Sticks and Stones, Part 3
I eventually moved Colin and Sandra to the storage room. Their bodies. The girl sat with her mother for at least an hour after she died, screamed through half of it. She didn’t know what had happened and I was too scared to tell her. She’s asleep now, has been for a while, in our meeting room come break area out back.
I tried catching a little sleep myself but couldn’t drift off. It feels clichéd, but every time I closed my eyes I saw their faces. Clive, Sandra, the boy and the man from the street. I’ve never been around a dead body before; I refused to see my mother and father after they passed. I just couldn’t face it. The decision kind of feels justified at the moment, despite my sister’s awful protestations at the time.
The only good thing to come out of this morning is that I didn’t die. That’s selfish, isn’t it? I’m not sure. I shouldn’t be upset that I’m happy I’m alive. But why am I not dead? The girl’s screams killed her mother and Clive, but not me. All those people died in the street, but not me. It could just be coincidence, but nobody’s that lucky. I guess there’s a way to find out, but I don’t want to try it. Not yet.
I hear the little girl stirring and make my way to the break area so I’m there when she wakes. She sits upright on the floor and stares right back at me. For a moment, silence. A precious sound right about now.
“Hello,” she eventually says, half-stifling a yawn.
She’s speaking. I’m not dying. This is my current thought process. Reflex takes over and I go to reply, but stop myself. Who’s to say what will happen if I say hello back.
I nod and smile.
“You won’t speak to me either?”
My heart sinks. Poor girl. I widen my smile and shake my head, opening my arms in a gesture of willingness but restriction. I pull out my phone and compose a message telling her that I want to speak, but I can’t. That if I do, she might get poorly.
“Like mummy?” she says, brushing some of her soft, blonde hair behind her little ear. The sort of thing a mum would usually do.
Does she think her mum is only poorly? I hope not. I hope she realises she’s dead so I don’t have to be the one to break the bad news to her. The thought makes me feel selfish once more, but I can’t help it.
“My name’s Grace, what’s yours?”
I smile and write ‘Claire’ on my phone, offering out my hand. She shakes it. I feel more comfortable now, having found out her name and realised her shouts won’t harm me. She may have just lost her mother, but I think the entire exchange has been more beneficial to me than it has her.
As I stand and pull Grace up with me I hear a sound coming from the street. I decide that if I can hear it from all the way back here it must be fairly loud. I quickly gesture for Grace to sit in the corner and cover her ears. She looks scared, but does so.
I close the storage room door behind me and rush to the front of the office, tying up my annoyingly-long brown hair as I go; I was due to have it cut tomorrow. The winter cold has frozen the windows, condensation making visibility of the outside impossible. Having not wanted to revisit the scene of the morning’s crime, I had stopped myself from wiping any of it away. At this precise moment, it poses a problem.
After a moment I hear it, a sound I entirely fail to comprehend. I feel my palms moisten as rage builds inside me. How can anyone be this cruel, this stupid.
It’s a man shouting in the street, beckoning people to come to their death.
I wipe a small section of the window clear and peer outside. The visible area is covered with bodies, their outlines on the snow resembling sprinkles on a cupcake. I make little effort to properly survey the area for fear of seeing those which I recognise.
I watch as the man is joined by another. They converse for a moment, too far away for me to hear properly, before stopping below a building on the opposite side of the street. The bottom floor of this street is mainly offices and shops, with many of the upper floors low-rent flats. The first man grabs a mound of snow, rolls it into a ball, and throws it at a second floor window. After waiting a moment, he does it again. Suddenly, a man appears at the window, pulling it up in one frantic movement.
“Get lost! Go on!” he bellows, his voice wobbling from either the sudden cold, or the more likely anxiety that his words may kill.
But his words have no effect. He watches on – just as shocked as I – as those two sons-a-bitches laugh right back at him.
“Bye, mate!” one of the men shouts. The man in the window falls from it, hitting the ground with what I imagine to be a snowy, soft crunch.
I’m not sure what stops me – cowardice I suppose – but I do nothing to confront the two men. I lock the office door as their shouts dissipate- cussing myself that I had not done it sooner – and push one of the smaller desks in front of it.
Grace must have heard me doing so and has joined me, still covering her ears. I place my hands on my ears and pull them away, she copies. She’s safe for now, but for how long? If those men come back she’ll be in trouble; we can’t stay here forever anyway. I have to do something, she’s my responsibility for now.
I suddenly recall the building site I passed on my bike ride to work this morning, and the builder with the pneumatic drill. I’m sure he was wearing those sound-blocking earmuffs you always see covering their ears.
They could prove to be very handy indeed.