Hello, good people. Back to a full feature this week. Enjoy!
Sticks and Stones
The door swings open and Clive staggers inside. He’s long since given up trying act like he’s not hungover. Especially on Mondays. I ask him how his weekend was and he mutters something nondescript as he meanders to his office at the back. The whistle signals my morning brew is ready, which I pour, before slumping back down at my desk. As I lift the mug to my lips, blowing gently on the liquid inside, I hear the first scream. The first of – as it would turn out – far too many.
I forget myself for a moment as I scan the room for my colleagues’ quizzical faces. Being only a ten to 9, Clive and I are the only ones in the ground floor building. He pokes his head out from behind his office door just as I shout his name.
“Was that-” he says. I gesture a nod.
He disappears back into his office, leaving me to investigate the origin of the scream alone. My mother always said I was far too nosey. I slide open the front door and brace myself for the winter cold which rudely follows. I already feel my teeth chattering when I notice the gaggle of commuters across the street. They’re all shouting over each other, so it’s much too difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on. I carefully bounce across the icy road and approach a woman nearest the curb.
“What happened?” I ask.
As she steps back the body of another young woman reveals itself. Lying so motionless on the floor, her face devoid of feature, I already know she is dead.
“She just, she just…”
I place my hand on the woman’s shoulder, grip it ever so slightly. “It’s OK. Just relax.”
“She just…dropped d-”
She trails off abruptly as the man behind me falls to the ground. I turn just in time to see his head crack open on the curb. I cover my mouth as I feel a warm sensation begin to rise in my lungs, desperately trying to force it back down. I breathe deeply for a few seconds, allowing the moment to pass. It’s only now I realise the woman is screaming again. As I turn back to calm her she runs away up the street.
I catch the eye of a young boy, not too long out of college by the looks of his new suit. He looks as white as a cue ball and just as sick as I feel.
“What the hell’s going on?” he pleads.
I part my folded arms. “I honestly have no-”
He drops to the floor right in front of me. The adjacent flat’s rubbish bags cushion his fall, so there’s thankfully no bodily trauma this time. I rush over and raise his head but he’s not breathing. Most of the gaggle have scattered but one of the remaining men comes to my aid. He checks the young boy’s pulse and presses his studded ear to his mouth.
“Dead,” he says, shaking his head. It’s so matter-of-fact I know it’s not the first person he’s attempted to help this morning.
The warm sensation again rises in my lungs; I’m powerless to stop it this time. I crawl over and quickly cover the frosty curb with horrible breakfast-filled vomit. I force out the last drop and wipe my mouth, when the gravity of the situation again hits me.
People are just dropping dead.
I rise to my feet and rush back across the road. Forgetting the conditions are not currently my ally, the opposite pavement promptly bests me. I put out my hands and manage to slightly break my fall. I feel the warmth of my blood cover each palm and most certainly my knee. I can already feel it trickling down my leg beneath my tights. I force myself to my feet once more and stumble into the office.
Clive watches as I stagger inside. He begins to gesture wildly as I look toward him. His arm waving becomes increasingly manic as I open my mouth.
“Clive, you have to see outside. It’s…well it’s…”
I find myself unable to properly articulate a situation I genuinely do not understand. The moment I take to consider this is enough time for Clive to rush across the floor and cover my mouth. I feel my eyes widen as I stare back at him and attempt to wriggle free. He lets go but shakes his head, pushing one finger to his lips. He makes his way back to his office and gestures for me to follow.
He has his television on. It’s against company policy to allow a television in the building, even in the office of the manager. I’ve told him this many times, but at this precise moment I couldn’t care less. I still manage to shake my head at him – reflex I guess – but he simply smiles a half-smile and points at the screen.
It’s not just here.
The news tells me of people dropping dead up and down the entire country. By their very early estimates, there is not a town or city where at least one case of this has not been reported. The news anchor speaks over image after image of people simply dropping to the floor, dead. It’s so horrible to watch, but I cannot muster the will to turn away. Then the news anchor drops the bombshell.
“As far as we can tell, the only thing each case has in common is that the deceased was spoken to, or in the vicinity of a speaking person, moments before he or she suddenly expired.”
She says a lot more, but this is all that sticks. I feel the distinct beginnings of a migraine brewing inside my head as I try to arrange the anchor’s words, but a sudden thought shocks myself to a stop. Are the words themselves killing? Could listening to her speak result in my death? I pounce forward and slam the television off. It’s too much. Jesus, it’s all far too much.
I shudder as Clive taps me on the shoulder. He again places his index finger over his lips, as he holds up a small piece of paper he has written on. The words chill me.
DON’T SAY A WORD, CLAIRE. WE CAN’T.
WE SPEAK, WE DIE.