“We’ve got to go.” The first intelligible words I heard. Liam. His voice was low, but deadly calm. He grabbed my shoulders and raised me up, but I recoiled from him. He didn’t seem to notice. “Simone,” he said. “We’ve got to go. We can’t stay here.”
“I still have my gun,” Simone said.
I turned, saw the gun still locked in Liam’s hand and stifled a scream. Morgan’s body lay behind me. I couldn’t turn around, so I had to look at Liam’s face, blank as blank could be.
“The map is gone,” he said, “But I remember the way. Come.”
Simone started after him, and so did I. And then I glanced back. Morgan’s body lay crumpled, just off the road. Blood pooled around his head.
I vomited onto my shoes.
Liam turned around, dead eyed. “Keep up.”
Keep up? Rage welled up inside me. “Keep up? You just shot your brother and you’re telling me to keep up? You… you psychopath!”
Liam’s face twitched. His mouth opened and clenched shut. He turned around and kept walking.
“Hey!” I followed after him. “Hey!”
Liam spun around. His face was almost purple, so contorted he could hardly be recognized. “What do you want me to say?” he ground out. I could hardly hear him over my own pounding heart. Again, a little louder, “What do you want me to say?”
Simone grabbed me from behind. “Stop it!”
I didn’t care. I wasn’t even in my right mind. “I could kill you!”
Simone clamped her dirty hand over my mouth and restrained me. Liam turned around. His shoulders formed a hard line, a wall between us, and he marched on. Simone pushed me forward, after him.
“Stop,” she whispered in my ear. “Just leave him alone. You don’t understand.”
Something about her words clicked in my mind. My anger dissipated to a low burn, and I followed after Liam.
My legs pumped in an effort to keep up with Simone. My mind reeled in unintelligible patterns. My stomach ached from vomiting. I would keep up. I would.
The sun began to set. Liam pointed to a house in the distance, and we made it just as the sun slipped behind the hills. We had the last few twilight minutes to make sure the house was empty. It was.
But for safety, Liam packed us into a tiny, windowless room. Simone, then me, then him against the door. The air was stifling, reeking of my own sweat and that of my companions.
We were silent. There was nothing to say. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. Beside me Liam was rigid as full rigor. His breath rasped in and out.
I huddled close to Simone so I didn’t have to touch him.
Then, like a rupture, I heard a tearing groan come from within him. He slumped against the door. His cries hissed through his teeth, until even that could not contain them, and he sobbed like a baby.
Strong Liam, so broken, terrified me but I could not comfort him. I would not. Instead I grabbed Simone’s hand as if she could reassure me. She did not. She pushed my hand away and climbed over me to Liam. She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her lips.
“Liam,” she whispered, “Liam.”
He stirred. She grabbed his head and cradled it in her arms, stroking his face. He clutched at her hands, weeping. She cried too.
And I just lay against the wall. Every part of me hurt, but I would not cry.
And then, as quickly as it came, the storm passed. Liam jerked away from Simone. She held out her hand to him, but he ignored it and pressed himself against the wall.
“Kayla.” His voice came, low and rough, out of the darkness. “Kayla, if this should happen to me or Simone…”
“No!” I sat up. “No!”
He reached across and grabbed me by the arm. His fingers dug in to my soft flesh. “I’m serious. You can’t let that happen to Simone and you can’t let that happen to me, just like I won’t let it happen to you. Understand?”
Admit it. You wouldn’t mind having the chance.
Like I could say that to him. I was afraid of him. He was a monster. “Understood,” I squeaked. I burrowed down against my pack. My shirt was damp, sticking to me with sweat. My stomach turned with… with what? Fear? Grief?
His hand was still on my arm, but his fingers loosened and gentled before dropping away. Simone crawled back and lay down between us. She whispered in my ear. “Don’t worry, Kayla. I can do it.”
Her words, tinged with resignation, chilled me right through.
I didn’t really sleep that night. I dozed. The house made too much noise, though it may have been my imagination. There were creaks, moans like that of the undead, groans from Liam. Once I thought I heard footsteps. Liam lifted his head and listened for a long time, but the footsteps never came closer.
Thunder crackled, louder and louder. Then rain rattled on the terra cotta tiles of the roof. The tiny stream of air under the door turned moist, carrying the scent of trees and fields. Out there, things were still living.
This is an excerpt from my recent novel, We are the Living. I have to admit that, of all the characters, I loved Liam the most. I said to him (because authors talk to their characters sometimes), “I’m sorry, but you are going to be wrecked by the time I’m done with you.” But will he redeem himself? Well, I can’t tell you that, can I?