She could hear their frenzied footfalls, just metres behind. She could hear their growls and their shrieks, raging and ravenous. She could hear their gnashing teeth, sharp and merciless.
Behind her was death, and death was hungry.
Rosemary ran, cradling the tightly wrapped bundle to her chest. Her breathing was ragged – she was utterly depleted – but she would not stop. She would slow for neither the fire in her lungs nor the burning stitch in her side. Tears streamed down her cheeks in the cool night breeze, and in between her hurried gasps for air she bellowed a sob.
Her bare feet were raw and bloody, pounding on the road. The evening’s wind was gentle, but Rosemary was frozen to the bone, wearing nothing but her nightdress. The garment flapped and billowed about her as she sprinted, catching the air like a sail. She’d had no time to dress. The few precious moments she’d been given had been spent whisking her infant son up and out of his crib. As Rosemary ran from the horde, the scene repeated in her mind over and over and over again; the shattering of glass and the splintering of wood, the ear-splitting screams of her husband (help me help me, please, oh god, why won’t you help me), the way the seconds stretched out before her, the cries of her baby, the back door leading out to the hedgerows behind the houses, the crisp night air.
She stole a frantic look over her shoulder, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her pursuers had increased in number. And their eyes – the look of fury. The pure, unadulterated hatred. The animalistic contortions of their faces. Their gore-splattered features.
Rosemary put her head down and ran, holding her baby tight, nestling him into her neck. He was wailing with an intensity only exhibited by the newly born. The sound wrenched Rosemary’s heart. Ordinarily, she would have soothed his woes with a song, as she had done countless times before, and his cries would have softly petered out. But now his howling continued unremittingly; the ringing of a dinner bell.
She would shield him. As they came for her, she would shield him. As their hands and teeth tore at her, she would shield him. As her skin broke, as her flesh ripped, as her blood spilled, she would shield him.
They would not touch him. They would not. She would not allow them.
And after you’re dead, Rose? Who will protect him then?
Rosemary sprinted past the elderly couple who lived down the road. They were out in their front garden.
Rose only allowed herself a quick glance, but she would not stop for them. She would stop for nobody, for she carried a cargo more precious than her own life.
Harold was on the floor, screaming. Someone was on top of him, ripping the flesh away from his neck with their teeth. Harold’s legs kicked and spasmed under his attacker. Harold’s wife, Dorothy, was stood metres away, her wrinkled hands to her face, her whole body shaking.
“Harold! Oh, no, please, Harold! Harold!”
Rosemary kept running.
“HAROLD! NO! HAROLD!”
Rose did not stop.
“HAROLD! HAROLD! HA—” Behind her, Dorothy’s pleas turned momentarily to a scream before being cut off short, in a choked, liquid gurgling.
Rose flicked a look over her shoulder, despite herself. Some of her chasers had broken off and had smashed through the fence into Harold and Dorothy’s garden, where the sound of the couple’s struggle was being drowned out by the feeding frenzy.
The rest of the horde was still bearing down on Rose, eyes wide and famished, the scent of fresh blood quickening their pace. With a dropping sensation in her stomach, Rosemary saw that they were closer now. Not quite within grabbing distance, but–
Rosemary gritted her teeth and pushed her trembling legs to go faster, faster. Her whole body shouted at her in protest, but she forced her frail frame to go, go, oh sweet Jesus, go!
Seconds after she kicked her body into overdrive, Rosemary mounted the top of the hill.
There it was. It was close. At the bottom of the road. Rosemary could see the church; its wrought iron gates tall, its thick wooden doors strong, its stained-glass windows illuminated from within.
She pelted down the hill, the mother and her child, towards the lights.
There was somebody coming out of the church, its open door a warm envelope of yellow.
Rose stumbled downwards, the uneven slope a terrain fraught with traps.
The swarm was breathing down on her neck, salivating.
The stranger scurried to the gates, fumbling with something.
Rose was ten metres away. Five metres. Two. She was there, and—
The gates were chained.
The stranger was crying, cursing, shouting, pulling at the gates, fighting with them, creating a narrow opening.
Rose was crouching, trying to squeeze through, but she was too big, too big, it was no use, she couldn’t fit, and—
The teeth sank into the tender flesh above her collarbone. All of the air escaped her body and she tried to scream but found that she was empty. She opened her mouth and could only gasp as the air came rushing in, as if there were a vacuum within her chest.
Rosemary pulled away and felt a chunk of her neck being torn out in the process. Her nightdress suddenly felt warm and damp.
“Oh,” was all she could say, as she collapsed to her knees, clutching her baby, her son, her child.
There were hands upon her, from every side, she was surrounded.
As her vision greyed and swam, she held her baby, shielded him, kept him safe in a cocoon.
Hands from in front. Trying get to him. Her baby. She resisted.
“Let me take him!” shouted the stranger. A woman. A kind face. Middle-aged. “Give him to me!”
Rose carefully, tenderly, lovingly, pushed the tightly wrapped bundle through the small gap, blocking the way with her body; a barrier between her son and the night filled with teeth.
And then he and the stranger were gone, disappearing into that closing square of gold.
As the throng shredded her human body, Rosemary clutched the gates, unable to stop the screams that now flooded her throat. As the mass tore her to pieces, Rosemary held on to the thought: My baby is safe. My baby.
3rd September 2019
Written for the September 2019 #BlogBattle