The First Wave
Author: Hollie Leanne

Chapter 9
Chapter Nine

The silence had fallen over us a few hours ago. My legs were growing tired, the muscles burning from the thighs, and the fire was soon spreading throughout my calves and accompanying the ache in the balls of my feet. My pace grew slow, my breaths becoming steadily laboured, and I felt the pain in my back as the backpack became too much to bear. 

Dusk was falling, and whilst the fog had subsided about an hour ago, the eeriness of the countryside was unsettling. Despite the May sun, the chill never truly left me, and I was constantly on edge. The cold sweat in the lining of my hair constantly reminded me of the danger I was in. 

The stranger didn’t let up his pace ahead of me, his stride determined. 

“Where are we going?” I asked, and not for the first time. I didn’t expect an answer, and, true to my expectations, he didn’t provide one. “It’s getting dark.”

“We have another hour.” He called flatly.

“But I’m exhausted.” I protested, readjusting the pack on my hunched back. Christ, I sounded like a child. 

“What do you suggest? Sleep in the open? Put up a sign saying ‘Please kill us for the love of all that is Holy?’” he turned, cocking a brow at me in a mocking question, and I glared straight back at him. 

“Or,” I began. “I could just, you know, leave, and you can carry on your merry way to wherever the hell is it that you’re going. We can pretend this never happened.” I paused. “Live our lives in peace, if you will.”

“There’s no such thing as peace.” He muttered. He stopped, waiting for me to catch up. “Not now, anyway.” 

“Don’t be so cryptic.” I spat. “It’s getting annoying.”

“And your voice isn’t?” 

“My previous suggestion still stands.”

“No chance.” 

I groaned. “Yesterday you beat the crap out of me. Now you want to keep me around, but for what?” 

“If you think that was ‘beating the crap’ out of you...” he trailed off as he continued to walk and as I caught up I didn’t miss the eye-roll. “You wouldn’t fare well for much longer on your own; you’ve been lucky getting this far.”

“That doesn’t answer my question; why do you care?” I huffed. “I was doing just fine until you came along!” 

“Oh?” he stopped again, this time rounding on me, stopping me in my tracks. His eyes were dangerous and challenging, daring me to argue as he loomed over me. I could feel myself shrink in his shadow. “And what if they had caught up to you, what then? A little girl against four grown men? That’s not a hard bet to place.” 

“I would have been fine.” I Mumbled, stalking ahead of him, though the doubt crept into my voice before I could stop it. I cursed myself for it. A part of me believed that what I said made sense, and that I would have been fine and carried out my days in Haddon. I wanted to believe that I could have continued my life there, alone but safe from the world beyond. Nevertheless there was a danger that this man knew of and I didn’t, and what frightened me most was that he was so impeccably sure I wouldn’t stand a chance. Worst of all, I found myself believing him. 

“Of course you would’ve.” He muttered, following me quietly before slipping into another quiet. 

A few moments passed, but the ache in my shoulders was just too much. “Please can we stop?”

He stopped, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. I could almost hear his plea for mercy to the heavens, just by the look on his face. Perhaps I could annoy him enough that he would let me wander away. Maybe I didn’t have to plot an escape at all, though the likelihood of that was growing increasingly thin. He knew too much, and quite frankly, I didn’t like it.

“Fine.” he sighed. “The next house we see is where we rest, but we leave before sunrise.”

And, true to his word, a farm came into view over a half hour later, and a relief I hadn’t felt for a long time surged through me. He led us through the dense forest on the side of the road, and for a moment I thought he was just humouring me but not actually leading me to the house. But, as I would later understand, there had been a sign a little way back with the directions towards a farm. Soon enough, in the line of the trees, Willow Way Farm presented itself in the glow of the evening sun. I felt my body sag with relief, and a small smile formed my lips. 

Even from here, I could see that the brickwork was stunning. It was almost too beautiful, too perfect. It stood in dramatic form, with its windows symmetrical and shining in the failing light. From here, it looked like it was still lived in. Ivy clung to the front of the house, caressing the sills of the upper floor windows, but it looked like they had been left there purposely, as if to add character to the house. In the lead up to the quaint little porch was a fair sized garden, complete with a pathway leading to the front door. Whoever this house belonged to, they had an awful lot of money. 

I picked up my pace, only for him to grab hold of my elbow sternly. 

“Hey!” I protested, naturally trying to yank free. 

“Wait.” He warned, his eyes fixed on the farm. I half-heartedly pulled against his grasp, but his grip was firm. With his free hand, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and fondled for a moment or two. I frowned, confused, until the strange crackling reached my ears once more. 

It was like the sound of popcorn on the stove, slow at first. He looked down, gazing at whatever it was making the sound in his pocket, and his jaw set in a way that told me he didn’t like what he saw. The crackling grew slightly more intense, but not terribly, and after a few more moments, the sound disappeared once more. 

“What is that?” I asked when he finally let go, stalking ahead of me.

“Nothing.” 

“Why won’t you tell me anything?” I demanded, stumbling after him. “I don’t even know your stupid name!” 

“And I don’t know yours,” he retorted, his footwork calculated as he worked his way down a steady incline, very graceful in his movements whilst I tried not to fall flat on my face. But his expression was thoughtful, soft for the very first time, but he collected himself in a matter of seconds. “It’s Levi, if you must know.” 

I thought it over, conjuring up a sarcastic comment, but none came. I was tired, fed up, and wanted nothing more than to be in a room by myself. So I followed him, not attempting to get ahead because his arm pushed me back every time I had tried before. The closer we got to the farm, the more excited I became. 

The excitement died almost immediately when we reached the wall dividing us from the field leading us to the house. 

“Jesus Christ,” Levi breathed as we came into the clearing. He stopped, holding his arm out to halt me at the same time. As my eyes adjusted to the quickly fading light, I wished they had stayed unfocused. 

In the field ahead of us, where the farmhouse resided at the hem, were a flock of sheep. There must have been at least a hundred of them, many with lambs that had yet to see their first winter, but none of them were moving. They scattered the field, white clouds among the dying, silent grass, and each one had a spot of red on their wool. I told myself it was the spray used to identify each sheep, but my gut told me it was anything but. 

Slowly and cautiously, Levi led me through the massacre, and I allowed myself to take in the scene before me. All of them had been shot; one after the other, each one lain motionless in the dirt. Their eyes were unseeing, their mouths agape, and I felt the bile rise in my throat once more. Some of them had been torn open, most likely by birds and other animals, and there was more red in the grass than green. My stomach twisted with complaint as we moved through them, my heart pounding in my chest, and I felt the blood pulsing in my skull to the point I thought I might pass out. All I could think was, why? 

On the other side, next to the farmhouse that now looked sinister, was a metal shed. There was nothing different about it, the same as any other farm shed I had seen over the years. It had probably housed cows, sheep and bales from one time or another. I could even see the tractors driving up to it in my mind’s eye, the farmer set in concentration as he went about his livelihood. In another life, I wouldn’t have even thought it looked frightening. But now, in the misery, I could feel nothing but the presence of ghosts. 

The large, metallic door had already been pulled open to the right, and the shadows stretched from within as the sun retreated overhead. The smell of decay was thick and nauseating, making me sweat with revulsion, and slowly, Levi moved towards the door. 

I followed, the dread so thick I could hardly see. In the gloom of the shed, I could make out the remains of a dog, lifeless and rotting within the shadows of the door. I held my breath, the decay teasing the vomit to come forth without my permission. I needed to hold it together; I had seen worse. 

But nothing prepared me for the man hanging from the beam in the middle of the shed, his face purple as the rope around his neck held him mercilessly. His eyes saw nothing, his lips formed in a grimace as his body swayed gently with the breeze. A quiet whistle danced around us with that very draft, reminding me that it was just Levi, a dead man and me. Flies crawled all over the dead farmer’s face, the skin of his cheeks moving ever so slightly. I stared, praying I was having a nightmare, hoping against hope that none of this was real. 

The fly that wriggled from beneath the dead farmer’s eyelid was all too real. 

I couldn’t take it anymore. My stomach coiled and I wretched, the contents of whatever my last meal had been yellowing the concrete at my feet. My shoes were ruined. 

“Welcome to Hell, sweetheart.” Was all Levi said, and he turned his back, his eyes empty. 

 

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