to burn so that I wasn’t completely without illumination. I nearly set fire to my hair twice when I leaned over to check on her. And honestly, candles are not great for lighting a room – their shadows are constantly shifting and they are nowhere near as powerful as TV and movies would have us believe. Dad used to call the ones on-screen ‘100-watt candles’.

Sylvia is not doing well. She’s wasted thin, her skin gone slack and grey the way it does when someone has lost a great deal of weight and is close to death. Her breath struggles in her throat. I don’t think she’s got long left. She has been unconscious for the past few days, Simon told me, and he doesn’t expect her to wake again. Not to real consciousness, anyway.

I nodded off at one point in the early hours, only to come awake convinced that she had moved. In the wavering candlelight, I was so sure that her arm flexed and that she was about to sit up. I jumped to my feet and stared at her, my heart hammering. Hands flexed, wishing for a weapon, and I squinted as I watched her, ready for that hungry yawn.

Breath rattled against the sides of her throat and her chest rose and fell, but that was all. She didn’t open her eyes; she didn’t sit up. She was still clinging to the last dregs of life. It was a long, heart-racing minute before I dared to step forward and touch her long enough to check her pulse. It fluttered under my fingertips like a moth shedding its own dust.

That was the perfect time for the thumping to start. I nearly leapt out of my skin; it certainly felt like a part of me was left behind, deflating and floating to the floor.

It wasn’t Sylvia; it wasn’t even in the room. It was distant, muffled by walls and space. The sort of sound that is only audible in the quiet depths of night. Daytime masks it with voices and footsteps, blends it into the background noise that we all filter out of our awareness.

But in the darkness, when the shape of the atmosphere changes and voices are stilled into the susurrus of sleep, it rises to find us. Like the pulse that drives us, unheard until it’s suddenly beating us around the ears.

It called to me. I wasn’t the only one awake in the building. I had to find out what it was.


I hear someone coming. I have to finish this – I have to get it out of my head, that sound, that thing I found. But I have to go. I’ll finish this soon.