"No!" I screamed. Not as long as there was breath in my body. I would do whatever it took to save her and suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I saw Kaye staring wide-eyed at Roy as he rose to his feet, a trace of my daughter's blood on his lips. I felt a momentary anguish at leaving my inexperienced sister to deal with the monster that had once been Roy, but my child had to come first. "Stop him, Kaye! I have to help Sarah."
Kaye nodded fearfully and stepped forward as Roy started towards us. I ran past her as I headed for the ironing basket in the corner. Sarah was screaming loudly now, having registered the bloody stumps on her hand. Falling to my knees, I grabbed a sock and wrapped it around her arm. Twisting, I proceeded to make a tourniquet. As I twisted it tighter and tighter, Sarah's screams turned to howls. "Hurts, mummy, hurts."
Tears dripped down my cheeks. "I know, baby. I'm so sorry."
Glancing up, I saw Kaye spin and land a roundhouse kick on Roy's chest that sent him flying back into the sofa. I blinked in surprise. While I had known that my sister was a black belt in theory, this was the first time I had ever seen her in action.
Satisfied that no blood - or virus- could get through the tourniquet, I jumped to my feet and grabbed the long handed shovel near the door. As Roy rose to his feet and turned towards me, I ran at him, holding the shovel like a spear. With a violent thrust, I speared him through the throat and propelled him backwards. The shovel tip buried itself into the wall, leaving Roy dangling like some grotesque marionnette.
Max, Ken and Emma leapt over the baby gate at the top of the verandah stairs and charged into the room. They came to a stop as they took in the scene before them.
"Oh, my God." The aghast whisper came from Michele as she ran into the room followed by Lucas. "You killed Roy."
I looked at her, adrenaline still coursing through my body. "He was one of them. And he...he bit Sarah."
Her hands flew to her mouth in horror. "Oh mummy, no, that means..."
Grimly, I turned away from the body hanging limply against the wall. "Not if I can help it."
Running past Max and the others, I bolted down the stairs for the ambulance. I flung its doors open and started rummaging through the supplies. Within minutes, I had located the scalpel in the trach set, the morphine and the other bits and pieces. I sat back for a moment, trying to center myself. My hands were shaking so badly that I knew I would not be of any use to Sarah if I didn't calm down. I took a deep breath and then another. It would all work out, I told myself, Sarah was going to be just fine. I can do this.
Upstairs, Max and Ken had removed Roy's body. I didn't know where they had put it and I didn't care. Picking up my crying daughter, I laid her gently on the dining table. I grabbed the vial of morphine and drew the quantity I would need for anaesthesia into the syringe. Emma came up quietly beside me. "Lori..."
I sent her a hard look. "If you're here to help, great. If you're going to try to talk me out of it, then get the hell out of the way."
She touched my arm, her eyes searching mine. "I'm not exactly sure what you're planning, Lori."
Searching for a vein, I placed the needle carefully against my daughter's skin. I smiled gently at her. "This needle will make all the pain go away, baby." She hiccupped tearfully. "Hurts, mummy."
I injected the morphine and then stroked Sarah's curly hair. "There. It will be all better soon. You'll see." As her sobs faded and her eyes slowly closed, I turned to Emma. The others stood around us, their faces reflecting their concern and compassion. My oldest daughter looked sick with fear. I felt sick, too. I could hardly believe I was going to do this.
"I am going to amputate her arm." I heard someone start to cry. Looking up, I saw my sister's tearful face as she shook her head in disbelief. Closing my eyes for a moment, I looked back at Emma. "Will you help me?"
"You know I will, if you think it will work." She said softly.
I shrugged, struggling to keep the despair I felt from my face. "I applied a tourniquet within minutes. If I amputate now, at least she'll have a chance."
"Well, then." Coming to a decision, Emma nodded. "Let's do it." She turned and briskly issued instructions to the group. Michele and Lucas kept the other kids away while the remaining adults organised boiling water, lights and sheets.
Looking at my daughter's peaceful face, I wondered for a moment how I was ever going to explain this to her. Hey baby, mummy decided to remove your arm. You won't miss it, will you? Emma touched my arm. "Ready?" She asked gently. I nodded, taking a deep breath.
Carefully, I made an incision. I worked methodically and clinically, separating flesh and muscle, until finally, the limb was off and I could focus on suturing the wound. Then I wrapped the stump and, finally, placed a sock over it to keep the bandage in place.
Sighing, I stood back. My baby lay so still, a stump where her soft, plump arm had been. Please let this be worth it, I prayed to each and any god that might be listening. Let her be okay.
"You did good, Lori." Emma smiled at me. "She's going to be fine."
I tried to smile back at her but I just couldn't manage it. The emotions I had been holding at bay for the last hour finally overwhelmed me and I started shaking like a leaf. Kaye hurried over and wrapped her arms around me, holding me tight as I started to sob uncontrollably.
In the kids' room, I sat beside Sarah, stroking her hair, as she drifted off to sleep. Her brother was already fast asleep at the other end of the bed while the cousins were tucked in the top bunk above.
She looked peaceful. Thankfully, there was enough medication in the ambulance should keep her comfortable for several days. A hand touched my shoulder. Kaye sat down beside me. "Are you okay?"
I snorted. "As okay as I can be, having just chopped my own daughter's arm off." The thought still made me sick in the stomach.
"You did what you had to do, Lori, to save her life. Do you have any idea how much I admire you?"
Startled, I met her eyes. "Huh?"
Kaye leaned forward and covered my hand. "That's what makes you special, Lori. You see what has to happen and you act, no doubts, no hesitation. If it had been my child..." She stopped and swallowed, eyes suddenly dark. "I don't think I could have done it."
"Maybe I shouldn't have." I burst out. "I keep wondering - was I wrong? Maybe she wouldn't have turned! It's not like I knew for sure...What if I cut off her arm for nothing? What if it doesn't even work and I put her through that pain for nothing. What if..."
Kaye covered my mouth with her hand, cutting me off. "Lori, you need to stop torturing yourself right now. You knew that a bite probably lead to death and you took steps to prevent that happening to Sarah. That's as much as anyone could ask of you, including yourself. So I don't want to hear you talking like that anymore. "Got it?"
I smiled tentatively. "Got it, boss." Her belief in me almost managed to reassure me that I had done the right thing.
"Besides, we need your undivided attention here and now. You don't expect me to make all the decisions that need making tonight, do you?"
"God, no!" I grinned, forcing myself to respond to her attempt at levity. "I remember what happened the last time I let you make the decisions. We ended up with a hot pink bedroom!"
"Hey!" She pushed me, dark eyes flaring in mock outrage. "That colour was all the rage at the time!"
After she left, I sat beside my babies a while longer before reluctantly leaving to check on the other kids. Michele and Lucas were sharing an earphone as they listened to an iPod. As I passed the spare room, I saw Jessie lying tucked in the large bed, lit by a soft nightlight. Her eyes were wide and vulnerable.
"Hey." I smiled as I walked towards her. "What are you still doing awake? I thought you'd be out like a light by now."
"It's too quiet." She mumbled into the sheets, big brown eyes locked on me. I sat on the edge of the bed and brushed away the hair from her eyes. "I know but that's a good thing! Quiet means nothing exciting is happening and nothing exciting means no trouble. So you can sleep without worrying." Jessie nodded but her eyes remained locked on me.
"Go on, move over." I jostled her gently. "I'll lie here with you until you go to sleep, okay?" She wiggled back a little to make room for me. As soon as I lay down, a wave of tiredness swept over me. I had not realised how exhausted I was until this moment. We lay together quietly for a moment, heads touching. Just as I started to wonder if she had fallen asleep, I heard her soft voice.
"My mummy used to do this."
"I bet she was a lovely person." I whispered back, my heart going out to her. "Do you want to tell me about her?" There was silence for a moment.
"She laughed a lot." Jessie spoke in a low sad voice. "And she liked to sing a lot. She was pretty bad at it." My throat tightened.
"Yeah well, good for her if she didn't let that stop her. You should hear my kids complain about my singing!" I saw a hint of a smile warm her solemn face.
"I think mummy would have liked you, Lori. Daddy, too." Oh Lord, I think I'm going to cry.
"Promise you won't die too?" I closed my eyes in a vain attempt to block her loss and pain. Turning to face her, I stroked her face gently.
"I promise you that I will do everything within my powers to keep us all alive." Trying to lighten the atmosphere, I smiled cheekily at her. "If I am forced to, I will pull out my secret weapon."
"My amazing voice. The kids swear that my singing makes anyone listening want to kill themselves."
Not surprisingly, I fell asleep beside Jessie. A couple of hours later, after checking on the babies, I walked quietly into the living room. The whole house was dark, lit by a few discreet candles behind drawn curtains. We had decided that the less attention we drew to ourselves tonight, the better. Soft murmurs in the corner drew my eye. Emma and Ken sat on the love chair, heads close together as they talked softly. A pleased smile crossed my face at the sight. This was a first. Emma usually went for the loud and enthusiastic adrenaline-seeking types. It was nice seeing her with someone who might not be as flashy but had more depth and character than any boyfriend I had seen her with before.
Sliding the doors open, I quietly walked onto the wooden verandah. I could see Max's dark frame sitting in a chair as he kept watch over the street. "Nothing exciting to report, I assume?" I murmured as I pulled up a chair beside him. I saw the gleam of his eyes as he glanced at me. "Nope."
We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes as my eyes adjusted to the dark. The moon was hidden behind clouds heavy with rain and the air had a cool chill to it. I kept my fingers crossed that the rain would hold off. At this time of the year, when it rained, it dropped like a heavy curtain. There were times I'd had to pull the car to the side of the road because visibility had dropped to zero.
A heavy mist lay on top of the hills surrounding us, creating an illusion of being cut off from the rest of the world. Below us, the street lay still and quiet. Nothing stirred. It was unnerving and reassuring at the same time.
"Would it be too much to hope it stays like this forever? " I sighed
I narrowed my eyes at Max. "I bet you were a real party pooper in your past life."
Grinning at me, Max propped his rifle on his lap. "Yeap."
I laughed softly in appreciation. "So what is the plan tonight?"
He pulled out a pistol and held it out to me. I hesitated briefly before taking it. "First, some practice time so that you know what you're doing if you're ever need to use it. " He stood up and seemed to choose his words carefully. "You can keep watch with me - if you're up to it. We'll be rotating the watches between the adults every four hours."
Standing up, I smiled at him. "I'd be honoured." Feeling a little flustered for some reason, I turned and pointed the gun at a palm tree. "Now show me how to use this thing."
Max came and stood beside me. For the next half an hour, we practised sighting, loading and shooting, although without bullets. Gunshots were bound to attract attention. As we looked out over the street, I heard noise in the distance. Frowning, I strained to discern what it was.
"Gunfire." Max stated, his voice surprisingly grim. "Not far away."
My heart dropped. "Maybe the army will keep the zombies at bay. They might never get here." In the moonlight, I could see the scepticism in Max's face. I couldn't blame him; I didn't even believe what I said.
A rumble told me that a vehicle was crossing the rickety little bridge at the bottom of the street. We listened keenly as it turned up our street. An army truck trundled slowly past as a soldier spoke through a loudspeaker. I shivered as I remembered the ruthlessness they had displayed this afternoon towards civilians just trying to survive.
"A curfew is now in place. All residents must remain inside their homes until further notice. Anyone found outside may be shot on sight."
I gasped. "How can they do that?!" Who the hell was the enemy here?
Max shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time the army has followed a 'shoot first and ask questions later' policy."
Emma and Ken joined us on the verandah, outrage on their faces as they listened to the message. "It feels like we're fighting our own army as well as zombies." Ken muttered, rubbing his glasses furiously.
Max sighed, popping a fresh stick of gum in his mouth. "At night, it will be difficult for soldiers to distinguish living from dead, folks. This way, they know everyone they see is the enemy and can take 'em down before they get too close for comfort."
I scowled at him. "Yeah well, goodie for them. Too bad for anyone trying to escape zombies!"
He inclined his close-shaven head in acknowledgement.
As the noise of the truck faded, we listened to the sounds of battle in the distance. It was continuous and clear now. I noticed Emma slip her hand into Ken's. He squeezed it reassuringly. It made my heart ache with a sudden yearning for my Joe. He had been my rock for the last twenty years, ever since we met as carefree students. I wondered if he was okay, if he was still at sea - literally and figuratively. Was he happily fishing with his friends, completely unaware of the struggle his family was enduring? And Charlie. Here I was, completely focused on my own dramas, without sparing a thought for my sister and what she must be going through.
We stood in silence for a few minutes with our own thoughts. Sighing, Emma turned away. "I'm going to try and get some sleep while I can. I have a feeling it is going to be a long night."