EIGHT

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She approached the doorway of a house and looked through the empty frame. The building comprised three small rooms, there was no furniture and the floor was littered with tiles from the collapsed roof. She carried on up the dirt track, which she supposed had once been the main street, towards a crumbling stone well in the village centre.

Sammy picked up a pebble and dropped it into the well. Three seconds later, there was a pathetic little plip. Twenty-three buildings and no one living here. What now? She stood, hands on hips, surveying the area. The street carried on through the town and led back out into the forest. She’d have a look around each house first, just in case she found supplies or something worth taking. Then she’d follow the trail out of town. Hopefully it would take her somewhere populated.

She crossed the street and entered a house. A brief scout around revealed the same state of ruin as the first place she’d seen. No door, no panes or shutters in the windows, and the floor littered with tiles. She picked up a tile and turned it over in her hands. It was smooth to the touch with two holes at the top. One of the holes still had the remains of a rusty nail sticking out. She looked up through the open ceiling where there’d once been a roof and stared at the swirling sky again. It was the fruit machine effect. She’d always find herself captivated by them while waiting for her dad to finish ‘one last pint.’

She dropped the tile and moved to the window. She ran a finger along the rusty brackets that had once supported shutters. A gust of warm air swept in through the opening, carrying dust into her face. She rubbed at her eyes. It had become hot all of a sudden.

She left the house and made her way back onto the street, but the heat was worse outside than in. It was like stepping off the aeroplane that time her parents took her on holiday to Florida. She smiled. Their last holiday together as a family. They’d been to all the big theme parks, eaten burgers, had cinnamon-flavoured sweets, and she’d stayed up late every night in the hotel room playing whist with her mum while her dad was downstairs in the bar. Sammy shook the memory from her head.

The sky was still dark, with no sign of daylight, yet it was still getting hotter. She pulled at her pyjama top, flapping it up and down, wafting cool air inside. And froze. There was a figure sat on the edge of the well, right where she’d been a few minutes ago. A large person, indistinct in the darkness and heat haze, but visible enough to see it was cloaked entirely in black. The few small mushrooms in the village centre had shrivelled and were no longer glowing. The figure turned its head in her direction.

Sammy checked over her shoulder. She had no idea why. There was no one around to help. No big deal. It was just a man. A very tall man, but still just a man. He would help. Nothing to be scared of. So, then, why was she clenching her jaw so hard it was beginning to hurt?

 

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