Authors: Louise Voss,Mark Edwards
CATCH YOUR DEATH
MARK EDWARDS & LOUISE VOSS
CATCH YOUR DEATH
Mark Edwards and Louise Voss
© Mark Edwards and Louise Voss 2011
All rights reserved. Without limiting the the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the copyright owners.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either a product of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The world was on fire.
Or maybe she wasn’t in the world any more. Maybe this was Hell. The heat, the taste of sulphur on her tongue, the sickness, the torment. Screams rang through the air, relentless, monotonous, a one-pitch yell of despair. She opened her eyes and saw a figure stooping over her; a hovering devil, with flaming red hair. She tried to shout but all that came out was a rasping noise, and the devil’s face was close, the brimstone smell of his breath in her nostrils.
Kate. Kate, get up. Come on.’
She stared, blinked. Slowly, a face came into focus. Not a devil, but Sarah, her red-headed room-mate.
Sarah pushed aside the thin sheet that covered Kate’s body and took her by the hands, pulling her up. Kate’s pyjamas were damp and cold, but her skin was desert-hot. Her fever was nearing 105 degrees. Sarah was in a similar state, but she’d been lying on top of her sheets, too ill to sleep.
Kate’s bare feet touched the floor. It hurt. Everything hurt. Her body was a bruise, tender to the touch.
Kate could still hear the screaming, and put her hands to her ears to block it out. Her eyes fixed on the curtains. At sometime during the night, as she drifted in and out of feverish dreams, she had seen little men with malevolent eyes swinging on those curtains. Sarah opened the door and, holding each other up, they stepped into the corridor. Kate had a vague idea that she was supposed to be angry with Sarah but she couldn’t remember why.
At the same time that Kate and Sarah left their room, another couple of young women emerged from the next room. Denise and Fiona, the Glaswegian girls they weren’t allowed to be in contact with, but had communicated with, talking and giggling like boarding school girls through the walls, figuring out ingenious ways to pass notes out of the windows, attached to the end of a cane Sarah had found in the Centre’s gardens.
Is it real?’ Fiona asked. Her voice was thick, her nose bunged up. Kate thought she was speaking a foreign language. Or maybe the language of Satan. What if these were all devils, taking her to be tortured, dragging her into Hell? She panicked and tried to pull away.
Denise caught her and she nearly fell, but the Scottish girl managed to stop her from crashing to the floor.
It can’t be a drill,’ Fiona said, answering her own question.
Let’s just get out of here,’ said Denise, leading the way.
She gripped Sarah by one hand and Kate, who kept pulling back, looking around her with wild eyes, by the other. Where was everyone else? Were they the last people left in the building?
We’re going to die,’ Kate said. ‘We’re going to die.’
Denise shushed her. ‘No. We’re not. The exit’s just around this corner. Come on, Kate. We’re nearly there.’
They turned the corner and came face to face with a wall of thick smoke.
Kate emitted a small yelp of fear and struggled, but Denise held tight. ‘Calm down.’
They were all sweating now, as the corridors filled with heat, and the smoke pricked their eyes, bringing forth the tears. Four young women in their pyjamas, holding on to one another, paralysed by the most primitive fear of all.
We’ll have to go back,’ Denise said.
They turned round and ran – even the sickly Kate and Sarah, with Denise and Fiona holding their hands. They heard a crack and a crash in the distance and suddenly the smoke was filling the whole corridor, rushing up behind them, chasing and overtaking them. It caught them and like drowning swimmers they panicked and gulped in lungfuls of the stuff, acrid and bitter and lethal. Coughs racked their bodies.
Sarah fell to her knees. Fiona stopped and tried to pull her back up. Denise let go of Kate so she could help, and as they struggled to get Sarah to her feet, Kate peered ahead. They were engulfed now, the smoke filling the whole corridor, and her eyes streamed as she tried to make sense of what she could see.
There were figures coming at them through the smoke. The devils. Come to claim her. The screaming continued.
One of the devils grabbed hold of her. She tried to fight but the devil was too strong. It lifted her and carried her deeper into the smoke. She kicked weakly. Each of her friends had been taken hold of too. She decided not to fight any more. She just wished she’d had a chance to say goodbye to Stephen.
Stephen’s face was the last thing she pictured as she slipped into the welcoming darkness.
When she came to she was lying on the grass outside. She lifted her head and saw that Sarah was lying nearby. Kate tried to speak to her, but a moment later she passed out again.
The next time she awoke, she found herself in the eye of a storm of chaos. Doctors and researchers ran around with their white coats flapping. A man in a red uniform, a fireman, stood nearby, drinking from a white cup. She could hear the seesawing wail of a police siren mixed with the piercing, steady scream of an alarm.
She rolled onto her side and coughed hard, spitting out black phlegm.
Kate!’ Denise appeared. ‘Are you alright?’ Her blonde hair was grey with soot, her cheeks and forehead smeared with it.
Kate sat up. Her chest hurt. Her head hurt. But she was alive. ‘What happened?’
Don’t you remember?’
She concentrated. ‘I remember…devils. A scene from Hell. I thought I was dead.’
I thought we were going to die too. The Centre was on fire. It sounds like the whole building we were in has been burned out.’
For the first time, Kate looked properly at the scene before her. In the darkness, clouds of smoke still rose from the long thin building that she’d called home for the last week. Fire engines stood close by, the uniformed men lined up with hoses, sending ribbons of water into the fire to fight its rival element.
We were lucky,’ Denise said.
Was anyone killed?’
I don’t know.’
What about Fiona?’
Fiona’s just over there. I don’t know where Sarah is though. They brought her out with us but I haven’t seen her since.’
She was here a minute ago. I came to and saw her. She waved at me. Then I passed out again.’
Maybe they’ve already taken her to hospital…’ She trailed off. ‘There were other girls in there, though. I haven’t seen them bring anyone else out, but it’s too chaotic to know what’s going on.’
Kate pushed herself to her feet, her head spinning, her eyes blurring. She was so sick. What the hell had they given her yesterday? This was no common cold.
I’m going to check on Fiona and see if I can find Sarah,’ Denise said, touching Kate’s hand then disappearing into the chaos.
As Kate tried to steady herself, to stop the world rotating around her, a man in a white jacket came up to her. Kate squinted at him. He was tall and thin; kind of creepy. He reached up, uninvited, and laid a hand on her brow, making her cringe away. She knew she had a reason to be afraid of him, but in her delirium couldn’t remember what it was.
Kate. You shouldn’t still be out here… you’re too unwell.’
She ignored him. ‘Do you know Stephen? Stephen Wilson? Have you seen him?’
He shook his head. ‘Come on – you really should rest. You’ve inhaled a lot of smoke. And you have a fever.’ He looked around as if searching for someone to help. He muttered something under his breath. Something about somebody interfering?
She didn’t hear any more because his words were drowned by her own coughing fit. Her throat felt like a raw wound.
The creepy man helped her sit down. He looked around again then said, ‘Stay here, okay? Just stay here.’
Another coughing jag filled her eyes with tears, and when it passed, he’d gone.
She needed to find Stephen. He’d told her he was staying late tonight. She’d been planning to meet him. He said he might have something to tell her. She stood up again, concentrating all of what was left of her energy into staying upright, and headed towards the building and the fire fighters. ‘Stephen,’ she tried to call, but her voice was too weak. She was dizzy and nauseous. She wanted to lie down, to sleep. But she desperately needed to find him – just see him and make sure he was okay before she could rest. There was no reason, really, to think he could have come to harm. His office was in a separate wing of the Centre. But still, she wanted to be sure. She loved him. Of course she wanted to be sure.
In the distance, she could see figures close to the building, the darkness and smoke reducing them to silhouettes. It looked like a fireman helping another man out of the building, holding his arm around his shoulders to keep him upright. But then he let go, and the other man slumped to the ground.
It was Stephen. She’d have known his shape anywhere, the outline of hair sticking up at the front, the broad shoulders and long legs which had buckled and staggered like a baby giraffe’s.
She tried to run, but her own legs were too weak, her lungs too clogged. Her bare feet slipped on the grass and she lurched forward. When she got to her feet, the scientist – the same man who’d touched her forehead – blocked her way.
You have to rest,’ he insisted.
But Stephen,’ she said, reaching out towards the building, and suddenly there was movement all around her, an ambulance speeding past, fire fighters running towards the Centre, and the scientist grabbing her arm and producing a needle which he stuck into her. A quick jab, and an even shorter struggle before haziness enveloped her. Once again, she passed out.
The last thing she saw was the scientist frowning down at her, while behind him paramedics crouched on the grass beside Stephen, and one of them shook his head.
She never knew if she actually screamed, or just imagined herself screaming.
The woman lying on the bunk appeared to be dead, until she sneezed, the violent motion making her skinny body spasm. She opened bloodshot eyes and lifted an arm, trying to pull a tissue from the box on the bedside cabinet. But as she reached out, her body spasmed again and she knocked the box to the floor. Too weak to pick it up, she lay still, until a further series of sneezes rocked her body like gunshots.
There were two men watching the girl. One was in his early forties but appeared younger because of the lack of lines on his face. His skin was tanned from a recent holiday in Bangkok, and at first glance he was unusually handsome, like a model in a commercial for razors or fast cars. But anyone gazing at his face for more than a few seconds would notice something strange. He still looked like a model, but a model in a magazine or on a billboard, frozen in time, unanimated. Worst of all were his eyes, which were small and lifeless like a shark’s. Secretly – because no-one dared criticise him to his face – he had been described as a robot and a mannequin.
His name was John Sampson.
The other man, whose name was Gaunt – nobody ever heard him use his first name – was taller and paler, with skin that spoke of months and years spent in artificially-lit places like this. He was so thin he appeared to be wasting away. When he was locked in the laboratory, he often forgot to eat. Food wasn’t important. Nor was sleep. There was too much to do; too many exciting things to be discovered and tested. Nodding towards the woman on the bunk, he said, ‘She arrived last night. We picked her up at Heathrow and brought her straight here.’