Sticks and Stones, Part 3

Sticks and Stones, Part 1
Sticks and Stones, Part 2

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.

I nod.

“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.

Bastards.

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.

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

Hello there. As with last week’s, the piece was written in one sitting (plus an edit or two after!) with no planning. I’m kind of enjoying just writing and seeing where the story takes me, if I’m honest. How it affects the final piece, well you can judge for yourself below! But, while I’m having fun, I’ll carry on doing it. Enjoy!

Sticks and Stones, Part 1

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

We speak, we die.

Bloody hell.

I slide out Clive’s office chair and slump into its cold leather. I rub my temples in a desperate attempt to stop the pounding beyond them. Something nudges my foot.

I look up and Clive has written something else on another sheet of paper. More this time.

IT’S ON EVERY CHANNEL
IT’S HAPPENING EVERYWHERE
I KNOW IT’S CRAZY
BUT WE MUSTN’T SPEAK
JUST IN CASE

I finish reading and give him a half-accepted nod. I mean, how does something like this happen? It’s too much to try to untangle on a Monday morning. I decide to write down my most immediate question.

WILL LISTENING TO THE NEWS HURT US?

Clive shrugs. We sit in silence for a few minutes, each contemplating our own thoughts. At least that’s what I’m doing. I really want to turn the television back on, despite not knowing what may happen after. Clive’s been listening to it for a while and he’s OK, so it could be fine. Then it dawns on me. Did I say something to cause that young boy outside to die? The very thought makes me nauseous again, although I know there can’t be much more inside to be brought to the surface. Still, my stomach is in knots. I probably just killed that boy.

Clive forces another sign in front of me.

WE SHOULD SWITCH IT BACK ON?

You know when you’re younger and there’s that place in your house your parents told you not to go to, but you did it anyway. A place you know you’ll get in trouble for going – like the basement or your mum’s make-up drawer – but you just can’t help yourself. This feels like that. The need to know what’s going on outweighs the fear of what may happen. So, as with even the most obedient of cats, curiosity gets the better of me.

I throw Clive an enthusiastic nod.

The television, long since lost in this era, chimes to life with a waning fizz. After seconds of warming up, the screen fills with…nothing. I flick to the next channel and get a “Programming Interruption” message. The following channel displays the same, as does the channel after that. I quietly curse Clive’s inability to find a comfortable place with the modern man by the fact he still doesn’t have Freeview. That’s when my phone vibrates.

I already feel silly for forgetting about it as I swipe it out of my cardie pocket. It’s a message from my sister, Ellie.

WTF is going on? Where are you? Are you OK?

We’ve always been close – sisters born only a year apart usually are, I think – but grew to rely on each other even more after mum and dad passed. It was obviously a tough time, but with no other immediate family, all we had was one another. We still meet up once or twice a week, despite her moving away last summer, to catch up and exchange stories.

I notice the message was sent over thirty minutes ago but is only reaching me now. The network must be suffering problems. With probably hundreds upon thousands of people all trying to text or call family and friends, I guess that’s understandable. I fire off a quick reply telling her I’m OK, that I’m safe in work, and tell her that under no circumstance must she speak. To anyone.

I hate the thought of her sat alone at home with my two-year old nephew, Lance. Unfortunately, he’s started speaking a lot lately. I guess the fact she has text me is good news, so I decide to take it as such. I force from my mind thoughts of children arriving at schools, all playing and laughing and shouting. Dropping dead. Not having the news suddenly seems a blessing.

Clive taps me.

WHAT NOW?

I shake my head. I decide to deal with something I know I can and make my way to the bathroom opposite. My knee is still throbbing from the fall and the cut needs to be cleaned. As I pass across the hallway I catch the front door burst open out of the corner of my eye. Two figures rush inside.

Sandra, a middle-aged lady who looks a hell of a lot older, usually arrives later than the rest of us as she has three children of school age. “Bloody traffic again!” she’s found shouting most mornings. Not today, I hope. Please God, not today.

I panic and wave my right hand around manically while covering my mouth with my left. She acknowledges my mad mime and gestures that she understands. While this makes me feel a little better, the sight of the person with her does not.

I can’t believe I didn’t see it right away, but the little girl with her must be her youngest daughter. She’s mentioned her many times before but her name alludes me. Right now the little girl is thrashing around with duct tape across her mouth and her hands bound together. As I get closer to the two of them it is clear Sandra has been crying. The fact she only has one of her three children with her is enough to tell me why. The girl’s pleading mumbles grow more intense and send a shiver right through me. The poor thing has no idea why her mum has done this to her.

I try to think of what my mother would do right now. She always seemed to find the right words at the right time whenever me or my sister were upset. If she were here right now, she’d know what to do. She’d have the girl laughing and smiling in no time, I’m sure of it.

What she wouldn’t do is shove me out of the way. I turn to see a furious Clive ripping the tape from the girl’s mouth, gesturing wildly at Sandra who promptly bursts into tears. Sandra tries to reach across to stop her daughter from screaming but Clive pushes her away. I’ve never seen him so animated, so angry. I go to move closer but it’s already too late. The girl’s shouts for help are quickly followed by two loud bumps and a suddenly silent room.

Only she and I are still standing.

Stick and Stones

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.