Skye reared back as her mother's hands swiped at her face. As she moved, the pressure of the workbench against Jodie's abdomen lessened, allowing her to lunge forward. Skye shoved the table forward again, forcing her mum back against the wall.
I stared at the scene, appalled. How long had she been at this for? Mike hurried forward and took over for Skye as I helped the trembling teenager to sit down. Blood covered the right side of her face and chest. It appeared to be from a wound in her neck. The child was pale and, I suspected, in shock. Looking around, I spotted some old towels and grabbed them, pressing one firmly against the neck wound and placing another around her shoulders.
"Lori?" Mike was looking at me meaningfully as he kept the zombie firmly pressed against the wall. I sat down beside Skye, keeping the pressure on the neck wound. "Skye?" I spoke gently. "Do you understand what has happened to your mum?"
She looked up at me with haunted eyes. "That's not mum anymore. It's a monster in my mum's body."
I nodded. "We need to ...put the monster down now."
Skye dropped her head into her arms. "Good." My heart ached for her. I looked up and gave Mike a silent go-ahead. He nodded and, releasing the table, pinned Jodie back against the wall by the throat. As she squirmed and clawed at him, he thrust his knife into her brain. The creature's movements stilled and, as he withdrew his knife, it slumped against the table.
At the sudden silence, Skye raised her head and stared at her mother's body. The sadness in her face broke my heart. Helplessly, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"I'm so sorry, Skye."
"I don't know what happened." She burst out. "She was alright last night after we escaped those things and hid in here. She was really upset because we didn't know where Jasmine was, and her arm was sore where she was bitten, but she was okay! Then this morning, she started getting really sick. I was happy when she finally fell asleep but when she woke up, she was ... one of them. She tried to kill me."
I felt helpless and my head was spinning. I didn't know what to do. We needed to get out of here as quickly as possible but the fact was that Skye had been bitten. When - if, I corrected myself- she turned, she would be a threat to my family. And, in truth, I did not know if she would be able to make the trip across. She had lost a lot of blood. I looked over at Mike pleadingly. What do we do?
With compassion in his eyes, Mike knelt before Skye. "We have to get out of here now. Can you walk, Skye?" His sideways look to me said 'we'll deal with whatever happens later'. I centered myself. He was right. Right now, there was a sick, frightened girl who needed our help.
She shook her head. "I don't think so. I...I don't feel good."
I exchanged a concerned look with Mike before turning to reassure her. "Well, of course not. You've lost a lot of blood and you've been through an ordeal." I really hoped that was all it was.
The walkie talkie crackled. As Mike pulled it out of his backpack, we heard Lucas' voice. "You've got incoming, guys! ETA is approximately ...four minutes." Mike's lips quirked at Lucas' professional tone. "Understood, Lucas. Good job."
Returning the walkie talkie to his pack, he spoke in a brisk tone to Skye. "Where do you keep the car keys?"
"On top of the fridge." Her words seemed a little slurred. Worried, I pulled away the towel from her neck. Fresh blood flowed down her neck. Shit. I applied more pressure and spoke wordlessly to Mike. Hurry. He nodded and moved to the garage door, weapons in hand.
"I feel tired." The young girl murmured. "I want to lie down." I noticed with alarm that there was a fine sheen on sweat on her pale forehead.
I shook my head vehemently. "Not a good idea, Skye. I want you to talk to me." The shock and blood loss could lead to unconsciousness soon if I didn't put some fluids back into her. I watched Mike slip out the door. I was a little anxious for him but only a little. I had absolute confidence in his ability to handle almost any situation he found himself in. To my mind, the man was as invincible as Arnie in Predator- but better looking, I added mentally.
"What about?" Skye murmured sleepily.
"I don't know." I wracked my brain. "What do you want to be when you grow up? What sports do you like to play? Do you have a favourite book?"
"I want to be a zookeeper. I love animals." She sighed. "Jasmine always says that cleaning up lion poop sounded like the perfect job for me. I'd get so mad at her."
I laughed, trying to block my last memory of Jasmine staggering up the driveway. "Sounds like a typical big sister to me."
She smiled a little. "She's so annoying."
"Yeah well. Sisters grow out of that eventually and end up becoming your best friend." The sadness I felt for her was overwhelming. Her mother and sister was dead. Getting to know her sister as an adult was an experience she would never have.
The garage door opened and Mike slipped back inside. I noticed some fresh blood splatters on his white t-shirt. He jangled the car keys and grinned.
We lifted Skye and placed her gently on the back seat. Mike climbed into the driver's seat of the little sedan while I rode shotgun. He pulled out the walkie talkie. "Lucas, is Ken there with you?"
"I'm here, Mike." Ken's calm voice came over the air.
"We're bringing the girl with us but she's injured. We're taking the car and I plan to park it right under the stairs. We're not going to have much time so be ready to grab her as soon as we arrive. "
"We'll be ready." Ken replied.
Mike looked at me as he prepared to press the remote for the roller doors. "Ready?"
"Yeehah." I said unenthusiastically. He grinned and pressed the button. As the door rolled up, it revealed zombies. A lot of zombies.
"Yeehah." Mike grinned, putting his foot down hard on the accelerator and ploughing through the creatures as he charged out of the garage, straight across the road and up our driveway.
As he neared the top of the driveway, he veered off the driveway and across the dirt to the stairs, braking to a stop just beneath it. Fortunately, most of the zombies had not made it back yet. "As soon as you're all inside, I'll release the handbrake and let the car roll back down." Mike glanced around at the zombies gathering around the car and pulled out his rifle. "I'll cover you."
"What about you?" I asked worriedly. He looked at me and his lips did that quirky thing that was sometimes cute and sometimes irritating. "I'll be fine. Now go. Lucas and Ken are waiting." I glanced up and saw the men leaning over the stairs. I heard the sound of the rifle firing as I squirmed into the back seat. Skye was looking dull and drowsy. "Okay, Skye. We're almost there. We just need to climb onto the roof."
Skye nodded, her eyes dull. With an effort, she sat up and followed me as I climbed out of the window and onto the car's roof. I could tell that the effort had drained the last of her reserves but, thankfully, it was enough. Ken and Lucas reached over the railing, grabbed her upstretched arms and pulled her over into the safety of the stairwell. A quick look around showed that Mike was doing a great job of keeping the immediate area clear but all the noise was attracting more and more zombies. We would be overwhelmed within minutes.
I thumped on the roof to let Mike know we were clear and then jumped up and pulled myself over the railing. Running up the stairs to the verandah, I peered anxiously over the balcony to see how Mike was doing. I saw the car start to roll backwards. Mike flung open the door and, with jaw-dropping agility, jumped first onto the moving bonnet and then the roof before turning and springing like a leopard towards the balcony as the car passed underneath on its one way trip down the hill. His fingers latched around the railings of the balcony, taking the weight of his body. Calmly, Mike then swung his legs up onto the ledge and pulled himself up.
I stared at him, openmouthed, as he climbed over the balcony. He looked up as he brushed his hands clean and saw me gaping at him. "What?"
Realising my mouth was still hanging open, I shut it abruptly and shook my head. "Nothing. Just that I'm starting to believe you do do balloon animals and magic tricks." Walking past me, Mike waggled his brows mischievously in response.