Fri, 1 May 2009 - 8:18 pm

White rabbits

It’s white rabbits today. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, but Dad used to say it on the first of the month. White rabbits, three times, for luck.

It’s autumn and the only way to tell is by the way the temperature drops at night. There aren’t any trees left to lose their leaves, or animals to grow thick coats, or birds to migrate; just the ever-sneaking chill. In the mornings, the warmth struggles sluggishly through the orange cloud cover, losing ground every day. Winter is going to be very cold, I think.

 

Last night, I made the others talk about Sax. It was hard – he’s still fresh for us, still missed. I didn’t know where to start, so I just blurted it bluntly: those strangers said the sickness changed their friends. They said they were wrong about death. Maybe we were, too.

The others exchanged glances that said I wasn’t alone in my fears. To my surprise, Dillon was the first to speak up. “But the doctor said he was dead.” He’s getting more confident with us.

All eyes turned to Masterson, who sighed. “He was. No pulse, not breathing… he’s dead.” His tone was matter-of-fact, just like a doctor who was used to seeing that kind of thing every day.

“Could there be a way for him to not be so dead? Some kind of deep coma or something?” I asked him. Mistakes had been made like that before, ending up in stories of people waking up in the morgue or, worse, their own coffin. Bells used to be installed in graves so that the occupant could ring it if a mistake like that had been made. Ring ring, dig me up, dig me up again. But that was centuries ago.

Masterson’s expression slid down into impatience; he didn’t like to be questioned like this. “I doubt it.”

“But it’s possible?” Ben asked, leaning forward.

“It’s not impossible. But it’s highly unlikely.”

“We should check,” I said.

Sally stayed quiet, her eyes overbright as she tried not to cry. The rest of us tried to find a reason not to go back to the cafe where we left our friend’s body. Thorpe grumbled about going so far out of our way and scowled when Masterson agreed with him. The question about whether we had enough fuel to get us there came up, but we’re not that far – a day’s travel at most, we figured. (As it happens, we had to stop to fix a flat tyre, so we were still a few blocks away when we had to stop tonight.)

Pale excuses about why we shouldn’t go circled us. It was Matt who finally silenced them by asking simply, “Don’t we owe it to Sax?”

No-one could argue with that, so it was agreed.

 

Settling down into our blankets, Ben was wound tighter than usual. I asked him what was wrong, then pressed him on it until he looked at me in the castoff glow of someone else’s flashlight.

“I don’t know if it would be better to find him dead or alive,” he said.

A knot formed just under my breastbone and I knew he was right. What are we supposed to hope for? Death, or a crazy, heedless killer? And not just for Sax – Ben’s cough was worse, escaping suppression now. The others were bound to notice soon.

It seemed to me that insanity, losing yourself, was more terrifying to contemplate than losing your life. From the look on his face, Ben agreed with me.

“We have to know,” I told him, but my voice had no strength in it.

I think that’s the closest to showing real fear I’ve ever seen Ben. There was nothing I could say to comfort him; we both know that assurances would be empty. I hate that. I can’t stand to be so helpless, to watch someone I care about hurting and be unable to take it away for him, not even a little bit of it. The worse this gets, the more I’m losing him – he withdraws to keep it to himself, and he’s getting sicker, and we both know the sickness is going to take him away.

So I kissed him; it was all I could think of to offer him. He said I shouldn’t, but I didn’t care about that and kissed him again. We can share that much, at least, and we did.

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