In some part of Joe’s mind, he was acutely aware of what had just happened, but his muscles had suddenly become immobile. The others seemed to be plagued with this mysterious paralysis and for what felt like a lifetime nobody moved, although in reality it couldn’t have been for more than a few seconds. Blood was pooling quickly around Carol’s head, her mouth was parted slightly, frozen forever in silent horror and shock before her life was taken away from her. Chris still stood in the exact same position, his aim never lowered, but his face had transformed into one expression after another. Regret, shock, fear, pain, grief. Joe read all of these.
‘What the hell have you done?’ Jed’s words were the first to break the silence. He grabbed Chris and yanked him backwards, simultaneously pulling the gun out of his loose grip. Chris responded by shaking the man loose, his eyes clouding over with steely determination.
‘I did what had to be done.’
‘You killed her,’ Mr Hartness was too shocked to be angry.
‘Are you blind? She was already dead!’ Chris spat.
‘Don’t talk to my dad like that,’ Joe bristled, finding his voice.
Before Chris could express his incredulousness at being told off by a sixteen year old, Rob stepped into place beside Chris and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. He could see through Chris’ façade and knew it was only a matter of time before the effects of what he had just done would hit the young man.
‘He wasn’t wrong. Maybe it should have been handled in a different manner,’ Rob paused, growing thoughtful. He spoke calmly, in a softer tone than the others, and it already seemed to settle the tension. ‘But Carol was going to turn in a matter of minutes.’
Chris shrugged Rob’s hand off slightly.
‘We should bury her,’ Mrs Hartness said. ‘Roll her up in tarpaulin or a rug or something.’ Whilst she was speaking, she was moving closer to her teenage son and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into her. She didn’t want him being exposed to death at such a young age. Joe didn’t respond as he normally would have done; he didn’t bury his face into her shoulders and sobs didn’t overcome him. Instead, he was stood in the same spot wondering how it was possible that someone could have been speaking and breathing one minute and be motionless and cold the next.
Jed let out a disgusted snort, not in anyone’s particular direction and ordered Rob to follow him down into the basement to get a sheet. Mr and Mrs Hartness pulled their son away, telling him to occupy himself whilst they helped with the body. Chris, now that he was left alone, began realizing the extent of what he had done. He didn’t think that he was a murderer, but what else was it? A mercy killing? Manslaughter? No, it wasn’t accidental: he had meant to pull the trigger. He had meant to end Carol’s life. Though it was maybe in a fit of spontaneous grit and repugnance at what this world was coming to. He knew there and then that he was the only soul alive in that group that was capable of doing what needed to be done.
* * *
The night was still and uncomfortable. Not much had been said since they had disposed of Carol’s body. They had taken the time to bury her in the hotel garden, marking the grave with a cross. Neither of them knew if Carol had been religious, whether she had believed in an afterlife or whether she had even wanted to be buried. Maybe she had wanted to be cremated. Upon the realization that nobody had bothered to get to know her well enough, a perturbed, shamed silence had fallen upon all of them.
Joe spent the night thinking about death. He knew that at some point, he too would perish. His parents may perish before him, though Joe didn’t dwell on this too much. He didn’t know what he would do if his parents left this earth before he did. What was to become of them after their bodies had long since been rotting in the ground? Would he go on to know peace? Would he see his loved ones again? Or maybe it was just darkness. Maybe it was nothing. The latter was worse than anything.
‘Kid,’ someone’s whisper beside him made him jump and jerked him from his dark reverie.
It was Chris.
‘You scared me,’ Joe accused. To his surprise as he glanced around at the others, he saw they were all asleep. He must have been lost in his thoughts longer than he realized. Jed was out on watch somewhere; he had disappeared several hours ago and hadn’t bothered to check in since.
‘I’m sorry I yelled at your dad earlier.’
‘You don’t need to apologise to me,’ Joe blinked, caught off-guard. He hadn’t been expecting an apology.
‘I just…’ Chris exhaled, trailing off.
Chris shook his head, right then looking as every bit as despondent as he felt inside. ‘No I’m not okay. This world is fucked up.’ He glanced up, wondering if he had offended the youngster with his choice of words.
‘It is fucked up,’ Joe agreed. Chris let out the smallest smile.
They lapsed back into silence. Joe didn’t know what to say to comfort the man and Chris knew that if he said anything at all it would just make things seem a lot worse. It’d make everything real.
As if it wasn’t scary enough.