Chapter Eighteen: Martha Gibbs
Wind whipped around the warehouse as I washed. I shivered as the warm water dripped down my body and quietly onto the floor to join with the dust. The warmth of the water was replaced almost immediately by the chill of the wind that seemed to be forcing its way around the vast, open space. Echoes bounced back non-stop, every sound we made amplified. The roof of this warehouse, or safe house was so high up that I could barely see the ceiling without tilting my head right back. Huge, powerful lights beamed down and I scrunched my eyes up as I looked.
I looked over to where Kyle and Aria had set up the middle of our little camp. There was a small pan on the top of one of those small fires used to cook food at a campsite. Blankets stretched out around the fire. Inviting as the warmth was, I’d to hurry up and finish washing so I could get dressed and join them. It felt so good to rid myself of the blood coating me, the mud caking my legs and clothes. I washed my face and then I was finished. Not a speck of blood remained on my body and it felt so good to be clean, warm and safe again. Able to have fun and smile, fitting in with others was something I’d never really been able to do, but with these two, Aria and Kyle, they accepted me despite our differences.
“What the hell is that you’re putting in?” I heard echoing around the safe house. It was Aria. “It looks like some sort of drug!” she giggled.
“I’ll have you know that it's basil. Using basil will add so much more flavour to the mixture.” There was no denying it, they knew each other so well and they definitely liked each other. He grinned wickedly, “Would you rather have bland food? Or, even worse, cook it yourself?”
“No!” Shouted Aria. Her shouts bounced back loudly. Too loudly. “You know I can’t cook!”
“Well then,” said Kyle, winking and shrugging, “I guess you’ll just have to eat what I make then.”
Reaching for the clean, new clothes I’d picked from the piles, I pulled them on over my slightly damp body. The soft, fresh cloth was a blessing against my cold, goose-bumpy skin. None of the outside warmth reached the inside of this safe house. In a way, it was almost like a fridge. Our breath hovered in the air, hanging like smoke from a dragon’s nostrils. They trailed upwards, twisting and tumbling up.
These clothes were warm. Finally. I wore a white dress, similar to my other one, except that this one was much fancier. It looked silly on me, but I ignored the side of me that told me I was a disgrace and relaxed for the first time since I was a very small child.
“Aria!” I called out, my breath shimmering distractingly in my line of sight. “I’ve finished. It is your turn to wash.” My teeth were chattering wildly due to the heat, or lack of it.
I rubbed my bare arms quietly, smoothing over the goose bumps on my skin. Walking over to the mounds of clothes, I found a large, comfortable looking, soft to touch jumper and pulled it over my head. The warmth it gave was a blessing, making me feel more fortunate in these unfortunate times. I gained comfort knowing that at least for one night, I’d be warm, safe and at least a bit comfortable in all the blankets while I slept. It mattered not that I realized that tomorrow would be travelling to another safe house, or doing this “The Fifth Horseman’s” bidding. I may be at the beck and call of God, but who is this “The Fifth Horseman” to boss us about?
I pulled the end of the sleeves down on the jumper that I was wearing from the heaps of clothes and balled up the ends into my hands, covering them and heating them up while sitting down near the middle of the place we’d set up camp. Kyle turned to me, most of his concentration still on his masterpiece of food. Whatever it was, it smelt good.
“Do you feel better for being clean now then?” he asked nicely, a smile across his face.
“Much, thanks.” I paused and peered into the pot on the campfire. “What's in the pan? It smells good.”
“Thanks.” He grinned like an idiot. “It is a unique recipe that has been made by yours truly. Basically, what it is, is tomato soup, but the ingredients I’ve used are going to make it taste so much better.”
“I’m going to guess you won’t tell me what is in there then, other than tomatoes?” I asked, shrugging, trying to look disinterested.
“Nope. Sorry.” He winked. “Just enjoy it while it is hot.”
I felt a shape move and sit beside me. I panicked momentarily and backed up before realizing that it was only Aria.
From the piles of clothes, she’d chosen a turtleneck top that was black, a pair of jeans and a new pair of socks to keep her feet warm. She turned to me while in her new outfit and sought after my opinion. My approval. I nodded encouragingly. It really suited her, so that is what I told her.
“That really suits you Aria. Do you not think Kyle?” I asked sneakily.
“Of course,” he murmured with a frown, his curly brown hair covering his eyes. “Everything looks good on her.” She smiled in an embarrassed sort of way, trying to hide behind her fringe.
“So, is it your turn for a wash?” Aria asked Kyle, trying and failing to hide a sly smile.
“Yeah. I suppose it is.” He ambled across to the water and soap and started to pull off his top. We turned around and stared into space for a minute, soaking in the dripping of the water, the mist in the air from breath, the warmth of the fire.
A high-pitched scream nearly burst my eardrums, scaring me badly. “What is that?” I shouted over the noise.
Kyle ran up to us, his top no longer on his body, but instead flung on the floor. He bent down and carefully took the pan off the heat and removed the lid. Shock over, we began to laugh. “That scared me so much!” Aria laughed.
“I can’t believe that was only the pan!” I laughed along. “I never knew we were so jumpy!”
Kyle gave us a fleeting smile and stirred the soup in the pan. Aromas filled my nose, making me even more ravenous than before. My stomach growled loudly and I tried to cover it up, to mask it in some way. It didn’t quite work how I wished it to and my persistent stomach’s growling echoed around the safe house.
“I take it you’re hungry then?” Kyle says jokingly, laughing it off. I no longer feel the pang of embarrassment that I did when the first echoes bounced around haphazardly. I nodded to show I agreed and laughed too.
Anyone else would’ve found it weird that we were laughing as much as we were right now, especially due to the circumstances. I mean, how many people who have been slaughtered laughed before they died? None. We were laughing because it was the only thing keeping us sane. If we didn’t, there was no telling what we’d be doing.
A cruel, cold breeze pricked at our skin. It wasn’t of this world. It had brought with it an ominous feeling, one I didn’t like one bit. The laughter died on my lips.
Ceasing all noises, I breathed shallowly. Aria and Kyle didn’t notice what was wrong, they din’t felt the breeze. Suddenly, I saw what was going to happen. I could see it all. I tried to shout a warning. Nothing but croaks left my throat, sounds harsh on my dry mouth and tightly strung vocal chords. I tried again. The feeling grew and grew inside me, now coming out in a wild panic. I managed to shout. “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
The smiles Kyle and Aria had displayed on their faces instantly turned to concern and worry, not terror. Aria reached out a hand to me, trying to comfort me. I screamed. Backed away. Leant against a wall.
“What is going on?” Aria said under her breath. Then, slightly louder, “Martha. There isn’t anything there. We’re safe here. Come and sit down. We can eat now, can't we Kyle?”
Kyle nodded breathlessly, eyes watching me cautiously.
Silence hung in the air. It hung like a body from the gallows, evilly twisting and turning every so often in the masquerading breeze of the dead. The ominous feeling was the crows I could feel, circling above the safe house like vultures. They were waiting for us to fall, just waiting for us to be their next meal. It was no problem for them to think of us as their next snack. There would be plenty of meant. They could wait for centuries if they wished. They’d always be there. I knew. Somehow, I knew.
I didn’t know how I knew all these things. It was as though some part of my mind was telling me these things. As though it was the voice that knew everything and it was just telling me little bits and pieces. I was scared. More so than ever before. More so than seeing the wave of zombies running, rushing towards us. More so than when I was in the church and I saw the man with the shovel in his canary yellow wellington boots, terror striking in the zombies eyes, none of them daring to go anywhere near him. Despite the fact that I didn’t even know him, I was still horror – struck by the man with the shovel and the disgusting yellow wellington boots.
A crashing noise sliced cleanly through the silence. Noise gushed out like blood from a severed artery in a dying body. My terror filled screams mixed with the noise and it was hard to tell what was happening.
In my near blind panic, I managed to catch a glimpse of Kyle, then Aria. Kyle had stepped in front of Aria, seeking to look after her, to protect her. Aria had gladly hidden in Kyle’s shadow, hugging him and holding on to him for dear life. My back was forced against one of the cold, huge stone walls. I knew where the noises were coming from. I knew what they were. I knew what they were planning to do. And I was terrified. Actually, terrified doesn’t even come close to how scared I was.
The metal shutters at the front of the safe house were rattling and banging, sending shivers up and down my spine as though they were using my backbone like a ladder. One of the piles of boxes hid the shutters from view, so I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on, but I didn’t need to be able to see. The voice inside my head was telling me what was happening, picking up on my fear and feeding from it.
“There are four people out there,” it whispered softly, yet loud enough to ring around my whole head. The voice didn’t sound human, rather demonic in some way.“They’ve come here to get you. Did you know that? They aren’t interested in the others, that Kyle boy or the Aria girl. Oh no. They just want you. You want to know what for?”
“No!” I want to scream back, but my voice box would not respond. “No! No! No!”
“They’re going to take you somewhere, are they not? You know this. I’ve told you before.” The voice scalds. What on earth is it on about?
“Come on,” the voice tried to prompt me. “What would you say if I said ‘nightmares’?”
I gasped, even now. Those nightmares. I’d never dreamt well, not like other people. Something had always interrupted my slumber. The nightmares.
They came every night, never giving me real rest. Even when I was a child, they still caused me to shake and tremble. I now know what the voice means. I’ve heard it before. In my nightmares.
In my nightmares, it was the voice of the Devil.
“What do these things have to do with my nightmares?” I scream, but only inside my head. “How do you even know anything about me? Who, no, what are you?”
“The time for questions is later. Sometime in the near future, you’ll meet me and see who I really am. You’ll see me face to face.” The voice pauses, but only to let its threat sink in. His threat. Then he continues. “But not yet. Not right now. You just need to worry about the Four Horsemen and women coming to get you right now.”
Then the voice goes silent. I scream a million questions: “Who are you? What do you want with me? Why me? What have I ever done? What do you want with me? Why not Aria? Why not Kyle? Why not some other wretched soul?” and “Why me?”
But nothing could’ve rekindled this voice. Whatever it was, whoever it may have been, it is now mute with no way of being able to turn up the volume. I hated this. All I could do was try and sink back further into the wall, to try to hide from those that were coming after me. But how could I? What was there that I could possibly do? I didn’t want Aria and Kyle to get hurt. I wasn’t a hero, merely selfless. What I did, I’d do every single time in that position. They wanted me? Well, okay.
Drawing in the deepest breath I could hold, I held it until I started to calm and stop shaking. I detached myself from the wall. Walked towards the end of the wall of boxes that were covered by a pale, white sheet. Walked to the end of the only protection we had. On the way, I saw the shadows forming from behind the veil that hid us. I wanted to flinch. I wanted to run away. I wanted to try to hide from whatever it was that was coming for me. Coming to get me. I wanted to be anywhere but here. Anywhere.
I don’t know what it was that stopped me from flinching away. No matter how hard I tried, I just kept on walking forwards. Walking slowly towards my impending doom.
Aria screamed. Kyle shouted. They both tried to get me to hide, but neither made a move towards me. If I didn’t even turn around, what chance did they have of making me stop and hide?
“No!” I heard screamed at me. It was Aria. “What are you doing? Stop! We can hide! Come with us? You don’t even have a weapon!”
I couldn’t find the power to speak. I couldn’t even turn my head. What was I doing? But was too late to stop now. I was at the corner. The shadows of the figures loomed on the wall ahead. I hadn’t turned yet; I didn’t think that I could. No matter how much I tried to convince myself, I knew that if I turned and fled, the consequences would be worse for everyone. I also knew that I’d never be able to go forward again. I’d only ever be able to run, like a dog in shame, tail between my legs.
I turned the corner.
My breath caught in my mouth, unable to leave my lips.
The colour drained from my face.
Stood in front of me, were the four horsemen, and horsewomen, of the apocalypse.
The shutters had been rolled up, not smashed to pieces as I’d suspected. Harsh, cold wind swished around me. The eyes of the horsemen and women seemed to glow and glare at me.
There were four, just as the voice had told me. Lined up, I could tell which was which from the descriptions in the Book of Revelation in the Bible that I’d read so many times and tried to analyse, tried to learn. The first, slightly left but still in front, was the rider on the white horse – Conquest. I’d read the passages so many times that it instantly came to mind as I looked at… her?
“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and she was given a crown, and she rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”
I turned to look upon the second. This was a man. The rider upon the red horse. Anger was twisted into his facial features, never once twitching or faltering. It was War. His passage came to mind as quickly as the first.
“When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”
The third rider caught my eye next. This time, also, the rider was definitely a man. His cheeks were sucked in and no fat whatsoever was on his body. He might as well have been a living skeleton. I knew it must be Famine. His passage came to my mind quickly.
“When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and don’t damage the oil and the wine!"”
The fourth horseman, no horsewoman, stood deathly still. I quickly realized why. It was Death. I mean, she was Death. The fourth horsewoman, the rider of the pale horse. Her passage came to mind quicker than the rest.
“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind her. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
It occurred to me that Aria and Kyle could only see me and the shadows, not the horsemen and women. I turned to shout. I turned to tell them that I was okay, but I never got that far. The four horsemen and women charged at me. Death reached out her slim hands and wrapped them tightly around my waist. I tried to scream, to ask for help, to warn Kyle and Aria, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make any sounds. My voice was strapped; the earlier hysterics making me lose my voice.
Death slung me carelessly across the back of her horse, the stench of blood and murder filling my nostrils. I choked on the stench; it was beginning to cut off the supply of oxygen to my brain. Lights danced before my eyes. Before I could pass out from lack of oxygen, Death swiftly moved the horse outside, through the shutters. The heat intensified instantly and I started to sweat.
My head smashed against the sharp, metal shutters in the doorway. Blood pumped out of my head.
I lost consciousness finally, but this time I accepted it more willingly.